What is the position of women in Islamic Law?

An investigation of interpretations of the Quran and Hadith with special reference to Pakistan.

Rachida Bellahrach

Scholarly interpretation of the two most important sources of Islamic jurisprudence, the Qur'an and the Hadith [sunnah] of the prophet Muhammad, about the position of women in Islamic law is divided in some parts of the world. Syed (2004:1) says 'the question of women's rights and obligations appear to be the most controversial, and the most complex of all social problems'. But before any discussion of women in Islamic law is undertaken it is essential that the reader take into consideration the Islamic world view 'it's Weltanschauung' (Wadud1992:3). A core element to the Islamic world view is the concept of Tawhid. Tawhid is crucial to any discussion about Islam including the position of women in Islamic law. Tawhid 'literally translates as oneness of God. That God is the one and only' (Younos 2002:1). In the Quran, God states about himself:

He neither begets nor is he begotten [112:3] (Younos 2002:1).

'Tawhid does not recognise servitude to any other being but God. Therefore tawhid is a liberating force. It liberates humankind (if practised) from any sort of tyranny and oppression' (Younos 2002:1). Younos further explains that in tawhid 'there is no duality, no discrimination, no superiority and no inferiority' (Younos 2002:1). Tawhid 'is the core principle of Islamic jurisprudence' (Faruqi 1981 cited in Al- Hibri 2000:51). It is emphasised, then, that the Qur'an, 'is the defining point of Islamic identity' (Rippin 2001:31) for men and women. The intention of Islamic law is to base its rationale on the concept of tawhid. Muslim jurists are human beings, not infallible. They are subject to error. This is the most important fact in Islam. According to the Islamic tradition the only pure embodiment and example (to both women and men) of what it means to be Muslim in Islam is the prophet Muhammad. Men and women use the Prophet Muhammad as a benchmark or example for how God should be worshiped and for achieving good character (Hussain 1999:8-9).

It has been argued that the norms and values found in the revelation from Allah and in the life and work of his messenger Muhammad are not reflected in much legislation regarding women in many Muslim countries. An explanation from the Muslim perspective is that legislators may be pursuing their personal or other objectives motivated by power, greed, selfishness and status and not by divine command. The exclusion of Islamic values from legislation in Islamic law is not a new problem and has been prevalent for many centuries:

From the very beginning of the Islamic era (610 A.D. onwards) male-dominated Arab society resisted the ideals of sexual equality prescribed by the Qur'an and the Hadith. By the time Islamic law [Shariah] began to be codified in the eighth century A.D. all sorts of pre-Islamic [Arab] and non-Islamic influences [from the Hellenic and Sassanid culture] had affected the mind of the Muslim jurist: (Syed 2004:2)

Therefore there is an imperative to establish that the position of women in Islam and the position of women in Islamic law are in tension (Syed 2004: vii-ix). On such a line of argument, the inequality of Muslim women began with the misinterpretation and lack of understanding of the Qur'an. In the Qur'an it says:

  • 'It is he who created you from a single person [nafsin] and made his mate of like nature in order that he might dwell with them [in love] [7:189]
  • And God has made for you mates[and companions] of your own nature[16:72]
  • And among his signs is this, that he created for you mates from among yourselves[aanfusaykum], that you may dwell in tranquillity with them [30:21]
  • O' humankind! Reverence your guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature his mate, and from them twain scattered [like seeds] countless men and women; fear God, through whom you demand your mutual rights, and [reverence] the wombs [that bore you]: for God ever watches over you [4:1]' (Syed 2004:17-18).

The word Nafs in Islam is genderless.

Indeed, it can even be argued that patriarchy is satanic. In Islam it is believed that Satan 'fell from God's grace because he refused to bow to Adam in direct contravention of a divine order' (Al-Hibri 2000:53). Satan believed that he was better than Adam because 'God created him from fire and Adam from clay' (Al-Hibri 2000:53). The story can be found in the Qur'an [7:12] Al- Hibri (2000:53) says that 'underlying Satan's self-serving belief was a subjective hierarchical world-view that ranked fire higher than clay. In upholding this hierarchical worldview and its ramifications, even in the face of a direct divine order, Satan committed the cardinal sin of shirk'. Shirk is the opposite of tawhid. In Islam there is only one sin which God will never forgive namely shirk (associating partners with God). In light of this analysis, Al-Hibri (2000:53-54) says that 'unaware that satanic logic provided the underpinnings of a patriarchal world, most Muslim jurists [like their societies] uncritically upheld the central thesis of patriarchy, namely that males were superior to females'. She explains that this patriarchal assumption has distorted Muslim jurists' understandings of the Qur'an and 'led them to develop oppressive patriarchal jurisprudence' (Al-Hibri 2000:53-54). She further consolidates her argument by saying 'I find patriarchal interpretations [ijtihads] unacceptable to the extent they are based on satanic logic and conflict with tawhid' (Al-Hibri 2000:54). Therefore, in the view of many Muslim feminists, it is not the religion of Islam that degrades women. On the contrary, it is men who can not accept that God has not favoured men as they have favoured themselves over women. Furthermore, Muhsin (1992) says that 'the Qur'an never refers to the origin of the human race with Adam' (cited in Syed 2004:18-19).

