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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Islamic State 8: Rights and Obligation of Women

In the Islamic State women have the same rights as men. As well, like men, they too are burdened with certain responsibilities. As citizens of the Islamic State, Muslim men and women are equal. However, both men and women have different political obligations and are awarded different rights. In order to better understand the issue it is necessary to first appreciate the facts upon which this difference in roles and rights of men and women is based.


Islam does not recognize the western theory of equality of sexes. Western idea of equality of sexes does not recognize any difference between the abilities and roles of men and women and therefore wants to utilize the abilities of men and women equally in all spheres of life. Islam however, gives quite distinct concept of equality of sexes. Islam bases the concept of equality of sexes on the fact that both men and women have been created from a single nafs(entity). Men are one of the primary functionaries on this world of humans. They fulfil a certain role. Women too are created to accomplish a distinct task in this machinery of the world. They too form its necessary element. Women deserve respect and acknowledgement just like men. Men have been bestowed with some distinct and special abilities to fulfil specific roles. Women too have been blessed with specific abilities and powers to discharge their distinct role. Just as men have certain feelings, inclinations, requirements and needs, women too have different distinct personal inclinations and natural needs and requirements. Therefore, both men and women must play their distinct roles in the world directed by their natural inclinations and specific circumstances and abilities the way the sun and the moon are set to follow their separate course. Both must be burdened with different kinds of responsibilities in the society determined by their natural inclination and specific abilities. They must also be awarded with different kinds of rights corresponding to their distinct roles.
The Qur’ān declares in very clear terms that both sexes must be dealt with equally. It says:

O people, fear God who has created you of a single entity, created his partner from the same entity and scattered from these both a great number of men and women. (Q 4:1)

This verse roots out all the concepts of inferiority of women maintained by many old religions and civilizations. Islam proclaimed that men as well as women have been created from the same entity. Women too, like men, are a necessary part of the society. The existence of the human society, its continuity and life is not dependent on only one of these two. Both are, therefore, equally necessary to the society. Both must be treated as equal in this sense. However, Islam claims that their abilities and natural characteristics are different. The Qur’ān stated that men’s abilities and qualities are different from that of women. Similarly women too have been blessed with quite distinct qualities and abilities. Both, however, must never on the basis of this difference in abilities and qualities, feel proud or look down upon the other sex. Any of these sexes are not even allowed to covet the abilities of the other. The Almighty says:

Do not covet the excellence given to you over the others. Men will enjoy what they earn and women will enjoy what they earn. Seek God’s bounty. God is knower of everything. (Q 4:32)

This verse makes it clear that the qualities bestowed upon men do not mark their excellence over women and vice versa. Both men and women have been granted distinct qualities. They share God’s bounty equally. This verse provides a basic guidance to both the parties. It is not befitting for the either sex to covet the qualities bestowed upon the other. They should rather be thankful on what they have been given and fulfil the rights attached to these bounties if they are to achieve God’s favour.
An incident from the life of the Prophet sheds further light on this issue. Asmā’ b. Yazīd Anṣāriyyah was the cousin of a famous companion Mu‘ādh b. Jabal. She was renowned for her piety and intelligence. It has been reported that she approached the Prophet and said: “I represent a group of the Muslim ladies. What I am going to express is the view of us all for I am speaking on behalf of the women. God has made you a Messenger to men and women. We (women) believed in you and followed you. However, our circumstances have put us live in veils and restricted to our homes. We are required to offer ourselves when our men need us (for sexual satisfaction) and then we carry and bear their children. Men excel over us in that they offer Friday and daily congregational prayers, attend funeral payers and are able to fight in the war for the cause of God. When they are participating in the war we take care of their household matters and look after their children. Will we too get a share from their reward?” At hearing this cogent expression of her feelings, the Prophet turned to his companions and remarked, “Ever heard a woman seeking explanation of a religious issue so cogently?” The companions swore that they had not. Then the Prophet addressed the lady and asked, “O Asmā, communicate my response to those who have chosen you as their representative. Tell them that by excellently running the household matters, keeping their husbands happy and cooperating with them are no less then all the good works their husbands are able to perform. At hearing this response from the Prophet Aṣmā took her way to home filled with immense feelings of gratitude.[1]


Let us now address the question of equality of men and women in their roles in the collective affairs. The Qur’ān does not acknowledge complete and unconditional equality of men and women in their social and collective role. The Qur’ān acknowledges that women have certain rights in proportion to their responsibilities. The rights awarded to them are clearly identified and attach equal importance. Their rights must be fulfilled. The holy Qur’an also makes it clear that men are superior in social role. The Qur’ān considers this relative superiority of men over women essential for the balance in the social setup. Men are made responsible to provide for the family. His extra obligations require proportionally extra rights.

