Women in Islamic Law
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Women are legally disadvantaged by Islamic law in several in several domains of life. Particularly, women are disadvantaged in matters of sexual, domestic, legal, financial, sartorial, and physical autonomy. According to Islamic legal theory, while not all of Islamic law necessarily has a perceptibly rational basis, legal restrictions on women may be due to their supposed intellectual deficiency, which was pronounced by Muhammad according to Sahih Bukhari.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is obligatory in the Shafi'i madhab and encouraged by the remaining three madhabs, namely the Hanafi, Hanbali, and Maliki. Salafi scholars also encourage the practice. In universally conceiving of FGM as being either an obligatory or favorable practice, the schools of Islamic law agree that prohibiting FGM altogether would not be acceptable, as this would be tantamount to contravening God's law. Views on the specific type of FGM required or permitted vary within and between the madhhabs. Some modern Islamic scholars have dissented from the favorable consensus of the Islamic tradition and ruled it to be unlawful.
Restrictions on choice
Prohibition on marrying non-Muslim men
Islamic jurisprudence only allowed a Muslim woman to marry a Muslim man, based on their interpretation of the Qur'an. This injunction has been the cause of great personal grief for inter-faith couples and even the spark of violence and honor killings. According to all schools of Sunni and Shi'a jurisprudence, a non-Muslim man must either convert in order to marry a Muslim women or the couple must be seperated.
This ruling, derived from a verse in the Qur'an and for which there was scholarly consensus, is designed to ensure that a Muslim wife and her future offspring continue to follow the religion of Islam, lest a non-Muslim husband enforces his views on the family.
Muslim men have fewer restrictions - they are permitted to marry Muslim women and people of the Book (Jewish and Christian women).
In recent times, some modernists have argued that the classical view does not necessarily follow from the Qur'anic verses and that Muslim women should be given more freedom, though in both the scholarly and lay communities this remains a decidedly fringe view vis-a-vis the traditional view.
Forcing a female to marry someone against her explicit wishes is forbidden in Islam. Nevertheless Shari'ah does not apply these protections to children. This failure to protect children has two aspects:
1. A father or guardian must ask the consent of his virgin daughter before offering her in marriage, based on a well known sahih hadith. However, according to that same hadith, if she remains silent when asked, offering no explicit acceptance, this counts as consent (Sahih Muslim 8:3303,Sahih Muslim 8:3305).
2. A girl is expected to make a life changing decision on marriage while still a child, with very limited experience and utterly dependent on her parents. Child marriages occur all over the world, but especially in Muslim countries that practice Shari'a. The UN regards child marriage as a human rights violation and aims to eradicate it by 2030. The girl is vulnerable to spousal abuse and childhood pregnancy which greatly jeopardizes her health and future.
Muhammad married Aisha at 6, had sex at 9 years of age
Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian Shia religious leader, married a ten-year-old girl when he was twenty-eight.Khomeini called marriage to a prepubescent girl "a divine blessing," and advised the faithful: "Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house."
Speaking about the waiting period for divorce, the Qur'an states:
Polygamy (four wives per husband)
Muhammad's Allowed Wife Limit in the Qur'an
Muhammad on Polygyny for his Son-in-Law Ali
Muhammad was a polygamist, and Islam allows a man to marry up to four wives at any one time:
It is also interesting to note that a Muslim male does not require the permission of his first wife before marrying a second. These articles looks at the various arguments that are often presented in defense this practice and the choices made by Muhammad.
Verse 4:3 is often partially quoted to explain demonstrate a Muslim man may marry up to four women. However, if he cannot deal justly with each of the wives then he is forbidden to marry that many; and can marry only one wife, to prevent treating women unfairly. It is usually then explained that the use of the word "Justice" or "Justly" (depending on which translation is being used) refers to the man's ability to treat each of his wives exactly the same in every regard: not just materially (ie. food, clothing, shelter, time, money, etc..) but also that he must be able to love them all exactly the same. He must be able to feel the same amount of affection and love for each of his wives. If he cannot do this, then, according to (this interpretation of) the Qur'an he cannot marry more than one wife. According to most scholars, however, Qur'an 4:3 has nothing to do with treating your wives equally, but is in fact about orphans and their Mahr. Injustice in this verse is generally understood as being in reference to the financial equality regarding the Mahr (for orphans) and financial viability of having that many wives, not equality between them.
