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Women in Islam

Muslim Women Education: Look at the Wider Picture

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 May 2014 04:34

Empowering Women, Strengthening Societies
Becoming an educated Muslim does involve reading, writing and comprehension, but it includes having good manners.

Muslim women and their rights to education is one of the most hotly debated topics when it comes to the religion; from both sides, from within, and almost always from those who are less informed.

Sometimes I become quite cut off from the realities of these debates, because I was raised in several communities (both Muslim and non-Muslim) that did not discriminate between boys and girls when it came to education.

Even now, I live in a Muslim-majority country where Muslim girls are encouraged to work towards tertiary education as much as Muslim boys.

In fact, girls outnumber boys at tertiary level and many women hold high positions in public and private offices. The plight for education is also highly competitive and in our pluralistic, multi-cultural, multi-faith country, all children, girls and boys (regardless of their religion or race), are encouraged to study hard in school and do well at university level in order to be successful.

I don’t think there is much discrimination between boys and girls from the society as a whole and even if there is, it would be based on individual families’ preferences and opinions about whether their daughters are as deserving as their sons when it comes to being provided the opportunities for education.

So when I come across the odd article or comment that blatantly talks about Muslim girls being oppressed, left unlearned and forced to be slaves in the kitchen, I often find that it is written by someone who dislikes Islam enough to associate such beliefs or practices with the religion. And I normally have to take a step back in order to understand where the writer is coming from. Is it really true that this person has studied Islam enough to unravel such strong viewpoints, or is this based on observation of a certain culture, community or country that he or she has immediately associated with the religion, without it being substantiated by Islam in any way?

Islam has sanctioned the right for education for all Muslim women. If some Muslims don’t believe in allowing their daughters to go to school, to learn to read, to participate in debates, to pursue their Master degrees, to succeed in their respective careers, then it’s the beliefs and practices of such Muslims and not Islam. It can be confusing, but it is important to remember that Islam has honored women in ways that society can’t – and Islam is a comprehensive way of life, that is not necessarily followed by Muslims.

But at the Same Time, What is Education?

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) relays that the best parents are those who provide the best of education

This is quite a complex article to write, because in Islam, education encompasses a whole lot more than just going to school, sitting for exams and moving on to University before jumpstarting a career. Becoming an educated Muslim, yes, does involve reading, writing and comprehension, but it also includes having good manners – and it is obligatory upon both parents to educate both sons and daughters in such a holistic manner. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) relays that the best parents are those who provide the best of education, which includes the best of manners. (Al-Bukhari)

When we look at our educated world today, how many school-going children or university graduates demonstrate good manners when interacting with others? How many adults – who have paved their lucrative career paths – are able to engage in ethical transactions at all times to honor their clients, stakeholders and employees, for the sake of God?

Having a university degree, or two – or completing a dissertation in a very complex scientific field is a formal recognition to illustrate the extent to which a person has studied, but true education lies in good character, moral upbringing, experience (and the ability to learn from experience), emphatic interpersonal relations with others, and the strong desire to please the Lord, alongside the written certificate. And nowadays with the advent of information exchange via the internet, laced with free classes, education doesn’t even have to be written on paper to be recognized. Similarly, co-op oriented activities, apprenticeship and other forms of experience (like volunteering in a soup kitchen) are all shapes and sizes that emerge from different forms of education. There is just so much more to learning than getting that piece of qualification.

In no way am I advising anyone to skip school and frolic on the streets, but we need to take a step back and look at what the whole debate entails. Is school really doing a service to children if teenagers are leaving the institution after a few years worth of alcohol, drugs, and who knows, pre-marital relationships? Is it worth the fuss when a seventeen year old spends her late nights tending to a baby alone, while juggling the thought of exams? Or is it the drift-racing during the freshmen year of college and frat parties that are so important, and should not be missed?

All Muslim girls and women have the right of education - and Islam does place emphasis on garnering knowledge for both boys and girls - but pitting one side of the debate against the other is not going to quantify it, as there is so much more to education in Islam than just saying a girl who does not get into University is being oppressed.

Getting to Know the Women of the Past

A good way to understand what education is in Islam, and how educated women really were (and many still are), is to look at those who followed the Quran closely. Remember, Islam is perfected through the Quran and the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims are still learning how to follow both; don’t get confused.

The first woman who embraced Islam was Khadijah bint Khuwalid, wife of Prophet Muhammad. She was a rich merchant and a lady of honor who had been widowed twice already. After Islam came to her, she embraced it whole-heartedly, even while being a successful business woman and mother. She renounced her worldly belongings and gave to the poor for the sake of God. Little is known of her during her life, except that she was an educated woman who was loyal to God and His Messenger, and continued to educate her own four daughters and keep them on the Straight Path. Because of this, amongst her many sacrifices, she and her youngest daughter, Fatimah, are recognized as two of the most perfect women in Islam – a recognition given by God alone. That’s really quite a certificate to receive.

Such kindness and empathy are rarely seen in a self-centred, modern world

The other women around the Messenger, most prominently, Prophet Muhammad’s later wives, were all recognized for one reason or the other. They weren’t just random women who were chosen by him to marry, rather the Prophet married them through God’s directive, and each one of them is part and parcel of true education in Islam.

His first wife, after Khadijah’s passing, was Sawda, and Sawda was known for her exemplary domesticated skills. She was also kind and patient, a very motherly person who helped her new husband raise his children. Such kindness and empathy are rarely seen in a self-centred, modern world that sometimes talks down upon women who wish to stay at home to honor their duties as wives and mothers. She was also selflessly happy to give up her time with the Prophet to allow him to spend more time with Aisha, who needed him more.

Aisha was known for her intellectual prowess and leadership qualities that she used to continue spreading the message of Islam through her numerous narrations of Hadith. Only someone who was nurtured and cared for would be able to compile such detailed documentation about the Prophet’s life.

Zaynab, daughter of Jahsh – who also came from the proud Quraysh clan - was known as the “Mother of the Poor” and devoted her time, energy and funds to helping those who were less fortunate. There was never a moment where Zaynab would sit back easily while there were children in need or families that were starving.

Safiyyah, daughter of Huyayy, chose to embrace Islam and marry the Prophet and in doing so, she mitigated the problems between the Muslim and Jewish community during the time. She committed her time in service to improve Muslim-Jewish relations during her time, and she did this by demonstrating the best of manners, through her devotion to God and her loyalty towards her husband.

Umm Salama was another wife who was known for her wisdom and intellect, and it was through her wise advise that the Prophet (peace be upon him) – leader of the time – was able to make better decisions and solve some difficult problems. She was an important confidante at times when her husband needed a consultant of integrity.

Hafsa daughter of Omar was also known for her integrity and strictness and was given the responsibility of protecting the Quran when it was transcribed into print after the Prophet’s demise.

