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House Arrest for Muslim Women?

Question and answer details
Mohamed Sheikh Abdullahi Mohamed
2013/11/12
As-salamu alaykum. Before I submit my question, I would like first to thank Almighty Allah and secondly our great scholars who dedicated their valuable time to educating those who wish to understand the right and true image of Islam. My question is about a verse in the Glorious Quran that says what means "And stay in your homes and do not display yourselves, like that at the time of ignorance" (Al-Ahzab 33:33). Is this verse talking to every Muslim woman past and present, or was it only addressing the wives of our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him)? Would you please shed more light on the interpretation of this verse? Jazakum Allahu khayran.
Dr. Mohsen Haredy
Answer

Salam
brother Mohamed,


Thank you for your question and thank you for showing interest in knowing more about Islam.

Before I answer your question, let me make it clear that women in Islam have a special status. They are considered an integral part of the society. Along with men, they complete the structure of the society.

The verse you mentioned in your question is as follows:

{And stay in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former Times of Ignorance. Be regular in prayer, and pay the poor-due, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah's wish is but to remove uncleanness far from you, O Folk of the Household, and cleanse you with a thorough cleansing.} (Al-Ahzab 33:33)

Muslim scholars agree that the above verse addresses the Prophet's wives, as is clear from the preceding verse, which reads thus:

{O ye wives of the Prophet! Ye are not like any other women. If ye keep your duty (to Allah), then be not soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease aspire (to you), but utter customary speech.} (Al-Ahzab 33:32)

Another verse asserts this fact, for the Prophet's wives had a duty to teach Muslims about Islam, as their relationship with the Prophet allowed them to learn about it firsthand and on an intimate level:

{And bear in mind that which is recited in your houses of the revelations of Allah and wisdom. Lo! Allah is Subtile, Aware.} (Al-Ahzab 33:34)   

The words "O ye wives of the Prophet! Ye are not like any other women" imply that there were special rulings for the Prophet's wives, as they have a special position within the Muslim community.

Muslims all over the world hold the Prophet's wives in high esteem. They are called Ummahat al-Mu'mineen (the Mothers of the Believers.)

I will not go into details in the special rulings related to the Prophet's wives. I will just cite one example. The Prophet's wives were not permitted to remarry after the Prophet's death:

{And it is not for you to cause annoyance to the Messenger of Allah, nor that ye should ever marry his wives after him. Lo! that in Allah's sight would be an enormity.} (Al-Ahzab 33:53)

Your question was about a specific verse. But there is another verse that refers to confining women to their houses, and I wish to clarify about it.

{As for those of your women who are guilty of lewdness, call to witness four of you against them. And if they testify (to the truth of the allegation) then confine them to the houses until death take them or (until) Allah appoints for them a way (through new legislation).} (An-Nisaa' 4:15)

Confinement in houses was the norm for some time before the final stage of legislation was reached. Afterwards, this norm was no longer in practice.

Commenting on this verse, Ibn Kathir says the following in his Tafseer:


In the early days of Islam, if a woman committed adultery and four just witnesses confirmed the act, the punishment was to confine her at her house. She was not to go out until she died. In the end of the verse, Allah says "(until) Allah appoints for them a way (through new legislation)." The way that Allah made was the verse of Surat An-Nur which abrogated this ruling:


{The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day: and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment.} (An-Nur 24:2)


`Ubadah ibn As-Samit reported Allah's Messenger as saying:

 

"Receive (teaching) from me, receive (teaching) from me. Allah has ordained a way for those (women.) When an unmarried male commits adultery with an unmarried female (they should receive) one hundred lashes and banishment for one year. And in case of a married male committing adultery with a married female, they shall receive one hundred lashes and be stoned to death" (Muslim).


The verse you mentioned shows that Muslim women should not show their beauty and physical attractions that may make them subject to people with diseased hearts and impure intentions. Also, Muslim women should not go out with adornment as was the custom in the pre-Islamic period.

However, the literal meaning of the words "and stay in your houses" did not prevent them — Muslim women at the time of the Prophet — from the right of going out to fulfill their needs. They used to teach other women the principles of Islam. They sought knowledge from the Prophet (peace be upon him) and transmitted it to others.

History records that Muslim women accompanied the Muslim armies in battles to nurse the wounded, prepare supplies, serve the warriors, and so on.

Sumayyah (mother of `Ammar ibn Yasir) was among the first to be martyred in Islam. Muslim women took part in the first and second Pledges of Allegiance. Ar-Rabi` bint Mu`awwidh reported, "We used to take part in battles with the Prophet by providing the people with water, and serving them, and bringing the killed and the wounded back to Madinah" (Al-Bukhari).

Furthermore, we read in Islamic history that women Companions used to go around doing their business in the city. The second caliph, `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, appointed a woman, Ash-Shifaa' bint `Abdullah, as the supervisor of markets in Madinah, as is mentioned in her biography.

Also, Muslim women expressed their views on legislative issues of public interest, even standing in opposition to the caliphs, who then accepted the sound arguments of these women. A specific example took place during the caliphate of `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him).

Islam grants women equal rights to contract, to enterprise, to earn, and to possess independently.

This was the interpretation in the first Islamic century about the so-called confinement of women in houses. So what about more than 1,400 years later?

Nowadays, no one can come and say that Muslim women are not allowed to go out or to work, or even to go to school and universities. If this were true, imagine a society where all the women just stayed at home; this would mean that a large part of the society was idle.

On the contrary, like Muslim men, Muslim women can go out, learn, and work, provided that they observe decency and their chastity is preserved.

The command not to display women's attractions implies one of the conditions of the Islamic dress code for women. A Muslim woman is required to cover her hair and body, and her clothes must not be transparent and they must be loose and long enough to hide the attractive parts of her body. Covering the body is required in order to preserve women from dazzling display that would make them subject to harassment and make them an easy prey for those men who have lusty motives.

This means that the veil protects women's honor and dignity; it is not seen as an infringement upon their liberty. Dr. Fatima Naseef, author of Women in Islam, sees hijab as a woman's right to maintain her modesty and to be respected as a person.

I hope this answer helps. Thank you again for your question and keep in touch.

Salam

Useful Links:

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Hijab… a Must, Not a Choice

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Hijab: What's It All About?


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