Equity between man and woman

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The matters about equity between man and woman

Quick links to the subtitles in this page:

The spiritual aspect

The economic aspect

The social aspect

The legal and political aspect

The spiritual aspect

Foundations of spiritual and human equity

1. According to the Qur’an, men and women have the same human spiritual nature.

O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, Who created you from a single person (nafsin- waahidah), created, of like nature, his mate, and from them two scattered (like seeds) countless men and women--reverence Allah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (that bore you): for Allah ever watches over you.... (Qur’an 4:1)

It is He Who created you from a single person and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love). When they are united, she bears a light burden and carries it about (unnoticed). When she grows heavy, they both pray to Allah, their Lord (saying) “If You give us a goodly child, we vow we shall (ever) be grateful. (Qur’an 7:189)

(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves and pairs among cattle: by this means does He multiply you! There is nothing whatever like unto Him, and He is the one that hears and sees (all things). (Qur’an 42:11)

2. Both men and women alike are recipients of the “divine breath,” because they are created with the same human spiritual nature. Indeed, as the Qur’an states, Allah originated them both from a single person or “one soul” (nafsin-waahidah). Reflecting the magnitude of this universal divine gift, the Qur’an states:

But He fashioned him (the human, or insan) in due proportion and breathed into him something of His spirit. And He gave you (the faculties of) hearing and sight and understanding: Little thanks do you give! (Qur’an 32:9)

Referring to Adam, the father of both men and women, the Qur’an relates that Allah commanded the angels to bow down (in respect) to him:

So if I have fashioned him (in due proportion) and breathed into him of My spirit, fall down in obeisance unto him. (Qur’an 15:29)

3. Allah has invested both genders with inherent dignity and has made men and women, collectively, the trustees of Allah on earth.

We have honored the children of Adam, provided them with transport on land and sea, given them for sustenance things good and pure, and conferred on them special favours above a great part of Our Creation. (Qur’an 17:70)

Behold, your Lord said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth.” They said “Will you place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood? While we celebrate Your praises and glorify Your holy (name)?” He said: “I know what you know not.” (Qur’an 2:30)

4. The Qur’an does not blame woman for the “fall of man,” nor does it view pregnancy and childbirth as punishments for “eating from the forbidden tree". On the contrary, the Qur’an depicts Adam and Eve as equally responsible for their fault in the garden, never singling out Eve for blame. It also esteems pregnancy and childbirth as sufficient reasons for the love and respect due to mothers from their children.

O Adam! You and your wife dwell in the garden and enjoy (its good things) as you (both) wish: but approach not this tree or you (both) run into harm and transgression. Then Satan began to whisper suggestions to them, bringing openly before their minds all their shame was hidden from them (before): he said, “Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you (both) should become angels or such beings as live forever”. And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought about their fall. When they tasted the tree, their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: “Did I know forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was an avowed enemy unto you?” They said: “Our Lord! we have wronged our own souls: If You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your mercy, we shall certainly be lost”. (Allah) said: “Get you (both) down with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling- place and your means of livelihood for a time.” He said: “Therein shall you (both) live and therein shall you (both) die; and from it shall you (both) be taken out (at last)...” O you children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you in the same manner as he got your parents out of the garden stripping them of their raiment to expose their shame: for he and his tribe watch you from a position where you cannot see them: We made the evil ones friends (only) to those without faith. (Qur’an 7:19-27)

Regarding pregnancy and childbirth, the Qur’an states:

And We have enjoined on (every) person (to be good) to his/her parents: in travail upon travail did his/her mother bear him/her and in years twain was his/her weaning: (hear the command) “Show gratitude to Me and to your parents: to Me is (your final) Goal.” (Qur’an 31:14)

We have enjoined on (every) person kindness to his/her parents: in pain did his/her mother bear him/her and in pain did she give his/her weaning is (a period of) thirty months. At length, when he /she reaches the age of full strength and attains forty years, he/she says “O my Lord! grant that I may be grateful for Your favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon both my parents and that I may work righteousness such as You may approve; and be gracious to me in my issue. Truly have I turned to You and truly do I bow (to You) in Islam (submission).” (Qur’an 46:15) [5]

5. Men and women have the same religious duties and responsibilities. Each human being shall face the consequences of his or her deeds. And their Lord has accepted of them and answered them:

“Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he/she male or female: you are members one of another...” If any do deeds of righteousness, be they male or female, and have faith, they will enter paradise and not the least injustice will be done to them. (Qur’an 4:124)

