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)

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