Islam and Women: Misconceptions and Misperceptions

Islam and Women: Misconceptions and Misperceptions
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Syed Suhail Yaqoob

There exist a number of misconceptions regarding the stance of Islam on a number of issues particularly women. Islamic scholars have varied views on the role of women in family and society. Some scholars have confined them to the walls of home (for household work, to care for husbands and rearing of next generation) while modernists seem to argue that women are simply wasting their time in typical eastern society. Western countries have been hell bent on tarnishing the image of Islam and the issue of women rights, place in family and society are used by it effectively to corrode sympathy for this very religion. In this context , the book by Dr. Shehzad Saleem is a worth reading to counter their propaganda against Islam. Dr. Shehzad has brilliantly touched every aspect of women’s life in religion of Islam. These issues are include
Women as Head of State: A vast majority of the scholars believe that women cannot become the head of the state. The injunction is derived from the Hadith narrated by Abu Bakrah (Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami’ al-sahih, vol.4, 1610, (no.4163). According to the said author, the Hadith was never known before the battle of Jamal in 36AH. It is strange that the hadith was never reported by any other companion of the prophet. It has only one narrator in any section of its chain which renders its narrative quite weak. Furthermore this very Hadith is against the injunctions of The Quran. It is asserted in the Quran that anyone who enjoys the confidence of majority is eligible to become ruler of Muslims. Nowhere does The Quran exclude women from this general principle.Women are also denied the highest chair on the reason that she is provided secondary position in home affairs where head is man. It is an erroneous analogy as structure of home and state is entirely different in all forms and shapes.
Men are superior to Women: It is held by many that women are placed in a secondary position as compared to men in family and society. However, the Holy Quran provides case for only “relative superiority”not absolute one. The Holy Quran explicitly says “Men are guardians of women, because the God has given them more preference over the another, and because they support them”(4:34). This however must not be generalised as women are superior to men in many functions. There is another instance through which women are believed to be inferior to men. It is believed that Eve was created from the ribs of HazratAdam (A.S). The verse of the Holy Quran(4:1) has been wrongly interpreted. The verse refers to the ‘species’ not “physical beings”. It mentions that Eve was created from same species and not from the ribs of Hazrat Adam (A.s). Furthermore in the hadith Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami’ al-Sahih, vol.3, 1212, (no.3153), Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) was simply making comparisons between the nature of women and the rib. The comparison subtly alludes to the fact that a women’s nature is delicate and tender as well as adamant. The Prophet(PBUH) has advised men to treat her tactfully keeping in view her nature.
Mehr:Mehr (dower) is the amount of money or something in kind which the husband is required to pay to his wife at the time of marriage or make a commitment that it shall be paid later. It is erroneously believed that only a fixed amount of money is paid to wife. Husband is required to take financial responsibilities of wife and Mehr is only a token of this responsibility. Consequently, when a man pays this sum, he makes a symbolic expression of the fact that he has taken the financial responsibilities of the woman he intends taking as his wife.
Polygamy:The issue is almost settled now. The scholars of Islam are of the opinion that polygamy is restricted only in extreme circumstances. It must not be commonly resorted to. Polygamy is to be resorted to the situation when the Islamic world finds it hard to have match for every girl. This happens in case of wars. In prophet Muhammad’s(PBUH) this practice was resorted to in order to help widows, orphans and maintain social stability.
Right to Divorce: This is perhaps the most contentious issue. There is a confusion whether women has a right to divorce. Dr. Shehzad has delved on this question beautifully. According to the author , the right to divorce which rests in man is not “gender specific” but “authority specific”. It rests in man because he is in authority as head of family. Had women been more suitable to head a family,they would have given this right.In Islam, both man and woman have a right to divorce. The only difference is that man divorces women while as women demands divorce from her husband. If the husband refuses to divorce, she has the right to take the case to court of law. There is also great deal of confusion regarding the procedure of divorce. A husband should not pronounce divorce in one go. Further, it is mentioned that women has to stay in her husband’s home during Iddat. It is to ascertain whether the women is pregnant or not, thus establishing a clear lineage. During this period, husband is to take care of financial and social needs of women. It many happen that during the Iddat period, husband can revoke his decision to divorce her, there is no need for remarriage.If after the annulment of divorce there arise need to divorce his wife, the husband can resort to same procedure and can annul it in the Iddat period. However, if it happens third time, the spouses are separated permanently.After divorcing her third time, he cannot remarry her, until and unless she marries another person and gets divorce from him. Last option is kept in order to prevent this affair from becoming mere child play.
The Testimony of Women: It is believed that testimony of women –which is acceptable to them-is half of a man. The belief is based on the verse of holy Quran (2:282). However, while critically analysing this view, it suffers from serious defects. First ,the verse has nothing to do with the bearing of witness. It explicitly refers to testifying over a document. It is obvious that witnesses to a document are selected by external agency while as the presence of witness at the sight of incidence is an accidental affair. The difference between the two is so pronounced that one law cannot be deduced from another. The verse directly addresses people who borrow and lend money over a fixed period. It stresses that any dealing between the contracting parties must be written down to avoid any confusions over time. The law suit must not be taken to mean that a law suit will only stand proven in court if at least two men or one man and two women bear witness to it.
The books further delves on the issues like child marriage, the position of female captives, issue of Hallalah, honour killings and inheritance of women. The book has to be critically analysed and can serve as a further starting point for further research into the position and role of women in Islamic society.

—The author teaches at Kashmir University in the department of economics. He can be reached at: