In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise is due to Allah, we praise Him and we seek help from Him. We ask forgiveness from Him. We repent to Him; and we seek refuge in Him from our own evils and our own bad deeds.
Anyone who is guided by Allah, he is indeed guided; and anyone who has been left astray, will find no one to guide him.
I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, the Only One without any partner; and I bear witness that Muhammad, (SAW), is His servant, and His Messenger.
My Respect Brothers and Sisters,
A great deal of published materials is now available on this subject. I do not wish to repeat more of the same. I think that the debate on women’s position in Islam is now over. The time has come to examine, in a practical manner, how the Muslimahs (Muslim women) can contribute for the betterment of the Ummah as mother, wife, and daughter and as an active member of the Muslim community. The question is not what her role is; the urgent issue is how best she can discharge that role.
There is now some consensus among Muslims that the role of our women is both important and wide ranging in the modern world. There is also growing consensus and confidence that it is now possible for Muslim women to remain good Muslimahs (Muslim women) and be able to discharge most of the duties and cope with most of the demands made on them by the present day society. At no time in Muslim history except during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) the role of Muslim women has been of greater importance than it is today. On a local level this role has been greater in some Muslim countries at different times in history but never a greater global demand was made on the Muslim women. This applies to the ordinary Muslim women, the professional and educated Muslim women, the rich Muslim women including princesses and Sheikhas and the influential Muslim women in politics, teaching, and business or as wives of influential Muslims. Now let us examine some situations and make some recommendations and action plans. There is no single panacea for the many problems facing Muslims but that should not deter us from looking for solutions and for relying on Allah’s (SWT) help.
MUSLIM WOMEN’S IDENTITY
Religious and cultural identity distinguishes one people from another. One of the great strengths of western culture is that it gives in western dress some distinct identity to western woman whether she is in bikini, skirt, trouser or dress. Muslim women vary in their style of dress depending on the part of the world they live, but there are still two Islamic rules that promote and sustain their common identity. It is the HIJAB and the modesty of their dress as prescribed by their religion that achieves this. HIJAB can truly be said to be the identifying symbol of the world wide Muslim Women. It is sad and very degrading to see so many educated Muslim women not wearing HIJAB and adopting the vulgar western dress. HIJAB is the pre-requisite to fulfill the requirements of modesty of dress required by Allah (SWT) from all Muslim Women.
HIJAB and a modest style of Islamic dress represent female modesty and respectability and assert Muslim women’s dignity and self-esteem in a public manner. Western dress often symbolizes a permissible lifestyle and an invitation to sexual and other harassment. Therefore every Muslim woman must feel proud in wearing HIJAB and must pay special attention to modesty of dress and ornament in public.
Muslim women were given an exalted status and many rights by Islam fourteen hundred and thirty six years ago. Some of these rights have been granted to Western women after a great deal of struggle only recently. The question now arises as to what the modern Muslim Woman is doing to express her gratitude to Allah (SWT) for His favours to her. A question can be posed to every Muslim woman, ‘don’t ask what Islam can do for you; ask what you can do for Islam?’ In dressing themselves in an Islamic manner Muslim woman is not only following Allah’s (SWT) Commandments but is also expressing gratitude to her Creator. Therefore she must feel pride and pleasure in dressing strictly according to the Islamic code. Some Muslim women think that western dress and haircut makes them advanced and progressive. In fact this is untrue. Muslim women who adopt this western dress code and show-off hair look totally out of place. Contrary to popular belief majority of people in the west don’t think much of these women.
* Not only in Islam, even in Christianity and Judaism there is a command to wear HIJAB
It was reported that, the Women around Jesus (May the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) veiled themselves according to the practice of women around the earlier Prophets. Their garments were loose and covered their bodies completely, and they wore scarves which covered their hair. In Genesis 24:64-5:
“And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she alighted from the camel, and said to the servant, ‘Who is the man yonder, walking in the field to meet us?’ The Servant said it is my master.’ So she took her veil and covered herself.”
Also Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonours her head – it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil.”
Some may argue that it was the general custom of those times to be completely veiled. However, that is not the case. In both Rome and Greece, whose cultures dominated the region; the popular dress was quite short and revealed the arms, legs and chest. Only religious women in Palestine, following Jewish tradition, covered themselves modestly.
According to Rabbi Dr. Menachem M. Brayer, professor of Biblical Literature at Yeshiva University, it was customary that Jewish women went out in Public with a head – covering which, sometimes, even covered the whole face, leaving only one eye free. (See the Jewish woman in Rabbinic Literature, P.239)
He further stated that:
“During the Tannaitic period, the Jewish woman’s failure to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty. When her head was uncovered she might be fined four hundred zuzim for this offence”. (Ibid., P. 139)
The famous early Christian theologian, St. Tertullian (d. 220 CE), in his famous treatise, ‘On The veiling of Virgins’, wrote:
“Young women, you wear your veils out on the streets, so you should wear them in the church; you wear them when you are among strangers, then wear them among your brothers…”
Among the Canon laws of the Catholic Church until today, there is a law that requires women to cover their heads in Church. (See Clara M. Henning, “Canon Law and the Battle of sexes”, in Religion and Sexism, P. 272)
Christian denominations, such as the Amish and the Mennonites for example, keep their women veiled and in hijab to the present day.
