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Culture, context, and the Qur'an.


This paper examines feminism in the Qur'an by distinguishing between the surahs (verses) and the cultural traditions that affect women. In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman's Global Journey (1998) by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea initiated my quest to learn more about Muslim women and the religion of Islam. Fernea's book explores feminist diversity in the lives of Muslim women in the Middle East and Central Asia. This reading led me to Cheryl Benard's Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women's Resistance (2002) and inspired me to develop a mini-lecture about the Taliban's practices and the women's social movement, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). In 2006, I received an award from the Fulbright-Hays office to travel to Brunei and Malaysia for five-weeks, which represented my first experience in predominately Muslim countries, where I would examine the everyday lives of the people and their concept of identity. Several years later I received a second award that took me to Morocco for five-weeks where I specifically focused my studies on the Moroccan women's movement.

When I began the Moroccan project, I intended to develop a teaching module that would simply integrate my RAWA mini-lecture into a comparison with the Malaysian and Moroccan feminist movements and permit students to experience Islamic feminism in a broader context. The point of this module was to permit my students to challenge some of the stereotypical images they regularly experience with regard to Muslim women. Having traveled to Malaysia, I knew of this country's non-governmental organization, Sisters in Islam. However, during my preparatory research and shortly after our arrival in Morocco, I learned, through conversations and lectures with author Leila Abouzeid and feminist scholar Fatima Bouabdelli, I would need to approach my project with much greater respect to the complex cultural traditions that exist within Islamic feminism and requiring careful consideration of the Qur'an as a primary source. This complexity and these considerations are " ... complicated by the richness and variety of Islamic culture on the one hand, and the authority of a divinely-revealed religion (albeit humanly-transmitted) on the other.... [A]ll Muslims will agree that Islam has a definitive position on issues relating to the status of women, but they will disagree over the precise definition of that position" (Roded 2008, 2). This paper examines key surahs for their intended egalitarian reciprocity and cultural traditions Islamic feminists confront as they work to attain this reciprocity.

Feminism within The Qur'an

"Feminism is not a single, unified perspective" (Renzetti and Curran 1999, 10) because of the cultural traditions and diversity found within lived experiences. The same can be asserted for Islam. Section 35 of Surah 33 outlines the expectations for all Muslims. This surah provides the framework for practitioners of Islam, yet the religion, like the concept of feminism, is also influenced by the cultural traditions, beliefs, and values of its host society. Although I teach my students about the many perspectives of feminism, I personally embrace Judith Lorber's gender-reform feminism of legally permitting all women and men involved in society to make informed choices (Renzetti and Curran 1999, 22). Some of my peers embrace the gender-resistant form believing that formal laws cannot end the patriarchy of our culture's social relations (Renzetti and Curran 1999, 22), or gender rebellion, which seeks to "analyze the gender inequality as one piece of a complex system of social stratification" (Renzetti and Curran 1999, 23), or another perspective of feminism, which develops from within perceptions and lived experiences. None of these perspectives are incorrect; instead they serve to provide a context to explain the complexity of feminism because of cultural influences, perceptions, and lived experiences. However, the unification of feminism comes through the issues that women face: poverty, illiteracy, political repression, and patriarchy (Ali 2002). Because Islam is also influenced by the host society's culture, the unifying element is the Qur'an, which addresses the very issues that most women, not just Muslim women, still face.

According to the faith, the surahs are the word of God as told to the Prophet Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel. When considering women's issues and feminism, I identify the following within the Qur'an: expectations for believers, marriage and polygyny, women's property rights--dowry (bride wealth) and inheritance, men's and women's modesty, divorce, and men's and women's roles as the key principles. Each of these principles has one or more surahs explaining God's directives and intentions for practice. Since I am a non-Muslim observer and do not read classical Arabic, the language of the Qur'an, I examined five translations for each principle: N.J. Dawood, The Quran (1974); Marmaduke Pickthall, The Glorious Qur'an (1992); Abudllah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of The Holy (Qur'an (1997); Laleh Bakhtiar, The Sublime (Quran (2007); and Mohamed K. Jasser, The Holy Qur'an: An Interpretive Translation from Classical Arabic into Contemporary English (2008). I primarily reference the Dawood, Pickthall, and Ali translations because these translations are so readily available, commonly used, and highly respected by Muslims and religious scholars in the United States. For two of the principles examined in this paper, I also include the two very recent translations by Bakhtiar and Jasser to demonstrate key feminist points occurring within Islam. Charting key principles by the surahs enables me to construct a visual model, which permits comparative analysis of each translation to ensure credibility within the surah's meaning.

Some readers may disagree with the need for including these surah translations; however, I include them to provide all levels of readers with a reference tool for examining these key principles. Most of these principles are primary to all women. While many women in the world have achieved equality with regard to several of these principles, many others still pursue their rightful claim.

