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WOMEN IN THE QURAN
By: Maha Dabbous
The Review of Religions
Vol. LXXXVII No. 2
Islam confers on women all the political and social rights, which man enjoys. She is entitled to
all the privileges bestowed upon man. Beside worldly matters, women are also equal to men in
the spiritual sense. Allah says in the Quran:
Surely, men who submit themselves to GOD and women who submit themselves to HIM, and
believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women, and truthful men
and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are
humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and
men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard
their chastity and men who remember ALLAH much and women who remember HIM - ALLAH
has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward (33:36)
This verse makes it clear that Muslim women stand on the same level with Muslim men and
that they can attain to all those spiritual heights to which men can attain. At several places in
the Quran, believing men and believing women are addressed in the same language and are
made equally subject to the same commandments and entitled to the same rights and privileges.
Only their duties are different because their spheres of activity are different.
When the Quran speaks about the souls of human beings, it does not differentiate between man
O ye people ! fear your Lord who created you from a single soul and of its kind created its
mate, and from them twain spread many men and women; and fear ALLAH, in Whose name
you appeal to one another, and fear him particularly respecting ties of kinship. Verily ALLAH
watches over you (4:2)
The words single soul in this verse signifie man and woman taken together. They are spoken of
as one because they are two things jointly performing one function. This verse affirms that
women and men belong to the same kind and species and that they have the same propensities.
The chains of the physical body are broken in the spiritual sphere and man and woman are
regarded as one. The equality of the status of the souls of man and woman is further
emphasized when Allah also hints at the fact that man and woman complement one another.
So their Lord answered their prayers saying, I will not allow the work of any worker from
among you, whether male or female, to be lost. You are from one another. Those therefore, who
have emigrated, and have been driven out from their homes, and have been persecuted in My
cause, and have fought and been killed, I will surely remove from them their evils and will
cause them to enter gardens through which streams flow - a reward from Allah, and with Allah
is the best reward. (3:196)
The Quran does not stop at this level, it continues to explain these facts by different means and
from different angles. The Quran mentions the vision Hazrat Moses (peace be upon him) and as
an explanation of one of the incidents in his vision we read:
And as for the youth, his parents were believers, and we feared lest he should cause them
trouble through rebellion and disbelief.
Here the expression his parents means the human body and soul because the parents or the
source from which springs all moral qualities is the combination of the human body and soul
which is the human being himself.
Allah has created man as a free agent. He bestowed upon him great natural powers to enable
him to perform the highest deeds of virtue. The human being can fulfill the great object of his
life by making use of these powers which spring from a combination of his body and soul. But
if these powers are not kept under proper control, they lead him to disbelief and transgression.
These powers have been brought under proper control and their undue vehemence curbed by
the commandments and ordinances which Allah has revealed to the world in His religion.
Every human being is free to chose whether or not to follow the guidance of Allah. His
freedom is of two components. The freedom of thought controlled by the mind and the freedom
of feeling controlled by the heart. The feeling of the heart is a consequence of the thought of
the mind. The former is subordinate to the latter. This is why the two components of the inner
self of the human being can be expressed figuratively by the words his parents where the mind
is likened to the father who is the head of the family and the heart is likened to the mother who
is its body.
As the peace and tranquility of the children in the family depends on the relation between the
father and the mother and the combined efforts of both of them, also the peace and tranquility
of a person depends on the harmony between his mind and heart as they form his spiritual
The morals and behaviour of any person are a result of the combination of the actions of his
mind and heart. If he does not profess the religion of Allah, then this combination is, in Divine
estimation, a forbidden relation which produces illegitimate fruit. The person is cast away from
Allah and he lives in a ruinous hell. But when he answers the call of Allah and embraces His
religion and submits to Him, his mind and heart combine together to fulfill the purpose of his
existence. Then this relation becomes legal and bears legitimate blessed fruit. The person is
brought to a new spiritual life and attains to the peace and harmony of his inner self and he is
rewarded by the love and nearness of Allah.
Allah has hinted to this similarity when referring to women:
They are a garment to you, and you are garment to them. (2:188)
To understand this fully we need to understand the meaning of the word garment which is
mentioned here. The Quran itself explains the meaning of this word:
O children of Adam, we have indeed sent down to you raiment to cover your shame, and to be
an elegant dress; but the raiment of righteousness - that is the best. That is one of the signs of
Allah, that they may remember. (7:27)
Here the Arabic word which was translated as raiment is libaas. A raiment is used to cover our
nakedness and also to to serve as a decoration and embellishment and make us look elegant.
But this verse tells us more. It continues to tell us that the apparel of piety is in fact the really
fine raiment for us. Ordinary dress covers our physical nakedness, while the apparel of piety
covers our spiritual and moral nakedness. So the verse reminds us that when we consider it to
be necessary to have good clothing to cover our physical nakedness and use elegant dress to to
look graceful, we should all the more be anxious to cover our moral and spiritual nakedness.
And the best raiment for us is the apparel of righteousness and piety.
The word raiment is further explained in another verse of the Quran:
And Allah has made for you, of that which He has created,things affording shade, and He has
made for you in the mountains, places of shelter and He has made for you garments which
protect you from heat and coats of mail which protect you in your wars. Thus does He complete
His favours on you that you may submit to Him. (16:82)
The verse show that garments are used for protection form heat and also for protection in
battles. But again the verse tells us more. The verse ends with the phrase Thus does He
complete His favours on you, that you may submit to Him. This draws our attention to the fact
that the real purpose of this favour from Allah is to enable us to submit to Him. Hence we start
to think about this verse in the spiritual sense. The heat from which our garments are protecting
us can be understood as the ruinous hell within the inner self of a person who is disobedient to
his Creator. He creates this hell himself out of his own choice and he has the ability to protect
himself from it through following the guidance of Allah.
Also, the protection in wars can be taken as protection in spiritual battles. Islamic Jihad
(striving for the cause of Allah) does not only involve killing and being killed but in striving
hard to win the pleasure of Allah. This can best be done by serving the cause of truth with all
one's might under the command and guidance of a Divinely appointed reformer. This is Jihad
in the truest sense of the word. It can take the form of preaching and dissemination of the
teachings of Islam by peaceful means or of defending it by the sword from being destroyed by
its enemies. But the Great Jihad as termed by the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of
Allah be upon him) is the Jihad against one's baser self. i.e., against one's evil desires and
propensities or against Satan.
So when we protect ourselves against our enemies in this spiritual battle, we can attain to
victory in the form of true submission to Allah.
If we now combine the meaning of this verse with the meaning in the previously mentioned
verse, we understand that Allah has bestowed upon us the ability to be righteous and pious so
that we can protect ourselves from all evil which prevents our souls from surrendering to Allah.
We can also see that the word garment is used to signify the raiment of piety which us the
means of the protection of the soul against all evil and hence, it is the means of attaining to true
submission to Allah.
With this understanding of the word garment, we can now return to the original quotation:
They are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them. (2:188)
In the light of the above, we can now see that this expression can be applied to the two
components of the human inner self. Exactly as the husband and wife complement one another
and protect one another against the enemies who threaten the peace of their family, the two
components of the inner self of the human being complement one another and protect one
another from all evil in their Great Jihad. Righteousness will prevent a person from thinking
wickedly and hence it will protect from his heart from inclining towards evil and at the same
time righteousness will prevent him from evil desires which can poison his mind with evil.
Thus, righteousness protects a person from the ruinous hell which can be created by him
through his disobedience to his Creator.
The two components of his inner self protect each other and adorn one another with the raiment
of piety and this will lead him to complete submission to Allah.
After attaining to true submission to Allah and after following His guidance, a person naturally
awaits some results and gains. This is again similar to the case of a husband and wife who, after
establishing their marriage, desire to have children. In this connection Allah says:
Your wives are a tilth for you, so approach your tilth when and how you like, and send ahead
some good for yourselves and fear Allah and know that you shall meet Him, and bear good
tidings to those who obey. (2:224)
The word tilth means a piece of land ploughed for sowing or actually sown with some crop or
even under crop. It also means crop or produce of a land. It is also used to signify gain,
acquisition or earning and also reward and recompense. The wife is likened to a tilth here
because she is like a tilth in which the seed of progeny is sown to bear crop in the form of
A wise husbandman selects the best soil, prepares the best tilth, secures the best seed and
chooses the best time and manner of sowing it. Similarly, a man should select a wife who is
best suited as a tilth, i.e., pious and well qualified and of loving nature for the benefit of his
children. He should love her and treat her well and look after her so that her life will be happy
and contented and she may become best disposed to bring up the children well. Lastly, he
should keep himself in a state of good physical and moral health so that his seed for his tilth
may also be healthy in every respect. Then he will ensure that he will reap a good harvest in the
form of pious and righteous children.
Considering this verse in the spiritual sense, we see that it is giving advice for attaining to true
and complete submission to Allah. It tells a person to be careful about his ideas and opinions
because whatever good or evil he conceals in his mind will serve like a seed for his inclinations
and actions and it will bear good or evil fruit for himself. So the words send ahead some good
for yourselves means plant a seed in your tilth for the good of your own selves. The means of
sending this good is found in the words fear Allah which shows that if a person wants to reap a
good harvest for his actions, he should prevent evil from its very roots through being righteous.
The phrase and know that you shall meet Him can be taken as a continuation for the words fear
Allah which means that you should fear Allah because one day you shall meet Him, on the Day
The phrase can also be taken as glad tidings, for those who will be righteous will have the
honour of meeting Allah in this life, which is the aim of every true and sincere servant of Allah.
This is followed by the words and bear glad tidings to those who obey, which means that this
glad tiding is for the true believers. So this means that those who believe sincerely and follow
this injunction and become righteous will secure for themselves the best results and gains. They
will reap good fruit and they will enjoy the love and nearness of Allah and the true relationship
with Him. The will be brought to a new life like a newborn child and they will enjoy a life of
peace and tranquility, and inner paradise.
When a person gains good fruit out of following the guidance of Allah, he becomes encouraged
and he tries to strive more in this path so that he can achieve more results and increase the good
he gained out of it. His inner self reaches the phase of parenthood. His will and behaviour
combine together to look after his faith and protect it. Exactly like the parents who combine
their efforts to look after their children and protect them. His will submits completely to his
Creator and he becomes devoted to Allah's religion and protects and nourishes it like the
mother who nourishes her young children with love and care.
The Quran has given us a practical example of this advanced stage of human spiritual ascent in
the person of Mary, the mother of Jesus (peace be upon him):
And remember when the angels said: O Mary, Allah has chosen thee and purified thee and
chosen thee above the women of all peoples. (3:43)
Mary is the example of a righteous believer and a sincere follower of the guidance of Allah.
Again we read about Mary:
Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said 'O Mary thou hast done a strange
O sister of Aaron, thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother an unchaste woman'.
Then she pointed to him. They said, 'How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?'
He said, 'I am a servant of Allah. He has given me the book and made me a Prophet;
And He has made me blessed wheresoever I may be and has enjoined upon me Prayer and
almsgiving so long as I live.
And He has made me dutiful towards my mother and He has not made me haughty and
These verses tell us the story of Mary when she went to her people carrying Jesus (peace be
upon him). The word for carrying him means that Mary believed in Jesus (peace be upon him)
and helped him in his mission. When her people told her that she has done a strange thing, she
silently pointed to Jesus (peace be upon him) who started introducing his religion to them.
In the spiritual sense, Mary signifies a true believer and a sincere follower of a prophet of
Allah, who is acting upon the guidance furnished by this prophet and who is preaching his
religion to others.
The words carrying him means that she has embraced his religion and reflected it in her person.
