women in Islam

Table of contents for the topic women in Islam
  1. Are women said to be created for men as helpers in the Quran?
  2. Medieval Female Mystics of Islam
  3. Is there a difference between wearing hijab and abaya or loose shirts and pants?
  4. Islam and a husband’s rape of his wife
  5. It is permitted for Muslim women to marry if their guardian wrongfully prevents the marriage
  6. Wearing high heels is permitted in Islam
  7. Is menstruation a punishment from God?
  8. A woman’s worth does not depend on her accomplishments
  9. How should females wipe their hair during wudu?
  10. It is permitted for Muslim women to work in the police force and the army
  11. Believing Women in Islam (2019) by Asma Barlas and David Raeburn Finn
  12. Is wearing fake eyelashes permitted in Islam?
  13. Does Islam restrict and oppress women?
  14. Can a woman lead male family members in prayer if necessary?
  15. Are women permitted to take off the hijab if necessary for work?
  16. Muslim women are permitted to sing in public
  17. Muslim women may bare their arms if necessary for work
  18. Muslim women are permitted to work outside the home
  19. Are women permitted to live on their own in Islam?
  20. Can a Muslim woman show her hair and body before a non-Muslim woman?
  21. Her family prevents her from practicing Islam
  22. Are there misogynistic stories in the Quran?
  23. The Islamic ruling on women wearing perfume
  24. Dealing with people looking down on housewives
  25. Is it permitted for Muslim girls to post their photos on social networks?
  26. It is permissible for menstruating women to enter mosques and to stay there for lectures
  27. Can Muslim women wear shirts and training pants for sports?
  28. Are the prayers and fasts of a non-hijabi accepted?
  29. Can Muslim women be intellectuals and have careers?
  30. Muslim woman prays without hijab
  31. A new approach to the Quran’s “Wife-Beating Verse” (al-Nisa 4:34)
  32. Why Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslims
  33. The purpose of hijab in Islam
  34. The niqab is neither obligatory nor sunna
  35. Conflicts of Fitness: Islam, America, and Evolutionary Psychology
  36. It is permissible for Muslim women to pluck their eyebrows (with conditions)
  37. Can a Muslim woman have male friends? The Islamic view of having friends of the opposite sex
  38. What is permissible for a Muslim woman to wear in front of her husband, and what are they allowed to do in private?
  39. What is permissible for a Muslim woman to wear in front of her father, other close male relatives, and other women?
  40. Why must women pray behind men at the mosque?

Are women said to be created for men as helpers in the Quran?

Assalamualaikum. I have just started to read the Al-quran religiously and looked at the translation as I want to understand what I'm reading. However, there are some questions that linger in my head as I read more. I'm rather curious about the position of women in Islam especially as portrayed in the Al-quran. This is because, in the Al-quran the mere mention of men is highly praised compared to women. For example: We created Hawa for Adam; if you obey God as a Mukmin then you shall enter Jannah where angels (women) await you; women need to cover their aurah so that men won't be sinful; and many more. It seems to me that women are just "additional characters" and their creation is merely for men. I don't want to think ill about this, but I can't help to wonder what is my purpose of being created then as a woman? For men? I feel so down and low

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

The most important thing to realize is that both men and women are persons with souls. They are equal in this aspect, and this is the most important aspect of their existence. Regardless of women’s status with respect to men, the essential point is that they are men’s equals as persons. They just happen to inhabit a female body that has its own nature and duties. So the physical fact of being a woman has no relationship to her spiritual status as a person before God.

It is true that the Quran puts men in charge of women. But rather than thinking of this as a master-slave relationship, think of it as the relationship between a president and a vice president in a government. They are both servants of the people. The president does not look at the vice president as an inferior human; they are both equal, it is just that in order for the government to operate properly, one of them needs to be in charge, and the other needs to operate within this framework for the benefit of herself and for the benefit of the government and the people.

A woman’s spiritual status comes from God and has nothing to do with men. Men are nothing compared to God. So a pious Muslim woman derives her worth and her identity from her relationship to God; the fact that she is not exactly the same as men in society is of very little importance compared to her spiritual status before God.

It is true that when it comes to gender-specific verses, the Quran often speaks to men rather than women. But if you look at the Quran as a whole, you will find that the vast majority of it (perhaps 99%) speaks equally to both men and women. God has sufficient wisdom to write His revelation in a way that ensures the religion will survive for thousands of years and will continue to satisfy the needs of the humans who follow it. Just because some of the gender-specific verses are directed more often toward men than women should not be taken as an insult, it is a choice that God has made out of His wisdom.

Do not make men the standard that you judge yourself by. Your status comes from your relationship with God. Once you realize the honor and dignity that God has bestowed upon you, men and their status will be of little importance to you. You are a human, a person with a soul, standing before God. Everything else is of little importance compared to this essential fact.

In the spiritual realm, women are not merely additional characters. They are spiritual persons that the Quran constantly speaks to. It is only in the unimportant physical realm that women are in some cases men’s helpers. A materialist would not like this and would seek complete material equality, thinking this is the most important thing in life. But the Quran considers this unimportant. The Quran focuses on the spiritual persons regardless of their sex and focuses on their attaining success in the Hereafter. The material world is merely a means, a tool, for acquiring this success. It is unwise to focus on the means and forget the ultimate goal.

You are not created for men. You are a spiritual person created to worship God. Men are only there to accomplish unimportant material goals. It is the spiritual goals that the Quran focuses on, and when it comes to spirituality men and women are perfectly equal. Your purpose has nothing to do with men and has everything to do with God. It is just that by inhabiting a female body and having a female brain, your material place in this universe has certain aspects that make you differ from men and put you in a special relationship with them. You are not supposed to derive your worth, status or purpose in life from your relationship with men. It is your relationship with God that matters.

Medieval Female Mystics of Islam

‘Minarets, Cairo’ by Arthur Streeton, 1897.

A review of Arezou Azad, “Female Mystics in Mediaeval Islam: The Quiet Legacy.” (Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 56 (2013) 53-88).

