A feminist history of menstruation

A feminist history of menstruation by Metis

One upon a time, in primitive societies menstruating women were made to walk through paddy fields because they were shedding “blood of life” from their bodies that was believed to help crops grow. This theory is only recently been proved to be correct when researchers and scientists have claimed that “cells coming out of menstrual blood are highly regenerative” and scientists have used stem cells from menstrual blood to save limbs[1].

Let us go back a few thousand years – primitive people believed that women were far more powerful than men and if a menstruating woman ran naked through a field in the night, the power of her menstrual blood would destroy all crop worms. It was this power that made ancient South American Indians maintain that humans were created from “moon blood” since fertility was attributed to the moon in early cultures. The gods of the moon, like Ishtar, Quilla, Dschan, Selene, and Luna were female and often linked to fertility. Similarly the Mesopotamian mother goddess, Ninhursag, was believed to have created humans out of her “blood of life” and Mesopotamian women made loam dolls for conception-spell by painting them with their menstrual blood. This would be a perfect place to mention that the meaning of the name of the first man in many religions, Adam, means “bloody loam” and many ancient cultures believed that humans are created from “coagulated blood.”

It was in ancient Egypt that taboo against menstruation can be first found. An inscription at the Hathor temple has a list of gods with their specific dislikes; one god disliked menstruating women because they were seen as extremely powerful and a likely threat to patriarchy. However, in general public sphere menstruation was considered to have a life-giving and healing effect and was used for producing medicines and ointments. Interestingly, menstrual blood was supposed to have a cleansing effect; for example, in ancient spells for mother and child menstrual blood was used as ointment to protect newborns from demons.

In a “Wisdom Text” from ancient Egypt there are hints about menstrual hygiene particularly the ancient use of tampons made from several types of material like flax, papyrus and cotton. It is believed that Isis was the inventor of the first tampon in the form of the “Isis knot[2].” We also now know that “sham menstruation”[3] and “sex-strike” was used by primitive women to oppress men.

Four hundred years before Jesus was born, Greeks firmly believed in the life-giving qualities of menstrual blood. Aristotle wrote in the 4thcentury BC that a fetus was born entirely out of menstrual blood and the role of the man was only to act as a ‘catalyst.’ Gradually Aristotelian view was displaced within 300 years by Greek myths that the woman’s body merely provided a vessel for the child, which was in fact entirely created by semen. Thus, although up till the end of the 18th century and early 19th century it was the Aristotelian theory that was taught in medical schools throughout the world, major world religions took a deep interest in the patriarchal view presented by the later Greek myths. We, therefore, have Scriptures teaching both views: Aristotelian view that a fetus is made entirely of coagulated menstrual blood and the Greek myth that it is made entirely of semen. Both views, we know today, are wrong.

Slowly men began to fear powerful women and aimed to bring them down by firmly establishing patriarchy and teaching that menstruation was taboo:

The Talmud, ancient store of Jewish wisdom, states that if a woman at the beginning of her period passes between two men, she kills one of them. The Lebanese believe that the woman’s shadow causes flowers to wither; a menstruating woman, they say, will kill the horse she rides. Pliny’s “Natural History” states that the touch of a menstruous woman turns wine to vinegar, blights crops, kills seedlings, blasts gardens, rusts iron (especially at the waning of the moon) kills bees and causes mares to miscarry. Frazer records that in Brunswick, Germany, there is a custom that if a menstruating woman assists at the killing of a pig the pork will putrefy[4].


A menstruating woman began to be seen as unclean[5], unsafe for others, in distress[6], and even mentally disturbed[7]. Men began keeping away from menstruating women and started to believe that having intercourse with their menstruating wives would harm the women (although today science has offered theories[8] that women feel sexiest and enjoy intercourse the most during their period which actually has benefits for their general health and well-being!). Unfortunately, in many cultures women on their period were put away in “menstrual huts[9]” and shunned completely.

Over time, menstruation became associated with male honour and hence odd traditional practices developed like the Jewish tradition (note: it is not a religiously sanctioned tradition) of slapping a daughter who starts her period. It is believed that the original purpose was to “slap sense” into a newly fertile girl, warning her not to disgrace the family by becoming pregnant out of wedlock; or to “awaken” her out of her childhood slumber and into her role as a Jewish woman. In Hinduism a woman is banned from even approaching a temple[10]; in Judaism and early Christianity a woman had to purify herself after period by sacrificing two turtle doves in the temple. A Muslim woman must also ‘purify’ herself after menstruation by taking a ritual bath. She cannot touch the Quran, fast or pray while menstruating and according to at least one oral tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, menstruation of a woman leads to “deficiency in her religion[11].”

Even today when science has constantly proved men (and women) wrong and cleared many myths associated with menstruation, men use menstruation as an excuse to oppress women by claiming that “women have less of these qualities than men[12]” especially when they are menstruating. There are communities that train their girls to believe that menstruation will make them sick. Studies have now been conducted on the influence of religion on women’s menstrual well-being that show that “women who were most likely to suffer from menstrual pain and problems were the ones whose religion told them they were unclean or that they had to be submissive to men.[13]

Unfortunately women are not trained to capture the power of menstruation which was once widely feared in the ancient world. We are never taught as growing girls that “during the time of bleeding women’s ability to dream, have visions and attain altered states of consciousness is strong.[14]” We are not taught that 4,000 years ago menstruation was neither shame nor taboo but was used as harnessed power making gods out of women. Instead of being taught that the fluctuations of our bodies make us more adaptable and resistant, we are taught by our societies that we have the “curse” – a result of our ‘original sin’, and that we are “unclean” and “in distress.”

Truth is that “menstruation is an initiatory time, when women can potentially open to a highly charged altered state, giving them access to a singular kind of power. The power of self-awareness, deep feeling, knowingness, intuition. A power that matures over time with each cycle” (Alexandra Pope).

