Marriage and Relationships Women and Islam

The Role and the Status of Women in Islam

MARCH 1985 ROLE & STATUS OF WOMEN IN ISLAM 39 THE ROLE AND THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN ISLAM By Mostafa Sabet (Being the text of an address delivered in the Annual Convention of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Western Canada, held in May 1984 at Calgary, Alberta, Canada.) The subject of the status of women in Islam can be discussed from several angles. One approach is to show the miserable status of women before the advent of Islam and then to explain the high status to which women were raised through Islam. This approach, in my opinion, is not the best, as it does not necessarily prove the superiority of the status of women in Islam but rather proves the in- feriority of women in pre-Islamic era. If we were to prove the solidi- ty and strength of an element by comparing it with the strength of glass, the comparison will not help much in appreciating the strength of that element. It could rather be misleading. But if we prove that an element is stronger than steel, then the listener can clearly ap- preciate the strength of the element in question. Thus in my exposition, I intend to compare the status of women in Islam with the status of women in a country or a culture where women have presumably enjoyed all human rights and achieved the highest status they can think of. It is generally believed that it is very difficult to find that women have achieved this kind of status except in the Western civilization. It is often boastfully claimed that women in the West under the Judeo-Christian tradition or culture have ‘almost1 enjoyed equality with man. So, in order to appreciate the high status of women in Islam, let us compare it with the status of women in North America under the Judeo-Christian culture and tradition. In the second chapter of Genesis, we read as follows in the Bible about the story of Creation: “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him'” (Gen. 2:18). Then after the curse which befell man, according to the Bible God told the woman: 40 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS MARCH 1985 “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception, …, thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16). This in a nut-shell summarizes the status of women in the Judeo- Christian culture: The woman was created to be a helper for man. She ought to live in sorrow because of God’s curse on her. Accord- ingly, her desire shall be to her husband and he shall rule over her. This verdict was believed to be in operation for thousands of years until this contemporary century of ours. Women have been treated like animals as they were considered to be created only for man’s ser- vice and pleasure. Woman is thus believed to be without a soul and she cannot know love and affection but only have a desire to her husband as if woman is not endowed with feelings of love, sympathy, mercy and affection. Woman’s place in society was always subordinate to man because “he shall rule over her”, according to the Bible. Compare this with the purpose of creation of women as presented by the Holy Quran: “And one of His Signs is this, that He has created wives for you from among yourselves that you may find peace of mind in them, and He has put love and tenderness between you. In that surely are Signs for a people who reflect” (30:22). How vast is the difference between the desire instinct which drives a woman to her husband according to the Bible, and the bond of love and tenderness which joins a man and his wife in order to achieve peace of mind according to the Holy Quran! Again, according to the Bible, the role of man was that of a ruler over woman, but the Holy Quran explains the role of man in the following verse: “Men are guardians with respect to women” (4:35). The Arabic word translated as guardians in the verse is Qawwa- moona, which refers to a person who is taking care of someone or looking after him or after his affairs or protecting or guarding some- one. Thus the relationship between man and woman in Islam is that in which a woman feels safe and secure. Man has to look after her, care for her, protect her and stand on guard after her safety and security. This superior relationship between man and woman in Islam applies through all the stages of woman’s life—as a daughter, as a wife and as a mother. MARCH 1985 ROLE & STATUS OF WOMEN IN ISLAM 41 Referring to daughters, the Holy Prophet has said: “He who is blessed with three daughters, educates them, looks after them properly and brings them up to be righteous women, God will reward him by admitting him into Paradise.” Referring to wives, the Holy Prophet