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Woman: Her position in Islam


By Shah Abdul Halim

The writer is the Chairman of Islamic Information Bureau Bangladesh.
Tue, 29 Aug 2006, 09:46:00

In my article 'Islam and Democracy: How far Compatible' published in The New Nation on 11 March 2006 I discussed, as a corollary of the women's political participation and empowerment, the question whether it is obligatory on the part of Muslim women to fully cover face or use nikab

In response to my article Mr. Mohammad Sakhi in the every first paragraph of his article under the heading 'Islam and Democracy' published in The New Nation 0n 17 April 2006 pointed out that I have written that 'veiled women are not required to lower down their gaze when she faces opposite sex'. This statement does not correctly represent the words as to what I have said in my article although some might infer such a farfetched conclusion. I would request Mr. Mohammad Sakhi to read my previous article. I shall however further explain here at this stage my position on 'lowering of gaze' for the benefit of readers.

The question that I discussed in my previous article is whether the Muslim women shall have to fully cover the face or use nikab. Referring verse to 24: 30-31 wherein both men and women have been asked to lower their look when fall on the opposite sex I took up the position that "the instruction of the verses quoted above is that both men and women are required to keep their eye cast down, so that when they meet each other, neither should men stare at women nor women at men. The natural question that arises is why man should lower his gaze if the face of woman is totally covered? From the text of the verses it is clearly evident that the face of the woman is not to be covered and therefore man has been advised to lower his look". My understanding of the Text of the Quran is that women are not required to cover face or wear nikab. Others might differ with me.

Imam Abu Hanifa and majority of the scholars support the view that women need not cover their face although some other scholars hold different view.

Amazingly enough, the most important thing today is that the opinion cited should be old; the writer's reputation or the work's value does not matter. There is however no reason to think our earlier generations have done all the research and investigation and we have nothing to add. In this connection, the Farewell Pilgrimage message of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is very pertinent in which he called upon those who are present on the occasion to convey his message to those who are not present adding that those who will come to know about his message later might understand the inner meaning and significance of his message more than who are present [Zahir Ahmed, Muhammad: Glimpses of the Prophet's Life & Times, Royal Book Company, Karachi, Pakistan, p 200. Also Prof. Syed Ali Asan, Muhammad: Seal of the Prophets, Dhaka, p 345 and Dr. M. Said Ramadan Al Buti, The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography & A Brief History of the Orthodox Caliphate, Dar Al Fikr, Damascus, pp 651-652]. It is no good to conclude that 'modern Muslims influenced by western philosophy and technology are inclined to imitate them at the cost of our culture and civilization have developed a mentality of western path' as Mr. Mohammad Sakhi in his article has observed while making comments on my position on Hijab.

We must not overlook the general practice of Hijab by women in Indonesia, Malaysia, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco where they keep their face open and they do not cover their face with nikab. Women in the Saudi Television also appear without nikab, without covering the face. Even the women leaders of Ikhwan-al-Muslimin, Muslim Brotherhood throughout Middle East, including eminent Ikhwan leader of Egypt Zainab al Ghazali known for his monumental work "Return of the Pharoah: Memoirs in Naser's Prison', do not cover their face. It is obligatory that women must not cover their face during Hajj.

In this connection, it would be appropriate to quote Hadith of Prophet Muhammad in which he said: Hazrat Ayesha reports a Tradition that her sister Asma once came in thin clothes and Prophet Muhammad turned his face away from her and remarked: O Asma when a girl attains maturity, she is not permitted to expose any part of her body except face and hand" [Abu Daud quoted in Muhammad Sharif Chaudhury's Women's Right in Islam, Adam Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, 2003, pp 99, 104. Also see Katherine Bullock, Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil: Challenging Historical & Modern Stereotypes, IIIT, U. S. A., 2003, p 232].

