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Addressing the subject of women in Islam

The Creator addresses women as being on an equal footing with men, their status as beings and believers 
is the same as men’s and the requirements of worship are absolutely identical.

When it comes to religion, it may well be over the women’s issue that tensions, contradictions, and concerns are most frequent and complex. This involves human relationships, deep-seated representation, and relationship logic that, beyond scriptural sources themselves, have to do with age-old cultural and social heritages that remain deeply ingrained and highly sensitive. Speaking about women in any human group means interfering with the groundwork of social structures, of cultural symbolisms, of gender roles, of the position of the family unit, and of authority and power relationships.

It also means speaking about human beings, their freedom, their autonomy, and their individual, spiritual, and social aspirations. Discourse about women reveals collective mind-sets, confidence and fear, the protective strength of what is said and the unsaid, and the deep-rooted foundations of social structures and their role. This is no simple matter: complex, interdependent issues are involved, and focusing on one dimension rather than another can sometimes lead to excess and distortion in both criticisms and claims. Yet debate is necessary.

In recent years, debate in the West, and subsequently in Muslim-majority countries, has focused on the more visible aspects of the “status of women in Islam.” This is indeed an essential issue, but reducing it to a passionate, oversimplified debate about a list of “problem practices” has led to evading the heart of the matter. The issue of “Muslim women” is being bandied about today as if it characterised the irreconcilable relationship between Islam and the West, the opposition between a universe of submission and another holding the promise of freedom, with, of course, the leitmotiv of the contrast between patriarchal traditions and western modernity said to be an increasingly feminine viewpoint.

Then the list of discriminations related to dress, polygamy, violence, inheritance, and other issues. is repeated again and again. Aside from the fact that the substance of the claims presented here is open to debate (while of course, the nature of the discriminations Muslim women may face today must not be understated), it seems imperative to broaden the scope of the debate and return to the sources and fundamentals of representations and discourses.

Many Muslim women and men have already started this essential work on the contents of scriptural sources: how they should be read and interpreted, and how they relate to surrounding cultures and social structures. Such studies must be carried out, although two main pitfalls must be avoided. On the one hand, one must beware of focusing too much on some sensitive issues having to do with text interpretation while neglecting a more comprehensive approach that would link texts, the social environment, and the logics that in this latter case legitimise specific readings and sometimes result in inducing false religious truisms. On the other hand, one must avoid thinking about this process of critical reconsideration only in terms of the West, no matter whether the latter is praised or rejected.

Clearly, the internal debate in the light of scriptural sources must be thought through and started from within, and it cannot simply and naturally identify with, or be assimilated with, categories introduced by women and feminists in western societies. It would, however, be wrong and inconsistent to reject the reflections produced by the long and intense debates and confrontations in modern societies about the issue of womanhood, of women’s autonomy, their sexuality, their roles (in the family, in society, or economically and politically), as well as logics of power and processes of alienation. Starting from a divine Revelation, some questions are bound to be highly specific and must be tackled as such, but one should also study all possible interactions between early interpreters, their cultural environment, and social structures.

The feminine equation includes several factors and requires that certain standpoints be taken from the beginning, even before starting to discuss the nature of the research and proposed solutions. Regarding the issue of women, I think it will not be enough to rely on a few bold legal opinions — opening the way to new prospects — to further the cause of women in any fundamental way. In this field, seeking justice, ending discriminations, and promoting reform require us, as a priority, to reassess the framework and methodology that have been determined in order to understand and remain faithful to scriptural sources through history and in different sociocultural environments. Later in the process, this implies integrating the latter into the reflection and understanding of male-female relations and the distribution of roles and power.

This also means carrying such reflection to its logical extent by giving thorough consideration to the alienation situations in which women, instead of being subjects, become the objects of men’s or society’s representations. This includes studying the perverted logics through which some demands have backfired and caused women to move from one form of alienation to another. Many women, among them feminists, have dealt with those developments and sometimes those paradoxes, and their reflections should be read and studied. They shed light on possibly converging views about sociopolitical and cultural issues and emphasise essential differences as related to oneself, to the being, to others, and consequently to freedom.

