Dr. Muhammad Al-Awa
We pointed out last week the importance of participation in international
activities, particularly those which tackle issues in which Islam
has specific rulings and teachings that Muslim communities have
to observe. We referred particularly to the Cairo conference on
population and development held in September 1994. We cited the
example of the addition proposed by the Egyptian delegation and
incorporated in the preamble to the final document of the conference.
The added texts in the preamble and in Chapter 2 ensure that no
state need be committed to any measure that is in conflict with
the religious beliefs and moral values of its people. Yet some provisions
in the draft document were controversial.
Chapter 2 of the draft document outlined a number of recommendations
that caused much controversy before the final document was approved.
Indeed a number of Muslim states declared their reservations with
regard to certain provisions. The most important of these recommendations
are concerned with asserting and promoting equality and justice
between men and women, consolidating womens position in society
and prevention of all forms of violence against women. (Principle
Principle 9 of Chapter 2, which is devoted to laying down the principles,
makes it clear that the family is the basic unit of society and
it must be strengthened. It further states that marriage should
only be based on free consent of both parties, and that husband
and wife are equal.
Equality of men and women, indeed of all mankind, is a basic principle
stated in the Quran in verses like: "Mankind! We have
created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into
nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.
Truly, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is
most genuinely God-fearing. God is all-knowing, all-aware."
(49: 13) The Quran includes an express reference to the equality
of man and woman, as God states: "Mankind, fear your Lord,
who has created you from a single soul, and from it created its
mate, and from the two of them spread abroad so many men and women."
(4:1) It is also stated in a number of authentic Hadiths, one of
the best known of which quotes the Prophet as saying: "Mankind!
You all descend from Adam; and Adam was created out of clay."
In human history Islam has taken the lead and the most emphatic
stand, among all civilizations, in establishing that womens
rights are the same as mens rights. Revelations were bestowed
from on high stating that: "In accordance with justice, the
rights of the wives (with regard to their husbands) are equal to
the (husbands) rights with regard to them." (2: 228)
Because it is in the nature of men to be dictatorial in their treatment
of their wives, the Prophet urged men repeatedly to be kind to their
wives and to treat them well. He repeatedly said: "Take good
care of women." He also stated that men and women stand on
the same level: "Women are but the full sisters of men."
Justice is an important Islamic principle that covers all life
affairs. Making it the cornerstone of the relationship between man
and woman is central to the Islamic outlook. Hence, we do not need
to have it stated as a recommendation in the conference document
or anywhere else. What we need is to implement Islamic values and
In many areas of the world, women do not enjoy an equal or similar
position to men, whether socially, politically or economically.
Hence, the conference document called for the consolidation of womens
status in society. This phrase was subject to much criticism and
raised many objections before the start of the conference.
The fact is that womens position in Islamic law does not
need any consolidation. What is needed is that mens treatment
of women should be corrected so as to be brought in line with Islamic
directives and with the provisions of Islamic law. The Quran
states very clearly that womens position is exactly the same
as mens position, and that this equality in matters of religion
is the same as equality in worldly matters: "Whoever does righteous
deeds, whether man or woman, and is a believer, We shall most certainly
give a good life. And We shall indeed reward these according to
the best of their actions." (16: 97) Regarding the acceptance
of peoples good deeds, God states in the Quran: "Their
Lord answers them: I will not suffer the work of any worker
among you, male or female, to be lost. Each of you is an issue of
the other." (3: 195)
No counter argument is admissible here on the basis of the well
known Hadith related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim as well as other scholars,
describing women as "deficient in reason and religion."
What the deficiency in religion stated here means is that the worship
women offer are decreased because they are not allowed to pray or
offer certain types of worship when they are in their period. Hence
a number of Hadith scholars include this Hadith under headings such
as: "Reduced reward for reduced acts of obedience to God,"
or "Increased reward for more acts of obedience to God."
However, when a woman does not offer her worship during her period,
she is free from blame because it is not within her power. Moreover,
the resulting reduction in her work does not result in a reduction
of her reward. It is authentically reported that the Prophet said
that when a person is ill or traveling, he is credited with the
same acts of worship he normally does when in health and in his
hometown. This means that he is credited with the reward of acts
of worship he has omitted because of his travel or his illness,
and would have done had he been healthy and at home.
The deficiency in womens reason is a reference to the provisions
that require two women witnesses in place of one man witness, and
allow a woman witness to be reminded of facts of the case by the
other woman witness. This is a privilege given to women over men.
When a male witness is found to be inaccurate, or forgetful, or
having a bad memory, the judge disqualifies him as a witness. But
a woman witness is not similarly disqualified because the other
woman may remind her. Thus, this provision gives the woman a privilege
and does not show her in an unfavorable position.
As for participation in public affairs, the Quran gives the
same position to both men and women. One aspect of such participation
that receives the strongest emphasis is that outlined by the Islamic
principle of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong.
In this, the Quran emphasizes that men and women are equal:
"The believers, men and women, are close friends to one another:
They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong; they attend
to their prayers, and pay their zakah, and obey God and His messenger.
It is on these that God will have mercy. Surely, God is almighty,
wise." (9: 71)