Gender Equality in Islam-02


1. “Consort with them in kindness; for if you hate them, it may happen that you hate someone, wherein God has set much good for you”
Women: 19
Before we start highlighting the hilarious meanings of this verse from “Women” Surah, we should refer to the meaning and content of this Surah in general. “An-Nisaa” in Arabic means “Women”; this Surah was almost dedicated to answer questions related to women affairs in the society. Obviously, the strong masculine culture prevailed everywhere in Arab peninsula was a strong drive to dedicate considerable part of Quran revelation to rectify drifted attitudes against women, aiming to build women perception as equal partners to men among the believers of the new faith. Beside the fact of having this Surah dedicated to women rights, we have the fact that Muhammad (pbuh) dedicated Tuesdays of every week to discuss with women their affairs. It was neither a matter of segregation from men, nor a matter of suitable environment to women to disclose their private affairs comfortably, as it is usually depicted in traditional books. It was to model the care and equality of women treatment in Islam.

In the specific verse we shall discuss now, God ordered husbands to consort in kindness with their wives. Actually, the word “kindness” does not explain the proper meaning of the word “Marouf” in Arabic, as “Marouf” specifically means the set of socially accepted practices and treatments. Therefore, the recommendation was to consort with women with the set of sound and acceptable manners. These manners will essentially vary according to society and time, as what was acceptable in the Gulf in the 7th century might not be acceptable socially today in Netherlands for instance.

Here, we can notice the superb wording of Quran, giving an everlasting compatibility to different societies over time. This is what is meant by Islam to be an eternal faith, this “evolving wording” style of Quran, when coupled with the endorsement Islam gave to scientific elaborations “Ijtehad”, aiming to maintain the judicial spirit of Quran and Sunnah by modifying the time and place related roles according to emerging needs of population. Unfortunately, this outstanding capacity was hindered starting from the 4th century after apostle deceasing, the 1st attack on “Ijtehad” came from “Asharites“, led by their pioneer “Abu Hamed Gazaly”. These attacks were repetitive and persistent enough, ending in enforcement for conservative scholars over their innovator opponents, and freezing Islamic perception at a specific stage of its evolvement path.

Moreover, the verse highlights this “Marouf “ treatment of wives in all cases, including the state of intolerance, which some couples might reach to. Ancient interpretations of Quran, used to explain the verse as a recommendation, advising men to maintain husbandry relation even to women whom they hated, while we do not share this perception. The word “Karahiah” used in the verse, does not only mean hatred, it bears two meanings in Arabic. Hatred being one and the other is disappointment, which I tend to believe it was meant in the verse. Accordingly, I understand the verse to be advising the couple to give enough time for integration to happen. Passing temporary negative emotions that can be very frequent, specifically in the start of marital life, when two persons with different habits, lifestyles, likes and dislikes, are put in an ultimately intimate relationship. Then, the heat rising from the frequent friction can sometimes reach the level of hatred-like frustration, yet the feeling is temporal and subject of dissociation by time and mutual understanding. Therefore, the complete meaning will be to consort with the wife in harmony and decent copulation, even under transient negative feelings, as these feelings might vanish by time, and you realize later on several positive aspects of your spouse.

As well, we understand that descent manners are prerequisite as far as the marital bond is held, even if the relation was a proven failure, and the couple decided-on divorce. They should abide to acceptable manners until complete separation takes place. This attitude shall support less devastating experience to the couple as well as their siblings after divorce.

2. “In accordance with justice (based on the socially accepted and lawful practices) , the rights of the wives (with regard to their husbands) are equal to the (husbands’) rights with regard to them, although men have precedence over them (in this respect about reconciliation after divorce) And God is almighty wise” The Cow:228
The verse handles the case of divorce whenever decided-on by one or both parties. Specifically, cases wherein reconciliation (revitalizing marriage bonds) is decided. Despite the clarity of the Holy text in this verse, it is one of the most controversial Quran verses. We do have two distinctive and afar understandings of the verse. First, that is a conservative, or better say patriarchal understanding of the recitation “precedence over them” to be the right of unilateral reconciliation against the wife’s well. This interpretation is challenged by two points:

- As Islam granted woman the supreme decision in her own marriage, it is hard to understand the meaning here as enabling the husband to overpower his ex for reconciliation. If she held the right in the start, she should logically hold it when it comes to reconciliation.

