Women in Islamic Shariah Reviewed by Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray

Women in Islamic Shariah Reviewed by Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray | The Muslim World Book Review, 42:2, 2022

Woman in Islamic Shariah Reviewed by Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray

The Muslim World Book Review is a quarterly publication of the Islamic Foundation, Markfield,Leicestershire, UK. Its four issues are published in Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer.
This journal aims to present the Muslim viewpoint on books and issues which concern Islam and Muslims. At a time of near explosion in the growth of interest in these areas, accompanied by adisappointing level and quality of information, this review journal aspires to inform and stimulate lay readers and scholars alike, through detailed critical reviews, brief introductions and select bibliographies on recent and contemporary publications.
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Mawlana Wahiddudin Khan (d. 2021), Indian scholar, Qur’an commentator, ardent advocate of peace, interfaith dialogue, social harmony, and gender justice, is the author of more than two-hundred books on Islam and its diverse aspects, from the Qur’an, the Prophet’s biography (sirah), theology, morality, spirituality, non-violence and peace/peace-building to Islam and modern science and gender studies.

On the subject under study, the author has three significant books to his credit: Khatun-i Islam translated into English as Women between Islam and Western SocietyWoman in Islamic Shariah and Awrat: Miamar-i Insaniyat (Women: The Builders of Humankind) as well as many booklets such as Polygamy and IslamConcerning Divorce and Hijab in Islam.

Women in Islamic Shari[ah, which is gleaned and extracted from his Women between Islam and Western Society, consists of eleven chapters that discuss the status of women in Islam in the light of the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah, womanhood in Islam, the qualities of Muslim women, the rights and duties of the husband and wife in the first five chapters., The remaining chapters offer a detailed discussion on concepts and issues relating to divorce, polygamy, the dowry, hijab, etc., in the light of Islamic teachings and history. The book concludes with a chapter on “success in marriage”.

In his ‘Foreword’, the author quotes the statement of Edward William Lane (Selections from Kuran [Qur’an], London, 1982, p. xc) that ‘the fatal blot in Islam is the degradation of women”. For Khan, this ‘ill-considered observation gained such currency’ in the succeeding centuries that instead of having ‘elapsed since then’, it has so ‘deepened’ as ‘if it were an established fact’ (p. 11). Against this backdrop, he asserts that ‘to interpret the Islamic concept of womanhood as a ‘degradation’ of women is to distort the actual issue. Islam has never asserted that women are inferior to men: it has only made the point that women are differently constituted’ (Ibid.). This is precisely the main theme and thesis of this book.

Quoting many Qur’anic verses (like Q. 2: 228; 3: 195; 4: 7, 19, 124; 9: 71; 16: 97; 30: 21; 40:40) as well as Prophetic traditions related to women, Khan, in chapter 1, “Qur’an and Hadith”, affirms that both foundational sources of Islam ‘give detailed commandments regarding women, and also lay down clear guidelines for the relationship between men and women’ and they also ‘highlight the most important aspects of feminine virtues and the standing which a woman should have vis-à-vis her husband and father’ (p. 15). In the second chapter, “The qualities of a believing woman”, he refers to the ‘basic attributes of men and women’ as depicted in Qur’an 33: 35 and Qur’an 66. These are IslamIman (faith), Qunut (sincere obedience to God), Sidq (truthfulness), Sabr (patience), Khushu (apprehension, fear), Sadaqah (charity), Sawm (fasting), Ihsan (chastity), Dhikr (remembrance of Allah), and Tawbah (repentance), Ibadah (worship) and Siyahah (itinerancy), respectively (pp. 21–24). These qualities, taken together ‘constitute an ideal, not just for men, but for both sexes’ and they ‘form the basis of Islam’ as well (p. 25). In this chapter, he further asserts that as “men function on different planes of religiosity, so do women have their own separate spheres of religious effectiveness”; and besides the domestic sphere, it is possible for a “talented woman to further the cause of religion when the right opportunity presents itself” (pp. 25, 26). In this case, he cites the examples of A’ishah (RA) and the daughter of Imam Abu Jafar al-Tahawi and their contribution to sacred knowledge showing ‘the nature and extent of the contribution which can be made by believing Muslim women to the cause of Islam’ (p. 27).