When she declared this to her people and preached her religion to them, they rejected it because
it was strange and unknown to them. So she silently started introducing her faith.
She pointed to the truth by her behaviour and conduct, by her complete submission to Allah
and her true devotion to His service.
She became a manifestation of the Unity of Allah.
The disbelievers could see the spiritual station to which she had attained. The fruits she
achieved and gained proved the truth of her beliefs and the prophet she followed. She taught
the people to follow the guidance of Allah through her actions which were in full compliance
with the commandments and ordinances of her religion.
The verses explain to us the perfect way of preaching a religion. Mary signifies every sincere
and true follower of a prophet of Allah whether this follower is a man or a woman. A female
example is used because she is representing a person who reached this spiritual level through
sincerely following the example of a prophet of Allah and though being a reflection of the
prophet. Mary is also introduced as a mother to indicate that she represents the true believer
who who has already attained to true submission to Allah and who has already gained his fruit.
He was granted a new spiritual life and has established a strong relationship with Allah. He has
now reached the stage of looking after his faith and protecting it and nourishing it. So he has
spiritually reached the stage of motherhood of his religion.
This fact has been explained in the Quran:
Allah sets forth for those who disbelieve the example of the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot.
They were under two righteous servants of Ours, but they acted unfaithfully towards them. So
they availed them naught against Allah, and it was said to them, `Enter the Fire, ye twain,
along with those who enter.'
And Allah sets forth for those who believe the example of the wife of the wife of Pharaoh when
she said, `My Lord! build for me a house with Thee in the Garden, and deliver me from
Pharaoh and his work, and deliver me from the wrongdoing people;
And the example of Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity - so We breathed
there in of Our Spirit -and she fulfilled in her person the words of her Lord contained in His
books and was one of the obedient. (66:11-13)
In these verse we can see three examples of three different states of the inner self of a human
being. The wives of Noah (peace be upon him) and Lot (peace be upon him) represent the
disbelievers who reject the truth and do not benefit from the companionship of a righteous man
or a prophet of Allah. Their inner self is in a state which incites the soul to evil. The wife of
Pharoah stands for those believers who, vthough passionately desiring and praying to get rid of
sin, yet cannot fully dissociate themselves from evil influences, represented by Pharoah, and
having arrived at the stage of the self-accusing soul, sometimes fail and falter. Mary represents
those righteous servants of Allah, who have closed all avenues of sin and have made peace with
Allah and as a result, they are blessed with Divine inspiration. They have reached the stage of
the soul at rest.
Mary here represents those who attained to the true submission to Allah. Her example can be
followed by both men and women. The human race was created for one purpose, the worship of
Allah. Every person whether a man or a woman is responsible to fulfill the purpose of his
existence. Starting with himself, he should combine the efforts of his inner self together to
attain to true submission to Allah. When he reaches the state of peace and tranquility of his own
self, he can bring this paradise to his own home and family. This can be achieved by the
combined efforts of the members of the family, who should all, individually and together as
one unit, submit truly to Allah. Once this is achieved, the sphere of their effort can be increased
to include other members of the society who should in the same manner combine their efforts
together to bring more people to the true submission to Allah. Hence, the whole world can be
brought to true submission to Allah and peace and tranquility can spread in the earth thus
bringing paradise to earth.
This is the essence of Khilafat which springs from the inner depths of the human self. Khilafat
combines together the efforts of the true servants of Allah under one leadership to bring the
whole world to the true submission of Allah.
We who live in this age are very fortunate. We have witnessed the rebirth of Islam, the true
religion of Allah, which was brought to the world by the best Prophet of mankind (peace and
blessings of Allah be upon him). The Promised Messiah (peace be upon him) revived this
religion by following in the steps of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon
him) and he planted the seed of Khilafat which is growing into a blessed tree by the efforts of
his sincere followers under the leadership of his true successors. This tree needs the combined
efforts of both men and women to keep it growing. May Allah enable us all to nourish this tree
and to be of the fortunate ones who will bring the whole world to the true submission to Allah
and spread His unity throughout the universe. Amen.
The Islamic Veil
The Review of Religions, October 1992
Islam has always suffered from many false charges against it due to the misunderstanding of its
true teachings. One example of this is the wide spread false notion that Islam in general deprives
women of their rights and forces them to go behind the veil.
The Islamic veil is condemned by non-Muslim and regarded as a sign of backwardness and a
thing of the past which is no longer practical in the daily way of life today. They think that it is a
burden and a restriction which has been imposed on Muslim women to deprive them on them of
their freedom; they see it as if it was a chain with which the cruel Muslim man has tied his poor
wife or daughter or sister of any other woman under his rule, because of his selfishness or
But if one looks with a deeper glance on this subject, it will be found that the veiling of women
is not something that Islam has invented. The previous revealed scriptures also contain some
traces of similar teachings and Islam came only to complete and perfect them.
The revealed religions teach women to be modest in clothes and actions. If we study the Bible
we will find that it teaches that modesty and reverence demanded the veiling of the face of the
woman and that the veil was used by ladies of high rank.
In the Old Testament we read about what Rebekah did before Isaac in the following passage:
When Re-bek'ah raised her eyes, she caught sight of Isaac and she swung herself down from off
the camel. Then she said to the servant 'who is that walking in the field to meet us?' and the
servant said 'It is my master' And she proceeded to take a headcloth and to cover herself.
(Genesis: 24: 64 and 65)
In the New Testament we also read:
But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered shames her head for it is one
and the same as if she were a (woman) with a shaved head. For it a woman does not cover
herself let her also be shorn; but if it is disgraceful for woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be
covered. (1 Corinthians: 11: 5, 6)
From the above, it is obvious that the Bible regards the veiling of women as a pious act. But the
present day commentators of the Bible, in their efforts to prove that its teachings do not in any
way deprive women of their freedom, have denied this fact because they thought that it is a
burden on women.
Similarly even some of the modern day Muslims have also followed the same course for the
same reason, and they have tried to prove that even Islam does not put this restriction on Muslim
women. But they were not successful because, unlike the Bible, the text of the Quran is
preserved in its original form and hence it is impossible to get away by twisting the meanings of
its verses. Yet this reveals that the lack of the proper knowledge of the wisdom behind the
Islamic veil prevails even among the Muslims.
The majority of Muslim women misunderstood the teachings of their own religion and they do
not recognise its implications nor its benefits. Admiring the modern societies, they have followed
blindly the false notions regarding the liberation of women and they have adopted some wrong
ideas and consequently many of them rebelled against the teachings of Islam relating to the
observance of the veil, and they went on indulging in the way of life of the modern society with
all its false glitter.
Some other Muslim women, as a reaction to the rebellion of their ignorant sisters, have adopted
the opposite course and they observed these teachings of Islam in such a manner that they have
put on themselves some burdens that Islam did not prescribe and by so doing, they became a
cause for more rebellion against the Islamic veil and they pushed the non-Muslims farther away
from seeing the beauties of Islam.
Today it is a well known fact that many non-Muslims who can see the truth of Islam, refuse to
enter its fold because of this so-called restriction. They feel that they cannot give up their habits
and modern way of living and sacrifice their freedom to mix with the other sex as they wish.
Islam, however, can neither be blamed for what non-Muslims think of it nor can it be accused on
account of the notions and practices of its ignorant followers. The fact remains that Islam has
given women rights which have no parallel in any other religion.
As for the Islam veil, far from being a burden on women, it is blessing for them.
The true concept of the Islamic veil can be understood and judged correctly by studying the
source of all the Islamic teachings, The Holy Quran.
The Holy Quran has preserved the teachings of Islam in its original form and it does not only
prescribe the correct commandments but it also explains the reasons and the wisdom behind
them and it points out the benefits which can be gained by following them.
One of the verses of the Holy Quran which deals with the subject of the veil is found in Sura Al
Noor where God, the All-Mighty says:
And say to the believing women that they restrain their looks and guard their private parts and
that they display not their beauty or their embellishment except that which is apparent, thereof,
and that they draw their head coverings over their bosoms, and that they display not their beauty
or their embellishment save to their husbands, or to their fathers or the fathers of their husbands
or their sons or the sons of their husbands or their brothers or the sons of their brothers or the
sons of their sisters or women who are their companions or those that their right hand possess or
such of male attendants as have not desire for women, or young children who have not yet
attained knowledge of the hidden parts of women. And that they strike not their feet so that what
hide of their ornaments may become known. And turn ye to Allah all together, O believers that
you may prosper. (24:32)
This verse directs the believing women to restrain their eyes when they happen to face men and
to guard their chastity and also not to display their beauty and embellishment, whether it is
natural or artificial.
The believing men have already been given a similar commandment, from God in the verse that
preceeded this verse where we read:
Say to the believing men that they restrain their looks and guard their private parts. That is purer
for them. Surely, Allah is well-aware of what they do. (24:31)
So it is clear that both men and women share equally the responsibility of observing this
injunction. They should both restrain their looks when facing each other or, in other words, they
should observe the Veil of the eyes.
Now we need to understand the benefits which can be achieved by following these directions.
God never gives orders to his servants without a reason. Behind every commandment of God
there is great wisdom.
The words that is purer for them at the end of one verse and the words that you may prosper at
the end of the other verse indicate that these directions are meant for the well being of the
believers and to enable them to purify themselves and to safeguard themselves against moral
The Promised Messiah has clarified this point in a comment on these verses:
We can confidently claim that this excellent teaching with all its devices that is set forth in the
Holy Quran is peculiar to Islam. It should be kept in mind that as the natural condition of man,
which is the source of his passions, is such that he cannot depart from it without a complete
change in himself, his passions are bound to be roused, or in other words put in peril, when they
are confronted with the occasion and opportunity for indulging in this vice. Therefore, God
Almighty has not instructed us that we might freely gaze at women outside the prohibited
degrees and might contemplate their beauty and observe all their movements in dancing etc. But
that we should do so with pure looks. Nor have we been instructed to listen to the singing of
these women and to lend ear to tales of their beauty, but that we should do so with a pure intent.
We have been positively commanded not to look at their beauty, whether with pure intent or
otherwise, nor to listen to their musical voices or to descriptions of their good looks, whether
with pure intent or otherwise. We have been directed to eschew all this as we eschew carrion, so
that we should not stumble. It is almost certain that our free glances would cause us to stumble
sometime or the other. As God Almighty desires that our eyes and our hearts and all our limbs
and organs should continue in a state of purity, He has furnished us with this excellent teaching.
There can be no doubt that unrestrained looks become a source of danger. If we place soft bread
before a hungry dog, it would be vain to hope that the dog should pay no attention to it. Thus
God Almighty desired that human faculties should not be provided with any occasion for secret
functioning and should not be confronted with anything that might incite dangerous tendencies.
This is the philosophy that underlies the Islamic regulations relating to the observance of the veil.
The Book of God does not aim at keeping women in seclusion like prisoners. This is the concept
of those who are not acquainted with the correct pattern of Islamic ways. The purpose of these
regulations is to restrain men and women from letting their eyes to rove freely and from
displaying their good looks and beauties, for therein lies the good both of men and of women. It
should be remembered that to restrain one's looks and to direct them only towards observing that
which is permissible is described in Arabic by the expression ghadde basar, which is the
expression employed in the Holy Quran in this context. It does not behove a pious person who
desires to keep his heart pure that he should lift his eyes freely in every direction like an animal.
It is necessary that such a one should cultivate the habit of ghadde basar in his social life. This is
a blessed habit through which his natural impulses would be converted into a high moral quality
without interfering with his social needs. This is the quality which is called chastity in Islam.