During the time of the Prophet, institutionalized schools and universities didn’t exist, but the young girls and women of the time represented half of the community and worked together with their male counterparts for the betterment of society. Many of the wives were teachers in their own right, but their distinct personalities and unique qualities, celebrated the grand diversity of Muslim women who could all contribute to Islam in their own special ways. Other women of the companions fought in battle - like Nusaybah was known to have protected the Prophet when he was injured during the battle of Uhud, and there were always women in the marketplace, operating as auditors even and speaking up during the Prophet’s sermons.

The above illustration puts Muslim women in the light of honor and credibility, those who were readily available and willing to please God. You need a holistic education in order to this, and Islam sanctions this, calling all parents to have their daughters educated in a comprehensive and cohesive manner, not just their sons. Education isn’t just about going to school and graduating from University. What use is it if children go through the system and get a degree only to emerge as an unethical doctor or unscrupulous lawyer?

So when the hot debate of whether Muslim girls are entitled to an education, one will always wonder how the writer was influenced to shape such a viewpoint – obviously influences not based on Islam. Furthermore, one should also ask what true education entails. It’s not just about school, or exams or university courses – there is so much more to being an educated person than what “modern education” entails today.

And Islam encourages all of the above: for both boys and girls; our sons and daughters.

First published in November 2012
Related Links:
How Are Muslim Women Perceived in the West?
Women in Islam: Interview with Dr. Ingrid Mattson
Live Within the Limits of Your Day
The Story of My Struggle to Win Back My Faith
Muslim Women Pioneering Change (Sarah Joseph)
Maria Zain is freelance writer by night and a homeschooling mother of four by day. She currently writes for an assortment of publications but has a wish to dedicate more of her time to charitable work, while championing the message of Islam through her work.

Muslim Women: Productive & Positive in Every Role

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 April 2014 08:16

Understanding Women in Islam:
By Sadaf Farooqi
Freelance Writer- Pakistan
Wise and secure Muslim men and women scrupulously avoid gender-based debates. They know that, simply put, they need each other.

Over half of mankind comprises of the so-called ‘fairer gender’; girls and women. Under the laws of Islam, women emerge from their homes on the basis of necessity, and don modest outward attire (hijab) whenever they do.

By not being allowed by Islamic Law to occupy leadership positions in governance, they are supposed to keep their homes as their focus and prime domain of activity, much to the chagrin of contemporary secular feminists and the joy of patriarchal chauvinistic misogynists.

But does this really mean that Muslim women are always out of the limelight and in the background, even if they are passively achieving ‘silent  miracles’ inside every home and family?

Does it mean that the actions of righteous Muslim women cannot have a global impact? That they cannot make credible and praiseworthy achievements? That they cannot leave behind a legacy that influences thousands if not millions of men and women in the generations to come?

The different roles that Muslim women play in the overall scheme of things are foundational, and contribute significantly, if not crucially, towards making human society function productively and optimally as a whole.

First, Let’s Drop the Gender Wars

The unique physical, biological and physiological attributes of each gender, with its associated strengths and weaknesses, roles and responsibilities, rights and restrictions, are all part of a test from Allah.

It is prudent to avoid believing and saying that one gender has it better than the other in any way, e.g. to say that men ‘have it easier’ in this world just because they are superior in strength, occupy mainstream leadership positions, and apparently enjoy more physical freedoms than women do, is a very limited way of looking at reality.

Similarly, it would be unwise to say that women ‘have it easier’ in this world just because they have been absolved from the responsibility of working, especially at hard labor jobs, to financially provide for their families.

Those who tend to make claims that constantly put one gender down and elevate the other in order to make it come out looking superior, are usually either misinformed, immature, very young in age, or are frantically searching for answers to their questions and doubts about their own identity and place in the world.

This is because, Allah has wisely used the words “.. because Allah has made some of them excel some of the other” when mentioning men as maintainers of women. That is, Allah did not mention either gender as excelling the other, but rather, hinted that some of them both excel the other in some ways.

Pillars of Support for Each Other

The reality is that each and every person in this world is born with their own unique set of trials

Wise and secure Muslim men and women scrupulously avoid gender-based debates. They know that, simply put, they need each other. They make each other happy. They fulfill and complete each other.

Allah-conscious Muslim women do not smirk or gloat smugly when their accompanying mahram men huff and puff as they lug and carry their heavy baggage for them whilst traveling, just because Allah has absolved them from such toils. They offer their ‘boys’ something to eat or drink, along with gentle words to get them to relax after their hard work.

Similarly, secure and Allah-conscious Muslim men avoid gloating and smirking with a sense of ‘male superiority’ when they behold a sobbing, emotionally distraught woman of their family blowing her lid on something trivial just because she is going through that time of the month. They empathize and offer her support. And they wipe her tears, whilst speaking loving words to comfort her.

The reality is that each and every person in this world is born with their own unique set of trials and pre-ordained provision. Admittedly, some have it harder than others, because Allah plans to compensate them in the next life, provided that they are patient with His decree.

The Inspiring Women of Islam

As I traverse my thirties, I become more and more thankful to Allah for having hitherto granted me enough life experience to be able to ‘see’ a variety of situations, and to see things in a different light than when I was young, less mature, and less experienced.

Being a woman, I interact more with my gender. I often see women in different roles, performing the different duties that Allah has placed upon their shoulders, either by chance or by conscious choice.

Many a time, one girl or woman might find herself performing different roles during the different stages of her life.

She might be an outgoing, intellectually invigorated, and a very studious young singleton, spending her youth at her parents’ house with her nose always in books. But after marriage, she might take on a role for some years that is so different, it makes her forget what it was like to even read a book!

Henceforth, when her children start growing up, she might find herself doing something totally new and different than what she had done for the previous two/three decades of her life. And so on.

The sisters who remain single, work full time, or get divorced, have certain privileges that married women do not. They often have more time and opportunities to interact with and contribute towards the greater community and society outside their home, as well as to care for their parents in old age with full, undistracted devotion.

In short, all women traverse a spectrum of lovely colors defining their roles, duties and responsibilities throughout the different stages of life, each one contributing its share towards the beautiful overall picture that they paint.

Thankfully, there are many female role models of Islam that a modern-day Muslim woman can emulate, depending upon the stage of life and unique personal circumstances that she finds herself in.

Aisha - The Intellectually Gifted Student and Teacher

And although Allah did not bless Aisha with any children, He did give her nieces and nephews

Are you a single Muslim girl, or a young divorcée with no children, with a love of books, reading, writing, studying, and teaching? Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr, is the example for you!

Although she was married once in her life, she got widowed at a very young age, at which most modern-day girls are only just preparing to go to college. Henceforth, she spent her life propagating the Deen (Religion) of Allah, especially the words and actions of her late husband, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The fact that her gifted and intellectually superior brain got to observe, learn from, and absorb the practical teachings, conduct and character of Prophet Muhammad during her young age, made her retain knowledge at a superlative level and to spread the message of Islam via teaching, well into her mature years.

