Turning equity into equality in marriage

I mentioned in a previous post that I think that men and women are equal in religion – even though women menstruate and are thus not allowed to pray or fast while menstruating[i].

However, the social injunctions in Islam (Quran, Sunnah and Hadith) may not treat women and men equally even though the treatment of women was still very progressive for its time. In the eyes of Allah, all believers whether they are men or women are equal, but in the eyes of human beings there is always social hierarchy. I would like to deal with some aspects of social life between men and women in separate posts and would like to learn from you how you, feminists who are Muslim, deal with those issues.

The first important aspect I thought is marriage. I will not go into details which you already know, but will simply point out why I felt that there is equity in Islamic marriage but not necessarily equality (please correct me if I am wrong). Support for my conclusions is provided in footnotes.

From a sexual point of view, men and women are called each other’s garments (2:187) which is a wonderful thought and one that puts them on an equal level in terms of sexual enjoyment.  There are numerous hadith that tell men to be kind towards their wives and treat them with love and dignity. There are also hadith that women have rights over their husbands (Sahih Bukhari, Vol.7, No. 127).

However, in social hierarchy there are always some rights given even to those who are ‘maintained’ by the ‘maintainers.’ The point to note is the vocabulary that is used in Quran and Hadith to refer to the relationship between men and women. As Khan also noted in his book, men are asked to treat women with ‘kindness’ (Quran 4:19; 2:231), whereas women are told to be ‘obedient’ in the Quran (4:34) and in hadith.[ii]


In Muslim marriage one ‘partner’ can marry up to four times while the other can’t in which case it is not a partnership. Muslim men can also marry Jewish and Christian women (although at least a hadith of Ibn Umar in Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 63, Number 209 bans it). Men were also allowed to keep as many female slaves as they could financially afford, with whom they were allowed to have sex. This practice continued openly well up to the 20th century and even now there are Muslim men in some countries where slavery persists (like Sudan) who cohabit with their slaves and consider it permissible under Quranic law. Men also don’t have to seek permission from or inform their existing wives before marrying again.

Muslim women the other hand can have only one husband at a time. That husband has to be Muslim. They can own male slaves but can’t cohabit with them or mingle with them. Only eunuchs were allowed to enter the women’s sections of the houses in the past.

There is evidence that multiple marriages were based on social status so for example the female section of a ruler’s house (called the Harem – meaning, an area out of bounds for strangers) was always busy. There is also historical evidence that Muslim rulers did marry more than four times at a time and also had several concubines.

This also has effects on the crime of adultery since if a man is influential he will have ample access to women through multiple marriages and concubines and will not feel the need to commit adultery hence he is protected and helped by a system not to sin. (I recall explaining to a feminist friend once that men too must guard their chastity except from their wives and female slaves which left her yelling out at me in exasperation – “what is left of chastity after so much sex?!”)

Adultery then becomes the crime of the poor men, and married women because on the flip side allowing men to keep so many women makes women more vulnerable to look for attention elsewhere if their husbands are always busy with other women.

However, since women are advised to veil, stay at home and not mingle with strangers that possibility is reduced and a system is in place to ensure that they do not err. Similarly, Mahr creates a feeling of obligation in women not to cheat. There are other rules in place to minimize the chances of women cheating on their husbands[iii].


Mahr is the dowry that a man gives a woman upon marriage in Islam. Mahr was also called Sadak in early times and in pre-Islamic Arabia it was a payment given to the bride’s guardian as a bridal price. After Islam and the migration to Medina the law was passed that even though marriage contract (ahd) was still (at least in theory) between the groom and the wali (bride’s guardian) Mahr would only be given to the bride and not her wali. However, the basic meaning of Mahr did not change which was the price for sex:

Sahih Bukhari – Volume 7, Book 62, Number 81:

Narrated ‘Uqba: The Prophet said: “The stipulations most entitled to be abided by are those with which you are given the right to enjoy the women’s private parts (i.e. the Mahr).”