says: “The best among you is he who is best to his wife.” Referring to mothers, again, the Holy Prophet has said: “Paradise is found under the feet of mothers” meaning that one can be admitted to Paradise by virtue of being a good guardian with respect of his mother. I have not come across similar teachings in my study of the Bible. It is true that the fifth commandment says: “Honor thy father and thy mother”, but it does not explain the manner or the form of honoring mothers. The matter is left open to individuals according to the fashion or the traditions of their day. No wonder we see that ‘Homes For The Elderly’ are jammed with helpless elderly people living their last days in solitude, away from their loved ones who consider it to be doing them honor by isolating them in such homes in exchange for financial compensation. How fortunate indeed is the Muslim elderly mother who lives in an Islamic society where the true teachings of Islam are practiced. She lives all her life looked after and cared for by her children who seek to enter Paradise through do- ing their utmost for her comfort. And how miserable the condition of an elderly mother who lives in the so-called free world under the Judeo-Christian tradition. She may spend her last days confined to a home for the elderly, lingering helplessly until the moment of death finally comes. If this is the miserable end awaiting most of the elderly mothers, then what did the women’s liberation movement achieve? In this regard, let me quote a few lines from a recent article: “The women’s liberation movement has come a long way. Women have probably agitated for social change since the begin- ning of history.” The writer, of course, seems to be completely ignorant of the high status enjoyed by women in Islam. He continues: “But the traceable, formal beginning of the American Women’s Liberation Movement occured at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848”. (That is to say after more than 1260 years since Muslim 42 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS MARCH 1985 women have enjoyed their rights.) “It was the first women’s rights meeting in America and it drew about 250 women and 40 men. It was at this convention that the first phase of the women’s libera- tion movement took shape in the daring step to ask for suffrage. That was all that the women were striving to achieve at that time—the right to vote—as if they had already achieved their basic human rights other than the right to vote. Let us now continue with the article to see what miserable status women of Europe and North America were living in, even until the twentieth century, that is, 1300 years after the advent of Islam: “Considering the American historical background, asking for the right to vote was a big step. For women, marriage was “civil death” in that her person and property were then owned by her husband, a concept rooted in English Common Law and carried to this country by the colonists. The same concept was brought by other European immigrants.” Here we see that the concept of a husband owning the person and property of his wife was rooted in English Common Law. In fact this tradition did not originate in the British society but became an in- tegral part of the English Common Law since it was deeply entrench- ed in the Judeo-Christian tradition. After all, this tradition originated in the Bible. Paul confirmed this tradition when he said that man is the head of woman as Christ is the head of the Church. This meant firstly that woman does not have a head of her own but man is her head. Secondly that the relationship between man and woman is like that between Christ who is believed to be “God the Son” and the Church; and as God is the Owner of the person and property of His servants, so does man own the person and property of his wife. Compare this cruel attitude towards women with the superior teachings of the Holy Quran revealed about 1300 before women’s liberation movement started. The Holy Quran says: “They are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them” (2:188). This is what the relationship should be between a husband and a wife, as garments cover up the faults and defects, provide warmth, security against the elements, provide beauty and comfort; similarly each spouse should be like a garment to his or her partner. It is not a ruler-servant relationship nor owner-slave affiliation as depicted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which to a certain degree still exist in North America to this day. Let us now continue with that interesting article about the history MARCH 1985 ROLE & STATUS OF WOMEN IN ISLAM 43 of women’s liberation movement. It says: “In 1868 the 14th Amendment extended the right to