Chapter 15: What is Islam by Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry



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What is Islam

By Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry


Rights of Women

Women had practically no rights in the ancient and medieval civilizations like that of Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, early Christians, Hindus, Chinese and Pagan Arabs. Before the advent of Islam, the women were no better than animals or chattels. In many countries of the world they were generally regarded as slaves or at the best as domestic servants whose chief duty was to serve the men and please them by satisfying their sexual appetite. Like a piece of property, a woman was a marketable commodity and subject of testamentary disposition. The philosophers of antiquity for quite some time remained engaged in interesting debates over issues like: Whether a woman is a human being? Whether she possesses a human soul? etc. In the matters of marriage, divorce, ownership of property, inheritance, etc. the women were given hardly any rights. Polygamy was common in almost all societies with no restrictions as to the number of wives a man could have at a time. Birth of a daughter was considered a bad omen and a matter of shame in a family particularly among the pagan Arabs who preferred to dispose her by burying her alive. Such was the miserable plight of women at the time of the birth of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Islam elevated the status of women from the level of a mere chattel to the level of a human being. Al-Qur’an, the revealed book of Islam, declares that man and woman proceed from the same stock, they are the members of the same species, and they are born of the same parents. The Qur’an invariably calls man and woman as spouses of each other, companions and helpmates. Besides restoring her human dignity, Islam bestowed on the woman many rights in almost every field of human life. In terms of rights and status, what the modern western woman has achieved today by hectic struggle through agitations, demonstrations, processions, strikes and violent means, is nothing as compared to the rights Islam gave her fourteen centuries earlier without her asking or demanding for them.

Let us see as to what are the rights which the great religion, Al-Islam, has bestowed on woman in her various positions and in various fields.

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Rights as a mother

In the position of a mother, a woman enjoys unique status of honour and respect in the Islamic society. Mother is the focus of attention for all the members of the family in a Muslim home and her opinions carry a lot of weight in all family matters. Apart from respect and esteem, a mother enjoys many legal rights. She is entitled to receive share in inheritance from her children and in case she does not posses any adequate means of livelihood her children are obliged by Islamic Shariah to provide her maintenance according to means.

The Qur’an in its verse 36 of Chapter 4 and 23 and 24 of chapter 17 places duty to parents only next in priority after duty to God, the Almighty. Among parents, mother’s place in respect of obedience has been elevated much above that of father because the mother shares the major portion of privation and suffering in the bringing up of children. The Qur’an points to this fact in verse 14 of Chapter 31 and verse 15 of Chapter 46. Prophet of Islam has assigned status to a mother at least three times higher than that of a father and is reported to have said that Paradise is at her feet.

Let us quote some verses of the Qur’an and some traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in support of the above contentions:

  • Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none save Him, and (that ye show) kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain to old age with thee, say not “Fie” unto them nor repulse them, but speak unto them a gracious word. And lower unto them the wing of submission through mercy, and say: My Lord! Have mercy on them both as they did care for me when I was little….. (Al-Qur’an 17:23-24)

  • And We have enjoined upon man concerning his parents. His mother beareth him in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years- Give thanks unto Me and unto thy parents. Unto Me is the journeying.  (Al-Qur’an 31:14)

  • Muawiyah-b-Ja’hemah reported that Ja’hemah came to the Messenger of Allah and said: I intend to join a battle and have come to you for consultation. He enquired: have you got mother? ‘Yes’ replied he, He said: Then keep near her, because Paradise is at her feet.  (Ahmad, Nisai, Baihaqi)

  • Bahaj-b-Hakim reported from his father who from his grandfather who had reported: I asked: O Messenger of Allah! who is to be most obeyed? He said: Your mother. I asked: Who is next? He said: Your mother. I asked: Who is next? He said: Your mother. I asked: who is next? He said: Your father; and then your nearer relations and then your near relations     (Tirmizi, Abu Daud)

  • Mugirah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Allah made unlawful to you disobedience to mothers, burying alive of daughters, and refusing help. And he disliked for you frivolous gossips, frequent questions and squandering property.  (Bukhari, Muslim)

