Mubarak Responds

Here’s Hadia Mubarak’s response to online Question No. 2. First the Question: 2. Here’s my questions on Islam in America. … Continued

Here’s Hadia Mubarak’s response to online Question No. 2.

First the Question:

2. Here’s my questions on Islam in America. Boy, I sure wish that I were there to ask them in person.

Can Islam in America ever be consistent with our values on women’s rights? It’s clear from the Islamic texts that women are worth less than a man, it’s OK for husbands to beat their wives, men can divorce their wives easily, men can have multiple wives, women are stoned to death for adultery, etc. etc. etc. Please don’t tell me that my perceptions are mistaken and that Islam really values women, because the textual material and how Islam has treated women in fact speaks otherwise. We only need to look at Islamic countries to see how women are treated. Or look at the photos posted on the website

It seems a contradiction to have a panel discussion on Islam, because that implies freedom of speech. Yet Islam has shown itself to be quite intolerant to any criticism, to the point where Fatwas of death are issued against those who criticize Islam or riots can start with the printing of a cartoon. Can Islam ever be consistent with freedom of speech to allow itself to be subjected to public scrutiny? Can you cite any Islamic country where a person can speak out freely, criticize Islam, and not have some fear for their lives? Be honest.



Mubarak’s response:

Dear Kim,

Thank you for your very pertinent question. I agree that there tends to be a democracy deficit in the Muslim world. Why that is the case, however, has less to do with Islam and far more to do with the history of colonialism, the persistence of authoritarianism, and limited avenues for political participation, among many other socio-economic and political factors. That tends to be the case not just in so-called Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, but even in blatantly secular countries (ruled by secular governments) like Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, and Syria. So to assume that the lack of democracy and freedom of expression in the Muslim world today has anything to do with Islam is to miss the point. As long as we confound political, economic and historical issues with religious ones, we won’t help the Muslim world get anywhere.

In fact, one only has to look at the early period of Islamic history to see a society that cultivated a rich tradition of free speech and political dissent. When Omar, the second caliph in Islam, stood up after the Friday sermon during his reign of caliphate and declared a new law that fixed the amount of money a woman could ask for as her bridal dowry ( mahr), an old woman stood up and told him he had no right to do that. She admonished him, reminding him that this was a right that God, not any human being, bestowed upon women. Women’s God-given right to ask for however much they want from their prospective spouse as a condition for marriage is not something that any person or government could infringe upon. Omar acknowledged that she was right and that he was wrong; and retracted the law he had just imposed. This story is well-documented in historical accounts of Islamic history as it is well-known and oft-repeated among Muslims. It is usually used to demonstrate that women have always been an integral part of the public sphere in early Islamic society and that extremists who attempt to segregate women from the rest of society have no religious basis to do so! It is also used to demonstrate that women were vocal, outspoken and had no reservations about correcting the highest political authority at that time.

Kim, I hope you will acknowledge that it would be unfair to judge Christianity by the actions of the KKK or the abortion clinic bombers as it would be unfair to judge Catholicism by the actions of Timothy McVeigh. Similarly, it would be unfair to judge Islam’s treatment of women based on the actions of the Taliban (whose treatment of women was a complete aberration of Islamic law), Saudi religious authorities or any one else. If we are going to “be honest,” as you suggested, then it is only fair to judge Islam by its own sources, which are the Quran and the Prophetic Tradition (the sunna), primarily.

If we look at the two primary sources of Islam, the Quran and sunna, we will find a worldview that establishes equality between men, women, and all human beings for that matter. God says in the Quran, verse 49, 13: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the most God-conscious of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”

This verse establishes that all human beings are considered equal in the eyes of God. You are not judged by the conditions in which you are born, such as gender, wealth, race or any other superficial, external characteristic which has nothing to do with your own merit as a human being. Rather, God says that the only person who is better than another is the one who is more God-conscious. The beautiful thing about that is that no one can judge another person’s God-consciousness. This is private, something that can never be measured by another human being. Therefore, according to the Quranic paradigm of human equality, it is impossible for anyone to claim superiority over anyone else.

Furthermore, the Prophet (pbuh) who is considered a role model for all Muslims, said, “All people are equal like the teeth of a comb. There is no merit of an Arab over a non-Arab or a white over a black person or of a male over a female. Only God-conscious people merit a preference with God.” The Islamic paradigm establishes an even playing ground between all human beings; everyone has the potential to be the best of humanity, regardless of one’s gender, race, religion, economic status, educational level, etc.

Second, the gender paradigm of Islam is best encapsulated by verse 9:71 in the Quran, in which God describes the relationship between men and women in a society as that of ” awliyaa” of one another, which can be loosely translated as “partners.” God says in this verse, “The Believers, men and women, are partners (awliyaa) one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey God and His Messenger. God will pour His mercy over them, for He is Exalted in power, Wise.”

