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A different look at Islams approach to womens rights

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    A different look at Islams approach to womens rights

    Quranic status of women
    Prof Rafi Ullah Shehab
    Averse of Surah Al-Nisa has agitated the minds of great Muslim authorities
    about the Islamic status of women. Majority of our ulema consider women
    inferior to men but this verse establishes their superiority over men. A
    literal translation of its relevant portion is reproduced below:-
    'Men are the maintainers of women with what Allah has made some of them
    excel others and with what they spend out of them' (Surah Al-Nisa-34). In
    this translation the Quranic word 'Qawwamoon' has been translated as
    'maintainers' while the majority of ulema translate it as 'rulers over
    women' and in the light of this wrong translation, they infer that in
    Islam women have an inferior status to men. While the most authentic
    Arabic dictionary 'Taj-ul-Urus by Allama Murtaza Zubaidi insists that the
    correct meaning of this verse is maintainer. Accordingly, the
    responsibility for providing subsistence to women is placed on the
    shoulders of men which points to the superior status of women. In the
    light of this meaning Allama Allusi, a great exegetist of the Holy Quran,
    had to admit that the literal translation of this verse establishes the
    superiority of some women over the majority of men. (Tafsir Rooh-al-Maani,
    vol: V, p-23).
    According to this translation some men also enjoy superior status than
    majority of the women. This meaning establishes the fact that both the
    sexes enjoy equal status in Islam while some women excel majority of men
    and vice-verse. Had the Holy Quran considered women inferior to men, the
    wording of the verse should have been 'fazala rijalun alan nisa' (men
    excel women) but instead such words have been used which also establish
    the superiority of women over men as admitted by Allama Allusi.
    However, our ulema in order to support their viewpoint of the inferior
    status of women infer from a number of Islamic issues which, according to
    them, support their faulty viewpoint. These issues include half a share of
    women in inheritance, polygamy, evidence of two women equal to the
    evidence of one man and the custom of aqiqa. It will be established in the
    following lines that the viewpoint of ulema about these issues is
    defective and against the spirit of the teachings of Islam. But first we
    take those issues which establish the superior status of women.
    In the verse under reference, the responsibility for meeting all the
    expenses of women, has been placed on shoulders of men. In the light of
    this Quranic injunction, a would-be husband is required to meet all the
    expenses of his marriage. The parents of the bride are not expected to
    spend even a penny. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) had explained this Quranic
    injunction through the practical example of the marriage of his daughter
    Hazrat Fatima (RA) with Hazrat Ali (RA). Hazrat Ali was brought up by the
    Holy Prophet (PBUH) in his house and he was in a position to spend any
    amount on his marriage but he had to set a good precedent for the
    Hazrat Ali (RA) at that time had no personal property except an armour. He
    sold it for 480 dirhams and handed over the money to the Holy Prophet
    (PBUH) as dower-money (Haq-i-Mehr) of Hazrat Fatima (RA). All the expenses
    of her marriage were met from this money. But today women in our country
    refuse to follow this Islamic law and spend huge money on the marriages of
    their daughters.
    The second issue which establishes the superiority of women is the
    separation rights of spouses. Both enjoy equal rights but women seldom use
    them. In case of divorce by the husband, the woman automatically becomes
    the owner of the house in which they were living before divorce. In this
    respect clear injunction was revealed in the very first verse of Surah
    Al-Talaaq in which the ownership of the house in which the woman was
    living before divorce had been attributed to her. This Islamic law is on
    the statute book of Egypt and other Arab countries. As a result the men
    seldom dare to divorce their wives as in that case they would lose the
    ownership of their houses.
    But it is strange that in our country nobody knows about this important
    Islamic law. Our ulema who insist on the inferior status of women, never
    referred to it. Had there been some women religious scholars in our
    country, like Egypt, this Islamic right of women would have been restored
    to them in the country.
    Now we briefly discuss those Islamic issues which, according to the ulema,
    establish the inferior status of women.
    The first one is about their claim of half a share of women in
    inheritance. These shares have been prescribed according to the
    liabilities and responsibilities of women. No doubt in some cases it is
    one half of male share but in some cases share of women is double than
    that of men. In case of daughter it is no doubt one half than that of the
    son but in case of the mother and the sister it is equal to that of men.
    In one case the share of the mother has been prescribed double than the
    father. This double share for the mother is due to the fact that she
    enjoys higher status than the father. This is supported by a Hadith
    according to which Paradise is under the feet of mothers, not fathers.
    The second issue is polygamy about which clear Quranic injunction is
    usually ignored. It allows second marriage with widows only, especially
    those who have to bring up orphan children, and not with virgin girls as
    is the practice in our country. This permission was given to provide
    protection to the destitute and not for enjoyment. Those who transgress
    this Islamic injunction, they commit adultery which is punishable with
    The third issue is about the evidence of two women equal to that of one
    man but this viewpoint is also against the spirit of the teachings of
    Islam. There are six issues, referred to in the Holy Quran which are
    evidence related. In five cases the evidence of women has been treated
    equal to that of men. Only in one case some distinction has been made.
    This issue relates to financial matters which, according to the teachings
    of Islam, is the realm of men. But there can be cases when the evidence of
    two men may not be available. In such a situation evidence of women is
    also accepted. As ordinarily the women were not expected to give evidence
    in such cases, so there were chances of confusion. To save her from such a
    confusion, she was allowed to have the company of another woman who may
    save her from such a confusion. If she is not confused then the
    accompanying woman has nothing to do. The evidence of one woman even in
    these cases is treated equal to one man.
    The fourth issue from which the Ulema infer the inferior status of women
    is the custom of aqiqa. According to this custom two goats are slaughtered
    at the birth of a son and one on the birth of a girl. In the light of this
    custom, the Ulema claim half status for women. Imam Abu Hanifa, the
    founder of Hanafite jurisprudence which is followed in our country, has
    claimed that aqiqa was a custom of Jahilliah period discontinued in Islam,
    so he forbade the believers from slaughtering animals on the birth of
    their children. (Badai-i-Sana Vol. V, p-127).
    But unfortunately this custom has become a source of income for the ulema
    so they never informed the believers about this edict of their Imam.
    Unfortunately our intellectuals never cared to devote some time to the
    study of Islam, otherwise they would have saved the masses from such
    manoeuvrings of the ulema who never hesitate to use Islam for their
    ulterior motives. These details establish the fact that both the sexes
    enjoy equal status in Islam. In some cases women excel men and vice versa.
    Those who insist that women enjoy an inferior status in Islam lack proper
    knowledge of its teachings.
    I am not prepared to take .....