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Rights as a wife

Islam for the first time in the history of humankind on earth, raised the status of a woman from a mere chattel owned and possessed and enjoyed like any other object of property to the status of a human being. Allah has created everything in pairs and man and woman form a pair. The Qur’an says: “And Allah has made for mates of your own nature, and made for you out of them, sons and daughters….” (16:72). God has created relationship of love and affection between these two members of a human pair and the Qur’an calls a wife as a tilth of her husband because husbands are blessed with children through them. At another place the Holy book of Islam emphasizes the close relationship between husband and wife by calling them garments of each other. It says: “Permitted to you on the night of fasts is the approach to your wives. They are your garments and ye are their garments….” (2:187)

The Qur’an therefore enjoins upon the believers to accord good and kind treatment to their women. The relevant injunction is: “Treat them kindly, if you hate them it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it” (4:19). The Prophet of Islam is reported to have said: “Let no believing man hate a believing woman.; If he hates one trait of her character, he shall be pleased with another that is within her” – (Muslim). According to another tradition reported by Abu Hurairah, the Messenger of Allah said: “The most perfect of the believers in faith is he who is the best of them in conduct, and the best of you are those who are the best to their wives”  (Tirmizi). A virtuous wife is a great blessing and a favour of God, and the Prophet of Islam has said: “Next to fear of Allah the believer finds nothing good for him than virtuous wife. If he bids her, she obeys him; if he looks at her she gives him pleasure; if he gives her a promise, she fulfills it, and if he is absent from her, she guards herself and his property. (Ibn Majah).

The woman enjoys many rights in Islam. The Qur’an the revealed book of Islam says: “And woman shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable……”(2:228). Her rights as a wife regarding, marriage, dower, divorce, inheritance, maintenance, etc. have been guaranteed by Islam. These rights are briefly stated as follows:

  1. Marriage, according to Islamic law, is a contract between husband and wife and wife is an equal partner in this contract. No marriage can be contracted without free will and consent of the bride. She can have her conditions and terms settled in the contract of marriage and the husband would be legally bound to honour and fulfil the stipulated terms of the agreement.

  2. She has got absolute rights to get dower (Mahr) from her husband. Dower is a bridal gift which may be in cash or in kind. No maximum or minimum limit has been prescribed in respect of quantum of dower. However it is an essential part of marriage contract and is payable compulsorily by the husband to his wife.

  3. A wife has got certain legal protections in respect of capricious and arbitrary use of her husband’s power of divorce. In troublesome situations, she is entitled to get divorce through the court on some legal grounds. She can get khula (a kind of divorce) by surrendering a part or whole of her dower (Mahr) to her husband. She can exercise power of divorce herself if she has secured this power at the time of entering into the contract of marriage.

  4. A wife is one of the legal heirs of her husband and after the death of the latter she is entitled to inheritance in the estate of the deceased. The Qur’an says: “….. And unto them belongeth the fourth of that which ye leave if you have no child, but if ye have a child then the eighth of that which ye leave…… (4:12)

  5. A wife is entitled to get maintenance from her husband such as food, clothing and residential place, besides love and good treatment. Following Hadith (tradition) of the Prophet of Islam stresses the rights of women regarding food, clothing and human treatment:-

Hakim-b-Muawiyah from his father reported: I asked: O Messenger of Allah! what right has the wife of one among us got over him? He said it is that you shall give her food when you have taken your food, that you shall clothe her when you have clothed yourself, that you shall not slap her on the face, nor revile (her), nor leave (her) alone except within the house. (Ahmad, Abu Daud, Ibn Majah)

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Rights as a daughter  

The Qur’an in the verses 58 and 59 of its chapter 16, draws a very vivid picture of the pagan Arabs on the birth of a daughter. It reads: “When news is brought to one of them, of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people, because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain it on (sufferance and) contempt, or bury it in the dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on!-“ (16:58-59). As the practice of killing female children and burying them alive is evil and very much inhuman, the Qur’an not only condemned it but also abolished it. The Qur’an says: “Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you: Verily the killing of them is a great sin-“(17:31). Slaying of daughters is such a heinous crime that on the Day of Judgment, Almighty God will not like even to talk to a murderer of female children. Evidence of the girl-child who was buried alive would be sufficient for punishing the killer.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) raised the status of daughters by promising high reward for those in the Hereafter who accord kind treatment to them, and also by setting good  example of his own good treatment with his daughters. Following Ahadith of the Prophet (PBUH) are quoted on the subject of treatment of daughters:

  • Ibn Abbas reported that the Holy Prophet said: If one brings up three daughters or sisters, teaches them good manners and treats them kindly and lovingly till they no longer need his help, Allah will make Paradise obligatory for him. One man said: that if he has two? He replied: And he also. Ibn Abbas said that if the people had enquired about one, the Prophet would have said   the same thing.   (Sharai Sunnah)

  • Ayesha reported: A woman came to me, while there were two of her daughters with her. She was begging of me, but found nothing from me except one date which I gave her. She divided it between her two daughters and she herself did take nothing out of it. Then she got up and went away. The Holy Prophet came and I informed him (of it). He said: Whoever suffers for any thing on account of these daughters and (still) treats them with kindness, they will be a shield for him from Hell.   (Bukhari and Muslim)

  • Ibn Abbas reported that the Messenger of Allah said: If anybody has got a female child, and he does neither bury her alive, nor treats her unjustly, nor prefers his children (meaning male children) to her, Allah will admit him in Paradise.    (Abu Daud)

  • Soraqa-b-Malik reported that the Holy Prophet said: Shall I not teach you the best form of charity? – (Maintaining) your daughter who has been returned to you, who has got no earning member except you.    (Ibn Majah)

  • Ayesha reported: I have seen none more resembling in manners, guidance and conduct (in another narration-in talk and speech) of the Holy Prophet than Fatimah. Whenever she came to him, he used to stand up for her and then take her by the hand, kissed her and would make her sit in his seat.    (Abu Daud)

The daughters are entitled to share the estate left by their deceased father or mother alongwith other legal heirs. The Qur’an commands: “Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her share is a half. (4:11)

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Rights as a sister

Islam assigns an honourable status to a woman in her position as a sister. She is entitled to as good a treatment from her parents as her brothers are. According to an authentic tradition reported in Abu Daud, the Prophet of Islam has exhorted his followers not to discriminate between their male and female children and give the children equal treatment in love and material things as far as possible. In case of death of parents or the disability or old age of parents, the responsibility of bringing up sisters and providing for their living devolves upon their brothers. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has urged the Muslims to bring up their sisters, teach them good manners and accord them kind treatment. Following tradition throws light on this issue:

Ibn Abbas reported that the Holy Prophet said: If one brings up three daughters or sisters, teaches them good manners and treats them kindly and lovingly till they no longer need his help, Allah will make Paradise obligatory for him. One man said: What if he has two?; He replied: And he also. Ibn Abbas said that if the people had enquired about one, the Prophet would have said the same thing.   (Sharai Sunnah).

According to the Qur’an, the sister is entitled to receive share in inheritance if the deceased leaves no parents and no child.

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Rights regarding marriage

Rights conferred on a Muslim woman pertaining to marriage are discussed in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) as under:-

  1. A woman has got as much right to marry as a man has. The Qur’an says. “Marry those among you who are single”-(24:32). The Arabic word Ayyama’ means single or solitary. A single person, may be a man or a woman, should be married. He or she may be single on account of having not married or on account of dissolution of his or her marriage by divorce or by death of the other spouse. Whatever may be the reason for being single, he or she may be married.

  2. The woman has been granted as much freedom in the choice of her husband as the man has been granted in choosing his wife. Nobody has any right to give her away in marriage without her consent. A tradition reported by Abu Hurairah in Bukhari and Muslim states that the Prophet (May Allah’s peace be upon him) said: “A previously married woman (whose marriage is dissolved) shall not be married till she gives consent nor a virgin be married till her consent is sought….. and her silence is her consent.” No compulsion or coercion can be exercised to force a woman into marriage.

  3. A minor girl, when given in marriage by her guardian, has the option to repudiate the marriage when she attains puberty if such a marriage is to her disliking. The Prophet of Islam annulled the marriage of a girl who had been given in marriage by her father, since she disliked it (Bukhari). However, repudiation must be made immediately after she attains puberty and before cohabiting with the husband.

  4. Islam, unlike some other religions such as Hinduism, permits a divorcee or a widow to remarry. Al-Qur’an says: “And when you have divorced women and they reach their term, place not difficulties in the way of their marrying their husbands” (2:232). About the widow’s right of second marriage the Qur’an says, “When they have fulfilled their term, there is no blame on you if they dispose of themselves in a just and reasonable manner-“ (2:234). According to a Tradition reported in Bukhari, Prophet Muhammad (May Allah’s peace be upon him) permitted a widow Sobaiata-al-Aslamiyah to contract second marriage.