In verse 24 of chapter 4 as well the word used for Mahr is “ojoorahunna” meaning wages/alimony/fees given to the women because men have “istamtatum” (enjoyed/used/benefitted from) them. According to another hadith quoted in E.J. Brill’s first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 2 (page 137) is that “every marriage without Mahr is null and void.” If a groom does not have money to pay the price for what he “enjoys”, he cannot consummate his marriage[iv].

Mahr is only given to free women who own their “private parts” before marriage; Mahr is not required to be given to slaves whose private parts are the property of the masters.  And women who gave themselves to men didn’t necessarily receive dowry either.

Men, on the other hand, are not paid by women for access to their ‘private parts.’

Age at marriage

In Islam the ‘official’ age of puberty for boys is 15 years and for girls it is nine years. This means that a boy younger than 15 years cannot enter into a bond of marriage (and there is actually no record of teenage boys getting married) where as girls as young as nine or even younger were allowed to be married off by their guardians. This is also confusing since in Islam a girl is supposed to give consent to her marriage whereas such age is quite young even for girls to give sound consent. There is ample evidence[v] that Umm Kulthum (daughter of Ali and Fatima) was a very little girl when she was married to Umar Ibn Khattab.


Divorce laws differ from one Muslim community to the other. In early Islam divorce was a very simple and a straightforward procedure. Technically a man can divorce a woman by simply uttering (or smsing!) “I divorce you” three times whereas a woman does not have that right. Moreover, if the divorced couple wants to get together after their final divorce they cannot do so if the woman is married to another man unless that man first has sex with her and then divorces her. If the woman is not married to another man then she cannot return to the first husband.


The temporary marriage is also a system that satisfied the sexual needs of men and financial needs of women since it is not a system for the gratification of women but for the gratification men.[vi] If women are abundant and men are scarce, then men are allowed polygyny. If men are abundant and women are scarce, Mutah is allowed.

Death of a spouse

If a Muslim man’s wife dies he is to mourn her death for three days after which he can resume his life normally and even remarry. Whereas not only is a Muslim woman not allowed to marry for up to four months after the death of her husband, she also must mourn for four months[vii].

Implications for Muslim Feminists

There are Muslim countries where polygyny is banned – Tunisia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey, and Indonesia. There are other countries where there are heavy restrictions on it like in Morocco, Syria and Egypt.

In South Asian Muslim communities Mahr has taken a completely new meaning. It is used as a ‘maintenance fund’ in case the husband dies or divorces the woman. Usually the Mahr is exorbitant in such marriages and is not given to the woman but exists as a huge sum on the marriage contract and is given only if the man divorces the woman. This does prevent some men from divorcing their wives without reason. It also helps a woman to survive for a while if she is divorced or widowed.

Many Muslim countries are now banning marriage of young girls. Yemen however is one Muslim country where majority of the girls are married off very young and the government is reluctant to ban child marriage.

Muslims are also getting stricter about allowing men to arbitrarily divorce their wives and most Muslim countries now demand that the couple go through proper court procedure to get divorced. Khula (divorce initiated by women) is still difficult in most Muslim societies. In Egypt, at least, khula is granted to a woman only if she returns the Mahr even if her husband has “enjoyed her private parts.”

Mutah is now practiced only in some Shia communities. Ismaili Shias strictly prohibit it. In Iran it has taken a new form where men ‘marry’ women for as little as 10-20 minutes for quick sex. They settle on a price for sex, a few verses are recited from the Quran and the couple proceeds to have sex. After that the couple can go off their own ways.

In some Muslim communities, women are finding it hard to commit to the four months iddah (waiting/mourning period) after the death of their husbands especially if they are working women and have little or no support from family. With scientific advancement women can know very early if they are pregnant and a long waiting period after divorce of widowhood makes little sense in today’s world. But there are still traditional families who insist that a woman stay indoors and does not even come in front of strangers for full four months.