(The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, pp 23-25)
As the Quran is a book meant for the spiritual progress of the soul, the question arises: How can
these teachings help the development of the spiritual state of the soul? The answer to this
question is also found in the writings of the Promised Messiah:
As the natural urges of man become very dangerous when they are roused and often destroy the
moral and spiritual qualities, they are described in God's Holy Book as the self that incites to
evil. It may be asked what is the attitude of the Holy Quran towards the natural state of man,
what guidance does it furnish concerning it and how does it seek to control it?
The answer is that according to the Holy Quran the natural state of man has a very strong
relationship with his moral and spiritual states, so much so that even a person's manner of eating
and drinking affects his moral and spiritual states. If the natural state of a person is subjected to
the control of the directions of divine law it becomes his moral state and deeply affects his
spirituality, as is said that whatever falls into a salt mine is converted into salt. That is why the
Holy Quran has laid stress on physical cleanliness and postures, and their regulation in relation to
all worship and inner purity and spiritual humility. Reflection confirms that physical conditions
deeply affect the soul. For instance, when our eyes are filled with tears, even if the tears are
artificially induced, the heart is immediately affected and becomes sorrowful. In the same way,
when we begin to laugh, even if the laughter is artificially induced, the heart begins to feel
cheerful. It has also been observed that physical prostration in prayer induces humility in the
soul. As a contrast when we draw ourselves up physically and strut about with our neck raised
and our breast pushed forward, this attitude induces a mood of arrogance and vain glory. These
instances establish clearly that physical conditions certainly affect spiritual conditions. (The
Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, pp 3-4)
He also added:
As the soul is affected by physical conduct, in the same way sometimes the soul affects the body.
For instance, when a person experiences sorrow his eyes become wet, and a person who feels
happy, smiles. All our natural actions like eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, moving about,
resting, bathing etc., affect our spiritual condition. Our physical structure is related intimately to
our total humanity. If a certain part of the brain is injured memory is immediately lost. An injury
to another part of the brain causes loss of consciousness. Poisonous air affects the body and
through it the mind, and the whole inner system, to which the moral impulses are related, is
impaired and the unfortunate victim passes out quickly like a madman.
Thus physical injuries disclose that there is a mysterious relationship between the soul and the
body which is beyond the ken of man. Reflection shows that the body is the mother of the soul.
(The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, p 4)
From the above we can see clearly that the body and soul are two interlinking things. Each one
of them affects the other and the uplift of one will raise the other. We can understand the wisdom
behind the teachings of Islam concerning the veil and the spiritual benefits which can be gained
by both men and women if they follow them. It is also now very clear that observing the veil is
not a duty for women alone but it is an injunction equally binding on men and women alike.
But God has prescribed these commandments to the believing men and the believing women
separately and there must be great wisdom behind this. One of the obvious reasons behind this is
to point out clearly that each of them is responsible for his or her own behaviour when carrying
out and obeying these injunctions. So this proves that the Muslim man has nothing to do with
forcing the woman to obey this order, out of any love for domination on his side.
Also comparing the two verses, emphasizes the fact that in this respect, due to the physical
differences between men and women, the nature of the way it can be observed is different. The
woman has an additional responsibility of hiding her beauty and embellishment.
Women are by nature the delicate sex, and they need special care and protection. Thus Islam
treats women as a precious treasure that should be guarded and protected from being startled at
or molested or inconvenienced by other people in any way. So, far from depriving women from
their rights or freedom, these injunctions show the high status of the Muslim women. Islam is
even protecting the inner feelings of women.
To understand the implication of this point fully we need to understand the true nature of the role
of men and women in the society.
Man and woman differ physically in nature and capabilities. Man is physically stronger than
woman and this is why his natural role in the family is to go out and provide the family with its
means of sustenance. He is also the protector of the family from the outside dangers. But this
does not in any way degrade the position of the woman because she has her own sphere of
responsibilities as well. With her loving and caring nature she is more capable of looking after
the members of the family. In this aspect she has more to offer than man. She acts as the
protector of the family from the internal dangers and she is responsible for the education and
training of the children. The combined efforts of both man and woman are needed to produce the
perfect family. As the man needs the help of the woman to protect his house and look after it in
his absence while he is away carrying out his duties, similarly the woman needs the protection of
the man from the outside dangers to provide her with the peaceful atmosphere, that will enable
her to perform her duties inside the house in the best possible way.
The Islamic society can be likened to one big family where women represent its spiritual body
and the men represent its soul. As the Promised Messiah (may the peace and blessings of God be
upon him) has explained, there is a deep relationship between the body and the soul and
therefore, in a way similar to what was mentioned above, both the men and women depend on
one another to produce a perfect society. The men are responsible for the outside affairs and the
protection of the community from external dangers while the women are responsible for the
internal welfare of the society and the education and training of the members of the community.
The protection provided by men does not mean their superiority over women but on the other
hand it emphasizes the importance of the role of women in the society. Women need to be fully
protected from outside dangers so that they can give full attention to carrying out their sacred
The Islamic veil symbolizes the spiritual protection of the Muslims. As the women represent the
spiritual body of the Islamic society, this veil takes a palpable form in the case of women while it
remains intangible in the case of men. Women need protection from external dangers and this is
why their veil is manifest because it represents their external protection while for men the veil is
concealed because it represents their internal protection. But it must always be remembered that
observing the veil is an obligation for both men and women alike, even if it assumes different
We notice that in the above quoted verses, after the mention of the commandments to men and
women separately, the Quran ends this by saying:
And turn ye to Allah all together, O believers that you may prosper.
This emphasizes the fact that for the achievement of the sought results, both men and women
need to carry out their share of responsibilities in connection with these injunctions. Or, in other
words, like the soul and body, men and women complement one another and they will have to
work together to act upon these commandments for the sake of the prosperity of their society as
one unit. It is a sort of a blessing which can only be acquired by the joint efforts of men and
Yet comparing the two verses reveals another point of interest. The directions concerning the
believing men ends with the words: that is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well-aware of what
they do which means that if the believing men obey this command, they will be able to purify
their souls. God knows well their intentions and the results of their actions, so they should do
their best to observe this command and if they are sincere in their efforts, God will bless these
efforts and will grant them success. But the order concerning the believing women does not end
with a similar statement.
This is to hint to the believing women that there are still some more requirements that they will
need to fulfil before they can achieve fruitful results. These requirements are mentioned
separately in the verses that directly follow the above verses because they can only be complied
with by the combined action of the men and women together. Those verses instruct the believers
to arrange marriages for the women having no husbands. This emphasizes the fact that the real
duty of the woman in the society can only be carried out fully after she becomes a housewife.
This point will be further clarified when one understands the true role of the woman in society.
The directions in the previous verses were meant to be only the first steps for the believers in
their journey towards God and the commandments in them were meant for the control of the
natural human desires and passions which the Promised Messiah has called the self that incites to
evil. This is the first stage of the human development that differentiates human beings from
Thus the Quran has given the believers some additional guidelines in this respect. Concerning
women, it does not only direct them to hide their outer beauty, but it also teaches them not
display their hidden beauty as well, so much so that we find that in the above mentioned verses,
women are reminded to watch even their manner of walking and moving about. They should be
careful with every aspect of their behaviour and actions. This is further elaborated in another
place of the Holy Quran where Allah says:
O wives of the prophet you are not like any other woman if you are righteous. So be not soft in
speech lest he in whose heart is a disease should feel tempted; and speak decent words.
And stay in your houses with dignity and display not your beauty like the displaying of the
former days of ignorance and observe prayer and pay the Zakat and obey Allah and His
Messenger. Surely, Allah desires to remove from you all uncleanliness, O members of the
household, and purify you completely. (33:33-34)
Here the Quran has ended the commandments with the words: Surely Allah desires to remove
from you all uncleanliness, O members of the household and purify you completely. This
indicates that these teachings are completing the previous ones for the purpose of purifying the
believing women. These verses address the women who have already taken the first step of
educating their natural faculties and are now in the process of educating their moral state.
The verses address the wives of the Holy Prophet. But as the Holy Prophet is an exemplar for all
Muslims, it is the custom of the Quran that what he is ordered to do is meant to be followed by
all the other Muslims. In the same way his wives are taken as exemplars for all the Muslim
women. It is also interesting to notice here that the women are addressed in this verse as wives to
draw their attention to the fact that, to reach this stage, they need to become housewives. The
words members of the household added towards end of the verses indicate that these directions
are meant for the believing women who want to be counted among the members of the spiritual
household of the Holy Prophet or, in other words, to be regarded as the believing women of a
high spiritual status.
In these verses it is required from women to behave with dignity and talk in a formal manner
when addressing men. This is another veil that should be observed between men and women.
Islam discourages too much familiarity between the two sexes. This is intended to purify their
thoughts and to protect women from slanderous tongues. It is clear that these teachings are meant
for the well being of women and to remove any cause of inconvenience for them from its very
These verses also encourage women to give their full attention to the discharge of their serious
and important duties in the management of the household affairs and to looking after the children
and bringing them up. It adds that this can be successfully achieved by observing the teachings
of Islam and obeying God and His Messenger.
The real purpose of a woman staying in the house is explained in the verse that follows the
previous verses where we read:
And remember what is rehearsed in your houses of the Signs of Allah and wisdom. Verily Allah
is Subtle, All-Aware. (33:35)
This shows that the purpose of women staying in their houses is to enable them to make use of
the spiritual provisions presented to them and to use them the best possible way to produce the
best spiritual food for others.
A woman has the capacity of being a mother which means that she has the capacity of providing
spiritual and physical nourishment. So the real aim of her staying in the house is to nourish
spiritually the members of the family and to train the younger generation. The women represent
the body of the community and the body is the mother of the soul. Therefore, the main duty of
the women is to prepare the spiritual food and present it to the community. This is a great and
sacred responsibility, which has been entrusted to women. To teach them how to discharge this
great task, God has mentioned the example of the bee in the Holy Quran where we read:
And thy Lord revealed to the bee: 'Make thou houses in the hills and in the trees and in the
trellises which they build.
Then eat of all manner of fruits, and follow the ways taught thee by thy Lord and which have
been made easy for thee.' There comes forth from their bellies a drink of varying hues. Therein is
healing for mankind. Surely, in that is a Sign for a people who reflect. (16:69-70)
Allah praise belongs to Allah, the Gracious. He has created many things in the universe to teach
human beings great points of wisdom. From the example of the bee, both men and women can
learn many important lessons. In these verses God has given some directions to the bee, which in
reality should be observed by human beings also, as hinted by the words:
Surely, in that is a Sign for a people who reflect.
God has directed the bee to find itself first a suitable house, then it should eat from the fruits or
the nectar of the flowers and follow the paths that God has made easy for it, so that it can
produce the drink or the honey which is described by the Holy Quran as: Therein is healing for
There is a strong similarity between the duties of a bee and the duties of a woman. In the life of
bee, we can see the picture of the true role of woman in society. First a woman should protect
herself by belonging to a house. The spiritual house is the divine religion because it provides the
spiritual shelter to the person. So here the woman learns that she has to first search for the true
divine religion and find it. Then she should eat from its fruits or, in other words, she should
herself follow the teachings of this religion and reap the good results of doing this. When she
will have successfully followed the straight path that leads to her Creator, she will have become
a good example for others to follow and she will be able to give others the advice and guidance
that can help them reach the same destination as herself and this is how she will be able to
produce the drink that can cure others and guide them to this right path as well.
