Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Battle of Books! Diverse Trends in Muslim Thought on Women's Issues

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Battle of Books! Diverse Trends in Muslim Thought on Women's Issues

Article excerpt


There is an intellectual tension and conflict among Muslim scholars on the rights and position of woman in family and society. However, this conflict among Muslim scholars turns too serious and complex when they present their interpretations of the Islamic texts from their own perspectives either for the promotion of or the opposition to the rights of women for the economic and political participation and gives rise to a battle of books! This paper tries to present the diverse and conflicting views of some of the Muslim scholars on the economic and political participation of women based on their respective interpretations of some of the relevant verses of the Qur'an and some relevant Prophetic traditions. In other words, this paper throws a searching light on the diverse trends in contemporary Muslim thought on women's issues. For the convenience of the readers, we have categorized the Muslim scholars into two groups as rejectionists and promoters of the rights and status of women in family and society. (1)

Economic Participation of Women

We shall present the contentions of both the groups, the rejectionists and the promoters of the economic participation of women while presenting their interpretations of the concerned Islamic texts on those critical and popular issues which are dominant under this subject.

Economic Responsibility with Men: Men are the Qawwamoon (Care-Takers of Women): Views of the Rejectionists

From the group of the rejectionists, we shall present here the views of two Muslim scholars, Sayyid Jalaluddin Umri and Mohammad Imran. Umri is one of the renowned scholars of Islam who has authored several books on various issues of Islam, including women's issues. However Umri does not reject totally the economic participation of women, but overall he is more inclined towards rejection. Hence we refer to Umri as soft-core rejectionist. Whereas Imran strongly rejects the economic participation of women who may be therefore referred to as a hardcore rejectionist. Some of the positive observations of Umri on the economic participation of women can be gleaned from these words: 'Islam has granted woman freedom of economic pursuits in the form of business, any profession and works in any public service.... For this purpose, she can come out of her house too if necessary. (2)

But in the same book, Umri cites the following Quranic verse and presents few negative observations on the same issue.

   Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has
   given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they
   support them from their means. (3)

He writes: 'Here in this verse, two reasons have been advanced for appointing man as the head of the family. Firstly he has superiority over woman and secondly he spends his substance on her.' (4) A critical point to note here is the position which Umri accords to husband that he is not only the head of the family but he is also superior to woman. It seems important to clarify here that there are many scholars who also believe in the headship of man for the family, but neither they believe in the superiority of man over woman like Umri nor disapproves the economic participation of women as Umri does. His negative stance on the subject can be understood from his following observations:

   .... Owing to the economic activity of woman, the peace of the
   house-hold is disturbed. (5)

   As is well known, the entire economic order is in the hands of
   those who regard free-mixing of sexes not only a necessity but the
   most elegant feature of modern business. (6)

   The physical and mental make-up of man and woman point to the fact
   that man is better equipped physically and mentally to bear the
   burden of a family.... It is a historical fact that in literature,
   poetry, art and fine arts, the height of perfection (in both
   imagination and skill), the level attained by man, woman could not
   even dream of. … 
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