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Islam The choice of Thinking Women – PART 3- WOMEN IN ISLAM

By Ismail
Adam Patel

WOMEN
IN ISLAM


SPIRITUAL EQUALITY
OF
THE SEXES

In many other
religions,
women have had to fight for their rights and dues, and their struggle,
in many cases, is still ongoing. Christian women, for example, have had
to struggle to make their voices heard, and have gone to the extreme of
changing the text of the Bible to make it less “sexist” and more
“acceptable”
to women. Islam, on the other hand, has justly granted women their
rights
without them having to ask, let alone demand and fight.

For Muslim men
and women
for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and
women, for men and 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 deny themselves), for men and women who guard their
chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise – for
them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.

[al-Ahzab
33:35]

A number of Islamic
virtues
are mentioned here, but the primary message of this ayah is
that
these virtues are applicable to both, women as well as men. Both sexes
have human rights and duties to an equal degree, and the rewards of the
Hereafter are available to men and women alike. Each individual will be
judged according to his or her deeds. Gender is simply not an issue in
this matter.

And their Lord
has accepted
of them, and answered them: Never shall I suffer to be lost the work of
any of you, be he male or female: you are members, one of another…

[AI
‘Imran 3:195]

Allah has granted
the prayers
of the Believers, and has told us that He will not let the labour of
any
individual go to waste. Everyone will reap the reward of his or her
efforts.
A woman may achieve this just as a man may. Man and woman alike are
members
of the human race, created from the same source and joined by Islam as
partners in life and in reward.

Whoever works
righteousness,
man or woman, and has Faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life,
and
life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward
according
to the best of their action.

[al-Natal
16: 97]

The spiritual
equality of
women to men in Islam is abundantly clear, so nobody should fall for
the
prejudiced view propagated by the Islamaphobes in the Western media.

From the time a
child is
conceived, Islam gives glad tidings to a woman regardless of the gender
of the foetus. The pregnant woman is held in the highest esteem, and
her
patience in bearing the discomforts of pregnancy is regarded as an act
of virtue which brings her closer to Paradise. If the baby is a girl,
this
opens up further opportunities for the parents to attain Paradise. In
stark
contrast to the attitude of the pagan Arabian society which buried
female
babies alive (and the modern jahiliyyah in which many
societies
views the birth of a girl as bad news), the Prophet gave the glad
tidings
of Paradise as the reward for the one who welcomes a daughter, brings
her
up properly, provides a sound education and arranges a good marriage
for
her. In another hadith, it is stated that the fire of Hell
will
not be permitted to touch one who goes through trials and tribulations
because of a daughter, but still does not hate her, and treats her well.

The Qur’an
expressively forbids
killing babies, whether by infanticide or abortion, for fear of poverty
or losing face in the community:

Say: Come, I
will rehearse
what Allah has (really) prohibited you from: join not anything as equal
with Him; be good to your parents; kill not your children on a plea of
want – We provide sustenance for you and for them – come not nigh to
shameful
deeds, whether open or secret; take not life, which Allah has made
sacred,
except by way of justice and law: thus does He command you, that you
may
learn wisdom.

[al-an
‘am 6:151]

The Qur’an also
tells us
that the innocent girls who were slain for no other reason than that
they
were female, will be asked on the Day of Judgement for what sin they
were
slain:

When the female
(infant)
buried alive, is questioned – for what crime she was killed

[al-Takwir
81:8-9]

The crime is that
of the
parents, not of the child. Parents should not think that they are at
liberty
to do whatever they like with regard to their children. It is almost
beyond
belief that in the modern world the practice of infanticide, in the
epithet
of abortion, can be allowed to exist. China is currently experiencing
an
epidemic of this barbarism, under its strict population control laws;
families
are allowed only one child, and most parents want sons, so girls are
abandoned
and allowed to die, or are killed, so that the parents may have another
child, hopefully a boy. The Western nations, which are so quick to
condemn
China, are not so far behind in savagery, except they have sanitised
infanticide
in the guise of abortion.

Not only does the
Qur’an
protect the female infant from being murdered by ignorant parents, but
it describes her birth as good news, and grants her the right of
inheritance
from her father, husband and brother, and gives her the right to own
property
and conduct business transactions independently and in her own right.

When news is
brought to
one of them, of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens and
he
is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his
people,
because of the news that he has had! Shall he retain it on (sufferance
and ) contempt, or bury it in the dusts Ah! What an evil (choice) they
decide on.

[al-Natal
16.58-59]

This ayah refers
to
the period of Jahillyyah, just before the advent of Islam,
when
it was the custom of the pagan Arabs to bury female infants alive.
Islam
totally forbids such crimes, but sadly this evil practice is still
continuing
in many communities, where women are not valued and are seen as a
burden.
At the very least, the birth of a girl is resented and she may be
neglected
whilst the best food and education is given to her brothers; at the
worst,
modern technology is exploited so that if a female foetus is detected
via
an ultrasound scan, it may be aborted, whilst a male foetus will be
carried
to full term.

The spiritual
equality of
the sexes in Islam extends to the worldly plane, and education is
required
both for male and female. The Prophet said: “Seeking knowledge is a
duty
for every Muslim male and female”. He also urged Muslims to “Seek
knowledge
from the cradle to the grave”.

The importance of
seeking
knowledge cannot be over-emphasised. All Muslims are urged to educate
themselves,
to act upon their knowledge, and to convey it to others.

… Those truly
fear Allah,
among His Servants, who have knowledge.

[Fatir
35.28]

It is only those
with knowledge
and understanding who will be truly conscious of the glory and
transcendency
of Allah. They will understand the transience of the present world and
the permanence of the Hereafter, and thus they will be concerned about
their future and will strive to attain knowledge of the Divine guidance.

Islam promotes the
education
of both sexes. Islamic history, from the very beginning, records the
names
of numerous female scholars, foremost among whom is ‘A’ishah , who was
one of the greatest narrators of ahadith. Not only was she
responsible
for conveying over two thousand ahadith, but the great men of
her
time used to consult with her on matters of fiqh (jurisprudence).

