April 24, 2001

Islam and the Elevation of Women’s Status

 


Many, upon hearing the title of this lecture, might assume it to be an
oxymoron because the prevalent idea, at least in the West, is that Islam does
not elevate the status of women, but that Islam oppresses and suppresses women.
So people might find the title in itself to be shocking or a curiosity at least.

As we all know, in the world today, there are – for the overwhelming majority
of humanity – basically two world views. These two views are often in conflict –
not only on the personal level where individual human beings are making choices,
but also on the international level in terms of the debate over the authenticity
and correctness of these two world views.

Difference of World-Views

The first world view, which I am sure most of us are aware of, is the Western
liberal view. A view which claims to draw its roots from the Judeo-Christian
tradition that probably, upon investigation, is more well rooted in the ideas
that appeared after the reformation; ideas that are rooted in secularism and the
world view that appeared thereafter during the ‘era of enlightenment’.

The second view is that of the Muslims – the Islamic world view – and this
view says that its roots and ideas lie in the revelation given by God (or Allah
in Arabic) to the prophet Muhammad (saw). Those who proclaim this view say that
it can be used by humanity during all ages and times, and that its relevance and
benefit is not restricted to a certain period of time, geographic area or
certain race of human beings. Likewise, the adherents of the first view, that of
Western secularism and the liberal tradition, believe that their world view,
ideas, culture and civilization are the best for humanity.?

Some of you might have read a book that came out a few years ago by an
American author of Japanese decent (Francis Fukuyama) called “The End of
Time”. He basically put forth the theory that human development in terms of
its ideas has concluded with this final period of liberal secular thought and
nothing more will come to humanity. However in his book he adds that that the
only part of the world which has not adopted this secular human view is the
Islamic world and proposes that there will be a conflict in terms of this
ideology in the Islamic world.

Issue of Women’s Status

With that brief introduction, one of the topics of contention between these
two worlds views, that of the secular liberal humanist in the West and the
Islamic tradition, concerns women. What is the position and status of women? How
are women looked to? Are women elevated in one culture and oppressed in another?

The Western view is that women are elevated only in the West and that they
are getting more and more rights with the passage of time, while their sisters,
they say, in the Islamic world are still being suppressed. The Muslims who they
encounter say that in actuality it is the Islamic system that provides the true
freedoms for men and women alike, and women in the West as well as men, are
deceived into an idea of freedom which really doesn’t exist. What I’d like to
discuss this evening is exactly how Islam looks to women. And therefore my
discussion will be more upon what we might say for the lack of a better term –
the philosophical basis – rather than the individual practices which vary from
one country to the other. How women are understood in Islam cannot be properly
understood unless one understands exactly what we might call the philosophical
basis or ideological understanding, since this is really a theological concept.

Women in the Western Tradition

First, let’s review how exactly women were thought of and understood in the
western tradition, to compare and contrast perspectives. We know that the
western tradition sees itself as the intellectual inheritors of the Greek
tradition that existed before the prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), and
so therefore many of the intellectual traditions of the West are found to some
degree in the writings of the early Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Plato and
so forth.

How did they look towards women? What were the ideas of Aristotle and Plato
towards women? When one reviews the works of these early Greek philosophers, he
finds that they had very disparaging views of women. Aristotle in his writings
argued that women were not full human beings and that the nature of woman was
not that of a full human person. As a result, women were by nature deficient,
not to be trusted and to be looked down upon. In fact, writings describe that
the free women in many aspects of the Greek society – except for the very few
women of the elite classes – had positions no better than animals and slaves.

This Aristotelian view of women was later carried on into the early Christian
tradition of the Catholic church. Saint Thomas of Aquinas in his writings
proposed that women were the trap of Satan. The issue of Adam and Eve added a
dimension to the earlier Greek ideas of Aristotle; women were the cause of the
downfall of man and therefore were Satan’s trap and should be looked at with
caution and weariness because they caused the first downfall of humanity and all
thus evil precedes from women. This type of thought was persistent within the
writings of the Church fathers throughout the Middle Ages. In their writings we
find this theme proposed in one aspect or another.?

