In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Ever Merciful Introduction:
Why do muslim leaders/scholars and others become so defensive when the teachings of Islam on women's rights are criticised, and respond by saying that Islam gives similar or equal rights to women comparable to men, and cite the case of Aisha r.a., wife of the Prophet Muhammad s.a., as an erudite Muslim lady scholar whom the male Companions (Sahaaba) r.a. of the Holy Prophet Muhammad s.a. used to consult for insight and guidance on religious matters, as per the following hadith (report):
Abū Musa r.a. narrated: Never was a hadith unclear to us, the Companions r.a. of the Messenger of Allah s.a., and we asked ‘Aishah a.s., except that we found knowledge concerning it with her." (Tirmidhi, Vol. 1, Book 46, Hadith 3883)
However, they do not even cite one religious work such as a tafsir (i.e. commentary of the Holy Qur'an) credited to the relatively smaller number of Muslim lady scholars over the centuries, nor do Muslim ladies appear to have an equal or even similar opportunity to train as scholars in our day and age in comparison with men, or to even get proper recognition for their scholarly contributions after they have trained as scholars? Their voice appears to remain that of a marginalised group struggling to achieve what is their due right. Many muslim groups claim to be like the Companions (Sahaaba) r.a., yet do not try to become more like them with regards to respect for muslim women as partners in faith with similar rights and status within the Ummah, and looking up to them if and when their knowledge of the religion is superior. If this concerns you, and you wish to discover the facts of this matter of concern, like it bothers me, please read on, but my article does not cover every aspect and all angles, so I would advise doing further thinking and research on your own as well. The rights of believing women can be restored to them once the truth has been established. Islamic Feminism:
It appears some men in the west have also retained some of their medieval and ancient prejudices, and there are only a few lady leaders in parliaments around the world, men being represented in much larger numbers. The Qur'an mentions the Queen of Saba (Sheba), but does not say anything against a woman being the leader of a nation. Rather, the fact that she believed and submitted, not to Sulaminan a.s., but with Sulaiman a.s., who was inviting her to monotheism in a wise manner, to the Lord of all the Worlds [27:44], having discarded her idolatrous myths. This goes in her favour as someone who accepted unseen truths when they became evident to her. There is a problematic hadith in bukhari suggesting that women are deficient in intelligence, which the Companions of Muhammad s.a. were apparently unaware of, as they consulted Aisha r.a. for guidance on religious matters.
A sensible male scholar is reported (in 'Misquoting Muhammad' by Jonathan AC Brown, p. 138), to have argued against the bukhari hadith, but those who appear to have a 'blind faith' in the label of 'sahih' on bukhari, which was applied by a fallible human being on the basis of his own opinion, still cling to it, even though it is not a revealed label. I have discussed the issues arising from the mislabelling of books of hadith as 'sahih' in other articles on this site ('Sources of Islamic Knowledge', 'Bukhari and Muslim', and 'Countering Extremism'), which I would suggest reading.
A definition of feminism is: the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. It is also defined the Cambridge English Dictionary as: "the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state." (please note that the word 'afforded' would be much more acceptable than the word 'allowed')
I intend to consider whether Islam advocates what feminism calls for. Before I do so, I'd like to say that I sympathise with and support feminism to a high degree. Feminism is somewhat like a minority asking that their rights, of which they are being deprived by those who have power and authority (i.e mostly men), be accorded to them as they deserve. Women can be seen to be like a minority voice in the sense that authority and power is/was more often than not in the hands of men, who have been depriving women of their just rights over the centuries. Women have gained much in the way of rights since the ancient times, especially in the last century or so, in some places, but there is more to be achieved in this regard.
What surprises me is that men grow up being dependent on their mothers care at least when in infancy, and most men grow up with sisters. In addition to this, men and women complement each other. Why is it then that despite such a close association, women continue to get a raw deal from the authorities as well as their husbands? Why are many men apparently reluctant to becomes allies of suppressed women and call for their just rights due to their close association with them at home, and their taking care of their families? Allah s.w.t. states:
[9:71] "The believing men and believing women are awliyaa (protectors, allies) of one another, enjoining right and forbidding wrong, performing the prayer, giving the alms, and obeying God and His Messenger. They are those upon whom God will have Mercy. Truly God is Mighty, Wise."
The function of being an 'ally' of the Prophet Muhammad s.a. was performed by his wife Khadija a.s., after he returned home to her anxious upon receiving his first revelation. On Khadija's a.s. enquiry, he narrated the whole experience to her and summed up his fears, saying, "Weak man that I am, how can I carry the responsibility which God proposes to put on my shoulders."
Khadija a.s. replied at once: "God is witness, He has not sent you this Word that you should fail and prove unworthy, that He should then give you up. How can God do such a thing, while you are kind and considerate to your relations, help the poor and the forlorn and bear their burdens? You are restoring the virtues which had disappeared from our country. You treat guests with honour and help those who are in distress. Can you be subjected by God to any trial?" (Bukhari). [Life of Muhammad s.a., by Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad r.a., p. 11]
Is being the first to believe in the Unity of the Unseen God along with the Prophethood of Muhammad sa., with such firm reasoning, bearing witness to his noble character, a sign of deficiency in intelligence? And this hadith is in bukhari itself, but many don't appear to reflect on it's implications with regards to the status and intelligence of women, and it appears, neither did bukhari himself. The hadith of bukhari is as follows:
"Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) of 'Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion."
There are some issues which come to mind when reading this hadith:
 The Qur'an does not state or indicate anywhere that either men or women will be in the majority in heaven or in hell-fire.
 The Qur'an shows that husbands ought to be grateful to their wives, and are made to offer them a dower for this reason: [4:24] "...And for the benefit you receive from them, give them their dowries ..."
