Islam and Woman
Honor has been conferred on women through Islam in a way it has never been done in any other religion or law, as follows:
A. Recognizing Woman’s Humanity and Equality with Man
Islam has recognized her humanity, and that she was created from Adam.
“People, be mindful of your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and from it He created its mate.” (Qur’ān, 4:1)
It is in the noble hadith: "Women are, indeed the counterpart of men" (Hadith by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and Tirmidhi). Similarly, Islam has made women equal in obligations of eligibility for deeds, obedience to Allah, and reward thereof.
Allah the Most High says,
“Their Lord has answered them, ‘I will not allow the deeds of any one of you to be lost, whether you are male or female; each is like the other [in rewards]” (Qur’ān, 3:195)
He also says,
“Men have the portion they have earned, and women the portion they have earned”. (Qur’ān, 4:32)
Equality, in its essence, does not go against some of the disparities in Shari'a (Islamic law), which are dictated by the nature of woman and her aptitudes to perform her basic duty in the world. It is also dictated by the basic system in the distribution of responsibility as Allah, sanctified be He, has willed it.
B. Guaranteeing Woman’s Right in Life and Good Care
Islam observes woman’s right to life and graceful upbringing. It is strictly prohibited in Islam that females be buried alive (unlike the practice in pre-Islamic eras when people, out of ignorance, used to carry out the barbaric practice of burying baby girls alive). Islam also prevents negligence in the upbringing of girls. Furthermore, it guarantees the woman’s right to inheritance, as well as other financial rights.
C. Woman’s rights to Private and Free Property
Islam guarantees for woman the right to property and the disposal thereof, without having to seek the permission of her guardian or husband. Allah the Most High says in connection with her right to dowry:
“Give women their dowry upon marriage, though if they are happy to give up some of it for you, you may enjoy it with a clear conscience.” (Qur’ān, 4:4)
He also says,
“If you wish to replace one wife with another, do not take back any of her dowry back, even if you have given her a great amount of gold. How could you take it when this is unjust and a blatant sin?” (Qur’ān, 4:20)
D. Respecting Woman’s Opinion in Marriage
Islam respects the woman’s opinion in marriage, and prevents forcing marriage upon her. Islam forbids that she be inherited as if she were a commodity, as had been the custom in the age of ignorance. In the same way, Islam forbids preventing her from marriage when this is meant to harm her or covet her property. For example, Allah the Most High says,
“You who believe, it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will, nor should you treat your wives harshly, hoping to take back some of the dowry you gave them, unless they are guilty of something clearly outrageous. Live with them in accordance with what is fair and kind.” (Qur’ān, 4:19)
So, Islam systematizes the divorce of women, which used to be promiscuous in the age of ignorance. It respects her opinion if she requests it, to avoid harm and the like.
E. Respecting Woman as a Wife
Islam honors the woman as a wife through good marital relation with kindness and just treatment of her in general. It preserves for her the right to make conditions in marriage, in a way that guarantees her comfort and wards off harm from her.
F. Honoring Woman as a Mother
Islam honors the woman as a mother. It enjoins respect, piety, and goodness to her. Indeed, it makes her portion of familial respect and loyalty greater than that accorded to the father due to her burden during pregnancy, labor, suckling, and upbringing.
Allah the Most High says,
“We have commanded people to be good to their parents. Their mothers carried them, with strain upon strain.” (Qur’ān, 31:14)
In the hadith, there is injunction upon good companionship to her repeated three times, and only after that is the companionship of the father enjoined only once. (Hadith by Muslim and Al-Baihaqi)
G. Woman’s Right to Social Activities and the Wisdom in the Veil
Islam grants the woman the right to social, cultural, and political activities related to that which suits her and the role prescribed for her by Islam. Within the bounds of this right, which is enjoyed outdoors, Allah has made provision for her safeguard, thereby preventing preying upon her, or exploiting her dealings with people. Among these provisions is what man and woman both desire. As for what concerns women only, such as aversion of unlawful glance, she covers her enticing parts and avoids doubtful seclusion with a man, thereby securing chastity and honor. The texts in support of this are numerous.
It is it honorable for a woman that Islam permits polygamy and divorce, gives her half the share of a man in inheritance and makes her testimony worth only half of a man’s?
I wonder why polygamy is criticized in Islam although earlier religions also permitted it. All religions, either pagan or heavenly ones, permit polygamy but it was only Islam that was attacked for allowing it.
In the Old Testament, polygamy was not disallowed. Wise Solomon, who composed the Song of Songs which is rife within love poetry, had had one thousand women in his house, including both free women and maids.
The Bibles written by the disciples of Jesus do not forbid polygamy. The later prohibition was based on civil, rather than, religious legislations. Alternatively, it was ordered by the church based on clergymen' opinions rather than Biblical resources.
Some voices express wishes that Islam disallow polygamy, though this is in contradiction with earlier religions.
This suggestion raises several questions in my mind: Does every man think that one wife is enough and that there is no need to communicate with another woman? Try to ask men influenced by the Western civilization in several continents whether they have established short-term or long-term relationships with a great number of women other than their wives.
Why can a woman rather than the wife be accepted as a friend to a man rather than be taken as a second wife? Why should the children of this second woman become foundlings, have the feeling of being strangers, or be attributed to a man who is not their real father? This does not mean that I defend the Muslims who have misbehaved under the umbrella of polygamy. I admit that there are cases of some Muslims who have married more than one woman and failed to maintain just balance between their wives. This is absolutely unacceptable. It is also unacceptable for a Muslim to remarry when he can hardly afford to offer enough provision to his second wife.
Polygamy is permitted should its financial and ethical prerequisites be fulfilled. Should these conditions be unfulfilled, polygamy becomes impermissible. Solving this type of social problem needs kind hearts and good manners more than it needs the force of law. It should also be noted that the gains polygamy can bring to women are not smaller than those brought to men.
As for divorce in Islam, men can grant their wives divorce. The following accounts comment on the issue. A man told ‛Omar Ibn Al-Khaţţāb, "I want to divorce my wife." "Why?" ‛Omar asked the man. "I do not love her," the man replied. "Are all families built on love? Where then is loyalty?" , Omar said.
In a similar account, Abu Bakr Ibn Mardawiya reported that Abu ˀAyoub intended to divorce his wife and sought the consent of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) ˀAnas said that the Prophet replied saying, "Divorce of the mother of ˀAyoub is a wrongdoing." This means that her divorce would have been a sinful act. Hearing the Prophet's statement, Abu ˀAyoub kept his wife. Likewise, ˀAbu Talḥah also had intended to divorce his wife, Umm Sulaym, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also told him, "Divorce of the mother of Sulaym is a wrongdoing." Then, Abu Talḥah retained his wife.
The reason for retaining a man's wife could be implied in this verse:
"In case they obey you, then do not seek inequitably any way against them. Surely, Allah has been Most Exalted, Most Great." (Qur'an, 4:34)
Marital life is considerably honorable that it can overcome transient disputes and problems. The close ties of marriage are undervalued only by those who are mean.
Families are established on the foundation of good morals. A family, the members of which are tied only by virtue of law, is a feeble family. The European people became fed up with deception and finally had to admit this feebleness. Consequently, public elections were held in Europe and finally divorce was permitted. This step came against the opinion of churches there.
I wonder how police officers could violently push a woman back to her husband or a man back to his wife!
The best solution is stipulated in this Qur'anic verse:
"So when they have reached their term, then retain them beneficently or part from them beneficently." (Qur'an, 65:2)
This solution should follow several stages including warning the wife and attempting to reform her; such stages are prescribed in detail in the books on jurisprudence.
Divorce could sometimes be seen as an inescapable surgery which must be carried out after love and affection between the spouses seem to have been lost and replaced by other unfavorable feelings. It is said that "If two hearts lose affection, they become as unfixable as a broken glass".
