The experiences of
Among the influences which have played an important role in defining the social, legal, spiritual, and cosmological status of women in the course of
Additional influences include pre-Islamic cultural traditions; secular laws, which are fully accepted in Islam so long as they do not directly contradict Islamic precepts;
Sources of influence
There are four
Within Sunni Islam, women are provided a number of guidelines prescribed by the Quran and ḥadīth literature, as understood by fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), as well as in accordance with the interpretations derived from the ḥadīth that were agreed upon by majority of Sunni Muslim scholars as authentic beyond doubt based on ḥadīth studies. The Quran holds that men and women have equal moral agency and they both receive equal rewards in the afterlife. These interpretations and their application were shaped by the historical context of the Muslim world at the time they were written.
During his life,
Women or Sūrat an-Nisāʼ is the fourth chapter of the Quran. The title of the surah derives from the numerous references to women throughout the chapter, including verses 4:34: 4:34 and 4:127 – 4:130.: 4:127–130
The above primary sources of influence on women of Islam do not deal with every conceivable situation over time. This led to the development of jurisprudence and religious schools with Islamic scholars that referred to resources such as identifying authentic documents, internal discussions, and establishing a consensus to find the correct religiously approved course of action for Muslims.
Gender roles in Islam are simultaneously colored by two Quranic precepts: (i) spiritual equality between women and men; and (ii) the idea that women are meant to exemplify femininity, and men masculinity.
Verily, the Muslims: men and women, the believers: men and women, the Qanit: men and the women, the men and women who are truthful, the men and the women who are patient, the Khashi`: men and the women, the men and the women who give Sadaqat, the men and the women who fast, the men and the women who guard their chastity and the men and the women who remember Allah much with their hearts and tongues, Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward.: 33:35
Islam's basic view of women and men postulates a complementarity of functions: like everything else in the universe, humanity has been created in a pair (Sūrat al-Dhāriyāt, 51:49) – neither can be complete without the other. In Islamic cosmological thinking, the universe is perceived as an equilibrium built on harmonious polar relationships between the pairs that make up all things. Moreover, all outward phenomena are reflections of inward noumena and ultimately of God.
The emphasis which Islam places upon the feminine/masculine polarity (and therefore complementarity) results in a separation of social functions.
However, this separation is not, in practice, as rigid as it appears. There are many examples – both in the early history of Islam and in the contemporary world – of Muslim women who have played prominent roles in public life, including being sultanas, queens, elected heads of state and wealthy businesswomen. Moreover, it is important to recognize that in Islam, home and family are firmly situated at the centre of life in this world and of society: a man's work cannot take precedence over the private realm.
Modesty (Haya) is a religious prescription in Islam: the Quran commands both men and women to dress modestly and not display their bodies, and Muḥammad asserted that modesty is a central character trait in Islam. Traditional dress for Muslim men has typically covered at least the head and the area between the waist and the knees, while women's islamic dress is to conceal the hair and the body from the ankles to the neck. Some Muslim women also cover their face.
In the specific context of women, the Quran at 24:31 speaks of covering women's "ornaments" from strangers outside the family. This type of behaviour is commonly seen by Islamic scholars and the broader Muslim public alike as emblematic of a state of spiritual ignorance (al-Jāhiliyyah).
All orthodox schools of sharia law prescribe covering the body in public: specifically, to the neck, the ankles, and below the elbow. However, none of the traditional legal systems actually stipulate that women must wear a veil: it is only the wives of Muḥammad who are instructed to wear this article of clothing (33:59).
On the basis of the injunction to be modest, various forms of dress were developed in different parts of the Islamic world, but some forms of dress were carryovers from earlier, pre-Islamic Near Eastern societies: the practice of women covering their hair was the norm in the earlier communities of Jews and Christians. The iconography of the Virgin Mary in Christian art always shows her with her hair covered, and this convention was followed into the modern era by both Georgian and Armenian Christians, in addition to Oriental Jewish women; Catholic women would not go to church without covering their heads until well into the twentieth century. The covering of the hair was taken by women to be a natural part of life as a sign of modesty and especially as a sign of respect before God.
In the twenty-first century, there continues to be tremendous variance in how Muslim women dress, not least because the Islamic world is so geographically and culturally diverse. Laws passed in states (such as laïcist Turkey and Tunisia) with twentieth century Westernisation campaigns – which mandated that women wear "modern", Western-style clothing – have been relaxed in recent years; similarly, the end of communism in Albania and the Yugoslav republics also meant an end to highly restrictive secular apparel legislation. As a result, it is now legal for women in these countries to wear clothes suggesting a (post-) modern Islamic identity – such as the headscarf colloquially known as the ḥijāb – in public, though not necessarily in all public institutions or offices of state.
Conversely, in a handful of states – notably Shia Iran – with modernist fundamentalist regime, dress codes stipulating that women wear exclusively "religious" garments (as opposed to "secular" ones) in public which became mandatory in the latter part of the twentieth century are still in force. However, these countries are both theologically and culturally atypical within the Islamic world: Iran is the world's only Shī'a revolutionary state and in none of the others do the same restrictions on women's clothing in public apply, as the overwhelming majority of Muslim-majority countries have no laws mandating the public wearing of either secular or religious apparel.
In a 2018 study done by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, Muslim American women were, "the most likely" when compared to other domestic religious communities to, "wear "a visible symbol that makes their faith identity known to others."" Of the Muslim women surveyed by ISPU, 46% say they wear a visible symbol to mark their faith in public all the time" (this includes the hijab), 19% some of the time, and 35% none of the time. The study did not find there to be any significant age or race difference.
In today's modern context, the question of why Muslim women wear the hijab is met with a variety of responses by Muslim American women, including the most popular, "piety and to please God" (54%), "so others know they are Muslim" (21%), and "for modesty" (12%). Only 1% said they wore it, "because a family member or spouse required it".
According to all schools of Islamic law, only women are permitted to wear pure silken garments next to the skin, although the schools of law differ about almost every other detail concerning silk (such as the permissibility of men wearing silk mixed with other fibres). In Islamic tradition, silk is strongly associated with Heaven. The Quran speaks in several places of the sumptuous fabrics to be enjoyed by the virtuous in Paradise: their garments will be made of silk (22:23 and 35:33), and they will recline on carpets lined with rich brocade (55:54).
Similarly, sharia law posits that only women may wear gold ornaments, such as jewellery. The intention behind this distinction is to help men maintain a state of sobriety, reserve, concentration, and spiritual poverty (the "perfections of the centre"). Conversely, women, who symbolise unfolding, infinitude and manifestation, are not bound by the same constraints.
Public versus private appearance
Clothing such as
Religious objections to the modern ḥijāb
From the 1920s to the 1970s, the use of what is often referred to as the "veil" – this term could mean anything from a face veil to a shawl loosely draped over the head – declined until only a minority of Muslim women outside the conservative societies of the Arabian peninsula still used it.
The Sorbonne-educated Franco-Bosnian academic Jasna Šamić has posited that the term "ḥijāb" does not have any connection with the noun or concept of "headscarf": "The expression hijab in the Koran means 'the veil hiding God'. In other words, one can never see and get to know God, because our intellect is too weak [to fully comprehend Him]." Other analysts have pointed out that the Quranic verse most cited in defence of the ḥijāb (Sūrat al-Aḥzāb, 33:59) does not mention this article of clothing at all; instead, it references a "long, overflowing gown" which was the traditional dress at the time of this revelation.
Effect of globalisation on Muslim women's couture
The fashion media sector within the Muslim world for both Western and Islamic fashion has grown tremendously from the 1990s onwards. Local editions of magazines from Marie Claire to Cosmopolitan are now published in a wide range of OIC member states, including Turkey, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia, while fashion magazines specifically targeted at more overtly religious demographics are flourishing: the Turkish title Âlâ is reportedly outselling both Vogue and Elle within its home market,
The 2014–15 Thomson Reuters State of the Global Islamic Economy Report forecasted that expenditure on clothing in OIC member states would reach US$484 billion by 2019.
With the coming of the Quranic revelation, the family replaced the tribe as the basic unit of Arab society, and today the family is still the primary means of social organisation in the Islamic world. As in many other traditional societies, the family in Muslim-majority countries is not restricted to the nuclear model solely consisting of parents and children, but is instead typically made up of a larger extended family network which includes grandparents, uncles, aunts, in-laws and cousins.
Pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding
Pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding are processes for which women are rewarded by God:
"A woman questioned the Prophet [Muḥammad]: 'Men go to war and have a great reward for that, so what do women have.' He answered: 'When a woman is pregnant, she has the reward of someone who spends the whole night praying and the whole day fasting; when the contractions strike her, no one knows how much reward God gives her for having to go through this, and when she delivers her child, then for every suck it draws from her, she receives the reward for keeping a soul alive.'"
Mothers shall suckle their children for two whole years; (that is) for those who wish to complete the suckling. The duty of feeding and clothing nursing mothers in a seemly manner is upon the father of the child. No-one should be charged beyond his capacity. A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child, nor should he to whom the child is born (be made to suffer) because of his child. And on the (father's) heir is incumbent the like of that (which was incumbent on the father). If they desire to wean the child by mutual consent and (after) consultation, it is no sin for them; and if ye wish to give your children out to nurse, it is no sin for you, provide that ye pay what is due from you in kindness. Observe your duty to Allah, and know that Allah is Seer of what ye do. (Al-Quran 2:233)
Muḥammad also stated that if a woman dies in childbirth, she is counted as a martyr; the reward for martyrdom is Paradise.
A famous hadith of Muḥammad states that "Heaven lies under the feet of mothers", and accordingly – and like all traditional systems – Islam has honoured the work of homemaker and mother as being of the highest value. While there is nothing in Islamic teachings that precludes women from working and receiving wages, as per Seyyed Hossein Nasr's The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity, "Islamic society has never thought that working in an office is of a higher order of importance than bringing up one's children".
While Islam has sometimes been lauded for a historically more progressive portrayal of women, there are differing viewpoints on the fairness of its personal status laws and criminal code as they pertain to women. Islam's patriarchal values continue to be a subject of debate, with the understanding that these values exhibit variations within the diverse contexts of different countries with Muslim majorities. Generally, however, male and female rights differ according to Islamic personal status laws. Some Islamic legal traditions allow men to engage in polygamy and marry non-Muslim women, while women are generally restricted from having multiple husbands and marrying Non-Muslim men. Additionally, female inheritances are typically half of their male siblings'. Islamic criminal jurisprudence also relies heavily on witness testimony, and female testimonies alone are often not considered sufficient to convict a murderer, requiring a male testimony for validation.
There are location-variations for women within mosques and congregations. Within some Islamic schools and branches, there are specific prayer variations for women. Women are not obligated to pray during their menstruation and for a period of time after childbirth. Majority of mosques worldwide have dedicated ladies-only prayer spaces. These include mosques in Muslim-majority countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as mosques in countries where Muslims are a minority group, like Singapore, South Korea, Japan and the United States. In accordance with Islamic tradition, there is a practice of creating separate prayer spaces for men and women within mosques, which is derived from Hadith literature, including Sahih Muslim. Additionally, it is recorded that the Muhammad, encouraged the construction of separate entrances for men and women in mosques. This recommendation aimed to provide convenience and maintain a sense of propriety by allowing men and women to enter and exit the mosque without mingling through the same entrance.
