Gender Equity: The Social Aspect (Chapter 3) |

Gender Equity: The Social Aspect (Chapter 3)


1. The Quran ended the cruel pre-Islamic practice of female infanticide, wa'd:

When the female (infant) buried alive is questioned
for what crime she was killed (Quran 81:8-9)

2. The Quran went further to rebuke the unwelcoming attitude of some parents upon hearing the news of the birth of a baby girl, instead of a baby boy:

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 he hides himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on (sufferance and) contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil (choice) they decide on! (Quran 16:58-59)

3. Parents are duty-bound to support and show kindness and justice to their daughters. Prophet Muhammad (P) said,

Whosoever has a daughter and does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favor his son over her, Allah will enter him into Paradise. (Ahmad)

Whosoever supports two daughters until they mature, he and I will come on the day of judgment as this (and he pointed with his two fingers held together). (Ahmad)9

4. A crucial aspect in the upbringing of daughters that greatly influences their future is education. Education is not only a right, but a responsibility for all males and females. Prophet Muhammad (P) said, "Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim.'10 The word "Muslim" here is inclusive of both males and females.


1. Marriage in Islam is based on mutual peace, love and compassion, and not the mere satisfying of human sexual desire.

And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts); verily in that are signs for those who reflect. (Quran 30:21)

(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves and pairs among cattle: by this means does He multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Him and He is the One that hears and sees (all things). (Quran 42:11)


2. The female has the right to accept or reject marriage proposals. Her consent is a prerequisite to the validity of the marital contract, according to the Prophet's teaching. It follows that if an "arranged marriage" means the marrying of a female without her consent, then such a marriage may be annulled if the female so wishes:

Ibn Abbas reported that a girl came to the Messenger of Allah, and she reported that her father had forced her to marry without her consent. The Messenger of God gave her the choice ...(between accepting the marriage or invalidating it) (Ahmad, Hadith No.2469).

Another version of the report states that "the girl said: 'Actually, I accept this marriage, but I wanted to let women know that parents have no right to force a husband on them."' (Ibn-Majah).11

3. The husband is responsible for the maintenance, protection, and overall leadership (qiwamah) of the family, within the framework of consultation and kindness. The mutuality and complementarity of husband and wife does not mean "subservience" by either party to the other. Prophet Muhammad (P) helped with household chores although the responsibilities he bore and the issues he faced in his community were immense.

The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years, if the father desires to complete the term. But he shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms. No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child, nor father on account of his child. An heir shall be chargeable in the same way. If they both decide on weaning by mutual consent, and after due consultation, there is no blame on them. If you decide on a foster-mother for your offspring, there is no blame on you, provided you pay (the mother) what you offered on equitable terms. But fear Allah and know that Allah sees well what you do. (Quran 2:233)

Prophet Muhammad (P) instructed Muslims regarding women, "I commend you to be kind to women.'l2 He said also, "The best of you is the best to his family (wife).13 The Quran urges husbands to be kind and considerate to their wives, even if a wife falls out of favor with her husband or disinclination for her arises within him. It also outlawed the pre-lslamic Arabian practice whereby the stepson of the deceased father was allowed to take possession of his father's widow(s) (inherit them) as if they were part of the estate of the deceased:

O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the marital gift you have given them, except when they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary, live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them, it may be that you dislike a thing through which Allah brings about a great deal of good. (Quran 4:19)

Should marital disputes arise, the Quran encourages couples to resolve them privately in a spirit of fairness and probity. Under no circumstances does the Quran encourage, allow, or condone family violence or physical abuse. In extreme cases, and whenever greater harm, such as divorce, is a likely option, it allows for a husband to administer a gentle pat to his wife that causes no physical harm to the body nor leaves any sort of mark. It may serve, in some cases, to bring to the wife's attention the seriousness of her continued unreasonable behavior (refraction), and may be resorted to only after exhausting other steps discussed in endnote 14. If that mild measure is not likely to prevent a marriage from collapsing, as a last measure, it should not be resorted to. Indeed, the Quran outlines an enlightened step and a wise approach for the husband and wife to resolve persistent conflict in their marital life: In the event that dispute cannot be resolved equitably between husband and wife, the Quran prescribes mediation between the parties through family intervention on behalf of both spouses.14

4. Divorce is a last resort, permissible but not encouraged, for the Quran esteems the preservation of faith and the individual's right—male and female alike—to felicity. Forms of marriage disso-lution include an enactment based upon mutual agreement, the husband's initiative, the wife's initiative (if part of her marital contract), the court's decision on a wife's initiative (for a legitimate reason), and the wife's initiative without a "cause," provided that she returns her marital gift to her husband (khul', or divestiture).15

5. Priority for the custody of young children (up to the age of about seven) is given to the mother. A child later may choose the mother or father as his or her custodian. Custody questions are to be settled in a manner that balances the interests of both parents and the well-being of the child.16


1. Associating polygyny with Islam, as if it were introduced by it or is the norm according to its teachings, is one of the most persistent myths perpetuated in Western literature and media. No text in the Quran or Sunnah explicitly specifies either monogamy or polygyny as the norm, although demographic data indicates strongly that monogamy is the norm and polygyny the exception.