Moreover, I do not reference the Hadith [traditions], a collection of works chronicling the Prophet Mohammed's daily practices and thoughts. "They constitute, along with the Qur'an ... both the source of law and the standard for distinguishing the true from the false, the permitted from the forbidden--they have shaped Muslim ethics and values" (Mernissi 1991, 1). My non-consideration of the Hadith stems from the many discussions I have engaged in with Islamic feminists who hold a healthy skepticism for the points within the collection. These discussions led me to examine critically this skepticism, which is supported by the Moroccan scholar and Islamic feminist, Fatima Mernissi. In The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam (1991), Mernissi outlines the scientific criteria for authenticating a Hadith by employing interviewing and fieldwork techniques similar to those methodologies used by modern anthropologists (9) to the necessary qualities of being a credible Companion (witness to Prophet Mohammed's daily practices and thoughts) of high intellectual capacity and morals (59). The integration of the scientific criteria with the credibility of the Companion attempts to certify a Hadith. This skepticism is not unfounded and is exemplified through the behavior and work of Abu Bakra, a Companion. Mernissi uses historical records to challenge the morals of a Companion who is credited with a Hadith and who establishes and supports the political repression of Muslim women (56-7). The Companion proclaimed this Hadith twenty-five years after the Prophet's death and at a particularly sensitive juncture in early Islamic history during the Muslim's civil war Battle of the Camel (Mernissi 53). Unfortunately this example is not isolated. Ruth Roded in her revised edition of Women in Islam and the Middle East: A Reader argues the literature on Muslim women is value-laden, filled with latent assumptions derived from the culture and society of its author and audience (1). She continues, "For this reason, it is important to return to the primary sources, to try to place data on women in the proper perspective, to search for alternative meanings and to attempt to critically evaluate them" (2). For this reason many Islamic feminists prefer to rely on the surahs and as I will in this paper.

Expectations for Believers

Egalitarianism in Islam is addressed in Surah 33, Section 35, which outlines the expectations for all believers. To summarize this surah, all Muslims are expected to believe in one God, be devout to one God, and display patience, sincerity, humility, charity, and modesty. As can be seen below, there is no distinction in these expectations between men and women. (See Table 1.)

When comparing these three translations, the egalitarianism of Allah's (God's) words is apparent and neither expectation nor practice varies for believers. Muslims, regardless of culture, acknowledge that it is this surah that demonstrates Allah's expectations for believers; consequently, it is also this surah that demonstrates the embedded egalitarianism found within Islam.

Marriage and Polygyny

In a historical context, polygyny (husband with multiple wives), was developed for rational reasons, such as providing for a relative's wife and children should the husband die. The practice is not relegated to just Muslim cultures, but is historically cross-cultural. Surah 4, Section 3 states that polygyny is acceptable with two caveats from Allah: 1) the husband treats each wife with justice and equality and 2) there are no more than four wives. Polygyny is noted not only in the Qur'an, but also in the histories about the Prophet Mohammed who practiced polygyny, acknowledged the difficulties in treating each wife with justice and equality, and even recommended to his son-in-law Ali when he was considering a second marriage to Fatima, the Prophet's daughter, that he forego the practice so Ali could live a just life. The practicality of the first caveat, justice and equal treatment of all the wives, is also questioned by Islamic feminists who believe it nearly impossible for a husband to treat multiple wives with complete justice and equality; therefore, the practice is considered by Islamic feminists to be impractical. The early modernist and Islamic reformist Muhammad Abduh, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, writes at the beginning of the 20th century that Islam does not recommend polygyny "as an absolute, but only in certain historical and social conditions" (Walther 1993, 223). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Abduh, Ahmad Khan, Qasim Amin, and Mumtaz Ali write for the need for Islamic reform with regard to the plight of Muslim women, thus creating the foundation for feminist movements in the 1920's and 1930's in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, India, Pakistan, and Turkey (Esposito 1988, 149-50). (See Table 2.)

Polygyny is legal and practiced in Afghanistan and Morocco, illegal in some more secular Muslim countries, for example, Malaysia, Tunisia, and Turkey, and illegal but decriminalized in many other Muslim countries, such as Iraq. In countries where polygyny is legal, the family courts do not require husbands to consult with their wife/wives before taking another. Furthermore, in countries where polygyny is illegal but decriminalized, the family courts choose to adhere to their country's cultural traditions rather than uphold the laws of their society as a form of compromise between the Islamic traditionalists and reformists (Esposito 1988, 152). Countries that permit or decriminalize polygyny negate the inherent difficulties of the practice and thereby challenge the justice and equality caveat of this surah, repress the reciprocity of a marriage, and negate Allah's intentions for husbands to demonstrate integrity toward their wives.

Two additional marital practices that are sanctioned within specific Islamic cultures are temporary marriages and trial marriages. A temporary marriage, sigheh or muta, may be practiced within the Shiite sect of Islam, which is the predominant sect in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, with a significant percentage of Shia in Afghanistan, India, Kuwait, Mauritius, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Temporary marriages that include a pre-established termination date and are "agreed between a man and woman and sanctioned by a cleric, can last as little as a few minutes or as long as ninety-nine years. Usually the man pays the woman an agreed sum of money in exchange for a temporary marriage. The usual motive is sex, but some temporary marriages are agreed upon for other purposes" (Brooks 1995, 43). This practice might be understood as a means to justify prostitution, but neither the man nor the woman violates the chastity requirement set forth in the surahs in view of the fact that they are technically married. Unique to Morocco, and a holdover from the cultures of the Tuareg and Berber, is the trial marriage. These unions are "formed during the moussem, but it is commonly understood that the couple can split up after a day or a month or a year. No cost, no hard feelings, no religious stigma" (Warnock Fernea 1998, 64). While the temporary marriage within the Shiite sect mirrors a more traditional Islamic marriage in that it provides money to the bride (similar to a dowry) the trial marriage in the cultures of the Tuareg and Berber do not require this provision. Additional provisions for temporary marriages are "Muslim women can only marry Muslim men, but Muslim men can temporarily marry a Muslim, Christian, or Jewish woman, as long as she is a divorcee or widow" (Ghaddar. 2009). Further, Hezbollah in Lebanon permits the practice with virgins when they have their father's or paternal grandfather's permission (Ghaddar. 2009). These culture specific marital practices allow both men and women to make informed choices.