For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patent and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise-- for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward. (Qur’an 33:35)

One Day you shall see the believing men and the believing women, how their Light runs forward before them and by their right hands. (Their greeting will be): “Good News for you this Day! Gardens beneath which flow rivers! To dwell therein forever! This is indeed the highest Achievement!” (Qur’an 57:12)

Criterion for “superiority”

The Qur’an is quite clear about the issue of claimed superiority or inferiority of any human male or female:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (one who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (Qur’an 49:13)

A few observations about this verse may be helpful in tracing the foundation of spiritual and human equality before Allah:

  • It begins by addressing not only Muslims but the whole of mankind, irrespective of their gender and their national or religious backgrounds. As such, it is a universal declaration to all made by the Creator of all.
  • It states that there is only One creator of all mankind. As such there is no room for arguments of superiority based on one’s having been created by a “superior” God, as there is only One god (Allah). Nor is there any basis for a caste system based on some having been created in a way which is “different” from others or is superior. As Prophet Muhammad (P) explained, “... You all belong to Adam, and Adam was created from dust.” In the process of human reproduction there is no superiority or inferiority; kings and paupers, males and females, are created from what the Qur’an describes as “despised fluid.” Our having been crated by the One and Only Creator implies our basic equality before Him; He is just to all.
  • Being a faithful creature, servant and worshipper of the One god is at the heart of one’s real spirituality and humanness. In this, the essence of gender equality finds its most profound basis.
  • The verse states that all human beings are created min thakarin wa-untha, which can be translated literally as “of male and female.” This means in pairs, as the Qur’an explicitly mentions elsewhere (e.g. 78:8). Each component of the pair is as necessary and as important as the other and hence is equal to him or her. The wording of this verse has been commonly translated as “from a (single pair of) a male and a female,” referring to Adam and Eve. this serves as a reminder to all mankind that they belong to the same family, with one common set of parents. As such they are all equal, as brothers and sisters in that broad and “very extended” family.
  • Variations in gender, languages, ethnic backgrounds and, by implication, religious claims, do not provide any basis for superiority or inferiority. The implication of “that you may know each other” (Qur’an 49:13) is that such variations constitute a deliberate mosaic that Allah created, which is more interesting and more beautiful than a single “color” or a “unisex”.
  • Most significant and relevant to the topic at hand is the clear categorical statement that the most honored person in the sight of Allah is the one who is most pious and righteous. this precludes any other basis for superiority, including. gender.

6. Nowhere does the Qur’an state that ones gender is superior to the other. Some interpreters of the Qur’an mistakenly translate the Arabic word qiwamah (responsibility for the family) with the English word “superiority.” The Quran makes it clear that the sole basis for superiority of any person over another is piety and righteousness, not gender, color or nationality.

From this chapter, it is clear that in terms of spirituality and humanness, both genders stand on equal footing before Allah. It is clear also that nowhere in the primary sources of Islam (the Qur’an and Sunnah) do we find any basis for the superiority of one gender over the other. Human misinterpretations, culturally-bound opinions or manipulations are not congruent with what Islam teaches. The full equality of all human beings before Allah is beyond doubt. This equality should not be confused, however, with role differentiation in the spirit of cooperation and complimentary. This is why equity is a more accurate term than “equality.”

The economic aspect

The right to possess personal property

One aspect of the world-view of Islam is that everything in heaven and earth belongs to Allah:

To Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth... (Qur’an 2:284)

As such, all wealthy and resources are ultimately “owned” by Allah. However, out of Allah’s mercy He created mankind to be, collectively, his trustees on earth. In order to help mankind fulfill this trustee- ship, he made the universe serviceable to mankind:

And He (Allah) has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold, in that are signs indeed for those who reflect. (Qur’an 45:13)

It is the human family that is addressed in the above and in other verses of the Qur’an. And since that family includes both genders, it follows that the basic right to personal possession of property (as Allah’s trustees) applies equally to males and females. More specifically:

1. The Shari‘ah (Islamic Law) recognizes the full property rights of women before and after marriage. They may buy, sell or lease any or all of their properties at will. For this reason, Muslim women may keep (and in fact they have traditionally kept) their maiden names after marriage, an indication of their independent property rights as legal entities.