My questions to you are:

  1. How much do all these Islamic laws affect you personally? How much value do you see in them today in the 21st century?
  2. Do you think these are religious commandments that are carved in stone or were these social laws that need to change with time?
  3. Which of these laws are you happy to follow without change and why? Which laws do you think need to change and why?
  4. How hard do you think it is to talk to clerics and make them understand that society is not static; how do you think a change in these laws can be brought about?
  5. Finally, do you think that a set of revised and standardized universal Islamic laws for gender equality for all Muslims of the 21st Century will serve the community better? If yes, who should revise and lay down those laws?

[i] Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 6, Number 321:

Narrated Aiyub: Hafsa said, ‘We used to forbid our young women to go out for the two ‘Id prayers. A woman … once asked the Prophet, ‘Is there any harm for any of us to stay at home if she doesn’t have a veil?’ He said, ‘She should cover herself with the veil of her companion and should participate in the good deeds and in the religious gathering of the Muslims.’ When Um ‘Atiya came I asked her whether she had heard it from the Prophet. She replied, “Yes. I have heard the Prophet saying, ‘The unmarried young virgins and the mature girl who stay often screened or … the menstruating women should come out and participate in the good deeds as well as the religious gathering of the faithful believers but the menstruating women should keep away from the Musalla (praying place).’ ” Hafsa asked Um ‘Atiya surprisingly, “Do you say the menstruating women?” She replied, “Doesn’t a menstruating woman attend ‘Arafat (Hajj) and such and such (other deeds)?”

[ii] Volume 7, Book 62, Number 128:

Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: The Prophet said, “All of you are guardians and are responsible for your wards. The ruler is a guardian and the man is a guardian of his family; the lady is a guardian and is responsible for her husband’s house and his offspring; and so all of you are guardians and are responsible for your wards.”

[iii] it is the Prophet’s tradition that if someone marries a virgin and he has already an older wife then he should stay for seven days with her (the virgin) and then by turns; and if someone marries a widow/divorcee and he has already a virgin wife then he should stay with her (the widow/divorcee) for three days, and then by turns (Volume 7, Book 62, Number 141)

[iv] In the History of Al-Tabari: Biographies of the Prophet’s Companions and Their Successors, translated by Ella Landau-Tasseron [State University of New York Press, Albany 1998], Volume 39, pp. 171-173, there is a narration that the Prophet had married Aisha but was postponing consummating their marriage so Abu Bakr asked the Prophet, “O Messenger of God, what prevents you from consummating the marriage with your wife?” The Prophet said “The bridal gift (sadaq).” Abu Bakr gave him the bridal gift, twelve and a half ounces [of gold], and the Prophet consummated his marriage. In the footnote it says, “It is not clear whether Abu Bakr pays him this sum as dowry (from guardian to groom) or gives the Prophet the money to pay the bridal gift because the Prophet was short of cash.”

[v] (see Al Istiab Volume 4 page 492; Tareekh Baghdad Volume 6 page 182; Asad al Ghaybah fi Marifathul Sahaba Volume 5 page 367; Tareekh Khamees Volume 2 page 384 Dhikr Umm Kalthum; Tabaqat ibn Sa’d Volume 8 page 463 Dhikr Umm Kalthum; Zakhair al Akba pages 168 and 169; Sawaiqh al Muhriqa page 94; Al Isaba Volume 4 page 321; and Asaaf al Ghaneen page 162)

[vi] Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 51:

Narrated Abu Jamra: I heard Ibn Abbas (giving a verdict) when he was asked about the Mut’a with the women, and he permitted it (Nikah-al-Mut’a). On that a freed slave of his said to him, “That is only when it is very badly needed and women are scarce.” On that, Ibn ‘Abbas said, “Yes.”

[vii] Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 6, Number 310:

Narrated Um-‘Atiya: We were forbidden to mourn for a dead person for more than three days except in the case of a husband for whom mourning was allowed for four months and ten days. (During that time) we were not allowed to put kohl (Antimony eye power) in our eyes or to use perfumes or to put on colored clothes except a dress made of ‘Asb (a kind of Yemen cloth, very coarse and rough). We were allowed very light perfumes at the time of taking a bath after menses and also we were forbidden to go with the funeral procession.

