6. Women and Islam

Tag: Mona

Women, Marriage, Islamic Dress etc.
Discussed Topics : Polygamy – Women’s Property, Divorce, etc. – The Plight of Widows – Inheritance – Adoption – Birth Control, Artificial Insemination – Marriage to non-Muslims – Female Circumcision – “Honor Killings” – Adultery – Bearing Witness? – Islamic Dress – More Qur’anic Verses Referring to Women – Quotes from the Bible Concerning Women.

Polygamy was an ancient practice found in many human societies. The Bible did not condemn polygamy. To the contrary, the Old Testament and Rabbinic writings frequently attest to the legality of polygamy. King Salomon is said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3), King David is said to have had many wives and concubines: “After he left Hebron, David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him.” (2 Samuel 5:13). About polygamy more in Genesis 4:19, Deuteronomy 21:15, Exodus 21:10. The only restriction on polygamy is a ban on taking a wife’s sister as a rival wife (Lev. 18:18).

The Talmud (Jewish Law) advices a maximum of four wives

. Moreover, Jesus has not spoken against polygamy though it was practices by Jews of his society.
Polygamy has become so mythical in the minds of many people that they assume being Muslim means having four wives. This is a false notion, of course. A renowned anthropologist, Edward Westenmark, in his two-volume work, “History of Human Marriage,” notes that there has been polygamy in virtually every culture and religion, including Judaism and Christianity. Why blame Islam? Actually, Islam is the only religion even among Abrahamic faiths, that specifically limited the practice of polygamy that existed before Islam and established very strict conditions for guidance.
Quoting Father Eugene Hillman: “Nowhere in the New Testament is there any explicit commandment that marriage should be monogamous or any explicit commandment forbidding polygamy.”

European Jews continued to practice polygamy until the sixteenth century. When the Mormon Church suspended polygamy in the 19th century, some Mormons traveled to British Columbia, Canada and established a town there, where they could continue to practice polygamy. They are still doing it today. The Attorney General of BC investigated the situation and decided not to lay charges against the Mormons. He figured that he would lose the case on constitutional grounds, because the Canadian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion; he figured that this clause might over-ride the marriage act in Canada.  John Llewellyn Utah Polygamy Expert.

Polygamy is in most African societies such a respectable institution, that some Protestant churches are becoming more tolerant of it. A bishop of the Anglican Church in Kenya declared that: “Although monogamy may be ideal for the expression of love between husband and wife, the Church should consider that in certain cultures polygamy is socially acceptable and that the belief that polygamy is is contrary to Christianity is no longer tenable.”
After a careful study of African polygamy, Reverend David Gitari of he Anglican church has concluded, that polygamy, as ideally practiced, is more Christian than divorce and remarriage as far as the abandoned wives and children are concerned.

In Islam the number of wives for the believers was reduced to four. Unlimited polygamy had been common practice and thus it was a great progress for the rights of women. A marriage contract must be written. The marriage gift is usually in gold jewelry, today it can be a very large one, but it can also be a simple iron ring, as it was in the case of a poor groom reported in the Hadith’s.

“And give women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and enjoy it with right good cheer” (Qur’an 4:4)

She has the right to her own wealth and must not share it with her husband or use it for the maintenance of the family. The maintenance of the family is the responsibility of the husband alone and therefore the financial burden of men far exceeds those of women. This is also the reason why a woman’s share from an inheritance is only half of the share of a male.

Islam vehemently advocates family life. It strongly encourages youths to get married, discourages divorce and does not regard celibacy as a virtue. Therefore family life is the norm and single life is the rare exception. That is, almost all marriage-aged women and men are married in Islamic society.
It should be noted that in most Muslim societies today the practice of polygamy is rare since the gap between the numbers of both sexes is not huge. One can safely say that the rate of polygamous marriages in the Muslim world is much less than the rate of extramarital affairs in the West. In other words, men in the Muslim world today are far more strictly monogamous than men in the Western world.

Qur’an gives women a substantial role in choosing their own life partners. It lays down: “Do not prevent them from marrying their husbands when they agree between themselves in a lawful manner. “(Qur’an 2:232)

The Prophet recommended the suitors see each other before marriage. It is unreasonable for two people to live together and be intimate when they know nothing of each other. The couple are permitted to look at each other with a critical eye. This ruling does not contradict the verse which says that believing men and women should lower their gaze. The choice of a partner by a virgin girl is subject to the approval of the father or guardian under ‘Maliki school’. This is to safeguard her welfare and interests.
The Prophet said:
“The widow and the divorced woman shall not be married until she has consented and the virgin shall not be married until her consent is obtained.” The Prophet did revoke the marriage of a girl, who complained to him that her father had married her against her wishes.

Women’s Property, Divorce, etc.:
The three Religions of Abraham have historically agreed on the leadership of the husband over the family. Nevertheless, big differences do exist among them with the respect to the limits of this leadership. The Judeo-Christian tradition virtually extends the leadership into ownership of his wife. This leadership stems from the conception that he owns her as he owns his slave. Article.