 I have already shown above that the religious awareness and intelligence of both Khadija r.a. and Aisha r.a. is established from Islamic sources.
 A cautious sensible man is more to be rightly guided by the example of these two pious wives, as well as Maryam a.s. and Aasiya r.a., whose example is given in Surat al Tahrim [66:11,12]. In addition, the famous hadith that 'paradise lies beneath the feet of mothers' (Ahmad, Nasai).would also be rendered null and void if women actually lead men astray.
 The case of two women witnesses in court, which only applies to financial transactions, isn't due to lack of intelligence. Men err just as women err, intelligence not being a safeguard against erring. The verse states:
[2:282] "... And call two witnesses from among your men; and if two men be not available, then a man and two women, of such as you like as witnesses, so that if one of them should err, the other may remind her. And the witnesses should not refuse when they are called. And do not feel weary of writing it down, whether it be small or large, along with its appointed time of payment. This is more equitable in the sight of Allah & makes testimony surer & is more likely to keep you away from doubts ... and let no harm be done to the scribe or the witness."
So, it will still be the testimony of one woman which carries weight, the other being there only to remind her, rather than the court, IF she errs; if she doesn't err in her statement, the other woman stays silent, and is not required to speak to her. It is the testimony of the one woman who is made surer by the presence of other other woman in court. I can speculate why two women may be required for giving testimony in court in financial transactions. The verse itself mentions the surety of testimony as well as forbidding harm being done to any witness.
Putting two and two together, it may be that women are more worried than men about being harmed when giving testimony in court in the presence of men. A greed for money drives individuals, groups and nations to perpetrate injustices against others. The mafia murders for financial reasons. We can't deny that women are more vulnerable than men in society, and many/most women are not oblivious to this reality. The presence of a non-threatening friend in court may help her overcome her nerves and reduce her fears, thus making testimony surer. And Allah knows best.
 Not offering the formal prayer during menses is an act of obedience to Allah s.w.t., so it can't be considered to be a deficiency in religion.
 The evidence from exam results, to my knowledge, is that the performance of males and females is similar.
What is apparent to me is that the uncritical acceptance of the above hadith of bukhari has led to injustice against women over the centuries, and even this one misogynistic hadith is reason enough to declare the label of 'sahih' as false. I personally used to disregard such ahadith and writings apparently influenced by them even in my youth, because of the principles on the Sources of Islam taught in Ahmadiyya Muslim literature. Likewise is the case of a dubious hadith which refers to the husband as a 'metaphorical god' (majazi khuda). A husband mentioned the hadith to his newly wed wife in the presence of myself and others when I was about 16 years of age, demanding her unconditional obedience as if he was her master, and she was his servant or slave. Whilst I did not have enough knowledge to argue against the soundness of the hadith at the time, even if I wanted to, I considered his stone-hearted attitude to be deplorable. Many muslims and even ahmadis do not uphold the correct Ahmadiyya Muslim principles with regards to the Sources of Islam which developed over about two decades. The ahadith inciting to unjust murder within bukhari etc. make it imperative that the false label of 'sahih' be publicly dropped, for the safety and security of the peoples of the world.
Another incident which occurred after signing the Treaty of Hudaibiyyah may be mentioned here. "After concluding the treaty, the Holy Prophet told the followers to slaughter sacrificial animals at the same place and get their head shaved to come out of ihram. But the people were so dejected that they delayed the compliance. The Prophet (peace be upon him) felt it and entered the tent and told his accompanying wife, Umm Salma a.s., about people’s reluctance.
She politely advised, “The people are in shock to lose their Umrah and entry to the holy city. You do as planned. They will follow you.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) came out, slaughtered his camels and got his head shaved. Subsequently, the people followed him and they all set out towards Madinah. Thus the wisdom of Ummul Momenin, Umm Salma, solved a tedious problem." [http://www.arabnews.com/hudaibiyah-turning-point-history-islam]
Someone may think 'we know' about this already. But there is a good reason to remind people of it, as it shows that though the Qur'an has several verses teaching obedience to the Messenger s.a., he himself did not get angry at the lack of forthwith compliance, not by one person, but by all of his Companions r.a. who were present, including those who subsequently became Khalifas, i.e. Abubakr r.a., Umar r.a., Uthman r.a. and Ali r.a.
With these preliminary thoughts, I now wish to turn to the rights of people in general, and women in particular, as given in the Holy Qur'an. For this purpose, one should keep in mind that accepting the truth is of paramount importance. Just as it was wrong for men of the past to make erroneous claims about what the Word of Allah teaches about women and their rights due their own prejudices and being under the influence of their society, it would likewise be wrong to make opposite claims about the Holy Qur'an in times when feminists have acquired a somewhat greater acceptance. It would be doing an injustice to the topic as well as dishonesty to try to exaggerate or diminish the rights of women as given in the Holy Qur'an by hiding the evident facts.
There are a number of misconceptions concerning the rights of women in Islam, some of which are due to errors in the muslims' own understanding and practice. Let us ponder over the teachings of the Holy Qur'an on the topic of rights in general, and then on women's rights in particular. What are Rights?
The Arabic word for rights (plural) is حقوق , transliterated as 'Huqooq', the singular form of which is حق, transliterated as Haqq, which also means 'just', as well as 'truth', depending on the context. Lane's Lexicon starts off by defining the primary meaning of Haqq as explained by Ar-Raghib, as follows:
"It was or became suitable to the requirements of wisdom, justice, right, or rightness, truth or reality or fact."