MARRIAGE

There is no
celibacy in Islam.
Islam considers sexuality to be a natural part of life, which is to be
channeled into a healthy marriage life; sinful fulfillment of the
sexual
urge and exploitation of women through prostitution, pornography and
rape
are utterly forbidden.

The Prophet 14
advised Muslims:
“Whoever is able to marry, should marry, for that will help him lower
his
gaze and guard his modesty”. As well as providing a legitimate channel
for sexual energy which will keep a person away from sin – marriage
provides
comfort, security, solace and companionship. Islam not only regards
marriage
as necessary, but has raised it to the level of being a positive
virtue,
whereby those who marry will be rewarded for doing so, as for any other
good deed. The Prophet As emphasised the importance of marriage when he
described it as being half of faith.

An important
condition of
marriage is that this union should be by the consent of both partners;
neither male nor female should be forced into a marriage. In particular
– as a warning against the oppression of women – Islam clearly states
that
a marriage contracted without the free consent of the woman is null and
void. The Prophet said: “No widow should be married without consulting
her, and no virgin should be married without her consent..”.”

Prospective
marriage partners
are encouraged to see one another before they agree to marry. Jabir
reported
that the Messenger of

Allah said, “When
one of
you seeks to marry a woman, if he is able to have a look at the one he
desires to marry, let him do so”.

Above all, marriage
in Islam
is a contract between two equal parties.

As an equal
partner, the
Muslim woman may stipulate conditions in the marriage. In contrast to
British
women, who even now do not have the right to draw up a contract or
stipulate
conditions, Muslim women were given this right fourteen hundred years
ago.
The woman may stipulate, prior to marriage, conditions, including the
transfer
of divorce power to herself, restricting the husband to one wife only,
and clearly defining the conditions of maintenance.

Marriage in Islam
is much
more than a means of satisfying sexual desires; it is a social contract
of co habitation through which both partners may find companionship and
a refuge from the trials and tribulations of life. In Islam, a woman is
not seen as an object for male gratification or a workhorse who is
expected
to cater to every need and whim of the male. She is a spiritual and
moral
being who is brought into union with a man on the basis of a solemn
pledge
which Allah is called upon to witness. The Prophet 914 is reported to
have
said, “You have seen nothing like marriage for increasing the love of
two
people”.

Today in the West,
married
women who retain their maiden names are viewed as feminists or
unusually
self assertive. Muslim women, however, have always been allowed and
expected
to keep their maiden names after marriage. This right to maintain their
own identity was given to women in Islam when elsewhere in the world
women
were seen as being barely human and debates raged as to whether they
even
possessed a soul, let alone be given independence.

The Qur’an
describes marriage
in the most moving and eloquent terms:

. They [wives]
are your
garments and you [husbands] are their garments….

[al-Baqarah
2.187]

And among His
Signs is
this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may
dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between
your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.

[al-Rum
30:21]

It is He Who
created you
from a single person, and made his mate of like nature, in order that
he
might dwell with her (in love)..

[al-A’raf
7.189]

(He is) the
Creator of
the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among
yourselves..

[al
Shura 42:11]

In Islam, there is
no notion
of woman being responsible for the “Fall” or of being the first sinner
and therefore responsible for all of the mankind’s woes. There is no
idea
of man being created out of superior material and woman out of base
matter.
Woman is made equal, both men and women are the progeny of Adam, so
both
have similar souls.

mankind!
Reverence your
Guardian – Lord Who created you from a single Person, created, of like
nature, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless
men and women – fear Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual
(rights).

[al-Nisa’
4:1]

And Allah has
made for
you mates (and companions) of your own nature, and made for you, out of
them, sons and daughters and grandchildren. And provided for you
sustenance
of the best: will they then believe in vain things, and be ungrateful
for
Allah’s favours?

[al-Natal
16:72]

Islam does not view
woman
as the instrument of the devil, as is asserted by Christian teachings.
The Qur’an describes woman as muhsanah, a fortress against
evil,
because a good woman helps her husband maintain the path of
righteousness.

Muslim men are
continually
admonished to treat their wives kindly. To those men who oppress their
wives:

O you who
believe! You
are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat
them with harshness, that you may take away part of the dower you have
given them – except when they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the
contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you
take
a dislike to them it may be that you dislike a thing, and Allah brings
about through it a great deal of good.

[al-Nisa’
4:19]

Men are commanded
by Allah
to consort with women amicably and honourably. They should refrain from
harshness in speaking to and dealing with them. Behaviour that goes
against
standards of morality and common courtesy is prohibited. Such wicked
and
brutal conduct is the sign of ignorance (jahidyyah) which Islam came to
abolish.

Muslims are
admonished to
treat women equitably. The Qur’an forbids them to inherit women and
abuse
them, sexually or otherwise, as was the custom prior to the advent of
Islam
and as is still practiced in many societies where the rich and strong
take
advantage of the poor and weak in this way. This Islamic rule applies
not
only to the Arabs of the seventh century CE, but to all subsequent
generations
of Islam. Men are forbidden to abuse women, and are commanded to live
amicably
with their marriage partners. The command of Allah to do so is
reinforced
by the comment that while a man may find some trait or aspect of his
wife’s
behaviour that he dislikes, it may be that Allah will bring about
something
good if he tolerates it graciously and accepts his wife for what she
is.
In all of this there is benefit for the man.