However, after the Protestant reformation, Europe decided to free itself from
the shackles and chains of the Catholic church. Ideas which have been entitled
as the Age of Enlightenment or thought of as such, caused them to feel that they
needed to free themselves from many of these ideas. Some of these ideas were
scientific in nature (that the earth goes around the sun, instead of the sun
going around the earth), some theological in nature (as in the writings of
Martin Luther), while others were social in nature (like the position of women
in society). However, the writers of the Enlightenment still carried this basic
theme that was not much of a switch: women where not full human beings. French
writers during the revolution, like Rousseau, Voltaire and others, looked at
women as a burden that needed to be taken care of. This is why I believe it’s
Rousseau in his book “Emile”, which he wrote concerning the education
of women, proposed a different form of education for women based upon the fact
that women were unable to understand what men were able to understand.

Beginning of Feminist movements

This is the tradition that the West inherited and thereafter we find in the
1800’s the first writings appearing by women and some men calling for the change
of these ideas. And with this we have the origins of the first feminist
movements. One of the first books written was the “Vindication for the
Rights of Women” by Mary Walsencraft which appeared in the 1800’s.
Thereafter the tradition of women receiving certain rights came. The first of
these were basically legal rights because until the 1800’s women were not able
to own property and were not able to dispose of their wealth as men did. It is
very well known that the first laws that allowed women to own property in the
United States or in Europe appeared only in the last couple of decades of the
1800’s.

The Industrial Revolution was another impetus, another search, for this
feminist movement. Women in the Industrial Revolution, especially England, were
forced to labor for many hours in the coal mines and so forth, and would receive
no pay whatsoever compared to men. So therefore the first calling of the
movement was that people who work the same amount of hours deserved the same
amount of money or pay.

Finally a break occurred in this century of basically all which is understood
from the Western tradition. Coming from the latter feminist movement which
appeared after World War II, a new movement called for the emancipation of women
not only in terms of legal rights, but it also questioned some of the morals of
society and called for greater sexual freedoms for women and men alike. It
contended that basically a lot of problems were caused by the institution of
marriage and the ideas of family and so forth. People wrote concerning the need
to break from these.

Genders, not Sexes

And finally in the 1990’s, the prevalent argument in the West is that we
should discuss genders, not sexes. This idea was expressed recently in a book
which came out a year ago called “The Age of Extremes”. The author
discusses the idea that there is no difference between male or female and that
gender is so only due to environment. So therefore we can change the environment
so that men could take the roles of women and women take the roles of men by
changing the education and climate. This is where it has ended up now. So we
find in this 2500 year old western tradition, we come from the first extreme
which was expressed by the Greeks, where women were denied their essential
humanity, to this extreme expressed today where there is no differences between
the sexes and it is an issue of gender, climate and environment. This is, of
course, a very brief summary of the first world view. I didn’t do justice to
those 2500 years in just those few minutes, but it just gives us an idea.

The “Other” View

The other view which I would like to talk about in more detail is the Islamic
view. How does Islam look at the issue of women? Well, first of all, we should
understand that Muslims unlike, for instance, the Greek philosophers or the
French writers after the French revolution, do not feel that their concepts,
ideas and beliefs are those of fellow men. But rather they believe that what
they are taught, what they believe, what they practice, and all that is tied to
this, is part of a divine revelation given to them by God. And so, its truth and
veracity is not questionable because of it being revelation from God. The
argument is that God knows best that which He created. He created human beings,
He is a God of wisdom, and a God of all knowledge and so therefore He knows what
is best. And He decrees that which is best for humanity, His creatures.
Therefore, Muslims try to live by a code of law which is an expression of that
belief.

Now I don’t want to discuss the various details of the code of law because
that, I feel, would not really benefit us in this lecture. Although perhaps some
of that might come out in the question and answer session and I’ll be glad to
entertain any questions you might have. But what I would like to discuss is how
does Islam look at women, i.e. what is womanhood in Islam? Did Muslims believe
like the early Greek writers or early church fathers that women were not full
human begins? Did they feel that women where Satan’s trap, so therefore should
be shunned and looked at as something evil and dangerous? How did they perceive
women? Upon investigating into the traditions of Islam which is, as I said,
based on revelation known as the Qur’an, we find that it becomes very clear that
Muslims are taught that men and women share a single humanity – that they are
equal in their humanity and that there is no difference in the amount of human
nature in them. We might now take that for granted, but as I explained, the
initial western civilization was based on the fact that women were not full
human beings.

