Misconceptions about women in islam
There are some misconceptions that have been widely propagated about women and their rights in Islam. These misconceptions are often repeated by some that maliciously seek to defame Islam and Muslims. Women throughout the past centuries of Islam have been honored, respected, and dignified. The crimes of some who deviate do not reflect upon the principles and laws upon which Islam is based. We shall present some answers to these common misconceptions that have been publicized about women’s rights in Islam and the position of women in Islam in general.
- POLYGYNY IN ISLAM
Marriage to more than one wife at the same time - polygyny- is a practice as old as the history of man, and is allowed in Islamic law. Among others, polygyny was well known to the Ancient Hebrews, Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Assyrians, Japanese, Hindus, Russians and Germanic peoples.
All previous revealed religions practiced and condoned polygyny. The Old and New Testaments are at the foremost in the list of the religious Books that legalized and practiced it. Many of the Prophets of Allah before the Prophet Muhammad (s) entered into plural marriages. The Prophet Abraham had three wives; the Prophet Jacob had four wives; and the Prophet David had ninety-nine wives. Prophet Solomon had seven hundred wives who were free noble women, and three hundred other wives who were slave women (concubines). Nowhere does the law of the Prophet Moses set or determine a specific number of wives to which a husband was entitled. The compilers of the Talmud, who lived around Jerusalem, decided upon a certain number of wives for a man, and some Jewish scholars only permitted a second wife or more if the first wife was permanently ill or barren. Still other Jewish scholars did not permit plural marriages at all.
In the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus is commissioned to comply with and complete the Laws of Moses and there is not a single quote in the Bible that forbids plural marriage. The prohibition of plural marriages in Christianity came about only as a result of legislation set forth in certain segments of the Christian church, and not by the original teachings of Christianity itself.
For this reason, we find many examples of Christians taking multiple wives. The Irish king, Ditharmet, for instance, had two wives. King Frederick the Second had two wives with the church’s approval. Thus, it must be noticed that prohibition was in the hands of the priests of the church, and not in accordance with any universally recognized original law of Jesus Christ himself. Martin Luther, the German priest who first established the Protestant sect, considered plural marriage acceptable and advocated it on many occasions.
Polygyny was well known amongst pagan Arab tribes prior to the advent of Islam but there was no limitation for the number of wives, like in the cases of some of the Prophets mentioned above. With the advent of Islam, the Islamic law condoned polygyny, but a man was limited to a maximum of four wives, and specific rules regulated these marriages. There are numerous examples in the authentic traditions wherein the Messenger of Allah (s)obligated those who had more than four wives, when they accepted Islam, to choose four and divorce the rest honorably.
Allah, the Most Beneficent, said: “And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice].” [4:3]
Thus we see that strict justice and fairness in treatment, and avoiding any injustice and wrong practices against all wives, is stipulated and conditional for those who wish to take more than one wife.
The Messenger of Allah (s) warned against favoritism saying: “Whoever has two wives and favors one of them over the other, will come on the Day of Resurrection with one of his sides leaning.” [Abu Dawood & Tirmidhi and verified]
Justice and fairness, in this context, applies to material things such as expenditure, fair division of wealth, gifts, time, etc. As for emotional matters, such as love and inclination of the heart towards one wife over the other, it is recognized that man has no control over his innermost heart and emotions, as they are involuntary. Allah, the Most Beneficent, said: “You will never be able to be equal [in feeling] between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]. So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging. And if you amend [your affairs] and fear Allah - then indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful.” [4:129]
‘Aishah, the mother of the believers and the wife of the Prophet (s), narrated: “The Prophet of Allah would distribute everything justly amongst his wives, and then say: ‘O Allah! This is my division for what I possess, O Allah! Do not blame me for what You alone possess while I do not (i.e. emotions of the heart).’” [Abu Da`wood, Tirmidhi & others, but with a weak chain]
A man who is impotent should not seek any marriage since he is unable to fulfill its basic requirement. He who knows for sure that he is financially incapable of supporting another wife and household, is not allowed to seek another marriage, just as the bachelor who seeks to marry must strive to earn the wherewithal and must be able to sustain his wife and future children. As Allah says, and which can be taken as a general rule: “And let those who find not the financial means for marriage keep themselves chaste, until Allah enriches them with His Bounty.”[34:33]
Let us take a look of some conditions that befall people of any society, and then assess whether polygyny is a good solution for the problems that occur, and also to see if the practice of polygyny is in favor of a woman or against her. The following points prove that monogamy in many situations leads to promiscuity, prostitution or divorce:
- If a woman is infertile and the husband is interested in having children, should he divorce the woman and marry another wife? Or, if she chooses to stay married to him, should he take a second wife giving them both equal rights as his lawful wives?
- If a wife is chronically ill and cannot maintain her marital relations with her husband, should he keep her and take a second wife wherein she remains perfectly honored, cared for and provided for by her husband? Or should he divorce her?
- Some men are financially strong, and also possess higher levels of sex drive. One wife may not be able to fulfill his lawful and natural sexual desire. What is better for both husband and wife in such a case? Is it better for the man to remain frustrated and pent up, or seek unlawful sexual satisfaction outside the marriage? Or to acquire other lawful wives who can help to keep him chaste and satisfied?
- In various parts of the world, international and civil wars and other catastrophes often take their toll on men more than women. Even naturally, the demographic number of females, for various reasons, is more than males in a number of countries. The best examples would be the cases of the First and Second World Wars, which claimed the lives of an astronomical number of men who had participated in the fighting, with tens of millions of them being killed.
In other trouble spots the disproportionate death ratios are similar. In such a case, if every man had only one wife, what would be the necessary destiny of the women left without lawful marriage to satisfy their social, financial and sexual needs? Some women may be tempted to satisfy their sexual desires in unlawful ways through fornication or prostitution, a destabilizing factor for any society. The abundance of women without husbands is one factor that helps spread corruption and illegitimate sexual activities in societies. What is better for a society and for such women in this case: to remain single and suffer all the consequences of life without marriage; or to accept to be a second wife with an honest, protective, honorable and chaste man?