Divorce is basically a right given to men. Yet, Khul‛ is also a right given to women to end their marital life with their husbands. No one should force a woman to live in a house with a husband she hates or one who causes her harm. Allah says,
"And do not retain them to their harm, or then you transgress (i.e., by obliging them to relinquish part or their entire dower to you)." (Qur'an, 2:231)
In the case of Khul‛, a woman who asks for separation from her husband should return to him the initial amount of dower given to her. It is unfair that a man gives dowry and gifts to the woman, then she takes them all and asks for a divorce.
Sorrowfully, some revered Muslim jurists have intentionally forgotten Khul‛ or rejected to legitimize it. Masses of people are unaware that a divorced woman should receive enjoyment alimony from her spouse. It is also sorrowful that ‘absolute divorce’, as prescribed by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is not applied. Instead, ‘discouraged divorce’ is what people adopt and respect, although it brings about cruel effects.
A storm of criticism blew up against the sharp-witted Muslim theologian, Ibn Taymiyyah, when he said that discouraged divorce was illegitimate and produced negative effects.
What is surprising is that advocates of Ibn Taymiyyah in contemporary times disagree with him that such divorce is illegitimate while agreeing with him that the Noble Qur'an has no instances of figurative language. This point of view of Ibn Taymiyyah was considered one of his faults.
In my point of view, as the contemporary Muslim theologians recognize the social dilemma Muslim currently suffer from, they should fill up these gaps and legitimize the jurist opinions which achieve family reunion and keep away harms.
Another issue to discuss is woman’s right to take a job for the sake of having her own income. Islam's opinion in this regard differs from the present-day Communist and Capitalist lifestyle in the West. A woman in the West, after becoming an adult, seeks independence and starts to build her own profession and cater for herself. By doing so, she works side by side with men in all fields.
What is the result of this lifestyle? This way of life has led most women to lose their chastity and men would dare to harass them for one reason or another.
The European, American and Australian communities almost agreed that satisfying a sexual desire is a matter of fulfilling a physical need that should not be thought of from the perspectives of morals and religion. This lifestyle, which is how animals rather than humans live, has brought about disastrous results.
Islam rejects this lifestyle and denounces its outcome. Indeed, a woman can work under certain conditions she might choose for herself or be chosen for her. Yet, this should be done after she has been given all the guarantees of safety and chastity and in a way that does not displease Allah.
In Islam, a woman is not asked to cater for herself or to obtain money to pay dower to her future husband. According to Islam, it is her father, brother or near kinsmen who should be responsible for spending on her. If none of them is there to do so, she should receive a living allowance from the nation’s public treasury.
To help a man catering for women, he was permitted in Islam to receive double the share of a woman in some cases of inheritance. In several cases, however, both a man and a woman receive the same share. A man is also ordered to be the one who pays dower to a woman, unlike the case in some other cultures in which case it is the woman who pays.
A man is also asked to work hard to cater for his wife and children. As described above, if a wife has to work, she may do that only under certain conditions.
I believe that it is dishonorable to oblige a woman to cater for herself under threatening conditions. Moreover, becoming a housewife and, at the same time, a stressed worker whose attention is strained elsewhere away from the family is not likely to give any reasonable dignity to a woman.
Some ignorant men exploit the fact that women receive half the share of men in inheritance in humiliating and underestimating them. Those ignorant minds have deviated definitely from Islam.
A Prophetic tradition (ḥadīth) needs to be clearly explained in the context of this discussion. This ḥadīth has been repeatedly and wickedly used to underestimate women and feed bitter hostility against Islam. Muslim narrated that Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “O womenfolk, you should give charity and ask much forgiveness for I saw you in bulk amongst the dwellers of Hell.” A wise lady among them then said, “Why is it, O Messenger of Allah, that our folk are in bulk in Hellfire?” Upon this the Prophet (PBUH) observed: “You swear too much and are ungrateful to your spouses. I have seen none more lacking common sense and failing in religion, and overcoming wise men than you.” Upon this, the woman remarked, “What is wrong with our common sense and religion?” He (PBUH) said, “Your lack of common sense can be well judged from the fact that the witness of two women is equal to one man’s. You spend some days during which you do not offer prayer, neither do you (in the month of Ramadan) observe fast; and that is your failing in religion.”
Before we judge the meaning of this Ḥadith on the surface level and explain it, we need to mention another narration that has a similar powerful chain of narrators, which comes more recurrently in different contexts, and is narrated in different versions. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “I had a chance to look into the Paradise and found that the majority of its inhabitants were the poor; and I looked into the Hellfire and there I found the majority were of them were women.” In Ahmad's narration, Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said, “(In Hellfire) I found that the majority of the inhabitants were the rich and the women”.
Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “The poor Muslims are admitted into Paradise before the rich by half a day. That is equal to this life’s five hundred years.”
Usama ibn Zayd reported that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “I stood at the gate of Paradise, and saw that the majority of those who entered it were the poor, and the wealthy were kept confined. The inhabitants of the Hellfire had been ordered to enter the Hellfire; and I stood at the gate of the Hell and saw that the majority of its inhabitants were of women.”
What do all these Prophetic traditions mean on the surface level? In what way do they affect the building of the Muslim nation? The surface meaning is favoring the state of poverty over wealth and powerlessness over powerfulness.
How could a state be built, a civilization become prosperous, or Muslims achieve military victories over their enemies if they take only the surface meaning of this tradition attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)?
Any aspired success is impossible to achieve if the focus is solely on the surface meaning of texts. In fact, even this surface meaning is not what the mentioned traditions imply. This is why I stated in another publication that the Sunnah cannot be understood without the help of jurisprudence
It is such a silly claim that everyone who is rich is wicked. The richness that is wicked is the one which results from the ill-gotten property and unlawful trade or is not spent in a way that serves society. The rich who collect their money by such unfair means are considered enemies to Allah and to people. Certainly, they should enter the Hellfire in the Hereafter, for this fate is what they truly deserve. Yet, creating wealth by fair means, giving Zakāh upon money, and using money in serving Islam are aspects of good faith.
The ten Companions promised paradise spent their wealth on the service of Islam. None of them was poor. The poor who favored less money earned by fair means to much money earned by unfair means are true Muslims. Those who earn money and spend their wealth in the way of Allah are definitely good Muslims. It is Allah, the Knower of the unseen, who decides which good deeds offered by rich and poor people are greater to Him.
The belief that the majority of women will enter the Hellfire contradicts with the following verse:
“The Gardens of Eden they will enter, together with the ones who were righteous of their fathers and their spouses and their off springs.” (Qur'an, 13:23)
The insertion of a Prophetic hadith in a discussion without following it by its explanation by jurists is a case of perverting the wordings from their contexts, (i.e. intended authentic meanings). Indeed, there are many cases of the perversion of religious texts in Islam. Now, the discussion of the status of women in Islam and the attribute of lacking common sense and failing in religion will be resumed in the following lines.
In the deep meaning of the ḥadīth stated above, Muslim families are meant to be protected from a widespread evil. A wife who enjoys her life with her husband can sometimes deny his favors and become ungrateful to him instead of thanking him. The husband might commit a mistake; he is a human being at the end and "to err is human". The wife should forgive him for this occasional mistake. In some cases, it is a mistake only in the wife's point of view. Instead of pardoning him, the wife burns in imprudent anger and enters into a revolution of ungratefulness. At this point, she claims that he has never done any good to her and hates what she now sees as her unhappy fate to have him as a husband.
This case is what Muhammad (PBUH) is warming against in this ḥadīth. He warns the Muslim woman that she who would insist on being ungrateful to her husband in this manner will enter the Hellfire. The following sentence in the ḥadīth needs to be more elaborated: “I have seen none lacking in common sense and overcoming wise men than you”. This sentence is closely linked in meaning to the sentence that precedes it. This means that a husband might abandon a certain righteous thought or opinion only to please his wife and to avoid obstinacy and discord in the family. This conduct can push the conceited wife even to maximize distress.