And the women have rights, according to the custom, similar to their responsibilities. However, men are given a priority over them. (Q 2:229)

Elsewhere the Qur’ān clarified the reason and nature of this superiority of man over woman. Man is naturally and physically fit and able to arrange for the financial provision to the family. He is legally obliged to provide for his spouse and children. He is the only rightful head of woman in collective and social life. The Almighty says:

Men are guardians over women because God granted excellence some among them over others and men spend of their wealth. Therefore, the pious women are required to be obedient and to keep secrets, for God too keeps secrets. (Q 4:34)


In general social responsibilities God differentiated between men and women. Women have generally been excused from any such duties. Whatever responsibilities have been put on them in some pressing circumstances have been compensated in one way or another keeping in consideration their natural weakness.

And let two male witnesses from among you bear witness to it [i.e. such transactions], if two men cannot be found, then one man and two women, whom you approve (as witnesses), so that if one of them forgets the other may remind her. (Q 2:282)

Islam wants to spare women of troublesome social and cultural activities. Women’s participation in such works is not only harmful to the smooth functioning of these institutes but also hinders the proper running of their responsibilities which can only be performed by them. A few examples would better explain our view.
According to the Islamic sharī‘ah a woman cannot lead men in prayer congregations. She can attend a prayer congregation only after fulfilling certain conditions. This directive is not based on inferiority of woman or superiority of men. Rather this is based on religious and moral principles of Islam. Natural sexual traits of women and men’s inbuilt attraction towards it make it quite possible that moral and spiritual purification, the very purpose of the prayer, is lost when it is offered in her leadership. This is precisely for this reason that prayer is not offered with a women leading the congregation.
As well, according to the Islamic Law, a woman does not work as a magistrate or as a judge[2] though some jurisconsults have allowed appointing women on these posts with certain provisos. This law, however, is not based on the inferiority of women. It is based on the natural tendencies of women. God has imposed certain other duties on them which should not be hindered by involvement in judicial activities. The following ḥadīthgoverns the issue of women’s leadership.

Abī Bakrah narrated: When the Prophet came to know that the Persians appointed daughter of Kisrā as their rulers he commented, “a people who take a woman as their head will never prosper.” (Bukhārī, No: 4163)

Bukhārī too, in his Ṣaḥīḥ, recorded a variant of this report which further clarifies a few aspects of the prophetic wisdom.

Abī Bakrah narrates: I was about to participate in the Battle of Jamal. God blessed me with great benefits through a verdict I had heard from the Prophet. When he was informed that the Persians had appointed daughter of Kisrā as their ruler he commented, “a people who take a woman as their head will never prosper.” (Bukhārī, No: 4163)



Books on early Islamic history and the ḥadīth works contain enough evidence to that the believing women have been participating in the battles during the early period of Islam. It has been reported that, in early Islam, women would participate in battles in the company of their husbands and children. However, they did not consider it an obligation to do jihād. In Islam, jihādis imposed on men. The Prophet never commanded or even encouraged women to participate in the battles. According to the prevalent Arab customs believing women participated in battles only to look after the sick, provide first aid to the injured, cook food and to perform other works of similar nature. They did not fight. They were never allowed to fight in the battles. That is why they did not share the booty. Some women nevertheless received part of the booty. That was given them merely as a gift. It was not given them as their legal share. Believing women never participated in the battles unattended by their family members for they never called to do battles. A few narratives shed light on the issue. ‘Ā’ishah narrates:

I said to the Prophet, “O Messenger of God, we believe that jihād is the most excellent act of virtue. Should not we fight then?” He said, “No. Rather the most excellent act of virtue for you is ḥajj accepted (by God).” (Bukhārī, No: 1448)

