in Islam and Muslim Society
by Hassan Al-Turabi
Editorial from the American Muslim Magazine: Dr. Hassan Al-Turabi
is leading figure of the International Islamic Movement, and may even be the
leading figure and one of its most influential thinkers. He is an expert in
Islamic thought and jurisprudence. He has been a leader in the Sudanese Islamic
Movement's struggle to establish an Islamic government and to implement Shari`a
since the 1960's, and during the 60's and 70's was imprisoned several times for
his Islamic activities. In 1989, the National Salvation Revolution came to
power in Sudan, and since then Dr. Al-Turabi has continued to work to complete
the process of Islamization, education, and implementation of Shari`a.
He is currently the Secretary General of the Arab and
Islamic Congress, and was elected to that post at a conference in April 1991 by
leaders of Islamic and Nationalist parties from 55 countries.
Dr. Al-Turabi received a degree in law from the
University of Khartoum in 1955. He received his Masters Degree in law in 1957
and his Ph.D. from the Sorbonne in 1964, after which he was appointed Dean of
the Faculty of Law at the University of Khartoum.
Last year, Dr. Al-Turabi visited the U.S. and Canada and
met with groups from many different communities. When he was crossing the
border between the U.S. and Canada, he was attacked by an individual from a
Sudanese anti-Islamic group and seriously injured. He was hospitalized for three
weeks and his family came from Sudan to be with him. Thank God, the
assassination attempt failed and Dr. Al-Turabi is back in the Sudan working for
the cause of Islam and in excellent health.
I was fortunate to be able to visit Sudan to attend the 2nd
annual conference of the International Organization of Muslim Women in
December, 1992, and had the opportunity to hear Dr. Al-Turabi speak at the
conference and in his home. He is a forceful, inspirational and dynamic
speaker, and I was very pleased that the topic of his talks was "Women's
Rights," and that in 1993, after the Revolution and the establishment of
Shari`a, he has not changed his position on this subject from the position he
(courageously) first took in the early 1970's.
The pamphlet on "Women in Islam and Muslim
Society" was first published in 1973 and has been very influential in
encouraging Sudanese Muslim women to actively and enthusiastically participate
in the Islamic movement. When I was in Sudan, I was impressed by the active
Muslim women that I met.
This essay has also had a profound effect on my own
thinking and motivated me to do a lot of research. I believe it to be a
significant document that should be widely read, thought about, discussed and
put into practice. We have obtained permission to reprint the entire text, and
hope that our readers will also find it thought provoking.
Women in Muslim Society
history, Muslims have experienced a significant deviation from the general
ideals of life as taught by Islam. It is, therefore, not at all surprising that
their loss is equally great in the area of social guidance which Islam offered
regarding women. Whenever weakness creeps into the faith of Muslim men, they
tend to treat women oppressively and seek to exploit them. This is a natural
tendency, and is amply demonstrated by the fact that most of the rulings of the
Qur'an regarding women were sent down as restrictions on men - to prevent them
from transgressing against women, as is their natural disposition and their
actual practice in most societies. Only a few of the Qur'anic injunctions
impose restrictions on women.
quote here some of those rulings that guarantee a fair deal for women.
"When you divorce women and they fulfill the term of
their Iddat, then retain them in kindness or release them in kindness. But do
not retain them to prejudice them or to take undue advantage. Do not take the
revelations of God as a laughing matter. Remember God's grace towards you in
that which He has revealed to you of the scripture and of wisdom to exhort you.
Be pious and know that God is aware of all things. When you divorce women and
they fulfill their term, do not prevent them from marrying their former
husbands, if they agree on equitable terms. This is an admonition for him among
you who believes
in God and the Day of Judgment, and God knows, but you do not know."
"O you who believe, it is not lawful for you to
inherit women against their will (by maliciously retaining them captive in
formal marriage until death), nor to put constraint upon them to take away part
of what you have given them unless they be guilty of flagrant lewdness. Consort
with them in kindness, for if you hate them, it may happen that you hate
something wherein God has placed much good." (Al-Nisa:19)
"When they have fulfilled their term, there is no
blame on you if they (women) dispose of themselves in a decent and reasonable
manner. And God is well aware of what you do." (Al-Baqarah:234)
if not all of the verses of the Qur'an regarding oaths (of abstinence from
sex), divorce and Iddat (term of transition), were revealed to bring an
end to the oppressive traditions and customs of the day. According to these
customs, a woman could be retained in formal marital captivity, and for long
periods of time, while her fate remained in suspense. The same is true of the
verses concerning inheritance, which restored rights that had been denied to
women by guaranteeing them a definite share. Other verses were revealed which
criticized the pessimism and dejection that used to attend a female birth, and
the abominable practice of female infanticide. The Qur'an says:
"When any of them receives the tiding of the birth
of a female, his face becomes dark and he is filled with sulkiness. He keeps
hiding from people because of the unfortunate news, (wondering) whether to hold
on to it as a contemptible thing or just bury it in the soil. O! What a foul
"When the (female) buried alive will be questioned:
for what fault was she murdered?" (Al-Takwir:8-9)
are many traditions of the Prophet which warn menfolk against ill treatment of
women (e.g. beating or detaining them). The Prophet said: "None of you
will flog his wife like a donkey and later, toward the end of the day have
intercourse with her." (Bukhari)
once warned: "A large number of women have come to me complaining about
their husbands. Those husbands are not the best amongst you." (Riad
Prophet's traditions encourage the Muslim to care for the good upbringing and education
of women, and for their well being in general: "The best of you is the
one who is best towards his family, and I am best towards my family."
"None but a noble man treats women in an honorable
manner. And none but an ignoble man treats women disgracefully." (Tirmidhi)
commitment to religion tends to cultivate unjust, oppressive treatment of
women. Men purposefully attempt to keep women weak, and the jealousy which they
entertain in respect to women, induces them to multiply the means for
restraining and monopolizing them. They dominate the property and fife of women
out of vanity and arrogance.
jealousy is just one aspect of masculine capricious tendencies (which only
godly men are immune from) which inculcate the myth that women, by nature,
suffer from excessive incapacity. Men use that fantasy as an excuse to ban
women from active participation in the broad spectrum of human life and to
deprive them of experience and training - thereby devitalizing and debilitating
them in fact, and creating a reason for further ill-treatment and prejudice.
These male tendencies, and the customs and cultural patterns growing out of
them, are manifest in many societies, where male arbitrariness runs amuck with
no religious or human limitation.
for instance, the Arab, Persian, and Indian societies. Although the message of
Islam spread in these societies from early times, the teaching and inculcation
of Islamic cultural values was not coextensive with the horizontal expansion.
Consequently, some pre-Islamic values and prejudices have continued to persist,
despite the domination of Islamic forms. In some cases, there was a clear
historical religious decline and a relapse to pre-Islamic social ethos and
phenomenon has sometimes occasioned an even more serious development. New or
degenerate Muslim societies would sometimes, out of ignorance, attribute their
un-Islamic legacy or custom to Islam itself. By attaching an Islamic value to
these practices, they sought to give them legitimacy and sanctity, because the
values of Islam were accepted as sacred and supreme. This explains the unabated
influence on the minds of many otherwise good Muslims, of attitudes abhorrent
to Islam. This is especially true in the sensitive area of sex relations, where
passion is strong and custom sacrosanct.
later juristic rules and stratagems have been adopted to qualify the Shari`a to
suit cherished customs and traditions. For instance, express provisions of the Shari`a
are sometimes compared and contrasted, not to give relative effect to all, but
to claim the abrogation of provisions purporting to extend rights, immunities
or liberties to women, or to restrict their general scope almost to the
vanishing point. Another tricky approach is to read liberally and broaden the
scope of rules granting authority to men, while reading literally and strictly
those rules which impose limitations on women. This discriminatory attitude of
interpretation is very widespread. Yet another aspect of this tendentious
jurisprudence is to generalize the provisions of the Qur'an and the Sunna
that were meant to apply exclusively to the Prophet or his wives, due to their
most popular anti-feminist argument derives from the abuse of the juristic
principle that "means and preliminaries assume the value of their ends
and results." Thus, the maximum precautionary prohibitions have to be
observed to bar approaches to sexual temptation and avoid its undesired
consequences. But the proper jurisprudential judgement, in the absence of an
express provision, is to balance (in consideration) the risks of temptation
with the positive merits of the integration of men and women in Muslim society;
not to forfeit all freedom for some necessary reserve in social intercourse.
