Islam and Women
General Look at Women in Islam
To hear groups like the Council of American-Islamic Relations or the Islamic Society of North America, one might be given the impression that Islam holds women in high regard. Indeed, Souad Saleh, a female professor at Al-Ahzar University in Cairo and a vocal proponent of women's rights in Egypt, recently stated, "Islam is pure and simple, and it holds women in high esteem." If women are treated equally in Islam, is there justification for it in the sacred writings of Islam, or is this 'equal treatment' in conflict with sacred directives? What does the Qur'an say about women? What does Muhammad say about women as recorded in the hadith, and what kind of example did he set in the way he treated the women in his life? Do the reports we hear of women being oppressed accord with sacred scripture, or are they rather anomalies having no foundation in Islam? What have women from an Islamic background actually experienced – what are their stories? These are some of the issues this article addresses.
Islamic Writing and Women
Islamic scriptures and scholars have much to say in regards to Women and their role in Islam.
(note that sunnah.com have since revised the original translator's English for the above hadith)
Women are Deficient in Intelligence
Muhammad's disrespect for women caused him to declare that the majority of the inhabitants of Hell are women. When asked why he said it was because they are deficient in intelligence and religion and because they are ungrateful to their husbands. Although Muslim apologists and female Muslims use a lot of creative arguments to explain away Muhammad's declarations about women, they don't stand up to scrutiny. This article will present evidence showing Muhammad's belief that all women are less intelligent than their male counterparts, as well as examine and refute the common Muslim claims about the ahadith in question.
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o 'Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion."
Perhaps Muhammad's view explains his sweeping statement about female heads of government:
Narrated Abu Bakra:During the battle of Al-Jamal, Allah benefited me with a Word (I heard from the Prophet). When the Prophet heard the news that the people of the Persia had made the daughter of Khosrau their Queen (ruler), he said, "Never will succeed such a nation as makes a woman their ruler."
The Reason Why Women Have to Wear the Hijab
If you ask a Muslim why Muslim females wears the Hijab (veil) the reason given is usually one of two (or a mixture of both):
- They are showing obeying a command from Allah as given in the Quran; it is a matter of piety.
- They are protecting their modesty by dressing this way instead of showing their body off for everyone to see.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The real reason that Muslim women wear the hijab today is not a spiritual one, nor a matter of piety. Covering the hair/face cannot be considered an act of modesty because Muslim men are not required to cover theirs. The sole reason they do it is because Umar bin Al-Khattab, a companion of Muhammad, wished that Muhammad would reveal verses from Allah requiring women to wear it. when Muhammad did not oblige, Umar did not bother praying to Allah for assistance. Umar knew he had to make it personal for Muhammad himself in order to bring the revelation down. He followed Muhammad's wives out when they went to go to the toilet and made his presence known. When Muhammad heard of this, the revelation that Umar had so wanted was sent down from Allah. Umar knew where these revelations were really coming from, which is why he pestered Muhammad and bothered his wives instead of asking Allah.
The Purpose of the Nikah Contract (Islamic "Marriage")
The correct Arabic word for "marriage", used primarily by non-Muslim Arabs, is "zawaj". In Islam, the nearest equivalent to a marriage is the nikah, a contract between a male and a female Muslim. Nikah literally means "sexual intercourse", hence an Islamic marriage is a "contract of coitus".
The Purpose of the Mahr (Dowry)
The apologetic claim made for provision of a mahr is that it is a token of goodwill given by the husband to the wife as a demonstration that he will be able to support her financially throughout the nikah (Islamic marriage). However the Qur'an and ahadith make it clear that this is not its true purpose.
The purpose of the mahr as explained by the Islamic texts is clear - it is a payment from a man to a women; payment in full for the future sexual relations (nikah) he will have with her. This is 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 apologetic claim that it is simply a demonstrative token of his ability to financially support his wife does not hold up to scrutiny once all of the evidence is examined. Even the Qur'an alone makes it clear this is incorrect.
