Perhaps one of the most controversial topics when it comes to Islam, is that of the status of women. It seems that everyone thinks they know everything there is to know about this topic, but I’ve yet to see a mainstream debate about this issue which actually included a Muslim in the conversation… or better yet, a Muslim woman!
I was approached by a very dear friend of mine who needed help in debunking some utterly false and downright hateful claims made by Christian Evangelical, Franklin Graham, in an interview which recently aired on CNN. I’ll spare you the excruciating pain of actually watching the interview, so I’ve outlined his main “points” below and will attempt to respond to each of them with credible references from the Qur’an and Hadith – the only true sources for Islamic jurisprudence.
However, before getting into that, it’s important to note that throughout the 11 minute interview, Mr. Graham never once took the time to actually refer back to the Qur’an or Hadith (as I will do in this post). He never once referred to a specific personal experience he’d had with any of the millions of Muslims living in his own country – the U.S., or the 1.6 billion other Muslims scattered across the globe. No, his one reference to anything remotely related to Islam was when he held up the cover of a TIME magazine which showed a picture of an Afghani girl who tragically had her nose cut off by her father because she fled an arranged marriage…and this is not at all a reference to Islam, but a in fact a reference to one incident in one country involving one family, who happens to be Muslim. Oh yes, he also referred to his ‘extensive experience’ of ‘helping Muslims’ in Muslim countries, but he never once mentions who, when, where…again, completely baseless.
The importance of this endeavor to counter these false accusations against Islam as a religion is due to the widespread uneducated, misinformed, and at times, downright ignorant, images that are portrayed about Islam in the mainstream media. If some heinous, cruel act is committed in some remote corner of the world, it goes completely unnoticed… until someone gets wind that the perpetrator says he’s a Muslim. This over-generalized, painting with a broad stroke of the brush has got to stop! It’s time to look at the facts, the source, and the truth. Below are some of Mr. Graham’s false statements about the status of women in Islam:
Women are the personal property of men
This one is a favorite of those who are truly uneducated about Islam. For if one reads the Qur’an, one will immediately realize that women and men are full and equal partners in humanity. Women are neither the ‘property’ of men, nor are they an object to be owned, bought, sold, used, kept, or any other outlandish term used to describe them. Allah (swt) explains to us exactly how women are to be treated (and not treated):
O You who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the Mahr (bridal-money given by the husband to his wife at time of marriage) you have given them, unless they commit open illegal sexual intercourse. And live with them honorably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good. (Qur’an, 4:19)
Allah (swt) also makes it clear that the only difference between a man and woman in the sight of Allah, is one’s good deeds and awareness of Allah (swt):
Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most pious. (Qur’an, 49:13)
Whoever does right, whether male or female, (all) such will enter the garden. (Qur’an, 40:40)
And for those who wonder why the Qur’an seems to only be addressed to men, Umm Salama (one of the Prophet’s wives) asked the same question, after which a long passage was revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) clearly addressed to both men and women in every line, stating the responsibilities and rewards for both men and women:
For Muslim men and women – for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God’s praise – for them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward. (Qur’an, 33:35)
Women have no rights in Islam
Another favorite, yet completely false statement, disproven only by the word of Allah (swt):
O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) He created his wife (Eve), and from them both He created many men and women and fear Allah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allah is Ever and All-Watcher over you. (Qur’an, 4:1)
Contrary to what characters like Franklin Graham would have you believe, Islam grants the women the right to an education, as clearly stated by the Prophet (pbuh):
To seek knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim. (Related by Ibn ‘Adiyy, Al-Bayhaqi and Al-Tabarani)
The Holy prophet had keen interest in the education of women. His own wife, A’isha (ra) was highly learned and he is reported to have said to his companions: Learn half of the faith from A’isha. After the death of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) his companions frequently asked her for guidance in matters on which there was a difference of opinion and she was considered an authority on many vital issues and a large number of authentic traditions were narrated by her.
