• Date: 2010 Jun 26

The Woman in Islam

 Before plunging into this discussion, we must mention a few points:
1- For a realistic understanding of the fundaments of Islam, a primary careful examination of the Quranic verses, the undistorted narrations of the Holy Prophet of Islam (S.A.W.) and the impeccable Imams (A.S.) and their life becomes imperative.
One must not analyse the dictates of Islam on the basis of the action of some Muslims at a certain time or place. For instance, if some Muslims abuse the woman's rights, this injustice should not be attributed to Islam. Likewise, it would be wrong to affirm that Islam has ignored the legitimate rights of the woman on hearing or observing that somewhere or at a certain period, the Muslims have been denying the woman her legitimate rights. When one observes Islamic tenets being negated in some Muslim lands, which prefer rather to copy Western cultures, one should not conclude that the governing laws agree with Islam, even if millions of Muslims do follow these Westernized ways.
Again, the distortions, carried so often to extremes and the wrong conceptions of the Westerners cannot be attributed to the religion of Jesus Christ (A.5.). We know that some Christian sects hold that the woman is not a full human being and that she is a link between animals and mankind or that her soul (excepting that of Virgin Mary) is
not eternal, eternal salvation being the prerogative of man alone. These far fetched conceptions cannot be attributed to Christ's teachings. So also, it would be totally wrong to associate the reigning corruption and prostitution in the Western world with Christianity.
2- Civil and Penal Laws are framed while considering the average normal citizen of a society and exceptions have no room here. There are in fact very few constitutional articles which are based on exceptions. Thus, if there are exceptional cases which contravene existing laws, these laws cannot be called invalid. One cannot blame the legislator when such cases do crop up.
3- The religious laws and precepts, do not only preserve the order of society and safeguard its material interests, but also take stock of the spiritual and intellectual aspects. It would be wrong to imagine that Islamic injunctions bother themselves only with worldly interests.
In fact, how can one suppose that the Exalted Legislator-Almighty God, Who has given utmost importance to man's eternal salvation and Who has, so splendidly exhibited the spirit of Tawhid (Divine Unity) and Divine worship in all the manifestations of life, has neglected the spiritual aspect, giving sole importance to what is material?
This however does not imply that in the sacred teachings and precepts of this perfect Divine religion, the material is totally absent. Indeed, how can one believe that God-the Almighty Legislator, Who has established such a perfect balance between body and soul to fulfil the goal of creation and has made of this world a farm where man sows the seeds of his eternal life and reaps the fruits in the hereafter according to his deeds and beliefs in this world, could have neglected the material aspects in the religious teachings of this sacred religion.
We should be invariably mindful that God has created man in this earthly world so that he can attain perfection for which he has been ordained in the evolutionary course of his life. His earthly life is the foundation for his eternal life. His beliefs, ways and deeds in this world will directly determine his eternal life, a life of salvation or chastisement as the case may be.
Divine Legislation directs man, in the course of his life, to recognize the straight path in the light of Divine Guidance and instructions so that journeying on that divinely illuminated path, he can reach the ideal destination. Man by instinct, like the animal, fails to recognize and distinguish between good and evil. This explains his need for Divine Legislation as a discussion on prophecy would reveal.
Thus, man's instincts do not help him to differentiate between right and wrong in this earthly world, affecting life in both the worlds. His intellect also fails to satisfy this purpose of creation.
The human brain, limited in its capacity, cannot foresee all things which bring salvation, in particular, salvation in the next world-eternal life. Having not yet entered the next world, the human intellect fails to perceive the means, conditions and causes which bring prosperity and salvation in that world, or the obstacles on the way to eternal salvation. Due to this, man often fails to distinguish between good and evil in the course of his life, preventing him from directing his actions in the way of eternal salvation. That is why he becomes in need of Divine revelation by the One Who has command over all lives, affairs and Who Knows the ins and outs of the apparatus of creation.
