10/11/2002 - Religious
- Article Ref: IC0210-1757
Number of comments: 16
By: Jamal A. Badawi Ph.D.
Introduction & Methodology
When dealing with the Islamic perspective of
any topic, there should be a clear distinction between the normative teachings
of Islam and the diverse cultural practices among Muslims, which may or may
not be consistent with them. The focus of this paper is the normative
teachings of Islam as the criteria to judge Muslim practices and evaluate
their compliance with Islam. In identifying what is "Islamic" it is
necessary to make a distinction between the primary sources of Islam (the
Qur'an and the Sunnah) and legal opinions of scholars on specific issues,
which may vary and be influenced by their times, circumstances, and cultures.
Such opinions and verdicts do not enjoy the infallibility accorded to the
primary and revelatory sources. Furthermore, interpretation of the primary
sources should consider, among other things:
- The context of any text in the Qur'an and
the Sunnah. This includes the general context of Islam, its teachings, its
world view, and the context of the surah and section thereof.
- The occasion of the revelation, which may
shed light on its meanings.
- The role of the Sunnah in explaining and
defining the meaning of the Qur'anic text.
This paper is a brief review of the position
and role of woman in society from an Islamic perspective. The topic is divided
into spiritual, economic, social, and political aspects.
I. The Spiritual Aspect
- According to the Qur'an,
men and women have the same spiritual human nature:
O mankind: Reverence your Guardian Lord Who created you from a single
person created of like
A sea of humanity -
men, women & children - praying in the first sanctuary
built for the worship of God.
The Kaba in Makkah
nature his mate and from them twain
scattered (like seeds) countless men and women; reverence Allah through
Whom you demand your mutual (rights) and (reverence) the wombs (that bore
you): for Allah ever watches over you. (Qur'an 4:1)
It is He who created you from a single person and made his mate of like
nature in order that he might dwell with her (in love). When they are
united she bears a light burden and carries it about (unnoticed). When she
grows heavy they both pray to Allah their Lord (saying): "If You give
us a goodly child we vow we shall (ever) be grateful. "(Qur'an 7:189)
(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you
pairs from among yourselves and pairs among cattle: by this means does He
multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Him and He is the One
that hears and sees (all things.) (Qur'an 42:11)
- Both genders are recipients of the
"divine breath" since they are created with the same human and
spiritual nature (nafsin-waahidah):
But He fashioned him in due proportion and breathed into him something of
His spirit. And He gave you (the faculties of) hearing and sight and
feeling (and understanding): little thanks to you give (Qur'an 15:29)
- Both genders are dignified and are trustees
of Allah on earth.
We have honored the children of Adam, provided them with transport on land
and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on
them special favors above a great part of Our Creation. (Qur'an 17:70)
Behold your Lord said to the angels: "I will create a vicegerent on
earth." They said "Will you place therein one who will make
mischief therein and shed blood? Whilst we do celebrate Your praises and
glorify Your holy (name)?" He said: "I know what you do
not." (Qur'an 2:30)
- According to the Qur'an,
woman is not blamed for the "fall of man." Pregnancy and
childbirth are not seen as punishments for "eating from the for
bidden tree." On the contrary, the Qur'an considers them to be
grounds for love and respect due to mothers.
In narrating the story of Adam and Eve, the Qur'an frequently refers to
both of them, never singling out Eve for the blame:
O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the garden and enjoy (its good things)
as you [both] wish: but approach not this tree or you [both] run into harm
and transgression. Then began Satan to whisper suggestions to them
bringing openly before their minds all their shame that was hidden from
them (before): he said "Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you
[both] should become angels or such beings as live for ever." And he
swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he
brought about their fall: when they tasted of the tree their shame became
manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the garden
over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: "Did I not forbid
you that tree and tell you that Satan was an avowed enemy unto you?"
They said: "Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls: if you forgive
us not and bestow not upon us Your mercy we shall certainly be lost."
(Allah) said: "Get you [both] down with enmity between yourselves. On
earth will be your dwelling place and your means of livelihood for a
time." He said: "Therein shall you [both] live and therein shall
you [both] die; and from it shall you [both] be taken out (at last)."