Andrea Cabrera

The article, “Female Mystics in Medieval Islam: the Quiet Legacy” was written by Arezou Azad, who is a Leverhulme Research Officer of the Oriental Studies Faculty at the University of Oxford.

In this paper, we find a brief and summarized information about a 9th century female mystic Umm ʿAlī, from Balkh.

Azad starts by mentioning the lack of reliable sources that may enable researchers to find more female mystics from the past, which can be due to some external reasons that do not outline lack of interest from women’s side, lack or preparation or possible social repression. In fact, as the article mentions, a great number of female scholars were found during the first century after the advent of Islam, then we find another peak of female presence during the 9th century, declining again until the 12th and 13th centuries, where we find once again traces of female scholars.

Umm ʿAlī, despite being a Sufi, can be considered a good example of determination and commitment toward education. Born in a wealthy family from the upper class, Umm ʿAlī is the granddaughter of a governor from the Abbasid regime in Balkh, which helped her inherit a great amount of money, enough to pay for her journey to Mecca to perform Hajj and her studies in that city for a period of 7 years.

In the paper we find two versions of Umm ʿAlī: the first one is an educated “worldly” woman who even lectures her husband, the renown Sufi scholar Abū Ḥāmid Aḥmad Khidrawayh, on how to hold dinner for another famous Sufi scholar. She was manly enough to ask her husband to marry her to her teacher, in front of whom she even removed the veil from her face, provoking her husband’s jealousy.

The second version shows us a more refined and centered woman, who supported all of her husband’s views. The masculine attributes are not mentioned, nor the nominal marriage to her mentor.

Due to lack of references it is hard to conclude which version is the accurate one, for example whether she just pursuing increasing her knowledge at any cost. The article leaves the door opened for the reader to create her/her own opinion of Umm ʿAlī, but highlights her educational achievements and the great importance that female education was given in Islam, which unfortunately, has been fading away because of some un-Islamic views.

Ikram Hawramani

In her paper, University of Birmingham professor Arezou Azad studies the career of the medieval female mystic Umm ʿAlī Fāṭima of Balkh.

Azad complains that it is often difficult to distinguish fact from myth in the accounts on Rābiʿa al-ʿAdawiyya (d. 801). This is the case with lives of the Sufi saints since their disciples and admirers, removed from them by generations and centuries, naturally felt a strong urge to elevate their masters to the highest spiritual stations. Therefore Sufism never developed strict criteria for telling fact from fiction when it came to information on the lives and sayings of the saints.

Azad also complains that most recent research has focused on Rābiʿa. Her paper is a contribution toward shifting the focus to other female mystics of Islam. She mentions that over the past two decades (meaning 1993-2013), studies have revealed that women exercised far more power than was previously believed. This is a welcome observation and in keeping with my contention that the historical reality of male-female relationships is that women were always equal partakers in all civilizations, despite what feminist theories of historical misogyny might suggest (of course, the existence of some misogyny has always been a fact). And based on this contention, I hope to work toward contributing a post-feminist, or what I simply call a humanist, perspective toward the study of women that assumes from the get-go that men and women are already equal in power, worth and civilization-forming ability. A study by University of Western Ontario professor Maya Shatzmiller found that “women were involved in economic life in medieval Islam to an important degree.”

Columbia University professor Richard W. Bulliet has stated that the inclusion of women in the classical biographical entries were often due to their kinship ties with the compiler. This is in keeping with Darwinian theories of kinship where humans are wont to see people of closer kinship as “more human” than people of more distant kinship. It is to have a female-excluding worldview in a masculine scholarly culture, but kinship ties make it difficult for the male writer to uphold this exclusionary view toward closely related females. While a man may have a general view toward women, this view is difficult to uphold toward women he knows personally. An aunt, for example, is automatically excluded from the female category in the mind and included in the human category instead, this making it much more likely for the male writer to treat her on human terms rather than mere female terms.

Azad mentions that the 14th century Egyptian scholar Ibn al-Ḥājj (d. 1336 CE) spoke against women sitting across men during learning sessions, considering inappropriate. But she makes the astute remark that rather than his perspective, rather than representing a widely-followed norm and prescription, actually represents the opposite. Women’s free mingling with men in mosques had become a reality and this scholar simply tried to express his disapproval of it. In my book An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslims, I caution against viewing Islamic scholars’ statements as representations of norms since they often actually represent the opposite; they are anti-norms that they only wished to become norms. When Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 1201) complains about various errant practices in the Baghdad of his time, while a casual reading by a past Orientalist may have led him to think of the Baghdadian culture of the time as a theocratic society controlled by scholars, the evidence actually suggests the exact opposite: scholars had little power to control their societies, showing the great freedom enjoyed by the Muslims of the time. The reality of Islamic societies is that the elite of Islam (the scholars and the devout Muslims) often as a class stand against the elite of society and the “ordinary” Muslims. The Islamic elite always pull in one direction (toward a better practice of Islam), while the rest of society often pulls in the other direction (toward slackness and freedom). In this way a dynamic equilibrium is reached that cannot in any way be honestly described as a theocracy.

However, it is true that in classical Islam there was often a partnership between the social elite and the religious elite, as Azad discusses. But I believe this does not disprove my thesis since we have numerous examples of the religious laxity of many of the social elite of classical Islam. It was, for example, an extraordinarily pious step when one of the Abbasid caliphs decided to ban alcohol drinking-houses, showing that the Caliphate’s usual policy had been one of tolerance toward such an un-Islamic aspect of their society.

In her paper, Azad focuses on the career of Umm ʿAlī Fāṭima of Balkh, a female mystic and a member of the elite of Balkh’s society mentioned in a number of Sufi-oriented Iranian sources. She was taught tafsīr by Ṣāliḥ b. ʿAbdallāh al-al-Tirmidhī (d. 853-4) and transmitted his book in this field. She stayed seven years in Mecca after performing the pilgrimage in order to seek knowledge. This was not unusual. Davidson College professor Jonathan Berkey mentions that out of 1075 women listed in a biographical dictionary of the fifteenth century, 411 obtained a similar education.

