Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Is Muslims' Treatment of Women Islamic?

By Dr Elie ElHadj*

On March 11, 2002, fire struck a girls’ school in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Firemen and concerned citizens were quickly on the scene. However, the religious police locked the schoolgirls inside the inferno rather than let them escape into the streets without their veil and head-to-toe cloak. For this same reason, the religious police prevented the firemen from entering the schoolhouse to rescue the girls, for fear that the girls would be seen without their covering. Fourteen young girls were burned to death and dozens more were injured. Is this treatment Islamic?

To answer this question, a comparison will be made between the noble treatment that the Prophet Muhammad reportedly accorded to the most celebrated Muslim woman of all, His first wife Khadija, on one hand, and the treatment of women that emerged under Sharia. We are told that the Prophet’s first wife was the best born in Quraish, a successful businesswoman and, too, the richest. We are also told that Khadija employed young Muhammad in her business, that she proposed marriage to him when he was about 25 years old, and that she was about 15 years his senior and twice a widow. We are told that for the 25 years of the Prophet’s marriage to Khadija, until her death in 620, He remained monogamous to her, that she was the one person to whom He turned for advice and comfort, and that Khadija was the first convert to Islam. Such an image makes Khadija an emancipated, commanding woman of high standing in Meccan society and in the eyes of her husband par excellence, and that the Prophet treated her with faithfulness and devotion.

The difference between the Prophet’s treatment of Khadija and the treatment of women that emerged under Sharia Law is stark. To begin with, the Quran subordinates women to men. In 2:228: “men have an edge over women.” In 4:34: “Men are the masters [protectors, maintainers] over women... As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct admonish them and refuse to share their beds and hit [beat] them.” In 18:46: “Money and sons are the finest adornment of earthly life.” Curiously, daughters are not included in 18:46. On the legal standing of men relative to women, one man is equal to two women when bearing witness in a legal setting. In 2:282: “Have two of your men to act as witnesses; but if two men are not available, then a man and two women you approve, so that in case one of them is confused the other may remind her.”Also, in inheritance, a male’s share is equal to that of two females: In 4:11: “The share of the male is equivalent to that of two females.”

On marriage, the Quran allows Muslim men to have up to four wives simultaneously, on condition of equitable treatment. In 4:3: “Marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if you fear that you cannot treat so many with equity, then only one.” Regarding divorce, a husband can divorce his wife without giving reason, though the Prophet is reported to have described divorce as the most hateful privilege granted by God. A wife can divorce her husband only after establishing good cause such as impotence, madness, or denial of her rights. Allowing the Muslim male to marry four wives simultaneously and divorce any one of them at will without giving cause is synonymous with unlimited polygamy.

Additionally, Shiite religious scholars interpret Verses 4:4 and 4:24 of the Quran as if men are allowed a temporary marriage contract (when travelling, for example), called Mut'a for which a payment to the woman is made by the man in return for her companionship for a specific period of time with no consequent obligations. In 4:4: “Give to women their compensation (dower) willingly, but if they forgo a part of it themselves then use it to your advantage.” In 4:24: “Give those of the women you have enjoyed the agreed remuneration (dower).” Shiite ulama believe that the Prophet allowed the Mut’a contracts, but Omar, the second Caliph (634-644) prohibited it. According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, “it is certain from Tradition that Muhammad really permitted Mut’a to his followers especially on the longer campaigns. But the Caliph Omar strictly prohibited Mut’a and regarded it as fornication (a group of Traditions already ascribes this prohibition to the Prophet).”

Then, there is the Misyar marriage, sanctioned by the Sunni ulama. Under Misyar the man is not responsible financially for the woman and the couple live apart; the man visits the woman at her home whenever he wishes. Unlike Mut’a, Misyar has no date certain for divorce. Misyar has been sanctioned by the Mecca-based Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly, which declared on April 12, 2006 that a marriage contract in which the woman relinquishes her right to housing and support money and accepts that the man visits her in her family house whenever he likes, day or night is valid. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and the Grand Mufti of the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Islam’s venerable thousand-year-old university, have both sanctioned Misyar. The Misyar contract has become widespread. A recent survey conducted by the Saudi newspaper Arab News found that in Saudi Arabia some marriage officials say that many marriage contracts they conduct are Misyar marriages.