The Prophet
enhanced this
message of equality and fair treatment of women by setting the supreme
example for mankind to observe and emulate. He demonstrated the
importance
of taking care of oneself and one’s daily needs, instead of imposing on
one’s wife. Accounts of his life give numerous examples which “modern
men”
may learn from. He attended to his own personal needs, he helped his
wives
in the house, and he even stitched and mended his own clothes. He
demonstrated
that a man is never too great to clean and look after himself, and he
imparted
the following advice:

“The best among
you is
the one who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to his
family”

“The most
perfect believers
are the best in conduct and the best of you are those who are best to
their
wives”

“Many women have
come
to the family of Muhammad complaining about their husbands… Those
husbands
are not the best of you”3 “By assisting your wives in their household
duties,
you will receive the reward of
sadaqah (charity)”

‘A believer must
not hate
a believing woman; if he dislikes one of her characteristics, he should
be pleased with another”

“When a woman
breast feeds,
for every gulp of milk she will receive a reward as if she had granted
life to being, and when she weans her child, the angels pat her on the
hack saying, ‘Congratulations! All your past sins have been forgiven,
now
start all over again”:

“O women!
Remember that
the pious among you will enter Jannah before the pious men”

“During
pregnancy until
the time of childbirth, and until the end of the suckling period, a
woman
earns reward similar to that of the person who is guarding the borders
of Islam”

In his famous
speech given
during his Farewell Pilgrimage, in which he reiterated the most
important
points of Islamic teaching, the Prophet reminded the Muslims of the
importance
of treating women equitably: “O people, fear Allah with regard to
women..”.
Once again, men are reminded to remember Allah and fear His
retribution,
for Allah is aware of everything that passes between them.

‘A’ishah reported
that when
the Prophet was home, he would help with the household chores, treat
his
family amicably, and maintain a pleasant atmosphere in the home.

Islamic teachings
are very
strict when it comes to the fair treatment of others and in the case of
physical superiority Islam clearly states the responsibilities of the
stronger
party. As women are physically weaker, they are entitled to protection,
and men are answerable for any misuse of their physical strength
against
women. All kinds of physical abuse are forbidden in Islam, which also
prohibits
psychological abuse such as seclusion and unnecessary restriction of
movement
and travel. A husband is also forbidden to disclose his wife’s secrets,
as the Prophet said: “the worst of all people is the one who approaches
his wife, enjoys her company, then divulges her secrets”.”

Marriage is in
accordance
with the teachings of Islam, so whatever permissible deeds are done
within
the context of marriage including sex are regarded as virtues. The
Prophet
14 once said, “A man will be rewarded for his physical relations with
his
wife”. His listeners, somewhat surprised, asked, “Will a person be
rewarded
for satisfying his passions?” The Prophet replied, “Do you not see that
if he were to satisfy his passions in a forbidden manner he would be
committing
a sin? So if he satisfies himself in a lawful manner, he will be
rewarded”.

The importance of
the physical
side of marriage is also referred to in a hadith narrated by
Imam
al Bukhari. The Prophet is reported to have upbraided one of his
Companions,
who was going to extremes in his devotion to worship: “O Abdullah, have
I not been informed that you fast all day and stand in prayer all
night?”
Abdullah said, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah”. He said, “Do not do that.
Observe
the fast at some times and refrain from fasting at others. Stand in
prayer
at night, then sleep. Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a
right over you and your wife has a right over you”.

Islam regards men
and women
as equal partners who should cooperate in making the home, community
and
society at large harmonious, happy and successful. The partners should
be loyal, considerate and dependent upon one another. They should work
together to overcome any problems and obstacles. They should be jointly
concerned with their children’s upbringing and education, and work
together
to meet their children’s needs. They should work together to overcome
the
shortcomings of each partner, and present a united front to the outside
world. They should also provide companionship and comfort to one
another.

Certain Qur’anic
references
have given rise to much debate concerning women’s role, rights and
duties.

… And women
shall have
rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is
equitable;
but men have a degree (of advantage) over them.

[al-Baqarah
2:228]

There are various
points
of view as to the significance of the phrase “a degree (of advantage)”.
Some suggest that it means the qualities of leadership, surveillance
and
maintenance that are given to men. Others favour the idea that it
refers
to the tolerance which is expected of men even when their wives are in
an extremely bad mood. Another opinion is that it is man’s natural
gift,
bestowed by Allah, for judging family matters and managing problems
that
may arise. However, the consensus of most scholars is that, this
“degree”
refers to the principle of guardianship, and nothing more. In another ayah,
the
Qur’an says:

Men are the
protectors
and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more
(strength)
than the other, and because they support them from their means…

[al-Nisa’
4.34]

Commenting on this
verse,
Yusuf Ali states that the difference in economic position between the
sexes
makes the man’s rights and liabilities a little greater than the
woman’s.
This verse refers to the duty of the man to maintain the woman, and to
a certain difference in the nature of the two genders. However, the two
sexes are seen as being on equal terms in law, and in certain matters
the
“weaker sex” (the female) is entitled to special protections It should
be borne in mind that the Qur’an offers guidance for all human
societies
at all periods of history. So Islam seeks to maximise the benefit of
all
women, worldwide.

Abdullah ibn Abbas
, a companion
of the Prophet ah, mentioned, with reference to the ayah quoted
above, that as men have been granted such a noble position by Allah,
they
should exercise greater patience. If there is some deficiency on a
wife’s
part, then the husband’s position demands that he should accommodate
her
weaknesses, maintain a patient attitude, and establish consistency in
the
fulfillment of his rights. In short, marriage is intended to bring
mutual
benefits to both partners.

A renowned Asian
scholar,
Hazrat Hakim Akhtar saheb states: “the rights of women have been
mentioned
before those of men in this verse because man, due to his inherent
power
and strength, easily obtains his rights from the woman. Thus Allah
placed
more emphasis upon the rights of women who cannot forcibly obtain their
rights”. The second point that may be noted from this ayah is
that
the man should take the initiative in fulfilling his responsibilities,
because the Qur’an has mentioned women’s rights first.

The “degree above”
cannot,
and must not, be taken to imply male superiority of worth. What it does
imply is a greater liability and responsibility, which means that men
will
be subjected to greater questioning in the Hereafter regarding the
treatment
of their wives and families. This is hardly what could be described as
an enviable position, and some may even consider it “inferior”! The
degree
in question is nothing more than a means of assuring the maintenance of
women, as and when it is necessary.