So, both Divine Creation and Divine Legislation have one goal. Each complements the other. It is obvious that the Creator of man Who places him on the Divine Path in nature through guidance and instructions about Divine Creation and Legislation so that he may attain the ideal, does so for man's progress and well-being. He is the One and Only, the All-Knowing and All-Seeing, whether it stands in relation to the material, the spiritual or the world after.
Is there anyone besides God, the One and Only, Who can be All-Knowing and All-Seeing and Who can frame regulations governing man's life in such a comprehensive way which covers all aspects, whether material or spiritual?
Hence, we can state that Mohammad (S.A.W.), the Seal of all Prophets, was sent Divine Revelation which he communicated to mankind so that the latter through Divine Guidance, can attain an ideal state of perfection and well-being in both worlds and that this Revelation does not err in the least.
So, anyone who considers himself a Muslim and who believes Islamic injunctions to be defective and inadequate in meeting society's needs, or that they are relevant only at a certain time or place, is either definitely ignorant of the fundaments of Islam, or lacks the intellect for its understanding.
4- With the conflicting opinions and thoughts ever since the beginning of man's history and the continuous advance in some fields of knowledge, we know that the ideal, the highest stage of perfection, has till now not yet been experienced by man. At no period of time, and in no places, has he been able to grasp all the mysteries and truths of creation. At present, scientists are perplexed by many mysteries and realities of creation which they have not yet come to solve. And no one, in his right mind, can claim that man will not gain new fields of knowledge. Some have foolishly asserted that man of the atom age has solved all the mysteries of creation. Yet, it has been a long time since they have realized how baseless their assertions have been.
One cannot expect to understand all the puzzles of creation. The same as we do not understand the enigmatic being of a human, we certainly cannot expect to understand the complex system of Divine Legislation in regard to the material, the physical, the intellectual and other worldly aspects.
No doubt, new mysteries will become known to man of the future, the same way the unknown of the past few centuries have become the known to contemporary man. And still, there are mysteries yet to be discovered by man and there are others which go beyond his understanding.
5- The fact remains that the invaluable collection of Islamic teachings, comprising beliefs, morals, and individual and social rules is an electuary healing the pains and ailments of society and ensuring salvation of man in this world and the hereafter. Yet it shouldn't be concluded that Islamic injunctions and rules will all by themselves bring the ideal result under any condition. And hence, statements like, "This rule of Islam is anachronistic to our contemporary society" must be avoided. The time factor must not be attributed to Islamic dictates and these must not be thought defective.
Careful examination will reveal that if an Islamic dictate seems apparently ineffective (if at all it is), this is due to a neglect of other Islamic dictates, inadequate religious education, moral and spiritual decadence in our present society and not because Islamic laws are defective or are limited to a certain period of time or place.
Concerning the woman's position in Islam, it is to be noted that Islam regards the woman as an independent, perfect member of society and places no difference between her and the man as far as human virtues go.
Islam maintains that salvation will be attained only through piety, virtue, knowledge and good deeds. As says the Holy Quran:
"یا ایها الناس انا خلقناکم من ذکر و انثی و جعلناکم شعوبا و قبائل لتعارفوا ان اکرمکم عندالله اتقاکم" (الحجرات:13)
"O you men! surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other, surely the most honourable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful (of his duty)." (49: 13)
"انی لا اضیع عمل عامل منکم من ذکر أو أنثی بعضکم من بعض" (آل عمران: 195)
"I will not waste the work of a worker among you, whether male or female, the one of you being from the other. " (3:195)
Therefore, Islam does not differentiate between the virtuous, dutiful man and the woman possessing the same qualities. In Islamic society, the woman has the right to own and sell property, to inheritance, to seek knowledge and even to engage in legitimate trade. In Prophet Mohammad's (S.A.W.) time, there was a woman named Zeinab 'Aattaare who sold perfumes and had the Prophet as one of her clients. In Islam, the woman can also take part in social activities in so far as her participation is consistent with chastity and virtue:
"فلا جناح علیکم فیما فعلن فی أنفسهن بالمعروف" (البقرة: 234)
"There is no blame on you for what they do for themselves in a lawful manner," (2:234)
In Early Islam, the women used to accompany the Muslim combatants (Mujahedeen) to the war fronts and helped in cooking and nursing the wounded and so forth.