1990–2017 Saudi ban on women driving
A 1990 fatwa commissioned by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of the Interior formally enacted a ban on women driving. This prohibition was unique to Saudi Arabia and became a source of international ridicule. On September 26, 2017, a royal decree personally signed by Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – the King and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia – directed the Ministry of the Interior to reverse the ban. The decree noted that "the original Islamic ruling in regards to women driving is to allow it", and that those who opposed this view did so on the basis of "excuses that are baseless and have no predominance of thought (sic)". Full implementation of the decree was scheduled for June 2018.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Hala Al-Dosari – a Saudi scholar at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study – posited that the driving ban was not religious or even cultural, but political; she also noted the absurdity of banning females driving when women in the era of Muḥammad (570–632) were riding their camels without it being an issue. The author and academic Haifaa Jawad underlined that the royal decree was "not some bold initiative to present a new religious interpretation of the issue. Theologically speaking, the ban has no basis in the Quran or Hadith, and should never have been issued in the first place."
Additionally, some analysts have contended that the US$3.5 billion investment in the car-sharing app Uber by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's
The classical position
The Quran, ḥadīth literature, and sunnah (the spoken or acted example attributed to Muhammad) advocate the rights of women and men equally to seek knowledge. The Quran commands all Muslims to exert effort in the pursuit of knowledge, irrespective of their biological sex: it constantly encourages Muslims to read, think, contemplate and learn from the signs of God in nature. Moreover, Muhammad encouraged education for both males and females: he declared that seeking knowledge was a religious duty binding upon every Muslim man and woman. Like her male counterpart, each woman is under a moral and religious obligation to seek knowledge, develop her intellect, broaden her outlook, cultivate her talents and then use her potential to the benefit of her soul and her society. Copyists made it evident that women were entitled to seek an education just as much as any man by stating in the ḥadīth literature that it is everyone's duty, whether male or female, to seek knowledge. Along with these ideals came with hesitation from some who believed an educated woman who could read and write was described as poisonous. Many women throughout the Muslim world took this opportunity to receive education.
Muhammad's teachings were widely sought by both sexes, and accordingly at the time of his death it was reported that there were many female scholars of Islam.
History of women's education
James E. Lindsay states that Islam encouraged religious education of Muslim women. According to a ḥadīth in Saḥih Muslim variously attributed to Aisha and Muhammad, the women of the ansar were praiseworthy because shame did not prevent them from asking detailed questions about Islamic law.
While it was not common for women to enroll as students in formal religious schools, it was common for women to attend informal lectures and study sessions at mosques,
Women as educators
The mid-14th century saw a rise in women's participation, such as the teaching of ḥadīth.
Traveling for knowledge
One way that Islamic scholars obtained knowledge was through traveling. Traveling for knowledge is highly encouraged not only among men but also among female scholars. Women could travel with their mahram or relatives to other towns to learn and acquire education in the study of ḥadīth literature. Furthermore, women scholars also took journeys to different cities to teach the ḥadīth as well as other genera of knowledge, such as literature and law. Students would undertake long journeys just to hear their teachings. Traveling for knowledge allows women scholars the ability to take part in religious teachings outside of their homes. Through traveling and other venues, women hadiths were able to contribute a tremendous amount to the transmission of knowledge in the Islamicate world.
Zaynab bint al-Kamal
Zaynab bint al-Kamal (1248–1339 CE) was a famous ḥadīth scholar. She is known to have obtained numerous ijazah (permission to teach the ḥadīth) throughout her life, especially in her early years. At the age of one, she received her first ijazah from Abd al-Khaliq al-Nishtibri. Her father was not a famous hadith transmitter, and there was no account of his role in her studies. However, it was noted that her uncle, Shams al-Din Muhammad, excelled in the field of transmission and was most likely the one that facilitated her studies. Her reputation came from her association with al-Nishtibri, with students traveling far to hear her teachings. She was known as a reliable authority that encompassed different genera of studies. She held mixed classes in al-Madrasa al-Diya’iyyah, a congregational mosque, and her home. Students would come from afar to listen to her teachings. She is also known to travel to Egypt and Medina to teach her works. In her later years, she continued to thrive as a teacher. She also repeated her cycle by giving out ijazah to her students during their early years. In a field where male ḥadīth teachers predominate, her reputation helped pave the way for more female transmitters of the ḥadīth. Furthermore, she acts as the last connection to the work of famous scholars that might have passed during her time.
In a 2013 statement, the
- Gender and participation in education
In contrast, UNESCO notes that at 37% the share of female researchers in Arab states compares well with other regions. In Turkey, the proportion of female university researchers is slightly higher (36%) than the average for the 27-member European Union as of 2012 (33%). Comparably, at 36.5%, the overall share of women researchers at universities and science centres in North Africa is above world (22.5%), European (33%) and developed country (26%) averages. In Iran, women account for over 60% of university students. Similarly, in Malaysia, Algeria, and in Saudi Arabia, the majority of university students have been female in recent years, while in 2016 Emirati women constituted 76.8% of people enrolled at universities in the United Arab Emirates. At the University of Jordan, which is Jordan's largest and oldest university, 65% of students were female in 2013.
In a number of OIC member states, the ratio of women to men in tertiary education is exceptionally high. Qatar leads the world in this respect, having 6.66 females in higher education for every male as of 2015. Other Muslim-majority states with notably more women university students than men include Kuwait, where 41% of females attend university compared with 18% of males; Bahrain, where the ratio of women to men in tertiary education is 2.18:1; Brunei Darussalam, where 33% of women enroll at university vis à vis 18% of men; Tunisia, which has a women to men ratio of 1.62 in higher education; and Kyrgyzstan, where the equivalent ratio is 1.61. Additionally, in Kazakhstan, there were 115 female students for every 100 male students in tertiary education in 1999; according to the World Bank, this ratio had increased to 144:100 by 2008.
A notable development specific to the study of physics is that women in Muslim-majority countries enjoy significantly greater representation than their counterparts in the United States: in the US, women make up 21% of physics undergraduates and 20% of PhD students, while the equivalent figures for Muslim-majority nations are 60%+ and 47% respectively. Female physicists who studied in Muslim-majority states and then moved to the US for academic positions noted that when they were in their previous locations, 'they did not feel they had to suppress their femininity to have their intellect – and not their appearance – be the focus of the interaction'.
Similarly, the very high (c.50%) female engineering enrolment rates in three diverse OIC member states – Tunisia, Jordan and Malaysia – have prompted the incorporation of Women in Engineering in Predominately Muslim Countries ('WIEPMCS') at three American universities (Washington State, Purdue and Western Washington). The aim of this project is to 'shed light more generally on how context shapes women's successful participation in STEM in ways that inform our efforts to broaden participation in the US', where female enrolment rates in engineering are typically 15–20%.
In the United States, a recent study done by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that Muslim American women (73%) are more likely than Muslim American men (57%) to achieve higher education (post-high school education or higher).
When he arrived at the well of Midian, he found a group of people watering ˹their herds˺. Apart from them, he noticed two women holding back ˹their herd˺. He asked ˹them˺, “What is the problem?” They replied, “We cannot water ˹our animals˺ until the ˹other˺ shepherds are done, for our father is a very old man.”
Traditional interpretations of Islam require a woman to have her husband's permission to leave the house and take up employment, though scholars such as Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa and Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Ebrahim Jannaati have said that women do not require a husband's permission to leave the house and work.
During medieval times, the
In the 12th century,
Islamic faith states that in the eyes of God, men and women should be equal and are allowed to fulfill the same roles. Therefore, they also are required to complete all the duties of a Muslim worshiper, including the completion of religious traditions, specifically the pilgrimage to Mecca. Islamic culture marked a movement towards liberation and equality for women, since prior Arab cultures did not enable women to have such freedoms. There is evidence that Muhammad asked women for advice and took their thoughts into account, specifically with regard to the Quran. Women were allowed to pray with men, take part in commercial interactions, and played a role in education. One of Muhammad's wives, Aisha, played a significant role in medicine, history and rhetoric. Women, however, did not hold religious titles, but some held political power with their husbands or on their own. The historic role of women in Islam is connected to societal patriarchal ideals, rather than actual ties to the Quran. The issue of women in Islam is becoming more prevalent in modern society.
Patterns of women's employment vary throughout the Muslim world: as of 2005, 16% of Pakistani women were "economically active" (either employed, or unemployed but available to furnish labor), whereas 52% of Indonesian women were.
Women are allowed to work in Islam, subject to certain conditions. For example, an acceptable circumstance is if a woman is in financial need and her employment does not cause her to neglect her important role as a mother and wife. It has been claimed that it is the responsibility of the Muslim community to organize work for women, so that she can do so in a Muslim cultural atmosphere, where her rights (as set out in the Quran) are respected. Islamic law however, permits women to work in Islamic conditions, such as the work not requiring the woman to violate Islamic law (e.g., serving alcohol), and that she maintain her modesty while she performs any work outside her home.
In some cases, when women have the right to work and are educated, women's job opportunities may in practice be unequal to those of men. In Egypt for example, women have limited opportunities to work in the private sector because women are still expected to put their role in the family first, which causes men to be seen as more reliable in the long term.[page needed] In Saudi Arabia, it was illegal for Saudi women to drive until June 2018.[page needed] It is becoming more common for Saudi Arabian women to procure driving licences from other Gulf Cooperation Council states such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
According to the International Business Report (2014) published by global accounting network Grant Thornton, Indonesia – which is the world's largest Muslim country by population – has ≥40% of senior business management positions occupied by women, a greater proportion than the United States (22%) and Denmark (14%).
In the United States, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that, "Instead of hiding, Muslim women responded to a Trump win with greater giving." Nearly 30% of Muslim women vs. 19% of Muslim men have increased their donations to an organization associated with their faith community since the 2016 US presidential election, demonstrating a level of financial independence and influence.
Financial and legal matters
According to all schools of Islamic law, the injunctions of the sharia of Islam apply to all Muslims, male and female, who have reached the age of maturity – and only to them. The Quran especially emphasises that its injunctions concern both men and women in several verses where both are addressed clearly and in a distinct manner, such as in Sūrat al-Aḥzāb at 33:35 ('Verily, men who surrender unto God, and women who surrender...').
Most Muslim-majority countries, and some countries with a considerable population of Muslim minorities, follow a mixed legal system, with positive laws and state courts, as well as sharia-based religious laws and religious courts. Those countries that use sharia for legal matters involving women, adopt it mostly for personal law; however, a few Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen also have sharia-based criminal laws.
According to Jan Michiel Otto, "[a]nthropological research shows that people in local communities often do not distinguish clearly whether and to what extent their norms and practices are based on local tradition, tribal custom, or religion." In some areas, tribal practices such as vani, Ba'ad and "honor" killing remain an integral part of the customary legal processes involving Muslim women. In turn, article 340 of the Jordanian Penal Code, which reduces sentences for killing female relatives over adultery, and is commonly believed to be derived from Islamic law, was in fact borrowed from French criminal law during the Ottoman era.
Other than applicable laws to Muslim women, there is gender-based variation in the process of testimony and acceptable forms of evidence in legal matters. Some Islamic jurists have held that certain types of testimony by women may not be accepted. In other cases, the testimony of two women equals that of one man.
Financial and legal agency
The classical position
According to verse 4:32 of the Quran, both men and women have an independent economic position: 'For men is a portion of what they earn, and for women is a portion of what they earn. Ask God for His grace. God has knowledge of all things.' Women therefore are at liberty to buy, sell, mortgage, lease, borrow or lend, and sign contracts and legal documents. Additionally, women can donate money, act as trustees and set up a business or company. These rights cannot be altered, irrespective of marital status. When a woman is married, she legally has total control over the dower – the mahr or bridal gift, usually financial in nature, which the groom pays to the bride upon marriage – and retains this control in the event of divorce.