In almost all countries and on the global level, the numbers of men and women are almost even, with women typically slightly outnumbering men. As such, it is a practical impossibility to regard polygyny as the norm, since it assumes a demographic structure of at least two-thirds females and one third males (or eighty percent females and twenty percent males, if four wives per male is the norm!). No Quranic "norm" is based on an impossible assumption.17 The Quran was revealed by Allah, Who is the creator of males and females. Allah created about equal numbers of human males and females. This is His law in the physical world. It follows that His "norms" in the social realm must be consistent with His norms in the physical realm. Only monogamy fits as a universal norm, with polygamy as an exception.

2. Islam did not outlaw polygyny, as did many other peoples and religious communities; rather, it regulated and restricted it. It is neither required nor encouraged, but simply permitted and did not outlaw. Edward Westermarck gives numerous examples of the sanctioning of polygyny among Jews, Christians and others.18

3. The only passage in the Quran (4:3) that explicitly addresses polygyny and restricts its practice, in terms of the number of wives permitted and the requirement of justice between them on the part of the husband, was revealed after the Battle of Uhud, in which dozens of Muslims were martyred, leaving behind widows and orphans. This seems to indicate that the intent of its continued permissibility, at least in part, is to deal with individual and collective contingencies that may arise from time to time (e. g., imbalances between the number of males and females, created by war). This provides a moral, practical and humane solution to the problems of widows and orphans, who would otherwise surely be more vulnerable in the absence of a husband and father figure in terms of economics, companionship, proper child rearing and other needs.

If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry 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. . . (Quran 4:3)

4. It is critically important to point out with regard to polygyny that all parties involved have options. Men may choose to remain monogamous. A proposed second wife may reject the marriage proposal if she does not wish to be party to a polygynous marriage. 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), explained in endnote 15.

While the Quran allowed polygyny, it did not allow polyandry (a woman's marriage to multiple husbands). Anthropologically speaking, polyandry is quite rare. Its practice raises thorny problems related to the lineal identity of children and the law of inheritance, both important issues in Islamic law.

In the case of polygyny, the lineal identities of children are not confused. They all have the same father and each of them knows his or her mother. In the case of polyandry, however, only the mother is known for sure. The father could be any of the "husbands" of the same wife. In addition to lineal identity problems, polyandry raises problems relating to inheritance law. For example, which of the children inherits or shares in the estate of a deceased "probable" father?


1. The Quran elevates kindness to parents (especially mothers) to a status second only to the worship of Allah.

Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. (Quran 17:23)

And We have enjoined on every human being (to be good) to his/her parents: in travail upon travail did his/her mother bear him/her and in years twain was his/her weaning: (hear the command) "Show gratitude to Me and to your parents: to Me is (your final) destiny." (Quran 31:14)

2. Naturally, the Prophet specified this behavior for his followers, rendering to mothers an unequaled status in human relationships.

A man came to Prophet Muhammad (P) asking, "0 Messenger of Allah, who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?" The Prophet (P) said, "Your mother". The man said, "Then, who is next?" The Prophet (P) said, "Your mother." The man said, "Then, who is next?" The Prophet (P) said, "Your mother." The man further asked, "Then who is next?" Only then did the Prophet (P) say, "Your father. " (Al-Bukhari) 19


1. According to Prophet Muhammad's (P) saying, "Women are but sisters (shaqaiq, or twin halves) of men."20 This hadith is a profound statement that directly relates to the issue of human equality between the genders. If the first meaning of shaqaiq is adopted, it means that a male is worth one half (of society), with the female worth the other half. Can "one half" be better or bigger than the other half? Is there a more simple but profound physical image of equality? If the second meaning, "sisters," is adopted, it implies the same. The term "sister " is different from "slave " or "master. "

2. Prophet Muhammad (P) taught kindness, care and respect toward women in general ("I commend you to be kind to women").21 It is significant that such instruction of the Prophet (P) was among his final instructions and reminders in the "farewell pilgrimage" address given shortly before his passing away.


1. There exists a gap between the normative behavior regarding women outlined in the Quran and the prevalent reality among Muslims, both as societies in the Muslim world and as communities in the West. Their diverse cultural practices reflect both ends of the continuum—the liberal West and the ultra-restrictive regions of the Muslim world. Some Muslims emulate non Islamic cultures and adopt their modes of dress, unrestricted mixing, and behavior, which influence them and endanger their families' Islamic integrity and strength. On the other hand, in some Muslim cultures undue and excessive restrictions for women, if not their total seclusion, is believed to be the ideal. Both extremes seem to contradict the normative teachings of Islam and are not consistent with the virtuous yet participative nature of both men and women in society at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (P).

2. The parameters of proper modesty for males and females (dress and behavior) are based on revelatory sources (the Quran and authentic Sunnah) and, as such, are regarded by believing men and women as Divinely-based guidelines with legitimate aims and Divine wisdom behind them. They are not male-imposed or socially imposed restrictions.

3. The near or total seclusion of women is alien to the prophetic period. Interpretive problems in justifying seclusion reflect, in part, cultural influences and circumstances in different Muslim countries. There is ample evidence in authentic (sound) hadith supporting this thesis. Women at the Prophet's (P) time and after him participated with men in acts of worship, such as prayers and pilgrimage, in learning and teaching, in the market place, in the discussion of public issues (political life), and in the battlefield when necessary.22

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