There however does exist certain differences between the rights and duties of both sexes in Islam. For instance, only the men can engage in the administration of justice, in governing, and embarking on Jihad (excluding defence). Also, the woman's share in inheritance is half against that of the man. The right to divorce and polygamy under certain conditions belong to man alone. The woman must obey her husband in the marital relations and that is why she should not leave her home without prior permission from him. The latter on his part, should support his wife and provide her with the necessities of life to the best of his financial capacity. In some cases even, Islam says that, if necessary, the husband must employ a servant for his wife.
In Islam, the duty of house-keeping like laundry, cooking, cleaning and even child-rearing does not necessarily belong to the woman and she can claim a salary from her husband in return for such tasks.
All these are considered legal in Islam. Again, when religious training and Islamic morality is encouraged, the family enjoys peace, pleasure, respect, mutual love, affection and sincerity. Obviously, in those families, educated and trained in accordance with Islamic precepts and values, few cases of dispute are reported.
Now, we should see whether Islam contradicts the natural order when it differentiates between the man and the woman as far as their rights go. As said before, a proper understanding of this question would necessitate a careful examination of the demands of both sexes' innate dispositions in view of their rights and duties. The time factor however does not permit a detailed explanation of this. So we shall be content with giving only a brief account, hoping that in future, an elaborate discussion can be presented.
As common experiences have proved, man is physically and intellectually superior to the woman who herself is more emotional. Hence, jobs demanding more of intellect and where emotions are impediments should go to man as per the natural order. This must be so because it is the rulers and judges who must preserve the rights of all classes in society. If emotions are allowed to permeate government and judgement, then the rights of many will be violated by the authorities in charge.
So, government and legal judgement should lie where reason dominates over feelings. But one should not conclude that the mere fact of being a man, is the sole criterion for governing and exercising judicial functions. Other conditions which have been explained in Islam must also be satisfied. We rather mean that considering both sexes, man is naturally born for certain activities. Thus, when Islam makes such a distinction between them, it can in no way be said to be oppressive to the women or debasing to their values and dignity. The same must be said when Islam calls the man to be the bread -earner, or the warrior. Man cannot take this to be derogatory to his status and values. These Islamic dictates aim at ensuring cooperation and mutual assistance for society's order and interests, through a proper usage of the divinely bestowed gifts to all human beings, no matter their sex.
Since man is physically and mentally superior, he should indulge in social activities calling for these two qualities, while the woman, being more emotional, should undertake duties like house-keeping and child-rearing so that she can bring up pious and dutiful children.
As mentioned, the Omnipotent Creator, in view of the family being the core of society, has provided us with conditions which would establish its foundation. For instance, the natural sex magnetism, to unite into a lifelong companionship where peace and happiness can be sought. The family also awakes that innate nature, namely the natural affection that any human being feels towards its offspring. The illuminating religion of Islam considers family life to be of great significance. In Islam, the woman brings mental peace and happiness and the mutual affection between the couples is in accordance with the natural order.
" و من آیاته أن خلق لکم من أنفسکم أزواجا لتسکنوا إلیها و جعل بینکم مودة و رحمة" (الروم: 21)
"And one of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest in them, and He put between you love and compassion." (30:21)
This verse makes clear the harmony that exists between Divine Legislation in the natural order of creation and human nature. Now we should see what laws and regulations should be framed in relation to the demands and requirements of the family institution.
The vital significance of the family society can be understood through meditation on the Quranic verses, which significance has been testified and confirmed by researchers and sociologists.