And although Allah did not bless Aisha with any children, He did give her nieces and nephews through her sister Asma', who learned from her and helped spread the knowledge that she had gained.

Khadijah & Fatimah - Wife and Mother

Cooking, cleaning, enduring the pains of pregnancy and childbirth, breastfeeding, changing diapers, weaning, potty-training, nurturing, educating and raising children upon Islam; obeying their husbands and guarding their properties; maintaining the peaceful, cozy and loving environment of the home on a daily basis, year in and year out.

The women doing all this are the often unseen, unsung heroines behind the closed doors, drawn curtains, and four walls of every home in a residential neighborhood - the wives and mothers, without whose sacrifices we wouldn’t be who we are today.

All the successful men whom these women raise, educate, stand by, and support whilst staying away from the limelight themselves, wouldn’t be able to achieve what they do without the presence of these gentle, feminine pillars of support in their homes.

Khadijah bint Khuwaylid and her daughter Fatimah both performed this amazingly pivotal role: that of the loving, supportive, righteous wife and mother during their lives.

And just look at the achievements of the offspring whom they produced and raised!

Maryam & Hajar - Single Mother

Maryam bint `Imran was never married, but she was blessed with one child, whom she raised on a dwelling of higher ground irrigated with natural springs. Her son went on to become a Prophet of Allah as an adult, and endured trials and tribulations in the path of Allah with great fortitude.

Imagine the young Maryam and Hajar, raising their little boys alone

Maryam ‘lost’ her son for the rest of her life when Allah raised him up alive. Never married, having had only one child whom Allah raised up to the heavens, she was left alone again. How do you think she spent her time? What do you think she did now that she was ‘free’ of maternal responsibilities, and had no husband to spend her time with?

The Quran says: {..she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout.} (66:12)

No doubt, she spent the rest of her life in the devout worship of Allah.

Hajar, whose courage in the face of adversity all Muslims emulate during the performance of sa’y in every Umrah and Hajj, was also sequestered with her infant son according to Allah’s command, in an uninhabited, arid desert.

She raised him more or less alone during his childhood years, because Allah planned to convert the barren desert in which she was dwelling, into the hustling, bustling central city of worship for Muslims all around the world. Slowly, the place where she lived alone with her son started to get occupied by other families, because of the presence of the spring of Zamzam.

Imagine the young Maryam and Hajar, raising their little boys alone, enduring the hardships of single motherhood without a man beside them?

They had no husband/co-parent while raising their sons during early childhood. They led private, sequestered lives in their homes, very much socially isolated.

Conclusion: Avoid Debates, Stay Productive

There is a sad growing phenomenon in the online world: that of Muslims getting involved in public and often passive-aggressive debates about gender validation and empowerment.

Needless to say, it is prudent to scrupulously avoid such debates and arguments. Instead, focusing our collective energies towards spreading the enlightening knowledge of our Deen is the win-win situation.

Men and women are pillars of support and strength for each other. No matter what role a Muslim woman finds herself playing in life, she should remain positive and productive while it lasts, never undermining the positive impact that she has on everyone around her, including all the ‘boys’ in her family.

First published in November 2012
Related Links:
Marry a Born-Muslim or Revert?
The Story of Women in Islam
Unforgettable Love Story
Quitting Job For Kids; Will I Turn A Nobody?
Is Islam Unfair to Women? (Folder)
Sadaf Farooqi is a freelance writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She has a postgraduate master degree in Computer Science and a diploma in Islamic education. She has seven years of experience as a teacher of Islamic education courses for women and girls. She has an award winning blog called Sadaf's Space, and has written for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine, Saudi Gazette and Sadaf has also authored a book titled Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage.

Reflecting on the Quran: Traits of Righteous Women

Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 March 2014 08:40

Deep Reflections for Better Understanding Islam:
By Sadaf Farooqi
Freelance Writer- Pakistan
Whatever role a girl or woman finds herself in, Islam has provided her guidance for righteous behavior in the Quran and sunnah.

One of the most difficult questions to answer in the world right now, speaking of it primarily as a woman first and a writer next, is: “What are the traits of the righteous woman?”

Answers to this question can range from the volatile and controversial, to the completely shock-and-awe, “did-I-just-read-that-right?” variety, and admittedly, they all vary on the basis of the cultural background, gender, education, economic status and geographical region of the person answering the question.

Demure, servile, quiet, easily manipulated, docile, gullible, timid, cowardly, and restricted to the walls of her home?

Or, feisty, ambitious, confident, self-assured, opinionated, sharp-tongued, intelligent and a go-getter?

As individual opinions and rhetoric about women fly back and forth between the adherents of different schools of thought, and the followers of different movements and branches of contemporary human-rights-related activism, I suggest we all take a breather from our own logic and emotion-riddled thoughts, and turn to the Quran to find out what the desirable traits of a righteous woman are.

Who are the women whom Allah likes, and what qualities does He want them to possess?

And what behavior, attitudes and beliefs does He want them to harbor/display regarding men?

Women’s Different Roles

First of all, I want to point out the variety of roles a female human being adopts during the course of her life. As she weaves a beautiful web of family relationships, she touches the hearts of others with her love and care, and brings joy and merriment inside a home for all of its dwellers.

First, inevitably, during her childhood and youth, she is a daughter, granddaughter, and sister (perhaps also an aunt). As she blossoms into an adult, and desires to start a family of her own, she has to first become a wife. Further on, a mother, and eventually, a grandmother.

Whatever role a girl or woman finds herself in, Islam has provided her guidance for righteous behavior in the Quran and sunnah. However, in order for an entirely new family to be born and raised upon Islam, the most crucial role a woman plays is that of a wife.

Which is why the Quran provides special guidance regarding how a Muslim girl can go about fulfilling this pivotal role optimally. And this has to do a lot with how she treats her husband - the man whom Allah has designated as her guardian and leader.

Wives Are “Qaanitaat”

Does it mean that she cannot express her opinion?

The Arabic word “qaanit” means: the one who is constantly obedient.

The first quality that Allah mentions regarding righteous women in the role of “wife”, is that they are “qaanitat”. Please note that Allah uses the same word to describe one of the traits of all believing men and women in general, calling themqaaniteen”.

Now what does it practically mean for a wife to be a “qaanita” woman? Does it mean that she cannot express her opinion? That she cannot think independently? That she must always agree with what her husband says, even if he is blatantly wrong?

For the answer to that, take a look at the sunnah, because it is well known that the Prophet was the walking-talking Quran. Study how the Prophet’s wives behaved in his presence.

Did they openly express their feelings/opinions, gain and impart knowledge, have meaningful conversations with him, share rich life experiences (including travels) with him, and give him counsel when he was depressed?

Or did they just serve him mutely like valets?

If you are in a position of authority and responsibility over anyone, be it an employee, a younger sibling, or an offspring, ask yourself one question: how will you want them to express disagreement with you? Will you want them to consistently disobey you, even in small matters? Will you like it if they snap back at you?