Umm ʿAlī’s husband was the judge and mystic Abū Ḥāmid Aḥmad b. Khiḍrawayh (probably died 854-5). Umm ʿAlī took the interesting step of proposing to her husband. Al-Ḥujwirī (d. 1077) mentions (to use Azad’s translation, the first note in brackets is mine):

When she changed her mind [about not marrying], she sent someone [with a message] to Aḥ mad: “Ask my father for my hand.” He did not respond. She sent someone [again with a message]: “Oh Aḥmad, I did not think you a man who would not follow the path of truth. Be a guide of the road; do not put obstacles on it.” Aḥmad sent someone [with a message] to ask her father for her hand.

Azad narrates an anecdote in which Umm ʿAlī “removes the veil from her face” upon meeting the famous mystic Abū Yazīd (Bāyazīd) al-Biṣtāmī (d. 874 or 877-8) Al-Ḥujwirī recounts this as “Fāṭima niqāb az rūy bar-dāsht” (Fāṭima removed the niqāb from her face) (while her husband was present). This suggests that she merely broke a social convention rather than Islamic law—she did not necessarily remove her full ḥijāb. She simply trusted the great mystic enough to break social convention and let him see her face, believing that he would not objectify her for her beauty and attractions but continue to see her as a fellow human mystic. Elsewhere it is mentioned that once when Bāyazīd comments on the henna designs she has on her hand, she decided to stop learning with him, believing that this was an unacceptable breach of etiquette—the great mystic had taken note of her external appearance. Thus rather than suggesting any laxity toward religious law, the anecdote suggests her high character and her bravery in breaking social convention due to the trust she had in the power of the mystical path upon men.

In conclusion, Azad’s study is a very welcome contribution to rejuvenating the legacy of Islam’s great women in the classical period.

Is there a difference between wearing hijab and abaya or loose shirts and pants?

Is there any difference if one wears hijab and casual clothing (long sleeve loose shirt and loose pants) to the one who wears hijab and an abaya?

Different scholars will likely have different opinions on that. My view is that as long as the purpose of the hijab is achieved and the hair and body are covered (save for the face, hands and according to some scholars, the feet), then type of dress does not matter. The point is for a Muslim woman to dress in a way that prevents lecherous men from having anything erotically satisfying to look at, and this can be achieved through all kinds of costumes.

Islam and a husband’s rape of his wife

Asalam Walikum, why is it not considered rape if your spouse raped you? People have told me Islam does not consider that [rape]

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is no clear statement in the Quran or hadith on this question, so scholars have simply used their own personal and cultural opinions about it. Since they think a husband has a right to sexual intimacy with his wife, they do not think that the idea of rape applies in marriage.

But there is nothing to force us to accept their views. Personally I think forcing sexual intercourse on a woman is a disgusting and vile thing even if she is one’s wife. So my opinion is that sexual intimacy should only happen with the woman’s agreement and if she does not agree to it, then she should be left alone. If she always refuses sexual intimacy then the husband can seek divorce.

It is permitted for Muslim women to marry if their guardian wrongfully prevents the marriage

i am a virgin woman of 35 and and my burning desire to marry a man of my choice and luckily i have found that man…but my family my guardian who is my brother does not in anyway recommend me to marry him…the person i m willing to marry is holding an upright character ,he is a religious man and a goverment office,he is hailing from a noble lineage..he is handsome…i truly love him and willing to marry him….m i supposed to go for court marriage and solemnize my nikah in the presence of two witnesses and magisterate who would act like WALI on my behalf…

If the man you mention is able to take care of you financially and if your brother has no good reason for refusing the marriage, then he loses his right to guardianship because he does not have your best interests in mind. In such a case, if the Muslim judge (a judge can be any knowledgeable person, such as an imam) investigates and finds that your brother is truly wrongful in preventing the marriage, then he can find a better person to act as your guardian (such as another relative, or himself). In such a case the marriage would be valid according to Islam.

However, keep in mind that going against your brother’s wishes could forever destroy your good relations with him, therefore before you go forward with the marriage, try to get your relatives involved and any imams you know in order to convince him to agree to the marriage. The Muslim judge should also try to reach out to him to convince him to agree. If he still does not, then you can still legally marry with the judge’s approval.

Sources:

Is menstruation a punishment from God?

Aslamalaikum, I was wondering whether menstruation is a punishment from allah swt as I have heard that it was sent down as a punishment for hawa after she told adam to eat the fruit from the tree but I have also read that it is a blessing which I don't fully understand how it can be a blessing as it is so painful etc.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

In my thinking the idea that someone could be punished for the sins of someone else is ridiculous. There is nothing in the Quran or widely-transmitted hadith that tells us Eve told Adam to eat of the fruit. That is a Jewish and Christian belief, in the Quranic version of the story they are both equally responsible. 

And you, Adam, inhabit the Garden, you and your wife, and eat whatever you wish; but do not approach this tree, lest you become sinners.”

But Satan whispered to them, to reveal to them their nakedness, which was invisible to them. He said, “Your Lord has only forbidden you this tree, lest you become angels, or become immortals.”

And he swore to them, “I am a sincere advisor to you.”

So he lured them with deceit. And when they tasted the tree, their nakedness became evident to them, and they began covering themselves with the leaves of the Garden. And their Lord called out to them, “Did I not forbid you from this tree, and say to you that Satan is a sworn enemy to you?”

They said, “Our Lord, we have done wrong to ourselves. Unless You forgive us, and have mercy on us, we will be among the losers.” (The Quran, verses 7:19-23)

If menstruation makes life difficult, God can always make up for it by making other things easy. 

What use does God have for your punishment if you have given thanks, and have believed? God is Appreciative and Cognizant. (The Quran, verse 4:147)

You cannot earn the rewards of patience unless you have something to be patient about. So menstruation is a blessing in that it gives you a chance to prove your patience and your ability to love God despite seemingly suffering needlessly.

