Summary of 7.20 “Muslim Women in History II”

We looked into the Woman’s role in matters of propagating the faith and how women participated in various ways of spreading the truth.’ We also discussed their participation in educational functions and we showed that many muslim women were scholars and taught other men who learned a great deal from them.’ We covered women who had a great accomplishments in’ social services and who participated in the battle field both as logistical support as well as involvement in combat.’ We indicated that these were not only limited cases or conditioned by special circumstances but we said that if there are any similar circumstances to those then the same kind of involvement would be permissible because they were consented to by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

7.21′ Muslim Women in History III

Host:’ In the last few programs you seemed to focus on the early period of Islam, was there a reason for that?

Jamal Badawi:

First, the early days of Islam perhaps represented the most perfect model of the correct implementation of Islam.’ In the early days people used to stick more closely to the precepts of their faith and especially during the days of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) because he was guiding them.

Second, it is interesting to refer to the early days because it shows that the teachings of Islam restored the dignity, rights and independent personality of the a Muslim woman.’ This something completely different from the spirit of the time and it was not a result of calls for liberation or a result of political groups.’ This proves that the source of Islam is divine.

Host:’ What do we know of the situation of Muslim women of a later time?

Jamal Badawi:

It would be misleading imply that women t were treated

It is wrong and inaccurate to imply that because Islam, in terms of its teachings in the Quran and Prophetic Tradition, that the practice of Muslims throughout the 1400 years was perfect.’ But we can say that beyond this early stage when the model for the treatment of women was implemented quite closely and that the status of Muslim women in the following centuries has gone up and down (sometimes it was close to the model and sometimes it was not).’ At times Muslim women were subjected to oppression and disregard of her rights according to Islamic Law.’ These variation were not a constant trend, as it varied from time to time and place to place.’ Today Muslims constitute the majority in nearly 57 countries which are all widespread from Asia, Africa, Middle East and some Western countries like Albania or Turkey which have a majority of Muslims.’ It is very difficult to assume that the local cultures and traditions in this variety doesn’t influence the behavior of Muslims.’ After all Muslims are humans and are not perfect in the way they adhere to their faith.’ I can say in general that the status and treatment of Muslim seems to go up and down along the same line of progress or decline of Islamic Civilization.

Host:’ What in your opinion are the reasons for this taking place?

Jamal Badawi:

Decline happens when there is a decline in the commitment to faith by Muslims.’ When faith becomes a form of lip service or a formalistic aspect of life then decline takes place.’ Islam has to start from the heart and as the Quran says ‘God will not change the lot of a people until they change themselves.” When Muslims followed the teachings of Islam they change for the good and when they did not hey deviated from Islam which starts in the heart.

The decline in the lack of sincere commitment to faith obviously results in the decline of the Muslim civilization which in tern results in ignorance or lack of proper information and knowledge about the nature of Islam and its true teachings.’ Even though the question of ignorance in the declining Islamic civilizations effected both males and females, but usually the oppression which effects both usually effects females to a greater extent and ignorance effected them to a greater degree.’ In a way the result of this was that Muslim men did not give Muslim women their equitable rights in given to them in Islamic Law and Tradition.’ One should also say that women carry part of the blame because they have the foundation of Islamic Law on their side and they should have resisted any attempt to deprive them or lesson the rights that God has given them in accordance with Islamic Law.

Host:’ Could you give us specific examples where Muslim women were deprived of their rights as guarantied by Islamic Law?’ Why are these points contrary to Islamic teachings?

Jamal Badawi:

The list is quite extensive but I will refer to four examples.’ First, the restriction or prevention of women from going to the Mosque which might remain in some areas of the Muslim world.’ Second, is the practice of giving daughters in marriage without their consent, which is against Islamic Law.’ Third, was the purdah or seclusion of women so they are not seen regardless of the circumstances.’ In some cases people say that it is unlawful for a Muslim man to hear the voice of a female.

To take the question of women going to the Mosque: we find in the Bukhari collection of Prophetic Tradition there are several indications that the Prophet (PBUH) said very clearly ‘Do not prevent the servants of Allah from going to the Mosques of Allah.” During the Prophet’s lifetime there are lots of narrations of women saying that they used to go to the Masjid (even for the Dawn prayer which was at night).’ In the series on the Pillars of Islam when we dealt with prayer we go into detail about this, women are allowed to go to the Mosque and no one has the right to restrict them.’ A second aspect was the question of marriage which we will cover in the discussion about family in Islam.’ In Islamic Law marriage requires the consent of both the bride and groom or it wont be a legitimate marriage and is actually void.