2. Financial security is assured for women. They are entitled to receive martial gifts without limit and to keep present and future properties and income for their own security, even after marriage. No married woman is required to spend any amount at all from her property and income on the household. In special circumstances, however, such as when her husband is ill, disabled or jobless, she may find it necessary to spend from her earnings or savings to provide the necessities for her family. While this is not a legal obligation, it is consistent with the mutuality of care, love and cooperation among family members. The woman is entitled also to full financial support during marriage and during the waiting period (‘iddah) i n case of divorce or widowhood. Some jurists require, in addition, one year’s support for divorce and widowhood (or until they remarry, if remarriage takes place before the year is over).

A woman who bears a child in marriage is entitled to child support from the child’s father. Generally, a Muslim woman is guaranteed support in al stages of her life, as a daughter, wife and mother or sister. The financial advantages accorded to women and not to men in marriage and in family have a social counterpart in the provisions that the Qur’an lays down in the laws of inheritance, which afford the male, in most cases, twice the inheritance of a female. Males inherit more but ultimately they are financially responsible for their female relatives: their wives, daughters, mothers and sisters. Females inherit less but retain their share for investment and financial security, without any legal obligation to spend any part of it, even for their own sustenance (food, clothing, housing, medication, etc).

It should be noted that in pre-Islamic society, women themselves were sometimes objects of inheritance. In some Western countries, even after the advent of Islam, the whole estate of the deceased was given to his/her eldest son. The Qur’an however , made it clear that both men and women are entitled to a specified share of the estate of their deceased parents or close relations:

From what is left by parents and those nearest related, there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large—a determinate share (Qur’an 4:7)


With regard to the woman’s right to seek employment , it should be stated first that Islam regards her role in society as a mother and a wife as her most sacred and essential one. Neither maids nor baby sitters can possibly take the mother’s place as the educator of an upright, complex-free and carefully-reared child. Such a noble and vital role, which largely shapes the future of nations, cannot be regarded as “idleness.” This may explain why a married woman must secure her husband’s consent if she wishes to work, unless her right to work was mutually agreed to as a condition at the time of marriage.

However, there is no decree in Islam that forbids women from seeking employment whenever there is a necessity for it, especially in positions which fit her nature best and in which society needs her most. Examples of these professions are nursing, teaching (especially children), medicine, and social and charitable work. Moreover there is no restriction on benefiting from women’s talents in any field. Some early jurists, such as Abu-Hanifah and Al-Tabari, uphold that a qualified Muslim woman may be appointed to the position of a judge. Other jurists hold different opinions. Yet, no jurist is able to point to an explicit text in the Qur’an or Sunnah that categorically excludes women from any lawful type of employment except for the headship of the state. Omar, the second Caliph after the Prophet (P), appointed a woman (Um Al-Shifaa’ bint Abdullah) as the marketplace supervisor, a position that is equivalent in our world to “director of the consumer protection department.”

In countries where Muslims are a numerical minority, some Muslim women, while recognizing the importance of their role as mothers, may be forced to seek employment in order to survive. This is especially true in the case of divorcees and widows and in the absence of the Islamic financial security measures outlined above.

The social aspect

As a daughter

1. The Qur’an ended the cruel pre-Islamic practice of female infanticide:

When the female (infant) buried alive is questioned for what crime she was killed.... (Qur’an 81:8-9)

2. The Qur’an went further to rebuke the unwelcoming attitude of some parents upon hearing the news of the birth of a baby girl, instead of a baby boy:

When news is brought to one of them of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With shame he hides himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on (sufferance and) contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil (choice) they decide on! (Qur’an 16:58-59)

3. Parents are duty-bound to support and show kindness and justice to their daughters. Prophet Muhammad (P) said,

Whosoever has a daughter and does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favor his son over her, Allah will enter him into Paradise. (Ahmad)

Whosoever supports two daughters until they mature, he and I will come on the day of judgment as this (and he pointed with his two fingers held together). (Ahmad)

4. A crucial aspect in the upbringing of daughters that greatly influenced their future is education. Education is not only a right but a responsibility for all males and females. Prophet Muhammad (P) said, “Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim.” The word “Muslim” here is inclusive of both males and females.

As a wife

5. Marriage in Islam is based on mutual peace, love and compassion, and not the mere satisfying of human sexual desire.

And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts); verily in that are signs for those who reflect. (Qur’an 30:21)

(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves and pairs among cattle: by this means does He multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Him and He is the One that hears and sees (all things). (Qur’an 42:11)

Marriage and divorce

6. The female has the right to accept or reject marriage proposals. Her consent is a prerequisite to the validity of the marital contract, according to the Prophet’s teaching. It follows that if an “arranged marriage” means the marrying of a female without her consent, then such a marriage may be annulled if the female so wishes:

Ibn Abbas reported that a girl came to the Messenger of Allah, and she reported that her father had forced her to marry without her consent. The Messenger of God gave her the choice...(between accepting the marriage or invalidating it) (Ahmad, Hadith no. 2469). another version of the report states that “the girl said: ‘Actually, I accept this marriage, but I wanted to let women know that parents have no right to force a husband on them.’” (Ibn-Majah).