We can derive from this, that at least in the Arabic language, rights are related to justice and truth. For justice to be done in a court of law, the truth of a case needs to be established first, for which purpose reliable testimony is obtained from all parties concerned, which is evaluated in the light of the testimony of someone with expert knowledge in fields related to the evidence presented in the case. For rights (and duties) to be properly and justly determined between people in society, especially with regards to the relative rights and duties of men and women, if it is denied that there are (many) similarities between men and women, or that there are also (some) differences between men and women, without exaggerating or diminishing any of due to prejudice or bigotry, justice will not be served.
For a study of the verses of the Qur'an using the word Haqq in various forms, please check the following link:
One can also check the meaning of Haqq as given in various lexicons and dictionaries by visiting this site:
selecting the Arabic Almanac, and searching for Hq. Equality or Equitability?
If it is denied that men and women, or boys and girls, have some obvious physical differences, and that one gender is more vulnerable in society in comparison with the other, and therefore would require a greater degree of protection from harm, and measures taken to protect the rights which are only fair to accord to them, they will suffer in this regard. If it is insisted that men and women are absolutely equal in every respect, and must be given the exact same rights, then it is obvious that mothers will be deprived of some maternal rights they feel they rightly deserve, and their children will also suffer the consequences of this denial of reality. Likewise, if it is insisted that men and women are absolutely equal in every respect, and must compete with men in sports competitions, such as football/soccer, lawn-tennis, and wrestling, the vast majority of people in the world would, or at least I expect they would, consider this unreasonable and unrealistic.
Likewise, most people would accept the that women are in general the relatively 'weaker' gender. There might be some exceptions to this, but I expect this would be accepted as the rule by most reasonable persons. These facts makes women more vulnerable, relative to men, at the hands of unjust men who might seek to take advantage of such a vulnerability especially if they feel they could get away with it. Let us keep such realities in mind when we turn to examine what Islam teaches about matters relating to womens' rights.
After this preliminary discourse, it needs to be pointed out that I am yet to come across any verse of the Qur'an which erroneously states that men and women are absolutely equal in every respect, and must be given the exact same rights under all circumstances. The Qur'an emphasises implementing justice between all persons in society, and this applies to the case of rights granted to the genders. The Qur'an tells us that men and women have similar rights, but that men have one degree over women, viz:
وَ لَہُنَّ مِثۡلُ الَّذِیۡ عَلَیۡہِنَّ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ ۪ وَ لِلرِّجَالِ عَلَیۡہِنَّ دَرَجَۃٌ ؕ وَ اللّٰہُ عَزِیۡزٌ حَکِیۡمٌ
... And they (the women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in equity; but men [2:228] have a degree (of responsibility) over them. And Allah is Mighty, Wise.
This difference should not be exaggerated so as to deprive women of their valid and reasonable rights in comparison to men. It puts an added responsibility on the shoulders of the man, which should incline him to more humble prayers and supplications before God Almighty for help in the discharge of his responsibilities, rather than incline him to become arrogant or over-bearing in his attitude towards his wife.
The Promised Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad a.s., stated:
“The protection of the rights of women in Islam cannot be matched by any other religion. It is clearly stated that men and women have similar rights over each other:
وَلَهُنَّ مِثْلُ الَّذِي عَلَيْهِنَّ (2:229)
I hear about some who consider women inferior and force them to perform difficult tasks. They abuse them and look down upon them. They enforce the injunction of “Purdah” (i.e. the Islamic veil) in a manner that it destroys the life of the woman. The relationship of man and wife should be like two fast friends. Women are the witnesses of one’s decent manners and closeness to God. If this relationship of husband and wife is not strong, then how one can expect to be straight with God? Holy Prophet s.a. has said, “The best among you is the one who is best with his family.” (Malfuzat, Vol 3, page 300)
Another slightly different but similar point of view on this matter has been presented on the following site, which is some food for thought that I am considering:
It mentions that the word 'adl is derived from a root which means 'to be equal'. My study of lexicons so far shows that the primary meaning of the word 'adl is to act equitably, justly, or rightly, but it may be that it also has a (lesser?) meaning of being equal or like a thing. And Allah knows best.
A verse which may be relevant to consider in the context of status is:
[49:13] O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognise one another. Verily, the most honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is the one who is the most righteous among you. Surely, Allah is All-knowing, All-Aware.
This verse may be used to show that men are not more honourable than women (as some men might presume) in the sight of Allah, other than if they happen to be more righteous. Relations between Spouses:
[30:21] And one of His Signs is this, that He has created wives for you from among yourselves that you may find peace of mind in them, and He has put love and tenderness between you. In that surely are Signs for a people who reflect. [4:19] O ye who believe! it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will; nor should you detain them wrongfully that you may take away part of that which you have given them, except that they be guilty of a flagrant lewdness; and consort with them in kindness; and if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing wherein Allah has placed much good.
[2:187] ...They are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them. ... [9:71] And the believers, men and women, are friends one of another. They enjoin good and forbid evil and observe Prayer and pay the Zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. It is these on whom Allah will have mercy. Surely, Allah is Mighty, Wise.
[7:190] He it is Who has created you from a single soul, and made therefrom its mate, that he might find comfort in her. And when he knows her, she bears a light burden, and goes about with it. And when she grows heavy, they both pray to Allah, their Lord, saying: ‘If Thou give us a good child, we will surely be of the thankful.’ [4:1] O ye people! Fear your Lord who created you from a single soul and of its kind created its mate, and from them twain spread many men and women; and fear Allah, in Whose name you appeal to one another, and fear him particularly respecting ties of kinship. Verily Allah watches over you.
Jilbaab (Loose Outer Covering):
[33:59] O Prophet! say to thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers that they should draw close to them portions of their jilbaab (loose outer covering). That is nearer that they may thus be distinguished and not molested. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.