This is what Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) describes in the ḥadīth as "overcoming wise men" as evident in cases in many communities where women's wishes win over men's resolves.
Weak as she is, a woman adores winning over others. Her weakness is only physical; she becomes feeble during her menstrual cycle which affects her nerves and influences the way she thinks. It is for this weakness that Allah exempts her from fulfilling certain religious obligations.
A group of people who discussed issues in religion misunderstood this ḥadīth stereotyping all women of the Muslim nation. They mistakenly comprehended that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) meant that all Muslim women lack common sense and fail in religion. In my point of view, this stereotyping is invalid and illogical. In ancient and modern times, there are models of women who made Allah and His Prophet be pleased with them and offered great services to Islam and the Muslim nation.
This alleged stereotyping contradicts with the verses of the Qur'an which state that men and women are equal, and the ḥadīths which state that woman are counterparts of men.
Controversy over the ḥadīth heated up even more when some people branded women in contemporary times together against Islam; those people argued that lacking common sense means stupidity, failing in religion means committing sins and that womanhood is equal to meekness and lowliness. This line of thought can be traced back to the First Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic epoch) and it is one of the aspects distorting the Arabs' way of thinking. Islam absolutely disclaims such idle talks.
Could it be possible that all women are miser, unthankful, or ungrateful? To say "yes' is absolutely illogical.
Nevertheless, some Muslims still think that richness is the most dangerous road leading to Hellfire, and that womanhood is the fastest way to enter it.
What is really needed is to protect Islam from such mistaken silly thoughts and provide good explanations of religious texts against those people who unintentionally attack them.
What is the ruling of Islam on women under the current conditions in our communities?
Before answering this question, I would like first to ask another question: Do women receive the treatment the teachings of Islam prescribe for them? I think women seldom do.
Al-Hakim al-Nishapuri narrated in his Al-Mustadrak ‛ala aş-Şaḥiḥayn a forged ḥadīth which had influenced the way in which women were treated in the Muslim World for over one thousand years. According to this fabricated ḥadīth, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is alleged to have said, “Do not teach women how to write, and do not allow them to live in rooms upstairs” (i.e., if the house is multistory, women are not allowed to inhabit upper stories, and should instead dwell in the basement or in the underground rooms if available).
Influenced by this fabricated ḥadīth, no schools for girls were established in villages and cities during the last centuries and teaching girls at schools was then banned.
‛Abdullah ibn ‛Umar reported that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “Do not forbid women from going into the mosques of Allah.” A different version of the ḥadīth goes as follows: “The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Allow women to go to the mosques at night.” A son of Ibn ‛Omar (namely Bilal) said, “I swear by Allah, we shall certainly not allow them because they would then defraud.” Filled with anger, Ibn ‛Omar struck his son in the chest and said, “I tell you that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, ‘Allow them’; then you still say; ‘We shall not allow them’” Ibn ‛Omar then boycotted his son till the end of his life.
Oddly enough, the Muslim World neglected the authentic narration reported by Ibn ‛Omar of the ḥadīth, and adopted the opinion of the ill-mannered Bilal. Women were generally prevented from going to mosques.
After many years of struggle seeking to allow women to perform prayers in mosques, they were allowed access to less than 20% of the mosques while prevented from the majority of the mosques in villages and cities.
During a visit to the United Arab Emirates, I attended a gathering that discussed an issue worth noting. Al-Ittiḥād Newspaper published the discussion as follows: Mr. Mustafa Shurdy said, “We are attending a gathering held on Tuesday in Sa‛d ibn Abi Waqqāş Mosque.” The lecturer concluded his speech and discussions with the attendees began.
A woman sitting in the room allocated to women asked the lecturer a question saying, "I have been married for a number of years to a man who is married to a number of wives. My husband does not allow me to visit my father and take care of him from time to time, although the father lives alone and is in dire need of care. The feeling that I do not offer due help to my father upsets me. Should I then obey my husband and neglect the obligation of taking care of my father; or should I disobey my husband and give my father all the care he needs?" Upon hearing the woman's question, whisper rose among the attendees, then silence prevailed while everyone was eagerly waiting to hear the answer from the lecturer, who is a revered scholar, to the woman's question. It was clear that everyone was profoundly sympathetic, including the lecturer himself.
Before giving the answer, the lecturer thanked Allah and praised the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Then, he spoke about a wife's religious obligation to obey her husband. He also stressed that a Muslim woman is ordered to be loyal to her husband to achieve integrity of family and society. In addition, he advised her to double her efforts to convince her husband to allow her to take care of her father.
Concluding his answer to the question, the lecturer expressed his legal opinion on the issue as follows: If the husband insists on his weird and cruel stance without providing acceptable reasons, the wife is allowed to start visiting her father to provide him with the care and affection he needs. This is because the Qur'an makes it clear that honoring one’s parents is a religious obligation, he added. He also said that the husband already has more than one wife to take care of him and that the absence of one of them to offer help to a lonely, old and feeble father would not harm him.
After giving this answer, whisper became clearly audible. A number of the attendees were apparently polygamists. They found that the lecturer's reply incited wives to disobey their husbands' orders, even if these orders seemed illogical. A number of the attendees started to discuss the lecturer's opinion in bad temper. They argue that the opinion was incompatible with the teachings of Islam and should therefore be altered. They said that wives' obedience to their husbands was a religious obligation that should be put above all other considerations. The lecturer refrained from altering his opinion and a storm of protests was about to blow up as a result of that opinion and the discussion turned into an unacceptable quarrel.
At the end, we left the mosque without a consensus over the woman's question was settled.
The attendees wished that the lecturer altered his Fatwa (legal opinion) and to advise the woman to keep herself trapped inside the husband's house even if her father would be left to die on his own. A man filling his mouth with vanity words supported this change and mentioned another tradition which implied that Allah was pleased with a woman who stayed at her house till her father died and had not visited him when he was sick because her husband was on not there to allow her to visit her father.
At this moment I said that this tradition is fabricated. How could a woman be asked, in the name of Islam, to neglect her father and leave him to die alone because she is religiously obliged to obey her husband?
If this woman loses the sentiment of filiation, how will she lead a normal life as a human being in the marital household? I believe she would then be trapped by a man who suppresses her.
Al-Bukhāri narrated that Ar-Rabī‛ Bint Ma‛ūz said, "We used to accompany the Prophet's army in battles so as to serve the soldiers and give them water to drink and take the injured and the dead back to Madinah."
This custom seems not to have lasted for long since it later disappeared during the times of war and peace alike. Today, hospitals in the Muslim World hire foreign female nurses. If it had been true that women were not permitted to access the mosque, how were they allowed to accompany the Muslim army in battlefields?
I am not implying that aspects of the Western civilization should be transferred to our Muslim communities since this civilization has both good and bad practices. What I want is to put in effect the Muslim jurisprudence rulings and the prophetic teachings stated in the biography of the Prophet (PBUH).
I have encountered fabricated and weak traditions concerning women’s issues. I have also encountered authentic ḥadīths that are seriously misunderstood. I was surprised to read that one of the Muslim jurists ruled that a woman's prayer at her house is better than her prayer at the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah.
My comment on this is as follows: If women should not be allowed to perform prayers in the mosque, why did the Prophet (PBUH) order the organization of women's rows in his mosque? Why did he order them to enter from a door different from that of men? Why did he advise women to offer charity?
In my opinion, it is better for a woman to perform prayers at home if she is responsible for preparing meals and raising children. If, for one reason or another, she is not fully responsible for such tasks, no one should prevent her from going to a mosque, during the day or at night.