Promiscuity unfortunately exists in all modern societies, but should it be legalized or condoned, as is the case under man-made laws, with all the social consequences? In most contemporary societies, only monogamous marriage is legal. Yet, extra martial relations are allowed as a socially acceptable substitute for the situations mentioned above, in the form of mistresses, girlfriends, escort services, prostitution and so forth. These types of relationships have no merits of their own to stand on, and if the couple does not eventually get legally married, the illicit relationship often leads to abuse and conflict.
These illicit relationships are only meant to fulfill the sexual interests of one or both of the parties involved without the responsibilities and obligations that go with the marital relationship. In most cases, this results in abuse of the rights of the women as they please the man and are discarded when the relationship becomes inconvenient. Legally it imposes no financial, social, or emotional obligations, and if the woman becomes pregnant, it is her own problem, with the illegitimate children left without the support of a father and sometimes abandoned to the social service system. Men, generally, are not obliged to admit the paternity of the child, thus not obliged to take financial responsibility for the child. Abortions proliferate in this kind of society. In accordance with Islamic law, a second, third, or fourth wife enjoys all the rights and privileges of the first wife without an iota of injustice or dishonor to her.
Adultery, fornication and all extramarital sexual relations are strictly forbidden in Islam and the Prophet (s) took all measures to protect the society from these social diseases which, if they become widespread, can only bring harm and destruction upon individuals, families, and the basic bond holding the society together as a whole. The following tradition shows the wisdom of the Prophet (s) and patience in convincing a young virile man, by eloquent analogies, the injustice of double standards and the evils of wanton desires leading to fornication and adultery. No one would want his own female relatives to be exploited, used and abused, so how, then, can they allow themselves to exploit others?
An authentic tradition narrates: “A young man came to the Messenger of Allah (s) and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, permit me to commit fornication.’ The people started to rebuke him harshly, but the Prophet sat close to him and asked: ‘Would you like it for your mother?’ He replied ‘No, by Allah!’ The Messenger of Allah said: ‘And thus the people do not like it for their mothers,’ and continued: ‘Would you like it for your daughter?’ ‘No’ he replied. The Messenger of Allah said: ‘And thus the people do not like it for their daughters,’ and he continued: ‘Would you like it for your paternal aunt?’ ‘No’ he replied. The Messenger of Allah said: ‘And thus the people do not like it for their paternal aunts,’ and asked: ‘Would you like it for your maternal aunt?’ ‘No’ he replied. The Messenger of Allah said: ‘And thus the people do not like it for their maternal aunts.’ Then the Prophet put his hand on the youth and said: ‘O Allah forgive his sin and purify his heart and make him chaste.’” [Ahmad and verified]
One might say that this tradition is a practical application of the golden rule as mentioned by the Messenger of Allah (s): “None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
Polygyny in the Islamic society is limited to a maximum of four wives; the marriages being performed lawfully with a proper marriage contract, witnesses, etc. The man must bear all financial burdens and responsibilities to his wives and children that arise from his marriages. All the children are legitimate and must be raised and cared for under the responsibility of both parents.
The following are statements of some Western thinkers who demanded polygyny and considered it the only solution for the problems they were confronted with in their societies.
Gustav Le Bon, the well-known French thinker, says in his book Arabic Civilization: “Polygyny enables the society to reduce social crisis, prevents the mistress problem and cures the society from illegitimate children.”
Annie Besant, in her book on Indian Religions says: “I read in the Old Testament that the closest friend to [God], whose heart acts upon the Will of [God], was polygynous. Moreover, the New Testament did not forbid polygyny except for priests or ministers of the church, who were required to keep and maintain one wife only. Old Indian religious books also permitted polygyny. It is easy, however, to criticize others in their religious practices. And that is what made people accuse Islam and attack it for its permission of polygyny. However, it is strange that Westerners are against the restricted and limited polygyny of the Muslims, while they suffer from wide scale prostitution and promiscuity in their own societies. A close examining look at the Western society illustrates that only a few pure, chaste and honest men respect their clean marital relationships and honor their marriage to one single wife and have no other sexual relationship outside marriage. It is an incorrect and inaccurate statement, therefore, to describe a community as monogamous, in which the men maintain a single marriage, while they are indeed having mistresses, girlfriends and other means of sexual relationship outside the marriage to their legal and lawful wife. If we were to be fair and just, we could see that polygyny in Islam protects, honors, maintains and respects women in society. Polygyny is better than the Western prostitution that permits a man to have a mistress or a girlfriend to fulfill his sexual desires with no respect to the feelings, emotions, needs and honor of the women. The man will disown that woman as soon as he gets his satisfaction. The man has no social commitment or obligation towards the mistress or the girlfriend. She is only meant to fulfill his sexual needs of the moment and give him the company he needs temporarily. Even though some people declare both polygyny and fornication or prostitution as bad and unacceptable, yet it is unfair for the non-Muslims to blame a Muslim for doing the same thing that he does while his society accepts and condones it.”
Jawad, a well-known English scholar, says:“The stiff British system which prevents polygyny is an unfair and unacceptable system. It severely hurts approximately two million women who have become old maids. These women have lost their youth and were deprived of having children. Thus, these women were forced to throw away the moral values as one throws away the pit of a date.”
In 1959, the United Nations published a special publication stating:“This publication has proven, by numbers and statistics, that the entire world is now facing a growing problem of illegitimate children, as opposed to legitimate children. The number of illegitimate children has increased 60% in some countries. In Panama, for instance, the percentage of illegitimate births soared to 75% of the total number of births in the country. This means that three out of every four children are illegitimate, born outside of wedlock. The highest percentage of illegitimate births is stated to be in Latin America.”
At the same time, the publication proves and indicates that the number of illegitimate births in the Islamic world is almost nil (in comparison with other countries). The editor of the publication goes on to say that Islamic countries are protected against such social problems and disease due to the fact that the people practice polygyny.
Lastly, it is important to ask the question, who benefits from a polygynous marriage? It seems that people naturally jump to the conclusion that men are the beneficiaries of such a social arrangement, despite the heavy obligations it places upon them.
