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Issues in which Men and Women are treated as dissimilar

This chapter deals and as well as tempers with the issues, which raise most of the questions and criticisms.


Muslim men and women have to fulfill very different requirements concerning Satr (parts of the body which have to be covered). The following Verse deals with the observation of Satr for women inside the home where only close male and female family members can mix together freely:

"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and protect their private parts and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e., their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband's fathers, or their sons, or their husband's Sons, or their brothers or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons, or their (Muslim) women (i.e., their sisters in Islam), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigor, or small children who have no sense of feminine sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide ~of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful." (V. 24:3 1)

Women can thus expose their objects of beautification such as make-up and jewellery to other chaste women and the men listed in the above Verse only.
In front of other people, the Prophet's wives and all Muslim women have been ordered to fulfill the requirements of Hijab by wearing a Jilbab, which is a long outer garment that covers the entire body:

"O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e., screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (V. 33:59)

Islam does not permit the free mixing of men and women outside the close family group, and Western-style mixing even with wearing the Hijab is not permissible as is seen in places of education and work. The Qur’aan tells the believing men in the time of the Prophet:

"And when you ask (his wives) for anything you want, ask them from behind a screen, that is purer for your hearts and for their hearts." (V. 33:53)

The wives of the Prophet were models for all women and were regarded as the Mothers of all believers. If they could only be addressed from behind a curtain in order to avoid any temptation or impropriety, how much more then is such a curtain necessary for ordinary women who can be a much greater source of temptation? It is also clear from the time of the Prophet that the Companions did not treat this Verse as referring only to the Prophet' s wives but applied it to their women as well, with the complete approval of the Prophet. The reason given in the above Verse for such a curtain is "that is purer for your hearts and for their hearts" and in another Verse we read:

"Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts). That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do." (V. 24:30)

Islam wishes to establish a pure society in which there is no room even for adultery of the eye. Free-mixing between the sexes is forbidden, men and women are advised to marry at a young age so that they can fulfill their desires lawfully, and all are told to "lower their gazes" in public so that the eye may not be used as an instrument of Satan. By observing Hijab, the woman's dignity and decency is safeguarded. Her attire makes clear that she is not an object for sale, advertising her beauty and availability for men's lusting eyes and wolf whistles. We need little reminder of the immoral society around us today in which the sexes mingle wearing indecent clothes, and adultery is only frowned upon if committed after being married. Before marriage individuals are encouraged to try different partners, and the unfaithfulness, the misery, the jealousy and the insecurities, which then take place, are a necessary result of such a life style. The Muslims may well feel safe and secure within the Islamic moral and dress code, but they are often imitating too much of the non-Muslims' behavior for complacency.

2. Polygyny

A man is allowed a maximum of four wives provided he treats them with equality and justice. If he cannot support more than one wife or fears that he will not be just between them, he should remain monogynous. The primary purpose behind polygyny is to provide for war widows and orphans. The number of men in any society inevitably decreases after a major war, and polygyny provides the only decent solution for the widows and orphans left alone. In such situations women may resort to a monastic life, which is unnatural, or to an immoral and sinful life. Islam also strictly forbids sexual relations outside marriage, and polygyny is again the only decent and honest solution in cases where a man wants more than one partner.

The widespread practice today of men having wives as well as mistresses is demeaning for all the women involved, it is dishonesty and causes untold misery. By marrying more than once, not only are all the woman and the children involved legitimate, but the man also has to face up to full responsibility for all the relationships he enters into.

3. Evidence of Women

The Qur’aan clearly states that the evidence of two women is equivalent to that of one man, giving the reason that if one forgets, the other may remind her:

"And get two witnesses out of your own men. And if there are not two men (available), then a man and two women, such as you agree for witnesses, so that if one of them (two women) errs, the other can remind her." (V.2:282)

Giving evidence in court can be a daunting experience, especially as the judicial system will consist mainly of men, so the women can give each other moral support as well as reminders. It is a serious and burdensome responsibility, which has been lightened for women.

There are four situations in which evidence is required:

a. Crimes related to penal ordinances and retaliation. If men and women are both available, the men will be called to give witness and the women will not be summoned.

b. In economic affairs related to wealth and property, which are usually the domains of men, the evidence of two men is accepted. If two men are not available, then one man and two women will be accepted.

c. In affairs concerning women only such as pregnancy, birth, sexual defects, the evidence of one woman alone is accepted.

d. In criminal cases where only women are the witnesses, the four Imams (religious leaders) are unanimous in not accepting the evidence of women. They reason that in cases such as murder and rape, the women will be emotional and may get confused. Such evidence becomes suspicious, and a principle of Shar'iah (Islamic law) is that any suspicion about the evidence makes the evidence null and void. In this context the Zahiri school of thought is more credible.

It states that if women alone are the witness in a criminal case, their evidence will be accepted according to the principle of two women's evidence being equivalent to that of one man. So in cases of adultery, the evidence of four men or eight women will be accepted. They argue that to reject women's evidence entirely in such cases will allow much crime to go unpunished.