Autonomy of virgins vs. non-virgins
Temporary Mut'ah marriages
Mut'ah is a temporary arrangement whereby a man and a woman enter into a contractual arrangement to marry each other for a specified period of time. The time can be as little as one hour or as long as several years, though most Mutah contracts are for hours or a few days. The man gives the woman something of value, and in exchange he is allowed to enter into sexual relations with her, legally, without committing fornication, since they are "married." At the end of the period specified in the contract, each party walks separate ways and neither is indebted to the other. Mut'ah can thus be seen as a religiously-endorsed form of prostitution. The practice actually dates back to Arabia's pre-Islamic days, and was recorded by the pagan Latin historian Ammianus Marcellinus writing in the 300's.
Mutah is practiced mainly by Shi'ites today, although at one time Muhammad permitted it for all Muslims. This is one of many areas of disagreement between Sunnis and Shi'ites: Sunnis believe Muhammad abrogated Mutah, while Shi'ites disagree and still practice Mut'ah as allowed by Muhammad.
According to Islamic literature, Mutah was first made unlawful by Mohammad on the day of the battle of Khaybar (a battle against a jewish tribe named Khaybar), after apparently being practiced since the conception of Islam. It was then made lawful again on the day of Conquest of Makkah for 3 days by Muhammad, when his companions complained to him their desire for women. From this point, it is disagreed upon between Sunnis and Shias on whether Mutah was made again unlawful by Muhammad or not. However, the practice of Mutah continued in the early Muslim Community by the companions until Umar (the second caliph) forbade it sometime between 13-23 AH. Some of Muhammad's companions however still held the belief that Mutah was never made again unlawful by Muhammad, the most notable of which is Ibn Abbas.
The following quotations regarding Mut'ah marriages are from a Shi'ite Muslim website.
It is not just traveling, that might necessitate Mutah, there are many in society who just does not have the financial ability / standing to get permanent married, yet they still have sexual desires, again Mut'ah is there to ensure that they practice sex within the boundaries set by Allah (swt).Islam is a religion that is suited for all nations and ages. Mut'ah is a good example of that. It is only the Deen of Islam that caters for sexual desire by permitting a legitimate method of control. For others societies the only mechanism that they see as the solution to relieving sexual feelings is through the practice of fornication. In the western world adultery and fornication are common and openly performed. Mut'ah is a way of protecting a person from committing these serious sins and vices.
Islamic scriptures describe the mahr, or primarily financial gift made by a groom to his bride upon a nikah (intercourse) contract, as 'the recompense for your having had the right to intercourse with her'.
The purpose of the mahr is to serve as a payment from a man to a woman for the future sexual relations (nikah) he will have with her. This is further illustrated by the requirement for a mahr in temporary "marriages", the statements of Muhammad, and the fact that a mahr cannot be taken back (except under extenuating circumstances) because the man has availed himself of the service for which it was payment. The Qur'an supports and confirms, rather explicitly, the explanation provided in these sahih hadiths.
The Arabic word for "marriage" is "zawaj". In Islamic law, marriage is considered under the concept of nikah, a legal and financial contract between a male and a female Muslim. Nikah literally means "sexual intercourse".
Domestic obedience and punishment
Saudi feminist Wajeha Al-Huwaider describes the lives of many Arab women as similar to a prisoner. As she puts it, "the Arab woman is a prisoner in her own home, has committed no crime, was not captured in battle, does not belong to any terrorist group."
In the book The Ideal Muslimah, Dr. Muhammad Ali Al-Hashimi notes:
"No human being is permitted to prostrate to another, but if this were permitted I would have ordered wives to prostrate to their husbands, because of the greatness of the rights they have over them."
A woman came to ask the Prophet (PBUH) about some matter, and when he had dealt with it, he asked her, "Do you have a husband?" She said, "Yes." He asked her, "How are you with him?" She said, "I never fall short in my duties, except for that which is beyond me." He said, "Pay attention to how you treat him, for he is your Paradise and your Hell."
