Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Status of Women in Islam

A's post [Joys of Muslim Women by freemenow / Nonie Darwish] about the status and condition of muslim women is a classic case of the use of media to misrepresent and place the blame on Islam for the actions of individuals. People across ages, cultures and civilizations have misused religion and laws to serve their own vested interests. Whether the story reported is or not true, the article must have raised a few questions and misgivings about Islam and its treatment of women. Before I go on to state the position of Quran on the issues, let me point out a few things which are crucial to the discussion:
The primary source of guidance in Islam is the Quran (arabic), which all muslims, no matter which sect they may or may not belong to, agree to be the very word of God. The Shariah (Laws) dictated by God, in the Quran are very few.
Shariah, as a broad term, is applied to the collection of juristic interpretations based upon historical evidences, as recorded and applied over a period of time, extending a few centuries after the Prophet's death. They are prone to human errors of judgement, transmission, recording and application without context.
There are Muslims who just take the Quran as their source of guidance, others who take it as the primary source of guidance while recognizing the hadith and shariah as secondary and tertiary sources, whereas others give more or less just an equal weightage to all three.
Those who subscribe to the ideology of certain sects, adhere to the collection of the hadith and shariah which their sect deems to be most authentic. Thus, from the wide range of works, different groups chose some overlapping and some totally different works, thus opinions, understanding and application vary.
I, for one, take the Quran to be the primary source of guidance. Though I recognize the collection of hadith and jurisprudence as a rich collection of historical data, it is just that. These are human recordings based on human understanding and memory, and as such need careful scrutiny before acceptance.
Furthermore, it would do well to remember that all religious texts have been corrupted by human interpolations over time. As God has Himself taken the responsibility of protecting the arabic Quran from changes, poeple with a different agenda have put in a lot of objectionable, questionable material in the secondary and tertiary sources. Those who are naive enough to take these sources as also authentic run the risk of being misguided, especially when they do not cross-check its consistency with the Quran.
Another important point is that religion and those who profess it are two different entities. Those who profess to follow a certain religion may or may not be good examples of the religion itself. Therefore, all religions need to be examined on their own merit instead of taking the actions of a few to be respresentative of the beliefs and teachings of the religion.
Now to briefly explain my understanding of the issues raised, as I understand and interpret the Quran.
Islam envisages women not as objects to be sought or bought, but rather as individuals who play a very valuable and fundamental role in society. Islam does not allow sex outside marriage. Marriage is a sacred institution, and is supposed to be a source of peace for the spouses. As women have been exploited over ages, across cultures and religions, Islam specifically orders muslim men to give their wife a gift money at the time of marriage as a form of security, which is her's and the muslim man cannot ask it back ever, even if he has given her a treasure, even if he's divorcing her.

The concept of paying the family is cultural, finding its origins in non-muslim traditions. That it has sadly crept in the practice of some muslim families does not make it Islamic.
The right to give divorce has been given to men, and the right to ask for a divorce has been given to women. The arabic term for this right of women is 'khula'. As men have been given a degree over women (in familial administrative matters), therefore it logically extends that he has the right to dissolve the marriage, though the Quran details conditions such as witnesses(two persons from among them, endued with justice, to establish the evidence) of both the spouses who will try to reconciliate / discuss on behalf of the individual why the marriage should or should not be dissolved. Similarly, if a woman wishes to end her marriage, she can also request it, and the same process is to be ideally followed. Islam places a great emphasis on the pivotal role a proper family unit plays in the life of individuals and seeks to minimize the number of broken homes in society. Thus, divorce/separation and reconciliation is allowed two times, but if the spouses recourse to divorce a third time, then they may no longer be united again, as marriage is not a game to be taken lightly.
The concept of child marriages finds its origins in weak traditions which purport that the Prophet married Ayesha when she was only nine years old. This is not true, and scholars have researched and established that she was around 19 or 20 years old at the time of consummation of marriage. Furthermore, the Quran exhorts muslims to obey the law of the land as well, thus since all modern nations have a minimum marriagable age, child marriages are absolutely out of the question. That its practiced by certain people does not mean its okay or islamic.
Human life is sacred. Honour killings are an evil practiced by certain groups of people in the name of the religion, though it has no basis in the religion, rather is totally reprehensible.
Islam attaches great importance to a woman's honour and good name. Thus to make it absolutely difficult, Allah has indeed made it extremely difficult for anybody to accuse anybody else for adultery. To even admit the case in court you need atleast 4 witnesses, how is it possible to get 4 witnesses for such a thing? Then again, if the accusation is found to be false, the accuser is to be flogged with eighty stripes, and never again is his testimony to be accepted throughout his life! And if a person accuses his/her spouse of adultery, he/she is required to take oath 4 times that the accusation is true, and a fifth oath that if he/she is lying, may the wrath of Allah fall upon him/her. And then they can go their separate ways in life, with the judgement left to God. Therefore, only the openly promiscuous can be found guilty and punished with a hundred lashes.
Muslim women have played an active role in society right since the Prophet's time, and upto this day. We have female muslim scientists, politicians, engineers, doctors, nurses, etc etc. The only difference is that Islam places women on a higher pedestal than men, not requiring women to earn a living and provide for the family. They can practice whatever trade and profession they wish, but they do not have to. Men are responsible for earning 'the bread', leaving women with the flexibility to be 'stay-at-home mothers' as the need may be. Sadly, very few women in the 'western nations' enjoy such a luxury.
As far as veiling and seclusion is concerned, we are only directed to dress modestly. Different cultures have developed their own concepts of modesty, but veiling or seclusion is not a requirement of Islam. In fact, in the Grand Pilgrimage that the muslims undertake, women are not allowed to cover their faces, and pray and perform all the rites side by side with the men.
Below are the links to some of the answers I've posted earlier on similar and related issues.

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