    The Farhat Hashmi Phenomenon

    The Farhat Hashmi Phenomenon
    - By Samina Ibrahim

    Never before has any female religious scholar inspired such fervour
    or such controversy.

    It is December 24, 2000 and the twenty-seventh night of the
    holy month of Ramzan. As early as 8 pm women begin to gather
    at the tented and carpeted mammoth cricket ground of one of
    the city's oldest clubs, the Karachi Gymkhana. They come in
    ever-growing numbers, from all walks of life, thrown together
    by the greatest of all equalisers - religion. When a tall and
    imposing hijab-clad figure steps up on the dais at 10 pm,
    there are over 5000 women present and the congregation has
    spilled over into the adjoining club garden. There is
    pin-drop silence as she begins to recite the thirtieth sipara
    of the Holy Quran. The woman behind the powerful yet mellow
    voice that echoes the message of the Quran is Karachi's newest
    phenomenon. A woman who has inspired among others, the ladies
    who lunch, to spend four hours a day, six days a week on the
    seventh floor of a shopping mall in Clifton to listen to, what
    some call, a woman-oriented interpretation of the Quran. Her
    name is Dr. Farhat Hashmi.
    Unusually enough, Farhat Hashmi is not a product of the
    madrassa system. She went to school in Sargodha and then went
    on to do her masters in Arabic from the Punjab University
    where she graduated with honours. She went back to Sargodha
    College and taught Arabic but soon found that there was no
    spiritual satisfaction in just teaching Arabic as a language.
    There was an inescapable pull towards the Quran. Farhat
    Hashmi is, as she puts it, "addicted to the Quran. It has
    that power that once you get involved with it, it is
    impossible to leave." So she began teaching the Quran at home
    in the afternoons. Next followed a teaching stint at the
    Islamic University in Islamabad where she came into contact
    with professors who had studied Islam in America and Europe.
    Her curiosity was aroused as to how Islam was taught and
    perceived in the west. By this time she was married. Having
    been granted a merit scholarship she went, alongwith with her
    husband, to the University of Glasgow where they both did
    their Ph.D in Hadith. During their four years in Glasgow they
    also went on a study tour of Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan,
    Saudi Arabia where they met and debated with the Arab world's
    foremost Islamic scholars. Farhat also held detailed
    communications on religious issues with the world reknowned
    Islamic scholar, Dr. Hamidullah, in Paris. As her religious
    horizons broadened, Farhat Hashmi realised the extent of the
    suspicion-ridden, rigid and narrow religious views that
    prevailed in Pakistan. It was this realisation that was to
    colour and influence her future teachings.
    And what she began as a Quran class for 50 women in 1994 in
    Islamabad is today an institution for religious studies with
    chapters in Lahore, Peshawar, Faisalabad and Karachi - the
    Al-Huda Institute for Islamic Education. The number of
    students has swelled to over 3000 and growing, and this does
    not include the host of regular listeners who attend on a more
    casual basis. While Al-Huda's academic reputation as a centre
    of learning the Quran, the Hadith and Arabic has been firmly
    established, Farhat Hashmi remains the moving force. It is
    her classes that women throng to attend and her voice that
    they want to hear.
    Never before has any female religious scholar inspired such
    fervour - or such controversy. From Friday khutbas in
    Karachi's mosques to elite social gatherings, everybody has
    something to say about Farhat Hashmi. And the comments range
    from deep spiritual admiration to complete rejection to open
    condemnation from some pulpits. Whatever the reaction, one
    thing is clear - Farhat Hashmi's classes and their impact on
    society have become increasingly difficult to ignore.
    While spreading the message of the Quran is hardly a novel
    concept, never before has a woman fired the hearts and minds
    of thousands of women all over Pakistan, uniting them in a
    religious sorority that transcends all social barriers.
    College girls, young mothers with babes in tow, little old
    ladies, familiar faces from Karachi's social circuit and their
    middle class sisters all sit in silent and rapt attention in
    the huge main hall and lining the corridors and entrance of
    Al-Huda's Clifton campus. Though wearing the hijab is not