Initially, Quranic verses used only the masculine plural form to refer to the women and men in the new faith community. For years, “believers” (Al Mu’minun), and “the truthful” (As Sadiqun), either referred specifically to men or to the men and women who constituted the Prophet’s (PBUH) first Companions. Once, a woman (or several, according to the different traditions) asked the Prophet (PBUH) why women were not explicitly mentioned in the revealed message. The Book — which, while revealing a universal message, also included responses to the questions asked by the men around the Prophet (PBUH) — was later to mention women and men distinctly.
This evolution of the message is part of divine pedagogy in the process of revelation carried out over 23 years: the faithful are thus led to evolve in their understanding of things and critically reconsider some of their cultural or social practices. The status of women, who were sometimes killed at birth because of the shame they might bring, was to be reformed in stages, as verses were revealed. It thus appeared more and more clearly that the Quran’s message and the Prophet’s (PBUH) attitude were apt to free women from the cultural shackles of Arab tribes and clans and from the practices of the time. The Creator addresses women as being on an equal footing with men, their status as beings and believers is the same as men’s and the requirements of worship are absolutely identical. They are partners on the spiritual path, in which support and protection are needed: “They are your garments as you are their garments.” “Love and mercy [kindness]” are the heart’s resources that make life together possible: love to combine qualities, mercy to overlook failings and weaknesses. Exile from Makkah to Madinah also played a major part in the evolution of mindsets among Muslims: women in Madinah were more evident, more involved, bolder and more assertive, and they surprised the Prophet’s (PBUH) Makkahan wife, the learned Aisha, who said: “Blessed be (what excellent women were) the Ansar women, whom modesty did not prevent from seeking instruction [in religious affairs]”. The Madinah period helped sort out religious principles from Makkahan Arab customs and bring about changes in women’s status: the reform movement was thus started and accompanied by the Revelations, by social experiments, and, of course, by the Prophet’s (PBUH) attitude as the example the Companions were to follow.

The different verses were therefore to be read and interpreted in the light of that movement, and early readings and interpretations of revealed texts were to be viewed in the ideal mirror of the Prophet’s (PBUH) behaviour. Accordingly, highly original interpretations regarding women, their status, and their rights appeared very early on. The inner reform movement was perceived, understood, and commented on from the first centuries, during which the Text sciences were established, but it remains true that early readers were mainly men who read the Revelation through the double prism of their gender and of the culture in which they necessarily lived.

The Companions and early ulema could not but read the text in the light of their own situation, viewpoint, and context. While the Book spoke about women, their being and their heart, fuqaha’ (experts in Islamic law) set out to determine their duties and their rights according to the various functions society imparted them. Women were therefore “daughters”, “sisters”, “wives” or “mothers”; the legal and religious discourse about women was built on those categories. It is indeed difficult for a man, and what is more a jurist, to approach the issue of women primarily as beings in their integrity and autonomy — whatever the internal process initiated by the different revelations or historical experiences, such an approach inevitably orients and restricts the reading and interpretation of texts. Their concern was to impart a function to women, to draw up a list of rights and duties. A closer reading of the texts, however, shows that the purpose of the inner evolution just mentioned, revisiting women’s status step by step, is in fact to bring the believing conscience to perceive women through their being, beyond their different social functions. This inductive movement towards the primacy of being naturally involves an effect on the issue of social status; this, however, implies allowing full scope to the interpretation process and accepting all its consequences.

Source : Gulfnews

9 commentaires - “Addressing the subject of women in Islam”

  1. I find Islam to be liberating not oppressive: women are partners.

    Islam is the first religion which systematically empowered women when women were considered as totally subservient to man. There was no concept of her being an independent entity and enjoying equal right with dignity. We live in a country where women are over-sexualised and sold as ‘products’ for capitalist gains. A woman’s beauty is splashed around everywhere, and she is only judged by that. Islam tells a woman to cover up so that she is not abused as Western women are. Islam provides the security and respect to women community than other religions. The western countries are using the women as an entertainment channels. All the women in the world should think about themselves then decide what is right and what is wrong for them in other religions (than Islam)

    What is feminism? Nothing but women’s movement to empower her and to consider her full human being and not mere second sex as ‘Simon de Bouire called her. Thus we see in western countries until early part of twentieth century she did not enjoy an independent status. It was only after thirties of twentieth century that she won equal status legally and various western countries passed the laws to this effect. Yet patriarchy is looming large on her in these countries.

