Yousef Estes is a wonderful teacher who was a previous priest. This is part one of a speech on women and men in Islam. His grasp of Islamic knowledge is fantastic and you may see more of his work at www.islamhouse.com
part two from Yousef Estes, women and men in Islam.
Equality of Men and Woman in Islam, and their complementary nature to one another
In one sense, equality between men and women is possible and reasonable because they are both human, with similar souls, brains, hearts, lungs, limbs, etc. In another sense, equality between men and women is impossible and an absurdity due to their natural differences in physical, mental, emotional and psychological qualities, inclinations and abilities. Between these two we must tread to illuminate how they are equal, and how they are complimentary.
If total equality between all members of the same gender is impossible due to natural differences in strengths and other qualities, regardless of whether the gender is masculine or feminine, then it is definitely impossible between the two genders. Allah, the Exalted and Almighty, says in the Glorious Qur’an:
(And of everything We have created pairs, that you may remember (the Grace of Allah).)
Even atoms exhibit this dual quality with inter-related and complementary roles played by the positive and negative particles and ions, yet each is an integral part of the whole system of the so called binary basis of all life. Most living beings have male and female sexes for reproduction. As the science of biology teaches us, all mammals have similar traits in their molecular and glandular structures that determine differences in gender. These basic physical, psychological and sexual traits have their definite effects on other spheres of life.
It is natural for a man to need and find fulfillment with a woman and for a woman with a man, since they are created one from the other and for one another. They both are inseparably bound to each other. Neither can they find fulfillment except when in the company of the other as legal and honorable mate and spouse, as Allah (The Almighty) says in His Majestic Book, the Qur’an, mentioned in the two verses cited in the preface:
(O Mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you in the Sight of Allah is the believer who has Taqwa (piety and righteousness). Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.)
In many instances Islam treats women as equals to men. Some of them are given below. In the coming sections we will expand on these themes in various contexts throughout the book.
1) Eqaulity in Basic Humanity
Both the male and the female are equal in terms of their humanity. Islam does not categorize women, for instance, as the source of evil in the world for some & original sin that caused Adam (Peace be Upon Him) to be dismissed from Paradise, or to be the cause of evil in the world by setting loose a Pandora’s box of vices, as some other religious doctrines and fables teach.
Allah, the Exalted and Almighty, states in the Glorious Qur’an:
(O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) He created his wife (Eve), and from them both He created many men and women…)
Allah also states in the Glorious Qur’an:
(Does man think that he will be left neglected without being punished or rewarded for the obligatory duties enjoined by his Lord (Allah) on him? Was he not a mixed male and female discharge of semen pouring forth? Then he became a clot; then (Allah) shaped and fashioned (him) in due proportion, and made him into two sexes, male and female. Is He not able to raise to life those who are dead?)
Allah illustrated in the verses that He created both sexes from one single source. There is no difference between the two sexes in terms of qualifications in humanity, and each complements the other as the two genders of the species. Islam has abolished and abrogated all the previous unjust laws that demoted women as inferior in quality and nature. The Prophet of Allah (Peace be Upon Him) said:
Verily, women are the twin halves of men.
[Abu Dawood #234 , Tirmidhi #113 & others]
2) Equality in Religious Obligations
Equal religious duties and rituals are required from both women and men. Testimony of Faith (Shahaadah), Prayer (Salah), Obligatory Charity (Zakah), Fasting (Saum), and Pilgrimage (Hajj) are equally required of both genders. In some cases the requirements are a bit easier on women to alleviate their special cases of hardship. For instance, in consideration of her health and physical condition, menstruating women or a woman in the state of postnatal bleeding and recuperation are absolved from the duty of prayers and fasting. She is required to make up the days of fasting missed due to menses and postnatal bleeding, but not her prayers, as that would be too burdensome.