Interestingly though, the social scientists, Kanazawa and Still, in their Social Forces journal article - “Why Monogamy in 1999” - argued for a “female choice” theory of marriage practices. In this theory, women are seen to be in the position of demanding a particular marriage system based on the availability and status of potential male partners. Where resource inequalities are great among men (less men are available to marry), women will choose to enter into a plural marriage. But when such inequalities are small or even non-existent, women will then chose to enter into a monogamous relationship. This theory is intriguing as it is female-empowering while also functional. It recognizes polygamy or monogamy as rational choices to be made in accordance with social circumstances.
- POWER OF GUARDIANSHIP IN THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT
In Islamic jurisprudence, one requirement for a sound marriage is the total agreement of the woman concerned.
The Prophet of Allah said :(s) “A divorcee or a widow must not be wedded unless she is asked, and gives her approval. And a virgin must not be wedded unless she is consulted.” It was asked: “O’ Messenger of Allah, how can she give her permission?” He said: “If she remains silent.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
If a woman is coerced into accepting an undesired marriage, she is entitled to present her case before a Muslim judge to seek annulment. A woman by the name of al-Khansa bint Khadam, who had been previously married (and was now divorced or widowed), came complaining to the Messenger of Allah (s)that her father had forced her to marry a person she despised. He disapproved and invalidated it.
Another requirement is that she does not give herself in marriage to anyone without guardianship. Her father, or in case he is not alive, her grandfather, paternal uncle, brother or even her mature son, or the ruler of the State, must act as her guardian in this affair to assure her rights are protected and to sign the marriage contract along with her signature. His role is to make sure that the groom is sincere and of standard, that she has a proper dowry, and that two witnesses testify to the contract which she willfully accepts. All these measures are to protect her rights and the sanctity of marriage.
The Messenger of Allah (s) made this perfectly clear when he said: “There is no marriage without a guardian.” [Abu Dawood & Tirmidhi and verified]
And in another version: “There is no marriage without a guardian, and the ruler is the guardian for those who have no guardian.” [Ahmad & Ibn Maajah and verified]
Therefore, if she elopes and marries herself, this marriage is considered unlawful, as the Prophet (s)declared: “Any woman who marries without the consent of her guardian, then her marriage is nullified, then her marriage is nullified, then her marriage is nullified, and if he has consummated the marriage then she must receive a dowry from him for what he has made lawful of her private parts, and if they fall into dispute then the ruler is the guardian for those who have no guardian.” [Abu Dawood & Tirmidhi and verified]
As mentioned above in the rights of daughters, whether a virgin or otherwise, the right of a woman is to accept or reject any marriage offer of her own free will. The institution of guardianship is only to protect her interests. The fact that the ruler or governor becomes her legal guardian to assure that all is in order and that no criminal injustice is perpetrated reinforces the sacredness of the marriage contract and the sanctity of her rights in Islam.
Islamic jurisprudence lays down principles and laws to protect the woman’s interests and welfare and preserve her rights. The father, the mother and other concerned relatives, if need be, help select the right and most suitable husband for her, since all seek her happiness and none wish her to be victim of a failed marriage. The goal of marriage is to establish an everlasting relationship between a male and a female and a loving and beneficial home for the children, not mere gratification of certain desires.
Islamic jurisprudence, though, gives the right to the guardian to refuse and reject proposals if the suitor is not deemed a sound and sincere match. Male guardianship in this case is only natural given their role of authority and responsibility. Moreover, it cannot be denied that men, being of the same gender, have a better ability to perceive qualities of other men in certain areas, and are more capable of finding those characteristics of a man that suit his daughter or the woman under his responsibility of guardianship. Of course, he seeks counsel of the wife and other concerned females in the process of selection of the bridegroom.
If a proper man proposes marriage and the guardian refuses for no valid reason, then the guardianship can be contested in the court of law. The guardianship is then given to the nearest responsible male relative of the woman, or, in case she has no responsible male relatives, the Muslim Judge assumes guardianship.
In the final analysis, the true measurement of a suitable match in marriage is the statement of the Prophet of Allah : “If a person comes to you to propose a marriage and you are pleased with his religion and morals, then marry him. If you fail to do so, great affliction will take place on earth, and corruption will be widespread.” [Tirmidhi and verified]
A man with a sound and good understanding of his Islamic commitment, with good moral standards will honor his wife and dignify her, and treat her justly and with decency even if he does not love her.
- FINANCIAL AND MORAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE HOUSEHOLD
Allah, the Exalted, stated in the Qur’an: “Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for their maintenance] from their wealth.” [4:34]
This verse emphasizes that the financial and moral responsibilities of a household is the husband’s responsibility. The natural, physical and social qualities of men demand that they take charge of these responsibilities since they are of the physically fit to work, being free from the burden of menses, pregnancy, nursing and early childrearing. The man is the “guardian” of his own household - a shepherd of his flock in the idiom mentioned earlier - and he will be held accountable for all his responsibilities.
Women by their natural constituency are more endowed with intuition and emotional intelligence. This is their natural feminine role that is fully honored and protected. Due to the pains and burdens of menses, pregnancy, delivery, nursing, and continual child-care, women are not required to take on additional financial and vocational responsibilities for the sustenance and maintenance of the household. Yet, this does not restrict her to household activities. Women are free to work and even encouraged to work in certain fields where they are specifically needed or better suited such as in medicine and teaching. If a woman chooses to work outside of the home, her income is hers and she is not responsible or held accountable for supporting the family expenses. Job or no job, the man is the party responsible for the care and maintenance of the family.
While the issue has become quite controversial in more recent times, the question of who, the mother or the father, is better suited for early child-care has traditionally been more of a rhetorical question. But, if we take a moment to consider the research into this matter, it seems to support the traditional idea.
For example, in a recent University of Virginia study, researchers asked 181 heterosexual college professors who had children 2 or younger to rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, the pleasure they experienced from child care. On 16 out of 25 child - care tasks - like changing diapers, taking a child to the doctor or getting up in the middle of a night to attend to a child - women reported statistically significant higher levels of enjoyment than men. There was only one parenting issue that gave women less pleasure than it gave men; having to manage who does what for the child. Over all, women’s scores were 10% higher than that of men.
