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Islam The choice of Thinking Women – PART 1- WOMAN A CROSS CULTURE PERSPECTIVE

INTRODUCTION


It has been
through
Allah’s Mercies and Blessings that I have been able to complete this
book,
which I began in Sha’ban 1414 AH (February 1994). I am a Muslim, a fact
which I must make clear to the reader from the outset, for this is a
book
with an objective, to clarify what is arguably the most frequently
discussed
aspect of my faith: the position of women in Islam. In doing so, I wish
to take this matter beyond the usual defense of Islam and seek a
positive
understanding of why women are embracing Islam in increasing numbers. I
will also examine the role of feminism in today’s world.

For far too
long,
Muslims have had to put up with the criticism, based on ignoance, that
their faith is “irrational in the modem age”. Islam, and Muslim women
in
particular, continue to be subjected to ridicule and mockery throughout
the Western world. In all of this the media play a key role in
orchestrating
misinformation, slander and downright lie about Islam.

Despite the
almost
superhuman efforts to break the spirit of Islam in Muslims, this faith
remains the fastest growing religion in the world. In Europe and North
America the progress of Islam is well documented in census reports.
Moreover,
it is reported that out of every ten “new” Muslims, seven are women.
Speculation
abounds as to why individuals – especially women – accept Islam when
they
have been bombarded, courtesy of the Western media, with inaccurate and
demeaning “information” about the faith. The simple fact remains that
when
the light of truth shines into the soul, the mind and heart are opened
and every aspect of the human being submits to the Creator of the
Universe.
This transformation suppresses materialistic, worldly desires, and
brings
about serenity, contentment, and inner peace.

A common
error
is the assumption that Islam is merely a “religion”, in the sense that
it defines belief in God, or prescribes certain acts of worship to be
performed
or rules to be complied with. In fact, Islam is much more than a
“religion”
in this narrow sense. It is a Been, a complete way of life
which
encompasses every aspect of human life, from the “religious” to the
social,
economical, medical and political.

The core of
Islam
is Tawhid No matter how uneducated, remote or isolated a
Muslim
may be, Tawhid is the focus of his or her belief. This firm
and
unequivocal belief in the absolute uniqueness of Allah, the Lord and
Creator
of all, is the very essence of Islam. Belief in Tawhid is to affirm
that there is only One Creator and Sustainer Who deserves to be
worshipped
and obeyed. Our belief is clear:

Say: He is
Allah,
the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begets not, nor is
He
begotten; And there is none like unto Him.

[al-Ikhlas
112.1-4]

Allah is
He,
other than Whom there is no other god – Who knows (all things) both
secret
and open; He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

Allah is
He,
other than Whom there is no other god the Sovereign, the Holy One, the
Source of Peace (and Perfection), the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver
of Safety, the Exalted in Might, the Irresistible, the Supreme: Glory
to
Allah! (High is He) above the partners they attribute to Him. He is
Allah,
the Evolver, the Bestower of Forms (or Colours). To Him belong the Most
Beautiful Names: whatever is in the heavens and on earth, declares His
Praises and Glory, and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

[al-Hashr
59 22-24]

Allah!
There
is no god but He the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber
can
seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth.
Who
is there that can intercede in His presence except as He permits He
knows
what (appears to His creatures as) Before or After or Behind them. Nor
shall they compass ought of His knowledge except as He wills. His
Throne
extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in
guarding
and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory).

[al-Baqarah
2.255]

The
individual’s
voluntary submission to Allah through sincere belief in Tawhid brings
emancipation
from worldly, materialistic bonds, and raises the Muslim, the one who
submits
to the will of Allah, to a higher level. This submission liberates
individuals
from all false worship, whether it be of the occult, of money, of
fortune
telling, of material gods, of “saints”, of those who pretentiously
claim
to be intermediaries acting on behalf of God, of self conceit and of
arrogance.
This submission also frees human beings from the burden of social and
peer
pressure, as the Muslim submits to the will of Allah, and to nothing
and
no one else. It provides a person with positive identity and definite
position
in relation to the rest of creation and to other human beings.
Moreover,
it grants him or her direct access to Allah, the Creator of all.