Menstruation can be the best time for a powerful spiritual experience.

[1] http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14559-stem-cells-from-menstrual-blood-save-limbs.html?DCMP=ILC-hmts&nsref=news8_head_dn14559#.VO4B_fmUeSo

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyet

[3] http://www.amazon.com/From-Interaction-Symbol-communication-Literature/dp/9027243441

[4] http://www.asphodel-long.com/html/menstrual_taboos.html

[5] http://www.atruechurch.info/sexduringmenstruation.html

[6] http://www.islamweb.net/emainpage/index.php?page=showfatwa&Option=FatwaId&Id=87273

[7] http://peacetvpage.blogspot.com/2013/08/why-muslim-women-not-allowed-praying.html

[8] http://pms.about.com/od/myths/a/menstrual_myths.htm

[9] http://www.longmontacupuncture.net/hut.jpg

[10] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_and_menstruation#Indic

[11] http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/006-sbt.php#001.006.301

[12] http://islamqa.info/en/71338

[13] Luna Yoga: Vital Fertility and Sexuality (1997) by Adelheid Ohlig. Published by Ash Tree Publishing. Also see http://www.apa.org/monitor/oct02/pmdd.aspx

[14] http://www.apa.org/monitor/oct02/pmdd.aspx

Edited on February 25, 2015 

Thinking about the words “equal” rights

Muslims believe that Allah has given humans the rights that suit their gender which are seen as equal but different by some, and unequal but equitable by others.

History of pre-Islamic world shows that women enjoyed rights based on their social status and where they lived. Societies like the Egyptian and Persian gave women far greater rights than let’s say the Athenian and Indian societies. Even in India, women in the Southern region had more rights than those in the North. Upper caste Hindu women were treated better than women from the lower castes. In Greece, Spartan women were more independent than the Athenian women. Islam established a standard in Arabia. Whereas women in other communities differed in their rights according to their gender and social status, all Muslim women from all parts of Arabia had equal rights within Islam (obviously the Mothers of the Believers were different). This means that some of their previous rights were curtailed in some cases and new rights were given to them that some may never have enjoyed before.

I first thought about this standardisation of rights so that all women form a uniform ummah when I read Idolator Islam by Ali Eteraz some six years ago. In that essay, Eteraz writes this about the Prophet:

Where he was solitary, an exile from the Qureish, he made an Ummah, a brotherhood greater than all tribes. Where he longed for a family, he indulged in a family-making of the grandest proportion. To bring in by way of marriage — since the ways of blood-relations were absent — everything from mothers, to sisters, to cousins, to nieces, and, of course, lovers. All of them were to him different elements of a greater family, though he called them “wife.” Islam, it turns out, is simply that, which, as with Jesus, gave a social exile a place to belong. Is it, then, any wonder that Christianity and Islam have been the world’s great missionary faiths? Judaism and Buddhism have always been far more strict with who is let in, and it makes sense, as they were handed down by princes, men who had great followings.

Giving all women equal rights within the ummah could have been accidental or it may have been purposeful. But within Islam, all women are equal whether they are queens or beggars and it had amazing consequences for at least the pagan women who belonged to patriarchal tribes and came from oppressive backgrounds.

Some rights women are promised in Islam are incomparable. For instance (without going into details and references), in Islam it is the husband’s duty to foot the wedding bill. It is his duty to look after all the financial needs of the wife. She doesn’t have to work if she doesn’t want to; and in sharia she doesn’t have to cook if she doesn’t like it. Fiqh allows women the right to demand domestic help. In early Islam many households had slaves and women of a household only worked out of “kindness.” There are many references to the Prophet cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, sewing, and even mending his shoes despite having at least nine wives at a time and several slaves. In Islam if a woman works she has the right not to spend any of it on her family. This is the consensus of scholars although early Muslim women like Khadeejah spent their money on their families. Men are also entirely responsible for their children’s financial needs. A woman is not obliged to work to support the children although one can argue that it was easier in early societies when life was simple. In Islam a child must be breast-fed but a mother is not forced to breast-feed her child and she can demand the services of a wet-nurse for her child.

In Islamic fiqh a woman doesn’t have to live with her in-laws if she doesn’t want to; she doesn’t have to look after them either. If she lives with them or cares for them, it is again out of kindness. This is an interesting ‘right’ because Muslim societies are essentially collectivistic but it is also not from Sunnah since none of the Prophet’s wives had any in-laws to worry about. Islam gives women the right to stipulate in their marriage contract that they have the right to initiate divorce; demand custody of the children in case of divorce; and demand divorce in case of husband’s polygamy. The marriage contract is a ‘take it or leave it’ document. If a man is not comfortable with the stipulations a woman puts in her marriage contract he can back out very early on and save everyone the headache of a male-dominated marriage.

(Interestingly studies conducted on Muslim countries with the highest rate of divorce show that divorce in their communities is related to women realising and demanding their rights: initiating divorce because of polygamy; asking for enormous dowry; refusing housework and consequently demanding domestic help; wanting to work full-time; and delaying or refusing pregnancy. The last two points are not Islamic rights.)

Historically, Muslim women in the past held important leadership positions unlike we are told today that women can’t become leaders. 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; and 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 proved to be capable leaders. The Islam of their time allowed them all these honours.

Today scores of Muslim women pray behind a male imam in another room or from behind a curtain from where they cannot view the imam, but there is also the possibility that men do the same and pray behind a woman from behind a barrier so that the veiled woman’s figure does not “naturally arouse the instincts in men so as to divert their attention and concentration, and disturb the required spiritual atmosphere”! It shouldn’t be inconceivable.