Rape of Captive and Slave Women in Islam
While in hadiths and Islamic jurisprudence rape of free women and of slave women who are not owned by the man is a punishable crime, there is no equivalent term for ‘rape’ in the Qur'an. Likewise, there is not a single verse in the Qur'an which even remotely discourages forced sex. In contrast, there are several verses in this book which give the green light to rape women who are owned as slaves by the perpetrators, and hadiths demonstrate 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 pious Muslims.
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. This, along with other verses, apologetic objections, and marital rape (Quran 2:223) is discussed in detail.
Al-'Azl, (العزل) also known as coitus interruptus, is the practice of having sexual intercourse with a woman but withdrawing the penis before ejaculation. Apparently this was a pretty important topic for Muhammad and his companions as evidenced by the abundance of Hadith material on the subject.
According to Muhammad, when having sex with (i.e. raping) a captive, it's better if you do not pull out the penis at the end.
Domestic Violence Against Women in Islam
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!" Because of this, 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. In this article we will explore how wife-beating is promoted in 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.
In-Depth Analysis of an Apologetic Claim
This article was written by non-Muslim Arabs in response to 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. These Islamic sites are directed at non-Arabic speakers, as anyone who has an adequate command of the Arabic language will find the claim being presented to be ridiculous.
They claim 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 these obscure Islamic pseudo-scholars. Why then do they consider verse 4:34 to be a special case and translate "darb" to mean "separate from them"?
Honor Violence - a Predictable Consequence of Islam
Honor Related Violence is physical violence that is inflicted on an individual by perpetrators who believe the victim has brought dishonor upon the family, clan, or community by engaging in any conduct that is perceived as immoral or unacceptable by religious or social/cultural standards. This violence almost always happens in Muslim families.
While not prescribed in Islam, Muslim women are killed by family members for many "honor" related reasons, including being raped, associating with non-related males, getting pregnant outside of marriage, refusing a forced marriage, and for the belief they might have done something else immoral. In the eyes of their family, only death can restore the family's honor. The entire family may all collaborate on this, and in some cases the whole community may participate and even celebrate the occasion. The generally controlling nature of Islam towards women, and the death penalty in Islam for some types of zina (unlawful sexual intercourse) are indirect reasons for such extreme negative attitudes.
Polygamy in Islam
- Main Article: Polygamy in Islam See also: Rebuttal of Zakir Naik's defense of Polygyny in Islam
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 analyze the various arguments used by Muslims to defend this practice and the actions of Muhammad.
Justice for Women in Islam
A common Muslim explanation for 4:3 is to give a partial quote of the verse and explain that 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. Muslims explain 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 the Qur'an he cannot marry more than one wife. In reality, Qur'an 4:3 has nothing to do with treating your wives equally, its about the orphan's and their Mahr. Injustice in this verse is talking about financial equality regarding bride price (for orphans) and financial viability of having that many wives, not equality between them.
Adultery (with slaves) is Permitted in Islam
Zina (Arabic: الزنا ) is the Arabic word for "unlawful sexual relations." It is used to refer to both adultery and fornication.
The Islamic definition of adultery differs from the modern/secular definition as well as the Biblical definition. The meaning also differs in relation to gender. Adultery is a serious offense in Islam warranting death to offenders. However, according to the most widely accepted definitions of the term, Islam in fact allows adultery. Both the Bible and modern, secular definitions of adultery condemn actions that are condoned in the Qur'an, Hadith, and Tafsir. Not only may a Muslim man have sex with a married woman who is his slave, but he may also sell her as a slave to another man.
Sex Segregation in Islam
Islam 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 (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.
72 Virgins in Paradise
These articles discusses what the Qur'an, hadith and Islamic scholars say about the 72 Virgins, and dispel popular misconceptions surrounding them. The Qur'anic Paradise is sensual in nature, promising Muslim men voluptuous virgins but does not specify their exact number. This cannot possibly be a mistranslation because raisins do not have large eyes or cannot be wed to men. The hadith literature compliment the Qur'anic text by specifying the exact number of virgins as 72 and providing us with detailed descriptions of their characteristics. These narrations are not weak but vary in strength from good to authentic. We are also given details on the physical attributes given to men to sustain 72 virgins, namely, ever-erect penises that never soften and the sexual strength to satisfy 100. Although it does say they will receive a "great reward" and there are also hasan (good) hadith which refer to 72 virgins as one of the "seven blessings from Allah" to the martyr, the Qur'an does not specify these virgins are a reward for jihadists/martyrs, but rather for any Muslim male who gains admittance to Paradise.
