Women and Islam

Published 23 Jun 2017

The people on the earth are broadly divided into two categories of human beings, “Male” and “Female”. Female humans are also termed as women. The term woman, who is grammatically, plural form of the English word “woman”, is generally used for grownup or adults but sometimes this represents the whole female category irrespective of their age.

Historically speaking, women always assumed a particular role in making and shaping of society. In hunter-gatherer societies, women were generally the gatherer of plant food, small animal foods, and learned to use dairy products, while men were suppose to hunt larger animals and provide security to the members of the group.

In the recent history, the role and responsibility of women have gradually changed. In the middle class societies, women were primarily responsible for domestic tasks with prim focus on childcare and they did not get the chance to enter into employment for wage but for lower income generating societies, apart from the primary responsibilities, seeking employment out side the home for them become an economic compulsion.

Accordingly we see that this is not only the social background or economic background, which have played theirs role in deciding the women position in their society but a very significant role have also been played by the religions in deciding the social consideration of the women belonging to that religion.

Here I will primarily discuss about the women and the Islamic viewpoint about them.

The teaching of Islam is based essentially on “Koran”, which is considered as God’s revelation and “Hadeeth”, which is regarded as the elaborations by Prophet Muhammad.

The Koran provides that women and men are equal in the sight of God, in terms of their rights and responsibilities.

The Koran states, “ Every soul will be (held) pledge for its deeds”. (1)

Women according to Koran, in terms of religious obligations, such as daily prayers, Fasting, Poor due, and pilgrimage are no different than men. But, the women are exempted from the daily prayer and from fasting during menstrual period and forty days after childbirth. She is also exempted from fasting during pregnancy and when she is nourishing and nursing her baby, if there is any threat to her health or her baby’s health. If the missed fasting is religiously obligatory (during the month of Ramadan), she can make up for the missed days, whenever she can. She does not have to make up for prayers missed for any of the above reasons. Although women can and did go into the mosque during the days of the prophet and there after the attendance at the Friday congregational prayers is optional for them, while it is mandatory for men (Friday).

This is clearly a soft touch of the Islamic teachings for they are considerate of the fact that a woman may be nursing her baby or caring for him and thus may be unable to attend the mosque at the time of prayer. They also take into account the physiological and psychological changes associated with her natural female functions.

Broadly speaking, Islam brought about far reaching reforms in respect of the condition and status of women. For the first time in the history of human civilization, the principle of equity between the sexes was recognized and practically carried into effect. Sexual relationship without obligation in the form of loose marriages was abolished and only a proper form of marriage was recognized and the same was standardized. Women’s consent to the marriage was given central importance. Sense of chastity was introduced and developed both in men and women and un-chastity was subjected to strict moral and legal checks.

Islam provides an efficient legal framework for the protection of her dignity and safeguards against her exploitation. Till her marriage, on the father has been cast the strict legal duty to look after her and meet all her requirements. The Islamic law vests in her all the rights due to her as an independent human being. She is entitled to inherit from her parents along with her brothers. On her marriage she does not loose her individuality. She does not cease to be an independent member of the society in her own rights and her personality does not merge into that of her husband. She can own property and dispose it of in any manner she chooses. She can sue and be sued in her own name. She becomes the absolute and exclusive owner of what she earns by her skill or whatever she gets through inheritance or gift from any source. She does not require to seek leave from her husband to dispose off her property in the manner she deems fit. All this is not by way of favor from the society, which can be withdrawn at the whim of any person or any legislature at any time. It is all guaranteed by the Islamic law, which is permanent and beyond the modifying power of any authority of the earth.

Marriage in Islam derives its legitimacy from the “Shariat” and it is treated as contract. There is no ban on widow remarriage and divorce is allowed. But in practice, the contract of marriage gives very unequal rights to man and women. Religion provides for free consent of both parties in the “Nikah” but in the practice, it is mere formality, as so far as girl is concerned. This is an example of the fact that the super structure of equality of sexes is granted without dismantling the infrastructure of inequality of the sexes in Islam. It confines a woman into immanence and asks her to perform an act of transcendence, which by all means remains immanence. Similarly widow remarriage and divorce are generally frowned upon, especially among middle and the upper classes, even though they are permissible in Islam.

The right of repudiation of marriage contract is with the husband. Polygamy is permitted in Islam. A wife therefore, has a distinctly inferior status. Religion makes the husband the family head and expects the wife to obey and serve him. ‘Maher’ is meant to be a security for the wife against the possibility of divorce at the husband’s free will. It is doubtful, however, as to how many women are in a position to assert their claims of “Maher” in the event of a divorce or widowhood, particularly in the communities among whom, the marriage contract need not be in writing.

Women’s rights of inheritance, provided in Islam are significant, especially in view of the fact they were meant for a patrilineal social structure. Islam introduced share for wife, daughter, mother, sisters and grandmothers. The general rule being that the female was to inherit half of what the corresponding male would inherit. However, the women’s right to hold or inherit property, is not often followed in practice. This is largely due to their seclusion, absence of education, and prevalence of customs and conventions.