So this being something that was taught 1400 years ago was a revolutionary
idea in the sense that it is only within the last 100 years or so that the issue
of women being full human beings has come to be accepted in western intellectual
circles. Initially, women were not considered full human beings.

The Qur’an, in describing the origins of human beings, tells them, the
translation of which would be something like “O humanity! Verily we have
created you from a single male and a single female, and have made you into
tribes and peoples so that you may know one another. Verily the most honorable
of you are those who are most pious with God.” [49:13] This verse in the
Qur’an teaches that humans come from a single male and a single female. The
indication here is that the male and female in terms of their human nature are
at an equal level. Likewise another verse, from a chapter which is known in the
Qur’an as the chapter of Women – because most of the issues discussed there are
laws dealing with women – starts off with a verse which could be translated as
“O humanity! Verily We have created you from a single soul, and have made
from it its mate”, this is a reference to Adam and Eve, “and have made
from both of them many people, men and women, and scattered them throughout the
earth.” [4:1] So here again is the issue of men and women and all human
beings coming from a single source, a single family, a single set of parents.
This shows that women share in full humanity with men.

Likewise in the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (saw), which is the second
source of the Islamic religion, we find that the Prophet Muhammad (saw) said in
a Hadith that “Indeed women are the twin halves of men”. The Arabic
word shaqaa’iq which I translated as ‘twin halves’ means taking something
and splitting it in half. The understanding is that there is a single humanity,
a single essence which is shared, and there are twin halves of that – one is man
and one is woman. This is repeated often in the Qur’an. The words of the Prophet
Muhammad (saw) also emphasize this. As I said, this is a very important concept
to understand when one reflects on how traditional western civilization looked
at women as not being full partners and not sharing in humanity. Although now,
we might not find much surprise to that because it is a given perhaps that men
and women are full human beings. But this is something that is a late occurrence
in western traditions.

Deeper Meaning

Let us take it to another step, what is the aim of humanity? What is the
purpose for which human beings exist on earth, to what ends do they strive? What
will occur to them if they strive to those ends and what will occur to them if
they did not strive to those ends? Since Islam is a religion which sees itself
as revelation from God and the truth, Muslims would feel that human beings have
a set purpose here on earth; that in everything of God’s creation there is
wisdom. There is nothing of God’s creation that does not have any wisdom. There
is nothing for sport or play and so therefore human beings have a purpose, and
that purpose has been elucidated for them in the teaching of Islam. They were
created to worship God. A verse from the Qur’an says that “He has not
created human beings except to worship Him”. So therefore, the essence of
humanity is the same between male and female, and they also share the same aim
and that is to worship God. And that is the most important issue in the Islamic
culture and civilization.?

You know that Islamic culture and civilization is rooted in religious belief.
American civilization is rooted in what? In the writings of the founding fathers
of the United States of America. It is rooted in the Declaration of
Independence, the ideals which were placed therein. It is rooted in the
Constitution of the United States. It is rooted in some of the arguments between
monarchy or democracy which were written by some of the early writers or
founding fathers. So it is rooted in a political thought. Yes, it might have
some traditions which go back further and extend to certain ideas like in parts
of Christianity and so forth, but in its essence it is a political thought,
unlike Islam which is a religion in its essence.

The civilization of Islam, a civilization which is 1400 years old, is one
which is rooted in religion. For a Muslim the greatest aim is to serve God, to
worship God alone, and that is what the word Muslim means.

Muslim is not a racial description, it is not an ethnic category, a ‘Muslim’
is one who submits. Islam means submitting to the will of God – the voluntary
submission to God – so Islam is a religion of submission. Therefore, in the most
important aspect of the Islamic religion, we find that men and women share in
the same aim and are expected to have the same responsibilities, in that men and
women are both required or obligated to testify that there is none worthy of
worship but Allah alone – God alone – and that Muhammad is His Messenger. Men
and women are both obligated to pray five times a day, which is the second
pillar of Islam. They are obligated to fast the month of Ramadan. They are
obligated to make pilgrimage to Makkah. They are obligated to give charity. They
are obligated to have the same beliefs. They are obligated to have the same type
of morality and the same type of code of conduct and behavior.

