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Gender Equity in Islam

Written by: by Jamal Badawi :: (View All Articles by: Jamal Badawi)

Gender Equity in Islam

Jamal A. Badawi, Ph.D.

World Assembly of Muslim Youth

WAMY Studies on Islam

I. Introduction & Methodology

When dealing with the Islamic perspectiveof any topic, there should be a clear distinction between the normative teachingsof Islam and the diverse cultural practices among Muslims, which may or maynot be consistent with them. The focus of this paper is the normative teachingsof Islam as the criteria to judge Muslim practices and evaluate their compliancewith Islam. In identifying what is "Islamic" it is necessary to make adistinction between the primary sources of Islam (the Qur'an and the Sunnah)and legal opinions of scholars on specific issues, which may vary and beinfluenced by their times, circumstances, and cultures. Such opinions andverdicts do not enjoy the infallibility accorded to the primary and revelatorysources. Furthermore, interpretation of the primary sources should consider,among other things:

(a) The context of any text in the Qur'anand the Sunnah. This includes the general context of Islam, its teachings,its world view, and the context of the surah and section thereof.

(b) The occasion of the revelation, whichmay shed light on its meanings.

(c) The role of the Sunnah in explaining anddefining the meaning of the Qur'anic text.

This paper is a brief review of the positionand role of woman in society from an Islamic perspective. The topic is dividedinto spiritual, economic, social, and political aspects.

II. The Spiritual Aspect

1. According to the Qur'an, men and womenhave the same spiritual human nature:

O mankind: Reverence your Guardian Lord Whocreated you from a single person created of like nature his mate and fromthem twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women; reverence Allahthrough Whom you demand your mutual (rights) and (reverence) the wombs (thatbore you): for Allah ever watches over you. (Qur'an 4:1)

It is He who created you from a single personand made his mate of like nature in order that he might dwell with her (inlove). When they are united she bears a light burden and carries it about(unnoticed). When she grows heavy they both pray to Allah their Lord (saying):"If You give us a goodly child we vow we shall (ever) be grateful." (Qur'an7:189)

(He is) the Creator of the heavens and theearth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves and pairs among cattle:by this means does He multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Himand Her is the One that hears and sees (all things.) (Qur'an 42:11)

2. Both genders are recipients of the "divinebreath" since they are created with the same human and spiritual nature(nafsin-waahidah):

But He fashioned him in due proportion andbreathed into him something of His spirit. And He gave you (the facultiesof) hearing and sight and feeling (and understanding): little thanks to yougive (Qur'an 15:29)

3. Both genders are dignified and are trusteesof Allah on earth.

We have honored the children of Adam, providedthem with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things goodand pure; and conferred on them special favors above a great part of OurCreation. (Qur'an 17:70)

Behold your Lord said to the angels: "I willcreate a vicegerent on earth." They said "Will you place therein one whowill make mischief therein and shed blood? Whilst we do celebrate Your praisesand glorify Your holy (name)?" He said: "I know what you do not." (Qur'an2:30)

4. According to the Qur'an, woman is not blamedfor the "fall of man." Pregnancy and childbirth are not seen as punishmentsfor "eating from the for bidden tree." On the contrary, the Qur'an considersthem to be grounds for love and respect due to mothers.

In narrating the story of Adam and Eve, theQur'an frequently refers to both of them, never singling out Eve for theblame:

O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the gardenand enjoy (its good things) as you [both] wish: but approach not this treeor you [both] run into harm and transgression. Then began Satan to whispersuggestions to them bringing openly before their minds all their shame thatwas hidden from them (before): he said "Your Lord only forbade you this treelest you [both] should become angels or such beings as live for ever." Andhe swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit hebrought about their fall: when they tasted of the tree their shame becamemanifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the gardenover their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: "Did I not forbid youthat tree and tell you that Satan was an avowed enemy unto you?" They said:"Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls: if you forgive us not and bestownot upon us Your mercy we shall certainly be lost." (Allah) said: "Get you[both] down with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwellingplace and your means of livelihood for a time." He said: "Therein shall you[both] live and therein shall you [both] die; and from it shall you [both]be taken out (at last)." O you children of Adam! We have bestowed raimentupon you to cover your shame as well as to be an adornment to you but theraiment of righteousness that is the best. Such are among the signs of Allahthat they may receive admonition! O you children of Adam! Let not Satan seduceyou in the same manner as he got your parents out of the garden strippingthem of their raiment to expose their shame: for he and his tribe watch youfrom a position where you cannot see them: We made the evil ones friends(only) to those without faith. (Qur'an 7:19 27)