The Prophetic Sunna contains Traditions unflattering to Women as well. Sahih Al-Bukhari attributed to the Prophet saying that most of those who are in hell are women, that women’s "lack of intelligence" is the reason why a woman’s testimony in an Islamic court of law is equal to half that of the testimony of the Muslim male, and that the reason why women are prohibited from praying and fasting during menstruation is due to them being "deficient in religious belief." Sunan Al-Nasai attributed to the Prophet saying: “People who entrust the management of their affairs to a woman will fail.”Thinking of women as having less religious belief, being less intelligent, and more sinful than men reduces women to wicked deficient beings.

Sharia Law is not applied uniformly. In Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam, the Wahhabi ulama, acting on behalf of their benefactor rulers, interpret Sharia as if to eliminate the potential political opposition of one half of the population to the Saudi government. Saudi Sharia means guardianship over and responsibility by the male in the family (father, brothers, husband) over the actions of the women in their charge. Saudi Sharia means strict segregation of the sexes at work, schools, hospitals, shops, public parks, elevators, etc. It also means banning women from driving motorcars, travelling without the guardian’s written permission, and wearing a black cloak from head to toe to conceal not only their face and hair but also the side of their shoes. It is not surprising, therefore, that Al-Bukhari's attributions became a common popular Saudi proverb: "women are light on brains and religion.” A well known Saudi cleric told Lebanese television viewers on June 19, 2008 that it is permissible for girls to get married as young as age one but have the consummation of the marriage postponed until age nine; following the example of the Prophet who took Aisha to be his wife when she was 6, but had sex with her only when she was 9.

By contrast, in Muslim non-Arab Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey, Sharia Law is interpreted in such a way as to give women more rights, including becoming presidents and prime ministers. The contradictions between the Prophet’s fine treatment of His first wife Khadija and the way Sharia evolved on the treatment of women need to be reconciled. Harmonizing Sharia with the Prophet’s way of life (Sunna) is all the more important because the Prophet’s Sunna as a way of life has been made by the ulama of the tenth century equal to the Quran as a source of Sharia Law.

A meaningful first step here was announced in June 2006. Turkey has formed a committee of thirty-five religious scholars to study the removal of all Hadith references attributed to the Prophet that encourage violence against women. To recap, in marriage, divorce, inheritance, social standing, legal rights, and piety Muslim women are left with fewer rights than men, leading to damaging attitudes towards women. Consider, for example, the saying in the popular culture of some Arab communities: Women are like Persian carpets; they get better with beating.

For more information on the author, please visit his website on www.daringopinion.com


Anonymous said...

Alright, where do I start?
First, on inheritance, please refer to this article by a Muslim cosmologist talking in numbers and fact on how, on many occasions. Women in Islam inherit more than men. This is a person who understand the language of numbers more than anyone else.

Next regarding the testimony of women. It's not a general term. Women's testimony can be worth more than two men in areas they're familiar with and know.

The story of Aisha continues to be brought up not as a proof of anything but how different the world was back then. If we learn anything from it. It would be that there's a lower age for marriage. And 9 isn't it. It's at least puberty, but NOT less. That's the real lesson here.

I find this article to be extremely shallow and riddled with ulterior motives not to really relate to democracy or women rights, but more towards smearing Islam. When the author is obviously biased on many areas and takes certain areas out of context and single interpretation (that is usually the bad one) over all others.

Anonymous said...

I'm not aiming at making a comment on this specific post.
I just want to say thank you for blog!

I've been reading it since March 2008 and it's always been very insightful and right to the point!

Ana from Portugal

Anonymous said...

And now on the post itself and more precisely on the previous comment.

Mr. Qwaider, if you think the post is biased then why not give us more then just a hint regarding inheritance? Why not go through the text and demonstrate, point by point, that unequal treatment of women isn't actually unfair in the Muslim religion? Or more precisely on Muslim countries where religion is law (I don't want to start a religious discussion, I merely interested in the way people live and are treated in their countries).