vote to only male citizens. Two years later, (1870) black males achieved suffrage through the 15th Amendment. It took another half a cen- tury before women won the right to vote. That occured in 1920 with the 19th Amendment. The first phase of the movement was over.” That was all what the western woman has achieved after thousands of years of enslavement to man and 72 years of striving since the initiation of women’s liberation movement: the right to vote. Otherwise, her inferior status remained virutally the same. Compare this to the rights Muslim women enjoyed more than 1300 years before women in the West won their right to vote. The Muslim woman had the right to challenge the highest authority, the head of state, if she felt that she was right and he was wrong. This was exact- ly what happened in the time of Hazrat Umar, the third Khalifa, when he was challenged by a woman from among his audience who objected to what he was saying. There and then, the great Khalifa admitted his error and uttered the well-known sentence: ‘ ‘The woman is right and Umar is wrong”. Once again we go to this article and read: “A new vitality and era of optimism ushered in the second phase of the women’s movement, beginning in the early sixties and conti- nuing to this day.” To this day women are still striving to win their rights. But the rights women have won only in the past 20 years, have been granted to Muslim women for more than 13 centuries. The article says: “In this current phase, women have achieved many goals in the area of education and employment. Under pressure, Congress enacted a series of laws beneficial to women. Among those laws were the Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, passage of Equal Rights Amendment which was subsequently sub- mitted to the States for ratification and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 banning sex discrimination in education”. Today, after 3500 years since the revelation of the Law of Moses, after almost 2000 years since the advent of Christ, after a long strug- gle and phase after phase of women’s liberation movement, the western woman in North America, under Judeo-Christian tradition, has achieved what was granted to Muslim women about 1400 years ago. The principle of the Equal Pay Act which the Congress in the 44 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS MARCH 1985 U.S.A. has enacted under pressure in 1964, is found in the Holy Quran where God says: “I will allow not the work of any worker from among you, whether male or female, to be lost” (3:196). The principle of banning sex discrimination in education which was enforced through Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was already guaranteed to Muslim females by the Holy Prophet Muhammad as he said: “Seeking knowledge is a right and obligation for every Muslim male and female.” I already mentioned that a man can be admitted to Paradise by virtue of the education and good upbringing of three daughters. In spite of all these rights which the western women have achieved, still they have not achieved the rights granted to Muslim women 1400 years ago. Let me briefly give some examples of areas where Muslim women have enjoyed the rights which the western women, under Judeo-Christian tradition, are still deprived of: 1. In marriage: A Muslim woman can demand her marriage to be dissolved, she has the right to keep all her personal property but she has to give back to the husband his dowery. Usually there is a waiting period of 3 months after divorce. Women in Canada uptil 1984 were not able to obtain a divorce ex- cept for three specific reasons: Cruelty, adultery and irreconcilable differences. There was a waiting period of 3 years before granting a divorce. The new amendments of the family laws which were presented by the Federal Government as one of the election goodies have reduced the waiting period to one year but have obliged the woman to give half of her property to the husband. In Islam, Muslim woman is protected against premarital exploita- tions. Man does not have the right to be intimate with his fiancee before marriage is consummated. Under Judeo-Christian tradition, western woman is not protected from such exploitation. In Islam there is no minimum age for a girl to marry as long as she is ready by nature. Thus chastity of women can be guarded through early marriage if the need arises. A western girl cannot legally get married before the age of 18. For several years after attaining puber- ty, to guard their chastity western girls generally fight a losing battle. MARCH 1985 ROLE & STATUS OF WOMEN IN ISLAM 45 Usually they fall in the way with a result of thousands and thousands of illigitimate children and scores of organizations using tax-payer money to care for these children, to look after single mothers and to launch campaigns to educate the girls on how to indulge in sex without getting pregnant. 