How can the Muslim woman complain about taking care of her house and husband when she hears these words of Prophetic guidance? She should fulfil her household duties and take care of her husband in a spirit of joy, because she is not carrying a tiresome burden, she is doing work in her home that she knows will bring reward from Allah.
One of the most important ways in which the Muslim woman obeys her husband is by respecting his wishes with regard to the permissible pleasures of daily life, such as social visits, food, dress, speech, etc. The more she responds to his wishes in such matters, the happier and more enjoyable the couple's life becomes, and the closer it is to the spirit and teachings of Islam.
"It is not permitted for a woman who believes in Allah (SWT) to allow anyone into her husband's house whom he dislikes; or to go out when he does not want her to; or to obey anyone else against him; or to forsake his bed; or to hit him. If he is wrong, then let her come to him until he is pleased with her, and if he accepts her then all is well, Allah (SWT) will accept her deeds and make her position stronger, and there will be no sin on her."
It is a great honour for a woman to take care of her husband every morning and evening, and wherever he goes, treating him with gentleness and good manners which will fill his life with joy, tranquility and stability.`Aisha urged women to take good care of their husbands and to recognize the rights that their husbands had over them. She saw these rights as being so great and so important that a woman was barely qualified to wipe the dust from her husband's feet with her face, as she stated: "O womenfolk, if you knew the rights that your husbands have over you, every one of you would wipe the dust from her husband's feet with her face."
The issue of protecting a man's chastity and keeping him away from temptation is more important than anything else that a woman can do, because Islam wants men and women alike to live in an environment which is entirely pure and free from any motive of fitnah or haram pleasures. The flames of sexual desire and thoughts of pursuing them through haram means can only be extinguished by means of discharging that natural energy in natural and lawful ways.
Muslim apologists will assert that the term "and beat them" speaks only metaphorically. Others insist it means only a simple strike, as with hitting them with a feather or toothpick. Yusuf Ali adds the word 'lightly,' which never appears in the Arabic. Yet, a simple observation of the text shows any of the above to be erroneous.
The text presents a series of progressive disciplinary measures if a man suspects disobedience from his wife:
- Admonish her. Give her a verbal warning regarding her behavior.
- sleep in separate beds from her. This humiliates the woman, for in Islam a woman's worth is measured, in part, by her ability to reproduce offspring, particularly male offspring. Sleeping in a separate bed from the wife dishonors her by limiting her ability to reproduce a male child.
- Beat them. This is the third, most significant step of the progressive discipline process and is expected to be the one that produces the desired result if the first two failed.
Suggestions such as of hitting the woman "lightly" with a toothpick as the most severe disciplinary measure don't seem to follow logically from the steps laid out in the text and lack textual and traditional attestation.
In the most authoritative biography of Muhammad, written by ibn Ishaq, we find the following words of the prophet of Islam:
Ibn Kathir records a hadith that states:
Ibn Kathir further elaborates what constitutes ill conduct:
Scholar Abdul-latif Mushtahiri:
Wife-beating in the Muslim world comes from the teachings of Islamic religious texts such as the Quran and the Hadiths. It has been an accepted part of Islam since its inception. Muhammad himself made attempts to limit the degree of violence, yet nevertheless declared "A man should not be asked why he beats his wife." and according to Aisha, "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!" Domestic violence has been used as a tool to maintain control and dominance over Muslim women, this has created an intensely patriarchal society where men rule women and women must submit to men. This article explores how wife-beating is authorized by the Qur'an and Hadiths along with commentary from Muslim scholars, statistics on wife beating in the Muslim world and common apologetic arguments made by Muslims and responses to them.
This article looks at the mysterious translation of the verb darb (meaning "hit" "beat" or "strike") that has been presented on a few sites which claim to have "modern" translations of the Qur'an and are directed at non-Arabic speakers who lack adequate command of the language.
It has been claimed that the following verse (4:34) does not mean "to beat them," but rather to "separate from them" or to "strike them out."