- In Islamic roles, as the man has the right to terminate marriage from his own side, the woman hold the right to ask legally for “dismantling divorce”, a right she can use whenever realizes permanent change of her feelings toward her husband. This was proven by the case judged by apostle, granting a woman divorce upon her claim of emotional dissatisfaction. So, if the divorce was based on wife’s request, how can the man hold the right for reconciliatory decision from his side?

These couple of fair objections to the traditional understanding called for a more solidifying interpretation. The newer interpretation stated reconciliation to be only possible upon mutual agreement of both parties. Also understood the statement of “precedence over them” to refer to men being assigned to take the initiative offering reconciliation whenever a possibility is demonstrated. Such a behavior is highly encouraged as understood from the preceding part of the verse in case pregnancy is proved after divorce, aiming to preserve the best interest of the offspring.

What called us to put the verse here under this part, not listing it under the misinterpreted verses?

It is the direct statement of equality as presented in the text “In accordance with justice, the rights of the wives are equal to the rights with regard to them” this direct statement of equality, though being related to a specific topic, reflects the overall attitude of Islam toward women. Equality is a general concept by nature. You can never state equality in a part of a text and antagonize it in another part with abrupt subordination or inequality. Accordingly, we acknowledge the equality tone in this verse as a general equality statement.

3. “And among His wonders is that He created for you mates out of your own kind, so that you might tend & incline towards them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you” Rum: 21
I remember the time I first paid attention to the content of this verse in my early youth, I was impressed with the high level of humanitarian sense it accommodates. Getting older, and as I get to understand the nature and dimensions of marital life more and more, my wonder kept growing. Before getting in depth with the verse, we need to elaborate about male-female bonds for a short while.

Is the source of tendency to other gender limited to sexual libido? Does sex explain the everlasting interest of males and females to impress each other?

Is the diversity of feeling and attraction powers both genders realizes toward each other, a form of referral of the sexual tendency in a more socially acceptable manner as “Freud“suggested?

If we considered a boy-child example, you will find him more overwhelmed to achieve excellence in gaming when girl-child is on the scene. Getting of age as teenager, he will give more care to his body-shaping sports, his clothing and his fashionable haircuts. Moving toward youth, he tries to excel in his hobbies and/or his study to gain attention of youngster cuties. Maturating into a man, he speeds up toward the usual conventional attractors of matured women, power, wealth and status. Finally aging to a senior, he cares to show absolute wisdom of years more and more when decent ladies are around. All what we stated here goes bilateral, applying for female in her various life stages as much as it applied to males. The eternal hidden motive God created to heat-up mankind steps toward excellence, has a considerably effective impact on mankind cultural achievements. It might be indirectly related to sex, but surely, it is much beyond sexual seduction. This sort of motive is what the verse expressed with the words “to tend and incline” toward each other. The nature and effect of this bond is what stands as a wonder of God in my perception.

Back to the matter of equality, the verse surely stated several facts, all stand as a proof of equality of women to men in Islam, and these are,

- The verse is directed to the entire humankind, to both genders, stating the creation of male and female to be homogenously sourced to represent highest compatibility. This is a step ahead from the idea of creating Eve to entertain Adam in heavens as stated in Old Testament.

- Reference to the inclination and tendency was bilateral in the verse; we perceive this to be an evolutional understanding opposing the old patriarchal perception of women as male entertainers, holding no lust and no right for passion and tenderness, a perception that persisted for long centuries in different areas of the world.