3) Equality in Rewards and Punishments
Both males and females have similar rewards for obedience and penalties for disobedience in this world and the Hereafter. As stated by Allah in the Glorious Qur’an:
(Whoever does righteous acts, whether male or female, while he is a believer, verily, to him We will give a good life, and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do.)
And the Lord Most Majestic says:
(Surely for men who submit to Allah and for women who submit to Allah, for believing men and for believing women, for devout men and devout women, for truthful men and truthful women, for steadfast men and steadfast women, for humble men and humble women, for charitable men and charitable women, for fasting men and fasting women, for men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, for men who remember Allah much and for women who remember Allah much, for all of them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a mighty reward.)
4) Equality in Preservation of Honor and Nobility
Women have the same moral obligations and are entitled to the same general rights as men in guarding chastity, integrity and personal honor and respect, etc. No double standards are allowed. For instance, those who falsely accuse a chaste woman of adultery or fornication are publicly punished, just as if a man is slandered. Allah, the Exalted, states in the Glorious Qur’an:
(And those who accuse chaste women, and produce not four witnesses, flog them with eighty lashes, and reject their testimony forever. Indeed, they are those who are disobedient to Allah.)
5) Equality in Financial Dealings and Property Ownership
Women are equally qualified and allowed to engage in financial dealings and property ownership. According to Islamic law women can own, buy, sell and undertake any financial transaction without the need for guardianship, and without any restrictions or limitations – a situation unheard of in many societies until modern times.
6) Best of you is the Best to his Womenfolk
Islam indicates that a man who honors, respects and deals with women justly and integrally, possesses a healthy and righteous personality, whereas a man who mistreats them is an unrighteous and unrespectable man. The Prophet of Allah (Peace be Upon Him) said:
The most complete believer is the best in character, and the best of you is the best to his womenfolk.
[Tirmidhi #1162 and verified]
7) Equality in Education and Cultivation
Islam entitles women to the same rights as men in terms of education and cultivation. The Prophet of Allah (Peace be Upon Him) said, as reported and authenticated by the scholars of prophetic traditions:
Seeking knowledge is compulsory for each and every Muslim (i.e. both male and female).
[Ibn Majah #224 al-Baihaqi and verified]
Muslim scholars collectively agreed that the word Muslim when used in revealed scriptures includes both male and female, as we indicated in parenthesis. Thus, Islam entitles women to the same right of education in order to understand the religious and social obligations, and obligated them both to raise their children in the best manner, in accordance with the right Islamic guidance. Of course women have certain obligations in bringing up their children that are commensurate to their abilities and men have complementary obligations to finance, protect and maintain according to their added responsibilities in the family unit.
The Prophet (Peace be Upon Him) said:
Whoever takes care of two girls until they reach puberty, he and I will come on the Day of Resurrection like this.” The Messenger of Allah (r) then joined his fingers to illustrate this.
About female slave girls, the Prophet of Allah (Peace be Upon Him) said:
Whoever has a female child with him (under his guardianship from slavery), and trains her in the best behavior, and teaches her well, and then frees and marries her, will have a double reward.
[Bukhari #97 & Muslim #154 ]
8 ) Equality in Social Responsiblities
Men and women have similar obligations and responsibilities to reform and correct the society to the best of their capability. Men and women shoulder the responsibility of enjoining good and forbidding evil equally, as Allah, the Exalted, states in the Qur’an:
(The believers, men and women, are helpers, supporters, friends and protectors of one another, they enjoin all that is good, and forbid all that is evil, they offer their prayers perfectly, and give Zakah (Obligatory Charity) and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah will bestow Mercy on them. Surely Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.)
9) Right to Receive Fair Share of Wealth
Men and women have set and determined rights to receive their fair share of wealth, just as they are obliged to give Zakah (Obligatory Charity) according to the set calculation. All Muslim scholars unanimously agree upon this. A woman has her set share of inheritance, as will be discussed in more detail later, which was a right unthinkable in many societies.
Allah (The Almighty) says:
(There is a share for men from what is left by parents and those closely related, and there is a share for women from what is left by parents and those closely related, whether the wealth be small or large: a legal mandatory share.)
10) A woman, just like a man, can give someone the right of seeking refuge and security among the Muslims
Allah, the Exalted, says:
(And if one of the polytheists seeks refuge, give him until he hears the words of Allah, then take him to his place of security.)
The Messenger of Allah (Peace be Upon Him) said:
And the protection of Muslims is one, and the least among them can give protection; and whoever usurps the right of a Muslim then the curse of Allah and His angels and all the people is upon him, and no repentance or ransom will be accepted from him
This is also proven by the famous story of Um Hani’ (Mother of Hani’) when she gave protection to a polytheist who sought refuge with her on the day of the conquest of Makkah after her relative threatened to kill that person (for some past enmity) so the Messenger of Allah (Peace be Upon Him) said,
We protect and give asylum to whomever you give asylum O Um Hani’.
These are just some of the rights, mentioned here as examples in a summarized way to indicate the comprehensive nature of the Islamic jurisprudence.
Women as Wives
Allah, the Exalted, says in the Glorious Qur’an:
(Among His signs is that He created for you wives from among yourselves, that you may find tranquility in them, and He has put between you affection and mercy.)
One of the great signs of the Benevolence, Mercy and Power of Allah, the Exalted, is that He created for mankind mates, one from the other, so that they are comforted, satisfied and assisted by one another. The basic foundation of the society is the family, and the husband and the wife are co-partners in that family upon which a Muslim home is established. For the success of the family and the tranquility of the home, Islam grants each spouse certain rights and duties. We will only focus on the rights of the wives in the following section.
A dowry is the right of every bride at the time of marriage. A marriage contract is not considered legal and complete unless and until a dowry has been specified. This right cannot be forfeited, even if the bride approves, until after the marriage contract is completed. The dowry belongs to the woman entering marriage, and she has the freedom to do whatever she wants with what she owns after the marriage contract is fulfilled. Allah, the Exalted, states in the Glorious Qur’an:
(Give the women whom you marry their dowry with a good heart. If they remit any part of it to you, of their own good pleasure, take it and enjoy it fully without fear of any harm.)
The husband is not allowed to take anything back from the dowry if he decides later to divorce her; as Allah, the Exalted, states in the Glorious Qur’an:
(If you intend to replace a wife by another and you have given one of them a huge sum of gold as dowry, take not the least of it back; would you take it wrongfully without a right and with a manifest sin. And how can you take it back while you have entered with intimate relationship unto each other, and they (the wives) have taken from you a firm and strong covenant?)
This verse indicates, significantly, the sacredness of the marriage vows and the intimacy of the marriage relationship, as well as the right of retaining the dowry gift in case of divorce. Allah, the Exalted, also states in the Glorious Qur’an:
(O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the dowry you have given them, unless they commit open illegal sexual intercourse. Live with them honorably; if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good.
This verse ensures the wife’s rights and complete justice even if the man dislikes her for any reason. This is also mentioned in an authentic prophetic tradition wherein Abu Hurairah (may Allah exalt their mention) reported that the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) said:
“A believer must not hate a believing woman (i.e. his wife): if he dislikes one of her characteristics, he will be pleased with another.”
The husband must give honorable and sufficient sustenance to his household according to his status and means. Allah, the Exalted, says:
(Let the rich man spend according to his means, and the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allah has given him. Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. Allah will grant after hardship ease.)
If a sufficiently rich man refuses to spend on his family in accordance with his level of means, and the wife was able to take a portion of his wealth, she may take that which satisfies her essential needs and that of her children, avoiding wastage and extravagance. Hind bint ‘Utbah came to the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) complaining about her husband, saying:
“My husband is a miser and does not spend enough on me and his children.”
He replied: “Take whatever suffices you and your child within proper bounds.”