Women in Islam versus Women in the Judeo-Christian TraditionIn the 19th century Europe women did not have the right to own their own property. In Britain, perhaps the first country to give women some property rights, laws were passed in the 1860’s known as “Married Women Property Act.” In Germany i.e. this conception has been responsible for denying the wife any control over her property until 1922 by civil law!
“Whatever men earn, they have a share of that and whatever women earn, they have a share in that.” (Qur’an 4:31)

In Islam the wife’s property and earnings are under her full control and for her use alone. No matter how rich the wife might be, she is not obliged to act as a co-provider unless she herself voluntarily chooses to do so. Spouses do inherit from one another.

Moreover, a married woman retains her independent legal personality and her family name. She has the right to divorce her husband in certain cases, like his absence. In that case she has the right to keep the children, boys till the age 6 or 7, and girls until puberty. Each wife has her right to a separate home and no wife has the right to dominate another. In case a husband divorces his wife, he has no right to retrieve any of the marriage gifts he has given to her.

Qur’an 4:20 : “But if you decide to take one wife in place of another, even if you had given the latter a whole treasure for dower, take not the least bit of it back; Would you take it by slander and a manifest of wrong?”

In the case of the wife choosing to end the marriage, she may return the marriage gifts to her husband. Returning the marriage gifts is a fair compensation for the husband who is keen to keep his wife while she chooses to leave him. The Qur’an instructs Muslim men not to take back any of the gifts they have given to their wives except in the case of the wife choosing to dissolve the marriage

Qur’an 2:229 : “It is not lawful for you (men) to take back any of your gifts except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by God. There is no blame on either of them if she give something for her freedom. These are the limits ordained by God so do not transgress them.”
No Muslim woman can be forced to accept a polygamous or even a monogamous marriage . Her parents can only suggest a suitable husband.
“Live with them (your wives) on a footing of kindness and equity. If you dislike them it may be that you dislike something in which God has places a great deal of good”. (Qur’an 4:19)
” And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility 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).

The Prophet advised one Muslim woman (Fatimah bint Quais) not to marry a man because the man was known for beating woman: “I went to the Prophet and said: Abul Jahm and Mu’awiah have proposed to marry me. The Prophet (by way of advice) said: As to Mu’awiah he is very poor and Abul Jahm is accustomed to beating woman” (a Hadith by Muslim)

For the wife whose husband’s ill-conduct is the cause for the marriage’s near collapse, the Qur’an offers the following advice: ”If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best” (Qur’an 4:128)
A Hadith by the Prophet from his farewell speech (which makes it a final verdict) : “Do treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

A Hadith reported by Aisha (Prophet’s wife): “The messenger of God (p.b.u.h.) has never beaten a wife nor a servant, and has never hit anything with his hand except when fighting in the cause of God.”

Another Hadith by Bukhari (= highly authentic) : “A woman came to the Prophet Mohammad seeking the dissolution of her marriage. She told the prophet that she did not have any complaints against her husband’s character or manners. Her only problem was, that she honestly did not like him to the extent of not being able to live with him any longer. The Prophet asked her: ‘Would you give him his garden (his marriage gift) back?’ She said: ‘yes’. The Prophet then instructed the man to take back his garden and accept the dissolution of the marriage.”

Qur’an 2:228 “Women shall, in all fairness, enjoy rights equal to those exercised against them.” (This statement occurs in the context of divorce.)
“Islam has the most humane and most just system of divorce that exists. Firstly, many options are taken and tried before coming to the decision of the divorce. If the man and woman decide that they can no longer live together successfully as a husband and wife, the husband (in most cases, not always) pronounces the divorce by saying “I divorce you”. At this point the waiting period begins. The waiting period lasts for three menstrual cycles to assure the woman is not pregnant. This period allows the couple time to think about what they are doing and if this is what they really want to do. There are no lawyers involved to antagonize an already delicate situation. In the case that it is realized, that the woman is pregnant, the waiting period lasts the entire time she is pregnant. During the waiting period (whether the woman is pregnant or not) the man is obligated to provide food, clothing and shelter to the woman as he did before the divorce pronouncement. If the couple carries the divorce through to the birth of the child and the woman suckles the baby, the man is obligated to feed and clothe both his ex-wife for the time the woman suckles (the maximum being two years). After this weaning, the child will be provided for by the father until he/she is no longer in need of support. It is quite ironic that in such an “advanced society” as America, there are divorce cases in which women are being forced to pay alimony to their ex-husbands. Can this and many other things we know about the American system of divorce compare to the Islamic system of divorce?” (from: Nasiira Bint Ellison’s “Distorted Image of Muslim Women”)

Qur’an in Sura 65:”O Prophet! when you divorce women, divorce them for their prescribed time, and calculate the number of the days prescribed, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, your Lord. Do not drive them out of their houses, nor should they themselves go forth, unless they commit an open indecency; and these are the limits of Allah, and whoever goes beyond the limits of Allah, he indeed does injustice to his own soul. You do not know that Allah may after that bring about reunion. And (as for) those of your women who have despaired of menstruation, if you have a doubt, their prescribed time shall be three months, and of those too who have not had their courses; and (as for) the pregnant women, their prescribed time is that they lay down their burden; and whoever is careful of (his duty to) Allah He will make easy for him his affair.”
Q.2:236 “There is no blame on you if you divorce women when you have not touched them or appointed for them a portion, and make provision for them, the wealthy according to his means and the straitened in circumstances according to his means, a provision according to usage; (this is) a duty on the doers of good (to others).”

