Summary of 7.21 “Muslim Women in History III”

We continued our discussion of women in history and we indicated that our emphasis on the early days of Islam was simply because this represented the perfect model (closest) to what Islam teaches.’ Second, we stated that the position and status of a Muslim woman afterword had gone through various ups and downs depending on the variations and influences of different places, times and cultures.’ Because of these variations one can not expect perfect compliance with the letter and spirit of Islam.’ There have abortions, deviations and there have been cases where a Muslim woman was deprived of her due rights as determined in Islam.’ Some examples of this would be discouraging women from going to the Mosque contrary to the instructions of the Prophet, like the concept of purdah (total seclusion of women from society) which has nothing to do with Islam and in fact proceeded Islam.’ We have indicated that there is a difference in Islam between the emphasis on preserving the morality of the individual and society.’ The issue of chastity, modesty and behavior are different from the notion of total seclusion of women from society.’ We have seen in the previous programs how Muslim women with the approval and consent of the Prophet were heavily involved and actively participated in a variety of affairs in the Muslim community within the boundaries of Islam.

7.22′ Muslim Women in Recent History

Host:’ Can you shed some light on Muslim women in recent history?

Jamal Badawi:

I would categorize this into three basic trends: one, was total westernization, second, was to uphold the status quo and not to try to change the present and third, is the approach of Islamic revivalists.

The trend towards westernization took place during the late 19th century and early 20th century and it came at a really low point of the Muslim civilization in Muslim history.’ It came at a point of decadence and backwardness when virtually all of the Muslim world was under some form of colonialism: Russia, British, French, Italians or Dutch.’ This period seemed to coincide with the rising power of the Western nations.’ As a result, the colonial powers that occupied the Muslim world tried very hard to convince Muslims, with the help of missionaries an Orientalists, that the main reason for their backwardness or the reason they suffered from moral or social decay was their religion.’ They tried to convince Muslims that the only way out of that dilemma was to reject Islam and to adopt Western manners in a whole sale fashion.’ These efforts definitely had results.’ We find that some Muslims responded (especially those who were not very familiar with their faith) favorably to this call.’ However, we find that many of the people who supported this kind of movement like Qasim Ameen and Huda Sha’rawi had a history of collaboration either with the occupying army to establish its colonial power or people who were collaborators with the corrupt court of the monarchy in Egypt which ended with King Farouq (who was dismissed in 1952).’ However, we find decades of practical experience showed that total uncriticized westernization is not the solution to this dilemma.

Host:’ Why was this approach unsuccessful?

Jamal Badawi:

Even tough there was a feeling that reform and improvement it was not successful because these changes must be based on religion, beliefs and the values of the people.’ This way the movements of reform can gain wider support and sponsorship on the part of the population.’ Second, the principle of adopting, in a wholesale fashion, other cultures and other practices without any rational process of selecting what to take and what not to take depending on one’s needs is in itself evidence of ignorance and decadence.’ Only a nation which is in a state of decay can adopt without being critical and just imitating others blindly.’ Third, as far as Islam is concerned there is nothing wrong with adopting reformist ideas as long as a Muslim is always in a state where he can critically chose to establish the process’ of change, improvement and reform within the boundaries of the faith.’ There is no reason whatsoever why reformation and liberation should be done against God when they can be done from within the faith.

On the other hand it is important to clarify that the solution to all of these dilemmas and problems faced by Muslims and particularly the case of Muslim women were problems who’s solutions do exist within the boundaries of Islam.’ So instead of importing ideas why not apply what we have.’ Islam, does protect within its legal framework the rights and dignity of women.’ If there is a deficiency on the part of Muslims not implementing those teachings the logical thing is to get them to apply it rather than to support something different.

Host:’ What is the view point of the second major trend you described relating to those who believe that the status quo should be maintained?

Jamal Badawi:

This particular trend seems to have emerged as a reaction to the attempt to impose alien and foreign values and ways of thinking and beliefs on a population which was largely a Muslim population.’ So many people felt that the reforms were not steaming from the faith but rather something that is imposed which was different from their heritage and their beliefs.’ Second, some people had justifiable worries because along with the wholesale adaptation of western ways, not only were the ideas of adaptation and fairness adopted but also many other practices which were contrary to Muslim beliefs and behavior.’ Being too lax on moral issues, proper cover, and free mixing with no restrictions are a few examples which caused many people to feel a great.’ They felt threats to the moral values of the Muslim society, to the cohesiveness and integrity of the family (which is breaking down as a basic unit in society).’ They did not fear reforms but they feared the approach of reform which mixed good ideas with counterproductive practices.’ It is fair however to say that some of those who were leery about reforms did so partly because of their lack of appreciation of the vitality of Islam and its ability to face all kinds of challenges in different places and times without deviating from its framework.’ In some cases some had misgivings and probably even misinterpretation of some of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that they interpreted as putting women in less of a position than that of man.