Women's Property Rights--Dowry and Inheritance

Established in the 7th century, women are permitted by Allah to own and inherit property in their own name; such a practice was not common or legal in the United States until the latter part of the 19th century. Surah 4, Section 4, is specific to the dowry (bride wealth) provision for women. The prospective husband must provide the prospective wife with a dowry (bride wealth) that is to be her own property. All the translations of this surah state that if the wife chooses to share her "bride wealth," then the husband may also enjoy it. It is important to note that the dowry (bride wealth" belongs to the wife and is negotiated on her behalf by her father. In this negotiation process a reciprocal contract is developed with the prospective wife requesting many tangible and intangible components in exchange for her consent to the marriage. Three common intangible components of a dowry (bride wealth), which are particular to the women's issues being discussed here, are that she be permitted to fulfill her educational goals, not to participate in a polygynous marriage, and to request a divorce. The dowry (bride wealth) provision is intended by Allah to protect wives from poverty, illiteracy, political repression, and/or patriarchy, even though these are the issues most women face because of cultural traditions. This surah intends to permit a woman to determine and protect her needs when entering into a formal and legal contract such as marriage. (See Table 3.)

The right of a woman to own property is provided to women in the Qur'an and is again reinforced by the surah determining legal inheritance. All the translations of the Qur'an, which I examined, determine the percentage of inheritance for men and women. In pre-Islam 6th century Arabian society, women did not inherit anything at all. Allah's intentions, as stated in Surah 4 Section 11, attempt to redress this situation by ensuring women receive a rightful portion and control over their property. While in 21st century United States the principle of a woman receiving less of an inheritance than a man seems grossly unequal, these rights were salient for the era, especially since until very recently most women in the world were deemed the chattel of either their husbands or fathers. (See Table 4.)

As noted in the dowry (bride wealth) surah, a woman's property is her own and does not require her to share the dowry (bride wealth) unless she consents. The Kurdish chapter of "Save the Children" has conducted research on Muslim mothers' use of money and repeatedly asserts that money in a woman's hands benefits families more than money flowing to men (Brooks 1995, 186-7). In other words, this research offers evidence that women are more likely to use their money, whether it is dowry (bride wealth), inheritance, and/or earnings, on behalf of the entire family; hence, helping to shield them all from poverty, which often includes illiteracy and political repression. The manifest of this surah affords women with property rights and the latent consequences of this surah enable women to protect themselves and their families.

Men's and Women's Modesty

The principle of modesty for both men and women is another area where Allah's egalitarian intentions can be influenced by cultural traditions. However, it is interesting to note that while there are three separate surahs describing the modesty requirements for women, there is only one surah describing modesty requirement for men. Both men's and women's surahs state that men and women work together to maintain their purity through modest behavior. In Surah 24, Section 30, all three translations quite succinctly align with regard to men's modesty, stating that men must be modest and keep their gazes and carnal desires in alignment with the modesty requirements. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Taliban forces have very traditional appearance requirements for men, requiring the wearing of untrimmed facial hair and prayer hats along with their typical dress, the shalwar kameez (long-sleeved tunic and trousers). The Taliban also enforces modest behavior for men, (gazes and carnal desires) by forbidding the reading or viewing of print and non-print based media not related to Islam; however, men in Malaysia and Morocco are free to define modest behavior and choose their own clothing. Most Malaysian men do wear shirts with a sleeve-length that covers their elbows. (See Table 5.)

The following surahs determine women's modesty requirements with much greater specificity. All five translations prescribe with whom a woman may interact or appear unveiled; moreover, all require a woman to maintain her purity by not attracting attention to herself and to keep her gaze in alignment with the modesty requirements. Variations within these translations do occur with regard to the type and amount of veiling that is required of women. All the translations agree that a woman should cover her bosom, yet two recent translations specify covering of the hair, Bakhtiar and Jasser, and Ali's denotes wearing specific articles of clothing to maintain a modest appearance. Furthermore, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and some other Muslim countries have established strict dress codes for all women, which mandate the wearing of abayas, burkas, chador, hijab, and so forth. (1)

In Malaysia, most women do wear a long-sleeved, unconstructed caftan with a long skirt beneath it and a head scarf; neither this form of clothing nor their societal interactions are governmentally regulated. School children are subject to a dress code with the girls' apparel consisting of the long caftan, trousers, and head scarf and the boys must wear a short-sleeved polo shirt, usually covering the elbows, and trousers. Only occasionally did we see select school girls permitted to forgo the head scarf while in uniform. This omission may have been due to the girls being non-Muslim or as several of our Muslim hosts shared that even though a family was Muslim, the head scarf should not be mandated but left as a choice to the individual woman. Governmentally, Moroccan women are also free to define modest dress and Muslim women's appearance and interactions range from progressive to traditional in the cities with some instances of purdah (seclusion) existing in the rural areas. Many women are choosing to return to Islamic dress as "a symbolic return to the pre-colonial period" (Armstrong 2000, 172). In Brunei, Malaysia, and Morocco, many of the women we spoke to said they chose to veil yet also identified themselves as modern Muslim women in pursuit of education, careers, and families. Karen Armstrong's statement "The shrouded Islamic body declares that it is oriented to transcendence, and the uniformity of dress abolishes class difference and stresses the importance of community ... " (172) demonstrates many of the values of the modern Muslim woman. The specific surahs determining women's modesty requirements are listed in Table 6.