The Qur'an instructs the Prophet s.a. to SAY to the believing women to observe the jilbaab (loose outer covering), and there may be some validity in suggesting that it would be more effective when ladies are so advised by other women who set a noble example by donning the jilbaab themselves and are more likely to be personally familiar with the relevant issues concerning it, and the Qur'an also instructs us that we should not say that which we do not ourselves do. I found 10 verses in the Qur'an using the wording 'Yaa Ayyuhan Nabi' (O Prophet), and they all appear to be issuing a command for the Prophet s.a. himself to act upon.
These verses are [8:64,65], [9:73], [33:1,27,45,50,59], & [66:1,9], a study of which shows that it is essentially an instruction to the Prophet s.a. If someone protests that a genuine need might arise to follow the noble example of Prophet Muhammad s.a. in this regard, this can be considered, even though, at the moment, there appears to be more of a need to give priority to the voice/s of oppressed muslim women. One should still be careful not to take the place, or even raise himself above, the Prophet Muhammad s.a., who is not reported to have become over-bearing in issuing this instruction on jilbaab to believing muslim ladies in Medina, to the best of my knowledge.
For instance, one might consider humbly reminding a wife or daughter of the Islamic teaching by quoting the verse and saying that Allah instructed the Prophet s.a. to say to believing women to don the jilbaab. This may be wiser and result in more of a likelihood that the wife will act on the reminder from the Qur'an for the love of Allah, and so as to please Him thereby, and of course, for a greater likelihood of her own protection than otherwise. However, before even thinking of doing so, it would be prudent to ensure one has first assessed oneself and rectified one's own flaws and faults that may well come to the forefront of her mind when a husband or someone else appears to be pointing the finger at her for any of her weaknesses, and be very cautious not to cut corners on good Islamic manners, such as politeness and courtesy, using wise counsel when calling to the way of ones' Lord [16:125], or over-step the bounds, and become guilty of arrogance (takabbur) by equating oneself with the Noble Prophet s.a. or going beyond his role which was to remind, and not to compel anyone [88:21]. To such bullies, one might ask (Arabic): 'Hal anta Nabiyyun?' i.e. are you a Prophet?
This however would not apply to the case of someone who asks prior to marriage whether a lady don the jilbaab or not, or that of those who require those ladies having an official responsibility to don the jilbaab. However, I witnessed a supposed ahmadi berating Ahmadi ladies in Baitul Futuh in a meeting in 2012 for supposedly not covering their hair properly, claiming his non-Ahmadi mother had criticised them. Such bullying is not acceptable, especially since Ahmadi ladies do tend to cover themselves adequately, with those in office especially going beyond the minimum requirement. I myself went to meet an ahmadi lady who did not observe the khimaar (head-covering or jilbaab, for a marriage proposal, for it is possible that such a lady might start observing it, InshaAllaah, due to the influence of a man who favours it, like I do. The marriage didn't go ahead, but this was for a worldly reason on her part.
Similarly, an ahmadi murabbi who I consult on Qur'anic Arabic grammar, sends marriage proposals to me from time to time. He once gave some worldly information about her. I asked about the requirements of taqwa (piety), specifically whether she offered prayers and donned the jilbaab, which is an instruction given in a verse of the Qur'an. This way of promoting Islamic values in a gentle manner is perfectly acceptable.
The Holy Qur'an states:
[16:125] Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and contend with them in a way that is best (most appropriate).
The reality of life is that people who have faith tend to grow in faith, knowledge, and practices of the religion over time. Love is like water which tends to nurture spiritual life, and hate tends to stifle growth and development, and lead to a loss of faith. Hence it is most unwise to burden any soul beyond what it can bear by means of such undue pressure or coercion which may in fact have the negative effect of generating resentment against the religion, and drive them towards starting to doubt it as a whole. It is much better to emphasise what is emphasised in the Noble Qur'an, which are the essentials of faith and practice, such as a monotheistic faith in Allah and the Last day, and the encouragement of prayer out of love for Allah, and charity in it's various forms out of one's love for fellow human beings.
This emphasis may lead to a progress in faith, which in turn may well result in the adoption of previously neglected Islamic practices such as the modest jilbaab [33:59] outside the house, and the decent khimaar (head-covering) [24:31] when some guests visit, within the house, and is hence a wise course of action. It is true that believers are put to trials by those who hate them, and such persecution actually serves to develop the faith, but such trials of persecution should not and do not emanate from truly practising believers; rather, such fitnah or trials/persecution arise from those whose faith has become corrupted. It is therefore not right for anyone to enforce the donning of the jilbaab on muslim women, for it is not in keeping with the absolute freedom of religion stated in [2:256], and which is also emphasised in several other ways in the Holy Qur'an.
One should also keep in mind that when [5:5] allows marriage with chaste women of the people of the book, and [33:59] mentions the women of the believers, there may be a small percentage of non-muslim women within muslim circles who will not even be expected on the basis of their religion to don the jilbaab in the first place, let alone an extreme form of it, even if they may of their own free will incline to adopt more modesty in dress and demeanour than they would otherwise have practised. However, non-muslim women should not be required or expected to cover their hair if and when visiting muslim majority nations and attending or speaking at muslim conferences, for this would also be a form of compulsion. There is no need for extremism on such matters, when the Qur'an says we are to be a people of the middle way [2:143].
On the basis of this, one can make a good case for recommending a much greater emphasis on pondering over the verses of the Holy Qur'an (as we are urged to do in the Qur'an itself), and reducing one's emotional attachment to the far less reliable sources of religion, whether they be commentaries/interpretations of scholars erroneously idolised by some as if their understanding is infallible and beyond question.
