The Status of Women and Men in Islam
Much has been said concerning the abuse of women in Islam. Both Western journalists and Muslims alike have spoken out against the oppression of Muslim women. Too often do we hear or see reports of Muslim women being beaten by their husbands, denied educational opportunities and forbidden to work in the marketplace or business world. In some extreme cases, some women, reportedly have been tortured and even killed by an angry husband or his family. Astaghfirullah! Allah says that oppression is worse than slaughter. “The believers are the best among mankind because they enjoin what is right and forbid what is evil. Indeed, the weak and oppressed cry out to Allah, the Most High to rescue them from those who would oppress them and to appoint, from His presence, someone who will protect and help.” We all will focus on the status of women and men according to the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Allah Has Honoured Women
In Holy Qur’an, the mother of Hazrat Maryam, alaiha salaam, when she delivered her child said: “...and nowise is the male like the female.” (3:36)
Hazrat Maryam was specially chosen by Allah and protected from the touch of Shaitan. She is one of the four most righteous women in Paradise. Yet she was not made a prophet or messenger. Her nearness to Allah and high rank is clearly established but her mission and function were different from those of her son, Hazrat Isa, alaihi salaam.
When Hazrat Ibrahim, alaihi salaam, left his wife, Hazrat Hajra and their son, Ismail, peace be upon them, in the valley of Makkah, in accordance with Allah’s will, she worried about finding water for herself and her son. She ran back and forth between the two hills of Safa and Marwa looking for water. Allah, the Most High, sent an angel who dug his foot into the sand and the spring of Zam Zam welled up, providing cool and refreshing water to mother and child. To this day and for all times to come, millions upon millions of Muslims on Haj run between Safa and Marwa in emulation of Hazrat Hajra and drink from the same spring of Zam Zam because Allah has so honoured the wife and mother of prophets. Yet, she herself was not a prophet.
Hazrat Khadija, may Allah be pleased with her, owned a profitable business, yet her husband, the Holy Last Messenger, peace be upon him, managed it for her. She was the beloved of Rasullullah, peace be upon him, the mother of Hazrat Fatima and one of the four most righteous women in Paradise, yet she remained at home.
Hadrat Fatima, the Rose of Jannah, may Allah be pleased with her, the daughter of the Holy Last Messenger, peace be upon him, came to her father one day and asked for a hand mill to help her grind corn. Her hands were callused from doing it by hand. Instead, he, peace be upon him, gave her a special zikr. To this day, and for all the times to come, Muslims, after salat, perform the zikr of Hadrat Fatima. Hazrat Fatima, one of the four most righteous women in Paradise, the mother of Imam Hasan and Imam Husain, may Allah be pleased with them, stayed at home and took care of her family.
Hazrat Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, was the daughter of Hazrat Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, and the wife of the Prophet, (Pbuh). The Holy Last Messenger loved her very much and it was in her house that he went back to Allah. Hazrat Aisha was one of the greatest faqihs of Islam. She narrated many ahadith, most relating to issues of law. Many companions used to visit her to solve some difficult problems pertaining to deen. She issued fatwas in the Khalifats of Hazrat Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman, may Allah be pleased with all of them. Her greatest works, after the passing of Rasullullah, peace be upon him, was done from her home. Her biggest calamity happened when she left it.
Allah, the Most High, says in Holy Qur’an: “Men are in charge over women in that Allah has favoured the one over the other and that they spend from their wealth...” (4:34) In this ayat, Allah, the Most High, has established the authoritative position of men over women. It is the responsibility of men to protect and defend women. They must support them out of their means and they have to pay (dowry), out of their wealth, for a woman’s hand in marriage. In fact, the tie of marriage is placed in the hands of men.
The responsibility of maintenance and protection of the family is great upon the man. He is told by Allah to save his wife and offspring from the fire. He must provide a healthy environment in which his family can grow in Islam, safe and secure. He must cooperate with other Muslims in the building and defence of Islam for the safety and security of the Ummat as a whole. Because Allah preferred the man over the woman, his duties as well as his rights are different.
In matters of the practice of deen, during the time of the menstrual period and in the 40 days after childbirth the woman neither fasts nor prays. During those times, she is forbidden sexual contact. A man does not have such restrictions. Although a woman must make up her fasts after the time of ritual impurity is over, she does not have to make up any missed salat.
Men, on the other hand, must account for every salat for every time and day of his life. In legal testimony, two female witnesses equal one male witness. Two male witnesses are preferred but if there are not two males, than one male and two females so that if one of the women commits an error, the other can remind her. (Holy Qur’an 2:282)
Allah, the Most Exalted has likened the wives in Islam to a cultivated field, and tells the men to go to their fields when and how they will. (2:223) He has prohibited sexual contact during a women’s courses because of impurity but after the courses, and purification one may approach his wife. A man has no time of the month and, if healthy, must make salat every day and fast in Ramadan every day. He also is in a state of sexual readiness virtually every day.
Although much misunderstood and abused, polygamy is lawful in Islam. It serves a very practical purpose in certain circumstances, times and places. Because of the temptation to commit injustice, the responsibilities in polygamy are great. So great that it is not for everyone. But one should not entertain the thought that it is not for anyone. Polygamy is not abrogated in Islam and no one should make unlawful what Allah has made lawful.
Coming to the point, the physical make-up and the social status of men and women in the structure of Islam, as ordained by Allah, the Most High, is very different in many areas. It does not lend itself to equality. In this respect, the male is not like the female. Consequently, the rights due to them and the obligations on them are different. It does not mean that one is better than the other by nature of their rights and duties. But Islam has a social order established by Allah and His Messenger, peace be upon him, which, when followed insures balance in the Ummat and is an example to be followed by all mankind.