Quranic principles, especially the teaching of zakāh or purification of wealth, encourage women to own, invest, save and distribute their earnings and savings according to their discretion.[page needed] These also acknowledge and enforce the right of women to participate in various economic activities.[page needed]
In contrast to many other cultures, a woman in Islam has always been entitled as per sharia law to keep her family name and not take her husband's name. Therefore, a Muslim woman has traditionally always been known by the name of her family as an indication of her individuality and her own legal identity: there is no historically practiced process of changing the names of women be they married, divorced or widowed. With the spread of western-style state bureaucracies across the Islamic world from the nineteenth century onwards, this latter convention has come under increasing pressure, and it is now commonplace for Muslim women to change their names upon marriage.
"For men is a share from what the parents and near relatives leave, and for women is a share from what the parents and near relative leave from less from it or more, a legal share." (Al-Quran 4:7)
Bernard Lewis says that classical Islamic civilization granted free Muslim women relatively more property rights than women in the West, even as it sanctified three basic inequalities between master and slave, man and woman, believer and unbeliever. Even in cases where property rights were granted in the West, they were very limited and covered only upper-class women. Over time, while women's rights have improved elsewhere, those in many Muslim-dominated countries have remained comparatively restricted.
Women's property rights in the Quran are from parents and near relatives. A woman, according to Islamic tradition, does not have to give her pre-marriage possessions to her husband and receive a mahr (dower) which she then owns. Furthermore, any earnings that a woman receives through employment or business, after marriage, is hers to keep and need not contribute towards family expenses. This is because, once the marriage is consummated, in exchange for tamkin (sexual submission), a woman is entitled to nafaqa – namely, the financial responsibility for reasonable housing, food and other household expenses for the family, including the spouse, falls entirely on the husband. In traditional Islamic law, a woman is also not responsible for the upkeep of the home and may demand payment for any work she does in the domestic sphere.
Property rights enabled some Muslim women to possess substantial assets and fund charitable endowments. In mid-sixteenth century Istanbul, 36.8% of charitable endowments (awqāf) were founded by women. In eighteenth century Cairo, 126 out of 496 charitable foundations (25.4%) were endowed by women. Between 1770 and 1840, 241 out of 468 or 51% of charitable endowments in Aleppo were founded by women.
The Quran grants inheritance rights to wife, daughter, and sisters of the deceased. However, women's inheritance rights to her father's property are unequal to her male siblings, and varies based on number of sisters, stepsisters, stepbrothers, if mother is surviving, and other claimants. The rules of inheritance are specified by a number of Quran verses, including Surah "Baqarah" (chapter 2) verses 180 and 240; Surah "Nisa(h)" (chapter 4) verses 7–11, 19 and 33; and Surah "Maidah" (chapter 5), verses 106–108. Three verses in Surah "Nisah" (chapter 4), verses 11, 12 and 176, describe the share of close relatives. The religious inheritance laws for women in Islam are different from inheritance laws for non-Muslim women under common laws.
The Islamic teaching of going out of one's way to treat women equitably in financial dealings is exemplified by a story featuring Abū Ḥanīfa al-Nuʿmān ibn Thābit ibn Zūṭā (700–767) – the founder of the Ḥanafī School of Law, who in his earlier life was a textile merchant in a garrison town – and a woman who came to his store offering to sell Abū Ḥanīfa a silk garment. The author and investment banker Harris Irfan narrates the story as follows:
"The lady offered to sell the garment to Abu Hanifa for 100 dirhams but Abu Hanifa would not buy it. 'It is worth more than a hundred', he told the surprised woman. 'How much?' he asked her again. She offered to sell it for 200 dirhams and he turned her down. Then she asked for 300, then 400, at which point the exasperated woman scolded him. 'You are mocking me', she declared, and prepared to walk away from the deal to try her luck elsewhere. So they summoned another merchant and he solemnly valued the garment at 500 dirhams. Rather than profit from the woman's ignorance, Abu Hanifa had opted to settle for a fair trade, a principle he would abide by all his life – that the greedy should be regulated from taking advantage of the vulnerable."
Sexual crimes and sins
The fornicating woman and the fornicating man, flog each one of them with one hundred stripes. No pity for them should prevail upon you in the matter of Allah's religion, if you really believe in Allah and the Last Day; and a group of believers must witness their punishment. A man who is fornicator will not marry but a woman who is a fornicator or a polytheist; and a woman who is a fornicator will not marry but a man who is a fornicator or a polytheist. And this (i.e. marrying such spouses) has been prohibited for the believers. (Al-Quran 24:2–3)
- Traditional jurisprudence
Zina is an
Although stoning for zina is not mentioned in the Quran, all schools of traditional jurisprudence agreed on the basis of
Aside from "a few rare and isolated" instances from the pre-modern era and several recent cases, there is no historical record of stoning for zina being legally carried out.
Qazf and Li'an
In 'qazf' when someone accuses a chaste woman without four witnesses then he is to be punished with being flogged with eighty lashes. His testimony will become inadmissible forever unless he repents and improves (24:4–5) However, in 'lian', when the husband accuses the wife of adultery without witnesses, he have to swear five times each to support his case. If he takes oaths she is to be punished with 100 flogging and stoning unless she too takes oaths in similar way to support her case, her oaths are upheld over his and she will not be punished(24:6–9).
24:4 Those who accuse chaste women ˹of adultery˺ and fail to produce four witnesses, give them eighty lashes ˹each˺. And do not ever accept any testimony from them—for they are indeed the rebellious—
24:5 except those who repent afterwards and mend their ways, then surely Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
24:6 And those who accuse their wives ˹of adultery˺ but have no witness except themselves, the accuser must testify, swearing four times by Allah that he is telling the truth,
24:7 and a fifth oath that Allah may condemn him if he is lying.
24:8 For her to be spared the punishment, she must swear four times by Allah that he is telling a lie,
24:9 and a fifth oath that Allah may be displeased with her if he is telling the truth.
- Traditional jurisprudence
Rape is considered a serious sexual crime in Islam, and can be defined in Islamic law as: "Forcible illegal sexual intercourse by a man with a woman who is not legally married to him, without her free will and consent".
Sharia law makes a distinction between adultery and rape and applies different rules. According to Professor Oliver Leaman, the required testimony of four male witnesses having seen the actual penetration applies to illicit sexual relations (i.e. adultery and fornication), not to rape. The requirements for proof of rape are less stringent:
Rape charges can be brought and a case proven based on the sole testimony of the victim, providing that circumstantial evidence supports the allegations. It is these strict criteria of proof which lead to the frequent observation that where injustice against women does occur, it is not because of Islamic law. It happens either due to misinterpretation of the intricacies of the sharia laws governing these matters, or cultural traditions; or due to corruption and blatant disregard of the law, or indeed some combination of these phenomena.
In the case of rape, the adult male perpetrator (i.e. rapist) of such an act is to receive the ḥadd zinā, but the non-consenting or invalidly consenting female (i.e. rape victim) is to be regarded as innocent of zinā and relieved of the ḥadd punishment.
- Modern criminal laws
Rape laws in a number of Muslim-majority countries have been a subject of controversy. In some of these countries, such as Morocco, the penal code is neither based on Islamic law nor significantly influenced by it,
Witness of woman
In Quran, surah 2:282 equates two women as substitute for one man, in matters requiring witnesses.
O believers! When you contract a loan for a fixed period of time, commit it to writing. Let the scribe maintain justice between the parties. The scribe should not refuse to write as Allah has taught them to write. They will write what the debtor dictates, bearing Allah in mind and not defrauding the debt. If the debtor is incompetent, weak, or unable to dictate, let their guardian dictate for them with justice. Call upon two of your men to witness. If two men cannot be found, then one man and two women of your choice will witness—so if one of the women forgets the other may remind her. The witnesses must not refuse when they are summoned. You must not be against writing ˹contracts˺ for a fixed period—whether the sum is small or great. This is more just ˹for you˺ in the sight of Allah, and more convenient to establish evidence and remove doubts. However, if you conduct an immediate transaction among yourselves, then there is no need for you to record it, but call upon witnesses when a deal is finalized. Let no harm come to the scribe or witnesses. If you do, then you have gravely exceeded ˹your limits˺. Be mindful of Allah, for Allah ˹is the One Who˺ teaches you. And Allah has ˹perfect˺ knowledge of all things.— Quran 2:282
Narrated Abu Sa'id Al-Khudri:
The prophet said, "Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?" The women said, "Yes". He said, " This is deficiency of her mind".
(Sahih Bukhari: Book of Witnesses: Chapter witness of women: Hadith no. 2658)
Al-Qayyim argued that the verse relates to the heavy responsibility of testifying by which an owner of wealth protects his rights, not with the decision of a court; the two are completely different from each other.
"فَمَا كَانَ مِنْ الشَّهَادَاتِ لَا يُخَافُ فِيهِ الضَّلَالُ فِي الْعَادَةِ لَمْ تَكُنْ فِيهِ عَلَى نِصْفِ رَجُلٍ" "Whatever there is among the testimonies of women, which there is no fear of habitual error, then they are not considered as half of a man."
Ibn al-Qayyim writes:
"وَالْمَرْأَةُ الْعَدْلُ كَالرَّجُلِ فِي الصِّدْقِ وَالْأَمَانَةِ وَالدِّيَانَة إلَّا أَنَّهَا لَمَّا خِيفَ عَلَيْهَا السَّهْوُ وَالنِّسْيَانُ قَوِيَتْ بِمِثْلِهَا وَذَلِكَ قَدْ يَجْعَلُهَا أَقْوَى مِنْ الرَّجُلِ الْوَاحِدِ أَوْ مِثْلَهُ" "The woman is equal to the man in honesty, trust, and piety; otherwise, whenever it is feared that she will forget or misremember, she is strengthened with another like herself. That makes them stronger than a single man or the likes of him."
In Islamic law, testimony (shahada) is defined as attestation of knowledge with regard to a right of a second party against a third. It exists alongside other forms of evidence, such as the oath, confession, and circumstantial evidence. In classical sharia criminal law men and women are treated differently with regard to evidence and bloodmoney. The testimony of a man has twice the strength of that of a woman. However, with regard to hadd offenses and retaliation, the testimonies of female witnesses are not admitted at all. A number of Muslim-majority countries, particularly in the Arab world, presently treat a woman's testimony as half of a man's in certain cases, mainly in family disputes adjudicated based on Islamic law.
Classical commentators commonly explained the unequal treatment of testimony by asserting that women's nature made them more prone to error than men. Muslim modernists have followed the Egyptian reformer Muhammad Abduh in viewing the relevant scriptural passages as conditioned on the different gender roles and life experiences that prevailed at the time rather than women's innately inferior mental capacities, making the rule not generally applicable in all times and places. According to other explanations, the reason behind this inequality is that in a household a portion of the male's share has to go on into caring for the family and providing their needs, meanwhile the female can act freely with her share
4:34 Men are the caretakers of women, as men have been provisioned by Allah over women and tasked with supporting them financially. And righteous women are devoutly obedient and, when alone, protective of what Allah has entrusted them with. And if you sense ill-conduct from your women, advise them ˹first˺, ˹if they persist,˺ do not share their beds, ˹but if they still persist,˺ then discipline them ˹gently˺. But if they change their ways, do not be unjust to them. Surely Allah is Most High, All-Great.