The Qur'an certainly does not instruct warning or threatening punishment for women not acting upon such advice, nor does it instruct harassing them in any way, or to keep pestering them about it, to keep saying so incessantly or repeatedly, or to bully them by warning or threatening punishment for not acting upon such advice, for the Holy Qur'an tells us that there is absolutely no type of compulsion in religion whatsoever [2:256]; rather, one is advised to invite to the way of our Lord with wisdom [16:125], and give appropriate reminders [88:21].
In addition, one should keep in mind the recently introduced (14th March 2017) european union law which makes it lawful for companies to require their staff not to wear the muslim jilbaab (in any of it's forms):
The principle of shari'ah should be kept in mind that if someone is compelled by circumstances not to abide by some divine commandments, and does not do so out of rebelliousness or due to being inclined towards sinfulness, but being driven by necessity, relaxes the commandment in question only to the extent required, and does so cautiously, with the love and fear of Allah within one's heart mind and soul, then Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful [5:3]. These are compelling circumstances, which happen to have arisen in our time, and for this reason they ought to be looked upon with mercy rather than disdain or contempt, according to our teachings. It should be enough that those Muslim women who don the jilbaab (loose outer covering) as a normal routine, set the example for other women in general, and thus practice what they may wisely preach to other women about donning the jilbaab (loose outer covering).
To insist on wearing the jilbaab (loose outer covering) under all circumstances would mean that some Muslim women who need to work for their livelihood would be gradually driven out of the fold of the faithful by such extremism which would be contrary to the wisdom of the Holy Qur'an, and those non-Muslim women who may become inclined towards Islam would be hesitant to come near it. Those sitting at home or having some position of authority within their secluded communities, and who do not interact with the outside world in real life, ought to advised to be sympathetic, merciful and compassionate towards such people rather than criticise and judge them harshly for doing something concerning which they have little or no choice.
The daughters of the Prophet s.a. on whom the above verse [33:59] would become applicable would be adults, for the verse was revealed in Medina from the 5th year of the Hijra onwards, and the daughters of the Prophet s.a. were adults by this time. The youngest of them, Fatima r.a., is reported to have been born around 604/605 CE, and would have been at least 21 years old by the time the verse was revealed. It is also noteworthy the command is to say so to the women of the believers and not to make their young girls do so. So, those Muslims who make their young daughters practice the jilbaab (loose outer covering), appear to do so in order to develop a noble habit whilst young, due to an awareness of human psychology, taking into consideration the possible negative influence of faithless cultures and traditions on the faith and practices of Muslim children (in this instance, young impressionable Muslim girls, who may well be unwary (i.e. ghaafilah [24:23]), of the risks of living within a liberal and licentious society.
It's somewhat like parents encouraging the habit of occasional prayer and fasting in young children on whom prayer and fasting is not yet enjoined. However, one should avoid going to extremes in any matter, for this can lead to a resentment against the faith sooner or later, and thus back-fire. So, does introducing this practice even before the age of seven, as some might instruct or advise, sound reasonable, given that it is not even considered to be a religious requirement for the pre-pubescent? Muslims ought to adopt a path of moderation, and become a people of the middle-way, as the Qur'an [2:143] states. Adopting extremes and undue pressure in matters of religion leads to a decline in and loss of faith, which may not be immediately obvious, but which becomes apparent in due course.
Another point to note is that about 50% of this world is made up of women, and it is not practical in the real world to expect men and women not to interact in any way at all, or to walk in the streets near one another, or to sit in buses and trains near one another without any feelings of personal intimacy. Muslim women, whether in jilbaab or not, do interact and talk to Muslim as well as non-Muslim men in the real world. It would become a form of hypocrisy if it is made so strict in the mosque or home environment such that men and women cannot even be in each other's presence, near to one another, whilst women are donning the jilbaab.
If young Muslim ladies are encouraged by social pressures to converse freely with non-Muslim men at colleges, universities and workplaces etc., but have to practice extreme strictness when in the presence of Muslim men, then one can consider that they may be at risk of becoming influenced by some erroneous thoughts and beliefs of non-Muslim men. A certain level of dignified friendliness among believing men and women, which is what the Qur'an teaches [9:71], would safeguard any of them from straying and seeking solace among the non-believers.
Nor would we be able to successfully invite other Muslims and non-Muslims to the way of our Lord if we exercise undue strictness than from the Word of Allah (and the Practice of the Prophet s.a.) in such matters. If one is fed a proper diet of faith and modesty, the risks of succumbing to immorality can be significantly diminished. The instruction given in the Holy Qur'an for even the wives of the Prophet s.a. is that they should not be soft in speech, and not that they are completely prohibited from even talking to men (or to go to the other extreme of adopting a rude or aggressive tone when they might happen to do so), regardless of how necessary such a conversation might be:
[33:32] O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women if you are righteous. So be not soft in speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease should feel tempted; and speak a decent speech.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim five volume English commentary of the Qur'an states on this verse:
"The wives of the Holy Prophet s.a. are here enjoined to preserve the dignity of their very position and to conduct themselves with due propriety and decorum while talking to members of the opposite sex."
Khalifa-tul-Masih I, Maulana Hakeem Nuruddin r.a., states about the verse:
Hadhrat Aisha r.a. used to talk freely; this is in compliance with the instruction (given) in the verse." [Translated from the original Urdu]
How then can it be right that Muslim ladies should be almost completely prohibited from talking to strange men, or to adopt an uncouth anti-social 'harsh' tone when doing so, as was commanded by mirza masroor sahib? Here is the quote:
"Huzur aba said that if it is absolutely essential for a woman to talk to a strange man then she should adopt a harsh tone in her voice so that he may not be encouraged by the
softness of her voice."