Furthermore, it seems that women also enjoy the child-care role far more than men as can be seen from which gender is more likely to take advantage of family-leave benefits to care for children. In the same study above, all the universities offered paid family leave, and 69% of the women took it, compared with only 12% of the men who did. In Sweden, where family leave for both parents is famously extensive, men use about 20% of the 480-day benefit, while women use nearly all of it.
Let us take it a step further, and ask why women are so much more dedicated parents than men? According to the 1992 March/April Current Population Survey in the United States, conducted by the US Census Bureau on a nationally representative sample, 86% of custodial parents are mothers. Moreover, many of the noncustodial fathers who have agreed to pay child support either voluntarily, or via court order, default on their obligation and are classified as “deadbeat dads.” The first national survey of the receipt of child support, conducted in 1978, reveals that 49% of women awarded child support actually received the full amount due to them, and that 28% of them received no money at all. The percentages have, sadly, remained almost the same since then. In 1991, 52% of custodial parents awarded child support received the full amount and 25% of them received nothing. Most people can likely agree that there is something uniquely special about the mother whatever your theory might be.
Returning to our theme, what of those who call for complete equality between men and women? Such people blatantly disregard basic facts and essential differences. Advocates of women’s equal rights demand the same type of education to be given to both male and female, and the same type of jobs, tasks, responsibilities, and positions to be offered. This absurdity neglects woman’s nature and essential physical, mental, emotional, and social traits.
We must accept natural laws and movements as they are, without attempting to change them to seek unnatural obstruction or interference with them. For their own benefit, both men and women should build upon their natural talents and gifts, and never deviate into imitating those of the other sex, which only leads to abuse of themselves and others.
- RESOLVING MARITAL DISPUTES
Allah, the Exalted, stated in the Glorious Qur’an: “… So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.” [4:34]
Islam forbids beating women and warns strictly against it. The Prophet (s) never beat any of his wives or servants, as his wife Aishah reported in an authentic tradition(6). Women are often unable to defend themselves against violence. Although beating of women is generally forbidden, Islam permits the beating of wives in a highly restricted and limited, “symbolic” sense only as a final solution and acceptable valid reason when all else fails.
In the verse we quoted, Allah deals with the case of a wife who behaves immorally towards her husband’s rights. The treatment of this extremely sensitive issue comes in gradual stages, as we have noticed from the verse. Medicine, or treatment of any ailment, can be very bitter at times. But an ill person will take the remedy gladly and bear the bitterness of the medicine in order to be cured from his illness. The remedy to treat a wife blameworthy of immoral behavior, as we have noticed, comes in three gradual stages:
First stage: The stage of advice, counseling and warning against Allah’s punishment. A husband must remind his wife of the importance of protecting his rights in Islam. This stage is a very kind and easy one. But, if this treatment does not work and proves to be ineffective, then the husband may resort to the next stage.
Second stage: To leave the wife’s bed. Or, if one sleeps in the same bed with her, he will turn his back to her, not touch her, talk to her or have intercourse with her. This stage, as noticed, combines both strictness and kindness, although it is a very harsh practice on both. But, if this treatment does not work, then the husband may resort, if he feels confident that it will bring about a solution, to the final stage of discipline explained below. It is very important to understand that if the husband feels that the situation is hopeless, that he should proceed to divorce and not apply a physical solution.
Third and final stage: The light beating that is referred to in the Qur’an means: without hurting, breaking a bone, leaving black or blue marks on the body, and not hitting the face or especially sensitive places at any cost. The purpose of beating her is only symbolic and must never be done as retaliation or with a desire to hurt by any means. In fact, when we review the commentary of the Qur’an (tafseer) we find: ‘Ata’ said: I said to Ibn ‘Abbas, “What is the kind of hitting that is not harsh?” He said, “Hitting with a siwaak and the like”. [A siwaak is a small twig used for cleaning the teeth - Translator]
Islam forbids severe beating as punishment. The Prophet (s) said: “None of you should beat his wife like a slave-beating and then have intercourse with her at the end of the day”. [Bukhari]
Beating, according to the Islamic teachings, is listed as the last and final stage of disciplining methods. Islam does not permit, allow or even condone beating unless the first two stages are proven to be ineffective.
Moreover, beating must not be employed as a remedy, if a wife prefers to be divorced.
The three stages of discipline stated in the verse of the Qur’an are only meant to be a means of discipline for the protection of the family unit. One form of destruction of a family is when the wife becomes a victim of divorce. Islam aims to relieve unnecessary pains, problems and conflicts.
Yet, some people find the concept of physical disciplining of the wife to be abhorrent and unsuitable for a religious text. Is Islam unique in this idea? If we look to Judaism and Christianity, we will find that Islam is unique in limiting the extent of this discipline; for in Judeo-Christian tradition, there appears to be little limitation on the extent of the beating.
In Judaism, a number of the early rabbis mentioned the concept of wife disciplining. A notable example is from the well-known, and often praised, Rabbi Maimonides (11351204) who recommended in his Code, the Mishneh Torah, that beating a “bad wife” is an acceptable form of discipline: “A wife who refuses to perform any kind of work that she is obligated to do, may be compelled to perform it, even by scourging her with a rod” (Isshut 21:10).
A number of Christians have for some centuries used Ephesians 5:22 - “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” - as their validation for beating their wives. One article summarizes the concept best: “The custom that a man is the head of his household and has the right to beat his wife ‘to keep in line’ is found in the medieval theory and practice that the loving Christian husband’s duty and responsibility is to maintain order. The pronouncements on husbandly entitlements cited in Gratian’s twelfth century canon law text Decretum formed generations of opinions: ‘a man may chastise his wife and beat her for her own correction; for she is of his household, and therefore the lord may chastise his own...so likewise the husband is bound to chastise his wife in moderation... unless he be a clerk, in which case he may chastise her more severely (as cited in Coulton 1II.234).’”