Ideally there should be nothing that can happen to you that would decrease your love for God. This attitude is best expressed by the Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab in this poem:

For You is praise, no matter how long the distress lasts,
And no matter how oppressive the pain becomes,
For You is praise, afflictions are bestowals,
And suffering is of Your bounty.
Did You not give me this darkness?
And did You not give me this dawn?
Does the ground then thank raindrops,
But become angry if the clouds do not find it?
For long months, this wound
Has been cutting my sides like a knife.
The affliction does not calm at morning,
And nighttime does not bring death to wipe out the agony.
But if Job was to cry, he would cry,
“For You is Praise, for suffering is like drops of dew,
And wounds are presents from the Beloved,
The stacks of which I hug to my chest.
You presents are before me, they do not leave,
Your presents are accepted, bring them on!”
I hug my wounds and call out to visitors:
“Look here and be jealous,
For these are presents from my Beloved!”
And if the heat of my fever approaches fire,
I would imagine it a kiss from You fashioned from flame.

A woman’s worth does not depend on her accomplishments

AOA, Akhi! few days ago I met an aunt of me.She and her daughters are very social and they all are well known in their fields.My father couldn't afford our studies so we sisters are just graduate.Also my father never allowed us to go out much so we are kind of staying at home type girls.But Alhamdulillah all are married and happy in their lives.My aunt said to me that the kind of life u are living,is just making u a burden on society.So does a person must be recognized by society before dying?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

In my opinion a saintly “soccer mom” who has no accomplishment beyond taking care of her family is infinitely more admirable than a selfish and greedy female CEO. A woman’s worth has nothing to do with her accomplishments and everything to do with her character. A saintly woman who carries out her duties (whatever they may be) is better than other women regardless of accomplishments.

The idea that a woman’s worth should depend on her accomplishments is a self-defeating modern superstition. It tells women they are not good enough unless they ignore their own desires and instincts and enter races with men in the corporate, political or scientific world. 

I fully support women’s participation in these things. What I do not support is acting as if a woman’s worth depends on these things. It does not. Her worth depends on her character. I would consider a woman with no accomplishments but with a good character superior to a female Nobel Prize winner with a bad character any day.

Our accomplishments are gifts from God. He created us, gave us talents and made things easy for us. Acting as if accomplishments increase our worth is the height of arrogance, it is the same as a rich person thinking their money that God has given them makes them worthier than poor people.

I see nothing wrong with a woman having no interest in accomplishments and simply wanting to take care of her family. And I see nothing wrong with another woman who likes accomplishments. Neither is worthier than the other. Both are simply carrying out their duties.

It is only ignorance and arrogance that makes a scholar or scientist think their job is more glorious than a mother who takes care of her children. To me their worth depends on their character, including how well they try to carry out their duties. If God has enabled me or some woman to be a scholar and has put scholarship in our path, it would be shameful if we do not try to be the best scholars we can be. But if God has not enabled another person to become a scholar, then it is not shameful that they are not scholars.

I firmly believe that an uneducated and illiterate shepherd who fears God more than I do is a better and worthier person than I am regardless of my accomplishments.

Your aunt’s statement that you are a burden on society is rather ignorant and arrogant. Just because God made things easy for her and not for you makes her think she is better than you. If you fear God more than her and carry out your duties just as well as her, then you are superior to her even if she gains global fame in her field.

There is no worth, honor or glory except through God. Anyone who chases these things outside of God is chasing a mirage. 

I do not want to discourage women from working in traditionally masculine fields. What I want to discourage them from is the arrogance to think that this makes them superior to other women. It does not. Whether you work with test tubes or diapers, you are a lowly servant of God and your only worth comes through Him. Anyone more pious and saintly than you is superior to you regardless of who you think you are.

And I find pious women who seek worth and honor through God to be infinitely more admirable than women who seek these things by trying to race with men in traditionally masculine fields. Of course there is nothing wrong with a woman wanting to work in these fields, what is wrong is her thinking this is something to be proud of. Like I said, being proud of your accomplishments is like being proud of being rich. Both are blessings from God that you would never have had if He had not made things easy for you. Accomplishments should only increase your humility and gratitude toward God.

If anyone, man or women, thinks their accomplishments makes them superior to someone more pious than them, then they have become arrogant and misguided. If you think your fame and accomplishments make you superior to a completely unknown mother who fears God more than you and whose only accomplishment is raising healthy and happy children, then that is the height of arrogance.

So never let someone make you think you are inferior just because they are more accomplished and famous than you. It is the same as letting a rich person make you think you are inferior because you are not as rich. Seek worth an honor only through God, He should be your standard and your guide, not other people. If you are more pious than your aunt, then she has absolutely nothing to be proud of, and her self-satisfaction has only set her up for failure in attaining God’s love and pleasure.

There is, however, the danger of letting our sense of our piety make us feel arrogant and superior to others. This too is wrong. Feeling superior to others is always wrong, whether because of piety, accomplishments or wealth. You should only compare yourself to what God wants you to be, and seeing your numerous failures in being the best person you can be in God’s sight should only increase your humility and fear of God’s dissatisfaction with you.

How should females wipe their hair during wudu?

How should females wipe their hair during wudu? It's difficult to wipe back to front

It is sufficient to wipe the front part of your head without wiping anything else. This is what Aisha, may God have mercy on her, used to do.

Source:

It is permitted for Muslim women to work in the police force and the army

Asalam Walikum, Are women joining the military haram? If so, why?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

According to a fatwa issued by al-Azhar University, it is permitted for women to work in the police force and the army. There are examples of women working in the army during the time of the Prophet PBUH. They mainly worked as nurses but sometimes they also joined the fighting.

Women face a high risk of sexual harassment and rape in the army from what I have read, for this reason it is best if Muslim women avoid army jobs that require constant unsupervised mixing with soldiers. Secretarial, nursing and technical jobs in the army would be the best choice. It is not a clear-cut issue between halal and haram; people should use their own judgment in deciding whether the work environment is safe enough and reputable enough for a Muslim woman to work there. It also changes from woman to woman; some women are physical much stronger than others and have a dominant personality. Such women can easily avoid and counter abusive men, while physically weaker and more submissive women may not be able to do so.

Sources:

Believing Women in Islam (2019) by Asma Barlas and David Raeburn Finn

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Believing Women in Islam: A Brief Introduction by Asma Barlas and David Raeburn Finn is a short book that attempts to present the main ideas of Barlas’s longer work “Believing Women” in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Quran.