traditional Muslim society, which is over-impressed by its historical decline,
has developed a general preference for circumspection and cautiousness over the
demands of positive pursuits. Muslim society has subsequently become unduly
conservative for fear that freedom of thought will lead astray and divide the
community; and that freedom of women will degenerate into licentious
promiscuity. This fear is so prevalent that the basic religious rights and
duties of women have been forsaken, and the fundamentals of equality and
fairness in the structure of Muslim society, as enshrined in the Shari`a,
have been completely overlooked.
arguments have been advanced for justifying a complete metamorphosis of the pattern
of social life initiated by the Prophet himself, under the guidance of the
Qur'an. The most popular is the claim that the magnificent Qur'anic and Sunnic
regulations had relevance for the virtuous society which prevailed during the
Prophet's own life. Later however, it is argued that people have changed, and
corruption has become the order of succeeding societies and latter days. Hence, the necessity
to correct this degenerative tendency by adjusting the norms of social conduct
in the direction of greater circumspection. This is a liberal
manner of interpretation that underlines the spirit and purpose rather than the
letter of the law, and allows for a progressive application thereof. But this
is not the prevailing manner of thinking among Muslims who advance conservative
views on female affairs. They are normally very literal in their understanding
of texts, but they tendentiously opt for an understanding that suits their
prejudice. Islam is not a matter of a single rule that can be flexibly understood;
it is a whole order of norms that establish the entire way of life or social
structure of Islam, and is not liable to variation.
the claim is based on a pious but excessive overvaluation of the society of
Madina. In fact, not all its members were like the rightly guided companions of
the Prophet; some elements were hypocrites or new converts not yet free of
Jewish or pre-Islamic Arabic influences and manners. The very verses of the
Qur'an that prescribe proper dress for ladies refer to the presence of
hypocrites and rumor mongers (Al-Ahzab:59-60). Whatever the comparative character
of our present-day society, the proper reform policy is to reshape it after the
example of the Sunni society, by changing its deviant ways and reestablishing
Islamic social practices and institutions now in disuse. It is not sound social
policy to submit to the dominant way of the de facto historical society, and
then to forsake Islamic institutions in an attempt to save some of the ideals
within that alien social context.
thought and practice of Muslims has come to misrepresent most of the doctrinal
and normative teachings of Islam on female affairs. The female is hardly ever
religiously addressed except through the mediation of the male, and as an
addendum to him. In the fallen society of Muslims, a woman has little freedom
to marry the person she likes, or to separate from a husband she loathes. Nor
is she, as a wife, entitled to full consultation and gracious companionship by
her husband. In many cases she hardly enjoys an equal opportunity to earn and
own property, or the full capacity to manage or dispose of her property. All
sorts of subterfuges are employed to deny her inheritance. Her role in private
life has been reduced to that of a housewife, chosen not for her personal
merit, for she was denied the education or the opportunity to acquire merit,
but for the merit of her men-folk.
the domain of public life, she is not allowed to make any original contribution
to the promotion of the religious quality of life. Whenever she is allowed to
work towards the material development of life, it is likely to be in a context
of exploitation or as mundane work with little spiritual satisfaction or
greatest injustice visited upon women, is their segregation and isolation from
the general society. Sometimes the slightest aspect of her public appearance is
considered a form of obscene exhibitionism. Even her voice is bracketed in the
same category. Her mere presence at a place where men are also present is
considered shameful promiscuity. She is confined to her home in a manner
prescribed in Islam only as a penal sanction for an act of adultery. She is so
isolated on the pretext that she should devote herself exclusively to the care
of her children and the service of her husband. But how can she qualify for
attending to domestic family affairs or for the rearing of children in a
satisfactory manner, without being herself versed through education or
experience in the moral and functional culture of the wider society?
The Resurgence of Women
traditional customs and practices developed by the historical Muslim society
could not endure long in the face of challenges, posed by alien cultures and
unconventional patterns of life. These external influences are represented
mainly in the ideological inroads of Western civilization, which has swept
through the Muslim world. The cultural domination of Muslims by the West has
shattered their confidence in almost the whole legacy of ideas - Islamic and
traditional. Muslims have assimilated cultural attitudes and modes toward
women, which appear very liberal. This trend of women's liberation constitutes
a serious temptation for the downtrodden Muslim women, especially those who are
unaware of the actual teaching of Qur'an and Sunna.
Western liberal tendency has itself been a revolt against a sickly religious
tradition, which maltreated women in ways that closely resembled the aberrant
traditional ways of the Muslims. In early European society, women were not
equated with men in humanity or religion, in fundamental rights or obligations,
or in legal capacity or social consideration. The revolt of the new European
society against religion and convention was universal. It was in particular a
complete departure from the absolute homogeneous and monotheistic order that
once prevailed under the authority of the Church. Society became secular and
humanistic in its values, and therefore heterogeneous and "free,"
pursuing no single ultimate end in life and tending to non-conformism and
libertarianism. Thus politics, economics, science and arts - all became free
the petrified traditional forms of social life relating to sex relations and
conduct broke down towards promiscuity, permissiveness, and sexual indulgence.
Like power, pleasure, knowledge, and beauty, sex became almost an object of
total uninhabited devotion. As a consequence, women once again began to lose
primacy and autonomy as human beings, and became objects for physical pleasure
and commercial promotion. A woman's purpose in life was to realize her
femininity rather than to fulfill her humanity. Natural physical attributes
were augmented by all sorts of artificiality and cosmetic treatment or surgery.
Energy, wealth, and time were wasted simply to maximize a woman's seductiveness
in the eyes of men. They would dress up and go out simply to attract, charm,
and excite, by tempting nudity, beautiful form, sweet scent, delightful colors,
and sex appeal. The idea was to invite the fixed attention of men, and to
entice some to seek her privacy. Similarly the man, when overcome by the wanton
pursuits of carnal pleasure, would relate to women only as male, and would
affect looks and conduct simply to attract them. A man might waste all energy
and wealth in satisfaction of his base desires. The privacy of sex was thereby
shattered, matrimonial relations subverted, and the institution of the family
undermined as the special stable milieu for nursing, rearing and educating
way of life has now become almost universal in the West. Some aspects of it
have swept over most of the "modern" sectors of our Islamic
societies, just as much as economic materialism and political secularism have
spread to break some Muslims loose of their solid religious moorings, and to
weaken the norms of social control in their life. This has been brought about
by the political dominance of western culture, and the debility of Muslim
society that has become prone to adulteration and blind imitation.
the other hand, economic and social developments in Muslim lands have
precipitated the destruction of the old social order. That order, with all its
conventions and traditions, was rooted in the past and could not withstand the
change of circumstances. Neither man nor woman was holding on to the values of
the past consciously, it was merely a legacy received from historical custom,
giving way to practices and developments of new times. Religion was hardly
present in people's minds, and then only as a cultural value to sanctify
custom. Anyway, religious values were waning as religious institutions, which
used to promote them, date and die away.
consciousness of the growing economic needs spread in the impoverished society
of Muslims, and as they became less resistant to material temptation and more
deprived of the close social ties of economic solidarity, the strong pressures
for a better life swept away the reservation of the past. Fathers and husbands
came to encourage daughters and spouses to go out not in pursuit of knowledge
or good works, but to earn a living and supplement the family income. Women
took advantage of this newfound experience and power to assert their freedom
from the vanity and authority of men. This was not so much a full choice of a
new and better way of life; but a liberation from the old order, a revolt
against control, and a fancy of the permissive model of the west.
increased urbanization brought more people into a new and impersonal social
context with few of the close community ties of acquaintance, kinship and solidarity, that
used to cultivate regard for the norms of public decency and family honor.
