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Position of Women in Islam, The

A Progressive View

Mohammad Ali Syed

Publication Year: 2004

Challenging the conservative framers of Islamic law who accorded a lesser status to women, Mohammad Ali Syed argues that the Quran and the Hadith—the two primary sources of Islamic law—actually place Muslim women on the same level as Muslim men. Syed provides an overview of both sources and explores their respective roles in Islamic law, emphasizing the Quran’s role as the supreme authority and questioning the authenticity of some of the alleged sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). From these texts, he elaborates women’s rights in a variety of areas, including treatment by God; marriage, divorce, financial provisions, and custody of children; coming out of seclusion (purdah), and taking part in social, economic, legal, and political activities. Rather than presenting what is practiced today, the book covers the theoretical position of Muslim women as sanctioned by the Quran and the authentic Hadith and offers a glimpse of the exalted position of honor and dignity enjoyed by Muslim women in the early days of Islam. This well-researched book is made more distinctive by the author’s personal experience. Raised in Bengal, India, Syed was inspired by his family, who valued men and women equally. As he grew up, Syed realized that most Muslim women lived very differently than the women of his family. According to the author, his family was egalitarian because his father and male relatives were not only devout Muslims but also very knowledgeable about Islam. This book is a culmination of his lifelong concern for women’s rights under Islam.

Published by: State University of New York Press

The Position of Women in Islam

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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

The early 1930s were a period of great change in the social, cultural, and political life of India. As a child born at that time, I was thrown into a melting pot that contained old conservative ideas and notions along with new ideas and aspirations that cried out for a change. In my early childhood, however, I was not aware of this situation. Born into a highly politicized and intellectual middleclass Muslim family of Calcutta, India, ...

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Authors Note

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pp. xi-xii

As the author of this book, I owe explanations of certain matters that may raise controversies among the readers. On almost every topic dealt with in this book, I have questioned the traditional views of conservative Muslim scholars. In response to their possible criticism of my work, I can only point out that I have tried to state what the Quran and the authentic Hadith say and have highlighted where prevalent Islamic law has deviated...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. 1-4

The question of women’s rights and obligations, in my opinion appear to be the most controversial and most complex of all social problems. According to Carol Tarvis and Carol Wade (1984), it has always been assumed throughout the centuries by all societies that the difference between males and females is not confined to basic anatomy but in their respective...

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1. Roles of the Quran and the Hadith in Islamic Law

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pp. 5-12

The Quran (which is believed by Muslims to be the word of God) was revealed in stages during the twenty-two years of the prophethood (risalat) of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). During the same period, the Prophet (pbuh) made statements and gave his approval or disapproval on various religious, moral, social, cultural, and legal issues. These...

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2. Reward and Punishment of the Sexes by God as Prescribed by the Quran

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pp. 13-16

Yusuf Ali wrongly puts the expression ‘he who is’ in parenthesis as part of his translation of the above verse. This expression is not in the original Arabic of 49:13 of the Quran. It is perhaps because of this that he has entered this in parenthesis. There are other Quranic verses for example, 4:1 and 7:189, which although meant for both sexes, refer specifically to men. The exclusion of...

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3. Origin of Men and Women According to the Quran

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pp. 17-19

Like the reward and punishment of men and women by God, the Quran prescribes complete equality for men and women regarding their origin. The biblical story of the creation of Eve from a rib of Adam may be allegorical or literal, but the Quran totally rejects such an idea and no Hadiths support this biblical story. The following Quranic verses show...

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4. Assessment of Some Alleged Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

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pp. 21-26

Some alleged sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) have been used by antiwomen sections of Muslim society to curtail women’s rights. The alleged sayings have been used to maintain a false justification of the superiority of men over women. Eight of these alleged sayings, which are highly prejudicial to women, are given below and are then discussed to...

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5. Rules of Marriage in Islamic Law

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pp. 27-47

It is clear from the above Quranic verses that God prefers human beings to be married and when there is difficulty in finding a suitable match among believing women for any reason including poverty, then men are asked to marry their female slaves. Masters of the slaves, both male and female, are asked by the Quran to arrange for their marriage. ...

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6. The Position of Husband and Wife in Islamic Law

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pp. 49-57

Islamic law has always upheld the rights of Muslim women. The Quran and the Hadith are particularly concerned with the husbands’ treatment of their wives. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was extremely sympathetic to Muslim women and was conscious about the special rights of Muslim wives in matrimonial relationships with their husbands. The following...

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7. Rules of Dissolution of Marriage in Islamic Law

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pp. 59-76

Although divorce is permitted in Islamic law, it is discouraged by both the Quran and the Hadith. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “With Allah the most detestable of all things permitted is divorce”. (AD 13:3) The Quran recommends reconciliation between the couple before a breach between the husband and wife (shiqaq baynakum) leads to divorce. Quranic verse...

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8. Rights of Custody and Access to Children in Islamic Law

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pp. 77-83

In Islamic law, the technical term for the custody of children is hizanat. Elaborate rules have been made by jurists of Islamic law regarding hizanat. Unfortunately, there is no direct reference to hizanat in the Quran although five Quranic verses, namely 2:233, 31:14, 46:15, and 17:23–24 refer to parents. The first three of these verses refer to the sacrifices and...

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9. Financial and Economic Provisions for Women in Islamic Law

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pp. 85-96

Verses 4:11, 4:12, and 4:176 deal with specific shares of the heirs and 4:7 deals generally with the rights of men and women to the shares in the inheritance. Verse 4:8 asks the Muslims to give special consideration and shares of the inheritance to any relatives, orphans, and needy over and above the specified shares in 4:11, 4:12, and 4:176 at the time of division...

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10. Rules Regarding Women as Witnesses in Islamic Law

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pp. 97-102

Despite being fair to women witnesses, Islamic law is unjustly criticized by Western scholars for alleged discrimination of women as witnesses and they criticize Islamic law for giving less value to a woman’s evidence. Unfortunately, conservative Muslim jurists help critics of Islamic law by asserting that indeed it demands two women witnesses in lieu of one male...

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11. Rules Regarding the Seclusion of Women (Purdah)

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pp. 103-120

One of the most controversial and difficult topics a Muslim confronts in his social life is the subject of purdah in Islam. On the one hand we have the present system of purdah as practiced by Muslims in the present time, particularly by the Muslims coming from the Indian subcontinent. On the other hand, we have various Quranic and Hadith regulations and...

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12. Women in Politics and as the Head of a State

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pp. 121-126

Women’s rights to participate in politics and to become a head of state or that of an administration has been challenged by conservative theologians as being un-Islamic. In the following discussion their opinion on this matter has been considered and rejected. As more and more Muslim women exercise their legitimate rights in different spheres of life it is...


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pp. 127-130


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pp. 131-135

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485040
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791460955
Print-ISBN-10: 0791460959

Page Count: 136
Publication Year: 2004

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Subject Headings

  • Women in Islam.
  • Women in the Hadith.
  • Women's rights -- Religious aspects -- Islam.
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