- Expression of love as an internal feeling and tenderness as a practical expression of this feeling, and directly stating two-way linkage “between you” stands as a third proof of equality in needs, rights and nature of both genders

4. “It is lawful for you to have sex with your wives during the night preceding the fast: they are a vestment for you, and you are a vestment for them” The Cow: 187
No doubt, the respect Islam showed to human desires- sexual being one- supported the popularity of Islam to a considerable extent. Usually, the psychologically sound personalities has sexual libido as an essential biological drive, ignoring or suppressing this drive will essentially distort certain personality attributes as a minor result, if not creating a neurotic disorder as a maximal result. Islam standpoint was to regulate and trim this powerful desire other than suppressing it, and this was the logic behind absence of monkshood in Islam, needless to mention Apostle Muhammad and his major disciples were all married men.

The verse here-above discusses the marital sexual relation during the fasting month of “Ramadan“, allowing complete sexual relations to take place during off-fasting period from sunset to sunrise of the next morning. What interests our subject in the verse is the Quranic expression on intimacy between husband and wife, again in an equal bilateral expression, stating overtly “they are a vestment for you, and you are a vestment for them”. Here, where expression of absolute intimacy goes both ways, to leave no doubt about the moral commitment of the faith to equality between man and woman, closing the chapter of female disregard started with the Pauline theology impregnation into Christian theology. The level of intimacy Islam emphasized between husband and wife was only possible under Islamic understanding of the “Genesis” that is essentially different from Old Testament, in one very basic detail… The role of “Eve” in “Adam’s” first sin.

While Old Testament directly refers to “Eve” as a driver and initiator of the first sin, stating that devil seduced her "When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" and accordingly she ate the forbidden fruit and passed to “Adam” to eat. Therefore, the second banishment after the snake was directed to “Eve” according to Old Testament: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you"

Comparatively, to materialize how Quran explained genesis, we shall explore the verses related in Quran,
- “Thereafter Adam received certain words from his Lord and He relented to him; truly He is the Relenting, the Merciful.”
The Cow: 37. Therefore, it was “Adam” independently who sinned and who needed God relenting to him.

- “O Children of Adam! Let not Satan tempts you, as he caused your parents to go forth from Heaven”
The Heights: 27. Indicating no special role for “Eve” as a mediator between “Adam” and Satan. Linking the defying act to both parents equally.

- “And we made a covenant with Adam before, but he forgot, and We did not find in him any constancy” Tâ Hâ: 115. Again it is “him” not “her” who held the covenant then forgot and showed no consistency to commitment

- “Then Satan whispered to him saying, 'O Adam, shall I guide you to the Tree of Immortality, and a kingdom that does not waste away”
Tâ Hâ: 120. Satan and “Adam”, not even a word about a female arbitrator.

- “So both of them ate of it, and their private parts were exposed to them, and they began to piece together onto themselves leaves of the Garden. And Adam disobeyed his Lord and so he erred”
Tâ Hâ: 121. Both of them were equally sinned defying God. Which is the only tolerable logic, as both held a mind and freewill.

5. “Divorce is twice; then honorable retention or setting free kindly” The Cow: 229
In the holy verse, Allah prevented the misuse of divorce option in Islam. Islam granted to us also the option of reconciliation after divorce, based on the mutual approval of both parties. Yet, the verse states only two times of allowable divorce and reconciliation. Upon consuming these two times, the couple has to choose between reaching a sustainable life together, which is the “honorable retention” mentioned in the verse, or to separate in a moral way. Again, the Arabic word used was “Marouf”, meant retention according to the socially and temporally adored model of retention. Otherwise, setting each other free forever becomes the logical destiny to both.

Islam applied this limitation, as some men used to misuse divorce and reconciliation to torture their wives, between hope and desperateness. For this kind of men, stands this verse together with another verse in the same Surah “When you divorce women, and they have reached their term, then retain them honorably or set them free honorably; do not retain them by force, to transgress; whoever does that has wronged himself. Take not God’s signs in mockery, and remember God’s blessing upon you” The Cow: 231. This is a direct warning to men- who were the dominants socially- not to understand reconciliation as a privilege they hold against their spouse. In addition, not to try using it to retain them by force, retaliating whatever happened before divorce. The honorable dismissing meant in the holy verse, included granting the wife all her financial as well as social rights upon divorce, according to previous agreements as well as laws and systems of the society.