Modesty requirements for both men and women are apparently equal; however, the additional surahs outlining with whom a woman may interact and appear unveiled are used by some cultures to impose purdah, or seclusion. Purdah is more commonly practiced by rural cultures in Central and South Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East, usually requiring the wife to never leave the family's home to interact in the public sphere. It is important to note that purdah often represents a status symbol for the husband in that he demonstrates to his community that he can afford to keep his wife from publicly contributing to the household's endeavors. Fatima Mernissi writes of her childhood experiences with purdah in the mid-20th century in Dreams of Trespass: Tales of Harem Girlhood (1995). While in Fez, Morocco our group was able to visit Mernissi's family home and examine the actual environment in which herpurdah occurred, enabling us, for a very brief time, to imagine her experiences with the practice. A modern context for this rural cultural tradition is perhaps most evidenced by the Taliban which implements purdah by restricting women's public interactions in society: by preventing them from working outside the home, receiving an education, or even visiting a physician for preventative care or treatment. From these examples, one can view a continuum from supporting informed choice to the repression of women (and even men) through their appearance and interactions because of their societies' cultural traditions, which may exceed those requirements stated in the surahs. Examining men's and women's modesty in these surahs demonstrates Allah's reciprocal expectations for men and women; however, the additional surahs specifying women's veiling of certain body parts and public interactions aligns with another of the principles, men's and women's roles, which will be later analyze.


In Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Morocco there are three primary pathways to divorce: 1) repudiation, at the husband's will, 2) the wife proves to the family court that she has been abandoned or abused, which is very difficult for the wife to prove because she must have four witnesses to the abuse and/or abandonment, and 3) khol'e, where a woman buys her freedom, which is only available to those women who have the financial means. A fourth pathway is also available, if the woman's dowry [bride wealth] includes this intangible provision. Repudiation can be initiated only by the husband and the wife has no right to contest it. In the presence of three witnesses, the husband must pronounce three times "I divorce you," before the marriage can be dissolved. The Malaysian Family Court even permits the husband to make this legal pronouncement via a text-message. Surah 2, Section 231, in all the examined translations requires the couple to adhere to a waiting period before the divorce is finalized; the time period is to ensure that divorce is indeed what the husband wishes and that the wife is not carrying her husband's child. Surah 2, Section 232, states that the husband is required to keep his wife with honor or release her from the marriage with honor. As discussed in the polygyny surah, the husband damages his own integrity by not behaving honorably toward his wife. Islamic feminists in Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Morocco are attempting to enforce the intentions of this surah through the family courts and make it easier for women who are abandoned, abused, or otherwise not honored by the husband able to initiate a divorce. Even though women are able to seek a divorce for these reasons, the family courts are reluctant to address the wife's claims; hence, the Islamic feminists activism toward the court's adherence to the requirements of this surah.

The divorce surahs are written in such a manner that the husband is permitted to make the decision, yet the expectation is that he will make such decision with honor and integrity. This expectation demonstrates the reciprocity of the marriage. These surahs place the husband in a superior position or position of power, yet acknowledge that with that power comes the responsibility to honor his wife. Leila Abouzeid's novella Year of the Elephant (1989) opens with "He had simply sat down and said 'Your papers will be sent to you along with whatever the law provides.' My papers? How worthless a woman is if she can be returned with a paper receipt like some store bought object! How utterly worthless!....'Why?' I asked. 'I haven't got a reason', he said" (1). This husband's honor and integrity appears absent, and Abouzeid's novella reveals the impact of repudiation faced by the main character as a result of her husband's dubious and less than honorable actions. When a husband breaches his reciprocal role with his wife, Islamic feminists in Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Morocco are campaigning for their country's respective family courts to intervene on the behalf of women. Family courts too have been legally sanctioned with the power to ensure that Allah's intentions are not subverted by cultural traditions. (See Table 7.)

Men's and Women's Roles

The most controversial surah is Surah 4, Section 34. (See Table 8.) It is this surah that presents a continuum of meanings to Qur'anic scholars and Islamic feminists in Afghanistan, Malaysia, Morocco, and throughout the Muslim world, who are active in their efforts to combat the women's issues that exist within the various Islamic cultures and work to adhere to the reciprocity found within the Qur'an. Section 34 of Surah 4 places men's status above that of women's with the man's roles being to protect and provide for the woman: "[F] or his part he should be considerate and concerned for her welfare" (Haneff 1996, 155). A woman's role is to be obedient to the man. In only two of the translations, Ali's and Bakhtiar's, the words "man" and "woman" are substituted for husband and wife, which shape the meaning of the surah toward the husband and wife's roles within the marriage contract. Yet in reading the entire surah, one is led to believe that the words husband and wife more accurately articulate Allah's intentions toward marital roles because the husband is permitted to admonish his wife by banishing her from his bed.