On the question of pregnancy and childbirth,the Qur'an states:

And We have enjoined on the person (to begood) to his/her parents: in travail upon travail did his/her mother bearhis/her and in years twain was his/her weaning: (hear the command) "Showgratitude to Me and to your parents: to Me is (your final) Goal. (Qur'an31:14)

We have enjoined on the person kindness tohis/her parents: in pain did his/her mother bear him/her and in paid didshe give him/her birth. The carrying of the (child) to his/her weaning is( a period of) thirty months. At length when he/she reaches the age of fullstrength and attains forty years he/she says "O my Lord! Grant me that Imay be grateful for Your favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon bothmy parents and that I may work righteousness such as You may approve; andbe gracious to me in my issue.Truly have I turned to You and truly do I bow(to You) in Islam [submission]." (Qur'an 46:15)

5. Men and women have the same religious andmoral duties and responsibilities. They both face the consequences of theirdeeds:

And their Lord has accepted of them and answeredthem: "Never will I suffer to be los the work of any of you be it male orfemale: you are members of one another ..." (Qur'an 3:195)

If any do deeds of righteousness be they maleor female and have faith they will enter paradise and not the least injusticewill be done to them. (Qur'an 4:124)

For Muslim men and women and for believingmen and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for menand women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves,for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast (and denythemselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men andwomen who engage much in Allah's praise, for them has Allah prepared forgivenessand great reward. (Qur'an 33:35)

One Day shall you see the believing men andthe believing women how their Light runs forward before them and by theirright hands: (their greeting will be): "Good news for you this Day! Gardensbeneath which flow rivers! To dwell therein for ever! This is indeed thehighest Achievement!" (Qur'an 57:12)

6. Nowhere dow the Qur'an state that one genderis superior to the other. Some mistakenly translate "qiwamah" or responsibilityfor the family as superiority. The Qur'an makes it clear that the sole basisfor superiority of any person over another is piety and righteousness notgender, color, or nationality:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair)of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you mayknow each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is(one who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge andis well acquainted (with all things). (Qur'an 49:13)

7. The absence of women as prophets or"Messengers of Allah" in prophetic history is due to the demands and physicalsuffering associated with the role of messengers and prophets and not becauseof any spiritual inferiority.

III. The Economic Aspect

1. The Islamic Shariiah recognizes the fullproperty rights of women before and after marriage. A married woman may keepher maiden name.

2. Greater financial security is assured forwomen. They are entitled to receive marital gifts, to keep present and futureproperties and income for their own security. No married woman is requiredto spend a penny from her property and income on the household. She is entitledto full financial support during marriage and during the waiting period ('iddah)in case of divorce. She is also entitled to child support. Generally, a Muslimwoman is guaranteed support in all stages of her life, as a daughter, wife,mother, or sister. These additional advantages of women over men are somewhatbalanced by the provisions of the inheritance which allow the male, in mostcases, to inherit twice as much as the female. This means that the male inheritsmore but is responsible financially for other females: daughters, wives,mother, and sister, while the female (i.e., a wife) inherits less but cankeep it all for investment and financial security without any legal obligationso spend any part of it even for her own sustenance (food, clothing, housing,medication, etc.).