Beat them and leave/separate/abandon them are different phrases in Arabic. The arabic word idribohunna derived from the root word Darab does not have any other meaning than Beat when it comes to mean "Yadreb Ahadan" = Hit someone. Idriboohunna (أضربوهن) means beat them (for female plural). Adriboo Anhunna (اضربوا عنهن) is the one that means abandon or leave them. According to the Arabic lexicon:
|أضربوهن (used in 4:34)||Idriboohunna||Beat them|
|اضربوا عنهن||Adriboo Anhunna||abandon them, leave them|
Quran 4:34 says Idriboohunna أضربوهن, not Adribu Anhunna اضربوا عنهن. These two phrases have different meanings. All the verses that contain darb against a human are understood to mean "beat" or "strike" that human, by their context, and this is agreed upon by even the sources making these strange claims. Why they then consider verse 4:34 to be a special case and translate "darb" to mean "separate from them" remains a mystery.
Muhammad's instruction and practice
Abu Umamah narrated that :Allah's Messenger said: "There are three whose Salat would not rise up beyond their ears: The runaway slave until he returns, a woman who spends a night while her husband is angry with her, and a people's Imam whom they dislike."
The marriages of female converts and those with apostate husbands are nullified
Based on another Qur'anic verse and numerous hadiths, Islamic jurisprudence has often decreed the break-up of existing marriages when a wife converts to Islam but the husband does not to do so. This ruling, for which there is also classical scholarly consensus, is based on the following verse:
The classical scholars also ruled that if on the other hand a husband converts to Islam, the marriage remains intact so long as his wife is a Christian or Jew. If a Muslim husband or wife leaves Islam, the marriage to his or her Muslim spouse is immediately annulled, though some held that the marriage is unaffected if only the wife leaves the religion, while others said that she becomes the husband's slave.
Requirements for divorce
A wife can ask her husband to divorce her, and if he releases her from the marriage she makes a payment to him of the mahr (dowery) she had received or other agreed payment. This is known as khula'. If he refuses, she can try to get a divorce by judicial decree when there are grounds for which his consent is not required (such as inability or failure to fulfil his marital obligations, desertion, insanity, cruelty).
Ibn Kathir quotes Sahih Muslim:
vs. Requirements for men:
A woman can remarry her first husband only if she marries another man and consummates the marriage with him, then proceeds to divorce that man:
Permissibility of female sexual slavery
Sahih Muslim Chapter 29: IT IS PERMISSIBLE TO HAVE SEXUAL INTERCOURSE WITH A CAPTIVE WOMAN AFTER SHE IS PURIFIED (OF MENSES OR DELIVERY) IN CASE SHE HAS A HUSBAND, HER MARRIAGE IS ABROGATED AFTER SHE BECOMES CAPTIVE
"What the right hand possesses" is a common euphemism in Arabic for a slave or slaves. Ibn Timiyya says in volume 32, p.7 the following:
In the same volume (page 89), Ibn Timiyya says boastfully:
Prohibition on male sexual slavery
In a tafsir explaining surah 23 verses 1-7 of the Qur'an, Abul A'la Maududi explains that women are not allowed to have sex with male slaves and captives.
7: This is a parenthesis which is meant to remove the common misunderstanding that sex desire is an evil thing in itself and satisfying it even in lawful ways is not desirable, particularly for the righteous and godly people. This misunderstanding would have been strengthened had it been only said that the Believers guard their private parts scrupulously, because it would have implied that they live unmarried lives, away from the world, like monks and hermits.
....The law prescribed in the parenthesis is only applicable to men as is clear from the Text. A woman in the time of Hadrat `Umar did not understand this fine point of the language and indulged in sexual gratification with her slave. When her case was brought before the consultative body of the Companions, they gave the unanimous decision: "She misinterpreted the Book of Allah.".... The wisdom of why the slave has been forbidden to the woman is that he can only satisfy her sexual desire but cannot become guardian and governor of herself and her household, which leaves a serious flaw in the family life.
Permissibility of raping captives and slaves
The Qur'an and hadith and, subsequently, Islamic law, all allow men to rape their female slaves, wives (Quran 2:223), and women captured in war. The rape of other then one's slaves is, however, prohibited. Still, several hadiths describe the rape of captive women by Muhammad's companions and his failure to condemn such actions when made known to him. Qur'an chapter 4 verse 24 discusses lawful and forbidden women for Muslim men.