Legal documents from a variety of regions witness that wifebeating was legally allowed under one or more pretexts, most especially the husband’s need to maintain social order in the family. “Men must control, support, instruct and correct.” (Vecchio 121)
Interestingly, in some cases it appeared that the two religions even influenced one another. For example, it appears that the Rabbi Perez b. Elijah of Corbeil of the thirteenth century was influenced to some degree by the ideas of the Dominican, Nicolaus de Byard (French friar, famous preacher and moral theologian, d. 1261), who said: “A man may chastise his wife and beat her for her correction; for she is of his household, and therefore the Lord may chastise his own, as it is written in Gratian’s Decretum” (Bologna, 1140 c.e.)
At any rate, the practice of beating wives is unfortunately too frequent around the world. Wife beatings in many societies are often done with intent to inflict pain and to harm the wife; something strictly prohibited in Islam as mentioned previously. Statistics show incidents of domestic abuse continue to increase world-wide, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or politics. These statistics are certainly an understatement as there are numerous unreported cases of wife beating, and the beating of women in general. It is the position of Islam that such cases are crimes and cannot be justified by religion or logic.
- ON HONOR KILLINGS
In some traditional and tribal custom-based societies, custom gives the male such a dominant role that if the honor of his womenfolk are perceived, even without evidence, to have been violated by an action of promiscuity on her part, the man kills her to protect his honor. This situation has been hyped up in the media more recently as some sort of Islamic practice, but this is nothing but slander and a lie.
The answer to this is simple. To begin with, people are not allowed to take the law into their own hands and punish in this manner based on unverified accusations of promiscuity, as the rules of testimony in Islam are very strict. Therefore, this is a direct violation of the Islamic law. If the court assesses the case as an outright premeditated murder, after considering all circumstances and receiving proofs conclusively, it becomes punishable by the Islamic law of equity and retribution in cases of premeditated murder. The unfortunate reality is that because secular laws are in place in these countries, and because politicians appease tribal and other leaders for political advantages, these unjust customs are allowed to continue in some Muslim countries. If the Islamic laws were established and executed, the severe punishments for fornication, adultery, murder, and so forth would satisfy the Muslim population that justice has been done, and this would curtail the sense of vengeance that exists.
In truth, honor killings are found throughout the world and not tied specifically to Muslim majority countries; though the latter often get the sensationalized press. For example, throughout the twentieth century, husbands in Brazil have used in court cases the “legitimate defense of their honor” (legitima defesa da honra) as justification for adultery-related killings. This defense was only recently legal rejected by their Supreme Court in 1991.
- POWER TO DIVORCE IS WITH THE HUSBAND
In pre-Islamic times, divorce was a weapon used against the woman solely in a man’s hands; when he wanted to harm the wife he would seek to divorce her and then take her back as he pleased. There were no set rules and the woman had no rights in the matter. So Allah invalidated this injustice by revealing the verse which says: “Divorce is two times. Then, either keep [her] in an acceptable manner or release [her] with good treatment.” [2:229]
As a way to help preserve the marriage even when some differences occur, a Muslim man following the Sunnah (way) of the Prophet (s) may only divorce his wife while she is clean from menses, wherein he has not had sexual relations with her in that month. Since this requires some waiting period before the pronouncement of divorce, this allows time for any anger to subside or misunderstandings to be cleared up, and gives time to other family members or mediators to help in reconciliation.
If they continue on the path towards divorce though, then she must wait three menstrual periods. During this time, he may “take her back” honorably into marriage. This will be counted as the first divorce and return. If the time lapses and he lets her go her way, she will be fully divorced for the first time, and is free to marry another man. Her first husband may remarry her with a new contract, if they both choose that option. If he does, and he then again divorces her, he may “take her back” within the three menstrual periods, and this will be two divorces and returns. After two divorces and returns, if he divorces her a third time this is called the final and separating divorce wherein they are not allowed to remarry unless she freely marries a different man and then becomes divorced from him. All these measures are designed to help protect the family and sanctity of the marriage bond, and the rights of the man and the woman. The waiting period is to determine that she is free from pregnancy. In case of pregnancy, the woman has to wait until after delivery before she marries a second husband.
Divorce is ultimately allowed in Islam to escape from any harm caused by irreconcilable differences. It may become necessary in certain cases. There are strict rules about divorce to protect the interests and rights of the parties involved: the husband, wife and children. Some of them have been mentioned above.
Divorce might be forbidden in the case where it would not solve the problem and cause undue harm to one of the two marriage partners, without achieving a needed benefit.
Islamic jurisprudence obligates that in order to avoid divorce, solutions should be sought when critical disputes and differences occur between a husband and wife. Allah, the Exalted, states in the Qur’an:“And if a woman fears from her husband contempt or evasion, there is no sin upon them if they make terms of settlement between them - and settlement is best.” [4:128]
Allah, the Exalted, also says:“If you fear dissension between the two, send an arbitrator from his people and an arbitrator from her people. If they both desire reconciliation, Allah will cause it between them. Indeed, Allah is ever Knowing and Acquainted [with all things].” [4:35]
One of the most natural and logical ways to help maintain a successful marriage is to let the man have more control over the divorce process than the woman because it is the man who is financially obliged to take care of his wife, household and family, and has ultimate responsibility for their welfare. Therefore, he must rationally assess the situation, grave consequences, and huge financial and emotional loss that will result from a divorce. The husband will lose the dowry he spent for the marriage, and will have to pay the alimony and child support, as well as any newly acquired expenses from a new marriage on top of that. Thus, with all these considerations, he will not act just out of quick anger, fickleness or passing emotion.
A man is more capable - at least theoretically - of controlling his flitting emotions and personal reactions when upset about the smaller issues in life, especially in terms of disputes with his wife. Divorce should never be a quick reaction for some suffering, misunderstandings, or differences of viewpoints, but only as a last resort and final solution when life becomes dangerously problematic and intolerable, wherein both spouses are afraid that they will not be able to abide by the limits set by Allah and His Prophet as regards respectable behavior with one another.
