The Role of Women in Islam Essay

Lomonosov Moscow State University Business School The Analysis of the Role of Women in Islamic Culture by … May 24, 2012 Abstract My paper is written in purpose to cover the issue of the role of women in Islamic culture. My first part is devoted to the status of women according religious texts of Islam, Quran and Sunna. The first factor that determines the role of Muslim women is spirituality. In this regard women are equal to men; they all play the role of “vicegerents”.

Women are allowed to take part in Friday prayers and other religious activities as well as they may be present at war. The second criterion evaluating the role of women is their status within the family, namely their rights and duties in terms of marriage, divorce, motherhood and widowhood. Then the economic and political rights of women take place. The second part is aimed at the implementations of the Muslim laws in Islamic countries: how women are treated in families and problems they face; to what extent they participate in the social life, economically and politically.

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The analysis of these factors may show us the real role of women and bring us to some conclusions. The Analysis of the Role of Women in Islamic Culture According to the statistics conducted by Pew Research Center, in 2010 1,618,143,000 people which accounts for 23. 4% of the world population professed Islam. Now imagine that about a half of them are females – Muslim women who differ from the rest of all by their culture, role in society and even by their outfits. Comprehending the role of women is crucial as the number of Muslim women in ur society is steadily increasing within the fast growth of Islam. More and more Muslim women participate in social life and more and more knowledge is required to communicate and cooperate effectively and tolerantly with them taking into account their principals and customs. Role of women can be observed from different aspects of life opposed to men’s, beginning with the spiritual role, position in terms of the family, as well as economical and political activity.

In my course paper the topic of women in Islam will be covered from the point of religious sources: Quran, the holy scripture of Islam, and Sunna, the practice and sayings of the last prophet Muhammad, and fulfilled by the data showing how these Islamic commandments are practiced in some Islamic countries such as Bangladesh, Egypt, Mali and others. 1. Role of women according to Quran and Sunna Spiritual Role of Women When it comes to the role of women in Islam, the first issue that is being raised is spirituality. It highlights that the woman’s soul is as important as the man’s.

Muslim Women’s League [MWL], a non-profit Muslim American organization, basing on the Quran highlights the gender equality:”I shall not lose sight of the labor of any of you who labors in My way, be it man or woman; each of you is equal to the other” (3:195). According to Women’s League (1995), the best example of equality in spirituality in Islam is the interpretation of Adam and Eve’s story (“Gender Equality in the Quran”, para. 1). In contrast to the Bible (Genesis 2:18), woman was not made from the man’s rib, also there is no clarifying whether Adam or Eve was first created.

Besides, it is described in Quran (4:1) how the first couple failed to stay away from the tree with forbidden fruit and were both equally guilty of the sin while the Bible states that “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed” (1 Timothy 2:14). Every woman is responsible for her deeds as “whatever wrong any human being commits rests upon himself alone” (Quran, 6:164). Each person has a freedom of choice and no matter of the gender he or she will be held accountable for his/her actions. Osman M. F. , a Ph. D. n Islamic law and institutional history from Princeton University, supports this statement by stressing out that women are not seen as “a mere shadow or an extension of a man, always following him”(1993, p. 3). He believes that women are free as individuals and are responsible for their faith and actions under the Islamic law. Hasan Abdul Ghaffar, a scholar of Hadith and a member of the Islamic Ideological Council in Pakistan, takes the same stand and concludes: There can thus be no doubt that in the Hereafter, men and women will both be judged, each individual bearing the burden of its own acts, each soul will be unished for its transgressions and each will be rewarded for its obedience to Allah (1996, p. 4). As Women’s League points out basing on the Quran, both males and females are supposed to play “the role of vicegerents” (1995, “Role as Vigerents” section), praying to God and living up to his injunctions so that they can finally get to the paradise:”Say: Behold, my prayer, and all my acts of worship, and my living and my dying are for God alone” (Quran, 6:163). Some people may regard that the “vicegerency” of a woman should mainly be performed through childbearing.

Nevertheless, there is no division of the “vicegerency” between sexes in the Quran, moreover, women should not be disregarded for being infertile or deciding not to have children. As evidence, the prophet Muhammad had children only from two of his wives, Khadija and Mariya, while others did not bear any child (1995, “Role as Vigerents” section). Muslim Women’s League (1995) notes in its article that Islam is all about combined actions within the community such as congregational prayer (jamia) and pilgrimage. These practices are both male- and female-oriented.

Ahmed and Laila support this idea in “Women and Gender in Islam”: Women of the first Muslim community attended mosque, took part in religious services on feast days, and listened to Muhammad’s discourses. Nor were they passive, docile followers but were active interlocutors in the domain of faith as they were in other matters (As cited in MWL, 1995, “Women’s Role in Religious Activities and Friday Prayer” section). Women as well as men should take part in Friday prayers except the time when they are generally free from the prayers (during menstruation periods).