To enable women to discharge their great and sacred trust, God gave men the following orders:
O ye who believe! enter not the houses of the Prophet unless leave is granted to you for a meal,
not waiting till it is cooked. But enter when you are invited, and when you have had your meal,
disperse, without seeking to engage in talk. That causes inconvenience to the Prophet, and he
feels shy of asking you to leave, but Allah is not shy of saying what is true. And when you ask
them - the wives of the Prophet - for anything, ask them from behind a curtain. That is purer for
your hearts and their hearts. And it behoves you not to cause inconvenience to the Messenger of
Allah, nor that you should ever marry his wives after him. That indeed, is a monstrous thing in
the sight of Allah. (33:54)
The apparent aim to this verse is to teach the Muslims some ethics and rules of conduct
regarding their day to day life. But this verse also manifests the sanctity of the status of women
in Islam. The wives of the Holy Prophet and his houses are mentioned in this verse as one and
the same thing.
A house provides a person with shelter and lodging. It is also the dwelling where one finds
peace, rest and food.
The houses which were mentioned in the previous verses were meant to provide shelter but the
houses mentioned in this verse are the houses which provide a dwelling for the people, where
they get their nourishment and restore their strength. In both cases the spiritual house meant is
Islam, the religion and the teachings of Holy Prophet. His true followers can be described as his
house because they have embodied in their own persons the teachings of his religion. The men
among his true followers represent the house that provides shelter and the women represent the
house that provides a dwelling. Again we can see that in this case also there is an undetachable
relationship between men and women as they both together form the spiritual house of the Holy
Forbiding the believers to marry the wives of the Holy Prophet after him, means, in addition to
its literal meaning, that they should never mix the true teachings of his religion with any other
new teachings of their own because his religion is the last and perfect religion. In this sense, the
Holy Prophet (pbuh) is the last Prophet and his house is the last spiritual house to be constructed.
In this sense also he is the seal of the Prophets because any prophet who might come to the world
after him, must be from among the inhabitants of his spiritual house.
In this verse also we notice that in the commandments concerning the believing men, they are
reminded of their responsibilities towards women. They must be attentive to women's progress
because their own progress is linked to it.
So to some extent we can say that, in this respect, God has enjoined men to be in the service of
women to protect them and help them attain a very high level of piety because on this depends
their own advancement as well.
This is the true implication of the Quranic proclamation:
Men are guardians over women. (4:35)
The righteousness of the woman is a very important factor in the formation of an upright society.
This is why Islam has secured her protection and made this manifest in her outer clothes.
The Holy Quran has summed up for us beautifully its teachings regarding the Islamic veil in the
O Prophet tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers, that they should pull
down upon them their outer cloaks from their heads over their faces. That is more likely that they
may thus be recognized and not molested. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. (33:60)
In this verse God has given His commandment to all the believing women to clarify the fact that
these orders must be obeyed by all Muslim women and not only by those who reached a certain
stage of their spiritual development. The women of all ranks must obey this order.
As the aim of this commandment is the spiritual perfection of the soul, the garment mentioned
here should not be taken as just a physical one.
Elsewhere in the Holy Quran we read:
O children of Adam, we have indeed sent down to you raiment to cover your nakedness and to
be a means of adornment, but the raiment of righteousness - that is the best. That is the
commandment of Allah, that they may remember. (7:27)
This verse applies to both men and women and it explains beautifully the true essence of the
Islamic veil. It enjoins men and women to cover themselves with the garment of righteousness,
which is described as the best garment. This means that the covering of the body signifies
figuratively the covering of the nakedness of the soul and its protection from evil by becoming
righteous in actions.
The Islamic veil of a woman is a symbol of her protection from the external dangers that can
affect her moral and spiritual advancement. The real Islamic veil is more than just covering the
physical body. It implies also drawing a virtual curtain upon herself to protect her from all the
If a woman is still taking the first steps towards purifying herself, her veil will act as a protector
from any external dangers that can hinder her progress. And when a woman reaches a high moral
state, it will be in her interest, and she will desire to cover herself completely lest she should be
harmed or injured in her feelings in any way and so that she can develop spiritually and reach
even higher stations. Hence, the outer garment of the Muslim woman is a symbol of the
protection of her inner states as well. Her veil is a manifestation of the divine attribute (Ghafour)
which was mentioned at the end of the verse which dealt with the subject of the veil in general.
Though the word is translated as Most Forgiving, its full meaning is, One who forgives the
previous sins and covers and protects a person from any weaknesses or shortcomings that might
hinder his progress in the future. It is clear that this meaning matches what was mentioned earlier
about the purpose behind the Islamic veil.
Yet in the same verse we find a mention of another divine attribute, Raheem which means
God has created woman with the capacity of bearing her child in her womb to protect and
nourish it until becomes able to survive outside her body independently. And even then she
continues to look after it and nourish it till it becomes an independent mature person. She has the
capacity to do the same for humanity at large. She has the capacity of caring for others and
nourishing them by presenting to them the best spiritual food that she prepares using the divine
As she encompasses her child in her womb, God encompasses her with His Mercy. It is
interesting here to notice that, in Arabic, the word womb is called rehm and the word merciful is
raheem. They both originate from the same root rahama. This is a clear proof that the woman
manifests in herself the divine attributes of mercy. As a reward for her great service to humanity,
God Himself encompasses her and protects her with His mercy. Her outer garment is a symbol of
this protection and mercy also.
Thus God has ordained these teachings for the Muslim woman to observe, to manifest His love
and care for her and to declare His protection and support for her while she carries out this sacred
task of looking after the spiritual house of His beloved Messenger, the Holy Prophet of Islam.
This explains the purpose behind the words: that is more likely that they may thus be recognized
and not molested which means that the outer garment of the Muslim woman acts as a
proclamation to the world that she is under the protection of the Lord of the universe, so nobody
should dare cause any inconvenience to her.
God has created women with great capacities and abilities and it is up to the women themselves
to make use of these great blessings in the proper way to fulfill the purpose of their creation.
According to Islam, a woman can go out as long as there is a legitimate necessity for her to do
so. But her primary and principal duties are confined to her home and family which are as
important and serious, if not more, as the vocations of men are. Her principal sphere of
responsibilities is her house. A woman can prove her superiority inside her house. If a woman
takes to man's vocations, neglecting her domestic duties as the mistress of the house, she will be
seeking to defy nature and nature does not allow its laws to be defied with impunity.
Now when we look at the present day modern societies we will see a picture of women totally
opposite to the picture recommended by the Holy Quran.
The majority of women have neglected their duties as housewives and started competing with
men in all fields of life. They are taking part in all sorts of professions, shoulder to shoulder with
them, doing the jobs that only men used to do it in the past and taking responsibilities which
nature did not prescribe for them. They wrongly believe that this is the way be which they can
achieve their freedom and can then enjoy equity with men.
Women are mixing freely with men, vying with one another in attracting them. They find
pleasure and pride in exposing their beauty. They are even competing with one another in
displaying their beauty contests for women all around the world. They are treating their bodies as
they are some kind of commodities available for display for anybody to look and gaze freely at.
They are not aware of the danger of their acts and the harm, injury and damage they are causing
to themselves and to their society. They think that this is freedom but is it really so? What was
thought to be the freedom of a woman turned out to be the very cause of her degradation and the
destruction of her dignity and far from acquiring her freedom she was reduced to the degree of
slavery. She became a slave to passions and carnal desires. With her own will, she made herself a
slave for the pleasure of man.
If we look at those so called free societies today we will not find any trace of morality let alone
spirituality. We will only see dissolution and depravity. A society will all the ills one can
imagine. Broken marriages, illegitimate children, intentional abortions and unfaithfulness
between married and even unmarried partners are only a few products of these societies. The
easy availability of women for the pleasure of men has resulted in them being no longer desired
by men and therefore we see more social evils like child abuse, homosexuality, drug addiction
and crimes of rape and even murder for the sake of excitement.
It can be seen clearly that the first to suffer from these social ailments are the women themselves
who bear the greatest responsibility for this to happen.
This is what the Holy Quran warned them fourteen centuries ago. This is why God has put on
women more responsibility than men in this respect, as they were the ones who will suffer more
by disregarding these teachings of Islam.
The Islamic veil is not a disgrace or a hindrance for a woman in any way. On the contrary, it
honours her and frees her from the obstacles that prevent her moral and spiritual advancement
and thus it is the means of her deliverance from the sufferings and ills that she faces in modern
day societies. In reality it embodies the Mercy of God on women.
If women in the world today can understand the real implication of the true teachings of Islam
regarding the veil and if they know the benefits they can gain and the high stations they can
attain by following these teachings, they will soon be wanting their freedom from their ill
societies and they will be fighting for their rights to adopt the Veil, where they secure their true
freedom and where they can find real peace and tranquillity, and where their honour and dignity
lies. Only then, will they enjoy the real bliss of being encompassed by Divine Protection and the
Mercy of their Creator.
Islam and the Quran Require Us to Honor, Not Abuse,
By Harris Zafar
Published April 02, 2011 | FoxNews.com
On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of appearing as a guest on “The O’Reilly Factor” to address
accusations Ms. Wafa Sultan had levied against Islam on “The Factor” one day earlier. Ms.
Sultan commented on Muammar Qaddafi’s henchmen abducting and raping a Libyan woman. In
her commentary, Ms. Sultan made the mistake of conflating the abuse of women in the Middle
East that she has witnessed with the teachings of Islam.
Some incorrectly believe that the Koran sanctions (or even promotes) the ill-treatment of women.
They allege that verse 35 of Chapter 4 instructs Muslims to beat their wives in order to maintain
dominance over them.
As a happily married man, this verse is important to me – and my wife. The verse restricts, rather
than sanctions, such behavior. It describes a process of curbing the urge to use physical force in
the rare event of gross disobedience or rebellion – a vicious behavior such as adultery or stealing,
not a simple disagreement. This verse presents a process of anger management, reformation and
reconciliation, with the intention to heal the relationship at every step. Additionally, the Prophet
Muhammad commanded not to do anything that would ever harm or leave a mark on a woman.
This verse cannot be understood to justify beating, rape or any ill-treatment of women.
The Koran then continues in verse 36 to say that if the husband and wife cannot reconcile, then
arbiters should seek to make peace between them on their behalf. The Koran guides towards
reconciliation, not abuse.
Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was the living embodiment of the Koran. If the Koran
advocates for the beating of one’s wife, then surely we should see examples of such behavior
from the Prophet Muhammad — but we do not. He had disagreements with his wives, but he
never raised his hand against them.
To the contrary, we read that he instructed his followers regarding their wives “do not beat
them.” One must understand the Koran according to Prophet Muhammad’s understanding and
practice. He told his followers that the best among men is the one who is best in his treatment to
his wife and instructed that “husbands who beat their wives are not the best among men.”
Alleging that the Prophet Muhammad sanctioned – or even permitted – the beating or raping of
women is patently false. If anything Chapter 24, verse 24 says “those who accuse chaste,
unwary, believing women are cursed in this world and the Hereafter.” Women must be protected
from such evil and despicable acts. It is recorded that the Prophet Muhammad ordered a man to
be punished for rape based on the sole testimony of the rape victim.
Some incorrectly assert that Islam requires a rape victim to bring forth four witnesses to prove
she has been raped. This is absolutely absurd and has no basis in the Koran.
In truth, the Koran instructs the complete opposite in Chapter 24, verse 5, when it instructs to
punish those who falsely accuse chaste women of adultery but do not bring forth four witnesses
to prove the adulterous act. Such accusers should be punished for slander and false testimony.
Nowhere in the Koran will you find instructions for a victim of rape to present four witnesses to
prove she was raped. There is no justice in that.