I think that before Muslim women ask for equal rights; they need empowerment through education and understanding of their Islamic rights. Many contemporary Muslim societies that are largely patriarchal do not empower their women with knowledge. How can women be expected to gain equal rights when they don’t have the power to raise their voice? I once wrote on the history of status of women in Islam and I would like to end with the same quote I used in that article:

“…in order to survive and thrive, the Quran had to be addressed to, understood and accepted by the Arabs of the 6th century. This concept is crucial to understanding the status of women in Islam and the extent of their rights as well as their obligations. The rights of women established in the Quran, although progressive in their essence and content, were limited in their scope and implementation in order to suit the human society which received the divine message at the time. As we approach the end of the 20th century and taking into account the enormous socio-economic changes that have taken place since the time of the Prophet, women’s rights must be extended to the best of what they can mean in our modern time. Based on the Quranic teachings of what is fair (al adl) and what is generous and perfect (al-ihsan), we must go beyond the literal or interpretative limitations and examine the Quran’s underlying principles which promote the equality of men and women- morally, spiritually, intellectually, socially and politically. It is this general principle that should serve as our guiding light in defining women’s rights.”

Do you have any thoughts on this subject that you’d like to share?

Online Conference on Islamic Feminism

It gives me immense pleasure and honour to host Metis’ first Online Conference on Islamic Feminism (OCIF). I know that the blog is not followed by a huge readership but those who follow this blog will, I hope, enjoy the interesting papers that are published in the OCIF.

To begin alphabetically, there is first Becky whose paper is titled “Are Muslim Women Allowed to Marry Non-Muslim Men?” in which she offers both opinions by Muslims for and against Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men. Becky believes that the issue is not as black and white as we believe and that it is important to know all sides of the issue and the arguments related to it.

Latiffa’s paper “Muslim family laws – A look at its formulation and relevance today” is a thorough look into Muslim family laws including inheritance, and marriage and divorce. Latiffa concludes that some Muslim family laws need reforming so that they may become more relevant to contemporary Muslim societies.

Next is Metis writing on the topic of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the essay titled “Catastrophe between their legs.” In this short essay I have tried to explain very briefly why I think FGM should be banned by Muslim jurists.

Moonshineveritas article titled “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: A Political Perspective on the French Niqāb Ban” is a reaction to the contemporary debate on France’s ban on the niqaab in the country.  Moonshineveritas looks at all sides of the issue: the American ideology, known French racism, and the Muslim countries and their ideologies before reaching her conclusion that France can become a ‘global citizen’ if it tries even though it is not one today.

Nahida writes on “Muslims, feminism, consent, and the virginity myth” explaining how “Islam is against pre-marital sex. Islam is not against pre-marital non-virgins.” Nahida offers some ahadith supporting this position and asks fellow Muslims to stop shaming and judging women who may not be virgins when they get married.

Organica very generously allowed me to reproduce her essay “A human take on Hijab” in which she discusses why she wears hijab and what it symbolises for her.

Women in the Egyptian Islamist Movements: Research and Reflexivity” is the title of the paper by Sara of  Cairo, Lusaka, Amsterdam. Sara explains why and how she wants to conduct an ethnographical study into the women involved in Islamist movements in Egypt. In the conclusion she writes why such and ethnography would be beneficial to Muslim women.

Next Sarah of Almost Clever urges born Muslim women to fight against segregation in mosques in her paper “Segregation at The Mosque (a social worker’s perspective)” since “as a convert, and a white person, (she) still feels like (she is) too much of an outsider to be the one telling people how their religion should be practiced.” Sarah, nevertheless, is working towards ending strict gender in her Mosque in Milwaukee.

Sumera wrote an interesting post in 2007 on the inheritance law in Islam that she has allowed me to use in the OCIF. The title of her post is “Share of Inheritance?” in which she asks the question “Is the only reason for brothers inheriting a larger share of wealth due to maintenance and provision for the female siblings, or are there other reasons for it?”

Zuhura also kindly allowed me to re-publish her post that I have given the title “Obedient women and wife beating” in which she offers a very interesting alternate meaning of the verse 4:34 arguing that the word “adrubhunna” does not mean “beat them.”

Share of Inheritance? by Sumera

Under Islam, the wealth of a deceased person is divvied up in a number of ways and isnt just limited to his/her immediate family. The wife and children get a share, and so do the deceased brothers (sisters also?) and parents/grandparents, depending on who is alive when he/she passes away. The portions vary according to who is alive at the time of one’s death. Adopted or fostered children of the deceased do not have any right to the inheritance. More can be read about it here

There’s always been debate surrounding why there is a difference in the share of inheritance certain siblings receive – particularly females. And the answer usually given the brothers/males are given a larger share because they are in effect responsible for the females of the household and therefore their share of the inheritance would (i am assuming) go in that spending pot.

Even in the event of divorceor their husband’s death, women get their share of inheritance as stipulated by Islamic Law in the same way as men get their share. However, unlike men, women are not responsible for maintaining any relative, irrespective of their sound financial standing. The husband is not at liberty to help his relatives at the detriment of his own family.

But perhaps its just me, but haven’t family dynamics changed? Does an extended family unit exist? If it does, is it “close knit”? Because I very much doubt so. Do brothers still “provide” for their sisters if the father is deceased? Is that “responsibility” emphasised to them and understood as they understand the responsibility the father has towards the family? I’ve only seen this happening in the Indian Subcontinent (the women don’t work because they can’t, or there are no jobs, or become seamstresses to generate some income which is meagre) because thats the only place I am familar with. Is it similar in the Middle East and Arab countries?

Anywhere else (particularly in the West), the sisters are expected to work themselves. There is no-one to “look out for them” aside from the mother and perhaps the brothers if she is in some dire need. Aside from that, she is expected to pave her own way and make her own money.

Most women I know work themselves and generate their own income, and the brother’s are in employment and have their own money because they can’t afford to run the household, their own expenses AND spend on their (female) siblings. Some households have the women contributing towards the finances of the home and without their input they’d be in financial difficulty. They of course do so willingly because the family home is their home also and they believe helping out their father (and mother) is their responsibility.