4:35 If you anticipate a split between them, appoint a mediator from his family and another from hers. If they desire reconciliation, Allah will restore harmony between them. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.
The word "strike" in this verse which is understood as "beating" or "hitting" in English – w'aḍribūhunna – is derived from the Arabic root word ḍaraba, which has over fifty derivations and definitions, including "to separate', "to oscillate" and "to play music". The common conservative interpretations  translate and understand the word to mean as strike or beat in this verse, with some making a special note of the striking being specifically of low severity, however, there does exist Islamic thought that suggests a different interpretation also. Even within the Quran itself, the most common use[where?] of this word is not with the definition "to beat", but as verb phrases which provide a number of other meanings, including, as argued by some, several which are more plausible within the context of 4:34, such as "to leave [your wife in the event of disloyalty]", and "to draw them lovingly towards you [following temporarily not sleeping with them in protest at their disloyal behaviour].
In recent years, numerous prominent scholars in the tradition of "orthodox Islam" have issued fatwas (legal opinions) against domestic violence. These include the Shī'ite scholar Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who promulgated a fatwa on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 2007, which states that Islam forbids men from exercising any form of violence against women; Shakyh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, the Chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, who co-authored The Prohibition of Domestic Violence in Islam (2011) with Homayra Ziad; and Cemalnur Sargut, the president of the Turkish Women's Cultural Association (TÜRKKAD), who has stated that men who engage in domestic violence "in a sense commit polytheism (shirk)": "Such people never go on a diet to curb the desires of their ego...[Conversely] In his Mathnawi Rumi says love for women is because of witnessing Allah as reflected in the mirror of their being. According to tasawwuf, woman is the light of Allah's beauty shed onto this earth. Again in [the] Mathanawi Rumi says a man who is wise and fine-spirited is understanding and compassionate towards a woman, and never wants to hurt or injure her."
There are a number of translations of this verse from the Arabic original, and all vary to some extent. Some Muslims, such as Islamic feminist groups, argue that Muslim men use the text as an excuse for domestic violence.
In Muhammad's Farewell Sermon as recorded in al-Tabari's History, and in a Sahih Hadith collected by Abu Dawud he instructed husbands to beat their wives, without severity (فَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ ضَرْبًا غَيْرَ مُبَرِّحٍ fadribuhunna darban ghayra mubarrih; literal translation: "beat them, a beating without severity") When asked by Ibn Abbas the cousin and companion of Muhammd Ibn Abbas replied back: "I asked Ibn Abbas: 'What is the hitting that is Ghayr Al-Mubarrih (Without Severity) ?' He replied [with] the siwak (toothbrush like a twig) and the like'.
There have been several
Some conservative translations suggest Muslim husbands are permitted to use light force on their wives, and others claim permissibly to strike them with a Miswak and chastise them. The relationship between Islam and domestic violence is disputed by some Islamic scholars.
The Lebanese educator and journalist 'Abd al-Qadir al-Maghribi argued that perpetrating acts of domestic violence goes against Muḥammad's own example and injunction. In his 1928 essay, Muḥammad and Woman, al-Maghribi said: "He [Muḥammad] prohibited a man from beating his wife and noted that beating was not appropriate for the marital relationship between them". Muḥammad underlined the moral and logical inconsistency in beating one's wife during the day and then praising her at night as a prelude to conjugal relations. The Austrian scholar and translator of the Quran Muhammad Asad (Leopold Weiss) said: It is evident from many authentic traditions that the Prophet himself intensely detested the idea of beating one's wife...According to another tradition, he forbade the beating of any woman with the words, "Never beat God's handmaidens."'
In practice, the legal doctrine of many Islamic nations, in deference to sharia law, have refused to include, consider or prosecute cases of domestic violence, limiting legal protections available to Muslim women. In 2010, for example, the highest court of United Arab Emirates (Federal Supreme Court) considered a lower court's ruling, and upheld a husband's right to "chastise" his wife and children with physical violence. Article 53 of the United Arab Emirates' penal code acknowledges the right of a "chastisement by a husband to his wife and the chastisement of minor children" so long as the assault does not exceed the limits prescribed by Sharia. In Lebanon, as many as three-quarters of all Lebanese women have suffered physical abuse at the hands of husbands or male relatives at some point in their lives. In Afghanistan, over 85% of women report domestic violence; other nations with very high rates of domestic violence and limited legal rights include Syria, Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. In some Islamic countries such as Turkey, where legal protections against domestic violence have been enacted, serial domestic violence by husband and other male members of her family is mostly ignored by witnesses and accepted by women without her getting legal help, according to a Government of Turkey report.
Turkey was the first country in Europe to ratify (on March 14, 2012) the Council of Europe
In the United States, a recent 2017 study done by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that, "Domestic violence occurs in the Muslim community as often as it does in Christian and non- affiliated communities, but Muslim victims are more likely to involve faith leaders.". Data from the study demonstrates that among American Muslims 13% of those surveyed said they knew someone in their faith community who was a victim of domestic violence, a number similar to that of Catholics (15%), Protestants (17%), of non-affiliated (14%), and even the general public (15%). Among Americans Muslims who knew of a domestic violence incident in the past year, the percentage of them who said the crime was reported to law enforcement (50%) is comparable to other groups and the general public as well. American Muslim respondents reported that a faith leader was informed of the domestic violence about half the time, a significantly higher rate than any other faith group surveyed in the poll.
Among classical Muslim authors, the notion of love was developed along three conceptual lines, conceived in an ascending hierarchical order: natural love, intellectual love, and divine love.
In traditional Islamic societies, love between men and women was widely celebrated,
The Arab love story of
In Sufism, romantic love is viewed as a metaphysical metaphor for the love of God. However, the importance of love extends beyond the metaphorical. This is evident in the romantic relationship between Rumi, who is widely recognised as the greatest poet of Sufism, and his mentor Shams Tabrizi. IbnʿArabī posited also that for a man, sex with a woman is the occasion for experiencing God's 'greatest self-disclosure' (the position is similar vice versa):
The most intense and perfect contemplation of God is through women, and the most intense union is the conjugal act.
This emphasis on the sublimity of the conjugal act holds true for both this world and the next: the fact that Islam considers sexual relationships one of the ultimate pleasures of paradise is well-known; moreover, there is no suggestion that this is for the sake of producing children.
Love of women
Particularly within the context of religion – a domain which is often associated with sexual asceticism – Muḥammad is notable for emphasising the importance of loving women. According to a famous ḥadīth, Muḥammad stated: "Three things of this world of yours were made lovable to me: women, perfume – and the coolness of my eye was placed in the ritual prayer". This is enormously significant because in the Islamic faith, Muḥammad is by definition the most perfect human being and the most perfect male: his love for women shows that the perfection of the human state is connected with love for other human beings, not simply with love for God. More specifically, it illustrates that male perfection lies in women and, by implication, female perfection in men. Consequently, the love Muḥammad had for women is obligatory on all men, since he is the model of perfection that must be emulated.
Prominent figures in Islamic mysticism have elaborated on this theme. Ibn 'Arabī reflected on the above ḥadīth as follows: "...he [Muḥammad] mentioned women [as one of three things from God's world made lovable to him]. Do you think that which would take him far from his Lord was made lovable to him? Of course not. That which would bring him near to his Lord was made lovable to him.
"He who knows the measure of women and their mystery will not renounce love for them. On the contrary, one of the perfections of the gnostic is love for them, for this is a prophetic heritage and a divine love. For the Prophet said, '[women] were made lovable to me.' Hence he ascribed his love for them only to God. Ponder this chapter – you will see wonders!"
Ibn 'Arabī held that witnessing God in the female human form is the most perfect mode of witnessing: if Muḥammad was made to love women, it is because women reflect God.
Rūmī connected women with the female attributes of the Divine: "She [woman] is the radiance of God, she is not your beloved. She is the Creator – you could say that she is not created."
According to Gai Eaton, there are several other ḥadīths on the same theme which underline Muḥammad's teaching on the importance of loving women:
- "You should cherish your woman from the perfume of her hair to the tips of her toes."
- "The best of you is the one who is best to his wife."
- "The whole world is to be enjoyed, but the best thing in the world is a good woman."
Another well-known ḥadīth explicitly states that loving conduct towards one's wife is synonymous with advanced religious understanding:
- "The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manner and kindest to his wife."
Both the concept and the reality of beauty are of exceptional importance in the Islamic religion: beauty (iḥsān, also translated as "virtue", "excellence", and "making beautiful") is the third element of the canonical definition of Islam after belief (īmān) and practice (islām). At 53:31, the Quran emphasises the importance of avoiding ugly actions, while at 10:26 it states: "Those who do what is beautiful will receive the most beautiful and increase [or more than this]."
Female beauty is a central theme in Islam, which regards it as "the most direct visible manifestation of God's beauty, gentleness, mercy and forgiveness". This theme is developed most famously in Islamic mysticism or Sufism. In her work The Mystical Dimensions of Islam, Annemarie Schimmel records the position of Ibn ʿArabī – who is generally regarded as the greatest Sufi – on "perceiving the divine through the medium of female beauty and seeing the female as the true revelation of God's mercy and creativity" as follows:
"The closing chapter of the Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam, that on the Prophet Muhammad, centers around the famous tradition according to which the Prophet was given a love for perfumes and women and joy in prayer. Thus, Ibn 'Arabī could defend the idea that 'love of women belongs to the perfection of the gnostics, for it is inherited from the Prophet and is a divine love' (R 480). Woman reveals, for Ibn Arabī, the secret of the compassionate God. The grammatical fact that the word dhāt, 'essence', is feminine offers Ibn Arabī different methods to discover this feminine element in God."
Marriage is the central institution of family life and society, and therefore the central institution of Islam. On a technical level, it is accomplished through a contract which is confirmed by the bride's reception of a dowry or mahr, and by the witnessing of the bride's consent to the marriage. A woman has the freedom to propose to a man of her liking, either orally or in writing. Muḥammad himself was the subject of a spoken marriage proposal from a Muslim lady which was worded "I present myself to you", although ultimately Muḥammad solemnized her marriage to another man.
Within the marriage contract itself, the bride has the right to stipulate her own conditions. These conditions usually pertain to such issues as marriage terms (e.g. that her husband may not take another wife), and divorce terms (e.g. that she may dissolve the union at her own initiative if she deems it necessary). In addition, dowries – one on marriage, and another deferred in case of divorce – must be specified and written down; they should also be of substance. The dowry is the exclusive property of the wife and should not be given away, neither to her family nor her relatives. According to the Quran (at 4:2), the wife may freely choose to give part of their dowry to the husband. Fiqh doctrine says a woman's property, held exclusively in her name cannot be appropriated by her husband, brother or father. For many centuries, this stood in stark contrast with the more limited property rights of women in (Christian) Europe. Accordingly, Muslim women in contemporary America are sometimes shocked to find that, even though they were careful to list their assets as separate, these can be considered joint assets after marriage.
