Myths and Realities about Muslim Women: Part II

Due to the strong pervasive societal belief that Muslim women are oppressed, legal steps are being taken in the European nations such as France and Belgium to ban Islamic clothing, burqa and niqab. Many have the opinion that Muslim women are the puppets in the hands of men.  However, Islam has given tremendous rights to women that are equal to men.

For instance, she has the choice to keep her maiden name after the marriage and can own property without answering to her husband.

The husband and wife have certain duties to be fulfilled as the Qur’an says.  Although they are individuals, they are a unifying force that is responsible for looking after each other and raising a healthy family, so that the society is a better place.

The first part clarified general myths of women’s rights in Islam.  This article will tackle the common misconceptions of the marital relationships and the wife’s rights that are assumed by the general public in the West.

1. Myth:  A wife is not an equal partner in marriage.

The wife has the right to retain her property and possession in her name as well as earn and spend her money without any guardianship over her.  She also can keep her family name after marriage instead of taking her husband’s.

She is allocated marriage dowry by the husband; it belongs to the woman, and she can do anything she wants with it without having to answer to her husband.

The Prophet (P.B.U.H) was most adamant when it comes to treating the wife fairly and kindly.  He advised: “I commend you to be good to women.  And, he also emphasized, “The best among you are those who are best to their wives.”

The Prophet (P.B.U.H) consulted his wives on the important decisions and put forth his example for his male companions and the men in the future generations.

The Qur’anic verse below states that Allah deems men and women equal in his eyes in regards to rewards and punishments.

“Whoever works righteousness — whether male or female — while he (or she) is a true believer (of Islamic Monotheism) verily, to him We will give a good life (in this world with respect, contentment and lawful provision), and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do (i.e. Paradise in the Hereafter).” [Qur’an 16:97]

Because both the genders hold an identical status in front of God, they are also equal partners in marriage with similar rights.

2. Myth: Only men are allowed to ask for Divorce.

Even though divorce is seen as the most unpleasing in the eyes of God, the right to separate has been granted to both genders.  The process should be peaceful and bring justice to the parties involved.  The technicality is quite different from the divorce given in the Western society.  Islamically, it is the men who pronounce the divorce, but the right to ask for one is given to both.

“And when you divorce women and they have fulfilled their term (i.e. waiting period), either keep them in kindness or release them in kindness, and do not keep them, intending harm, to transgress (against them).”  [Qur’an 2:231]

In many cultures, a divorced woman is seen as a disgrace and is outcasted by her family and the society.  This is strictly rejected in Islam, for a woman’s marital status does not play a part in the respect due to her.  In fact, Prophet Muhammed (P.B.U.H) was married to divorcees and never mistreated them because of their previous divorces.

It is not permissible for a woman to ask for divorce from her husband except for a legitimate Shar‘iah reason:

The Messenger of Allaah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Any woman who asks her husband for a divorce when it is not absolutely necessary, the fragrance of Paradise will be forbidden to her.”

The term, “absolutely necessary” indicates a case of hardship in which divorce is the only recourse.

It is permissible for a woman to ask her husband for a divorce if there is a reason such as if the man fails to give her rights or he wrongs her and mistreats her.  Plus, he refuses to heed advice given to him to treat her well and be kind to her.

But if a woman seeks divorce without a strong reason, then it is considered haraam and is a major sin in accordance to Islamic practices.

3. Myth: Only Girls are expected to be chaste before marriage

Preserving chastity and purity is mandatory until the marriage for men and women.  Fornication and adultery is a sin, and the punishment is equal for both.

Other religions such as Christianity and Judaism also require abstinence until marriage.

In the New Testament, it is believed that sex outside of marriage is impermissible. Also, the Catholic Church called the mother of Jesus, “Virgin Mary”, to express the honor and praise giving to her in the Bible.

“The Angel Gabriel was sent to a Virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the House of David; and the Virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:27).

Indeed, Islam urges men to marry pure and righteous women, but this is in order to achieve greater benefits than just temporary enjoinment such as increasing the progeny, the continuity of marital relationship between the husband and wife, and so forth.

4. Myth:  Women have no say in who they can marry.

In Islam, a woman has the right to accept or reject a proposal.  Forced marriages are forbidden, and if a woman has been coerced to wed, she has the right to seek annulment.

The Prophet of Allah (P.B.U.H) stated: “An ‘ayyim’ (a divorcee or a widow) must not be wedded unless she is asked, and gives her approval.  And a virgin must not be wedded unless she is consulted.”

And, in another Hadith, the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) said: “The previously-married woman has more right concerning herself than her guardian does, and the virgin should be asked for permission, and her permission is her silence.”  [Narrated by Muslim, 1421]

Islamic marriage consists of three conditions and pillars that have to be fulfilled:

1) The consent of the bride’s guardian.
2) The presence of two witnesses.
3) A dowry (bridal money given by the groom to the bride).

Even though the guardian’s permission is required, he has no right to refuse marrying off a girl to a competent and suitable man just because he is from another nationality as this matter is contradictory to Shar’iah law.

The suitability or the competence that should be taken into account in marriage is religion and good moral conduct according to the most preponderant opinion of the Islamic jurists.

The Prophet (P.B.U.H.) said: “If a person whom you are pleased with his religion and moral character proposes to you for marriage, then you should give her in marriage.”

Therefore, it is not permissible for parents to refuse qualified and suitable men who seek to marry their daughter. It is also not permissible for a guardian to oblige his daughter to marry someone she does not want to marry, according to the most preponderant opinion of the Islamic scholars.

To summarize, unfortunately, there are men who ill-treat women in their households.  However, that is against Islam and the teachings of the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) who disliked the beatings of wives and never raised his hand on any of his wives.  Under the Shari’ah law, if the husband is abusive or brutal, the wife has the right to seek divorce.  A whole religion cannot be blamed for the sins of some cultures and nations who choose to either ignore the sayings of Qur’an or purposefully misinterpret some aspects of Islam, so that they can use it as a shield to justify their wrong doings and oppress women.