Females equally to males are allowed to attend mosques and there is even a solid hadith (interpretation of the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings or actions) stating that men should not stop their women from visiting mosques. However, women must stand behind men during the prayer to protect their privacy. On the other hand, women have certain privileges in terms of attending Friday prayers. While men are obliged to participate in Friday congregational prayer, it is voluntary for women.

According to the MWL, women in pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabia were permitted to take part in battles, nursing injured, cheering the soldiers and protecting their community. There were some examples of women on the war in the times of Muhammad, some of them were his wives. Um Umara, for instance, was always near the Prophet watching his back. “Her courage and her effectiveness with weapons led Muhammad to observe that she had acquitted herself better than many men” (As cited in MWL, “Equality of Women in Combat” section).

Status within family After the spiritual aspect, family status of women comes in the list of priority. Islam has certain rules for marriage and divorce procedures and the role of women here is clearly defined. Osman Mohamed Fathi, shares his opinion on this matter in his book “Muslim Women: Family and Society” as he believes that marriage and parenthood are the most important parts of the Islamic system. He describes marriage as a two-way agreement of fiance and fiancee with parental consent.

It is crucial from religious point of view as the “fulfillment of the human nature as created by God” (30:21) named in Quran as “most solemn pledge or covenant” (4:21). According to the Prophet’s hadith, marriage is not possible against the woman’s will. Moreover, a man must pay dowry to the bride which can’t be later taken from her even in case of divorce (Osman, p. 5). In Islam a man may get married only if he is able to be a breadwinner and make sure his woman has everything for a comfortable living. Nevertheless, Islamic law obliges the state to help young couples, provide them with accommodation, finance, etc. Osman, p. 5). Sally Baden, who prepared a report for the Special Programme WID financed by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasizes that marriage should be based on “love and tenderness” (Quran, 31:21). When it comes to having a baby, men are obliged to take care of women, sustaining and supporting them. In response, women should be obedient to their husbands as it is stated in Quran: Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend from their means.

Therefore, the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (4:34). Special attitude is promoted in Islam towards parents, especially mothers. As Osman claims, mothers devote themselves to childbearing and kids must remember that and honor their parents. Quran utterly prohibits disrespect and any kind of offense towards parents (17:23-34). Especially, the role of mother is highlighted. There is a hadith, when a man asked Muhammad who came after Allah and the messenger, and his answer was: “Your mother”.

Then he was asked again the same question and the answer remained the same. Only after he was asked the third time Muhammad answered: “And then comes your father”. This hadith puts mothers on a higher position than fathers. Moreover, Osman (1993) points out that children must take care of their parents even if they are not Muslim and are trying to repudiate them from Islam (p. 6). Sometimes family may fall apart and though divorce is highly undesirable, it is allowed under certain circumstances. Osman (1993) also raises the issue of divorce. He believes that couple should not split up when some contradictions arise.

Islam calls people to save the marriage as long as possible while there is still place for respect and solicitude for each other (p. 7). As stated in the Quran, if relationships get worse, a mediator should be invited from man and wife’s sides (4:35). According to Osman, if there is no other way except divorce, the procedure must go fair. Shari’a (Islamic law) advises not to repudiate woman during an instant rage or her periods when she is excessively sensitive. Husband can ask for divorce taking into account that he is to cover all costs of divorced woman and her offspring.

However, the judges can make the terms of the divorce more precise (1993, p. 7). On the other hand, when wife wants to divorce against the wish of her husband, she must go to court. The judge will consider the reasons for divorce and set the exact amount of alimony and child support. Divorcee shall wait for three months before she is allowed to remarry. During this waiting period spouses may decide to reunite, especially in case the ex-wife is pregnant (As cited in Osman M. F. , 1993, p. 8). The ex-partners may seek reconciliation even after the waiting period by the mutual agreement if woman is not married yet.

Getting back together after separation is permitted for three times, after that it is possible only if the woman marries another man and divorces him (Osman, p. 6). Special rules are set for widows as for example, a widow may remarry after four months and ten days since the death of her spouse and no relative of her husband can force her to marry him or take away her dowry (Quran, 2:234; 4:19). Economic rights Though women may have less material wealth in their possession, they are fully protected economically as for their whole life they are supported by men.