All of the examined surahs state that if the wife is nushuz (disobedient, rebellious, disloyal, resistant, and/or deviant) to her husband's request for marital relations, he has the right to admonish her because he paid a dowry (bride wealth) to her to have those marital relations (Mernissi 1991, 156). Suzanne Haneff's interpretation of this surah expands the meaning and connects the marital relations to the wife's duty as not being only her husband's property, but also for the "guarding of his honor, dignity, and respectability" (1996, 155). Allah's expectations for the wife's obedience pertains to her maintaining her morality, dignity, and integrity to her husband; much the same as the previous discussion of women's modesty in Surah 33 (Section 55), Surah 33 (Section 59), and Surah 24 (Section 31). In other words, the wife is expected to behave honorably, and if she behaves dishonorably, she shames not just herself but also her husband and the entire family. While Allah may have positioned the husband to have authority over the wife, it seems Allah intends the wife to represent the family's honor, which is possibly an even greater responsibility. By keeping both parties responsible for the other's behavior, Allah establishes a reciprocity which encourages equality and balance to this partnership.

As a last resort, the Ali and Dawood translations specify physical admonishment by the husband for disobedience from the wife, especially if she refuses the husband's marital relations request. Ali and Dawood use such words as "spank" and "beat" respectively. When translated in this fashion, it is this admonishment and its limited context in which readers and practitioners often focus and negate the entire meaning of the surah and all the other key principles as explained above. The use of these words by some translators demonstrates just one of the obstacles that Islamic feminists seek to overcome, lest domestic violence be sanctioned by the word of Allah. The RAWA's primary mission is to "overcome the dominance of men" (Benard 2002, 173) because the Afghani culture "profoundly and overwhelmingly favors men, granting them special privileges, more rights and greater power in all aspects of life, at all ages, in all situations" (Benard 2002, 173). Such a social condition is, of course, known as patriarchy. As identified by Kecia Ali, Taliban forces have made the universal issues of women about poverty, illiteracy, political repression, and patriarchy. Such measures promote them to maintaining their power. Furthermore, the Taliban marginalizes and persecutes many Afghani husbands who attempt to live by Allah's intentions in reciprocity and equality with their wives. The new Shia Personal Status Law further marginalizes women of Afghanistan's Shia minority, who are most often found in the rural areas, by allowing the husband to deny his wife food and sustenance if she does not submit to his sexual requests as well as making fathers and grandfathers the sole guardians of children. It is this surah (4:34), which places the husband in a superior position to his wife, that is so often used to negate the reciprocity and equality discussed in all the other surahs. To create a complete context for understanding God's intentions for men and women, I believe it prudent to consider not only Surah 4, Section 34, but all the other surahs discussed within this paper.


By referencing the primary source of the Qur'an allows for an examination of the embedded feminism within Islam and is a salient method to combat the rampant stereotyping about women and Islam. The Qur'an repeatedly uses ambiguous words in the surahs, such as admonish, justice, injustice, honor, grace, kindness, modesty, and so forth. This ambiguity permits Afghani, Malaysian, and Moroccan family courts to justify the continued marginalization of their women in light of their cultural traditions. These cultural traditions, usually pre-dating Islam, are often the root of contextual interpretations which limit a woman's choice and in some Islamic countries they also limit a man's choice. Islamic feminists charge the family courts to distinguish between Allah's words and the host society's cultural traditions. In most countries, women do not have equal political representation in government, and do not have representatives on the family courts. Thus, this situation permits men to presume that their perceptions and perspectives are representative of the needs for both genders. Such a presumption is patriarchal by nature.

In social scientific research, which attempts objectivity, studying one subject's response to a stimulus and then generalizing that all subjects will exhibit the same response would certainly be deemed biased. Yet, patriarchy provides the context to define and determine "normal" practices for all humans in every society. As Ali says, "Poverty, illiteracy, political repression, and patriarchy" (2002) represent the history of women; however, egalitarianism based on informed choice should represent the future of humanity. Clearly, sources are found in the surahs that indicate the intent of egalitarian practice within Islam.


Abouzeid, Leila. 1989. Year of the Elephant: A Moroccan Woman's Journey Toward Independence. Austin, TX. Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Ali, Abudllah Yusuf. 1997. The Meaning of The Holy Qur'an. Beltsville, MD. Amana Publications.

Ali, Kecia. 2002. "Rethinking Women's Issues in Muslim Communities" in Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith by Michael Wolfe and Beliefnet, eds. Emmanus, PA. Rodale Press.

Armstrong, Karen. 2000. Islam A Short History. New York. Modern Library.

Bakhtiar, Laleh.2007. The Sublime Quran. Chicago, IL.

Benard, Cheryl. 2002. Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women's Resistance. New York. Broadway Books.

Brooks, Geraldine. 1995. Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women. New York. Anchor Books.

Dawood, N.J. 1974. The Qur'an. New York. Penguin Books.

Esposito, John L. 1988. Islam The Straight Path. New York. Oxford University Press.

Haneff, Suzanne. 1996. What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims. Chicago IL. KAZI Publications, Inc.

Jasser, Mohamed K. 2008. The Holy Qur'an: an Interpretive Translation from Classical Arabic into Contemporary English. Phoenix, AZ. Acacia Publishing, Inc.

Mernissi, Fatima. 1991. The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam. New York. Basic Books A member of Persus Books Group.

Pickthall, Marmaduke. 1992. The Glorious Qur'an. New York. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Renzetti, Claire M. Daniel J. Curran. 1999. Women, Men, and Society. Needham Heights, MA. Allyn & Bacon.

Warnock Fernea, Elizabeth. 1998. In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman's Global Journey. New York. Doubleday.