    Qur’an empowered her and gave equal status. Another important question is what is the difference between Islamic and western feminism or is there any difference at all. If we go by definition of feminism as an ideology of empowerment of women, there is no difference. On the other hand, women had no rights and but won through great deal of struggle and this struggle came to be known as ‘feminism’ i.e. women’s empowerment.

    But there are significant differences also between Islamic and western feminism. Islamic feminism is based on certain non-negotiable values i.e. equality with honour and dignity. Freedom has certain Islamic responsibility whereas in the west freedom tends to degenerate into licentiousness, though not in law but certainly in social and cultural practices. In western culture sexual freedom has become a matter of women’s right and sex has become matter of enjoyment and lost its sanctity as an instrument of procreation.

    Qur’an does lay down certain strict norms for sexual behavior. Both man woman have right to sexual gratification (a woman has as much right to sexual gratification as man) but within marital frame-work. There is no concept of freedom for extramarital sex in any form. Sex is permissible only with marital framework. Sex, as far as Islam is concerned, is not mere enjoyment but an act for procreations and hence has sanctity.

    It is important here to emphasize that in a patriarchal society men decided the norms of sexual behavior. It was theorized that man has greater urge for sex and hence he needs multiple wives and woman tends to be passive and hence has to be content with one. This is not true as far as Qur’an is concerned. Qur’an’s approach is very different. It is not greater or lesser degree of sexual urge which necessitates multiple or monogamous marriage.

    Whole emphasis is on monogamous marriage (in both the Qur’anic verses i.e. 4:3 and 4:129). Multiple marriages were permitted only to take care of widows and orphans and not for greater sexual urge and the verse 4:129 gives the norm of monogamy and not to leave first wife in suspense or neglected. Thus as far as Qur’an is concerned sexual gratification is a non-negotiable right for both man woman. And hence a divorcee and a widow are also permitted to marry and gratify their sexual urge.

    Also, in western capitalist countries women’s dignity has been compromised and she has been reduced to a commodity to be exploited. Her semi-naked postures and her sexuality is exploited commercially unabashedly. It is totally against the concept of woman’s honour and dignity. Unfortunately western feminists do not consider this as objectionable but accept it as part of woman’s freedom. Some (though not many) even advocate prostitution as woman’s right to earn her bread.

    This is against the concept of Islamic feminism as while sanctioning sexual gratification as much right of woman as that of man, it prohibits extra-marital sexual liaison and on one hand upholds dignity and honour of woman and on the other, exalts sex on the level of sanctity and restricts it for procreation.. Thus it would be seen that discourse of Islamic feminism, while having something in common with modern western feminism, it also significantly differs from it. Islamic feminists have to observe certain norms which modern western feminists are not obliged to.

    There is institutionalised oppression of women in all cultures. In India Hindu female foetocide numbers approximately two million every year. Hinduism is rife with sexism. Women are classed as objects owned by men. The Muslims from the Sub-continent were converted from Hinduism. They carry even now a lot of Hindu traditions of dishonouring women mostly in isolated ruler areas. In urban areas Muslims are well educated both Islamically and worldly and women have all the rights given by Islam.

    UNICEF photo of the year shows, a bridegroom, 40, with his 11-year-old bride in Afghanistan. The bridegroom is going to take care of her and their future children. UNICEF photo of the year must show that the teenage pregnancies and abortion, drug addiction, binge drinking and anti-social behavior is on the rise in Britain. All of them are burden on British tax-payers. This is sickening. It’s no wonder Great Britain is in such a bad shape. Ten years old British girls are haveing babies out of wedlock. They are not allowed to get married but are allowed to have babies. Teenage pregnancy rate in Great Britain is the highest in Western Europe. It is a civilised country and Yemen is a backward country because it allows young girls to get married.