If a husband came under heavy financial strain and was incapable of fulfilling his family’s financial needs, or if he left his wife for an extensive period of time, whereby the wife was harmed due to that absence, the wife is entitled to seek court intervention, if she desires to annul that marriage, as indicated by the verdicts of the jurists in Islamic jurisprudence. The Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon Him) explained these rights when he said:
“Fear Allah in (the affairs of) women for you have taken them by the oath of Allah, and made their intimate relations legal by the sacred word of Allah: your right is that no one you dislike should (be allowed to enter) sit on your bed (or cushions), and if this happens then you may hit them lightly, and their right is that you feed and clothe them within proper bounds.”
The Prophet (Peace be upon Him) said to his companion Sa’ad ibn Abi Waqqas (may Allah exalt their mention):
“No amount you spend on your family seeking reward from Allah but that He will reward you even if it is a bite of food that you put in your wife’s mouth.
[Bukhari #2592 & Muslim #1628]
Justice, Equality and Fairness
Men who are married to more than one wife are required to act with justice, fairness and equality in dealing with them. This includes provision, clothing, housing and sharing his time, concerns and intimate relations. Allah, the Beneficent, says:
(And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphan-girls, then marry (other) women of your choice, two or three or four, but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one or (the captives and the slaves) that your right hands possess. That is better to prevent you from doing injustice.)
The Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon Him) said:
“He who has two wives and leans to one as opposed to the other will come on the Day of Resurrection with one of his sides fallen.”
[Abu Dawood #2133 & Tirmidhi #1141, & others and verified]
This indicates that the husband must demonstrate justice, fairness and equality amongst all his wives. He is warned of this dire punishment of paralysis and deformity in the hereafter, just as he paralyzed and deformed the rights of one of his wives in this world. It is unlawful for a man to mistreat his wife in any fashion with abuse, hardships, harassment, undue burdens, insults, beatings, abuse to her wealth and funds, forbidding her from lawful outings, etc in an attempt to force her to pay all that she possesses as ransom to her husband so that he may release her through divorce. Islamic laws do permit the husband to impose certain restrictions upon the wife that displays some immoral and shameful conduct, dishonorable to him and his family, and harmful to the entire society and social order. The purpose of these restrictions is to seek her to return to proper behavior. Those who continue to act indiscreetly, leading to suspicion of actual infidelity may be offered divorce, just as she may seek “Khul” wherein she asks for dissolving the marriage contract due to his misbehavior.
Protection and Preservation
A husband must protect and prevent his wife and children from any possible harm or immorality to the best of his abilities. Allah, the Exalted, says:
(O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who disobey not the Commands they receive from Allah, and do what they are commanded.)
All that protects from unlawful and shameful deeds is commendable, but extremism is not. He (Peace be upon Him) also said:
“There is a kind of jealousy that Allah loves and a kind which He hates: the kind that he loves is in the doubtful acts, and the kind he hates is in the acts without any doubt.”
[Abu Dawood #2659 & Nasa`e #2558]
Certain types of jealousy are acceptable and commendable, and others are not, as the Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon Him) explained above, and in a verified tradition he said:
“Verily Allah gets jealous and the believer gets jealous and the jealousy of Allah is to see a believer doing unlawful acts.”
[Bukhari #4925, & Muslim #2761]
Companionship, care and intimate relationships
A husband must live with his wife honorably, kindly and with respect. He must maintain a decent, clean and acceptable appearance when he relaxes in his household, just as he likes his wife to do for him at home, since this is only mutual respect and decency to one another. The Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon Him) said, encouraging and explaining the comprehensive principle about good character and behavior:
“The most complete believers are those with the best characters, and the best of you are those who are best to their womenfolk.”
[Tirmidhi #1162 & Ibn Hibbaan and verified]
The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) used to mend his own clothes or shoes and help his wives with their daily chores. His wife Aishah (may Allah exalt their mention) was once asked:
“What did the Messenger of Allah use to do while at home?”