The other aspect of purdah: it is important to note that many writers about Islam associate purdah with Islam.’ The fact is that Purdah (looked up in the Webster Dictionary) is a practice of Hindus not Muslims.’ It says its a practice of the seclusion of women which is part of Hindu practice.’ In the Quran or Prophetic Tradition the word purdah does not even appear.’ In fact etymologically the word purdah is a Hindu and Persian term which is not even Arabic term (which is the language that the Quran was revealed in).’ Some historians say that this was not only common among Hindus but also among the Zoroastrian Persians and among the wealthy people in the Byzantine empire.’ This practice was practiced before Islam and has no connotation or sanction in Islamic teachings.’ This is quite different from Hijab which simply means modesty in dress and behavior and restriction of loose mixing between the sexes for the purpose of protecting public morality from molestation and injury.’ This is quite different from purdah as it does not imply locking women up and preventing them from going out.

Another related word is harem.’ This comes from the word haraam which refers to exclusive quarters for the ladies of the house and foreign men were not permitted into these quarters, to preserve the privacy of women.’ Historians report that harem was not a prison but very nice quarters with fountains, vegetation, plantations.’ These were quarters that women left for parties (in the Islamic way), celebrations or other functions.’ But a harem as expressed in many of romantic novels as it referred to the corrupt practices that crept into the houses of some of the Muslim rulers throughout history where they had women and concubines is something that has nothing to do with Islam.’ In fact it is totally contrary to the teachings of Islam.’ The whole notion of purdah or harem has no foundation in Islamic teachings.

We find positive evidence from Islamic teachings that mixing between men and women within the boundaries of Islamic Law (certain restrictions of modesty) has taken place in a variety of forms: worship, pilgrimage, education and even in the battle field.

Host: Are there any citations in the Quran or Prophetic Tradition which would support this point?

Jamal Badawi:

The whole notion of women being totally secluded and locked in is contrary to what the Quran teaches.’ For example in (33:59) it talks about the command to Muslim women to draw their cloaks on their person when they go out in order to protect themselves from being molested by attacks from perverts.’ The very fact that it says that a woman should use this cloak means that they are allowed to go out.’ After the verse was revealed in the Quran which with additional restrictions on the household of the Prophet because his wives were regarded as the mothers of the believers and their reputation should have been kept beyond reproach.’ Also, the household of the Prophet was a place where many people came whether they were good or bad.

It was narrated in Bukhari that Omar, the second Caliph after the Prophet, once saw Sawda’a (the wife of the Prophet) going out and he objected because she was out and he could recognize her.’ She went back to Prophet Muhammad and she complained that Omar objected to her going out.’ At that time the Prophet received revelation and he simply replied saying ‘God has allowed you to go out for your legitimate need.s” In the collection of Muslim we find that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said to his people ‘Don’t loiter except if you perform your duties and fulfill the requirements of sitting.” The asked what they were and her replied ‘To lower your gaze (not to stare at women that are coming and going with passion), to avoid any hurt to other people, to respond to greetings of peace with similar greetings, to ordain all that is good and forbid and to forbid all that is evil.’

The first condition is interesting because it says one can sit around provided that they don’t stare at women that are going and coming which implies that they are allowed to go out or else there would be no sense of mentioning this at all.’ In addition we find that even family visits which involve both females an males (within the boundaries of Islam in terms of dress and behavior) took place with the consent of Prophet Muhammad and during his lifetime.’ In both the collection of Bukhari and Muslim it was narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) once went to a wedding and in the house of the bride and she herself poured the pot for the prophet to drink from which means they were in the same place as the other people.

In another incident narrated in the collection of Muslim the Prophet was visiting a woman (not alone as that would have been contradictory to Islam and others were present) by the name of Khoulah Bint Qise and she said that she was eating from the same platter as Prophet Muhammad.’ This means that they were all sitting and eating together while still observing Islamic modesty and respect.

In Abu Dawood, Al Tirmithi, and Ibn Maja it was said that the Prophet once visited a lady by the name of Al Rabi Bint Maouth, whom we mentioned previously as one of the most knowledgeable Muslim scholars, and her husband and it was reported that he asked her to bring him water for ablution before prayer, which again means they were all sitting in the same place.