Fighting for Sin

I met a young woman today who asked me about my research project and after I explained to her at length what I was researching she smiled and very calmly said, “so you are siding with sin?”! Her response amused me endlessly because as soon as people hear “Muslim” and “Feminism” together they automatically imagine that the discussion will move towards siding with sin and sinners. It baffles me!

Anyway, here is the smart and fluent Zuhura asking you “Is Homosexuality a Sin?” It is a brilliant post that breaks down Quranic interpretation as well as presents the Biblical account of Lot and his “sinners.” After Mezba’s comment here and Zuhura’s new post, there should be some interesting mental exercises we must all go through.

I should add that I believe that sodomy (if not loving homosexuality) is a sin according to the Quran (something Zuhura also mentions), hadith and sunnah, but like Zuhura so well mentioned in another post, what is sin if it is not cultural and time specific?! She points out that things we consider crime and sin today like concubinage were normal for early Muslim Arabs in the form of sex with female slaves. There is also the example of raids that were not considered stealing at all (Reza Aslan) but would be seen as daylight robbery today.

I tried to leave a comment on the post several times but failed every time and after trying for over thirty minutes gave up. I am pasting my comment to Zuhura as a comment here for her.

Please go over if you haven’t already and read her post.

Are men and women equal in Islam?

So I finished reading Khan’s book that I have been talking about for a week. Strange as it may sound, I agree with him on many points. But there are also areas in his book where he completely disappointed me.

He is an old man, and a South Asian Muslim which means his views are highly predictable. But I was looking for some change. Never mind!

Where I agree him is that women and men are physiologically different (no rocket science there!) and that this difference can also affect their emotions. Men are aggressive, women are calmer; men are physically stronger than women; women can bear more trauma and have higher pain threshold; men can’t take mental stress as well as women can who are biologically programmed to give birth and look after the young with little food and sleep. Men are generally better at Mathematics whereas women are linguistically superior (just a thought – if women are linguistically superior, shouldn’t it be us interpreting what God tries to say?).

But I wish Khan had pointed out all this. He keeps on harping that men are stronger and women are weaker; and that women “fall prey to emotion” and so “must be aware of her natural shortcomings.” Page after page, Khan asks women (who are “liable to err because they are more emotional by nature” – p. 130) to “stay at home” which is their domain but where the husband is the “leader” and trains women to behave properly.

Another revelation that I suddenly had by reading Khan is that I have finally figured out the disparity between the common but contradictory Muslim phrases: “Men and women are equal in Islam” but that “men are more equal than women.”

According to Islam men and women are equal in religion, but not in the sociological, economic and political spheres. This calls for lengthy future discussions on every aspect and I like to come to my own conclusions through Quran, hadith and sunnah.

Inshallah I hope to discuss every aspect in detail together with you but here I want to point out very briefly what I mean in the above paragraph. From a single verse in the Quran, it is clear that Muslim men and women are completely equal in religion:

For Muslim men and women, for believing men 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 men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward. (Yusuf Ali’s translation of 33:35).

All these edicts relate to religion. Sociological, economic and political areas include:

  • Marriage, divorce and remarriage
  • Leadership in religion and politics
  • Inheritance
  • Witness in a court of law
  • Dowry
  • Travel, business and work
  • Dress and clothing

In these areas, Shariah gives men greater rights and choice than it gives to women. However, this is not always supported by Quran and hadith and if God wills it, I will talk about these issues at some point.  From my study of Islam (which has taken me longer than I expected!) so far (I am open to change of mind), I gather from the practical application of Quran and hadith that the rights Muslim men and women were given by Islam were standard so, in some cases they were greater than those enjoyed by some heathen Arab tribes and in other cases they were lesser than the ones enjoyed by some other tribes. Before Islam, laws, traditions and practices varied from one tribe to the other, but after Islam every Muslim tribe had to follow the same laws and rules. This may be a reason why not every heathen woman was willing to accept Islam because in the case of powerful Arab women the rights offered by Islam were lesser than they were already enjoying in their tribe.

