From the papers of the Centre
The Holy Prophet Muhammad is often quoted as saying "Three
things in this world have been made dear to me, women, perfume and the
coolness of my eyes is in the prayer".
Equality and Responsibility
He(saw) was a great champion of women and stood firmly for their rights,
showing great compassion and gentleness, not only in his personal relationships
with the women in his life, but towards his community as a whole. He
would spend whole nights standing in prayer, supplicating to God for
the guidance of his community. Before the coming of Islam, the condition
of women was less than desirable and they were not generally treated
with kindness and respect. Within the pagan Arab culture, there were
such things as female infanticide, unlimited polygamy, inheritance of
women, instantaneous divorce and intermarriage within families and the
like. The coming of Islam changed all that giving women (and men) rights
and freedoms that even the 'civilised' Western World have not equalled.
While people in Europe were debating on the issue of whether a woman
had a soul or not, women in the Middle East were soaring to spiritual
heights on the wings of Islam.
One of the greatest scholars and teachers of Islam was the young wife
of the Holy Prophet, Aisha. She was among those who memorised the Revelation
and over 4000 Hadiths have been recorded from her. Such was the extent
of her knowledge of Islam, that the Beloved Prophet of Allah
is quoted as saying "take half of your religion from Aisha".
Women used to come to the gatherings of the Holy Prophet and
ask questions about many things, some of which were very personal and
private. There was nothing hidden, everything was brought out in the
open for the education and benefit of all, whether male or female. Aisha
said that the best women were the women of Medina because their modesty
did not prevent them from learning about their religion. There are two
women mentioned specifically in the Qur'an as examples of piety - The
wife of Pharoah (Aasia) who prayed:
"Oh Lord, build for me in nearness to You, a mansion in Paradise"
(Forbidding 66:11). And:
"And Mary the daughter of 'Imran, who guarded her chastity; and
We breathed into (her body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the
truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of
the devout (servants)" (Forbidding 66:12). (In Islam, the Prophet
Jesus (peace be upon him) is known as 'Ruh Allah', or 'The Spirit of
The Qur'an teaches us that women are equal, but different, as they have
different roles in society, but all are individually responsible for
their own actions before God.
"Whoever works righteousness, man or woman and has faith, to him
will We give a new life, good and pure" (The Bee 16.97).
This is a beautiful promise and Allah never fails in His promise.
"Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, be he male
or female; ye are members, one of another" (Family of Imran 3:195).
And "Every soul draws the harvest/earnings of its acts on none
but itself, no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another. . ."
(The Cattle 6:164). Women were, and still, are encouraged to learn the
Qur'an and apply it to their own lives for their spiritual development
and to teach it to their children. Each letter of the Qur'an that we
recite earns us blessings from God. However, the reward for those whose
native tongue is not Arabic, yet learn the Qur'an, is much greater than
for those who can read it with ease, because of the struggle involved.
Women are to be revered and treated with love and dignity, particularly
the mothers. In the first verse of the chapter Nisa' or 'the women',
The Holy Qur'an directs us all to "revere the womb that bore you".
The teachings of Islam elevate the woman to such a high state that in
some instances she is placed well above that of a man. Such was the
case when a man came to the Holy Prophet and asked him to whom
was his first responsibility due. "To your mother" was the
reply, "And after that, who?" Again the response was "Your
mother" "And after my mother, who?" Yet again was the
response "Your mother". Only when the question was asked a
fourth time, did the Holy Prophet reply "Your father".
On another occasion, a man approached the Holy Prophet to seek
permission to accompany him on a military expedition. The Beloved of
Allah asked him "Do you have a mother?" "Yes", he
replied. "Then stay with her, for surely Paradise lies at her feet".
Staying home in the service of one's mother in this case was equated
with the possibility of martyrdom for the sake of Allah! This is amazing!
Respect for both parents is included in the Qur'an as we are commanded
not to say so much as 'oof' to our parents and we are reminded of the
fact that they brought us up and took care of us when we were helpless,
but the mother comes first by far.
"And among His signs is this: that He creates for you mates
from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them
and He has put love and mercy between your hearts. Verily in that are
signs for those who reflect" (Rome 30:21).
Concerning marriage, the Holy Qur'an says of husbands and wives:"They
are your garments and you are their garments" (2:187). But what,
exactly, is a garment? When you look at this word a little more deeply,
you find that a garment is something which not only covers you so that
your body is not exposed to view and protects you from the elements,
but a garment can also be soft, comforting and warm. Men and women are
garments one for the other. This is just part of what can be experienced
within a truly Islamic marriage. Marriage is a wonderful blessing and
part of the example of our Prophet who said that "marriage is half
of the religion". He also said "the best among you is he who
is best to his family and I am the best among you to my family".
God mentions in the Holy Qur'an:
"Oh mankind, We have created you from a single soul and made you
into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.
Truly, the most honoured among you in God's sight is the greatest of
you in piety. God is All Knowing, All Aware" (The Inner Apartments
In order for any marriage to be considered valid, the woman's consent
must be given and there are examples of marriages being dissolved when
the proper consent was not obtained. When a woman marries, there is
no requirement for her to adopt her husband's name. She retains her
own identity and her good actions continue to bring honour to her family
In Islam, it is quite acceptable for a woman to propose marriage to
a man; in fact, such was the case in the marriage of the Holy Prophet
Muhammad himself. He was employed as a trader by a wealthy widow
by the name of Khadija. While she was impressed by his success as her
representative in business transactions, she was particularly drawn
to him by the light which shone from his eyes and across his forehead.