Islamic jurisprudence permits the wife to have her marriage nullified upon her request if the husband abuses her physically or verbally. She is also entitled to have the marriage nullified for the following general reasons:
- if the husband is impotent and cannot perform his marital duties.
- or if the husband for any reason, refuses to have sexual relations with his wife and fulfill her lawful needs.
- or is afflicted with a disabling terminal illness after the marriage.
- or contracts any type of venereal or reproductive disease that may harm the wife or make her lose her desire to be with her husband.
Thus, we see that the woman is given the right to seek separation from her husband for legitimate reasons in many situations, exactly as the man has the right to seek divorce. If a wife reaches the extreme limits of patience and abhors her husband, feeling that life is unbearable, then she also has the right to divorce. This form of divorce is called annulment, or “Khul’a”, wherein she pays compensation by returning her dowry or some other property. A competent Muslim judge will look into the individual case if the husband refuses to accept the wife’s request and if the request is considered sound and valid, the judge will pass a judgment in favor of the woman.
- WOMEN’S RIGHT OF INHERITANCE
Allah, the Exalted, stated in the Glorious Qur’an: “Allah commands you as regards to your children’s [inheritance]; to the male, a portion equal to that of two females.” [4:11]
Those who misunderstand Islam claim that Islam does injustice to women in terms of inheritance. They opine that it is unfair to grant the male a double portion to that of the female, even though they are children of the same parents. Allah, the Exalted, offered a full and detailed method of women’s inheritance in the Qur’an and Sunnah, and if an unbiased student of knowledge reflects on the details, he or she will discover the fault of this opinion.
To begin with, Allah has determined all the shares of all the relatives in respect to their relationship to the deceased. As He the Most Wise said:“There is a share for men and a share for women from what is left by parents and those nearest related, whether the property is small or large, an obligatory share.” [4:7]
Allah has stated three types of shares for a woman’s inheritance as follows:
- A woman will have an equal share as that of the man.
- A woman will have an equal share to that of the man, or a little less.
- A woman will have half the share of a man.
This means that the minimum of her shares is half, and considering that a female has no continual financial responsibilities as a child, sister, wife or mother, and these responsibilities are always on the men of the family, this is very generous indeed.
Those who are interested in the details about this subject should review the discussions in books about the special branch of Islamic knowledge called, “The Science of Inheritance and Division of the Estate.” These books deal with all the different ways of dividing an inheritance, and the proper share of all relatives according to the Qur’an and Sunnah. Prior to passing any judgment about the “unfair treatment” of Islam to women in terms of inheritance, one must examine this subject closely.
In contrast to all the other societies, Islamic Jurisprudence stipulates the rules and regulations about all the affairs of a man, from big to small, to bring harmony to their lives. Just like a person has specific instructions for how to live and use his money in his lifetime, his wealth after his death is dealt with in the same way. Unlike other social systems, a person can generally deal with his wealth in his life however he wants, but his will has certain restrictions according to the Islamic Law. Through his will he can only give 1/3 of his wealth to whoever he wants, all the rest is distributed according to the law of inheritance derived from the Qur’an.
In the famous tradition, the companion Sa’ad ibn Abi Waqqas was ill and requested to bequest the majority of his wealth as charity, or a half of it since he was wealthy and only had one daughter. The Messenger of Allah (s) forbade him and only allowed him to give a third, and said:“A third, and a third is quite generous, for it is better that you leave your heirs wealthy rather than leave them needy, begging from the people. You will not spend anything seeking Allah’s countenance but you receive a reward for that expenditure, even the morsel of food you put into your wife’s mouth.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
Therefore, demanding a “fair”, “just” or “equal” share of inheritance for both male and female Muslims, who do not have equal financial obligations and responsibilities, is an unfair and unjust demand. It is only fair and just to give preference to a male heir, in light of his financial responsibilities, over the female heir from the inheritance of the father, mother or others. Considering all this, the fact that a female is still entitled by the Islamic law to a half share of the portion of inheritance received by the male, and sometimes an equal share, is indeed fair, just, and generous.
Gustave Le Bon says in his book Arab Civilization: “The principles of inheritance which have been determined in the Qur’an have a great deal of justice and fairness. The person who reads the Qur’an can perceive these concepts of justice and fairness in terms of inheritance through the verses I quoted. I should also point out the great level of efficiency in terms of general laws and rules derived from these verses. I have compared British, French and Islamic Laws of inheritance and found that Islam grants the wives the right of inheritance, which our laws are lacking while Westerners consider them to be ill-treated by the Muslim men.”
Also, in accordance with Islam, the men of the family shoulder all expenses resulting from payment of “blood-money”, and this is another subject of concern that we will discuss now.
- BLOOD MONEY
In the case of murder, capital punishment is an option for both male and female since they are equal in the sight of the Islamic law. However, in the case of accidental death, Islam stipulates that the blood money to be paid for a woman’s accidental death is half of that which is paid for a man. The reason that the blood money paid to the heirs of the female victim is half of that paid for a man’s killing in the case of accidental killing is because the damage done to the family by the man’s death is more of a financial loss. The family has lost a breadwinner who, as we explained above, is financially responsible for the entire family.
No one denies the remorse of loss of life, but the financial loss to the family by the demise of a male provider is greater compared to the loss of the female member. The family members, whose mother is killed accidentally, for instance, miss their mother’s love, care and affection, matters that most men cannot provide as well as the mother, but the financial situation would not be affected as much as when the father is killed. It must be remembered that blood money is not a price or value of the person, but only an approximate compensation for the killed to alleviate the emotional and financial hardship caused to the family by the loss of that person.
- TESTIMONY OF WOMEN
Allah, the Exalted, stated in the Glorious Qur’an: “And bring to testify two witnesses from among your men. And if there are not two men [available], then a man and two women from those whom you accept as witnesses - so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her.” [2:282]
Allah clarifies, to assure the rights of others, that testimonies will not be valid unless two men, or one man and two women offer them.