Or will you prefer that they express their disagreement maturely and with respect, at the appropriate time, using an appropriate tone?

obedience doesn’t mean relinquishment of one’s individuality or independent thinking

Just like all the systems of the world would stop functioning smoothly if subordinates were to start disobeying their superiors in trivial matters, so would all the homes of the world begin to show chaos and dissension were wives to start disobeying their husbands.

Qaanitah women are not unconditionally obedient to their husbands, however.

Their unswerving, unconditional obedience and “qunoot”, just like that of any other Muslim (including their husbands), remains first and foremost towards Allah.

What righteous women are ordained to do is to accept their husbands as their superiors, and to obey them as much as they can, just like their husbands accept their bosses’ superiority at their job, and remain submissive and obedient towards them in order to avoid getting fired.

However, as we all know, obedience doesn’t mean relinquishment of one’s individuality or independent thinking. It just means (for a wife), outwardly remaining subservient by obeying the husbands for the sake of Allah, and willingly letting them ‘take the wheel of the car’ (figuratively speaking), offering advice/reprimand in a gentle and appropriate manner, when needed.

It is the single best, easiest and most effective way for a married woman to ensure that her husband treats her well, and never abuses her. Allah, in His infinite wisdom, has actually given wives the secret formula for ensuring that their men treat them well: stroke his ego, obey him, and be subservient towards him.

she obeys her leader only because Allah has ordered her to.

However, it is extremely important for her to make her intention of obeying her husband, to be only for the sake of Allah, i.e. she obeys her leader only because Allah has ordered her to.

The same principle applies to the obedience of single and dependent young Muslims towards their parents; that of the dwellers of the ummah towards their leader (Caliph); as well as the obedience of all the members of a congregation at a masjid towards their imam.

All order, peace, harmony and tranquility would be lost from the ummah’s homes and family units if their leaders were disobeyed by their subordinates, just like it would be so at any of the other levels in society: corporate, political, or social.

The Mistreated Wife - Asiyah

The question arises, that if a wife were to always show docile obedience towards her husband, and if he is an evil-natured oppressor and transgressor who doesn’t fear Allah, will she not suffer in life as a result, because he will surely take advantage of her submissiveness and servility?

Many women also wonder: Isn’t such a high, superlative level of obedience to any created being, especially those husbands who do not fear Allah, going to lead to misery, low self-esteem, and low self-respect for a wife?

I doubt any husband could be more oppressive than Pharaoh. The Quran has testified that he was so arrogant, that he called himself the god of his people. He threatened to have all the sons of the enslaved children of Israel killed off if they dared to believe in the religion preached by Prophet Moses without his consent.

Allah quotes her example, as a beacon of emulation for all believers, not just women

Relevantly, Allah has asked believers to take Pharaoh’s wife as an example:

{And Allah sets forth, as an example to those who believe the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: “O my Lord! Build for me, in nearness to You, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those that do wrong.} (66:11)

Pharaoh’s wife became a Muslim, and consequently became the recipient of his torture. In the above verse, Allah quotes her example, as a beacon of emulation for all believers, not just women. Even Prophet Muhammad has mentioned the perfection reached by Asiyah.

Any righteous wife whose husband abuses and mistreats her, physically or emotionally, should turn to Allah with the same du’a that Asiyah made. She should beseech Allah to grant her a home near Him in Paradise, and to relieve her from the actions of her husband and of oppressive people.

If she patiently and steadfastly continues with this strategy, i.e. righteous actions (including obedience to her husband in all permissible matters despite his abuse of her) and du’a, Divine relief and help will come for her very soon, insha’Allah.

Meaning, either her husband will ‘miraculously’ change, become righteous, seek her pardon for his wrongdoing, and henceforth become very kind towards her. Or she will be freed from him (through death or divorce), and compensated with better conditions.

Or she will be martyred and granted direct admission to Paradise. Just like Asiyah.

The Virtuous Mother - Maryam

“What about us? We do not have husbands. We are not mothers. How should we achieve that lofty level...

Right after quoting the example of Asiyah, Allah quotes another example for all believers, that of Maryam bint `Imran (Mary).

It’s almost as if Allah is answering the question of those unmarried sisters, who might be wondering, “What about us? We do not have husbands. We are not mothers. How should we achieve that lofty level of righteousness that pleases Allah?”

It is true that not every woman of the Muslim ummah is meant to be a wife (such as Maryam) and/or a mother (such as Aisha bint Abi Bakr).

However, they can still strive to achieve taqwa at the level of perfection or excellence. Here is how:

{And Maryam the daughter of `Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into (her body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout (servants).} (66:12)

(1) Guarding her chastity,

(2) Testifying to the truth of Allah’s words, and all of His revelations (Divinely revealed books), and

(3) (Again) remaining “qaanit”, i.e. devoutly obedient towards Allah.

Notice that Maryam never had a husband, yet Allah calls her one of those who are “qaanit”. Which proves that we - men and women - should all try to inculcate the quality of “qunoot” inside us i.e. submissive obedience towards Allah.


Only insecure women defend, champion for, and ‘shout out from the rooftops’ their rights as females ‘equal’ to men. Women who are knowledgeable about the rights and respect afforded to them by Allah in His just and fair Shari’ah, do not feel the need to fight for their rights, or to emotionally pound out rhetoric on their keyboards in response to degrading remarks and disdainful comments made about them by men who enjoy pushing their buttons.

They are secure and confident in their feminine Islamic identity, and know that while many men today might gloat smugly about their ‘superior’ status as husbands and community leaders, the latter only implies more serious accountability and answerability for them in front of Allah in the Hereafter.

Yet, secure Muslim women do sometimes secretly smile at the fact that even the biggest chauvinist and misogynist was birthed and nurtured in his first years by a woman, and needs to go to his wife every few days, in order to satisfy his sexual urges, or to try to beget a “mini-me” version of himself, i.e. a son.

So what good is a superior without the subordinates whose services he depends upon to function productively?

First published in November 2012
Related Links:
The Story of Women in Islam
Lady Fatimah: The Prophet’s Daughter
Men are Protectors and Maintainers of Women
Is This How the Devil Misleads People?
Patience is Not Suffering in Silence
Sadaf Farooqi is a freelance writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She has a postgraduate master degree in Computer Science and a diploma in Islamic education. She has seven years of experience as a teacher of Islamic education courses for women and girls. She has an award winning blog called Sadaf's Space, and has written for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine, Saudi Gazette and Sadaf has also authored a book titled Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage.

The Story of Women in Islam

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 06:45

Clearing Misconceptions:
Men and women have been made in multi-folds of love and kindness, and both are complementary to each other – just as Adam and Eve were.

Women are the lesser gender. They have to obey their fathers and brothers, and then to obey their husbands.

They have weaker prospects to education as to their careers. They also inherit less and their testimonials are only half of men.