A variant of this ḥadīth in Bukhārī contains the following words: “your war in the way of Allah is ḥajj.” It is reported that Ummi Warqah b. Nawfal sought the Prophet’s permission to participate in the Battle of Badr. The Prophet declined. She was a scholarly lady with a great knowledge of the Qur’ān. At another occasion she sought his permission to gather the women and girls at her home so that they could learn the Qur’ān and the ṣalāh. This the Prophet allowed. The women from her neighbourhood gathered at her home and she led them in prayer. (Abū Dāwūd, No: 591)
After the revelation of the ḥijāb directives some women sought the Prophet’s permission to participate in the wars. The Prophet did not like this. He wanted to curb this tendency. A similar incident occurred around the Battle of Khaybar. (Abū Dāwūd, No: 2729)
Ḥashraj b. Ziyād reports from his grandmother that she said: “I left my home to participate in the Battle of Khaybar. There were five other women besides me. When the Prophet came to know that we were leaving to participate in the battle he called for us. We went to him only to see him in great anger. “With whom have you set out? Who permitted you to leave?” he enquired. We told him that we had left on our own. We said, “We card wool and work for the sake of God. We have collected some first aid for the injured. We can hand over the arrows to the warriors and can serve fine flour to them.” He said, “Go back.” When the Muslims were victorious and conquered the land of Khaybar the Messenger or God granted us a share in the war booty.”[3]Ḥashraj asked her grandmother what she got in share. Some dates, she explained. (Abū Dāwūd, No: 2729)






History of early Islam shows that women never participated in the political affairs. However, ‘Ā’ishah, the mother of the faithful, is the only exception. First she demanded from ‘Alī that the assassins of ‘Uthmān were punished. This he could not. His failure to punish the murderers led ‘Ā’ishah to fight ‘Alī. This battle fought between the two is known as the Battle of Jamal (Camel). We do not wish to judge which of the two parties was on the right and who misinterpreted the divine rulings in this regard. We only wish to see ‘Ā’ishah’s step was legally and religiously correct or not. In this regard varying views have been attributed to many of the companions, men and women, in the books of asmā al-rijāl (science of men). These views can, however, be discounted considering the fact that all of them side with one of the two parties. These views can therefore be partial. We omit to discuss all of them. We will, however, discuss the viewpoint of ‘Abd Allāh b. ‘Umar, son of the Caliph ‘Umar. His view is relevant in two aspects. First, ‘Abd Allāh b. ‘Umar have never been a party in this dispute in any way. Second, his piety and knowledge has always been recognized by all the Muslims. It has been reported that he declared, in no unclear terms, that ‘Ā’ishah had better sat at her home rather than being part of the dispute.

That the house of ‘Ā’ishah becomes her more than her howdah.[4]

‘Alī was a party in this dispute. Many may not consider his view of much importance in this case. To me, however, his view deserves serious consideration for the following reasons. He always avoided showing partiality against his opponents in most crucial matters. He always practiced justice and equity. During the Battle of Camel, to cite an example, when the dispute among the Muslims was at its worst manifestation he honoured and respected ‘Ā’ishah. His view cannot be rejected dubbed as a party claim. His position, on the contrary, should be considered in this case just as it is considered important and worthy in other religious affairs. The following letter he wrote to ‘Ā’ishah addresses the question under discussion. It informs us of his viewpoint over his confrontation with her.

You have stood up claiming something for the sake of God and his Messenger that was not your responsibility. What can make women do battles and reform people? You want to avenge the murder of Uthmān. By God, those who incited you into committing this mistake and who put you in this trial have done you a greater wrong than that done to Uthmān. You have allowed others to incite you, agigate you and make you lose your temper. Fear God and return to your home.[5]