A Muslim who
has
freely accepted Islam thus submits to the will of Allah and obeys His
commandments.
Human beings know about these commandments through Risalah
(Prophethood):
Allah
has sent His Guidance through chosen people whom we call Prophets or
Messengers,
who conveyed Allah’s message to their fellow humans. The chain of Risalah
began with Adam and continued through numerous Prophets including
Noah,
Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Jesus, culminating in
the Prophethood of Muhammad (may peace be upon all the Prophets and
Messengers
of Allah). Some Prophets were given books of guidance, such as the
Tawrat(Torah)
of Moses, the Injeel(Gospel) of Jesus and the Qur’an brought by
Muhammad
.1 The Qur’an is the final book of guidance revealed by Allah to
mankind,
and it supersedes all previous scriptures which by admission of their
adherents,
as is well known, have been altered and distorted over the centuries.
The
Qur’an is the only scripture that has remained in its original form
since
its revelation fourteen hundred years ago. The Holy Qur’an itself
states:

Alif,Lam,
Mim.
Allah! There is no god but He -the Living, the Self subsisting, Eternal.

It is He
Who
sent down to you (step by step) in truth, the Book, confirming what
went
before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of
Jesus).
Before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the Criterion (of
judgement between right and wrong). Then those who reject faith in the
Signs of Allah will suffer the severest penalty, and Allah is Exalted
in
Might, Lord of Retribution.

From
Allah,
verily nothing is hidden on earth or in the heavens. He it is Who
shapes
you in the wombs as He pleases. There is no god but He, the Exalted in
Might, the Wise.

[Al
‘Imran 3:1-6]

The faith of
Islam
as we know it today (for it must be borne in mind that all the Prophets
taught submission to the will of Allah, or Islam) is derived from the
Holy
Qur’an and the teachings, examples and practices of Allah’s final
Messenger,
Prophet Muhammad which collectively are known as his Sunnah. Every
minute detail of the Prophet’s lifestyle, conduct and statements were
memorised
by his Companions, who put his example into practice and passed on
reports
of what they had seen him do, or had heard from him, to subsequent
generations.
These reports or ahadith (singular: hadith) were
later subjected
to intense scrutiny by scholars who recorded them and classified them
into
different levels of “soundness” or authenticity. The greatest recorder
of ahadith was Imam al-Bukhari, who spent sixteen years
compiling
reports of the Prophet’s words and deeds in his famous collection of ahadith,
Sahih al-Bukhari.
His scrupulous attention to detail and
authenticity
leave us in no doubt concerning the book he left us.

It is this
straightforward
presentation, practical application, sincere reaching and equal
treatment
for all in Islam that have attracted multitudes of people towards the
honest
teachings of the word of Allah.

The spread of
Islam
in the Western world has been so rapid that he media has taken to
publishing
alarmist statistics and issuing “tenoint security plans” to safeguard
individuals!
The media is at the orefront of creating Islamaphobic environment. The
media is nrelenting in it’s efforts to misguide people about the truth
of Islam, nd appears especially keen to convince the world at large
that
Islam “oppresses” women. But they are failing spectacularly, because –
as stated earlier- seven out of every ten Western converts to Islam are
women. Within the last decade, an estimated ten thousand British women
have accepted and are practicing Islam. Most of the new converts are
middle
class, well-educated, and have professional backgrounds.

Life in
Britain
today, as in most of the Western world, lacks cohesion, guidance and
purpose.
“New” Muslims have found the truth and a perfect code of conduct in
Islam
through which they have improved their life in this world and have
definitely
secured salvation in the life to come.

In order to
fully
appreciate the role Islam continues to play in liberating women from
cultural
oppression which is perpetrated in the name of “freedom”, we need to
look
at women’s status through the ages in various societies. I start with
an
overview of the period prior to the advent of Islam. The second chapter
presents the sad and depressing picture of the plight of women who have
espoused to the liasse faire culture of the Western society.
Anyone
with the slightest concern for humanity and the social welfare of human
beings will be greatly perturbed by some of the calamities faced by
women
in this supposedly advanced society. I then turn to the teachings of
the
Qur’an and the Prophet on the role, position and integrity of
women
in Islam.