O you children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover your
shame as well as to be an adornment to you but the raiment of
righteousness that is the best. Such are among the signs of Allah that
they may receive admonition! O you children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce
you in the same manner as he got your parents out of the garden stripping
them of their raiment to expose their shame: for he and his tribe watch
you from a position where you cannot see them: We made the evil ones
friends (only) to those without faith. (Qur'an 7:19 27)
On the question of pregnancy and childbirth, the Qur'an states:
And We have enjoined on the person (to be good) to his/her parents: in
travail upon travail did his/her mother bear his/her and in years twain
was his/her weaning: (hear the command) "Show gratitude to Me and to
your parents: to Me is (your final) Goal. (Qur'an 31:14)
We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents: In pain did his mother
bear him, and in pain did she give him birth. The carrying of the (child)
to his weaning is (a period of) thirty months. At length, when he reaches
the age of full strength and attains forty years, he says, "O my
Lord! Grant me that I may be grateful for Thy favour which Thou has
bestowed upon me, and upon both my parents, and that I may work
righteousness such as Thou mayest approve; and be gracious to me in my
issue. Truly have I turned to Thee and truly do I bow (to Thee) in Islam
- Men and women have the same religious and
moral duties and responsibilities. They both face the consequences of
And their Lord has accepted of them and answered them: "Never will I
suffer to be lost the work of any of you be it male or female: you are
members of one another ..."(Qur'an 3:195)
If any do deeds of righteousness be they male or female and have faith
they will enter paradise and not the least injustice will be done to them.
For Muslim men and women and for believing men and women, for devout men
and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and
constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who
give in charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men
and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much
in Allah's praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great
reward. (Qur'an 33:35)
One Day shall you see the believing men and the believing women how their
Light runs forward before them and by their right hands: (their greeting
will be): "Good news for you this Day! Gardens beneath which flow
rivers! To dwell therein for ever! This is indeed the highest
Achievement!" (Qur'an 57:12)
- Nowhere does the
Qur'an state that one gender is superior to the other. Some
mistakenly translate "qiwamah" or responsibility for the family
as superiority. The Qur'an makes it clear that the sole basis for
superiority of any person over another is piety and righteousness not
gender, color, or nationality:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and
made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other. Verily the
most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (one who is) the most
righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted
(with all things). (Qur'an 49:13)
- The absence of women as prophets or
"Messengers of Allah" in prophetic history is due to the demands
and physical suffering associated with the role of messengers and prophets
and not because of any spiritual inferiority.
II. The Economic Aspect
- The Islamic
Shariiah recognizes the full property rights of women before and after
marriage. A married woman may keep her maiden name.
- Greater financial security is assured for
women. They are entitled to receive marital gifts, to keep present and
future properties and income for their own security. No married woman is
required to spend a penny from her property and income on the household.
She is entitled to full financial support during marriage and during the
waiting period ('iddah) in case of divorce. She is also entitled to child
support. Generally, a Muslim woman is guaranteed support in all stages of
her life, as a daughter, wife, mother, or sister. These additional
advantages of women over men are somewhat balanced by the provisions of
the inheritance which allow the male, in most cases, to inherit twice as
much as the female. This means that the male inherits more but is
responsible financially for other females: daughters, wives, mother, and
sister, while the female (i.e., a wife) inherits less but can keep it all
for investment and financial security without any legal obligation so
spend any part of it even for her own sustenance (food, clothing, housing,
III. The Social Aspect
First: As a Daughter
- The Qur'an effectively ended the cruel pre
Islamic practice of female infanticide (wa'd):
When the female (infant) buried alive is questioned for what crime she was
killed. (Qur'an 81 89)
- The Qur'an went further to rebuke the
unwelcoming attitudes among some parents upon hearing the news of the
birth of a baby girl, instead of a baby boy:
When news is brought to one of them of (the birth of) a female (child) his
face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide
himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he
retain her on (sufferance and) contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what
an evil (choice) they decide on! (Qur'an 16:58 59)
- Parents are duty bound to support and show
kindness and justice to their daughters. Prophet Muhammad said:
"Whosoever has a daughter and he does not bury her alive, does not
insult her, and does not favor his son over her, Allah will enter him into
"Whosoever supports two daughters till they mature, he and I will
come in the day of judgment as this (and he pointed with his two fingers
held together)." [Ahmad]
- Education is not only a right but also a
responsibility of all males and females. Prophet Muhammad said:
"Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim ("Muslim"
is used here in the generic meaning which includes both males and
Second: As a Wife
- Marriage in Islam is based on mutual peace,
love, and compassion, not just the satisfaction of man's needs:
And among His Signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves
that you may well in tranquility with them and He has put love and mercy
between your (hearts); verily in that are signs for those who reflect. (Qur'an
(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you
pairs from among yourselves and pairs among cattle: by this means does He
multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Him and He is the One
that hears and sees (all things). (Qur'an 42:11)
- The female has the right to accept or reject
marriage proposals. Her consent is prerequisite to the validity of the
marital contract according to the Prophet's teaching. It follows that if
by "arranged marriage" is meant marrying the girl without her
consent, then such a marriage is nullifiable if she so wished.