2. The Right of Inheritance. The right of inheritance is guaranteed to a Muslim woman. She can inherit her father, brother, son and husband. In Judeo-Christian tradition, the first born male inherits everything. Up till this day there is no law to guarantee the share of a woman in inheritance. It is up to the man to include or exclude his wife, daughter, sister or mother from his will. 3. In Business: Muslim woman enjoys the privilege of being cared for by her hus- band. Islam puts the responsibility of providing for the family on the shoulders of man. The woman is not obliged to spend out of her wealth. The husband has no right to his wife’s income or inheritance without her permission. No such privileges are enjoyed by western women by religious injunction. Woman in Islam has the right to manage her own wealth. A woman in some western countries cannot get a loan from a bank without her husband’s consent. Until the seventies, woman in Canada was not able to have credit without ap- proval of her husband or father. Before I conclude, I would like to point out some of the dreadful maladies which plague women in western societies, all of which are based on the exploitation of women in every form and manner. The tragedy is that woman in the West is victimized by man who exploits her and treats her as merely a sex object. To top it all, man was able to convince the woman that these ills and maladies are but rights and privileges for her to enjoy. For example, in western society a woman has the “right” to dress or undress the way she likes, she can cover herself or walk about half-naked. She can enjoy basking in the sun wearing a bikini or wearing only her own make-up. But this is not a privilege. This is a degradation of the status of women. The women in savage and uncivilized tribes used to do exactly the same. They used to go about also half-naked. When man was in the animal stage he used to roam about naked but when he became civilized he put on decent clothes. It is but a mere deception a woman is subjected to by being told that to be free she can cut short her clothes and bare more 46 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS MARCH 1985 than what she covers. If this is freedom, then animals and insects are the most free creatures as they do not wear clothes at all. Another so-called privilege the western women were made to believe is a free mixing with the other sex. In fact Muslim women are often accused of being backward because they do not mix freely with men. But what is the result of free mixing between men and women in the western society? Broken homes, destroyed marriages, rapes, adultery, crime, and the list goes on and on. Is this civilization? If so then animals are very civilized because they also mix freely but without causing homes to break or marriages to be destroyed. The third so-called privilege which is rampant in western society is the freedom the girls experience in their relations with males. This practice is known as ‘dating’. But what is the result of such a prac- tice? Venereal diseases, illigitimate children, prostitution, humilia- tion of girls in tender ages. Girls are used and abused in the name of freedom to satisfy the carnal desires of man, and if a girl refrained from such degrading and animalistic practices she is usually accused of having a sick mentality or living in the past or not liberated. That is why one may see in western societies the so-called liberated men and women practicing shamelessly all kinds of indecencies in the street, in a park, in a subway or in a bus. If this is liberation then what is the difference between the liberated men and women in the western societies who indulge in such practice publicly and the bulls and cows in the field or the roaming dogs and bitches which do the same act publicly in the street? Islam condemns all such practices which degrade and humiliate women. Women in Islam enjoy a very high status. Women in Islam are to be treated tenderly with kindness and affection. Women in Islam are to be looked after and cared for. Women in Islam are to be protected and have the right to enjoy comfort and security. Women in Islam have their share in inheritance. Women in Islam have the right to education and acquiring knowledge. Women in Islam are very fortunate because they are truly the free and liberated-women. As to the unfortunate women living in the western societies under the shackels of Judeo-Christian tradition, I say: ‘Do not despair! The Promised Messiah has come to spread Islam in the whole world, to grant you life