Good news is that we are equal in religion, which is the non-negotiable and unchanging part of any faith! The other areas are not static and change, or should change with time (they have little bearing on one’s faith and didn’t arise out of religion to begin with), so we can at least negotiate  rights and choices in those areas without feeling afraid of entering disbelief. That is the area cut out for Muslim feminists.

What do you think?

Lesbians in Islam: the ignored group?

I was reading on a private blog once about homosexuality and Islam. The writer quoted from an Islamic question and answer website a ‘fatwa’ (religious declaration/judgment) against homosexuality. This prompted me to explore what http://www.islamqa.com/ had to say on the topic. I found a lot of interesting answers to questions related to homosexuality posted by readers.

Is homosexuality a sin?

Undoubtedly the sin of homosexuality is one of the worst sins; indeed, it is one of the major sins (kabaa’ir) that Allaah has forbidden. Allaah destroyed the people of Loot (peace be upon him) with the most terrifying kinds of punishment because they persisted in their sin and made this evil action commonplace and acceptable among themselves.

Several verses are quoted after this answer and a few ahadith are cited as well that basically denounce homosexuality and order swift execution of homosexuals. However not one of the quoted hadith is from either Bukahri or Muslim – the two most authentic books on ahadith. The verses also do not refer to ‘sodomy’ explicitly.

Is homosexuality a sin for men and women?

There is no doubt among the fuqahaa’ that lesbianism is haraam and is a major sin, as stated by al-Haafiz Ibn Hajar (may Allaah have mercy on him). (Al-Mawsoo’ah al-Fiqhiyyah, part 24, p. 251).

Apparently, Quran is explicit about sodomy as a sin and according to scholars refers to such sinners as “people of Lot” which is interpreted as homosexuals. However, there is no mention of lesbians in the Quran and no authentic hadith against lesbianism. It is only the scholars who claim that lesbianism is a major sin.

What is the punishment for homosexuality under Islam?

With regard to the specific type of punishment mentioned in the question – stoning to death – this kind of punishment is for the adulterer who is married. The shar’i punishment for the crime of homosexuality is execution – by the sword, according to the most correct view – as was narrated in the discussion above about the differences among the scholars as to how this execution should be carried out. As far as lesbianism is concerned, there is no hadd for it, but it is subject to ta’zeer [unspecified punishment to be determined at the discretion of the qaadi]. (al-Mawsoo’ah al-Fiqhiyyah, part 24, p. 253).

The scholars of Islam, such as Maalik, al-Shaafi’i, Ahmad and Ishaaq said that (the person guilty of this crime) should be stoned, whether he is married or unmarried…Al-Tirmidhi (1456), Abu Dawood (4462) and Ibn Maajah (2561) narrated that Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever you find doing the action of the people of Loot, execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.” Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi…The Sahaabah were unanimously agreed on the executing of homosexuals, but they diffired as to how they were to be executed …Some of them, such as Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq and ‘Ali ibn Abi Taalib (may Allaah be pleased with them) thought that they should be burned to death. Some of them, such as Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) thought that they should be thrown from a tall building followed by stoning. Some of them thought that they should be stoned to death, which was narrated from both ‘Ali and Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with them).

Any type of punishment and especially stoning to death and execution by sword is a punishment set by scholars and sahaba. Specific execution style is not even mentioned in ahadith quoted by Tirmidi. Tirmidi is considered not as authentic as Bukhari or Muslim. Also, interestingly all punishments are reserved for gay men; the scholars did not come up with any punishment for lesbians.

Does homosexuality make a Muslim a kafir?

Homosexuality is a major sin which deserves the most severe of punishments in this world and in the Hereafter. But the person who does that cannot be described as a kaafir because of that, unless he thinks that it is permissible and claims that it is halaal – in which he is to be denounced as a kaafir. But simply doing it whilst admitting that it is haraam does not put a Muslim beyond the pale of Islam. He is still a Muslim, but he is exposed to the wrath of Allaah and is committing a major sin.