Q.2:232 “And when you have divorced women and they have ended their term (of waiting), then do not prevent them from marrying their husbands when they agree among themselves in a lawful manner; with this is admonished he among you who believes in Allah and the last day, this is more profitable and purer for you; and Allah knows while you do not know.”

Q.2:241 “And for the divorced women (too) provision (must be made) according to usage; (this is) a duty on those who guard (against evil).”

Islam has offered the Muslim woman some unequalled rights: she can end the marriage through ‘Khula’ and she can sue for a divorce. A Muslim wife can never become chained by a recalcitrant husband.
To sum up, Islam offers Muslim married couples much viable advice to save their marriages in cases of trouble and tension. If one of the partners is jeopardizing the matrimonial relationship, the other partner is advised by the Qur’an to do whatever possible and effective in order to save this sacred bond. If all the measures fail, Islam allows the partners to separate peacefully and amicably.
A Muslim must also treat all his wives well and equally. Islam does not encourage polygamy, in the contrary it is better to have only one wife, in fear you could not treat them equally. (Qur’an 4:3)

” … among all the permitted acts, divorce is the most hateful to God” (Hadith by Abu-Dawood)

The plight of widows:
Because the fact that The Old Testament recognized no inheritance rights to them, widows were among the most vulnerable. The male relatives who inherited all of a woman’s deceased husband’s estate were to provide for her from that estate. However, widows had no way to ensure this and lived on the mercy of others. The pagan Arabs before Islam had similar practices. A widow was considered a part of her husband’s property and she was, usually, given in marriage to the deceased man’s eldest son from another wife. The Qur’an attacked and abolished this degrading custom:

“Those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year’s maintenance and residence. But if they (the widows) leave (the residence) there is no blame on you for what they justly do with themselves” (Q.2:240).

“And marry not women whom your fathers married – except what is past – it was shameful, odious, and abominable custom indeed” (Q.4:22)

Before Islam inheritance rights were confined exclusively to the male relatives (just like in Judaism and Christianity as we can read in the Bible). Islam changed all that and gives mothers, daughters and sisters their shares. The division of inheritance is a vast subject with a large amount of details (Qur’an 4:7,11,12,176). General rule is, if taken in isolation from other regulations, that the female share is half the male’s share except the cases in which the mother receives equal share to that of the father.

In Islam adoption is permitted but it is different from the practice in the West. The child retains its name and will not have the family name of the adoptive parents and is not seen as a child of the new parents. Nevertheless great reward is promised for taking care of orphans.
But this warning:
“Those who live off orphans’ property without having any right to do so will only suck up fire into their bellies, and they will roast in the fires (of hell).” (Qur’an 4.10)

Birth Control, Artificial Insemination in Islam:
In Islam today every birth control method is allowed, except abortion. Medically necessary abortions are usually allowed if the life of the mother is danger. If the unborn child is somehow deformed, I am not sure what the legislation is. Often scholars among themselves have different views on issues. The Sterilization of women over 40 years of age who already have several children is practiced in some countries, if they wish it. Artificial insemination and similar modern techniques of fertilization are permissible if they are between a man and his wife, without the involvement of a third party, not even another wife of the same man.

Marriage to Non-Muslims:
A Muslim male may marry a Jewish or Christian woman since they are from the “people of the book” (Bible, from the same religion) and she must not convert to Islam. A marriage to a woman from other faiths is not valid.
On the other hand a Muslim woman can marry only a Muslim man.

I assume the reason for that is, that as the head of the family (which he alone must support) his faith will be the faith of the children too. In Islam Women got also far more rights by being married to a Muslim than to a Christian or a Jew, when i.e. the woman’s family gave a dowry to the husband. And she normally shared her earnings and belongings with him – traditionally she actually did not own anything.

Qur’an 2: 221 :”And do not marry the idolatresses until they believe, and certainly a believing maid is better than an idolatress woman, even though she should please you; and do not give (believing women) in marriage to idolaters until they believe, and certainly a believing servant is better than an idolater, even though he should please you; these invite to the fire, and God invites to the Garden and to forgiveness by His will, and makes clear His communications to men, that they may be mindful.”

Female circumcision:
One of the big misunderstandings about Islam is the ‘female circumcision’. It is an ancient practice in some North and Central African countries and has absolutely no basis in Islam, even if it may be given as a reason for it. The same practice is known also in Christian communities in Central Africa. We can only try to educate people to gather better knowledge about their faith.

“Honor Killings”:
There has been recently much discussions about the so called “honor killings” of women in some Islamic countries. According to the Qur’an, the accusation (of unchastity) must be proven by four eyewitnesses, a practical impossibility! And even then a death penalty is not ordered in the Qur’an.
Qur’an 24:23: “Surely those who accuse chaste believing women, unaware (of the evil), are cursed in this world and hereafter, and they shall have a grievous chastisement.”

Qur’an 24:2-4: “Those who accuse married women of adultery, then fail to produce four witnesses, you shall whip them eighty lashes, and do not accept any testimony from them; they are wicked.”