"Ibn Abbas reported that a girl came to the Messenger of God,
Muhammad, and she reported that her father had forced her to marry without
her consent. The Messenger of God gave her the choice ...(between
accepting the marriage or invalidating it). "(Ahmad, Hadeeth no.
2469). In another version, the girl said: "Actually I accept this
marriage but I wanted to let women know that parents have no right to
force a husband on them." [Ibn Majah] 3. The husband is responsible
for the maintenance, protection, and overall headship of the family (qiwamah)
within the framework of consultation and kindness. The mutual dependency
and complementary of the roles of males and females does not mean
"subservience" by either party to the other. Prophet Muhammad
helped in household chores in spite of his busy schedule.
The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years if the
father desires to complete the term. But he shall bear the cost of their
food and clothing on equitable terms. No soul shall have a burden laid on
it greater than it can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on
account of her child nor father on account of his child. An heir shall be
chargeable in the same way if they both decide on weaning by mutual
consent and after due consultation there is no blame on them. If you
decide on a foster mother for your offspring there is no blame on you
provided you pay (the mother) what you offered on equitable terms. But
fear Allah and know that Allah sees well what you do. (Qur'an 2:233)
The Qur'an urges husbands to be kind and considerate to heir wives even if
they do not like them.
O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will.
Nor should you treat them with harshness that you may take away part of
the marital gift you have given them except where they have been guilty of
open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and
equity. If you take a dislike to them it may be that you dislike a thing
and Allah brings about though it a great deal of good. (Qur'an 4:19)
Prophet Muhammad taught:
" I command you to be kind to women ..."
"The best of you is the best to his family (wife) ..."
Marital disputes are to be handled privately between the parties whenever
possible, in steps (without excesses or cruelty). If disputes are not
resolved then family mediation can be resorted to.
Divorce is seen as the last resort, which is permissible but not
encouraged. Under no circumstances does the Qur'an encourage, allow or
condone family violence or physical abuse and cruelty. The maximum allowed
in extreme cases is a gentle tap that does not even leave a mark on the
body while saving the marriage from collapsing.
- Forms of marriage dissolution include mutual
agreement, the husband's initiative, the wife's initiative (if part of her
marital contract, court decision on the wife's initiative (for a cause),
and the wife's initiative without a "cause" provided that she
returns the marital gift to her husband (khul' [divestiture]).
- Priority for custody of young children (up
to the age of about seven) is given to the mother. A child later chooses
between his mother and father (for custody purposes). Custody questions
are to be settled in a manner that balances the interests of both parents
and well being of the child.
Question of Polygyny (Polygamy)
- One of the common myths is to associate
polygyny with Islam as if it were introduced by Islam or is the norm
according to its teachings. While no text in the Qur'an or Sunnah states
that either monogamy or polygyny is the norm, demographic data indicates
that monogamy is the norm and polygyny is the exception. In almost all
countries and on the global level the numbers of men and women are almost
even, with women's numbers slightly more than men.
As such, it is a practical impossibility to regard polygyny as the norm
since it assumes a demographic structure of at least two thirds females,
and one third males (or 80 percent females and 20 percent males if four
wives per male is the norm!). No Islamic "norm" is based on an
- Like many peoples and religions, however,
Islam did not out law polygyny but regulated it and restricted it. It is
neither required nor encouraged, but simply permitted and not outlawed.
Edward Westermarck gives numerous examples of the sanctioning of polygyny
among Jews, Christians, and others.