Arranged Marriage (in Reality, Forced Marriage) of Young Girls
Forcing a female to marry someone against her explicit wishes is forbidden in Islam. Nevertheless Shari'ah fails to protect the most vulnerable--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.
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. However, there is 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.
Muhammad and Women
Wives and Concubines of Muhammad
- Main Articles: List of Muhammad's Wives and Concubines and Qur'an, Hadith and Scholars:Muhammad's Wives and Concubines
According to multiple sources, Muhammad had many wives and concubines, and was known as a "womanizer". Muhammad consummated his marriages with thirteen women and divorced another six. He also used to visit all his wives in one night:
Aisha, sometimes spelt as 'Ayesha', was the nine year old child-bride of Muhammad. She was engaged to him at the age of six. She was also the daughter of Abu Bakr, a close friend of Muhammad. Historically, she is known as Muhammad's "favorite wife."
The age of Muhammad's child-bride Aisha, has only in recent times become an actively contested issue, with many Muslims (through embarrassment) falsely claiming that she was in fact older than nine when married or when the marriage was consummated. It has also been recorded in authentic Islamic sources that Muhammad struck Aisha and also allowed Abu Bakr to do the same. Contrary to what Muslims often claim, Aisha was not 'offered' to Muhammad by her father. It was Muhammad who approached Abu Bakr, and Abu Bakr originally protested. However, Muhammad justified his perversion with a 'divine' vision from Allah, which also happens to destroys the apologists appeal to cultural relativism.
Khadijah bint Khuwailid/Khuwaylid (555 – 619 AD) was the first wife of Muhammad and also a distant cousin. Belonging to the Bani Asad tribe, Khadijah was the daughter of Khuwaylid bin Asad bin. ‘Abd al-‘Uzza bin Qusayy, the Grand son Qusayy. She was a wealthy woman aged forty who ran her own business, and her love affair with Muhammad was a controversial one which almost ended in bloodshed.
Muslims often try to use her high social standing as "proof" that women are equal in Islam. What they neglect to explain is that she was a "great independent businesswoman" before Islam, during the so-called "Period of Ignorance" (Jahiliyah), and you cannot find any examples of successful women after Islam, during Muhammad's lifetime. In fact, Muhammad prohibited women from taking leadership positions and this is why in some Islamic countries women "cannot run for president or become judges."
Safiyah bint Huyayy (610 - 670 AD) was the bride of Kinana and the chief mistress of the Jewish tribes of Quraiza and An-Nadir. When the Muslims invaded and conquered Khaibar, the fighting men were killed and Safiya was taken captive (along with the rest of the women and children) and allotted as booty to Dihya Al-Kalbi, a Muslim. Kinana was tortured and executed by the Muslims in order to discover the hiding places of treasure, and one source relates that he and Safiya had been married only one day. She was so beautiful, that the Muslims began praising her in the presence of Muhammad, and so the prophet commanded that Dihya be brought before him along with Safiya. Upon seeing her, Muhammad said, "Take any slave girl other than her from the captives" and he selected her for himself.
From the information provided in the Hadith, we can reasonably conclude that Safiya did not have a choice in this marriage. She was held captive up until the marriage, and when Muhammad decided that she would be a wife rather than a slave-girl, that is when he made known that her manumission was her mahr.
Mariyah the Copt was one of the prophet’s wives’ maids. Muhammad slept with her without any ceremony, which caused uproar among his wives and finally was settled by "divine intervention."