These were a deterrent to acts of indecency and ignominy. The crowded urban
conditions brought about much more direct contact and, as a result, many
occasions for temptation between men and women. The old-time institution of "harem,"
the barrier of female privacy, was dismantled for practical considerations,
with no compensating development of personal piety or moral barriers. The new urban
attitude was one of indifference and emancipation, in lieu of the previous
considerate, reserved attitude.
the impact of cultural change and alien domination, the traditional society of
Muslims is falling apart. No lamentations by conservatives over the changing
time or tenacious clinging to the past will save much. The fate of the
traditional way of Muslims will not be different from that of the European
"old order," when its theoretical and material foundations collapsed,
and new social values and structures were ushered in by the revolution. If
conservatives hold on to the rigid, customary forms of the past, and fail to direct
the process of change according to Islamic guidance, the change will come to
pass anyway. The change may be even faster and more tragic than in the case of
Europe, if only because the European example has become so compelling.
revolution against the condition of women in the traditional Muslim societies
is inevitable. The Islamists are urged by their own ideals to reform the
traditional society, and to close the gap between the fallen historical reality
and the desired model of ideal Islam.
is even more urgent with respect to the present state of women. Contemporary
social trends in an ever-closer world require an early initiative to take the
direction of change in hand, before it takes its free course. When alien trends
take root and are assimilated, it may be too late to undertake right-guided
Islamic reform. The Islamists should beware of an attitude that seeks refuge
from the invading "liberating" Western culture in the indigenous past
(as a lesser evil that should be preserved with some accommodation).
Conservation is a wasted effort. The Islamists are worthy to lead the movement
of women's liberation from the traditional quagmire of historical Islam, to a resurgence
in the heights of ideal Islam. They should not leave their society at the mercy
of the advocates of Westernization, who exploit the urgency of reform to deform
society and lead it astray. The teachings of their own religion call upon
Islamists to be the right-guided leaders for the salvation of men and women,
emancipating them from the shackles of history and convention, and steering
their life clear of the aberrations of mutative change.
The Verdict of Jurisprudence
verdicts of Islamic jurisprudence are simply practical expressions of the
dictates of the faith. Women, according to the Shari`a, are counterparts
of men. In Islamic jurisprudence, there is no separate order of regulations for
women. There are, however, a few limited secondary regulations where a
distinction is drawn between the two sexes. But the Shari`a (or Islamic
law) is essentially the same, and its general rules are common for both sexes. It
is addressed to both without any distinction. The underlying presumption in the
that gender is immaterial, except where a clear text makes the distinction, or
where proof can be adduced to that effect. Thus, personal religious obligations
(prayer, pilgrimage, etc.) for instance, are the same for women as for men.
and men have to observe the general religious standards relating to personal
conduct, social dealings and moral behavior (e.g. honesty, integrity,
generosity, righteousness, etc.). Islam does not provide different moral codes
for men and women. Even in matters of public life, women are expected to do
their part and endure the sufferings of life as patiently as men are supposed
to do. They too are expected to show solidarity with the community of believers
and to forsake the comforts of their homes to migrate to Dar al Islam (the
State of the Muslims), to wage jihad, and to promote the well being of
their society. In all these matters, there is no distinction between Muslim men
"And the believers, men and women, are allies of
each other, enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong, establishing prayer,
giving alms, and obeying God and His Messenger. As for these, God will have
mercy on them, God is Mighty and Wise." (Tawba:71)
have an equal opportunity and incentive to share in every aspect of religious
"God has got ready forgiveness and tremendous
rewards for the Muslim men and women; the believing men and women; the devout
men and women; the humble men and women; the almsgiving men and women; the
fasting men and women, the men and women who guard their chastity; and the men
and women who are exceedingly mindful of God." (Al-Ahzab:35)
assigns all Muslims (men and women) a due role to play in discharging
collective responsibilities, which preserve the essence of the religious
society in general. If all Muslims neglect to discharge these collective
responsibilities, then each Muslim (man and woman) will have to answer for that
default. Some special obligations like financial maintenance of the family,
compulsory attendance at group prayers, and general conscription for war, are
too onerous for most women because of their child rearing responsibilities.
Islam has relieved women from these responsibilities as long as Muslim men can
sufficiently attend to them. That does not mean that a woman is barred from
doing any of these things. She may very well participate in all such activities
even when there is no shortage of capable men to do them. However, if men are
not fulfilling, or are incapable of fulfilling their due obligations in this
regard, women become duty bound to compensate their default or complement their
one and nothing in Islam may stand in the way of a woman contributing to the
general good and competing for religious achievement. The equal personal
responsibilities of women in Islam are evident and clearly established. That
collective duties are commonly born by men and women is clear from the Qur'an
and Sunna. The Prophet commanded women to act charitably and give for
the sake of God.
the Prophet had delivered an Eid-ul-Fitr sermon, he moved through the
assembled people accompanied by Bilal. When they reached the women, the Prophet
recited the following verse:
"O Prophet, when believing women come to you to
offer their oath of allegiance that they will not associate anything with God,
nor will they commit theft, nor indulge in fornication, nor murder their
children, nor slander anyone, nor disobey you in whatever that is fair, do
accept their oath of allegiance and beseech God to forgive them. Indeed, God is
the most Forgiving and most Kind." (Al-Mumtahanah:12)
"The Prophet then asked the women to donate. Bilal
spread out his shirt and the women gave their rings and jewelry." (Bukhari
on the authority of Ibn-Abbas)
the period of the Prophet's ministry, women used to offer their prayers, even
the early morning and late evening prayers, along with the congregation of
Muslims in general.
"The Prophet liked to prolong the prayer, but when
he heard a child weeping, he shortened the prayer so as not to inconvenience
the child's mother." (Bukhari)
"If your women as for permission to visit the mosques,
allow them to do so." (Muslim)
On the authority of a report by the Prophet's wife,
Aisha, it is stated that: "The Prophet used to offer the morning prayer
after which the ladies would disperse, completely covered in their dresses, and
they could not be recognized in the darkness." (Bukhari)
women also used to participate in military expeditions - bringing water to
thirsty combatants, treating the wounded, and carrying them to safety, and
sometimes engaging in active warfare. The Qur'an refers to this and other
exploits of men and women:
"And their Lord responded to them: I suffer not the
work of any worker male or female to be lost. You proceed one from
another. So those who fled and were driven forth from their homes and suffered
harm for My cause and fought or were slain, verily I shall remit their evil
deeds and shall bring them into gardens underneath which rivers flow as a
reward from God, and God offers the fairest of rewards." (Al-Imran:195)
the Prophet's own wife, Aisha, actively participated in such military services.
"In the battle of Uhud when the Muslims were routed
and put to flight from the Prophet, I saw how Aisha bint Abu Bakr and
Umm-Saleem were extremely busy carrying waterskins on their backs and emptying
them in the mouths of the Muslims." (Bukhari)
"Umm-Sinan Al-Aslamyiah and Ummyah bint Qais
actively participated in the war effort." (Tabaqat)
"Hamnah bint Jahash was one of those ladies who
pledged allegiance to Islam and participated in the battle of Uhud, bringing
water to the thirsty, transporting the wounded to safety and giving them the
necessary treatment." (Al-Isabah)
"Al-Rabee bint Mua'weth, also known as Laila
al-Ghifariah, used to accompany the Prophet in his military campaigns, treating
the wounded and looking after the sick." (Al-Isabah and Bukhari)
"Umm-Dhahhak bint Masoud also accompanied the
Prophet in his military campaign of Khaiber. The Prophet gave her the same
share of spoils there as he gave to men." (Al-Isabah)
"When the people took off for the military campaign
of Al-Khandaq, the Prophet placed his women in a small fortress called Fari,
and Hassan bin Thabit was also left with them. Later, a Jew came and climbed up
the fortress till he was in a position to command a full view of all. Safiya
bint Abdul Muttalib belted herself around the waist, took a pole and descended upon
him striking him with the pole till he died." (Al-Isabah)
"Nusaybah bint Ka'b witnessed the battle of Uhud.
She intended to bring water to the wounded, but she in fact took an active part
in the fighting, and on that day wounded twelve of the enemy severely. When the
Muslims pulled back and exposed the Prophet, she stood her ground firmly in his
"The Prophet appreciated her much and praised her.