Islam clearly
recognises
the equal potential and ability of the sexes, but Allah has created
human
beings in a manner whereby men and women are better suited for
differing
but complementary, tasks. Just because the male may be better at a
given
task than the female, it does not mean that he is inherently superior.
This is an error made by many feminists, who assume that liberation may
be achieved by adopting a male role. Instead of recognising and
cherishing
their femininity, they seek to ape men, to the detriment of women and
human
society in general. By aspiring to male traits, values and behaviour,
they
have further diminished the female whilst elevating the male. By
equating
financial earnings and following a career with prestige and status, the
feminine pursuits of motherhood, household work and the raising of a
family
have become valueless and are seen as degrading. Because unpaid work is
seen as worthless, household work is viewed as demeaning drudgery. In
contrast,
Islam emphasises harmony and mutual dependency, so a woman’s work in
caring
for the home and raising the family is seen as being as essential and
important
as a man’s work in earning money for the financial support of the
family.

Mankind has been
infected
with the capitalist bug, where any type of work not providing a
financial
income is considered oppressive. The simple truths, taught by Islam,
have
become too difficult to accept. Humanity should not allow itself to be
dazzled by the West and fooled into denigrating women’s valuable work.
In Islam, the woman’s role is very important, perhaps even more
important
than that of a man. As we have seen, the acts of childbearing and
suckling
– roles which are open only to women – bring immense rewards. Although
these abilities are a gift granted by the Creator, the woman exercises
an element of choice whether to breast feed as a means of earning this
reward. Moreover, as her share of the childrearing burden is greater,
from
the moment of conception onwards, Allah the All-Merciful and All-Wise
has
made the woman a means by which any individual may attain Paradise, in
that Paradise is described as lying at the feet of mothers (see also
the ahadith on the virtues of mothers, below). The hardships
and
tribulations suffered
by women during pregnancy, birth, suckling and childrearing, are not
wasted.
They bring the promise of compensation, reward and a higher status in
this
world and the next.

MOTHERHOOD

The Prophet
indicated that
a woman’s status is further enhanced when she becomes a mother. A man
once
asked him, “Who deserves the best care from me?” He replied, “Your
mother”.
The man asked, “Then who?” He replied, “Your mother”. The man asked,
“Then
who?” He replied, “Your mother”. The man asked, “Then who?” He replied,
“Then your father”.

Islam has taught us
the preciousness
of the female at every stage of her life. A believing Muslim’s, duty is
to live his life in accordance with Islamic teachings, as to please the
Creator. If He is pleased with you, then you will benefit, in this life
and certainly in the life to come. In order to please Allah, Muslims
must
follow His commandments. His orders are to be kind and just to women,
as
daughters, sisters, wives and mothers. Muslim who seek to make their
womenfolk
happy may expect to earn the pleasure of Allah, and pleasing Allah is
the
key to Paradise.

And We have
enjoined on
man (to be good) to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother
bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear the command), ‘Show
gratitude to Me and to your parents: to Me is (your final) Goal.

[Luqman
31:14]

Although Islam
tells us to
respect both parents, the mother is given precedence. For months she
bears
the burden in her womb, sufferings the trials of pregnancy. After the
exertion
of labour, she suckles the baby for up to two years. She sacrifices her
own comforts for the sake of her child. So a man has to recognise,
first,
the rights that Allah has over him, and then the rights of his parents,
especially the mother; he must worship Allah, and occupy himself in
obeying
and serving his parents to the best of his ability, so long as there is
no disobedience to Allah, because Allah’s rights are paramount.
Everyone
must answer to Him, so men and women alike must think of how they will
answer to Him for their deeds.

Miqdam reported
that the
Prophet said: “O people, listen: Allah the Most High commands you to
treat
your mothers well. Allah the Most High commands you to be good to your
mothers, and thereafter to your fathers”. Anas reported that the
Prophet
said: “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers”. What is meant by this is
that a believer may attain the pleasure of Allah, and hence Paradise,
by
pleasing his mother and attending to her needs. Even if one’s mother is
not a Muslim, one is obliged to treat her well and take care of her, so
long as this does not entail any disobedience to Allah.

POLYGYNY

The fact that Islam
permits
a man to have more than one wife (polygyny) has been the cause of much
ridicule and misinformation on the part of those who are shallow
minded,
prejudiced and inimical towards Islam. They have misled many by
publishing
and promoting distorted facts and advocating practices that have no
basis
in the true teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah.

As we have seen in
Chapter
I, prior to the advent of Islam, women were treated as chattels and
objects
for the gratification of men. Girls, women and widows were at the mercy
of male whims. In pre-Islamic Arabia, a man could take as many wives as
he wanted and treat them as he pleased. In the modern world, this
practice
continues under the guise of frequent divorces, affairs, mistresses and
prostitution. Women are left alone to fend for themselves and their
children,
whilst divorce is so common that there now exist groups such as “Single
Again”, which cater for people who have been divorced for the second
(or
subsequent) time.

Islam did not
abolish polygyny,
as it recognised that in some cases, polygyny would be necessary and
even
preferable to the alternatives. However, it strictly limited it, to a
maximum
of four wives at any one time; there are also stringent conditions to
be
met by a man who wishes to take a second wife.

The initial
intention of
this law was to bring some order to the people of Arabia and
neighbouring
societies, who had been accustomed to unlimited numbers of wives, and
to
inaugurate a System that would take care of the needs of women, who had
been regarded as goods and chattels to be acquired with no regard for
their
own human feelings. Polygyny also sought to solve the problem of the
existence
of large numbers of widows and orphans who were left to fend for them.

If you fear that
you will
not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your
choice,
two, or three, or four; but if you fear that you will not be able to
deal
justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands
possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing
injustice.

[al-Nisa’4:3]

The circumstances
in which
this ayah was revealed illustrate the sincere teachings of
Islam
regarding polygyny. It was revealed after the battle of Uhud, in which
a significant number of Muslim men were martyred and as a consequence,
many women were widowed and their children orphaned. To safeguard the
new
Muslim community, this just and compassionate law was revealed, and it
remains in effect until the end of time. Islam requires men to take
full
care of the orphan’s interests and property, but if they felt that they
could not do justice to them as custodians, then they were advised to
marry
other women, up to a maximum of four.