Should mirza masroor sahib also be told, perhaps by 'the big men', or his wife, to soften his own voice first, so that the ladies might not be 'encouraged' by any masculinity in his voice? Let's try to be more reasonable for a change. Perhaps someone ought to advise him to soften his extremist and rigid stance on such matters and let our ladies have some breathing space for a change, or they will leave his supposedly infallible nizam for something better which doesn't excessively downplay the significance of the clearly stipulated condition of 'maroof'.
Islam teaches us to adopt a middle-way in all matters, and not to deviate towards one or the other extreme. It is also well-known to Muslims that Ummul Mu'mineen Aisha a.s. was respected as a learned scholar of Islam to whom even the companions r.a. would turn to in order to seek clarification on religious matters. It is regrettable that Muslim women are not officially offered the opportunity to be properly trained to become Islamic scholars like men are, so that even if not men, at least women may be able to consult Muslim lady scholars in order to seek guidance on religious and spiritual issues, especially on matters related to women, just as they would prefer to consult lady doctors. I have not seen evidence throughout my years of education at schools and universities that males do better than females in examinations; in fact, the opposite is seen at times, to the best of my knowledge. Some may question why the Promised Messiah a.s. didn't resolve these issues over a century ago. Some possible logical reasons come to mind which I can put forward for consideration at a more appropriate time, InshaAllah.
It should be pointed out that the wives of the Prophet s.a. are advised not to be soft in speech with conversing with men. A level of decorum and dignity ought to be maintained when conversing with those of the opposite gender. It would also be a form of hypocrisy for a muslim religious leader to relax the guidelines so much as to make it his habit to laugh out loudly and frivolously with the women who come to visit him in his office. As regards glances, one look is said to be permissible anyway, and the essential thing, in my humble opinion, is not to look into the eyes of those of the opposite gender in such a way, and for such a duration of time, that the soul gets drawn towards the other person; so one may divert the eyes from time to time, at reasonable intervals, to prevent this possibility.
It is often emphasised by those who wish to uphold ahadith and give them an exaggerated reliability that Aisha r.a. was highly intelligent at a very young age, yet in the same breath, they would tell us, on the basis of ahadith that can be rightly questioned, that women are deficient in intelligence. What a crystal clear contradiction. The Companions of the Prophet r.a. do not appear to have such thoughts about women's intelligence being deficient, or they would have being reluctant to consult Aisha r.a., regarding her as an erudite scholar of the religion of Islam. There is also a regard for Khadija r.a., the first wife of the Prophet s.a. and their daughter Fatima r.a., and the recognition and reputation of the second century saintly Muslim lady, Rabia al-Adawiyya of Basra. However, beyond this, there is no real recognition of lady saints or scholars in present day muslim circles from my study so far. A few of the ahadith compiled in the third century of Islam contained notions of a deficiency in women's intelligence which may be due to forgeries by prejudiced men or hypocrites, and the real cause of this lack of recognition of female muslim scholarship over the following ten centuries. And Allah knows best.
It is reported that the Companions/Sahaaba r.a. even accepted the leadership of Aisha r.a. in the battle of Jamal, when she rode a camel, yet some Muslim women were even prohibited from driving cars in our times until recently by men who apparently claim to be followers of the Sahaba r.a. and the first few generations of Muslims (known as the 'salaf as-saalih', or pious predecessors) before the ahadith were compiled. A good case can be made for the need to have far more proper female scholarship on Islam and commentary of the Qur'an that will help us obtain a less prejudiced interpretation on verses relating to women. Whilst Aisha r.a. was respected as an authority on Islam, and there have been some muslim lady scholars over the centuries, they are not recognised by the muslim world in that there are no works of tafsir etc. that I am aware of that are attributed to them and in use by muslims. I am currently researching into the reality of this state of affairs and the factors which may have contributed to this disturbing reality, given the references to Aisha r.a. as a symbol of the gender equality in Islam that is vociferously claimed by some muslims in responding to non-muslim criticisms.
Disparaging remarks such as the recently (19th December 2018) alleged but not heard (and hence easier to deny) 'stupid woman' utterance (or was it actually 'stupid people'?) in the British parliament, which may be interpreted by some as implying that 'women are stupid', whether or not this was the intention, coming from men in positions of influence and authority, or books and reports accorded undue authority by men who were unconcerned about statements generating arrogance in men and despair in women, should not be accepted so readily, or given an exaggerated importance as a source of credible information. The responsible thing to do in such a case where an error of thinking might perpetuate, would be to state something along the lines of 'I don't think women are stupid because females do just as well as males in exams'. Otherwise, the reported unjust gender pay gap might remain in place for longer. Not doing so would be similar to willingly accepting the verdict of a jury which is all-white against an afro-american falsely accused of a crime in the 1950/60's USA. Their racial prejudice should, under normal circumstances, be expected to give rise to suspicion that the verdict was probably biased.
If one gives the example of how Aisha r.a. was well respected as a Muslim scholar even by the male companions r.a. of Muhammad s.a., and presents this fact to non-Muslims as well as Muslim women as a sign of the gender equality in Islam, yet there are no recognised works, such as classical tafasir, giving recognition to the scholarly contributions made by lady scholars over the centuries, and Muslim women in our day and age are not offered an equal or even similar opportunity to train as scholars, what would this be considered to be if not a form of hypocrisy?
Allah (Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala) warns us in the Holy Qur'an:
[61:2-3] O ye who believe! why do you say what you do not do? Most hateful is it in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not.
In the time of the Prophet Muhammad s.a., to my knowledge, men and women were separated in the mosque by means of distance rather than any physical partition. Also, men and women are not segregated in Mecca during the tawaaf or circumambulation around the Ka'aba during the pilgrimage, whether the hajj or umra. One should not incline to extremism about such matters, but rather adopt a middle-way practicable policy that could be implemented without difficulty in most if not all cultures and societies in the world.