So from the above POV, wouldnt the lesser inheritance share be inadequate for such a family arrangement? I understand that if the women receive a larger share they are in effect infringing and usurping the share of another but would that not be based on “need” and who would “need” a larger share? Would the deceased parents and grandparents “need” the amount of share they receive? Obviously it’d probably be better to give them their share and then ask for a percentage of it but those decisions would be better made depending on the character of the parents/grandparents and how willingly they’d understand and see your request for the share (insert myriad of family politics in here)

This response states that she may end up receiving “more” than her brothers

Another matter they arouse when they imagine that the woman s share in inheritance always equals to half the man s share of it, depending on what Allah, The All-High says: To the male, a portion equal to that of two females. [Al-Nisa 4:11] ! It is mere an illusion springing from deep inexcusable ignorance, for the Quran decides this verdict only in one case: when the testator dies leaving male and female children or brothers and sisters. It is well known that both of the son and the brother make their sisters their partners in possessing the rest of the inheritance after the owners of the other shares have had their shares. In such a case the brother- who has made his sister a partner-receives twice as much share as his sister who has been made partner. In all the other cases the man and the woman are equal in the limited inheritance portions, and the woman s potion may even exceed the man s in many cases.

I dont think thats necessarily true, and is entirely dependent on the dynamics of the family, the relationship between the siblings and of course whether they actually wish to make their brother or sister a “partner” in possession of the rest of the inheritance. Its too simplified an assumption to make.

The following snippet is in relation to bequests and gifts stated in a person’s will

However, the question arises as to whether it is necessary to distribute the estate equally between the children? The answer to this is that it is permissible to give the male children twofold of that given to the female children, as it would have been distributed as inheritance. It is also permissible to give all the children, male and female, equal shares. However, to give less than this to the daughters or to completely deprive them of any share, or to be unjust in the distribution of the wealth among the sons, without a valid Shar’i reason, is considered to be blameworthy and sinful. One will be sinful for favouring one child over the other, although the gift will stand as valid.

Yes, if there is an Islamically valid reason, such as one child being extremely disobedient or involved in open sinning, it would be permitted to give him/her less. (See: Radd al-Muhtar)

More can be read about the procedures of making a will in accordance to Shariah here

Im wondering if the above is applicable to actual shares of inheritance? The following is in relation to denying someone of their share in the inheritance

There is no way you can deny him the right to inheritance, since whatever you possess at your death will pass on to the inheritors immediately.

However, if you distributed your wealth to your other children before your death (and before any terminal illness), that would be permissible. In this way nothing will remain in your possession at your death to inherit by anyone. You will have to transfer complete ownership to them before your death for this to be a valid transfer.

Is the only reason for brothers inheriting a larger share of wealth due to maintenance and provision for the female siblings, or are there other reasons for it? Is divvying up the inheritance according to Sunni Law the ONLY way a Muslim can share out their wealth and any other way is seen as “unIslamic”?

Muslims, feminism, consent, and the virginity myth by Nahida

A friend of mine once told me of a woman he knew who was divorced the day she was married because she confessed to her husband that she had been molested as a child. The man left her immediately to save his own reputation. Not with God, of course. With people.

With God, her track record was clean. Islam is against pre-marital sex. Islam is not against pre-marital non-virgins. And for good reason.

The woman in question is still a “pure” woman. The only impurity is that of the rapist. She has not been “tainted” or “contaminated.” This sick mentality, in which we are described as if we are merchandise, is part of the reason that women who have been sexually assaulted are discarded and ignored as damaged and impure. The virginity myth hits women harder than it does men, and in this rape culture we’re living in, in this culture in which rape charges are always viewed under unnatural scrutiny with the inclusion of irrelevant factors, in which men are encouraged to use rapist language to portray dominance over one another, in which men are expected to bond over the uses of women, in which women are told not to wear this and not to go there when men should be told not to rape, in which women are held responsible for their own attacks, in which the unbelievable and unacceptable romanticizing of a man driven by uncontrolled impulse ripping off an unwilling woman’s blouse and forcing her against a wall is shoved into our senses as something beautiful take it as a compliment! instead of the perversion it truly is, in this rape culture—where sex and violence are such easy associates we don’t think twice about it—the concept of virginity, that a woman has a duty to be pure until she is “contaminated” only adds to harm.

It has not only the potential to destroy her life, but her self-worth as well.

And that’s just outside of Islam. Imagine all that harm, and additional harm, exerted on a woman who believes she has an afterlife—and is brainwashed by a repulsive society with the misuse of religion into believing that she’s ruined her own chances with God, that the actions of the rapist were her fault, and because of this she might as well let everything else go. I’ve lost my virginity. Everything is gone.

In reality, she did not have pre-marital sex. She was raped. She is devoid of sin. Losing “virginity” is not sinning. Pre-marital sex is sinning. And being raped does not mean you “had sex.” Being raped means you did not have sex.

As for Muslim women and men who really did have pre-marital sex—willing consensual sex—all is not lost for you either. The virginity myth also creates a deluded mentality that sinning the first time for some reason is the only “real” time you can sin as far as pre-marital sex goes by implying that sex is something to be taken from the woman and given to the man. This is also a contributor to rape culture. Consent is not a one-time thing. It is an all-time thing. Just because someone let you have sex with them once does not mean he or she has given you permission to have sex with him or her whenever you want, and it does not mean you can do whatever you want with his or her body.

You cannot, for example, have sex with her when she’s asleep just because she gave you permission to penetrate her once before—unless she specifically told you prior to the act that she wouldn’t mind being woken up this way. Remember the case of Julian Assange? Even if she allows you to continue when you wake up. Yes, she allowed you to continue when she woke up—but initially, you raped her. And yes, this particular case was only getting all the attention it is for political reasons—that does not mean the allegations cannot be real and should not be taken seriously. They are serious allegations. And it is serious that these women were harassed to the point where they left their cities in fear of their lives.