IV. The Social Aspect

First: As a Daughter

1. The Qur'an effectively ended the cruelpre Islamic practice of female infanticide (wa'd):

When the female (infant) buried alive isquestioned for what crime she was killed. (Qur'an 81 89)

2. The Qur'an went further to rebuke theunwelcoming attitudes among some parents upon hearing the news of the birthof a baby girl, instead of a baby boy:

When news is brought to one of them of (thebirth of) a female (child) his face darkens and he is filled with inwardgrief! With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the badnews he has had! Shall he retain her on (sufferance and) contempt or buryher in the dust? Ah! what an evil (choice) they decide on! (Qur'an 16:5859)

3. Parents are duty bound to support and showkindness and justice to their daughters. Prophet Muhammad said:

"Whosoever has a daughter and he does notbury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favor his son over her,Allah will enter him into Paradise." [Ahmad]

"Whosoever supports two daughters til theymature, he and I will come in the day of judgment as this (and he pointedwith his two fingers held together)." [Ahmad]

4. Education is not only a right but alsoa responsibility of all males and females. Prophet Muhammad said:

"Seeking knowledge is mandatory for everyMuslim ("Muslim" is used here in the generic meaning which includes bothmales and females).

Second: As a Wife

1. Marriage in Islam is based on mutual peace,love, and compassion, not just the satisfaction of man's needs:

And among His Signs is that He created foryou mates from among yourselves that you may well in tranquillity with themand He has put live and mercy between your (hearts); verily in that are signsfor those who reflect. (Qur'an 30:21)

(He is) the Creator of the heavens and theearth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves and pairs among cattle:by this means does He multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Himand He is the One that hears and sees (all things). (Qur'an 42:11)

2. The female has the right to accept or rejectmarriage proposals. Her consent is prerequisite to the validity of the maritalcontract according to the Prophet's teaching. It follows that if by "arrangedmarriage" is meant marrying the girl without her consent, then such a marriageis nullifiable is she so wished.

"Ibn Abbas reported that a girl came to theMessenger of God, Muhammad, and she reported that her father had forced herto marry without her consent. The Messenger of God gave her the choice ...(between accepting the marriage or invalidating it)." (Ahmad, Hadeeth no.2469). In another version, the girl said: "Actually I accept this marriagebut I wanted to let women know that parents have no right to force a husbandon them." [Ibn Majah] 3. The husband is responsible for the maintenance,protection, and overall headship of the family (qiwamah) within the frameworkof consultation and kindness. The mutual dependency and complementary ofthe roles of males and females does not mean "subservience" by either partyto the other. Prophet Muhammad helped in household chores in spite of hisbusy schedule.

The mothers shall give suck to their offspringfor two whole years if the father desires to complete the term. But he shallbear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms. No soul shallhave a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. No mother shall be treatedunfairly on account of her child nor father on account of his child. An heirshall be chargeable in the same way if they both decide on weaning by mutualconsent and after due consultation there is no blame on them. If you decideon a foster mother for your offspring there is no blame on you provided youpay (the mother) what you offered on equitable terms. But fear Allah andknow that Allah sees well what you do. (Qur'an 2:233)

The Qur'an urges husbands to be kind andconsiderate to heir wives even if they do not like them.

O you who believe! You are forbidden to inheritwomen against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness that youmay take away part of the marital gift you have given them except where theyhave been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footingof kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them it may be that youdislike a thing and Allah brings about though it a great deal of good. (Qur'an4:19)

Prophet Muhammad taught:

" I command you to be kind to women ..."

"The best of you is the best to his family(wife) ..."

Marital disputes are to be handled privatelybetween the parties whenever possible, in steps (without excesses or cruelty).If disputes are not resolved then family mediation can be resorted to.

Divorce is seen as the last resort, whichis permissible but not encouraged. Under no circumstances does the Qur'anencourage, allow or condone family violence or physical abuse and cruelty.The maximum allowed in extreme cases is a gentle tap that does not even leavea mark on the body while saving the marriage from collapsing.

5. Forms of marriage dissolution include mutualagreement, the husband's initiative, the wife's initiative (if part of hermarital contract, court decision on the wife's initiative (for a cause),and the wife's initiative without a "cause" provided that she returns themarital gift to her husband (khul' [divestiture]).