Prayers in congregation are, therefore, not obligatory for women as they are for men. This ruling, however, does not mean trapping the woman in a way that terminates her educational life and acts of worship, turning her into a good-for-nothing creature. Sorrowfully, women in the Muslim world live under this siege due to some social circumstances.
After the Conquest of Makkah, women went out of their houses to give the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) the pledge of allegiance and to learn the teachings of Islam from him. They were not locked in their houses. This means that women's practical relation with the public life was as vivid as men's relation with it.
Even before the Conquest of Makkah, many women adopted Islam and refrained from staying with their husbands who were non-believers so they joined the migration from Makkah to Madinah.
This came on time when the Muslims were obliged by virtue of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah to return any citizen from Makkah coming to join the Muslims in Madinah. A Qur'anic verse, however, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) excluding women from this obligation. Allah says,
“O you who have believed, when female believers come to you as migrants (i.e., those who have left their homes as the Arabic word means both emigrants and immigrants) then test them. Allah best knows their belief. So in case you know them to be believers, then do not return them to the steadfast disbelievers.” (Qur'an, 60: 10)
It was reported that ‛Omar Ibn Al-Khaţţāb made each of the emigrating women swear that she did not join Madinah merely to move from land to land, to escape from a husband she hated, or to seek the fulfillment of a worldly desire, and that her immigration was only out of her love for Allah and His Messenger (PBUH).
What do you think these oaths meant? They certainly meant that women were independent characters and their wishes were highly respected. They were able to take part in missions both in the time of war and of peace and to stay anywhere they liked or move to another place.
There is a considerable difference between the women who gave the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) the pledge of allegiance in Makkah and joined him in Madinah and the Muslim women who lived in the recent centuries.
It is such a big difference between an independent woman and one who cannot read a book, have faith, perform prayers, or gain any public education. Some of today's communities consider it shameful to call a woman publicly by her name and believe that the only tasks women should perform are preparing food and take care of the pleasure of her lusty husband.
In light of Ijtihād (juristic reasoning), what are the dimensions of woman's social activity?
To identify the dimensions of woman's social activity, we note that the rule of enjoining good and disavowing evil apply to both men and women alike. This is clearly illustrated in Almighty Allāh's saying,
“Male and female believers are patrons of each other; they command beneficence and forbid maleficence, and keep up the prayer, and bring the Zakat, (i.e., pay the obligatory poor’s due) and obey Allah and His Messenger”. (Qur’ān, 9: 71)
Indeed, commanding good and forbidding maleficence and obedience to Allāh and His Messenger is not restricted to either gender. Undoubtedly, it is a false claim that women should only observe prayer and pay Zakat without partaking in preaching (goodness). During the recent centuries, however, women almost neglected all such duties, performing prayer and offering Zakat almost at an old age.
Back to the point, when the duty of guarding the community transfers from theoretical to practical fields, the opinions of scholars largely vary in terms of capacity assigned to women, even to the extent of contradiction. Ibn Jarīr Al-Țabarī, for instance, deems it permissible for a woman to assume the post of a judge in every field just like men, with no exception! The Hanafi scholars, as stated in Al-Badāˀi‛, maintain that – in most cases - masculinity is not a condition for access to the post of a judge, since a woman can be a witness in most cases. Yet, they claim, she cannot act as a judge on matters of Ḥudūd and Qişāş (related to criminal law), since she is not entitled to give testimony in this regard, and given that competency to give testimony means competency to assume judgeship.
Here, it may be asked, "What is value of a woman's testimony on matters related to the criminal law when she is not allowed to give testimony on such matters, given that competency to judgeship is commensurate to competency to give testimony? Regarding the value of a woman's testimony on such matters, the majority of jurists disregard it. It was reported from Al-Zuhrī (may Allāh be pleased with him) that he said, "The established practice of Allāh's Messenger and the two following caliphs is that it is impermissible for women to give testimony on matters of related to the criminal law, marriage or divorce". Another narration, however, includes murder cases in particular!
For his part, Ibn Ḥazm rejects all such opinions, deeming it permissible for women to give testimony in all the mentioned cases. He even describes Al-Zuhrī's report as disastrous, maintaining that its chain of narration has a missing link (Munqaţi‛). He also adds that the report is narrated from Isma‛īl ibn ‛Ayyāsh, who is a weak narrator – from al-Ḥajjāj ibn Arţaˀah, who is dismissed as dishonest. Hence, Al-Zuhrī's report–for him–is of no weight. Besides, he acknowledges the testimony of woman on all matters when the required number of women is double that of men. Hence, he accepts as valid the testimony of eight women as better than that of four men on fornication cases! In this respect, he draws for evidence on the literal indication of the Hadith reported from ‛Abdullah ibn ‛Umar that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "The testimony of two women is equal to that of one man". He also draws on the Hadith reported by Al-Bukhārī from Abu Sa‛īd Al-Khudrī that the Messenger of Allāh (PBUH) said, “Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half of a man's testimony?” The Companions replied, “Sure!” Here, the Prophet (PBUH) conclusively determines that the testimony of two women is equal to that of one man, and therefore Ibn Ḥazm maintains that the testimony of two women is dismissed, when one man's testimony is acknowledged, and that this ruling applies steadily as the number increases.
Commenting on the verse that reads,
“Surely, Allah commands you to pay deposits back to their qualified owners and, when you judge among mankind, that you judge with justice.” (Qur’ān, 4: 58),
Ibn Ḥazm notes, "This matter generally applies to the man and the woman, the free and the slave, given that t religion is the same for all, with the exception of the issues where a difference between man and woman, or free and slave persons, is stipulated. These are only exceptions to the general religious rules. Even before this commentary, Ibn Ḥazm remarks that "it is permissible for a woman to assume the post of the judge", and this is the very opinion of Abu Ḥanīfah. It is also reported that ‛Umar appointed Al-Shifāˀ– a female neighbor of him–as inspector of the market.
If it is argued, however, that the Messenger of Allāh (PBUH) said, “No people will ever prosper who appoint a woman in charge of their affairs”, we would reply that the Messenger (PBUH) said so regarding the caliphate [state leadership]. This inference is sustained by the Prophet's (PBUH) saying, “A woman is a guardian of her husband's property and is responsible for her charges”. Besides, the Malikīs deemed it permissible that a woman be a custodian and an agent, given that no legal stipulation precludes her taking charge of certain matters. Hence, jurists unanimously agree that the testimony of a woman is acknowledged on financial transactions, since Almighty Allāh says,
“And call in to witness two of your men; yet, in case there are not two men, then one man and two women from among the witnesses you are satisfied with, so that (in case) one of the two women should err, then other one should remind her.” (Qur’ān, 2: 282)
I already quoted in another book of mine the statements of physicians regarding woman's severe mood swings and ill health during her menstrual cycle. I then noted that perhaps this is the wisdom behind the command that a woman's testimony be corroborated with another woman's lest she should err, i.e. be distraught or absent-minded. However, I should maintain that I am not a Ⱬāhirī (Literalist), but I rather pursue evidence strictly, and I for that reason reject the opinions of Ibn Ḥazm and other leading jurists on many occasions when some other opinions are proven to me to be more preponderant. Hence, my ultimate objective is to serve Islam in a way that goes well with the stage reached by humanity in this critical era. Here, it is worth noting that the teachings of Islam are of two types, one that is conclusively decided and thus there is no room for difference about it, and such is the core and crux of the religion, which is not liable to change with the change in times and spaces. It is the faith we preach and the criterion of differentiation between others and us. The second type, however, involves speculative matters and controversial issues, where there is ample space for argument and counterargument, and for observance and abandonment. That is why judicious scholars denied that personal reasoning be equal to revelation, in terms of the obligation to draw on the latter as a referential authority. So people should be free to either adopt or neglect it whatever the reasons may be.