In Islam, humans have not been told who was created first, which leads to the question whether which sex was created first is relevant. Islam therefore rejects the 'genesis story of the creation of Eve from the ribs of Adam which is not mentioned anywhere in the Qur'an' (Syed 2004:19). In the Qur'an it says: 'male and female believers are each others walis [protectors, guardians]' (9:71, Qur'an Trans Y. Ali). This is interpreted by Muslim feminists to mean that males do not have any degree of superiority over women in Islam in anything. It is interpreted as meaning that men and women need to help each other to reach their potential in all walks of life. Men are not self-sufficient and must rely on women in many aspects of life, materially and spiritually.

On the basis of tawhid, Muslim women scholars such as Wadud (1992), Mernissi (2003), Rasha al-Disuqi (1999) and Asma Barlas (2002) challenge the current state of scholarship on Muslim women. Barlas (2002:133-132) discusses how Islam explains gender in Islamic law. She looks at some western feminist thought about the issue in order to make a distinction between how some feminists view equality between men and women and how equality between the two genders is viewed in Islam. I have attempted to capture the main arguments in order to present a view which is the starting point for analyzing women in Islamic law. Barlas (2002) says most theorists agree 'that at the core of sexual inequality is the confusion of biology [sex] with its social meanings [gender]' (Barlas 2002:130). Millet (1970:26) says that 'feminists criticize how patriarchal religions ascribe 'psycho-social' distinctions between women and men to biological [sexual] differences between them' (cited in Barlas 2002:130-131). However a highly interesting observation made by Hewitt (1995:64) points out that 'not only patriarchal readings of religion but also western secular [patriarchal] theories [i.e. feminism] locate the ''underlying structure [of gender dualism in] anatomical differences''; claiming that it is women's biology that renders them deficient in reasoning and morality, hence hostile to civilisation' (cited in Barlas 2002:131). Therefore it can be argued that there is a paradox between what some western feminists are saying and what they are doing (Anon 2004). They are seeking equality but they are using patriarchal methods which place them in position of inferiority.

Murata (1992:43) confirms this again when she says that the western dominant view among the feminists is ''that there are two stable incommensurable, opposite sexes and that the political, economic, and cultural lives of men and women, their gender roles, are somehow based on these 'facts' '' (cited in Barlas 2002:130) i.e. she means they have made and caused the sexes to be opposites and opposing when maybe they need not be. In response to Murata (1992), Barlas (2002) has named this predicament, which is explained by Grosz (1990:124) as the 'two-sex model' of gender. The model suggests that 'women and men are distinguished not on the basis of 'pure difference' but in terms of dichotomous opposition or distinction. Not that is as contraries 'A' and 'B', but as contradictories 'A' and 'not A' (cited in Barlas 2002:131). However Grosz (1990:124) says that this binary opposite view which many feminists hold, 'is what [in the first place] structures phallocentric thought' (cited in Barlas 2002:131-132). Arguing against this binary opposition view which is advocated by some western feminists Bethke (1981) says that this belief 'has been used to oppress women and to exclude them from public and civic life during the last few centuries' (cited in Barlas 2002:132) the world over.

Another model is the 'one sex model'. It emphasises sexual sameness, but 'treating women and men identically does not always mean treating them equally' (Barlas 2002:132). For example, Muslim Feminists believe that in regards to some aspects of human character such as the emotional makeup of the two sexes, women are different from men. Men have more or less of some hormones over others and vice versa with women. Their physical shapes and characteristics are also different. Accordingly, on this basis, their emotional needs may differ or their ability to carry out certain tasks may be different. For example, a woman is able to bear the weight of a child and her body responds to this task. A man has more physical strength which a woman may be able to benefit from. Therefore it is viewed by Muslim feminists that these ideas and methods of thinking about gender i.e. 'the two-sex model and the one-sex model, by some western feminists although may not intend to, ultimately 'view man as the subject and woman as the other' (Barlas 2002:132).

