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Gender Equity in Islam
By Jamal Badawi


This work focuses on the normative, or ideal, relating to gender equity in Islam. This ideal may serve as a yardstick against which the reality of present-day Muslims should be evaluated. It serves also as the objective toward which any Islamic reformation and renewal should be directed, reformation of wrong practices and renewal of adherence to the Islamic ideal.

When assessing the realities of Muslims, two extremes should be avoided:

1. Justifying injustices done to most Muslim women by religiously flavored cultural arguments

Most problematic in that extreme is the subtle assumption of the "correctness" of traditional cultural practices and attitudes, followed by a selective search for endorsement in the primary sources of Islam.

2. Failing to see numerous positive aspects in Muslim societies, such as family stability and cohesiveness, the respect and adoration of mothers, and the sense of self-fulfillment of women who are not frequently seen in public; in the meantime, painting a stereotypical picture of Muslim women as ignorant, submissive, oppressed and almost totally enslaved by women-hating chauvinist men.

The focus on injustices and on magnifying them is sometimes partly based on questionable interpretations of outsiders' observations. For example, the smaller percentage of career women in many Muslim societies is interpreted in a Western framework and is seen as an indication of Muslims' oppressing women and depriving them of job opportunities. Little attention, if any, is given to the personal choices of Muslim women and their concepts of family happiness, which may or may not be the same choices or concepts of their non-Muslim sisters.


Once an objective and fair assessment of Muslim practices is made, it should be compared with the normative teachings of Islam. There are enough indications to show that a gap does exist between the ideal and the real. Given the existence of such a gap, a wide gap at times, it follows that Muslim reformers and other international bodies and movements share at least one thing in common: an awareness of the need to close or at least narrow that gap. The problem arises, however, as to the most effective frame of reference and to the particulars of implementation.

International bodies and women's rights organizations tend to consider documents and resolutions passed in conferences as the ultimate basis and standard expected of all diverse peoples, cultures and religions. Committed Muslims, however, both men and women, believe in the ultimate supremacy of what they accept as God's Divine revelation (the Quran and authentic hadith). To tell Muslims that one's religious convictions should be subservient to "superior" man-made (or woman-made) standards or to secular humanism, is neither acceptable nor practical. Even if pressures, economic and otherwise, are used to bring about compliance with such resolutions or documents, the resulting changes are not likely to be deep-rooted and lasting. For Muslims, divine injunctions and guidance are not subject to a "voting" procedure or to human election, editing, or whimsical modifications. They constitute, rather, a complete way of living within Islam's spiritual, moral, social, political and legal parameters. Imposed cultural imperialism is not the solution.


On the other hand, reformation from within requires the following:

1. Social scientists, legislators and rulers should avoid using the argument of cultural particularity to justify anti-Islamic and non-Islamic practices and to continue oppressing men and women alike.

2. Scholars should not continue to quote and repeat some of the long-standing juristic interpretations as if they were equal in authority and finality to the two primary sources of Islam. Nor should they engage in a fragmentary and selective approach in seeking justification of the erroneous status quo. They should realize that even the greatest of jurists are fallible humans, whose interpretations have been affected by the culture and circumstances under which they have lived. With the host of pressing and significant contemporary issues, a fresh ijtihad (interpretation) is needed.

One of the main obstacles in the way of such a reexamination of some of the traditional views is worry on the part of some scholars about the reaction of other scholars or of the public to their conclusions. Yet, it is not the duty of the scholar to speak for what others want or expect. A qualified scholar is duty-bound to give practical answers to contemporary issues and problems without losing sight of the boundaries of proper interpretation. In the final analysis, it is Muslims' practices and understanding that need revision, not the revelatory sources, if properly understood, and more important, implemented.

Appendix: The Issue of Female Circumcision

Your Comments

Anonymous, Taif - wrote on 3/22/2011 10:30:50 PM
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Comment: Alhamddulillah, wasalatu wasalam 'ala rasulillah (SAW). The author of this book, Dr. Jamal Badawi has tried to bring evidences for his opinions from the Quran and sunnah but the problem is that of misinterpretation of these evidences. I will by Allah's will try to give evidences for the correct opinion on the most obvious issues he raised and misrepresented in the book, and guidiance is from Allah. 1. While trying to prove spiritual equality of women to men, he says: " Most significant and relevant to the topic at hand is the clear categorical statement that the most honored person in the sight of Allah is the one who is most pious and righteous. This precludes any other basis for superiority, including gender". The last part of this statement is wrong as indicated by the following hadith in Al Bukhari: Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o 'Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion." This hadith is clear and indicates that all other things being equal, a woman is less spiritual than man and this is how Allah made it. The author also wrote: The absence of women as prophets or "messengers of Allah" in prophetic history is because of the demands and physical suffering..... This is a mere assumption not backed by any evidence and the above hadith also refutes it because Allah will not make someone who is naturally deficient in religion and intelligence a prophet, and this is not in anyway to belittle the women becuase they also have their virtues. This same hadith refutes his saying: A common but erroneous belief is that as a "rule," the worth of women's testimony is one half of men's testimony. A survey of all passages in the Quran relating to testimony does not substantiate this claimed "rule." He obviously didnt research enough for that. 2. He also wrote: "Women may buy, sell or lease any or all of their property at will". The rasul said: "It is not permissible for a woman to freely dispose of her wealth except with the permission of her husband"(Hassan Saheeh). Note that this is neither oppression nor suppression, rather it's guidiance and protection from Allah and any woman who completely submits to Allah will submit to this and will find great benefit in it in the two worlds. 3. He also wrote: This may explain why a married woman must secure her husband's consent if she wishes to work, unless her right to work was mutually agreed to as a condition at the time of marriage. There is nothing like the right of a woman to work being agreed to in a marriage contract as the rasul said: " 'whoever make a condition not in (accordance) the book of Allah, then it is void even if there are a hundred conditions'' (Bukhari and Muslim), so a condition that is unislamic even if explicitly stated in a marriage contract has no effect. A woman may however work if the need arises and the islamic conditions are met. 4. He also wrote: "No text in the Quran and sunnah explicitly specifies either monogamy or polygamy as the norm". "Islam neither required nor encouraged polygamy, it simply permitted it". This is a big lie as it is well know from the time of the rasul and the salafs that polygamy was well encouraged and preferred in islam to monogamy. Unfortunately I cannot bring the evidences for this right now, and guidiance is from Allah. 5. He also wrote: "A prospective first wife may include in her marital contract a condition that her prospective husband shall practice monogamy. If this condition is mutually accepted, it becomes binding on the husband. Should he later violate this condition, his first wife will be entitled to seek divorce with all the financial rights connected with it. If such a condition was not included in the marital contract, and if the husband marries a second wife, the first wife may seek khul (divestiture)". This is absolutely absurd. The rasul said: ''Muslims are (bound) by their conditions except a condition which which seeks to forbid the halaal or permit the haraam''. reported by Tirmidhi on authority of Abu hurayrah, 'Aisha and others, graded saheeh by albaani. So even if the husband ignorantly agrees to this condition, it is not valid because it seeks to forbid what Allah has permitted and even encouraged. Also talking about the wife seeking divorce with all financial benefits shows the western orientation of the author for 2 reasons. Firstly, a woman cannot seek divorce in islam and secondly, there are no financial settlements following divorce as is in the western laws. However, the husband has to continue maintaining the wife till she remarries. Then to say a woman should seek Khul because her husband has married a second wife is completely basely. Khul is reserved for a woman as a way out of a marriage to a husband who has defects in his deen, either personally or in relation to how he treats his wife. These statements by the author are disturbingly misleading and guidiance is only from Allah. Subuhanakallahumma wabihamdik, Ashhadu anlaailaha illa anta, wastagfiruka wa atuubu ilaik.

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