Social System of Islam- Muslim Women in Contemporary History

Summary of 7.22 “Muslim Women in Recent History”

The last program focused more on the trends pertaining to the position and involvement of Muslim women particularly in recent history (late 19th century and early 20th century).’ I said that in my understanding there seemed to have been three basic trends.’ The first trend was that of wholesale westernization, not just adopting good ideas and technology but rather a wholesale expectancy of values and way of life that came from the West.’ The West was (and still is) superior technologically and some felt that during the period of decay of the Muslims that this was the solution (just to adopt everything).’ We indicated that this was not a successful solution because the uncritical imitation and adoption of values is quite different from adopting technology.’ This did not work because it did not fit the kind of heritage and belief of the people themselves.

The second trend was to try to uphold the status quo with its positive and negative aspects and trying to stick to what is there rather than trying to improve.’ We discussed some of the reasons this was upheld and we said that one reason was that some people were afraid that the reform and improvement in the way a woman was treated and the way she should relate to the rest of society threatened moral values in society and may result in changes similar to those that took place elsewhere which resulted in the disintegration of the family.

Some Muslims might have misinterpreted certain texts of the Prophetic sayings which contradict the word of God in the Quran and sometimes in ways which are contradictory to other sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).’ We addressed some of those specific issues while trying to alleviate the misunderstanding.’ The third approach, Islamic Revivalist movement, was one which we did not elaborate on in the last program.

7.23′ Muslim Women in Contemporary History

Host:’ In what way does the third approach differ from the previous two approaches and what does it call for?

Jamal Badawi:

First, it calls for awareness.’ Early Muslim women in the past were quite involved in the affairs of Islamic society and during the period of decline this was not the case.’ As such it calls first of all for the restoration of this active involvement and role of Muslim women in Muslim society within the limits of Islam.’ Second, any reform or improvement of the status quo must emanate from the word of God and teachings of Islam and the Prophetic Traditions and the exemplary behavior of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in his treatment of women.’ Reform or improvement does not take place on the basis of rejection of faith or uncritical imitation of others.’ In fact, a Muslim should be a leader not a lagger, a Muslim should be an initiator not an imitator because one of a Muslim’s function being here on earth is to guide humanity unto the path of God rather than just to imitate various fads and fashions which come and go.’ The aspiration of Muslim women and their pursuit of happiness, respect and dignity are all ingrained in the very teachings of Islam if they are properly understood.’ Third, the main problem that Muslims faced were not problems that emerged from the inadequacy of Islamic Law itself or injustice which were inherent in the law (there is nothing like this) but the main problem lies with the application of the law.’ If Muslims go back to the original pristine teachings then all of these problems could be resolved without any need to adopt.’ So the deficiency is in Muslims not in Islam itself.

Host:’ Is there a broad program that can help in accomplishing the objectives that you have just indicated?

Jamal Badawi:

For any reformist movement, which is religiously based, to succeed it has to first start with faith in God.’ This is the very basic foundation for any improvement.’ By this we mean specifically the preparedness on the part of the Muslim male and female alike to receive the guidance of God, to accept His divine plan in organizing, guiding and enriching the lives of human beings on the individual and collective level.

The intellectual part involves the proper understanding of true Islam through its pristine, authentic sources with an attempt to try to avoid extremes and excesses.’ One should not try to twist Islamic teachings to make it fit with the various pressures of time, place or culture.’ One should not be apologetic about Islam or try to appear modern, aristocratic or try to fall under any other title that people might use.’ One has to take the values provided by God not by humans as their basic distinction between what is right and what is wrong.’ In the mean time true understanding of Islam requires also that Muslims should not rigidly adhere to the status quo and try to justify it on an Islamic basis even though it contradicts the letter and spirit of Islamic teaching.

Beside the spiritual and intellectual part of the program there is also the practical element which tries to implement Islam in its purity in letter and spirit without being enslaved by local cultures or practices which may not be consistent with Islam and its teachings.

Host:’ How would you respond to some people who argue that custom is an acceptable source of Islamic Law?

Jamal Badawi:

Customs is a source but it is not an unconditional source.’ In fact the basic condition for accepting local customs as part of the process of Islamic Law is that they should not contradict the teachings of Islam.’ The relationship between the customs in a given place and the teachings of Islam as ingrained in the Quran and the Prophetic Tradition can be either positive, neutral or negative.’ It an be positive if the local customs are based on the teachings of Islam and are influenced by the teachings of Islam.

For example, if one goes to virtually any Muslim country they would find that among committed Muslims there is an attitude of generosity and hospitality.’ This is based on Islam and is encouraged by Islam and thus we can say the correlation between custom and Islam is positive.’ there are some customs which have no correlation with Islam.’ In different countries different people like different types of food depending on where they are from (Indonesia, Morocco, Sudan, Nigeria etc.).’ This relates in neither a positive nor a negative way to Islamic teachings as there is nothing that says one must eat a specific type of food or not so long as it is permissible.’ So there is no relationship there and it is neutral.’ There are also some local customs that are found amongst Muslims in Muslim countries which are thought to be related to Islam but in reality they are contrary to the teachings of Islam.’ An example is the case where the father or mother do not get the approval of their daughter when they give her away in marriage.’ Some people may think that this is consistent or related with the teachings of Islam but it has no relation whatsoever and is actually contrary.’ So here the correlation between relation local customs and Islam is negative.’ One has to identify what kind of correlation there is between culture and religion: if it is positive it is fine, if it is neutral one can do it or not do it but if the local custom among Muslims in Msulim country (or any other country) which are thought to be related to Islam but in reality they are contrary to the teachings of Islam.’ One example that we gave in the previous program was the case where a mother or father dosn’t get the approval of their daughter when they giver her in marriage.’ They don’t even give her a chance to see or approve of her fiance.’ Some people may think this is consistent or even related with the teachings of Islam when it has no relation whatsoever and is actually contrary to it.’ If the local custom, no matter how widely practiced they are, contradict with Islamic teachings then they can not be used or applied.’ Customs can be followed if they do not contradict with Islamic teachings.

Host:’ What is the role of the contemporary Muslim woman?’ How can she contribute to her position in society?

Jamal Badawi:

To start with any change or social development would have to start on an individual level with the awareness of the individual and the Muslim woman.’ More specifically a Muslim woman (who is no less than any male) should understand and be totally aware that she is also the trustee of God on earth and that she carries a grave responsibility for carrying it out.’ She needs to be aware that her life is important (no less than any male), meaningful and that she has a specific mission to fulfill while she is here on earth.’ Women need to ultimately understand that they can’t escape responsibility before God just like any male because on the Day of Judgment she wild have to give account as to how productive a Muslim woman she was, how she conducted her life and how she contributed to the overall good of the Muslim Ummah and community.’ In order for her to fulfill this responsibility successfully she has got to start from self purification (applies to males as well).’ She should have firm unshakable faith and certitude in the validity and wisdom of the teachings of God as ingrained in the word of God, Quran, and Prophetic Traditions.’ This requires that a Muslim not place her personal preferences (liking, disliking, or inclinations which might be bias resulting from a social environment) above the will of God and the clear and explicit directions that God provided.’ This is basically the meaning of Islam which applies to both males and females; submit to the will of God consciously, willingly and lovingly.

A Muslim woman should approach Islam as a complete and total way of life, not just by believing and having certitude but through her own behavior and trying to deepen her own commitment to Islam and God; she should try to avoid the things that God has forbidden in dress, behavior, manners and all aspects of human life; she should try and follow God’s directives and demands and to inculcate and strengthen her personal individual relationship with God through various acts of worship (prayers, fasting, charity, recitation, remembrance of God and above all in her day to day activity in whatever she does).’ This also requires a Muslim woman to try and equip herself with all the skills, abilities and knowledge that would enable her to have a more active and involved role within the boundaries of Islamic Law.

A woman should not only acquire Islamic knowledge but she should obtain other knowledge that would help make her an effective mother, wife and an effective and useful member in society at large.’ She should also try to work with perseverance and patience without the spirit of contention and conflict to convince other Muslims (males and females) that they should accept the legitimacy of her involvement, role within the boundaries of Islam and that they should not be enslaved to the local customs if they are contrary to the teachings of Islam.’ I think that if a Muslim woman starts from this basic individual level with this understanding and motivation it could pave the way for development and improvement both on the individual and collective levels.

Host:’ How can the Muslim woman contribute to social development through family involvement?

Jamal Badawi:

This is perhaps the most potential (I don’t mean exclusive) area of contribution of a Muslim woman.’ If a Muslim woman as a youth, an unmarried daughter, and the way she relates to her mother, father, brothers, sisters and relatives could contribute a great deal to create an atmosphere which is very close to the teachings of Islam where people can find comfort and warmth.’ This cannot be achieved by undue militancy or conflict but rather through perseverance and good example.

If she is married she can also contribute by being carrying her responsibility and demanding her rights, encouraging and aiding her husband to perform his activities and contribute to the good of the family and society at large and not to stand as an obstacle or barrier.’ If she begets children, this could be one of the most noble function that she can perform by being an ideal Muslim mother.’ She should realize that her duty is not simply to feed or change her child but that she is the first school for her child.’ She should inculcate values of spirituality in the child.’ This is a very important and noble function that is a full time job which makes the home a school from which heroes of the future graduate before they even begin regular school.’ These areas require a lot more analysis, but I hope that in the upcoming segments when we touch on family life in Islam that we can specify more clearly what expectations Islam has for a Muslim woman being a wife or mother.

Host:’ What is the role of a Muslim woman in the broader social context?

Jamal Badawi:

Beyond the individual and family level the Muslim woman should always regard her role as a sister to other Muslims (both males and females).’ She has a duty to remind them to do good, to correct them when they make errors and to encourage them not to do evil indecent things.’ This is not only a duty that is limited to either’ males or females.’ Indeed one beautiful verse in the Quran in (9:71) ‘The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger.’ On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.” Social concern and the duty to forbid evil and enjoin the good are duties which are not limited or restricted to male or female and every Muslim has this duty.

A Muslim woman should try to bring Islam to the lives of Muslims by participating in the spiritual awakening of other women (or men) who because of the period of decay and decline have accepted to act only on the fringes of society without being totally involved in the affairs of Islamic society.’ She should remind them that they do have the potential to serve God as men do and to inculcate in their heart and mind trust in God and trust and confidence in their own abilities to contribute and improve the total social environment.

There are lots of educated Muslim women who carry an additional responsibility as many live in areas with illiteracy, ignorance and disease are paramount.’ These sisters have a responsibility to be active and not only follow but to initiate activities in the area of education.’ Here in North America there have been many activities in recent years where Muslim women have their own study circle or organize seminars.’ A woman should be active in the area of health, in order to help other take care of their children and to know basic health rules for their family.

The area of charity and social services is also important.’ There are endless ways in which a Muslim woman can contribute within the boundaries and framework of Islam.’ Above all the best contribution is for her to be a good example in her behavior and activities which would inspire other women and men also.

Host:’ Is there any role that men have in assisting the development and growth of the sisters?

Jamal Badawi:

As I indicated in the answers of the previous questions many responsibilities are shared.’ On the individual level the duties of a Muslim male are identical to those of a Muslim female.’ The question of self purification is where one should start from and the acceptance of the rule of Islam rather than the rule of any particular subculture.

A man’s role at a family level involves a number of things.’ Basically, they are required to treat the Muslim woman as Islam required that she be treated as a sister, mother, wife or daughter which we will cover in future topics.’ A Muslim should accept a Muslim woman as an independent person with her independent personality who is responsible before God for her own identity and as such would inculcate in her self confidence in her ability to do things on her own within the boundaries of Islam.’ Many Muslim males may behave in a way which would make them an obstacle in the way of their wives in the Islamic world.’ I think they should revise this attitude and they should not only condone them but encourage them to be involved in the ways that Islam requires.’ They need to understand that their role extends beyond the role of the family.’ A Muslim woman is not only supposed to be a good wife and mother but she is supposed to be a good Muslim, member of society and a good human being.’ Thus he should not only encourage religious learning but also more administrative and organizational learning that would help her be more effective in that role.’ Above all they should remember the constant reminders of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that women should be treated kindly and in a compassionate way.

We should remember two things.’ First a Muslim woman should be a daiah, actively involved in calling other people unto the path of truth even if they are not Muslim.’ Second, both men and women should remember a verse which appears in (33:35) ‘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.’

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