posed by Christina Tucholski
answer by Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Q. Does the U.S. or U.N. have the right to intervene internationally in countries where women’s rights are disregarded?
A. No nation has a right to intervene into the internal affairs of other nations. The United States is no exception. When nations join the United Nations they agree to adhere to certain standards of human rights. Should they fail to abide by these standards, complaints may be lodged against them and dealt with in accordance with the standards to which they have subscribed. While this is beyond my particular area of expertise, you may find an outline of the process at: http://www.droitshumains.org/uni/Formation/Images/spdh_a.pdf.
Q. Ibn Warraq, Muslim critic and author of Why I Am Not a Muslim, stated that, “Islam has always considered women as creatures inferior in every way: physically, intellectually, and morally.” He uses the following verse from the Koran to support his opinion, “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other” (4.34). How would you defend Islam against people such as Warraq?
A. Ibn Warraq, by his own account, is NOT a Muslim. On this issue he is also completely wrong. Let us begin with his mistranslation of the Qur'anic verse fragment. First let us note the context. It follows the verse saying that all near relations (in other words, women as well as men) are entitled to a share in the inheritance and immediately precedes the verse urging arbitration between husbands and wives who are on the verge of a breakup. Transliterated from the Arabic, it reads: "ar-rijaalu qawwaamuuna `ala-nnisaa'i bimaa faDDal allahu ba`Dahum `ala ba`Din wa bimaa anfiquu min amwaalihim. " The literal meaning of these words are: "The men caretakers over the women in that gifted God more some of them over some and in that they (masc.) support them (fem.) from their (masc.) wealth." Putting this into correct English syntax it reads: "Men are maintainers of women because God has given the one more than the other." Recall now that the context is inheritance law and Islam has overthrown Arab tradition by giving women a share of the inheritance. The verse is explaining the principle of equity behind requiring men to support women out of their share. God is saying it is only fair that men support women since they have been given a bigger share of the inheritance under Islamic law. (Not to mention that in modern America married men earn almost double the wages of married women in similar positions.) The woman's share, though smaller (though not in all cases) belongs totally to the woman and she is not required to support men out of it. Some scholars have interpreted "faDDal allahu ba`Dahum `ala ba`Din" to mean God gave men more strength than women as the explanation of why men should protect women. This ignores the context of inheritance, but perhaps they are correct in that the Qur'an may be subtly alluding to this as part of the broader context of the social relationships between men and women that have been the case in every society in history. But in no case does this verse in any way imply any spiritual superiority of men over women whatsoever. Nor can such an interpretation be defended. (1) It is against the simple meaning of the text; (2) it is violates the context; (3) it contradicts the numerous other verses in the Qur'an insisting on the spiritual equality of men and women. E.g. 33:35: "For Muslim men and women for believing men and women for devout men and women for true men and women for men and women who are patient and constant for men and women who humble themselves for men and women who give in charity for men and women who fast (and deny themselves) for men and women who guard their chastity and for men and women who engage much in God's praise for them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward." Indeed, the opening verse of the surah in question exalts the status of women demanding: "Revere the wombs that bore you."
Q. The famous Muslim philosopher al-Ghazali defined the woman’s role as follows: “She should stay at home and get on with her spinning, she should no go out often, she must not be well-informed…She should be clean and ready to satisfy her husband’s sexual needs at any moment.” (Hurley 87) Is this true of today’s Islamic faith?
A. First, in fairness to al-Ghazzali, he also demands that men meet the sexual needs of their wives. Nonetheless, it is proper to criticize the "women should stay at home" attitude reflected in your quote. (Who is Hurley? What exactly is the citation you are making?) Anyone who makes such a statement as Hurley attributes to al-Ghazali deserves criticism, for this was not the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It is true, unfortunately, that the quote reflects the views of many Muslims today. However, the views of the Islamist movement today are better represented by Zaynab al-Ghazali who headed the women's division of the Egyptian Muslim brotherhood under its founder Hassan al-Banna. She wrote that "Islam has provided everything for both men and women. It gave women everything--freedom, economic rights, political rights, social rights, public and private rights. Islam gave women rights in the family granted by no other society. Women may talk of liberation in Christian society, Jewish society, or pagan society, but in Islamic society it is a grave error to speak of the liberation of women. The Muslim woman must study Islam so she will know that it is Islam that has given her all her rights." You can read more about her jihad to establish women's Islamic rights to a place in public life in contravention of a secular Egyptian society that had been forced in to the Victorian mold that held a woman's place is in the home by its British colonial occupiers at: http://www.jannah.org/sisters/zaynab.html
Q. For those who justify burkas and oppressive laws on women by stating it is to keep men’s thoughts pure, why is it that men do not also need to wear these clothings to keep women’s thoughts pure?
A. This seems like a trick question. Since those men to whom you refer won't let women leave the house, what opportunity would homebound women have to see men? But in fairness, those men cover their own bodies almost as much as they would cover the women's. They wear long flowing outer garments, cover their hair, and hide their own face behind a long beard. The oppressive laws they advocate are aimed at segregation of men and women and thus may be considered evenhanded in their suspicion of the sexual drive. Such laws should be opposed because they are oppressive and not on the debatable premise that they are predicated on any spiritual inferiority of women.