When she heard the news that her son Habib was killed in battle, she swore
either she would die in front of Musailamah, or kill him. She participated in
the battle of Al-Yamamah along with Khalid bin Al-Waleed. Her son Abdullah was
killed in this battle, and she lost one of her arms." (Al-Isabah)
"The Prophet prayed that Umm-Haran bint-Malhan might
have her wish to be among those Muslims who would one day sail on the Green Sea
(the Mediterranean)." (Bukhari)
"In the battle of Junain, she had a dagger which she
carried about." (Muslim)
the preceding exposition, it is evident that in defense as well as other
collective duties and obligations of public life, Muslim women may participate.
But they are not duty-bound to do so, except when the urgency is such that
their participation becomes mandatory. The Mother of Believers, Aisha, is
reported to have requested the Prophet's permission to participate in Jihad
(fighting). The Prophet said to her, "Hajj is your Jihad."
According to Ibn-Batal, this proves that participation in fighting is not
binding on women, but the statement that Hajj is their Jihad does
not bar them from volunteering for Jihad. Bukhari seems to express the
the basis of the uniform principles of Islamic jurisprudence, a Muslim woman
enjoys the same capacity and freedom enjoyed by a man. A woman can propose
marriage to a man, orally or in writing. A woman can freely choose her spouse,
reject a suitor she does not like, or obtain divorce from an estranged husband
against his will. However, a male relative normally formalizes the marriage
contract, and marriage dissolution or divorce on a woman's initiative is only
granted by a judge.
"Umamah bint Abil-As, a lady companion of the
Prophet, proposed marriage by sending a message to Al-Mughirah bin Naufal. He
then sought her hand in marriage from Al-Hasan, her cousin, who duly solemnized
the marriage." (Al-Isabah)
"An account about Sahal bin Saad Al-Saidi tells
about a Muslim woman who proposed verbally to the Prophet himself." (All
six reporters of hadith)
a woman's freedom of marital choice, one may read the provisions of the Qur'an
regarding preventing a woman, by force, from marrying:
"And when you divorce women, and they fulfill the
term of their Iddat, either take them back on equitable terms or set them free
on equitable terms. But do not take them back to prejudice them or to take
undue advantage thereof. Whosoever does that, indeed he harms his own
soul." (Al-Baqarah 232)
case in point is the famous story of Mughith, who used to go after his ex-wife
Burairah through the streets of Madina.
"He would try to appease her with tears flowing from
his eyes in order to bring her back, but she refused to do so. The Prophet
himself tried to intercede, but the girl declined as long as the Prophet did
not order her to reconcile." (Tirmidhi)
Prophet ordered that a woman should not be married except with her own
authority and consent. He said: "Do not marry a non-virgin except on
her instruction, nor marry a virgin except with her permission." (Bukhari)
Whether a girl was a virgin or not, the Prophet would not allow her marriage under compulsion.
"Ibn-Abbas stated that a virgin girl came to the
Prophet and told him that her father had got her married without her approval.
The Prophet gave her complete freedom to choose whichever course pleased
her." (Reported by Abu Dawoud, Ahmed & Ibn Majah)
Another girl came to the Prophet and complained that her
father had married her to his nephew against her wish. The Prophet gave her the
choice of rejecting the marriage, but she said to the Prophet: "I endorse
what my father did, but I wanted to show women that parents have nothing to do
in the matter." (Ibn Majah)
dissolution of marriage and the granting of divorce by a judge on the wife's
application are normal practice in personal law. A wife can hold any creed of
scriptural religion at variance with her Muslim husband without any compulsion.
A woman can and should acquire education without any limit or hindrance.
It is reported that the Prophet strongly recommended the
good education of girls. Abu Bardah Ibn-Abu Musa quoted his father as saying
that the Prophet said: "Three people will be doubly rewarded by God. Any
one from among the people of the scriptures who believes in his own Prophet as
well as in Prophet Muhammad, a slave who endeavors to meet his obligation
towards God as well as his master, and anyone who has a slave girl and educates
her and teaches her well, and then grants her freedom and marries her."
(All six reporters of tradition)
is worthy of note that women attended the general assemblies for learning held
by the Prophet. Women are entitled to full freedom of expression of their
proper views. Aisha is famous for being outspoken in advancing her juristic
opinion. Muslim ladies used to state their views in the presence of the Prophet
as well as his successors.
Ibn Al-Jauzi narrated that Umar addressed the people in
the mosque and stated that mahar should not exceed a fixed amount. A woman
stood up and said: "It is not within your right!" Umar asked:
"Why should this not be my right?" She replied: "Because God has
proclaimed: Even if you had given one of them (wives) a whole treasure for
dower, take not the least bit back. Would you take it by false claim and a
to Islamic jurisprudence, a woman is competent to own property and dispose of
it in any manner. The Shari`a generally provides for an equitable and
fair role for women in the economic life of Muslim society. Just as much as
they share in the management of family affairs, they can contribute to the
support of the family, although they are not legally bound to provide
maintenance. A woman can share outdoor work with the man to earn a common
"Asma bint Abu Bakr used to help her husband feed
his animals, draw water, and she walked to a piece of land that they owned that
was about 13 farsakhs (10 miles) away to get wheat for baking bread. One day
she was walking home with a load on her head and met the Prophet and a group of
Ansar. The Prophet offered her a ride, which she refused." (Bukhari)
couples are supposed to cooperate and consult over matters relating to their
family, even after divorce.
"Mothers shall breast feed their babies for two
complete years, if a father desires that the term be completed. The father of
the baby shall provide them food and clothes in the established manner. None
shall be charged more than his capacity. No mother shall be prejudiced with
respect to her child, nor father with respect to his. The same is the responsibility
of them. If both spouses decide, by mutual consent and consultation on weaning,
there is no blame on either. If you want to have your babies breast fed by a
foster mother, you are not doing anything blame-worthy, provided you pay to the
foster mother what you had agreed to offer, in accordance with the established
manner. Fear God and know that God is aware of what you are doing."
an Islamic Society, women also take part in the appointment of officers
responsible for the public affairs of society. This may be done either through
the process of election or consultation. The account of the Shura
process following Umar's death, firmly establishes this matter. Muslim ladies
participated in the general consultation.
"Ibn Katheer reported that Abdur Rahman bin Auf
undertook to consult the people about (the candidates). He collected and
collated the general opinion of the Muslims. He consulted them singly as well
as collectively; privately as well as publicly. He even reached those Muslim
ladies in privacy." (Al-Bidaayah Wa-'Nihayah).
tradition of early Muslim society was for A-omen to attend all public meetings
and festivals. Authentic reports about life with the Prophet give accounts of
women going to attend the two Eid prayers. Even those who were excused
would also come to attend the congregation.
"Hafsah, the Prophet's wife reported that a woman
had come to visit with her sister who had participated in six military
campaigns of the Prophet, and treated the wounded and looked after the sick.
She did not have a jilbab to wear and the Eid festivities were coming up.
Hafsah asked the Prophet if there would be any harm in not going out since they
did not have jilbabs (wide, loose gowns). He replied that someone should lend
her clothing so that she could participate and that all women (young, screened,
or in their monthly period) should go out to attend the Eid congregation. The
menstruating ladies should, however, stand by during the prayer."
Aisha attended a spectacle of the Ethiopians: "By
God, the Prophet was by my chamber door while the Ethiopians were showing their
spear games in Al-Haram. The Prophet covered me with his shawl so that I too
could watch their feats. I was watching them from behind his shoulder. He would
pose there for my sake till I chose to break off." (Bukhari)
those specific tasks of public life which are obligatory for men and only
voluntary for women, male Muslims in an Islamic society have no exclusive
prerogative or specialization. They have no power or authority over women
except in the context of the conjugal relationship. That relationship itself is
established and dissolved with the consent of the female party, and should be
conducted in a spirit of mutual respect, consultation and conciliation. The man
is in charge of the family, but that amounts only to responsibility for
financial maintenance, and authority for direction and discipline, exercised in
a reasonable manner. Both spouses should share in the management of family
affairs, and have equal authority over their sons and daughters.
life is no stage where men alone can play. There is no segregation of the sexes
in the public domain, which calls for joint effort. Thus, both men and women
are supposed to participate in congregational prayers.