No book,
which
deals with the issue of women, can ignore the aspirations of the
feminist
movement, so I have included a discussion of their theories. The
theories
of leading feminists, the views and debates raging within feminism and
academia have been reported. I have sought to examine their practical
application
in the light of Islamic teachings.

I hope and
pray
that by the time the readers complete the book, they will have gained a
deeper insight into the position of women in Islam, the detrimental
effect
on the moral, social and personal status of the women in the West by
adopting
and following a way of life suited to their personal desires and
finally,
a clearer understanding of Islamic teachings on this issue.

This book is
merely
an introduction to some of the major topics regarding women. Any
shortcomings
detected herein are due entirely to my own weaknesses. I pray to Allah
for His forgiveness. However, I hope that after reading this work
others
will be inspired to join in this monumental work of researching and
presenting
true Islamic teachings, and improve upon my efforts. It is my ardent
desire
that readers will find the warmth, sincerity and honesty of Islamic
teachings
reflected in this book, and that this will encourage a deeper
understanding
of Islam, through which mankind’s sufferings and miseries can be
elevated.

Ismail
Adam Patel

Leicester

Muharram 1418
AH MAY 1997 CE

May 1997

 

WOMAN A CROSS CULTURE PERSPECTIVE

Islam has
achieved far more for women’s emancipation and equality than what many
of today’s feminists realize. Judging Islam by their own secularized
and often atheist standards, many members of the feminist’s movement
denounce the way of life chosen by Allah for woman and man, without
knowing or deeply understanding what they are really criticizing. It is
only Islam that has lifted women from the abyss of oppression to
previously unknown levels of freedom and respectability, levels which
are unmatched even in today’s so called “civilized” world.

GREEK AND
ROMAN CIVILIZATION

In the days
of ignorance, prior to the advent of Islam, women in many cultures
throughout the world were considered little more than commodities,
objects of desire to be bought and sold like livestock. According to
Prof. Wil Durant, “In Rome, the man alone had any rights before the law
in the early republic; he alone could buy, hold or sell property, or
make contracts. Even his wife’s dowry in this period belonged to him;
if his wife was accused of a crime she was committed to him for
judgement, and he could punish her by condemning her to death for
infidelity or for stealing the keys to his wine cellar. Over his
children he had the power of life, death and sale into slavery… Birth
itself was an adventure in Rome. If the child was deformed or female,
the father was permitted by custom to expose it to death”.’

Neither did
the Greek philosophers show a great deal of concern for females.
Aristotle stated: “… We may thus conclude that it is a natural law
that there should be naturally ruling elements and elements naturally
ruled … The rule of the freeman over the slave is one kind of rule;
that of the male over the female another… The slave is entirely
without the faculty of deliberation; the female indeed possesses it,
but it is a form which remains inconclusive”.’

The Greeks
considered women to belong to the third (lowest) rank of society. If a
woman gave birth to a deformed child, it was common practice to kill
her. In Sparta, which was acknowledged as an elite society, a woman who
could no longer bear children was put to death. The Spartans also took
women away from their husbands to be inseminated by “brave and strong
men” of other communities. The Greeks in general considered women to be
insignificant creatures who could not be dear to the “gods”.

Hippolytus’
invective against women, in the tragedy by Euripides, sums up the Greek
view:

“O Zeus,
whatever possessed you to put an ambiguous misfortune amongst men by
bringing women to the light of day? If you really wanted to sow the
race of mortals, why did it have to be born of women? How much better
it would be if men could buy the seed of sons, paying for it with gold,
iron or bronze in your temples, and could live free, without women in
their houses”.2

 

 

JUDAISM

Orthodox Jews
who have held on to the classical teachings of Judaism have come under
great strain from within as their practices are seen as sexually
oppressive. The Talmud, a book pertaining to the Jewish civil
and ceremonial law, states, ‘It is impossible for there to be a world
without males and females. Nevertheless happy is the man whose children
are males and woe to the man whose children are females’.3