What is more, they are burdened with their monthly menstrual cycle, pregnancy, giving birth, and that horrendous six weeks or so of post-partum bleeding. Therefore, women are of lesser value than men.

It all started in Jannat Adn, more famously known as “the Gardens of Eden” (via mainstream narrations), when the forbidden fruit was consumed by the first two humans. The woman, in particular, was the culprit. She had fallen prey to Satan and in turn, seduced her husband, to turn away from their Lord, apparently, in vain plight of immortality. Nevertheless, both were shamed, she was blamed, and the two were banished onto earth.

The fall from Eden rests heavily upon her – and all of her kind of course – they (the women of earth) are always to be seen as cursed and punished, mostly through the pain and suffering of childbirth – and that is how it has always been, and that is how it will always be.

Does that story sound familiar?


In mainstream beliefs, women are often seen as seductresses, the adulteress (despite having a man to adulterate with), the one carrying the burden of sin, and the one who should endure the severe punishment. And unfortunately, many Muslims play second fiddle to these beliefs, despite the fact that it was never mentioned in the Quran.

Adam & Eve in The Quran

This is what is mentioned in the Quran:

{O Adam! You and your wife dwell in the garden and enjoy (its good things) as you (both) wish: but approach not this tree or you (both) run into harm and transgression.

Then Satan began to whisper suggestions to them, bringing openly before their minds all their shame that was hidden from them (before): he said, "Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you (both) should become angels or such beings as live forever. "And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser.

So by deceit he brought about their fall. When they tasted of the tree, their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: "Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was an avowed enemy unto you?"

They said: "Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls: If You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your mercy, we shall certainly be lost.

(Allah) said: "Get you (both) down with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling place and your means of livelihood for a time." He said: "Therein shall you (both) live and therein shall you (both) die; and from it shall you (both) be taken out (at last)..."

O you children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you in the same manner as he got your parents out of the garden, stripping them of their raiment to expose their shame: for he and his tribe watch you from a position where you cannot see them: We made the evil ones friends (only) to those without faith.} (Al-A’raf 7: 19-27)

Just because women are seen as child bearers of their children, this does not mean that they are inferior

As per the Quran and its tafsir (interpretation), God singled out Adam for being responsible over his family (his wife Hawwa’), and asked both of them to repent for their disobedience (in which, they both did). God specifically repeats “both” several times throughout the eight verses.

Then God forgave them and sent them down to the dwelling on earth in order to populate this life with believers to worship Him. Hawwa’ (Eve) was never singled out as the burden of sin, and in fact, her slate was wiped clean with no one to carry on her burden for her.

Yet despite this clear depiction in the Quran, the misogyny runs rampant in society and is supplemented by endless feeds through the media of cultures that treat women as the secondary gender.

But the problems are two-fold. In many Muslim countries, unfortunately, women are less entitled to education and career prospects and can be said to be treated unfairly. And in some “developed” Muslim countries, women who choose to stay at home and tend to their children are seen as uneducated and less worthy of those who run rapids, competing against men and many of these women “bring upon” less worthy societal treatment upon themselves, just because they prefer to be more family-centric, or purely just a mother.

Ironic, isn’t it?

While women in Islam have and always will have the same recognition in the eyes of God, as pious believers, when they demonstrate taqwa (God-consciousness), women are not identical replicates of men. And that is where the seeds of misconception get planted and are encouraged to grow.

Just because women are seen as child bearers of their children, this does not mean that they are inferior to the male gender, because they may struggle with bouts of pregnancy and birth. Islam has made it very clear that pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding are part and parcel of love and mercy that God has bestowed upon couples to celebrate an important part of worship towards God.

{It is He Who created you from a single person and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love). When they are united, she bears a light burden and carries it about (unnoticed). When she grows heavy, they both pray to Allah, their Lord (saying) "If You give us a goodly child, we vow we shall (ever) be grateful} (Al-A’raf 7: 189)

There is no need to believe that any of the above are forms of punishment, as women’s bodies have already been designed to conceive, carry and birth a baby, unlike man’s body. Similarly, since women are designed in such a manner, that male anatomy is designed in another manner, and one “advantage” a man has over a woman to be recognized as a martyr, is to be able to fight in war, as and when the need arises to protect his people and family, for the sake of Allah.

But women too can be recognized as martyrs – in the event she dies during a pregnancy, birth or during the time of post-partum bleeding. Both are rewarded with the same blessings, because they have set out to perform a worship that is dear to God as per their own design.

Complementary Not Identical

Once we accept the notion that men and women are not identical, but complementary, do not necessarily have equal rights, but enjoy full equity based on what is prescribed in the Quran and Sunnah, a lot of misconceptions are resolved.

female inherit less than men (because she has no obligation to spend on her family...

Rather than harp on mainstream beliefs that women are to be blamed for “misfortunes” in society, we will better understand why two female witnesses are equal to a man’s testimony (to complement multi-focal minds of women), why female inherit less than men (because she has no obligation to spend on her family, whereas a man is obliged to spend his inheritance on his wife, children and parents), and why being “just a mother” is perfectly fine (there is so much riding on the importance of mothering).

A young girl being obedient to her father or brothers or a wife being obedient to her husband is part and parcel of respecting the heavy responsibilities of men that have been bestowed upon them by God as guardians and protectors of women.

Whether misogyny is seen or injustice is served in a particular culture and does not jive with Quranic injunctions of the Prophetic Sunnah, then it falls upon culture to treat women with justice.

Throughout Islamic history, women were removed from harm, hardship, prejudice and discrimination, and even instant death. The Quran warned against female infanticide, female mutilation, preventing women from becoming learned teachers and scholars, preventing women from venturing into the masjid.

Prophet Muhammad spoke sternly about the rights of wives, and even the rights of a woman who was no longer to be wed to a man – to be released in divorce with kindness and dignity! Islam educates the mother on her responsibilities towards her children in family, so, in turn, she would always be honored as the next person to pay command to after God and Prophet Muhammad. Women used to work in the same playing field as men, as long as they were treated with dignity and respect and never eschewed their responsibilities towards their worship and families. The list goes on.

And it should go on because that is the story of the woman in Islam. She is the complementary being of the male form, she is the confidante and the companion. She is the mother who brings the next human being to the world in her own compassion and the one who feeds the future, through the natural sustenance that God has given her. She is the one who rocks the baby in the sling, and the one who rocks the world.

It is so easy to look at both genders and insist that one is seen as more superior to the other. But men and women have been made in multi-folds of love and kindness, and both are complementary to each other – just as Adam and Eve were – that is why there were two of them, in the beginning, in the Gardens of Eden. Both were asked to be deployed to the Earth, and both were asked to worship God and repent for their wrongdoings. If God has that mercy upon both of them – in equity – then it is only befitting to view gender equity as perfected in the Quran and Sunnah.

It just takes a little thought and plenty of reflection to understand how and why.