Qur’an 33:58: “And those who speak evil things of the believing men and the believing women without their having earned (it), they are guilty indeed of a false accusation and a manifest sin.”

“And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death comes close to them or God opens some way for them.” (Q.4:15)

It is considered a sin in all religions. The Bible decrees the death sentence for both the adulterer and the adulteress (Lev.20:10, Deut. 22:22). Islam also equally punishes both the adulterer and the adulteress: “The adulteress and the adulterer you shall whip each of them a hundred lashes. Do not be swayed by pity from carrying out GOD’s law, if you truly believe in GOD and the Last Day. And let a group of believers witness their penalty. The adulterer will end up marrying an adulteress or an idol worshiper, and the adulteress will end up marrying an adulterer or an idol worshiper. This is prohibited for the believers.
An unjustified accusation of unchastity is a grave sin.

Qur’an 24:23: “Surely those who accuse chaste believing women, unaware (of the evil), are cursed in this world and hereafter, and they shall have a grievous chastisement.”

Qur’an 24:2-4: “Those who accuse married women of adultery, then fail to produce four witnesses, you shall whip them eighty lashes, and do not accept any testimony from them; they are wicked.”

Qur’an 33:58: “And those who speak evil things of the believing men and the believing women without their having earned (it), they are guilty indeed of a false accusation and a manifest sin.”

The occasional stoning to death as punishment for adultery is an ancient cultural tradition from the pre-Christian era. Stoning to death as a punishment is not mentioned in the Qur’an. For comparison (death penalty for adultery), passages from the Bible: 5.Mos.22:13-21, 2.Mos.22:18

Bearing witness?
Finally, since I want to be as objective as possible, I must discuss two passages of the Qur’an which are often source of arguments, and sadly enough many Muslim men find here justification – in their view – to treat women unjustly or badly. We must nevertheless remind ourselves that against these two passages there are numerous other passages of the Qur’an, which instruct Muslims to treat women equally and kind, in fact they are much more prominent.
First: Why in Islam in business deals the testimony of two men is required or of one man and two women? Muslim scholars argue, that at the time of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) women were not accustomed and familiar with business transactions and therefore the following legislation:

Qur’an 2:282. “O you who believe! when you deal with each other in contracting a debt for a fixed time, then write it down; and let a scribe write it down between you with fairness; and the scribe should not refuse to write as Allah has taught him, so he should write; and let him who owes the debt dictate, and he should be careful of (his duty to) Allah, his Lord, and not diminish anything from it; but if he who owes the debt is unsound in understanding, or weak, or (if) he is not able to dictate himself, let his guardian dictate with fairness; and call in to witness from among your men two witnesses; but if there are not two men, then one man and two women from among those whom you choose to be witnesses, so that if one of the two errs, the second of the two may remind the other; and the witnesses should not refuse when they are summoned; and be not averse to writing it (whether it is) small or large, with the time of its falling due; this is more equitable in the sight of Allah and assures greater accuracy in testimony, and the nearest (way) that you may not entertain doubts (afterwards), except when it is ready merchandise which you give and take among yourselves from hand to hand, then there is no blame on you in not writing it down; and have witnesses when you barter with one another, and let no harm be done to the scribe or to the witness; and if you do (it) then surely it will be a transgression in you, and be careful of (your duty) to Allah, Allah teaches you, and Allah knows all things.”
However, it is also true that the Qur’an in other situations accepts the testimony of a woman as equal to that of a man. In fact the woman’s testimony can even invalidate the man’s. If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, he is required by the Quran to solemnly swear five times as evidence of the wife’s guilt. If the wife denies and swears similarly five times, she is not considered guilty and in either case the marriage is dissolved (Quran 24:6-11)
Women, as well as men, would independently come to him and pledge their oaths: “O Prophet, When believing women come to you to make a covenant with you that they will not associate in worship anything with God, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their own children, nor slander anyone, nor disobey you in any just matter, then make a covenant with them and pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Indeed God is Forgiving and most Merciful” (Quran 60:12).
A man could not swear the oath on behalf of his daughter or his wife. Nor could a man repudiate the oath made by any of his female relatives.
On the other hand, women were not allowed to bear witness in early Jewish society and even today in Israel women are not allowed to give evidence in Rabbinical courts. (Genesis 18:9-16). In the Christian West, both ecclesiastical and civil law debarred women from giving testimony until late last century.

Secondly: Qur’an 4:34-35 : “Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.”
In another translation: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) do not share their beds, (and last) beat (tap) them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all).

For this verse we find many different translations, in fact translations of interpretations, of the Sura.

The first three are to be tried first. If they fail, then the help of the families should be sought. It has to be noted, in the light of the above verses, that beating the rebellious wife is a temporary measure, that is resorted to as third in line in cases of extreme necessity in hopes, that it might remedy the wrongdoing of the wife. If it does, the husband is not allowed by any means to continue any annoyance to the wife as explicitly mentioned in the verse. If it does not, the husband is still not allowed to use this measure any longer and the final avenue of the family-assisted reconciliation has to be explored. The Arabic word “dharb” is usually translated as “beating” which is a much too hard definition for it. “Dharb” is a slight strike or slap.