6. Priority for custody of young children(up to the age of about seven) is given to the mother. A child later choosesbetween his mother and father (for custody purposes). Custody questions areto be settled in a manner that balances the interests of both parents andwell being of the child

Question of Polygyny (Polygamy)

1. One of the common myths is to associatepolygyny with Islam as if it were introduced by Islam or is the norm accordingto its teachings. While no text in the Qur'an or Sunnah states that eithermonogamy or polygyny is the norm, demographic data indicates that monogamyis the norm and polygyny is the exception. In almost all countries and onthe global level the numbers of men and women are almost even, with women'snumbers slightly more than men.

As such, it is a practical impossibility toregard polygyny as the norm since it assumes a demographic structure of atleast two thirds females, and one third males (or 80 percent females and20 percent males if four wives per male is the norm!). No Islamic "norm"is based on an impossible assumption.

2. Like many peoples and religions, however,Islam did not out law polygyny but regulated it and restricted it. It isneither required nor encouraged, but simply permitted and not outlawed. EdwardWestermarck gives numerous examples of the sanctioning of polygyny amongJews, Christians, and others.

3. The only passage in the Qur'an (4:3) whichexplicitly mentioned polygyny and restricted its practice in terms of thenumber of wives permitted and the requirement of justice between them wasrevealed after the Battle of Uhud in which dozens of Muslims were martyredleaving behind widows and orphans. This seems to indicate that the intentof its continued permissibility is to deal with individual and collectivecontingencies that may arise from time to time (i.e., imbalances betweenthe number of males and females created by wars). This provides a moral,practical, and humane solution to the problems of widows and orphans whoare likely to be more vulnerable in the absence of a husband/father figureto look after their needs: financial, companions, proper rearing, and otherneeds.

If you fear that you shall not be able todeal justly with the orphans marry women of your choice two or three or four;but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them) thenonly one ... (Qur'an 4:3)

4. All parties involved have options: to rejectmarriage proposals as in the case of a proposed second wife or to seek divorceor khul' (divestiture) as in the case of a present wife who cannot acceptto live with a polygynous husband.

While the Qur'an allowed polygyny, it didnot allow polyandry (multiple husbands of the same woman). Anthropologicallyspeaking, polyandry is quite rare. Its practice raises thorny problems relatedto the lineal identity of children, and incompatibility of polyandry withfeminine nature.

Third: As a Mother

1. Kindness to parents (especially mothers)is next to worship of Allah:

Your Lord has decreed that you worship nonebut Him and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attainold age in you life say not to them a word of contempt nor repel them butaddress them in terms of honor. (Qur'an 17:23)

And We have enjoined on the human (to be good)to his/her parents: in travail upon travail did his/her mother bear him/herand in years twain was his/her waning: (hear the command) "Show gratitudeto Me and to your parents: to Me is (your final) destiny." (Qur'an31:14)

2. Mothers are accorded a special place ofhonor in Hadeeth too:

A man came to the Prophet Muhammad asking:O Messenger of Allah, who among the people is the most worthy of my goodcompanionship? The Prophet said, your mother. The man said then who is next:the Prophet said, Your mother. The man further asked, Then who is next? Onlythen did the Prophet say, Your father. (al Bukhari)

Fourth: As a Sister in Faith (Generally)

1. According to the Prophet Muhammad'ssaying:

"Women are but sisters (or the other half)of men (shaqa'iq).

2. Prophet Muhammad taught kindness, care,and respect of women in general:

"I commend you to be kind to women"

Fifth: Issue of Modesty and SocialInteraction

1. There exists, among Muslims a big gap betweenthe ideal of the real. Cultural practices on both extremes do exist. SomeMuslims emulate non Islamic cultures and adopt the modes of dress, unrestrictedmixing and behavior resulting in corrupting influences of Muslims and endangeringthe family's integrity and strength. On the other hand, in some Muslim culturalundue and excessive restrictions is not seclusion are believed to be theideal. Both extremes seem to contradict the normative teachings of Islamand are not consistent with the virtuous yet participative nature of thesociety at the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

2. Parameters of proper modesty for malesand females (dress and behavior) are based on revelatory sources (the Qur'anand authentic Sunnah) and as such are seen by believing men and women asdivinely based guidelines with legitimate aims, and divine wisdom behindthem. They are not male imposed or socially imposed restrictions.

