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Defining the term women – E

July 6, 2021

Defining the term women – pt-e

The use of the conditional phrase ‘but if you do good

’ in 4:128 indicates that Allah accepts that reconciliation is only a possibility and not a foregone conclusion. Many things can go wrong at this stage, and even if it is preferable that a family stay together, it cannot always be achieved by all the will in the world. The next verse 4:130 confirms that at some junctures separation is inevitable: But if they disagree (and must part), God will provide abundance for all from His all-reaching bounty: for God is He that cares for all and is wise. (Nisa”:130).

Again, the position of women provides the rationale for this verse.

If they have been treated badly, if men have been cruel to them or have neglected them, it is they who are entitled to ask for a divorce and request a share or half of their husbands’ possessions—and not only the remainder of their bridal gift—as compensation paid to them as divorced women (because of their status as co-partners and carried a load of responsibilities).

We believe that current divorce practices are intolerable. Ironically, Imams and preachers keep enthusiastically praising the role of women in Islam, presenting them as equal partners of men and as enjoying the same rights as men both in public life and at home. But as soon as divorce procedures are mentioned all such talk of equality suddenly stops, women are no longer equal partners, and it is soon forgotten that they own a share or half the men’s property.

What is granted to a divorced woman, if she gets anything at all, is just what remains of her dowry, even if it is sometimes no more than a ring made of nickel. For a woman to demand a divorce is still seen as an affront, a deviation, a crime that must not be rewarded by any form of financial support.

Hence, divorced women very often end up with nothing at all. We believe, however, that women have every right to ask for a divorce if they have been treated badly (nushuz) or suffered because of their husbands’ negligence (I’radh). And we believe that divorced women should get all the rights and provisions that modern family law allows, and that includes her right to stay in the house of her husband (unless she has become guilty of ‘open lewdness’), as is prescribed by the first verse of Surat al-talaq:1 and Note that the verse speaks about ‘their (the women’s) houses’, not about ‘your (the men’s) houses’, even though the speech is only addressed to men!

  1. We stress the need to distinguish between absolute, divine law, which is the prerogative of Allah, and time-bound, contingent law (amr-nahy; hasan-qubh), which is the realm of human legislation.
  1. We remove the mantle of sacrality from the body of medieval scholarship. What these scholars wrote is subject to criticism, correction, and revision because scholars can err and misunderstand. Human beings are fallible; they are forgetful, inattentive, and negligent. We must not give them the aura of infallibility.
  2. We only attach sacrality to Allah and His Book. Divine sacrality is stored inside the text of the Book. It cannot be transferred to anything or anyone outside the text, for whatever reason and on whichever pretext.

 According to the Book, righteousness is an ethical category and not biologically inherent in the male sex.

God sets forth, for an example to the unbelievers, the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot… ( Tahrim:10)

And God sets forth, as an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh… and Mary, daughter of Imran… (Tahrim:11–12) Both these verses demonstrate that Allah does not define righteousness on the basis of the female sex either. The Book gives examples of righteous women (the wife of Pharaoh, Mary) immediately after it mentions the example of disbelieving women (the wives of Noah and Lot)—two good and two bad examples in equal measure! Also, there is not the slightest hint in Allah’s verses that women’s monthly cycle makes their prayer or fast invalid, or that ‘women are deficient in religion’.

Religion is bigger than prayer and fast, and Allah is above such petty notions that claim that female menstruation, so vital for the preservation and procreation of the human race, would make women religiously and spiritually inferior. The truth is that the male chauvinist studies of medieval exegetes and hadith scholars reflect the influences of the social conditions of their times. One influence was the existence of slavery in  Arab-Muslim society.

It is well-known that in ancient Arabia only free women wore the headscarf in order to distinguish them from bare headed slave girls. Today, slavery has disappeared, and so has the necessity to differentiate free women from slave girls. Some people argue that what has survived until today is the proper, legal tradition of free women, which should be the norm: women should go veiled. But people forget that the way the dress of a free woman was distinguished from the dress of a slave girl was a historical convention that had no legal basis in Allah’s law. Also, it was neither logical nor theologically sound to demand that the slave girl should not wear the hijab.

Because, if it is true that a woman’s body and face cause fitna (social and sexual disturbance) among men, all women in society, including slave girls, should have been asked to wear the hijab. How can anyone justify a law that puts free women under a veil to avoid sexual arousal, while most attractive slave girls were left unrestricted to wander bareheaded up and down the streets, free to cause fitna among men?

Such contradictions prove our point that anyone who fabricates ideas that ‘women cause fitna of men’ ultimately reiterates the misogynous renderings of the Paradise story (Eve tempts Adam). They ignore that the Book contradicts this account. Medieval Arab society created the milieu in which it was possible to present social conventions as if they were religious norms, creating a fatal confusion between patriarchal culture and religious ethics, a confusion that still exists today.

Ideas of ‘honor’ (sharaf / nakhwa), ‘dignity’ (‘irdh), ‘manhood’, and ‘respectability’ (shahama) have no textual basis in the Book and yet they are constantly fused into the religious discourse as if they represent the pinnacle of Islamic morals. The same is unfortunately true for the current debate about the hijab because, even though there is very little evidence for it in Allah’s revelation, the veil has been portrayed as the ultimate pillar of Islamic dress code, while in reality it is just a cultural convention that people introduced centuries ago.