  5. Some other reforms introduced by Islam regarding marriage (which redeem the position of women) are as under:-

  • System of exchange marriages, bride purchase and bride capture was abolished by Islam.

  • No Jahez or dowry is to be given by the family of the bride under compulsion. On the other hand the husband has to give Mahr or dower to the wife compulsorily.

  • It is not obligatory on the family of the bride to provide luxurious feasts or meals to the groom and his party. On the other hand, it is obligatory on the bridegroom to host a feast for his friends and relations to celebrate his marriage.

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Rights regarding dower

Dower (Mahr) is gift in cash or in the form of property which is compulsorily given by a Muslim bridegroom to his bride in consideration of marriage. Dower is essential in marriage, so much so that in case it is not fixed, even then the wife is entitled to its payment according to the standard in the family. Wife has the right to remit the dower or to accept the reduced amount or to postpone her demand for its payment.

The object of dower is three-fold. Firstly, it would be a check on the arbitrary exercise of the power of divorce by the husband. Secondly, it would restrain the husband to indulge in polygamy. Thirdly, it would work as an obligation imposed upon the husband as a mark of respect to the wife.

The amount of dower which the bridegroom has to give to his bride has not been fixed by the Qur’an or the Sunnah. It depends entirely on the agreement of the contracting parties. The Qur’an says:”….. The wealthy according to his means and the poor according to his means; a gift of a reasonable amount is due from those who wish to do the right things”-(2:236). Neither there is any minimum nor any maximum limit of dower which has been prescribed under Islamic law. Muslim women generally demand very heavy amounts of dower and the Islamic law does not circumscribe this right of a Muslim woman. Caliph Umar once thought of fixing the upper limit of dower when he received many complaints from men regarding huge amounts of dower demanded from them which had made marriage a very expensive affair. However, he dropped the idea when a lady stood up in the mosque and drew his attention to verse 20 of chapter 4 of the Holy Qur’an and addressed the great caliph thus: “when no restriction has been placed by Allah and Allah’s messenger on this right of women then who are you to place restriction?” The said verse of the Qur’an reads: “But if ye decide to take one wife in place of another, even if ye had given the latter a whole treasure for dower, take not the least bit of it back” –(4:20). From this verse the jurists of Islam have deduced that the right of a woman to demand any amount of dower as a condition of her agreeing to marriage is not restricted by the Islamic Law.

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Rights regarding divorce

Marriage, according to Islam, is not sacerdotal. It is a civil contract and it can be broken at the option of either of the parties to contract i.e. the husband or the wife. Although the divorce, which according to a saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), is the most detestable of lawful things near Allah, yet Islam permits divorce in extraordinary situations when it is not possible for the husband and the wife to live together. The procedure of divorce as laid down by the Qur’an and the Sunnah is, however, spread over a period of almost three months, during which the husband has a right to revoke the divorce. It has been done with a view to check hasty or rash or an arbitrary action on the part of the husband and also to leave the door open for the parties to patch up during the period. Fantastic amounts of dower fixed at the time of marriage contract are also aimed at restricting the capricious exercise of power of divorce vested in a Muslim husband.

Al-Qur’an has given the right of obtaining divorce to a wife if she agrees to pay some consideration or compensation. This is called Khula. If the husband and wife are not able to keep the limits of Allah and they agree to dissolve the marriage on the condition that the wife gives some compensation, it would be permitted under the law (The Qur’an 2:229). The jurists are generally of the opinion that such compensation should not exceed the dower given by the husband to the wife. So it is a kind of facility provided to the woman to secure divorce from her husband by returning a part of or full amount of the bridal gift or Mahr.

Islamic law permits a woman to secure right of divorce for herself as a stipulation of marriage when marriage contract is made. In that case she can exercise her right of divorce if she is forced by the situation to do so.

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Rights regarding maintenance

The meaning of “Nafqah”, which is the Arabic equivalent of “maintenance”, is what a person spends on his family. Maintenance includes food, clothing and lodging.

The husband is bound to maintain his wife. Her right to receive maintenance is absolute even if she is very rich and owns a lot of property. If the husband is poor and the wife supports the family, she is entitled to recover the amount expended by her from the husband when he is in easy circumstances. Dr. Hamidullah writes: “The notion of the maintenance goes so far in Islam that, according to the law, a wife is not obliged even to give her breast to suckling; it is the duty of the father of the child to procure for it a foster mother at his own expense, if the mother does not want to suckle it.”

No scale or standard has been fixed for maintenance by the Qur’an or by the Sunnah. However, lot of guidance has been provided to determine it in the given circumstance. The Qur’an says: “No one should be charged beyond one’s capacity” (2:233). At another place, the Qur’an directs: “Provide for them, the rich according to his means and the straitened according to his means, a fair provision “–(2:236). The same principle has been further elaborated when the Qur’an says: “Let the man of means spend according to his means; and the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allah has given him”-(65:7) These are some of the verses which highlight the guiding principles regarding the determination of the quantum of maintenance. The rich according to his means and the poor according to his means and nobody to be charged beyond his capacity —this is the golden rule.

In addition to her entitlement as wife, a woman is also entitled to maintenance in her position as mother, daughter (after marriage) and sister in some compelling and exceptional situations.

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Rights regarding inheritance

No woman had the right to inherit in pre-Islamic Arabia and only the male adults who could take up arms in a war had the right to inherit the estate. Islam conferred the rights of inheritance upon the woman in Arabia for the first time. The Qur’an says: “Unto the men (of a family) belongeth a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, and unto the women a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether it be little or much a legal share” (4:7). Verses No 11, 12 and 176 of chapter 4 of the Qur’an elaborate the Islamic law of inheritance in detail discussing the shares of the legal heirs. According to the Qur’anic law, a woman is entitled to share the inheritance in different capacities as a daughter, mother, wife and a sister, etc. However, it is to be noted that her share is generally half that of a male in her own category. So an explanation of this inequality is necessary.

Islam has placed the responsibility of earning livelihood for the family on the shoulders of the male members while the females have been exempted from this burden. A woman when she is unmarried lives with her parents and her father is responsible for providing all her expenses and in case of the death of her father, her brothers become responsible for her maintenance and also for meeting her marriage expenses. After marriage she is entitled to maintenance from her husband. In addition to food, clothing and residence, all her expenses are met by her husband. If the husband is poor and she spends out of her personal property for her family, she is entitled to get it back from her husband when the latter is in easy circumstances. Besides maintenance, the woman is also entitled to receive dower and she can demand any amount of dower while entering into a marriage contract. Amounts of dower are normally fantastic in Muslim marriages and the contracted dower, how much it may be, has to be paid by the husband and in case of his death, from his estate as a debt. In old age also the entitlement of the woman for maintenance continues and if her husband dies and she is unable to live on her share of the estate of the deceased, she can claim maintenance from her children. Thus it is seen that a woman has practically very few material needs to satisfy on her own account as compared with a man who has been saddled with very heavy economic obligations and liabilities. In this situation there is ample justification for giving a man greater share in inheritance.

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Rights regarding property

Islam does not make distinction between man and woman so far as their rights of property are concerned. The women enjoy equal rights in this field and their position is in no way inferior to that of men. Like a man, the woman can acquire property through inheritance, through will, through gift, or through purchase from her own earnings. She has an additional right to acquire property which is not available to man i.e. through Mahr or dower which she is entitled to receive from her husband.

She can own the property, possess it, manage it and enjoy its income. Over her property she has the exclusive and absolute rights. Her father, her husband or her brother or her children have no legal right over her property.

She has got full right regarding the alienation of her property. She can dispose it of by sale, transfer or settlement. She can gift it away to her husband, children or anybody. She can arrange for its disposal (upto one third of it) through will. Aftab Hussain J, the author of “The Status of Women in Islam”, writes: “As summed up in the Age of Faith by Will Durant, Islam placed woman and man on the same footing in economic independence, property rights and legal process. She might follow any legitimate profession, keep her earnings,; inherit property and dispose of her belonging at will.” At another place, he writes: “Marriage confers no right on either party over the property of the other. The legal capacity of the wife is not sunk in that of the husband; she retains the same powers of using and disposing of her property, or of entering into all contracts regarding it, of suing and being sued without his consent, as if she were still unmarried.”

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Rights to earn livelihood

Earning of livelihood for the family is basically a duty of the man. Islamic law makes the man responsible for providing bread and butter for his wife and children and for meeting their expenses. However, there may arise situations where the women have also to work for earning livelihood. So the Qur’an does not debar them from working. This right of earning income through lawful (Halal) means is granted to a woman by the Revealed Book when it says: “….. to men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn” – (4:32). Earning signifies the reward of good deeds in the next world as well as earning of provision for the family in this world.

According to some authentic Traditions of Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s peace be upon him), he permitted the women to earn for themselves and for their family if needed. A Hadith quoted in Sahih Muslim states that the Prophet permitted a woman who had been divorced, to visit her garden and take her fruit. According to another Hadith reported by Umme Atiyyah, the Prophet allowed the women to render services in Jihad like preparing of food, nursing the wounded etc. From this we can conclude that the women can adopt the profession of a nurse and of a doctor.

Hadrat Saudah, the wife of the Prophet (PBUH), was skilled in tanning the skins of the animals and used to make a considerable amount of earning from this vocation. Abdullah-bin-Mas’ud was mostly engaged in religious work and had no time to earn for the family. So his wife used to work as artisan to earn livelihood for the family. When the Prophet came to know about it, he assured her reward for this in the Hereafter. Khaulah-binet-Thalabah also used to meet the needs of her husband who was a poor man and earned nothing and she told this thing to the Prophet. A lady named Qailah was a trader and bought and sold goods. Once she met the Prophet and asked him some questions about trade. It is also narrated about Asma-b-Makhramah that she received perfumes from her son in Yemen and sold them.

There are many other examples reported in the books of history which establish that the women used to work in the days of the Prophet to support their families and the Prophet never objected to their such engagements. Therefore, we can conclude that the Muslim women can engage themselves in lawful professions to earn income for supporting their families in case of need provided they observe the rules regarding their proper dress when they come out of their homes.

Dr. Hamidullah writes: “In every epoch of Islamic history, including the time of the Prophet, one sees Muslim women engaged in every profession that suited them. They worked as nurses, teachers, and even as combatants by the side of men when necessary, in addition to being singers, hair-dressers, etc. Caliph Umar employed a lady, Shifa-bint-Abdullah, as inspector in the market at the capital (Madinah), as Ibn Hajar (Isabah) records. The same lady had taught Hafsah, wife of the Prophet, how to write and read. The jurists admit the possibility of women being appointed as judges of tribunals and there are several examples of the kind. In brief, far from becoming a parasite, a woman could collaborate with men, in Muslim society, to earn her livelihood and to develop her talents.”

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Protection of her rights in case of husband’s polygamy

The Holy Qur’an, as it has been discussed earlier, gives right to a man, by its verse 3 of chapter 4, to marry up to maximum number of four women at a time. However, in this very verse some restrictions have also been placed on the exercise of this right by a man. The husband is obliged to do justice (‘Adl’) with all the wives and if he cannot do it then he is advised to marry only one.

‘Adl’ or justice used in this verse has not been defined. However all the commentators of the Qur’an unanimously hold that justice in this verse means equality of treatment in food, clothing and lodgement. But some mu’tazilite doctors consider that in addition to food, clothing and lodging there must be equal treatment in love and affection also.

Thus the concept of justice protects the rights of a wife in case of multiple marriages of her husband. Besides this a Muslim woman is also permitted by Islamic law to put a stipulation in marriage contract that her husband would not take another wife and if he does so then she would be entitled to get divorce or to get a stipulated sum or property from the husband.

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Rights to participate in socio-political life

Right of a Muslim woman to participate in socio-political life of the Muslim community in an Islamic State are briefly discussed in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah as under:

  1. According to verse 71 of chapter 9 of the Qur’an, the Muslim men and women are friends and helpers of each other. They are severally and jointly responsible for enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong, and for establishing worship and paying Zakat. To cooperate with each other for the good of the community and to protect their common interests, is the duty of Muslim men and women. They can form political or social organizations for protection of their religious, social and political rights and for promotion and advancement of Islamic values regarding socio-economic and legal justice.