Two practices that have been most detrimental to the status of the women in Islam have been “Talaq” or unilateral divorce and seclusion of women. It is largely due to seclusion that has kept Muslim Women backward in respect of education, health, prevented their participation in economic and social fields and has been a hurdle in the way of realizing their civil rights. It has made them heavily dependent on men for the business of living and hence also for achieving any progress.

For Mutahhari, “Islam is not against the equality of men and women, but it does not agree with the identicalness of their rights” (2). He thinks that If women wishes to acquire rights equal to the rights of men and happiness equal to the happiness of man, the only way to get that end is for her to forget about an identicalness of rights with men and have faith in rights suitable for herself. Only in this way can unity and real sincerity between men and women be achieved and only then will women obtain happiness equal to or better than man’s. Men then, out of sincerity and without any derogatory thoughts, will be ready to concede to her equal and at times better rights than their own. About the point of actuality, he argues that Our point of view is that dissimilarity in the rights of man and woman should be observed to whatever extent nature has differently molded and created them. Which means ‘to be a husband, in itself, that is, the fact of being husband, imposes certain obligations and signifies certain rights, and to be a wife in itself imposes certain obligations and implies certain rights’.

With regard to divorce, in the eye of Islam, divorce is vehemently hated and detested. Here the man is given the prerogative to pronounce triple divorce- Talaq, Talaq, Talaq-to bring the contract of marriage to an end. The natural mechanism of marriage on which Islam has based its laws, is that the women should have a position of being loved and respected in the family order. Consequently, if, for some reason, the wife has fallen from this position and the warmth of the love of the husband for her has cooled down and he has lost his affection for her, the foundation and the main pillar of the family has destroyed. Mutahhari observes “ So whenever the fire of the love and affection of the husband is extinguished, the union of marriage, from the natural point of view, subsists no more”. (3)

Hence the Islamic viewpoint about the divorce is that the nature has deposited the key of the natural dissolution of marriage in the custody of man. In other words, it is man who by his own apathy and unfaithfulness towards his wife makes her cold and unfaithful. Conversely, if the difference begins on the side of the wife, it does not affect the affection of the man, rather, incidentally, it makes the affection more acute. Consequently the difference of the man leads to indifference on the both sides. In this way, in Islam, a Muslim has a genuine reason for divorce only if he or she become cruel, vindictive, abusive, unfaithful, neglectful, selfish, sexually abusive, tyrannical, perverted, and so on.

In good Islamic practice, before divorce can be contemplated, all possible efforts should be made to solve a couple’s problem. After an intention of divorce is announced, there is a three months period during which more attempts are made at reconciliation. If by the end of each month, the couple has resumed sexual intimacy, the divorce should not proceed. The three-month rule ensures that a woman cannot remarry until three menstrual cycles have passed- so, if she happens to be pregnant, the child will be supported and paternity will not be in dispute.

Regarding polygamy, the Koran endorses up to the limit of four wives per man. But it is ordained in the Koran that If you fear that you shall not be able to behave justly among your wives, do not have more than one woman as your wife. Sexual intimacy outside marriage is forbidden in Islam, including sex before marriage, adultery or homosexual relationship. However, within marriage, sexual intimacy should be raised from animal level to worship level so that each considers the happiness and satisfaction of the other, rather than mere self-gratification.

On analyzing the political aspect of Islamic viewpoint on women, we find women equality with men during the Islamic civilization. But although not mentioned in the Koran, one Hadeeth of the Prophet is interpreted to make women ineligible for the position of head of state. As per the referred Hadeeth, a people will not prosper, if they let a woman be their leader. This limitation, however, has nothing to do with the dignity of woman or with her rights.

It is rather related to the natural differences in the biological and psychological make-up of men and women.

According to Islam, the head of the state is required to perform multiple functions, including leading the people in the prayers, especially on Fridays and festivities. He is continuously required to engage himself in the process of decision making related to the security and welfare of the subject. This demanding position or other similar situations is very inconsistent with the physiological and psychological make-up of the women in general. But these are the different arguments, which are given to defend the inconsistent viewpoint of Islam about Muslim Women.

Summarizing the whole issue, this can be said that Islamic viewpoint about the women might be different but in the cultural practices followed by them make her status more vulnerable. Despite the fact that the Koran is addressed to all Muslims, and for the most part, we do not find any difference between men and women. Women have the right to divorce, to inherit property, to conduct business and to have access to knowledge, But in practice, in Riyadh, a woman is forbidden from driving a car. During the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, girls were forbidden from going to school. The veiling of Muslim women is still a very complex issue. Regardless of her skills or intelligence, she is expected to accept her man as his master. According to one verse of Koran, man can punish his wife physically, if her ill will is wrecking the marriage.

Let us wish and hope that a Woman in Islam gets her due share in time to come.

Works Cited

  • Koran -74:38
  • Mutahhari, Murtada; Rights of Women in Islam / Tehran / World Organization of Islamic Studies, p/39
  • Mutahhari, Murtada; Rights of Women in Islam / Tehran / World Organization of Islamic Studies, p/128
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