Islam: breaking from religious traditions

Men and women share these essential ingredients of Islamic behavior, which
define a Muslim from a non-Muslim. And this is of extreme importance because it
breaks from the tradition of religions. For instance, fifty years before the
birth of the prophet Muhammad (saw), who was born around 560 CE, we find that
there was a gathering of bishops in France to discuss whether women possessed
souls or not, and that, if they do possess souls, what would be their purpose on
earth? Was it to worship God? And if they worshipped God, would they go to
paradise? In the end it was decided that, yes, women do possess souls – which
was a break from previous tradition – but that their purpose was not just to
worship God, but also to serve men.

In Islam, however, the basis of submission is not that women are submitting
to men, but that men and women together submit to God. So therefore, when you
read the passages of the Qur’an, it becomes very clear that the obedient from
among both the believing men and women receive paradise, which is the greatest
aim and objective in a Muslim’s life, and the basis of that civilization.
Likewise, those who are disobedient and who are renegades, and who do not want
to worship God also receive the same punishment whether they are male or female.
This is why throughout the Qur’an you find the wording addressed to both males
and females. The Arabic language like French has two types of verbs, one
representing the feminine and one the masculine. So in the Qur’an you’ll find
both categories of the human race, both sexes, being addressed. This you find
over and over and over. There is no need to now recite all these passages, but
they are there if anyone wants to know.

In summary we found three bases: that they share the same humanity, that they
have the same aim on this earth, and also, they expect the same reward, which is
the goal which they are working for collectively as human beings. And this is a
break as I said from the previous religious traditions and also political and
social understanding prevalent among the philosophers before the coming of
Islam. And as a result of that, we find that Islam accorded women rights which
perhaps we take for granted now, but were given by God to men and women some
1400 years ago. These rights like the right to own property, the right to
dispose of property according to their own wishes as long as they follow the
laws of the religion of Islam, which apply the same for men or women and the
right to certain – what we would call now – political rights, like the right to
enter into a treaty with combatant, are something very recent (relatively
speaking) in the West.

Accordance of Women’s Rights

One of the rights given by Islam in the time of the prophet Muhammad (saw)
was that if a woman gives a treaty to a combatant from a non-Muslim attacking
force, her treaty would be considered as was the case with a female companion of
the Prophet Muhammad (saw). In the Christian church, these companions would be
called disciples for instance. The disciples of the Prophet Muhammad are the
Companions as they are called. They were in the hundreds and thousands not just
twelve as with Jesus Christ, and there are both men and women amongst them. When
the prophet Muhammad came to Makkah, one of the women companions by the name of
Umm Hani, who was an inhabitant of Makkah and a believer in the Prophet Muhammad
(saw), accorded certain relatives of hers protection that they would not be
harmed. Her brother who was one of the main companions of the Prophet Muhammad
and married his daughter, Ali bin Abi Talib, wanted to execute two of these men
who were known for harming the Muslims and fighting against them. So Umm Hani
went to the Prophet Muhammad and complained that she had accorded them
protection and the Prophet recognized her giving protection to those two
individuals.

This is what we might call, in the classification and terminology that we now
use, a political right. In the sense of according protection for another person
during the state of war is something which is relatively new in the West and was
a known tradition in the Islamic world 1400 years ago.?

Likewise, in terms of what we might call public participation, there are
certain acts of worship which are public acts of worship in Islam, and there are
certain acts of worship which are private. One of the public acts is the
pilgrimage, when men and women all make pilgrimage, and this is one of the
pillars of Islam. Likewise another public act of worship is the two ‘Eid prayers
which occur twice a year, once after the pilgrimage and once after the pass of
Ramadan. Men and women both participate in that publicly. Likewise, we have a
verse which shows that the social contract between men and women is the same in
Islam. This verse might be translated as the following: “And the believing
men and women are,” what we might translate as “awliyaa
(the word in Arabic for friends or allies or supporters of one another).
“They”, meaning men and women, “enjoin that which is
correct” i.e. they commend that which is correct, “and they forbid
that which is evil”. And this is a corrective process in society, removing
evil and commending that which is good. And then “they perform the
prayer”, both men and women, “they pay the alms”, or the charity
to the poor, “and they obey God and His Messenger.” And then God shows
them the reward and that they are those upon whom God will have mercy and God is
Almighty and All-Wise.