The family comprising these two main elements, namely man and woman, calls for their mutual cooperation and provides for their needs. In reality, both of them together form one body, enabling the tree of humanity to grow and eventually bear fruit. So, it is through cooperation that the couple can nurture and educate the seed of their fruits.
No doubt, man's natural role in the process of reproduction differs from that of the woman. His is instantaneous while hers is time-consuming and painful. A woman cherishes this fruit inside her body for several months, nurturing it with the juice of her life and after child-birth, she embraces it as she would her own life and soul, suckles it and instinctively, sacrifices rest, comfort and peace for it.
Really, would not we be oppressing the woman, if apart from the heavy duties that womanhood entails, we do impose the arduous, exhausting duties of the man upon her? Does the natural order call the woman to leave her child in nurseries and go struggling for a living? What will the woman do with her breasts full of milk? How should she tolerate being separated from her child since her motherly love and affection can bring insanity to her if such a painful separation does occur? Should not the man be the one to financially support the family to compensate the woman for the heavy ordeal of pregnancy, child-birth, suckling, nurturing and the other duties that come with motherhood? Should the man think selfishly of satisfying his sexual desires and forget all about the woman's heavy burden and duties? Can it correctly be affirmed that the woman's sexual promiscuity thereby killing all her motherly feelings, benefit her since by so indulging, she frees herself from natural and innate bonds? Can it be claimed that when we deny the child motherly affection, a divinely bestowed gift, making of the family a cold and lifeless unit (as so often is the case with western countries, especially America), is a fundamental step towards reforming society and securing women's rights? Can such actions which go against the natural order benefit society?
Answers to these questions can easily be found if one looks at the ever-increasing social miseries, sufferings and the mind-blowing statistics on suicide, murder, theft, and so on in the western world and at the pains of the apparently so-called civilized world as a result of its being deprived of the comfort, mental peace and happiness of family life.
As a famous orientalist says: "The pleasure that a Muslim derives from kissing his child is not imaginable to many westerners, because in the civilized world of today, few men are positive that their children are really their own." He adds: "I do not think that the westerners can bear to see the easterners enjoying this privilege. Perhaps they will take it away from them soon."
Those who are illusioned with the industrialized world of the westerners, and allow themselves to be subject to their poisonous propaganda, still imagine the west to be like paradise, that anything western is worthy of commendation and imitation. These people, upon realizing their wrong conceptions, will regret painfully. But this painful realization, however, comes to them too late, i.e. when the person or the family has already been ruined through continuous deviations.
As a matter of fact, many western scientists and writers are beginning to realize the harm done by such misconceptions of life and values and are now directing efforts at solving this dilemma. Unfortunately, western societies, in corruption and immorality, have already reached a state of no return.
As states an American writer: "To remove these problems, it is necessary to reform and strengthen the family life and once more, put into practice the useful principles and rules which once governed the happiness of the family members and nations and which have been lost now. Women should obey and respect their husbands while the latter should love their wives and observe their respective rights."
An English woman writes: "I wish our country were like the Muslim countries, where an atmosphere of chastity and purity has embraced even the bondswomen. Really, why isn't such an atmosphere encouraged in our society where I women, as per their nature, would engage in house-keeping, leaving outdoor jobs to men, whereby safeguarding their own honour?
Here we recommend those who upon witnessing the western cabarets and other centres of corruption, argue that scientists and inventors like Pasteur, Edison and Einstein are products of such centres of corruption to at least take a glance at the unprejudiced investigations and writings of some western researchers, scientists, writers and publications. By so doing, they might recognize the value of Islamic teachings and not give away the divinely bestowed, invaluable gift that is Islam.
Now, having shown that the social rules should be so formulated as to be in accordance with human nature, it becomes clear that child-rearing and house-keeping are duties which should go to the woman. On the other hand, those duties which accord with man's natural constitution, such as the duty of supporting the family should be reserved to him. Thus, the family unit which guarantees the survival of the human race and nurtures competent, pious individuals will serve its purpose in the best way. When we regard the duties of both sexes, we see that the greater share of man in property inheritance is quite just and moreover, in reality, the woman does share this property with him. In this connection, can it be said that Islam violates the woman's rights? We leave it to the just to answer this question.