To illustrate the point, I believe that, when preaching Islam in foreign countries, we should not work on changing its people's behaviors as long as some of our jurists deem them permissible. Accordingly, if those people keep dogs (as pets), there is no harm in it, since ˀAnas ibn Mālik deems that a dog's saliva and sweat is pure, knowing that the young men of the Cave had had a dog accompanying them all the way through, even at the hardest times. And if they are accustomed to listening to music, let them keep doing so, since al-Ghazālī, Ibn Ḥazm and other scholars deem it permissible to do so. Thus, there is no reason to deter them from something about which religious ruling is inconclusive. Moreover, if they assign certain senior positions to women, let them do so since no one can forbid this in the name of Islam. Rather, the opinion deeming it forbidden is only based on personal reasoning (Ijtihād), not on any conclusive revelation.
What I strictly cling to, in terms of observance or abandonment, is that which is conclusively decided through the consensus of jurists. So, presenting a certain school of thought (Mażhab), be it canonical or non-canonical, or in a certain tradition -Bedouin or urban- as an embodiment of Islam is to do injustice to Islam itself, and perhaps is to repel people from the way of Allāh. What I am introducing here is what is maintained by our earlier predecessors who spread the religion, including essential values, creeds, and worship acts. That is why I seldom care about insignificant issues. I would also like to note that, by the passing of time, I deem it necessary to ponder on individual forms of juristic reasoning (Ijtihād) to precisely identify their practical consequences. Undoubtedly, the Four Imāms deemed that the triple-divorce pronounced concurrently is regarded as three divorces, even if given in one word, the ruling that persisted for centuries. Then, Ibn Tamiyyah and other jurists deemed that it is only a single divorce. Observing the effects of divorce on the families in Egypt recently, I noticed how that resulted in serious rifts in a way that drove me to prefer the approach of Ibn Taymiyyah and other similar-minded jurists, and also support the Shar‛ī legal courts' abandonment of the Four Imām's opinion in favor of Ibn Taymiyyah's. They turned from a certain form of Ijtihād into anther, and there is no harm in this, given that only explicit revealed commands are invulnerable to change. What applies in cases of divorce also applies in other matters, commercial, agricultural, etc. which represented a spacious arena for the followers of earlier jurists, meaning that no Ijtihād is sacred, and only the Qur'ān and the Sunnah are eternal. And while we may abandon an individual Ijtihād-based opinion in favor of another, this does not mean we that allow space for charlatans or poorly-informed persons in Sharī‛ah. Rather, this means that we sustain and firmly defend conclusive rulings.
As for women issues, some receive conclusive rulings, while others are liable to exercise juristic Ijtiād, and thus to personal opinions that could either be right or wrong. Unfortunately, however, daring violation of conclusive texts was due to dim-witted persons' adherence to poor ideas about the normal and ritual rights of women. Indeed, Almighty Allāh orders both the believing men and women to lower their gaze. Yet, some short-sighted persons interpreted it as a command to block women's sight, alleging that a woman should neither see men nor be seen by men, and -for this purpose- asserted that they should always be locked up at homes. This extremist approach resulted in shattering woman's humanity and wasting her civil and religious rights. Later on, some scholars sought to mend such crookedness by importing European and American traditions (that go against Islam as a religion), and hence they failed to address the problem. Indeed, we reject idiocy and depravity on either side. Rather, we seek to revive the righteousness witnessed during the prophetic era and to adopt smart juristic approaches that take into account the constant developments of life.
Abu ‛Abdullāh al-Bukhārī reviewed the Six Authentic Ḥadīth Books and then objectively deduced from them certain rulings that some people reject today. In the chapter on Patients (in his Şaḥīḥ), he -as a leading Ḥadīth narrator- reported, under the subtitle, "On Women Visiting sick Men", that Umm Al-Dardāˀ went to visit one of the men of ˀAnsār who used to come to the mosque". Then, in another position, he introduced as chapters titled "Women participating in conquests and fights alongside with men" and "Women participating in sea-warfare". Had women requested participation in such activities in some environments claiming devoutness, they might have been beaten to death. In such environments, men read Al-Bukhārī seeking spiritual blessing rather than practical application. They may even lash us with their tongues when we revive such tolerant aspects of our religion.
However, we assert that woman's social activity should not come at the expense of her family, and that the right of her husband and children are given priority over all other rights. I read that two female ministers, one was French and the other British, maintained that woman's domestic responsibility is her primary mission, and I believe this is good thinking. Indeed, the role of a housewife is a major one, and I think it requires high qualifications. Furthermore, leading a life in conformity with the dictates of the Islamic Sharī‛ah requires a great deal of knowledge and experience. Otherwise, how can one bring into harmony diverse conditions and objectives! That requires proper thinking and harmonization.
What is Islam's view of the family and of woman's role in building it?
The people acquainted with life in Europe and America assert that the family is a mere delusion, and that a family there–at best– undertakes no more than an insignificant portion of its due role in raising better and greater generations. Indeed, houses there are totally abandoned, with each of the males and females going their own way in the fields of education and labor. Even the children are entrusted by mothers to nursery schools. So, every family member has his own sweeping preoccupations. However, I believe that an educated woman who joins the labor market is no better than an uneducated woman who keeps to her home. Indeed, genuine blessing is in having a stable believing family, where members are closely associated, rather than a disconnected family whose only role is one of breeding. A great aspect of a family is to transfer sound creeds and noble traditions down from one generation to another. Such a family is a firm stronghold for the faith and a solid fence for its principles and acts of worship. Here, a woman's role and reward is exactly as that of a man. Regarding this blessing, Almighty Allāh says, "And Allah has made for you of yourselves spouses, and made for you from your spouses children and grandchildren. He has also provided you of good things. Is it then that they believe in untruth, and in the favor of Allah they do disbelieve?"
No doubt, men are the ones entitled to bear the brunt in providing for the family, while women are the queens of their houses where they infuse warm feelings and exert endless efforts. A house managed in this way is indeed a treasure. However, Western family values are now sweeping the world and shaking the bases of family life. Moderate Islamic family traditions, on the other hand, are less prevalent, facing stubborn resistance even from (superficially) devout Muslims. Therefore, I deem it necessary to draw people's attention to the fact that the role of a housewife is a noble one. This does not mean that a woman cannot get a job or pursue a lawful career outside home, but rather that whatever the job a woman gets her duty as a housewife remains a priority. In his Al-Istī‛āb, Ibn ‛Abd ul-Barr reported that Asmāˀ bint Yazīd Al-Anşāriyyah once came to the Messenger of Allāh (PBUH) and said, “May my father and mother be sacrificed for you! I have come to you to plead the case for women. We, womenfolk, have to keep to our houses, carrying out domestic duties and bearing children for men, while they, menfolk, have greater opportunities (for earning rewards) by joining congregational and Friday prayers, visiting the sick, attending funerals, and performing Ḥajj (pilgrimage). What is even greater than that is their participating in Jihāad (fighting in the way of Allāh). When one of you goes out for pilgrimage or for Jihād, we (are left at home to) look after your property. Will we not share with you the reward for these good deeds?” Then, the Prophet (PBUH) turned his face towards his Companions and said, “Have you ever heard a woman present a religious case better than this?” They replied, “O Messenger of Allāh, we never thought a woman could enjoy such eloquence and rationality?” Hence, the Prophet (PBUH) turned to her and said, “Understand, O woman, and tell the other women along with you, that a wife looking after her husband, seeking his content, and going along with his assent is equal to all that (i.e. in reward for all that has been commanded to the men by the religion).” Indeed, the gates of knowledge acquisition should not be locked before women. Then there would be specific jobs for men and others for women, each according to their own capacities.
In this regard, small-minded jurists have been a frequent source of embarrassment for Islam and allowed its rivals to attack it. I remember when I was an undergraduate student that Dr. Țāhā Ḥussain, the then dean of the Faculty of Arts, opened a class for females for the first time. However, the move caused much disturbance (by traditionalists who rejected it). Al-Azhar was even late in taking such a step of opening university faculties for females. The reason behind such narrow-mindedness is juristic incompetence of some scholars that led them to adopt defeatism in face of certain traditional practices that are denounced in Islam.
