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Saturday, April 03, 2004

Khutbah Series: Gender Issues

Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq

[This series of Khutbah was delivered during 1993 at the Islamic Center of Iowa City, Iowa. For brevity, the customary invocations toward the beginning and the end of the Khutbahs have been omitted.]


VII: Some important myths

There are several key areas of gender related issues that need to be addressed. Below we discuss some widespread myths.

Myth #1: "The Voice of Women is Awrah"

The common understanding of this statement is inaccurate and unwarranted. For example, in response to an inquiry by two visiting men, Aisha (r) said: "Allah's Apostle used to kiss some of his wives while he was fasting," and then she laughed. (Dwahiqat). [Bukhari: Vol. 3: # 150] Thus, a woman was asked question; she laughed.

Myth #2: Women are inferior to men.

Absolutely not. Islam recognizes only one criteria of superiority: Taqwa. [Read: A Cyber-discussion on Gender Equality, one of my articles.]

Myth #3: Men can decide things for women

Absolutely not. There are many things that are already laid out in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Men can't interfere in or interpolate those. All other matters of life, including family relationships and pertinent decisions, must be based on a general Islamic principle and process: Shura (mutual consultation). This also means that life partners can't be imposed by parents or guardians on their children.

Myth #4: Women should have a relationship of subservience to men.

Absolutely not. According to Islam, men and women are AWLIYA (friends, protectors, guardians, patrons) of each other. Which also means that women are friends, protectors, guardians, patrons of men too. The Islamic framework of relationship is based on love, affection, mutual respect, and well-laid out set of rights and duties.

Myth #5: Men's education is more important than women's.

Absolutely not. Education is equally important for men and women. Muslim societies must ensure equal access to education for ALL Muslims. The Prophet (s) said: "Seeking knowledge is incumbent upon EVERY muslim" [Sunan Ibn Majah, #223].

Myth #6: Women shouldn't attend Jumuah prayer or congregational prayers

While it is true that women are not required to attend Jumuah prayer, those women who care about their Islamic growth as well as preserving their rights and status as given by Islam should build a close and active relationship with the Mosque as was the case during the time of the Prophet.

Umm Hisham, the daughter of Haritha bin Nau'man (r) narrates that our cook-out/eating place and that of the Prophet (s) were the same for two years . . . and I heard and memorized sura Qaf of the Glorious Qur'an from the Prophet (s), because he used to recite it in every Jumuah when he spoke to the people from the minbar. [Sahih Muslim: Vol. 2: #1894]

Myth #7: Women must be screened in a separate room in Mosques

Absolutely not. Except for the appropriate dress code and the general guidance about mutual interaction, women at the time of the prophet were not screened behind any curtain or in a secluded room. In this sense, screening can be considered a religious innovation. However, for women who might not be appropriately attired or for the convenience of mothers or nursing mothers, if women requests or if they endorse a separate room can made available. However, that should not be imposed on the general Muslimahs attending mosques.

For prayers in general, ask permission from your husband, if you are married. But husbands cannot refuse granting permission. If unmarried, you have the permission from the Prophet (s), but better to consult with the guardian, while the guardians are generally dutybound not to refuse.

Ibn Umar: The messenger(s) said: Let women go to the mosque at night. A son of ibn Umar, known as Waqid, retorted: Then they will start all sorts of bad things. Abdullah ibn Umar hit Waqid on the chest and said: I am narrating the words of the Rasulullah to you, and you are saying 'No." [Muslim: Vol. 2: #890]

Myth #8: Prayer, fasting, hijab are the main concerns of women

Any obligatory duty or injunction must be treated as such. However, Muslims should not lose sight of prioritized criteria of what is important to Allah. While prayers, fasting, hijab can't be refused or denied by a Muslim, there are other, additional aspects that are of even greater importance. These are not to be treated as substitutes. Rather, these aspects should be incorporated in an individual's life in a comprehensive and balanced perspective.

Someone asked: "O Messenger of Allah! A woman is famous for her prayers, fasting and many charities, but she talks rudely with her neighbors. Tell me, what will be her fate?" He replied: "She is of Hell." Then the person asked: "O Messenger of Allah! Another woman does not do much by way of prayers and fasting; gives pieces of cheese in charity and does not harm her neighbors." He replied: "She is of the Paradise." [Musnad Ahmad; Vol. 2, #9688; Narrated by Abu Hurairah]

Myth #9: Bearing and rearing children and household duties are primary and only domain of women's existence

Absolutely not. Yes, certain aspects of nature assigns exclusive functions to women, such as child bearing and nursing. It is also true that motherly disposition has a special dimension of compassion and care for the children that is uniquely proportioned to women. But even then we ought to remember two things. First, household duties are not exclusive domain of women. Men are also supposed to do their due share as the Prophet used to do, and this should also be decided based on mutual consultation within the family.

Narrated Al-Aswad: I asked Aisha (r): What did the Prophet (s) use to do at home? She replied: He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for prayer, he would get up for prayer. [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8, #65]

Secondly, women, through mutual consultation within the family framework, are to have full and active participation in the full spectrum of life.

"And their Lord hath accepted of them, and answered them: "Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: Ye are members, one of another: Those who have left their homes, or been driven out therefrom, or suffered harm in My Cause, or fought or been slain,- verily, I will blot out from them their iniquities, and admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing beneath;- A reward from the presence of Allah, and from His presence is the best of rewards." [3/Ale Imran/195]

Overcoming these myths can take us long way as an ummah.

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