- The only passage in the Qur'an(4:3) which
explicitly mentioned polygyny and restricted its practice in terms of the
number of wives permitted and the requirement of justice between them was
revealed after the Battle of Uhud in which dozens of Muslims were martyred
leaving behind widows and orphans. This seems to indicate that the intent
of its continued permissibility is to deal with individual and collective
contingencies that may arise from time to time (i.e., imbalances between
the number of males and females created by wars). This provides a moral,
practical, and humane solution to the problems of widows and orphans who
are likely to be more vulnerable in the absence of a husband/father figure
to look after their needs: financial, companions, proper rearing, and
If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans
marry women of your choice two or three or four; but if you fear that you
shall not be able to deal justly (with them) then only one ...(Qur'an 4:3)
- All parties involved have options: to
reject marriage proposals as in the case of a proposed second wife or to
seek divorce or khul' (divestiture) as in the case of a present wife who
cannot accept to live with a polygynous husband.
While the Qur'an allowed polygyny, it did not allow polyandry (multiple
husbands of the same woman). Anthropologically speaking, polyandry is
quite rare. Its practice raises thorny problems related to the lineal
identity of children, and incompatibility of polyandry with feminine
Third: As a Mother
- Kindness to parents (especially mothers) is
next to worship of Allah:
Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to
parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in you life say not to
them a word of contempt nor repel them but address them in terms of honor. (Qur'an
And We have enjoined on the human (to be good) to his/her parents: in
travail upon travail did his/her mother bear him/her and in years twain was
his/her waning: (hear the command) "Show gratitude to Me and to your
parents: to Me is (your final) destiny." (Qur'an 31:14)
are accorded a special place of honor in Hadeeth too:
A man came to the Prophet Muhammad asking: O Messenger of Allah, who among
the people is the most worthy of my good companionship? The Prophet said,
your mother. The man said then who is next: the Prophet said, Your mother.
The man further asked, Then who is next? Only then did the Prophet say, Your
father. (al Bukhari)
Fourth: As a Sister in Faith(Generally)
- According to the Prophet Muhammad's saying:
"Women are but sisters (or the other half) of men (shaqa'iq).
- Prophet Muhammad taught kindness, care, and
respect of women in general:
"I commend you to be kind to women"
Fifth: Issue of Modesty and Social Interaction
- There exists, among Muslims a big gap between
the ideal of the real. Cultural practices on both extremes do exist. Some
Muslims emulate non Islamic cultures and adopt the modes of dress,
unrestricted mixing and behavior resulting in corrupting influences of
Muslims and endangering the family's integrity and strength. On the other
hand, in some Muslim cultural undue and excessive restrictions is not
seclusion are believed to be the ideal. Both extremes seem to contradict the
normative teachings of Islam and are not consistent with the virtuous yet
participative nature of the society at the time of the Prophet Muhammad.
- Parameters of proper modesty for males and
females (dress and behavior) are based on revelatory sources (the Qur'an and
authentic Sunnah) and as such are seen by believing men and women as
divinely based guidelines with legitimate aims, and divine wisdom behind
them. They are not male imposed or socially imposed restrictions.
- The notion of near total seclusion of women is
alien to the prophetic period. Interpretation problems in justifying
seclusion reflect, in part, cultural influences and circumstances in
different Muslim countries.
IV. The Legal/Political Aspect
- Both genders are entitled to equality before
the law and courts of law. Justice is genderless.
Most references to testimony (witness) in the Qur'an do not make any
reference to gender. Some references fully equate the testimony of males and
And for those who launch a charge against their spouses and have (in
support) no evidence but their own their solitary evidence (can be received)
if they bear witness four times (with an oath) by Allah that they are
solemnly telling the truth; And the fifth (oath) (should be) that they
solemnly invoke the curse of Allah on themselves if they tell a life. But it
would avert the punishment from the wife is she bears witness four times
(with an oath) by Allah that (her husband) is telling a lie; And the fifth
(oath) should be that she solemnly invokes the wrath of Allah on herself is
(her accuser) is telling the truth. (Qur'an 24:69)
One reference in the Qur'an distinguishes between the witness of a male and
a female. It is useful to quote this reference and explain it in its own
context and in the context of other references to testimony in the Qur'an.