3. The notion of near total seclusion of womenis alien to the prophetic period. Interpretation problems in justifying seclusionreflect, in part, cultural influences and circumstances in different Muslimcountries.

V. The Legal/Political Aspect

1. Both genders are entitled to equality beforethe law and courts of law. Justice is genderless.

Most references to testimony (witness) inthe Qur'an do not make any reference to gender. Some references fully equatethe testimony of males and female.

And for those who launch a charge againsttheir spouses and have (in support) no evidence but their own their solitaryevidence (can be received) if they bear witness four times (with an oath)by Allah that they are solemnly telling the truth; And the fifth (oath) (shouldbe) that they solemnly invoke the curse of Allah on themselves if they tella life. But it would avert the punishment from the wife is she bears witnessfour times (with an oath) by Allah that (her husband) is telling a lie; Andthe fifth (oath) should be that she solemnly invokes the wrath of Allah onherself is (her accuser) is telling the truth. (Qur'an 24:69)

One reference in the Qur'an distinguishesbetween the witness of a male and a female. It is useful to quote this referenceand explain it in its own context and in the context of other referencesto testimony in the Qur'an.

O you who believe! When you deal with eachother in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of timereduce them to writing. Let a scribe write down faithfully as between theparties: let not the scribe refuse to write as Allah has taught him so lethim write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate but let him fear hisLord Allah and not diminish aught of what he owes. If the party liable ismentally deficient or weak or unable himself to dictate let his guardiandictate faithfully. And get two witnesses out of your own men

and if there are not two men then a man andtwo women such as you choose for witnesses so that if one of them errs theother can remind her. The witnesses should not refuse when they are calledon (for evidence). Disdain not to reduce to writing (your contract) for afuture period whether it be small or big: it is just in the sight of Allahmore suitable as evidence and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves;but if it be a transaction which you carry out on the spot among yourselvesthere is no blame on you if you reduce it not to writing. But take witnesseswhenever you make a commercial contract; and let neither scribe nor witnesssuffer harm. If you do (such harm) it would be wickedness in you. So fearAllah; for it is Allah that teaches you. And Allah is well acquainted withall things. (Qur'an 2:282)

A few comments on this text are essentialin order to prevent common misinterpretations:

a) It cannot be used as an argument that thereis a general rule in the Qur'an that the worth of a female's witness is onlyhalf the male's. This presumed "rule" is voided by the earlier reference(24:69) which explicitly equates the testimony of both genders in the issueat hand.

b) The context of this passage (ayah) relatesto the testimony on financial transactions which are often complex and ladenwith business jargon. The passage does not make a blanket generalizationwhich would otherwise contradict 24:69 cited earlier.

c) The reason for variations in the numberof male and female witnesses required is given in the same passage. No referencewas made to the inferiority or superiority of one gender's witness or theother's. The only reason given is to corroborate the female's witness andprevent unintended errors in the perception of the business deal. The Arabicterm used in this passage (tadhilla) means literally "loses the way," "getsconfused or errs." But are females the only gender that may err and needcorroboration of their testimony. Definitely not, and this is why the generalrule of testimony in Islamic law is to have two witnesses even if they areboth males. This leaves us with only one reasonable interpretation that inan ideal Islamic society as envisioned by Islamic teachings the female memberswill give priority to their feminine functions as wives, mothers, and pioneersof charitable works. This emphasis, while making them more experienced inthe inner function of the family

and social life, may not give them enoughexposure and experience to business transactions and terminology, as sucha typical Muslim woman in a truly Islamic society will not normally be presentwhen business dealings are negotiated and if may present may not fully understandthe dealings. In such a case, corroboration by two women witnesses helpsthem remind one another and as such give an accurate account of whathappened.

d) It is useful to remember that it is theduty of a fair judge, in a particular case, to evaluate the credibility,knowledge and experience of any witness and the specific circumstances ofthe case at hand.