Marriage ceremony and celebrations
When agreement to the marriage has been expressed and witnessed, those present recite the Al-Fatiha prayer (the opening chapter of the Quran). Normally, marriages are not contracted in mosques but in private homes or at the offices of a judge (qāḍi). The format and content of the ceremony (if there is one) is often defined by national or tribal customs, as are the celebrations ('urs) that accompany it. In some parts of the Islamic world these may include processions in which the bride gift is put on display; receptions where the bride is seen adorned in elaborate costumes and jewellery; and ceremonial installation of the bride in the new house to which she may be carried in a litter (a type of carriage). The groom may ride through the streets on a horse, followed by his friends and well-wishers, and there is always a feast called the walīmah.
Historical commonality of divorce
In contrast to the Western and Orient world where divorce was relatively uncommon until modern times, divorce was a more common occurrence in certain parts of the late medieval
Marriage customs vary in Muslim dominated countries. Islamic law allows
A marriage of pleasure, where a man pays a sum of money to a woman or her family in exchange for a temporary spousal relationship, is found and considered legal among Shia faith, for example in Iran after 1979. Temporary marriages are forbidden in Sunni Islam. Among Shia, the number of temporary marriages can be unlimited, recognized with an official temporary marriage certificate, and divorce is unnecessary because the temporary marriage automatically expires on the date and time specified on the certificate. Payment to the woman by the man is mandatory, in every temporary marriage and considered as mahr. The minimum duration of a temporary marriage is debated between scholars, with some saying the minimum duration is as low as 3 days and others saying it is as high as 1 year. Its practitioners cite sharia law as permitting the practise. Women's rights groups have condemned it as a form of legalized prostitution.
Muḥammad quite deliberately did not recommend cousin marriage as his sunnah or path to be followed; out of his thirteen wives, only one – the seventh, Zaynab bint Jahsh, a divorcée said by historians to have been very beautiful – was his cousin. The rest of his wives came from diverse social and even religious backgrounds, with Safiyya bint Huyayy and Rayhana bint Zayd being of Jewish origin.
Despite this, endogamy is common in some Muslim-majority countries. The observed endogamy is primarily consanguineous marriages, where the bride and the groom share a biological grandparent or other near ancestor. The most common observed marriages are first cousin marriages, followed by second cousin marriages. Consanguineous endogamous marriages are most common for women in Muslim communities in the Middle East, North Africa and Islamic Central Asia. About 1 in 3 of all marriages in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan are first cousin marriages; while overall consanguineous endogamous marriages exceed 65 to 80% in various Islamic populations of the Middle East, North Africa and Islamic Central Asia. Consanguineous endogamous marriages are common for women in Islam. Consanguineous marriage rates in the Muslim world range from 5–9% in Malaysia to >50% in Saudi Arabia. Over 65% of all marriages in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are endogamous and consanguineous arranged marriages; more than 40% of all marriages are endogamous and consanguineous in Mauritania, Libya, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Kuwait, UAE and Oman.
In the interests of transparency, clandestine marriages are not permitted under Islamic law; weddings must be public – a commitment made before society. The European Council for Fatwa and Research has ruled that a state registration of a marriage between Muslims, if attended by two witnesses, fulfills the minimum requirements for a religious marriage under the sharia because it demonstrates (a) mutual consent; and (b) a public declaration of commitment.
Some marriages are forbidden between Muslim women and Muslim men, according to sharia.
Age of marriage
The age of
Some Islamic scholars suggest that it is not the calendar age that matters, rather it is the biological age of the girl that determines when she can be married under Islamic law. According to these Islamic scholars, marriageable age in Islam is when a girl has reached sexual maturity, as determined by her nearest male guardian; this age can be, claim these Islamic scholars, less than 10 years, or 12, or another age depending on each girl. Some clerics and conservative elements of Muslim society, in various communities around the world, have insisted that it is their Islamic right to marry girls below age 15. In December 2019, Saudi Arabia changed the law and raised the age of marriage to 18.
Interfaith marriages and women
According to sharia law, it is legal for a Muslim man to marry a Christian or Jewish woman, or a woman of any of the divinely-revealed religions, while sharia law does not allow a Muslim woman to marry outside her religion. A significant number of non-Muslim men have entered into the Islamic faith to satisfy this aspect of the religious law where it is in force. With deepening globalisation, it has become more common for Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men who remain outside Islam. These marriages meet with varying degrees of social approval, depending on the milieu. However, conversions of non-Muslim men to Islam for the purpose of marriage are still numerous, in part because the procedure for converting to Islam is relatively expeditious.
Additionally, according to Islamic law, if a Muslim man wishes to marry a Christian or Jewish woman, he must get to know her parents and ask for permission to marry their daughter.
The majority of Muslim scholars have historically read Surah 60, verse 10, which forbids female converts from returning to their non-Muslim husbands, as an injunction against any Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men.
Kecia Ali argues that such interpretations unfairly presume that women are inherently subordinate to their husbands, which, if true, could result in children being brought up as non-Muslims if their father is non-Muslim. Additionally, the Quranic verse in question mentions unbelievers, but not people of the Jewish or Christian faiths, whom the Quran does identify as suitable partners for Muslim men. The Quran thus does not give any general guidance on whether Muslim women may marry "non-Muslim" men, but rather "discusses specific categories of potential spouses."
Behavior and rights within marriage
Islamic law and practice recognize gender disparity, in part, by assigning separate rights and obligations to a woman in married life. A woman's space is in the private sphere of the home, and a man's is in the public sphere. Women must primarily fulfill marital and maternal responsibilities, whereas men are financial and administrative stewards of their families. According to Sayyid Qutb, the Quran "gives the man the right of guardianship or superiority over the family structure to prevent dissension and friction between the spouses. The equity of this system lies in the fact that God both favoured the man with the necessary qualities and skills for the 'guardianship' and also charged him with the duty to provide for the structure's upkeep."
The Quran considers the love between men and women to be a
In Islam, there is no coverture, an idea central in European, American as well as in non-Islamic Asian common law, and the legal basis for the principle of marital property. An Islamic marriage is a contract between a man and a woman. A Muslim man and woman do not merge their legal identity upon marriage, and do not have rights over any shared marital property. The assets of the man before the marriage, and earned by him after the marriage, remain his during marriage and in case of a divorce. A divorce under Islamic law does not require redistribution of property. Rather, each spouse walks away from the marriage with his or her individual property. Divorcing Muslim women who did not work outside their home after marriage do not have a claim on the collective wealth of the couple under Islamic law, except for deferred mahr – an amount of money or property the man agrees to pay her before the woman signs the marriage contract.
And for you is half of what your wives leave if they have no child. But if they have a child, for you is one fourth of what they leave, after any bequest they [may have] made or debt. And for the wives is one fourth if you leave no child. But if you leave a child, then for them is an eighth of what you leave, after any bequest you [may have] made or debt. And if a man or woman leaves neither ascendants nor descendants but has a brother or a sister, then for each one of them is a sixth. But if they are more than two, they share a third, after any bequest which was made or debt, as long as there is no detriment [caused]. [This is] an ordinance from Allah, and Allah is Knowing and Forbearing. (Al-Quran 4:12)
In case of husband's death, a portion of his property is inherited by his wives according to a combination of sharia laws. If the man did not leave any children, his wives receive a quarter of the property and the remaining three-quarters is shared by the blood relatives of the husband (for example, parents, siblings).
In contrast to Christianity – where sex is sanctified through marriage – in the Islamic conception, sexuality in and of itself is sacred and a blessing; as per Ibn 'Arabī's formulation, sex is a sublime act which can draw its practitioners closer to God. Marriage in Islam is a contract drawn up according to sharia to legitimise sexual relations and protect the rights of both partners. However, in common with Christianity and Judaism, sexual activity outside of marriage is perceived as a serious sin in the eyes of God.
Sexual satisfaction and frequency of intercourse
Female sexual satisfaction is given significant prominence in the Islamic faith and its classical literature. As recorded by the British Muslim writer
In this context, the Muslim caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab (584–644) believed that a married woman had the right to sex at least once every four days, while according to the hadith scholar, jurist and mystic Abu Talib al-Makki (d.996), "if [a husband] knows that [his wife] needs more, he is obliged to comply".
Muhammad underlined the importance of foreplay and emotional intimacy in sexual relations, as the following hadith illustrates:
"[The Prophet Muḥammad said] 'Not one of you should fall upon his wife like an animal; but let there first be a messenger between you.'
'And what is that messenger?' they asked, and [the Prophet Muḥammad] replied: 'Kisses and words.'
Islamic luminaries expanded on this theme. The philosopher, mystic and jurist Al-Ghazālī (c. 1058–1111) stated that "Sex should begin with gentle words and kissing", while the Indian scholar al-Zabīdī (1732–1790) added to this exhortation in his commentary on Al-Ghazālī's magnum opus, The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Iḥiyāʾ ʿulūm ad-dīn): "This should include not only the cheeks and lips; and then he should caress the breasts and nipples, and every part of her body."
Classical Islamic scholars have written extensively about the art and desirability of husband and wife attaining simultaneous orgasms; Al-Ghazali gives the following counsel in his key work, The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Iḥiyāʾ ʿulūm ad-dīn):
"When he has come to his orgasm (inzal), he should wait for his wife until she comes to her orgasm likewise; for her climax may well come slowly. If he arouses her desire, and then sits back from her, this will hurt her, and any disparity in their orgasms will certainly produce a sense of estrangement. A simultaneous orgasm will be the most delightful for her, especially since her husband will be distracted by his own orgasm from her, and she will not therefore be afflicted by shyness."
(…) "If he likes he may (have intercourse) being on the back or in front of her, but it should be through one opening (vagina)."
There is disagreement among Islamic scholars on proper interpretation of Islamic law on permissible sex between a husband and wife, with claims that non-vaginal sex within a marriage is disapproved but not forbidden. Anal intercourse and sex during menstruation are prohibited, as is violence and force against a partner's will. However, these are the only restrictions; as the Quran says at 2:223 (Sūratu l-Baqarah): 'Your women are your fields; go to your women as you wish'.
After sex, as well as menstruation, Islam requires men and women to do ghusl (major ritual washing with water, ablutions), and in some Islamic communities xoslay (prayers seeking forgiveness and purification), as sex and menstruation are considered some of the causes that makes men and women religiously impure (najis). Some Islamic jurists suggest touching and foreplay, without any penetration, may qualify wudu (minor ritual washing) as sufficient form of religiously required ablution. Muslim men and women must also abstain from sex during a ritual fast, and during all times while on a pilgrimage to Mecca, as sexual act, touching of sexual parts and emission of sexual bodily fluids are considered ritually dirty.
Sexual intercourse is not allowed to a Muslim woman during menstruation, postpartum period, during fasting and certain religious activities, disability and in iddah after divorce or widowhood. Homosexual relations and same sex marriages are forbidden to women in Islam. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is acceptable in Islam; but ovum donation along with sperm donation, embryo donation are prohibited by Islam. These marriages meet with varying degrees of social approval, depending on the milieu. Some debated fatwas from Shia sect of Islam, however, allow third party participation.
Islam requires both husband and wife/wives to meet their conjugal duties. Religious qadis (judges) have admonished the man or women who fail to meet these duties.
Female genital mutilation
The classical position
There is no mention of female circumcision – let alone other forms of female genital mutilation – in the Quran. Furthermore, Muḥammad did not subject any of his daughters to this practice, which is itself of real significance as it does not form part of his spoken or acted example. Moreover, the origins of female circumcision are not Islamic: it is first thought to have been practiced in ancient Egypt. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the practice may be an old African puberty rite that was passed on to Egypt by cultural diffusion.