The Prophet is reported to have said: "Don't stop
women from going to mosques at night." A son of Abdullah bin Umar, on
hearing this statement, said to his father: "We would not allow women to
go out of the house at night for fear of any abuses." Ibn Umar reprimanded
his son: "I say the Prophet said so, and you still say you won't allow
the foregoing, it is clear that the Prophet's directive is for women to go out
publicly, to frequent mosques, even at night, and to attend and offer Eid
prayer. It is also recognized that pilgrimage (Hajj), despite the
jostling and thick crowds, is a function performed in common by men and women.
Some over-scrupulous Muslim rulers tried to introduce some modifications in
order to segregate men and women in the Tawaf (going round the Holy Kabah).
But scholars who upheld the Sunna and favored strict adherence to
Tradition, opposed any change in the practice current in the Prophet's own
times. Consequently, the traditional practice of Tawaf in common
Muhammad bin Hisham, the governor of Makkah, stopped
ladies performing tawaf alongside men. Ata, the famous scholar of the tradition
objected: "How do you stop them when the Prophet's own wives did tawaf of
Kabah alongside men?" The practice had continued without any change even
after the introduction of the restrictive regime imposed on the Prophet's
wives, although they used to steer clear of the men around them, while all
other women used to mix with men and huddle to touch and kiss the Black Stone
in the wall of the Kabah. (Bukhari).
the Prophet's day, educational assemblies were attended by men and women
jointly. The Prophet used to address men and women together even when he was
giving instruction relating to conjugal matters.
Once he was lecturing Muslims after prayer about tales
they would tell him in the morning following their conjugal activities. Abu
Hurayrah is quoted to have reported this as follows: "The Prophet had just
finished his prayer with us, when he directly turned and asked us to keep
sitting." He then asked: "Is there amongst you any who would shut
doors and draw curtains when he approached his wife, but would later go out and
tell everybody how he did so and so?" All men present kept silent. Then
the Prophet turned to the ladies and said: "Does any one of you openly
discuss her conjugal matters with other women?" A young lady in the
audience, when she heard this, knelt up on one knee and craned her neck so that
the Prophet might see her and hear her speak. She said: "Yes, by God, all
men discuss these matters among themselves and so do all women too." The
Prophet said: "Do you know whom does one doing that compare to? Indeed
it is like two satanic couples who meet on a high street and indulge their
sexual desire in full view of the people." (Reported by Ahmed, Abu Dawoud,
meetings exclusively for ladies were sometimes convened, in addition to the
joint meetings, due to the inability of women sitting behind the men to hear
the Prophet well.
Bukhari narrated in a chapter titled "Is a day set
aside exclusively for the education of women?" that women told the
Prophet: "Men have dominated us around you." The Prophet promised to
give them a separate day. He would meet them on the scheduled day and deliver
his lecture and instruction. (Bukhari)
woman is entitled to go out for any need. She may go to the market to do
business or otherwise; even though this may entail someone inconveniencing her.
After the Prophet's wives were curtained away and segregated, the Prophet would
still permit them to go out of their houses for their needs.
Aisha is quoted as saying that after the introduction of
segregation, Sauda had gone out of her house on some errand, and Umar stopped
her and questioned her about it. Later the Prophet told her: "God has
permitted you to go out of your house for your needs." (Bukhari)
following verse of the Qur'an clearly bears out that ladies can go out of their
"O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the
women of the believers to lower their outer garments on their persons. That is
likely to allow them to be recognized and by consequence, not be molested. And
God is most Forgiving
and most Kind." (Al-Ahzab:59)
occasion for the revelation of these verses of the Qur'an was the fact that
some rogue individuals would inconvenience ladies in the streets of Madina.
Explaining the meaning of: "To lower their outer garments on their
persons," Mujahid (a famous early authority on the exegeses of the
Qur'an) said: "They covered themselves with their outer garments so
that it was known that they were free-born women of good social standing, and
no depraved person would level at them undue words or suspicions."
"The Prophet taught Muslims that it was better to
avoid sitting by the road, but that if they had to sit by the road, then they
should lower their gaze as women passed by." (Muslim)
can engage in business and commerce.
"Qailah Umm-Bani Atmar was a merchant who bought and
"Umar bin Al-Khattab entrusted the supervision of
administrative market affairs to Shaff'a bint Abdullah bin Abd Shams. Umar used
to seek her counsel, pay due regard to her and hold her in the highest
"In this regard, the dialogue between Abu Al-Yasar
and a woman who came to purchase dates from him, is also significant because it
shows how women went about shopping." (Tirmidhi)
does not call for segregation between men and women. A woman may, therefore,
receive the family guests, serve and entertain them.
Consider the story of Ibraheem (Abraham), when he
received the angels in the guise of human guests who told him: "We were
sent to the folk of Lot. And his wife, standing by, laughed. They gave her good
tidings of the birth of Isaac, and after Isaac of Jacob." She said:
"O woe to me, shall I bear a child when I am an old woman and this is my
husband, an old man? This is a strange thing!" (Hud:70-72)
were some elderly ladies whom the Prophet used to visit regularly. He took
meals in their homes and prayed there, and when they fell sick he would call
upon them to console them.
"Umm-Aimaan migrated from Makkah to Madina, walking
all the way on foot with none to keep her company and in extremely hot weather.
The Prophet used to honor her with his social visits." (Seerat Ibn-Hisham)
Khaulah bint Qais is another such lady. According to
Al-Tabrani, Ibn-Harith heard Khaulah bint Qais say: "The Prophet and I
took meals in the same dish." (Al-Isabah)
"Al-Shaffa bint Abdullah was one of the wise and
prominent ladies of Madina. The Prophet used to visit her and took his midday
nap in her house. She arranged a bed and a sheet for him to sleep in."
Al-Shaykhan (i.e. Bukhari & Muslim) give
an account of Maleekah Al-Ansariah on the authority of Anas who said that his
grandmother Maleekah invited the Prophet to meals, which she herself had
prepared. The same tradition relates how the Prophet offered his prayers in
their houses. Anas said: "An orphan and I would stand behind him, and the
old lady behind us." (Al-Isabah)
"Lubabah bint Al-Harith, it is stated, was one of
the first ladies after Sayyedah Khadijah, to embrace Islam. The Prophet used to
visit her and take his midday nap in her house. Umm-Waraqa was a lady that the
Prophet used to visit. The Prophet allowed her to pray at home and to lead her
staff, male and female, in prayer." (Abu Dawoud)
"It was she who, when the Prophet conducted the
battle of Badr, requested him to allow her to accompany him so that she might
treat the patients, and that perhaps God might bless her with martyrdom."
"Fatimah bint Asad bin Hashim was a very pious lady.
The Prophet used to visit her and take his midday nap in her house."
"Umm Al-Fadhl bint Al-Harith was the first woman to
embrace Islam after Sayyedah Khadijah. The Prophet used to visit her and take
his midday nap in her house." (Tabaqat)
a bride may undertake to serve guests personally.
Sahal bin S'as Al-Ansari stated that Abu Saeed invited
the Prophet to his wedding feast. His bride Umm-Saeed was the one who prepared
the meals and served the guests too. She put some dates in a stone vessel to
soak in water. When the Prophet had finished the meal, she crushed the dates
with her own hand and gave the Prophet to drink, as a special favor. (The
Shaykhan, Bhukari and Muslim)
practice of family visits was also common in the early period of Islam.