First published in February 2013.
Related Links:
Women in Islam: Interview with Dr. Ingrid Mattson
Challenges Faced by Western Muslim Women Converts
The Prophet and the Status of Women
Prophet Muhammad’s Respect and Love for Women
Tariq Ramadan on Islamic Feminism (Watch)
Maria Zain is freelance writer by night and a homeschooling mother of four by day. She currently writes for an assortment of publications but has a wish to dedicate more of her time to charitable work, while championing the message of Islam through her work.

Home and Work: A Win-Win Relation for Muslim Women

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 February 2014 09:34

Clearing Misconceptions:
Rights & Responsibilities in a Modern Context
By Sadaf Farooqi
Freelance Writer- Pakistan
working Woman-
Since working from home has become very common, it has allowed many women to keep busy doing productive work in their spare time.

“Can women work in Islam?”

This was the first question a smartly-dressed older lady asked me at a wedding once, soon after I came and sat at the same table as she.

It was clear that she directed the question at me because of my attire.

This question is a very generalized one and, truth be told, the answer is not a simple yes or no.

Notwithstanding the legal rulings and jurisprudential verdicts regarding the issue of Muslim women working outside the home, the fact remains that a combination of social, economic, demographic and cultural factors are bringing about a global revolution of sorts: there are more and more women now gaining a good education and joining the workforce, despite there being a considerable populace of men eligible and available for the job.

The question is now less about “Can she?” and more about, “Should she?”

What Is Work?

When you think of the term “working woman”, the picture that came to mind in the eighties and nineties was that of a no-nonsense, brusque, self-confident, and slightly bossy woman. A compulsive go-getter who, up at the crack of dawn every day, gets dressed in serious business attire with attaché case in hand, and hurriedly leaves her home while it’s still very early, to return well after sundown - haggard, cranky and tired.

En route, she drops her tots, if any, to school, daycare or at a relative’s home, either with or without a nanny. Judgmental housewives love to hate on her; call her a negligent mother, and accuse her of making her children grow up without her loving attention and care.

True, two decades ago, jobs and careers had different implications for women than they do now. Except for careers in primary education, there were fewer, if any, part-time career arrangements available for women that didn’t involve a tall corporate office building, a cubicle, a computer and a rigid 9-to-5 schedule with inflexible working hours.

Now work can entail “telecommuting”, or working from a remote location that is not on site in the office building.

Then, too, even if the women who worked as teachers came home from school earlier, usually along with their children, they would have to bring along piles of homework journals to check, stacks of test papers to grade, and lesson planners to fill for the next day.

Home: The New Workplace

Now, “work” has gained a different connotation altogether. Technology advances have facilitated instant global communication and digital transfer of data, disintegrating the traditional brick and mortar office building. Now work can entail “telecommuting”, or working from a remote location that is not on site in the office building. For many professionals, this location is a home office or desk.

As the digital age allows corporations to cut down operational costs including office space rentals, more and more professionals are now working ‘on the go’ using laptops, smart phones and tablets to perform most traditional managerial and clerical tasks: coordinating teams, writing and generating reports and presentations, managing international operations, convening ‘virtual’ meetings and interviews, and sharing hefty data files across geographical borders, all within seconds.

Nowadays, it is not uncommon for a company to operate exclusively in the digital realm, with an internationally diverse and culturally eclectic team of employees conjunctively working online from different locations across the globe. Many such online startups have gone on to sell for billions.

A part of this digital ‘diaspora’ of sorts, is the working-online-from-home female professional. She is a dutiful wife; a diligent mother of younglings with yet another baby on the way, and she is clicking and typing away on her laptop, curled up in sweatpants, as her toddler naps in the crib nearby, the laundry spins in the dryer, and the one-pot dinner simmers on the stove.

The New Implications of ‘Work’

All the above factors imply that, now, more and more women are working, not just as professionals employed by companies, but as entrepreneurs and sole-proprietors running their own businesses, and as freelancers.

Since working from home has become very common, it has allowed many women to keep busy doing productive work in their spare time. Once they’ve tackled their household responsibilities, and by mastering the modern-day ‘juggling act’ known as multitasking, they are able to not just be there for their families 24/7, run their homes smoothly, but to also bring in a second, and much welcome, income.

To top it off, most of them have burgeoning families too, i.e. they work their way through pregnancies, births and child-rearing, even without professional help, because now it has become more of a necessity for the household to get by - on a very basic, hand-to-mouth, non-luxurious level - on two incomes.

Bills, taxes, school fees, rents and prices are higher than ever, and whatever the cause behind it, the growing trend is that, despite their sincere intentions combined with hard work and consistent effort, many married men are just not making enough to make ends meet, as well as to collect leftover savings over time.

Men have been given the Islamic responsibility of providing for women, who are by default financially dependent on them.

Therefore, many contemporary Muslim husbands welcome their wife’s income, and appreciate her giving them a shoulder in heaving the household responsibility.

Islamic Obligation upon Men to Provide

Men have been given the Islamic responsibility of providing for women, who are by default financially dependent on them. Fathers, husbands, brothers have to provide for their women on a reasonable, non-extravagant basis.

This provision includes basic food, shelter, clothing and medical aides. In particular, the husband’s obligation to provide for his wife, even if she is wealthy, is binding according to Islam.

The question that arises is: What should be done in cases where the husband is genuinely trying his best to earn a sufficient living, but is not able to provide adequately for his wife and children in a manner that will enable them to get by comfortably (not lavishly)?

In such cases, when the wife is not motivated by greed or a desire to live luxuriously, she can try to work in order to supplement her husband’s income.

The Cons of Always Staying at Home

My personal opinion based upon a decade or so of observation, is that some women - primarily adult, married women in their thirties and forties, - can use their idle time, time which is left over after they have amply fulfilled their responsibilities as wives, mothers and homemakers, rather unwisely.

They either watch addictive, sensationalized drama serials, talk shows, or films on television, go shopping to lift their mood (now known as “retail therapy”) which inevitably makes them spend more money, read glossy ‘chick-lit’ or fashion magazines, excessively socialize with other housewives to kill time, or if nothing else, go to sleep for long hours, thus ending up living a slothful lifestyle that hampers mental and physical health.

Whereas many Muslim men, including modern muftis and scholars, openly condemn women working outside the home, they ignore or undermine the negative repercussions of idleness, ignorance, gossip, a mundane routine, engagement in trivialities, indulgence in time-wasting pastimes, and the resultant frustration and crankiness that women suffer whilst they remain cooped up inside their homes.

As an example of the ill effects of women having little to fill up their spare time, is the family misunderstandings and fights that are caused due to their idleness. Because they have nothing productive to do, they start to direct their attention towards others’ homes. Inquisitive about their close relatives, they start calling them up or visiting too often, just to enquire about their goings-on and giving unasked-for advice. This causes a gradual souring of relationships because of unnecessary interference, prying, and gossip.