We see how ‘Alī avoids judging her stance. It was his general habit to openly tell his opponents that what they were out to do was against the sharī‘ah. He would also argue from the basic sources of the sharī‘ah. Here he refrains from making any clear judgment. He does not say that ‘Ā’ishah’s view is baseless. He objects to ‘Ā’ishah’s offensive and holds that she took up and pursued an issue that was not her duty. Being a woman she was not required by God and his Messenger to follow that matter. She has been incited by others. They led her to intervene in a matter that lay outside her religious obligations. She allowed others to drag her into a great trial (fitnah). She could have stayed aside without incurring any accountability.
In her response, the mother of the faithful, ‘Ā’ishah merely stated that the time to protests and remorse had gone. She did not defend her position. Her response reflects that she had felt the tenability of the view of ‘Alī. It seems that she was affected by ‘Alī’s letter. The situation, however, was out of control at that time. She was no longer able to undo the steps she had taken. We do not find any other reasonable explanation of this brief reply from the mother of the faithful in which she avoids responding to ‘Ali’s claim that the matter lay outside the issues women are obliged to follow. She was a lady who fought for the rights of women all her life. She could have defended her position if she did not believe in veracity of ‘Alī’s views. She could have written back that what he had held was not tenable. What we have explained regarding the reason of her reaction to ‘Alī’s letter is further corroborated by her future behaviour. She limited her activities to the affairs of women. She never participated in any political dispute in any way. We have enough indications in the historical facts which prove that she was remorseful on her step against ‘Alī throughout her life.


Involvement of women in the political setup of the state is harmful. The character of women does not correspond to that of the state. Woman’s character is marked more by passivity than activity, subservience than dominance. She is, by nature, influenced more than she can influence. She is strongly passionate and remarkably sensitive. This makes her vulnerable and docile in all kinds of events and circumstances and that too to an extreme state. This nature of woman is indeed a very great virtue required in her own natural vocation. It is only because of this nature that she is able to show love and passion towards her children and husband. She feels for them quickly whenever they are in trouble and pain and then puts all her forces to help them. She cannot feel comfortable until they are relaxed even if she has to sacrifice all her assets to this end.
On the contrary this very nature of her does not leave her fit for the political and public duties. Whenever she is involved in such activities as lie outside of her natural role she can prove harmful for herself as well as the state. Unlike woman the character of the state is manly. It is marked more by activity than passivity, dominance than subservience. The state has to command influence more than it can be influenced. The state has well defined goals and determined will. It has to accomplish this goal with an active determination and dominant force. The national affairs are quite all embracing. It has to deal with the natives and the foreigners, its own people and the aliens. This makes it imperative for the state to show an attitude more corresponding to expediency and political aims. It has to show more solidity than passion, less aggression than determination. The matter is not, therefore, limited to women. Some men too are not fit for the purpose of the state. Men who are overly passionate and sensitive are not suitable for the Sate office. If they are put to discharge such duties they not only harm themselves but also put the state in jeopardy.
Womanly character is not fit for any state. The Islamic State cannot afford it any circumstances. The present day democracies, which are represented by the public, may sometimes tolerate such a character in the office for they have to submit to the will of the subjects. The Islamic State, however, is established to implement the will of God and not of the subjects. It aims at enforcing the will of God in all the spheres of life within its jurisdiction. It cannot afford putting such characters in the office. This is because when the Prophet was informed that the Sassanid had enthroned the daughter of their deceased king he commented:

A people who take a woman as their head will never prosper. (Bukhārī, N0: 4163)

Bluntschly, a renowned scholar of political science writes in his book the Theory of the State:

Women who have been famous in politics have generally done harm to the state and their friends. Their cleverness and acuteness become dangerous intrigue: and when once the passions of political hatred, revenge and greed have been kindled in a woman’s breast, they spread like wildfire. This is true not only of the mistresses of princes, but of many wives and mothers notorious in history. The history of Rome, the French Revolution, the courts of the French kings, all tell the same tale. [6]

After the last world war, the French leaders were compelled to admit that a major reason of their defeat was the women who had involved in the national politics. The political history of Islam too offers some insightful precedents in this regard as we have discussed above. Let us now turn to the rights and obligations of women in the Islamic State keeping the above mentioned facts in perspective.


As regards the rights of citizens the Islamic State does not discriminate between man and woman.
The Islamic State guarantees the protection of life, property and honour of every woman. Woman has the right to private property and the state is obliged to protect this right of woman.
The state shall also make sure that woman is given full freedom to avail the rights awarded her by the sharī‘ah. No cultural customs and superstitious traditions will be allowed to affect her freedom and hinder her avail her rights.
Woman will be awarded full freedom to form opinion and express herself through writing and speech. She is free to form and join gilds and associations, issue newspapers and journals, criticize the government, seek her rights and freely express her views on issues of national interest.
Her personal freedom will be fully protected. She will not be subjected to any restriction other than the limits prescribed by the sharī‘ah.
Like man woman too has the right to form, follow and propagate any religious school within the limits of the sharī‘ah.
Woman is also guaranteed legal equality. The national law will not treat woman with discrimination on the basis of her financial and social status.
Race and decent, poverty and opulence, vocation and trade will not determine the superiority or inferiority of woman.
Woman will also have the equal right over the national assets under the bayt al-māl.
The state will provide for the basic needs of every needy woman.
The state will make sure that the woman, just like man, is granted equal opportunity to education.
Woman will enjoy full right to free and indiscriminating justice.
If a woman dies leaving behind some debts with no assets to be used to pay off her obligations the state will be liable to pay off her debts.
No woman will be required to do anything in defiance of the divine commands.
Every woman will be free to criticize officials of the state and will have the right to petition.


