GENDER ISSUES: Women in Islam and Muslim Society - Part I

Hasan al Turabi

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Women in Islam and Muslim Society - Part I

by Hasan al Turabi

by Sheila Musaji

Dr Hassan al-Turabi is a leading figure of the International Islamic Movement and one of its most influential thinkers.  He is an expert in Islamic thought and jurisprudence.  He has been a leader in the Sudanese Islamic Movement since the 1960’s, and during the 60’s and 70’s was imprisoned several times for his Islamic activities. 

In April of 1991 he was elected Secretary General of the Arab and Islamic Congress by delegates from 55 countries.  He has served Sudan as Speaker of the parliament, Attorney General, Minister of Justice, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Deputy Prime Minister.

Dr. al-Turabi received a degree in law from the University of Khartoum in 1955.  He received his Masters Degree in law in 1957 in London, and his Ph.D from the Sorbonne in 1964, after which he was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Khartoum.

I was fortunate to be able to visit Sudan to attend the 2nd Annual Conference of the International Organization of Muslim Women in December, 1992, and had the opportunity to hear Dr. al-Turabi speak at the conference and in a gathering at his home.  He is a forceful, inspirational and dynamic speaker, and I was very pleased that the topic of his talks was WomenӒs Rights, and that in 1992, after the Islamic Revolution and the establishment of Shariah he has not changed his position on this subject from the position he (courageously) first took in 1973 when he first published this essay.

This essay has been very influential in encouraging Sudanese Muslim women to actively and enthusiastically participate in the Islamic movement.  When I was in Sudan I was impressed by the active Muslim women that I met.

This essay has also had a profound effect on my own thinking and motivated me to do a lot of research.  I believe it to be a significant document that should be widely read, thought about, discussed and put into practice.  We have obtained permission to reprint the entire text, and hope that our readers will also find it thought provoking.



Throughout history,  Muslims have experienced a significant deviation from the general ideals of life as taught by Islam. It is, therefore, not at all surprising that their loss is equally great in the area of social guidance which Islam offered regarding women. Whenever weakness creeps into the faith of Muslim men they tend to treat women oppressively and seek to exploit them. This is natural and is amply demonstrated by the fact that most of the rulings of the QurԒan regarding women were sent down as restrictions on at men with a view to preventing them from transgressing against women, as is their natural disposition and their actual practice in many societies. Only a few of the Quranic injunctions impose restrictions on women.

We here quote some of those rulings that guarantee a fair deal for women.

“When you divorce women and they fulfil the term of their Iddat, then retain them in kindness or release them in kindness. But do not retain them to prejudice them or to take undue advantage. Do not take the revelations of God as a laughing matter. Remember God’s grace upon you and that which he has revealed upon you of the scripture and of wisdom to exhort your. be pious and know that God is aware of all things. When you divorce women and they fulfil their term do not prevent them from marrying their former husbands, if they agree on equitable terms. That is an admonition for him among you who believes in God and the day of judgement and God knows, but you do not know”. (Al-Bagarah, 231).

“O you who believe, it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will [by maliciously retaining them captive in formal marriage till death], nor to put constraint upon them to take away part of what you have given them unless they be guilty of flagrant lewdness. Consort with them in kindness for if you hate them it may happen that you hate something wherein God has placed much good”. (Al-Nisa, 19).

“When they have fulfilled their term, there is no blame on you if they [women] dispose of themselves in a decent and reasonable manner. And God is well aware of what you do” (Al-Bagarah, 234)

Most if not all of the verses of the QurҒan regarding oaths (of abstinence from sex), divorce and Iddat (term of transition) were revealed to bring an end to the oppressive traditions and customs of the day, according to which a woman was retained in formal marital captivity and for long periods of time while her fate remained in suspense. The same is true of the verses concerning inheritance which restored rights which had been denied to her by guaranteeing her a definite share. Other verses were revealed which criticized the pessimism and dejection that used to attend a female birth and the abominable practices of female infanticide. The Quran says,

“When any of them receives the tidings of the birth of a female his face becomes dark and he is filled with sulkiness. He keeps hiding from people because of the unfortunate news, [wondering] whether to hold on to it as a contemptible thing or just bury it in the soil. O! what a foul judgement”. (Al-Nahal, 58-59).

“When the [female] buried alive will be questioned: for what fault was she murdered?” (Al-Takwir, 8-9).

There are furthermore, many traditions of the Prophet (*) which warn menfolk against meting out an ill-treatment to women (e.g. beating or detaining them). The Prophet said, “None of you will flog his wife like a donkey and later towards the end of the day have intercourse with her”. (Bukhari). He once warned: “A large number of women have come to me complaining about their husbands. Those husbands are not the best amongst you”. (Riad Us-Saliheen). The Prophet’s traditions encourage the Muslim to care for the good upbringing and education of women, and for their well-being in general: “The best of you is one who is best towards his family and I am best towards my family”. (At-Tirmithy). “None but a noble man treats women in an honorable manner. And none but an ignoble man treats women disgracefully”. (At-Tirmithy).

Weak commitment to religion tends to cultivate unjust and hostile treatment of women. For unlike man, a woman is created and brought up gentle and delicate. Performance of her natural functions keeps her away from the toughening experience of everyday public life. Man, uncultured by religion, tends to oppress her as is common in many a human society. Men purposefully attempt to keep women weak, and the jealousy which they entertain in respect to women induces them to multiply the means for restraining and monopolizing them. They dominate the property and life of women out of vanity and arrogance.

Male jealousy is but one aspect of masculine capricious tendencies (which only godly men are immune from) and which inculcated the myth that women, by nature, suffer from excessive incapacity. Men use that fantasy as an excuse to ban women from active participation in the broad spectrum of human life and to deprive them of experience and training - thereby devitalizing and debilitating them in fact. and creating a reason for further ill-treatment and prejudice. These male tendencies and the customs and cultural patterns growing out of them, are manifest in many societies where male arbitrariness runs amok with no religious or human limitation.

Take, for instance, the Arab, Persian and Indian Societies. Although the message of Islam spread in these societies from early times, the teaching and inculcation of Islamic cultural values was not coextensive with the horizontal expansion. Consequently some pre-Islamic values and prejudices have continued to persist, despite the domination of Islamic forms. In some cases there was manifest historical religious decline and a relapse to pre-Islamic social ethos and mores.

This phenomenon has sometimes occasioned an even more serious development. New or degenerate Muslim societies would sometimes, out of ignorance, attribute their un-Islamic legacy or custom to Islam itself. By attaching an Islamic value to these practices they sought to give them legitimacy and sanctity, because the values of Islam were accepted as sacred and supreme. This explains the unabated influence on the minds of many otherwise good Muslims of attitudes abhorrent to Islam.  This is especially true in the sensitive area of sex relations where passion is strong and custom is sacrosanct.

Many later juristic rules and stratagems have been adopted to qualify the Sharia to suit cherished customs and traditions. For instance,  express provisions of the Sharia are sometimes compared and contrasted, not to give relative effect to all, but to claim the abrogation of provisions purporting to extend rights, immunities or liberties to women; or to restrict their general scope almost to a vanishing point. Another tricky approach is to read liberally and broaden the scope of rules granting authority to men, while reading literally and strictly those imposing limitations on women. This discriminatory attitude of interpretation is very widespread. Yet another aspect of this tendentious jurisprudence is to generalize the provisions of the QurҒan and the Sunna that were meant to apply exclusively to the Prophet or his wives due to their unique position.

But the most popular anti-feminist argument derives from the abuse of the juristic principle that means and preliminaries assume the value of their ends and results.Ӕ Thus the maximum precautionary prohibitions have to be observed to bar approaches to sexual temptation and avoid its undesired consequences. But the proper jurisprudential judgement in the absence of an express provision is to balance (in consideration) the risks of temptation with the positive merits of the integration of men and women in Muslim society, and not to forfeit all freedom for some necessary reserve in social intercourse.

The traditional Muslim Society, which is over-impressed by its historical decline, had developed a general preference for circumspection and cautiousness over the demands of positive pursuits. It has become unduly conservative for fear that freedom of thought would lead astray and divide the community; and that freedom of women would degenerate into licentious promiscuity.  This fear is so prevalent that the basic religious rights and duties of women have been forsaken and the fundamentals of equality and fairness in the structure of Muslim Society, as enshrined in the Sharia, have been completely overlooked.

Pseudo-religious arguments have been advanced for justifying a complete metamorphosis of the patterns of social life initiated by the Prophet (*) himself under the guidance of the Quran. The most popular is the claim that the magnificent QurҒanic and Sunnic regulations had relevance for the virtuous society which prevailed during the Prophet’s own life. Later however, it is argued that people have changed and corruption became the order or succeeding societies and latter days. Hence the necessity to correct this degenerative tendency by adjusting the norms of social conduct in the sense of greater circumspection. This is a liberal manner of interpretation that underlines the spirit and purpose rather than the letter of the law, in order to allow for a progressive application thereof. But this is not the prevailing manner of thinking among Muslims who advance conservative views on female affairs. They are normally very literal in their understanding of texts; but they tendentiously opt for an understanding that suits their prejudice. Islam is not a matter of a single rule that can be flexibly understood; it is a whole order of norms that establish the entire way of life or social structure of Islam, and is not liable to variation.

Furthermore, the claim is based on a pious but excessive overvaluation of the society of Madinah. In fact not all its members were like the rightly-guided companions of the Prophet; some elements were hypocrites or new converts not yet free of Jewish or pre-Islamic Arabic influences and manners. The very verses of the Quran that prescribe proper dress for ladies refer to the presence of hypocrites and rumor-mongers (Al-Ahzab 59-60). Whatever the comparative character of our present-day society the proper reform policy is to reshape it after the example of the Sunnie society by changing its deviant ways and re-establishing Islamic Social practices and institutions now in disuse. It is not sound social policy to submit to the dominant ways of the de facto historical society and then to forsake Islamic institutions in an attempt to save some of the ideals in that alien social context.

The thought and practice of Muslims have come lately to misrepresent most of the doctrinal and normative teachings of Islam on female affairs. The female is hardly ever religiously addressed except through the mediation of the male and as an addendum to him. In the fallen society of Muslims, a woman has little freedom to marry the person she likes, or to separate from a husband she loathes. Nor is she, as wife, entitled to full consultation and gracious companionship by her husband. In many cases she hardly enjoys an equal opportunity to earn and own property, or the full capacity to manage her property or to dispose thereof. All sorts of subterfuges are employed to deny her inheritance. Her role in private life has been reduced to that of a housewife chosen not for her personal merit, for she was denied the education or the opportunity to acquire merit, but for the merit of her menfolk.

In the domain of public life she is not allowed to make any original contribution to the promotion of the religious quality of life. Whenever she was allowed to work towards the material development of life that was likely to be in a context of exploitation or as mundane work with little spiritual satisfaction or significance.

The greatest injustice visited upon women, is their segregation and isolation from the general society. Sometimes the slightest aspect of her public appearance is considered a form of obscene exhibitionism. Even her voice is bracketed in the same category. Her mere presence at a place where men are also present is considered shameful promiscuity. She is confined to her home in a manner prescribed in Islam only as a penal sanction for an act of adultery. She is so isolated on the pretext that she might devote herself exclusively to the care of her children and the service of her husband. But how can she qualify for attending to domestic family affairs or to the rearing of children in a satisfactory manner without being herself versed through education or experience, in the moral and functional culture of the wider society?


The traditional customs and practices developed by the historical Muslim Society could not endure long in the face of challenges posed by alien cultures and unconventional patterns of life.  These external influences are represented mainly in the ideological inroads of western civilization which has swept through the whole of the Muslim World. The cultural domination of Muslims by the West has shattered their confidence in almost the whole legacy of ideas, Islamic and traditional. Furthermore Muslims have imbibed and assimilated cultural attitudes and modes toward women which appear very liberal.  This trend of women’s liberation constituted a serious temptation for the downtrodden Muslim women, especially those who are unaware of the actual teaching of QurҒan and Sunna.

The Western liberal tendency has itself been a revolt against a sickly religious tradition which maltreated women in ways which closely resembled the aberrant traditional ways of the Muslims. In early European society women were not equated with men in humanity or religion, in fundamental rights or obligations, nor in legal capacity or social consideration. The revolt of the new European society against religion and convention was universal. It was in particular a complete departure from the absolute homogeneous and monotheistic order that once prevailed under the authority of the Church. Society became secular and humanistic in its values and therefore heterogeneous and free, pursuing no single ultimate end in life and tending to nonconformism and libertarianism. Thus, politics, economics, science and arts - all became free and autonomous. Likewise the petrified traditional forms of social life relating to sex relations and conduct broke down towards promiscuity, permissiveness and sexual indulgence. Like power, pleasure, knowledge and beauty, sex almost became an object of total uninhibited devotion. As a consequence the woman, once again, began to lose her primacy and autonomy as a human being, to become an object for physical pleasure and commercial promotion. Her purpose in life became more to realize her femininity than to fulfil her humanity. She would fake her natural physical aspect by all sorts of artificiality and cosmetic treatment or surgery: and waste her energy, wealth and time simply to maximize her seductiveness in the eyes of men. She would dress up, adorn herself and go out simply to attract, charm and excite, by her tempting nudity, beautiful form, sweet scent, delightful colors and sex appeal. This she would do to invite the fixed attention of men, to entice some to seek her privacy. Similarly the man, when overcome by the wanton pursuit of carnal pleasure would relate to women only as a male, and would affect looks and conduct simply to attract them. He might waste all energy and wealth in satisfaction of his base desires. The privacy of sex is thereby shattered in society, matrimonial relations are subverted and the institution of family is undermined as the special stable milieu for nursing, rearing, and educating the child.

This way of life has now become almost universal in the West; but some aspects of it have swept over most of the modernӔ sectors of our Islamic societies, just as much as economic materialism and political secularism have spread to break some Muslims loose of their solid religious moorings and thereby to weaken the norms of social control in their life. This was brought about by the dominance of western culture and the debility of the Muslim society that has become prone to adulteration and blind imitation.

On the other hand, economic and social developments in Muslim lands have precipitated the destruction of the old social order. That order, with all its conventions and traditions was rooted in the past and could not withstand the change of circumstances. Neither man nor woman was holding on to the values of the past consciously, it was merely a legacy received from historical custom giving way to the practices and developments of new times. Religion was hardly present in people’s minds, and then only as a cultural value to sanctify custom. Anyway, religious values were waning as religious institutions which used to promote them became dated and died away.

As consciousness of the growing economic needs spread in the impoverished society of Muslims, and as they became less resistant to material temptation and more deprived of the close social ties of economic solidarity, the strong pressures for a better life swept away the reservations of the past. Fathers and husbands came to encourage daughters and spouses to go out, not in pursuit of knowledge or good works, but to earn a living and supplement the family income. Women took advantage of this new-found experience and power to assert their freedom from the vanity and authority of men. This was not so much a full choice of a new and better way of life, but a liberation from the old order: a revolt against control and a fancy of the permissive model of the West.

Furthermore, increased urbanization brought more people into a new and impersonal social context with little of the close community ties of acquaintance, kinship and solidarity, that used to cultivate regard for the norms of public decency or for family honor.  These were a deterrent to acts of indecency and ignominy. The crowded urban conditions brought about much more direct contact and, as a result, many occasions for temptation between men and women. The old-time institution of ‘harem’, the barrier of female privacy, was dismantled for practical considerations, with no compensating development of personal piety or moral barriers. The new urban attitude was one of indifference and emancipation. in lieu of the previous considerate, reserved attitude.

Under the impact of cultural change and alien domination, the traditional society of Muslims is falling apart. No lamentations by conservatives over the changing times or tenacious clinging to the past will save much. The fate of the traditional way of Muslims would not be different from that of the European old orderӔ when its theoretical and material foundations collapsed and new social values and structures were ushered in by the revolution. If conservatives hold on to rigid customary forms of the past and fail to direct the process of change according to Islamic guidance, the change will come to pass all the same; and even faster and more tragic than in the case of Europe, if only because the European example has become so compelling.

A revolution against the condition of women in the traditional Muslim societies is inevitable. The Islamists are urged by their own ideals to reform the traditional society and to close the gap between the fallen historical reality and the desired model of ideal Islam.

This is even more urgent with respect to the present state of women. Contemporary social trends in an ever closer world require an early initiative to take the direction of change in hand before it takes its free course, when the alien trends take root and are assimilated, and it becomes too late to undertake right-guided Islamic reform. The Islamists should beware of an attitude that seeks refuge from the invading liberating western culture in the indigenous past as a lesser evil that should be preserved with some accommodation. Conservation is a wasted effort. The Islamists are worthy of the leadership of the movement of women’s liberation from the traditional quagmire of historical Islam, and that of their resurgence towards the heights of ideal Islam. They should not leave their society at the mercy of the advocates of westernization who exploit the urgency of reform to deform society and lead it astray. The teachings of their own religion call upon Islamists to be the right-guided leaders for the salvation of men and women, emancipating them from the shackles of history and convention, and steering their life clear of the aberrations of mutative change.


In the religion of Islam, a woman is an independent entity, and thus a fully responsible human being. Islam addresses her directly and does not approach her through the agency of Muslim males. A woman would assume full capacity and liability once she has attained maturity and has received the message of Islam.

Moreover no woman is said to have truly accepted the message of Islam unless she does so out of original and independent will. Admission to faith is entirely a personal matter; indeed, faith cannot be adopted by proxy. Nor does a woman become a Muslim merely because of her relationship to father, husband or any other male. All Muslims used to present their oath of allegiance to the Prophet (*) personally and independently. Women, just like men, would come to the Prophet (*) and pledge their own allegiance to Islam and the Prophet.

God Almighty commanded the Prophet (*) in the following words: “O Prophet! when women believers come to you to make a covenant with you that they will not associate anything with God, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their own children, nor slander anyone, nor disobey you in any fair matter, then make a covenant with them and seek God’s forgiveness in their favour. Indeed God is extremely Forgiving and most Merciful”. (Al-Mumtainah, 12).

Male and female relatives may assume different stands over the religious option. For instance, a woman like Fatima the daughter of Al Khattab, embraced Islam although her brother Umar was still an unbeliever. Ibn Abbas is reported to have asked Umar about the manner in which he embraced Islam. Umar said, “three days after Hamza had embraced Islam, I went out of my house, to meet by chance a man of the Makhzumi tribe whom I asked: Do you prefer Muhammad’s faith over that of your own forefathers?ђ The Makhzumi said: One who is more closely related to you than myself has also done soђ. I asked him, who it was. Your sister and your brother-in-lawђ, replied the Makhzumi. I hurried back and found the door of my sister’s house bolted from within; and I heard some humming inside. Later, when the door was opened, I entered the house and asked: What is it that I am hearing? My sister replied: You heard nothingђ. We were exchanging words when I struck her on the head, whereupon she stated defiantly: We do that whether you like it or notђ. I was filled with remorse when I saw her bleeding, and said to her: “Show me the scripture”. Umar narrated the whole incident. (Al-Isabah Fi Tamyeez Al Sahaba, by Ibn-Hajar Al Asqalani, hereafter cited as Al-Isabah).

Similarly a woman, like Umm-Habiba, the daughter of Abu Sufiyan, embraced Islam, though her father was still a pagan. When Sufiyan went to Madina, he visited his daughter, Umm-habiba, then wife of the Prophet Muhammad (*). He was about to sit on the Prophet’s bed but his daughter did not allow him to do so and rolled up the mattress. Abu Sufiyan, who felt grieved at her attitude, said to her, “Was it that the mattress is not worthy of me or that I am not worthy thereof”? Umm-Habiba curtly replied to her father, Abu Sufiyan, “But this is the Prophet’s mattress, and you are an impure polytheist, I did not want you to sit on it.” When he heard that, Abu Sufiyan felt annoyed and reprimanded her, “During my absence something has gone wrong with you.” (Tabagat, Ibn-i-Saad).

A Muslim woman might have a husband who was still an atheist. Take, for instance, Zainab, the daughter of the Prophet himself (*). She was married to her maternal cousin Abu Al-A’s bin Al Rabee. She entered the fold of Islam though her husband held on to his original religion. In the battle of Badr, he fell prisoner of war. Zainab, however, offered a ransom for his release. He was, therefore, allowed to go free on the engagement that on his return he would let her free. Consequently, when he returned to Mecca, Zainab migrated to Madina. Her husband, Abu Al-A’s, however, once again fell in the hands of Muslims as a prisoner of war. On this occasion Zainab provided him with asylum, and took him under her own protection. He finally returned to Mecca to settle his business and then embraced Islam.

Umm-Saleem bint Mahan was another such lady. She married Malik bin Al Nadir before the advent of Islam but was among the earliest converts to Islam. Her husband, Malik disapproved of that rather furiously and went to Syria to die there. (Al-Isabah)

Umm-Hani bint Abi Talib was married to Hubairah bin Amr. She was the daughter of the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib, and embraced Islam on the occasion of the conquest of Mecca. This change of religion separated her from her husband, Hubairah, who fled to Najran. (Al-Isabah)

Hawa bint Yazeed was yet andther woman who acceded to Islam and patiently endured distress and torture at the hands of her husband, Qays bin Al Hateem, who was also a well-known poet. The Prophet (*) happened to meet him in the market (Souq dhi’l-Majaz) and asked him to embrace Islam. He claimed that since he was too busy with war, he had little time to consider the proposal. The Prophet (*) said to him, “I have been told that you are not treating your wife, Hawa, nicely ever since she renounced your religion. So fear God and in this matter keep me too in regard, don’t bother her.” He promised to oblige; then went to his wife and said to her, “O Hawa, I met your fellow Muhammad, who asked me to bear him in mind in matters concerning you. I swear by God I shall do so, I would leave you alone and do you no harm.” She, then, declared her faith which she had so far kept secret. People talked to him about the matter, but he refused to do her any wrong. (Tabqat).

Another woman, Umm-kulthoom bint Ugba bin Abi Mait embraced Islam, though her whole family were still holding on to their original polytheistic religion. She migrated to Madina. Ibn Ishaq, a well-known historian, said that Umm-kulthoom migrated to the Prophet at Madina while the peace settlement of Hudaibia was still operative. In fact she was the first lady to follow the Prophet (*) to Madina. She left Mecca unaccompanied by any one. Her brothers, Amara and al Waleed went to the Prophet (*) and asked him for her repatriation as provided in the agreement between the Prophet and Quraish at Hudiabiya. But the Prophet refused to extend the terms of the agreement to women. (Tabqat).

A woman could singly adopt Islam and suffer from torture for that. Harithah bint Al Muammil, the sister of Umm-Ubais who was known as Zunairah Al Romiyah, was a slave girl. She was among the earliest believers in Islam and was one of those women who were tortured for their faith. Abu Jahal used to beat her severely; so did Umar before he embraced Islam. After embracing Islam the poor woman suffered so much torture that she lost her sight. The Meccan polytheists used that misfortune as an excuse for stigmatizing her for embracing Islam. They, used to say, “al Lat and Al Uzza (two deities which the Meccans used to worship in the holy Kaba) have rendered you blind”. But she would always say, “They are lying, by the truth of God these idols bring no benefit nor harm.” She ultimately recovered her sight.

Sumayah bint Khubat, a martyr, was the mother of Ammar bin Yasir, and was the seventh person to embrace Islam. The Al Mughira clan used to torture her. People used to pass by and witness her being tortured by the side of her son and husband in the hot sands of Mecca. The Prophet (*) would console her by saying, “O the Yasirs, bear this suffering patiently, for God has given you the promise of heaven”. She was aged, and weak too. Abu Jahl was also among those who used to torture her. She succumbed to the excessive torture and died to become the first person ever to suffer martyrdom in Islam. (Al Isabah)

Umm-habibah, the daughter of Abu Sufiyan was a lady who in exile firmly held on to Islam while her husband had converted to Christianity. Her husband Ubaid-ullah bin Jahash migrated to Abyssinia, along with his wife to escape persecution for their Islam. But there he renounced Islam and adopted Christianity, the religion of the Abyssinians. He tried to persuade her to do the same, but she steadfastly held on to Islam on top of all the suffering which as an exile she had to bear. (Tareekh Al Tabari)

Muslim women, on the strength of their unshakable personal faith, used to work for the propagation of Islam. many of them helped to promote the cause of Islam within their respective family circles, through discussion and debate. Arwa bint Abdul Muttalib was one such lady who used to support the Prophet (*) and to argue in his favour. She always urged her son to help the Prophet (*) and to do whatever he asked him to do. Another such lady was Um Shuraik who used to move secretly among the ladies of Quraish to solicit and convert them to Islam. She had converted many before she was exposed. The people of Mecca warned her that she would have suffered but for her kin. (Al Isabah)

Among Muslim ladies were some who invited their suitors to embrace Islam and made that a precondition for marriage. Umm-Saleem was one such lady. She said to Abu Talha, who asked her hand in marriage, “By God one like you can not be rejected, but you are a polytheist and I am a Muslim Woman. It is not at all lawful for me to marry you. If you embrace Islam, I would take that as my dowry from you”. Anas bin Malik is reported to have said that Abu Talha had proposed to Umm-Saleem before embracing Islam. So she said to him, “Abu Talha don’t you know that the God you worship grew from the earth”? Abu Talha replied, “Yes, indeed”. She would then say: “Don’t you feel ashamed to worship them? but if you embrace Islam I won’t ask you anything else in dowry”. Abu Talha asked her to wait till he looked into the matter, and went away. Later he returned and proclaimed, “There is no deity but God and Mohammad is his messenger”. Thereupon Umm-Saleem cried out, “O Annas arrange the marriage of Abu Talha”. And he married her. (Al Isabah)

If embracing Islam by a woman is an entirely personal matter in the Islamic tradition and can not be done through proxy, so are all obligations and duties which Islam enjoins on her. No one else can do them on her behalf. She performs her acts of worship purely on the basis of her own intention; and as such these are treated in Islam as her personal achievements. For God has proclaimed, “I do not allow the achievement of a worker, from amongst you, whether he be male or female, to go to waste. You all belong to one another”. (Al-Imran 195). “A male or female, who is a believer and performs good deeds, we shall give him a goodly life. And ultimately a fine reward for what they had been doing”. (Al Nahal 97)

On the basis of her own action, a woman earns reward or punishment. No man is allowed to plead or intercede for a woman, nor is he held responsible for her actions and their consequences. The doctrine of ultimate accountability does not take the family as a unit for collective responsibility; rather, each individual male or female, is an autonomous unit of reckoning in front of God, and is held directly responsible for his or her actions or his or her share in joint acts. “For, on the Day of Judgement, every one of them will come to Him singly”. (Maryam, 96)

The judgement in the hereafter may not necessarily bracket husband and wife together; neither can relieve the other of his charge or appropriate his due. Nor will a believer be treated unfairly merely for his sex. God treats all mankind on an equal basis. “The Day a man will run away from his own brother, his own father, his own wife and his children. On that day every one will be in a state which will engross him completely”. (Abasa, [35-38])

The individuality of a woman is a principle of religion, “For the disbelievers, God gave the example of Noah’s wife and Lot’s wife. Both of them were under two of our righteous bondmen. Both acted disloyally towards them, but (their esteemed husbands) could in no way protect them from God. And both were commanded to enter the fire (of hell) along with all others following the same course. And for those who believed, God gave the example of Pharaoh’s wife, when she prayed: “O Lord, put up for me a home in heaven, and save me from the Pharaoh and his practices and save me from the transgressing people”. And Mary the daughter of Imran who guarded her chastity, wherein we breathed of our Spirit. And she attested to the commandments of her Lord as well as his scriptures, and was one of the truly devout. (Al Tahreem, 10-12)


The verdicts of Islamic jurisprudence are simply practical expressions of the dictates of the faith. Women, according to Sharia, are counterparts of men. In Islamic jurisprudence, there is no separate order of regulations for women. There are, however, a few limited secondary regulations where a distinction is drawn between the two sexes.. But the Sharia (or Islamic law) is essentially the same, and its general rules are common for both sexes.  It is addressed to both without any distinction. The underlying presumption in the Sharia is that gender is immaterial, except where the text makes the distinction or where proof can be adduced to that effect. Thus, personal religious obligations are the same for women as for men.

Women and men have to observe the general religious standards relating to personal conduct, social dealings and moral behavior (e.g. honesty, integrity, genrosity, righteousness, etc.). Islam does not provide different moral codes for men and women. Even in matters of public life women are expected to do their part and endure the sufferings of life as patiently as men are supposed to do. They too are expected to show solidarity with the community of believers and to forsake the comforts of their home and hearth to migrate to the state of the Muslims, to wage jihad with them, and to promote the well-being of their society. In all these matters there is no distinction between Muslim men and women. For God has proclaimed, “And the believers, men and women, are allies, of each other, enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong, establishing prayer, giving alms and obeying God and his messenger. As for these God will have mercy on them, God is Mighty and Wise”. (Tawba, 71)

Women have an equal opportunity and incentive to share in every aspect of religious virtue: “God has got ready forgiveness and tremendous rewards for the Muslim men and women; the believing men and women; the devout men and women; the truthful men and women; the patiently suffering men and women; the humble men and women; the almsgiving men and women; the fasting men and women, the men and women who guard their chastity; and the men and women who are exceedingly mindful of God”. (Al Ahzab, 35)

Tradition has it that Umm-Salmah said to the Prophet, “O Messenger of God! The Quran speaks of men but does not speak of us, women”. As a consequence, the above-cited verses of the QurҒan were revealed.

Islam assigns a Muslim woman a due role to play in discharging collective responsibilities which preserve the essence of the religious society in general. She must, therefore, assiduously apply herself to fulfil her part; for if all Muslims neglect to discharge these collective responsibilities, then each Muslim (man and woman) will have to answer for that default.  Some special obligations like financial maintenance of the family, compulsory attendance at group prayers, and general conscription for war are too onerous for most women because of their child rearing responsibilities. . Islam has relieved women from these responsibilities as long as Muslim men can sufficiently attend to them. That does not mean that a woman is barred from doing any of these things. She may very well participate in all such activities even when there is no dearth of men to do them. However if men are not fulfilling their due obligations in this regard, it would be her duty to compensate their default or complement their effort.

No one and nothing in Islam may stand in the way of a woman contributing to the general good and competing for religious achievement. The equal personal responsibilities of women in Islam are evident and clearly established. That collective duties are commonly borne by men and women is shown in the practice of the Prophet (*), who commanded women to act charitably and give for the sake of God, and in that women used to respond.

In his collection of authentic traditions, Al-Bukhari narrates on the authority of Ibn-Abbas, who said: “I attended the prayer of Eid-ul-Fitr along with the Prophet, (*) and Abu Bakr and Uthman. They offered the prayer before the sermon. Later the Prophet (*) delivered his Eid address and then moved ahead making his way through the people, till he reached the ladies, accompanied by Bilal. The Prophet (*) read out the following verse from the Holy Quran:

‘O Prophet, when believing women come to you to offer their oath of allegiance that they will not associate any thing with God, nor will they commit theft, nor indulge in fornication, nor murder their children, nor slander any one, nor disobey you in whatever that is fair, do accept their oath of allegiance and beseech God to forgive them. Indeed God is the most Forgiving and most Kind’”. [Al Mumtahinah, 12]

“When the Prophet had finished with these verses, he said to them: ‘Are you all committed to that? One of the ladies replied, (while others kept silent), ‘yes’. The Prophet (*) did not, at that time. know which of them did so! The Prophet (*) went on to ask them to make their donations. Bilal spread out his shirt and they all dropped their rings, studded with precious or ordinary stone)”.

Throughout the period of the Prophet’s ministry, women used to offer their prayers, even the early morning and late evening ones, along with the congregation
“I (the Prophet) like to prolong the prayer but when I hear a child weeping I make it shorter for I loathe to make any inconvenience to the child’s mother”. Similarly, Muslim, another prominent authority on traditions, narrated in his own collection of authentic traditions: “If your women ask for permission to visit the mosques, do allow them to do so”. On the authority of a report by the Prophet’s wife, Sayiadh Aishah, it is stated that the Prophet (*) used to offer the morning prayer whence the ladies would disperse completely covered in their dresses and they could not be recognised in the darkness. (Bukhari)

Muslim Women also used to participate in military expeditions bringing water to the thirsty combatants, treating the wounded, and carrying them to safety, and sometimes engaging in active warfare. The QurҒan refers to this and other exploits of men and women, “And their lord responded to them: I suffer not the work of any worker male or female to be lost. You proceed one from another. So those who fled and were driven forth from their homes and suffered harm for my cause and fought or where slain, verily I shall remit their evil deeds and shall bring them into gardens underneath which rivers flow as a reward from God, and God offers the fairest of rewards”. (All-Imran, 195)

Even the Prophet’s own wife, Sayidah Aishah, actively participated in such military services. Anas stated, “In the Battle of Uhud when the Muslims were routed and were put to flight from the Prophet, I saw how Aisha bint Abu Bakr and Umm-Saleem were extremely busy carrying waterskins on their backs and emptying them into the mouths of the Muslims”. (Bukhari)

There were other prominent ladies who equally participated in the war effort: Umm-Sinan Al Aslamyiah, and Ummyah bint Qais (as reported by Tabaqat). Hamnah bint Jahash was one of those ladies who pledged allegiance to Islam and participated in the battle of Uhud, bringing water to the thirsty, transporting the wounded to safety and giving them the necessary treatment. (Al Isabah). Al Rabee bint Mua’weth, also known as Laila al-Ghifariah, used to accompany the Prophet (*) in his military campaigns, treating the wounded and looking after the sick. (Al-Isabah). Bukhari gives the following report from her: “We were with the Prophet (*), giving water to the thirsty, treating the wounded and bringing the dead bodies of the Muslims to Madina”. Umm-Dhahhak bint Masoud also accompanied the Prophet in his military campaign of Khaiber. The Prophet gave her the same share of spoils there as he gave to man. (Al-Isabah)

Safyiah bint Abdul Mattalib, too, was one of those women who actively participated in the battles: “When the people took off for the military campaign of Al Khandaq, the Prophet (*) placed his women in a small fortress called Fari, and Hassan bin Thabit was also left with them. Later a Jew came and climbed up the fortress till he was in a position to command a full view of all. Saifyah belted herself around the waist, took a pole and descended upon him striking him with the pole till he died”. (Al-Isabah)

Nusaybah bint Ka’b is another lady who witnessed the battle of Uhud. She intended to bring water to the wounded, but she in fact took an active part in the fighting, and on that day brought great havoc to the enemy and wounded twelve of them severely. When the Muslims pulled back and exposed the Prophet, she stood her ground firmly in his defence. (Tabaqat). The Prophet (*) appreciated her much and praised her. When she heard the news that her son Habib was killed in battle, she swore either she would die in front of Musailamah, or kill him. She participated in the battle of Al Yamamah along with Khalid bin Al Waleed. Her son Abdullah, too, was with her. He was killed in battle while she as well lost one of her arms. (Al-Isabah)

Another case is Umm-Haran bint-Malhan. The Prophet (*) went to the daughter of Malhan and stood by her side and then laughed. She said to him: “Why are you laughing, O Messenger of God?” The Prophet (*) said: “Some of my people would sail on the Green Sea (the Mediterranean) for God’s sake”. She said to him: “Please pray that God may include me with them”. The Prophet (*) prayed for her. (Bukhari). About Umm-Saleem bint Malhan, Sahih Muslim reports that, in the battle of Junain, she had a dagger which she carried about.

From the preceding exposition, it is evident that in defense and other collective duties and obligations of public life Muslim women may participate. But they are not duty-bound to do so, except when the urgency is such that their participation becomes mandatory. The Mother of Believers, A’yishah, is reported to have requested the Prophets (*) permission to participate in Jihad (fighting). The Prophet (*) said to her, “Hajj is your Jihad”.

According to Ibn-Batal, a commentator, the tradition of A’yishah mentioned above proves that participation in fighting is not binding on women, but the statement that Hajj is their Jihad does not bar them from volunteering for Jihad. Bukhari seems to express the same opinion.

On the basis of the uniform principles of Islamic jurisprudence, a Muslim woman enjoys the same capacity and freedom enjoyed by a man. She too can propose to a man for marriage, orally or in writing, she can freely choose her spouse, reject a suitor she does not like or obtain divorce from an estranged husband against his will. But a male relative normally formalizes the marriage contract, and marriage dissolution or divorce on a woman’s initiative is only granted by a judge.

Umamah bint Abi’l-As was one lady companion of the Prophet (*) who proposed for marriage in writing. She sent a message to Al Mugheerah bin Naufal saying: “If you feel you stand in need of us then proceed forth”. He then sought her hand in marriage from Al Hasan, her cousin, who duly solemnised the marriage. (Al-lsabah)

An account about Sahal bin Saad Al Saidi in the books of authentic traditions tells about a Muslim woman who proposed verbally to the Prophet (*) himself. She told him: “I present myself to you”. She then waited for quite some time while the Prophet kept looking at her. A man said to the Prophet: “If you don’t need her please marry me to her”. The Prophet (*) asked him: “Do you have anything to offer as dowry?” The man replied: “I don’t have anything except this loin cloth”. The Prophet (*) said to him: “If you give her your loin cloth you will remain without one, look for something else”. The man said: “I can’t find any”. The Prophet (*) then advised him, “Try to find even an iron ring”. He tried in vain. The Prophet (*) finally asked him: “Do you know anything from the QurҒan (learnt by heart)?” The man replied: “Yes, such and such Surah of the Quran”, and he named the Surahs. The Prophet (*) then declared: “I solemnize your marriage with her with whatever verses of the QurҒan you have as dowry”. (All Six Reporters of Tradition)

Regarding the making of marriage proposals to women, one may read the provisions of the Quran about proposing to a woman whose husband has died, while she is spending the period of transition, “Iddah”. God says, “There is no harm to you if you make a hint of an offer of betrothal to women or hold it in your hearts; God knows that you cherish them in your hearts. But don’t make a secret engagement with them, except in terms indirect and honourable, nor resolve the bond of marriage till the term prescribed is fulfilled. And know that God knows what is in your hearts. So take heed of Him. And know that God is most forgiving and most forbearing”. (Al Bagarah, 235).

Regarding the freedom of marital choice of a woman, one may read the provisions of the QurҒan about not preventing a woman, by force, from marrying: “And when you divorce women, and they fulfil the term of their Iddat, either take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms. But do not take them back to prejudice them or to take undue advantage thereof. Whosoever does that, indeed, he harms his own self”. (Al Bagarah, 232).

The Prophet (*) ordered that a woman should not be married but with her own authority and consent. The Prophet (*) ordered: “Do not marry a non-virgin except on her instruction, nor marry a virgin except with her permission; and her silence may go for permission”. (Bukhari). Whether a girl is a virgin or not, the Prophet (*) would not allow their marriage under compulsion. Ibn-Abbas stated that a virgin girl came to the Prophet (*) and told him that her father had got her married without her approval. The Prophet (*) gave her complete freedom to choose whichever course that pleased her. (Reported by Abu Dawoud, Ahmed, and Ibn-Majah). Another girl came to the Prophet (*) and complained that her father had married her to his nephew against her wish, the Prophet gave her the choice of rejecting the marriage. But she said to the Prophet (*), “I endorse what my father did, but I wanted to show women that parents have nothing to do in the matter”. (Ibn-Majah).

The dissolution of marriage and the grant of divorce by the judge on the wife’s application is normal practice in personal law. A wife can have whatever creed of scriptural religion at variance with her Muslim husband without any compulsion. She can and should acquire any education without any limit or hindrance. It is reported that Prophet (*) strongly recommended the good education of girls. Abu Bardah Ibn-Abi Musa quoted his father as saying that the Prophet (*) said, three people will be doubly rewarded by God. Any one from among the people of the scriptures who believed in his own Prophet as well as in Prophet Muhammad (*), a slave who endeavors to meet his obligation towards God as well his masters and anyone who has a slave girl and strives to educate her and teach her well and then gives her freedom and marries her. (All the six reporters of tradition). It is worthy of note that women attended the general assemblies for learning held by the Prophet (*).

Women are entitled to full freedom of expression of their proper views. Sayidah Ayishah is famous for going all-out to advance her juristic opinions. Muslim ladies used to venture their views in the presence of the Prophet (*) as well as his successors, the Caliphs. Ibn Al-Jauzi narrated the virtues and merits of Umar bin Al-Khattab (God bless him) in the following words: Umar forbade the people from paying excessive dowries and addressed them saying: “Don’t fix the dowries for women over forty ounces. If ever that is exceeded I shall deposit the excess amount in the public treasury”. As he descended from the pulpit, a flat-nosed lady stood up from among the women audience, and said: “It is not within your right”. Umar asked: “Why should this not be of my right?” she replied: “Because God has proclaimed: ‘even if you had given one of them (wives) a whole treasure for dowry take not the least bit back. Would you take it by false claim and a manifest sin’”. (Al Nisa, 20). When he heard this, Umar said: “The woman is right and the man (Umar) is wrong. It seems that all people have deeper insight and wisdom than Umar”. Then he returned to the pulpit and declared: “O people, I had restricted the giving of more than four hundred dirhams in dowry. Whosoever of you wishes to give in dowry as much as he likes and finds satisfaction in so doing may do so”.

According to Islamic jurisprudence a woman is competent to own property and dispose of it in any manner. The Sharia generally provides for an equitable and fair role for women in the economic life of Muslim society. Just as much as they share in the management of family affairs, they can contribute to the support of the family, although they are not legally bound to provide maintenance. A woman can share outdoor work with the man to earn a common living. Asma bint Abu Bakr is said to have narrated that when Al Zubair married her, he had no land property, nor a slave, nor anything else, except a camel and a horse. She said: “I would give fodder to his horse, draw the water, patch his water skin, knead the flour. I was not good at baking and preparing bread; but I had some sincere Ansar neighbour ladies who used to help me with the baking. I used to bring, on my head, fruit kernels from the land which the Prophet (*) had given to Al Zubair. That land was at a distance of three farsakhs (about ten miles). One day I was on my way home with a load on my head when I met the Prophet with a number of Ansar. the Prophet (*) asked me to ride, behind him on the camel, but I felt shy of joining the company of men. The Prophet (*) realised that I was feeling shy and, therefore, continued his journey without me. Later I came to Al Zubair and told him how I met the Prophet (*) with a company of Ansars, and how I declined his offer when he bade the camel to kneel so that I might ride behind him. I told Al Zubair I felt shy and remembered your jealousy over your self-respect and honour. On hearing that account Al Zubar said, ‘By God your carrying fruit kernels is far more distressing for me than riding the camel with the Prophet’. Later Abu Bakr sent me a servant to save me the trouble of looking after the horse and I felt as if I had been relieved of the bondage of slavery”. (Bukhari).

Muslim couples are supposed to cooperate and consult over matters relating to their family, even after divorce. “Mothers shall breastfeed their babies for two complete years, if a father desires that the term be completed. The father of the baby shall provide them food and clothes in the established manner. None shall be charged more than his capacity. No mother shall be prejudiced with respect to her child, nor father with respect to his. The same is the responsibility of them. If both spouses decide, by mutual consent and consultation, on weaning, there is no blame on either. If you want to have your babies breast fed by a foster mother you are not doing anything blame-worthy provided you pay to the foster mother what you had agreed to offer, in accordance with the established manner. Fear God and know that God is aware it what you are doing”. (Al-Bagarah, 233).

In an Islamic Society women also take part in the appointment of officers responsible for the public affairs of society. This may be done either through the process of election or consultation. The account of the Shura process following Umar’s death firmly establishes this matter. Muslim ladies participated in that general consultation. Ibn Katheer, the historian, told, “then Abdur Rahman bin Auf undertook to consult the people about (the candidates) Uthman bin Affan and Ali bin Abi Talib. He was collecting and collating the general opinion of the Muslims through their leaders. he consulted them singly as well as collectively; privately as well as publicly. He even reached to the Muslim ladies in their privacy”. (Al Bidayah Wa-‘Nihayah).

The tradition of early Muslim Society was for women to attend all public meetings and festivals. Authentic reports about life with Prophet (*) give account of women going to attend the two Eid (festive days) prayers. Even those who were excused from prayer, would also come to attend the congregation. Hafsah, the Prophet’s wife (God bless her) is reported to have said: “We used to forbid young girls to go out to attend the Eid prayers. But a woman came to visit and stayed in Qasr Bani Khelf, and told about her sister, whose husband had participated in twelve military campaigns of the Prophet (*), her sister took part in six thereof”. She said: “We treated the wounded and looked after the sick. I asked the Prophet (*): would there be any harm in not going out if we do not have julbabs (wide loose gowns)?” The Prophet (*) replied, “Let her friend lend her a julbab so that she may attend the blessed occasion and the preaching of Islam”. Hafsah went on: “when Umm Salma came I asked her (to confirm): ‘Did you hear the Prophet (*)?’ she replied, ‘Yes indeed I heard him say: all girls, young, screened or in their monthly periods should go out to attend the Eid congregation and witness the blessedness and publicity of social Islam. The menstruating ladies should however stand by during the prayer’”. Hafsa asked: “The menstruating ladies too?” she replied: “Don’t you see that they attend the congregation in Arafa for pilgrimage?”. (Bukhari).

Another aspect of women in Apostolic society was revealed by an account of Sayidah Ayishah about how she attended a spectacle of the Ethiopians: “By God the Prophet was by my chamber’s door while the Ethiopians were showing their spear games in Al Haram. The Prophet (*) covered me with his shawl so that I may too watch their feats. I was watching them from behind his shoulder. He would pose there for my sake till I choose to break off”. Ayishah suggests: “you should fully appreciate a young girl’s interest in fun”. (Bukhari).

Excepting those specific tasks of public life which are obligatory on men and only voluntary to women, male Muslims in an Islamic Society have no exclusive prerogative or specialization.  They have no power or authority over women except in the context of conjugal relationship. That relationship itself is established and dissolved with the consent of the female party, and should be conducted in a spirit of mutual respect, consultation and conciliation. The man is in charge of the family, but that amounts only to responsibility for financial maintenance and authority for direction and discipline exercised in a reasonable manner. Both spouses should share in the management of family affairs, and have equal authority over their sons and daughters.

Public life is no stage where men alone can play. There is no segregation of sexes in the public domain which call for joint efforts. Thus both men and women are supposed to participate in congregational prayers. The Prophet, (*) is reported to have said: “Don’t stop women form going to mosques at night”. A son of Abdullab bin Umar, on hearing this statement, said to his father: “We would not allow women to go out of the house at night for fear of any abuses”. * Ibn-Umar * reprimanded his son: “I say the prophet (peace he upon him) said so, and you still say you won’t allow it”. (Muslim).

From the foregoing, it is clear that the Prophet’s directive is for women to go out publicly, to frequent mosques even at night, and to attend and offer Eid prayers. It is also recognized that pilgrimage (Haj), despite its displacements and thick crowds, is a function performed in common by men and women. Some over-scrupulous Muslim rulers endeavored to introduce some modification in this respect with a view of segregating men and women in the Tawaf (going round the holy Kabah). But scholars who upheld the Sunna and favor strict adherence to Tradition, opposed any change in the practice current in the Prophet’s own times. Consequently, the traditional practice of Tawaf in common remained established and the change fell through. That was when Muhammed bin Hisham, the governor of Mecca, stopped ladies performing tawaf alongside men. Ata, the famous scholar of tradition objected: “How do you stop them when the Prophet’s own wives did Tawaf of Kaba alongside men?” The practice had continued without any change even after the introduction of the restrictive regime imposed on the Prophet’s wives, although they used to steer clear of the men around them, while all other women used to mix with men and huddle to touch and kiss the Black Stone in the wall of Kabah (Bukhari). Educational assemblies, too were attended by men and women jointly. The Prophet (*), in teaching the Muslims, used to address men and women together even where he was giving instruction, relating to conjugal matters. Once he was lecturing Muslims after prayer about tales they would tell the morning following their conjugal activities. Abu Hurrairah is quoted to have reported this as follows: “The Prophet (*) had just finished his prayer with us, when he directly turned and asked us to keep sitting, and then asked: ‘Is there amongst you any who would shut doors and draw curtains when he approaches his wife, but would later go out and tell every body how he did so and so?’ all men present kept silent. Then the Prophet (*) turned to the ladies and said: “Does any one of you openly discuss her conjugal matters with other women?” A young lady in the audience, when she heard this, knelt up on one knee and craned her neck so that the Prophet (*) might see her and hear her speak. She said: ‘Yes by God, all men discuss these matters among themselves and so do all women, too’. The Prophet (*) said: ‘Do you know whom does one doing that compare to?’ ‘Indeed it is like two satanic couples who meet on a high street and indulge their sexual desire in full view of the people’”. (reported by Ahmed, Abu Dawwod, and Albazar).

Separate meetings exclusively for ladies were sometimes convened in addition to the joint meetings, but that was for practical reasons, mostly the dominance of men, sitting close to the Prophet (*) after prayer and the inability of women sitting behind to hear him well. Bukhari narrated, in a chapter titled, ‘Is a day set aside exclusively for the education of women?’, that women told the Prophet, “men have dominated us around you”, the Prophet (*) promised to give them a separate day. He would meet them on the scheduled day and deliver his lecture and instruction. It is in such a session that he once told them: “Any woman who loses three children would find it a barrier from hell”. A woman said, “and what about two?” The Prophet (peace he upon him) replied, “even two”. (Bukhair).

On the authority of Ibn Abbas, Bukhari stated that the Prophet (*) was on his way after delivering his Eid address and Bilal was with him. He felt that the ladies attending the congregation did not hear his lecture. He therefore went to preach to them especially and to ask them to give alms.

A woman is quite entitled to go out for any need. She may go to the market to do business or otherwise; even though this may entail someone inconveniencing her. After the Prophet’s wives were curtained away and segregated, the Prophet (*) would still permit them to go out of their houses for their needs. Sayyidah Ayishah is quoted as saying that after the introduction of segregation “Saudah went out of her house to pursue some need. She was a bulky lady and anyone who knew her could easily recognise her. Umar bin Alkhatab saw her once and said, ‘O Saudah you are not unrecognisable to us. Just see how you have come out?’ when she heard that, she withdrew and returned. The Prophet (*) was at that time in my (Ayishah’s) house for his dinner. Sauda entered and said to him, ‘O Prophet of God, I went out of my house for some need and Umar said to me so and so’” Sayyedah Ayishah Said, “Then revelation came from God and later, when it was over, the Prophet (*) regained his hand and said to Sauda, ‘God has permitted you to go out of your house for your needs’”. (Bukhari).

The following verse of the Quran clearly bears out that ladies can go out of their houses: “O Prophet! tell your wives and daughters and the women of the believers to lower their outer garments on their persons. That is likely to allow them to be recognised and by consequence, not be molested, and God is most Forgiving and most kind”. (Al Ahzab, 59). The occasion for the revelation of these verses of the QurҒan was the fact that some rogue individuals would inconvenience ladies in the streets of Madinah. Explaining the meaning of: “To lower their outer garments on their person”, Mujahid (a famous early authority on the exegesis of the Quran) said, “they covered themselves with their outer garments so that it is known that they are free-born women of good social standing and no depraved person may level at them undue words or suspicions”.


Originally published in the print edition of The American Muslim Vol II No 6, Spring 1993