Islam also guarantees the rights of women to work, to own property and have wealth. Regarding the right to work and earn a living:
And in nowise covet those things in which Allah hath bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than on others: to men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn: But ask Allah of his bounty. For Allah hath full knowledge of all things. (Qur’an, 4:32)
Islam also grants women the right to their lawful inheritance. Neither a woman’s father nor her husband can lay claim to her rightful share of inheritance:
From what is left by parents, and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large-a determinate share. (Qur’an, 4:7)
The Qur’an also states:
Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females…(Qur’an, 4:11)
The above verse is very controversial, since at first glance, it seems that this verse does not benefit women, when in fact, the opposite is true. The man is legally obligated to maintain and care for his wife, children, parents, and any other relatives in need of assistance. The woman, on the other hand, is exempt from these legal obligations, so her share of the inheritance is hers alone. She doesn’t have to contribute to the maintenance of the family if she chooses not to and no one can take that inheritance away from her.
Before Islam, a woman was not only deprived of her inheritance but was herself considered as property to be inherited by man.
Women have no rights to divorce
For some reason, many believe that all a man has to do is say “I divorce you” three times and the marriage is dissolved, without any consideration or consent from the woman. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Qur’an not only encourages reconciliation as much as possible (especially when the couple has children), but it also orders two witnesses to witness the divorce before God:
Once the interim is fulfilled, you may reconcile with them equitably, or go through with the separation equitably. You shall have two equitable witnesses witness the divorce before Allah. This is to enlighten those who believe in Allah and the Last Day. Anyone who reverences Allah, He will create an exit for him. (Qur’an, 65:2)
The ‘interim’ referred to in the above verse is the required 4-month ‘iddah’ or cooling-off period after a divorce is declared:
Those who intend to divorce their wives shall wait four months (cooling off); if they change their minds and reconcile, then Allah is Forgiver, Merciful. If they go through with the divorce, then Allah is Hearer, Knower. (Qur’an, 2:226-227)
There are 2 reasons for this, (1) to clarify whether the woman is pregnant or not. If she is pregnant, the husband is responsible for the wife’s maintenance until the child is born. Furthermore, if the woman who is divorced has a young child, she can nurse the child for up two years and the father must maintain both the woman and her child. (2) Iddah also functions as a cooling-off period during which the relatives and the community will try to help reconcile the couple.
Divorce may be retracted twice. The divorced woman shall be allowed to live in the same home amicably, or leave it amicably. It is not lawful for the husband to take back anything he had given her. However, the couple may fear that they may transgress Allah’s law. If there is fear that they may transgress Allah’s law, they commit no error if the wife willingly gives back whatever she chooses. These are Allah’s laws; do not transgress them. Those who transgress Allah’s laws are the unjust. (Qur’an, 2:229)
And when you divorce women and they reach their prescribed time, then either retain them in good fellowship or set them free with liberality, and do not retain them for injury. He who doeth that hath wronged his soul. (Qur’an, 2:231)
Islam condones violence against women
Islam condemns violence in all forms both against men and women. In pre-Islamic Arabia violence against women was rampant and began at birth in the form of infanticide. The Qur’an not only prohibits this practice explicitly, it also mocks those who view the birth of a female child with contempt:
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 does he hide himself from his people, because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain it on (sufferance and) contempt, or bury it in the dust? Ah! what an evil (choice) they decide on? (Qur’an, 16:58-59)
Another form of violence against women prohibited by Islam is that committed by husbands against their wives. Islam requires that husbands treat their wives with respect and it prohibits any form of physical or emotional abuse. The Quran requires that spouses treat each other with love and mercy.
And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye 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. (Qur’an, 30:21)
Moreover, the Prophet (pbuh) said:
I recommend that you treat women with goodness. The best of you are those who treat their wives the best. (Tirmidhi)
One verse in the Qur’an that is repeatedly referred to in order to justify using violence against women is the following:
As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) tap them (lightly) [‘wadribuhunna’]; but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all). (Qur’an, 4:34)
This verse in no way condones abuse or violence against women at all! If it did, it would be in contradiction with the numerous other verses that call for peaceful, equitable and loving relationships between husband and wife. In fact, the Qur’an also gives women the right to leave a marriage if she fears abuse from her husband:
If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best; even though men’s souls are swayed by greed. But if ye do good and practise self-restraint, Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do. (Qur’an, 4:128)
The falsehood of associating verse 4:34 with violence against women is a blatant lie that the Qur’an warns us against:
Behold! How they invent a lie against Allah! But that by itself is a manifest sin! (Qur’an, 4:50)
This doesn’t even take into account that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the best example of a man, never once hit, beat, or laid a hand on any of his wives or daughters. Because of this, many scholars take the ‘tap them (lightly)’ [Arabic: ‘dribah’] to be interpreted as valid as ‘to walk away’. A man should walk away from a situation that angers him in order to cool off and show his disapproval. Even if this translation/interpretation is not based on overwhelming consensus, the Sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet (pbuh) makes it clear that beating or abuse of any kind against one’s wife is unacceptable since it goes against the Islamic spirit of justice and compassion.
