Women between the Inherited Rigidity and Inconsistencies of the Modernists

By: Prof. Dr. Abbas Shouman, The Deputy of Al-Azhar

  • 16 July 2018
Women between the Inherited Rigidity and Inconsistencies of the Modernists

     It goes without saying that women’s status at the beginning of Islam and the following centuries was much different from that they enjoy at our present time. Lifestyles have changed, and women have begun to take part in the different walks of life; they have even assumed leadership in several positions.
    Therefore, the rigidity over the inherited rulings concerning women-into which our righteous ancestors put a lot of effort and were suitable for women back then- and considering them binding upon women now is a sort of injustice, and does not achieve the flexibility that characterizes our Islamic Sharia. This is well evidenced by the fact that the decisive, fixed rulings which are not changed by time, place or culture are very limited and few in numbers. Moreover, our Sharia has left a lot of rulings concerning things which already happened in the past centuries, happening at our time, or to happen in the future to be decided by the reasoning of the Muslim jurists. Some of these rulings were provided in texts that are open to interpretation and difference of opinion among scholars, thus providing diversity in the deduced rulings, which in turn offered ease to those addressed by them. Many of these branched off rulings were not included in the texts; but were inferred by the scholars, guided by the provisions of the general texts.
     Considering the rulings concerning women, we will find that they fall into two categories: First, conclusive fixed rulings which are not open to changes, alterations or modifications. They are binding upon women until the end of time. These include, for example, that a woman may not have more than one husband at a time, her share of inheritance, and her right and priority to be awarded custody. Such rulings are fixed and may not be changed or abrogated. It has been within the knowledge of God the Almighty that they suit women in every time and place, and, therefore, they were made decisive and closed against the reasoning of the Muslim jurists. Therefore, it is a sort of exaggeration that some demand reconsidering this type of rulings on bases that the status of women at present is different from that of the past after they have begun to take jobs and participate side by side with men in the different walks of life. However, some cases relating to women’s earned income and their contribution to the wealth of their husbands may be adapted by establishing their right and compensating them, apart from changing their established share of inheritance.Thus, awarding a woman a quarter or one-eighth of the estate of her husband does not negate her the right to obtain the rest of her financial rights, such as dowry and alimony and all her debts owed by the husband.The same also applies to the cases where a woman contributes with her husband in the purchase of a property, house, land, etc. if she is affluent thanks to a profession or job that brings her income that exceeds that of her husband, and where such contributions are proven. In such cases, she becomes a partner of her husband, and experts can evaluate how much she is entitled to of the estate of her husband, apart from the fact that she was his wife and that she is entitled to inheritance. These rights are to be fulfilled before the estate is divided, and this procedure has nothing to do with the termination of marriage with death or divorce.
     The second category of the rulings relating to women is the ones that required the earlier Muslim jurists to exercise their judgment, and which they arrived at in light of indecisive texts, or where not respective texts existed at all. These rulings include, e.g., the appointment of women in leading positions as presidents or judges; the condition that a travelling woman should have a mahram (a close relative) or her husband, and other issues. Also, there is a necessity to correct these misconceptions on some of these inherited rulings such as the masculine discussions of wives rights and obligations that present wives as just a tool of meeting man’s desires, and that entering paradise is dependent on her husband being pleased with her, while she has no role in the husband entering paradise. Rights and obligations in our religion are reciprocal. If the pleasing of a husband is a condition for a wife to enter paradise, the Husband bad treatment with his wife shall cause him to enter the Hellfire, for the Prophet (PBUH) says, "Act kindly towards women!"
     This also includes that as polygamy is allowed for men, not women, then men have to commit to the stipulation integral to the ruling as mentioned in the following verse “you may marry whichever [other] women seem good to you, two, three, or four. If you fear that you cannot be equitable [to them], then marry only one.” [4:3] Men should attach importance to the warnings and guidelines in the following verse “And you will never be able to be equitable [in feeling] between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]” [4:129]. The reality of people today with regard to these two verses is incredibly curious; some of them have gone capricious as they take a little part of the first verse to prove that men have the absolute right for polygamy without being restricted by any condition, although the stipulation is mentioned within the very verse they cite. Conversely, some see that polygamy is almost impermissible as it is dependent on a condition that is impossible to fulfill as mentioned in the second verse. Both opinions are wrong. Polygamy is allowed where necessity exists, and it is predominantly thought that justice can be achieved in the manner that is alleviated by the spirit of the Sharia as it is difficult to achieve in its strict sense. However, it may be achieved by making one’s utmost effort and avoiding inclining to one wife more than the others, in addition to fulfilling the apparent justice related to maintenance and fair treatment as this stipulation is within man’s capability and may not be excused for failing to fulfill it.
     Another misconception that must be corrected is the idea that it is the wife only who should seek permission of her husband before traveling. The permission and consent of a wife is necessary for the travel her husband too. If she is harmed, morally or physically, by the husband’s travel, he has to stay with her, otherwise he is sinful. Also, another misconception is the concept of Qawaamah (guardianship) which has nothing to do with domination, absolute authority or preference as many may think.All these concepts and others, which many men or women may misunderstand, if are correctly understood, will bring love and harmony among husbands and wives.
     If we agree that we need to re-exercise our judgment concerning many of the rulings related to women which early scholars arrived at according to the circumstances of their time, or those ones which have been issued under the influence of a masculine discourse, it is also necessary to reconsider, or rather reject, inconsistencies of some modernist feminists, that amount to rejecting or replacing the fundamentals of our religion with other provisions they claim to be more convenient for women, while they, are in fact, not. Rather, these claims attempt to turn females into males, and finally they will realize what harm they bring to themselves. God has created humans into two kinds: males and females, and assigned certain rights and rules for each of them. Islam has honored women either mothers, sisters, wives, daughters or even non relatives. What we need actually is to correctly understand our religion without extravagance or negligence; without being fanatic or inflexible while treating the texts or approach them a literalistic manner. So, in the same manner we refuse some modernists’ fallacies, we reject also the approach of the scholars who feel embarrassed to approach the heritage of the early scholars who themselves left us this heritage and refused this approach as Imam al-Qarafi said, "Confining oneself to quotes is deviance in faith and ignorance of the objectives of Muslim scholars and our predecessors ".


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