Devout Muslim behavior toward his wife can be further understood through a tradition from disciple “Ali”. When a man asked him, what is the most important quality he shall seek in a son-in-law? It was then when “Ali” answered him “Let her marry a man who fears God if he loved her he would delight her, otherwise he will not at least be unjust to her”

6. “And their Lord answers them: I waste not the good deeds of any whom do it among you, be you male or female, the one of you is as the other” The Emrans: 195

7. “And whosoever does deeds of righteousness, be it male or female, believing - they shall enter Paradise, and not be wronged a single spot”
Women: 124

8. “And whosoever does a righteous deed, be it male or female, believing, We shall assuredly give them to live a goodly life; and We shall recompense them their wage, according to the best of what they did”
Honeybees: 97

9. “Whosoever does an evil deed shall be recompensed only with the like of it, but whosoever does a righteous deed, be it male or female, believing those shall enter Paradise, therein provided without reckoning”
The Believer: 40

10. “O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another. Surely, the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most god-fearing. God is All-knowing, All-aware”
Apartments: 13

Here, we gathered five verses together, to emphasize the affirmation God gave us on gender equality. Men and women are equally assigned in the holy mission of being God’s vicegerents on land. Accordingly, they will be both judged in afterlife based on their deeds in this life and to what extent they shared positively to carryout the divine mission. This shall give us a better global image when we start discussing the misperceived verses about women in Quran, and the hadieths that we find wrongly claimed to relate to our apostle, while it contradict both Quran and apostolic deeds.

In our coming post, we will trip among the real teachings of apostle Muhammad, wherein, we can find a model of justice and honorable esteem to women.


Gender Equality in Islam-01

Did Islam downgrade woman and abided her to an absolute subordination to male?

Is the entire female existence, including her voice disregarded by Islam as “A’awra” that should be hidden, as a shame?

Did Islam prohibit all forms of inter-gender mixing? Is it true that Islam adopted the “vaginal” perception of woman, mandating her to be the way to sins and evils?

How Islam perceived sex? Was his perception closed to the Pauline perception of sex as necessary evil for mankind continuity?

I have always believed Islam was a step ahead from the other two Abrahamian faiths in terms of attitude toward female, sex and family life. I also believed it adopted a practical approach to these subjects, specifically when compared to the "Pauline" attitude expressing itself in Corinthians I, when he encouraged celibacy saying “he who marries does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better”

To support a thorough understanding of Islamic interpretation of woman and her rights, we need a comprehensive idea about the ecological and sociological conditions upon which Islamic faith has built its differentiated model. The Arabic peninsula like any other Bedouin tribes society was a patriarchal society. Unlike agricultural community, in a pastoralist one, women usually possess a minimal role in the nomadic lifestyle. Nomads usually capitalize on military acts to adopt pasture and water resources, relying mainly on men’s power and warriors courage. Women in such a society usually live as male-entertainers and house-maids. Some of the oriental sciences’ specialists were mislead by the model of “Khadija” the first wife of Muhammad (pbuh). Being a prominent lady in Mecca society, holding and running her own business and employing men to work for her. Moreover, they saw a liberty model in her behavior, daring to propose to Muhammad (pbuh) for marriage. According to this model they claimed women used to hold a supreme status before Islam, and that Islam downgraded women rights in Arabia. Actually the model they traced was quite uncommon model; Arabia was a patrilineal succession society, wherein only males inherit their fathers. Yet, some of the enlightened individuals in this Bedouin society were passing inheritance to their male and female siblings, one of them being “Khowailed ben Asad“, Khadija’s father who passed heritage to her, as he followed a monotheistic sect, that calls for justice among one’s sons and daughters. And maybe for this reason, "Khadija" was targeted as a spouse by couple of Quraish masters before Muhammad (pbuh).

Similarly, researchers were frequently misled by the prominence of woman and love as an essential element of Arabic poems before Islam. They linked this element to an imaginary esteemed role of women and respect of love and romance among Bedouins. What they fantasized to be a sign of a romantic society, was practically a symptom of deprivation in a segregating society, wherein, men lust to women, expressed itself in poems about love expeditions. Shall the society be a real liberal one , esteeming women, where is the corresponding poems written by female poets, expressing their expeditions too? Definitely we do not have this form, because it was basically a pure patriarchal society.