We should further not neglect to mention that man has not been merely created for material and sexual pursuits. Rather, the sexual instinct is one among many endowed in human nature for the attainment of certain goals, though one should not neglect one's sexual instinct for satisfying other instincts by going to extremes.
Nor is it proper to undermine all humane virtues and supreme goals of creation so as to satisfy the sexual instinct. Today, many are the sexual perverts, who in their vain attempt to satisfy their sadistic sexual desires, supposedly fight for the emancipation and freedom of the woman. Their only aim is to satisfy their sexual desires while watching the exposed bodies and painted faces of the' women and indulge in illegitimate, anti-human sexual relations with them. But Islam which looks at all matters from all possible angles and recognizes only the truth, distinguishing between good and evil, strictly prohibits unchastity and sexual exploitation of women, regarding this to be detrimental to humane virtues and the family.
Islam commands the woman to cover herself from head to toe once she leaves her house and outside the family environment (according to many Islamic jurisprudents, the covering of the face and hands up to the wrists is not necessary). This is so to prevent men other than her husband, or close relatives with whom marriage is prohibited, such as brothers, uncles and so on from seeing her physique. The woman outside the family environment must also not use make-up so as to attract the men and engage in coquetry in any way. As says the Holy Quran:
" ولیضربن بخمرهن علی جیوبهن و لا یبدین زینتهن" (النور: 31)
"And let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms and not display their ornaments." (24: 31)
"فلا تخضعن بالقول فیطمع الذی فی قلبه مرض" (الاحزاب: 32)
"Then be not soft in (your) speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease yearn," (33:32)
Islam also regards the right to divorce as exclusive to man. To understand why that is so, we must consider the following basic points:
On one hand, the preservation of the family institution is of vital importance while on the other hand, there are factors which do cause disagreement and discord in the family, so that the couple finds life unbearable together. Here, it becomes important for the marriage contract to be terminable. The woman, being by nature more emotional and quick to take offence, is likely to misuse the right of divorce had it rested with her. Being hurt for a trivial reason, out of emotions, she can ruin the family by a misuse of this right.
The rising rate of divorce in European and American societies are clear testimonies to this fact. As statistics reveal, at least one out of every five marriages in America, ends in divorce and eighty percent of the appeals for divorce come from women, on petty excuses. Therefore, man, a more rational and less emotional animal, has a right claim to the right of divorce.
Yet, in Islam, divorce is regarded as a bitter medicine which should not be applied except in extreme cases with hard conditions and careful observance of the rights of both parties. In the Quranic verses pertaining to divorce, Allah- the Compassionate strictly addresses men, giving them Instructions, advices, admonitions and warning them not to misuse this right:
" وإذا طلقتم النساء فبلغن أجلهن فأمسکوهن بمعروف أو سرحوهن بمعروف و لاتمسکوهن ضرارا لتعتدوا و من یفعل ذلک فقد ظلم نفسه و لا تتخذوا آیات الله هزوا واذکروا نعمة الله علیکم و ما أنزل علیکم من الکتاب و الحکمة یعظکم به واتقوا الله و اعلموا أن الله بکل شیء علیم" (البقرة: 231)
"And when you divorce women and they reach their prescribed time, then either retain them in good fellowship or set them free with liberality, and do not retain them for injury, so that you exceed the limits, and whoever does this, he indeed is unjust to his own soul; and do not take Allah s communications for a mockery, and remember the favour of Allah upon you, and that which He has revealed to you of the Book and the Wisdom, admonishing you thereby, and be careful (of your duty to) Allah, and know that Allah is the Knower of all things." (2:231)
Thus, if one observes an abuse of the right to divorce, one should understand that this is a result of deviation from the teachings of the Quran and not because the Islamic dictates are defective in any way. This deviation is effected by those who keep the people away from Islamic teachings and keep them busy with corruptive entertainments like pornographic films, immoral publications .…..