In numerous other sayings it is mentioned that the Prophet visited with other people and prominent Muslim laddies were there or they were eating together.’ There is nothing that says that there should be some partition and that ladies should never be present.

There is one interesting case which was narrated in Bukhari, Muslim as well as Abu Dawood that one time a woman came to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and she wanted to ask him a private question, not in the presence of others, and he simply told her find any street in Madina and ill meet you there and talk to you privately.’ The idea here is that a street is an open place where there is no total and absolute privacy which is not allowed in Islam.’ But again she had sufficient amount of privacy to ask him whatever questions she had in mind.’ It is obvious from this that the notion that a Muslim woman should never be seen does not have support in the Quran or Prophetic Tradition.

Host:’ Earlier you mentioned that it was incorrect for some to claim that a woman’s voice is unlawful for the male to hear, how do you support this?

Jamal Badawi:

This can be supported from both the Quran and the Prophetic Traditon.’ For example if we refer to the Quran in (33:32) it addresses the wives of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in terms of their treatment of others which reveals that it is not forbidden for others to hear the voices.’ It says ‘O Consorts of the Prophet! Ye are not like any of the (other) women: if ye do fear ((Allah)), be not too complacent of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak ye a speech (that is) just.” In other words it did not say do not speak because a male can not hear the voice of a female but it simply says that when you speak do so with the normal tone and not to softly.

In the Quran in (58:1) is a bout a woman who came to the Prophet to argue and complain about her husband, again how could the Prophet allow himself to hear a woman if the voice of a woman is unlawful and he is our example.’ In the Prophetic Tradition we find multitudes of Prophetic sayings mentioning a woman coming to ask him about such and such or to suggest such and such which again shows that the voice of a woman in itself can not be regarded as unlawful.’ We have mentioned before that many of the companions of Prophet Muhammad, later on, learned a great deal about Islam from women like Aisha (wife of the Prophet).’ How could that have happened if a woman’s voice is forbidden.

When I used to address this at seminars for Muslim women they would complain that some of their Muslim brothers feel uncomfortable and uneasy when they pass by them; as if it is a sin to talk to them or to greet them.’ If we refer to authentic traditions of the Prophet in Abu Dawood, Asma’a the daughter of Abu Bakr, reported that she was sitting with some women and the Prophet passed by and she said ‘he greeted us with Salam.” This shows that there is nothing wrong with this and that they can reply to it.’ In Bukhari many of the companions reported that after the congregational prayer on Friday they used to go to an old woman who used to make soup and gave it to them after the prayer and they used to feel very happy with this.’ So long as these interactions between males and females are within Islamic boundaries there is no text that opposite genders should not interact with each other.

Host:’ What are the arguments and basis for the unduly strict implementations of this?

Jamal Badawi:

It is important to note that in the case of Islamic teaching the text that are conclusive and clear are the book of Allah, Quran, or the authentic Prophetic Tradition which no one has the right to change.’ In Islam a conference of jurists can not come together and supersede the word of God.’ This fortunately made some of the fundamental rights of women as sanctioned in those references unchangeable.

In some other more detailed issues there have been differences between Muslim jurists (with due respect to their knowledge) are after all human beings and some have been influenced by their environment and customs that are prominent in their time.’ Some jurists spoke against the oppressive practices and some tend to have a more strict interpretation.’ Some of the foundation for this is the exaggeration of the purity of the immediate generation that was living in the time of Prophet Muhammad and they say that those people were so pure but now we aren’t thus we can’t allow the same interactions to take place.’ We forget as finnd in the Quran in (24:60) it speaks of the existence of people who deviated during the time of the Prophet.

Another aspect is the over generalization of some of the texts in the Quran that deal with the special restrictions on the wives of the Prophet because of their status and reputation as mothers of the believers which is not for everyone else.’ Some of these do include everyone but some were specifically for the Prophet’s wives.’ Finally, some used the rule in Islamic law that says that one can restrict permissible things if there is fear of temptation, problems or molestation.’ Some people say that today things are not secure (also in that time things were not very secure).’ How far does one go with this precaution?’ If we really want to be cautious then men, also, should not go out.’ There has to be limits; we have to look at Islamic Law in terms of protection as well as benefits from interactions that are done under Islamic Law.’ In other words it all comes back to moderation of the application of Islamic Law.