Can a gay man get married?

If he truly repents to Allaah, Allaah will accept his repentance, and he does not need to confess his sin to anyone so that the hadd punishment would be carried out on him. (Majmoo’ al-Fataawaa, part 34, p. 180)… If he repents sincerely towards Allaah, there is no reason why he should not get married, and indeed it may be obligatory in his case, as a protection for him and in accordance with what Allaah has permitted. And Allaah knows best. May Allaah bless our Prophet Muhammad.

How do we know if a gay has repented sincerely and is ready to get married because “it may be obligatory in his case, as a protection for him”? Does it mean a man can hide the fact that he was gay from his prospective wife?

What if a good Muslim wife finds out her husband is gay?

A married man committing sodomy! … Your husband has committed a great sin, from which he must repent before death comes to him and he is subject to the wrath and vengeance of Allaah and loss in this world and in the Hereafter… You have to advise him, after being certain that he has indeed done this, and remind him that Allaah is always watching him and that the Shaytaan is keen to mislead him, so that perhaps he may stop committing this sin… But if he does not stop this sin and give up this evil action, then warn him that you will demand a divorce, and that may make him stop. Note that living with this man – if he does not stop what he is doing – will result you and your children also being exposed to punishment, and you may also contract a disease that he has gotten as a result of his perverse actions.

Few questions arise here. First, a woman will be quite sure that her husband is gay before she writes to a sheikh; shouldn’t the sheikh know this rather than say be “certain that he has indeed done this”? Second, I thought the punishment for a married gay was stoning to death! What happened to the stoning part? He’s married, the wife is reporting the crime, what are we waiting for?!

All quotes are from http://www.islamqa.com/


I couldn’t find anything directly discussing lesbianism in the Quran or Sunnah/Hadith. If anyone has anything, please do share. Almost all verses that can be interpreted to discuss homosexuality refer to sodomy as practiced by the people of Lot. There is no hadith in either Bukhari or Muslim on lesbianism per se. The closest hadith I could find in Sahih Muslim is:

‘Abd al-Rahman, the son of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, reported from his father: The Messenger of Allaah (sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam) said: A man should not see the private parts of another man, and a woman should not see the private parts of another woman, and a man should not lie with another man under one covering, and a woman should not lie with another woman under one covering.

The closest declaration on punishment for lesbianism I could find is:

As for the punishment of lesbianism, there is no specific punishment given in the Qur’an for lesbianism; however, Muslim jurists state that it is a punishable offence and that the punishment is a form of discipline. The punishment is to be set by the Muslim ruler according to the circumstances of the crime and the one who commits it. The lesbian’s testimony is unacceptable because she is an evildoer. (See Al-Mawsu`ah Al-Fiqhiyyah, 24/253)

Ibn Qudamah (may Allah have mercy on him) states: “If two women masturbate one another, then they are cursed fornicators”. (See Al-Mughni, 10/162)

Some scholars, like Al-`Izz Ibn `Abd As-Salam, say that a lesbian is not permitted to look at a Muslim woman, and that a Muslim woman is not permitted to uncover (take off her Hijab) in front of a lesbian, because she is an evildoer who cannot be trusted not to describe her attitude towards others… “Muslim Jurists agree that a witness should be morally sound. A pervert cannot be taken as a witness. Since lesbianism is an act of perversion, a lesbian cannot be a witness. Even with the jurists not declaring this openly, it can still be understood from their words and conditions.” (Source: http://www.islamonline.net/)

  • Why do you think Muslim men are somewhat silent and clueless about lesbianism? Is it because female homosexuality is seen as a lesser sin than sodomy or is it that Muslim men do not believe that lesbianism is a reality? Or do they not consider lesbianism a worthy threat since it is not “a crime against the rights of females?
  • Why did the scholars and Companions not decide on a specific punishment for lesbians? Why are lesbians left at the mercy of individual Muslim judges who have no clear guidelines to follow?
  • Why can’t a lesbian not be a witness whereas no such condition is placed for a gay man?
  • Is it possible that female homosexuality is seen as benign preoccupation and not as adultery (like male homosexuality) since “precious male seed” is not being wasted? What is the Islamic definition of adultery and why does lesbianism not fall into it?
  • Finally what implications does it have for Muslim feminists?