The word “awliyaa” denotes far more than just a partnership. A ” wali” (singular of awliyaa) is someone you can trust with the most valuable of your possessions. It is someone whom you would trust to act on your behalf during your absence. You would trust this person’s judgment and competence. The word ‘ wali’ denotes a very high level of trust between you and that person. The fact that God uses this term, “awliya,” to describe the nature of men and women’s relationship in a society is very noteworthy, because it demonstrates that women, just like men, are to be trusted in their competence, judgment and ability to guide human beings and to help keep society in check. As this verse demonstrates, men have no level of moral authority over women. Women, just like men, have an obligation to keep their male counterparts in check and to remind them of God whenever they go astray. In this verse, God makes it clear that both genders hold this responsibility.

Islamic law provides women with a plethora of rights, from the right to financial autonomy (the right to make and keep her own earnings, own property, barter, trade, sell, obtain or grant loans, etc); the right to be maintained financially in a marriage (according to Islamic law, the man has the responsibility to provide for the needs of the family; if the woman chooses to work, she is not obliged to spend a single penny for the maintenance of the household; if she does, it is considered charity); the right to inherit; the right to seek an education; the right to consent to her marriage (no marriage is valid without a woman’s consent in Islamic law); the right to a dowry or marital gift (this belongs to the woman alone, not to her parents or husband); the right to be participate in the political affairs of her country; the right to vote; etc. While Muslim women owned property, inherited property and established endowments as far back as the 7 th century and throughout Islamic history, let’s not forget that in our own country, in the United States of America, it was not until 1839 that the first state, Mississippi, granted women the right to hold property in their own name, but only with their husband’s permission.

Kim, I’m not sure what sources you have been reading, but unfortunately, they seem to be full of inaccuracies. No where does the Quran mention stoning of women. Rather, the Quran prescribes flogging as punishment for both men and women who commit adultery. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to ever prosecute anyone with adultery based on the stringent conditions needed to prosecute someone, which is that four individuals must have seen the act of sexual intercourse with their own naked eye and are all able to describe it the same way (circumstantial evidence is not allowed, such as the fact that a woman is pregnant or that she was alone in a room with a man, etc.). This punishment applies to both men and women; however, the Quran goes an extra step to prevent false allegations that may arise against women in specific. God says in chapter 24, verse 4 of the Quran: ” And those who launch a charge against chaste women and fail to produce four witnesses, flog them with eighty stripes and reject their evidence ever after, for such men are wicked transgressors .”

You mention polygamy. The fact is that polygamy was a common practice in pre-Islamic civilizations, including Christian, Jewish and pagan civilizations. Islam did not prescribe polygamy; rather it restricted polygamy. In fact, God establishes monogamy as the standard in the Quran. In verse 4:3, God says that “…marrying one [woman] is more suitable in order to prevent you from doing injustice.” Furthermore, in cases where Islam allows polygamy, it was specifically intended as a means to take care of orphans, widows, and those women who’ve been abandoned by society. In no way, shape or form does the Quran encourage men to marry more than one woman to satisfy their own lusts or desires. When Muslim men actually do this in certain parts of the world, they are violating the spirit of the Quran and exploiting a privilege that God allowed for specific circumstances. Furthermore, while Islam specifies that polygamy is allowed for the purpose of taking care of abandoned women, it also places many conditions upon that practice, which is that husbands have to be able to provide financially for each woman, provide each with a separate home, provide for their children, treat them equally and with justice, etc. But even then, God says, “No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to deal with your wives equally” (4:129), which is an indication that it is preferable to marry one wife, and that God will hold a man accountable for any injustices he inflicts upon them.

Lastly, Islam prohibits the beating of women, which you referenced in your question. The Prophet Mohammad is considered a role model for all Muslims, as I mentioned earlier, and his teachings serve as one of the two primary sources of Islamic law. There are a few traditions that explicitly prohibit wife-beating, which are:

§ “Never beat God’s handmaidens.” [1]

§ “Could any of you beat your wife as he would a slave, and then lie with her in the evening?” [2]

§ On the authority of Aisha, the Prophet’s wife, “The Prophet never beat any of his wives or servants; in fact he did not strike anything with his hand except if he were to struggle in the cause of God…” [3]

Any interpretation of the Quran that allows men to beat their wives fundamentally violates the Quran’s own precepts of ordaining justice and establishing tranquility as the basis of marriage; it also contradicts the Prophet’s own teachings and example.

[1] Narrated by Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad bin Hanbal, Ibn Hibban and Hakim.

[2] Narrated by Bukhari (vol. 6, p. 153), Muslim and other authorities.

[3] Fath al-Bari Vol. 9. p 249.

By Hadia Mubarak | 
April 24, 2007; 11:15 AM ET

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  • shamoor

    wow…that has to be one of the most brilliant and well versed responses i’ve read to a question on religion.