The Status Of Women

In Original Islam

While we notice with satisfaction that the role of Muslim women within the realm of the Western society is quite emancipated, this is not so in the original Islam, nor in most countries which are traditionally Islamic. And while we do not object to men taking the leading role in life, we find it degrading, when women become objects of use rather than partners:

"Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: If I were to order anybody to make prostration to anybody, I would have ordered a woman to prostrate before her husband".

Mishkat I, p. 210

"Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah was asked: Who among women is the best? He replied: She who gives pleasure to him (husband) when he looks, obeys him when he bids, and who does not oppose him regarding herself and her riches fearing his displeasure".

Mishkat I, p. 216

"He [i.e. Muhammad] said: You shall give her food when you have taken your food, that you shall cloth her when you have clothed yourself, that you shall not slap her on the face, nor revile (her), nor leave (her) alone except within the house".

Mishkat I, p. 212

"Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: By Him in Whose hand is my life, when a man calls his wife to his bed, and she does not respond, the One Who is in the heaven is displeased with her until he (her husband) is pleased with her".

"Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: When a man invites his wife to his bed and she does not come, and he (the husband) spends the night being angry with her, the angels curse her until morning".

Sahih Muslim II, p. 723

"Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will."

Surah 2:223

What has been recorded here is nothing short of abusive behaviour. A woman is degraded from the God-intended partnership to an object of use or abuse.


Marriage in Islam is a contract that in the days of Muhammad was engaged in rather lightly. All it required was that a dower had to be paid, which was often of very little value. It could be a garment or even a few handful of dates.

"Narrated Sahl ibn Sa'd As-Sa'idi: A woman came to Allah's Apostle and said: 'O Allah's Apostle! I have come to give you myself in marriage (without dower)'. Allah's Apostle looked at her. He looked at her carefully and fixed his glance on her and then lowered his head. When the lady saw that he did not say anything, she sat down. A man from his companions got up and said: 'O Allah's Apostle! If you are not in need of her, then marry her to me'. The Prophet said, 'Have you got anything to offer?' The man said, 'No, by Allah, O Allah's Apostle!' The Prophet said to him, 'Go to your family and see if you have something'. The man went and returned, saying, 'No, by Allah, I have not found anything'. Allah's Apostle said, '(Go again) and look for something, even if it is an iron ring'. He went again and returned, saying, 'No, by Allah, O Allah's Apostle! I could not find even an iron ring, but this is my Isar. He added, 'I give half of it to her'. Allah's Apostle said, 'What will she do with your Izar? If you wear it, she will be naked, and if she wears it, you will be naked'. So that man sat down for a long while and then got up (to depart). When Allah's Apostle saw him going, he ordered that he be called back. When he came, the Prophet said, 'How much of the Qur'an do you know?' He said, 'I know such Surah and such Surah', counting them. The Prophet said, 'Do you know them by heart?'. He replied, 'Yes'. The Prophet said, 'Go, I marry her to you for that much of the Qur'an which you have'".

al-Bukhari VII, p. 15-16; Sahih Muslim II, p. 717-718

Contrary to the Christian faith, divorce is quite acceptable:

"Recent years have brought some amelioration (improvement) of the hard lot of women in Muslim countries in the matter of divorce. Under the Hanafi law - and this, be it remembered, obtains in the greater part of the Muslim world - a husband may divorce his wife for any reason or for no reason at all ... The husband can divorce his wife by simply saying so three times. On the other hand, a woman can never divorce her husband on any ground whatever, unless she has his permission to do so. Nor can she get a judicial dissolution of marriage for neglect, ill-treatment, or positive cruelty ... A feature of the Hanafi system is that a divorce uttered in jest (for fun) and not meant seriously is just as binding as a deliberate utterance. But this is not all. Even a divorce spoken when a man is drunk is valid if he was culpably drunk, and so, too, is a divorce uttered under compulsion".

"Islam" by A. Guillaume, p. 174


A very strange proposition is given in the Qur'an. We see, however, also some fairness towards ladies in the process of being divorced:

"Let the women live (in iddat) in the same style as ye live, according to your means. Annoy them not, so as to restrict them. And if they carry (life in their womb), then spend (your substance) on them until they deliver their burden. And if they suckle your (offspring), give them their recompense; and take mutual counsel together, according to what is just and reasonable. And if ye find yourselves in difficulties, let another woman suckle (the child) on the (father's) behalf."

Surah 65:6

The DICTIONARY OF ISLAM by T.P. Hughes gives this outline on divorce:

"The Sunni Law of Divorce: Divorce may be given either in the present time or may be referred to some future period. It may be pronounced by the husband either before or after the consummation of the marriage. It may be either given in writing or verbally.The words by which divorce can be given are of two kinds: Sarih, or "express", as when the husband says, 'Thou art divorced'; and kinayah, or "metaphorical", as when he says, 'Thou art free, thou art cut off; veil yourself! Arise! Seek for a mate", etc. etc.A man may divorce his wife without any misbehaviour on her part, or without assigning any cause.If a man pronounce a divorce whilst in a state of inebriety from drinking fermented liquor, such as wine, the divorce takes place. Repudiation by any husband who is sane and adult, is effective, whether he be free or a slave; willing, or acting under compulsion; and even though it were uttered in sport or jest, or by a mere slip of the tongue, instead of some other word.