Edited to add: Please go over and read Zuhura’s analytical post on Is Homosexuality a Sin?

Women in positions of power

This is the subtitle of the chapter Position of Woman in the Islamic Shariah in Wahiduddin Khan’s book Woman between Islam and Western Society.  Khan writes:

Even the modern world still finds it unimaginable that a woman should be given a high government office. In a poll taken in 1972, the majority of American voters said that they would rather have a black man than a woman as president. The idea of a woman president was ridiculed. Someone joked: “When the lady president delivers her child, the hospital bulletin will have to announce that ‘the President and baby are doing well.'”

The Persian emperor Chosroes died during the life of teh Prophet. His courtiers crowned Chosroes’ daughter queen. On hearing this news, the Prophet said, “A nation which makes a woman its ruler will not progress.”

The researchers of modern age now testify to the truth of this time-honored principle laid down by Islam. Fourteen hundred years ago, Islam held that a woman was not fit for so high a position as that of a sovereign. While until recently this could have been regarded as a mere assertion made a very long time ago, today it is accepted as a scientific fact. What the Prophet had said as a matter of inspiration has now been established, after a long period of study and research, as a reality. This is clear proof that Islamic principles are based on facts of nature and not just on supposition and conjecture.

I thought this was timely since just recently I had posted on Muslim women and politics. Now that I have come out of my initial shock at Khan’s ideas regarding women and positions of power, I can point to the sources of my horror:

1.  What does he mean by “researchers of modern age now testify to the truth of this time-honored principle”? Who are the researchers? What was their study? What is all this about?

2. Is there a “time-honored principle laid down by Islam” that women are absolutely unfit “for so high a position as that of a sovereign”?

3. Is it a “as a scientific fact”? Really?

4. Isn’t whatever Khan has written actually unsupported “supposition and conjecture” which he presents as an Islamic principle?

5. Is women having babies a joke that should be ridiculed? Does it make woman “unfit”?

So now you know why I have been chewing on my furniture lately!

Muslim women and politics

In “Women’s roles take divergent paths in First and Third Worlds”, Rosa Brooks quotes Francis Fukuyama’s article titled “Women and the Evolution of World Politics,” which debates that “a truly matriarchal world would be less prone to conflict and more cooperative than the one we now inhabit” although “masculine policies will still be essential even in a feminized world.”

Brooks takes Fukuyama’s point a step further to state that because of the increasing female infanticide in Asia, Asian men are in “surplus” and “unless we take the changing demographics of gender as seriously as we take other emerging global trends such as weapons proliferation and climate change the future could be as dangerous as a cage full of Fukuyama’s furious male chimpanzees.”

Interestingly, Islam in the 21st Century has been reduced to a dangerous cage full of furious men not because of demographics of gender but because of the patriarchs of our society and community, people such as Abubakar Ahmad Gada, the author of Political Irrelevance of Women in Islam.

Gada’s basic premise is the hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad had said, “A nation which placed its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper.” Sanusi wrote an informative article, “Women and Political Leadership in Muslim Thought,” which sheds light on the relevance of the hadith to preceding events and circumstances under which the Prophet had said that.

However, many Muslims read the hadith in isolation and insist that a nation led by a woman will not have Allah’s blessings.