Any man who wishes
to take
a second wife also has to meet the important condition of fair
treatment
of all his wives. The arch quoted above includes the command to treat
wives
equally, and anyone who is unable to do so should marry only one wife.
Equal treatment includes all social, economical and physical needs. It
is very difficult for human beings to be completely fair, a fact which
is recognised by the Qur’an:

You are never
able to
be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire:
but
turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it
were)
hanging (in the air)…

[al-Nisa’
4.129]

Shaikh ul Islam of
Pakistan,
Allamah Usmani suggests that as equality in all aspects of one’s
dealings
with women is impossible, a man should do justice as much as is humanly
possible. He should not be excessively inclined towards one wife and
disinclined
towards the other and leave her as if she were in suspension. Such an
attitude
is cruelty on the part of the husband.

The Prophet urged
fair treatments
of co wives when he said: “A man who marries more than one woman and
then
does not deal justly with them will be resurrected with half his
faculties
paralysed”.’

It is worth noting
that some
Muslim “modernists” have linked the two ayahs quoted above and
drawn
the conclusion that Islam effectively allows only one wife, because alNisa’
4:129 states that it is not possible to treat two women equally, and
therefore
men who marry more than one woman are put in an impossible position and
are acting against Islamic teachings. What the modernists fail to
recognise
is that the equal treatment referred to is only that which is humanly
possible.
A man may be more fond of one wife than another, but he is not allowed
to make this fact obvious, and he must always ensure that the
“less-favoured”
wife is taken care of properly. On no occasion did the Prophet ever
forbid
his Companions to take second or subsequent wives. In the case of men
who
had more than four wives when they embraced Islam, such as Ghaylan ibn
Umayyah al-Thaqafi, the Prophet asked them to keep four wives and to
release
the others. The “modernists” have played into the hands of the enemies
of Islam by trying to appease non Muslims and present far fetched
interpretations.

Polygyny in Islam
is restricted
and may be practiced only when certain strict conditions are met. It is
also the exception rather than the norm in Muslim societies throughout
the World. A World Health Organisation census has shown that less than
5% of Muslim men practice polygyny. This is in contrast to other groups
in countries such as India, where 15.25% of men from tribal religious
groups
practise polygyny; 7.97% of Buddhists, 6.72% of Jains and 5.8% of
Hincus
have plural marriages. The percentage of polygynous marriages in India
is lowest among Muslims, at 5.7%.

The figures give an
indication
of the level of misinformation and stereotyping perpetrated by the
Western
media. Not only have Westerners coloured themselves with this jaundiced
view, but some Muslims are also questioning the teachings of their own
religion. It is very important for scholars to educate the people and
provide
them with correct information, to counteract the false picture of Islam
and Muslims given by the Western media, and to enable them to
understand
their own faith more fully.

It is very sad to
see the
“modernists” propagating monogamy and seeking to change the teachings
of
the Holy Qur’an by suggesting that polygyny was intended to be
practiced
only in the case of war and the like. These people come up with such
pathetic
excuses in an attempt to appease the enemies of Islam to no avail.

The topic of
polygyny cannot
be considered complete without some discussion on the Prophet’s Id
practice
and the historical context in which he and his wives lived. This is a
topic
which has received much attention from the West, and about which many
Muslims
are confused. It is a subject which is worthy of an entire book in
itself
Here the topic will be covered briefly.

It should be noted
that in
seventh-century Arabia, adultery, rape and fornication were the norm.
Men
could have as many wives as they wanted, with no obligation to care for
them or attend to their needs as human beings. In this environment, the
Prophet remained chaste from the beginning. At the age of 25, he
married
Khadijah , who was a widow 40 years of age and was thus his senior by
15
years. Their marriage was a happy and harmonious one, and remained so
until
Khadijah passed away some 25 years later. By this time the Prophet was
50 years of age and bearing the great responsibility of Prophethood.

The Prophet’s
second wife
was Sawdah. She and her husband had been among the earliest converts to
Islam. They suffered great hardship at the hands of Quraysh(inhabitants
of Mecca), so the Prophet had instructed them to migrate to Abyssinia
(Ethiopia).
There, her husband passed away, and Sawdah suffered much hardship as a
widow in a foreign land. The Prophet He knew that he was responsible
for
the welfare of his followers, so he proposed marriage to Sawdah. This
marriage
brought relief, respect and status to her, and provided the Prophet
with
companionship and assistance in raising his children from his marriage
to Khadijah. At the time of her marriage to the Pronhet, Sawdah was
around
55 vears old.

In order to create
blood
ties and to show his love and respect to his closest Companions who had
given up this world for the sake of Islam, the Prophet gave two of his
daughters in marriage to Ali and ‘Uthman’; he also accepted in marriage
‘A’ishah and Hafsah , the daughters of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar ,
respectively.
His marriage to these two noble women not only enhanced his close ties
with his Companions, but these women were later to offer deep insight
into
the Prophet’s life. They were responsible for narrating over half of
the ahadith which now form the basis of the Islamic code of
conduct.
‘A’ishah alone
is known to have narrated over two thousand ahadith.

Zaynab was a cousin
of the
Prophet. She had previously been married to Zayd , the freed slave and
adopted son of the Prophet Hi. This marriage had been arranged by the
Prophet
, but the couple were never happy in their marriage and it became
apparent
that they were not compatible. At the Prophet’s insistence, they had
stayed
together for several years, but in the end Zayd could not tolerate it
any
longer, and decided to set Zaynab free from the marriage contract. The
fact that an enslave had divorced a woman of the noble Quraysh tribe
became
the subject of much gossip among the pagans and the weaker members of
the
Muslim community. Not surprisingly, Zaynab confined herself to her
quarters
and it fell to the Prophet to relieve her of her misery. He married
her,
and she was around 38 years of age at the time. This action achieved
two
ends. One was to demonstrate that Islam makes no distinction between
class,
race or status, as the Qur’an teaches that the noblest person in the
sight
of Allah is the one who is most pious. The second was to indicate that
adopted sons were not to be counted as blood relatives, as had
previously
been the custom in Arabia.