Therefore, some scholars say that ''modern patriarchal discourses present woman not only as the opposite of man'' (Moi 1985:134 cited in Barlas 2002:132) but also as Moi (1985:134) says ''a lesser man'' (cited in Barlas 2002:132). The above discussion may at first appear not to be relevant to the position of women in Islamic law. It is in fact of great importance. The analysis of especially Barlas (2002) on western feminist thought and Yonous' (2002) discussion of tawhid suggest that misogyny in Islamic law has roots in un-Islamic and pre-Islamic thought which is supported by ideas similar to those espoused by some western feminists. Hewitt (1995) regards western feminist methods of thinking about gender as methods which create theories of a patriarchal nature (Barlas 2002). Theories such as these based on a binary opposite framework have affected Muslim men inasmuch that they unconsciously, (because it is deeply embedded in their minds), view the sexes as binary opposites, here regarded as non-Islamic, whilst disregarding the concept of tawhid which strongly opposes this idea. In Islam humans are viewed as equal regardless of sex:

As the Qur'an describes it, humans though biologically different, are ontologically and ethically-morally the same/similar inasmuch as both women and men originated in a single self, have been endowed with the same natures, and make-up two halves of a single pair. (Barlas 2002:133)

All binary thinking therefore, can be deemed patriarchal (Barlas 2002:129).

In Islam, women scholars question the validity of some ahadith which are used in law and reinforce misogyny. One example of this has been identified. In Mernissi's book, The Veil and the Male Elite (2003), she reiterates what the prophet supposedly said. ''The dog, the ass, and woman interrupt prayer if they pass in front of a believer, interposing themselves between him and the qibla'' (Mernissi 2003: 64). Firstly this hadith is not in line with Islamic teachings because Islam is opposed to superstition. Subsequent to re-investigating this hadith and re-examining historical scholarship, the Hadith it was found to be incompatible with Islamic principles.

The correct version of that hadith according to the Islamic tradition is as follows: ''May Allah refute the Jews; they say three things bring bad luck: house, woman, and horse'' (Mernissi 2003:76). Muslim women scholars aim to find the correct interpretations of verses and ahadith which affect women. In doing so, they present Islam as it is in the Qur'an and Sunnah without male biases. Their approach is also based on detailed historical research of the contexts and the reasons [asbab anuzul] for each revelation; in reverence of the text and whilst maintaining their strong faith in God.

The Muslim woman interprets the situation of subjugation completely differently from the western woman who has almost accepted the superiority of men based on how men perceive themselves. On the contrary Muslim women with hindsight would never have the same feeling of anger as a secular or western feminist because a Muslim woman understands her God given position. It is independent of what men want or do attribute to her. Her worth has already been given to her by the creator, according to the Islamic tradition. The anger that resides within Muslim women is of a different nature because Muslim women demand their God given rights which men must give them. In Islam this is viewed as a great test for men, especially in light of what history teaches about the treatment of women prior to Islam, such as women were treated like chattel (Syed 2004:2). According to the Islamic tradition how men perform will be exposed on the day of judgement. Did they give women their rights or not? Therefore in Islam the fear of God's wrath on the day of judgement and at the same time the love for God is what should motivate practising Muslim men to give women their full rights to equality in every aspect of life, in the life of this world. If men choose to oppress women at any societal level, according to the Islamic tradition, this is not the end. In Islam the concept of accountability awaits after death. Therefore any man that has understood and implemented the concept of tawhid in his everyday life cannot oppress a woman.

In the Islamic tradition human beings have been created as social beings who need to communicate and live together as is clearly stated in the Qur'an (49:13). In Islam humans need to have a healthy sexual relationship because according to the Islamic tradition this is how humans have been created. Some people choose to remain celibate. In Islam this is considered an evil because it is regarded as repressive for the individual and it is a choice that people can not sustain without cheating (i.e. rape, paedophiles and all sex crime).

The point to be made is that human beings find themselves in situations where they demand their rights from the people around them. However this means that they must fulfil their obligations to others. In Islam rules are required of both spouses in order to live in peace. It does not mean the subjugation of one spouse. However the position of women in many Muslim societies such as Pakistan contradicts Qur'anic teachings as interpreted by Muslim feminists and many Male scholars. According to human rights activists, women in Pakistan are not looked upon as being their own person (Bettencourt 2000). They are the daughter, the wife, or the servant of such and such a man. They are regarded as possessions of men and not seen as persons in their own right, from the perspective of Muslim feminists this is what Islam came to combat.