Superiority
of the male child is further emphasized by several customs. On the
birth of a male child the parents invite guests to a Kiddush, a
celebratory meal after Sabbath, where there is no such custom after the
birth of a female child. In education, it is not considered appropriate
to educate the females beyond what is necessary to learn regarding the
practices ordained in the Jewish scriptures to the women.’
When a boy reaches adulthood a ritual called, her mitzvah, ‘son of the
commandment’ further celebrates his maturity. The boy who has now
become a man can be counted to make up a quorum, (minyan), which
is needed for certain prayers and for public worship in the synagogue,
for which ten free male adults are required. Whereas women cannot be
counted to make up a quorum (minyan).2 There are no parallel
celebration for women in Jewish custom. The inequality and injunction
towards female oppression is further to be found in the law relating to
divorce. A woman has no right of divorce. Even if her husband
disappears without trace, without the evidence of his death, she can
not remarry3. A man has the only right of divorce, and many men have
abused this right by abandoning women but not divorcing them, thereby
restricting them to remarry.

According to
Le Bonn the male Orthodox Jew solemnly recites, “Blessed art Thou, O
Lord our God, King of the Universe, that I was not born a female”.

The
inequalities in Jewish scriptures and traditions is experiencing
pressure for change, from within, to be more equitable. The liberating
ideologies have brought many changes to Judaism. There has been a
recent introduction for the celebration of a girl attaining puberty
called: bar mitzvah (compared with boys called bar
mitzvah).
In education, despite the ruling of Zohar, that the
Torah was meant only to be given over to males,4 the girls education
has become an established feature. In divorce, today the law has been
changed so that the couples first turn towards the state courts for
separation and then gain a religious divorce.

HINDUISM

Women fared
little better in other belief-systems. In Hinduism, the perfect woman
is the pativrata, the devoted wife whose entire existence is
dedicated to her husband. The very word pativrata says it all:
“she whose vow ( vista) is to her husband ( pati) “. During
her lifetime, the good Hindu wife is expected to regard her husband as
her own personal god, for the man ordained to be a woman’s husband is
regarded as far more than a man: he is the incarnation of the supreme
law in her life, the definition and summation of her religious duty.
After a blameless life, such a woman should ideally die before her
husband. If by some mischance she does not, then she may put that right
by taking her own life on her husband’s funeral pyre. This horrific
rite, known as satee, was until very recently still being
practiced in India, and the government has had to intervene to abolish
it. Nevertheless, for devout Hindus a woman who is satee is worshipped
as a goddess, the perfect example of the self-sacrificing wife.’

A book on the
ancient discipline of Sanskrit religious law, Draramasastra, includes
a chapter on “the religious status and duties of women,” stridharmapaddhati.
The author (or, more accurately, the compiler) of this work,
Tryambaka, was an orthodox pandit living in Thanjavur, in what is now
the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The ruling on women generally
places them at the level of a subordinate citizen. For example: a wife
has no right over her husband’s property. Property owned jointly by the
wife and husband may be distributed by the husband alone, but the wife
needs his permission. Even with various kinds of ‘women’s property’,
such as gifts from her husband or her own family, a woman still needs
her husbands permission to exercise her rights of ownership.

Tryambaka’s
stark message is defined in three ways. Firstly, a wife should have no
regard for her own life. Secondly, she should even allow herself to be
sold, if her husband should wish it. Thirdly, obedience to her husband
takes precedence over all other duties, including religious ones. In
essence, however, this law contains only one point: that a woman’s
highest duty is to her husband.

ARABIA PRE
ISLAM

Prior to
Islam, in Arabia, the Arabs treated women with contempt: it was
customary for infant gals to be buried alive at birth. Men could have
as many wives as they wished, and all were effectively enslaved, and
would be inherited as possessions when the husband died. Among the
pre-Islamic Arabs, when a man died, his eldest son or other close
relative had the right to possess his widow or widows, marrying them
himself if he so desired.