O you who believe! When you deal with each other in transactions involving
future obligations in a fixed period of time reduce them to writing. Let a
scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe
refuse to write as Allah has taught him so let him write. Let him who incurs
the liability dictate but let him fear his Lord Allah and not diminish aught
of what he owes. If the party liable is mentally deficient or weak or unable
himself to dictate let his guardian dictate faithfully. And get two
witnesses out of your own men and if there are not two men then a man and
two women such as you choose for witnesses so that if one of them errs the
other can remind her. The witnesses should not refuse when they are called
on (for evidence). Disdain not to reduce to writing (your contract) for a
future period whether it be small or big: it is just in the sight of Allah
more suitable as evidence and more convenient to prevent doubts among
yourselves; but if it be a transaction which you carry out on the spot among
yourselves there is no blame on you if you reduce it not to writing. But
take witnesses whenever you make a commercial contract; and let neither
scribe nor witness suffer harm. If you do (such harm) it would be wickedness
in you. So fear Allah; for it is Allah that teaches you. And Allah is well
acquainted with all things. (Qur'an 2:282)
A few comments on this text are essential in
order to prevent common misinterpretations:
- It cannot be used as an argument that there
is a general rule in the Qur'an that the worth of a female's witness is
only half the male's. This presumed "rule" is voided by the
earlier reference (24:69) which explicitly equates the testimony of both
genders in the issue at hand.
- The context of this passage (ayah) relates
to the testimony on financial transactions which are often complex and
laden with business jargon. The passage does not make a blanket
generalization which would otherwise contradict 24:69 cited earlier.
- The reason for variations in the number of
male and female witnesses required is given in the same passage. No
reference was made to the inferiority or superiority of one gender's
witness or the other's. The only reason given is to corroborate the
female's witness and prevent unintended errors in the perception of the
business deal. The Arabic term used in this passage (tadhilla) means
literally "loses the way," "gets confused or errs."
But are females the only gender that may err and need corroboration of
their testimony. Definitely not, and this is why the general rule of
testimony in Islamic law is to have two witnesses even if they are both
males. This leaves us with only one reasonable interpretation that in an
ideal Islamic society as envisioned by Islamic teachings the female
members will give priority to their feminine functions as wives, mothers,
and pioneers of charitable works. This emphasis, while making them more
experienced in the inner function of the family and social life, may not
give them enough exposure and experience to business transactions and
terminology, as such a typical Muslim woman in a truly Islamic society
will not normally be present when business dealings are negotiated and if
may present may not fully understand the dealings. In such a case,
corroboration by two women witnesses helps them remind one another and as
such give an accurate account of what happened.
- It is useful to remember that it is the duty
of a fair judge, in a particular case, to evaluate the credibility,
knowledge and experience of any witness and the specific circumstances of
the case at hand.
- The general rule in social and political life
is participation and collaboration of males and female in public affairs:
The believers, men and women, are protectors one of another; they enjoin
what is just and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice
regular charity, and obey Allah and His apostle. On them will Allah pour His
mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise. (Qur'an 9:71)
- Now there is sufficient historical evidence of
participation by Muslim women in the choice of rulers, in public issues, in
lawmaking, in administrative positions, in scholarship and teaching, and
even in the battlefield. Such involvement in social and political affairs
was done without losing sight of the complementary priorities of both
genders and without violating Islamic guidelines of modesty and virtue.
- There is no text in the Qur'an or the Sunnah
that precludes women from any position of leadership, except in leading
prayer due to the format of prayer as explained earlier and the headship of
state (based on the common and reasonable interpretation of Hadeeth).
The head of state in Islam is not a ceremonial head. He leads public prayers
in some occasions, constantly travels and negotiates with officials of other
states (who are mostly males). He may be involved in confidential meetings
with them. Such heavy involvement and its necessary format may not be
consistent with Islamic guidelines related to the interaction between the
genders and the priority of feminine functions and their value to society.
Furthermore, the conceptual and philosophical background of the critics of
this limited exclusion is that of individualism, ego satisfaction, and the
rejection of the validity of divine guidance in favor of other man-made
philosophies, values, or "ism." The ultimate objective of a Muslim
man or woman is to selflessly serve Allah and the ummah in whatever
- Textual injunctions on gender
equity and the prophetic model are sometimes disregarded by some if not
most Muslims individually and collectively. Revision of practices (not
divine injunctions) is needed. It is not the revelatory Qur'an and the
Sunnah that need any editing or revision. What needs to be reexamined are
fallible human interpretations and practices.
- Diverse practice in Muslim countries often
reflect cultural influences (local or foreign), more so than the letter or
spirit of the Shariiah.