It is particularly heartbreaking to me when Muslim women are not aware of their own rights because they have been taught such patriarchal interpretations through their cultures and the histories they knew have been so successfully modified or erased. My own mother was under the impression that abortion was forbidden in all circumstances, even though it is permissible in the first 120 days of the pregnancy, in cases of rape, or in cases in which the mother’s life is in danger. She was also under the impression that the reason we did not use barriers in mosques during the Prophet’s time but use them currently is that women dressed more modestly then than they do now—which cannot be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, the Prophet’s own great granddaughter Sakina Bint al-Hussein did not cover even her hair. She also had a total of 5 or 6 men she married and divorced. She refused to allow her husband to practice polygamy and made a scene when she caught one of them with a jawari, divorcing him in court. In addition to bringing one of them to court for infertility, she fought with some and made passionate declarations of love to others.

She would have today been called a nashiz. The word existed then as well, but not in the same sense it exists today. Nashiz is now seen in “Islamic” law–outlined by insecure theologians forcing history to bend at their desperation–as a social problem, as a rebellious woman, a woman who knows and practices her true Islamic rights given to her by God than that which was stolen from her by men—a danger to the family structure.

A feminist.

But few know this, because they have been taught a version of history modified by patriarchy. This was no accident. A’isha, a wife of the Prophet, was nineteen when she married, advised civil disobedience, led troops to war and won, contributed an enormous number of ahadith and legislated Shari’ah law. Oh yes. She wrote religious law. (Not the same one that’s used today, of course. You have patriarchy to thank for that.) And today her memory has been corrupted. Said ‘al-Afghani spent ten years writing A’isha and Politics to “prove” that women should not be allowed to become political leaders, never mind that she was hugely successful.

This is active modification of history. It is purposeful, forged by men who fear loss of power and are insecure about their own masculinity. When women make any progress, we are bombarded with cries of outrage from men who say they fear misconduct or disorder or “reverse” sexism, even though we all know that this is not a battle, that allowing women to practice their God-given rights does not take these rights away from men. And yet there is resistance. We hear things like, “Why are you so concerned about Western women when so many women in foreign nations are suffering?” from men’s rights activists. Don’t ask them why they’re so concerned about their own rights when those of women are in danger, though! And the truth is, these foreign women are told the same. “We should be happy for the rights we have now!” one of them told me after I expressed my dismay.

Yes, I suppose I should be grateful to be making 80% of what a man makes, because decades before I wouldn’t even be allowed to work.

We see this insecure wave of pushing back today, but it was true even centuries ago. Any time women make any kind of progress, it is said to be too much. We are told that feminism is outdated, but the women who lived in the past and fought for our rights—the women who are said today to have actually contributed to a useful movement—were told the same by men.

‘Umar, future caliph, was one of these men. He became anxious when his own wife “defied” him. “We men of the Quraysh dominate our women,” he said, “When we arrived in Medina we saw that the Ansar let themselves be dominated by theirs. Then our women began to copy their habits!”

One day he and his wife had an argument, and instead of her accepting his screaming with a bowed head as was the pre-Islamic custom for women, she shouted back answers at him in the same severe tone of voice. When he interrogated her on her behavior she replied, “You reproach me for answering you! Well, by God, the wives of the Prophet answer him, and one of them left him until nightfall!”

Alarmed that these new Islamic values of the Ansari women were “ruining” Qurayshi women, and having lost the argument with his wife (if the model man was allowing this wives to stand as his equal, how could he–‘Umar–ask for any more than the Prophet of God?) he hurried to his daughter Hafsa, one of the wives of the Prophet. “Aren’t you afraid that God will be vexed because of the anger of the Messenger of God and strike you down? Don’t make demands of the Prophet. Don’t answer him back.”

He did not only go to his own daughter, but to each of the wives of the Prophet.

One of them was Umm Salama, and she was not having it. ‘Umar offended her in his words and attitude. How dare he come between her and her husband! She was infuriated. “Why are you interfering in the Prophet’s private life?” she snapped, “If he wanted to give us advice, he could do it himself. He is quite capable of doing it. If not the Prophet, then to whom are we supposed to address our requests? Do we meddle in what goes on between you and your wife?”

She said this in front of the rest of the women.

Having failed, ‘Umar finally went to the Prophet (P) himself and expressed his concerns. The women had too much power! They thought themselves as equals! They would not tolerate verbal or physical abuse! This was too much, how will the men handle it? How will they handle feeling so insecure?

The Prophet only smiled.

Looking back at a long, Islamic tradition, we have no problem seeing clearly that the roles that women played were exactly the same as men—few of the women closest to the Prophet were only known for being mothers and daughters. In addition to these, they were businesswomen and warriors. Women’s seclusion in current “Islamic” society has nothing to do with dictations or tradition, but is all the result of contemporary conservative ideology—the forging of a false memory and the attempt to keep the true history a secret.

And with that we have this mentality, not just in Islam but in every cultural setting. It’s really pathetic that in our culture male sexual activity is viewed from an angle of accomplishment rather than pleasure. Sex is not a thing to be given or taken. And that goes all ways, in ways of consent and in ways of practice. Muslim men and women, pre-marital sex is the same weight of sin every time you do it. You should not just spiral into a life of pre-marital sex because you willingly lost your “virginity.” It still counts, and that’s not an excuse for Islamically unlawful sexual activity. Doing it the first time does not weigh any more or less than doing it the second.

If you’re Muslim that is. Women who choose different religions and lifestyles should be able to freely engage in responsible, consensual sex without hypocritical slut shaming. The harm caused by the virginity myth, and the importance in implementing the feminist model of consent, applies to and affects everyone.