Notwithstanding these facts, there is a belief amongst some Muslims – particularly though not entirely exclusively in (sub-Saharan) Africa – that female circumcision (specifically the cutting of the prepuce or hood of the clitoris) is religiously vindicated by the existence of a handful of ḥadīths which apparently recommend it. However, these ḥadīths are generally regarded as inauthentic, unreliable and weak, and therefore as having no legislative foundation and/or practical application.
Islamic perspectives on FGM
In answering the question of how "Islamic" female circumcision is, Haifaa A. Jawad – an academic specialising in Islamic thought and the author of The Rights of Women in Islam: An Authentic Approach – has concluded that "the practice has no Islamic foundation whatsoever. It is nothing more than an ancient custom which has been falsely assimilated to the Islamic tradition, and with the passage of time it has been presented and accepted (in some Muslim countries) as an Islamic injunction." Jawad notes that the argument which states that there is an indirect correlation between Islam and female circumcision fails to explain why female circumcision is not practiced in much of the Islamic world, and conversely is practiced in Latin American countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Peru.
The French intellectual, journalist, and translator Renée Saurel observed that female circumcision and FGM more generally directly contradict Islam's sacred text: "The Koran, contrary to Christianity and Judaism, permits and recommends that the woman be given physical and psychological pleasure, pleasure found by both partners during the act of love. Forcibly split, torn, and severed tissues are neither conducive to sensuality nor to the blessed feeling given and shared when participating in the quest for pleasure and the escape from pain."
The Egyptian feminist Nawal El-Saadawi reasons that the creation of the clitoris per se is a direct Islamic argument against female circumcision: "If religion comes from God, how can it order man to cut off an organ created by Him as long as that organ is not diseased or deformed? God does not create the organs of the body haphazardly without a plan. It is not possible that He should have created the clitoris in woman's body only in order that it be cut off at an early stage in life. This is a contradiction into which neither true religion nor the Creator could possibly fall. If God has created the clitoris as a sexually sensitive organ, whose sole function seems to be the procurement of sexual pleasure for women, it follows that He also considers such pleasure for women as normal and legitimate, and therefore as an integral part of mental health."
Sheikh Abbas el Hocine Bencheikh, a diplomat and Rector of the L'institut Musulman at the Grande Mosquée de Paris, pointed to the total lack of Islamic theological justification for female circumcision: "If circumcision for the man (though not compulsory) has an aesthetic and hygienic purpose, there is no existing religious Islamic text of value to be considered in favour of female excision, as proven by the fact that this practice is totally non-existent in most of the Islamic countries."
Mahmud Shaltut, the former Sheikh of Al-Azhar in Cairo – one of the most important religious offices in Sunni Islam – also stated that female circumcision has no theological basis: "Islamic legislation provides a general principle, namely that should meticulous and careful examination of certain issues prove that it is definitely harmful or immoral, then it should be legitimately stopped to put an end to this damage or immorality. Therefore, since the harm of excision has been established, excision of the clitoris of females is not a mandatory obligation, nor is it a Sunnah."
Initiatives to end FGM in the OIC
In the twenty-first century, a number of high-ranking religious offices within the OIC have urged the cessation of all forms of FGM:
- A 2006 international conference convened by Egypt's Dar al ifta – an influential body which issues legal opinions on Islamic law and jurisprudence – concluded "that the [female genital] mutilation presently practised in some parts of Egypt, Africa and elsewhere represents a deplorable custom which finds no justification in the authoritative sources of Islam, the Quran and the practice of the Prophet Muḥammad...all measures must be taken to put a halt to this unacceptable tradition."
- A November 2006 conference at Al-Azhar University in Cairo held under the auspices of the Grand Mufti of Egypt passed a resolution – with the same legal weight as fatwa – that FGM was to be considered a punishable offence, because it constitutes "an act of aggression and a crime against humanity".
- In 2007 the Cairo-based Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, an entity belonging to what is generally regarded as one of the most significant theological universities in the OIC, ruled that female genital mutilation has no basis in Islamic law.
- In 2012, Professor Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu – the then Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – urged countries to abolish female genital mutilation (FGM), saying the practice was against Islam and human rights: "This practice is a ritual that has survived over centuries and must be stopped as Islam does not support it."
- In 2016, the OIC Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations reaffirmed its determination to eliminate FGM/C by 2030, in accordance with a global target set by the UN in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Recorded prevalence of FGM in the OIC
According to UNICEF (2014), twenty-six of the twenty-nine countries in which female genital mutilation is classified as 'concentrated' are in sub-Saharan Africa: there is no recorded prevalence in any non-African OIC member state outside Yemen (19% prevalence) and Iraq (8%).
From very early times various methods of contraception have been practiced in Islam, and Muslim jurists of the two major sects of Islam, Sunni and Shia, generally agree that contraception and family planning are not forbidden by sharia; the use of contraceptive devices is permitted if the marital partners agree. All the Islamic schools of law from the tenth to the nineteenth century gave contraception their serious consideration. They dealt principally with coitus interruptus, the most common method, and unanimously agreed that it was licit provided the free wife gave her permission, because she had rights to children and to sexual fulfilment which withdrawal was believed to diminish. From the writings of the jurists it emerges that other methods of birth control – mostly intravaginal tampons – were also used by premodern women and the commonest view was that these should only be employed if the husband also agreed.
Given the era and the fact that both Christian and Jewish tradition outlawed contraception, the attitude of Muslims towards birth control has been characterised as being remarkably pragmatic; they also possessed a sophisticated knowledge of possible birth control methods. Medieval doctors like Ibn Sina (Avicenna) regarded birth control as a normal part of medicine, and devoted chapters to contraception and abortion in their textbooks (although the permissibility of abortion within Islamic thought varies according to a number of factors; Islam views the family as sacred and children as a gift from God). According to medieval Muslims, birth control was employed to avoid a large number of dependants; to safeguard property; to guarantee the education of a child; to protect a woman from the risks of childbirth, especially if she was young or ill; or simply to preserve her health and beauty.
Islam condemns female infanticide.
When the female (infant), buried alive, is questioned – For what crime she was killed;
In some Islamic populations, sex-selective female infanticide is of concern because of abnormally high boy to girl ratios at birth. In Islamic Azerbaijan, for example, the birth sex ratio was in the 105 to 108 range, before the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. After the collapse, the birth sex ratios in Azerbaijan has sharply climbed to over 115 and remained high for the last 20 years. The persistently observed 115 boys for every 100 girls born suggests sex-selective abortion of females in Azerbaijan in the last 20 years. Other Muslim-majority countries with high birth sex ratio, implying female sex-selective abortion, include Albania (112) and Pakistan (111).
In Islam, a woman may only divorce her husband under certain conditions. These are many and include neglect, not being supported financially, the husband's impotence, apostasy, madness, dangerous illness or some other defect in the marriage. Divorce by mutual consent has only to be agreed upon by both parties to become effective. If a Muslim woman wishes to divorce her husband she has two options under Sharia law: seek a tafriq, or seek a khul. A tafriq is a divorce for certain allowable reasons. This divorce is granted by a qadi, a religious judge, in cases where the qadi accepts her claims of abuse or abandonment. If a tafriq is denied by the qadi, she cannot divorce. If a tafriq is granted, the marriage is dissolved and the husband is obligated to pay her the deferred mahr in their marriage contract. The second method, by far more common in wife-initiated divorces, khul is a divorce without cause, by mutual consent. This divorce requires a husband's consent and it must be supported by consideration that passes from the wife to the husband. Often, this consideration almost always consists of the wife relinquishing her claim to the deferred mahr. In actual practice and outside of Islamic judicial theory, a woman's right to divorce is often extremely limited compared with that of men in the Middle East.
In contrast to the comparatively limited methods of divorce available to a woman, Islam allows a Muslim husband to unilaterally divorce his wife, as talaq, with no requirement to show cause; however, in practice there is variance by country as to whether there are any additional legal processes when a husband divorces his wife by this method. For example, the Tunisian Law of Personal Status (1957) makes repudiation by a husband invalid until it has been ratified by a court, and provides for further financial compensation to the wife. Similar laws have been enacted elsewhere, both within an interpretive framework of traditional sharia law, and through the operation of civil codes not based upon the sharia. However, upon talaq, the husband must pay the wife her deferred mahr. Some Muslim-majority countries mandate additional financial contributions to be made to the wife on top of the mahr: for example, the Syrian Law of Personal Status (1953) makes the payment of maintenance to the wife by the husband obligatory for one year after the divorce, which is thus a legal recourse of the wife against the husband. The husband is free to marry again immediately after a divorce, but the woman must observe iddah, that is wait for 3 lunar months before she can remarry after divorce, to establish paternity, in case she discovers she is pregnant. In case of death of her husband, the iddah period is 4 lunar months and 10 days before she can start conjugal relations with another Muslim man.
Obligations during divorce
A verse relating to obligation of women during divorce is 2:228:
Divorced women remain in waiting for three periods, and it is not lawful for them to conceal what Allah has created in their wombs if they believe in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have more right to take them back in this [period] if they want reconciliation. And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable. But the men have a degree over them [in responsibility and authority]. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (Al-Quran 2:228) >>>>
This verse not only explains the divorce rights of women in Islam, it sets out iddah to prevent illegal custody of divorcing husband's child by a woman, specifies that each gender has divorce rights, and that men are a degree above women.
A Muslim woman may not move in a mosque and is relieved from duty of performing
Shrines and mosques
From the earliest centuries of Islam, Muslims have visited shrines and mosques to pray, meditate, ask forgiveness, seek cures for ailments, and seek grace – a blessing or spiritual influence (barakah) sent down by God. Some of these structures are named after women. Although women are not restricted from entering mosques, it is quite uncommon to see women gathering in mosques to pray. When women do travel to mosques, they are usually accompanied by their husband or other women at times of the day where there is not a large population of other men. While prayer is mostly done at home for women when they are attending prayers at public worship places such as a mosque they are to be separated from the other men present. Women must also be dressed appropriately or they may be reprimanded.
The Virgin Mary
The Virgin Mary ('Maryam' in Arabic) has a particularly exalted position within the Islamic tradition, extolled as she is for being the mother of Jesus, whom Muslims revere as a prophet. Maryam is the only woman mentioned by name in Islam's sacred text; an entire chapter or sūra of the Quran – the nineteenth, Sūrat Maryam – bears her name.
Accordingly, the Virgin Mary is synonymous with numerous holy sites in the Islamic faith:
- The House of the Virgin Mary near Selçuk, Turkey. This is a shrine frequented by both Christians and Muslims. It is known as Panaya Kapulu ("the Doorway to the Virgin") in Turkish. Pilgrims drink water from a spring under her house which is believed to have healing properties. Perhaps the shrine's most distinctive feature is the Mereyemana or wishing wall on which visitors attach their written wishes; because the House of the Virgin Mary is increasingly famous internationally, these messages are composed in English, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, French and Spanish, as well as Turkish.
- The Virgin Mary Monastery in the province of Giresun, Turkey. This is one of the oldest monasteries in the area and has been active since the fourth century A.D.
- The Virgin Mary Mosque in Tartous, Syria. This was officially inaugurated in June 2015 as a symbol of peace and religious tolerance. Antoine Deeb – the representative of the Tartous and Lattakia Patriarchate – stated that naming the mosque after the Virgin Mary 'shows that Islam and Christianity share the messages of peace and love.'
- The Virgin Mary Mosque in Melbourne, Australia.
- Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This site is associated with a number of Marian apparitions forecast by a Muslim mystic by the name of Hasan Shushud that were reported in the late twentieth century by local Catholics.
