Women's Rights in Islam
Answering the Christian Missionaries

A Missionary Christian posted the following message using a Muslim name and thinking that he can misguide Muslims:

>Dear Brothers and sisters, my name is Maha and I 
>am 19 years old. I was born, raised and consider myself a 
>Muslim. However recently I met someone who says he has left 
>Islam. He knows a lot about Quran and Hadith and has told me
>many things about Islam that has caused me a great deal of 
>distress. I know I love my Faith but my knowledge of Islam 
>is limited and I cannot answer him. I think I am confused I 
>don't want to lose my faith but I need help. Can someone 
>help please. 
>The first thing is about the women's right 
>in Islam. I was taught that women in Islam have the same 
>rights as men. But this person has shown me verses from the 
>Quran and Hadith that has bothered me a lot. These are: Men 
>are superior to women, because Allh has made one of them to
>excel the other, and because they spend from their means. 
>Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and 
>guard in the husband's absence what Allh orders them to 
>guard. As to those women on whose part you see illconduct, 
>admonish them, then refuse to share their beds, and finally 
>beat them (Quran 4:34) This verse is very much bothering me.
>I don't think men are superior to women and I am against 
>violence. It does not seem very just and I cannot understand
>why God would say such thing. 
>In another place he showed me the follwoing verse which 
>confirms the superiority of men: 
>"... men are a step above women"(Q. 2:228) 
>Also I think the following verse is particularly degrading women. 
>"Women are your field, so enter into your field from where 
>ever you wish." (Quran2:223) 
>He also showed me a Hadith 
>form Mohammad (may Peace Be Upon Him) that has added to my concern. Here it 
>is: Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: Once Allah's Apostle went 
>out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o 'Id-al-Adha or 
>Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O 
>women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the 
>dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is
>it so, O Allah's Apostle?" He replied, "You curse frequently
>and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone 
>more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A 
>cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." 
>The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in 
>our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the 
>evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They
>replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency
>in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither 
>pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the 
>affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her 
>religion." Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 6, Number 301. These
>are very humiliating and unfair to women. I am confused can 
>someone please tell me what is the meaning of all this? 

Our replies was the following:

May peace be on those who believe and may curse be on those who try to misguide Muslims,

Many people who are involved with dialog in this club are Missionary Christians who are trying to make people doubtful about Islam. Those people will NEVER be guided as Allah said: "Indeed the Word (of punishment) has proved true against most of them, so they will not believe. Verily! We have put on their necks iron collars reaching to chins, so that their heads are forced up. And We have put a barrier before them, and a barrier behind them, and We have covered them up, so that they cannot see. It is the same to them whether you warn them or you warn them not, they will not believe. You can only warn him who follows the Reminder (the Qur'an), and fears the Most Beneficent (Allah) unseen. Bear you to such one the glad tidings of forgiveness, and a generous reward (i.e. Paradise)" (Qur’an 36:7-11)

As for those who are inviting us to disbelieve in Allah I say to them:

"And O my people! How is it that I call you to salvation while you call me to the Fire! You invite me to disbelieve in Allah (and in His Oneness), and to join partners in worship with Him; of which I have no knowledge, and I invite you to the All-Mighty, the Oft-Forgiving!" (Qur’an 40:41-42)

My reply below is not for them, but it is for people "who follows the Qur'an, and fears the Most Beneficent (Allah) unseen."

1) The complete verse translation is as follow:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband's absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband's property, etc.). As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful), but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great. (Qur’an 4:34)

The Messenger of Allah (may Peace Be Upon Him) said:

O People! it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah's trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste. But if they did so, then beat them painless beat.

This is a merci from Allah to protect the Muslim community from divorce. It is important to know that high-class women are not to be beaten as the Prophet (may Peace Be Upon Him) has commended us. This is why he did not beat any woman or a child, and he also disallowed his Companions to beat their wives even though they have complained that their wives disobeyed them. He said:

"Behold, many women came to Muhammad's wives complaining against their husbands -- those (husbands) are not the best of you."

Islam always encourage kindness between every husband and wife. The Qur'an states: "...But consort with them in kindness, for if you hate them it may happen that you hate a thing wherein God has placed much good." (Qur'an 4: l9).

Prophet Muhammad. (P) said: "The best of you is the best to his family and I am the best among you to my family."

"The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and best of you are those who are best to their wives." (Ibn-Hanbal, No. 7396)

As a practical example, the divorce rate in Syria, my country, is 7%, while it exceeds 70% in California were I live! Even though, there are more husbands in the USA who beat their wives than in Syria.

