Islam, Culture and women

Islam, Culture and Women
by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

How can anyone justify Islam’s treatment of women, when it imprisons
Afghans under blue shuttlecock burqas and makes Pakistani girls marry
strangers against their will?

How can you respect a religion that forces women into polygamous
marriages, mutilates their genitals, forbids them to drive cars and
subjects them to the humiliation of “instant” divorce? In fact, none of
these practices are Islamic at all.

Anyone wishing to understand Islam must first separate the religion from
the cultural norms and style of a society. Female genital mutilation is
still practised in certain pockets of Africa and Egypt, but viewed as an
inconceivable horror by the vast majority of Muslims. Forced marriages
may still take place in certain Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi
communities, but would be anathema to Muslim women from other backgrounds.

Indeed, Islam insists on the free consent of both bride and groom, so
such marriages could even be deemed illegal under religious law.

A woman forbidden from driving a car in Riyadh will cheerfully take the
wheel when abroad, confident that her country’s bizarre law has nothing
to do with Islam. Afghan women educated before the Taliban rule know
that banning girls from school is forbidden in Islam, which encourages
all Muslims to seek knowledge from cradle to grave, from every source
possible.

The Koran is addressed to all Muslims, and for the most part it does not
differentiate between male and female. Man and woman, it says, “were
created of a single soul,” and are moral equals in the sight of God.
Women have the right to divorce, to inherit property, to conduct
business and to have access to knowledge.

Since women are under all the same obligations and rules of conduct as
the men, differences emerge most strongly when it comes to pregnancy,
child-bearing and rearing, menstruation and, to a certain extent, clothing.

Some of the commands are alien to Western tradition. Requirements of
ritual purity may seem to restrict a woman’s access to religious life,
but are viewed as concessions. During menstruation or postpartum
bleeding, she may not pray the ritual salah or touch the Koran and she
does not have to fast; nor does she need to fast while pregnant or nursing.

The veiling of Muslim women is a more complex issue. Certainly, the
Koran requires them to behave and dress modestly – but these strictures
apply equally to men. Only one verse refers to the veiling of women,
stating that the Prophet’s wives should be behind a hijab when his male
guests converse with them.

Some modernists, however, claim that this does not apply to women in
general, and that the language used does not carry the textual
stipulation that makes a verse obligatory. In practice, most modern
Muslim women appreciate attractive and graceful clothes, but avoid
dressing provocatively.

What about polygamy, which the Koran endorses up to the limit of four
wives per man? The Prophet, of course, lived at a time when continual
warfare produced large numbers of widows, who were left with little or
no provision for themselves and their children.

In these circumstances, polygamy was encouraged as an act of charity.
Needless to say, the widows were not necessarily sexy young women, but
usually mothers of up to six children, who came as part of the deal.

Polygamy is no longer common, for various good reasons. The Koran states
that wives need to be treated fairly and equally – a difficult
requirement even for a rich man. Moreover, if a husband wishes to take a
second wife, he should not do so if the marriage will be to the
detriment of the first.

Sexual intimacy outside marriage is forbidden in Islam, including sex
before marriage, adultery or homosexual relationships. However, within
marriage, sexual intimacy should be raised from the animal level to
sadaqah (a form of worship) so that each considers the happiness and
satisfaction of the other, rather than mere self-gratification.

Contrary to Christianity, Islam does not regard marriages as “made in
heaven” or “till death do us part”. They are contracts, with conditions.
If either side breaks the conditions, divorce is not only allowed, but
usually expected. Nevertheless, a hadith makes it clear that: “Of all
the things God has allowed, divorce is the most disliked.”

A Muslim has a genuine reason for divorce only if a spouse’s behaviour
goes against the sunnah of Islam – in other words, if he or she has
become cruel, vindictive, abusive, unfaithful, neglectful, selfish,
sexually abusive, tyrannical, perverted – and so on.

In good Islamic practice, before divorce can be contemplated, all
possible efforts should be made to solve a couple’s problems. After an
intention to divorce is announced, there is a three-month period during
which more attempts are made at reconciliation.

If, by the end of each month, the couple have resumed sexual intimacy,
the divorce should not proceed. The three-month rule ensures that a
woman cannot remarry until three menstrual cycles have passed – so, if
she happens to be pregnant, the child will be supported and paternity
will not be in dispute.

When Muslims die, strict laws govern the shares of property and money
they may leave to others; daughters usually inherit less than sons, but
this is because the men in a family are supposed to provide for the
entire household.