Far from abusing women, the Koran instructs us to honor them. The final verse of Chapter 66 of
the Koran even instructs all believers to follow the example of the Mother Mary to achieve a
high spiritual status, citing that despite all odds, she remained so chaste that she was bestowed
the Holy Spirit.
In actuality, Islam instructs Muslims to protect women all over the world from this barbarity.
Those who mistreat women in so-called “Islamic states” violate the teachings of the Holy Koran
and the Prophet of Islam.
As moderate Muslims who believe in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, the
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continues to advocate for the equality, education, and
empowerment of women. Contrary to the allegations of those who seem not to have read the
Koran in its entirety, Islam does not allow beating or rape of its women at all. As followers of the
true, documented teachings of Islam, Muslims must help stop the savage and vicious acts
perpetrated against women around the world.
Harris Zafar is National Spokesperson of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA — the oldest
Muslim organization in America.
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Demystifying the Burqa
by Harris Zafar
All eyes are on France this week, as their ban of Islamic veils went into effect last Monday.
Extremists on opposite sides of this debate have engaged in a virtual tug-of-war, and Muslim
women are the rope. Caught in the middle, they are told what to do, how to act and what to wear.
Extremists from both sides claim to know what is best for them, while neither side really listens
to what those women want.
On one side you have Muslim men and governments who insist to cover women from head to toe
at all cost, creating an image of oppression in people’s minds. On the other side you have
European governments and Western groups who insist that Muslim women wear no covering
and go to great lengths to remove their headscarves, whether the women like it or not. They
forget that Christianity also prescribes the observance of headscarves, which is why First Lady
Michelle Obama covered her head when meeting the Pope.
Neither side has the right to force these women on what they can or cannot wear. Yet, both sides
have inflicted atrocities against the only victims in this debate — Muslim women.
Religious extremists have victimized Muslim women. Some women in the Middle East have no
choice but to cover themselves head-to-toe. There are many sad stories about husbands, fathers
or so-called leaders abusing and even murdering women because they were not covered enough.
As a student of Islam and practicing Muslim, I know my faith says that such actions are
completely wrong. This is oppression. This is un-Islamic. It is absurd that Middle East
governments punish such actions. Why don’t they punish men who do not obey God’s
commandment to not stare at women? See how ridiculous such “laws” are?
Secular extremists have also victimized Muslim women. Germany forbids Muslim
schoolteachers from wearing headscarves because they are not in line with “Western” values.
Roman Catholic nuns, however, can wear their head coverings in school. In 2004, France
forbade Muslim girls admission into public schools for covering their head (not face, mind you,
only the head). Similarly, for decades, Turkey has denied women admission into universities if
their heads are covered. President Obama correctly stated that “a woman who is denied an
education is denied equality,” and for Germany, France and Turkey, their acts are a stain on their
so-called democracies. Sadly, even the virgin mother Mary — always portrayed with her head
covered — would be denied education in these countries.
So what should Muslim women do? Should they keep Muslim governments happy? Or should
they keep western groups and governments happy? The right answer is: neither! Islam tells
women that they should only be concerned with keeping God happy, and they do that by
voluntarily obeying His commandments.
In Chapter 24 of the Quran, God tells both men and women to restrain their eyes from ogling at
members of the opposite sex and to guard their private parts. Specific to women in this chapter is
verse 32, which instructs women to “disclose not their beauty except that which is apparent
thereof, and that they draw their head-coverings over their bosoms.”
The variations, however, of the dress are purely cultural. There is the burqa (or niqab), which is
a full length dress or outer clothing that covers the head, face and body. The hijab, on the other
hand, covers the head and neck, with a separate piece — like a shawl or long coat — covers the
body. The face is not covered with the hijab. The Quranic injunction found in chapter 24 is more
closely aligned with the hijab. Which style a Muslim woman chooses to wear depends on
tradition and cultural variation.
Ultimately, it is each Muslim woman’s individual responsibility to follow God’s
commandments. So I say to my Muslim brothers that you cannot force women to practice Islam
of your understanding.
Western secularists also must learn that there is nothing wrong with a woman’s choice to cover
herself. It does not represent oppression, nor is it a means to impose one’s religion on others.
Extremists, both religious and secular, need to be educated on the true nature and intention of
Islam’s guidance of dress — moderation and protection. Nobody can force Muslim women to
observe or abandon their religion. If their actions are wrong, they are answerable to God, and
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The Role of Women in an Islamic Society
Maryam Chaudhry, USA
The Review of Religions, August 1995
Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and
believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women, and truthful men
and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and women steadfast, and men who are
humble and women are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men
who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their
chastity, men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him - Allah has prepared
for all of them forgiveness and a great reward. (Ch. 33, v. 36)
The passage that has just been recited was from the Holy Qur'an, the book which Muslims
believe to be the word of God in its entirety, revealed to the Holy Prophet (saw). In this verse,
God Almighty tells us that by following a certain way of life, both men and women can attain
to the same spiritual heights. There are no double standards in Islam, the requirements of piety
are the same: submission to God, true belief in God, obedience to God, truthfulness,
steadfastness in the faith, giving alms or charity, fasting, and remaining chaste. If these
conditions are met in constant remembrance of God, then both men and women can achieve
nearness to God and the same spiritual status. In the Holy Qur'an, God tells us:
Whoso does good whether male or female, and is a believer, shall enter Paradise and they shall
not be wronged a whit. (Ch. 4,v. 125)
Before I continue, however, I want to give you a brief introduction to Islam. Being a convert
who was born and raised a Christian, I realise that your understanding of Islam is either limited
or contains a lot of totally erroneous information. Also, if I talk about the role of women in
Islam it will make no sense without a basic understanding of the religion. I am going to ask you
to put aside your paradigms for the next hour or so and to keep your mind open to new ideas. I
will pose some questions and I will present to you different alternatives. We will play a game
of what if? What if you are not here today by chance? What if what you hear today is the truth
and could be the beginning of a whole new life for you? Bear with me patiently for a while.
You have been given an outline of my speech with spaces in which to take notes or write
questions. So please hold your questions until I have completed my lecture.
If you are a Christian, you believe in all the prophets mentioned in the Bible and Old
Testament, don't you? Now, did it ever become a source of wonder for you that the prophets as
far as you know were all Jewish? It would seem odd that God found pious people worthy of
prophethood only in the Jewish nation, even though all races and people of the world are God's
creation. Also, the message of Christianity was conveyed throughout the world only after
Christ. Do you think it makes sense that God in His Infinite Wisdom would have let the people
of Africa, of China, of Australia, of the Americas, and so forth fumble in ignorance without any
guidance until the advent of Christ?
Another question which I like to pose to you is this. Why is it that people that belong to
different religions throughout the world hold so dearly to their beliefs? After all, there are
learned people in every community who have accepted the major religions of the world.
Now, try to visualise the world as a pie. Each segment of society or community is represented
by a slice of the pie. Each group declares that their religion is true. The Christian community to
which many of you belong claims that God only chose prophets from the Jewish community. I
was in my early teens when I started to wonder about such questions.
As I look in front of me, you will notice that my field of vision is limited to a certain angle of
this room. If I don't move my head, I can visually detect only a certain segment of the room. To
me that is reality, is it not? Is it only reality? Of course, not. There are people and objects that
are not within my field of vision. This is exactly the position in which followers of different
religions are, including those of you who are Christians. In order to see all the reality available
in this room, I would need to be standing from a different position, perhaps higher up, near the
Islam provides the only logical and sensible answer to this problem of equity and justice. After
all, we will all agree that God is Just, is He not? And to assume that God only sent guidance to
one group of his creation so that during the 6000 years or so of the history of the Old
Testament, only the Jews were correctly guided, does not seem to fit our concept of God's
absolute justice. Now, again, I will ask you to lay aside your paradigms. Paradigms are ideas
that you have always held to be absolutely true simply because you were taught those ideas
from childhood. Paradigms affect our perception of reality. We filter and interpret information
received through our senses and reject and do not notice information that does not confirm our
paradigms. A simple illustration: If I believe that dogs are cute and friendly and a dog comes
into this room and barks, I will interpret it as a message that he likes me and wants to play. If I
believe that dogs are mean and vicious, I will interpret the bark as a sign that the dog wants to
bite me. Same evidence, filtered through different paradigm. The world being flat was another
paradigm. Another example was the advent of Jesus Christ. The Jews of the time, having
interpreted the Bible literally, expected him to be a worldly king who would liberate them from
Roman domination. It took twelve disciples and a handful of others who laid aside that old
established paradigm and, as Jesus asked them to do, took another look at the prophecies in the
Old Testament concerning the advent of the Messiah, and lo and behold, they were able to
accept Prophet Jesus as the Messiah.
Asking you to lay your old paradigms aside for just one hour, I will give you the following
information. When Jesus gave his message, he made two important points. The first one is that
the people of his time were not ready to receive the message of God in its entirety: 'I have yet
many things to say unto you and you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of
Truth will come, he will guide you unto all truth; for He will not speak of His own authority,
but whatever He shall hear, He will speak' (John 16: 12-13). Also, he told the Jews, 'The
kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits thereof'
(Matthew 22: 42-43). The kingdom of God, or the gift of prophethood, was taken away from
the Jews and given by God to the descendant of Prophet Abraham's first son, Ismael, that is the
Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) who came to bring to mankind a complete code of law,
contained in the Holy Qur'an.
The Message of Islam provides the view from the ceiling I mentioned earlier because the Holy
Qur'an claims to contain 'a message ... for all the worlds' (8:128) while all other previous
religions specifically mentioned that their message was addressed to a specific group of people.
For example, Jesus Christ declared: 'I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of
Israel' (Matthew 14:24).
God explains in the Holy Qur'an that all the people of the world received divine guidance in the
form of prophethood.
And there is a Guide for every people... (Ch. 13, v. 8)
And for every people there is a Messenger... (10:48)
Verily, We have sent thee (the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw)) with the Truth.
Duties to God, and duties toward fellowmen. Since we would expect Islam to provide a more
refined spiritual guidance, we would expect the precepts of Islam to be also in keeping with
what human beings have discovered through years of progress. To name a few, 1500 years ago,
Islam declared that all men are created equal (an idea expounded by the French philosopher
Rousseau around the year 1750). To quote the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw),
... Even as the fingers of the two hands are equal, so are human beings equal to one another. No
one has any rights, any superiority to claim over another. You are as brothers. O men, your God
is One and your ancestor is one. An Arab holds no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a White
over a Black person, nor vice-versa, but only to the extent to which he discharges his
responsibility to God and man. Only the God-fearing people merit a preference with God.
The pursuit of knowledge (education) was stressed for both sexes:
The pursuit of knowledge is a duty to every Muslim, men and women. (Hadith)
The Holy Prophet of Islam (saw) told the world that God had especially entrusted to him the
task of safeguarding the rights of women. Islam gave women rights that the non-Islamic world
has given to women only within the past 200 years: the right to inherit property (from their
husbands, their parents, their next of kin), the right to own, keep, and manage their own
property, the right to ask and get a divorce in case of ill treatment or abandonment from the
husband, the right to remarry, the right to obtain an education. The responsibility for the
maintenance of the wife and children was placed on the husband (only recently have child
support laws been made and enforced in this country). Remember that Islam was revealed to
the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) by God 1500 years ago. In the United Kingdom, it was
only in late 1882 that the first Married Women's Property Act was passed by Parliament, and
before that, a woman could not hold property on her own, independently of her husband, and in
Italy as late as 1919. Misconduct was accepted in English law as cause for divorce only in
1923. Abandonment was accepted as cause for divorce in New Zealand only in 1912. In
Tasmania, 1919, in Victoria, 1923, in Cuba, 1918, in Mexico, 1917, in Portugal, 1915, in
Norway, 1909, in Sweden, 1920, in Switzerland, 1912, divorced was allowed for various forms
of mistreatment. But Islam had proclaimed and enforced the rights of women since
approximately the year 600 only through revelation from God, not as a result of women having
to fight for their rights. As American Justice Pierre Craibites had rightly observed:
Muhammad (saw), 1300 years ago assured to the mothers, wives, and daughters of Islam a rank
and dignity not yet generally assured to women by the laws of the West.
