Hold Women Back From Allah?

By Tarek A. Ghanem
August 18, 2006

It is essential to understanding the nature of relations between the sexes, to recognize that men and women are different. This understanding should not, however, be misused to enforce biases or justify mistreatment of women, as is often the case. Our religion is founded upon a clear understanding of the nature of the sexes. This is why Islam is right. The majority of Muslims have a faulty conception of the nature of the sexes..

Away from the common catchphrases such as "Islam protects women," "Islam is the first religion to give women their rights," and "Islam honors women which are all very true , many followers of Islam, let alone the discourse of many modern-day Muslim movements, testify to the contrary.

Yes, mis-readings of the content and contention of the perception of women in Islam happen. That's a reality. But that should not lead to hiding mistreatment of women under the carpet for fear of Islam's reputation. We can't be true to our religion if we cannot be true to ourselves.

Many men, including men of religion, unfortunately bring Islam into play to enforce and promote the suppression of women. Take for example an excerpt from a televised talk by a Muslim media icon, "The Difference Between Men and Women." I thought it was a joke in the beginning; but after watching the excerpt, I was provoked by the morbid sense of superiority and derogatory tone of the discussion. Illustrations were even drawn from to demonstrate the point further. Coming from an Islamic figure, is it acceptable?

It sometimes happens that insecure and oppressive men conceive the mistreatment of women as a part of the religion itself. These men are the greatest enemies of Islam, worse than the anti-Islam polemicists, because they have no right to share in the excuse of ignorance. Worse still, there are religious movements that actually promote a derogatory stance on the position of women as the fundamental core of their ideology. Being silent in the face of this is the worst crime against Islam.

Hearing the news about the possible banning of women from praying around the sanctified Ka`bah, one can't remain silent. Yes, it is true that the pilgrimage area is becoming tight, but to prohibit women from enjoying the physical and spiritual proximity to the House of Allah is not a cure. Women joined in the Last Pilgrimage of the Prophet ( peace and blessings be upon him) and they were not excluded from kissing the Black Stone. Yes, the current Muslim population is far greater in numbers, but still excluding women in this way is not a solution! Sealing women away from the Ka`bah because of inappropriate behavior of some in that hallowed place of Divine Majesty is no less than a crime. Both men and women are responsible for preventing such behavior, and both men and women should pay the price for keeping that holy place holy.

 Limitations have already been imposed on female visitors to the Prophet's Mosque in the city of Madinah, where their visitation of the maqsurah (enclosure of the Prophet's grave) has been restricted. We are told in a Prophetic hadith

"When women ask permission to go to the mosque, do not prevent them." (Muslim 4:0884)

Considering that there are some men who act indecently in the sanctified city of Makah, why is it that no one has come up with a plan, a religious campaign, to teach men how to behave in such a sacrosanct setting?

The religious discourse coming from Saudi Arabia has long been marked by oppression of women. In response to the latest news, a proposed solution for the lack of space in Al-Haram has come from Dr. Hatun Ajwaad Al-Fasi, a specialist in women issues:

We would like to make a proposal to the Office of the Administration of the Two Holy Sanctuaries which intends to organize prayer in a way that violates the right of one sex over the other in the enjoyment of the closeness to the sanctified vicinity. The sole injunction of women's prayer in mosques is not to pray while there are men behind them. This is the wisdom behind women praying in the back rows or on upper floors. It is possible to make a special and connected prayer area for women from the Ka`bah to the place of Sa`i. This area can be made as broad as required, based on the average percentage of praying women, in accordance with a field study by the [Royal] Center of the Servant of the Holy Sanctuaries for Hajj Studies. This is how Islamically-sanctioned equality is realized and women are protected from being wronged. It also guarantees that no men will stand behind the women, which would prevent them from praying in peace. This is how tranquility is preserved, while closeness to the center of the universe [the Ka`bah] and the place where prayer is accepted is enjoyed.

A woman made this proposal. Neither women nor men should be silent in this matter. Men also should protect equal access for their coreligionists: our mothers, wives, and daughters!

If many men choose to misuse the principle of qawwama, or caretaking, in their religious and spiritual arrogance, they should also understand the obligations it entitles.

The Qur'anic term qawwama (An-Nisaa' 4:34), which denotes the caretaking position of men in marriage, is understood in a particular way in traditional orthodox circles.

In the exegesis of Al-Tabari, the imam of Ahl al-Salaf, or the early generation of Muslim scholars, the definition is as follows (translated by Nuh Keller):

Allah, majestic be His praise, means that men are the caretakers of women, that they are in charge of their womenfolk, in disciplining and guidance, respecting the rights that they [women] owe to Allah and to them.

Nuh Keller sees this in light of the following:

Whenever a husband is unable to support his wife, he is no longer her caretaker: she is not obliged to remain at home [should he request it] in any school of jurisprudence, and according to the school of al-Shafi`i (Allah be well pleased with him), she is entitled to have the marriage annulled. It entails that women have the right to security, protection, and to be free from the thought of having to support themselves.

Being true men according to this understanding means protecting and securing women, especially from male oppression. Men should be especially concerned about this. I want my mother and my wife, the two most important people in my life, to be able to enjoy the physical proximity and serenity of the House of Allah and the resting place of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). This is an issue for all Muslims, men and women, without exception.

Tarek A. Ghanem is a writer and translator. He studied international relations and philosophy. He is also a student of Islamic sacred knowledge.


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