- The Chapel of Santa Cruz at Oran, Algeria. The chapel's tower contains a large statue of the Virgin Mary, which is styled as Notre Dame du Salut de Santa Cruz. The historian James McDougall notes in his acclaimed A History of Algeria (2017) that to this day, the women of Oran "still climb up to the church the [French] settlers built...in 1959, at Santa Cruz, to light candles to lalla Maryam, the Virgin whose statue still looks benignly over their city from the mountaintop."
Hala Sultan Tekke, Larnaca, Cyprus is an ancient site revered because it contains the burial place of Muḥammad's paternal aunt Hala Sultan (Umm Haram in Arabic), although other scholars believe that she was in fact Muḥammad's wet nurse.
According to legend, Hala Sultan died after falling off her mule and breaking her neck during the first Arab incursions into Cyprus around 647 A.D. The same night, a divine power supposedly placed three giant stones where she lay. In 1760, Hala Sultan's grave was discovered by Sheikh Hasan; he began spreading the word about her healing powers, and a tomb was built there. The complex – comprising a mosque, mausoleum, minaret, cemetery and living quarters for men and women – was constructed in its present form while the island was still under Ottoman rule, and completed in around 1816.
According to the archaeologist Tuncer Bağışkan, during the Ottoman period in Cyprus, Ottoman-flagged ships used to fly their flags at half-mast when off the shores of Larnaca, and salute Hala Sultan with cannon shots.
This tekke is also notable for being the burial place of the grandmother of the late King Hussein of Jordan.
The granddaughter of Muḥammad is the patron saint of Cairo, the Arab world's largest city and a regional cultural hub. She also has the following mosques named for her:
- The Sayeda Zainab mosque in Cairo, Egypt. The original structure was built in 1549; the modern mosque dates back to 1884. In 1898, the square in front of the mosque also took her name. The mosque was expanded in 1942 and renovated in 1999 following an earthquake seven years earlier. There is an annual feast dedicated to Sayeda Zainab which celebrates her birth; the celebration features ecstatic mystical whirling inside the shrine, while outside there are fairground attractions such as merry-go-round rides. Historically, the coffee shops around the square and the mosque were places where some of Egypt's most notable writers and journalists met and exchanged ideas. There is a notable silver shrine inside the mosque. According to Sunni Muslim tradition, this mosque houses the tomb of Sayeda Zainab.
- The Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque in the city of Sayeda Zainab, a southern suburb of Damascus, Syria. According to Shia Muslim tradition, it is in fact this mosque which contains the tomb of Muḥammad's granddaughter. It has been a destination of mass pilgrimage for Muslims since the 1980s. The dome is gold-leafed.
Fātimah al-Ma'sūmah was the sister of the eighth Imam and the daughter of the seventh Imam in 'Twelver' Shī'ism. Her shrine is located in Qom, a city which is one of the most important Shī'ah centres of theology. During the Safavid dynasty, the women of this family were very active in embellishing the Shrine of Fatima Masumeh. In times of war, Safavid royal women found refuge in Qom, and likely compared their situation to that of Fatima Masumeh.
One of the most famous saints in Islam, Rabi'āh al-'Adawiyyah ('Rabi'āh') extolled the way of maḥabbah ('divine love') and uns ('Intimacy with God'). Her mystical sayings are noted for their pith and clarity; some have become proverbs throughout the Islamic world. The
Ruqayyah bint Ali
Ruqayyah bint Ali was the daughter-in-law of Muḥammad's cousin and son-in-law 'Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib. Legend has it that the
According to a saying attributed to Muhammad in the hadith Sahih Bukhari, women are allowed to go to mosques. However, as Islam spread, Muslim authorities stressed the fears of unchastity from interaction between sexes outside their home, including the mosque. By pre-modern period it was unusual for women to pray at a mosque. By the late 1960s, women in urban areas of the Middle East increasingly began praying in the mosque, but men and women generally worship separately. (Muslims explain this by citing the need to avoid distraction during prayer prostrations that raise the buttocks while the forehead touches the ground.) Separation between sexes ranges from men and women on opposite sides of an aisle, to men in front of women (as was the case in the time of Muhammad), to women in second-floor balconies or separate rooms accessible by a door for women only. Women in the state of ritual impurity, such as menstruation, are forbidden from entering the prayer hall of the mosque.
Today, Muslim women do indeed attend mosques. In fact, in the United States, a recent study by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that American Muslim women attend the mosque at extremely similar rates (35%) to those of American Muslim men (45%). ISPU also found that 87% of Muslim American women say that they "see their faith identity as a source of happiness in their life."
Female religious scholars were relatively common from early Islamic history throughout the 16th century.
Hui women are self-aware of their relative freedom as Chinese women in contrast to the status of Arab women in countries like Saudi Arabia where Arab women are restricted and forced to wear encompassing clothing. Hui women point out these restrictions as "low status", and feel better to be Chinese than to be Arab, claiming that it is Chinese women's advanced knowledge of the Quran which enables them to have equality between men and women.
Sufi female mystics
Sufi Islam teaches the doctrine of tariqa, meaning following a spiritual path in daily living habits. To support followers of this concept, separate institutions for men (ta'ifa, hizb, rabita) and women (khanqa, rabita, derga) were created. Initiates to these groups pursued a progression of seven stages of spiritual discipline, called makamat (stations) or ahwal (spiritual states).
Current female religious scholars
There are a number of prominent female Islamic scholars. They generally focus on questioning gender-based interpretations of the
Many classical Islamic scholars, such as
This historical record contrasts markedly with that of (predominantly Taoist and Buddhist) Chinese-majority nations, where there were no women rulers in the period between the reign of the fierce empress Wu Zetian at the turn of the eighth century (690–705), and the inauguration of Tsai Ing-wen as President of the Republic of China in 2016.
Female heads of state in Muslim-majority countries during the modern era
In the modern era, Pakistan became the first Muslim-majority state with an elected female head of government (1988). Currently Bangladesh is the country that has had females as head of government continuously the longest starting with Khaleda Zia in 1991.
In the past several decades, a number of countries in which Muslims are a majority, including
At one stage in the 1990s, over 300 million Muslims – at that time, between one-third and a quarter of the world's entire Islamic population – were simultaneously ruled by women when elected heads of state Tansu Çiller (the 22nd Prime Minister of Turkey), Khaleda Zia (the 9th Prime Minister of Bangladesh) and Benazir Bhutto (the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan) led their respective countries.
Female legislators in Muslim-majority countries in the 21st century
As well as elected heads of state, a number of other elected female politicians have attained exceptional levels of notability within the OIC in the twenty-first century. These include Louisa Hanoune, the head of Algeria's Workers' Party and the first woman to be a presidential candidate in an Arab country (2004; Hanoune also ran for the same post in 2009 and 2014); Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesia's Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (2014–2019) who is also a successful seafood and transportation entrepreneur who has been profiled in the Financial Times; Meral Akşener, a veteran Turkish conservative nationalist politician who is the founder and leader of the İyi Party (2017–); and mezzo-soprano opera singer Dariga Nazarbayeva, the Chairwoman of the Kazakhstan Senate and one of her country's wealthiest individuals.
Several Muslim-majority nations have passed laws to incorporate more women in their parliaments and political processes. For example, Indonesia passed a law in 2013 that required political parties to field at least 30% women candidates in elections or pay a financial penalty, a law which was later amended to stipulate that at least one in three candidates on every party's electoral list must be female and parties which do not fulfill this criterion will be barred from contesting the election; Tunisia's mandated electoral lists composed of 50% women in both the 2011 and 2014 legislative elections; and in 2012, Algeria set a minimum parliamentary female membership requirement of 30%. Following the May 2012 legislative elections, women constitute 31.6% of Algerian MPs. In Senegal, 50% of local and national electoral lists have to be female as of 2012. Following the passage of Law No. 46 of 2014, Egypt has required party lists to include a certain number of women; in 2018, Egypt's cabinet had eight female ministers out of a total of 35 (22.86%). Kosovo has had a female quota for its assembly as far back as 2001, when it was de jure part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; the Muslim-majority (95.6%) Balkan republic guarantees women 30% of parliamentary seats as of 2016.
Since 2012 Saudi women have been allowed to vote in some elections. The Shura Council of Saudi Arabia now includes female members after a January 2013 decree by the Saudi King that created reserved parliamentary seats for women, while four women were appointed to Qatar's 41-member Shura Council in 2017. Kuwait granted its women the right to vote in the first half of the 1980s; this right was later rescinded, and then reintroduced in 2005. Additionally, the United Arab Emirates has allocated 30% of its top government posts to women; as of February 2016, females accounted for 27.5% of the UAE's cabinet.
According to Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi, Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston's Southeast Mosque, nothing in Islam specifically allows or disallows voting by women. Until recently most Muslim nations were non-democratic, but most today allow their citizens to have some level of voting and control over their government. However, some Muslim countries gave women suffrage in the early 20th century. For example, Azerbaijan extended voting rights to women in 1918, two years before it became part of Soviet Union. Females in Turkey similarly gained the right to vote in municipal and parliamentary elections in 1930 and 1934 respectively.
Muslim women and Islamophobia in non-Muslim majority countries
In the United States, Islamophobia, coupled with the 2016 presidential election which heightened anti-Muslim sentiment has particularly impacted on Muslim American women. In their 2018 American Muslim Poll, think tank Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) reported, "though roughly half of women of all backgrounds, including Muslim women, report experiencing some frequency of gender-based discrimination in the past year, Muslim women's more frequent complaints are racial (75%) and religious (69%) discrimination." Most Muslim women (72%) and Muslim men (76%) reject the notion that "most Muslims in America discriminate against women."
Further data collected by the ISPU has found that "Muslim women are more likely than Muslim men to report experiencing religious discrimination in the last year (68% vs. 55%)".[when?] After the bombing of the World Trade Center Muslim women were especially exposed to increased violence in public spaces. Research showed that 85% of Muslim women experienced violence through verbal threats as well as 25% of Muslim women experiencing actual physical violence in public spaces. ISPU also found that most American Muslim women (68%) agree that most people associate negative stereotypes with their faith identity. Among these, more than half (52%) "strongly agree" that being Muslim is correlated with negative stereotypes. Data shows that American Muslim women are actually more likely than Muslim men to fear for their safety from white supremacist groups (47% vs. 31%) and nearly one in five (19%) Muslim women say they have stress and anxiety enough to believe they need the help of a mental health professional as a result of the 2016 presidential elections, compared with only 9% of American Muslim men. Despite this deficit in security and greater likelihood for experienced religious-based discrimination, Muslim women are no more likely than Muslim men to change their appearance to be less identifiable as a Muslim (16% vs. 15%). Additionally, despite many feeling stigmatized, a large majority of Muslim American women (87%) say they are proud to be identified as a member of their faith community.
According to the European Network Against Racism NGO, In addition to enhanced prevalence of Islamophobia among Muslim American women, Muslim European women also experienced heightened Islamophobia—especially, when they wear headscarves. Islamophobia researcher and convert to Islam Linda Hyokki points out that at an even higher risk of Islamophobia are Muslim women of color, as they are always susceptible to Islamophobia, with or without their headscarves. In 2017, English Islamophobic monitoring company Tell Mama reported that there had been a 26% increase in Islamophobia in the UK, overwhelmingly affecting Muslim women more than Muslim men. Additionally, Muslim women disproportionately face the Islamophobic trope that women are seen as inferior in their religion. Research has found that media along with politics, particularly, in European society, perpetuate these stereotypes of Muslim women. Aside from seeing women as experiencing sexism within their religion, other Islamophobic stereotypes of Muslim women include seeing them as, "either [...] oppressed or as dangerous".