The following are causes for divorce, but generally required to be ratified by a decree from the Qazi or "judge":

  1. Jubb. That is, when the husband has been by any cause deprived of his organ of generation. This condition is called majbub. In this case the wife can obtain instant divorce if the defect occurred before marriage. Cases of evident madness and leprosy are treated in the same way. Divorce can be obtained at once.
  2. Unnah or 'impotence'. In cases of impotence in either husband or wife, a year of probation can be granted by the judge.
  3. Inequality of race or tribe. A woman cannot be compelled to marry a man who belongs to an inferior tribe, and, in case of such a marriage, the elders of the superior tribe can demand a divorce; but if the divorce is not demanded, the marriage contract remains.
  4. Insufficient dower. If the stipulated dowry is not given when demanded, divorce takes place.
  5. Refusal of Islam. If one of the parties embrace Islam, the judge must offer it to the other three distinct times, and if he or she refuse to embrace the faith, divorce takes place.
  6. La'n, or "imprecation". That is, when a husband charges his wife with adultery, the charge is investigated, but if there is no proof, and the man swears his wife is guilty, and the wife swears she is innocent, a divorce must be decreed.
  7. Ila, or "vow". When a husband makes a vow not to have carnal intercourse with his wife for no less than four months, and keeps the vow inviolate, an irreversible divorce takes place.
  8. Apostasy from Islam. The author of the Raddu'l Mukhtar (Vol. II, p.649) says: 'When a man or woman apostatises from Islam, then an immediate dissolution of the marriage takes place, whether the apostasy be of the man or of the woman, without a decree from the Qazi".

"Dictionary of Islam", pp. 87ff

The Role of Women

We read in the Qur'an:

"Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly). But if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance); for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all)."

Surah 4:34

The Law of Inheritance further determines that a male offspring gets double the inheritance of a female, and in Islamic Courts of Justice, a man's witness is worth twice that of a woman. In practice the result of such an attitude was, that around the year 1900 90% of all Muslim women were illiterate.

It sounds almost ironic that a Muslim lady (Olive Toto) wrote a poem which was published in an Islamic paper some time back, part of which reads as follows:

"Islam lifts women to a high degree;Gives them their full rights legally. By Islam's Law a woman's property(Whether single or married she be) is still her own right lawfully".

Without suggesting that this is typical, we ought to mention the "flexibility" one may enjoy regarding the Shariat (Law): Ibn-Saud of Arabia admitted to having had over 200 wives, but maintained that since he had never had more than four at one time, he had never sinned in this respect.

We are also aware that the Emir of Kuwait married a new bride every Thursday - obviously after having divorced another wife before.

Besides all that, we take note of Islam propagating polygamy:

"If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two , or three, or four. But if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustly."

Surah 4:3

We note:

Christians, and even the Western countries (in which deteriorating morals are our deep concern) reject polygamy because it inhibits or exterminates exclusive, devoted love. Love between the sexes ought to be exclusive, otherwise it is degraded in essence to mere sexual fulfilment. No woman who loves her husband and wishes to be fully loved in return, can tolerate a partner. One may lose sight of this fact in a polygamous society, but even Ayesha, the favourite wife of Muhammad, confessed to having been jealous. How much more would the others have been! ("Muhammad's Marriage to Ayesha").

But there is one further aspect: Monogamy gives recognition, status and value to a woman. It is silly to argue that a polygamous society makes prostitution unnecessary. What about sexual fulfilment for the woman, who has to share her husband with other wives? And what about the men who surely have to go without wives, because someone else has more than one?

The fact that there is a numeric superiority of girls over boys, is too insignificant to justify the legalisation of polygamy.

We can also not accept the argument that during the "Holy Wars" when many men were killed, polygamy was a justifiable provision for the widows. According to notes in "Sahih Muslim III", p. 491, in all the 82 hostilities during the lifetime of Muhammad, only 259 Muslims lost their lives. When Muhammad moved to Mecca with 10 000 men, how many of them would have had a chance of marrying even one widow? Just 2% !

The Christian Position

Jesus Christ shows us a different concept:

"Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked: 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?' 'Haven't you read', he replied, 'that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate'.

'Why then', they asked, 'Did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?' Jesus replied, 'Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."

Matth. 19:3-8

In Christian ethics, and this is somewhat reflected in the ethics of the "Western World", what has been related from the Hadith is a most degrading and unacceptable concept. In the Bible we are commanded:

"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Eph. 5:22, 25

This is strengthened by the interpretation of love:

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away."

1. Cor. 13:3-8


Recommended Literature for Chapter 8:

Christians ask Muslims, Gerhard Nehls, LCA 1992, pp. 103-107.

Textbook of Islam II, M.A. Quraishy, The Islamic Foundation 1989, pp. 187-202.

The Position of Women in Islam, Hamadun Dagher, Light of Life 1995, 208 pages.