According to Osman (1993), a woman should inherit as much as a half of the man’s share, furthermore she is a full owner of her possessions, has a right to spend all her money “as she please” and nobody can take her material wealth from her (p. 10; Hasan, A. G. , 1993, p. 10). Man gets twice as much but he must provide for women throughout his life, be it his mother, sister, wife or ex-wife. Education and work are integral parts of life for Muslim women as well as for men. According to At-Tabarani, the prophet’s follower, Muhammad once said: “Acquiring knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim (as cited in Hasan, 1996, p. ). Hasan, A. G. , a scholar of hadith and member of the Islamic Ideological Council in Pakistan, stresses that this statement is true for both men and women. Certainly, gained knowledge should be used. And women are allowed to work if it doesn’t contradict with other Islamic rules such as protecting their privacy. Osman (1993) gives examples of women who specialized in teaching, medicine, poetry and had leading positions. Jurist of al-Andalus Ibn-Hazm assured that women can work as a judge if they have special education (As cited in Osman, 1993, p. 14). Hasan grees with Osman on this fact but adds that women may work only in women institutions wearing a veil (Hijab) (1996, p. 20). Political Role of Women In Islam a woman is given a complete legal independence. She is free in earning money, spending it, she is eligible to vote and also she can refuse to take the husband’s name (Osman, 1993, p. 15). When it comes to being a witness, in the majority of cases only two women can replace one male witness. It is explained with the fact that one woman may forget the details and that is why the second one is required to remind her (Hasan, A.

G. , 1996, p. 16). In terms of ruling the country, working as ambassador, minister, member of legislature, women are not considered as they are assumed less physically and mentally strong and they cannot communicate with representatives of other countries, lead the army and face the public (p. 20). 2. Position of Women in Islamic Countries This part of my paper is devoted to the practical implementations of Islamic laws on women’s position in family, economic and political spheres in Arab countries such as Bangladesh, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Family relations

When it comes to reality, things are much more complex, and in particular, women’s role in family may not always be as it is supposed to be according to the religious texts. Homa Hoodfar (1997), a Ph. D. in Social Anthropology from the University of Kent at Canterbury, claims that when it comes to real marriages in Egypt, things get much more complicated than religiously set (p. 54). Lately, women, especially from higher social groups, started to ask for a bigger dowry. But actually Egyptian men fail to fulfill their obligations to maintain their family. In Mali men hardly pay for household costs ( as cited in Baden, 1992, p. 3). According to Brink (1991), just-married women face harsh conditions as all housework is incumbent upon them alone and their mother-in-laws always control them ,especially if young family is living with the husband’s parents (p. 35). Ralph Grillo brings up the issue of arranged marriages citing Hasi Ali who aligns it with “arranged rape” (2008, p. 119). Though Quran prohibits to arrange marriages against woman’s will, it is still a common problem. Young girls can be married off to rich men in purpose to get a bigger dowry not considering other characteristics of the groom.

Though traditionally family is headed by the man, Shorter (1989) provides us with statistics showing that in Egypt 11% of households are women headed (as cited in Baden, 1992, p. 35). Moreover, “in Sudan, war and famine have forced many people to move to urban centers, where many displaced households are effectively female headed” (as cited in Baden, 1992, Africa Watch, 1990). And if we remember the first part of my paper, it claimed that man should be the head of the family as a sustainer and women should be obedient to them (4:34). Political participation of women

As we it was mentioned earlier women are to some extent politically free. However, Sally Baden (1992) regards that Muslim women still have not fully obtained political rights because of the lacking amount of democratic organizations. She gives us examples of the country where women are by far more politically active. Khalidi and Tucker (1992) provides data for Egypt where 4% of members of the parliament were female (as cited in Baden, 1992). Besides, voting is not compulsory for Egyptian women whereas on the contrary it is obligatory for men and so far according to el-Nasr (1989) only a quarter of voters were females (as cited in Baden).

Some political parties have women’s branches which take part in various activities, although they do not really have a say in politics. Formal female communities are usually engaged with the issues of welfare and different women’s projects. Creevey (1991) cites an example of the Union Nationale des Femmes Maliennes (UNFM) which takes responsibility for providing jobs for women and evolving suburban areas. Kabeer (1991) may add that female official groups appear to put pressure on the officials in terms of family issues and individual rights (as given in Baden, 1992, p. 36).

Baden (1992) mentions in her report that Women’s wings of labor unities were promoting rights of women workers, for instance, Mahila Parishad as part of Bangladeshi Communist Party (Kabeer, 1991b), or Sudanese Women’s Union (Hamour, 1990) (p. 36). According to the examples cited, women’s official participation in politics is not that major. Nevertheless, there is still the informal political sector where women seem to be more active. As Sally (1992) puts it, because of the restrained access of women to the power a lot of non-governmental women’s organizations took place.