The husband is responsible for the maintenance, protection and overall leadership (qiwamah) of the family, within the framework of consultation and kindness. The mutuality and complementary of husband and wife does not mean “subservience” by either party to the other. Prophet Muhammad (P) helped with household chores although the responsibilities he bore and the issues he faced in his community were immense.

The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years, if the father desires to complete the term. But he shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms. No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child, nor father on account of his child. An heir shall be chargeable in the same way. If they both decide on weaning by mutual consent. and after due consultation, there is no blame on them. If you decide on a foster-mother for your offspring, there is no blame on you, provided you pay (the mother) what you offered on equitable terms. But fear Allah and know that Allah sees well what you do. (Qur’an 2:233)

Prophet Muhmmad (P) instructed Muslims regarding women, “I commend you to be kind to women.” He said also, “the best of you is the best to his family (wife).” The Qur’an urges husbands to be kind and considerate to their wives, even if a wife falls out of favor with her husband or disinclination for her arises within him. It also outlawed the pre-Islamic Arabian practice whereby the stepson of the deceased father was allowed to take possession of his fathers widow(s) (inherited them) as if they were part of the estate of the deceased:

O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the martial gift you have given them, except when they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary, live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them, it may be that you dislike a thing through which Allah brings about a great deal of good. (Qur’an 4:19)

Should marital disputes arise, the Quran encourages couples to resolve them privately in a spirit of fairness and probity. Under no circumstances does the Qur’an encourage, allow or condone family violence of physical abuse. In extreme cases, and whenever greater harm, such as divorce, is a likely option, it allows for a husband to administer a gentle pat to his wife that causes no physical harm to the body nor leaves any sort of mark. It may serve, in some cases, to bring to the wife’s attention the seriousness of her continued unreasonable behavior (refraction, and may be resorted to only after exhausting other steps discussed in endnote. If the mild measure is not likely to prevent a marriage from collapsing, as last measure, it should not be resorted to. Indeed the Qur’an outlines an enlightened step and a wise approach for the husband and wife to resolve persistent conflict in their marital life: In the event that dispute cannot be resolved equitably between husband and wife, the Qur’an prescribes mediation between the parties through family intervention on behalf of both spouses.

Divorce is a last resort, permissible but not encouraged, for the Qur’an esteems the preservation of faith and the individuals right--male and female alike--to felicity. Forms of marriage dissolution include an enactment based upon mutual agreement, the husband’s initiative, the wife’s initiative (if part of her marital contract), the court’s decision on a wife’s initiative (for a legitimate reason), and the wife’s initiative without a “cause,” provided that she returns her marital gift to her husband (khul’, or divestiture).

Priority for the custody of young children (up to the age of about seven) is given to the mother. A child later may choose the mother or father as his or her custodian. Custody questions are to be settled in a manner that balances the interests of both parents and the well-being of the child.

As a mother

7. The Qur’an elevates kindness to parents (especially mothers) to a status second only to the worship of Allah.

Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. (Qur’an 17:23)

And We have enjoined on every human being (to be good) to his/her parents: in travail upon travail did his/her mother bear him/her and in years twain was his/her weaning: (hear the command) “Show gratitude to me and to your parents: to Me is (your final) destiny.” (Qur’an 31:14)

8. Naturally, the Prophet specified this behaviour for his followers, rendering to mothers an unequalled status in human relationships.

A man came to Prophet Muhammad (P) asking, “O Messenger of Allah, who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?” The Prophet (P) said, “Your mother”. The man said, “Then, who is next?” The Prophet (P) said, “Your mother”. The man said, “Then, who is next?” The Prophet (P) said, “Your mother”. The man further asked, “Then who is next?” Only then did the Prophet (P) say, “Your father.” (Al-Bukhari).

As a sister in faith (generally)

9. According to Prophet Muhammad’s (P) saying, “Women are but sisters shaqa’iq, or twin halves) of men.” This hadith is a profound statement that directly relates to the issue of human equality between the genders. If the first meaning of shaqa’iq is adopted, it means that a male is worth one half (of society), with the female worth the other half. Can “one half” be better or bigger than the other half? Is there a more simple but profound physical image of equality? if the second meaning, “sisters,” is adopted, it implies the same. The term “sister” is different from “slave” or “master.”