Corresponding to the rights enumerated above woman owes obligations to the state and the society. These follow:

1. Obedience:
Just like man, woman too is obliged to listen to and follow the commands of the state authorities which are in accordance with the sharī‘ah and established concepts of good and virtue. The only situation where she may not obey the rulers is when they issue a command in defiance to the divine laws.

2. Sympathy: Woman too is obliged to wish well for the state authorities and the rulers and sympathize with them. She is, therefore, required to avoid committing anything that is against national interest. It is her duty to God to do whatever she deems necessary for the betterment of the state and the nation. She may not only do whatever she believes to be in her favour. If she forms an opinion on issues of national interest she should share it with the rulers even if it is not appreciated. She is obliged to curb whatever occurrences in the society are against the interest of the nation. She must endeavour to dress it by force if possible. Failing that she may raise her voice against it. Failing that, she must detest it. Her criticisms must also be true and honest. Whenever she is employed to carry out a work of public welfare, she must discharge the entrusted duty to the best of her ability. She is to perform the entrusted task with true intention. It is her service to God.

3. Cooperation: Woman is obliged to cooperate with the state and the authorities in different ways considering her position in the social set up and her circumstances.
i. Woman will have participation in the Counsel of Shūrā. Her representatives will be elected by the electoral of women only. These representatives will communicate the views of the female population of the country to the authorities. The government will not determine a course of action in matters concerning women except after proper consultation with women representatives. Elsewhere in this book we have narrated how Asmā b. Yazīd Anṣāriyyah represented women before the Prophet. She asked him questions. The Prophet treated her as a representative of women of the time. He sent her back with his response to the questions. Another similar example from the life history of the Prophet is that of Shafā’ ‘Ummi Sulaymān b. Abī Ḥatmah.
‘Umar would consult her first of all. He would appreciate her opinions, would prefer her and at times put her in charge of certain affairs of the market.[7]
ii. All the state departments directly related to women alone including women colleges and schools, women hospitals, women police, women military training centres etc are run by the female population. According to the Islamic principles, women will be granted autonomous power to run these departments.
iii. Women can be employed in all governmental departments provided they are able to discharge their duties while observing the Islamic dress code. All such women as have shown their expertise in any specific discipline will be provided full opportunity to serve in that field unhindered.
Military Service: Islam does not oblige woman to serve in the armed forces. However, she has to learn the use of weapons, safety measures in emergencies like in air raid, first aid and other similar activities. Government in the Islamic State ensures that woman is trained in these matters in favourable atmosphere. She is not forced to mix with men and abandon her dress code. Thus she will be able to serve the state in emergency conditions. She can thus participate in Jihad and reap the reward from the Almighty Allah.


[1] Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Al-Istī‘āb fī Ma‘rifah al-Aṣḥāb, 4: 1788.
[2] Shawkānī, Nayl al-Awṭār, vol. 8 (Saudi Arabia: Idārah al-Baḥūth al-‘Ilmiyyah), 240.
[3] “A share like that of men” does not mean that they too would get the share from the war booty determined for the men participating in the war. The statement of the narrator itself explains that they were granted something of the booty like some dates etc.
[4] Ibn Qutaybah, al-Imāmah wa al-Siyāsah, 1: 61.
[5] Ibid., 70-1.
[6] Johann Kaspar Bluntschly, The Theory of the State, 3rd ed., (Ontrario: Batoche Books, 2000), 173.
[7] Ibn Ḥajar, al-Iṣabah fī Tamyīz al-Ṣaḥābah, 1st ed., vol. 4 (Beirut: Dār al-Ma‘rifah, 2004), 2551.