Now let us discuss Mr. Mohammad Sakhi's observation that 'if husband does not allow her (wife) to go for pilgrimage (Hajj) she cannot go'. Hajj is a obligatory ibadah, prayer also for woman if she fulfills the conditions for Hajj namely she is in good health, she has her own money, wealth and resources to bear the expenses and a muharram- a brother or a son and so on who is willing to accompany her during pilgrimage.

Husband cannot stop wife from performing Fard, obligatory prayer and there is no obedience that contradicts obedience to Allah and His Prophet and obedience is only on maruf and not on munkar [Bukhari Muslim quoted in Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi's Islamic Law and Constitution. Bengali tr Islami Rastro O Shongbidhan Dhaka, 1997, p 129], that means we can expect obedience only lawful commands, on good things and we cannot expect obedience when the command is on unlawful matter, on doing evil [Bukhari, Muslim, Tabrani and Sharhus Sunnah quoted in ibid p 252].

Mr. Mohammad Sakhi's observation that 'woman cannot be summoned to the court if she is prudah observing'. This is something not understandable. Indeed some Muslim scholars have engrossed themselves in woman studies emphasizing biological and psychological differences, thereby attempting to derive evidence from Islam to support their attitude. Such a decidedly un-Islamic bias has prevented Muslims scholars from considering the issue of the woman's testimony in the light of broader Quranic teachings of equality.

Shaykh Taha Jabir Al-Alwani, President of The Fiqh Council of North America and Member of the OIC Islamic Fiqh Council observed: "In essence, Muslim jurists and Quranic commentators allowed their cultural prejudices to color their discussions on women" [The Testimony of Women in Issues in Contemporary Islamic Thought, IIIT, U. S. A., 2005, p 166]. Imam Abu Hanifa is of the view that that "since the Quran indicated that women may serve as witnesses in financial transactions, they may also judge on financial and other matters" [Dr. Jamal Badawi, Islamic Teachings Course, Islamic Schools Trust, 2 Digswell Street, London N7 8JX, England, vol. 3, p 50. Bengali tr. Islami Shikkha Series, BIIT, Dhaka, 2006 p 328]. "Witnessing is mentioned seven times in the Quran, and on only one occasion is there a requirement that if two men are not present, a man and two women will suffice (2: 282). In verse 24: 6-9 it is clear that the testimony of a woman is equated exactly with that of a man in case of adultery: where one spouse accuses the other of infidelity, the accusation by one spouse is held to be just as valid as the denial by the other. In other five verses on witnessing (4:15. 5:106-107, 24: 4, 24: 13, 65: 2), the Quran does not specify whether witnesses should be men, women or a combination of them" [Abdul Qadr Auda, Criminal Law in Islam, p 315, quoted in Dr. Jamal Badawi's Islamic Teachings Course, vol. 3, pp 51-54. Bengali tr. Islami Shikkha Series, pp 330-333]. "Sayings from the prophetic tradition seem to contradict the view that, as in financial matters, there must be two men or one man and two women; for instance, according to tradition, the Prophet is reported as having settled many disputes on the basis of one statement under oath and one witness - there is no indication whether the witness was a male or female i.e. it could have been either" [Dr. Jamal Badawi, Islamic Teachings Course, vol. 3, p 52. Bengali tr. Islami Shikkha Series, p 331]. If we fall back on history we find that woman as witness appeared before the Qadi during the four rightly guided Caliphs and afterwards during the Umayyad and the Abbasid period. Even today Muslim women appear in the courts in Saudi Arabia and Iran not to speak of other Muslim countries.

In this connection it would be appropriate to quote Hadith of Prophet Muhammad: Wael-b-Hujr reported that a woman came out at the time of the Messenger of Allah intending to say prayer. A man forced her and dragged her and satisfied his lust with her. She raised alarm but he went away. She passed by a host of the refugees and said: That man did with me such and such thing. They over took him and came with him to the Messenger of Allah. He said to her: Go back because Allah has forgiven you and he said about the man: Stone him to death. [Tirmizi, Abu Daud quoted in Women's Right in Islam, p 78]. Is this not a proof that a lady appeared before the Court of Prophet Muhammad.