When men and/or women stray away from established Islamic practices, the balance is upset and all kinds of problems develop. When this occurs in marriage, sometimes the man is at fault and sometimes the woman. In most situations, each must take a share of the blame. Even the best of marriages experiences difficult times. Sometimes, husbands and wives lose the ability to resolve differences, and sometimes one transgresses against the other. In worst cases, a spouse might be physically abused.
For every problem, in Islam, there is a solution. When problems occur in a marriage relationship that cannot be resolved by the husband and wife, then they must be resolved by the legal system of shariah in Islam. Whether Muslims live in a Muslim country or non-Muslim country, it is important that the Islamic social structure is governed by shariah, that is, practised and enforced.
If you do not do so, then you cannot guarantee the safety and security of women and children, nor can you hold transgressor to account for their transgression. Where there is no commitment to shariah, the leadership either lacks the knowledge or desire to see the law of Allah preside over legal cases. Maintenance of shariah refers to the acquisition of the knowledge of Islamic Law, judging by it and ruling by it. Enforcement of shariah refers to apprehension and punishment of any who transgress the law, disrupts the peace, or threatens the security of the Jama’at.
There is much to be said in Islamic jurisprudence concerning the rights and duties of men and women in Islam; and beyond the scope of this writing. But there are certain features concerning rights and duties which bear directly on the subject and should be touched on. I have drawn upon Al Misri’s Reliance of the Traveller, translated by Noah Ha Mim Keller. It is a compendium of Shafi Fiqh with occasional references to the view of another madhhab where they differ on minor points of law.
- Both man and wife are obliged to treat each other kindly and graciously. Allah, the Most High says: “Women deserve the like of what they are obliged to give, in kindness.” (Qur’an 2:228)
And for each to give the other what they must (meaning that both spouses are required to, the husband giving her the expenditures he is obliged to and the wife giving herself to him and obeying him concerning his rights therein) without intentional delays or displaying resentment. (Reliance, m10.1, pg. 538.)
- It is unlawful for a man to house two wives in the same lodgings unless they both agree. (Ibid, m10.2, pg. 538)
- It is not lawful for a wife to leave the house except by the permission of her husband, though she may do so without permission when there is a pressing necessity. Nor may a wife permit anyone to enter her husband’s home unless he agrees, even their unmarriageable kin. Nor may she be alone with a non-family-member male, under any circumstances. (Ibid, m10.12 (2), pg. 541.)
- It is obligatory for a wife to obey her husband as is customary in allowing him full lawful sexual enjoyment of her person. It is obligatory for the husband to enable her to remain chaste and free of want for sex if he is able. It is not obligatory for the wife to serve her husband (e.g. cooking, cleaning, washing, keeping house, etc.): if she does, it is voluntary charity. (Ibid, m10.12, pg. 541.) (The Hanafi’s, however, maintain that it is obligatory for the wife to serve her husband and if she does not do so, it is a sin, although not enforceable in the courts).
- If the wife does not fulfill one of the above mentioned obligations, she is termed “rebellious” (nashiz), and the husband takes the following steps to correct matters:
- admonition and advice, by explaining the unlawfulness of rebellion, its harmful effect on married life, and by listening to her viewpoint on the matter;
- If admonition is ineffectual, he keeps from her by not sleeping in bed with her, by which both learn the degree to which they need each other;
- If keeping from her is ineffectual, it is permissible for him to hit her if he believes that hitting her will bring her back to the right path, though if he does not think so, it is not permissible. His hitting her may not be in a way that injures her, and is his last recourse to save the family;
- If the disagreement does not end after all this, each partner chooses an arbitrator to solve the dispute by settlement, or divorce. (Ibid, m10.12 (4), pps. 541,542.)
The Financial Rights
The points outlined here are not recommendations but limits according to law, beyond which a stingy husband may not go to spend less.
- The husband is obliged to provide his wife’s sustenance day by day. He must provide her with the staples according to what is customary in the town where they reside. He must also pay for the expense for its preparation.
- He must provide her with those things necessary for personal hygiene.
- He must provide for the expense related to childbirth.
- He is not obligated but recommended to pay for doctor’s fees, medicine, cosmetics, etc.
- He is obliged to clothe his wife in what is customary in the town to be worn by Muslim ladies.
- The husband is obliged to house his wife in lodgings of the same quality as other women of her status. (Condensed from Reliance of the Traveller, pps. 542-545)
Conditions that Entitle a Wife to Support
The husband is only obliged to support his wife when she gives herself to him or offers to, meaning she allows him full enjoyment of her person and does not refuse him sex at any time of the night or day (without reason). She is not entitled to support from her husband when:
- She is rebellious (meaning when she does not obey him) even for a moment;
- She travels without his permission, or with his permission but for one of her own needs;
- She assumes ihram for Haj or ‘Umra;
- Or when she performs a voluntary fast without her husband’s permission. (Reliance, m11.9, pg. 545)
So much more can be written on this subject but it is too vast to deal with each and every legal point in this article. In closing, Allah, the Most High has established his preferences with respect to the male and the female, and the husband and the wife. The Qur’an and Sunnah have expounded on the rights and duties of the husband and the wife and the fuqaha (learned doctors of law) have worked out the fine details on the various subjects and issues. Close adherence to the Shariah of Islam will insure the best possible chance to secure a balanced marriage relationship, while enforcement of the Shariah when there is transgression will, inshaallah, insure justice.