Islam has had a presence on the Indian sub-continent for many centuries:

'In 712 AD, the Arabs set foot in what is now Pakistan somewhere near modern Karachi and ruled the lower half of Pakistan for two hundred years. It was during this time that Islam took roots in the soil and influenced the life, culture and traditions of the people. Three hundred years later the Muslims from central Asia arrived and ruled almost the whole sub-continent up to the 18th century AD before the British arrived to take control'(Zahid 2004:1)

According to Jones (2002), when Pakistan formally became an independent Muslim state, (The Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1947) the last British viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, approved the incorporation of Kashmir into India; this has been the cause of a 'bloody and debilitating dispute that remains unresolved half a century later (Jones 2002: xiii). The fight for Kashmir (predominantly Muslim) has resulted in military rule in Pakistan since the partition in 1947, with the view of advancing a radical Islam in Pakistan so that Pakistan would be different from India in as many ways as possible (Jones 2002:ii). This has affected not only the politics and the legal framework of Pakistan but also the social and economic situation.

Gender definitions and understandings in some form of Islamic law, including that of Pakistan are deeply rooted in how gender is viewed by some western feminists as described by Barlas, Murata and Hewitt. Accordingly, a strong case can be made that Muslim jurists in Pakistan are affected by patriarchal and cultural values which are given preference over Islamic values. As a result Pakistan 'is a dangerous place' (Khan 2004:1) for some women. In Pakistan, some women are victims of male honour:

Thousands of Pakistani women and girls are stabbed, burned or maimed every year by husbands, fathers or brothers who believe they have brought dishonour by being unfaithful, seeking divorce, eloping with a boyfriend or refusing to marry a man the family has chosen. When the victims do not survive, the crime becomes an "honour killing". A term that has come to symbolise the cruel irony of a conservative Islamic society that purports to shelter women, yet often condones savage violence against them in the name of male and family honour. (Constable 2000:1)

If male honour is compromised in any way the womenfolk are humiliated and subjected to extreme violence (see appendix one). The concept of male honour in Pakistan is taken very seriously and reinforced by the Zina Ordinance. Zina is divided into two categories:

1) Zina [the crime of non-marital sexual relations and adultery]

2) Zina -bil-jabr [forced intercourse] (Quraishi 2000).

The Zina ordinance law in Pakistan is intended to be a form of protection for women but in practice 'it has become a discriminatory law against women' (Bettencourt 2000:8). In Pakistan's law of evidence article 17 of the Qanun-e- Shahadat order of 1984, it states that 'a woman's testimony is not weighed equally to that of a man' (Bettencourt 2000:8). Consequently a woman is not believed when she comes forward to report a rape crime. Confronted with such evidence, the position of women in Pakistan is often described in terms of subjugation. In Pakistan women are treated as less than man and an object for man to satisfy his desires and whom men should control, usually with violence. This is believed to be in conformity with Islamic views of women in Pakistan. If a woman is raped she is treated like dirt. Haeri (1996) says 'as for the raped woman, no one cares-or dares to care; she doesn't exist as an individual' (cited in Afkhami (Eds) 1996:169). A woman's sexuality is not her own in Pakistan.

In 2004, the Asian Development Bank [ADB] administered a report: Situational Analysis of women in Pakistan an overview. ADB found that in 1992 to 1994 the Human Rights Commission reported 48 cases where women were stripped and paraded in the streets in the name of honour. The report also concluded that 'the concept of honour in Islamic Pakistan is linked with women's sexuality; restrictions on women's mobility; and the internalization of patriarchy by women themselves, becomes, the basis of gender discrimination and disparities in all spheres of life' (ADB 2004:1). As a direct consequence, women's position in Pakistan Islamic law, according to the Asian Development Bank is characterised by:

  • Unemployment among women
  • Illiteracy among women
  • Complicated court procedures
  • Violence against and no respect for women
  • Inferiority of women in general
  • Ultimately the subjugation of women and their death/murder. (ADB 2004:19)

In some areas of Pakistan feudal fights between tribes even involve rape as a solution for settling those feuds. In Pakistan it is male honour that is held to be sacred. Many Muslim women regard this as completely fabricated and believe that the Qur'an is the only purely preserved non- patriarchal divine literature in history and that will ever exist. Moreover it has been asserted that more and more women accept Islam as their way of life (Anon: 2004) to rid themselves of misogynistic views. Yet for women in Pakistan the interpretation of Islam is the cause of their subordination and misery.