First, I should mention that I believe that any self-respecting and civilized man should demand that his female mate be his equal–he cannot enter into a relationship with an inferior being because that is damaging to his own self-respect. If I love a woman, I should love her as an infinitely respected person, not as a “woman” who is somehow categorically inferior to men.

I dislike the label “feminist” because I believe focusing exclusively on the rights and issues of any particular group of humans (women, children, men, Sunni Muslims, Jews) always invariably leads to injustice because it promotes a lack of empathy toward those who are excluded. It is far more civilized, humane and constructive to focus on the rights and issues of infinitely respected, dignified and inviolable persons regardless of what grouping they belong to. Just because a boy or man happens to have male sex organs is in no way, shape or form a good reason to consider his emotions and sufferings of any less importance than a woman’s.

In fact, I believe there is something deeply misogynistic about the feminist worldview (not necessarily shared by all feminists) that women are somehow the perpetual victims of history who were little more than animals controlled by men, lacking any sort of courage, agency or self-assertion. I rather subscribe to the worldview that women were full partakers in history–they chose, they self-asserted, they contributed, they were as much full-human members of their societies as the men were. The theory of the patriarchy is the misogynistic theory that men are somehow, miraculously, capable of keeping women at an inferior position compared to themselves, in something of a master-slave relation, perpetually. Are women so mentally and spiritually inferior to men that they should have put up with such a dynamic for all of history until a few feminists came along to enlighten them? I believe this is incredibly demeaning toward women’s courage and capabilities. Yes, throughout history there were various restrictions on women–but the crucial factor is that the women themselves helped maintain these restrictions. They were not like herd animals controlled by men as patriarchy theory claims–they were full partakers in their civilizations who accepted and supported the particular treatment of women in their societies.

Men and women are both equally responsible for the treatment of women in their societies. It is an insult to women and a figment of the imagination to think that the treatment of women in society is entirely or even largely men’s business. I am not saying that things were great for women, but that women themselves, as free human agents, fully contributed to the way women were treated in their societies. Women were not helpless witnesses to the abuse of women as is often portrayed by feminist ideologues. They took part in it, for example by inciting male relatives to keep their wives “in check”, by enjoying the knowledge that a woman they disliked was being abused, and mothers-in-law were throughout the world often quite happy to be utterly abusive toward their female brides. Any theory of women’s status and abuse that ignores women’s support for the abuse of women is ignoring reality for ideological motives.

If the treatment of women was unjust in a society, then a brief survey of the same society would show us that the men too suffered various forms of mistreatment despite their greater freedom of movement. The problem of their societies was not some anti-female conspiracy, it was a lack of appreciation for the rights and dignity of persons. And if the rights and dignity of persons is appreciated and promoted throughout society, women naturally become men’s equals without any need for feminism promoting women’s rights in particular. If you see the infinitely respected person inside a woman, then her woman-ness becomes completely irrelevant to  how you love her and treat her. Her personhood is so incredibly important that her sex organs have no way to overshadow it.

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Why can’t we have a larger movement inclusive of both men and women that promotes the rights and equality of all persons regardless of their gender or race? This is in fact what classical humanism promotes. Not the arrogant secular humanism that considers humans somehow perfect and needless of guidance, but the humble, self-aware humanism of philosophers like Tzvetan Todorov inspired by the great French humanists. If we take to heart humanist teachings about the dignity and inviolability of persons, this automatically embraces all that moderate feminism truly stands for while avoiding the harms that come from focusing exclusively on the interests of a particular group of humans.

The founding myth of today’s feminism can thus be summarized as “Women were always subhuman until we feminists came to correct matters.” Believing Women in Islam fully assumes the truth of this myth and relies on it for its analysis, and for this reason it has little to offer beyond rehashing already-existing feminist views.

Barlas and Finn write, regarding the apparent lack of sufficient emphasis on women’s rights in the Quran and Sunnah:

God either (1) could not locate or (2) did not care about misogynistic practices in jahili societies. And don't think these stark alternatives are the end of the problem for patriarchal apologists. If God is all-knowing, God either knew and cared or failed to note or care about future generations.

There is a third possibility that they disregard due to the limits of their feminist framework. The third possibility is that women, as full partakers in human civilization, are able to fend for themselves. They support the treatment of women in their own societies even if it has unjust elements the way men support the treatment of men in their societies even if there are unjust elements to this treatment. Their worldview envisions half of society as somehow asleep, or as inferior humans, animals, who were somehow totally incapable of controlling and directing the course of their civilizations. This is utter nonsense–a figment of the feminist imagination. Women are full humans and they are as much responsible for the nature and elements of their civilization as the men are. The Quran and Sunnah lack feminist verses because they consider men and women already equal before God, already equal partakers in civilization, and therefore in no need of classifying one gender against the other and constantly telling one gender to be nice to the other because in this there would be an inherent misogyny. Telling men to be feminist toward women tells them that women are inferior creatures, children, who must be treated not as equals, but as inferiors deserving favors. It is much better and more intelligent for the Quran to simply treat all Muslims as persons, knowing that the men and women are together full partakers in civilization and require no special motivation for one side to avoid mistreating the other–because they are already equal, already they have equal power to shape, form and control their civilization and fend for themselves. The “patriarchy” is the myth that men are clever enough, powerful enough, and women inferior enough, stupid enough, for men to have a position of privilege over women that women are totally incapable of doing anything about. This is a rather low opinion to have of any human, male or female.

Regarding the hijab-related verses of the Quran, they write:

But the so-called modesty verses are specifically addressed to the Prophet and are advisory, not compelling. They are counsel, not commands. Cloaks and shawls in that era covered bosoms and necks, not heads, faces, hands, or feet. Moreover, the counsel was designed specifically to differentiate believing women in Mecca from slaves and prostitutes at a time when jahili men commonly abused both. The jilbab marked believing women as off-limits.

What they recommend is what I call “historical localization” of the Quran. The Quranic verses on the hijab were meant for a specific time and place and not for another. I refute this view of the hijab verses in this article.