Mr. Mohammad Sakh observed: 'Our scripture never allows free mixing (of men and women) and soft speech (by women) with unknown persons how far modern female is correct when she defies Allah's command in the public hall meeting and Parliament House, when she speaks and announces in radio and television and serves as a hostess in aircraft with smiling face and sweet tone'. Prof. Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi is of opinion that "Islam prohibits Khulwah between a man and a woman who are outside the degree of mahrem relationship" [The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam, American Trust Publications, U. S. A., p 150. Bengali tr. Islame Halal Haramer Bidhan, Khairun Prokashani, Dhaka, 1999, p 200]. What is not allowed in Islam is "meet in private" and "male and female should not be alone together" [Islamic Teachings Course, vol. 3, p 71. Bengali tr. Islami Shikkha Series, p 357]. As regards soft speech it appears in verse 33: 32 of the Quran and the verse is "directed to the wives of the Prophet it applies only to them" [Maha Azzam, Gender and the Politics of Religion in the Middle East in Mai Yamani ed. Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives, New York University Press, U. S. A., 1996, p 224]. We must not overlook the fact that Hazrat Ayesha, herself a Fuqaha, taught Quran and Hadith to the Companions of the Prophet.

Women can go out when necessary and Prof. Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi is of opinion that women can be a Member of Parliament and can serve as judge [Dr. Zeenath Kausar, Political Participation of Women: Contemporary Perspectives of Gender Feminists & Islamic Revivalists, published by A. S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, 1997, p 31]. In Turkey only recently Marve Kavaki, a woman Member of the Parliament from an Islamic Party entered the House in decent dress, in proper Hijab - keeping the face open, and she was expelled from the Parliament. People made uproar not because she has become a Member of Parliament but why she was denied to stay in the Parliament with Hijab.

Replying a question: 'Can it be said that the way in which a woman overturned a proposal by Umar to limit the amount of mahr that is paid resembles the modern parliamentary process' Dr. Jamal Badwi replied: "There are six ways in which it is possible to draw a parallel between what happened during the reign of Umar and what happens today in parliament. (a) When Umar stood up in the mosque to propose a ceiling in the amount that was payable for mahr, it was in fact the Government producing a proposal to reform a particular aspect of marriage law. (b) The venue for the discussion may not have been a parliamentary building, (it was the mosque), but in Islam, the mosque is not just a place of worship. The mosque has traditionally been used by Muslims to discuss and decide on social issues, political issues etc. - armies were often sent out from the mosque, foreign emissaries were received there and so on.

Although there were no official delegates serving as members of the House, nevertheless it was similar to parliament because people would gather there to hear what their ruler had to say and have discussion with him. (c) The fact that Umar made his proposal in public suggests that people were entitled to express their opinion about his decisions. (d) People from all walks of life were present and could freely criticize if they wished. (e) In the event it was a woman who voiced criticism of the proposal, and the basis of her objection was that the proposal violated the terms of the Constitution: for Muslims the Quran, the word of Allah, is the Constitution and no human being can change any aspect of its provisions. (f) Umar, on understanding the point that the woman made, immediately withdrew his proposed law, conceding that it was unconstitutional" [Islamic Teachings Course, vol. 3, p 49. Bengali tr.Islami Shikkha Series, pp 326-327].

To sum up, I have tried in the three articles (Part 1, 2 and 3) to answer some of the issues raised by Mr. Mohammad Sakhi which I thought important and relevant. I did not however respond to some other problems pertaining to Egypt and Turkey raised by Mr. Mohammad Sakhi though important as the article has already become too big in size for publication in newspaper.

I want to conclude with the observation that what has been discussed here is not the last word and Allah knows the best. Allah hu A'alam.

[This article (Part - 3) has been written in response to Mr. Mohammad Sakhi's article on Islam and Democracy.]



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