Feeling depressed due to staying cooped up in the home also affects women’s marriages, because they end up feeling useless and unproductive, and take out their pent up anger on their husbands when the latter return home from work in the evenings. The depression and lethargy experienced by such women is further exacerbated in those geographical regions of the world, which have long, dreary winters in which daylight hours are short, and going out is hampered by heavy snow and the need to don numerous layers of thick clothing.
In order to maintain an optimum balance, a woman should always fear God and check her intention often and repeatedly.

In all such cases, if women find beneficial work that doesn’t involve any disobedience of God; doesn’t adversely affect their motherhood or household responsibilities, nor displeases their husbands, it is actually a win-win situation for everyone - primarily themselves.

Maintaining the Balance

Women belonging to any culture, ethnicity, religion or geographical location find it challenging to balance their household and maternity responsibilities with work. This is even truer in cases where they work only because they have to, or have a job / occupation that they do not enjoy.

In order to maintain an optimum balance, a woman should always fear God and check her intention often and repeatedly, to align it to completely focus on gaining God’s pleasure through her work. This will automatically keep her steadfast upon the right path and help her avoid neglecting any area in the holistic realm of her Shar’i obligations and responsibilities.

If the woman fears God, she will not allow her work to affect her Islamic obligations, such as offering the daily 5 prayers on time, fasting Ramadan annually, gaining Islamic knowledge, reciting Quran, and observing hijab from men - which, besides her clothing, also includes an invisible but palpable barrier that effectively impedes frank verbal communication and suggestive body language.

If she fears God, she will ensure that her work doesn’t allow her to undermine the dues of her own self, such as spirituality, sleep, health and nutrition. It will ensure that she remains wary of neglecting her husband’s rights, if she is married, especially in guarding herself at all times behind his back from anything he dislikes, solely out of fear of God (not fear of him).

It will also ensure that she, not only earns money through means that are 100% lawful, but also that she spends it frugally and wisely, in a manner that does not anger God, and that she saves some of it, diligently pays her yearly zakat (if it becomes due) and gives regular charity.


Sadly, we are witnessing a gradual disintegration of the institution of marriage around the world, even among the Muslim ummah. Combined with the skyrocketing cost of living and high numbers of young women reverting to Islam who dwell mostly in the West, and who, despite their sincere intentions to get married and desperate search for a spouse, remain single - the coming years will witness more and more working women to financially support themselves.

So instead of wondering whether Islam lets women work or not, our primary concern as a global ummah should be whether our women are being provided for and supported the way they should be?

First published in November 2012
Related Links:
On Female Role Models and ‘Islamic Feminism’ (Conference Overview)
Tips for New Muslims to Overcome Isolation
Muslim Women Education: Look at the Wider Picture
Prophet Muhammad: The Verdant Shade of Mercy
The Wise Leader (Peace be upon him)
Sadaf Farooqi is a freelance writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She has a postgraduate master degree in Computer Science and a diploma in Islamic education. She has seven years of experience as a teacher of Islamic education courses for women and girls. She has an award winning blog called Sadaf's Space, and has written for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine, Saudi Gazette and Sadaf has also authored a book titled Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage.

Hijab: What Is It All About? (Folder)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 08:32

Clearing Misconceptions:
Hijab, My Choice, My Right, and My Freedom
By Reading Islam Staff
Hijab is a personal choice to submit to God rather than the fashion of society. It is a choice to be beautiful to God, rather than to people.

The status of women in Islam is often the target of attacks in the secular media.

The hijab or the Islamic dress is cited by many as an example of the “subjugation” of women under Islamic law.

Yet, the truth is that 1400 years ago, Islam recognized women’s rights in a way that grants them the utmost protection and respect, a combination other systems fail to offer.

Islam granted them freedom of expression, political participation, business and financial rights, and asked the rest of society to hold them in high esteem and offer them due respect as mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters.

What is it about hijab? Why are Muslim women still wearing it?

How can a piece of cloth attract so much attention?


  All About Hijab
Just as praying and fasting sincerely for Allah's pleasure brings us closer to Him, so too does wearing hijab — if done with the same sincerity. 14368

What Is the True Meaning of Hijab?

Many people like to refer to hijab as a "personal choice". Yes. It is a personal choice. It is a personal choice to submit to God rather than the fashion of society. It is a choice to be beautiful to God, rather than to people.

   Hijab in the West
Hijab can not only be difficult in normal situations when you're living in a non-Muslim-majority country. How can a Muslim woman practice her religion in a Western country?14368
14368Hijab Between East and West

The value systems that relate to wearing a scarf in the Western world were eroded in the 19th century. Most countries could almost be part of the debate of ‘Welfare or Wealth’ with religion of the side of welfare.

   Misconceptions and Q&A on Hijab
How easy is it to wear hijab? What personal problems do women face with regards to hijab? Obviously with all that covering, these women don't get enough fun or sun, right?...14368
14368Hijab: An Insult to Unveiled Women?

My question is regarding the status of Muslim women. It is said in the holy Quran that Muslim women should cover themselves to guard their modesty... Now, should a non-Muslim woman get to know the reason Muslim women wear the Hijab? Wouldn't they feel looked down upon?

   New Muslims' First Hijab
In Islam, the dress code for both men and women is based on modesty. Women are required to wear the hijab, which is intended to cover all parts of the body except face and hands.14368
14368Embracing the Hijab

When making the decision to wear the hijab for the first time, you must also remember that Satan will be with you every step of the way whispering his insinuations to make you resist wearing it altogether. Don’t let Satan win.



Related Links:
After Returning to Hijab, She Shares her Story
Top 25 Qs & As on Hijab
Muslim Women Education: Look at the Wider Picture
Prophet Muhammad: The Verdant Shade of Mercy
The Wise Leader (Peace be upon him)

Where Are the Female Scholars of Islam? (Watch)

Last Updated on Friday, 03 May 2013 03:00

Clearing Misconceptions:
Interview with Dr. Shabir Ally
By Reading Islam Staff
There is nothing in the Quran that says for example that women are supposed to cook and that men are supposed to eat

Where are the women scholars of Islam, both past and present?

Were women involved in memorizing the Quran and reporting on Hadith and teaching others about Islam?

Does their absence from our awareness mean that they did not exist or that female scholars should not develop in the Islamic world?

And what can we do to cultivate female scholarship in our age?


Host: Sister Safiyyah Ally, of “Let The Quran Speak

Guest: Dr. Shabir Ally, President of The Islamic Information Center, Toronto, Canada

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Host: Welcome to Let the Quran Speak

Guest: Pleasure to be on

Host: Whenever we think of a Muslim scholar, we think of someone with a beard, a male obviously, but it seems like there were also female scholars in the past that we may not have known about?

Guest: Yes, there have been female scholars, and there is nothing in Islam that restricts scholarship to men, nothing in the Quran, nothing in the reported sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

On the contrary, there is every encouragement in both of these sources, the Quran and the Prophet’s reported sayings, for Muslims, both men and women, to seek knowledge, and of course if they seek knowledge then they will have knowledge to transmit to others and they will have something to teach others, and they will be known to be scholars.

