Summary of 7.17 “Position of Women in Islam-Political Aspect I”

First of all we addressed whether a Muslim woman according to Islamic Law is permitted to participate in political activities.’ We said that what we mean by political activities is things that pertain to public affairs and the overall affairs of society.’ We indicated that in the Quran in (9:71) a rule is established that Muslims (male and female) should be supporters and helpers of each other.’ The Quran also talks about the obligation of obeying the good and forbidding the evil as one of the characteristics of believers.’ In those texts women included along with men.

The second point was whether women have the right to express their views in political matters pertaining to government and administration.’ Again we indicated that in the best model of Islam during the early days Muslim women did participate and had input in many of the political decisions.

The third question pertained to the issue of voting and whether a Muslim woman can have input in the selection of people who are to be in public office.’ In the Quran we find refrence to bia’a an oath of allegiance to the Prophet (PBUH) and the mention in the Quran of bia’a in which both men and women participated.’ We also quoted a verse which addressed bia’a taken from women.’ We said that this is not simply allegiance in terms of worship but the Prophet was also given that this allegiance as head of state.

The last point was regarding women participating in discussions in parliament or other political meetings.’ We referred to a case that occurred during the reign of the second Caliph, Omar, when he suggested putting upper limits on the marriage gift, mahr, and a woman stood up in the mosque and argued with him and told him he could not do that and she quoted a verse from the Quran as a reference.’ He could not help but admit that he was wrong and that the woman was right.’ This situation resembles parliament (or other political settings) today in which objections are raised towards administrative or governing decisions, and sometimes they are regarding constitutional grounds as it was in the above case.

7.18 ‘Position of Women in Islam (Political Aspect II)

Host:’ On what basis are you using this analogy?

Jamal Badawi:

When Omar stood in the mosque and said that people are exaggerating and that he said that they should not exceed 400 dirhams it is likened to a government decision or a proposed bill.’ In those times the venue for these discussions was the mosque at the time.’ What is forgotten is that for a Muslim the mosque is not just a place of worship or prayer but is a place that has been traditionally used in the days of the Prophet and shortly afterward as a place for discussion of social issues, political issues, army gathered and sent off from here, major issues were discussed and emissaries from other countries were received.’ This is analogous in my understanding.

Third, the fact that Omar said that in public implies that anyone could express their opinion or objection to that decision or bill.’ What difference is that from the current parliament?’ Four, it was like an open parliament because anyone can express their opinion as in the example of the lady who objected and her basis for this objection is called today contradiction of the bill to the constitution.’ To a Muslim the Quran is the constitution and no word or decision of any human being supersedes the word of God.’ When the lady objected she said: ‘You are setting an upper limit but the Quran did not’ and she quoted the verse.’ She was basically telling him that he was out of order which is just like an objection that is presented in Supreme Court or in front of parliament.’ Omar said this woman is right and I am wrong, which is just like a ruler withdrawing a bill or or revoking a decision.

The narrator said ‘a woman stood from the back’ and it was common for narrators to to mention the lady’s name if she was well-known but the fact that the narrator only said ‘a woman’ implies that she was a common woman no even one of the prominent women of the time.

A second observation is that the mosque was full of worshipers and companions of the Prophet who learned Islam directly from him and were definitely well versed with Islamic Law and non-of them raised the objection that she was a woman and why was she interfering in politics.’ Omar, who was known to be very meticulous about the implementation of Islamic Law did not object to her voicing her concern.’ In this sense we can make the analogy and the only difference is in termenlogy not in the essence of the situation.’ This in no means was the only incident in which Muslim women participated in political decisions.’ It was reported that after the martyrdom of Omar, the second Caliph, consultations were taking place in order to find someone to succeed him and finally Abu Rahman Ibn Oaf was given the mandate to ask people which of the two candidates (Uthman or Ali) they accept to be the next Caliph.’ It was reported (as mentioned in Al Bidaya wa Al Nihaya a book by Ibn Kathir a very famous Muslim historian) that among the people who were consulted were women.’ Again if we go back to the purity of Islam and the best model in which Islam was implemented we can not find any evidence of restrictions on women from participating in these type of affairs.

Host:’ Does Islamic Law object to women holding positions of leadership or public office in the community?

Jamal Badawi:

First we have to define leadership.’ Some people are used to leadership in a company or more formal setting.’ However, leadership connotes positions which are important, positions which carry responsibility and positions which involve supervising or guiding others.’ We have indicated (in previous programs) that in an ideal society it is not only permissible but desirable to have women serve in positions such as doctors, nurses and teachers (not just in the primary grades but in higher grades because it is preferable to have separate schools for girls).’ Are these not important positions?’ Are these not positions which carry a certain amount of responsibility?’ Are these not positions which involve directing and guiding people?’ If not what is?

On the other hand suppose a woman is not employed and might be busy with an infant.’ Who can say that the position of a mother at home does not involve leadership?’ She directs the upbringing of her children and has great responsibility.’ Anyone who is familiar with what mothers and wives go through knows that their responsibility is as grave as anyone who is employed in a mine, factory or office.’ What could be more important to society than leading the new generation to the right path.’ It is the lack of this kind of leadership that is causing society to suffer today.’ We find a beautiful saying Prophet Muhammad which was narrated in Bukhari and Muslim in which he says ‘Each one of you is a leader or shepherd (rai’i) who is responsible for their trust.’ ‘Then he elaborated ‘The ruler is a shepherd (leader) responsible for the people he leads, the man is a shepherd (leader) who is responsible for his family, a woman is a shepherd (leader) and is responsible for her children and household, even a servant is a shepherd (leader) who is responsible for the trust put in him.” In that sense indicates that every woman (even if she is not employed out of her home) has a leadership role.

