Ever since the Taliban captured power in Afghanistan, the media has been speculating on how they would conduct themselves, particularly towards women. Images of women wrapped in blue burqas from their earlier rule in 1996-2001 are being flashed. Atrocities on women, especially girls being prohibited from going to school, are being recapitulated.
Mercifully, the Taliban’s first statement gives cause for optimism. “We are going to allow women to work and study. We have got frameworks, of course. Women are going to be very active in the society but within the framework of Islam,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the group’s spokesman told a press conference in Kabul on Tuesday. He declared that “there will be no discrimination against women” adding that “they are going to work shoulder to shoulder with us”.
Questions are being asked: What is the “framework of Islam?” What’s the Taliban’s version of it? Since they claim to act according to Shariah, let’s understand the meaning of Shariah. In Arabic, it means the path to be followed by Muslims. It can be described as Islamic law. The original sources of Shariah are: The Quran, Sunnah or the “Habitual Practices” of the Prophet (PBUH) and Ahadees (recorded sayings of the Prophet). Based on these, and subservient to them, are two other sources — Ijma (The consensus of jurists), and Qiyas (analogy/ interpretation).
The international media often projects Islam as a religion that cages women. These perceptions ignore, or are unaware of, the Islamic tenets with respect to women, as specified in the holy Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad.
This article attempts to shed light on some such tenets.
Fourteen centuries ago, Islam recognised women as equal partners to men: They participated in business, war and several other activities. Islam was also the first religion to recognise property and inheritance rights for women — which many other religions granted only in the 20th century.
The Holy Quran and Hadith are replete with injunctions on gender equality. Here are some samples from the Holy Quran: “And one of His signs is this: He created for you mates from yourself that you might find tranquility in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy…”(Surah Ar Rum —The Romans 30:21).
“And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women.” (Surah Al Baqarah — The Cow 2:228)
“They (your wives) are your garment, and you are a garment for them.” (Surah Baqarah 2: 187)
“I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female — you are equal to one another.” (Surah Al e Imran — The Family of Imran 3:195)
“The believers, men and women, are helpers, supporters, friends and protectors of one another.” (Surah At Tawbah — The Repentance, Quran, 9: 71)
The Ahadees supplement the verses of the Quran with explanations and elaboration. Here are some samples:
“Verily, women are the twin halves of men.” (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi). “Men and women are equal halves.” (Abu Dawud). “The most complete believer in faith is the best in morals, and the best among you is the best to their wives.” (Tirmidhi). “Observe your duty to Allah in respect to the women, and treat them well” (Prophet Muhammad’s Last Sermon). Please note: Respecting women is seen as a duty to Allah.
The following anecdote is also educative: “A man asked the Prophet, ‘Who deserves my companionship most?’ The Prophet said, ‘Your mother.’ The man asked, ‘Who next’? The Prophet said, ‘Your mother.’ The man asked, ‘Who next?’ Prophet said, ‘Your mother.’ He asked, ‘Who next?’ The Prophet said, ‘Then your father’.” (Narrated by Abu Hurairah-Bukhari and Muslim)
It is well known that many Indians, driven by the traditional preference for sons, continue to have children until they get a male child and end up with a large family. Lately, with the invention of sex determination tests, female foeticide has become rampant, despite stringent laws against it. The Quran forbade female infanticide 14 centuries ago: “When one of them gets a baby girl, his face becomes darkened with overwhelming grief. Ashamed, he hides from the people, because of the bad news given to him. He even ponders: Should he keep the baby grudgingly or bury her in dust? Miserable indeed is their judgement.” (Surah An Nahl — The Bee 16:58-59)
“Do not hate having daughters, for they are the comforting dears.” (Al-Tabarani) “Whoever has three daughters, and cares for them, is merciful to them, and clothes them, then paradise is certain for him.” (Jabir ibn Abdullah)
Abdel Rahim Omran, Professor of Islamic Law at the University of Al-Azhar, Cairo, has summed up the position of women in Islam as enunciated in Surah An Nisa 4:11,12: “Islam championed equality for women in all matters — religious, social, economic and familial. A woman cannot be forced into marriage by her family or guardian — she has to give her consent. Islam endorses a woman’s consent to such an extent that a marriage could be annulled when it has been forced on a woman by her guardian.”
One of the most significant facets of Islam’s recognition of a woman’s individuality pertains to her retaining her maiden name. She can do with her money as she pleases, while her husband — or father or brother — is responsible for providing for her and her children. She has total control of her possessions. As a mother, she is placed ahead of her husband in regard to the children’s loyalty and affection. She has a right to demand, at the time of the marriage contract, the power of divorce and also the power to disallow polygyny by her husband.
Islam gives women equal legal status. This means she has the right to enter into all kinds of contractual arrangements and to conduct business on her own without the need of her husband’s consent. As regards girls’ right to education, Prophet Muhammad told his followers: “Acquisition of knowledge is binding on all Muslims, male and female… The person who goes forth in search of knowledge is striving hard in the way of Allah, until his/her return.”
It is unfortunate that not only the Taliban, but also Muslims in many parts of the world do not understand and follow the tenets of Islam. It is clearly a case of Islam versus the Muslims.
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 20, 2021 under the title ‘Faith and her freedom’. The writer is the author of The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India.