What we see in the beginning of this verse as “forbidden” refers to sexual intercourse. The Qur'an dictates, women already married are forbidden for Muslims except those whom their right hands possess (sex slaves). It is obvious from this verse, a Muslim can have sexual relations with his slave-woman.
Al-'Azl, (العزل) also known as coitus interruptus, is the practice of having sexual intercourse with a woman but withdrawing the penis before ejaculation. This was an important topic for Muhammad and his companions as evidenced by the abundance of Hadith material on the subject. According to Muhammad, when raping a captive, it's better if you do not pull out the penis at the end.
Prohibition on forcing slaves into prostitution
The slave women are 'forgiven' for what they were forced to do by the slave owner, but no punishment is prescribed for this action.
According to the ahadith and sira, Umar bin Al-Khattab, a companion of Muhammad, wished that Muhammad would reveal verses from Allah requiring women to wear the hijab. When Muhammad did not oblige, Umar followed Muhammad's wives out at night and in the dark when they went to go to the toilet and made his presence known, later informing the prophet that he had spied his wives relieving themselves in the dark, and that had his wives been cloaked in a garment such as the hijab, he would not have been able to identify the women as being the prophet's wives. Having heard of this, Muhammad received the revelation that Umar had requested, and the verses of the hijab were sent down from Allah.
Modesty valued more than life
In the Muslim holy city of Mecca in March 2002, fifteen teenage girls perished in a fire at their school when the Saudi religious police, the muttawa'in, wouldn't let them out of the building, because in the female-only school environment, they had shed the all-concealing outer garments that Saudi women must wear in the presence of men. They had not put these garments back on before trying to flee from the fire. The muttawa'in preferred that they die rather than transgress Islamic law, and actually battled police and firemen who were trying to open the school's doors and to save the girls. 
Value of testimony
Half value of testimony in general
Insufficient value of testimony of rape victim
In March 2007, a 19-year-old Saudi woman received a sentence of 90 lashes. Her crime? A man threatened to tell her father that they were having an affair unless she met him alone. When she did, she was kidnapped and repeatedly raped, after which her brother beat her because the rapes brought shame to the family. Rather than giving her justice, a Saudi court sentenced her to be lashed ninety times because she had met a man alone who was not related to her. Fuziyah Al Ouni, a feminist activist, said she was outraged by the case. 'By sentencing her to 90 lashes they are sending a message that she is guilty.'
"In 2004, a sixteen-year old girl, Atefeh Rajabi, was hanged in a public square in Iran. Her crime? Rajabi was charged with adultery -- which probably means she was raped. Her rapist was not executed. Rajabi told the mullah-judge, Haji Rezaii, the he ought to punish men who rape, not their victims." The judge both sentenced and personally hanged Rajabi because, in addition to her crime, he said that she had "a sharp tongue."
On November 1, 2008 a 13-year-old girl in Somalia was stoned to death after being raped by three men. She was unable to produce the required four witnesses to the rape and was therefore accused of adultery as required by Shari'a law. It was reported that the girl begged for mercy before being buried waist high in the ground and pummeled to death by a mob of 1,000.
Islamic law restricts the validity of a woman's testimony, particularly in cases involving sexual immorality. And Islamic legal theorists have limited it even farther, in the words of one Muslim legal manual, to "cases involving property, or transactions dealing with property, such as sales." In other judicial areas only men can testify. It is virtually impossible, therefore, to prove rape in lands that follow these Sharia provisions. If the required male witnesses can't be found to exonerate her (four men who testify to seeing the actual crime, according to the Qur'an), the victim's charge of rape can become an admission of adultery. That accounts for the grim fact that as many as seventy-five percent of the women in prison in Pakistan are, in fact, behind bars for the crime of having been raped.
Sex Segregation in Islam
Islam generally prohibits free-mixing between men and women. It is argued that direct references for this prohibition can not be found in either the Qur'an or the Sunnah of the Prophet; but this can not mean that such conduct is permissible in Islam. As a complete way of life, Islam has not failed to address the matter. Various scholars of Islam have formulated their opinions on this matter and acknowledged the practice of free-mixing as a crime punishable under Shari'ah laws. All of the Jurists have sourced their views from the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the prophet, using these as the basis of their argument. Under Islamic law, it is not permissible for women to freely mix or socialize with non-Mahram men who are not her husband (Mahram i.e. those whom marriage is prohibited in Islam, include fathers, uncles, brothers and close blood relatives) under any circumstances. Islamic scholars are unanimous on this matter.