Any money or property owned by women is theirs to keep, and they are not
obliged to share it. Similarly, in marriage, a woman’s salary is hers
and cannot be appropriated by her husband unless she consents.

A good Muslim woman, for her part, should always be trustworthy and
kind. She should strive to be cheerful and encouraging towards her
husband and family, and keep their home free from anything harmful
(haram covers all aspects of harm, including bad behaviour, abuse and
forbidden foods).

Regardless of her skills or intelligence, she is expected to accept her
man as the head of her household – she must, therefore, take care to
marry a man she can respect, and whose wishes she can carry out with a
clear conscience. However, when a man expects his wife to do anything
contrary to the will of God – in other words, any nasty, selfish,
dishonest or cruel action – she has the right to refuse him.

Her husband is not her master; a Muslim woman has only one Master, and
that is God. If her husband does not represent God’s will in the home,
the marriage contract is broken.

What should one make of the verse in the Koran that allows a man to
punish his wife physically? There are important provisos: he may do so
only if her ill-will is wrecking the marriage – but then only after he
has exhausted all attempts at verbal communication and tried sleeping in
a separate bed.

However, the Prophet never hit a woman, child or old person, and was
emphatic that those who did could hardly regard themselves as the best
of Muslims. Moreover, he also stated that a man should never hit “one of
God’s handmaidens”. Nor, it must be said, should wives beat their
husbands or become inveterate nags.

Finally, there is the issue of giving witness. Although the Koran says
nothing explicit, other Islamic sources suggest that a woman’s testimony
in court is worth only half of that of a man. This ruling, however,
should be applied only in circumstances where a woman is uneducated and
has led a very restricted life: a woman equally qualified to a man will
carry the same weight as a witness.

So, does Islam oppress women?

While the spirit of Islam is clearly patriarchal, it regards men and
women as moral equals. Moreover, although a man is technically the head
of the household, Islam encourages matriarchy in the home.

Women may not be equal in the manner defined by Western feminists, but
their core differences from men are acknowledged, and they have rights
of their own that do not apply to men

English convert to Islam, Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, is the author of over
thirty books on Islam and other subjects.

Email: Ruqa…@aol.com
Website:  http://members.aol.com/Ruqaiyyah

 

Islam, Culture and Women
by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

How can anyone justify Islam’s treatment of women, when it imprisons
Afghans under blue shuttlecock burqas and makes Pakistani girls marry
strangers against their will?

How can you respect a religion that forces women into polygamous
marriages, mutilates their genitals, forbids them to drive cars and
subjects them to the humiliation of “instant” divorce? In fact, none of
these practices are Islamic at all.

Anyone wishing to understand Islam must first separate the religion from
the cultural norms and style of a society. Female genital mutilation is
still practised in certain pockets of Africa and Egypt, but viewed as an
inconceivable horror by the vast majority of Muslims. Forced marriages
may still take place in certain Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi
communities, but would be anathema to Muslim women from other backgrounds.

Indeed, Islam insists on the free consent of both bride and groom, so
such marriages could even be deemed illegal under religious law.

A woman forbidden from driving a car in Riyadh will cheerfully take the
wheel when abroad, confident that her country’s bizarre law has nothing
to do with Islam. Afghan women educated before the Taliban rule know
that banning girls from school is forbidden in Islam, which encourages
all Muslims to seek knowledge from cradle to grave, from every source
possible.

The Koran is addressed to all Muslims, and for the most part it does not
differentiate between male and female. Man and woman, it says, “were
created of a single soul,” and are moral equals in the sight of God.
Women have the right to divorce, to inherit property, to conduct
business and to have access to knowledge.

Since women are under all the same obligations and rules of conduct as
the men, differences emerge most strongly when it comes to pregnancy,
child-bearing and rearing, menstruation and, to a certain extent, clothing.

Some of the commands are alien to Western tradition. Requirements of
ritual purity may seem to restrict a woman’s access to religious life,
but are viewed as concessions. During menstruation or postpartum
bleeding, she may not pray the ritual salah or touch the Koran and she
does not have to fast; nor does she need to fast while pregnant or nursing.

The veiling of Muslim women is a more complex issue. Certainly, the
Koran requires them to behave and dress modestly – but these strictures
apply equally to men. Only one verse refers to the veiling of women,
stating that the Prophet’s wives should be behind a hijab when his male
guests converse with them.