She sent a friend of hers, Nufaysah, to approach Muhammad on
her behalf. Thus was a marriage arranged between them and they lived
happily together for many years and had several children, only the daughters
surviving childhood. She was 15 years his elder.
In the financial arrangements of marriage, the woman is definitely in
the better position, for any property she brings in to the marriage,
any inheritance she receives, any income she earns belongs to her solely
and she is not required to contribute to the upkeep of the household.
This responsibility rests solely on the shoulders of the husband. She
may even ask for payment for suckling his children if she desires to
do so. With this added responsibility in mind, the final say in household
matters does belong to the man. In a truly Islamic marriage, a woman
would not ask for things which would put a burden on her husband and
would contribute to the welfare of the family if she were in a position
to do so. Islam is all about achieving and maintaining balance.
While the guidelines of marriage and the law are designed to bring about
and maintain balance within the family and society, Islam does recognise
that sometimes things just don't work between a husband and wife and
divorces do occur. It is the right of the woman, as well as the man,
to request a divorce and the Holy Qur'an has specific rules relating
to arbitration, separation, divorce and maintenance. The Holy Prophet
Muhammad said "The most hateful of the permissible things
to Allah is divorce".
Childbirth and women's cycles
We have all been created by Allah "in the best form" with
many different energies and requirements. The union of husband and wife
is one of the highest forms of creative energy. When this natural energy,
which Allah has placed within us is channelled towards a spiritual purpose,
we receive great blessing in our spiritual journey. Both husband and
wife receive rewards from Allah for marital relations. It is considered
to be a good deed and as such carries great blessing for both partners,
as does the joyous news of the pending arrival of a child of the union.
A newborn child is pure, straight from the Divine Essence of Allah and
carries with him/her the smell of purity, like Islam in its pure form.
The miracle of conception and birth is part of the wonder of Allah's
Creation. The woman carries the child, which is Pure Essence, and feels
it grow and develop within her. This connection of the womb is something
which is not in the realm of experience of men. When a child is born,
the mother's body automatically begins producing milk, the constituency
of which changes according to the child's age and growth requirements.
Milk is symbolically linked to knowledge and, according to tradition,
"the mother is a school", transferring knowledge and protection
to her child each time she feeds. This transference begins very early
in pregnancy, when the connection is made between the mother and the
The womb (rahm) is connected to the attributes of Rahma and Raheem (Mercy
and Compassion), all three words sharing the same Arabic root. Because
of this part of their nature, women have the potential to develop spiritually
much faster than men.
While other traditions consider the woman "unclean" or "contaminated",
Islam considers the woman's cycle as a natural part of her composition.
She is not required to pray or fast at these times and is not required
to make up any prayers missed. While they are exempt from prayer and
fasting, women of Tasawwuf (Sufism) continue their spiritual work and
remembrance of Allah (dhikr). While the physical body is in a lower
state energetically, the potential for spiritual activity is increased.
An unavoidable physical state does not render a woman spiritually unclean.
The best example of all, the Holy Prophet Muhammad, used to
rest his head on his wife Aisha's lap and recite the Holy Qur'an while
she was in a state of physical impurity. She used to comb his hair and
perfume him during this time as well. Many are the traditions related
by the women around the Holy Prophet concerning this time in
a woman's cycle.
Modesty in dress
The general guidelines for Islamic dress are that of modesty. Allah
does not look to our outward appearance, but looks to our hearts. The
Qur'an states that Allah has provided clothing for us to cover us as
well as to adorn us, but that "the raiment of piety is the best".
If we have shyness before Allah in our hearts, then it naturally manifests
itself in the outward. Whatever is within us becomes reflected in our
outward life. We then no longer need the law to tell us what is right
and what is wrong, but become naturally self regulating, choosing that
which is beneficial to us and to those around us.
Allah says in the Holy Qur'an:
"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and
guard their modesty, that will make for greater purity for them".
It then follows with "Say to the believing women that they should
lower their gaze and guard their modesty". Men and women are both
directed to lower their gazes and to women - to draw their outer garments
across the bosom, so that they would be known as women of Islam and
not bothered in the streets. In the climate of today, sometimes it's
better not to be known and it is sufficient to dress modestly, without
exposing any of the 'awra' or private areas to view.
The awra (or private area) of a man extends from the navel to the knees
and the women's awra includes the whole body with the exception of the
face, hands and feet. Men are also directed to dress modestly, ensuring
that their clothing is not tight or transparent. These guidelines for
both men and women help to regulate interactions between the sexes and
to guard the purity of both.
Taking/making of oaths by women
Within Islam, an oath made by a woman is equally binding upon her as
that of a man and cannot be revoked by anyone.
"Oh, Prophet, when believing women come to you to take the oath
of fealty to thee . . . then do thou receive their fealty and pray to
Allah for the forgiveness of their sins, for Allah is Oft Forgiving,
Most Merciful" (60:12).
After the battle of Hudaibiyah, the Holy Prophet gathered his companions
together under an acacia tree and took an oath of allegiance from each
of them, clasping their hands. It was later revealed "Behold, all
who pledge their allegiance to thee, pledge their allegiance to God, the
hand of God is over their hands. Whoever breaks his oath breaks it only
to the injury of his own soul, he who remains true to what he has pledged
unto God, on him will He bestow a reward supreme" (48:10). This oath
continues to be used today by Muslims and forms the basis of initiation
into the spiritual path of Tasawwuf.