She responded: “He used to serve and assist his household, and when he would hear the call to prayer, he would leave to pray.”
The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) was always pleasant, kind and caring to all, and would occasionally play and joke politely with his family members. The Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon Him) said:
“Everything without containing the remembrance of Allah is just amusement and play except four: to joke and play with one’s wife, to train one’s horse, to walk between two destinations, and to learn swimming.”
[Nasa’e # 8939 and verified]
This tradition indicates that most pastimes and amusements are built merely for play, a waste of time and are therefore without reward, except these mentioned above which are useful, lawful, and fulfill valid beneficial purposes. Allah’s Prophet (Peace be upon Him) is also well known for being cheerful and decent in joking with his family and playing with them. An example of this fun pastime is when ‘Aishah (Peace be upon Him) the mother of the believers, said:
Allah’s Prophet (Peace be upon Him) raced with me and I won the race before I grew and gained weight. After I became a bit older and put on weight he raced with me again and he won. The Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon Him) said to me upon winning the race:
“This (win of mine makes up) for that (win of yours).”
[Ahmad #26320 & Abu Dawood #2578 ]
The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) is reported to have sat in the house for a short while with his family, talking to them, giving them company and showing kindness, before going to sleep, and after offering the late evening prayer. In the authentic traditions we find that Ibn Abbas (may Allah exalt their mention) narrated:
“I slept at the house of Maymunah (his aunt and the Prophet’s wife) one night to see the Prophet’s worship in night prayer. He talked with his wife for a period of time, and then slept. Later in the night he awakened and prayed what Allah had written for him.”
[Bukhari #4293 & Muslim #763 ]
Allah, the Exalted, states in the Glorious Qur’an:
(Indeed in the Messenger of Allah you have a good example to follow for whoever has hope in (the Meeting with) Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah much.)
Hence, Allah’s Prophet (Peace be upon Him) is the best exmple to follow for all of us, the believing Muslims. Muslims ought to follow the pattern of Allah’s Prophet (Peace be upon Him) in all of their affairs, personal and public, throughout their lives. All the secrets of the wife should be kept and preserved and her shortcomings hidden. No private affairs should be made public or shared as a conversation item, even among the closest friends. The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) said:
“One of the worst people in the sight of Allah on the Day of Resurrection is a man who has intimate relations with his wife, or a wife who has the same with her husband, then one of them discloses that privacy to others.
“[Muslim #1437 & others]
It is the right of the married woman to spend the night with her husband and have sexual fulfillment, satisfaction, and gratification. This right is one of the most emphasized rights in Islam, equal to the need of man to have his fulfillment. The husband is required and obliged by Islamic law to fulfill the sexual rights of his spouse, to ensure the satisfaction of the spouse so as to prevent her from being inclined towards shameful acts, may Allah forbid. A spouse, as any other female, has a great need for being loved and cherished, cared for, and fulfillment of her natural and physical rightful desires.
Islam forbids husbands from engaging themselves in matters of physical worship and devotions, like prayers and fasting, in a way that may detract them from attending to their spouses physical, sexual and social needs. In a famous incident Salman Al-Farisi (may Allah exalt their mention) reported:
“I went to visit my brother in faith, Abu-Darda (may Allah exalt their mention) and upon arrival, I was greeted by his spouse Um Darda (may Allah exalt their mention) who was in an unkempt state. Seeing that, I asked her, What is the matter with you; why are you in this state and not attentive to your husband?’
She said: Your brother, Abu-Darda has no interest in this world and its affairs. He spends his nights praying and days fasting!
Upon the arrival of Abu-Darda, who welcomed Salman and offered him some food, Salman said: Why do not you eat with me?
Abu-Darda said: I am fasting.
Salman said: By Allah you must break your fast and eat with me.