Some modernists, however, claim that this does not apply to women in
general, and that the language used does not carry the textual
stipulation that makes a verse obligatory. In practice, most modern
Muslim women appreciate attractive and graceful clothes, but avoid
dressing provocatively.

What about polygamy, which the Koran endorses up to the limit of four
wives per man? The Prophet, of course, lived at a time when continual
warfare produced large numbers of widows, who were left with little or
no provision for themselves and their children.

In these circumstances, polygamy was encouraged as an act of charity.
Needless to say, the widows were not necessarily sexy young women, but
usually mothers of up to six children, who came as part of the deal.

Polygamy is no longer common, for various good reasons. The Koran states
that wives need to be treated fairly and equally – a difficult
requirement even for a rich man. Moreover, if a husband wishes to take a
second wife, he should not do so if the marriage will be to the
detriment of the first.

Sexual intimacy outside marriage is forbidden in Islam, including sex
before marriage, adultery or homosexual relationships. However, within
marriage, sexual intimacy should be raised from the animal level to
sadaqah (a form of worship) so that each considers the happiness and
satisfaction of the other, rather than mere self-gratification.

Contrary to Christianity, Islam does not regard marriages as “made in
heaven” or “till death do us part”. They are contracts, with conditions.
If either side breaks the conditions, divorce is not only allowed, but
usually expected. Nevertheless, a hadith makes it clear that: “Of all
the things God has allowed, divorce is the most disliked.”

A Muslim has a genuine reason for divorce only if a spouse’s behaviour
goes against the sunnah of Islam – in other words, if he or she has
become cruel, vindictive, abusive, unfaithful, neglectful, selfish,
sexually abusive, tyrannical, perverted – and so on.

In good Islamic practice, before divorce can be contemplated, all
possible efforts should be made to solve a couple’s problems. After an
intention to divorce is announced, there is a three-month period during
which more attempts are made at reconciliation.

If, by the end of each month, the couple have resumed sexual intimacy,
the divorce should not proceed. The three-month rule ensures that a
woman cannot remarry until three menstrual cycles have passed – so, if
she happens to be pregnant, the child will be supported and paternity
will not be in dispute.

When Muslims die, strict laws govern the shares of property and money
they may leave to others; daughters usually inherit less than sons, but
this is because the men in a family are supposed to provide for the
entire household.

Any money or property owned by women is theirs to keep, and they are not
obliged to share it. Similarly, in marriage, a woman’s salary is hers
and cannot be appropriated by her husband unless she consents.

A good Muslim woman, for her part, should always be trustworthy and
kind. She should strive to be cheerful and encouraging towards her
husband and family, and keep their home free from anything harmful
(haram covers all aspects of harm, including bad behaviour, abuse and
forbidden foods).

Regardless of her skills or intelligence, she is expected to accept her
man as the head of her household – she must, therefore, take care to
marry a man she can respect, and whose wishes she can carry out with a
clear conscience. However, when a man expects his wife to do anything
contrary to the will of God – in other words, any nasty, selfish,
dishonest or cruel action – she has the right to refuse him.

Her husband is not her master; a Muslim woman has only one Master, and
that is God. If her husband does not represent God’s will in the home,
the marriage contract is broken.

What should one make of the verse in the Koran that allows a man to
punish his wife physically? There are important provisos: he may do so
only if her ill-will is wrecking the marriage – but then only after he
has exhausted all attempts at verbal communication and tried sleeping in
a separate bed.

However, the Prophet never hit a woman, child or old person, and was
emphatic that those who did could hardly regard themselves as the best
of Muslims. Moreover, he also stated that a man should never hit “one of
God’s handmaidens”. Nor, it must be said, should wives beat their
husbands or become inveterate nags.

Finally, there is the issue of giving witness. Although the Koran says
nothing explicit, other Islamic sources suggest that a woman’s testimony
in court is worth only half of that of a man. This ruling, however,
should be applied only in circumstances where a woman is uneducated and
has led a very restricted life: a woman equally qualified to a man will
carry the same weight as a witness.

So, does Islam oppress women?

While the spirit of Islam is clearly patriarchal, it regards men and
women as moral equals. Moreover, although a man is technically the head
of the household, Islam encourages matriarchy in the home.

Women may not be equal in the manner defined by Western feminists, but
their core differences from men are acknowledged, and they have rights
of their own that do not apply to men

English convert to Islam, Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, is the author of over
thirty books on Islam and other subjects.
Website:  http://members.aol.com/Ruqaiyyah

Read other articles by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood on this site here
http://www.islamfortoday.com/ruqaiyyah.htm

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