2) As for the (2:228), I wish that Maha quoted the full verse which is:

And divorced women shall wait (as regards their marriage) for three menstrual periods, and it is not lawful for them to conceal what Allh has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allh and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And they (women) have rights (over their husbands as regards living expenses, etc.) similar (to those of their husbands) over them (as regards obedience and respect, etc.) to what is reasonable, but men have a degree (of responsibility) over them. And Allh is All-Mighty, All-Wise. (Dr. Mushin Khan translation, from Madina, Saudi Arabia.)

Well, If men have a degree of responsibility over women, then I don't think that will bother women! Right?

In Islam, we explain the Qur'an from the Sunnah, not by our opinions about the English translation. The following Hadith explains the essential women rights:

Abu 7aida (r.a.) asked the Messenger of Allah (may Peace Be Upon Him): "What is the right of the wife of one of us?" The Messenger of Allah (may Peace Be Upon Him) said: "To feed her if you was fed; to clothe her if you was clothed; do NOT hit the face (i.e. her face); NEVER uglify (her); and do not forsake (abandon her) except in the home (that you live with her)."

Ibn 3abbas (r.a.) said: "I dress up to my wife as she dresses up to me because Allah said 'And they have rights similar (to those of their husbands) over them to what is reasonable' "

And for husbands and wives who violate this verse, Allah said at the end of it "Allh is All-Mighty, All-Wise." to remind them that he has the full power to punish those who violate his commands, and he is the All-Wise with choosing his law and his Shari'a!

Please see this article under the title "ARE MEN A DEGREE ABOVE WOMEN?" I think it is enough to refute the claim of the Missionaries.

3) The translation of the verse (2:223) is:

Your wives are a tilth for you, so go to your tilth (have sexual relations with your wives in any manner as long as it is in the vagina and not in the anus), when or how you will, and send (good deeds, or ask Allh to bestow upon you pious offspring) before you for your ownselves. And fear Allh, and know that you are to meet Him (in the Hereafter), and give good tidings to the believers (O Muhammad SAW).

The Arabic source is:

"nisa'ukum 7Harthon lakum fa'tu 7Harthakum anna shi'tum ..."

The word Harth was translated to 'tilth' which means cultivation of land. In fact Harth is a metonymy for the vulva of women. The similarity between 'tilth' and 'vulva' is that man put his seed in the vulva of women. This seed will grow up till it becomes a child. A similar thing will happen when the farmer put seeds of a plant! Using this metonymy in Arabic language is very common even before the Qur'an was revealed. This verse was revealed because Jews used to say to Muslims in Medina that if the husband made the intercourse (in the vagina) from the back of the woman, then the child will come cross-eyed. Allah used this beautiful example to tell Muslims that however the seed was put in the 'tilth', the result will be the same. Before anyone yawls at me for talking about this subject, I'll remind him that the Prophet (may Peace Be Upon Him) said: "There is no shyness in the Religion."

(My primary reference is Tafsir Ibn Kathir)

4) First of all, neither that Hadith is a general statement or a Khutba; nor it was made in front of men. According to another narration of the Hadith, it is a preachment to women ONLY to encourage them to donate charity after the Eid prayer (and they did). (Remember too that men and women don’t pray together).

As for his saying "as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you." He gave reasons for that: A) Women curse frequently more than men B) Women are ungrateful to their husbands. In another narration of the Hadith, they’ve asked him what that means so he said: "The husband of one you makes good doer with you for all of his life, but when he makes a bad doer, you say ‘he never made any good doers to me"

We all know from the Qur'an (3:195 and 16:97 and 4:124) that Allah judge men and women equally. Thus, if women did not do those two sins, then they won’t be the majority of the Hell-Fire. So, the Prophet (may Peace Be Upon Him) was saying to them that since they make those two sins, then they should make more good deeds to erase those sins. By the way, he was talking about women at large not about women of this Ummah!

Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) of Eid al-ADha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion."

The quote "A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you" is a mistranslation of the Arabic source "ma ra’aitu min naqisate 3aqlen wa deen aghlabu liTHy lubben minkon." This means "I have not seen anything that can take the mind of a sensible man, more than you!" It is obvious for Arabic speakers that the above statement is not an insult but it is a wonder with a persuade! Probably the most famous Arabic pome in describing women’s beauty is the following (in Arabic):

Arabic Pome

It means:

"Those eyes who have Hawar (see note) They’ve killed us (i.e. men), then they did not bring us to live again"

"They kill the sensible man who has mind till their is no motion in him. While they are the weakest of the creations"

Note: Hawar means pure white next to a dark black. This is the most beautiful eye as Arabs think. The word Hoor (women of paradise) came from here.