  2. One of the attributes of the believers, according to the Qur’an (42:38), is that their affairs are a matter of counsel. The believers, men as well as women, have equal rights to participate, to discuss and decide their matters regarding social, public and political issues. In the matters where the Prophet of Islam did not receive any guidance from Allah through revelation, he used to consult his companions. Matters regarding Jihad, social or political life of the community were decided with mutual consultations by the Prophet (may Allah’s peace be upon him). Men and women both were consulted and many such incidents have been reported in the compilations of Ahadith and books of Islamic history. When the Treaty of Hudaibiyah was signed with the Quraish and the depressed and disappointed companions were reluctant to sacrifice their animals, the Prophet (PBUH) consulted his wife Umme Salamah. On her advice, he offered his own sacrifice which had a salutary effect and adduced the response of the companions who followed suit. Once Caliph Umar wanted to fix the maximum amount of dower, but he dropped the idea on the advice of a woman who drew the attention of the caliph to verse 20 of chapter 4 of the Qur’an. The righteous Caliphs used to consult the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and other eminent female scholars on many important issues of public interest.

  3. This idea of mutual consultation led to the establishment of Shura or consultative body in the early days of Islam and right of vote, election of representatives, establishment of parliaments and election of the heads of Islamic republics in modern times. The women have equal rights with the men to elect their representatives and contest elections and seek for public offices.

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Women and scarf (purdah or veil)

Islam requires the believers, both men and women, to lower their gaze and guard their modesty. However, for women the fulfillment of certain additional responsibilities in the matter of dress, adornment, etc., is required. The Qur’an says:

Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands’ fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters’ sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of women’s nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed. (24:An-Nur:30-31)

When the women come in the presence of men or they come out of their homes, they are required to act upon the following rules:

  1. The believing women should lower their gaze and should not intentionally gaze at men or at the satar (private parts) of others or at the indecent scenes.

  2. They should be modest, protect their chastity and guard their private parts. Guarding of private parts means to avoid exposing their private parts or satar. Satar of a woman is the entire body except her face and hands.

  3. The women should not display their adornment except that which is displayed of itself. Adornment means ornamentation and decoration and, to use the modern terminology, make-up. The women have been prohibited to display their make-up except that which is apparent and which is beyond their control to hide. It means that they cannot intentionally display their adornment except that which becomes exposed without any intention or purpose on their part.

  4. The Women should draw their veils on their bosoms. It means the women should cover their bosom properly with a wrapper and should not keep exposed any part thereof.

  5. The women should not reveal their adornment except before the following:

  1. Men who are their husbands or close relations within prohibited degrees like fathers, brothers, sons, etc.

  2. Slaves or male servants who are not interested in sex matters.

  3. Children below age of puberty who have no knowledge of sex.

  4. Their female associates.

  1. The women should not stamp their feet on the ground so as to reveal their hidden adornment. Therefore, the sound of ornaments should not be audible.

The most important requirement that the women are obligated to observe in their dress code, when they step out of their homes, is contained in verse 59 of Surah (chapter) 33 of the Qur’an which reads: “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, that so they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” It commands the women to draw their cloaks close round them when they go aboard. The purpose of this injunction has been disclosed in the latter part of this verse: “So that they may be recognized as decent and noble ladies and not annoyed being taken as women of ill repute.” A lot of heat has been generated about the interpretation of this verse. The orthodox opinion is that the word ‘Jalbab’ means veil and it should cover the whole body including face and the hands. But the liberal commentators interpret it to mean that the women should wrap up their gowns or outer garments covering their heads, necks and bosoms but not faces and hands.

Verse 60 of chapter 24 of the Holy Qur’an relaxes the conditions regarding veil in respect of the old women who are past the prospect of marriage and are no longer capable of exciting the passions of men. According to the verse, it is no sin for them if they discard their outer clothing in such a way as not to display or exhibit their adornment or make-up. However this permission cannot be used by those women who still have sexual desires or who want to attract others by displaying their embellishments.

Let us reproduce a tradition of Prophet Muhammad which clarifies the Qur’anic injunctions regarding veil (purdah): Ayesha reported that Asma’a daughter of Abu Bakr came to the Messenger of Allah while there were thin clothes on her. He approached her and said: O Asma’a! when a girl reaches the menstrual time, it is not proper that anything on her should remain exposed except this and this. He hinted on her face and palms. (Abu Daud)

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