Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Women's Right In Islam

Prepared by Shah Kirit Bin Kakulal Govindji
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INTERFAITH FORUM – MMU CYBERJAYA, 5th MAC 2002


Bismillahir-Rohmaanir-rohiim. Alhamdulillahi Robbil ‘Alamin. Assolatu wassalam ‘ala Rasulillah wa ‘ala alihi wa ashabihi ajmain, ammabad. A’uzubillahi minash syaitoonir Rojim. Robbish rohli sadri, wa yassirli amri, wahlul ‘udatamillisani, yafqauhu qawli. Bismillahir rohmaanir rohim. Ud’u ila sabili robbika bil hikmah wamau’ ‘izotil hasanah wajadilhum billati hiya ahsan.


Chairperson, Distinguished Guests, Learned Speakers, Respected Elders, Brothers and Sisters, I welcome you with the universal greeting of Islam, Assalamu’alaikum Warohmatullahi wabarokatuh, may peace and blessing of Almighty God be with you all.


First of all, I will like to congratulate the organizers for initiating this interfaith forum on the subject ‘Women’s rights’. This will not only foster better understanding of other’s religions but more importantly I hope it will give us a correct understanding on the issue of women’s rights in our own religion based on authentic scriptures.


The subject for tonight is “Women’s rights according to the holy scriptures”. According to Oxford Dictionary, Women’s rights are the rights that promote a position of social and legal equality of women to men with regards to the right to vote, the right to property etc.


For the purpose of tonight’s forum, it is important that we discuss about these women’s rights based on our holy scriptures and not based on our own opinion or assumptions. Therefore I will be speaking of these women’s rights based on the holy scriptures of Islam, which are the Qur’an and Hadith i.e.; the sayings and the actions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).


InshaAllah I will touch on women’s rights with regards to spiritual rights, economical rights, social rights, educational rights, legal rights and their political rights.


With regards to their spiritual rights, the Qur’an says in 4:124 “If any do deeds of righteousness – be they male or female – and have faith, they will enter heaven and not the least justice will be done to them”. In 49:13 “Verily the most honored in the sight of Allah is the Most righteous of you” - regardless whether you are male or female. In 33:35 “For believing man and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for man and women who give in charity, for man and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, for men and women who engage much in God’s praise – for them God has prepared forgiveness and great rewards”. This verse clearly specifies that both men and women have equal spiritual responsibilities.


Islam gave the economical rights to women 1300 years before the west. It was only in 1870 in England that West recognized the rights of married women to own or dispose any of her property without consultation. In Islam, an adult Muslim woman can own or dispose any of her property without consultation.


A Muslim woman is allowed to work if she wishes to work. There is not a single verse from the Qur’an or authentic Hadith that prevents or prohibits a woman to do any work that is lawful and within the preview of Islamic shariah. A true Muslim society requires women to take up profession such as doctors. We do need female gynecologist, female nurses, female teachers etc. Women are also allowed to do business and the best example I can give is Khadijah (mAbpwh) the wife of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). She was one of the most successful businessperson of her time.


In Islam a woman has no financial obligations! All financial obligations are laid on the shoulders of men in the family. Before the woman is married, it is the duty of the father and the brothers to look after her needs such as food, shelter, clothing etc. and once she is married it becomes the duty of the husband and her sons. In genuine cases where two ends do not meet and there is financial crisis, the woman has the option to work but absolutely on her own free will. I use to say to my wife; ‘my money is my money and your money but your money is only your money’.


When a woman gets married, she is also on the receiving end. For a marriage to solemnize in Islam, ‘Maher’ or dowry is compulsory to be given to the woman. It is mentioned in 4:4 “Give the woman in dowry, a marital gift”. There is no upper or lower limit for dowry.


Let us analyze the social rights of women such as the rights of the daughter, wife and mother in Islam. Firstly let us look at the rights of the daughters. Islam prohibits infanticide, the killing of female children. It was a common practice in pre-Islamic Arabia for female children to be buried alive. It is mentioned in 81: 8-9 “When the female child is buried alive and when she questions you for what crime was she killed”.


Female infanticide is still common among some of the societies in this world today for example in China and India. In places like Rajasthan and Tamilnadu in India, you can find advertisement such as ‘Spend Rp 500 and save Rp 500,000’ suggesting spend Rp 500 on ultra sonography to identify the sex of the child. If it is a female child you can abort it and save Rp 500,000 in upbringing her and the money you spend for dowry. It is a common practice among the Indian where the woman has to give a hefty dowry to the man in marriage. According to a BBC report in a programme titled ‘Let her die’, gave the statistic that 3000 fetuses are aborted a day in India on being identified as female, which is more than a million a year! According to the report from Tamilnadu Government Hospital, out of ten female children born, four are put to death!


Islam also prohibits for rejoicing at the birth of a male child and being saddened at the birth of a female child. In 16:58-59 “When news is brought to one of them on the birth of a female child, his face darkens and is filled with inward grief! He hides in shame from his people for the news he has received”.