So here is the question: Are Barlas and Finn willing to give women the right to interpret these verses for themselves? And if 99% of devout women interpret these verses as requiring the hijab in the modern world, are Barlas and Finn willing to admit that as full humans, these women have the right to interpret these verses in this way even if it goes against the interpretation of the two of them?

I believe in a pluralistic Islam (see my essay) and in autonomous consensus (see my essay). This means that while I respect Barlas and Finn’s particular interpretation of the hijab verses for themselves, I reject any suggestion that this interpretation is any more valid or authoritative than the common interpretation of believing women themselves of these verses–who believe that the verses require the hijab even in the modern world. True feminism requires that you respect the personhood of each woman, and that means respecting them even when they partake in their civilization in a way that you do not like. She is as much a human as you are and you have no right to force your views on her. Barlas and Finn do say that some women wear the hijab as a personal choice for modesty. But it seems that they only consider this a valid choice if it comes out of a person’s personal desire rather than out of their adherence to the classical interpretation of the hijab verses.

In other words, the two of them are not pluralists. They believe ignoring the hijab verses is the only correct interpretation and, if I am not mistaken, they deny the majority of  Muslim women the right to interpret the verses in the classical way.

Regarding the famous “wife-beating” verse of 4:34 which establishes the concept of qiwāma (men being in charge of their households), they write:

Many Arabic-English versions mistranslate the key word, qawwamun, then use that to explicitly claim that the verse asserts male privilege: "Men are in charge of women," "Men are protectors," "Men are the managers of the affairs of women," "Men are superior to [women]." Both "maintainers" and "breadwinners" are by all accounts warranted by the Arabic meaning of the word qawwamun. Male privilege, however, is neither suggested nor implied. So how was that conclusion reached?

This is a rather weak line of argumentation. As I discuss in my detailed analysis of verse 4:34 and the issue of wife-beating, the word qawwāmūn is inescapably related to command and being in charge, as one of the earliest exegetes of the Quran, the Prophet’s Companion Ibn ʿAbbās, says. What makes it inescapable is that the verse clearly states that God has given men a “superiority in rank” to women and goes from mentioning qawwāmūn to mentioning the issue of discipline. If this word was merely about men being bread-winners, then it is rather silly to mention (1) a superiority in rank and (2) suddenly switch mid-verse to the issue of discipline. But if the word has to do with authority in the household as all classical exegetes agree, then it makes perfect sense that the issue of discipline would immediately come up.

Their denial of the classical interpretation of this verse therefore requires breathtaking leaps of logic–it is almost as incredible as arguing that the color black is actually white and that it has been only considered black due to a patriarchal conspiracy. The feminist author Amina Wadud recognized the weakness of this line of argumentation and abandoned her efforts to reinterpret them.

Barlas and Finn are unable to come up with any interpretation of verse 4:34 that preserves the ordinary meaning of wa-ḍribūhunna (“and strike them”) that does not encourage violence against women, and for this reason they are forced to use the unconvincing argument that this word is not being used to mean striking. Again, in the free market of ideas that Islam should be, people should be free to understand the Quran on their own terms. And it would be no surprise if history continues to support the classical reading, since it is so obvious and convincing. As for how wife-beating could ever be a thing in a civilized and self-respecting society, I discuss it in detail in my essay on the verse. The short of it is that after establishing men’s authority in the household, the Quran needs to give men the power to enforce this authority (authority without enforcement power is largely useless), and very similar to the way the police is given the right to use violence in extreme circumstances, men too are given this “policing right”. Please read the full essay where I discuss how this does not lead to a reign of terror of the husbands, just as in a well-functioning society the police never have to use violence. If a man’s violence against his wife is unjust, unjustified and abusive, then that is punishable by the Islamic law of scholars like Ibn Ḥazm.

I agree with Amina Wadud that wife-beating has no place among self-respecting and mature adults. This is beyond doubt. Wife-beating should be considered absurd and taboo by the average Muslim. But as I discuss in the essay, the verse has nothing to do with well-functioning, middle class marriages. Verse 4:34 continued to give me trouble until recently when I realized it was about law-enforcement and social order. Please read the essay for the details.

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It may be asked how could a man respect his wife as an equal if he is given “authority” in his household? It is similar to the way a project manager respects his colleagues who work under him as equals. He does not treat them as inferior humans, he knows that he has been given authority by the higher ups in order for the enterprise to function properly. In the same way, a man is entrusted with authority by God in order for the household to function properly. Why is it given to men and not women? The answer is that because men and women are different.

See the recent book Evolution’s Empress: Darwinian Perspectives on the Nature of Women which was published by Oxford University Press. The book covers the theories of the great feminist anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy in detail. There are important differences between males and females in all primates, including humans, both in physical and psychological traits. God’s justification for giving men authority over women must have something to do with these traits.

I am aware that pseudoscientific arguments have often been abused by some of the religious to justify low opinions about women (they are emotional, etc.). I do not in anyway suggest that science conclusively shows that patriarchal family organization is the best. What I argue is that science shows that there are clear differences between men and women, therefore it is not entirely implausible that such differences can be the basis for different roles in the family. Much further scientific research will be needed to show the correctness or falsity of this assertion. Is I have stated, from God’s perspective, men and women are already equal partakers in civilization. By giving men authority over women, God’s purpose is for families to function better. So the scientific question is this: do devout Muslim families that respect this authority function better than other families or not? Is there more happiness or less? Is there more dysfunction, drug abuse and depression in such families or in others? Detailed and unbiased scientific studies would be required to test the full effects of this patriarchal social organization. My contention is that giving men authority in the household leads to objectively better results for everyone involved, including women. It is the final results, the objective effects, that matter here, rather than theoretical discussions about whether this is fair or unfair.

If a woman is made happier by her husband being in charge of the household, what right do you have to take this away from her? Should you not respect her as a person to choose for herself what she is most happy with? If 99% or 90% of devout Muslim women are perfectly happy with men being authorities in the household, what right do you have to attack them for this? It is highly misogynistic to think that all of these women are somehow brainwashed or like herd animals incapable of thinking for themselves–unfortunately a very common, elitist feminist worldview.