Islam condones ‘honor killings’
There is no such concept as “honor killings” in Islam. Islam holds every life and soul in high esteem and does not allow any transgression upon it. Islam in no way allows people to take the law into their own hands and administer justice, as doing so would simply lead to chaos and lawlessness. Any judgement passed down whether to sanction killing or any other punishment should be issued by an authoritative court (ie: the justice system). Individual persons are not allowed to just sanction killing when and where they please as this leads to ruling by the laws of the jungle. In a civilized society, there are a rules and regulations that govern these sanctions so a Muslim is in no way justified to sanction these so-called “honor killings”.
Say: “Come I will rehearse what Allah hath (really) prohibited you from”: join not anything with Him; Be good to your parents: kill not your children on a plea of want;― provide sustenance for you and for them;― come not nigh to shameful deeds, whether open or secret; take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom. (Qur’an, 6:151)
Like other religions, Islam strictly prohibits killing and murder without any justified cause. In the Qur’an, Allah (swt) states:
Nor take life – which Allah has made sacred – except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully. we have given his heir authority (to demand qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law). (Qur’an, 17:33)
The Qur’an even goes further as to say that killing is something that should be warded off completely:
But recite unto them with truth the tale of the two sons of Adam, how they offered each a sacrifice, and it was accepted from the one of them and it was not accepted from the other. (The one) said: I will surely kill thee. (The other) answered: Allah accepteth only from those who ward off (evil). Even if thou stretch out thy hand against me to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand against thee to kill thee, lo! I fear Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. (Qur’an, 5:27-28)
The Qur’an points out that the same God of the Children of Israel is the same God of the Qur’an, and the values continue:
On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if whoever kills a soul – unless for another soul or for corruption (vice and mischief spread) in the land – it is as if he had slain the whole of mankind. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved the whole of mankind. (Qur’an, 5:32)
Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) also says:
He who is not merciful to people Allah will not be merciful to him. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
There is a reward for kindness to every living animal or human. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
You possess two qualities that Allah loves. These are clemency and tolerance. (Al-Muslim)
Honor killings are based on ignorance, immorality, and a complete disregard for human life and the rule of law. It’s an unfortunate reality that these killings take place both in the Muslim world, as well as other corners of the world and should be abolished through education and disciplinary measures. However, before we can wipe out these awful, heinous crimes against humanity, we must first recognize that these acts have no place or justification in Islam, a religion that advocates peace, harmony, and the sanctity of every life on this earth.
This article has aimed to cut through some of the dominant stereotypes concerning the status of women in Islam. Of course, this is in no way an exhaustive list, but indeed one that covers the most common statements uttered by misguided individuals who believe they are speaking the truth. There are almost 2 billion people on this earth who follow the religion of Islam. Women, men, old, young, black, white, Arab and non-Arab – they all subscribe to the same peaceful ideals and values that together, form the basic way of life that is Islam. It’s the fastest growing religion in the world and the second largest religion both in the U.S. and the world.
For people to actually believe that close to 2 billion of their fellow human beings follow a faith that advocates some of the heinous, unmentionable practices that they falsely attribute to Islam, there is a real problem with they way those individuals view the world around them. We cannot let the actions of a few ignorant, misguided individuals (who happen to call themselves Muslims) dictate our views and judgements about the entire religion of Islam. There are over a billion other Muslims who stand 100% against all of these purely cultural, tribalistic practices, but nobody ever asks what we think or what we believe.
It’s time to start looking at the original sources. It’s time to start asking questions instead of passing uneducated judgements. It’s time… to ask a Muslim!