Open Access Articles- Top Results for Women in Islam

Women in Islam

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Women in Islam are guided by primary Islamic sources of personal law, namely the Quran and hadiths, as well as secondary sources such as the ijma, qiyas, ijtihad in form such as fatwas; the secondary sources vary with various sects of Islam and schools of jurisprudence (madhhab).[1][2] In certain regions, in addition to religious guidelines, pre-Islamic cultural traditions play a role.[3] Islamic laws and cultural customs impact various stages of a Muslim women's life, including her education, employment opportunities, rights to inheritance, female circumcision, dress, age of marriage, freedom to consent to marriage, marriage contract, mahr, permissibility of birth control, divorce, sex outside or before marriage, her ability to receive justice in case of sex crimes, property rights independent of her husband, and when salat (prayers) are mandatory for her.[4][5][6] Polygyny is allowed to men under Islam, but not widespread; in some Islamic countries, such as Iran, a woman's husband may enter into temporary marriages in addition to permanent marriage.[7][8] Islam forbids Muslim women from marrying a non-Muslim.[9] There is debate and controversy on gender roles according to Islam.[3][10]

Sharia provides for complementarianism,[11] differences between women's and men's roles, rights, and obligations. Being a Muslim is more than a religious identity; Islam outlines and structures ways in which Muslim women should live their lives on a day-to-day basis.[12] In majority Muslim countries women exercise varying degrees of their religious rights with regards to marriage, divorce, legal status, dress code, and education based on different interpretations. Scholars and other commentators vary as to whether they are just and whether they are a correct interpretation of religious imperatives.

Sources of influence

File:Quran-Mus'haf Al Tajweed.jpg
Quran is a primary source of influence for women in Islam.

There are four sources of influence under Islam for Muslim women. The first two, the Quran and Hadiths, are considered primary sources, while the other two are secondary and derived sources that differ between various Muslim sects and schools of Islamic jurisprudence. The secondary sources of influence include ijma, qiyas and, in forms such as fatwa, ijtihad.[1][2][13]


Women in Islam are provided a number of guidelines under Quran and hadiths, as understood by fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) as well as of the interpretations derived from the hadith that were agreed upon by majority of Sunni scholars as authentic beyond doubt based on hadith studies.[3][14] Sunni Muslims are the largest Islamic sect, comprising approximately 80% of the world's Muslims. The Sunni sect includes many theological schools and doctrines interpreting the Quran. To Sunnis, the ahadith constitute an important source of legislation. Fiqh is the basis of jurisprudence, or legal practise, developed by Muslim jurists during the centuries following the creation of Islam, and largely influenced by the ahadith.[15] These interpretations and their application were shaped by the historical context of the Muslim world at the time they were written.[3]

During his life, Muhammad married eleven or thirteen women depending upon the differing accounts of who were his wives. In Arabian culture, marriage was generally contracted in accordance with the larger needs of the tribe and was based on the need to form alliances within the tribe and with other tribes. Virginity at the time of marriage was emphasized as a tribal honor.[16] William Montgomery Watt states that all of Muhammad's marriages had the political aspect of strengthening friendly relationships and were based on the Arabian custom.[17]


The above primary sources of influence on women of Islam do not deal with every conceivable situation over time. This led to the development of jurisprudence and religious schools with Islamic scholars that referred to resources such as identifying authentic documents, internal discussions and establishing a consensus to find the correct religiously approved course of action for Muslims.[1][2] These formed the secondary sources of influence for women. Among them are ijma, qiya, ijtihad and others depending on sect and the school of Islamic law. Included in secondary sources are fatwas, which are often widely distributed, orally or in writing by Muslim clerics, to the masses, in local language and describe behavior, roles and rights of women that conforms with religious requirements. Fatwas are theoretically non-binding, but seriously considered and has often been practiced by most Muslim believers. The secondary sources typically fall into five types of influence: the declared role or behavior for Muslims, both women and men, is considered obligatory, commendable, permissible, despised or prohibited. There is considerable controversy, change over time, and conflict between the secondary sources.[18][19][20]

Gender roles

Main article: Gender roles in Islam
File:Muhammad's widow, Aisha, battling the fourth caliph Ali in the Battle of the Camel.jpg
Aisha, the widow of Muhammad, joined the Battle of the Camel, the first major Islamic civil war between Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. This internecine Islamic war is also called the First Fitna. Aisha was the only woman in the war. Thousands were killed, Ali captured and pardoned Aisha. She retired thereafter.[21]