While some people see this verse as stating that women are in some way weaker as regards memory, this is not at all the case. The verse in question is referring very specifically to financial transactions and debts; a serious issue requiring precise decisions. In the normal case, two men are required as witnesses. But in the case you do not find two men, then one man and two women - two women so that the one supports the other in a typically male dominated arena. In Islam, a woman is not allowed to be alone with strange men (men who are not close relatives or her husband). Thus it would be very uncomfortable in such a tense setting to witness alone; hence, a second woman to support her. The same applies to the man - another man as co-witness.
A man’s single testimony is not acceptable in financial matters, since there must be two male witnesses to prove the financial right of a claimant, or one man and two women. We have never heard that anyone considered this requirement an insult to man’s intelligence or contrary to his rights. This proves that the requirement is for the protection against false accusations and mistakes.
In other types of cases though, for example cases of adultery and fornication, divorce and bequests, the witness of a woman is equal to that of a male as the Qur’an doesn’t specify a gender - only that it should be two witnesses.
There are also some cases when the testimony of each is totally equal. For instance, the testimony of a wife is exactly equal to the testimony of her husband when a husband accuses his wife of committing adultery and he has no evidence to prove his claim. Allah stated in the Qur’an: “As for those who accuse their wives, but have no witnesses except themselves, let them present their testimony four times, that by Allah he is one of those who speak the truth. By the fifth [testimony], he invokes the Curse of Allah on himself, if he is of those who tell a lie. She will avert the punishment from her if she bears witness four times by Allah, that [her husband] is telling a lie. And the fifth [testimony] should be that the Wrath of Allah be upon her if [her husband] is speaking the truth.” [24:6-9]
Besides testimony that involves other people’s rights, Islam has granted women full financial freedom in terms of independence and financial decision-making, and made her exactly equal to men in that regard. However, a woman’s natural role in life, in raising children and caring for the family, gives her special knowledge and expertise in that area and thus only women are permitted to be the sole witness in legal matters pertaining to breastfeeding and matters related to menstruation. A male witness in such legal cases is not permitted.
Note that testimony in the Islamic law in itself is not a privilege, but a burden that many attempt to avoid, and for this reason, Allah commanded people to offer their testimonies and not to seek to escape or withhold it. Allah stated in the Qur’an: “And the witnesses should not refuse when they are called on [for evidence].” [2:281]
The address here is general for both male and female. Many people all over the world try to avoid becoming a witness, and attempt to escape involvement in offering testimonies, because one is required to go to the court, sit on the witness stand, take an oath to tell the truth, be cross-examined and many other burdens. Financial and physical burdens or threats may result from being a witness and offering testimony. Islam therefore aims at eliminating many of these burdens from the woman in general.
- TRAVEL WITHOUT A MALE GUARDIAN
The Prophet (s) said: “A woman must not travel alone without a mahram. No man may enter the house of a woman unless there is a mahram with her.” A man stood up and asked Allah’s Prophet: “O Messenger of Allah! My wife is going on Hajj (pilgrimage), while I want to participate in a battle, what should I do?” The Prophet of Allah said: “Go with her.” [Bukhari]
For the protection of the person and the honor of the woman, the Islamic rule encompassed in this tradition forbids any woman, whether she be young or old, single or married, to travel alone without a mahram as a travel companion. This man must be of those to whom she is permanently prohibited to marry due to their close blood relationship; such as a father, a brother, an uncle, an elder son or nephew after he has reached puberty, or a husband.
Some people might say that this regulation restricts the freedom of the woman and her basic right of movement. The purpose of this rule is not to prevent her travel but to free her from harm and molestation, and thus to maintain and preserve her right of dignity. Traveling entails many hardships and dangers, and since women are generally physically weaker than men, and moreover she may have circumstances of pregnancy, menses, nursing and childcare, or some ailments, she is in more need of help and service.
There are, as we all know, wicked-minded, evil and violent men who lurk about and seek to take advantage of women whom they find susceptible, gullible or traveling alone. Such wicked-minded men are, of course, either interested in robbery, trickery, seduction, or rape. Therefore, a woman is very much in need of someone to care for, protect and fulfill her special needs while traveling, providing her the needed security, service and attention to help her in her difficulties and ward off strangers and potential predators.
The “mahram” of a woman in Islam protects and serves with utmost sincerity since this is a natural obligation on him, rewarded by Allah. We find that many civilizations have similar rules about escorting women in travel, but often they allow other than the “mahram” to escort her since they do not differentiate between a mahram and a non-mahram in their cultures, which results in terrible stories. Therefore, and upon this line of reasoning, forbidding a woman to travel alone, and mandating a male escort who must be a close relative or husband is not in any way a humiliating restriction or insult to her abilities, but, in fact, is an honor that she is served, protected and given companionship by a male escort who has to give her preference over his personal matters and needs.
It should also be noted, that this stipulation not to travel alone is specifically for lengthy travel and not day trips.
- WOMEN’S RIGHT TO WORK
As mentioned above, Allah created all mankind from a single male and female, and placed natural love and affection for one another in order that they cooperate to build families and relationships. We see in nature that Allah bestowed the male of each species with certain traits in order that he may dominate in certain spheres and seek provisions and protection for the species, while the female of each species is equipped to reproduce and multiply to maintain the continuity of that species. Only the female is equipped with the necessary apparatus to bear, deliver, nurse and care for the young. The female human has been endowed with love, kindness, sympathy, care and affection in order to carry out her duties to her children with dignity. Based on this natural predisposition and delegation of responsibilities, and based on the unique qualities of the male and the female, it is understandable why men have generally gone to work outside the house to earn for the sustenance of the family and why women typically work inside the house and take care of the children and the family.
In light of this, Islamic law does not deprive a woman from the right to work within the limits that protect her honor and dignity. Islam permits the woman to personally conduct her business contracts and financial transactions. All such contracts and transactions are sound and valid in the view of Islamic jurisprudence. There are certain set conditions which if violated, the permission given to the woman to practice this right will be rendered void and she can be restricted from the use of her right.