Host:’ Could you comment on the Hadith by Prophet that says that if a woman prays, fasts, is chaste, and obeys her husband then she will enter Paradise?

Jamal Badawi:

It is true that there is a Hadith narrated by Anas and it is found in a book called Al Hilya by Abu Na’im in which the Prophet says that if a woman observes her five prayers, fasts during the month of Ramadan, maintains her chastity and honor and obeys her husband she will be told to enter from any door of Paradise.’ Some people miss interpret this to mean that this is all that a Muslim woman is required to do and that this is an exclusive list of what the involvement and obligations of the Muslim woman should be.’ There are two reasons why I would say that this is not a correct interoperation.

First, everybody knows that there are five basic pillars of Islam that include belief and things that are not mentioned in the above Hadith, such as charity and pilgrimage.’ No body differs that these are absolute requirements of both males and females.’ These items were not mentioned in that Hadith so does it mean that a woman does not have to pay charity, make the pilgrimage, have faith in God or perform other religious duties?’ The point to remember here is that the text of the Hadith is not meant to be exclusive to those points alone but is rather an example of some of the more significant behavior on the part of the Muslim woman.

Second, we have seen in several programs in this series (Social System in Islam) how Muslim women during the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH) were heavily involved in a variety of economic, social and political activities.’ Again one needs to look at this from within the total concepts of Islamic teachings.

Host:’ Is it true that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) expressed his fears that men would be tempted by women after him?’ What are the implications of this saying?

Jamal Badawi:

In both Bukhari and Muslim there is mention of the fear of the Prophet that women might be a source of temptation for men.’ In the original it uses the word fitnah in Arabic is sometimes translated into temptation but this term also means test or trial.’ I can give two sources in the Quran where fitnah means trial not temptation in (8:28) and (64:15).’ In both of these it says ‘Your riches and your children may be but a trial (fitnah).” Fitnah here doesn’t mean temptation but it could mean a test.’ These things which are called fitnah are not necessarily negative whether they are wealth, women or children.’ We find that the Quran in many places speaks of having spouses, children and wealth as one of the blessings of God and there is no where in the Quran or Prophetic Tradition that say that these things are forbidden or negative in themselves.’ Fitnah, temptation or trial here in a sense that when God blesses us with women, children or wealth they should not keep us from the remembrance of Allah; He above all gave us these things and we should not forget Him.

This also reminds us that in our pursuit of wealth, in our pursuit of satisfying our instinctive needs (the need for woman on the part of man and for man on the part of a woman) and in our pursuit of having children or families we should try to do so within the boundaries of what is permissible rather than doing it in a forbidden way.’ There is no negative connotation with the use of the term fitnah because everything in our life can be regarded as a test.

Host:’ There is a quote by Prophet Muhammad that says that women are at a disadvantage than men in matters of religion and mind, could you explain the context of this saying and what it means?

Jamal Badawi:

There have been many misunderstandings regarding this specific Hadith.’ The context of that Prophetic Tradition is in the area of exhortation of women to do good deeds.’ When we talk about exhortation many times allegories are used which should not be interpreted in a restrictive and literal sense but rather as encouragement and to be spiritually appealing.’ Second, this test does not speak of the inferiority or superiority of either men or women but it addresses the natural differences of men and women.’ Natural differences created by God can never be regarded as a source of inferiority or superiority of either of the two sexes.’ Third, this Prophetic Tradition explains what is meant and shows that the meaning is very restrictive rather than how people try to over generalize out of it.’ For example women asked the Prophet ‘At what point would women be at a disadvantage from a religious practice point of view?” And his answer was simple that during the monthly cycle a Muslim woman doesn’t pray (in the specific form of the five daily prayers).’ The point here is that in Islamic Law a Muslim woman is not permitted to pray (there are certain requirements of tahara, minimum degree of cleanliness before prayer, if a man or woman is bleeding it is regarded as a reason why they can’t perform prayers) until cleansed.’ If we interpret this Prophetic Tradition as saying that Muslim women are less religious we would contradict the Quran. If we say that she is deficient because she doesn’t pray during her cycle, how can we blame her for this when Islamic’ Law doesn’t allow her to do so?’ This is totally contradictory to the overall spirit of Islam.’ We need to go back to the context of the Prophetic Tradition and that he was appealing to women to make up for their missed prayers, which they are not required to do, are highly encouraged to engage in acts of charity.