As Islam protects the woman's status, it shields her against bestial lifestyles promoted by modernism as a hub for constant stimulation of primitive instincts and desires that crumble the bases of chastity. The religion of Islam, thus, works for sustaining decency, while modernism preaches depravity. With the modernist dwindling of faith and love for the mundane, hyper-sexuality intensified and promiscuity was no more an abomination or a cause of embarrassment. While Islam forbids Khulwah (being alone with a member of the opposite sex other than a close relative or a spouse), modernism preaches otherwise without reservation. I frequently wondered why sexy appearance is almost a requirement for women to get certain jobs. According to the dictates of Islam, however, indecent dressing is abominable and a woman's work is guided by observation of the limits and proprieties of the Sharī‛ah. For women to be able to get jobs without failing to perform their family duties, I would also recommend that there be part-time jobs for them.
In addition, it is not difficult for Muslim men and women to cooperate in establishing a decent community, where women are no more a sexual commodity or sexually guilty by default until proven otherwise. This obsessive view of women prevails among some religious preachers in a way that renders their fatwās in this regard almost nonsensical and far from right. It is also worth noting here that the Islam never claimed that it was Eve who got Adam driven out of paradise and that, by corollary, women tempt men into the way for Hellfire. Thus, whoever says so is fabricating sheer lies. The Islamic stance on this issue, as stated in the Glorious Qur'ān, is as follows,
“(Then their Lord responded to them, ‘I do not waste the deed of any doer among you, whether male or female. The one of you is as the other” (Qur'ān, 3: 195)
I feel the zeal for my religion as much as the strictest devout persons does, and yet preserving religion does not mean adopting the mentality of a prison guard. There is indeed a vast gap between building minds and consciences through knowledge and piety on the one hand and locking female bodies in iron cages on the other.
Moreover, Islam encourages women to frequent the mosques, where they attend congregational prayers and receive religious knowledge, with the purpose of polishing their minds and souls. There, she is fully free to discuss and argue (with men) on whatever issues they care about. As for the proponents of a prison-guard mentality, they believe a woman should neither see men nor be seen by them. Likewise, to them, if one is expected to get in touch with men in the mosque, she would not be allowed to frequent the mosque. Here, when Muslims abandon such traditions developed through a primitive mentality, it does not mean they abandon Islam. Rather, they would only be relinquishing certain tribal lifestyles.
The only criterion in this regard is the Glorious Qur'ān and the Prophet's Sunnah, knowing that problems arise out of some people's misunderstanding of the texts. Al-Bukhārī and Muslim, for instance, reported on the authority of Ibn ‛Abbās that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “I looked into Paradise and saw that the majority of its dwellers are the poor. And I looked into Hell and saw that the majority of its people are women”. Another narration reported by Aḥmad reads, “I looked into Hellfire and saw that the majority of its dwellers are women and rich people”. Here, most of the Sūfi followers literally drew on the first line of the ḥadīth and thus denounced and belittled wealth to the effect that some Muslim masses became abjectly poor. On the other hand, some shortsighted radicals drew on the second line, considering femininity a curse and judging women as the snares of the Satan and the dwellers of Hellfire. This approach is irrational and is only adopted by dim-witted persons who know nothing about the Glorious Qur'ān or the Sunnah.
Between these two extremes of negligence and extremism, there is a middle moderate way that we would like to persistently tread on. It neither goes well with the real status of Muslim women in most (Muslim) societies, nor conforms to mundane modernist traditions that are almost irreligious. Plato, in his Utopia, considered women as a common property for men. Well, if this is a utopia, what would a dystopia then be! By the same token, a prison-guard mentality cannot bring about an intellectually-enlightened or a morally-elevated nation. Indeed, the teachings of Islam represent the genuine hope in building an integrated and merciful community.
There is an opinion that wearing niqāb (face cover) is obligatory for women. How do you evaluate such an opinion?
In the early Islamic period, ‛Umar ibn Al-Khaţţāb, who was known for his jealousy of the protection of Muslim women, appointed Al-Shifāˀ ibnt Abdullah from Bani Makhzoum tribe as the market controller in Madīnah. It was a civic and a religious job that requires both intelligence and decisiveness.
In his book titled “Al-Bidāyah Wan-Nihāyah” (The Beginning and the End), Ibn Kathīr mentioned that Abdul-Raḥmān ibn ‛Awf spent three days seeking women’s advice on whoever should be elected to succeed Umar after he was assassinated. There were six candidates and Abdul- Raḥmān ibn ‛Awf was keen to consult every man and woman who would have a say in Madīnah.
Were women really consulted on such important matters? Why not? The Prophet ( PBUH ) consulted his wife ˀUm Salamah when the people did not respond promptly to his command when he asked them to end their state of iḥrām for ‛Umrah (minor pilgrimage) in Al-Ḥudaybiyyah.
In recent times, the Muslim woman has been drained emotionally in response to pre-Islamic traditions that have nothing to do with the religion. Later on, the modern civilization, with its physical and erotic tendencies, has dominated Muslim communities in a manner that made the Muslim unable to do anything about it. However, I read many ḥadīths from the biography of the Prophet PBUH) depicting the earlier Muslim community in a more compassionate and open way. The image some people often draw of the Muslim community is dull and dreary.
Muslim reported in his collection of ḥadīth that Allah's Messenger, PBUH, had a neighbor who was Persian (by descent), and he was expert in the preparation of soup. He prepared soup for Allah's Messenger (PBUH) and then came to him to invite him. He (PBUH) said, “Here is she also (and you should also invite her (‛Ᾱˀishah) to the food).” He said, “No.” Thereupon Allah's Messenger, PBUH, also said, “No (and declined his offer).” He returned again to invite him and Allah’s Messenger, PBUH, again said, “She is also there.” He (the host) said, “Yes.” for the third time. Then he accepted his invitation, and both of them set out until they came to his house.
Al-Bukhari reported that Abu Sa‛d As-Sā‛idiy got married and invited the Prophet (PBUH) and his Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, to his wedding. None prepared the food for them and brought it to them but his wife, who was the bride. She soaked some dates in water in a stone pot overnight, and when the Prophet (PBUH) had finished his food, she provided him with that drink (of soaked dates).
It is obvious that such limited mixing between women and men was controlled by careful observation of Islamic teachings that oblige a woman to be dressed decently. Decent dressing for women covers the whole body except for the face and the hands. However, some people claim that niqāb was originally used to cover women’s faces and the hands too in a manner that reveals nothing from the body.
Such claim can be easily refuted for I have read around twelve reports ḥadīth in the most authentic collections of ḥadīth and all of them indicate that women would uncover their faces and hands in front of the Prophet (PBUH) and he never ordered any of them to cover her face or her hands. The Prophet’s Companions, too, followed his example.
Nevertheless, some people who have neither knowledge of the true Islamic teachings nor any sense of piety severely criticize the Muslim women who reveal their faces and hands in spite of the fact that those women are dressed decently. Such people are driven by the stupid thought that considers the voice of women as ‛awrah (i.e. sexual inciting that should not be heard in public) and that it is not permissible for a Muslim woman to reveal her face and hands.
It was reported that Sa‛d ibn Khawlah died in the 10th year after Hijra in Madinah while his wife was pregnant. She gave birth to a child before a period of four months and ten days has passed following the death of her husband. Therefore, she embellished herself for those who had to give proposals of marriage. A man called Abu As-Sanābil said to her, “Why is it that I see you embellished; perhaps you are inclined to marry. By Allah, you cannot marry unless four months and ten days elapsed. The woman came to Allah's Messenger (PBUH) and asked him about it, and he gave her a religious verdict that she was allowed to marry when she had given birth to a child if she so liked. This incident took place late in the Prophet’s life and there is no justification for claiming that it took place before the verses on hijāb were revealed.