I know a sunni muslim man who married an english lady, and has a few children with her. She might have accepted Islam before the marriage, but I am not sure of this. However, in later years, he became rigid in religious matters, grew a long bushy beard, and pressured her to don the jilbaab, contrary to [33:59] and [2:256], and also [16:125]. She left him, apparently due to his stone-hearted rigidity in religious and personal matters, and they are now separated, with his girls also living with her. I heard that his family members tried to advise him against his extremism, and I spoke to him as well, and tried to make him rethink his attitude, but he said she has atheist notions, with extreme liberal attitudes with regards to raising the girls and purdah. I expect she was driven to the liberal extreme by his own unwise extremism, and not adopting the Islamic middle way, driving his wife, who was not opposed to muslims or Islam as such, to extremist liberal and faithless ways, and leaving his daughters open to going astray as well. What would have been sinful in supplicating during salaat for the improvement in one's own adherence to Islamic teachings in letter as well as spirit, as well as for the improvement in the faith and deeds of one's wife and children and other family members and relatives, before wisely encouraging the same in them with much love?
Another act of extremism occurred in my parents house many years ago when I went from the living room towards the dining room to collect some items of food for the male guests. As soon as I opened the door, albeit slightly, so that the tray may be passed on to me, the two muslim ladies in there rose from the dining table and hurriedly departed to the side, as if my sight of them, or their sight of me, or both, would somehow violate Islamic teachings, even though they were both wearing the jilbaab. I can only wonder whether any non-muslim men have ever seen those two ladies wander outside of the house to do shopping etc., or if other muslim ladies were to adopt their way, what would become of obtaining an education etc. Such impractical extremism suggests indoctrination by extremist/s, which is not balanced, sensible, or moderate in any way. If those in positions of responsibility and their families are extremists in thought and deed themselves, what will be hoped or expected of those who may come under their influence?
We do have to spend some time in this world where there are usually a similar number of men and women in society, and even in heaven, there will be men; at least that is what I expect most, if not all men who have faith, hope and pray for anyway. It may be that this sort of attitude is what the husband/father, who was a senior missionary, is/was feeding them with for a long time, and was expecting them to act upon, and/or it was due to what they had been hearing inculcated in sermons and speeches, but manifesting such forms of extremism turns other people away from faith. In complete contrast, I used to hear loud hearty mutual laughter when ahmadi women were meeting mirza tahir sahib in his office. Why did he encourage such a relaxed behaviour with himself in his office, by suggesting he is like an actual father to them, which he was not, as if they can relax on purdah with him as if he was their actual father, but practice ultra-extremist behaviour with other men? This may also be due to the relatively little air-time that ahmadi muslim ladies get on mta, with them not even been seen on mta much of the time.
Obedience to Husbands:
Given the above verses, which indicate a relationship based on love and tenderness between spouses, how can the hadith mentioned below be considered acceptable? "If a husband asked his wife to shift a heap of bricks from one place to another, and after she had done it, he told her to carry them back to the former place, she must do that without question."  When a good person would hesitate to impose such an oppressive demand on a servant, how could one possibly even think of treating one's wife in such a callous hard-hearted manner, if one expects to find love, peace and comfort in her? On careful consideration, one should continue applying the principle of rejecting ahadith which are contrary to a single verse of the Holy Qur'an, let alone numerous Qur'anic verses, as well as our God-given capacity for reflection/reasoning. The following is a revelation granted to Ahmad a.s.
"Many people think that their women are their servants. They are not servants but they are their companions!" [al-Fadl, vol. 4, no. 89, May 12, 1917, p. 5, under the subject: Ta’addud-e-Azwaj aur Jama‘at-e-Ahmadiyyah; Tadhkirah p. 1058]
This revelation nullifies the above so-called hadith which must have been forged by a misogynist, as it violates all of the Qur'anic teachings on familys/spousal relations. There are some who claim that Islam teaches the equality of men and women, yet at the same time, instruct people to act upon this doubtful hadith. Reflection shows that these are contradictory statements. The reality is that not only there is no emphasis on obedience of the wife to the husband in the Qur'an, there is not even a single verse which commands it. The Qur'an teaches spouses to submit to Allah, whereas Paul in the Christian New Testament of the Bible orders the wife to submit to her husband in everything [Eph 5.22ff, Col 3.18ff, 1 Pet 3.1ff], and the 'Old Testament' of the Bible declared that the husband will rule over the woman [Genesis 3:16]. It may be sugar-coated by the use of the word love in surrounding verses, but that doesn't change the reality that it is inherently a master-slave type of relationship which is desired a male chauvinist, far away from the true monotheism inculcated by the Qur'an.
These appear to be prejudiced notions of men which have also influenced the views of muslim scholars over the centuries, but these are prejudices which the Qur'an does not promote. Perhaps if there were more trained muslim women scholars who could argue their case properly, thereby refuting the opinions of the male scholars, an equitable balance would established on this issue. Otherwise, the amoral attitude of 'might is right' might prevail, instead of taking into consideration that Allah alone is Almighty, and women would feel their voices of protest against unjust attitudes and wicked conduct go unheard. Even if it may be argued that it is only fair that those who are dependent on others are expected to obey them for worldly reasons rather than religious ones, it would be an exaggeration of reality in my view, as the relationship between spouses is based more on love, tenderness, and kind treatment of near and dear ones (itaa i thil qurbaa), rather than the relatively lesser relationship of just dealings ('adl). As regards decision making, the Qur'an that muslims are to consult one another as shown in both verses below:
[42:38] And those who hearken to their Lord, and observe Prayer, and whose affairs are decided by mutual consultation, and who spend out of what We have provided for them,
[65:7] Lodge them during the prescribed period in the houses wherein you dwell, according to the best of your means; and harass them not that you may create hardships for them. And if they be with child, spend on them until they are delivered of their burden. And if they give suck to the child for you, give them their recompense, and consult with one another in kindness; but if you meet with difficulty from each other, then another woman shall suckle the child for him (the father).
