Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

Women's Rights in Islam

Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

Women's Rights in Islam

Article excerpt


Although Koran and the Islamic law (Sharia) refer specifically to the situation and statute of women, these issues have always been present and they are still debated and debatable from many points of view but particularly when reported to the modem society standards. Islam has indeed improved women situation compared to pre-Islamic period, but on the other hand has been placing on purpose the woman in obscurity up to present time.

Keywords: women's rights; Islam; Koran; polygamy

1. Introduction

The first person in the Arab world who believed in the message of Muhammad the prophet such becoming the first Moslem converted to the new belief was no other than his wife, Khadija. She met him while he was a merchant and she was attracted by his youth and his balanced and good character. She was older than the handsome merchant and previously married, but this was no obstacle for Muhammad.

Even if Muhammad treasured women, he introduced harsh stipulations in Koran, enforcing the concept and the belief that woman is an inferior being, heartless, who must unconditionally bow to the man, having the purpose to keep the house clean and to procreate.2 Despite some brave or timid emancipation attempts, this situation where a woman is living as a shadow of a man, target to many prohibitions still persists nowadays in certain Islamic countries.

The Moslem tradition underlines the fact that Muhammad the prophet displayed a special esteem for the women present one moment or another in his life. Orphaned at a very early age, Muhammad was raised by his foster-mother, Halima "in the desert's fresh air," feeling worship and profound love for her.

Talking about his love life, two very contrasting stages are distinguished. The first one, at Mecca, where he is an ardent mystic and discoverer of faith, Muhammad being monogamous, father, married to a woman much older than him, Khadija; the second one, at Medina he is still a prophet, but ruling as chief of state with a large harem of young wives.2 3

To rule as a model for the young Moslems, Muhammad imposed his wives a flawless behavior: they had to fast, pray and listen to Allah, having the same obligations as the entire Moslem community. Moreover they needed to stand out as abstemious and polite, discreet and obeying.

Koran says that any Moslem can marry four women but allows the prophet to have an unlimited harem. Besides his legitimate wives, he was given the slaves, the cousins and even any woman giving in unconditionally, honored to be part of Muhammad's harem: "You can let anyone you choose to wait for you and you can accept any of them, whoever you want. And there's no sin for you if you ask one of those who you pushed away to come back to you!" (XXXIII, 51). This behavior of Muhammad is allowed by Allah himself, who is "forgiving and merciful" for the prophet (XXXIII, 50). Moslem tradition still keeps the image of the prophet's wives. According to this image, in the holy City of Mecca they were asked for advice by the believers and they even wandered in the city; moreover, one of them even got one of the prisoners released.4

2. Marriage

As a fundamental institution for the Moslem society, marriage is recommended to all able to provide for a family: "Make the ones among you who are alone to get married as well as the virtuous ones!" (XXIV, 32). In many hadith they also recommend the same thing: "The one who gets married or is about to get married to make Allah like him is worth of Allah's friendship."5

Islam generally rejects celibacy as unacceptable. It is the very reason for the Islamic religion not to talk about monachism or chastity as seen in Christianity. Marriage is a legal contract between the husband and the guardian of the bride to be and certain conditions must be followed: no impediments to the marriage, the consent of the parties, a date, the dower 0mahrsadaq) and legal formalities.

As shown, the woman has a secondary role even at this stage: she is not a party of the contract (she does not have to be present), but she is represented during these prior negotiations. …

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