- Fortunately, there is an emerging trend for
the betterment of our understanding of gender equity, based on the Qur'an
and Hadeeth, not on alien and imported un-Islamic or non-Islamic values and
not on the basis of the existing oppressive and unjust status quo in many
parts of the Muslim world.
- The term equity is used instead of the common
expression 'equality" which is sometimes mistakenly understood to mean
absolute equality in each and every detailed item of comparison rather than
the overall equality. Equity is used here to mean justice and overall
equality of the totality of rights and responsibilities of both genders. It
does allow for the possibility of variations in specific items within the
overall balance and equality. It is analogous to two persons possessing
diverse currencies amounting, for each person to the equivalence of US$1000.
While each of the two persons may possess more of one currency than the
other, the total value still comes to US$1000 in each case. It should be
added that from an Islamic perspective, the roles of men and women are
complementary and cooperative rather than competitive.
- The Sunnah refers to the words, actions, and
confirmations (consent) of the Prophet Muhammad in matters pertaining to the
meaning and practice of Islam. Another common term which some authorities
consider to be equivalent to the Sunnah is the Hadeeth (plural: Ahadeeth)
which literally means "sayings."
- In both Qur'anic references, 15:29 and 32:99,
the Arabic terms used are basharan and al Insaun both mean a human being or
a person. English translations do not usually convey this meaning and
commonly use the terms "man" or the pronoun" him" to
refer to "person" without a particular gender identification.
Equally erroneous is the common translation of Bani Adam into "sons of
Adam" or "men" instead of a more accurate term "children
- A common question raised in the West is
whether a Muslim woman can be ordained as a priest as more
"liberal" churches do? It should be remembered that there is no
"church" or "priesthood" in Islam. The question of
"ordaining" does not arise. However, most of the common
"priestly" functions such as religious education, spiritual and
social counseling are not forbidden to Muslim women in a proper Islamic
context. A woman, however, may not lead prayers since Muslim prayers involve
prostrations and body contact. Since the prayer leader is supposed to stand
in front of the congregation and may move forward in the middle of crowded
rows, it would be both inappropriate and uncomfortable for a female to be in
such a position and prostrate, hands, knees and forehead on the ground with
rows of men behind here. A Muslim woman may be an Islamic scholar, In the
early days of Islam, there were several examples of female scholars who
taught both genders.
- Islamic Shariiah recognizes the full property
rights of women before and after marriage. This contrast with the legal
provisions in Europe which did not recognize the right until nearly 13
centuries after Islam. "By a series of acts starting with the Married
Women's Property Act in 1879, amended in 1882 and 1997, married women
achieved the right to won property and to enter into contracts on a par with
spinsters, widows, and divorcees." See Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968,
vol. 23, p. 624.
- In the event of a family dispute, the Qur'an
exhorts the husband to treat his wife kindly and not to overlook her
positive aspects. If the problem relates to the wife's behavior, her husband
may exhort her and appeal for reason. In most cases, this measure is likely
to be sufficient. In cases where the problem continues, the husband may
express his displeasure in another peaceful manner by sleeping in a separate
bed from hers. There are cases, however where a wife persists in deliberate
mistreatment of her husband and disregard for her marital obligations.
Instead of divorce, the husband may resort to another measure that may save
the marriage, at least in some cases. Such a measure is more accurately
described as a gentle tap on the body, but never on the face, making it more
of a symbolic measure than a punitive one. Following is the related Qur'anic
Men are the protectors and maintains of women because Allah has given the
one more (strength) than the other and because they support them from their
means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in (the
husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on
whose part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them (first),
(next) refuse to share their beds (and last) beat them (lightly); but if
they return to obedience seek not against them means (of annoyance): for
Allah is Most High, great( above you all). (Qur'an 4:34)
Even here, that maximum measure is limited by the following:
- It must be seen as a rare exception to the
repeated exhortation of mutual respect, kindness and good treatment
discussed earlier. Based on the Qur'an and Hadeeth, this measure may be
used in the case of lewdness on the part of the wife or extreme
refraction and rejection of the husband's reasonable requests on a
consistent basis (nushuz). Even then other measures such as exhortation
should be tried first.
- As defined by the Hadeeth, it is not
permissible to strike anyone's face, cause any bodily harm or even be
harsh. What the Hadeeth qualified as dharban ghayra mubarrih or light
beating was interpreted by early jurists as a (symbolical) use of the
miswak (a small natural toothbrush).