The book deals with the issue of two women witnesses’ testimonies being equal to one man’s. This is not a matter I have studied deeply so I do not have much to say about it. I believe that the only thing that would settle the debate in this case is unbiased and detailed scientific studies that show how men and women differ in their accuracy as witnesses. If they are shown to be equal, then this can help us interpret the verse’s meaning better. And if it shown that women and men differ, then those differences should be taken into account.

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The writers attack the Islamic toleration for polygyny (having multiple wives), apparently believing that this is inherently unjust to women. But as A.S. Amin shows in his book Conflicts of Fitness: Islam, America, and Evolutionary Psychology, there are strong arguments for polygyny actually improving women’s status and well-being. Again, if two consenting female adults agree to be wives to the same man, and if we respect each female as an infinitely respected person, then we should leave it to themselves to make the choice. Polygyny is somewhat taboo in perhaps all middle class, cosmopolitan Muslim societies, and I consider that a good thing since I do not like men making their wives unhappy by finding new (often younger) wives to be their competitors. But there are cases where it is beneficial, so if a society is properly well-educated and cosmopolitan, we can trust the men and women to make the appropriate choices in most cases.

Believing Women in Islam ends with a discussion of the issues inherent in interpreting the Quran. The book is a good summary of the latest feminist arguments against various unjust practices against women, although it offers nothing new as far as I could find compared to other feminist works like the 2015 book Men in Charge?. Its attacks on concepts like the hijab and qiwāma are likely to prove futile since it is unlikely that most devout Muslim women would find their arguments convincing. It will likely give hope to women already avoiding the hijab and living somewhat feminist lifestyles that their way of life is not entirely invalid in Islamic terms (whether such hope is justified or not is another issue). But when it comes to the Muslim community as a whole, we can expect it to continue just as before–slowly improving its treatment of women as its appreciation for humanist ideals like personhood improves, while continuing to hold onto the plain meaning of the Quranic directives.

Is wearing fake eyelashes permitted in Islam?

assalamu aleikum, do you know if the prohibition of wig/hair extensions also applies to fake eyelashes?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There are different opinions on that. According to a fatwa by IslamOnline (overseen by the respected Egyptian scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi) wearing fake eyelashes for decoration is permitted by some scholars like Salman al-Ouda and Shaykh Nasir al-Fahd who say that the ruling for wigs does not apply to them. Others consider them to be like wigs and only permit them for a person who has lost their eyelashes due to sickness or burn.

Sources:

Does Islam restrict and oppress women?

I have questions to ask regarding verses in Quran. I'm confused if Islam actually promotes equality between genders like how it is said. There are verses about right-hand possession, hitting wife if she doesn't listen, being extremely strict about female's hijab, women not being able to go outside, being under husband's control, if she doesn't accept to have intercourse with her husband she will be cursed by the Angels and so on. I really don't understand why women are placed this way in Islam.

Regarding slavery/right-hand posession, please see: Understanding Islam’s Sophisticated Approach to Slavery

As for wife-beating, please see: A new approach to the Quran’s “Wife-Beating Verse” (al-Nisa 4:34)

Women’s hijab is meant to serve a social function. It is not about restricting women. For details please see chapter 6 of my book An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslims (you can download it for free here).

Women not being able to go outside is something practiced by some Muslim cultures and not others. It is not something that Islam forces upon us.

As for “being under a husband’s control”, please again see the essay on the “wife-beating” verse. A woman is not under a husband’s control, both of them are under God and the husband’s freedom to act however he likes toward his wife is greatly restricted by Islamic law.

As for “if she doesn’t accept to have intercourse with her husband she will be cursed by the Angels”, that hadith comes from a single Companion (Abu Hurayra). Hadiths that come from a single Companion are known as āḥād (“singular”) hadiths and are inherently doubtful even if they are technically authentic. According to scholars like the great Egyptian scholar Muhammad al-Ghazali (d. 1996 CE), āḥād hadith does not establish certainty; it is only a hint or suggestion by itself unless there are other narrations that support it. We have the example of Umar b. al-Khattab [ra] who when he heard a hadith narration that sounded strange or unreasonable he would verify it by asking other Companions. We should follow the same method, always requiring multiple Companions to establish important points. When a single Companion says that such a woman is cursed, this is only a weak hint or suggestion; it does not establish a fact.

For more articles on women in Islam, please see the page Women in Islam.

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Can a woman lead male family members in prayer if necessary?

Assalamu alaykum. My father started to pray alhamdulillah. He knows nothing but Ikhlas so I'm guiding the prayer since he had struggles even remembering the number of rakaas and the words to say. Is the Salah accepted since I'm guiding and I'm a girl? Jazak Allahu khairan.

May Allah reward you both and increase you in guidance. There is an authentic hadith narrated by Imam Aḥmad, Abū Dawūd and others that mentions a woman named Umm Waraqa who was allowed by the Prophet PBUH to lead her family in prayer. The hadith in Abū Dawūd’s collection (vol 1, no. 218) mentions that there was an old man who gave the adhan and who presumably prayed behind her. Based on this hadith, some scholars permit women to lead men in prayer in times of necessity, for example when there is no man or boy who can do it out of a lack of knowledge.

Based on that hadith some scholars such as the 20th century Ḥanbalī scholar ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Qāsim say it is permitted for a woman to lead her family in prayer when it is necessary. Therefore what you are doing is acceptable according to their opinion until your father learns how to perform the prayer correctly.

Sources:

  • ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Qāsim, Ḥashiyat al-Rawḍ al-Murabbaʿ, no publisher listed, 1397 AH (1976-1977 CE), vol. 2, 311.

Are women permitted to take off the hijab if necessary for work?

assalamu aleikum, is it permissible for a woman to take off her hijab for work?

Taking the hijab off is not permitted unless it is absolutely necessary, for example if it is a matter of life and death. If there is any way a woman can survive without that work then it is not permitted for her to take the hijab off; she must avoid the work even if this means her income is greatly reduced.

However, if a woman has no income and no one else to support her, she is permitted to take the hijab off if her work requires it and if she cannot find any other work.