In the Noble Qur’an, in Surah (Chapter) al-Ahzaab, 33:59, the reason for veiling/Hijab is given. Allah states that it makes the believing women known in the society and provides protection for them from possible social harm, like rape etc.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING OF MUSLIM WOMEN
Every Muslim Woman should aim to obtain the highest possible education including advanced education and training in the professions commensurate with her abilities. This is over and above her thorough education and study of Qur’an, Hadith, Muslim literature, culture, history and on-going involvement with Muslim current affairs. Every type of education and training is permissible for the Muslim woman unless it is manifestly haram or may expose her to undignified and unlawful situations. However, certain professions are more suitable and desirable for women. These are teaching, law, accountancy, journalism, information technology, medical science specializing in women and children, research based careers such as scientist, consultants. Those who cannot pursue higher education for any reason must undergo some vocational or skill training. These can include typing, word-processing, nursing, tailoring and hundreds of other halal occupations and hobbies for which suitable skill training is available. Education is no longer the privilege of the few. Those Muslims who still propagate that women do not need education are wrong and backward and they misunderstood Islam.
MUSLIM WOMEN’S ROLE AS WIFE AND MOTHER
The Muslim woman’s role and duties as wife and mother has not changed at all in the last fourteen hundred and thirty six years. Both Qur’an and hadith are very clear about the sanctity of this role. Islam attaches greater importance to the role of a Muslim woman as wife and particularly as mother compared to all her other roles. Indeed her role as a career woman even when she is well educated and qualified cannot take priority over her role as mother while her children are young. A great deal of careful planning, understanding and compromise is essential as there may arise situations where important decisions and choices must be made when children and careers clash. The golden rule for the Muslim woman here is to follow Islam in the bringing up of her children rather than continue with her career. In many cases it may be possible for some women to combine part time work or to work from home. For accountants, lawyers, writers, journalists, computer specialists, home workers and members of some other professions it may be possible to work from home. It is not an ideal solution but a preferable course for those women who must keep intellectually busy or need to earn some extra money when their children are young. It should be noted that the duty of imparting early religious education to her children and instilling in them Islamic values and pride in being Muslims rests to a large extent on Muslim mothers.
Once children are grown, the Muslim woman can go back to her job or career after a refresher course or re-training.
MUSLIM WOMEN VS LOCAL COMMUNITY AND SOCIAL ACTIVITIES
Muslims are now fortunate to have mosques and institutions for the teaching of Qur’an and Islam everywhere in the world. Plenty of books, teaching aids are also available. There are also trainings and other group activities going on all the time. It is important for Muslim women of all ages to actively involve themselves in these activities and to play a role suitable to their education and availability. Educated Muslim women should help their less educated sisters. Those who have more time should profitably employ it on local social work, teaching, lecturing, counseling, and fund raising. All this makes for a vibrant and well adjusted community.
MUSLIM WOMEN’S ROLE OUTSIDE HOME
A Muslim woman’s conduct outside her home is reflection on her faith and virtue, her family and on Islam. It cannot be overemphasized that once outside home she is the very embodiment of ‘living Islam’. She must distinguish between halal and haram, right and wrong, proper and improper in accordance with the teachings of Islam and not the dictates of custom or fashion. The Muslim woman as sister, daughter, wife and mother closely holds her family together and instills in them high standards of character and behavior by her own example.
A PRACTICAL WAY FOR ENHANCING LOCAL MUSLIM UNITY AND SOCIAL CONTACT
I would like to mention here one of the ways of enhancing local unity, social contact and sharing of ideas and problems that has been successfully working with excellent results in a part of Nigeria. The idea originated from two local women that between ten to twenty Muslim families should get together regularly once every month. They got together twelve families who gathered, for the first few months, taking turns in each other’s houses. Each family cooked some food and brought it to the designated house. All members of the family got together. The gathering was on the last Saturday of each month between 7 to 10 pm. Food was shared. The separate male and female groups discussed current problems, education, community matters and bringing up of children. Children made friends and shared their school and sports news and experiences. They also discussed religion and other subjects. Brief talks were given on important issues by different persons and followed by discussions. Such was the initial success of this activity that this group has now obtained, through the generosity of a local charity, the regular use of a public hall once a month. This hall has space for lectures, games and some sports facilities. The cost of the hall is negligible. We believe Muslims everywhere should organize such a get-together. There could be many groups in the same locality. The social, cultural and other benefits are enormous compared to the time and effort expended. Ideally the groups should be minimum ten and maximum twenty. Once the group is formed and started someone on its behalf can contact the local council for the use of a hall, a youth or recreation centre. Local charitable organizations may also help. We think it is a wonderful idea for gaining educational, social and religious benefits on a regular basis.
My emphasis on education and training of Muslim Women is not a license to ignore her tarbiyah in family management and acquisition of skills for running her home. It must remaining the first priority in all homes. Education and training should enhance a Muslim Woman’s ability to manage her home, children and extended family much better than an uneducated person. Education up to O level/Matriculation with an extended syllabus for religious education must be made compulsory for all young men and women in all Muslim communities. It has been estimated by some researchers that the literacy level of the Jews is ninety-six percent while that of the Ummah is no more than twenty-five percent. This gap is alarming!