In his farewell speech to his followers the Prophet addressed this verse saying that the word “dharb” does not mean a harmful beating and instructed them to treat women well. He instructed Muslim husbands, that they should not apply these measures except in extreme cases. “In case they are guilty of open lewdness you may leave them alone in their beds and inflict slight punishment. If they are obedient to you, do not seek against them any means of annoyance” (Tirmidthi)

Muawiyah Al-Qoshairi reports: “I asked God’s messenger about our women and what we may do and what we may not do with them. He said, ‘You may come into her when you wish. You must feed her when you eat and clothe her when buy clothes. You must not insult her, nor may you hit her’.” (Hadith related by Abu Dawood)

The relationship between man and wife in Islam is not one of obedience in a military sense, as some people would have us understand. It is a caring and loving relationship in which both try their best to take good care of each other. The husband is not given free reign to rule as he pleases. His leadership is not unquestionable. If he does something unislamic the wife is entitled to tell her husband that his behaviour is unacceptable in Islam. The rights and obligations of each of the sexes are complementary. These rights and obligations are set out to give the marital relationship the best chance of success and survival.

For comparison quoting : “It has to be noted that the Talmud (Jewish tradition) sanctions wife beating as chastisement for the purpose of discipline. The husband is not restricted to the extreme cases such as those of open lewdness. He is allowed to beat his wife even if she just refuses to do her house work. Moreover, he is not limited only to the use of light punishment. He is permitted to break his wife’s stubbornness by the lash or by starving her.”

A Hadith reported by Aisha (Prophet’s wife): “The messenger of God (p.b.u.h.) has never beaten a wife nor a servant, and has never hit anything with his hand except when fighting in the cause of God.”

For the wife whose husband’s ill-conduct is the cause for the marriage’s near collapse, the Qur’an offers the following advice:
“If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best” (Qur’an 4:128)

Islamic Dress:
Both women and men are expected to dress in a way , which is modest and dignified. The traditions of male and female dress found in some Muslim countries are often expression of local customs. The Qur’an did not say women must adopt a particular dress of a particular country. It only gives basic boundaries. This was not to restrict women, but to provide a virtuous society where sexual attraction is not the main obsession.

The strongest argument against women wearing a face-veil is found in the Sunnah (tradition of the Prophet, p.b.u.h.). During the pilgrimage (Omrah and Hajj) in the Holy Mosque in Mecca women are not allowed to cover their faces or wear cloves. This ritual is performed to the smallest detail in the way the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) with his companions used to do it . Male pilgrims remove their ordinary, sewn clothes, and don the clean, white, unsewn clothes which are prescribed for “Ihraam”. No specific clothing is prescribed for the female Muslim in Ihraam; she may wear her ordinary clothes, but should avoid gaudy materials.

“O you Children of Adam! We have bestowed on you raiment to cover your shame as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness, that is the best. Such are among the Signs of God, that they may receive admonition.” (Qur’an 7:26)

“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (= jilbab, the Arabic word means any dress or cover, but it is often translated as ‘veil’.) close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognized and not annoyed. God is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” (Qur’an 33:59).

This verse was revealed in Medina as Muslims and Muslim women faced harassment and molestation and after one of the Prophets wives was recognized ‘while answering the call of nature’ according to a Hadith by Bukhari (narrated Aisha): “When the wives of the Prophet used to go to Al-Manasi, a vast open place to answer the call of nature at night. Omar used to say to the Prophet ‘Let your wives be veiled’, but Allah’s Messenger did not do so. One night Sawdah the wife of the Prophet went out at ‘Isha’ (evening) time and she was a tall lady. Omar addressed her and said, ‘I have recognized you, O Sawdah.’ He said so, as he desired eagerly that the verses of Al-Hijab may be revealed. So Allah revealed the verses of Al-Hijab.” In another Hadith by Aisha about the same theme: ” She (Sawdah) was a fat huge lady, and everybody who knew her before could recognize her. So Omar bin Al-Khattab saw her and said, “O Sawdah! By Allah, you cannot hide yourself from us, so think of a way by which you should not be recognized on going out.” Sawdah returned while Allah’s Messenger was in my house taking his supper and a bone covered with meat was in his hand. She entered and said: “O Allah’s messenger! I went out to answer the call of nature and Omar said to me so-and-so”. Then Allah inspired him (the Prophet) and when the state of inspiration was over and the bone was still in his hand as he had not put it down, he said (to Sawdah), “You (women) haven been allowed to go out for your needs. ”

Quoting Adil Salahi: “May I say that when this verse (Q.33:59) is read within the context of the passage in which it occurs, it will be understood in a way which is totally different from that expressed by the advocates of covering women’s faces as an Islamic requirement. This verse occurs within the context of stopping the molestation by the hypocrites in Medina who used to resort to different methods to harm and molest the prophet, the believers and Muslim women generally. The passage contains a very stern warning to them to desist from their practices, or else they would be thrown out of Medina. Within this context, Muslim women are told to make their garments which they wear on their bodies long, so that they can be identified as chaste women and people would refrain from molesting them. The idea here is that they are well known and properly identified. This cannot be done with clothes that cover the whole body including the faces and the hands.”

