Summary of 7.14 “Position of Women in Islam-Spiritual Aspect”

Last week’s program looked at the position of women in Islam, first from the human and spiritual perspective.’ Islam dispelled all the arguments that proceeded the advent of Islam in the later part of the sixth century where they had religious conferences to decide whether a woman had a soul, whether she is human and whether she deserves the life hereafter or not.’ We quoted verses from the Quran which show that Islam recognizes a woman’s full humanity and that she is created with the same nature and soul as man and that there is no difference.’ We also, indicated that Islam recognizes the same spiritual qualities for both woman and men.’ The religious duties and responsibilities are the same for men and women.’ In some cases women are given certain concessions regarding religious duties in consideration of their feminine or maternal functions.’ For example, a woman does not have to fast when she is nursing or pregnant in protection of her health and her babies health.’ Then we discussed the specifics of some of those concessions and why women pray behind the lines of men and why a woman does not lead the prayer and bow down in front of men.’ We also, discussed why there are no female prophets and that his has nothing to do with her status or position but rather the nature of Muslim prayers which involve certain movements and the nature of the role of the prophet and the suffering that he must endure.’ Otherwise women and men are on the same plane at a human and spiritual level.

7.15 Position of Women in Islam (Economic Aspect)

Host:’ Does Islam recognize a woman’s right to own property independently (independent of her husband)?

Jamal Badawi:

According to Islamic Law a woman has complete unquestioned right to own property in her name independently.’ This right does not change in case of marriage and it does not transfer to her husband (as we have seen in some laws before Islam and in some none-Muslim societies after Islam).’ A woman is eligible to dispose of this property in anyway she wishes (bequeath it, sell it, rent it,’ invest it or any other form of disposal of property) without any permission or interference from her husband or anybody else.’ Among Muslim women, even till today, a woman does not take the name of her husband upon marriage which is a symbol of maintaining her personality and legal identity.’ Some Muslims who migrate or live in the West find it difficult and uncomfortable to refer to a wife as Mrs. so and so.’ In Islam a woman maintains her maiden name.’ These are not recent interpretations of jurists but are all rights which were established and intrenched in Islamic Law from as early as the seventh century.

Host:’ Could you compare the situation of Islam with the legal approach of the Western civilization after the industrial revolution?

Jamal Badawi:

According to Encyclopedia Americana the international edition published in 1969 Volume 29, in page 108 it describes the approach of the English common law ‘All real property which a wife held at the time of a marriage became a possession of her husband.’ He was entitled to the rent from the land and to any prophet which might be made from operating the estate during the joint life of the spouses.’ As time passed the English courts devised means to forbid a husband’s transferring real property without the consent of his wife.’ But he still retained the right to manage it and to receive the money which it produced.’ As to a wife’s personal property the husband’s power was complete, he had the right to spend it as he saw fit.” It appears that this kind of situation continued until the later part of the nineteenth century.’ To document this we refer to Encyclopedia Britannica the 1968 addition Volume 23, page 624 it says ‘By a series of acts starting with the Married Womens Property Act in 1870 amended in 1882 and 1887 married women achieved the right to own property and to enter contracts on a par with spinsters, widows and divorcees.” Indeed Britain was ahead of many European nations.’ It is known that in French Law the right of women to own property was only recognized in as late as 1938.’ Prier to that among the people who did not have the right to dispose of property were minors, those under guardianship (not stable mental condition) and women.’ This means that many of the rights that were recognized to women economically in as late as the nineteenth and twentieth century were already well intrenched and established in Islamic law as early as the seventh century which is almost a span of 1300 year difference.

A French writer by the name of Maurice Gaudefroy-Demombynes translated by John P. MacGregor wrote in a book with the title Muslim Institutions published in 1950 that Quranic Law gave the wife ‘a status which is in many respects more advantageous than that bestowed by modern European Laws.” Another writer also wrote that Islam was astonishingly ahead of its time and environment.’ This astonishment results from the fact that many of these writers look at these provisions in Islamic Law and they wonder how Prophet Muhammad could say these things in a time when women were the object of inheritance.’ What they forget is that these laws are not written by Muhammad and the Quran was not written by him, but that it was divine revelation.’ God’s laws are not subject to the limitations of the time, pressure or environment.

Host:’ Under Islamic Law is the woman entitled to inheritance?

Jamal Badawi:

It is interesting to note that before Islam in Arabia in some cases the woman herself was the object of inheritance, part of the estate left by the decease.’ Depriving a woman from inheritance was not uncommon not only in pre-Islamic Arabia but also in other parts of the world.’ In some cases only males were entitled to inheritance and in some other cases (even in Europe) only the eldest son was entitled to it.’ The argument for this was that it preserves the wealth and aristocracy of the family rather than splitting it among so many children.’ The first and most important major reform that the Quran introduced was to establish the rights of both males and females, with no exclusions.’ In the Quran in (4:7) ‘From what is left by parents and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large,-a determinate share.” This share was not determined by anybody, not even Prophet Muhammad but was determined by God.’ No body has the right to change it or to deprive anyone from his or her legitimate inheritance.’ In Islamic Law even if the deceased made a will with the exclusion of any of the legitimate female heir that it would be void from the Islamic point of view.’ The reason of the revelation of this verse reflects that it was made to reflect the female rather than the male.’ It was said that the wife of a man by the name of Sa’ad went to the Prophet (PBUH) and said ‘My husband died and he left an estate which his brother took; I have two daughters and when they get married they will need these funds.” So then this verse was revealed to Prophet Muhammad that both males and females are entitled to inheritance.’ A unique way of revealing revelations was related to cases in society which show us how to resolve these problems.