The Prophet used to visit Al-Rabee bint Muawiz and her
husband Ilyas bin Al-Kabeer. (Abu Dawoud, At-Tirmidhi and Ibn-Aqeel)
Al-Rabee bint Muawiz gives a description of the Prophet's
ablution. She said that the Prophet used to come to them and say: "Please
pour water so that I may do the ablution (wudu)." (Al-Isabah)
far as the familiar hijab is concerned, it refers to the special
regulations pertaining to the Prophet's wives due to their status and
situation. They occupied a position different from all other women, and their
responsibility was therefore stiffened. God ordained that their reward, as well
as their punishment would be double that for any other woman. (See Al-Ahzab:30-31).
verses of the same Sura ordained that the wives of the Prophet draw a
curtain (to ensure privacy in the Prophet's room, which naturally attracted
many visitors of all sorts), and that they dress up completely without showing
any part of their bodies, including the face and hands to any man; though all
other Muslim women were exempted from these restrictions. (See Al-Ahzab:52)
text of this commandment is evidently restricted to the Prophet's household,
dialogue with his wives, and the impermissibility of their remarriage after his
death. The circumstances surrounding the revelation of the commandment confirm
that the provisions of the commandment are so confined. An authentic tradition
demonstrates that this commandment vindicated a specific suggestion advanced by
Umar bin Al-Khattab.
Aisha is quoted as saying that Umar bin Al-Khattab asked
the Prophet to confine his wives. She said: "But the Prophet did not do
so, then God sent down the verses relating to confinement." (Bukhari,
Musnad Al-Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal).
further confirmation of the foregoing conclusion in respect to the scope of the
confinement rule is that those women who were separated from the Prophet before
consummation of marriage, were not given the title of Mothers of the Believers,
nor was confinement imposed on them. Some did in fact remarry after Prophet's
death. Take for instance, Asmaa bin Al-Numan. There is consensus over the fact
that the Prophet did marry her, but there is some controversy about the
circumstances surrounding his separation from her. Some said that she remarked:
"I seek refuge in God from you." The Prophet
said: "You sought sure refuge and God has granted you protection from
me." He therefore divorced her. (Al-Isabah)
example is the case of Qeelah bint Qais, whom the Prophet married in the tenth
year A.H. shortly before his death.
It is reported that the Prophetís instructions were that
if she wished, she might be confined and abstain from remarriage. Otherwise,
she might marry whomsoever she liked. She opted to marry Ikrimah bin Hadramaut.
When the news of the remarriage reached Abu Bakr, he threatened to burn their
house, but Umar told him that she was not reckoned among the Mothers of the
Believers, and the Prophet did not consummate his marriage with her, nor was
she confined. (Al-Isabah)
commandments regarding confinement were sent down in the month of Dhul-Qaidah
in the fifth year of the Hijrah. They did not affect the positions of
the generality of Muslim ladies.
in Islam is oriented towards God. If Islam allows men to come into contact with
women, that is indeed a test. A Muslim man should make such association an opportunity
for furthering the alms of worship and gratitude to God. At least, he should
observe the limits of what is permissible in that association. There can be no
legitimacy in exploiting the relations between persons of the opposite sexes as
an occasion for illicit sexual enjoyment (in contravention of God's commands),
and in deviation from the proper system for conjugal relations. There is no
scope in religion for licentious sexual pleasure, which reduces man to a
situation of slavery to passions, instead of to God, or to which man dedicates
his time and exploits his total energies as the ultimate purpose in life. There
is no room for unbridled and uncontrolled passions outside the bounds of
therefore, is strictly forbidden; and as commanded by the Qur'an, no man is
allowed to approach a woman with that intention.
"Donít get close to fornication, it is indeed
atrocious and a bad way." (Al-Isra:32)
should even avoid any perverse sight or touch that may excite sexual desires.
Abu Saeed Al-Khudri reported that the Prophet said:
"No man should look at another manís private parts, nor a woman at another
womanís. No man or woman shall rub skin with another in the same dress." (Abu Dawoud,
is not permissible for a man and a woman not tied by marriage to seek privacy -
the two of them alone, hidden from the view of other people. Indeed in such a
situation, the temptation of sex would be dominant and would engross one's
thoughts, whereas in a larger group one is more likely to be oblivious of sex,
and preoccupied by the pursuits and affairs of the community.
Ibn-Abbas reported that the Prophet said: "Keep it
in mind that in the absence of a mahram (real father, real brothers, real
uncles, etc. to whom a woman cannot be lawfully married), no man should be
alone with a woman." (Bukhari and Muslim)
The Prophet ascended the pulpit and said: "In the
absence of her man, no woman shall meet a man but in the presence of another
man or two." (Muslim)
public, however, men and women can confer privately at a distance from others.
Anas reports that a woman requested to talk with the
Prophet and he went with her a little way along a path, so that others could
not hear and spoke with her. (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawoud)
story of Moses and the two daughters of Shuaib, as narrated by the Qur'an is
"And when he came to the water of Madian, he found
there a group of people watering, and he found apart from them a group of women
holding back." He said: "What is the matter?" They replied:
"We cannot water until all the shepherds leave, and our father is an old
man." He watered for them and withdrew to the shadeÖshortly afterwards,
one of the two maidens came to him and said: "My father calls you that he
might reward you for watering for usÖ" One said: "O my father hire
him, for the best you can hire is one who is strong and trustworthy."
man should not gaze at a woman nor
a woman at a man so fixedly that temptation is stimulated. Instead, whenever
any such thing strikes the mind, one must desist from looking on.
"Tell the believers to lower their looks and guard
their private organs. This is purer for them. God is fully aware of what they
are doing. And ask believing women to lower their looks and to guard their
private organsÖ" (An-Nur:30-31)
In the traditions, Jabir bin Abdullah is reported to have
said: "I asked the Prophet about looking at some woman by chance, and the
Prophet told me to divert my looks." The Prophet advised Ali: "O Ali,
you must not gaze at a woman. You are allowed the first look but not the
Ali's report does not mean that looking at a person of the opposite sex is
absolutely forbidden. It is only when one seeks sexual pleasure or relishes it.
Indeed, in the model society of Islam, Muslims used to assemble freely and
frequently; they were mostly acquainted with each other, men and women; they
conversed and interacted intensively. But all those activities were undertaken
in a spirit of innocence and in the context of a virtuous society.
meaning behind the prohibition of some looks at women is born out by the
correlation between such looks and sexual intercourse:
"Allah decreed for every human being his unavoidable
share of sexual intercourse. The eye partakes of that by looks, the tongue by
speech, the soul aspires and craves, and the genital organs fulfill or deny the
final act." (Bukhari and Abu Dawoud)
Similarly, Abdullah bin Abbas reports that the Prophet
was riding a camel with Al-Fadhl, Abdullahís brother, behind him. A beautiful
came to ask the Prophet about the Hajj of her father. Al-Fadhl began to stare
at her, and the Prophet took his hand and turned Al-Fadhlís face away from her.
Al-Abbas said to the Prophet: "You are twisting the neck of your
nephew!" The Prophet replied: "Both the boy and the girl are young
and I fear that Satan may intervene." (Al-Tirmidhi and Bukhari)
assembled, men and women must not be crammed together in such a manner that
bodies are very close to each other. If the practical exigencies demand, they
may, however, get closer than normal, as for instance during Hajj. And
wherever there are men and women in homes, streets, meetings or public
occasions, it is advisable that some distance between the two sexes be maintained.
It is on the basis of the same principle that men and women occupy
conspicuously separate rows in prayers. During the prayer, sitting or standing,
people take up their position in a very compact manner; and while praying one
should be completely detached from everything that may divert one from
attending fully to God. The Prophet designated a door exclusively for ladies to
enter and leave the mosque.
Ibn-Umar reports that the Prophet said: "May we
restrict this door for ladies only." (Abu Dawoud)
on the highway men and women must maintain some distance.
Hamza bin Sayyed Al-Ansari cited his father as saying
that he heard the Prophet ask the ladies to walk at the sides of the road. (Abu
The Prophet used to defer his departure so that the
ladies might leave the mosque first. (Bukhari).
dress of a man or a woman should be modest. By no gesture, word or appearance
should a man or woman
deliberately tempt the other. (See An-Nur:31 and Al-Ahzab:59)
Prophet directed that excepting face hands and feet, no other part of a woman's
body should be exhibited.
