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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 11 Aug 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Quran, Hadith And Women

By Asghar Ali Engineer

What is position of women in Qur’an and hadith? It is very interesting to compare what is stated in Qur’an about women and what do we find on women in hadith literature? And here I am not referring to ahadith from an other source but from what is known as Sihah Sitta (i.e. six most authentic sources of hadith). I wish our Ulama reflect on the contrast between how Qur’an treats women and how ahadith treat them. Much of woes of Muslim women will be over if we follow Qur’an rather than these ahadith.


Women lost in ahadith what they had gained through Qur’an. Today if world thinks Islam treats women in very unfair way it is because we follow hadiths rather than Qur’an as far as women are concerned. In pre-Islamic period women had lowest of low social status and Qur’an lifted them far above and our ‘Ulama never tire of saying this. But within few decades of the revelation of the Qur’an women came down to their pre-Islamic status in a fiercely male dominated society. And this was accomplished through ahadith as a legitimizing factor.


Those who narrated these ahadith never thought for a moment how they contradict Qur’an as these ahadith served the social purpose very well. Qur’an provided ideals and values but society could not rise to that level and instead dragged Islam to its own level and ahadith served that interest best.

When Islam was confined to Arabian peninsula it was different but when it spread to far off places, parts of Roman empire, Sasanid empire (Iran), Central Asia etc. these regions were very different in their culture, religious values and social ethos and it was quite natural for Islam to adapt to what these societies needed. Even Shari’ah, all jurists (fuqaha’) agree incorporated much of Arab ‘adati (customary law).


It was not easy to avoid these cultural values and customary practices found in non-Arab societies when people of these regions embraced Islam. Position of women in these regions was no different from what it was in pre-Islamic Arabia and when one embraces a religion which originated outside that region he/she does not automatically caste away his/her own cultural values and social ethos.

Also, it is a well-known fact that Islam spread far and wide much quicker than Shari’ah laws were compiled in different schools. In fact various Shari’ah schools (madahibi) came into existence in different regions where Islam had spread. Even before the Arabs could grasp full significance of Islam and adjust their lives to new values and ideals, it had already spread to various parts of the world, right up to China. In fact Islam spread to these regions with lightening speed.


It is also interesting to note that various companions of the Prophet (PBUH) also had spread to these parts of the world and these companions in many cases married local women and adopted cultural values of the region and being companions of the Prophet (PBUH) they were also source of Islamic knowledge and those converted to Islam would flock to them for guidance and hence number of ahadith were narrated by these companions relying on their memory and understanding. Thus along with authenticity of ahadith sociology of ahadith also becomes equally important.

While Qur’an was compiled during Prophet’s (PBUH) life time and when some deviations from standard recitation was noticed (on account mainly of tribal dialects) Hazrat Uthman had wisdom to compile standard copy and destroy all others and thus Qur’an was saved from differences in the text. All other copies of the Qur’an were prepared from this copy.


Ahadith, on the other hand, were compiled two to three centuries after the death of the Holy Prophet and underwent much changes due to passage of time. Though there was chain of narrators and despite honesty and integrity of narrators, there was every possibility of change in text with different narrators with even differences in their understanding and cultural background. Unfortunately for ahadith honesty and integrity of narrators became the only criterion rather than its conformity with the Qur’anic approach, values and ideals.


Also, there were those who did not hesitate to produce a hadith to legitimize some action or requirement of someone powerful and influential. Thus while there never arose any differences about the Qur’anic text, there have been all sorts of differences about authenticity or otherwise of ahadith. In fact many problems could have been avoided if ahadith in such large numbers and in different compatios had not been accepted. For these very reasons the Prophet (PBUH) had discouraged from compiling these ahadith. But ahadith became socio-cultural and socio-religious needs in vastly different circumstances.


These needs were such that a doctrine was evolved that even if a hadith stands in contradiction of the Qur’an hadith will prevail. Many Shari’ah injunctions were developed on this basis. Then various questions arose whether hadith is da’if (weak), narrated by only one or by several narrators or its different variations or whether its narrators (ravi) were da’if (weak) and so on. The whole hadith literature is full of these controversies. Also different sects relied on different ahadith to legitimize their positions. In short many controversies originated due to excessive reliance on ahadith.

Much more so ahadith were used to lower women’s status as Qur’anic ideals and values in respect of women could not be accepted by societies which treated women as subordinate to men. Men in any case wanted to retain his superiority. He thought he was ruler over women and many Qur’anic verses were explained under the ethos of men’s superiority. Most of the Qur’anic verses on women are not explained in the light of other Qur’anic verses (only reliable methodology to understand real intent of the Qur’an) but in the light of ahadith which degrade women.