Prohibition on being alone with men
A women who walks or goes out unaccompanied or in the company of a man who is neither their husband nor a close relative is at risk of arrest on suspicion of prostitution or other "moral offences" in certain majority-Muslim countries.
In February 2008, an American businesswoman of Jordanian descent was arrested in Saudi Arabia after being found by the religious police sitting in the family area of a Starbucks with a male business associate. They had been working together at their nearby office when power was lost, and they decided to go to Starbucks to use the wireless internet. She was released from jail a day later, bruised and crying after being detained and beaten for being in the presence of another man not a relative.
Adult suckling permits co-mingling
In Islamic societies gender segregation is a common practice to avoid any form of adultery. Thus men and women are not advised to stay in the same room if they are alone, and any adult woman is required to wear a veil in public. Only if men and women are closely related (Mahram) or married is there no need for gender segregation and hijab. However, it is obvious that the strict application of Islamic law may cause some trouble and difficulties to daily life, particularly concerning business. Some scholars today and historically have suggested a way around this:.
Dr. Atiyya, the head of the Hadith Department in Al-Azhar University, repeatedly declared that the sources he quoted belonged to the Islamic holy texts with the highest possible authority. According to him, no fewer than 90,000 contemporary scholars confirmed that the hadith referred to is authentic.
- Section on FGM in the standard manual of Shafi'i law
- Lane's Lexicon بَظْرٌ
- Leeman, Alex B. (2009) "Interfaith Marriage in Islam: An Examination of the Legal Theory Behind the Traditional and Reformist Positions," Indiana Law Journal: Vol. 84 : Iss. 2 , Article 9. pp.754-759 Available at: http://ilj.law.indiana.edu/articles/84/84_2_Leeman.pdf and https://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/ilj/vol84/iss2/9
- Verses on Interfaith Marriage: Still Binding? Archive of islamonline.net
- Why a Muslim Woman Is Not Allowed to Marry a Non-Muslim Man
- Muslim Women Can Marry Outside The Faith - Blog on Huffington Post by Junaid Jahangir
- The Marriage of Mut'ah: Introduction: Preface - Answering Ansar
- Dr. Muhammad Ali Al-Hashimi - The Ideal Muslimah (chapter 4) - MSA West.net
- Sirat Rasul Allah, ibn Ishaq, A. Guillaume, translator. Oxford University Press, 1955, page 651.
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir - Qualities of the Righteous Wife - Tafsir.com
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir - Dealing with the Wife's Ill-Conduct - Tafsir.com
- Quoted in: The Veil of Equality and Justice: Section 2 - Answering Islam
- Sunan Ibn Majah 3:9:1986 (graded Hasan)
- "...so when Allah's Apostle came, 'Aisha said, "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!"..." - Sahih Bukhari 7:72:715
- Quran 4 the World - Quran 4:34 (Daryabadi)
- "arabic-lexicon" (page in Arabic language)
- Stories of Women who Became Muslim and Left their Non-Muslim Husbands - IslamQA.info
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol 1, page 633
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol 2, page 601
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir (abridged), Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri et al, translators (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2000), vol 1, p. 635.
- Christopher Dickey and Rod Nordland - The Fire That Won't Die Out - Islamawareness, 2002
- Saudi gang-rape victim faces 90 lashes - Khaleej Times Online, March 5, 2007
- Alasdair Palmer - Death and the maiden in Iran - The Telegraph, August 29, 2004
- Raped girl, 13, stoned to death news24.com,2008-11-01
- David Williams - Somali girl 'pleaded for mercy' before Islamists stoned her to death for being raped - Daily Mail, November 5, 2008
- Rape, Zina and Incest Press Statement - Violence Against Women - SistersInIslam, April 6, 2000
- Sonia Verma - American Woman Boasted of Saudi Freedoms To Bush Brother Before Arrest at Starbucks - Fox News, February 7, 2008