… Nor has He
[Allah]
made your adopted sons your sons. Such is (only) your (manner of)
speech
by your mouths. But Allah tells (you) the Truth and He shows the
(right)
Way.

[al-Ahzab
33:4]

In order to unite
the tribes
of Arabia under Islam, it was deemed necessary to have a blood tie with
them, which could be accomplished through marriage. Hence some of the
Prophet’s
marriages were arranged to establish inter-tribal ties and to further
the
cause of unity. The Prophet’s %46 marriage to Juwayriyah led to her
tribe
of Banu Mustaliq, who had been among the fiercest enemies of Islam,
freeing
all their Muslim prisoners. The whole tribe later entered into Islam.
Maymunah
came from the tribe of Najd, who had murdered the emissaries sent to
them
by the Prophet. After his marriage to Maymunah, however, their attitude
changed and Najd became favourable towards Islam.

In all, the Prophet
had eleven
wives, of whom two – Khadijah and Zaynab – passed away in his own
lifetime.
After the ayah restricting the number of wives to four was revealed, he
contracted no further marriages, but his nine remaining wives were
regarded
as “mothers of the faithful” and as no other man would be permitted to
marry them if he divorced them he kept all his wives on the grounds of
compassion.

With the exception
of ‘A’ishah,
all of his wives were widows or divorcees. His marriages were all for
political
reasons or were contracted in order to set an example of compassion, as
in the cases of Zaynab and Sawdah. His polygynous marriage all took
place
rather late in his life, from the age of 55; taking into account the
fact
that the responsibility of conveying the message of Islam to the whole
of mankind was his to bear, these marriages show the extent of his
compassionate
and caring nature. He was in a position of great political power, and
could
have had all the worldly comforts and carnal pleasures had he desired
these.
However, he chose to marry widows and older women – a sure indication
of
his upright moral character and desire to set the highest example to
his
followers.

DIVORCE

The Prophet said:
“Divorce
is the most hateful of all lawful things in the sight of Allah”.

Although Islam
emphasises
the importance of marriage, it is a humane and practical religion which
recognises the fact that there may be situations in which dissolving
the
marriage bond may be in the better interests of the individuals
concerned
and of society at large. Divorce is allowed as a last resort, rather as
amputation or major surgery may be the unpleasant but a necessary step
needed to save a person’s life. If divorce were forbidden, then
animosity
and adultery may become rampant. To save individuals and society from
the
greater evils, divorce has been permitted. However, it is not a step to
be taken lightly or hastily. Sincere attempts at reconciliation are to
be made first and – as in the case of marriage – the rights and welfare
of women are to be upheld.

Imam al Ghazzali
(b.1058
CE) who is honoured with the title of Hujjat al Islam ‘The Proof of
Islam’
states, the greatest care should be taken to avoid divorce, for, though
divorce is permitted, yet Allah disapproves of it. If divorce becomes
essential
then the woman should be divorced kindly, not through anger or
contempt,
and not without a valid reason. After divorce a man should give his
former
wife a present and not announce to others any of her shortcomings.

The Qur’an advises
a couple
who are facing difficulties in their marriage to appoint arbiters:

If you fear a
breach between
them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family and the other
from
hers; if they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation…

[al-Nisa’
4:35]

But if the attempts
at reconciliation
fail, then the couple is permitted to separate, 

But if they
disagree (and
must part), Allah will provide abundance for all from His All-Reaching
bounty…

[al-Nisa’
4.130]

In order to
dissolve a marriage,
it is essential to pronounce a declaration of talaq. There are
three
types of talaq (divorce) that are practiced among Muslims.

Talaq
ahsan –
(the
preferable type of divorce): After issuing one pronouncement
of
divorce, the couple wait for the ‘iddah (waiting period, which
consists
of three menstrual cycles of the wife, usually three months). During
this
time, all possible attempts at reconciliation should be made. The
husband
may take his wife back at any time during the ‘iddah period.
During
the period of iddah the man must oblige to either keep the
woman
in the same home or at least furnish her with a comfortable apartment,
which is easily accessible to him. Further, the man must provide for
her
as if no divorce has taken place. At the end of the iddah or
waiting
period if reconciliation has failed then the marriage is broken.

Talaq hasan – is a
divorce where a man pronounces talaq to his wife in three
consecutive
state of purity.

Talaqid’i- (bid’i
or innovative divorce) is talaq where the husband issues three
pronouncements
of divorce at one time. According to the majority of jurists, this talaq
is
valid but it is against the spirit of the Shari’ah and so the man is an
offender in the eyes of the law.

Talaq bid’i is
considered a
serious act against the Islamic teachings. Hazrat Umar, a close
companion
of the Prophet and the second Calipha of Islam, used to whip the
husband
who pronounced divorce thrice at one and the same sitting.

When you divorce
women,
and they fulfil the term of their (‘Iddah), either take them back on
equitable
terms or set them free on equitable terms; but do not take them back to
injure them, (or) to take undue advantage; if any one does that, he
wrongs
his own soul. Do not treat Allah’s Signs as a jest, but solemnly
rehearse
Allah’s favours on you, and the fact that He sent down to you the Book
and Wisdom, for your instruction. And fear Allah, and know that Allah
is
well-acquainted with all things.

[al.Baqarah
2.231]

During the ‘iddah period,
the couple should stay together, which gives greater opportunity for
reconciliation.
The woman cannot be evicted from the marital home unless she has
committed
an indecent act, such as adultery.

… And fear
Allah, your
Lord: and turn them not out of their houses, nor shall they
(themselves)
leave, except in case they are guilty of some open lewdness, those are
limits set by Allah: and any who transgresses the limits of Allah, does
verily wrong his (own) soul: you know not if perchance Allah will bring
about thereafter some new situation.