10. Prophet Muhammad (P) taught kindness care and respect toward women in general (“I commend you to be kind to women”). It is significant that such instruction of the Prophet (P) was among his final instructions and reminders given in the “farewell pilgrimage” address given shortly before his passing away.

Modesty and social interaction

11. There exists a gap between the normative behavior regarding women outlined in the Qur’an and the prevalent reality among Muslims, both as societies in the Muslim world and as communities in the west. Their diverse cultural practices reflect both ends of the continuum -- the liberal West and the ultra-restrictive regions of the Muslim world. Some Muslims emulate non-Islamic cultures and adopt their modes of dress, unrestricted mixing, and behavior, which influence them and endanger their families’ Islamic integrity and strength. On the other hand, in some Muslim cultures undue and excessive restrictions for women, if not their total seclusion, is believed to be the ideal. Both extremes seem to contradict the normative teachings of Islam and are consistent with the virtuous yet participate nature of both men and women in society at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (P).

12. The parameters of proper modesty for males and females (dress and behavior) are based on revelatory sources (the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah) and, as such, the regarded by believing men and women as divinely-based guidelines with legitimate aims and divine wisdom behind them. They are not male-imposed or socially imposed restrictions.

13. The near or total seclusion of women is alien to the prophetic period. Interperative problems in justifying seclusion reflect, in part, cultural influences and circumstances in different Muslim countries. There is ample evidence in authentic (sound) hadith supporting this thesis. Women at the Prophet’s (P) time and after him participated with men in acts of worship, such as prayers and pilgrimage, in learning and teaching, in the market place, in the discussion of public issues (political life) and in the battlefield when necessary.

The legal and political aspect

Equality before law

1. Both genders are entitled to equality before the law and courts of law. Justice is genderless. According to the Qur’an, men and women receive the same punishment for crimes such as theft (5:38),fornication (24:2), murder and injury (5:45). Women do possess and independent legal entity in financial and other matters. One legal issue is widely misunderstood: testimony. A common but erroneous belief is that as a “rule,” the worth of women’s testimony is one half of men’s testimony. A survey of all passages in the Qur’an relating to testimony does not substantiate this claimed “rule.”


2. Most Qur’anic references to testimony (witness) do not make any reference to gender. Some references fully equate the testimony of males and females.

And for those who launch a charge against their spouses and have (in support) no evidence but their own, their solitary evidence (can be received) if they bear witness four times (with an oath) by Allah that they are solemnly telling the truth; And the fifth (oath) (should be) that they solemnly invoke the curse of Allah on themselves if they tell a lie. But if would avert the punishment from the wife if she bears witness four times (with an oath) by Allah that (her husband) is telling a like; And the fifth (oath) should be that she solemnly invokes the wrath of Allah on herself if (her accuser) is telling the truth. (Qur’an 24:6-9)

One reference in the Qur’an distinguishes between the witness of a male and a female. It is useful to quote this reference and explain it in its own context and in the context of other Qur’anic references to testimony:

O you who believe! When you deal with each other in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing. Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe refuse to write: as Allah has taught him, so let him write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear his Lord, Allah, and not diminish aught of what he owes. If the party liable is mentally deficient, or weak, or unable himself to dictate, let his guardian dictate faithfully. And get two witnesses out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as you choose for witnesses so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her. The witnesses should not refuse when they are called on (for evidence). Disdain not to reduce to writing (your contract) for a future period, whether it be small or big: it is more just in the sight of Allah, more suitable as evidence, and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves, but if it be a transaction with you carry out on the spot among yourselves, there is not blame on you if you reduce it not to writing, But take witnesses whenever you make a commercial contract; and let neither scribe nor witness suffer harm. If you do (such harm), it would be wickedness in you. So fear Allah; for it is Allah that teaches you. And Allah is well acquainted with all things. (Qur’an 2:282)

A few comments on this text are essential in order to prevent common misinterpretations:

  • It cannot be used as an argument that there is a general rule in the Qur’an that the worth of a female’s witness is only half the male’s. This presumed “rule” is voided by the above reference (24:6-9), which explicitly equates the testimony of both genders on the issue at hand.
  • The context of this passage (verse, or ayah) relates to testimony on financial transactions, which are often complex and laden with business jargon. The passage does not make a blanket generalization that would otherwise contradict 24:6-9, cited above.
  • The reason for variations in the number of male and female witnesses required is given in the same passage. No reference is made to the inferiority or superiority of one gender’s witness or the other’s. The only reason given is to corroborate the female’s witness and prevent unintended errors in the perception of the business deal. The Arabic term used in this passage, tadhilla, literally means “loses the way,” “gets confused,” or “errs.” But are females the only gender that may err and need corroboration of their testimony? Definitely not, and that is why the general rule of testimony in Islamic law is to have two witnesses, even when they are both male.