2. The general rule in social and politicallife is participation and collaboration of males and female in publicaffairs:

The believers, men and women, are protectorsone of another; they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil: they observeregular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His apostle.On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise. (Qur'an9:71)

3. Now there is sufficient historical evidenceof participation by Muslim women in the choice of rulers, in public issues,in lawmaking, in administrative positions, in scholarship and teaching, andeven in the battlefield. Such involvement in social and political affairswas done without losing sight of the complementary priorities of both gendersand without violating Islamic guidelines of modesty and virtue.

4. There is no text in the Qur'an or the Sunnahthat precludes women from any position of leadership, except in leading prayerdue to the format of prayer as explained earlier and the headship of state(based on the common and reasonable interpretation of Hadeeth).

The head of state in Islam is not a ceremonialhead. He leads public prayers in some occasions, constantly travels andnegotiates with officials of other states (who are mostly males). He maybe involved in confidential meetings with them. Such heavy involvement andits necessary format may not be consistent with Islamic guidelines relatedto the interaction between the genders and the priority of feminine functionsand their value to society. Furthermore, the conceptual and philosophicalbackground of the critics of this limited exclusion is that of individualism,ego satisfaction, and the rejection of the validity of divine guidance infavor of other man-made philosophies, values, or "ism." The ultimate objectiveof a Muslim man or woman is to selflessly serve Allah and the ummah in whateverappropriate capacity.


1. Textual injunctions on gender equity andthe prophetic model are sometimes disregarded by some if not most Muslimsindividually and collectively. Revision of practices (not divine injunctions)is needed. It is not the revelatory Qur'an and the Sunnah that need any editingor revision. What needs to be reexamined are fallible human interpretationsand practices.

2. Diverse practice in Muslim countries oftenreflect cultural influences (local or foreign), more so than the letter orspirit of the Shariiah.

3. Fortunately, there is an emerging trendfor the betterment of our understanding of gender equity, based on the Qur'anand Hadeeth, not on alien and imported un-Islamic or non-Islamic values andnot on the basis of the existing oppressive and unjust status quo in manyparts of the Muslim world.


1. The term equity is used instead of thecommon expression 'equality" which is sometimes mistakenly understood tomean absolute equality in each and every detailed item of comparison ratherthan the overall equality. Equity is used here to mean justice and overallequality of the totality of rights and responsibilities of both genders.It does allow for the possibility of variations in specific items withinthe overall balance and equality. It is analogous to two persons possessingdiverse currencies amounting, for each person to the equivalence of US$1000.While each of the two persons may possess more of one currency than the other,the total value still comes to US$1000 in each case. It should be added thatfrom an Islamic perspective, the roles of men and women are complementaryand cooperative rather than competitive.

2. The Sunnah refers to the words, actions,and confirmations (consent) of the Prophet Muhammad in matters pertainingto the meaning and practice of Islam. Another common term which some authoritiesconsider to be equivalent to the Sunnah is the Hadeeth (plural: Ahadeeth)which literally means "sayings."

3. In both Qur'anic references, 15:29 and32:99, the Arabic terms used are basharan and al Insaun both mean a humanbeing or a person. English translations do not usually convey this meaningand commonly use the terms "man" or the pronoun" him" to refer to "person"without a particular gender identification. Equally erroneous is the commontranslation of Bani Adam into "sons of Adam" or "men" instead of a more accurateterm "children of Adam."

4. The emphasis is ours. The explanatory "both"{was added whenever the Our'anic Arabic text addresses Adam and Eve, like"lahoma, akala, akhrajahoma." This was done in order to avoid misinterpretingthe English term "you" to mean an address to a singular person. For the Biblicalversion of the story and its implications, see The Holy Bible, RSV, AmericanBible Society, New York: 1952: Genesis, chapters 23, especially 3:6, 12,1717; Levi ticus 12:17; 15:19 30; and Timothy 2:11 14.

5. A common question raised in the West iswhether a Muslim woman can be ordained as a priest as more "liberal" churchesdo? It should be remembered that there is no "church" or "priesthood" inIslam. The question of "ordaining" does not arise. However, most of the common"priestly" functions such as religious education, spiritual and social counselingare not forbidden to Muslim women in a proper Islamic context. A woman, however,may not lead prayers since Muslim prayers involve prostrations and body contact.Since the prayer leader is supposed to stand in front of the congregationand may move forward in the middle of crowded rows, it would be bothinappropriate and uncomfortable for a female to be in such a position andprostrate, hands, knees and forehead on the ground with rows of men behindhere. A Muslim woman may be an Islamic scholar, In the early days of Islam,there were several examples of female scholars who taught both genders.

