Sunday, July 11, 2004

Women in Islam

The women’s situation before and after the message of Prophet Muhammad (may Allah raise his rank.

Before the Prophet's (may Allah raise his rank) prophethood, in the Jaahiliyah women's situation was poor, as exemplified in the following:

  1. No inheritance rights.
  2. No limit to the number of times her husband can divorce and take her back.
  3. No limit for the number of wives for the husband.
  4. She was part of her husband's inheritance if he died.
  5. Some Arab tribes had the habit of burying female babies in fear of poverty or dishonor.
  6. They used to dislike having daughters.
  7. They used to send their wives to be impregnated by nobles.
  8. They used to habitually trade marriage by marrying the other party a sister or daughter in return for marrying his sister or daughter.

After Islam’s return after the Jaahiliyyah her situation had changed radically:

  1. In terms of her humanity: She is a human being just like he is and a partner for her husband.
  2. She is not an ill omen or the source of original sin, but can reach a high rank in paradise, just like the man. She is also responsible only for her own deeds.
  3. Her good deeds are accepted by Allah just like those of a man.
  4. She is to be treated with respect, kindness and dignity. Especially the mother of a man has the right to be well treated by her sons, to the extent that a man who carried his mother on his back in pilgrimage was informed that he had not done much. In addition, to teach and bring up well bred daughters is one of the acts that are described as a key to paradise.
  5. She has the right to inheritance, just like the man. The fact that her inheritance is sometimes (but not always) less than that of other inheritors is that she is not obligated to work or pay anybody allowance unless she is rich. The man, however, must pay allowances as prescribed, even if he is poor. Moreover, she has the right to allowance from her husband, even if she is rich and he is poor. In addition, if she is not married and needs allowance, then her relatives must pay her, unlike the man if he is able to work.
  6. She has full property rights and the right to conduct her own business dealings, including marriage.
  7. The woman was given many rights and obligations just like the man, some of which have been mentioned above. These include matters of public interest, such as childbearing, and matters of worship, such as correct belief, prayer and fasting.

Some issues that are used by the enemies of the religion to mislead people regarding women's standing in Islam:

  • Differences in inheritance. These differences are explained by the obligations of work and paying allowances that men have.
  • Differences in the fine for accidental killing. This is explained by the man's obligation to work and provide for his dependents. One clear proof of that is that the intentional killing of a woman has the same punishment as that of killing a man: capital punishment. Note that intentional killing is an attack on dignity, unlike the one by mistake.
  • Differences in the number of witnesses required. This is not an attack on her worth as a human, in fact, in some private cases regarding virginity, childbirth and so on, her witnessing is accepted without male counterparts. Note that among muslims the woman is preoccupied with the matters of her household, which may lead to forgetfulness in public matters. For this reason, Islam requires two women in the place of one man in court cases for contractual dealings.
  • Female circumcision. This issue is neither like it is described in western media, nor as practiced by some of the muslims, nor as claimed by those who speak about Islam to westerners as apologists. The least that was said is that it is an honour (makrumah), and the most that was said is that it is a duty. There are also sayings between these two, but no saying that it is not prescribed. It is done by removing a small part of the skin above the exit of the urine tract. Its purpose is to improve the sex life of both parties, just as it is for the man.
In general one should look at Islam as a holistic system that promote the greater good. One cannot look at single rules and regulations in isolation to understand their wisdom. Moreover, one must understand that the basic proof for the correctness of Islam is not how it suits peoples opinions, but the undeniable proofs of the correctness of the belief that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet and messenger.

Rights of the married woman

It is not allowed for the woman's guardians to marry her away without her permission if she has reached puberty. This regardless of whether she is a virgin or not. If they marry her away before puberty, and the one conducting the marriage was neither the father nor the grandfather, then she has the right to break up the marriage when she reaches puberty.

After puberty the woman can give herself in marriage without a guardian present. However, her guardians may cancel the marriage if she has married someone that is not of her standing. In this the scholars consider his religiousness, family and ability to pay her dowry and allowance.

The woman has several rights to her husband's wealth, including dowry, allowance and a place to live.