Before and
during the time of the Prophet Muhammad Hi, Persia was ruled by the
Sassanids who practiced Zoroastrianism. Their faith demanded total
obedience of the wife to the husband. A wife was required to declare,
“I will never cease, all my life, to obey my husband”. Failure to do so
would lead to divorce. A wife had no say in any matters and her husband
could lend her, for a fee, to others. If a woman did not produce any
children, she would be abandoned, if she was lucky; more often than
not, a barren wife would be killed.

EUROPE

Britain and
most of Europe, in the same period was just recovering from the lengthy
Roman occupation, which was followed by the arrival of Christianity.
European society was a highly fragmented one, in which tribal wars and
kingly struggles to gain control over the land and people were
commonplace. With very few exceptions, women had little or no active
role to play in such affairs. As the dawn of Islam was starting to
illuminate the long shadow of oppression on women, the French in the
same period (586 CE) were claiming compassion and civility by passing a
resolution, after great deliberation and controversy, that woman can be
classified as a human being, however she is created for the sole
purpose of serving man.’

CHRISTIANITY

The title of
this section, by definition, is somewhat ambiguous, since the term
‘Christianity’ covers such a varied set of beliefs and practices. As
one commentator put it, “Christianity is always adapting itself into
that which is believable”. (Or not, as the case may be). The apparent
flexibility of this religion creates immediate problems for
discussions, since it is easy for anyone to counter what is said about
Christianity with the latest amended pronouncements of the Vatican, or
Anglican Synod, or of other Churches. It is very much like trying to
describe a desert landscape controlled by moving sand. The broad nature
of Christian division must also be kept in mind: what holds true in one
sect, such as the Church of England (Anglicanism), may not be true in
another, such as Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, if we look to the
supposed sources of Christianity, the Old and New Testaments of the
Bible, and the scholarly work produced elsewhere, there is sufficient
evidence to suggest that women have, over the centuries, received a raw
deal from the Mother (!) Church.

According to
the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Christianity did not bring a
revolutionary social change to the position of women”. Indeed, “in the
world of the early church, women were held in very low esteem, and this
was the basis for divorce practices that put women practically at men’s
complete disposal”. This is in keeping with the “Old Testament view of
marriage as an institution primarily concerned with the establishment
of a family, rather than sustaining the individual happiness of the
marriage partners”, a view which has “strongly influenced” Christianity.

When the
“Kingdom of God” is established, marriage which was understood to be a
part of the old, passing, order will not exist. According to the Bible
as it exists today, the risen ones will “neither marry nor be given in
marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven”. (Mark 12:25).
Similarly, St. Paul’s understanding of marriage in the light of the
coming kingdom of God was as follows: “… the time is short. From now
on those who have wives should live as if they had none… For the
world in its present form is passing away”. (1 Corinthians 7:29-30).
The early Christians believed that the end of time was relatively near,
so marriage was not deemed worthwhile, as it would involve what were
regarded as unnecessary troubles: “I would like you to be free from
concern” (1 Corinthians 7:32). So it was felt that the unmarried,
widowers and widows would fare better if they did not marry. Celibacy
was demanded, not only of ascetics and monks, but of increasing numbers
of the clergy, as a matter of duty.

The Bible, a
book which conclusive evidence proves to have been written by men and
to contain only fragments of the original revealed Books given to
Prophets over the centuries (including the Torah, Psalms and Gospel),
contain many references to the position of women in society. For
example:

“As in all
the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the
churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as
the Law says”. (1 Corinthians 14:33-34)

The ideology of the female being
inferior is indoctrinated from birth: 

 

“… A woman who becomes pregnant
and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days…
If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be
unclean….”. (Leviticus 12:1,5)

“Wives,
submit to your husbands… For the husband is the head of the wife as
Christ is the head of the Church”. (Ephesians 5:22 23)

“Then the
Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman
said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’ … To the woman he said,
‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain will you
give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he
will rule over you’.” (Genesis 3:13.16)

St. Paul
said: “The head of the woman is the man … for a man … is the image
and glory of God. I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority
over the man, but to be in silence”. ‘

Based on the
Biblical image of Eve as a seductive temptress, Christian theologians
have historically associated women with sexuality and viewed her with
deep suspicion, loathing and fear. Throughout the history of
Christianity and the Roman Church, theologians, moralists and ethicists
have inveighed against women as corrupt, weak, lustful and evil
“daughters of Eve”, who are to be shunned and avoided at all costs.2
The post-Christian feminist Mary Daly insists that since the Genesis
stories were written by men, and their conception of God is irrevocably
androcentric, they cannot be applied to or by women.