    The Holy Quran gives more rights to women than the so called western civilisation.
    Western Secularism cannot teach Muslims how to treat women. Islam teaches us how to be civilised. Islam is a middle path. Women are even abused in the UK Parliament, which is called the Mother of Parliament. It is not just verbal abuse the female MPs have had to deal with. The tradition of killing women for family honour is a “curse”. Violence against women is a global phenomenon. An Australian Judge failed to jail nine males who admitted gang-raping a 10-year old Aboriginal girl, by saying the victim probably agreed to have sex with them. More than half the babies born to British mothers this year will be outside marriage for the first time since records begins. There is a steady decline in marriage among British couples. Nearly all births to Pakistani mothers are within wedlock.

    The veil signified the rejection of an unacceptable system of values which debased women while Islam elevated women to a position of honour and respect. It is not liberation, where women go naked. It is just oppression, because men want to see them naked. Miniskirts and plunging necklines represent oppression. Veil is a sign of liberation from a prevailing and dangerous western, secular norm – namely, a view of women purely as sexual objects. Western culture is liberalism, and that is in itself a set of norms. But now the time has come that liberalism must change its attitudes because Britain and the whole of West has undergone significant change. It is a fact that a veil cannot be equated with forced marriages, female circumcision or unequal education for girls. The real difference between man and woman is that they have different kinds of bodies designed for very different purposes, and they have also different kinds of mind because these, too, are designed to contribute differently to human needs and purposes. Men tend to be more imaginative and have more flair than women, but women are much more tenacious and better at multilasking than men.

    Muslim boys and Girls need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Male and female Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. Muslim youths feel torn between two cultures, thanks to the state schools with monolingual non-Muslim teachers. Islam teaches Muslims youths to be virgin but western education system teaches the opposite. It makes their lives very confusing. They suffer from Identity Crises. The solution is that each and every Muslim child should be in state funded Muslim schools because western education makes a man stupid and selfish according to Lord Bertrand Russell.

  2. Salam. This is a welcome opinion and invitation to all serious Muslims to rethink the traditional views regarding women’s identity and role in the world. I feel truly blessed to have been a daughter, sister, sister-in-law, wife, mother, mother-in-law and grandmother. But I would also really appreciate being recognized by fellow Muslims as a full human being, my God-given strengths and experience utilized, granted a right to participate in communal debates and affairs, my ideas given as much attention as those of men (why do I often feel that whenever a woman starts to opens her mouth, men’s attention is immediately switched off..?). I am proud to enjoy the roles listed above, and they of course have helped to shape my identity, but above all, my identity is as a Muslim, whom God created as a woman.

    Animah Ferrar

    1. To Animah Ferrar,

      Assalamu alaykum. 🙂 That case of “woman’s opinion not respected enough” happens worldwide. Even in developed Western societies. I don’t know why.

  3. I fully agree with Prof Tariq’s view that is is high time to review the traditional perspectives on women. The Islamic world is the poorer for failing to fully utilize this valuable, indeed indispensable, human resource. I am sure most women are proud and feel blessed to have been given the roles of daughters, wives, mothers and grandmothers, but their views, outlook and opinions should also be used to benefit debate on, and participation in, broader issues and roles.

    Women have a different way of approaching and solving problems, are less likely to be awed by rank, are more conciliatory and forgiving, less set on revenge, less fearful of “losing face”. All these, when combined and working in tandem with the complementary characteristics of men, could play a major role in advancing Muslim and universal society.

  4. In the name of my Allah who i not fear but love and all my hopes i rest on, in my Allah’s name when i am called a fitna,of lesser intelligence,of having to be controlled by a man, of not having the right to go out as if i am an animal, of not having the right to gain an education , of being cursed by angels if i do want to share a husbands bed , of being more abundant in hell etc etc etc , it pains me and makes my faith not less but more because my Allah is fair and just .
    if i can steal a line from Jesus _forgive these men for they do not know what they have done.

    To men and in particular religious leaders, i say i dont want to be your equal so please leave us alone

  5. hi, firstly Islam is not religion of oppression as many Muslims interpret it. they are justifying their cruel acts and stereotypes in the name of Islam but Tariq mentioned the point and I’m happy to have tariq as reasonable teacher of Islamic understanding. women themselves must organize and engage in public issues so that they can appear and become visible

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