They further qualified permissible "beating" as beating that
leaves no mark on the body. It is interesting that this latter fourteen
centuries old qualifier is the criterion used in contemporary American
law to separate a light and harmless tap or strike from
"abuse" in the legal sense. This makes it clear that even this
extreme, last resort and "lesser of the two evils" measure
that may save the marriage does not meet the definitions of
"physical abuse," "family violence," of "wife
battering" in the twentieth century laws in liberal democracies,
where such extremes are commonplace that they are seen as national
- Permissibility of such symbolical
expression of the seriousness of continued refraction does not imply its
desirability. In several Ahadeeth, Prophet Muhammad discouraged this
measure. Among his sayings: "Do not beat the female servants of
Allah," "Some (women visited my family complaining about their
husbands (beating them). These (husbands) are not the best of you,"
"[Is it not a shame that], one of you beats his wife like [an
unscrupulous person] beats a slave and maybe he sleeps with her at the
end of the day." See Riyad Al Saliheen, op cit., pp. 130 140. In
another Hadeeth, the Prophet said:
"How does anyone of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion
camel and then he may embrace (sleep with) her?" Shaheeh Al Bukhari,
op. cit., vol. 8, Hadeeth no. 68, pp. 42 43.
- True following of the Sunnah is to follow
the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who never resorted to that measure
regardless of the circumstances.
- Islamic teachings are universal in nature.
They respond to the needs and circumstances of diverse times, cultures,
and circumstances but unnecessary in others. Some measures may work in
some cases, cultures, or with certain persons but may not be effective
in others. By definition a "permissible" it is neither
required encouraged, or forbidden. In fact, it may be better to spell
out the extent of permissibility such as in the issue at hand, than
leaving it unrestricted and unqualified or ignoring it all together. In
the absence of strict qualifiers, persons may interpret the matter in
their own way lending to excesses and real abuse.
- Any excess, cruelty, family violence, or
abuse committed by any "Muslim" can never be traced, honestly,
to any revelatory text (Qur'an and Hadeeth). Such excesses and
violations are to be blamed on the person(s) himself as it shows that he
is paying lip service to Islamic teachings and injunctions and is
failing to follow the true sunnah of the Prophet.
- For more details on marriage dissolution and
custody of children, see A. Abd al Ati, Family Structure in Islam,
Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1977, pp. 217 49.
- For more details on the issue of polygyny, see
Jamal A. Badawi, Polygyny in Islamic Law, Plainfield, IN: American Trust
Publications, also Islamic Teachings (audio series), Islamic Information
Foundation, 1982, album IV.
- For more details on the issue of polygyny, see
Edward A. Westermarck, The History of Human Marriage, 4th ed.( London:
Macmlllan, 1925), vol 3, pp. 42 43; also Encyclopedia BibRca, Rev. T. K.
Cheyene and J. S. Black, eds.)(London: Macmillan, 1925), vol. 3, p 2946.
I. The Qur'an
1. The Holy
Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary by A. Y. Ali, The American Trust
Publication, Plainfield, IN 1977.
2. Matn al Bukhari, Al
Bukhari (compiler), Dar Ihya al Kutub al Arabiyah, Cairo, Egypt, n.d.
3. Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Hanba l(compiler),
Dar Ihya' al Kutub al Arabiyah, Cairo Egypt, 1950 and 1955.
Riyadh al Saliheen, Al Nawawi, (compiler) New Delhi, India n.d.
Al Bukhari, M. Khan (translator), Maktabat Al Riaydh Al Hadeethah, Riyadh,
Saudi Arabia 1982.
6. Silsilat Kunuz Al Sunnah: Al Jami al Sagheer,
1st ea., 1410 AH, a computer software.
7. Sunan Ibn Majah, Dar Ihya al Kutub al Arabiyah,
1. Al Martah wa Huququha fi al Islam, M. S. Aftfi,
Maktabat AlNadhhah, Cairo: 1988.
2. Holy Bible, RSV, American Bible Society, New
3. Encyclopedia Biblica, vol. 3, Rev. T. K.
Cheyene and J. S. Black, editors, London: Machollan, 1925.
4. Encyclopedia Britanica, Vol. 23, 1968
5. The History of Human Marriage, vol. 3, Edward
A. Westermarck, London: Macmillan, 1925
Source: World Assembly of Muslim Youth