I would like in this article to compare ahadith about women with Qur’anic verses and show how mutually contradictory these Qur’anic verses and ahadith are. Qur’an talks of equal dignity of men and women and even story of Adam and Hawwa is narrated in a way which does not blame Hawwa at all for eating the fruit of a tree which Adam was prohibited to go near to. Qur’an talks of creation of men and women from one nafs and hadith says Hawwa was created from rib of Adam. Qur’an says it is Adam who disobeyed his Lord and acted ignorantly Thus Qur’an says “And Adam disobeyed his Lord, and was disappointed” (20:121)

Also, the entire discourse in Qur’an on women is rights based but in Shari’ah, thanks to hadith literature, entire discourse is duty based for women and right based for men, something which one found during period of jahiliyyah. It was too hard for men to accept equal dignity for men and women in the feudal society within which Shari’ah rules were compiled.


Qur’an gives equal rights and equal dignity to both men and women but hadith literature is full of ahadith contradicting this Qur’anic approach. For example in Bukhari we find a hadith which stands in contradiction to the Qur’anic verse 33:35. The hadith is narrated thus:


“The Prophet (PBUH) urged the women to be generous with their gifts, for when he had glimpsed into the flames of Hell, he had noted the vast majority of people being tormented there were women. The women were outraged, and one of them instantly stood up and demanded to know why that was so. ‘Because,’ he replied, ‘you women grumble so much, and show ingratitude to your husbands! Even if the poor fellows spent all their lives doing things for you, you have only to be upset at the least of thing and you will say, ‘I have never received any good from you!’, At that the women began vigorously to pull off their rings, and throw them into Bilal’s Cloak. (Bukhari 1.28, Abu Dawud 439).


See the content and tenor of this hadith. It is full of anti women attitude and women are supposed to be, in this hadith, ungrateful to their husbands. As against this see the Qur’anic verse 33:35 which says, “Surely the men who submit and women who submit, and the believing men and the believing women, and the obeying men and the obeying women, and the truthful men and truthful women, and the patient men and patient women, and the humble men and humble women, and the charitable men and the charitable women, and fasting men and fasting women, and the men who guard their chastity and the women who guard, and the men who remember Allah and women who remember – Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and mighty reward.”


See how in this verse Qur’an treats men and women equally and talks of equal degree of forgiveness and equal reward. In the above hadith, on the other hand, more women than men are consigned to flames of Hell because they are ungrateful to their husbands. Qur’an no where requires women to be obedient to their husbands. It is husband who is exhorted to be kind to their wives (see 2:229) “keep them in good fellowship (bi ma’ruf) and let them go with kindness (bi ihsanin).


Also men and women are described each other’s garment (libas) (2:187). According to Qur’an men and women are each others zawj (one of the couple) thus indicating equal dignity and love and respect, not obedience or subordination. The Prophet (PBUH) never treated any of his wives as subordinate. He not only treated them with dignity, he often consulted them in various matters and even followed their advice. In fact Umm Salma’s advice to sacrifice animal at Hudaybiya proved very beneficial.


Woman Half A Witness?

Let us examine one more hadith which apparently appears to be in conformity with Qur’anic provision but indeed it is not. We find it in Muslim. The hadith is narrated as under:


Prophet is reported to have said, ‘I have seen none lacking in common sense and failing in religion but (at the same time) robbing the wisdom of the wise, besides you.’ Upon this a woman remarked: ‘what is wrong with or common sense and with religion? ’He observed: ‘You lack of common sense (in) that the evidence of two women is equal to that of one man, that is the proof of your lack of common sense. And you spend some nights (and days) in which you do not offer prayer and in the month of Ramadan 9during the menstrual days) you do not observe fast; that is your failing in religion.’ (Muslim 31)


This hadith has several flaws. Qur’an nowhere states that she is half witness, much less because of lack of common sense. And messenger of Allah will not say such things which degrade women whom he consulted in difficult times as pointed out above. Qur’an simply says that when you take loan, write it down and let two male witnesses be summoned as witnesses and if two men are not available let one man and two women bear witness so that if one forgets, other can remind. (2:282)


This verse nowhere says she lacks in common sense. She may have lacked in experience as in those days women did not indulge in financial transaction. Lack of experience cannot be equated with lack of common sense. Also, if women cannot offer prayers or fast during menstruation, how can it be construed as ‘failing in religion’? It is state of disability, not lack of belief or commitment. Belief or religion has something to do with ones heart and soul, not physical condition. Our Prophet (PBU) had high respect for women and for his wives. It is unthinkable that he would say such degrading things for women. He loved Khadija, Fatima and Ayesha so much. All these women were highly intelligent and great upholders of Islam. In fact they were more firm in their belief of Islam than many men. Entire Muslim world holds these women in high respect. In fact Islam gave such high status to women and guaranteed their rights when all over the world women had no rights at all. In fact it was this general demeaning attitude towards women which is reflected in these ahadith.