The share of any heir depends on the degree of relation to the diseased.’ According to what the Quran says the heirs are a male and female in most cases the male inherits twice as much as the female.’ This is the case because of the variant responsibilities of males compared to those of females under Islamic Law.

Host:’ How would you respond to people who see this as being unjust to the woman involved?

Jamal Badawi:

To start with as indicated before the inheritance is not put down by a male (no bias towards males) but these are divine laws that have great wisdom and reason behind them.’ If we look at one aspect of Islamic Law pertaining to religious privileges or responsibilities then one would probably come up with this conclusion of it being unjust and discriminatory.’ The error in this conclusion steams from the fact that one is taking one aspect of Islamic law out of context.’ Indeed if one looks at it further Islam favors the woman even though she inherits half as much as the male.

In the case of marriage the woman is more on the receiving end than the male.’ First, during the period of engagement she gets all kids of gifts.’ Second, at the time of marriage a Muslim woman is entitled to a marriage gift or Mahr which is hers and not anyone else’s (like her father’s).’ Usually the Mahr is consistent with the financial situation of the fiancee.’ Third, if she had any property prior to marriage it remains hers and she has full freedom to dispose of it the way she likes.’ Fourthly, in Islamic Law, even if the wife is rich and has property she is not responsible to spend a single penny on the household.’ The full responsibility for her food, clothing, housing, medication, recreation and all her needs are entirely the husband’s responsibility.’ Fifthly, if she earns any income during their marital life by way of rental, investment or income it is all entirely hers.’ In cases of divorce if there is any differed part of the dower, the marital gift, it becomes due immediately.’ She is entitled to complete maintenance during the waiting period and is entitled to child support if the child is in her custody.

If we put all these additional privileges that are given to women, and the fact that no matter how rich she is that she does not have to spend a penny we can see that she is not being degraded.’ In Islamic Law the man is responsible for all of the expenses in addition for his responsibility to care for his near relatives who are poor and needy.’ When things are put in perspective we can see the great financial privileges given to women in consideration for their need of protection and financial security.

Host:’ Is the woman entitled to seek a job and work in Islam and is she entitled to equal pay for equal work?

Jamal Badawi:

First, I know of no legal provision in the Quran or Prophetic Tradition that can be construed in any way to say that a woman is not entitled to seek a job or career.’ It should be added that in an ideal Islamic society some women must take certain jobs.’ For example within Islamic teachings it is much more desirable for a woman to be examined by a female doctor.’ This automatically means that Islam presumes that there would be female doctors and nurses.’ In an Islamic society it is much more desirable to have a female teacher for females, which presumes females in a variety of disciplines.’ It is well known that females are much better with children in their early education.’ These are only examples that show that within the assumptions of Islamic Law there must be some women who have these type of skills.’ It should be emphasized however that a very important and major role for women in Islam is being a wife and a mother.’ These kinds of roles that relate to the upbringing of the new generation of humanity should take precedence over a career or job.’ Whenever there is conflict these basic roles should take precedence.’ The Prophet (PBUH) said ‘God loves it when one of you does something that he tries to perfect it.” If a woman has small, babies that she is caring for, that requires her presence and not taking a job for a period of time then she is certainly making the right decision.’ In the case of living in non-Islamic societies where such guaranties and financial securities are not available to women and a woman has to work to earn a living or in order to care for her children (so long as the type of work and atmosphere is not contradictory to Islamic Law) there are no provisions to prevent her from doing so.

In Islamic Law there is no reason why a woman should not receive equal pay for work of equal value.’ There is nothing in Islamic law that says that a woman should be paid less because she is a woman.’ This is as old as the revelations of the Quran, 1400 years ago.’ It is consistent with the rules of Islamic Law that if a person is doing work (male or female) that they get paid for their work.

Host:’ Is seeking a job for women not encouraged unless there is a specific need for it?’ Some people would argue that a woman who does not have a career is not productive or fulfilled individual and that she does not contribute to development.

Jamal Badawi:

I don’t know of any function that is more noble, more important and crucial in social development than motherhood.’ How do we define social development?’ Are we defining it in terms of dollars and cents?’ Or are we talking about social, moral, spiritual as well as material development?’ Once we expand our view of social development; what role can replace the role of motherhood?’ Why is it that we consider a career outside of the home a career but motherhood is not?’ Is working outside the home the only determinant?

Why is it in a materialistic civilization like the present age if a woman cooks in a restaurant for strangers she is regarded as fulfilled but if she cooks for her beloved ones at home she is not fulfilled?’ Why is it if a woman is sawing clothing in a factory for others she is regarded as fulfilled but when she saws for her own family she is not?’ Why is it that if a woman works as a secretary, organizing schedules for her boss she is regarded as fulfilled but when she looks after the engagements of the family she is regarded as inferior.’ Indeed the biggest problem in contemporary thinking is to look down at the role of a mother or a wife as if it is something traditional old and not relevant and not important in society.’ From a purely materialistic point of view, if we were to put a price tag on the services of a wife and mother and if the husband were to pay her for those services he would go bankrupt.’ A mother is sometimes on call 24 hours a day and especially when she has small babies.’ Even in a materialistic sense a wife and mother’s job is not worthless.’ I should reiterate however, that this does not mean that Islam makes it unlawful for a woman to have a job but it simply means that there are priorities.’ What fulfillment could be greater than a warm home, a happy husband, healthy and well reared children and a cherished and loved wife?

If something is traditional it doesn’t mean that it is bad and if something is modern it does not mean that it is good.’ What is the price that society is paying today for these modern values?’ The family is breaking down and because of this women seek employment to sustain themselves, which contributes to the problem of unemployment and that causes crime which discourages people from getting married.’ What price are we paying for these so called modern values verses the so called traditional values?’ What is wrong with this kind of warmth within the family circle that every man, woman and child publicly or secretly yearn for?