    mandatory, it far outnumbers the dupattas and, for the
    uniniated, the sight of a myriad hijabs is a daunting one.
    However, any alienation is dispelled when the class ends, and
    the silence explodes with the reassuring familiar sound of
    female chatter and laughter. There are animated discussions
    on the morning's lesson, what's best for the baby's cough, the
    merit of hijab and which shop to check out at the Gulf
    Shopping Mall next door. One can almost touch the feeling of
    It is, however, no coincidence that the sudden appearance and
    rise of the hijab occurred after December 1999, which also
    marked the beginning of Dr. Hashmi's classes in Karachi. For
    the first time the orthodox outward garb of Islam has invaded
    the rarefied upper class world of Pakistan's 'westernised'
    society. The hijab - for many a symbol of obscurantism - has
    reared its firmly wrapped head at elite weddings and society
    balls, holding its own against a sea of bare shoulders and
    strappy blouses. However, for many men and women, both
    liberal and conservative, the hijab is an unwelcome and
    uncomfortable intrusion that has upset the delicate
    equilibrium between their worldly and spiritual lives.
    "I have heard her tapes and the message she conveys is from a
    woman's point of view," says Justice (retd) Shaiq Usmani, an
    expert in Islamic jurisprudence. "She says that by wearing
    the hijab you liberate yourself like the women in Iran today.
    Her message is that instead of doing things the western way,
    if women were to adopt the Islamic way, they could actually
    accomplish much more without being criticised. And she
    herself is a living example of that. Because her outward
    appearance conforms to orthodox views, the ulema have not
    openly risen against her, despite the fact that her
    interpretation of the Quran is not quite the same as theirs.
    My question is would a woman, as learned as Farhat Hashmi but
    not in hijab, command the same awe and respect? And would the
    religious element tolerate her? Never. For me personally,
    this basic inequality in appearance between a man and a woman
    is unacceptable. What the Quran says is to cover your beauty.
    Culturally in the Arab world men wear headgear, women wear
    headgear, so it is more of a cultural custom as opposed to an
    Islamic custom as I see it. For me, the hijab symbolises
    losing whatever little freedom women have gained."
    Amina Ahmed, wife of a prominent businessman who grew up in a
    devout and learned religious family and herself studied
    religion, first went to listen to Farhat Hashmi in December
    1999. What she heard inspired her to enroll as a student.
    "What attracted me to Farhat Hashmi was the clarity and
    intellectual depth of her delivery of the Quran and her deep
    love and devotion to both the Quran and the Prophet (PBUH),"
    says Amina. "She is a master in Hadith and for me has brought
    the Quran alive by putting each ayat in its historical
    context." However, Amina does feel that she is too rigid in
    some matters which could drive some people away. "And since
    most of the women who attend follow her blindly, there could
    even be a danger of her becoming a cult figure," maintains
    Amina, who though deeply religious has chosen not to wear the
    hijab. While most of the middle class women who attend Dr.
    Hashmi's classes have donned the hijab, many of their elite
    sisters have still to accept the concept of covering their
    heads, let alone the finality of hijab. One who did, however,
    says it was one of the most difficult things she has ever
    done. "Not only did I face opposition from my friends, but
    even my husband and children were totally against it," says
    Ghazala Shaikh, an industrialist's wife. "And even though I
    wanted to, first my vanity stopped me and then the fear of
    sticking out like a sore thumb socially. Now my family has
    got used to it, I feel confident and secure wearing it and it
    has not stopped me from going anywhere or doing anything I
    want to do." For Ghazala, Farhat Hashmi's classes were a
    turning point in her life. "The intellectual calibre of her
    clear and simple translation of the Quran, the absence of
    dogma and the compassion of her interpretation made me realise
    that the Quran is God's syllabus for mankind. It was a
    powerful experience and for the first time I feel spiritually
    Most of the upper class women who attend, however, seem to be
    testing the waters and have obviously found it difficult to