It is an established scientific fact that women cannot explain the intimate details of events with the accuracy which men are capable of. This fact has been confirmed by much research, such as Dr. Harding's. in his book 'The Way of All Women.' According to one Hadith, the Prophet described women as being incomplete in reason and religious practice because they are exempted from the five daily prayers and fasting during their monthly menstruation. Their incompleteness in reason is taken into account in the field of legal evidence. Giving evidence in court is a serious responsibility from which a woman is relieved, just as she is relieved from attending the Mosque for the five daily prayers and the Friday prayer.

4. Inheritance

A daughter receives half the share of inheritance compared with the son in accordance with the following Qur'anic injunction:

"Allah commands you as regards your children's (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females;" (V. 4:11)

If the daughter has no brothers and only women are the heirs, then this principle does not apply. The ruling of giving a woman half the share of a man seems unjust at first glance, but in fact it is more generous to women. It is based on the Shari 'ah principle of "Benefits in accordance with the scale of responsibility."

To illustrate, a brother will inherit twice the sum his sister inherits. What she inherits is hers to keep and she need not spend it on anyone, even her husband though he may be poor. The brother is, however, responsible for maintaining his family, which includes his unmarried sister, surviving parent, wife and children. At the time of his marriage, he will have to pay bridal money to his wife as well as provide for her throughout their married life. The sister will in contrast receive bridal money and will be maintained by her husband. Any income she has and her share of inheritance is hers exclusively, with which her family cannot interfere.

It seems that this same wisdom is behind the 'Aqiqah ceremony when the two sheep are sacrificed at the birth of a male child, and one sheep at the birth of a female child. This principle of benefits according to responsibility has wide applications in Islam.

For example, after a battle the Prophet would distribute the captured booty on the same principle by giving two shares to the cavalry and one share to the infantry. (Musnad Ibn Abu Shaibah)

5. Blood Money

According to the principle of 'Benefits according to responsibility', the blood money of a woman is half that of a man. It is important to remember that blood money is not the price for the soul of a murdered person, as there can be no such price. It is instead a small compensation for the financial sufferings of the deceased's family. Men are usually the breadwinners and maintainers of their families, so the financial sufferings are greater if the man is killed, but if the murder victim was a woman who was the sole breadwinner for her family, then the Qadi (judge) has the authority to increase her blood money.

A precedent for such an increase is found in the Qur'aan where it allows the Qadi to double the blood money of a person murdered within the precincts of the Sacred Cities, Makkah and Al-Madinah. The wisdom behind is that just as virtuous actions are rewarded more if practiced within Al-Haram (the sanctuary), so the punishment for crimes or sins within Al-Haram is also increased.

6. Divorce

The man has the primary right to divorce. Allah says:

"And if you divorce them before you have touched (had a sexual relation with) them, and you have appointed unto them the Mahr (bridal money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage), then pay half of that (Mahr), unless they (the women) agree to forego it, or he (the husband) in whose hands is the marriage tie, agrees to forego and give her full appointed Mahr. And to forego and give (her the full Mahr) is nearer to At-Taqwa (piety, righteousness). And do not forget liberality between yourselves. Truly, Allah is All-Seer of what you do." (V. 2:237)

This may seem unjust at first glance, but Allah the All-Mighty has given injunctions based on men and women's different temperaments. The woman is controlled more by her emotions than by reason, and this is obviously an asset in the home. Her tender nature and ability to sacrifice her own comfort for the sake of her child makes her a better parent than the man. In a situation of marital conflict, her emotional nature will be more inclined to exaggerate the seriousness of the conflict and to thus instigate divorce. The man will be more inclined to think calmly about the situation before pronouncing judgment. Neither of these characteristics is inferior or superior to the other; both are complementary and best suited to the roles the sexes have to play. In order to mitigate rash conduct by the husband, the Qur’aan and the Sunnah have made provisions for cases when the man does pronounce divorce but then regrets it. The divorce never becomes binding immediately but gives him a period of three lunar months (the woman's 'Iddah or waiting period) in which he can either endorse the divorce or revoke it and seek reconciliation.

It should be remembered that a woman is not helpless in the matter of divorce as is widely believed. Although she cannot pronounce divorce like a man, for the reasons of her temperament already given, she can obtain one through a Qadi or arbitrator. This process is called Khul ', and the woman asks for divorce in lieu of returning her bridal money or any other gift to the husband.

In the Western world today, the high rates of divorce are widely attributed, among other things, to the financial independence of women and the ease with which they can obtain divorce for flimsy reasons. The Islamic ethos encourages men and women to save their marriage for the sake of their children and to uphold the family institution.

7. Right to trade or seek other employment

A women is allowed to trade and work in institutions for women only, and at all times she must observe the relevant rules on Hijab and Satr. A woman's primary place is in the home but she may work if she has no one to support her or because her husband's income is not sufficient for the family's needs. As has already been mentioned under the discussion of Hijab, Islam does not permit the free mixing of men and women outside the close family circle. Women are allowed to go to Mosques for worship, educational institutions, and the battlefield. In the Mosques and educational establishments, the Muslims should provide separate places where women may pray and study in privacy. On the battlefield, women may nurse the injured if there is a shortage of male nurses. Whenever men and women work or study in the same place, there is an increase in temptation from Satan. Sexual harassment in Western places of employment is a common problem for which the women often have no remedy. Islam tackles the root of the problem by separating the sexes and so avoiding situations of temptation, which can lead to sin.

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