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Women in Islam

Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed

President, Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.

Louisville, KY

This is in response to the sermon (given at the Eid ul Fitr celebration in Louisville, KY) that addressed the negative role of women in Islam, News story "Muslims gather for celebration" published in the Louisville Courier-Journal, dated October 24, 2006.

Hijab (headscarf) is a Judeo-Christian tradition which originated in the Bible.                                                                 ( Reference: 1 Corinthians, 11:5,  11:6, 11:10, 11:13).

Hijab (headscarf) is mentioned in the Qur'an 7 times. Each time it means curtain or barrier and NOT headscarf. The Qur'an commands modest dress and says to the women to "draw their veils (Khimar) to cover their Bosoms"  The Hijab (headscarf) became paramount  after the Iranian revolution in 1979 as a sign of protest and identity. There is no consensus on Hijab in the Muslim world. Each one has his/her own personal subjective opinion.  Islamic Scholar Dr. Zaki Badawi wrote "There has never been an Islamic obligation for women to cover at any time" . "Even in Saudi Arabia the covering of women from head to toe is recent; it was not required before the discovery of oil."  "The hijab veil (which covers all of a Muslim woman's hair) is also not obligatory…"  Hence the Burqa and the Niqab (face veil) are inventions. In public one can see women with hijab and without hijab as the women have a choice.


In lran, Imam Khomeini first insisted that women must wear the veil and chador, but in response to large demonstrations by women, he modified his position and agreed that while the chador is not obligatory, MODEST dress is.


According to some scholars the Koran says: "Allah has given you clothes to cover your shameful parts, and garments pleasing to the eye. But the finest of all these is the robe of piety."


The Quran often emphasizes that women should be treated kindly and with much respect. It says:

“O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should

you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the dowry you have given

them - except when they have become guilty of open lewdness. On the contrary live with

them on a footing of  kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them, it may be that

you dislike something and Allah will bring about through it a great deal of good.” (4:19)


Muslim history is full of independent women: warriors, poets, wealthy businesswomen and efficient administrators. Many women had considerable political power.


Khadijah was the first wife of Prophet Muhammad  and the first of the believers. Being a business woman and acquiring great wealth, she held a very high social status amongst the Arabs. The voice of Khadijah was the first; the only and the solitary voice which

supported the mission of Prophet Muhammad. She was a true Minister and a sincere Adviser of the Prophet in his mission.


Ayesha, a prophet's wife was an eminent scholar who excelled in learning about the  Noble  Quran, injunctions, legality and illegality of things, poetry, medicine, history of ancient Arabia, and pedigree. She was a scholar, an educator, and a narrator of 2,210 traditions and teachings of the Prophet. She even used to issue legal decisions under Islamic jurisprudence. There are many more women who have impacted Islamic history in one way or another. Women were companions to the Prophet that took part in battles by taking care of the wounded, transmitted and compiled traditions of the Prophet, made monetary contributions for the development of mosques, were orators and poetesses, and became scholars of Islamic knowledge and so on.


For centuries, Muslim women in different struggles and communities have joined men on the front lines of war, and have died alongside them. The Prophet’s own female relatives took part in battle; his wife Ayesha led the Battle of the Camel, and his granddaughter Zaynab bint Ali fought in the Battle of Karbala ( Iraq ). Other women were recognized for tending to the wounded, donating their jewelry for the battles, and encouraging their male family members to fight to ensure the survival of Islam.


When Benazir Bhutto became prime minister of Pakistan in 1988, many claimed that it was a blasphemous assault on Islamic tradition since no Muslim state, critics alleged, had ever been governed by a woman. But Fatima Mernissi (author of Forgotten Queens of Islam) examined fifteen centuries of Islamic history and discovered that the critics were wrong. Fatimid Princess in Egypt, Sitt al Mulk ruled Egypt.  Two Muslim women ruled India, Razia Sultana and Chand Bibi. Another queen Shajarat al-Durr, gained power in Cairo in 1250 C.E. like any other military leader. In fact, she brought the Muslims a victory during the Crusades and captured the King of France, Louis IX.


There were 15 or more Muslim Queens who ruled Muslim countries. (The Forgotten Queens of Islam by Fatima Mernissi).


In modern times, at least five Muslim women became heads of state or Chief Executives, like President or Prime Ministers. Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan was elected twice as Prime Minister. Begum Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh was elected twice as Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina Wajed was elected Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Dr. Tansu Ciller became Prime Minister of Turkey and Megavati Sukarnoputri was elected President of Indonesia- the most populous Muslim country in the world. It is ironic to note that no Muslim woman in the Arab countries was ever elected as head of state. It is also true for the Champion of Democracy- the USA had never had a woman president for the last 230 years. It is predicted by political pundits that either Hillary Clinton or
Condoleezza Rice might change the history of United States in the 2008 elections.


Today Louisville native, Muhammad Ali's daughter Laila, is a Boxing champion. Recently Iran's Shirin Ebadi won a Noble Prize for Peace. Another Iranian, Anousheh Ansari- the first Muslim woman ever to return to earth after a successful space flight.


Muslim women have become pilots, army generals, taxi drivers, police chiefs, mayors of metropolitan cities, police academy chiefs, spy agents, surgeons and have broken the glass ceilings.


In Kentuckiana three are at least one dozen Muslim women who are physicians.


For about 800 years from 800 CE to 1600 CE the Islamic world was the most advanced civilization in Medicine, Science, Technology and many other fields. Then the decline came.

Muslim women have the right to education and the right  to express creativity, innovation, inventions,  intellectual pursuits and opportunities for achievements.


The reasons for the advancement of the West in science and technology and lagging behind of the Muslims world can be summarized in two words "Critical Thinking" (the reader can visit the website  for details)


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