Walther, Wiebke. 1993. Women in Islam From Medieval to Modern Times. Princeton, NJ. Markus Wiener Publishers.

(1) In July 2009, thirteen women, only some were Muslim, were arrested in Khartoum, Sudan for wearing trousers in a cafe. Their sentences were ten lashes with a whip and $100 fines. One Sudanese woman, Lubna Hussein, a United Nations worker, contested the law and sentence as inhumane. If convicted, she faces forty lashes, plus a greater fine. Many of her colleagues have already incurred their sentences; yet, none of the following surahs mentions the haram (forbidding) of specific apparel.

(2) If there are any children, they remain with the mother and at puberty they go to the father.
Table 1. Surah 33, Section 35.

          Dawood. 1974.

Those who surrender themselves to
Allah [God] and accept the true
faith; who are devout, sincere,
patient, humble, charitable, and
chaste; who fast and are ever
mindful ofAllah--on these, both men
and women, Allah will bestow
forgiveness and a rich reward.

--Surah 33: The Confederate
Tribes. 35.

         Pickthall. 1992.

Lo! Men who surrender unto Allah,
and women who surrender, and men
who believe and women who believe,
and men who obey and women who
obey, and men who speak the truth
and women who speak the truth, and
men who persevere (in
righteousness) and women who
persevere, and men who are humble
and women who are humble, and men
who give alms and women who give
alms, and men who fast and women
who fast, and men who guard their
modesty and women who guard (their
modesty), and men who remember
Allah much and women who remember--
Allah hath prepared for them
forgiveness and a vast reward.

--Surah 33: The Clans. 35.

            Ali. 1997.

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 Allah's praise.
For them has Allah prepared
Forgiveness and great reward.

--Surah 33: Al Ahzab. Section
5. 35.

Table 2. Surah 4, Section 3.
Dawood. 1974.

. . . .you may marry other women who seem
good to you: two, three, or four of them.
But if you fear that you cannot maintain
equality among them, marry only one or
any slave girls you may own. This will make
it easier for you to avoid injustice.

--Surah 4: Women. 3.

Pickthall. 1992.

. . . . marry of women, who seem good to
you, two or three or four; and if ye fear
that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then
one (only) or (the captives) that your right
hands (pl or sing?) possess. Thus it is more
likely that ye will not do injustice.
--Surah 4: Women. 3

Ali. 1997.

. . . . Marry women of your choice,
Two, or three, or four;
But if ye fear that ye shall not
Be able to deal justly (with them),
Then only one,
That your right hands possess.
That will be more suitable,
To prevent you
From doing injustice. [The restricted
number of wives is strictly limited to a
maximum of four, provided the husband
can treat them equally.]

--Surah 4: AlNisa. Section 1. 3.

Table 3. Surah 4, Section 4.

             Dawood. 1974.

Give women their dowry as a free gift; but
if they choose to make over to you a part of
it, you may regard it as lawfully yours.

-Surah 4: Women. 4.

           Pickthall. 1992.

And give unto the women (whom ye
marry) free gift of their marriage portions; but
if they of their own accord remit unto you
a part thereof, then ye are welcome to
absorb it (in your wealth).

-Surah 4: Women. 4.

       Ali. 1997.

And give the women
(On marriage) their dower
As a free gift; but if they,
Of their own good pleasure,
Remit any part of it to you,
Take it and enjoy it
With right good cheer.

-Surah 4: Al Nisa. Section 1. 4.

Table 4. Surah 4, Section 11.

                  Dawood. 1974.

God has thus enjoined you concerning
your children: A male shall inherit twice as
much as a female. If there be two girls, they
shall have two-thirds of the inheritance;
but if there be one only, she shall inherit
the half....

--Surah 4: Women. 11.

                Pickthall. 1992.

Allah chargeth you concerning (the
provision for your children: the male the
equivalent of the portion of two females, and if
there be women more than two, then theirs
is two-thirds of the inheritance, and if
there be one (only) then the half....

--Surah 4: Women. 11.

                   Ali. 1997.

Allah (thus) directs you as regards your
children's (inheritance): to the male, a
portion equal to that of two females: if only
daughters, two or more, their share is
two-thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her
share is half . . . .

--Surah 4: Al Nisa. Section 2. 11.

Table 5. Surah 24, Section 30.

     Dawood. 1974.

Enjoin believing men
to turn their eyes away
from temptation and
to restrain their carnal
desires. This will make
their lives purer. Allah
has knowledge of all
their actions.

--Surah 24: Light.

    Pickthall. 1992.

Tell the believing men
to lower their gaze
and be modest. That
is purer for them.Lo!
Allah is Aware of what
they do.

--Surah 24: Light.

       Ali. 1997.

Say to believing men
That they should
Their gaze and guard
Their modesty: that
will make
For greater purity for
And Allah is well
With all that they do.

--Surah 24: AlNur.
Section 4. 30.

Table 6. Surahs Determining Women's Modesty Requirements.

         Dawood. 1974.                   Pickthall. 1992.