In the Qur'an God says: 'If any of your women are guilty of lewdness take the evidence of four [reliable] witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify confine them to houses until death do claim them or Allah ordain for them some [other] way' (4:15 Quran trans Y.Ali). The commentary to this verse says 'to protect the honour of women, stricter evidence is required i.e. the evidence of four instead of the usual two witnesses (Quran Y.Ali: 211). These are the laws ordained in the Shariah and nowhere in any of the sources of authority does it require that these four witnesses be male as is believed to be the case in Pakistan and many other Muslim countries. The above Quranic verse which surrounds giving evidence against a woman for indecent sexual behaviour sets stringent conditions.

In order for four witnesses to see penetration as the law requires two people would literally need to be having sex outside in public and completely in the nude for all to see. God almost makes it impossible for anyone, even if guilty of this crime, to be convicted. But why would God make conviction so difficult? Islamic scholars say 'that it is precisely to prevent carrying out punishment for this offence' (Quraishi 2000:110). In Islam this is regarded as a sign of God's mercy. The crime of zina is 'really one of public indecency rather than private sexual conduct' (Quraishi 2000:110). The punishment of stoning to death or prison is simply a deterrent for anyone thinking about committing adultery, with the objective of preserving a moral society.

In another verse of the Quran [24:4] Allah says: 'and those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses [to support their allegations] flog them with eighty stripes, and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors' (24:4 Quran Trans Y. Ali). The story of Aisha [Prophet Muhammad's wife] known as ''the affair of the lie'' (Stowasser 1994:124) in which she was slandered and accused of adultery was the reason for the following verse: 'why did not the believers - men and women- when ye heard of the affair- put the best construction on it in their own minds and say, 'this [charge] is an obvious lie?' (Quran Trans Y.Ali 24:12). The chapter continues to verse thirteen, 'why did they not bring four witnesses to prove it? When they have not bought such witnesses, such men, in the sight of Allah, [stand forth] themselves as liars' (Quran Trans Y. Ali 24:12-13). In Pakistan it is deemed as Islamic to be 'made to strip off in public and paraded through the streets to take revenge from the family' (ADB 2004:19) or burned and mutilated if accused of adultery. In Islam accusation is in itself a sin. In Islamic law 'the Qur'an's response to accusations of sexual misconduct is that 'it is not for us to speak of it' (Quraishi 2000:110). Furthermore, the Qur'anic principles that should underpin Islamic Law in all Muslim countries 'honour privacy and dignity over the violation of law except when a violation becomes a matter of public obscenity' (Quraishi 2000:111).

According to Islam, all heretics who involve themselves in innovation (bida) by attributing false things to God or the Prophet Muhammad in the religion of Islam will be consigned to hellfire. Giving women an inferior position is considered to be a bida by the general consensus of Muslim scholars and it is a direct consequence of androcentric understanding of the Qur'an and often ahadith.

Quraishi (2000) says that 'rape is not consensual sexual intercourse, but a violent assault against a victim, man or woman, boy or girl, during which the perpetrator uses sex as a weapon. The Qur'an does not include any direct mention of rape under the general crime of zina' (Quraishi 2000:128). Islamic Law in Pakistan 'requires four adult-male Muslims of good repute as witnesses of the rape or the rapist to confess. The conditions for proving rape have made it impossible for rape victims to get justice' (ADB: 2004:1). Therefore, in Pakistan the chances of women receiving any justice are severely limited. Under the Hudood Ordinance law in Pakistan 'if a rape victim cannot prove rape she can be charged with and sentenced for adultery' (ADB: 2004:19). This may result in her death. Therefore rape is equated with adultery (Hussain 1999:41; Jalal 1991). In Shariah law which is based on the consensus [ijma] of the leaders of Islamic scholarship, rape is a separate crime to adultery. The punishment in Islamic law is not what is prescribed in Pakistan under the so called Islamic Hudood ordinance laws in which the victim is punished.

Rape is a hadd crime and warrants public execution in Islamic Law. It based on the following verse in the Qur'an:'the punishment for those who wage war [yuharibuna] against God and his prophet, and perpetuate disorders in the land is: kill or hang them or have a hand on one side and a foot on the other cut off or banish them from the land' [5:33] (Quraishi 2000:129). In the Qur'an there is a clear distinction between the two types of taking something illegally.

A) 'Forcible taking' translated as hiraba

B) 'Stealth taking' translated as sariqa [this is concerned with ordinary theft] (Quraishi 2000:129).

Rape falls under the concept of Hiraba in Islam. Scholars in Islam have held this to mean any crime which involves a 'forcible assault on the people' (Quraishi 2000:129). Therefore rape has nothing to do with Zina.