Aisha is said to have reported that Asma bint Abu Bakr
came to the Prophet wearing a dress of thin cloth. The Prophet turned his face
way and said to her: "When a girl matures, it is not appropriate for her
to show but such and such." - pointing towards his face and hands. (Abu
majority of Muslims have accepted this tradition in practice. Temptation is the
basic criterion on which these rulings rest.
"For women of advanced age who do not expect to be
married, there is no harm if they set aside their outer garments, provided they
do not play up their charms. But it is better for them if they abstain from
doing so. And God is All-seeing and All-knowing." (An-Nur:60)
Prophet prohibited women from passing by men after perfuming themselves.
"After using scents, no lady should attend Isha
prayer with us." (Muslim)
Abu Musa Al-Ashari reports that the Prophet said:
"Any woman who, after perfuming herself, passes by the people so that they
may find her smell, is a fallen woman." (Musnad Imam Ahmed)
The Prophet warned against women who walked swinging
ostentatiously and temptingly." (Muslim)
relationship or situation, which may lead to temptation or illegal sexual contact
between men and women, is thus not permissible.
"Donít approach fornication. It is indeed a vile
deed and what an evil practice it is." (Al-Isra:32)
is the standard, which determines each case. Islam tolerates greeting women or
talking to them in decent and chaste language, and with good intent. The
Prophet used to do so.
Asma bint Yazeed reported that one day, the Prophet
passed through the mosque where a group of women were sitting. He greeted them
by waving his hand." (At-Tirmidhi).
In the chapter Kitab-ul-Adab of his collection of
traditions, Abu Dawoud gave the following account on the authority of Asma:
"The Prophet passed by us and greeted us."
Imam Bukhari has given a chapter in his collection of
authentic traditions under the title "Greeting Women by Men."
Ibn-Hazim reported that his father cited Sahal saying that: "An aged lady
used to send me some goods. She would take the root of salaq (a salad) and put
them in a pan, and then prepare some barley bread. After offering Jumu`a prayer,
we would go and greet her and she would serve us those dishes, which gave us a
lot of joy. On Fridays, we always took our meal and midday nap after offering
Jumu`a prayer." (Bukhari)
Asma bint Yazeed narrated that: "The Prophet passed
by us, the women, and greeted us." (At-Tirmidhi)
greeting a lady, shaking hands in a spontaneous manner may be permissible,
especially if it is a customary practice and the individuals are in a chaste
setting. One may find in Islamic texts strong admonitions against touching
strange women, but the word 'TOUCH" or the like is, in this context, a
euphemism for sexual intercourse. Whenever women came to the Prophet for the
oath of allegiance, it is reported that he would not shake hands with them.
This is obviously a reservation unique to him.
It is quoted by Al-Bukhari that the Prophet said: "I
donít shake hands with women." Other reports say that the Prophet did
shake hands with ladies covering the hand with a garment. (Abu Dawoud cited
this on the authority of Al-Shaabi and Abdul Razzaq) Sometimes the Prophet
would deputize Umar for this function. (Al-Tabari)
long as the conditions already mentioned are observed, family gatherings and
joint meals, both at home and elsewhere, are permissible.
Abu Hurayrah narrated that a man came to the Prophet and
said: "I am completely exhausted with hunger." The Prophet sent a
message to each of his wives in turn to prepare food, but none of them had
anything except water. The Prophet then said: "Whosoever takes this man as
his guest, God will grant him mercy." An Ansar of Madina stood up and
said: "O Messenger of God, I shall take him as my guest." And he took
him to his home where his wife fed the guest. The next day when the Ansar went
to the Prophet, the latter said to him: "God appreciated so much the
treatment that you extended to your guest last night." (Muslim)
than anybody else, it is permissible for those who are seeking each other's
hand in marriage, to see or talk to each other.
Mughirah bin Shubah stated that when he proposed to a
woman for marriage, the Prophet told him: "Have a look at her, so that
some affection might develop between you two." Mughirah said: "I saw
her and married her." (Ahmed, Ibn-Majah, At-Tirmidhi, Ibn-Habban and
application of the standard of temptation depends subjectively on what a person
finds in his soul - this is what he experiences by way of feeling in the case.
This is naturally a product of his religious education and integrity.
Objectively, it would depend on the seriousness of the affair in any
association of men and women such as would distract them from thinking of sex,
and partly on the innocence of the particular social context.
juridical principle is sound: that the avenues and approaches to wrong-doing
should be closed by barring acts innocent in themselves for fear of what might
ensue. But over-caution may inhibit legitimate conduct on the pretext that it
may expose some individuals to the risk of temptation and vice. This may lead
to the distortion of the general social system of Islam, which is based on the
full participation of men and women in everyday life with piety and chastity.
Indeed, segregation and isolation may well protect women from temptation, but
it essentially denies them the benefits of the communal life of Muslims. It
denies and abrogates the legitimate role of women in the social process of
cooperation, and the promotion of knowledge and good work. It also prevents the
mutual counseling of Muslims to do all that is beneficial and discourage
all that is evil, in establishing prayer and giving alms, and in obeying God
and his Messenger.
benefits drawn from the communal life of Muslims more than outweigh any
preventive considerations in the segregation of sexes in ways not ordained or
clearly implied in the formal text of the Shari`a.
The Verdict of Faith
the religion of Islam, a woman is an independent entity, and thus a fully
responsible human being. Islam addresses her directly and does not approach her
through the agency of Muslim males. A woman would assume full capacity and
liability once she has attained maturity and has received the message of Islam.
no woman is said to have truly accepted the message of Islam unless she does so
out of original and independent will. Admission to faith is entirely a personal
matter; indeed, faith cannot be adopted by proxy. Nor does a woman become a
Muslim merely because of her relationship to her father, husband or any other
mate. All Muslims used to present their oath of allegiance to the Prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon him) personally and independently. Women, just like
men, would come to the Prophet and pledge their own allegiance to Islam and the
Almighty commanded the Prophet in the following words:
"O Prophet! When women believers come to you to
make a covenant with you that they will not associate anything with God, nor
steal, nor disobey you in any fair matter, then make a covenant with them and
seek Godís forgiveness in their favor. Indeed, God is extremely Forgiving
and most Merciful." (Al-Mumtahanah:12)
and female relatives may assume different stands over the religious option. For
instance, a woman like Fatima, the daughter of Al-Khattab, embraced Islam
although her brother Umar was still an unbeliever. Ibn Abbas is reported to
have asked Umar about the manner in which he embraced Islam.
Umar said: "Three days after Hamza had embraced
Islam, I went out of my house to meet by chance, a man of the Makhzumi tribe
whom I asked: "Do you prefer Muhammadís faith over that of your own
fore-fathers?" The Makhzumi said: "One who is more closely related to
you than myself
has also done so."" I asked him who it was. "Your sister and
brother-in-law," replied the Makhzumi. I hurried back and found the door
of my sisterís house bolted from within; and I heard some humming inside. Later
when the door was opened, I entered the house and asked: "What is it that
I was hearing?" My sister replied: "you heard nothing." We were
exchanging words when I struck her on the head, whereupon she stated defiantly:
"We do that whether you like it or not." I was filled with remorse
when I saw her bleeding, and said to her: "Show me the scripture."
Umar narrated the whole incident. (Al-Isabah fi Taymeez Al-Sahaba, by Ibn-Hajar
Al-Asqalani, hereafter cited as Al-Isabah)
a woman, like Umm-Habiba, the daughter of Abu Sufiyan, embraced Islam, though
her father was still a pagan. When Sufiyan went to Madina, he visited his
daughter, Umm-Habiba, then wife to the Prophet Muhammad. He was about to sit on
the Prophet's bed, but his daughter did not allow him to do so and rolled up
the mattress. Abu Sufiyan, who felt grieved at her attitude, said to her: "Was
it that the mattress is not worthy of me or that I am not worthy thereof?"
Umm-Habiba curtly replied to her father, Abu Sufiyan: "But this is the
Prophetís mattress, and you are an impure polytheist, I did not want you to sit
on it." When he heard that, Abu Sufiyan felt annoyed and reprimanded
her: "During my absence, something has gone wrong with you."