Qur’an 24:31: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, or their brothers’ sons or their sisters’ sons, or their women or the servants whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex, and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O you Believers, turn you all together towards God, that you may attain Bliss.”

Q. 24:60. And (as for) women advanced in years who do not hope for a marriage, it is no sin for them if they put off their clothes without displaying their ornaments; and if they restrain themselves it is better for them; and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.
The word “Hijab” appeared in the Quran 7 times, five of them as “Hijab” and two times as “Hijaban,”.( Qur’an 7:46, 33:53, 38:32, 41:5, 42:51, 17:45 and 19:17).

None of these “Hijab” words are used in the Qur’an in reference to what the traditional Muslims call today (Hijab) as a dress code for the Muslim woman. “Hijab” in the Quran has nothing to do with the Muslim Women dress code.
“Khimar” is an Arabic word that can be found in Q. 24:31. “Khimar” means: cover, any cover, a curtain, a dress is a Khimar, a table cloth that covers the top of a table is a Khimar, a blanket can be used as a Khimar. etc. The word “Khamra” used for intoxicant in Arabic has the same root with “Khimar”, because both covers, the Khimar covers a window, a body, a table etc. while Khamra covers the state of mind.

In Q. 24:31 God is asking the women to use their cover (khimar – being a dress, a coat, a shawl, a shirt, a blouse, a tie, a scarf . . . etc.) to cover their bosoms, not their heads or their hairs.

These four Sura’s of the Holy Qur’an above are the only ones, that deal with the female dress. The Arabic word ‘jilbab’ means any dress or cover, but it is often translated as ‘veil’ . Covering of the hair (the word: ‘hair’) of a women is not mentioned in the Qur’an, but women started to do so, especially in Medina (ca. 13 years after the first revelation), as the hypocrites used to resort to different methods to harm and molest the Prophet, the believers and Muslim women generally and the Sura 33.59 was revealed.

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty ; that will make for greater purity for them, and God is well aquatinted with all they do. “(Qur’an 24.30)

There are several Hadith’s suggesting that the covering of the face of the woman was not required.

Quoting A. Salahi: “Perhaps the clearest report which tells us how women used to go out in public at the time of the Prophet is the one related by “Muslim” ( which makes it highly authentic ) of an event that took place after the Prophet’s farewell pilgrimage. In other words, it gives a final verdict. This report runs as follows: ‘ Sabeah bint Al Harith (a companion of the Prophet) was pregnant when her husband died and she became a widow. A few days later she gave birth to her child. Soon afterward she made herself up in case a proposal of marriage would come her way. A man named Abu As-Sanabel came to visit her. Wondering at her condition, he said: How come that you are wearing make up? It seems as if you are keen to get married. By God, you are not allowed to marry before the lapse of four months and ten days.’ ‘ Sabeah reports: When he said that to me, I put on my clothes when the evening approached and went to see God’s Messanger (p.b.u.h.). I asked him about that and he told me that my waiting period was over when I gave birth to my child. He said that I could marry if I wanted.’ … Here we find a woman wearing make up on her face and hands, and visited by Abu As-Sanabel, who was not closely related to her. He may have been a man of her clan, but certainly was not a brother or an uncle of hers. He objected her behavior, but she made certain by putting the matter to the Prophet who did not object to anything she did. The sum up of the views of the great scholars we have quoted and these reports and hadith’s which we have mentioned is, that the Islamic society is one, which does not confine women in their homes in the way the advocates of the veil imagine. Indeed, it appears to us that it was a society, where women went about their business freely , and they could meet men and talk to them, recognized by their faces which were not covered. ” (c. Adil Salahi)

Before Islam it was a habit of the women of higher social standing to wear a scarf over their long hair that was usually done very high (as we know it from “Aladdin” and “1001 nights”). A high hairdo was later in Islam considered impropriate. I even read a Hadith once (if it is reliable) , where a slave woman was not allowed to cover her hair like the women of higher society used to and the scarf was taken away from her head.

My humble opinion is that if the veiling of the woman’s face were of importance, it would be mentioned in the Qur’an clearly, unmistakable and several times as it is the case with all relevant matters.

When a woman goes on pilgrimage( Hajj or Omrah) to Mecca, she is not allowed to cover her face or wear cloves. Why would then the veil be necessary outside of Mecca? The arguments of the advocates of veiling come from the Hadith’s (reported sayings from early Islam).

It should be also mentioned that the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) always wore his head-dress, even when he was praying. The male dress, a long loose shirt was worn in early Islam quite short well above the ankles. Long luxurious clothes for men were considered impropriate. Silk clothing and gold ornaments were also not allowed for men. The beard was allowed to grow, trimmed, without a mustache.

When Muslims gather in Mecca for the annual pilgrimage ritual , special clothing is necessary for men. They dress in two white un-sewn cotton sheets, un-sewn sandals, wearing nothing on their heads. Women may dress in their usual way, but the covering of her face or wearing cloves is not allowed.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: “Hijab” or veil can be traced back to early civilizations. It can be found in early and late Roman and Greek art. The evidence can be seen in archeological discoveries whether in pottery fragments, paintings or recorded civil laws. In Greco-Roman culture, both women and men wore head covering in religious contexts. The tradition of wearing the veil (by women) and the head cover (by men) was then adopted by the Jews who wrote it in the Talmud then the Christians adopted the same. A well respected Rabbi once explained to a group of Jewish young women, “We do not find a direct command in the Torah mandating that women cover their heads, but we do know that this has been the continuing custom for thousands of years.”