In the traditional schools of Islamic legislation Sabiq (1993:450) says hiraba is described as follows: 'a single person or group of people causing public disruption, killing, forcibly taking property or money, attacking or raping women [hatk-al'arad], killing cattle, or disrupting agriculture' (cited in Quraishi 2000:130). Doi (1984:253) said that Al-Dasuqi, a Maliki jurist, defines hiraba in the following terms: 'if a person forced a woman to have sex, his actions would be deemed committing hiraba' (cited in Quraishi 2000:130). Furthermore, Sabiq (1993: 2:450) states that Ibn 'Arabi, another judge from the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, in regards to rape, declares that 'hiraba with the private parts is much worse than a hiraba involving the taking of money' (cited in Quraishi 2000:130). Sabiq (1993:250) also states that Ibn Hazm, a Spanish Muslim Jurist, described a hiraba offender as 'one who puts people in fear on the road, whether or not with a weapon, at night or day, in urban areas or in open spaces, in the palace of a caliph or a mosque, with or without accomplices, in the desert or in the village, in a large or a small city, with one or more people…making people fear that they'll be killed, or have money taken, or be raped [hatk-al'arad] whether the attackers are one or many'(cited in Quraishi 2000:130). Hiraba does not require four witnesses in Islamic law to have witnessed the act. Therefore a woman's testimony is enough for a rape case to be investigated. Modern technology also allows medical testing to take place for the victim and the accused. Pakistan has acknowledged hiraba in the law because it is a part of its ordinance. The section about rape is ignored. Muslim feminists should only work within the framework of tawhid, which advocates that in Islamic thought, there is only one God and only one Qur'an and only one Islam in line with the concept of tawhid. Therefore it is not justified to leave the section about rape out of the ordinance law in Pakistan. In Isla mic law under the law of bodily harm [Jirah] a woman can also claim financial compensation from her rapist.

The concept that a wife in Islam should obey her husband is a patriarchal interpretation. For this reason men in Pakistan hold the wrong expectations of women. In the Qur'an Allah says: 'Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more [strength] than another, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in [the husbands] absence what Allah would have them guard' (Quran 4:34Trans Y.Ali). The second part of this verse is what causes many problems for women especially in places in Pakistan. It is often misunderstood and not interpreted in light of the concept of tawhid. In the second part of this verse Allah says 'as to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them [first] [next], refuse to share their beds, [and last] chastise them [lightly]; but if they return to obedience seek not against them means of [annoyance]: for Allah is most high, great [above you all]' (Qur'an 4:34 Trans Y.Ali).

The Islamic tradition makes it clear that the meaning of this verse is explained by the prophet Muhammad whom his wife A'isha, described as being the walking example of the Qur'an. The initial reading of this verse to a non-Muslim or a western feminist may appear to be patriarchal. It has certainly been interpreted in favour of men in many Muslim societies with chronic consequences in Pakistan. If men are the maintainers and protectors of women, how can violence be justified? In regards to, '[and last] chastise them [lightly]', even the light chastisement, using a stick smaller than a tooth brush, [see appendix 2] has been viewed as a symbolic representation of anger rather than a form of violence as well as a last resort before divorce. If no reconciliation is possible, the couple could go their separate ways in a dignified and peaceful way. This verse only applies to men who are married because men have no rights over women to whom they are not married to. However, if a husband took out a miswak in practise when annoyed with his wife, the outcome of this is likely to be humorous to both the arguing couple which is what is intended.

The prophet Muhammad never hit any of his wives according to the Islamic tradition. The following ahadiths and verses from the Qur'an justify this fact:

The prophet said: 'the most perfect believer in faith is the one whose character is finest and who is kindest to his wife' (Tirmidhi and Nasa'i cited in Maqsood 2000:32).
'You shall not enter paradise until you have faith, and you shall not have faith until you love one another. Have compassion on those who are on earth, and he who is in heaven will have compassion on you' (Hadith in Bukhari cited in Maqsood 2000:19).
'A believing man must never hate a believing woman; if he dislikes one trait in her, he will find another trait in her with which to be pleased' (Hadith in Muslim cited in Maqsood 2000:53).
Allah says: 'O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness' (4:19 Qur'an Trans Y.Ali). 'Live with them on a footing of kindness and equity' (4:19 Qur'an Trans Y.Ali).

Wadud says that the Arabic word [qanitat] which is used in this verse (4:34) to describe good women, is 'too often falsely translated to mean obedient and then it is assumed to mean obedient to the husband' (Wadud 1999:74). She further makes a point that this word is applied to men as well as women in the Qur'an.