In the Hadith of Ahmad, the prophet has said that “Anyone who brings up two daughters properly, on the Day of Judgment they will be like this to me” indicating they will be very close to the prophet.


Let’s look into the rights of a wife in Islam. All previous civilizations considered women to be the instrument of devil but the Qur’an refers to woman as ‘Mohsana’, which means fortress against devil. When a good woman marries a man, she prevents the husband from going to the wrong path and keeps him on the straight path - ‘Siratul Mustaqeem’.


Islam forbids monasticism and it is mentioned in S.B. 7:3:4 “Those who has the means to marry, they should marry – for it will help them to lower their gaze and guard their modesty”.


The Qur’an says in 4:19 “You are forbidden to inherit woman against their will”. Therefore the permission of both the male and female are required in a marriage. A father cannot force his daughter to marry against her wishes.


In S.B. 7:43:69 “A lady was forced by her father to marry against her will – and she went to see the prophet (pbuh) and the prophet invalidated the marriage”.


Another Hadith in Ibn Hanbal Hadith # 2469 “A daughter was forced by her father to get married – and when the daughter approached the prophet (pbuh), he said she can either continue or invalidate the marriage”.


The Qur’an says in 2:187 “Your wives are your garments and you are their garments”. Garments are used to conceal and beautify. Similarly husbands and wives should conceal one another’s mistakes and beautify each other.


4:19 “Treat your wife on a footing of equity and kindness even if you dislike her, for you may be disliking a thing which Allah has made good for you.


The only act above respect to mother is the worship of Allah swt. The Qur’an says in 4:1 “Respect the womb that bore you”. It further says in 46:15, 6:151 and 31:14 “You have to be kind to your parents”.


Let’s analyze the educational rights of the woman in Islam. The first verse that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was 96:1 “Read, proclaim or recite in the name of thy Lord”. The first guidance that was ordained by Almighty God to mankind, both male and female was not to pray, fast or give in charity but it was to read! Islam pays the utmost importance to education.


It is reported in S.B. “The women once approached Prophet Muhammad and said; ‘you are usually surrounded by men, why don’t you give us one particular day so we too can ask you questions’ – and the prophet agreed”.


Aishah the wife of the prophet (mAbpwh) has herself narrated no less than 2210 hadiths. She has also guided all the four caliphs. She has taught no less than 88 scholars. In present day example, she was not only a professor but she was the professor of the professors! She was also an expert in the field of medicine and mathematics.

There are several other examples in Islam where women held high positions in society as far as knowledge was concern. Safiya was an expert in the field of fiqh i.e. Islamic Jurisprudence. Umm Salma has taught no less than 32 scholars. Saeeda Nafisa the grand daughter of Hassan was also been said to have taught Imam Shafie.


With respect to the legal rights of women, Islamic law protects the life and property of both male and female. The Qur’an says in 5:30 “As to the thief, whether he be man or woman, cut of his or her hand as a punishment for the crime, an example from Allah”.


24:2 “If any commits fornications, be it man or woman, flog them with 100 stripes”. Imagine Islam gave both male and female equal legal rights 1400 years ago when it was common for a man who committed a murder, he can put his wife to replace him for the death penalty.


In 24:4 “If any of you put a charge against the chastity of a woman, produce four witnesses, and if they falter flog them with 80 stripes”. For small crimes in Islam you require 2 witnesses while for a big crime 4 witnesses are required. Accusing a woman falsely in Islam is considered as a big crime, therefore you require 4 witnesses. See how much Islam protects the good name of women!


For the political rights of women, Islam gave women the rights to vote some 1400 years ago. They too can take part in the process of law making. In 60:12 “O prophet when the believing women come to thee with an oath of fealty”. The Arabic word used here is ‘Bayan’ where the women came to the prophet and they agreed with him being the head of the state. According to a famous hadith: “Caliph Omar was having discussion with several companions and was considering of putting an upper limit for the dowry since young men were discourage from getting married. A lady from the back seat objected and quoted 4:20 ‘You can even give a heap of treasure, a heap of gold in dowry’. She said when the Qur’an doesn’t put any upper limit on dowry then who is Omar to put a limit? Immediately Caliph Omar said: ‘Omar was wrong and the lady is right’.


We can continue talking about various rights Islam has given to women for several days altogether but time does not permit me to do so now. Anyway I will like to end by narrating two hadiths that clearly shows how high has Islam elevated the status of women. According to a hadith related by Ahmad in Ibn Majah “ Paradise lies at the feet of the mother”. This does not mean that every step that my mother takes in the street, the rocks and soil becomes paradise.


In S.B. 8:2:2 “A man approached and asked prophet Muhammad (pbuh): ‘Who deserves most my love, attention and companionship’? The prophet replied ‘your mother’. The man asked ‘after that who’? The prophet said ‘your mother’. The man asked ‘after that who’? Again the prophet replied ‘Your mother’. The man asked again ‘after that who’ and the prophet replied ‘Your father’. In short the gold medal, silver medal and the bronze medal goes to the mother and the father has to be satisfied with the consolation prize!

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