The work that the women engage in outside the home must not conflict with her duties and responsibilities to her husband and children. Her work must be free of intermingling in a male dominated environment, where she comes into physical contact with men, or is confined and exposed to molestation and abuse. As the Messenger of Allah (s) said : “A man is not secluded with a woman, but that Satan is the third party to them.” [Tirmidhi and verified]
And in another tradition, A man said: “O Messenger of Allah my wife has gone out to go for Pilgrimage and I have been deployed to go for a military campaign.” He said: “Go and make Pilgrimage with your wife.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
Lady Cook, an English writer says in New Echo:“Men like the mixed environment. Thus, women are lured to something that conflicts with their human nature. The greater the co-ed environment, the more illegitimate children the society will have. There is the greatest disaster...”
The work that the woman performs outside her home must be, in the first place, a lawful employment or job that suits the nature and physique of the woman. She must not, for instance, be obliged to do heavy industrial jobs, and other jobs to which men are more suited to perform.
The question that poses itself here is: Why does the woman have to work in the first place? If a woman is working to earn her own living expenses, Islam has absolved her from this duty by obliging, as mentioned earlier, the male family members to take care of her financial needs and any obligations. Thus from her birth to death, throughout the various stages of her entire life, she is not required to work to give her the utmost dignity and to allow her to concentrate on her paramount mission and duty of taking care of the home and raising the children. This honorable mission requires great sacrifices and devotion, and has the highest status.
The well-known Scottish author Samuel Smiles, who wrote SelfHelp, widely considered “the bible of mid-Victorian liberalism”: “The system that has required women to work in factories and industrial areas, regardless of the national wealth it brings, has destroyed the family life. It has attacked, in fact, the basic structure and foundations of the home and destroyed the essential pillars of the family. It has cut and destroyed social ties as well. Stripping the wife from her husband, and depriving children of their rights of proper, tender and maternal care, has resulted in lower moral values for the women. The real job and profession of a woman is to raise a good, sound and moral family. She is mainly required to take care of household responsibilities, home economics and other domestic needs. Work in factories has stripped the woman, as we pointed earlier, of all these responsibilities which changed the looks and the realities of the inner home. Children, as well, were often neglected and raised with no sound standards. The love and affection between husband and wife were somewhat extinguished. The woman was no longer the sought, wanted, admired and loved by man, after he got used to seeing her in the factory next to him doing the same thing he does. Woman came under many influences and pressures that changed her mentality and thinking pattern on which moral values and virtues were established.”
In fact, the First Lady of South Africa calls for the return of women to the home saying: “The most natural place for a woman is her own home. The main task and responsibility for a woman must be to care for her husband and attend to the needs of her children.”
She also said in an address to a women’s conference in the capital of South Africa: “The main task and responsibility for a woman must be to care for her husband and attend to the needs of her children… This is our duty in the society. It is a duty in which we should take special pride, as it produces successful men and sound generations.”
In the end, it is important to understand that these principles are not meant to be controlling or restricting. For both men and women, the purpose of this life is to worship God and attain His pleasure so as to succeed in the Hereafter. The Prophet (s) said: “Before the Hour comes, there will be a special greeting for the people of distinction; trade will become so widespread that a woman will help her husband in business; family ties will be cut; the giving of false witness will be common, while truthful witness will be rare; and writing will be widespread.” [Ahmad - verified]
When we consider this statement, what is wrong with the woman helping her husband in business? We are thinking from the perspective of what is allowed and prohibited, but we should be seeing this from the perspective of what is most rewarding.
The Prophet (s) mentioned this as a sign of decay because women will go out into the working world in order to gain more money, not because there is a need. In other words, they prefer the glitter of this temporary life to the excellence of the Hereafter and as such they trade their time for money instead of using that time to worship. The same has become of men in these days - they are trying only to amass more wealth and disregarding those acts that will bring them benefit after their death.
This is among the reasons that women are encouraged to take the higher road - it is both more rewarding for their life, in that they enjoy security and they raise a righteous next generation, but also the reward of the Hereafter by avoiding much that opens the door to sin.
- ON HIJAB (COVERING HEAD AND FACE)
This issue has been sensationalized in the media, especially in some secular countries which seek to make illegal the wearing of the Muslim headscarf or face veil in public places. We will not delve into all the details of the issue but, given the information above and some additional information below, we will let the readers judge for themselves whether or not the modest clothing and covering of the beauty and adornments of women, mandated in Islamic scriptures, is only for her own honor and protection, or not.
Allah says: “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” [33:59]
This verse clearly states that the reason the woman is obligated to cover herself is to distinguish her as a respectable Muslim lady, and to avoid the annoying glances and glares of men. As we all know, provocative clothing urges some men to make advances, and it exposes women to harassment at minimum. This may be encouraged and marketed in some societies, but not among the respectable and faithful Muslims.
Allah also said:“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their head-covers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” [24:31]
This verse indicates those males who are categorized as “mahram,” as mentioned above, and designates that men and women should lower their gazes in modesty, which is the best self-protection from natural temptations and mutual attractions that occur between the opposite sexes.
And Allah says, indicating the provocative manners with which the women of pre-Islamic era used to walk about, and calling the believers to appropriate behavior and repentance: “And abide in your houses and do not display yourselves as [was] the display of the former times of ignorance. And establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah intends only to remove from you the impurity [of sin], O people of the [Prophet’s] household, and to purify you with [extensive] purification.
And remember what is recited in your houses of the verses of Allah and wisdom. Indeed, Allah is ever Subtle and Acquainted [with all things].
Verily, the Muslims men and women, the believing men and women, the obedient men and women, the truthful men and women, the patient men and women, the humble men and women, the charitable men and women, the fasting men and the women, the chaste men and women, and the men and the women who remember Allah much with their hearts and tongues; Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward. It is not for a believing man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter, that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed strayed in a clear error.” [33:33-36]
We can see that Islamic regulations, although similar to many other cultures where modest dress and behavior is concerned, are yet unique to the highest standards of the Muslim identity of chastity, righteousness, and moral uprightness. Islam protects and safeguards the individuals and the society from awkward situations of unnecessary intermingling between marriageable males and females leading to natural temptations. The Messenger of Allah (s) said in an authentic tradition: “Truly for every religion there is a characteristic, and the characteristic of Islam is modesty/shyness.” [Ibn Maajah and verified]