    blindly accept everything that is being taught in its
    entirety. When pressed, many also reject the concept of
    multiple marriages for men, and the laws that govern
    inheritance, child custody and evidence and admit that the
    Quran does tilt towards the man. "When you read the Quran you
    will find that the treatment of women is almost condescending.
    There is no question of equality between men and women," says
    Shaiq Usmani. "For the religious elements enforcing Islam
    means restraining the women. They are not interested in the
    social evils that plague our society. You will seldom find
    the ulema speaking out against social injustice. There was a
    need for a woman to speak to women from their point of view.
    And Farhat Hashmi has fulfilled that need; here is somebody
    who is saying that the Quran is not just male-oriented, there
    is something there for women. However, I do feel that Farhat
    Hashmi's classes could also have a negative impact. If the
    pressure on the government is thwarted by groups like Al-Huda,
    there is a danger that women will sink into obscurity. And
    considering the concessions presently being given to
    obscurantist elements and the fact that Talibanisation is on
    our doorsteps, there is a danger of this happening."
    Farhat Hashmi's popular appeal has also been attributed to the
    fact that women's movements in Pakistan have not had the
    desired impact at a grass roots level, primarily because they
    have generally been led by so called 'Westernised women' who
    are anathema to the middle class. The majority of the women
    who attend classes at Al-Huda are from the middle class and in
    Farhat Hashmi they have found a woman who conforms to the
    strictest tenets of Islam, who speaks to them through the
    Quran and provides them with an opportunity to meet and
    interact with other women at a forum that not even the most
    conservative man can object to. For them, Farhat Hashmi's
    message is one of empowerment through knowledge and debate and
    could be a powerful vehicle for change that could take women
    either into the 21st century or back into the dark ages.
    According to Shaiq Usmani: "She is a reformer and a good one,
    but she is not preparing women for the challenges that lie
    ahead: to participate in the country's development, to get rid
    of cultural taboos. I think she should distinguish the
    message of the Quran that pertains only to the Arabs with the
    message that is universal. A Muslim is bound to accept the
    word of the Quran, not its cultural interpretations. The
    Quran must be obeyed, but why must it be obeyed the way the
    Arabs follow it? Why have we Arabised our religion? I would
    like to see Farhat Hashmi interpret the Quran in a modern
    As far as the upper strata of society is concerned, for every
    begum who attends Farhat Hashmi's classes there are many who
    are actively against them. Says Farida Hussain, a
    multinational CEO's wife who has lived her life by the tenets
    of Islam: "Ever since Farhat Hashmi began her classes in
    Karachi I have noticed that those who wear the hijab think it
    gives them the right to do anything and get away with it. I
    have seen women drivers in hijab brazenly break traffic laws.
    It seems to me that they feel that the hijab has given them
    the protection to do what they want. And while I cannot in
    all fairness say that I am anti-Farhat Hashmi herself, I am
    certainly anti the self-righteous and judgmental products her
    classes are churning out."
    Then there are those women who still prefer their religion in
    gentler, weekly doses and while they acknowledge the
    intellectual depth and calibre of her classes, are more
    comfortable with the familiar mildness of the drawing room
    dars. "I'm not ready for the punch of Farhat Hashmi's classes
    or to commit myself to going for three hours every day," says
    Tehmina Bilal a regular dars- goer. "I don't think I could
    cope emotionally with the moral dilemmas that go with a dars
    as powerful as hers. Even though I realise that it would give
    my religious knowledge a new dimension, I feel somewhat
    intimidated, particularly when I see the change in those who
    have started attending her classes."
    Others are even harsher in their criticism of her classes,
    questioning not only their impact on society, but also their
    social relevance. "All Farhat Hashmi's classes have achieved
    is an obsession with unnecessary details, rather than the
    basic concept of humanity," says Nilofer Kirmani, a dedicated
