Look at the evidence
Prophet Muhammad and women's rights
By Persia Lover
January 28, 2001
Yesterday my Arab friend and I had an argument over the idea of "Islamic
Feminism" which has found some supporters in our country, Iran. My
friend believes that Prophet Muhammad was, in his own time, a supporter
of women's rights.
Given the historical and cultural background of Arabia at the time of
the Prophet, she believes the Prophet had the guts to prohibit the burying
alive of newborn girls, which was common practice among Arabs at that time,
and had the courage to take in matrimony a woman who was a trader, another
a warrior. Moreover, he made the education of women a sacred duty and gave
them the right to own property.
She believes that the darker aspects of Islam regarding women (such facts
as females are alloted half the inheritance of males; women's testimonies
in court are worth half that of men, husbands can beat their wives for insubordination
in bed, ...) are man-made rules that should not be attributed to Islam.
I remember from my high school years in Iran that in our "History
of Islam" class we read about the Prophet who had taken a man captive
in a war and after realizing that the man had a very beautiful daughter
he released him in return for taking his daughter as his concubine. In my
mind, I find it difficult to resolve these contradictions in attitude towards
Did the Prophet prohibit the killing of female children to take them
as his concubines later in life? Or was he really feeling sorry for the
poor Arab girls? In order to provide more ammunition for my argument that
feminism and Islam are contradictions that cannot be reconciled I went to
the local library to find out more about Islam's position on the issue.
To my amazement I found that the Prophet sometimes even appeared as a
devout misoginist. Look at the evidence:
According to Al-Bukhari (SAHIH AL-BUKHARI Vol. I, which is considered
by Muslim scholars to be the undisputed compilation of the prophet,s tradition
and the most authentic book after the Book of Allah), after the Prophet
learned that the Persians had named a woman to rule over their country after
the death of Kisra, Abu Bakra heard the Prophet ask: "Who has replaced
Kisra? The answer was: "They have entrusted power to his daughter.
Here the Prophet said the Hadith: "Those who entrust their affairs
to a woman will never know prosperity. This probably refers to 628 AD at
the time of the wars between the Persians and the Romans. After Heraclius
invaded Ctesiphon and the Persian King Khusro Parviz was assasinated there
was a period of instability between 629 AD and 632 during which two women
were among the various claimants to the Sassanid throne.
Another Hadith quoted in SAHIH AL-BUKHARI (Hadith No. 301)goes: "Allah's
Apostle once said to a group of women : 'I have not seen any one more deficient
in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious, sensible man could be
led astray by some of you.' The women asked: 'O Allah's Apostle, what is
deficient in our intelligence and religion?' He said: 'Is not the evidence
of two women equal to the witness of one man?' They replied in the affirmative.
He said: 'This is the deficiency of your intelligence' ... 'Isn't it true
that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?' The women replied
in the affirmative. He said: 'This is the deficiency in your religion.'"
Another such Hadith reads that: "Women are ungrateful to their husbands
and are ungrateful for the favours and the good (charitable) deeds done
to them. If you have always been good (benevolent) to one of them and then
she sees something in you (not of her liking), she will say, 'I have never
received any good from you." (SAHIH AL-BUKHARI, Vol. 1 Hadith No. 28).
In another Hadith we read that: "A woman is a toy, whoever takes
her let him care for her (or do not lose her). (Tuffaha, Ahmad Zaky, AL-MAR'AH
WAL- ISLAM, Dar al-Kitab al-Lubnani, Beirut, first edition, 1985, p. 180).
In MISHKAT AL-MASABIH the role of women has been encapsulated in the
following Hadith: "The prophet of Allah said: When a man calls his
wife to satisfy his desire, let her come to him though she is occupied at
the oven." (Mishkat al-Masabih, English translation, Book I, Section
'Duties of husband and wife', Hadith No. 61).
There is another such revealing Hadith that goes: "If a woman offered
one of her breasts to be cooked and the other to be roasted, she still will
fall short of fulfilling her obligations to her husband. And besides that
if she disobeys her husband even for a twinkling of an eye, she would be
thrown in the lowest part of Hell, except she repents and turns back."
(Tuffaha, Ahmad Zaky, AL-MAR'AH WAL- ISLAM, Dar al-Kitab al-Lubnani, Beirut,
first edition, 1985, p. 176. It is also quoted in AL-MUSANAF by Abu Bakr
Ahmad Ibn 'Abd Allah Ibn Mousa Al-Kanadi who lived 557H., vol. 1 part 2,
Another Hadith has it that somebody asked the Prophet: "'O Messenger
of Allah ! What right has the wife of one among us got over him?' He said:
'It is that you shall give her food when you have taken your food, that
you shall clothe her when you have clothed yourself, that you shall not
slap her on the face, nor revile her, nor desert her except within the house.'"
(Sunan Ibn Magah, Kitab al-Nikah, Hadith No. 1850).
Female slave-holding and having sex with female slaves was also endorsed
by the Prophet. It is reported in the SAHIH AL-BUKHARI of Imam Ismail Bukhari.
He said "[in a battle] we captured some female slaves with whom we
practised coitus interruptus. we asked the prophet, he replied, "You
may practice it This is reported three times.
Even in the Quran we are told that: "And it is for the women to
act as they (the husbands) act by them, in all fairness; but the men are
a step above them." (Q. 2:228) "Men have authority over women
because Allah has made the one superior to the other."(Q. 4:34). The
Quran says that: "Righteous women are therefore obedient ... And those
you fear may be rebellious [nushuz] admonish; banish them to their couches,
and beat them." (4:34).
There are numorous comments made on these Quranic verses and the Prophet,s
Hadith indicating that women are considered as sex objects and second-class
citizens in the world of Islam. Suyuti, commenting on Q. 4:34, (in MISHKAT
AL-MASABIH, English translation, Book I, Hadith No. ii) writes that "There
are three persons whose prayer will not be accepted, nor their virtues be
taken above: The runaway slave until he returns back to his master, the
woman with whom her husband is dissatisfied, and the drunk until he becomes
Commenting on the Qur'anic verse Q. 30:21 which states "And of
His signs is that He created for you, of yourselves, spouses, that you may
repose in them" Seyyed Razi observes: "His saying 'created for
you' is a proof that women were created like animals and plants and other
useful things, just as the Most High has said 'He created for you what is
on earth' and that necessitates the woman not to be created for worship
and carrying the Divine commands. We say creating the women is one of the
graces bestowed upon us and charging them with Divine commands to complete
the graces bestowed upon us, not that they are charged as we men are charged.
For women are not charged with many commands as we are charged, because
the woman is weak, silly, in one sense she is like a child, and no commands
are laid upon a child, but for the grace of Allah upon us to be complete,
women had to be charged so that they may fear the torment of punishment
and so follow her husband, and keep away from what is forbidden, otherwise
corruption would be rampant." (AT-TAFSIR AL-KABIR, Razi, Commenting
on Quran 30:21).
After compiling my evidence (which also came as a shock to myself) I
went back to my friend. She was dumbfounded. She tried to reason me into
believing that my documentation was faulty. Perhaps she did not quite know,
until I gave her the evidence, how far Islam has gone in humiliating women.