The link you gave us only states that in some special circumstances women can get the same (or more) money as men, but you can't honestly state that this is the majority of cases. On the argument that it's excepted that men provide for women and therefore have to receive more, the contra-argument is quite simple: if you don't change the distribution of inheritance you are preventing the possibility of monetary emancipation of women, and the possibility of change in that dependence that you are accusing women of feeding on.

Finally regarding your comparison to British law, it's not a valid argument to say, as others are worst, then mine it's ok! You can use other countries - Portugal for instance - where is mandatory by law that the husband/wife of the deceased gets 50% and the sons and daughters get the other 50% equally distributed (and in the absence of those it goes to the next of kins). What then?

[Actually I prefer British law, because, if it's Your money you should give it to whom you prefer, or even better, you shouldn't give it to anyone in specific, you should return to the comunity, but ok this is off-topic]

Arab Democracy said...

Dear Qwaider

I will not comment on the specific issues you raise as I dont claim to know enough on Islamic law to intefere in this debate.I will leave it to Dr Elie Hadje to respond.

But from my perspective as having agreed to publish the article, I think you are a bit quick to accuse him of smearing Islam. This is in no way apparent in the tone or words he uses. The man after all is entitled to his opinions.

And your reaction opens another important debate. Will it ever be acceptable to discuss, criticize or indeed disagree with religon and its principles in the Arab world?



Anonymous said...

Actually, it's not in few occasions. It has been documented that women will inherit more than men in 18 cases while men more in 14. I can get you a full list of such occasions.
But the whole notion of Men and Women is really a very open case. It really doesn't have any definition in this case.
Let’s take a simple case:
A Man dies, he has a daughter and a wife. A brother and a father. Who gets what?

In the case of siblings, a brother takes double what his sister takes. But the daughter takes more than her father or grandfather or uncle. So these are not "trivial" or isolated cases when women inherit more.

In Islam, women are not obligated to provide for themselves or their families. Even if they have money to support themselves. And a sister that inherits half what her brother inherited has "rights" in his money. These "rights" can be taken out against his will by the Islamic law

Most people who are opposing such things mostly don't even know for sure what it is that they're against. It's not an absolute rule that women inherit less. Besides the father has the option to leave a will where his daughters/wife/mother/sister can inherit as much as or more than any other male in the family.

Finally, if a Man dies, and all he has is a wife, she gets everything, not 50%. 100% of Everything. The government has no claim over anything he left.

The Islamic laws of Inheritance have never been the target of improvement in history because they are very fair to everyone. Now more than ever.

So someone decided to give the wife 50% in Portugal, based on what? Why? How? Did it achieve social justice? It appears to be just an arbitrary number that came out of nowhere! In that sense, 40 is equally as good, 60, 70 .. all the same!

The article for anyone who has basic knowledge of Islam and these specific issues is very clearly shallow and takes the "want fame in the west" lane on the bash Islam highway. Reform is very much needed. But this is not the goal of this very shallow and superficial look at very deep issues.

Maybe I'll post something about these matters soon. But I would like to assure you, that my comment isn't targeting or opposing freedom of speech or against reform in anyway. It's against taking deep issues and treating them in a shallow way in what appears to be a cheap shot against Islam for the sake of pleasing the west.

Again, not everything that Islam came with is purely unacceptable in this day and age. In fact, a moderate, neutral examiner will discover so much merit in what Islamic sharia law provides.

Funny how we find such positive points in Hammurabi’s law, and just appear to focus on the most negative and "dated" pieces of the Islamic law

Anonymous said...


Muslims should know that according to the real Islam any person has the right to draw the prophet Mohamad and even to critize the islami and the muslim. So the Danish and others chrtistians are not guilty.
You can read an important article:

The Unguilty Geert Wilders

The Islamic Legality of The Fitna Film & To Draw Mohammad



Anonymous said...

Anonymous. You tried to post that junk several times before on my blog, and I didn't allow you because it's utter and complete nonsense.

Unknown said...

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