I would like to thank you for such an important question which is much needed nowadays, as Islam is facing a fierce campaign aimed at smearing its face and damaging its image.
One of the main targets of this campaign is the Sunnah (traditions) of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and since women's status in Islam has always been a subject at which orientalists point, they also criticize the status of women in the Sunnah.
It is unfortunate that because of the lack of proper understanding of the Sunnah, the contexts in which the hadiths have been said and the true meaning of them, some Muslims take an apologetic attitude while others tend to opt for the easy one which is basically declaring such hadiths weak or un-authentic.
Both attitudes are defective and lack scholastic integrity. The first one demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Sunnah and an attempt to justify it as if we are guilty of saying these utterances. The second one is a quick and easy way of dropping authenticity from authentic narrations without legal bases.
With these two approaches, there will always be a problem and we will never get out of the labyrinth, but why? Because, in our approach of the Sunnah, we deal with the texts of the Sunnah as individual texts, not realizing that they relate to each other closely and judge each other precisely.
Amidst all these confusions, I believe that the following points should be considered when dealing with the Sunnah of the Prophet:
- Verifying the authenticity of the hadith and realizing what scholars of authentication have said about it;
- Reading the hadith in its historical context and understanding the purpose for which it was said;
- Trying to get a close-to-original understanding of the text. That is, attempting to understand it the way the Companions of the Prophet understood it;
- Making sure if the hadith is general or specific and this makes a big difference in understanding the hadith itself. This will be based on the historical context and purpose of the hadith;
- Bringing into mind all other hadiths that relate or serve as an explanation to this hadith;
- Doing all this with an objective attitude, and not a fault-finding one, as fault-finders will normally end up causing more damage to themselves and the texts they are dealing with;
- Trusting the fact that the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet is perfect and preserved as it is an explanation of the Quran and therefore, we should not be apologetic or ashamed of anything in it; rather, we should be proud and show its beauty to others.
Now, if we would like to talk about women's status as depicted in the hadiths of the Prophet, we have to apply the above mentioned procedures to the texts that are apparently problematic. If applied well, we will find that the problem will vanish, simply because we will be dealing with such texts in the correct and proper way.
In fact, dealing with things in the improper way is enough to create as many problems as we may imagine. Even the most perfect texts or things in the world can be the most problematic and harmful if they are handled in the wrong way. If you give a child a computer and he does not know how to use it, he will simply destroy it or may even cause more danger to himself.
We should mention that the hadiths about women are not the only things that help in drawing an image about how Islam looks at women, because the Prophet's practice and behaviour with his wives is an actual practical guide to how a Muslim should treat his wife.
Besides, the Prophet's treatment of other ladies ranging from close relatives to strangers or members of the then emerging Muslim community, gives guidelines as well on how things as such should happen.
The Prophet never commanded any of his wives to prostrate to him, simply because what he was talking about in the hadith is basically a metaphor of speech which is very well-known to Arabs at his time as referring to something non-material in a way of exaggeration.
Let me give an example of this; when a person for instance wants to say that there were so many people around him, he can simply depict this number by saying: 'they were a hundred thousand', in which case the hearer will understand that he refers to their great number rather than their exact number.
Therefore, by means of metaphor, the Prophet wanted to show how strong the relation between a husband and his wife is; and that each one of them should be committed to the other and their relation should be based on love and dedication.
To exemplify how strong this relation is, the Prophet used this metaphor. If it was possible for someone, out of love, to prostrate in front of someone, it would have been the woman. This does not mean that a woman will be prostrating; rather, it is a way of showing how strong the relation between the couple is. And definitely a man also metaphorically prostrates to his wife by dedicating his whole being to supporting her, taking care of her and protecting her against life's ups and downs.
If love is strong and deep between the husband and the wife, each of them will love to sacrifice his or her life and whole being for the other, so prostration will not even be mentioned because it is too small.
One final word remains; we need to look at the life example of the relation of the Prophet with his family and bring this into life again. When this happens, I do not think we will be caring about who is prostrating to whom, but we will realize that it is more than this. When love is deep, anything else will be easy.
I hope this answers your question.
Salam and please keep in touch.
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