If we are refering to leadership roles that have to do with public office, again there is no specific text in Sharia’a (words of Quran and Prophetic Tradition) which establish a rule that a woman should not serve in public office.’ Indeed there even justification of women carrying some senior responsibilities in society in a variety of institutions if there is genuine need for it and if the nature and environment of the job does not contradict other aspects of Islamic Law.’ As a rule it is permissible.

The only exceptions from that rule would have to have solid text.’ The only solid text that makes any restrictions on a woman being in public offices is one that deals with being head of state.’ Most jurists (not all) by analogy say that she should not be a judge or commander of an army by analogy.’ The text only mentions head of state.

Host:’ What is the text is used to substantiate this particular exception and what are the reasons for it?

Jamal Badawi:

First, there is an authentic text (no text in the Quran) which is narrated in Bukhari, Ahmad, Tirmithi and Nasai’i when Prophet Muhammad was told that Persians (before Persia became Muslim) selected the daughter of their diseased King to be their Queen he said ‘A people will not prosper if their leader (walow) is a woman.” Jurists have interpreted the word walow that the Prophet used to refer specifically to the headship of state, he was not talking about a woman occupying any other position of responsibility.

This rule applies within the boundaries and framework of Islam not within an alien type of structor or society.’ In Islam the head of state is not just a figure head he is the thinking mind of the state with lots of responsibilities and duties.’ He is the spokes person of his people, he is required to lead the prayers (especially in big congregations, Friday and at festivals) and he leads the army on the battlefield whenever it is necessary to do so.’ We have seen in previous programs in terms of leading prayers there is bowing and it is not appropriate for a woman to stand in front of men while doing so.’ In terms of leading and army and war in our liberated society show me any significant examples where woman liked to serve as chief commander of the army.’ If women become just like men in terms of militarism and making decisions involving, bloodshed and wars life would loose the best part of it, which is the kindness and compassion of women.’ God created a certain balance in creation.

In addition, in Islam headship of a state is not a prize that people fight for.’ Indeed it is something that people who are cognizant of its responsibility should shy away from and escape from it.’ In Islamic rules a person is not supposed to seek public office unless people seek him or offer him the position because of his qualifications.’ This is a position that offers a great deal of sacrifice not one that would get all of one’s relatives in positions and bribery.’ We can see throughout Islamic history that rulers lived very simple sacrificial lives which were much harder than their lives prior to accepting these kinds of responsibilities.’ The point here is that this is not a major issue, even women in the West would not be overly anxious to be presidents or heads of state.’ In the world now with four thousand million people how many men are in the position of headship of state?’ There are many reforms that could be focused on instead of’ worrying about this issue.

Host:’ What about the situation now where women serve as judges?

Jamal Badawi:

This is not an issue where there is unanimity among Muslim jurists.’ First, those who claim that by analogy that a woman should not serve as a judge consider being a judge as a form that has significance and similarity to role of the ruler.’ Second reason they give is that in Islam the man is supposed to be head of the family and they say that if the man is supposed to be the leader of the household then by analogy a woman should not serve as a judge which is more important than being head of a household.’ This is the position of the majority of Muslim jurists.

However the famous jurist Al Tabari differs with this when he says that there should be no restriction on a Muslim woman serving as a judge.’ He says that there is fault in making this type of analogy.’ He said that the Prophetic Tradition which objected to a woman being head of state only specified headship and this analogy should not be made to extend to other areas.

A third position took the middle ground of the famous jurist Abu Hanifa (famous leader of one of the major schools of Fiqh in the Sunni tradition) said that if the Quran indicated that a woman can be a witness in financial dealings then she should also be eligible to be a judge in the same matter.’ If we accept somebodies witness (a sense of responsibility) then a person is equipped and qualified to be a judge in these matters.

Host:’ Under Islamic Law one male witness requires two female witnesses does this imply that women are half as good are second class?

Jamal Badawi:

Absolutely not.’ This is like the law of inheritance where it appears so on the surface but turns out not to be the case.’ First, if she is considered second class Islam could have rejected her being a witness period, and in the in the 7th century it was too much for them to accept a woman as a witness (it was quite normal for people at the time to reject a woman as a woman).’ This question has nothing to do with status.’ If we go back to the verse in the Quran in (2:282) which specifies witnesses for financial dealings and contracts and it says ‘get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her.” Some translations use forget instead of err as a rough translation for tadil.’ It might be asked in this situation why do we worry about women forgetting and not men?’ Again the problem arrises from the translation as the word tadil doesn’t mean forget in terms of memory (some women have better memory than men) but from within Islamic framework a woman who is busy centering her life as a wife and mother would be so involved in this very important role that she may not necessarily be present at the time when financial contracts are negotiated.’ Also, if she is present she may not be as experienced on the whole because she was not involved as much or as perceptive of all the financial details.’ Thus, her witness may not be totally accurate even though she really intends to give a clear and correct witness.’ The purpose is not to lower her status but to make sure in financial matters (which are very sensitive matters for people) Islamic Law guaranties extra precautions.’ Until today most women are not involved int this and thus this precaution is taken.’ Of course we can not generalize as some women can be better brokers (there are always exceptions) but on the whole especially within the Islamic framework women would not be as involved as men in this matter.