Women Rulers Bring Bad Luck To Those Over Whom They Rule

We find another hadith in Bukhari which is often quoted against women becoming rulers of countries or nations. In fact Bukhari has reported three traditions connected with this episode, two of which were in the chapter on “Letter of the Prophet to Chosroe and Caesar”. Abu Bakra’s hadith is no. 4425. The preceding hadith, no. 4424, was reported from Ibn Abbas who said that “the Prophet of Allah sent Abdullah Ibn Huzaifa with his letter to Chosroe. When Chosroe read it he tore it. I believe said Bin Musayyab said: Then the Prophet prayed to Allah that he tear them up completely.” The third hadith is No. 6639 reported by Bukhari in the chapter on “how the oath of Prophet was” and it goes: “When Ceaser dies there will be no Ceaser after him. When Chosroe dies there will be no Chosroe after him.


Bukhari (4425) reports from Abu Bakr ahthe following hadith: “Allah provided me with considerable benefit during the battle of the Camel with one word (or one statement). When news reached the Prophet (S.A.W.) that the Persians had appointed Chosroe’s daughter as their ruler, he said: “A nation which placed its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper!”

Now it is well known that Abu Bakra narrated this hadith after battle of Camel in which Hadrat Ayesha participated and the battle was aimed against Hadrat Ali. This hadith surfaces only with the narration of Abu Bakra who was aspiring for governorship of one of the provinces and wanted to please Hadrat Ali. Abu Bakra obviously had a purpose in narrating such a hadith.


It is quite contradictory to Qur’an in as much as Qur’an upholds leadership of Queen of Sheba (Bilquis) who over-rules the advice of her male advisors and makes peace with prophet Salman (Soloman). See verses 32 to 35 of Chapter 27. When Bilquis asks for opinion of all her male advisors whether we should fight or make peace with Sulaiman, they advise her to fight and not to surrender. But she over rules them and decides to make peace arguing “Surely kings when they enter a town, ruin it and make the noblest of its people to be low; and thus they do.”

Thus we see that Qur’an upholds wisdom of a woman in not fighting and making peace with stronger ruler and saves the nation from ruin. But the hadith quoted above says just the opposite that if a woman becomes ruler it would prove ruinous for the nation. The hadith thus suggests that Prophet contradicts Allah’s revelation which is not thinkable. The only conclusion in either the narrator had his own motive in narrating the hadith or could not at all understand what the Prophet said. I leave conclusion to the readers.


We find even more shocking ahadith ascribed to the Prophet regarding women. One such hadith found in Sahih Bukhari and narrated by Sahl ibn Sa’d which says “Evil omen was mentioned before the Prophet (PBUH). The Prophet (PBUH) said, “If there are evil women in anything, it is in the house, the woman and the horse.”

This hadith equates woman with house and horse. There cannot be any comparison between the three. Also both house and horse are extremely useful for human beings which facilitate his/her living and travelling. House is from basic necessity for human beings and horse was needed in those for travel and was valued highly. They were used in wars as well as their movement was quite swift. Such thoughts are product of very low kind of mind unfortunately ascribed to a mind Allah had graced with highest kinds of thought. He had chosen him to be His Prophet, His messenger. One cannot think he would say such things.


There is one interesting hadith found in Bukhari and narrated by Ayesha. The hadith is like this: the things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me (Ayesha). They said, “Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people)”.

Ayesha said, “You have made us (i.e. women) dogs. I saw the Prophet PBUH) praying while I used to lie in my bed between him and the Qiblah. Whenever I was in need of something, I would slip away, for I disliked to face him.”

We can see how some narrators equated women with dogs and donkeys and Ayesha challenged them. It shows how men held women in low esteem and ascribed their despicable thoughts to the Prophet (PBU). Always there may not be women like Ayesha to challenge such low thoughts and hadith may be believed uncritically.

Similarly we find another hadith in Sahih Bukhari narrated by Osamah which is again totally contradictory to the Qur’an. The hadith says “And I advise you to take care of the women, for they are created from a rib and the most crooked potion of the rib is its upper part. If you try to straighten it, it will break, and if you leave it, it will remain crooked, so I urge you to take care of the women.”


Very degrading to women, like similar such ahadith. It completely contradicts the Qur’an where there is no mention at all of Hawwa’s creation from the rib of Adam. This hadith also has been created to prove inferiority of women. In all the verses on women in Qur’an there is not a single verse which degrades women like this or proves her inferiority to men in any way.


This was prevailing social attitudes of men towards women which made them create such ahadith so that they could rule over them and women could not use Qur’an to claim equality with men. Qur’an was revealed to the prophet so that he could give equal dignity and status to women but society was not prepared for this in any case and sought to lower the status of women by producing such ahadith as they could not temper with the Qur’an they used another weapon to bring down status of women.


It is unfortunate that still our Ulama are not prepared to critically evaluate these anti-women ahadith. On the contrary they keep on quoting them to keep status of women lower in the society and under the thumb of women. It is precisely for this reason that non-Muslims think very adversely about Islam and how Islam has ‘suppressed’ dignity and status of women.


Time has come for Muslim women to evaluate these ahadith critically and refute the fatwas Ulama issued on the basis of such ahadith. We need great scholars of Islam among the women who could take independent position. Where are such women?