The word 'describes a characteristic or personality trait of believers towards Allah' (Wadud 1999:74) despite gender differences. Wadud (1999) says that husbands who strike their wives are often not looking for harmony within the marriage or to save a marriage. They are looking to harm their wives and 'they cannot refer to verse 4:34 to justify their actions' (Wadud 1999:76). According to the Islamic tradition the Qur'an should be understood in its entirety because often Islamic scholars use one part of the Qur'an to understand and explain another part. Wadud (1999), talks about the methodology and its relevance in her book, Qur'an and Woman Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective. Wadud (1999: 77) says 'the Quran never orders a woman to obey her husband' because this would contradict the concept of tawhid. The relationship between a husband and wife and men in general towards women should be one of equality, dignity and respect according to the Islamic tradition.

In conclusion, the main reason for the cause of women's misery in Pakistan is Muslim male legislators being patriarchal. In support of this Mernissi (2003: ix) says 'if women's rights are a problem for some modern Muslim men it is neither because of the Qur'an nor the prophet nor the Islamic tradition but simply because those rights conflict with the interests of a male elite'. However, even Islamic feminist scholars, such as Mernissi who ultimately defend Islam in the face of misogyny, are actually criticised for contributing to misogyny which affects Islamic Law. They are criticised for making false claims about the companions of the prophet Muhammad who supposedly taught misogynist ideas about women. Mernissi (2003) has been accused of interpreting Islam from a secular perspective as opposed to an Islamic one based on tawhid. There have been many criticisms of Beyond the Veil and The Veil and the Male Elite (Bullock 2003 136-182), two books which Mernissi wrote in an attempt to challenge the misogynistic and phallocentric interpretations of the Qur'an and the Hadith. In order to inform Islamic law about their position some Muslim feminists emphasise the correct methodologies must be adopted i.e. those based on tawhid and not on binary opposites.

The hermeneutics of suspicion remains crucial. This is a method which many western feminists also adopt. However, Muslim women scholars return only to the original sources of Islamic law i.e. the Qur'an and the Hadith. They are believed to be the basis and foundation of Islamic jurisprudence and the only sources of reference that the prophet Muhammad told the believers in Islam to use to settle disputes according to the tradition. Many Muslim women scholars feel that the text is being limited. This is because the way that men interpret particular Quranic verses subsequently leads to the subjugation of women, especially in countries such as Pakistan, as opposed to liberating them. The androcentric attitude which is prevalent in countries such as Pakistan hinders human development and progress socially, morally and economically. It oppresses half of the population in the name of Islam.

Appendix 1

The consequences for women of an androcentric interpretation of honour in Pakistan in light of Hudood Ordinance Law (INRFVVP: 2004).


'Zahida's husband brutally attacked her because he alleged she had been unfaithful and brought shame to the family. He cut off her ears, tongue, and nose, gouged out her eyes, and left her for dead' (Mayell 2002).


'Zahida wore a cloth nose bandage to cover her disfigured face after the attempted honor killing' (Mayell 2002).


'Zahida Parveen had reconstructive surgery in the United States after being badly disfigured by her husband. She received a prosthetic nose and ears and artificial eyes' (Mayell 2002).


This is a 'woman recovering in a Pakistani hospital from an attack where acid was thrown in her face' (Mayell 2002).


Appendix 2
Natural Toothbrush (Miswak)

Size: 25cm cm
Weight: 50gm / 0.11lbs

Bibliography

Al-Hibri. A (2000) An Introduction to Muslim Women's Rights pp51-73 in Windows of Faith Muslim Woman Activists in North America Webb. G (Ed), Syracuse University Press New York

Anon (2004) Why are women turning to Islam? http://www.ummah.org.uk/what-islam/women/women3.htm Accessed 29-11-04

Asian Development Bank [ADB] (2004) Report: Situational Analysis of women in Pakistan an overview www.adb.org/Documents/Bookscountry-breifing-papers/women_in_pakistan/chap_01pdf Accessed 9-11- 2004:19

Barlas.A (2002) Believing Women in Islam, Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an, University of Texas Press, Austin

Bethke.E (1981) Public man, private woman: Women in social and political thought, Princeton University Press, Princeton N.J cited in Barlas.A (2002) Believing Women in Islam, Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an, University of Texas Press, Austin

Bettencourt (2000) Violence against Women in Pakistan, Human rights Advocacy Clinic Litigation Report

Bullock. K (2003) Mernissi and the Discourse on the veil pp132-137 in Re-thinking Muslim Women and the veil, Challenging Historical and Modern stereotypes, The International Organisation for Islamic thought, London

Constable.P (2000) In Pakistan, Women Pay The Price of 'Honor' Washington Post, Monday, May 8th [On-line abstract] http://chora.virtualave.net/pakistan-women.htm Accessed 17-12-04