A principle of change which has been discovered recently is that change in organisations takes
place effectively only when the change is directed at the entire organisation rather than at
individuals. Islam takes this very view. The dictates of Islam that have to do with men and
women and children will change the entire society, not just the individual. You will agree that it
is better to raise a good child in a good neighbourhood, isn't it? Would any of you want to
spend a lot of time raising your child and then would you go and live in a gang-infested
environment? Of course not!
Another paradigm which I ask you to lay aside at this time is that, as a society, you have all the
answers. The society in which we live presently, with increasing number of broken homes,
single parent homes, drugs, murder, illegitimate births, child abuse, general lack of morality,
certainly lack of spirituality, should be a source of shock to all of us. Is this the ideal society? Is
this the environment in which we want to leave our future generations? Are conditions
improving or getting worse? If indeed we believe in God and an afterlife, is the society around
us conducive to the achievement of this goal? If what you have is not so great, stop hanging on
to the belief that you are the only one who can find solutions. Now, let's stop putting money
into government funded programmes to prevent child abuse, use of drugs, unwanted
pregnancies, murders. These programmes do not work. Listen to a different alternative, one that
Islam's approach is proactive (not waiting for problems to occur then trying to find solutions).
Islam's approach is positive. There are more than 700 commandments of positive things to do
in the Holy Qur'an and a few things not to do. Islam's approach is systematic. It addresses
change in the entire society, not just in the individual. These three conditions make Islam
educationally sound. Islam gives a system for producing maintaining a social climate in a
society that is conducive to allowing human beings to achieve the real goal of their creation
which is the worship of God (Allah is the same God that people of all faith understand to be the
Creator and Supreme Being):
O ye men! worship your Lord Who created you and those who were before you, that you may
guard against evil. (Ch. 2, v. 22)
The dictates of Islam create a good moral individual but in addition, Islam which is from God
Who, of course, understands the nature of the humanity He has created, realises that this good
individual must be placed in a very moral society so that his energies are not spent fighting off
evil, but instead, are spent in progressing in nearness and communion to God in preparation of
the life to come. If you believe in God and in an afterlife, then a great portion of your time
should be spent in preparation for that next life. When you want to prepare for a race or a
championship fight or for an exam or for getting a job, you spend years, hours in preparation,
don't you? I asked someone at work what she did to prepare for the next life. She answered 'I
go to church on Sunday.' Is it really enough?
For the individual, Islam prescribes a minimum of five daily prayers which progressively bring
human beings closer and closer to God, and a recipe of spiritual foods contained in the Holy
Qur'an. When you do weight lifting, don't you follow a strict programme of regular exercise
coupled with a diet rich in nourishing foods? Islam then tells human beings how to regulate
their relationships with one another within the content of the family, the society, and humanity.
The great and noble quest that, we as human beings undertake in this life in search of our
Creator, must approach it as brothers.
Surely, all believers are brothers.
Human society must provide internal support for its individual members:
And help one another in righteousness and piety; but help not one another in sin and
transgression... (Ch. 5, v. 6)
We are all in this together, all of humanity! God, in His Infinite Wisdom, has created humanity
in a wonderfully, diverse and complementary manner. Men and women are diverse in their
respective faculties and capacities.
Our Lord is He Who has endowed everything with its appropriate faculties and then guided it to
their proper use. (Ch. 20, v. 51)
God has fashioned mankind according to the nature designed by Him, there is no altering the
creation of Allah. (Ch. 30, v. 31)
Men and women are equal in the sight of God, but in view of the differences in their nature,
they have been assigned different roles for the smooth functioning of the human society.
Women have the unique ability to bear children and to nurture them. Men are physically
stronger. Look at the cover of the latest Newsweek magazine. This article discusses brain wave
research which shows how differently men and women think and feel and how different parts
of the brain are affected differentially for the same mental function. Women are one segment of
humanity. In an Islamic society, women can occupy three positions.
First as a daughter, her importance is such that the Holy Prophet of Islam (saw) tells us: 'He
who brings up his daughters well, and makes no distinction between them and his sons, will be
close to me in Paradise.'
Secondly, a woman can be a wife. The character of men in an Islamic society is established in
relationship to their treatment of women. 'The best from among you is one who behaves best
towards his wife.' (Hadith)
Thirdly, in her role as a mother, Islam has placed women at a higher status than men. 'Paradise
is at the feet of the mother.' Islam recognizes the great role that women play in upbringing of
the children and that the future of mankind and of societies depends on mothers. The paradise
mentioned by the Holy Prophet (saw) refers to both the social paradise that can be achieved in
Islam and the heavenly paradise. Therefore, mothers have been placed at a position of the
highest respect. As a covert, I can testify to the profound respect (almost unimaginable if you
are not a Muslim) which is accorded to mothers in Islamic homes.
People who sell or teach, people who aim to effect behaviour changes in others, need to fulfill
three conditions in order to be effective. First they must sell themselves, that is gain trust and
credibility; for example real estate sales people are told that it is not the house that they must
sell to their customers, it is themselves. Secondly, they must constantly model the behaviour
which they want others to adopt. As a teacher trainer, I constantly tell my staff that they must
'walk the talk'. The third and most vital condition is that the teacher must have high
expectations of the learners. Therefore, in order for mothers to effectively mould humankind in
the highest mould of excellence required by God, they must share the high expectations of that
God has for his creation:
Verily, We have created man in the best make. (Ch. 95, v. 5)
And they must become those fortunate beings under who feet paradise can be earned.
If an organisation such as an university entrusts the training of students to teachers, would you
not expect that organisation to also provide adequate training for the teachers, good schools or
places for the training to take place, and also, good job opportunities after the training is
You would expect nothing less from God, the Almighty Creator. The dictates of Islam that
have to do with behaviour of women are the training of this crew of teachers of mankind. The
family unit provides the setting for this teaching to take place, but the society which is the
workforce of life where the teaching is practiced must also be regulated and maintained in the
best of ways.
Teaching is not effective unless the teacher has credibility and respect. Both need to be earned.
Can you respect someone who does not behave in a respectable fashion? Can a child behave
well unless you accompany your teachings with good modelling? Of course not. Therefore, the
high respect which God commands us to hold for women in Islam also dictates that women
have to behave with utmost dignity and piety in order to become the most respected and
honoured segment of our society. It is sort of the 'Noblesse Oblige' concept of the French.
Those of higher nobility are under constant obligation to behave in the best of ways.
Ask yourselves this question. 'Why did nuns used to dress very modestly and cover their
heads?' Because they were supposed to be very noble and very pure. In both the Old Testament
and the Bible, a head covering is prescribed for chaste women (Genesis: 24:64, 65; 1
Corinthians 11:5, 6). A paradigm which comes from misinterpretation of the Bible is that Eve
was responsible to make Adam sin, therefore there is an implication in Christianity that women
are impure and that association with them diminishes a man. That is why priest and nuns were
told not to marry if they wanted to be close to God. Islam denies the theory of the original sin,
and rejects monasticism as a human invention. God tells us in the Holy Qur'an that all human
beings are created pure and that both men and women are capable of achieving the highest
degree of spirituality (high expectations).
Going back to the question of modest dressing, nuns dressed modestly because they did not
intend to marry therefore did not want to attract the attention of members of the opposite sex.
But Islam wants all women to be pure, and all men also, no double standards in Islam. What
you wear affects both how you feel about yourself and how others view you. For example, at
my school, which is not air conditioned, the principal always wears a suit, no matter how hot it
is. Teachers and parents know that well dressed children feel good about themselves, and
teachers subconsciously view them as well cared for and treat them better. Well dressed
children do better in school. Many public schools are now adopting uniform policies for the
students because wearing a uniform puts the student in a learning mood and makes the teachers
view them as potential learners. This affects both the student and the teacher's behaviour so that
the entire atmosphere becomes conducive to learning. Also, even in my childhood, women used
to wear veils when they entered the church which points to the relationship between dress and
Islam prescribes modesty for both men and women in order to maintain a pure Islamic society.
As a matter of fact, the responsibility to create and maintain this society starts with men:
Be chaste and your women will be chaste (Hadith).
It is a society in which the institution of marriage plays a vital part. The Holy Prophet
Muhammad (saw) says, `Marriage is my way.' The Holy Qur'an describes the relationship
between husband and wife in a beautiful manner:
They are a sort of garment for you and you are a sort of garment for them.
A garment embellishes, protects, safeguards, gives dignity and honour. It's a beautiful
relationship based on love and respect and characterised by grace:
Consort with them graciously... (Ch. 4, v. 20)
In order to allow women the opportunity to fulfill the challenging obligation of producing these
moral individuals who will become members of the Islamic society, the responsibility for
providing for the family has been placed on men. They are appointed as protectors of the
members of their household.
Men are appointed guardians over women... (Ch. 4, v. 35)
Wives have rights corresponding to those which husbands have, in equitable reciprocity,
though, in certain situations, men would have the final word and thus enjoy a preference. Allah
is Mighty, Wise. (Ch. 2, v. 229)
When you married, God appointed you trustees of those rights (of your wives). You brought
your wives to your home under the law of God. You must not, therefore, abuse the trust which
God has placed in your hands. (Hadith)
Just as in any system, different individuals are assigned different roles for the optimum
functioning of the system, similarly, in the family unit, man is the head of the household. This
does not imply superiority or inferiority in any way, just difference in roles because the
functions men and women each play in the family unit are different. For example, in the school
where I work we have the principal. The staff shares in decision making through committee
work but the suggestions always receive the final approval or disapproval from the principal.
No one would ever think of disobeying the principal because he has final accountability,
therefore he must have the freedom to make the ultimate decisions. In the family unit, the men
bears the ultimate responsibility for providing that pious and safe haven of love and comfort
called the Islamic home within which paradise is formed under the feet of mothers during the
course of the sacred task of the moral upbringing of the children. In return, men receive
obedience and support from their spouse. God instructs parents to pray for the success of this
sacred duty, because seeking God's help through prayer is a necessary precursor to every
endeavour of a Muslim:
Lord, grant us of our spouses and our offspring the delight of our eyes and make us a model
(family) for the righteous. (25:75)
Therefore, in order for a society to be a pure society, both men and women should think, dress,
and behave in ways that allow pure thoughts and actions to dominate the way of life and create
a social climate conducive to the achievement of the real goal of life, the achievement of
communion with our God, our Creator. Physical attraction between men and women is good
and pure only within the context of the sacred institution of marriage. In the Holy Qur'an, God
Of His Signs is that He has created for you of your own kind that you may find peace of mind
through them, and He has put love and tenderness between you. In that surely are Signs for a
people who reflect. (30:22)
To fulfill the natural need for love and comfort, God established the family unit as a safe and
healthy place for the experience and manifestation of these normal needs. God also tells us how
men and women should behave with people other than their immediate family:
Say to the believing men that they restrain their looks and guard their private parts. That is
purer for them. Surely, Allah is Well-Aware of what you do. And say to the believing women
that they restrain their looks and guard their private parts, and that they display not their beauty
or their embellishment except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head-
coverings over their bosoms, and that they display not their beauty or their embellishment save
to their husbands, or to their fathers, or their sons, or the son of their husbands, or their
brothers, or the sons of their brothers, or the sons of their sisters, (all men that are not possible
for a woman to marry) or women who are their companions (decent women), or those that their
right hand possesses, or such of male attendants as have no desire of women, or young children
who have not yet attained knowledge of the hidden parts of women. And that they strike not
their feet so what they hide of their ornaments may become known. And turn ye to Allah all
together, O believers, that you may prosper. (24: 31, 32)
God asks us to follow these injunctions for our own benefit. A pure society will result not only
in salvation but in prosperity. What would you choose, a society where men and women respect
one another and help one another achieve nearness to God, or would you prefer the present
society? Let's face reality. Women have no respect in this society. Just turn on the radio, you
will hear how men talk about going to the beach to look at women, free ladies' night at the
clubs; we see surveys in major magazines where more than half of American men report being
sexually aroused on the job daily by the way women dress themselves; teen pregnancies, rape,
youth suicide, runaways, adultery, divorce on the rise, broken homes; another survey of Time
Magazine reports that men between the ages of 25 to 40 have 6 to 9 sexual partners; picture the
scenes on college campuses, especially where there are dorms, is this really the society in
which you, your children, your future generations want to spend the short time we have on this
earth to prepare for our eternal life?