Host: So why do you think today, even in the past, it seems like men have been the inheritors of knowledge?

Guest: I think this has been the situation with societies more broadly, Muslim and non-Muslim societies. Things have changed in many non-Muslim societies of recent times, especially with the rise of the Renaissance, the widespread availability of knowledge, and the emphasis on knowledge of all kinds. The world wars then plunged men into battle, and women had to take up much of industry in the meantime, and this gave rise to women’s suffrage movements, and women became a very active part of modern society in which men and women equally participate in all endeavors including the most important endeavor of the learning and teaching of knowledge.

Host: We know that even scientists in the past who received many high honors and are well known for their discoveries often had female assistants who did a lot of the work, and perhaps even discovered those things themselves, but it was not attributed to them. Is something similar to be found in the Islamic tradition?

Guest: We do have reports of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, on occasion being helped by his wives to see things more clearly. One such example is related to the occasion of his first revelation when the angel Gabriel visited him. The biography shows that he was quite confused, he didn’t know what to make of this incident, but when he reported this to his wife, Khadijah, she said that she had every confidence that God would not cause him to experience something evil or foul, and that there must be a better explanation.

She enquired of her cousin, Waraqa ibn Nawfal, who had some knowledge of the previous scriptures, and Waraqa ibn Nawfal explained to the Prophet, peace be upon him, that what he had seen – meaning the angel Gabriel – must have been the great law-giver that came to Moses previously, and therefore Muhammad, peace be upon him, must be a Prophet of God.

So this result, in which the Prophet peace be upon him now finds himself in ease with this new revelation, came as a result of his wife’s clear thinking and her guidance to him in this manner.

Lady Aishah: Half of the Knowledge

Aishah had a very important role in that some two thousand traditions are narrated on her authority

Host: Some of the other Prophet’s wives also had prominent roles, for example Aishah or Hafsa, can you talk a little bit about them?

Guest: As a teacher after the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, certainly Aishah had a very important role in that some two thousand traditions are narrated on her authority, traditions related to the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and compared with that there is only one companion of the Prophet, a male companion, who narrated more traditions than Aishah did, Abu Hurayrah, whose traditions number some three thousand.

Still we find that a male is more prominent in this respect than Aishah. But it is also noted that Aishah was one of the most important teachers in her time, such that some of the most prominent teachers are noted to have said that if they wanted to know something they would ask Aishah, and that some people put it in this way: that half of the knowledge was available to the men but the other half was available to Aishah.

But this statement should not be taken as a quantitative half being referenced here. What they meant was that the Prophet’s outdoor activities were well-known to his male companions, but his household activities, what he did indoors, was more known to his female relatives and especially his wives, and among them Aishah was most prominent.

Host: It seems like at the time of the Prophet there were some women who were prominent, but after that what happened? It seems like women sort of disappeared?

Guest: Yes, this must be due to the nature of early Muslim societies, and the way in which men and women were segregated and there were different expectations from men and women. In many traditional societies, not only in Muslim societies, women were expected to take care of the kids. Of course then and now women still have the disadvantage of having to be the one of going through pregnancy and breastfeeding and taking care of young children.

Taking care of young children is now changing in some respects in that men are given parental leave, and it is expected that men will be equal participants in caring for newly-borns. But if you think of many hundreds of years ago when this sort of thinking did not exist, naturally women were burdened with this sort of responsibility, that may have made it difficult for them to devote themselves fully to these enterprises, such as the specialization of knowledge, and hence men tended to become more prominent in this area.

Why Are Men Ahead in Knowledge?

Host: What about now, though? I mean now we find that amongst the common Muslims, the average everyday Muslims, men and women are pretty equal in term of how much knowledge they have, but in terms of the specialization of knowledge as you mentioned, it seems like men are leaps and bounds ahead?

we have to change some of this thinking, not necessarily all of it because some of this is good

Guest: Yes, there is still to be sure a greater emphasis in many Muslim situations for men to be more educated. If one has a son and a daughter, and one can only afford one of these two to attend university, then most likely the choice will be for the guy to attend the university, and for the girl to be more geared towards taking care of the family, being a good wife and a good mother. So this is thought to entail a different set of skills which could be learned easily at the home and does not require the bread-winning capacity which is thought to be the responsibility of the man.

So it’s the man that needs to get the education to be able to support his family, and so on. For women to be fully at par with men in receiving education and become as prominent as scholars in the Muslim circles, we have to change some of this thinking, not necessarily all of it because some of this is good, and we shouldn’t throw away the baby with the bath water, and go from one extreme to the other. Total seclusion of the women on one extreme, and on the other extreme total exposure. Or on the one extreme a woman being totally devoted to her family, and the other extreme no care for the family and we just do what we want as individuals.

Certainly between these extremes there is a balance in between and to achieve that balance we have to look at the basic teachings of our religion, and go back to the core principles. At the core, there is every indication that both men and women are required to learn the knowledge of Islam, and also to transmit that knowledge. Both men and women are required to care for their families, especially for their new-borns, and both men and women are responsible for the household chores and basic domestic responsibilities. There is nothing in the Quran that says for example that women are supposed to cook and that men are supposed to eat. Both men and women would be expected to cook and eat.

Host: But it’s more than that in fact. It’s being exposed to scholars, it’s having access to religious institutions that women don’t necessarily have, they don’t grow up in that sort of environment. 

Guest: This is why it is important that we change our thinking more systematically.

Host: They are not encouraged for example to be leaders, to give speeches, to teach others, that sort of thing.

Guest: Yes, if it is just expected that women would come to the mosque and stay in the back behind a divider or a curtain, and then all these public speeches be delivered by a man, then think of the impact this has on the young children growing up. The boys will be looking at the elders and the ones giving the speeches, the Imam and the sermonizers, and be thinking, yeah I want to become like this guy, so dad what do I have to do to become like this guy? And then the answer would be you have to learn this knowledge, and then the kid says yeah, that’s what I want to do.

Where does the girl fit in all of this? What’s the girl’s aspiration?

It seems no model is being provided here that would stimulate the little girls to acquire knowledge in the same way that the male kid would be stimulated. So it is important that we have venues in which women are speakers, they address large congregations, and they are able to disseminate knowledge and people respect them as scholars, they are able to give fatwa and religious verdicts, whether on-line or in-house, and that will at least give some inspiration to younger kids to want to be like these models, and to acquire the knowledge that will get them there.

Host: Alright, thank you for that brother Shabir

Guest: You’re welcome.

Watch the full interview with Dr. Shabir Ally:

Related Links:
Muslim Women Education: Look at the Wider Picture
Yasmin Mogahed on the Empowerment of Women (Watch)
Prophet Muhammad’s Respect and Love for Women
Muslim Women Pioneering Change (Sarah Joseph)
Women in Islam: Interview with Dr. Ingrid Mattson