It shall be no offence of         It is no sin for them
the Prophet's [Mohammed]          (thy wives) (to converse
wives to be seen                  freely) with their fathers,
unveiled by their fathers,        or their sons, or their
their sons, their brothers,       brothers, or their brothers'
their brothers' sons,             sons, or the sons of
their sisters' sons, their        their sisters or of their
women, and their slave-           own women, or their
girls. Women, have fear           slaves. O women! Keep
of Allah, for He observes         your duty to Allah. Lo!
all things.                       Allah is Witness over all
--Surah 33: The Confederate
Tribes. 55.                       --Surah 33. The Clans.
Prophet [Mohammed],
enjoin your wives, your           O Prophet! Tell thy
daughters and the wives           wives and thy daughters
of true believers to draw         and the women of the
their veils close around          believers to draw their
them. That is more proper,        cloaks  close around
so that they may be               them (when they go
recognized and not molested.      abroad). That will be
Allah is forgiving                better, that so they may
and merciful.                     be recognized and not
                                  annoyed. Allah is ever
--Surah 33: The Confederate        Forgiving, Merciful.
Tribes. 59.
                                  --Surah 33. The Clans.
Enjoin believing women            59.
to turn their eyes away
from temptation and to            And tell the believing
preserve their chastity;          women to lower their
to cover their adorn-             gaze and be modest, and
ments (except such as             to display of their adornment
are normally displayed);          only that which is
to draw their veils over          apparent, and to draw
their bosoms and not to           veils over their bosoms,
reveal their finery except        and not to reveal their
to their husbands, their          adornment save to their
fathers, their husbands'          husbands or fathers or
fathers, their sons, their        husbands' fathers, or
husbands' sons, their             their sons of their husbands'
brothers or their brothers'       sons, or their
sons, or their sisters'           brothers or their brothers'
sons, their women-                sons or their sisters'
servants, or their slave-         sons, or their women,
girls; male attendants            or their slaves, or male
lacking in natural vigor          attendants who lack vigour,
[eunuchs], and children           or children who
who have no carnal                know naught of women's
knowledge of women.               nakedness. And let them
And let them not stamp            not stamp their feet so as
their feet in walking so          to reveal what they hide
as to reveal their hidden         of their adornment. And
trinkets.                         turn to Allah together,
                                  O believers, in order that
--Surah 24: Light. 31.             ye may succeed.

                                  --Surah 24: Light. 31.

          Ali. 1997.                     Bakhtiar. 2007.

There is no blame                 There is no blame on
(On those ladies [Proph-          your wives to converse
et Mohammed's wives] if           freely with their (f)
they appear) before their         fathers or their (f) sons,
fathers                           or their (f) brothers or the
Or their sons, their              sons of their (f) brothers
brothers,                         or the sons of their (f)
Or their brother's sons,          sisters or their (f) women
O their sisters' sons,            or what their (f) right
Or their women,                   hand possesses, and be
Or the (slaves) whom              Godfearing of God. Truly
Their right hands possess.        God has been Witness
And, (ladies), fear Allah;        over everything.
For Allah is Witness
To all things.                    --Chapter 33: The
                                  Confederates. 33:55.
--Surah 33: Al Ahzab.
Section 7. 55.                    O Prophet! Say to your
                                  wives and your daughters
O Prophet [Mohammed]! Tell        and the women who
Thy wives and daughters,          believe to draw their
And the believing women           outer garments closer
[Muslim women],                   over themselves. That
That they should cast             is more fitting so that
Their  outer garments             they be recognized and
[cloak, robe, coat] over          not be afflicted with
Their persons (when               torment; God is Forgiving,
abroad):                          Compassionate.
That is most convenient,
That they should be               --Chapter 33: The
known                             Confederates. 33:59.
(As such [Muslim women])
and not molested.                 Say to ones who are female
And Allah is Oft-Forgiving,       believers to lower
Most Merciful.                    their (f) sight, and keep
                                  their (f) private parts
--Surah 33: Al Ahzab.              safe, and not show their
Section 5. 59.                    (f) adornment, except
                                  what is manifest of it;
And say to the believing          and let them (f) draw
women                             their head covering over
That they should lower            their (f) bosoms, and
Their gaze and guard              not show their (f) adorn-
Their modesty; that they          ments except to their (f)
Should not display their          husbands, or their (f)
Beauty and ornaments              fathers, or the fathers
except                            of their (f) husbands,
What (must ordinarily)            or their sons or the sons
appear                            of their (f) husbands,
Thereof; that they should         or their (f) brothers,
Draw their veils over             or the sons of their (f)
Their bosoms and not              brothers, or the sons of
display                           their (f) sisters, or their
Their beauty except               (f) women that their
To their husbands, their          (f) right hands possess,
fathers,                          or males, the ones who
Their husbands' fathers,          have no sexual desire, or
their sons,                       children to whom nakedness
Their husbands' sons,             of women has
Their brothers or their           not been manifest; and
brothers' sons,                   them (f) not stomp their
Or their sisters' sons,           feet so as to make known
Or their women, or the            what they (f) conceal of
slaves                            their adornment. Turn
Whom their right hands            to Good altogether for
Possess, or male servants         forgiveness, O ones who
Free of physical needs            believe, so that perhaps
[eunuchs],                        you would prosper.
Or small children who
Have no sense of the              --Chapter 24: The
shame                             Light. 24:31.
Of sex; and that they
Should not strike their
In order to draw attention
To their hidden ornaments ....

--Surah 24: Al Nur. Section
4. 31.

         Jasser. 2008.

Wives of the prophet do
not need to be restricted
in regard to their interactions
with their fathers
or their children, nor in
regard to their brothers
or their sisters, nor in
regard to the children of
their brothers or sisters,
nor in regard to their
slaves. Worship and fear
God, for He is a witness
to all things.

--Chapter 33: The Parties. 55.