[al-Talaq
65:1]

When it comes to
divorce,
Islam treads the middle ground, and safeguards the rights of women. It
neither prohibits divorce, thereby imprisoning women as is the case in
Hinduism and historical Christianity; neither does it regard divorce as
insignificant, as in pre Islamic Arabia and in the present time.

The right to
divorce is not
restricted to the husband. The woman may also seek a dissolution of the
marriage by means of a process known as faskh, whereby she
applies
to the Qadi (Judge) for an annulment of the marriage. The wife
may
seek faskh in several cases, including: apostasy (renunciation
of
Islam) by the husband; lack of equality of status (kafi’ah); lack
of compatibility; spoiling of marriage (fasad); incurable
impotence
on the part of the husband and if the husband ill treats the woman (nushuz).
The
above cases present valid grounds for a woman to seek divorce from her
husband. If the couple come to a mutual agreement for separation and
get
divorced then this is called khul.

If the wife
fears cruelty
or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they
arrange
an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is
best….

[al-Nisa’
4:128]

Islam has decreed
justicefor
both sexes in the case of divorce. Although the act of divorce is
disliked,
it is permitted for the sake of weak human souls who cannot always find
comfort and solace in the marriage relationship. This is mainly due to
lower tolerance levels, high expectations in others and needless
desires.

MODESTY

As already
indicated, Islam
is a complete way of life, and it has not left out any aspect of human
life in its prescription for living. It is to this religion’s credit
that
not only does it point out the dangers of life, but it offers practical
solutions to them. One such area is that of modesty, which in the
broadest
sense means humility, restraint in manner and conduct, avoiding excess
and presenting an unpretentious appearance. This is the way of life
taught
by the Qur’an and exemplified by the Prophet.

In humanity, the
worst crime
after murder is zina (adultery), and the punishment dictated
by
Islam for adultery is equal to that meted out for murder. This
indicates
the enormity of illicit sexual conduct and the disgust with which Islam
views this crime.

‘Abdullah ibn
Mas’ud reported,
“1 asked the Messenger of Allah , ‘What is the greatest sin?’ He
replied,
‘To set up rivals with Allah by worshipping others although He alone
has
created you’. 1 asked, ‘What next?’ He said, ‘To kill your child lest
it
should share your food’. 1 asked, ‘What next?’ He said, ‘To commit
adultery
with the wife of your neighbour’.”

The reason behind
the prohibition
of zina is not to “spoil the fun” for people, but because zina
is
the cause of much social chaos, upheaval and suffering for
individuals,
families, societies and nations. Zina destroys the moral fibre
of
a person, creates an atmosphere of mistrust and deceit, and leads to
the
birth of illegitimate children who must bear the stigma of their birth.
Pornography, prostitution, rape, abortions, divorce and single-parent
families
are the by products of zina, as is now all too evident in
Britain
and other Western societies. Families are torn apart, diseases are
spread
and people’s characters become twisted and distorted. The Qur’an warns
us:

Nor come nigh to
adultery:
for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other
evils).

[al-Isra’
17:32]

To protect the
moral well-being
of mankind, Islam lays down laws which restrict, if not stop, the
things
that may lead to zina.

Say to the
believing men
that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will
make
for greater purity for (Amongst) them: and Allah is well acquainted
with
all that they do.

And say to the
believing
women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that
they
should not display their beauty and ornaments…

[al-Nur
24.30-31]

The first step on
the road
to zina is sight. It is only after a person has had a glance
that
his desire are inflamed. As men are generally more aggressive in this
way,
the Qur’an addresses the command of lowering the gaze to the male
first.
The believing men and women are restricted from gazing at one another,
as this is the gateway to greater sin. The Prophet said:

“the zina of the
legs
is walking towards an unlawful act, the
zina of the hands is
touching
and patting, and the
zina of the eyes is casting passionate
“lances
at those who are forbidden to you”

Being a practical
religion,
Islam recognises the fact that a person has to look around to be aware
of his or her environment and to see where he or she is going, in which
case there is no sin if a person’s glance happens to fall upon a person
of the opposite sex. It is the second glance which is punishable. The
Prophet
In advised Ali,

“O Ali, do not
allow your
first glance to be followed bye second, because the first glance is
permitted
for you but the second is not”.

In other ahadith, the
Prophet warned Muslims against putting themselves into situations where
temptation may overwhelm them the potential for sin is increased: 

“Let no male
stranger
sit in privacy with a female stranger, for the third among them is
Satan”‘
“Do not go to the houses of women whose husbands are ahsent”.

There are
exceptions to this
prohibition on looking at members of the opposite sex. In the case of
medical
examinations or treatment, deciding on a marriage partner, recording
evidence
or carrying out criminal investigations, the rulings are relaxed
somewhat,
but proper conduct and modesty must still be adhered to.

The free mixing of
men and
women from the time they become sexually aware to the time they are no
longer sexually active is prohibited. On the face of it, this may
appear
rather harsh, but if we examine the effects of unrestricted contact
between
the sexes, the person who is blessed with understanding and insight
will
soon see the wisdom behind this restriction. Today, in the Western
world,
every type of crime that results from free mixing of the sexes is on
the
increase, as we have seen in Chapter II.

Islamic modesty
encompasses
not only behaviour, but also dress. It is well-known that appearances
count,
and that clothes can make a “statement” about the person. Muslims are
required
to dress modestly and conceal their private parts. The Qur’an reminds
us
that after the error committed by Adam and Eve, they became aware of
their
nakedness and shame, so clothing was given as a means of concealing the
body:

O children of
Adam! We
have bestowed raiment upon you to cover your shame, as well as to be an
adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness -that is the best.
Such
are among the Signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition! 

[al-A’raf
7:26]

A prominent
commentator,
from Asia, on the Holy Qur’an, Hazrat Shah Saheb interprets this ayah
as
meaning that the enemy (i.e., Satan) stripped them of their
‘Paradisian’
garments, then Allah taught them the art of dressing, so that
henceforth
they should wear only the garments of piety.