As a woman, I pity women in this society. From early childhood, they are taught that their main
asset is their physical attraction (think of teen beauty pageants; there are now cheer-pom squads
for girls even in elementary schools). They are made to believe that they must parade their
physical beauty, spend hours working out in the gyms to shape their figures only to display
them at the beaches, all this demeaning compromise so that eventually they will catch a
husband. Once they do, they continue to display their attractiveness outside the home, only to
be complimented by men other than their husband, or sexually harassed on the job, generally
starting the slide into the path of adultery, divorce, broken homes, etc... Enough is Enough.
In Islam, a women need not compromise her dignity, her integrity, her high self-esteem at any
time. She thinks, behaves, and dresses modestly. She is respected by all members of the
society, particularly men. She displays her beauty for her own husband, not providing a free
show for all to enjoy:
..and display not your beauty like the displaying of the former days of ignorance ... (33:34)
Here is the key word `ignorance'. If you walked in an area where prostitutes were parading,
would you not feel pity for them and understand that they chose this way of life out of
ignorance, because of low self-esteem learned from bad childhood experiences? The Holy
Prophet of Islam (saw) tells us:
When you are contemplating a certain course of action, reflect first upon its consequences; if
they are good persist, if they are bad desist.
Modest behaviour, of which clothing is only one part, is worth the effort. Why would we, as
women, who are entrusted the great responsibility of teaching all of mankind the ways of our
Lord, why would we ever want to cause indecent thoughts in the mind of our fellow men who
are our brothers in the sight of God. In an Islamic society, men and women help each other
achieve goodness, they are not devilishly tempting one another.
The believers, men and women, are friends one of another. They enjoin good and forbid evil
and observe Prayer and pay the Zakat (tax for the poor), and obey Allah and His Messenger. It
is these whom Allah will have mercy. Surely, Allah is Mighty, Wise. Allah has promised the
believers, men and women, Gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide, and
delightful dwelling places in Gardens of Eternity, and the pleasure of Allah, which is the
greatest bounty of All. That is the supreme triumph. (9:71-72)
The symbolic description above refers to paradise which Islam tells us is a condition of
nearness to God which can begin to be reached here on earth, the river flowing under the
gardens of paradise refers to the never ending, continuously progressing nature of the quest for
the pleasure of God, which is in fact, heaven.
Modest behaviour includes not only how we dress, but how we think, how we address others:
...So be no soft in speech, lest he, in whose heart is a disease, should feel tempted; and speak
decent words. (33:33)
God understands that all men do not feel tempted every time they look at a woman, however
indecently she may be dressed. But we have no way of knowing the inner state of morality of
Islam, as I mentioned earlier, takes a proactive and systematic approach to the establishment of
morality in an upright society. Regulation of behaviour between men and women is only one of
the preventive dictates of Islam. Others include no intoxicants at all so that human beings are
always acting with a clear head and able to make responsible choices. Remember the goal is to
produce individuals who eventually achieve communion with God. Of course, production of
such individuals in large numbers, who would be the rule rather than the exception, can only be
achieved in an upright society where spiritual thriving is the norm.
Earlier, I referred to the fact that principals in schools, bosses in organisations, always dress the
part. This clothing does not make them the bosses. It is symbolic of their role in that
organisation. In the Qur'an, God explains the essence of Islamic purdah or covering which
embodies the attitude of both men and women and is reflected in dress, behaviour and is in turn
positively affected by dress and behaviour. When, as a teacher, I see the sad consequences of
immoral behaviour perpetuated by behaviours of parents learned by children, I realise that it is
a vicious circle. I like to think of the Islamic system as the `pious circle'.
O children of Adam, we have indeed sent down to you raiment to cover your nakedness and to
be a means of adornment, but the raiment of righteousness - that is the best. That is the
commandment of Allah, that they may remember. (7:27)
The eventual goal is the righteousness of the hearts. Look around you and see morality
declining and a system that is not working. Islam offers a system that works. Women play a
vital part in this complex and refined system. You know that the more frequent the
opportunities for social interchange between men and women, friendships, dating, parties, and
so forth, the more likely chances are that the natural attraction which God has placed between
them will result in relationships that are bound to endanger morality in a society. Islam restricts
this free and unrestrained intermixing of the sexes. Believe me, it is a lot more of a restraint on
men than it is on women. And women are protected from all kinds of molestation. Molested
individuals lose their sense of self-esteem and unless they undergo lengthy therapy they are
usually unable to form stable relationships.
In this society, I view women as suffering from Psychological Molestation Syndrome (PMS)
because of the way they are treated as sex objects by the media, at school, on the job, and
unfortunately, sometimes in their own homes. The resulting self-esteem of women is low as
evidenced by the fact that they allow themselves to be continually exploited in this fashion.
Therefore, unless we change the entire system and allow women to gain the self-esteem and
respect God provided for them through Islam, stability of relationships between wives and
husbands, between mothers and children will continue to be endangered.
When I taught High School students, I would become so saddened by the plight of those
teenagers. They felt pressured by society to date. A few girls and a few boys in a class of
twenty five would get all the requests. The rest would always feel unhappy, living in constant
fear of not being asked out, and often I saw that girls who were finally asked would be ready to
give up everything for fear of losing the opportunity. But when relationships of a more serious
nature developed, most of the time, they would end up in tremendous heartbreaks, then a
process of healing followed in which the teenager hardened and lost this wonderful softness
which would have been so critical in forming an enduring relationship in a marriage. After a
few of these relationships and ensuing heart breaks, there was nothing left of these poor souls.
What would these broken hearted, mended, patched human beings have to contribute to the
great task of motherhood. How would you expect individuals who had been exposed to so
much to be contained in a relationship with a single partner?
Don't you see that it is the very system that you have created which contributes to the
progressive degeneration of your social system? Don't you see that the divorce rate, unwanted
pregnancies, lack of commitment to the institution of marriage, all these ills are increasing day
by day. Women are so exposed and available that men are losing their attraction for them, and
homosexuality, children molestation are becoming more and more common. Unlimited and
unrestricted pleasures bring no happiness, indeed they result in unhappiness and instability
throughout the entire society. It's like drug usage, the more you take, the more and stronger
drug you need to get the temporary but potentially deadly thrill.
As I mentioned earlier, you cannot affect change by targeting individuals or different aspects of
a system. You must create change by changing rules that govern the entire system. The rules
must be proactive and preventive in nature. The dictates must be positive and include a large
number of behaviours that progressively lead to the targeted change. The change proposed by
God in the Holy Qur'an will produce a healthy society where goodness becomes a source of
pleasure and happiness. Islam promotes strong emotional attachments in relationship between
wife and husband, parents and children, siblings, extended families which provide comfort and
support and result in happiness, peace of mind and heart, harmony, trust, and stability. In such a
society, the natural human need to be loved and to love is fulfilled in so many chaste ways that
the individual is satisfied.
A few years ago, I felt so lucky to be a woman in Islam that I became overwhelmed by my
Beloved God's goodness toward me. I have, by the grace of God, pious and wonderful children,
a wonderful husband, a wonderful son-in-law who is also a convert, and I can see Islam at work
creating heaven daily in front of my own eyes. I cannot wait until the time that more and more
Americans adopt Islam. Americans are so kindhearted, welcoming, sympathetic, generous
human beings, they will, God willing, make the best of Muslims.
Marriage in Islam
Ata Ullah Kaleem
The Review of Religions, November 1992
In the beginning I am presenting below the English translation of the Arabic sermon which is
delivered on the occasion of the solemnization of a Muslim marriage:
All praise is due to God! We laud Him, we beseech help from Him and ask His forgiveness. We
confide in Him; we trust in Him alone; and we seek protection with Allah against the evils and
mischief of ourselves and from the vices of our deeds.
Whomsoever God guideth to the right path none can misguide him; and whomsoever He declares
misled none can guide him unto the right path; and we bear witness that none is worthy of
worship but God. He is alone and has no partner and we bear witness that Muhammad is His
Servant and Apostle.
This is followed by the recitation of the following verses from the Holy Quran:
O ye people ! fear your Lord who created you from a single soul and of its kind created its mate,
and from them twain spread many men and women; and fear ALLAH, in Whose name you appeal
to one another, and fear him particularly respecting ties of kinship. Verily ALLAH watches over
O ye who believe ! Fear ALLAH and say the straightforward word.
HE will set right you actions for you and forgive you your sins. And whoso obeys ALLAH and
HIS Messenger shall, surely, attain a supreme triumph(33:71-72)
O ye who believe ! be mindful of your duty to ALLAH and let every soul look to what it sends
forth for the morrow. And fear ALLAH, verily, ALLAH is Well-Aware of what you do. (59:19)
I would like to give an outline of marriage in Islam. First, however it is essential to know in what
esteem woman is held in Islamic society and what rank she has been favoured with by Islam and
by its Holy Founder Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
To deal with this important subject I shall keep myself confined to the Holy Quran and the
sayings of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), as interpreted by the
Reformer of the age, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in
Islam. It is indeed a matter of primary importance that eveyone who believes in any sacred
scriptures as the revealed Word of God should not, in expounding the doctrines of that religion,
go out of the Holy Book or depend upon arguments other than those which that book furnishes.
Such a limitation would go far to simplify any dissertation upon a religion. It is the religion of
Islam which confers such rights on women and not the society which has afterwards been
evolved by it as is the case with other religions. Islam is unique in this respect by endowing a
woman with equal rights and placing her on the same level as man. The Holy Quran says in this
And ALLAH has made for you mates from among yourselves.... (16:73)
This verse shows that the Holy Quran has given the same status to men and women as it says that
they are both from the same origin and due to this fact women should not be looked down upon
men as lower creatures. Consequently they should not be dealt with harshly and roughly, rather
men should deal with them in a very mild and soft manner. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace
and blessings of Allah be upon him) has been reported to have said that women should be taken
care of as some one takes care of glass products. Glass is liable to break very easily if it is not
treated carefully. Men must follow therefore, be careful not to injure the delicacy of women
because therein lies their beauty. The Holy Quran declares in another verse:
....And they (the women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in equity; but men have
a degree of advantage above them.... (2:229)
From this verse it can be easily deduced that as far as rights are concerned, women are equal
with men but as the whole responsibility, according to Islam, of affording the household
amenities rests with man therefore he has a rank above them in this respect.