Interestingly,
in his 1988 Encyclical, Pope John Paul II stated his belief that
mothers are more important than fathers when it comes to raising
children. There is no connection between man’s procreative role in
conception and their social role as fathers, and it is only I mothers
who are socially defined by their procreative role.

BRITISH HISTORY

English
common law stated that upon marriage, a woman lost the rights she
possessed when single. All of her property transferred to her husband
and both she and it fell under his complete control. He did not even
have to account to her. She could not transfer her property, nor enter
into contracts in her own name, nor could she sue or be sued. In
effect, marriage meant civil death.

A court case
in 1840, quoted by O’Faolain and Martines, highlights how
insignificantly women were held in British society:

“The
question raised in this case is, singularly whether by common law the
husband, in order to prevent his wife from eloping, has a right to
confine her in his own dwellings and restrain her from liberty, for an
indefinite time… There can be no doubt the husband has by law power
and dominion over his wife, and may keep her by force… and beat her,
but not in a violent or cruel manner”.’

As late as
1856, women in Britain were not allowed to keep their earnings, and had
no rights of inheritance. In that year, women petitioned parliament,
which was composed solely of male members, to allow married women to
keep their own earnings and inherited property. In 1857, divorced women
were granted the same rights as single women, but married women had to
wait until 1893 to receive the same rights.

Throughout
the nineteenth century, women became more aware of their lack of basic
rights in society, and towards the end of the century, a significant
movement for change developed, and the suffragettes campaigned for
women’s right to vote. The political franchise had for centuries been
restricted to property owners only, and had only recently (in the mid
nineteenth century) been extended to all males over the age of 21.
Women had to wait until 1928 for this right to be granted to them.
Equal pay for equal work took longer: This was not won until 1975. It
is clear, then, that Western Europe in general, and Britain in
particular, were very late in developing basic rights and equal status
for women, contrary to what the moral high ground taken by critics of
Islam portray.

This is the
global context into which the Prophet of Mercy, Muhammad brought his
message, and liberated women from the oppression of men and offered
them the shade, mercy and equality of Islam. At a time when the entire
world treated women with contempt, when women were unable even to
question their status, let alone demand basic human and civic rights,
Islam came like a beacon blazing forth in the darkness liberating and
elevating them.

To discuss
how Islam enhanced the role and status of women in seventh-century
Arabia, without addressing present day issues would be a great
disservice to the readers. Islam (submission to the will of the
Creator, Allah)
which all the Prophets called to, is the religion
for all the people and for all times, equally applicable to all.

How many of
today’s feminists supposedly, fighting against oppression and
subjugation of women, would disagree that women l should be viewed as
the equals of men? That female infanticide, for any reason, be it
social or economic, is evil? Those in theological terms, women should
be viewed as equal with men in the sight of the Almighty, and be
rewarded equally for their virtues? That, as wives, they are entitled
to mutual consultation in the affairs of their families? That they
should be allowed to possess assets and have a right to their own
businesses and incomes? That they should be entitled to inherit from
their parents, husbands and other relatives? That they should be
allowed to live freely without the fear of being molested or raped?
That they should be free from the danger of sexual harassment and
should not be portrayed merely as sex objects or as objects of male
desires? That the honour of their bodies be protected from pornographic
portrayals? That their suffering in childbirth should be recognized,
appreciated and rewarded? For all of these basic rights and more, women
of all colours, creeds and social status have had to fight tooth and
nail. It is only Islam that has promoted women’s rights from the very
outset. Islam granted them liberation from the evils of inequality,
hundreds of years, before the word “liberation” became fashionable.

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