and bestow upon you true freedom. One day you will also be liberated, not by struggling through women’s liberation movements but through the wonderful teachings of Islam’. THE AHMADIYYA MOVEMENT The Ahmadiyya Movement was founded in 1889 by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the expected world Reformer and the Promised Messiah. The Movement is an embodiment of true and real Islam. It seeks to unite mankind with its Creator and to establish peace throughout the world. The present Head of the Movement is Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad. The Ahmadiyya Movement has its Headquarters at Rabwah, Pakistan, and is actively engaged in missionary work at the following centers: AHMADIYYA MUSLIM MISSIONS AFRICA: BENIN: P.O. Box 69, Portonova. GAMBIA: P.O. Box 383 Banjul. Tel. 608 GHANA: P.O. Box 2327, Accra (OSU New Estates). Tel: 76845 IVORY COAST: Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, 03 BP 416, Adjame-Abidjan 03. KENYA: P.O. Box 40554, Nairobi (Fort Hall Road.). Tel: 264226. Telex: do 22278. LIBERIA: P.O. Box 618, Monrovia (9 Lynch Street). MAURITIUS: P.O. Box 6 (Rose Hill). NIGERIA: P.O. Box 418, Lagos (45 Idumagbo Avenue). Tel: 633 757. SIERRA LEONE: P.O. Box 353, Freetown, Tel: 40699/22617 SOUTH AFRICA: Mr. M.G. Ebrahim, P.O. Box 4195, Cape Town (Darut-Tabligh-il Islami). TANZANIA: P. O. Box 376, Dares Salaam (Libya Street). Tel: 21744 UGANDA: P.O. Box 98, Kampala. ZAMBIA: P.O. Box 32345, Lusaka. AMERICAS: CANADA: Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, 1306 Wilson Ave., Downsview, Ont. M3M 1H5. Tel: (416) 249-3420 GUYANA: Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, 198 Oronoque and Almond Streets, P.O. Box 736, Georgetown. Tel: 02-67634 SURINAM: Ahmadiyya Muslim Misssion, Ephraimszegenweg, 26 P.O. Box 2106, Paramaribo. TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: Freeport Mission Road, Upper Carapichaima, Trinidad, W.1. U.S.A.: 2141 Leroy PI. N.W., Washington, DC 20008. Tel: (202) 232-3737. Cable: ISLAM. AUSTRALIA: Dr. Ijazul Hague, 19 Brom Borough Road, Rose-Ville 2069 N.S.W., Sydney. ASIA: BANGLADESH: 4 Baxi Bazar Road, Dacca-1. BURMA: 191-28th Street, Rangoon. FIJI: P.O. Box 3758, Samabula (82 Kings Road), Suva. Tel: 38221 INDIA: Darul Masih, Qadian. Tel: 36. INDONESIA: Jalan Balikpapan 1, No. 10, Djakarta Pusat 1/13. Tel: 36 5342 JAPAN: Ahmadiyya Center, 643-1 Aza Yamanoda, O-Aza Issha, Idaka-cho, Meito- Ku, Nagoya 465, Tel. 703-1868 PAKISTAN: (Headquarters) Rabwah, Distt. Jhang. PHILIPPINES: Haji M. Ebbah, Simunal, Bongao, Sulu. SINGAPORE: 111 Onan Rd., Singapore 15. SRI LANKA: Colombo M.E.M. Hasan, 24 San Sebastin Street, Ratnum Road, Colombo 12. EUROPE: BELGIUM: Maulvi S. M. Khan, 76 Av. du Pantheon Bte 5 1080, Brussels. DENMARK: Eriksminde Alle 2, Hvidovre- Copenhagen. Tel: 753502 GERMANY: Die Moschee, Babenhauser, Landstrasse, 25, Frankfurt. Tel: 681485. HOLLAND: De Moschee, Oostduirlaan, 79, Den Haag. Tel: (010-3170) 245902 Telex: 33574 Inter NLA 30C NORWAY: Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, Frognerveine 53, Oslo-2. Tel. 447188 SPAIN: Mission Ahmadiyya del Islam, Mezquita Basharat, Pedro Abad, near Cordoba, Tel. 160750 Ext. 142 SWEDEN: Nasir Moske Islams Ahmadiyya Forsamling, Tolvskillingsgatan 1. S-414 82 Goteborg, Sverige. Tel: 414044 SWITZERLAND: Mahmud Moschee, 323, Forschstrasse 8008, Zurich. Tel: 535570. Telex: 58378 MPTCH Islam 374/XA UNITED KINGDOM: 16 Gressenhall Road, London SW18 5QL Tel: 01-870 8517. Telex: 28604 Ref. 1292 i nThe Review of Religions is the oldest magazine of its kind which began its publication in the English language in the tndo-Pakistan Subcontinent. Its first issue was published in 1902 from Qadian, India, and it has been continuously published since. It is currently being published in the U.S.A. It bears the distinction that it was initiated under the direction of Hazrat Mirza Ghularn Ahmad of Qadian, the Promised Messiah, himself. . ‘. . During the more than eighty-two years, the message of Islam has been conveyed through this magazine to hundreds of readers and many fortunate persons have recognized the truth of Islam and accepted it through studying it. The articles published in it deal not only with the doctrines and teachings of Islam but also set forth, a comparative appreciation of the teachings of other faiths. One of its outstanding features is the refutation of the criticism of Islamic teachings by orientalists and non- Muslim scholars. It also presents solutions, in the light of Islamic teachigs, of the problems with which the Islamic world is confronted from time to time. A study of this magazine is indispensable for the appre- ciation of the doctrines of the Ahmadiyya Movement and the teachings of its Holy Founder.