O' Prophet, tell your
wives, your daughters
and the believing women
(similarly situated)
to pull their robes over
their heads, so they can
be easily recognized and
not interfered with, and
God is Forgiving and

--Chapter 33: The Parties. 59.

Say to believing women
to also avoid staring, and
to preserve their purity,
and not to expose items
of clothing intended to
increase their attractiveness,
except when it is on
areas of their bodies that
are normally exposed,
and they should use a
cover for their body skin
folds, with the exception
of their spouses, their
fathers or fathers of their
fathers, or the fathers of
their spouses, or their
children, or the children
of their spouses, or their
siblings, or the children
of their siblings, or other
women, or those who
belong to them or work
for them, or to children
who are at an age that
would not be compatible
with being attracted
to women, and should
avoid, while walking,
to produce noises that
will attract attention to
them. All of you should
submit your repentance
to God, so you may succeed.

--Chapter 24: The
Light. 31.

Table 7. Surah 4, Section 3.

Dawood. 1974.
When you have renounced your wives
and they have reached the end of their
waiting period, either retain them in honor
or let them go with kindness. But you shall
not retain them in order to harm them or
to wrong them. Whoever does this wrongs
his own soul.

--Surah 2: The Cow. 231.

If a man has renounced his wife and she
has reached the end of her waiting period,
do not prevent her from remarrying her
husband if they have come to an honorable
agreement. This is enjoined on every one
of you who believes in God and the Last
Day; it is more honorable for you and more
chaste. God knows, but you know not.

--Surah 2: The Cow. 232.

Pickthall. 1992.
When ye have divorced women, and they
have reached their term, then retain them
in kindness or release them in kindness.
Retain them not to their hurt so that ye
transgress (the limits). He who doeth that
hath wronged his soul . . . .

--Surah 2: The Cow. 231. And when ye have
divorced women and

they reach their term, place not difficulties in
the way of their marrying their husbands if it
is agreed between them in kindness. This is an
admonition ofhim among you who believeth in
Allah and the Last Day. That is more virtuous
for you, and cleaner. Allah knoweth: ye know

--Surah 2: The Cow. 232.

Ali. 1997.

When ye divorce women, and they are
about to fulfill their term of their ('Iddah),
either retain them back or let them go ; but
do not retain them to injure them, or to
take undue advantage; if any one does that,
he wrongs his own soul....

--Surah 2: Al Baqarah. Section 29.

When ye divorce women, and they fulfill the
term of their ('Iddah), do not prevent them
from marrying persons of their
choice, if they mutually agree on equitable
terms. This instruction is for all amongst
D you, who believe in Allah and the Last Day.
That is (the course making for) most virtue
and purity amongst you. And Allah knows,
and ye know not.

--Surah 2: Al Baqarah. Section 29.

Table 8. SSurah 4, Section 34.

        Dawood. 1974.                Pickthall. 1992.

Men have authority over         Men are in charge of
women because Allah             women, because Allah
has made one superior           hath made them one of
to the other, and because       them to excel the other,
they spend their wealth         and because they spend
to maintain them. Good          their property (for the
women are obedient.             support of women). So
They guard their unseen         good women are the
parts because Allah has         obedient, guarding in
guarded them. As for            secret that which Allah
those from whom you             hath guarded. AS for
fear disobedience,              those whom ye fear
admonish them and send          rebellion, admonish them.
them to beds apart and          And banish then to beds
beat them. Then if they         apart, and scourge them.
obey you, take no further       Then if they obey you,
action against them.            seek not a way against
Allah is high, supreme.         them. Lo! Allah is ever
                                High Exalted, Great.
--Surah 4: Women. 34.
                                --Surah 4: Women. 34

         Ali. 1997.                  Bakhtiar. 2007.

(Husbands) are the protectors   Men are supporters of
And maintainers of their        wives because God has
(wives)                         given some of them an
Because Allah has given         advantage over others
The one more (strength)         and because they spend
Than the other, and because     of their wealth. So the
They support them               ones (f) who are in
From their means.               accord with morality are
Therefore the righteous         the ones (f) who are
women                           morally obligated, the
Are devoutly obedient,          ones (f) who guard the
and guard                       unseen of what God
In (the husband's) ab-          has kept safe. But those
sence                           (f) whose resistance
What Allah would have           you fear, then admonish
them guard.                     them (f) and abandon
As to those women               them (f) in their sleeping
On whose part ye fear           place then go away
(Disloyalty and ill-conduct,    from them (f); if they
Admonish them (first),          obey you, surely look not
(Next), refuse to share         for any way against them
their beds,                     (f); truly God is Lofty,
(And last) spank them           Great.
But if they return to           --Chapter 4: Women. 4:34.
Seek not against them
Means (of annoyance):
For Allah is Most High,
Great (above you all).

--Surah 4: Al Nisa. Section
6. 34.

        Jasser. 2008.

Men are in a position of
authority over women in
as much as God has favored
them with certain
capabilities, and in as
much as they spend their
money on maintaining
women. Good righteous
women are dignified and
keep covered what God
kept covered (and different)
of their anatomy.
Those who you have reason
to fear their deviation,
reason with them,
punish them by refusing
to have relations with
them, and some you
may have to get going on
their way. Once the devi
ation is corrected, do not
ever take advantage of
them; God is Supreme
and Exalted.

--Chapter 4: Women. 34.
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Author:Marion, Michele
Publication:East-West Connections
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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