After the Prophet Muhammad’s death, the Hadith books adopted and encouraged the ancient tradition of head covering. Hadith’s took after the Jews as they did with many other traditions, and alleged them to the Prophet since the Quran did not command it. Any student of the Jewish traditions or religious books will see that head cover for the Jewish woman (and men) has been encouraged by the Rabbis and religious leaders. Observant Jewish women still cover their heads most of the time and especially in the synagogues, weddings, and religious festivities. Christian women cover their heads in many religious occasions while the nuns cover their heads all the time.
As we can expect traditionally Arabs – of all religions – Jews, Christians and Muslims used to wear a head dress, or “Hijab,” notas a required dress of Islam, but because of tradition. In Saudi Arabia, up to this day most of the men cover their heads, not because of religion but because of tradition. North Africa is known for its Tribe (Tuareg) that have the Muslim men wearing “Hijab” instead of women. In brief, Hijab is a traditional dress and has nothing to do with Islam or religion.

Quotes from: ”Veiling and seclusion: Nothing illustrates more the interaction of Qur’anic prescription and customary practice than the development of the veiling (hijab, burqa, or chador) and seclusion (purdah, harem) of women in early Islam. Both are customs assimilated from the conquered Persian and Byzantine societies and viewed as appropriate expressions of Qur’anic norms and values. The Qur’an does not stipulate veiling or seclusion. On the contrary it tends to emphasize the participation and religious responsibility of both men and women in society.”

And: “Veiling and seclusion have as their original intend the protection, honor and distinction of women. They were adopted by upper-class urban women who lived in great palaces and courts and enjoyed considerable mobility and opportunity to participate in the activities within their environment. Village and rural women were slower to adopt these practices, as they interfered with their ability to work in the fields. Over the centuries, as the segregation of women in the home spread to every stratum of society, it had unforeseen and deleterious effects. Poorer women were confined to small houses with limited social contacts. They were effectively barred from community life…” (both quotes from: Prof. John L. Esposito, “Islam, the Straight Path”)

The missing of a clear statement in the Qur’an in this respect is significant. All relevant matters are mentioned there in clear words and several times. Today very often little things, small differences, are given an enormous importance and the MESSAGE gets lost behind it all, the message of understanding, tolerance and righteousness.

For comparison quoting: “According to Rabbi Dr. Menachem M. Brayer (Professor of Biblical Literature at Yeshiva University) in his book, ‘The Jewish woman in Rabbinic literature’, it was the custom of Jewish women to go out in public with a head covering which, sometimes, even covered the whole face leaving one eye free. He quotes some famous ancient Rabbis saying,” It is not like the daughters of Israel to walk out with heads uncovered” and “Cursed be the man who lets the hair of his wife be seen….a woman who exposes her hair for self-adornment brings poverty.” Rabbinic law forbids the recitation of blessings or prayers in the presence of a bareheaded married woman since uncovering the woman’s hair is considered “nudity”. Dr. Brayer also mentions that “During the Tannaitic period the Jewish woman’s failure to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty. When her head was uncovered she might be fined four hundred zuzim for this offense.” Dr. Brayer also explains that veil of the Jewish woman was not always considered a sign of modesty. Sometimes, the veil symbolized a state of distinction and luxury rather than modesty. The veil personified the dignity and superiority of noble women. It also represented a woman’s inaccessibility as a sanctified possession of her husband… The veil signified a woman’s self-respect and social status. Women of lower classes would often wear the veil to give the impression of a higher standing. The fact that the veil was the sign of nobility was the reason why prostitutes were not permitted to cover their hair in the old Jewish society. However, prostitutes often wore a special headscarf in order to look respectable… Jewish women in Europe continued to wear veils until the nineteenth century when their lives became more intermingled with the surrounding secular culture. The external pressures of the European life in the nineteenth century forced many of them to go out bare-headed. Some Jewish women found it more convenient to replace their traditional veil with a wig as another form of hair covering. Today, most pious Jewish women do not cover their hair except in the synagogue. Some of them, such as the Hasidic sects, still use the wig…

What about the Christian tradition? It is well known that Catholic Nuns have been covering their heads for hundreds of years, but that is not all. St. Paul in the New Testament made some very interesting statements about the veil: ‘Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head – it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head’ (I Corinthians 11:3-10)….