    One possible interpretation of the requirements related to this particular type of testimony is that in numerous societies, past and present, women generally may not be heavily involved with and experienced in business transactions. As such, they may not be completely cognizant of what is involved. Therefore, corroboration of a woman’s testimony by another woman who may be present ascertains accuracy and, hence, justice. It would be unreasonable to interpret this requirement as a reflection on the worth of women’s testimony, as it is the ONLY exception discerned from the text of the Qur’an . This may be one reason why a great scholar like Al-Tabari could not find any evidence from any primary text (Qur’an or hadith) to exclude women from something more important than testimony: being herself a judge who hears and evaluates the testimony of others.
  • It must be added that unlike pure acts of worship, which must be observed exactly as taught by the prophet (P), testimony is a means to an end, ascertaining justice as a major objective of Islamic law. Therefore, it is the duty of a fair judge to be guided by this objective when assessing the worth and credibility of a given testimony, regardless of the gender of the witness. A witness of a female graduate of a business school is certainly far more worthy than the witness of an illiterate person with no business education or experience.

Participation in social and political life

3. The general rule in social and political life is participation and collaboration of males and females in public affairs.

The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His apostle. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise. (Qur’an 9:7)

4. There is sufficient historical evidence of participation by Muslim women in the choice of rulers, in public issues, in lawmaking, in a administrative positions, in scholarship and teaching, and even in the battlefield. Such involvement in social and political affairs was conducted without the participants’ losing sight of the complementary priorities of both genders and without violating Islamic guidelines of modesty and virtue.

Women in leadership positions

There is no text in the Qur’an or Sunnah that precludes women from any position of leadership, except in leading prayer (however, women may lead other women in prayer), due to the format of prayer, as explained earlier. There are exceptions even to this general rule, as explained later in this chapter. Another common question which relates to whether Muslim women are eligible to be heads of state is a controversial matter.

There is no evidence from the Qur’an to preclude women from headship of state. Some may argue that according to the Qur’an (4:34), men are the protectors and maintainers of women. Such a leadership position (responsibility, or qiwamah) for men in the family unit implies their exclusive leadership in political life as well. This analogy, however, is far from conclusive. Qiwamah deals with the particularity of family life and the need for financial arrangements, role differentiation, and complementary of the roles of husband and wife. These particularities are not necessarily the same as the headship of state, even if some elements may be similar. Therefore, a Qur’anically based argument to exclude women from the headship of state is neither sound nor convincing. Most arguments for exclusion, however, are based on the following hadith, narrated by Abu Bakrah:

During the battle of Al-Jamal (in which A’isha, the Prophet’s widow, led an army in opposition to Ali, the fourth Caliph), Allah benefited me with a word. When the Prophet heard the news that the people of Persia had made the daughter of Khorsrau their queen (ruler), he said, “Never will such a nation succeed as makes a woman their ruler.”

While this hadith has been commonly interpreted to exclude women from the headship of state, there are scholars who relate this narration to a specific event.

Some argue that since women are excluded from leading the prayer for a mixed gathering of men and women, they should be excluded from leading the state as well. This argument, however overlooks two issues: (1) Leading the prayer is a purely religious act and, given the format of Muslim prayer and its nature, it is not suitable for women to lead a mixed congregation. Leading the state, however, is not a “purely” religious act but a religiously based political act. Exclusion of women in one instance does not necessarily imply their exclusion in another.

Al-Qasimi notes that the famous jurist, Abu-Ya’la al-Farra’ (known for his writings on the political system of Islam), did not include among the qualifications of the imam (head of state) being a male. It should be noted, however, that the head of state in Islam is not a ceremonial head. He leads public prayers on some occasions and constantly travels and negotiates with officials of other states (who generally are men). He may be involved in confidential meetings with them. Such heavy and secluded involvement of women with men and its necessary format may not be consistent with Islamic guidelines related to the proper interaction between the genders and to the priority of feminine functions at home and their value to society.


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