In fact, there is something else, other than Islamic teachings, there to be imposed on the Muslim Nation. Those who want this are driven by psychological motives rather than authentic evidence. The only thing they argue about is following the example of the Mothers of the Believers. However, we say that if following the example of the Mothers of the Believers was required in this case, the Prophet (PBUH) and his Companions would not have abandoned it; they would have condemned women’s uncovering of their faces and hands.
Actually, the internal organization of the Prophet’s household was subject to certain circumstances as explicitly mentioned in the Qur’ān:
“You are not as any other women.” (Qur’ān, 33:32)
It was something special for the Prophet’s wives to be forbidden from getting married after the Prophet’s passing away and to have a double reward (or otherwise punishment). The Prophet (PBUH) would receive both pious and non-pious men in his house since he was sought by men and delegations from different corners of the Arabia. Moreover, some Bedouins had the audacity to say embarrassing words and examine women with their eyes; they had some remnants of the pre-Islamic period of ignorance. Therefore, it was out of Allah’s honoring of His prophet that the verses about ḥijāb were revealed in sūratu l-ˀAḥzāb (Qur’ān, Chapter 33). The verses made it forbidden for men to enter into the rooms of the Prophet’s wives and to see them Allah with a few exceptions. Allah, the Most Exalted, says,
“There is no fault in the (Prophet's spouses) concerning their fathers, their sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women friends, or their female slaves. Be pious to Allah; surely Allah has been an Ever-Present Witness over everything.” (Qur’ān, 33:55)
Apparently, such a divine restriction was imposed only on the Mothers of the Believers because after the verses above were revealed, Muslims women fighters were seen in the Battle of Ḥunayn, in the mosque, and on many other occasions uncovering their faces. However, no one condemned or criticized their action. Some people go further and argue that it is prohibited for men and women to see each other at all. They cite as evidence the fact that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) disliked that his spouses would see ‛Abdullah ibn Maktoom. However, Ibn Ḥajar said that the Prophet (PBUH) did so because ‛Abdullah was a sight-impaired man who could not dress and cover his body properly. Ibn Ḥajar had to find such an explanation because he found that this narration contradicts other authentic ḥadīths.
Ibn Ḥajar also dismissed the ḥadīth in which the Prophet (PBUH) was reported as saying, “Are you also blind and unable to see him?” in his own way as he approved the chain of narrators and interpreted the text of the ḥadīth. However, Ibn Al-‛Arabi dismissed both the chain of narrators and the text of the ḥadīth. He even said that Nabhān who is the narrator of the ḥadīth is unknown. Nabhān was the servant of ˀUm Salamah, may Allah be pleased with her and he was not known among the people of the knowledge. Moreover, the ḥadīth he narrated contradicts another incident reported by Muslim on to the authority of Ibn ˀUm Maktūm’s cousin whom the Prophet (PBUH) ordered to spend her ‛Iddah in his house.
Muslim reported from Fātimah bint Qais that ˀAbu ‛Amr ibn Ḥafş issued a final divorce (i.e. issued the third divorce) to her while he was absent. She went to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) and told him about that. He told her to observe her ‛Iddah in the house of ˀUm Sharīk, then he said, “She is a woman whose house is frequented by my Companions. Observe your ‛Iddah in the house of Ibn ˀUm Maktūm, for he is a blind man and there you can take off your garment.” In another narration, the Prophet (PBUH) told her, “Go to ˀUm Sharīk.” ˀUm Sharīk was a rich Anşāri woman who used to spend a great deal of money in the cause of Allah, and she always had a lot of guests. I said, “I will do that.” He said, “Do not do that, for ˀUm Sharīk has a lot of guests, and I would not like your veil to fall off, or your shins to become uncovered, and the people to see something of you that you do not want them to see. Rather, go to your cousin (son of your paternal uncle) ‛Abdullah ibn ‛Amr ibn ˀUm Maktūm (the blind man) because if you take off your garment there he will not see you.” She said, “I shifted to that house, and when my period of waiting was over, I heard the voice of an announcer making an announcement that the prayer would be observed in the mosque (where) congregational prayer (is observed). I set out towards that mosque and observed prayer along with Allah's Messenger (PBUH)”. When he (PBUH) had finished his prayer, he sat on the pulpit smiling and said, “By Allah. I have not made you assemble for exhortation or for a warning, but I have detained you here, for Tamīm Ad-Dāriy, a Christian, who came and accepted Islam.”
Shaikh Moḥammed Nāseruddīn Al-ˀAlbāniy commented on this ḥadīth saying, “This ḥadīth is evidence that a woman’s face is not ‛awrah because the Prophet (PBUH) approved that Fātimah bint Qais would be seen by men while she was wearing her hijāb (a veil covering the head and revealing the face). The Prophet’s approval indicated that it was not mandatory for a Muslim woman to cover her face as it was the case with her head. However, he was afraid that her veil may fall off and reveal something from her body that is prohibited for women to uncover in accordance with a clear-cut religious text. That is why the Prophet (PBUH) ordered her to move to the house of the ibn ˀUm Maktoom who was a blind man in what seems to be a prudent step. Al-ˀAlbāniy noted that this incident took place late in the Prophet’s life because Fātimah ibnt Qais mentioned that after her waiting period was over she heard the Prophet (PBUH) talk about Tamīm Ad-Dāriy’s conversion to Islam. This was undoubtedly in the 9th year after Hijra. Thus, it is concluded that this incident took place very late after the revelation of the Qur’ānic verses that make wearing hijāb mandatory for Muslim women. The ḥadīth is also considered clear evidence that a woman’s face is not ‛awrah and thus it is permissible for women to uncover it.”
In the 10th year after Hijra, six years after the hijāb verses were revealed to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH), the incident of the beautiful woman from the tribe of Khath‛am took place. She came to the Prophet (PBUH), on the Day of An-Naḥr (i.e. slaughtering animals for sacrifice on the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah) during the Farewell Pilgrimage to seek his religious verdict concerning the rituals of Hajj.
The narrators of this ḥadīth said that Al-Faᶁl ibn Al-‛Abbās was riding behind the Prophet on his she-camel and he was attracted by the woman’s beautiful face, so he started looking at her. Al-Faᶁl himself narrated what happened as reported by Imām Aḥmad in his Musnad, saying, “I started gazing at her face. The Prophet (PBUH) looked behind while I was looking at her; so he held out his hand backward and caught my chin and turned my face away in order that I should not gaze at her. The Prophet (PBUH) did so three times and I could not stop doing it over and again.”
The story was reported by Al-Bukhāri, Muslim, Abu Dawood, and At-Tirmidhiy in their collections of ḥadīths. Although the woman had such a beautiful face, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) did not rebuke her for uncovering her face or accuse her of promoting fitnah (trial) among Muslims. However, some people seem to have some modifications to the religion that Allah, the Greatest Legislator, wanted for humankind; they go on criticizing people freely and seek to abolish authentic prophetic traditions and replace them with detestable customs in which a woman would cover one eye and leave the other visible to see with or cover all of her body including the face and the feet, so that nothing may be seen from her body. They even require women to be silent in public as they believe that the woman’s voice is ‛awrah too.
Such exaggeration in religion has over centuries had adverse social consequences that are detrimental to the personality of the Muslim women and to Islam itself.
Some people say it is ok for a Muslim woman to wear niqāb, covering her face following the example of the Prophet’s wives. If so, then there should be no problem to make it prohibited for a woman whose husband dies to get married to another man, as it was the case of the Prophet’s wives. Instead of that, we need to adhere to an authentic Islamic path far from both wearing indecent clothing as the Western women do and the diminished human status of the Western women.