Some Christian denominations, such as the Amish and the Mennonites for example, keep their women veiled to the present day. The reason for the veil, as offered by their Church leaders, is that ‘The head covering is a symbol of woman’s subjection to the man and to God’, which is the same logic introduced by St. Paul in the New Testament.
Please read another opinion: Dress Code for Muslim Women

More Qur’anic Verses referring to Women:
“And (We said): O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the garden; so eat from where you desire, but do not go near this tree, for then you will be of the unjust. But the Shaitan (Devil) made an evil suggestion to them that he might make manifest to them what had been hidden from them of their evil inclinations, and he said: Your Lord has not forbidden you this tree except that you may not both become two angels or that you may (not) become of the immortals. And he swore to them both: Most surely I am a sincere adviser to you. Then he caused them to fall by deceit; so when they tasted of the tree, their evil inclinations became manifest to them, and they both began to cover themselves with the leaves of the garden; and their Lord called out to them: Did I not forbid you both from that tree and say to you that the Shaitan is your open enemy? They said: Our Lord! We have been unjust to ourselves, and if Thou forgive us not, and have (not) mercy on us, we shall certainly be of the losers. He said: Get forth, some of you, the enemies of others, and there is for you in the earth an abode and a provision for a time. He (also) said: Therein shall you live, and therein shall you die, and from it shall you be raised.” (Q.7:19-25) The Qur’an places equal blame on both, Adam and Eve for their mistake!

Q.4:127 “And they ask you a decision about women. Say: God makes known to you His decision concerning them, and that which is recited to you in the Book concerning female orphans whom you do not give what is appointed for them while you desire to marry them, and concerning the weak among children, and that you should deal towards orphans with equity; and whatever good you do, God surely knows it.”

Q.2:222 “And they ask you about menstruation. Say: It is a discomfort; therefore keep aloof from the women during the menstrual discharge and do not go near them until they have become clean; then when they have cleansed themselves, go in to them as Allah has commanded you; surely Allah loves those who turn much (to Him), and He loves those who purify themselves.”

Q..2:235 “And there is no blame on you respecting that which you speak indirectly in the asking of (such) women in marriage or keep (the proposal) concealed within your minds; Allah knows that you win mention them, but do not give them a promise in secret unless you speak in a lawful manner, and do not confirm the marriage tie until the writing is fulfilled, and know that Allah knows what is in your minds, therefore beware of Him, and know that Allah is Forgiving, Forbearing.”

Q.24:60 “And (as for) women advanced in years who do not hope for a marriage, it is no sin for them if they put off their clothes without displaying their ornaments; and if they restrain themselves it is better for them; and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

Q. 9:71 ” And (as for) the believing men and the believing women, they are guardians of each other; they enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Apostle; (as for) these, Allah will show mercy to them; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.”

Q.4:15 “And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death comes near them or Allah opens some way for them.”

Q.24:4 “And those who accuse free women then do not bring four witnesses, flog them, (giving) eighty stripes, and do not admit any evidence from them ever; and these it is that are the transgressors…”

Q.4:32 “And do not covet that by which God has made some of you excel others; men shall have the benefit of what they earn and women shall have the benefit of what they earn; and ask God of His grace; surely God knows all things.”

Q.4:19 “O you who believe! it is not lawful for you that you should take women as heritage against (their) will, and do not straiten them in order that you may take part of what you have given them, unless they are guilty of manifest indecency, and treat them kindly; then if you hate them, it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it.”

Q.60:10 “O you who believe! when believing women come to you fleeing, then examine them; Allah knows best their faith; then if you find them to be believing women, do not send them back to the unbelievers, neither are these (women) lawful for them, nor are those (men) lawful for them, and give them what they have spent; and no blame attaches to you in marrying them when you give them their dowries; and hold not to the ties of marriage of unbelieving women, and ask for what you have spent, and them ask for what they have spent. That is God’s judgment; He judges between you, and God is Knowing, Wise.”

Q.60:12 “O Prophet! when believing women come to you giving you a pledge that they will not associate gods with God, and will not steal, and will not commit fornication, and will not kill their children, and will not bring a calumny which they have forged of themselves, and will not disobey you in what is good, accept their pledge, and ask forgiveness for them from God; surely God is Forgiving, Merciful.”

“… and their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you male or female, you are members one of another” (Q.3:195)

Quotes from the Bible concerning women:
“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head”
“No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman… Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die. ..” (Catholic Bible, Ecclesiasticus 25:19,24)

“I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare… while I was still searching but not finding, I found one upright man among a thousand but not one upright woman among them all.” (Catholic bible, Ecclesiasticus 7:26-28)

“I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” 1 Timothy 2:9-10 1-Corrinthians 11:3-6

“If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the first-born son be hers that was hated: then it shall be, when he maketh…” Deuteronomy 21:15

“If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall her not diminish.” Exodus 21:10

“Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.” Leviticus 18:18

“…who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:32

“‘The woman he (the priest) marries must be a virgin. He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people.’” Leviticus 21:13-4

“For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.” Mark 7:10

“Say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies and leaves no son, turn his inheritance over to his daughter…’” Numbers 27:8

“…if a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days…but if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks…”Leviticus 12:2-5

“let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law, and if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for woman to speak in the church.” 1Corinthians 14:34-35

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don’t permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” 1 Timothy 2:11-14


“Muhammad: Man and Prophet” : A Complete Study of the Life of the Prophet of Islam by Adil Salahi

“Women in Islam Versus Women in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition
The Myth and The Reality” “By: Sherif Abdel Azim, Ph.D.- Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

“Islam, the Straight Path’, by Prof. John L. Esposito

Louis M. Epstein, The Jewish Marriage Contract (New York: Arno Press, 1973) p. 149.

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