The other aspect that people say that women are deficient in aql.’ There is a great misunderstanding of this because the very Hadith does not speak in the context of one sex or the other being more intelligent nor does it speak about the power of reasoning which God has endowed to both men and women but it specifically addresses one issue which the Prophet explains when he was asked what is this disadvantage in aql.’ He said in matters of financial dealings the requirement is to have two males or one male and two females.’ This is a matter that we have explained in several programs in great detail so we can differ to that.’ The point here is that it has nothing to do with the integrity of the woman, her intelligence or reasoning, but the relative extent of exposure to the business world within the Islamic context and the comparative experience that an average woman may have in financial dealings which may require this additional precaution in order to make sure things are not misinterpreted.’ Aql doesn’t mean, that a person doesn’t have a mind it means the degree of understanding or depth of experience in certain areas of life.’ I should emphasis this was mentioned specifically under the context of goodness and being charitable.’ It should not be taken in a literal sense which would contradict both the Quran and the Prophetic Tradition.

Host:’ Could you explain the Prophetic Tradition that says a woman is like a bent rib?

Jamal Badawi:

First of all this particular tradition has different versions.’ In one of them it might appear that the woman was created from a rib but it doesn’t mean physically from a rib as we explained in previous programs, because in other versions of the same tradition it says a woman is like a rib.’ This doesn’t mean that she is a physically created from a rib, but she has some characteristics which are similar to the bent rib.’ What does bent mean?’ If we look at a rib we find that it is curved which means it has inclination, tendency or curvature.’ In the context of this saying the Prophet says if one tries to make the rib straight one will break it.’ In that sense he is not talking about a deficiency on the part of a woman.’ It says that women have a particular nature and if a man becomes so intolerant to the peculiarities of women and try to force them against their own nature by making the rib straight then you will break it.’ In the explanation of some jurists they say that breaking of the rib is divorce which again is again an appeal to the Muslim male to be tolerant toward his female companions whether they are wives, mothers, sisters, daughters or so on.’ This is meant so that women are not forced against their nature which is physiological, mental and psychological and not to expect everybody to be regimented and behave in the same way.

The biggest evidence of the validity of this meaning is that in the very saying of the Prophet’s saying of a woman being curved or bent like a rib, begins and ends with istowso bi alnis’a which means ‘I commend you to be kind and considerate to women because they are created like a curved rib and if you try to force it you will break it.’ So I commend you to be kind and considerate to women.” In this context we are really talking about consideration for women rather than regarding them as crooked or bent.

It is just like other Prophetic Traditions where the Prophet likens a woman to a prisoner.’ It doesn’t mean that she is a prisoner or that she should be a prisoner but it means that one should have sympathy to women who are tied to you, your family and your children as if they are captives and that one should reciprocate by showing respect and appreciation.

Host:’ How do we know that the interpretations that you have given are valid within the framework of Islam?

Jamal Badawi:

This is a methodological question.’ To start with in discussing or trying to understand any aspect of Islam or Islamic Law everybody agrees that the primary sources are first the Quran, word of God, and the Prophetic Tradition, sayings of the Prophet (PBUH).’ Within this framework the Quran is regarded as the direct world of God as dictated to Prophet Muhammad with the Prophetic Tradition as elaboration and explanation.’ Secondly, if one goes through the entire Quran one can not find any verse that implies in any way that Muslim women are inferior to men or that men are superior.’ If there is anything like that in translations then they are mistranslation of the original wording of the Quran.’ Third, as a basic methodology of the interpretation of Islam no text of Prophetic Tradition can be interpreted in a way which contradicts the word of God in the Quran or contradicts other Prophetic Traditions.’ So one has to put all the texts together with the primary importance to the word of God in the Quran then collect all the sayings of the Prophet in a given topic then try to understand them in that context rather taking pieces from here and there.’ We have already seen that the Quran emphasizes that whomever does good deeds (men or women) that God will give them their full reward.’ We have also seen the Muslim woman was dignified in many respects in a variety of activities.’ 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.’ it shows the complete spiritual equality between men and women in Islam.