The Prophet (may Peace Be Upon Him) was wondering how would those women mentally control men (like Eve and Adam in the Christian mythology), while they have less experience in the economical aspect and they are physically weaker (because of there menses)!

As for the intelligence, please see item # 5.

As for the deficiency in woman’s religion, it is not an insult against women but it is an encouragement to them to do more good deeds. Since a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses, this means she needs to do other good deeds to get reward instead of the reward that she missed during her menses. Charity is a good example. Someone may ask, why Islam did not allow women to fast during their menses? The answer is because Allah is merciful to women. He knows that it will be harmful for their health to fast during their menses!

5) Most Qur'anic references to testimony (witness) do not refer to gender. Some references fully equate the testimony of males and females.

And for those who launch a charge against their spouses and have (in support) no evidence but their own, their solitary evidence (can be received) if they bear witness four times (with an oath) by Allah that they are solemnly telling the truth; And the fifth (oath) (should be) that they solemnly invoke the curse of Allah on themselves if they tell a lie. But if would avert the punishment from the wife if she bears witness four times (with an oath) by Allah that (her husband) is telling a like; And the fifth (oath) should be that she solemnly invokes the wrath of Allah on herself if (her accuser) is telling the truth. (Qur'an 24:6-9)

One reference in the Qur'an distinguishes between the witness of a male and a female. It is useful to quote this reference and explain it in its own context and in the context of other Qur'anic references to testimony:

O you who believe! When you deal with each other in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing. Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe refuse to write: as Allah has taught him, so let him write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear his Lord, Allah, and not diminish aught of what he owes. If the party liable is mentally deficient, or weak, or unable himself to dictate, let his guardian dictate faithfully. And get two witnesses out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as you choose for witnesses so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her. The witnesses should not refuse when they are called on (for evidence). Disdain not to reduce to writing (your contract) for a future period, whether it be small or big: it is more just in the sight of Allah, more suitable as evidence, and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves, but if it be a transaction with you carry out on the spot among yourselves, there is not blame on you if you reduce it not to writing, But take witnesses whenever you make a commercial contract; and let neither scribe nor witness suffer harm. If you do (such harm), it would be wickedness in you. So fear Allah; for it is Allah that teaches you. And Allah is well acquainted with all things. (Qur'an 2:282)

A few comments on this text are essential in order to prevent common misinterpretations:

  1. It cannot be used as an argument that there is a general rule in the Qur'an that the worth of a female's witness is only half the male's. This presumed "rule" is voided by the above reference (24:6-9), which explicitly equates the testimony of both genders on the issue at hand.
  2. The context of this passage (verse, or ayah) relates to testimony on financial transactions, which are often complex and laden with business jargon. The passage does not make a blanket generalization that would otherwise contradict 24:6-9, cited above.
  3. The reason for variations in the number of male and female witnesses required is given in the same passage. No reference is made to the inferiority or superiority of one gender's witness or the other's. The only reason given is to corroborate the female's witness and prevent unintended errors in the perception of the business deal. The Arabic term used in this passage, taDilla, literally means "loses the way," "gets confused," or "errs." But are females the only gender that may err and need corroboration of their testimony? Definitely not, and that is why the general rule of testimony in Islamic law is to have two witnesses, even when they are both male.
    One possible interpretation of the requirements related to this particular type of testimony is that in numerous societies, past and present, women generally may not be heavily involved with and experienced in business transactions. As such, they may not be completely cognizant of what is involved. Therefore, corroboration of a woman's testimony by another woman who may be present ascertains accuracy and, hence, justice. It would be unreasonable to interpret this requirement as a reflection on the worth of women's testimony, as it is the ONLY exception discerned from the text of the Qur'an. This may be one reason why a great scholar like Abu-Hanifa and Al-Tabari could not find any evidence from any primary text (Qur'an or Hadith) to exclude women from something more important than testimony: being herself a judge who hears and evaluates the testimony of others.
  4. It must be added that unlike pure acts of worship, which must be observed exactly as taught by the Prophet (may Peace Be Upon Him), testimony is a means to an end, ascertaining justice as a major objective of Islamic law. Therefore, it is the duty of a fair judge to be guided by this objective when assessing the worth and credibility of a given testimony, regardless of the gender of the witness.