  • Dowry: the dowry is not a condition for the validity of the marriage contract except according to Malik. However, her right to dowry does not disappear unless she gives up her right after the marriage. That is, her right to dowry does is not invalidated even if she agreed to marry without dowry; her right remains to claim the dowry of her social standing. One way to look at the purpose of dowry is that it is to show the importance of her entering a marriage under a husband.
  • Allowance: She has the right to the average food, shelter and clothing of her social standing if her husband is able. This includes their small children. This right comes in return for her being bound to his house according to his wish.
  • Housing: he needs to provide her with a place to live that is not shared with his family or other wives.
  • The woman has several non-material rights upon her husband including: the right to be treated equally with any other wife and the right not to be harmed by him. She also has the right to normal intercourse without interruption.

Rights of the Husband over the Wife

  • To be under his guardianship: the husband is in charge of the household through orders, directions and leadership, in the same manner that the King or Amiir is in charge of the public. The reason for this is that Allah has given the average man preference through foresight and management, as well as greater physical and emotional strength . In addition, the man must pay dowry and allowance. All of these are reasons why the man is in charge of the household, as indicated in the Quran:

    قال تعالى : الرجال قوّامون على النساء بما فضّل الله بعضَهم على بعضٍ وبما أنفقوا من أموالهم

  • To let her husband enjoy her lawfully if he requests it and she is able. If she is in need of purification after postpartum bleeding or childbirth, then she must do so. Also, she cannot fast optionally without his permission.
  • To prevent people that the husband don't like to enter his house from entering. However, he should let the parents visit her every week in the house or for her to visit them if they are not able. Other relatives: once per year.
  • Not to exit the house except by the husband's permission. This is provided that the house is suitable for living. In addition:
    • She is allowed to exit if she needs to ask obligatory religious questions and the husband is not able to provide her the answer.
    • She may exit to perform her obligatory Hajj pilgrimage.
    • If her parent is chronically ill (long sickness), and has no one to take care of him/her, then she can go to take care of him as required.
  • With regard to serving him; she does not have to serve her husband in terms of cooking and cleaning. If she is used to having a servant, then he must provide her one, but not more.
  • The husband alone has the right to divorce. This is due to the monetary costs he has born for the marriage. It is also because he has better foresight in terms of the future consequences, and is less likely to commit imprudent acts with far-reaching consequences. This is in the average case, not all cases; there are certainly cases where the opposite may be true, but an underlying theme of Islamic law is that general welfare is more important than that of single and peculiar incidents.
  • The husband has the right to discipline his wife if she:
    1. Refuses to make herself attractive if he orders her to do that
    2. Refuses to sleep with him if he calls her
    3. Exits from his house without his permission
    4. Leaves the obligatory prayer
    This is done first by advice, then mild warning, then not taking care of her sexual needs. Hitting (without bruising or bleeding, because the intention must be mending, not relief from anger) is the last resort, since the Prophet said "The best of you will not hit" (after he had prevented completely) when it was allowed. The following Aayah prescribes warning, leaving their beds and hitting in that order:

    قال تعالى وَاَللَّاتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ

    The wisdom in allowing discipline is that these are his rights and without them families disintegrate and thereby the fabric of society at the cost of the greater good. Extreme cases sometimes calls for tougher measures. Moreover, it was related "look what is your standing with your husband, for he is your Paradise and your Hell" (i.e. the key to them), so this is also in her personal benefit. Indeed, it was related that some people will be dragged to Paradise. Finally, keep in mind that in general Muslims are ordered to prevent the sins of others by force or speech if able, so the issue of discipline is close to this general obligation upon all Muslims, except that the wife is generally not able to force her husband physically.

In general, the husband must be good to his wife, and not harm her by requesting too much from her, forcing her to do things she is not obligated to do, shouting at her for no reason, etc. It is virtuous for him to be courteous, playful and kind with her, even in the manner by which he speaks to her. The same is true for her; she should avoid demanding more than he can bear sexually, emotionally or financially. The following hadith states literally that "the best of you are those with the best manners toward their wives:"

يقول الرسول صلى الله عليه وسلم : أكمل المؤمنين إيمانا أحسنُهم خلُقا ، وخيارُكم خياركم لنسائهم خلقاً

The Choice of a Good Wife.

Since the woman is generally entrusted her husbands money, secrets, reputation and the upbringing of his children, Islam has defined the desired characteristics of a good choice of wife, namely that she should first of all be: religious and pious. It is also good if she comes from a family of prolific women (to increases the number of Muslims), and of pious people and scholars. She should also be intelligent, and not silly so that she might harm him without realizing it. For the man's feelings and attachment, which strengthens family bonds, it is also good if he looks for virginity and beauty. Some of the Hanbali scholars recommended that she should not be a very close relative.