Obedient women and wife beating by Zuhura

I’m sure most Muslims are familiar with the Qur’anic verse (4:34) that demands obedience from women toward their husbands and allows husband to beat their wives for disobedience. Here’s a typical translation, by Abdullah Yusuf Ali:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, do not seek against them means (of annoyance): for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all).

When I was first considering converting to Islam, I had a lot of preconceived ideas about how women are treated in Islam, so I spent a good deal of time reading as much as I could about women in the Qur’an and cross-checking things that didn’t sit well with me in different translations. I was pretty disturbed by this verse and it seems that many translators struggle with it as well. I definitely could not belong to a religion in which I’m expected to “obey” my partner, nor one in which my partner has permission to beat me. So how can a feminist make sense of this verse?

The “obedience” issue is pretty easily dismissed.  Check out MuhammadAsad’s translation of this verse:

Men shall take care of women with the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions. And the righteous women are the truly devout ones, who guard the intimacy which God has [ordained to be] guarded. And as for those women whose ill-will you have reason to fear, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them. Behold, God is indeed most high, great!

So we’re not meant to be obedient to our husbands, but rather devout, in other words obedient to Allah. The word obedient may be a decent literal translation of the Arabic but in this context it leads to the sense of obedience to one’s husband, an interpretation in which Qur’anictranslators and commentators (who are mostly men) have a vested interest.

Whenever I pick up a new translation of the Qur’an, I check to see how the word wad-ribuhunn(“and beat them” in Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation above; the transliteration is from Muhammad Asad) is translated. Almost everyone translates the verb as beat, but it’s often accompanied by hedges through parenthesis or footnotes. These hedges seem to be prompted by the question, How can we reconcile Allah’s sanctioning of spousal abuse with the Prophet’s disdain for it?

Ali’s translation, for example, adds the words first, next, and last in order to emphasize that beating is a last resort. And he adds the adverb lightly in order to minimize the damage a husband might inflict on his wife. Asad adds a footnote instead, citing various scholars who emphasized the “symbolic” function of a beating with a toothbrush or folded handkerchief. He concludes that the greatest Muslim scholars “are of the opinion that it is just barely permissible, and should preferably be avoided: and they justify this opinion with the Prophet’s personal feelings with regard to this problem.” (127n45)

It’s nice to know that the Prophet condemned spousal abuse, but does the verse make any more sense translated this way? Why would a wife have less “ill-will” and more loyalty to her husband because tapped lightly with a handkerchief?

Let’s consider a more radical translation, by Ahmed Ali:

Men are the support of women as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them). So women who are virtuous are obedient to God and guard the hidden as God has guarded it. As for women you feel are averse, talk to them suasively; then leave them alone in bed (without molesting them) and go to ed with them (when they are willing). If they open out to you, do not seek an excuse for blaming them. Surely God is sublime and great.

First, Ahmed Ali suggests that men are the support of women rather than their protectors ormaintainers (as Abdullah Yusuf Ali would have it) or even that women need to be taken care of(as the more enlightened Asad would have it). I can get behind that, and I would argue that this could be interpreted that whoever has the higher income should support the other (as I do in my family), without gaining any particular rights over the other.

Second, he agrees with Asad that women should be obedient to God rather than to their husbands. He adds a footnote:

Quanitat only means devoted or obedient to God, as in 2:116, 16:120, 33:35, etc.

Third, on the question of wadribu (as he transliterates it) he has “go to bed with them (when they are willing)”. Wow! That’s a pretty extreme difference from “beat them”. What’s up? He explains in a footnote:

Raghib points out that daraba metaphorically means to have intercourse, and quotes the expression darab al-fahl an-naqah, ‘the stud camel covered the she-camel,’ which is also quoted by Lisan al-‘Arab. It cannot be taken here to mean ‘to strike them (women).’ (78)

And he goes on to justify this, like Asad, with reference to the Prophet’s disdain for beating women.

I have to say, when I first read this translation I was thrilled to find someone who did not interpret the Qur’an as allowing domestic violence. But I had the same questions that I did about the symbolic light beating. If your wife had ill-will toward you, why would you admonish her, then go sleep by yourself, and then have consensual sex with her? Somehow I missed that Ahmed Ali also translates the ill-will parts of this verse differently from others: the verse is not about women who have general ill-will toward their husbands but rather those who don’t want to have sex with their husbands. And he includes this footnote:

See Raghib, Lisan al-‘Arab and Zamakshari. Rahab in his Al-Mufridat fi Gharibal-Qur’an gives the meaning of these words with special reference to this verse. Fa-‘izu, he says, means to ‘talk to them persuasively so as to melt their hearts.’ (See also v. 63 of this Surah where it has been used in a similar sense.) Hajara, he says, means to separate body from body, and points out that the expression wahjaruhunna metaphorically means to refrain from touching or molesting them.Zamakhshari is more explicit in Kshshaf when he says, ‘do not get inside their blankets.’ (78)

It makes a whole lot of sense—on a practical level—that if a woman wasn’t interested in sex, her husband would sweet-talk her and then stop bugging her until she was interested again. And, given the Qur’an’s and the Prophet’s emphasis on healthy sex lives between married couples, it makes sense Islamically as well. Most importantly: it does so without denying women their human rights.

Are Muslim Women Allowed to Marry Non-Muslim Men? by Becky

The traditional answer to this is a resounding no! A quick search on Google will reveal the same, countless websites and sources telling you no, it is haram (forbidden), not allowed under any circumstances. It does not make a difference if the man is Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Agnostic or Atheist, if he is not Muslim a Muslimah (Muslim woman) is not allowed to marry him. Even if she was married, then converted to Islam, she must divorce him, these sources say.

But what is the legal basis for this in Islam? Does it really say in the Qur’an that Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men, while it is okay for Muslim men to marry women who belong to Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book, i.e., Christians and Jews)?

In the following section I am going to first take a look at the arguments that are traditionally given against Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men, before I will take a look at what the Qur’an says, and the views of modern scholars who disagree.

Traditional Arguments Against Muslim Women Marrying Non-Muslim Men:

There are two Ayahs (verses) of the Qur’an that address the issue of marriage to non-Muslims[1]:

Do not marry Unbelieving women (idolaters), Until they believe: A slave woman who believes Is better than an unbelieving woman, Even though she allure you. Nor marry (your girls) To unbelievers until They believe: A man slave who believes Is better than an unbeliever, Even though he allure you. Unbelievers do (but) Beckon you to the Fire. But God beckons by His Grace To the Garden (of Bliss) And forgiveness, And makes His Signs Clear to mankind: That they may Celebrate His praise.[2]

– Surah 2:221

This day are (all) things Good and pure made lawful Unto you. The food Of the People of the Book Is lawful unto you And yours is lawful Unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) Are (not only) chaste women Who are believers, but Chaste women among The People of the Book, Revealed before your time,— When ye give them Their due dowers, and desire Chastity, not lewdness, Nor secret intrigues. If any one rejects faith, Fruitless is his work, And in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks Of those who have lost (All spiritual good).[3]

– Surah 5:5

From the first verse (2:221) we see that Muslim men and women are not allowed to marry unbelievers until they believe, but in the second verse (5:5) chaste women among the believers have been made lawful. This has traditionally been interpreted as only making it lawful for Muslim men to marry women of the Book, but not the other way around (Muslim women marrying men of the Book).

The justifications given are usually to do with: 1.) Religion of the children, 2.) Loss of marital rights and 3.) Issues of family law.

1.) Religion of the children:

Within Islam it has traditionally been expected that children who have a Muslim father, will automatically become Muslims themselves. Therefore, the argument goes, if the father is not Muslim, neither will the children be. (This is also used to support the mans right to marry non-Muslim women, as the children are still expected to be Muslim).

2.) Loss of marital rights:

Islam guarantees the woman certain rights amongst these her right to mahr (dowry), her right to be supported by her husband (and keep any personal income to herself), the right to remain in her own religion (as long as it is Islam, Christianity or Judaism), the right to keep her own name.

A Muslim husband is bound to honour these rights, whereas a non-Muslim man is not, and for example might force the woman to convert to his religion.

3.) Issues of family law:

Islamic law regulates issues such as divorce, child custody and inheritance. If a woman was to marry outside Islam, it is argued, these laws might no longer be followed. Since child custody within Islam, is usually awarded to the father, they reason that in the case of divorce the children would end up with their father and therefore not be raised as Muslims.




Arguments for the Permissibility of Muslimahs Marrying Non-Muslims:

Different Types of Non-Muslims:

As is clear from the above verses from the Qu’ran, there is two different kinds of Non-Muslims. The mushrikun (polytheists) and the People of the Book (monotheists, Christians and Jews). One might add that in modern society there is also a third group, the atheists/agnostics who do not believe in any god, but this group is not explicitly addressed in the Qur’an.

Equality of Men and Women:

Surah 2:221 clearly states that neither Muslim men nor Muslim women may marry polytheists. Surah 5:5 says that it is okay for Muslim men to marry women from the Book, i.e., Christians or Jews. It is very clear in the Qur’an that Muslim men and women are given the same rights:

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 God’s praise,— For them has God prepared Forgiveness and great reward.

– Surah 33:35

The Qur’an does not forbid women what it explicitly permits men. Furthermore, the general rule is that everything is halal (permitted) unless it is explicitly forbidden.

So, since the Qur’an explicitly permits men to marry Christian and Jewish women, and nowhere explicitly forbid women to marry Christian and Jewish men, it must be allowed.

Addressing the Traditional Arguments Against Women Marrying Non-Muslim Men:

So, as mentioned earlier there are three main arguments that are traditionally used against Muslim women marrying Non-Muslim  men: 1.) Religion of the children, 2.) Loss of marital rights and 3.) Issues of family law. Generally speaking these arguments presumes we live in a patriarchal world where men are in charge of women, and men and women do not have equal rights. Although I am aware that there are many places int he world where this is still so, we are thankfully moving towards greater equality and this is the kind of society I am going to base my arguments on.

1.) Religion of the Children:

In modern day society most parents strive to raise the children together, and the children do not automatically receive the religion of either parent. Rather, religion is something you choose yourself, and even if you are raised as a Muslim or a Christian as a child, many children do not choose to follow their parents religion as adults.

Furthermore, if we accept the premise that the father passes down his religion because he is the head of the household, it also presupposes that the mother is the primary caregiver and nurturer of the children. This in turn means that the mother is the one who is spending the most time with the children, teaching them values, behaviour and, yes, religion as well. So in reality, this is more of an argument against Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women (since they would most likely teach the children their own religion), rather than against Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men.

2.) Loss of Marital Rights:

One of the beautiful things about Islam is, that at the time, it gave women marital rights they had not previously had. Since then however, these rights have become common place. In most societies today you can choose to keep your own name, a man cannot force you to convert to his religion, and he cannot take your personal income against your will. The right to mahr(dowry) can be discussed between the couple before the marriage takes place, and so can issues of who is going to pay for what.

Furthermore, this argument presumes that all Muslims are righteous men who will honour these rights and create an ideal marriage where each partner respects, loves and works with the other partner. This is ideal indeed, but it is not reality. If a woman finds a loving partner who respects and accepts her and her religion, why should she not marry him? Especially if she feels disrespected by the Muslim men around her, who might have more traditional and patriarchal views than her.