Similarly, in the third chapter, “Womanhood in Islam”, Khan quotes Qur’an 4: 1, O Mankind, fear your Lord who created you from one soul and created man’s mate from the same soul, and demystifies the notion that ‘Eve was created from Adam’s rib’ in its explanation, saying that it is a ‘biblical explanation [Bible, Genesis, 2: 21–23], not a Quranic one,’, for there is not a single verse which supports this notion. On the contrary, the fact is that ‘Eve was created—not from Adam himself—but from the same species as Adam,’ as is elucidated in several verses like Qur’an 16: 72; Qur’an 30: 21; and Qur’an 42: 11, wherein the word for ‘Soul (nafs) has been used to mean “species”’ (pp. 28–29). He summarizes this discussion aptly in these words: ‘women and men are from the same species. Biologically speaking, women have not been extracted from the bodies of their male counterparts. God fashioned them according to His Will, just as He fashioned men in accordance with His Almighty Will and Power’ (p. 30). As for Prophetic sayings such as ‘women have been created from a rib’ and ‘a woman is like a rib, if you try to straighten it, it will break’, he is of the opinion that these should be ‘taken metaphorically, not literally,’ for they refer to ‘the delicacy of women’s nature’ (pp. 31, 33).

“The status of woman” is dealt with in the 4th chapter, and Khan stresses, in unequivocal terms, that in Islam ‘a woman enjoys the same status as that of a man”, as is evident from Qur’an 3: 195, You are members, one of another. ‘There is no difference between man and woman as regards status, rights and blessings both in this world and in the hereafter. Both are equal participants as far as the carrying out of the functions of daily living is concerned’ (p. 38). He further mentions that the ‘biological division of human beings into male and female is the result of a purposeful planning on the part of the Creator... Man and woman in the eyes of Islam are not the duplicates of one another, but the complements’ and the ‘Islamic precepts for men and women are based on their respective, natural constitutions’ (pp. 38–39).

Similarly, in the explanation of Qur’an 4: 34, Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has made some of them to excel others, Khan states that it is ‘an additional quality, and not a quality of superiority’ (p. 46), because the Arabic word Fadilah is ‘used in the scriptures to indicate the additional, masculine quality of protectiveness. For a household to be properly run, it should, of necessity, have a guardian. Guardianship is rightly entrusted to the family member who is best qualified to undertake this responsibility—namely, the husband, for protectiveness is a virtue which has been granted by nature in greater measure to men than to women. Far from mentioning absolute masculine superiority, the above quoted verse only implies that man is the master in the home because of the additional attributes with which he has been endowed by nature’ (pp. 46–47).

In the 5th chapter, the author highlights the contribution of some “Muslim Women” (pp. 49–78) in Islamic history, who have ‘played significant roles and, by their feats, have demonstrated not only the vast arena which Islam affords them for the performance of noble and heroic deeds, but also the exaltedness of the position accorded to women in Islamic society’ (p. 49). Here he refers to [A’ishah (RA) who is presented as a ‘woman of notable intelligence, whose intellectual gifts were fittingly utilized in the service of Islam’; the example of Mary, the mother of Prophet [Isa/ Jesus (AS) and Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (RA), the Prophet’s first wife, who are presented as ‘Two Remarkable Women’ who ‘subordinated their own wills to that of the Almighty’ (pp. 49, 50–51). In this chapter, he also refers to the examples of women of his own family who ‘in times of dire distress, were totally Islamic in their conduct’ (p. 70). All this is thus mentioned to reveal that the ‘position of women in Islam... is a matter neither of conjecture, abstract theory nor of ancient history ... [but] is a matter of actual fact’ (p. 69).

In the 6th chapter the author discusses the ‘rights of the husband and wife” (pp. 79–94) and argues that the ‘rights of men and women, in reality, are not a matter of legal lists, but rather a matter of good living’ (p. 93).

These are followed by a detailed discussion, in the light of Islamic teachings and historical evidences, on concepts and issues concerning divorce, polygamy, dowry, and Hijab in Islam in chapters 7 to 10, respectively.

The book ends with a chapter on “Success in marriage”, in which the author cites real life examples. He draws these conclusions: ‘The secret of a successful marriage is the ability to forge bonds of loyalty’ and ‘happiness in marriage is closely linked with awareness’ (p. 153–154).

Keeping in view the overall subject matter and the issues highlighted in this book, it is fair to say that Woman in Islamic Shari‘ah makes a significant contribution to this much hyped (but misconstrued) topic.

Tauseef Ahmad Parray

Government Degree College Sogan,

Kupwara, Jammu & Kashmir, India