The teachings of Islam make women eligible to inheritance and accordingly they receive their
due share as prescribed by the Islamic law. A woman is entitled to individual ownership of
property as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, and as a sister. In the words of an American
Justice Pierrs Craibites:
Muhammad 1300 years ago assured to the mothers, wives and daughters of Islam, the rank and
dignity not yet generally assured to the women by the West
The Holy Prophet exalted the intellectual and spiritual status of women and said that the
acquisition of knowledge is an incumbent duty to every Muslim male and female. The Holy
Prophet of Islam knew the essential part women had to play in the development of society, so he
laid great stress on the upbringing of girls by saying:
A man who has three daughters and brings them up and educates them to the best of his capacity
shall be entitled to paradise
Regarding their spiritual status the Holy Quran says:
Whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, WE will surely grant him a
pure life; and WE will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works
In view of such ideal teachings concerning the fair sex how absurd is the assertion that according
to Islam a woman has no soul.
Turning to marriage in Islam, it is first of all very important to know what is the real aim of
marriage in Islam. If we understand it thoroughly, we would then certainly try to acheive it. The
Holy Quran says:
And of HIS Signs is that HE has created wives for you from among yourselves that you may find
peace of mind in them, and HE has put love and tenderness between you. In that, surely, are
Signs for a people who reflect (30:22)
HE it is Who created you from a single soul and made therefrom its mate, that he might find
comfort in her. (7:190)
These verses signify that marriage is meant for the attainment of peace of mind and mutual love
and affection. Allah has also said that marriage is the means of attaining piety and of guarding
one's chastity. He says:
....They are a sort of garment for you and you are a sort of garment for them.... (2:188)
The Arabic word `libas' (garment) means a thing which covers another thing. And according to
the Holy Quran, a garment serves a threefold purpose: Allah says:
O children of Adam, WE have indeed send down to you raiment to cover you nakedness and to
be a means of adornment... (7:27)
And then He says:
....HE has made for you garments which protect you from heat, and coats of mail which protect
you in your wars.... (16:82)
Another use of our dress is that it provides protection against heat and cold. Since the Holy
Quran has used the word 'garment' in respect of both the husband and wife, it proves beyond any
shadow of doubt that they hold an equal status; their rights and duties are identical in respect of
each other; and both are bound to fulfil their obligations to each other. When God declares each
of them to be a garment for the other, He wishes it be known how they should discharge their
duties towards each other which are as follows:
1. To cover up one another's weaknesses and shortcomings from others.
2. To act as an adornment and embellishment for one another.
3. Just as clothes protect us from the severity and inclemency of the weather, so
in the same way the wife and the husband should stick fast to each other
through thick and at no time should they fall apart in adverse circumstances.
Each should serve as a rock of support to the other.
According to the Islamic point of view, marriage is not an ordinary combination of two opposite
sexes, nor is it only to quench one's sexual desires. It is rather holy reunion of two inevitable life
companions on whose virtues or vices lies the prosperity or the disaster of human society.
Marriage in Islam means laying the foundation of a fabric from which emerges a benevolent and
beneficial society and therefore it enjoins upon every Muslim to marry. The first thing in this
respect is that what the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)
O company of the youth! he who can afford to marry should marry, for it keeps the eyes cast
down and keeps the man chaste; and he who cannot afford to marry should take to fasting for it
will have a sobering effect upon him.
According to this tradition it is quite clear that the purpose of marriage in Islam, as far as society
is concerned, is to keep society chaste, healthy and pure from grossness and immorality. A man
who can afford to marry and yet he refrains to marry must definitely be led to immorality and
will be a nuisance to society which we today observe clearly as due to the so-called modern
civilization. On the other hand when one is already married one would remain content and would
not loiter about but would lead a pleasant family life.
The second thing that Islam says in this regard is that marriage has its lasting effects. Primarily it
affects the lives of two persons and then comes the question of family and children. As long as
the man is responsible for the maintenance of the family and children he will be forced to be
away from the house for considerable periods of time and so the children would not be properly
looked after and trained. The responsibility of their well-being and training has therefore been
laid upon the woman by Islam. If the woman is chaste, pious, and religious, she would bring up
the children in a well trained manner and thus the society emerging from these children would be
highly moral and respectable. For this purpose the Holy Prophet of Islam said:
A woman is married for four things: (1) for her wealth; (2) for nobility of her family; (3) for her
beauty and (4) for her (good) character, so attain success with one possessing good character.
It is evident from this tradition that Islamic marriage is based upon the betterment of the society
and therefore the Holy Prophet of Islam left no stone unturned and let no opportunity go in this
respect. Consequently he said: bring up the society pure, religious and straightforward the Holy
Quran enjoins upon its followers that they should not marry idolaters because by doing so the
purity of the worship of God would be adversely affected and the coming generations would
become irreligious and estranged from God hence influencing their strength of character and
poluting their religious feelings and leading them astrays. The Holy Quran says:
And marry not idolatrous women until they believe; even a believing bond women is better than
an idolatress, although she may please you. And give not believing women in marriage to
idolaters until they believe; even a believing slave is better than an idolater, although he may
please you.... (2:222)
It is clear from this verse that Islam demands a purely religious and moral society in which there
would be no godlessness and immorality. The main object of Islam is that purity and piety
should be imbibed in the practice of Muslim to such an extent that their characters would become
impeccable and faultless.
One of the greatest causes of immorality is secret relationship between men and women and then
the grave consequences which cause confliction, collision, and ultimately separation. To nip the
evil in its very bud, the Holy Prophet of Islam said:
No marriage is legal without the permission of the guardian.
This saying of the Holy Prophet shows that unless the would-be couple is known to the guardian
(who is father and in his absence uncles and brothers respectively, or when all the legal
guardians are absent, then the qazi (the judge) and unless the marriage tie is agreed upon by them
the marriage is not valid.
In Islam when the agreement is reached and when all conditions of marriage are settled, then an
announcement is to be made in the mosque or in court before a group of Muslims so that they
may stand as witness that this marriage is legal and all its natural consequences are legimate.
The other reasons in the background of this announcement are that should there arise any dispute
for which there is no solution except separation, or a child is born and the husband denies its
legitimacy, or any other danger arises, then, if the announcement has not been made and both of
them had relations secretly, there is the fullest possibility that the woman would be deprived of
her legal rights. She can be denied the maintenance for her child; she can be deprived of her
personal living or she can have her property given to her by her husband as there stands no
witness to support her cause. To safeguard the rights of women, Islam makes its necessary to
have the marriage tie announced before a group of people so that in case of such
misunderstanding or crisis there would be witnesses and the woman could not be deprived of her
It should be borne in mind that Islam does not allow a guardian to force his ward to accept his
choice. The Holy Prophet of Islam is reported to have said:
The widow shall not be married until she is consulted and the virgin shall not be married until
her consent is obtained.
Since man has been made responsible for providing sustenance for his wife and is her guardian
and protector, it has been made compulsory for him to pay a dowry to his wife as a token of
acknowledgement of her role which she has taken upon herself to play as wife. God says in the
Holy Quran: And for the benefit you receive from them (women) give them their dowries. (4:25)
There are cases, however, where husbands grudge this payment. Allah commands that the dowry
must be paid cheerfully and with good grace. God says:
And give the women their dowries willingly. But if they, of their own pleasure, remit to you a
part thereof, then enjoy it as something pleasant and wholesome.... (4:5)
There is a tendency of fixing large dowries which in many cases leads to misunderstandings and
friction between the two familites and ultimately to the dissolution of the marriage. Islam looks
with disfavour upon fixing large dowries except in exceptional circumstances where it cannot be
helped, i.e. the necessity to safeguard the bride's right of inheritance. The Holy Prophet of Islam
Blessed is the marriage which comes about with ease and entails no hardship, it must not entail
too heavy a burden of expenses nor should the dowry be too much for the bridgegroom to pay.
As a matter of fact the amount of dowry should be fixed according to the financial standing of
the bridegroom and with the consent of both parties. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood
Ahmad, the second sucessor to the Promised Messiah, was of the opinion that the sum proposed
for dowry should range between the bridegroom's income for six to twelve months. He once
Those who fix large dowries, only for show and fail to pay, are guilty of committing a sin. The
companions of the Holy Prophet used to pay the dowry money in advance. Hence, the best thing
is to pay it up in advance, if possible. Dowry is, in fact, a debt owed by the husband to his wife.
I will now proceed to explain the rightful duties of the wife:
1. She has to look after the comfort of her husband, give him due respect and
always have regard for his feelings.
2. She has to safeguard the honour of her husband.
3. She has to be the guardian of the property of her husband.
4. She has to rear and bring up their children properly.
5. She should treat the relatives of her husband as if they were her own relatives.
6. She should beautify herself for her husband.
7. She should bear in mind the tastes of her husband in the matter of food and
8. She should be ever mindful of her husband's health.
9. She should give her most sincere advice when her husband consults her in any
of his problems.
10. She should not make unfair and unreasonable demands on the purse of her
11. She has to remain loyal to her husband under all conditions and be a source of
strength to him in adverse circumstances and stick fast to him through thick
12. She should be careful that the dignity and reputation of her husband are not
harmed by any of her actions.
13. Under all conditions her behaviour should be conducive to peace and
tranquility in the house.
The rightful duties of the husband are:
1. He should respect and be very mindful of the susceptibilities of his wife.
2. He should try to be a source of comfort to his wife and behave in a manner that
convinces her that she alone is the centre of his love and affection.
3. He should provide for all her reasonable needs and keeping within his means
and should be disposed to spending in that respect with an open hand.
4. The husband should participate in the management of the house by giving
hand in the household chores of his spouse.
5. He should look after her health and be always anxious about it.
6. He should refrain from keeping a close watch over every movement of his wife
as if he had no confidence in her and thus making her life miserable.
7. He should always be disposed to overlooking the minor shortcomings of his
wife and be generous in forgiving and forgeting.
8. He should see that trifles do not lead to a situation in which tempers are lost
and threats of divorce and separation are pronounced.
9. He should shun every act or act which is likely to displease or agonise his
10. The husband should display a sense of utmost sympathy towards his wife
when she is in distress or has met with some misfortune.
11. He should not object to his wife meeting her relatives provided no mischief is
feared from their side. He should also be respectful to them.
12. He should consult his wife in all family matters of importance and handle the
situation as decided by mutual consent.
13. If there are more wives than one, the husband must treat them all as equal in
every respect, in dress, in food, in living accomodation and in the duration of
his stay with each of them.
I am confident that the new couple in particular and other Muslim brethren in general will try
their utmost to maintain the rights of their spouses as directed by the Holy Quran and the Holy
Prophet of Islam, thus making their lives happy and successful.
Finally, I would like to advise new wedded couple to repeat often the following prayer in the
And those who say, `Our Lord, grant us of our wives and children the delight of our eyes, and
make us a model for the righteous.' (25:75)
Just as Islam has instructed the virgin to marry so also it has instructed the widow to remarry. And the
widows have been instructed to remarry more especially because there are some people who think it is
below their dignity that they should get the widow in the family to remarry. It is to discard this bad
custom that the widow has been instructed to remarry. But of course that does not mean that every
widow must remarry. Only such widows as are marriageable and those for whom remarriage is
necessary are the ones who should remarry. Some women become widow when they have grown old;
some others are there whose circumstances do not permit them to remarry (they may have a disease
which does not let them remarry) or some may have a large number of children, still others may be
there who do not like that they should remarry. In all such cases the widow has not to be compelled to
remarry; why should such a woman be tied to a husband. But of course this bad custom must be
uprooted - the bad custom of keeping a widow compulsarily without a husband the whole of her life.
(Malfoozat, vol. 9, pg. 429)