Grosz (1990) cited in Bethke.E (1981) Public man, private woman: Women in social and political thought, Princeton University Press, Princeton N.J cited in Barlas.A (2002) Believing Women in Islam, Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an, University of Texas Press, Austin

Haeri.S (1996) The politics of Dishonour: Rape and Power in Pakistan pp161-171 in Afkhami.M [Eds] Faith and Freedom, women's human rights in the Muslim world I.BT Auris Publishers, London

Hewitt (1995) cited in Barlas.A (2002) Believing Women in Islam, Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an, University of Texas Press, Austin

Hussain. J (1999) Islamic Law and Society, an Introduction, the Federation Press, Sydney

INRFVVP (2004) The International Network for the Rights of Female Victims of Violence in Pakistan http://inrfvvp.org/images.htm Accessed 17-11-04

Jalal. A (1991) The convenience of subservience: Women and the state of Pakistan p77 Kandiyoti.D (Eds) Women, Islam and the State, MACMILLIAN, London

Jones. O.B (2002) Pakistan: Eye of the storm, Yale University Press, New Haven and London

Khan.S (2004) Sharia Laws-Islamic (In) Justice [On-line abstract] http://www.islamicaweb.com/archive/read/t-5862.html Accessed 01/12/04

Mayell.H (2002) Thousands of Women Killed for Family "Honor" National Geographic News February 12th [On-line abstract] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/02/0212_020212_honorkilling.html Accessed17/11/04 and 17-12-04

Maqsood. R (2000) The Muslim Marriage Guide, amana publications, Maryland, USA

Mernissi. F (2003) [Trans] Lakeland M, The veil and the male elite, A feminist Interpretation of women's rights in Islam, Perseus Books, Cambridge

Millet (1970) cited in Barlas.A (2002) Believing Women in Islam, Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an, University of Texas Press, Austin

Moi (1985) cited in Barlas.A (2002) Believing Women in Islam, Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an, University of Texas Press, Austin

Murata.S (1992), The Tao of Islam: A Source book on Gender Relationships in Islamic thought, SUNY Press, Albany N.Y cited in Barlas.A (2002) Believing Women in Islam, Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an, University of Texas Press, Austin

Quraishi.A (2000) An Islamic Critique of the Rape Laws of Pakistan from a Woman-Sensitive Perspective pp102-135 in Windows of Faith, Muslim Woman Activists in North America Webb. G (Ed), Syracuse University Press New York

Qur'an Text translation and commentary by A. Yusuf Ali

Rippin.A (2001) Muslims, Their religious beliefs and practises second edition, Routledge, London

Sabiq (1993: 2:450) cited in Quraishi.A (2000) An Islamic Critique of the Rape Laws of Pakistan from a Woman-Sensitive Perspective pp102-135 in Windows of Faith, Muslim Woman Activists in North America Webb. G (Ed), Syracuse University Press New York

Syed. A. M (2004).The position of women in Islam a progressive view, State University of New York Press, Albany

Stowasser.F.B (1994) Women in the Qur'an, Traditions and Interpretations, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Wadud.A (1992) Quran and Woman, Rereading the sacred text from a woman's perspective, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Wadud.A (1992) cited in Syed. A. M (2004).The position of women in Islam a progressive view, State University of New York Press, Albany

Younos.F (2002) Gender Equality in Islam, Bloomington, USA

Zahid (2004) Pakistan History http://homepage.ntworld.com/tauseef.zahid/project/histpak.html Accessed 20-12-04

For more information about honour killings or to join the fight against honour killings please visit the following website: http://www.surgir.ch/ where you can also donate.

Links

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3828675.stm

http://womensissues.about.com/cs/honorkillings/a/honorkillings.htm

http://womensissues.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fwww2.cnn.com%2FWORLD%2F9512%2Fhonor_killings%2F

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3088828.stm

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20051207/lf_nm/crime_britain_honour_dc


From the Author:

My name is Rachida and I'm 21. I have become interested in 'crimes' of honor that happen all over the world and to my recent horror in the UK as well.

I will endeavor to make a contribution (however miniscule) to help create more awareness about the issue starting with this article.

The position of Women in Islam is the best position that any human being can be placed in. However why are so many sisters not enjoying the benefits of this status? It's not right.

I feel that many brothers need to be educated and people need to break free from their oppressive cultures whether Arab or Asian or any other backward culture.

Salam Alakum

Email: rachida_salam@yahoo.co.uk

25th Dec 2005








Back

Back To Islam Awareness Homepage

Latest News about Islam and Muslims






Contact IslamAwareness@gmail.com for further information