Muhammad and the Violation of the Qur'an
When we diligently study the biography of Muhammad and the ahadith we find quite a few examples where Muhammad had openly transgressed the provisions of the Qur'an. Sex was an important aspect of Muhammad’s life. His unbridled indulgence in sex had, on many occasions, forced him to violate Allah’s rule overtly. To suppress his breach of the Qur’anic laws on sex and sexuality, he, as usual, concocted stories of Allah’s exemption to his dearest friend. This article exposes the hypocrisy of some Islamists who claim adamantly that Muhammad could have never violated the Qur’an. What you will find are numerous examples of how Muhammad had violated the Qur’an vis-à-vis sex.
Women and the Farewell Sermon
The Farewell Sermon (خطبة الوداع, Khuṭbatu l-Wadā') is Muhammad's last sermon before his death in 632 CE. There is a popular redacted and edited version of the sermon, but in the original versions found in Sunan Abu Dawud 1900 (Ahmad Hasan Ref), al-Tabari's History, and ibn Ishaq's Sirat, Muhammed's order to beat women coincides with the Qur'anic order of wife-beating in 4:34. In al-Tabari's version, he also compares women to domestic animals, and in ibn Ishaq's version quoted below, they are compared to prisoners:
- Women (Translations of Arabic/Islamic Media)
- Violence Against Women (Muslim Statistics)
- Top 10 Controversial Verses Concerning Women
- The Story of Umm Qirfa
- Islamic Witch Hunts
- Cousin Marriage in Islam
Other Core Articles
Core articles contain an overview of other articles related to a specific issue, and serve as a starting point for anyone wishing to learn about Islam:
- Gamal Nkrumah - "Soaud Saleh: Time to tear down the divides" interview in Al-Ahram Weekly, online publication
- Sahih Bukhari 1:6:301
- 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)
- "....Layla’s people said, "’What a bad thing you have done! You are a self-respecting woman, but the Prophet is a womanizer. Seek an annulment from him.’ She went back to the Prophet and asked him to revoke the marriage and he complied with [her request]...." - al Tabari vol.9 p.139
- "...He said: Was it the darkness (of your shadow) that I saw in front of me? I said: Yes. He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?..." - Sahih Muslim 4:2127
- "....Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) then got up went to 'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) and slapped her on the neck, and 'Umar stood up before Hafsa and slapped her saying: You ask Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) which he does not possess...." - Sahih Bukhari 1:7:330
- "....The Prophet asked Abu Bakr for 'Aisha's hand in marriage. Abu Bakr said "But I am your brother."...." - Sahih Bukhari 7:62:18
- "....You were shown to me twice (in my dream) before I married you. I saw an angel carrying you in a silken piece of cloth, and I said to him, 'Uncover (her),' and behold, it was you. I said (to myself), 'If this is from Allah, then it must happen....." - Sahih Bukhari 9:87:140
- For example, take a look at this bit of vandalism.
- "Narrated Abu Bakra: During the battle of Al-Jamal, Allah benefited me with a Word (I heard from the Prophet). When the Prophet heard the news that the people of the Persia had made the daughter of Khosrau their Queen (ruler), he said, "Never will succeed such a nation as makes a woman their ruler." - Sahih Bukhari 9:88:219
- Don't "play" with Islamic law, Iranian women told - Reuters, July 4, 2007
- Stacey Moore - Man is the Leader - NewsDay, December 7, 2011
- Sahih Bukhari 2:14:68
- Ishaq. I (Author), Guillaume. A (Translator). (2002). The Life of Muhammad. (p. 515). Oxford University Press - Tabari vol. 8, p.123 - Muir, Sir William. (1878). The Life of Mahomet, New Edition. (pp. 390-391) London:Smith, Elder and Co.
- Muir, Sir William. (1878). The Life of Mahomet, New Edition. (pp. 392) London:Smith, Elder and Co.
- Sahih Muslim 8:3329
- Sahih Bukhari 1:8:367
- Tabaqat v. 8 p. 223 Publisher Entesharat-e Farhang va Andisheh Tehran 1382 solar h ( 2003) Translator Dr. Mohammad Mahdavi Damghani
- Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 651