So in this verse, we find that the social contract between men and women, as
individuals in the society, is the same, that they both go for the highest goal
of bidding or commanding that which is correct, forbidding that which is evil,
and that they share in the two major acts of worship, which are the prayer and
giving charity. They share in the beliefs and obedience to God and obedience to
the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and likewise, they share in the reward in the end of
obtaining Allah’s mercy. This is a very important concept, which is in
contradiction with what the western tradition is upon today, and that is as I
said as a result of the initial extreme of the Greek philosophers that women did
not share in humanity. As the result of that extreme another extreme occurred,
that there is no difference between men and women.

Setting the record straight

So therefore, the idea of having ‘genders’, which is a term not used in a
biological sense, as we might use the word ‘sex’ in a biological sense for male
and female, but the understanding today is that the traits that define maleness
or femaleness, the social traits and so forth are determined by upbringing,
culture, and environment and that there is no inherent difference in the way men
and women think or act or what their make up is and so forth. And that is why
they use the term gender.

This extreme resulted from the initial extreme that occurred 2000 years ago,
when the Greek thought that the women did not posses humanity. So as a result of
this 2000 year processes we now come to another extreme – at least this is what
Muslims would say – this extreme now is that men and women are the same, that
there is no difference.

Islam, although confirming that men and women do share in the same essence of
humanity, also confirms that men and women are different. But does this
difference mean that men are inherently good or women are inherently evil? No.
And this is why when you look at one of the verses in the Qur’an that sheds
light on this aspect, God says, recounting His creation, that He is the One Who
created the night, as it envelops, as it comes – if you look at the horizon, it
comes like a sheet enveloping the horizon – and He is the One Who created the
day as it comes bursting, shining, – that is how Sun rises and He is the One Who
created male and female. And then the next verse says, verily, what you strive
for – human beings are into different ends, diverse ends – some strive for God’s
pleasure, some strive for disobedience of God, some strive to do good to humans,
some strive to do harm, different ends. But what is the example here? God
mentions night and day and then mentions male and female. The understanding is,
yes, night has a purpose, and in the Qur’an you always find verse after verse,
describing that night has a wisdom behind it. And also it tells humanity that
had it been only night and no day human beings could not live on earth. And this
is now shown scientifically that if it was only night and there was no sunlight,
certain hormones of body would not be able to reproduce and human beings would
die. Life as we know it on earth would not exist. And likewise, day has its
wisdoms behind it. But can one argue and say, that night is good and day is
evil? No, and no Muslim would believe that. And can one argue and say that day
is good and night is evil? No. Likewise, male and female also have their roles
to play. But can one say that the role of men is inherently good and the role of
women is inherently evil? No. And can one say the opposite to that – the role of
women is inherently good and the role of men is inherently evil? No. But they
both have a role.

Balanced and Defined Roles

This is the main contention now between western thought and Islamic belief.
Western thought has basically accepted, except for maybe some few corners
perhaps in the Vatican or so, that men and women share in their humanity and
that they are the same. Muslims have believed this for 1400 years. But the
difference is that in western thought, as a reaction to the initial thought that
women did not share humanity fully, the argument is that the roles of men and
women in society are only defined by culture, environment and upbringing,
therefore there is really no true role for men and no true role for women and
that we can switch this, if we just teach the society correctly. But in Islam
there is a defined role for men and a defined role for women. Who is the one who
defines this role for men and women? It’s their Creator. This is the major, if
you want to use the term philosophical, even though it is an inaccurate term in
that sense, but we can just use if for the lack of better term, philosophical,
ideological or theological difference between the two opposing arguments.?

Now with that said, it is important to understand that when Islam gave these
roles to men and women alike, it put responsibilities equal to obligations to
both. I will give you an example for that: Islam senses that women have the
nature of mother not by cultural tradition or by sociological system but
inherently are better in providing and taking care of the offspring, that there
is a bond there which goes beyond tradition. A psychological bonding, a physical
bonding, something which is more than just traditions of human beings. As a
result of that, it has placed greater responsibilities upon women towards their
children than those of men.

At the same time, the obligations that children have towards their mother in
Islam is greater than they have towards their fathers, and this is why when the
prophet Muhammad (saw) was asked by a man one was his companions “Who
should I befriend in this world?” The prophet Muhammad (saw) replied
“your mother.” And then the man asked a second time, and the prophet
replied your mother, and then a third time, and again he replied your mother,
and on the fourth time, he said “your father”. Likewise in the Qur’an
we find that it tells human beings that your mother bore you from one hardship
to the other hardship, talking about the labors and difficulties of pregnancy
and childhood, and then fed you for two years, suckled you, and tells us to be
kind to our parents and reminds us of our mother first before our fathers.

The point is that even though it has defined a role for women with the
children which is different than the role of the father, at the same time it
gives women honor and respect from their children which is greater than that
received by the fathers. The fathers do receive respect and their honor, they
are not just thrown out of the picture, but it is given to them and according to
the degree of their responsibility. And likewise, because the mother inherently,
not just because of cultural tradition, has something inherent which makes that
bond greater between her and her child then the male. She receives a greater
honor and respect from the child and at the same time she is required to give a
greater obligation.

I only gave that as an example to show you that while Islam recognizes
differences between the sexes, it does not accept the concept that gender is
just an issue of upbringing or cultural traditions, for there are inherent
differences in males and females, and as a result of that the obligations and
responsibilities of each of the two sexes are together. Imported from that is
another matter that even though men and women are different, they are not in
opposition to one another, which is the basis of much of the western thought and
especially of feminist traditions. That there’s a struggle between men and
women, “There is a battle of sexes”, as it is sometimes said in the
popular sort of designation. This doesn’t exist in Islam. Men and women work in
tandem, just like day and night revolve, and you live in day time and you live
in night time. You cannot live only in night, and you cannot live only in day,
likewise, men and women are not against one another, they are not pitted against
one another but rather they share in the same aim, the same purpose of being,
the same humanity. They have different roles, but these roles complement one
another and are needed by one another in order for the success of humanity, not
in this world, but also in – of course, since Muslims believe in it- the
hereafter, which is the ultimate goal for Muslims.

Present Condition

Now, I would like to make one final comment and then I’ll leave it open for
questions. Let’s look at the applications of both of these programs. We
discussed a lot of ideas, thoughts and beliefs and historical concepts, but when
they are actually applied, which of the two view points is more successful.
Which brings more bliss to humanity? Is it the secular western view or is it the
Islamic view? And I have a concrete example which I’d like to share with
you.?

When I was in Beijing this last summer for the “4th UN World Conference
on the Women”, there was a platform for action which was being discussed by
the different nations and organizations there. The aim of the platform for
action was to upraise, uplift, and to better the status of women around the
world, which are of course noble and correct aims, there is no contention
concerning that. The platform for action was divided into different areas of
concentrations, such as poverty, health, finances, conflicts and violence and so
forth, and one of it was the girl child. The 12th issue of the 12 concerned
areas for the platform for action, the girl child, the status of girls – future
women – in the world today. The country which was hosting the conference, China
is known for the practice of killing girls. The reason why is because of their
population. You can only have one child per couple and Chinese by their
tradition view males as lesser then females and so as a result they will usually
kill the female child, in hope that the wife gives birth to a boy next.

This is an issue which exists and because the hosts were the Chinese, the
United Nations didn’t really want to get into this issue. They didn’t want to
talk about it because it was not politically correct to address that issue in
China. Moreover, even though they might have passed certain regulations,
platforms for actions and certain commitments which they have required of
citizens of the world to follow, they at the end will see that perhaps in
twenty-five to fifty years the status of the world child will not have markedly
improved.

We can see from other things, one of the major issues which the United
Nations was created for after World War II, was the slaughter of so many million
human beings, six million Jews in Europe, and yet fifty years later, in the year
of the fiftieth celebration of the UN, a genocide has taken place in Europe of
the Bosnians. All the human rights, all of the declarations in the last fifty
years has not been able to change anything on the ground.?

The Solution

Now when the prophet Muhammad (saw) was sent to the Arabs, the Arabs had the
same practice. They used to kill their girl children. The Arabs killed their
girls for a number of reasons, most of the time due to poverty. Being a desert
people without industry or any sort of means of trade, existence was very
minimal. And as a result, out of fear of poverty they would kill their girl
children, and they would bury them alive. This is a fact which is mentioned in
the Qur’an and was well known during the time of the prophet Muhammad (saw). God
condemns in the Qur’an with verses, the idea of killing of the girl child, the
burying in the ground, and also the attitudes of the Arabs towards girls. One
verse in the Qur’an says that: “When he is given the good news that his
wife is given birth”, God calls it a good news, “to a female child,
his face becomes blackened and he becomes ashamed. Will he hide the fact that he
has given birth to a girl and not tell the people, because he feels it as a
shame? Or will he bury it in the ground?” This is a condemnation of the
practice of the people. And likewise the companions of the prophet Muhammad
(saw) before they accepted Islam, many of them killed their girl children. One
man came to prophet Muhammad (saw) and said I killed ten of my daughters in my
lifetime, will I receive paradise? For will God accept my repentance for this
sin, now that I have left this pagan religion of before, worshipping idols and
killing girl children and so forth. Within one generation, within 23 years this
was how long the prophet was amongst the Arabs, the practice of killing girls
ended. It no longer existed in Arabia. And likewise, it didn’t just stop like
that, but a change in attitude came towards women, in educating them and making
morally upright people.

People receive no other reward, but paradise. Again that is the greatest aim
for the Muslim and that is their motivation and reason of being. So Islam not
only tried removing the negative aspect of murdering girls, but also included
the positive aspect of educating girls and raising them in society, and this
brings me to my final point. This is something of course which we can look at
the previous declarations of human rights or whatever, irrespective of whether
these being true or false, but they have not been able to achieve the aims which
they have stated. As the example of human rights and the UN in Bosnia shows.

Examples of Greatness

Fifty years after the creation of the UN, there is no change in Europe, the
same land which killed six million Jews. The same genocide of the Bosnians
occurs fifty years later by the same people who started the UN. They are unable
to stop their own from this matter, and with this I come to my final point, that
I would like to leave you with. Islamic civilization unlike any other
civilization is based, of course on revelation, but it is in its essence
supported and founded by women. The first person to believe in Prophet Muhammad
(saw) was his wife Khadeejah, and it was through her money and through her
support of him, her financial backing, and also her encouragement that the
prophet was able to spread the message of Islam in his first year of prophecy.
The pagans did not have the ideas of freedom of religion, that you can take your
own beliefs. This was not practiced by the pagans of Arabia – they saw this as
an insurrection, they saw this as a changing of their ways, so they sought to
stop it out by torture, by killing and by all other means that they could. And
likewise, they tried to stop the Islamic revelation, this tradition, when the
prophet Muhammad (saw) converted only the people of Arabia.?

But as you know there are about one billion Muslims in the world. They are in
every single continent of the world, even in Beijing where the UN was convening.
There was a mosque there which is over a thousand years old. And the
neighborhood that lives there is about forty to fifty thousands Muslims. Now the
king’s palace, the forbidden city in front of Tien Anh Man square which many of
you have heard of, is only 500 years old. This shows how the growth of Islam and
the sprit of Islam is not just a Middle Eastern phenomenon or an Arabian
phenomenon but extends to all people and races throughout the world.

Where is this teaching from, of course when prophet Muhammad (saw) died after
twenty three years, Islam had only spread in Arabia. This religion of Islam was
basically spread by four or five individuals who had the most in teaching. One
of them was the prophet’s wife ‘Aisha. She is among the most to have narrated
his statements and likewise she is amongst the three, four, five who have mostly
given religious pronouncements, who have given religious verdicts, explained
what these verses in the Qur’an meant or what the words of the prophet meant.

Look at any other civilization in the history of humanity, you will not find
a women playing a role in its establishment where it can be attributed to her
efforts for its establishment. The Greeks – look at the philosophers Plato,
Aristotle and others – all were men. The early church fathers writings were
basically men and until today the idea of women scholarship is limited in some
areas of the church. The French writers at the French revolution and Voltaire
and the Russians were men. The founding fathers of the United States were men,
and also other civilizations are basically based upon men.?

Islam is the only civilization which is known by humanity where a leading
input in terms of its transmission and establishment was based upon the efforts
of women. Central – and this is an historical matter which is not open to
interpretation, it is a fact – these are the people who transmitted these
teachings these are the people who supported it hereafter. Those are just some
thoughts and impressions concerning how Islam uplifted women.

(courtesy of http://www.islam.org.au)

Leave a Comment