6. This contrast with the legal provisionsin Europe which did not recognize the right until nearly 13 centuries afterIslam. "By a series of acts starting with the Married Women's Property Actin 1879, amended in 1882 and 1997, married women achieved the right to wonproperty and to enter into contracts on a par with spinsters, widows, anddivorcees." See Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968, vol. 23, p. 624.

7. This period is usually three months. Ifthe wife is pregnant, it extends until childbirth.

8. Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (compiler), Musnad IbnHanbal, Dar al Ma'arif, Cairo: 1950 and 1955, vols. 3 and 4. Hadith nos.1957 and 2104.

9. Narrated in Al Bayhaqi and Ibn Majah, quotedin M. S. Aftfi, Al Martah wa Huququhafi al Islam (in Arabic), Maktabat alNahdhah, Cairo: 1988, p. 71.

10. Ibn Majah (compiler), Sunan Ibn Majah,Dar Ihya' al Kutub al Arabiyah, Cairo: 1952, vol. 1, Hadith #1873.

11. Matn al Bukhari, op. cit., vol. 3, p.257.

12. Riyad al Saliheen, op. cit, pp. 140.

13. In the event of a family dispute, theQur'an exhorts the husband to treat his wife kindly and not to overlook herpositive aspects. If the problem relates to the wife's behavior, her husbandmay exhort her and appeal for reason. In most cases, this measure is likelyto be sufficient. In cases where the problem continues, the husband may expresshis displeasure in another peaceful manner by sleeping in a separate bedfrom hers. There are cases, however where a wife persists in deliberatemistreatment of her husband and disregard for her marital obligations. Insteadof divorce, the husband may resort to another measure that may save the marriage,at least in some cases. Such a measure is more accurately described as agentle tap on the body, but never on the face, making it more of a symbolicmeasure than a punitive one. Following is the related Qur'anic text:

Men are the protectors and maintains of womenbecause Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other and becausethey support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutlyobedient and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have themguard. As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct,admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds (and last) beatthem (lightly); but if they return to obedience seek not against them means(of annoyance): for Allah is Most High, great (above you all). (Qur'an4:34)

Even here, that maximum measure is limitedby the following:

a) It must be seen as a rare exception tothe repeated exhortation of mutual respect, kindness and good treatment discussedearlier. Based on the Qur'an and Hadeeth, this measure may be used in thecase of lewdness on the part of the wife or extreme refraction and rejectionof the husband's reasonable requests on a consistent basis (nushuz). Eventhen other measures such as exhortation should be tried first.

b) As defined by the Hadeeth, it is notpermissible to strike anyone's face, cause any bodily harm or even be harsh.What the Hadeeth qualified as dharban ghayra mubarrih or light beating wasinterpreted by early jurists as a (symbolical) use of the miswak (a smallnatural toothbrush).

They further qualified permissible "beating"as beating that leaves no mark on the body. It is interesting that this latterfourteen centuries old qualifier is the criterion used in contemporary Americanlaw to separate a light and harmless tap or strike from "abuse" in the legalsense. This makes it clear that even this extreme, last resort and "lesserof the two evils" measure that may save the marriage does not meet thedefinitions of "physical abuse," "family violence," of "wife battering" inthe twentieth century laws in liberal democracies, where such extremes arecommonplace that they are seen as national concerns.

c) Permissibility of such symbolical expressionof the seriousness of continued refraction does not imply its desirability.In several Ahadeeth, Prophet Muhammad discouraged this measure. Among hissayings: "Do not beat the female servants of Allah," "Some (women visitedmy family complaining about their husbands (beating them). These (husbands)are not the best of you," "[Is it not a shame that], one of you beats hiswife like [an unscrupulous person] beats a slave and maybe he sleeps withher at the end of the day." See Riyad Al Saliheen, op cit., pp. 130 140.In another Hadeeth, the Prophet said:

"How does anyone of you beat his wife as hebeats the stallion camel and then he may embrace (sleep with) her?" ShaheehAl Bukhari, op. cit., vol. 8, Hadeeth no. 68, pp. 42 43.

d) True following of the Sunnah is to followthe example of the Prophet Muhammad, who never resorted to that measureregardless of the circumstances.

e) Islamic teachings are universal in nature.They respond to the needs and circumstances of diverse times, cultures, andcircumstances but unnecessary in others. Some measures may work in some cases,cultures, or with certain persons but may not be effective in others. Bydefinition a "permissible" it is neither required encouraged, or forbidden.In fact, it may be better to spell out the extent of permissibility suchas in the issue at hand, than leaving it unrestricted and unqualified orignoring it all together. In the absence of strict qualifiers, persons mayinterpret the matter in their own way lending to excesses and realabuse.

f) Any excess, cruelty, family violence, orabuse committed by any "Muslim" can never be traced, honestly, to any revelatorytext (Qur'an and Hadeeth). Such excesses and violations are to be blamedon the person(s) himself as it shows that he is paying lip service to Islamicteachings and injunctions and is failing to follow the true sunnah of theProphet.

14. For more details on marriage dissolutionand custody of children, see A. Abd al Ati, Family Structure in Islam,Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1977, pp. 217 49.

15. For more details on the issue of polygyny,see Jamal A. Badawi, Polygyny in Islamic Law, Plainfield, IN: American TrustPublications, also Islamic Teachings (audio series), Islamic InformationFoundation, 1982, album IV.

16. See for example, Edward A. Westermarck,The History of Human Marriage, 4th ed. (London: Macmlllan, 1925), vol 3,pp. 42 43; also Encyclopedia BibRca, Rev. T. K. Cheyene and J. S. Black,eds.) (London: Macmillan, 1925), vol. 3, p 2946.

17. A. M. B. 1. Al Bukhari (compiler) Matnal Bukhari, Cairo: Dar Ihya al Kutub al Arabiyah, n.d., vol. 3 Kitab al Adab,p. 47. Translated by the author. For a similar English translation of thisHadeeth, see Sahih al Bukhari translated by M. M. Khan Maktabat al Riyadhal Hadeethah, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, i982, colt 8, the Book of ai Adab, Hadeethno. 2, p. 2.

18. Narrated by Aisha, collected by Ibn Asakirin Silsilat Kunaz al Sunnah 1, Al./ami Al Sagheer, Ist ed. 1410 AH. A computerprogram.

19. Riyadh al Saliheen, op. cit., p. 139.


I. The Qur'an and Hadeeth

1. The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation andCommentary by A. Y. Ali, The American Trust Publication, Plainfield, IN1977.

2. Matn al Bukhari, Al Bukhari (compiler),Dar Ihya al Kutub al Arabiyah, Cairo, Egypt, n.d.

3. Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Hanbal (compiler),Dar Ihya' al Kutub al Arabiyah, Cairo Egypt, 1950 and 1955.

4. Riyadh al Saliheen, Al Nawawi, (compiler)New Delhi, India n.d.

5. Sahih Al Bukhari, M. Khan (translator),Maktabat Al Riaydh Al Hadeethah, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 1982.

6. Silsilat Kunuz Al Sunnah: Al Jami al Sagheer,1st ea., 1410 AH, a computer software.

7. Sunan Ibn Majah, Dar Ihya al Kutub al Arabiyah,Cairo: 1952.

II. Other References

1. Al Martah wa Huququha fi al Islam, M. S.Aftfi, Maktabat AlNadhhah, Cairo: 1988.

2. Holy Bible, RSV, American Bible Society,New York: 1952.

3. Encyclopedia Biblica, vol. 3, Rev. T. K.Cheyene and J. S. Black, editors, London: Machollan, 1925.

4. Encyclopedia Britanica, Vol. 23, 1968

5. The History of Human Marriage, vol. 3,Edward A. Westermarck, London: Macmillan, 1925

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