Muslim woman might have a husband who was still an atheist. Take for instance
Zainab, the daughter of the Prophet himself. She was married to her maternal
cousin Abu Al-Aas bin Al-Rabee. She entered the fold of Islam though her husband
held on to his original religion. In the battle of Badr, he fell prisoner of war.
Zainab, however, offered a ransom for his release. He was allowed to go free on
the engagement that on his return, he would let her free. Consequently, when he
returned to Makkah, Zainab migrated to Madina. Her husband, Abu Al-Aas,
however, once again fell in the hands of the Muslims as a prisoner of war. On
this occasion, Zainab provided him with asylum, and took him under her own
protection. He finally returned to Makkah to settle his business and then
Umm-Saleem bint Aahan was another such lady. She married
Malik bin Al-Nadir before the advent of Islam, but was among the earliest
converts to Islam. Her husband Malik, disapproved of that rather furiously, and
went to Syria to die there. (Al-Isabah)
Umm-Hani bint Abu Talib was married to Hubairah bin Amr.
She was the daughter of the Prophet's uncle, Abu Talib, and embraced Islam on
the occasion of the conquest of Makkah. This change of religion separated her from
her husband, Hubairah, who fled to Najran. (Al-Isabah)
bint Yazeed was yet another woman who acceded to Islam and patiently endured
distress and torture at the hands of her husband, Qays bin
Al-Hateem, who was also a well known poet. The Prophet happened to meet him in
the market (Souq dhi'l-Majaz) and asked him to embrace Islam. He claimed
that since he was too busy with war, he had little tune to consider the
proposal. The Prophet said to him: "I have been told that you are not
treating your wife Hawa nicely, ever since she renounced your religion. So fear
God and in this matter, keep me too in regard, donít bother her." He
promised to oblige, then went to his wife and said to her: "O Hawa, I met
your fellow Muhammad, who asked me to bear him in mind in matters concerning
you. I swear by God I shall do so, I would leave you alone and do you no
harm." She then declared her faith, which she had so far kept secret.
People talked to him about the matter, but he refused to do her any wrong. (Tabaqat)
woman, Umm-Kulthum embraced Islam, though her whole family were still
holding on to their original polytheistic religion. She migrated to Madina.
Ibn Ishaq, a well-known historian, said that Umm-Kulthum
migrated with the Prophet to Madina while the peace settlement of Hudaybia was
still operative. In fact, she was the first lady to follow the Prophet to
Madina. She left Makkah unaccompanied by anyone. Her brothers, Amara and
Al-Waleed, went to the Prophet and asked him for her repatriation as provided
in the agreement between the Prophet and the Quraysh at Hudaybia. But the
Prophet refused to extend the terms of the agreement to women. (Tabaqat).
woman could singly adopt Islam and suffer from torture for that. Harithah bint
Al-Muzammil, the sister of Umm-Ubais, who was known as Zunairah Al-Rumiyah, was
a slave girl. She was among the earliest believers in Islam, and was one of
those women who were tortured for their faith. Abu Jahal used to beat her
severely, so did Umar before he embraced Islam. After embracing Islam, the poor
woman suffered so much torture that she lost her sight. The Makkan polytheists
used that misfortune as an excuse for stigmatizing her for embracing Islam. ††††††††† They used to say: "Al-Lat and
Al-Uzza (two deities which the Makkans used to worship in the Holy Kabah) have
rendered you blind." But she would always say: "They are lying, by
the truth of God,
these idols bring no benefit or harm." She ultimately recovered her sight.
Sumayah bint Khubat, a martyr, was the mother of Ammar
bin Yasir, and was the seventh person to embrace Islam. The Al-Mughira clan
used to torture her. People used to pass by and witness her being tortured by
the side of her son and husband in the hot sands of Makkah. The Prophet would
console her by saying: "O Yasirs, bear this suffering patiently, for God
has given you the promise of heaven." She was aged and weak too. Abu Jahl
was also among those who used to torture her. She succumbed to the excessive
torture and died to become the first person ever to suffer martyrdom in Islam.
Umm-Habibah, the daughter of Abu Sufiyan, was a lady who
in exile firmly held on to Islam while her husband had converted to
Christianity. Her husband, Ubaid-Ullah bin Jahash migrated to Abyssinia, along with
his wife to escape persecution for their Islam. But there he renounced Islam
and adopted Christianity, the religion of the Abyssinians. He tried to persuade
her to do the same, but she steadfastly held on to Islam on top of all the
suffering, which as an exile she had to bear. (Tareekh Al-Tabari)
women, on the strength of their unshakable personal faith, used to work for the
propagation of Islam. Many of them helped to promote the cause of Islam within
their respective family circles, through discussion and debate.
Arwa bint Abdul Muttalib was one such lady, who used to
support the Prophet and argue in his favor. She always urged her son to help
the Prophet and to do whatever he asked him to do. Another such lady was
Umm-Shuraik, who used to move secretly among the ladies of Quraysh to solicit
and convert them to Islam. She had converted many before she was exposed. The
people of Makkah warned her that she would have suffered but for her kin.
Muslim ladies were some who invited their suitors to embrace Islam, and made
that a precondition for marriage.
Umm-Saleem was one such lady. She said to Abu Talha, who
asked her hand in marriage: "By God, one like you cannot be rejected, but
you are a polytheist and I am a Muslim woman. It is not at all lawful for me to
marry you. If you embrace Islam, I would take that as my dowry from you."
Anas bin Malik is reported to have said that Abu Talha had proposed to
Umm-Saleem before embracing Islam. So she said to him: "Abu Talha, donít
you know that the gods you worship grew from the earth?" Abu Talha
replied: "Yes, indeed." She would then say: "Donít you feel
ashamed to worship them? But if you embrace Islam, I wonít ask you anything
else in dowry." Abu Talha asked her to wait until he looked into the
matter, and went away. Later he returned and proclaimed: "There is no
deity but God and Muhammad is His Messenger." Thereupon Umm-Saleem cried
out: "O Anas,
arrange the marriage of Abu Talha." And he married her. (Al-Isabah)
embracing Islam by a woman is an entirely personal matter in the Islamic
tradition and cannot be done through proxy, so are all obligations and duties,
which Islam enjoins on her. No one else can do them on her behalf. She performs
her acts of worship purely on the basis of her own intention, and as such these
are treated in Islam as her personal achievements.
For God has proclaimed: "I do not allow the
achievements of a worker from amongst you, whether male or female, to go to
waste. You all belong to one another." (Al-Imran:195)
"A male or female, who is a believer and performs
good deeds, We
shall give him a goodly life. And ultimately a fine reward for what they had
been doing." (Al-Nahal:97)
the basis of her own action, a woman earns reward or punishment. No man is
allowed to plead or intercede for a woman, nor is he held responsible for her
actions and their consequences. The doctrine of ultimate accountability does
not take the family as a unity for collective responsibility; rather, each
individual male or female, is an autonomous unit of reckoning in front of God,
and is held directly responsible for his or her actions or his or her share in
"For on the Day of Judgment, every one of them will
come to Him singly." (Maryam:96)
judgement in the Hereafter may not necessarily bracket husband and wife
could relieve the other of his charge or appropriate his due. Nor
will a believer be treated unfairly merely for his sex. God treats all mankind
on an equal basis.
"The day a man will run away from his own brother,
his own father, his own wife and his children. On that day, everyone will be in
a state which will engross him completely." (Abasa:35-38)
individuality of a woman is a principle of religion. For the disbelievers, God
gave the example of Noah's wife and Lot's wife.
"Both of them were under two of Our righteous bondmen.
Both acted disloyally towards them, but (their esteemed husbands) could in no
way protect them from God. And both were commanded to enter the fire (of hell)
along with all others following the same course. And for those who believed,
God gave the example of Pharaohís wife, when she prayed: "O Lord, put up
for me a home in heaven, and save me from the Pharaoh and his practices, and
save me from the transgressing people. And Mary, the daughter of Imram, who
guarded her chastity, wherein We
breathed Our Spirit. And she attested to the commandments of her Lord as well
as His scriptures, and was one of the truly devout." (Al-Tahreem:10-12)
Posted October 26, 1998. This article was
published in the April - June 1993 issue of "The American Muslim"