Knowing some factual social practices may give us a better enlightenment about the overall social model, most important practices were,
- Upon widowing, some tribes used to pass the widowed lady to her dead husband’s elder son as heritage, the son was entitled to hold sexual relations with his father’s widows other than his own mother. In this habit we notice loss of demarcation line between free woman and slaves, wherein women in general are treated as a commodity.
- Burial of girl-infant alive that was practiced by the extreme fanatics who visualized a daughter as a non-productive consumer of food and shelter, plus a possible source of disregard and dishonor in case she practiced adultery prior to marriage. Like all masculine societies, Bedouin perceived only women sexual practices outside marriage framework as fornication. While male practices were usually a source of pride as we notice from Arabic poems before Islam, getting to bed of a neighbor tribe’s ladies gives glory equals to invading their homeland.
- Polygamy in an unlimited number model, was not only socially accepted, but also perceived as a sign of glorious position and leadership.
- Female slavery with zero benefits. The master’s right included forcing his female slaves to sexual practice not only to him, but sometimes as hospitality to his guests, or to one of his male-slaves aiming to get a child-slave increasing the wealth of the master.
- Prostitution activities were usually practiced by female-slaves of Quraish masters, those who financed and spilled protection over the activity against the major share of revenues. Some well known names practiced this prostitution and pimping activities, “Al-Nabegha” the mother of “Amro Ben Al-Aas” being one of the famous cases of polyandry, when she gave birth to “Amro” she nominated four of Quraish masters, stating the four of them had a complete relation with her by the time of conception. Also “Umayah ibn Harb” the grandfather of “Mo’awiah ibn Abi Sofian” was one of the nominated pimping leaders, who employed his female slaves to get maximal revenues especially during the pilgrimage season. Yet, we admit, it was not such a society of organized female humiliation and dishonor like the Roman empire, it was more like a random primitive community where men prevails in the absence of a clear code of social rights to female, and due to their economic prevalence in majority of cases.

The highly popular image of Islam as a patriarchal faith disregarding women is essentially based on a group of hadieths claimed to be narrated by the apostle Muhammad (pbuh). In addition to the misperceptions prevailed in the majority of old Quran exegesis, knowing the most ancient of exegesis as well as hadieth indices were written decades after death of Muhammad, it has always been a subject of reaction with the common culture in which some dogmas prevailed, we can understand the interference of culture with the divine nature of scripture. Over the coming posts, we will treat a variety of sacred texts; we can group this variety into four main categories;
1. Verses of the Holy Quran, out of which, we can obviously materialize Islam calling for gender equity in clear and distinctive language.
2. Hadieths of the apostle, stated gender equity and encouraged superb treatment of wives specifically and women in general. These hadieths we believed to be genuinely related to Muhammad as it stands coherent with Quran verses as well as with the apostolic behavior and deeds(pbuh)
3. Verses of the Holy Quran that was mostly misinterpreted or generalized by early Islamic scholars. We will analyze this group and clarify the variant understanding that is harmonious in its general attitude with the first category.
4. Hadieths traditionally linked to Muhammad and clearly disregarding woman in different forms. Some of these hadieths is already proven to be fragile in its linkage to apostle by the efforts of a group of enlightened clergies, such as “Al-Albany”, “Muhammad Abdo”, “Muhammad Gazali” and “Muhammad Rashid Reda”. Unfortunately it is still extensively used and linked to the apostle. Some other hadieths were quite approved by hadieth scientists as they did not find a clear defect in its linkage line to the apostle. Yet, we should understand that the linkage line of hadieths was a word-of-mouth line, where the words of the apostle were spoken and repeated from man to man, with all the falsification possibilities arising from this method. For these hadieths we did not rely on weakness or strength of the linkage line (reference), we relied mostly on the manner of “Moa’atazala” scholars, verifying hadieth based on its harmony with Quran direction and general ideology and style of the apostle Muhammad (pbuh)