Sources:

  • Fatwa 1 by Dr. Khalid b. al-Munim al-Rifai (Arabic PDF)
  • Fatwa 2 by Dr. Khalid al-Mushayqih (Arabic PDF)
  • Fatwa 3 by IslamWeb (Arabic PDF)

Muslim women are permitted to sing in public

According to a fatwa by the respected Egyptian scholar Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars), women are permitted to be singers in Islam provided that Islam’s other commandments are respected. For example, singing songs that promote un-Islamic and immoral things is not permitted.

Many other scholars prohibit women from singing even though there is no clear Quranic or hadith text that forces such a prohibition. Their prohibition is based on general considerations. They believe that it is a danger to a woman’s moral character if she sings, since men may be attracted to her voice and since singing often involves dealing with many male strangers who work in studios.

Some scholars think of women as constant sources of moral hazard to society (sources of “fitna“), therefore they always prefer restrictions on their freedoms in order to minimize what they consider to be a risk. Other scholars, however, start with the principle that women are humans and are respected as such by Islam, therefore it is up to each woman, her family and social circle to decide what is appropriate behavior and what is not. While a very young and beautiful woman who spends time alone in the company of male strangers can be in great danger of sexual harassment and abuse, there are also women with strong personalities who can deal with males while suffering little such dangers. Therefore the moderate stance is to avoid paranoia about women’s moral character and recognize that it is quite possible for a woman to work as a singer or actress and to maintain as good a moral character as any other woman. Being a human with reason, she can arrange her circumstances in a way that reduce the risks, for example by having a male relative accompany her in risky situations.

The Quran does not recommend paranoia toward women’s supposed dangers to society and leaves it to each society to come up with its own methods for determining appropriate behavior. So the views of some scholars (especially Saudi ones) where they always prefer restrictions on women is more a reflection of their own cultural beliefs than Islamic commandments.

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Muslim women may bare their arms if necessary for work

According to a fatwa by the Islamic Moroccan Council in Scandinavia, Muslim women working as nurses are permitted to bare their arms if necessitated by their workplaces. Below are some of the main points from their fatwa:

  • It is widely agreed by scholars that the Islamic dress code for women requires covering the entire body except for the face and hands.
  • The great Ḥanafī jurist Qāḍi Abū Yūsuf permitted Muslim women to bare their arms when they performed jobs that required it, such as working as kitchen aids and laundry workers.
  • There is no strong evidence that prohibits Muslim women to keep their arms covered in all circumstances. The evidence permits for making exceptions when absolutely necessary.
  • The harm to Muslim women in being prohibited from working in healthcare is much greater than the harm of their baring their arms.
  • There is a hadith in Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī which mentions Muslim men and women performing wuḍūʾ (ablution) together, which implies that Muslim women bared their arms in front of men for that purpose. There are other authentic narrations that mention groups of Muslim men and women all performing ablution using the same water container (some say that this was before the hijab was made obligatory, but the hadiths do not say that).
  • There is an authentic narration that mentions a woman who was neither a wife nor close relative of the Prophet PBUH performing ablution side by side with him using the same water container.
  • The narrations that some people use to refute the above narrations are unathentic.
  • Baring the arms is not a very important matter and it is not worth a woman losing her job over it.

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Muslim women are permitted to work outside the home

According to a fatwa on the website IslamOnline (which is overseen by the respected Egyptian scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi), it is permitted for Muslim women to work outside the home. Below are some points from the fatwa. A link to the full (Arabic) fatwa is at the end of this article.

  • Muslim women are permitted to work outside the home because she is a full human and enjoys all the rights that come with that, and because there is no clear text in the Quran or hadith that forbids this.
  • Working outside the home for a woman is not only permitted, it can also be a religiously desired thing based on her circumstances.
  • Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, used to help her husband with taking care of his horses.
  • Muslim society as a whole has a need for certain types of female professionals, such as female doctors and teachers. Society is therefore strongly encouraged by Islam to produce at least some female doctors and teachers.
  • A married woman’s career should not conflict with her duties toward her children and husband.

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Are women permitted to live on their own in Islam?

Asalam Walikum, I was wondering if it is haram for women to live by their own. Some people say, women can only live in a house with her brother, father, or husband. Same as with travelling.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

According to a fatwa on IslamWeb (run by Qatar’s Islamic Affairs Ministry), it is permitted for women to live alone on their own. They add the condition that she must be safe from fitna (anything that may harm her spiritually).

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Can a Muslim woman show her hair and body before a non-Muslim woman?

Salam. Brother, what do you think of some scholars having an opinion which says that muslim women's awrah cannot be seen by those of non-muslim women, and that when they visit us home and if we're having a night over with them, we should cover ourselves like when we go outside? Jazakallah.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There are different opinions on that due to the fact that there are no clear Quranic verses or hadith narrations that apply to it. According to the Ḥanbalī scholar al-Mardāwī (d. 1480 CE) it is permissible and has the same ruling as Muslim women before other Muslim women. The contemporary Azhar-educated Egyptian scholar Saʿd al-Dīn al-Hilālī also prefers this opinion.

However, scholars from the Ḥanafī, Shāfiʿī and Mālikī have all expressed the opinion that Muslim women should treat non-Muslim women similar to men in regards to dress code, meaning that they should wear the hijab before them.

Umar [ra] forbad non-Muslim women from entering the bath houses used by Muslim women. The Companion Ibn ʿAbbās [ra] says that a Muslim woman should not show her ʿawra to Jewish or Christian women since they may go on to describe the Muslim woman to their husbands (since they are under no religious obligation not to do that). So the problem many scholars have with Muslim women showing their ʿawra to non-Muslims is that they believe it will cause private information about a woman’s appearance to be made public by the non-Muslims.

Due to these considerations it is best to try to wear the hijab before non-Muslim women, but a person can use their own judgment and social intelligence. If a Muslim woman has a close and trustworthy non-Muslim female friend then that is different from her showing her ʿawra before just any non-Muslim woman. Some scholars such as al-Qurṭubī made exceptions for a woman’s non-Muslim maidservant, who was allowed to see what other Muslim women.

I cannot say what you should do regarding your specific question, but the above are the scholarly opinions on it.

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