Our anger should be primarily for the sake of Allah and not for adherence to traditions that have nothing to do with the divine revelation. Furthermore, we should not fear those who feel angry for such non-religious traditions.
A friend of mine told me, “The way in which you discuss the issues related to women runs counter to well-established traditions and long-standing religious schools. This may have a negative effect on you and block the way for the good opinions you have elaborated on for the people in other areas of Islamic knowledge.”
I said to him, “I highly appreciate your advice and I would like to explain my point of view to you; I always dismiss the weak and fabricated ḥadīths as I examine any religious issue. I even do not respect the traditions that are based on such ḥadīths because the prevailing tradition should be examined and evaluated rather than being taken as a standard. The only valid criterion should be the Glorious Qur’ān and the Sunnah. I seek refuge with Allah from transgressing the limits they prescribe. I feel bound by the ḥadīths classified as mutawātir (a ḥadīth which is reported numerously by different narrators in a manner that substantiates its authenticity) and the ḥadīths classified as şaḥīḥ (authentic). I do not pay attention to other types of narrations.
I still remember when a chief of an Islamic group wrote an article against me titled, “The Director of Mosques’ Affairs Tells Lies about Allah’s Messenger”. My skin shivered for hearing such groundless accusation leveled at me. Indeed, I am one of those who feel heartedly indebted for the Prophet’s favors upon me. I truly feel how great he is and I always study his biography. How dare would I to tell a lie about him? The man centered his argument on a ḥadīth classified as munkar (denounced), which states that a woman should not see anybody nor appear in public. Whoever believes such ḥadīth must, in return, deny other ḥadīths classified as şaḥīḥ (authentic) and mutawātir (frequently transmitted) that deal with all women’s issues. Unfortunately, some people did so and they thus have forcibly introduced mere cultural traditions to the religion. How should I respect such traditions after all?
Some people explain some authentic Prophetic traditions reported by a reliable chain of narrators from their own point of view. Such people cannot impose their erroneous understanding and personal tendencies on others. Those people interpret Allah’s saying,
“and the female believers should not display their adornment except what is outward.” (Qur’ān, 24:31),
as meaning that women’s adornment should never be displayed and that the exception is made only for the display of niqāb worn on the face that may be removed by the wind.
Revealing the face was the common tradition among the earlier Muslim women and perhaps some of them opted to wear the niqāb. However, the Prophet (PBUH) never condemned a woman for uncovering her face. This fact is further supported by several ḥadīths. The Companions’ generation approved such tradition without any objection.
Let us contemplate on this authentic narration reported by Imām Aḥmad in his Musnad on the authority of ˀAbu Asmāˀ who visited ˀAbu Żarr, may Allah be pleased with him, at Ar-Rabᶁah during the Caliphate of ‛Uthmān ibn ‛Affān. ˀAbu Asmāˀ said that ˀAbu Żarr had a black wife with a shaggy and dusty hair who wore no perfume or any type of adornments. ˀAbu Żarr told him, “Do not you know what this little black woman wants me to do?” She orders me to move to Iraq and if I do, its people will tempt me into their worldly desires. However, my beloved friend [the Prophet, PBUH] told me that there will be a thin and slippery bridge set over the Hellfire and that if we have a light load (of bad deeds), we will be more likely to cross it safely [to Paradise]. This is far better than having heavy loads of bad deeds and sins.”
ˀAbu Żarr complained to his friends about what his wife had told him to do as she advised him to migrate to Iraq. His friends saw ˀAbu Żarr’s wife and described her as mentioned above.
I know that there are some people who think that it is not permissible for a woman to appear in public under whatever circumstances. Indeed, their views are far from the true religion revealed to Muḥammad (PBUH). It is very ridiculous that some people hold a certain opinion, and then insist that it is the only religiously acceptable one and that other opinions are not of the religion at all. Of course, those people have expressed their opinions according to their personal understanding of the prophetic tradition. I do not oppose this but I want to add to the subject matter of this question another issue which is not directly related to women’s affairs; it is a general issue relevant to every area of religious knowledge where mujtahid (knowledgeable scholars) hold different opinions.
It should be noted that there are scholarly differences that will have no adverse effect on the Muslim nation until the Day of Judgment. For example, the differences concerning whether a worshipper should make qunūt either in the Dawn prayer or not. The opinions of a mujtahid about such issues leave no significant impacts on the march of the Muslim society.
However, there are some people who hold the view that alcohols, cannabis, and opium are all prohibited. However, there are others who differentiate among these types of intoxicants. Men of understanding noticed that the nations that consume drugs are worse and less productive than the nations that consume alcoholic drinks.
Will any followers of the Islamic schools of jurisprudence accept an opinion that makes some types of intoxicants lawful based on the maxim, “Do not prohibit what Allah has made lawful for you”?
Why do not those who hold a certain point of view and then discover later that their view was erroneous keep silent? Why do those people want to make their opinions an indisputable part of the religion? For the sake of whom do those people show such zeal and fanaticism? Likewise, the same attitudes are recurrent when it comes to discussing women’s issues although the permissibility of women’s praying at mosques and seeking knowledge is supported by several authentic ḥadīths. However, there was an opinion that women are prohibited from going to the mosques and receiving education. Such an opinion is a reflection of poor understanding of a certain religious text or a blind obedience to a fabricated ḥadīth. Consequently, the whole Muslim World has collapsed and men and women alike have become awful examples of backwardness. When someone tries to restore Muslim women’s intellectual and social dignity and restore the features of the earlier Muslim generations, they are totally condemned and opposed.
However, the reference of those who oppose such attempts is often a poor understanding of the Islamic Jurisprudence, a blind imitation of someone else, or an opinion of somebody who put himself forward before Allah and His Messenger (PBUH) by making his own attitudes and understanding an approach imposed on the Qur’ān and the Sunnah without considering other religious opinions of respected Muslim scholars.
We confirm that we pay due attention to the religious texts and stress that scholarly differences concerning some issues related to Islamic jurisprudence are based on the different points of view of scholars. Such different views are often subject to weighting and comparison without any of them being taken as a divine text. Muslims living in any country have the right to exclude any opinion which when put into practice lead to degradation in both domestic and foreign affairs.
Abandoning an opinion on a religious issue should not be considered an abandoning of the whole religion. Most of what is common among Muslims at the level of human affairs is in contravention of the true Islamic teachings without having any reliable religious grounds.
Therefore, I reject the act of displaying Islam in our time as the religion of the niqāb, the religion that dismisses a woman’s testimony, or the religion that deprives a woman from the right to education, driving cars or carrying out tasks that she can do. However, I do confirm that a woman’s service to her family takes priority over all of her other works.
 Shaikh ‛Aṭiya Ṣaqr, Former Chairman of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee, “Understanding Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 98.
 Muḩammad El-Ghazāli, “A Hundred Questions on Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 441.
 Muḩammad El-Ghazāli, “A Hundred Questions on Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 450.
 Muḩammad El-Ghazāli, “A Hundred Questions on Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 456.
 Muḩammad El-Ghazāli, “A Hundred Questions on Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 462.
 Muḩammad El-Ghazāli, “A Hundred Questions on Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 466.
 Perhaps this incident took place before the revelation the Qur’ānic verses that command Muslim women to wear hijāb. However, hijab was made obligatory only for the Mothers of the Believers (the Prophet’s wives) according to the statements made by formidable Muslim researchers. It seems that the Persian host prepared a meal that was enough for only one guest. Therefore, he felt embarrassed to invite two guests. He did not know that a meal for two persons would suffice three persons and that the Noble Prophet (PBUH) wanted to take his wife with him to a Persian feast.
 It is the period that a woman has to wait for before she can marry another man following the death of her husband.
 Qunūt is the name of a du‛āˀ (supplication) offered during prayer at a specific point while standing” (Translator’s note).