For example, The Sudanese Women’s Union was founded in 1950s and worked actively from 1985 to 1989. However, because of the Bashir coup it had to go to clandestinity (Peteet and Harlow, 1991: 6. ) (p. 36). Economic activity Quran and Sunna induce all believers to educate themselves and work whether it does not go beyond the limitations, especially for women. Moghadam (1990), a researcher of women’s economic activity, presents statistics that show that in 1975 female labour force in countries where Islam was confessed accounted for 21. 3% whereas in non-Muslim states figures were about 36. 6% (as cited in Baden, 1992, p. 8). Basing on the data, many people think that this is the religion (Islam) which is affecting the level of women labour force in Islamic countries (Baden,1992). Just as in politics there is a part of women who are economically active but not officially. Hoodfar (1997) mentions that a lot of female labour is not reported as women take part in family businesses and they stay unpaid and unrecognized. Even women themselves did not state that they were “working” people, only one out of ten would admit it (p. 110). In other cases women are not able to work in formal sector because of the conditions.

As for instance, in Mali women have little opportunity for working officially. Urban and suburban Malian women are better known for being active in agrarian sector. UNICEF (1989) provides us with information that women’s urbanization in different fields of work is mostly unofficial (as cited in Baden, 1992, p. 29). Generally, when it comes to agricultural sector, level of participation of Muslim women differs from region to region. But how it could be noticed the most active fieldworkers are in Mali, from 60 to 90 percent (Creevey, 1991; UNICEF, 1989).

In Sudan 83% are engaged in traditional agriculture, roughly 10% in the modern agriculture. In Bangladesh according to an official labour survey, 1% of women is an economically active population, where more than ten is engaged in agriculture. An ILO study (1970) provides a figure of 17%, and a more recent study reported 43 percent engaged in agriculture as their primary activity and 15 percent as their secondary activity (as cited in Baden, 1992, p. 30; World Bank, 1990). Women may work on fields but they actually have much less access to land than men as better and bigger parts go to the future providers and sustainers.

According to UNICEF research (1989) and Creevey (1991), in Bangladesh, there is a tendency among women to give up their part of land in favour of men relatives hoping for safety in case of divorce or widowhood (Baden, 1992, p. 31). In Mali due to the high rate of female participation in agricultural produce women have gained some rights to own their land and work on it. Usually, women get the worst fields and don’t have enough time to cultivate them as they are obliged to work on their family’s fields (as cited in Baden, 1992, p. 31).

Even if women possess some land they chose to register it by men names as it gives to their husbands an opportunity to take credits securing them by the land. According to Badri (1986), 3 to 6 % officially owned land and 46% admitted they were owners with 90% of them officially registered by men names (p. 31). All listed examples prove that in spite of the host of economic rights given to women by Islam, many dimensions take place in reality as they have to work unofficially, unrecognized and sometimes even under male names. Conclusion

Whereas the aim of this paper was to analyze the position of women in Islamic culture, it has become a summary of the opinions of some authors. Based on the information provided by them, some conclusions can be drawn. Although the role of Muslim women is clearly stated in the Quran and Sunna from different angles of their life, there are still major divergences between the theoretical position and the real situation in Muslim countries regarding women. For example, in religious texts of Islam family should be headed by the man who is the breadwinner. However, Sudanese families are female headed because of the men migrations.

On the other hand, according to Quran, relationship between spouses is built upon respect and understanding, besides wife should be obedient to her husband as he is her provider and sustainer. On practice, it reflects so that young women are under tight control of their husbands and parents-in-law. Women cannot be ambassadors, members of parliament or other official representatives in political life, nevertheless, there are statistics reporting that 4% of Egyptian parliament members were females. A lot of other examples can be taken to prove that role of women in theory differs from the implementations of the religious commandments.

This analysis made me believe that the existing discrepancy is rooted in the way Islamic sayings are interpreted by the Muslim or non-Muslim societies and the real status of women is fully dependent on the state policy. It is to be hoped that in a while people will reach a common comprehension of the Islamic postulates and women’s role in society will be as significant as it is stated in religious texts of Islam. References Baden S. , (1992), The position women in Islamic countries: Possibilities, constraints and strategies for change, Bridge, University of economic studies, University of Sussex, Brington Grillo, R. D. (2008), The family in question: immigrant and ethnic minorities in multicultural Europe, Amsterdam University Press Hasan, A. G. , (1996), The rights and duties of women in Islam, Darrussalam Publishers Hoodfar, H. , (1997), Between Marriage and the Market: Intimate Politics and Survival in Cairo, University of California Press Kabeer N. , (1991), Women and Islam in Bangladesh: Beyond subjection and tyranny, Palgrave Muslim Women’s League. (1995). Spiritual role of women, Los Angeles, http://www. mwlusa. org/topics/spirituality/spiritrole. html Osman, M. F. (1993), Muslim Women in the Family and the Society, Minaret Publications