Abu-Darda broke his fast and ate with Salman. Salman spent that night with Abu-Darda, and Abu Darda got up during the night to offer some night prayers whereupon Salman stopped him from doing so, saying: Your body has certain rights upon you, your Lord has certain rights upon you, and your family has certain rights upon you. Fast some days and break the fast on others, approach your spouse (for marital relations). Grant everyone their due right.
Just before the break of dawn, Salman permitted Abu-Darda to get up and offer prayers. Both of them rose, performed ablution, offered prayers and then headed to the Masjid to offer Fajr (dawn) prayer. Upon finishing the prayer with the Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon Him) Abu-Darda reported to the Prophet about the incident. The Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon Him) said: Salman has spoken the truth.”
[Bukhari #1867 ]
Considering the needs of his wife, a husband should not be away from home for an extended period of time. Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah exalt their mention) after consulting with his daughter Hafsa (may Allah exalt their mention) about the length of the period a woman can patiently bear her husband’s absence, set this period six months.
Abdur-Razaq and others narrated a famous story that:
“Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah exalt their mention) was making night rounds when he heard a woman lament:
The night has grown long, and its end is dark and black,
I am sleepless since I have, with whom to play, no lover,
If there was not (the Lord) whose Throne is above the Heavens,
The sides of this bed, would roll, shake and quiver!
In the morning he went to her and asked her the reason for her poetry, and she answered that her husband had gone with the soldiers on a long campaign. Umar then conferred with his daughter Hafsa on how long a woman can be patient for her husband to return. After some moments of hesitation and embarrassment, in which he convinced her that this question was for the general good of the Muslims, she replied six months.”
After this, Umar would close a campaign within six months so that they could return to their wives within that time. This period is approximate since circumstances may allow it to be less, or force it to be more. She may tolerate the absence of her husband for more than six months, or she may demand him to come back before that time.
The husband may not refuse or deny his spouse’s legitimate request unless he has a valid excuse. A husband must not make any financial decisions on behalf of his spouse unless she gives him such permission. The husband has no right to take any of his spouse’s financial assets without her approval. He should also consult his spouse in the major household decisions, children’s affairs and other mutual affairs. It is not wise to dictate a man’s opinion upon the other members of the family without listening to the spouse’s opinion, as long as her opinion is wise and correct. Allah’s Prophet (Peace be upon Him) gave us a practical example in this matter. On the “Day of the Pact” with the Quraish tribe, the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) commanded his companions to shave their heads and to exit the state of ‘, but they were slow and did not hasten to fulfill his command. Um Salamah (may Allah exalt their mention) his wife, recommended that he do so himself and then go out before his companions. Allah’s Prophet acted upon the recommendation of his wife, doing what she suggested, and when the companions saw his action they all hastened in obedience.
A husband must avoid counting every innocent mistake his spouse may make. For instance, the Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon Him) said:
“A husband should not come to his home from a journey late at night (i.e. without announcing his arrival in advance).”
[Bukhari #4948 & Muslim#715]
This recommendation is given so that the wife may comb her hair or wash herself and that the husband may not find his spouse in an unprepared state, which might become a reason for his displeasure. Of course with the modern facilities, nowadays husbands have the ability to inform their wives well in advance, whether the arrival is during the daytime or late in the night. It is the obligation of a husband to be kind, attentive, sharing and caring with his spouse. He must deal with her with honesty, decency, patience and care, and must take into consideration her human nature. Women appreciate being loved tenderly and well taken care of. A husband must demonstrate his affection, love, appreciation, caring, consideration and genuine keenness of his spouse.
The system of divorce in Islam is designed to protect the rights and interests of the women, and allow ample opportunity and time for reconciliation. We will discuss in more detail below, but here we only mention that in divorce, as in marriage, one must act decent with civil behavior to assure the right of both parties, as Allah, the Most Wise, says:
(Divorce is two times: then one may retain with goodness (and reasonable terms), or let go with goodness (and reasonable terms).)
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