In the Islamic conception, every human being has a responsibility towards oneself. Since human life is sacred and initially created by divine rather than human agency, people are responsible for trying to keep their bodies and souls healthy, and not causing themselves spiritual or physical harm. Consequently, sport has obvious attractions in Islam: traditions record that Muḥammad raced with his wife 'Ā'ishah, and that he encouraged parents to teach their children swimming, riding and archery. Persian miniatures show Muslim women jointly playing polo with men in the same field. In the twenty-first century, some Muslim sociologists even argue that it should be obligatory for Muslim females to participate in sport of some kind.
At the same time, many Muslim women experience significant barriers to sports participation. These barriers include bans on the Islamic headscarf, commonly known as the hijab, cultural and familial barriers, and the lack of appropriate sports programs and facilities. Many Muslim female athletes have overcome these obstacles and used sports to empower themselves and others, such as through education, health and wellbeing, and a push for women's rights.
Islamic Solidarity Games
The Islamic Solidarity Games is a large multi-sport event held every four years in which all qualifying athletes from Organisation of Islamic Cooperation member countries can compete, regardless of their religious affiliation. The female International Athlete Ambassadors for Baku 2017 – the most recent edition of the games – included Tunisian Olympic medallist wrestler Marwa Amri; taekwondo icons Elaine Teo (Malaysia) and Taleen Al Humaidi (Jordan); and the Palestinian swimmer Mary Al-Atrash.
The next edition of the Islamic Solidarity Games (2021) is scheduled to take place in Istanbul.
Comparison with other religions
When analysing both Islam in general and the topic of women in Islam in particular, the views of scholars and commentators are profoundly shaped by certain cultural lenses. Those coming from a Western background, such as the Switzerland-born writer Charles le Gai Eaton, tend to compare and contrast Islam with Christianity; Eaton concluded that Islam, with certain important qualifications, was "essentially patriarchal". Conversely, those coming from an East Asian background tend to emphasise similarities between Islam and religions such as Taoism, which stress complementarity between the sexes: according to the Japanese scholar Sachiko Murata, it was mandatory for her to use the I Ching as a means of "[conceptualising] Islamic teachings on the feminine principle without doing violence to the original texts."
The historical strength of various Muslim-led polities – which, unlike other comparable non-Western entities such as China and Japan, were adjacent to "Christian" Europe and/or perceived to be in competition with Western powers – meant that the question of women in Islam has not always been approached objectively by those professing expertise in the subject. This can be viewed as part of the "Orientalist" academic discourse (as defined by Edward Said) that creates a rigid East-West dichotomy in which dynamic and positive values are ascribed to Western civilisation; by contrast, "Oriental" societies (including but certainly not limited to Islamic ones) are depicted as being "stationary" and in need of "modernising" through imperial administrations.
Eve's role in the Fall
In contrast with the
Moreover, the Biblical statement that Eve was created from Adam's rib (the famous 'third rib') finds no echo in the Quranic account: both male and female were created 'from one soul' (Sūrah 4:1). Similarly, the concept that (as per Genesis 3:16) the pains of childbirth are a punishment for Eve's sin is alien to the Quran.
The Virgin Mary
Polygamy is not exclusive to Islam; the Old Testament describes numerous examples of polygamy among devotees to God and historically, some Christian groups have practiced and continue to practice polygamy.
In traditionally multi-confessional India, polygamy is actually more widespread amongst other religious communities: the 1961 census found that the incidence of polygamy was the least amongst Muslims (5.7%), with Hindus (5.8%), Jains (6.7%), Buddhists (7.9%) and Adivasis (15.25%) all more likely have at least two wives. Similarly, India's third National Family Health Survey (2006) found that a number of socioeconomic reasons were more likely to explain the prevalence of polygamy than the religion of the parties involved. This survey also found that a polygamous Hindu was likely to have (as a statistical average) 1.77 wives; a Christian, 2.35; a Muslim, 2.55; and a Buddhist, 3.41.
Notable women in Islam
Saints, scholars, and spiritual teachers
Women have played an integral part in the development and spiritual life of Islam since the inception of Islamic civilisation in the seventh century AD.
Recognized as one of the most esteemed women in Islamic history, Mary is honored as the mother of Jesus. She is revered in Islam as the only woman named in the Quran, which refers to her seventy times and explicitly identifies her as the greatest woman to have ever lived.
In addition to Khadijah and Maryam, Fatima bint Muhammad holds a revered place in Islamic history. Muhammad is said to have regarded her as the preeminent woman. She is often viewed as an ultimate archetype for Muslim women and an example of compassion, generosity, and enduring suffering. Her name and her epithets remain popular choices for Muslim girls. Iranians celebrate Fatima's birth anniversary on 20 Jumada al-Thani as the Mother's Day.
Today, some notable personalities of the Islamic world include the Turkish Sufi teacher Cemalnur Sargut – a disciple of the novelist and mystic Samiha Ayverdi (1905–1993), Amatul Rahman Omar, the first woman to translate the Qur'an into English, and Shaykha Fariha al Jerrahi, the guide of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi Order.
Female converts to Islam
Notable recent female converts to Islam include the German former
Women constitute a significantly larger or growing proportion of individuals who choose to convert to Islam in numerous Western countries. According to researchers based at Swansea University, of the approximately 100,000 people who entered the Muslim faith in the United Kingdom between 2001 and 2011, 75% were women. In the United States, more Hispanic women convert to Islam than Hispanic men, with these women being "mostly educated, young and professional"; the share of overall female converts to Islam in the US rose from 32% in 2000 to 41% in 2011. In Brazil, approximately 70% of converts to Islam are women, most of whom are young and relatively well-educated. Young females constitute an estimated 80% of converts to Islam in Lithuania. According to Susanne Leuenberger of the Institute of Advanced Study in the Humanities and the Social Sciences at the University of Bern, females make up around 60–70% of conversions to Islam in Europe.
Female conversion literature
In the twenty-first century, a number of semi-autobiographical books by Western female converts to Islam have enjoyed a measure of mainstream success. These include former MTV and NBC Europe presenter Kristiane Backer's From MTV to Mecca: How Islam Inspired My Life (Arcadia Books, 2012); Spanish journalist Amanda Figueras Fernández's Por qué el islam: Mi vida como mujer, europea y musulmana (Ediciones Península, 2018); and French author Mathilde Loujayne's Big Little Steps: A Woman's Guide to Embracing Islam (Kube Publishing, 2020).
Modern debate on the status of women in Islam
Within the Muslim community, conservatives and
Conservatives and the Islamic movement
Conservatives reject the assertion that different laws prescribed for men and women imply that men are more valuable than women. Ali ibn Musa Al-reza reasoned that at the time of marriage a man has to pay something to his prospective bride, and that men are responsible for both their wives' and their own expenses but women have no such responsibility.
Liberal Islam, Islamic feminism, and other progressive criticism
Liberal Muslims advocate using critical thinking ijtihad to evolve a more progressive form of Islam regarding women's status. Islamic feminists seek gender equality and social justice within an Islamic context, drawing from both Islamic and global feminist values trying to align both. Some emphasize the adaptable nature of sharia law, suggesting it can safeguard women's rights with political will.
After the September 11, 2001, attacks, international attention was focused on the condition of women in the Muslim world. Some critics noted gender inequality and criticized Muslim societies for condoning this treatment.
In response to growing civil rights for secular women, some Muslim women have advocated for their rights within Islamic societies. Malaysia serves as an example, where dual legal systems exist for secular and sharia laws. In 2006, Marina Mahathir, daughter of Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, criticized unequal treatment of Malaysia's Muslim women in an editorial in the Malaysia Star. She highlighted legal disparities like polygamy's legality and biased child custody arrangements, which favored fathers for Muslims compared to shared-custody norms among non-Muslim parents. Women's groups in Malaysia began campaigning in the 1990s to have female sharia judges appointed to the sharia legal system in the country, and in 2010 two female judges were appointed.
- Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam
- Mary in Islam
- Concubinage#Muslim world
- Female figures in the Quran
- Female political leaders in Islam and in Muslim-majority countries
- Gender roles in Islam
- Islam and humanity
- Islamic feminism
- Islamic schools and branches
- Islamic sexual jurisprudence
- Muslim women in sport
- Muhammad's wives
- Muslim women in science and technology
- Sex segregation and Islam
- Timeline of first women's suffrage in majority-Muslim countries
- Women in Arab societies
- Women in Christianity
- Women in Hinduism
- Women in the Quran
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- England, Vaudine (July 9, 2010). "Malaysian groups welcome first Islamic female judges". BBC News. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
- ISBN 0-8028-2172-3.
- Dahlén, Ashk (2008). "Female Sufi Saints and Disciples: Women in the life of Jalāl al-din Rumi", Orientalia Suecana, vol. 57. Uppsala: Uppsala University Press.
- ISBN 978-0-521-02699-4.
- Ghamidi, Javed Ahmed (2001). Mizan. Al-Mawrid.
- Glassé, Cyril (2001). New Encyclopedia of Islam (Rev. ed.). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira. ISBN 0-7591-0189-2.
- ISBN 0-19-511357-8.
- ISBN 0-19-517783-5.
- Hessini, Leila (1994). "Wearing the Hijab in Contemporary Morocco: Choice and Identity". In Göçek, Fatma Müge; Balaghi, Shiva (eds.). Reconstructing Gender in the Middle East: Tradition, Identity, and Power. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10122-8.
- ISBN 9004128182.
- ISBN 0-415-20910-2.
- Andrea, Bernadette, Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature, Cambridge University Press, 2008 (978-0-521-86764-1): Bernadette Andrea: Books
- Ahmed, Leila, Women and Gender in Islam: Historical roots of a modern debate, Yale University Press, 1992
- Armstrong, Karen. The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, London, HarperCollins/Routledge, 2001
- Baffoun, Alya. Women and Social Change in the Muslim Arab World, In Women in Islam. Pergamon Press, 1982.
- ISBN 0-19-511357-8
- Hambly, Gavin. Women in the Medieval Islamic World, ISBN 0-312-22451-6
- Joseph, Suad (ed.) Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. Leiden: Brill, Vol 1–4, 2003–2007.
- Roded, Ruth (1994). Women in Islamic biographical collections: from Ibn Saʻd to Who's Who. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 978-1-55587-442-1.
- Svensson, Jonas. Women's Human Rights and Islam. A Study of Three Attempts at Accommodation, Almquist & Wiksell, 2001,
- Mehmood, Maryyum. May 18, 2021. Mapping Muslim Moral Provinces: Framing Feminized Piety of Pakistani Diaspora. Religions 12: 356; Volume 2 issue 5.
- Quotations related to Women in Islam at Wikiquote
- Media related to Women in Islam at Wikimedia Commons
- George Mason University Archive, Islam – Women in World History, Roy Rosenzweig Center
- Arab Studies Journal – a peer reviewed publication that frequently covers topics relating to women in Islam.
- The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures – Brill, The Netherlands.
- Oxford Islamic Studies Online – numerous entries dealing with the role of women in Islamic societies.
- Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Family, Law and Politics, Editors: Joseph and Naǧmābādī, Brill, The Netherlands, ISBN 978-9004128187.