History suggests otherwise. The sun never set on the British Empire under the rule of Queen Victoria; Russia flourished under Catherine the Great; and Spain was ‘Christened’ under Queen Isabella and her Spanish Inquisition. India prospered under the premiership of Indira Ghandi, and Golda Meir defeated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

Where women leaders have prospered, they have failed greatly too. It is particularly the failures of Muslim female leaders that have involved men protecting patriarchal interests. A’ishah Bint Abu Bakr was the first Muslim woman to be defeated. She played an important role in the civil war, was defeated and captured in 656 and only released on the promise that she would abandon political life. It is paradoxical that when A’ishah lost the Battle of the Camel against Ali, her companion Abu Bakra opportunistically narrated the hadith spoken 25 years that “A nation which placed its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper” Definitely, A’ishah’s resignation from politics served the interests of the menfolk who had started to reclaim the rights of Muslim women in Arabia. 1400 years later, women in several Muslim societies are denied their rights by men, rights which are promised by Islam. Such societies are, of course, very patriarchal.

Muslim women have appeared in history either as political leaders or as political decision-making consorts to their husbands. Some prominent Muslim consorts and leaders are: Khayzuran of Baghdad, a slave turned caliph-consort who made important political decisions for her husband; Empress Shulü Hatun of Qidan, who ruled Qidan until her son was elected as a successor; Asma Bint Shibab al-Sulayhiyya of Yemen whose husband Sultan Ali al-Sulahi delegated much of the administration of the kingdom to her; Radiyya Altamish; Kassi of Mali; Oghul Qamish; and Dudu of Janupur. Almost all of these Muslim consorts and leaders are famous for sermonising at the Friday Khutbas, waging wars, setting up health and education programmes, improving state economy, and have proved to be capable leaders.

Although they can be as dishonest or brutal as men, women usually take longer to decide whether or not to engage in wars because “violence and the coalition-building is primarily the work of males… most murderous violence is the province of males, and the nature of female alliances is different” (Fukuyama). Women are better at multitasking by nature and are “trained to be more empathetic”. These are two important leadership qualities.

Lately, contemporary Muslim leaders are marrying young and intelligent women that boost their political careers. Queen Rania of Jordan is one example of a bright Muslim woman leader. In 2004, the Ruler of Dubai, Mohammed Bin Rashed married Princess Haya of Jordan, who is a very prominent and popular community figure. There is also Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the Consort of the Emir of Qatar.

There have been other winds of change lately. Three years ago the Kuwaiti parliament voted to give women full political rights but this amendment to the electoral law came 1400 years after Islam had declared that women had the right to vote. It is unfortunate that contemporary Muslim men have been denying women the rights that their religion had promised them so long ago.

Amina Wadud points out that there has been a “historical absence of female voices in the interpretive process for most of our intellectual legacy. Some have erroneously taken this absence to mean irrelevance of female voices or experiences in determining meaning and application.” Wadud suggests that to “bring about a more complete human articulation of textual meaning” of the Quran it is urgent to “include women’s voices and perspectives within the interpretive process and to sustain those perspective as integral to our intellectual legacy.”

A Muslim woman’s moral excellence has been a Muslim man’s greatest excogitation and it is time that we see beyond the pale to include women in Muslim governance and the development of government. We have waited too long while Muslim men attempted to sort out our political problems and taught us how to practice our religion, sometimes failing miserably by nurturing a male chauvinistic society for years at the expense of house arrested women. If women are not given a chance, the world will soon witness more and more furious men rattling the bars of the Muslim political cage.

Irshad Manji

While searching for online material on Muslim feminists I have often come across Irshad Manji’s name. Manji is Muslim, believes in the emancipation of Muslim women, opposes stoning adulterers, doesn’t cover her hair, and above all lives without marriage with a partner who is a woman. Yet, she remains Muslim and calls herself a feminist.

Often when I have brought up her name when discussing feminism with Muslims I have only received negative impressions about her in return. She is called “loud”, “irritating””, and “promiscuous.” Manji is Muslim by birth; had she converted to Islam and shown the kind of opposition to patriarchal expectations that she does, I suspect she would have met greater hostility.

How do you, Muslim feminist, feel about Manji?  Do you think she is a Muslim feminist? Do you think that if a woman doesn’t cover her head, fights for LGBT rights and stands up against traditional sharia practices like stoning and whipping, then other Muslim receive automatic right to call them infidels? What kind of treatment do you think a woman like Manji would have received in early Islam?