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Tue 16 January 2018

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Equal status for men and women

By Dr. Muhammad Al-Awa

We pointed out last week the importance of participation in international activities, particularly those which tackle issues in which Islam has specific rulings and teachings that Muslim communities have to observe. We referred particularly to the Cairo conference on population and development held in September 1994. We cited the example of the addition proposed by the Egyptian delegation and incorporated in the preamble to the final document of the conference. The added texts in the preamble and in Chapter 2 ensure that no state need be committed to any measure that is in conflict with the religious beliefs and moral values of its people. Yet some provisions in the draft document were controversial.

Chapter 2 of the draft document outlined a number of recommendations that caused much controversy before the final document was approved. Indeed a number of Muslim states declared their reservations with regard to certain provisions. The most important of these recommendations are concerned with asserting and promoting equality and justice between men and women, consolidating women’s position in society and prevention of all forms of violence against women. (Principle 4)

Principle 9 of Chapter 2, which is devoted to laying down the principles, makes it clear that the family is the basic unit of society and it must be strengthened. It further states that marriage should only be based on free consent of both parties, and that husband and wife are equal.

Equality of men and women, indeed of all mankind, is a basic principle stated in the Qur’an in verses like: "Mankind! We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Truly, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most genuinely God-fearing. God is all-knowing, all-aware." (49: 13) The Qur’an includes an express reference to the equality of man and woman, as God states: "Mankind, fear your Lord, who has created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the two of them spread abroad so many men and women." (4:1) It is also stated in a number of authentic Hadiths, one of the best known of which quotes the Prophet as saying: "Mankind! You all descend from Adam; and Adam was created out of clay."

In human history Islam has taken the lead and the most emphatic stand, among all civilizations, in establishing that women’s rights are the same as men’s rights. Revelations were bestowed from on high stating that: "In accordance with justice, the rights of the wives (with regard to their husbands) are equal to the (husbands’) rights with regard to them." (2: 228)

Because it is in the nature of men to be dictatorial in their treatment of their wives, the Prophet urged men repeatedly to be kind to their wives and to treat them well. He repeatedly said: "Take good care of women." He also stated that men and women stand on the same level: "Women are but the full sisters of men."

Justice is an important Islamic principle that covers all life affairs. Making it the cornerstone of the relationship between man and woman is central to the Islamic outlook. Hence, we do not need to have it stated as a recommendation in the conference document or anywhere else. What we need is to implement Islamic values and principles.

In many areas of the world, women do not enjoy an equal or similar position to men, whether socially, politically or economically. Hence, the conference document called for the consolidation of women’s status in society. This phrase was subject to much criticism and raised many objections before the start of the conference.

The fact is that women’s position in Islamic law does not need any consolidation. What is needed is that men’s treatment of women should be corrected so as to be brought in line with Islamic directives and with the provisions of Islamic law. The Qur’an states very clearly that women’s position is exactly the same as men’s position, and that this equality in matters of religion is the same as equality in worldly matters: "Whoever does righteous deeds, whether man or woman, and is a believer, We shall most certainly give a good life. And We shall indeed reward these according to the best of their actions." (16: 97) Regarding the acceptance of people’s good deeds, God states in the Qur’an: "Their Lord answers them: ‘I will not suffer the work of any worker among you, male or female, to be lost. Each of you is an issue of the other’." (3: 195)

No counter argument is admissible here on the basis of the well known Hadith related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim as well as other scholars, describing women as "deficient in reason and religion." What the deficiency in religion stated here means is that the worship women offer are decreased because they are not allowed to pray or offer certain types of worship when they are in their period. Hence a number of Hadith scholars include this Hadith under headings such as: "Reduced reward for reduced acts of obedience to God," or "Increased reward for more acts of obedience to God."

However, when a woman does not offer her worship during her period, she is free from blame because it is not within her power. Moreover, the resulting reduction in her work does not result in a reduction of her reward. It is authentically reported that the Prophet said that when a person is ill or traveling, he is credited with the same acts of worship he normally does when in health and in his hometown. This means that he is credited with the reward of acts of worship he has omitted because of his travel or his illness, and would have done had he been healthy and at home.

The deficiency in women’s reason is a reference to the provisions that require two women witnesses in place of one man witness, and allow a woman witness to be reminded of facts of the case by the other woman witness. This is a privilege given to women over men. When a male witness is found to be inaccurate, or forgetful, or having a bad memory, the judge disqualifies him as a witness. But a woman witness is not similarly disqualified because the other woman may remind her. Thus, this provision gives the woman a privilege and does not show her in an unfavorable position.

As for participation in public affairs, the Qur’an gives the same position to both men and women. One aspect of such participation that receives the strongest emphasis is that outlined by the Islamic principle of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. In this, the Qur’an emphasizes that men and women are equal: "The believers, men and women, are close friends to one another: They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong; they attend to their prayers, and pay their zakah, and obey God and His messenger. It is on these that God will have mercy. Surely, God is almighty, wise." (9: 71)


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