As no human knows everything, not even Reformers/Mujaddideen, Khalifas and Prophets, who can and do err, and are required to consult their companions, how is it husbands are to decide everything by themselves, and merely issue binding orders in an arrogant fashion, and are not to even bother to consult their wives? It would not be the monotheist way for the husband to be an autocrat whom the wife must submit to without question, and obey in everything. The mistaken view that it is a religious requirement for wives to obey husbands, and for children to obey parents, can and does lead to anger and aggression over petty violations, which destroys the peace at home. A case may be made for it, especially for children, due to them being minors, but expecting them to obey as a rule is not good for the parents' own heart and mind, in my humble opinion. Polygyny
There are two verses in the Qur'an which talk about the possibility of more than one marriage for believing men:
[4:3] And if you fear that you will not be fair in dealing with the orphans, then marry of women as may be agreeable to you, two, or three, or four; and if you fear you will not deal justly, then (marry only) one or what your right hands have possesses. That is the nearest (way) for you to avoid injustice.
[4:129] And you cannot keep perfect balance between wives, however much you may desire it. But incline not wholly to one so that you leave the other like a thing suspended. And if you are reconciled and act righteously, surely Allah is Most Forgiving, and Merciful.
These two verses appear to accept the permissibility of having more than one wife within the context of the highly recommended noble duty of taking proper care of orphans, and fairness in dealing with them, but whilst stipulating the condition of not becoming unfair to any one of the wives, and imposing a limit of four wives.
Further research is required on the understanding of these verses in the time of the Prophet s.a. and soon after, and the practice of polygyny among the companions r.a. and early generations of Muslims in comparison with subsequent practice over the centuries and in our times. Some women (muslim and non-muslim) say that polygyny is unfair to women, and some suggest that it gives the license to men to pursue their lustful desires. On the other hand, some Muslim women don't seem to have a problem with it. In any case, I understand that a muslim bride can stipulate in her nikah contract that her bridegroom will not marry another woman whilst she is alive, or that he can not do so without her free, unpressured, permission, which appears to be be just to her, but all the relevant issues needs thorough unbiased research instead of arriving at hasty conclusions, InshaAllaah.
Interesting articles under consideration:
I've recently come across the following book (4th January 2019), which I intend to investigate, InshaAllaah:
The reviews of this book state that the author points out to the total absence of a tafsir/commentary of the Qur'an by a lady scholar, as I have also noted in my article above, and also to the prejudiced interpretations of male scholars:
Another book including the same author as above:
The authors lament the status of muslim women as described in the introduction to the book:
"... Trapped between Western rhetoric that portrays them as submissive figures in desperate need of liberation, and centuries-old, parochial interpretations that have almost become part of the “sacred,” Muslim women are pressured and profoundly misunderstood. Asma Lamrabet laments this state of affairs and the inclination of both Muslims and non-Muslims to readily embrace flawed human interpretations that devalue women rather than remaining faithful to the meaning of the Sacred Text. ..."
Some women are not as articulate in expressing their case, and may use strong or rude words on occasions (or even disobey unjust 'state laws' in protest), but as Allah states:
لَا یُحِبُّ اللّٰہُ الۡجَہۡرَ بِالسُّوۡٓءِ مِنَ الۡقَوۡلِ اِلَّا مَنۡ ظُلِمَ ؕ وَ کَانَ اللّٰہُ سَمِیۡعًا عَلِیۡمًا
[i.e. 4:148] "Allah likes not the uttering of unseemly speech in public, except on the part of one who is being wronged. Verily, Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing." I just came across this interesting article (6th January 2019):
I am yet to study the arguments presented for and against, but it doesn't sound right for someone to be have to resign over differences of opinion/interpretation. There are some valid arguments. Here's an informative book on muslim women scholars which I purchased a few years ago:
It is also discussed in the blogs below:
From a study of the analysis given, it appears that the status of muslim women first suffered a decline in the 4th century of Islam after the acceptance of the incorrectly labelled hadith books as 'sahih'.
There are muslim women in Morroco who have question the traditional jurisprudence on inheritance laws. There is no reason why the issue cannot be thoroughly researched. It would clearly have been very difficult to address all these issues over a century or so ago, but circumstances have changed.
There is also a dispute about the inheritance of Fatima r.a. being denied her by AbuBakr r.a. This too can be revisited, for it is neither a sunni nor Ahmadi teaching that Rightly Guided Khalifas are infallible. If what Abubakr r.a. is claimed to have heard from the Prophet s.a. is precisely as reported, is it according to the Qur'an, and did he interpret it correctly? Did any of the other Companions r.a. affirm or question the narration, and did any of them argue against it on the basis of contradiction with the Holy Qur'an?
I intend to write about female Imams leading men in some more detail, but the case made on the basis of a single hadith (which has two versions), albeit graded as good (hasan), or even sound (sahih) [Misquoting Muhammad, by Jonathan A.C. Brown, p. 194], is weak. Can what was an exception as regards a more knowledgeable woman (Umm Waraqa r.a.) leading her (male and female?) members of her household in prayer, be turned into the rule in mosques? Mothers will be less likely to urge their sons, and jealous wives their husbands, to go to mosques with female Imams leading the males as well in prayer, and it will likely foster suspicion as regards the purity of intentions in decent and modest Muslim societies.
(This article is being developed)
[19:76] Allah increases in guidance those who follow the guidance. [20:47] Peace be upon those who follow the guidance.