Allamah Usmani
points out
that Allah has bestowed many natural resources for human use. He has
created
cotton, wool, feathers and other materials which man utilises and makes
into clothing and other items. When we reflect upon these bounties of
Allah,
we will easily recognise Allah’s favours and become thankful to Him.
Moreover,
the dress of piety will help us to regain the long-lost Paradisian
dress.

Muslims are
commanded to
cover the ‘awrah, which in the case of men extends from the
navel
to the knee, and in the case of women includes the whole body except
the
face, hands and (according to some Hanafi scholars) feet. Muslims
should
wear clothes that are loose fitting, thick (non-transparent) and simple
(not ostentatious or gaudy).

Although the man’s ‘awrah
is
from the navel to the knee, the sunnah (practice) of
the
Prophet He is to wear clothes that cover the body from the shoulders to
just above the ankles. The ‘awrah is the minimum area to be
covered
in cases where a person may be too poor to afford more extensive
garments.

The guidelines
regarding
women’s dress come straight from the Qur’an:

And say to the
believing
women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that
they
should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must
ordinarily)
appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and
not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their
husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or
their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the
slaves
whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical
needs,
or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they
should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden
ornaments. And O Believers! Turn all together towards Allah, that you
may
attain Bliss.

[al
Nur 24:31]

O Prophet! Tell
your wives
and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their
outer
garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient,
that
they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft
Forgiving,
Most Merciful.

[al-Ahzab
33.59]

The outer garment (jilbab)
is
one which covers a person from head to foot. A well-known hadith
further
describes the dress of the Muslim woman: “When a woman reaches the age
of maturity, it is not lawful for her to uncover any part of her body
except
the face and this -” and he (the Prophet) put his hand on his wrist
joint
so as to leave only a little space between the place he gripped and the
palm.

Not only do women
have to
cover themselves in front of men who are strangers to them, but they
are
also required to lower their gaze. Umm Salamah reported that she and
Maymunah
(who were both wives of the Prophet ) were with the Prophet when the
son
of Umm Maktum, who was blind, came to speak with him. The Prophet told
his wives to observe hijab in front of the visitor Umm Salamah
said,
“O Messenger of Allah, he is a blind man and will not see us”. The
Prophet
said, “He may be blind but you are not, and do you not see him”?

The main aim of hijab
is to restrain individuals of the opposite sex from
being unduly
attracted
to one another. However, hijab has numerous secondary
advantages
that bring benefits to women. It gives women their own identity and
their
own sphere, which exists parallel to that of men. Women are thus freed
from the strain of Western-style social pressure in which women are
expected
to look impeccable and sexually attractive at all times, and they are
relieved
of the “necessity” of spending large amounts of time and money in
visiting
beauty parlours and applying chemicals, lotions, potions and scents to
their bodies for the purposes of gratifying men. Above all, it allows
Muslim
women to have an identity, an ability to express their personality and
intellect of their own, independently of men’s whims and desires.

The Prophet issued
a warning
which offers food for thought for all of us:

“Those women who
appear
naked even though they are wearing clothes, who allure and are allured
by others, and who walk in a provocative manner, will never enter
Paradise,
or even smell its fragrance”.

ECONOMICS

And in no way
covet those
things in which Allah has bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you
than on others: to men is allotted what they earn and to women what
they
earn: but ask Allah of His bounty. For Allah has full knowledge of all
things.

[al
Nisa’ 4:32]

Through Islam,
women gained
economic liberation and independence frown their menfolk. For the first
time in human history, Islam bestowed upon women a legal economic
entity.
A woman could now own, manage, inherit, distribute and sell her own
property
as she wished and in her own right. Her assets remained hers, and
marriage
or divorce did not alter the fact. The Islamic ruling and practice with
regard to women’s economic rights was light-years ahead of any Western
equal rights manifesto. Islam brought these rights to women fourteen
hundred
years ago, long before equal rights were thought of or campaigned for
in
other lands.

In the West,
women’s emergence
into the economic arena only took hold during the two World wars when,
with most men conscripted for the war effort, the need for labour was
so
acute that there was no other option but to bring women out of the
home.
However, it has taken much heartache and a great deal of struggle and
striving
to bring women anywhere near a position of equal economic status. Even
today, the Western woman is economically bound to her husband, who can
demand a share from her earnings for ongoing domestic expenses and, in
the case of divorce, can claim a share of her savings. In contrast, the
Muslim wife is entitled to be supported by her husband, no matter how
rich
she may be in her own right; whilst she is a child, she is entitled to
be supported by her father and in old age she is entitled to be
supported
by her children. The Muslim woman is relieved of the burden of having
to
earn a living, and she is allowed to dispose of her earnings in
whatever
manner she chooses.

In the case of
inheritance,
the Muslim woman is allotted a share equal to half of that given to her
male counterpart. This is often cited as an example of Islam’s
unfairness
to women, but the facts warrant closer examination. In many societies,
including pre-Islamic Arabia, wealth that was to be inherited was
distributed
by means of a written will which in many cases deprived women and those
in a weak position of their share; this is still the case in some parts
of the world. Islam offers, as it were, a “ready-made will”: the Qur’an
spells out the Islamic injunctions regarding inheritance, and gives
women
the right to inherit from husbands, fathers and brothers:

From what is
left by parents
and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for
women,
whether the property be small or large -a determinate share.

[al-Nisa’
4:7]

The reason for men
being
given a portion twice as much as that given to women is that men are
responsible
for taking care of their womenfolk: A man may be required to spend on
his
mother, sisters or other female relatives. A woman is entitled to
dispose
of her share of the inheritance as she wishes, and is under no
obligation
to support anyone, even herself. When these facts are borne in mind,
the
just and equitable position of Islam is vindicated.

Islam has given
rights to
women in all aspects of life, including some where women in other
cultures
have no rights even today. Many of the instances which critics point to
as being unfair to women are, upon closer inspection, found to be
favourable
to women and may even be seen as giving them preferential treatment.

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