Another right given to man by Islam is the right to polygamy. Now let's see whether this is an extreme idea and against the natural order, or whether it benefits society and accords with nature. The following points will help in giving a better understanding:
1- Man becomes potentially reproductive in early puberty and till late in his life, he is able to fulfil his own role in reproduction, while the woman usually becomes barren after the age of fifty.
Thus, a twenty-year-old male married to a fifteen-year-old female will presumably be potentially reproductive for a thirty-five year period. After this period, the man will still be potentially reproductive until the age of ninety. However, the woman won't be so in the second phase of her marital life. There will thus be no ground for rearing the seeds put man’s loins by nature.
2- Man faces no natural obstacle, whether seasonal or non-seasonal in his reproductive functions. But the woman is subject to these natural obstacles which hinder her reproductive role even at a very early age, such as menstruation which occurs monthly and lasts for a few days and all through her menstruation, the woman is not fit for sexual coitus.
In addition, during pregnancy, when the womb is nurturing the foetus as well as a few weeks after conception, the woman's reproductive organs cannot rear new seeds and that is so also in many cases during the suckling phase.
3- It is harmful for a woman to have sexual intercourse at the time when her womb is not ready for impregnation. Hence, Islam has prohibited sexual intercourse during the menstruation and Lochia period. Obviously, if in such cases, men are not allowed to satisfy their sexual urge in a legitimate way, they may seek illegitimate relations, in particular, those men living in tropical countries and those who are sexually hot-blooded.
4- Girls naturally become ready for marriage several years earlier than boys, and this difference is so pointing that while determining the legal age of marriage, this fact has to be taken into account.
Thus, even if we suppose that both sexes are equal in number (though the number of women mostly exceeds that of the men), still we have to admit that there will invariably be more females of marriageable age than males.
5- Since man is more likely to be exposed to dangers like war, mine accidents, explosions and the like, there are invariably many widowed women and many girls who are ready for marriage but remain unmarried. As in Germany and some other countries where, though many years have passed since the end of World War II, its effects are still being felt, explaining the reason for the high number of those who are in favour of polygamy in those regions.
The above facts and taking notice that the natural goal of the marriage institution is the survival of the human race and the magnification of the human generation, clearly show why Islam allows polygamy for men. However, it should be noted that in Islam, the prescription for polygamy is subject to the perfect observance of justice among the wives. That is, Islam holds that a man is allowed to practice polygamy on condition that he can treat all his wives on an equal basis. Moreover, Islam has also presented ways which can enable the woman to restrict this right of man as well as his right to divorce.
It is known by all that in countries where the law of polygamy is not officially recognized, actually men do not content themselves with one wife and indulge in illegitimate extra-marital promiscuous relations (single and double adultery), whether temporary or permanent. In a lecture given at a gathering of members from the churches of Germany, Isaac Teeler disclosed this fact. He said: "It is true that apparently the Christians do not marry more than one woman, but we know that how heinously they engage in illegitimate extra marital relations in secret."
Moreover, in such Christian communities, homosexuality is shamefully so common, as in England where presumably this satanic act is considered somewhat more disgraceful than it is in other western countries. The 'Kenzy' and 'Lefindon' reports and others on this issue reveal how the so-called aristocrats indulge in this shameful act which has so often ended in suicide and murder.
It is indeed extremely surprising that in countries where "concubinage"- (practice of living as man and wife when not lawfully married) is not legally prohibited, abnormal sex is the rule. Again, more shocking still, is the fact that in spite of such rampant corruption and sexual deviations in these countries, they are still pessimistic about polygamy and temporary marriage-factors which aim at checking corruption and adultery.
Reference: The Book, "Status of Women in Islam"; Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi
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