    social worker and a God-fearing Muslim. "We have enough
    intelligence and knowledge of our religion to practise it. We
    don't need a scholar's guidance to become good Muslims. The
    only difference her classes have made is that now women are
    b*****shing their religious beliefs like battle flags. I feel
    that the hundreds of women who attend her classes could use
    those precious four hours a day much more constructively
    getting their hands dirty at places like the Civil or Jinnah
    Hospital. I think it is shameful that Swiss and Dutch
    airhostesses are working with retarded Muslim children in
    Dar-ul-Sakoon because not enough of us are prepared to go
    there. It is all very well to sit in a centrally air
    conditioned hall and learn about religion, but there are other
    matters too that are in dire need of urgent attention."
    At the other end of the social spectrum are Pakistan's largely
    male ulema who are decidedly uncomfortable with Farhat
    Hashmi's growing influence and cannot swallow the fact that a
    woman has dared to encroach on what has always been their
    exclusive domain. Particularly when that woman is probably
    academically higher qualified than most of them, has a mind of
    her own, expresses views and interpretations that often clash
    with theirs and has made it abundantly clear that she will not
    toe any religious party's line. To the mullahs, Farhat Hashmi
    represents a very real threat which might well dent their
    traditional religious supremacy. "For the ulema the concept
    of ijtehad (interpretation) can only be unertaken by a person
    learned in Islam, which today means the ulema," says Shaiq
    Usmani. "And the ulema are slaves to their own thinking and
    incapable of meaningful ijtehad. I think Farhat Hashmi has
    made a beginning and she should concentrate on this aspect if
    she wants to have a positive impact on women and their place
    in society."
    By taking the hitherto gentle concept of womens dars' out of
    secluded drawing rooms and into the streets, Farhat Hashmi has
    been perceived by some ulema to be questioning their
    established theological authority. Particularly when she does
    so on an intellectual level, backing her arguments with solid
    academic knowledge and research. Some ulema have accused her
    of liberalising Islam and turning women away from the true
    path. One religious scholar went to the extent of calling her
    a kafir because she does not propagate the concept of jihad,
    and in Ramzan there were reportedly Friday khutbas in some
    Karachi mosques accusing her of being hostile to the ulema and
    misleading women. Ironically enough, for once, both the
    mullahs and the liberal elite are wary of the same thing - for
    diametrically opposed reasons.
    Meanwhile at the vortex of all this controversy, Farhat Hashmi
    herself remains seemingly impervious to both kudos and
    criticism. She exudes a supreme confidence in the ultimate
    aim of her mission - to spread the message of the Quran. And
    for the 1000 women who attend her classes in Karachi alone,
    she is saying what they want to hear untainted by the agenda
    of any religious party. Unusually enough for institutions of
    this nature, Al-Huda gets its funding from individuals only.
    Farhat Hashmi categorically denies that Al-Huda receives funds
    from Saudi Arabia. The fact that women from all religious
    sects attend her classes, both as students and listeners,
    seems to belie the allegation that she follows the Wahabi
    school of thought. In her explanation and interpretation all
    relevant sources are used regardless of which sect they
    represent. As one student put it: "Here you see women from
    communities who normally won't even go to each other's mosques
    sitting together and studying the Quran. I have observed that
    she is very sensitive not to offend or in any way promote
    religious discord. To her we are all Muslims only, first and
    Except for Justice (retd.) Shaiq Usmani, all names have been
    changed to protect the privacy of concerned individuals.

    How can a man die better than facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers and the Temple of his Gods?

    Don't you think that this is just being reactionary?

    If an opinion was created that Islam doesn't have equal rights for men then what would you do.

    To ask who is better men or women is the same as saying what's better and apple or an orange. Men have rights women have rights, there are some rights that men have that women don't and there are some rights that women have but men don't.