3.) Issues of family law:

Reality is that Islamic law is not static. The rights granted in the Qur’an are the minimum, not the maximum. The foundation, not the whole house. Furthermore, every couple will be subject to the laws of the country where they are married and/or reside. Which, amongst others, mean that the mother will often be more likely to be granted custody than the father. Again, this is actually more of an issue for Muslim men marrying outside their faith.

If a couple is concerned with these issues, one way to deal with it is to have the issues drawn up in their Nikah (matrimonial contract). This is how Muslim women are already advised to secure their rights, such as the right to work, take an education, prohibit her husband from taking anymore wives, etc.

Atheists and Agnostics:

The issue of whether it is permissible for a Muslim woman to marry an atheist or agnostic man is even less clear cut. He is not a mushrik (polytheist), but he is also not a Christian or a Jew, and as such do not belong to the People of the Book. It is a difficult issue, and I would leave it up to the individual woman’s consciousness and values what she thinks would be right.



Difficulties in Interfaith Marriages:

The following section will discuss the difficulties in interfaith marriages, whether it is Muslim men married to non-Muslim women or Muslim women married to non-Muslim men.

Marriage is difficult, especially when the partners are not from the same background, have different values, world views, beliefs etc. But the differences could be just as big amongst Muslims, as between Muslim and non-Muslim. I believe what is most important here is the genuine respect and acceptance of ones partners beliefs.

It is also questionable whether the biggest difficulties in marital life is between an interfaith couple, or an intercultural couple. As mentioned previously, if a couple shares the same cultural background, level of education, values and goals in life, but not the same faith, they might still find it easier to relate and make their marriage work, compared to a couple who shares the same faith, but has nothing else in common

These difficulties are the same for both men and women, but they might very well be exacerbated in a society where the majority is non-Muslim. This is why many school of thoughts consider it makruh (disliked) for men to marry non-Muslim women if they live in a non-Muslim country. Clearly, it will be much easier for us if we could all find a partner who shares our religion, values and beliefs. This would be ideal, but unfortunately the world is not an ideal place. Although marrying outside the faith is discouraged, it does not seem to be prohibited.

Progressive Sheiks and Imams:

In Oxford, England, Dr. Taj Hargey performs ceremonies for mixed couples from all over Europe. As far as he knows, he is the only imam in England to do so openly. He says: “We do it because there is no prohibition in the Koran.”[4] He furthermore states that they make the couple sign five non-negotiable conditions that protect the woman’s faith, and they have to agree to counselling before the ceremony was performed.

These sound like very reasonable clauses to me, and something that would be healthy in any relationship. Marriage tends to be strengthened when the couple openly discuss values and beliefs beforehand, instead of ignoring the issues thinking it will not be a problem.

Shaykh, Dr. Abou El Fadl, an accomplished Islamic jurist and scholar who has studied Islamic jurisprudence in Egypt and Kuwait, as well as a prominent Professor of Law at UCLA, with degrees from Yale and Princeton[5]. He has issued a fatwa on the issue of Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men[6]. In it he comes to the following conclusion: “In all honesty, personally, I am not convinced that the evidence prohibiting Muslim women from marrying a kitabi [Person of the Book, i.e., Christian or Jewish] is very strong. Muslim jurists took a very strong position on this matter–many of them going as far as saying if a Muslim woman marries a kitabi she is as good as an apostate. I think, and God knows best, that this position is not reasonable and the evidence supporting it is not very strong. However, I must confess that in my humble opinion, I strongly sympathize with the jurists that argued that in non-Muslim countries it is reprehensible (makruh) for a Muslim to marry a non-Muslim. God knows best–I have reached this position after observing that the children of these Muslim/non-Muslim marriages in most cases do not grow up with a strong sense of their Islamic identity. It seems to me that in countries like the U.S. it is best for the children if they grow up with a Muslim father and mother. I am not comfortable telling a Muslim woman marrying a kitabi that she is committing a grave sin and that she must terminate her marriage immediately. I do tell such a woman that she should know that by being married to a kitabi that she is acting against the weight of the consensus; I tell her what the evidence is; and then I tell her my own ijtihad on the matter (that it is makruh for both men and women in non-Muslim countries). After telling her all of this, I add that she must always remember that only God knows best; that she should reflect on the matter as hard as she can; then she should pray and plead for guidance from God; and then ultimately she must do what her conscience dictates.”


In conclusion, the issue of the permissibility of Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men is not so black and white, as it is normally portrayed. It seems reasonable to conclude, that at least in the case of a Muslim woman marrying a Christian or Jewish man, it is allowed, though possibly disliked if she is in a country where the majority of the population is non-Muslim. Ultimately it is up to the individual Muslim woman to follow her own conscience and do what she believes is right in the eyes of God.

And God knows best.








[1]Unless otherwise stated I will be using the translation (by Yusuf Ali) and transliteration found here: http://www.sacredtexts.com/isl/quran/index.htm

[2]Transliteration: Wala tankihoo almushrikati hatta yu/minna walaamatun mu/minatun khayrun min mushrikatin walaw aAAjabatkum wala tunkihoo almushrikeena hatta yu/minoo walaAAabdun mu/minun khayrun min mushrikin walaw aAAjabakum ola-ika yadAAoona ila alnnari waAllahu yadAAoo ila aljannati waalmaghfirati bi-ithnihi wayubayyinu ayatihi lilnnasi laAAallahum yatathakkaroona

[3]Transliteration: Alyawma ohilla lakumu alttayyibatu wataAAamu allatheena ootoo alkitaba hillun lakum wataAAamukum hillun lahum waalmuhsanatu mina almu/minati waalmuhsanatu mina allatheena ootoo alkitaba min qablikum itha ataytumoohunna ojoorahunna muhsineena ghayra musafiheena wala muttakhithee akhdanin waman yakfur bial-eemani faqad habita AAamaluhu wahuwa fee al-akhirati mina alkhasireena