The Quran dedicates numerous verses to Muslim women, their role, duties and rights, in addition to Sura 4 with 176 verses named "An-Nisa" ("Women").[22] Some verses are considered as key in defining gender roles in Islam, one being verse 4.34:[23][24]

Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion [committing a religious sin], admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.
Qur'an[Quran 4:34]

The above verse 34 uses the word qawwamun to depict the gender role of men. This is the plural form often equated as lord, master, ruler, governor, manager. Some scholars[10][25] claim this verse establishes a hierarchical gender role, with man as ruler and woman as ruled. However, other scholars[10][25] suggest that this Arabic word may not mean ruler in its context. Rather, it means ‘bread-winner’ as an economic term. Such an interpretation of Quran then implies a division of functions, with men as bread winners, and women as child-bearers.

Islam differentiates the gender role of women who believe in Islam and those who do not. The Muslim male's right to own slave women, seized during military campaigns and jihad against non-believing pagans and infidels from Southern Europe to Africa to India to Central Asia, was considered natural.[26][27] Slave women could be sold without their consent, expected to provide concubinage, required permission from their owner to marry; and children born to them were automatically considered Muslim under Islamic law if the father was a Muslim.[28][29][30]

Female education

File:Var 132.jpg
University of al-Karaouine was founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, a Muslim woman. It is the oldest, still operating Islamic university. Women in Islam, nevertheless, were rarely permitted to attend formal classes in universities, only allowed to attend religious lectures in mosque and public places.[31]

Historical religious education

Islam encouraged religious education of Muslim women.[32] According to a hadith attributed to Muhammad, he praised the women of ansar because shame did not prevent them from learning Islam.[32]

While it was not common for women to enroll as students in formal religious schools, it was common for women to attend informal lectures and study sessions at mosques, madrasat and other public places. For example, the attendance of women at the Fatimid Caliphate's "sessions of wisdom" (majālis al-ḥikma) was noted by various historians, including Ibn al-Tuwayr, al-Muṣabbiḥī and Imam.[33][33] Historically, some Muslim women played an important role in the foundation of many religious educational institutions, such as Fatima al-Fihri's founding of the University of al-Karaouine in 859 CE.[34] According to the 12th-century Sunni scholar Ibn 'Asakir, there were various opportunities for female education in what is known as the Islamic Golden Age. He writes that women could study, earn ijazahs (religious degrees) and qualify as ulama and Islamic teachers.[35] Similarly, al-Sakhawi devotes one of the twelve volumes of his biographical dictionary Daw al-Lami to female religious scholars between 700 and 1800 CE, giving information on 1,075 of them.[36]

During the colonial era, until the early 20th century, there was a gender struggle among Muslims in the British empire; women were viewed as a prelude to social chaos, a threat to the moral order, and man's world was viewed as a source of Muslim identity.[37] Muslim women in British India, nevertheless, pressed for their rights independent of men; by the 1930s, 2.5 million girls had entered schools of which 0.5 million were Muslims.[37]

Modern secular education

In a 2013 statement, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation noted that many Islamic member nations restrict education opportunities for girls.[38] UNICEF notes that out of 24 nations with less than 60% female primary enrollment rates, 17 were Islamic nations; more than half the adult population is illiterate in several Islamic countries, and the proportion reaches 70% among Muslim women.[39] Other scholars[40][41] claim Islamic nations have the world's highest gender gap in education. The 2012 World Economic Forum annual gender gap study finds the 17 out of 18 worst performing nations, out of a total of 135 nations, are the following members of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation: Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, (Nepal[42]), Turkey, Oman, Egypt, Iran, Mali, Morocco, Côte d'Ivoire, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Chad, Pakistan and Yemen.[43]

The gender gap at universities is not universal among Muslim-majority nations. In Turkey, the proportion of female university researchers is slightly higher (36%) than the average for the 27-member European Union as of 2012 (33%).[44] At the University of Jordan, which is Jordan's largest and oldest university, 65% of students were female in 2013.[45] Similarly, in Malaysia,[46] Algeria,[47] and in Saudi Arabia,[48] majority of university students have been female in recent years. Other estimates suggest this rising presence of women in education may be limited to universities. For example, a 2005 study[49] reports that even while literacy has been improving since the 1970s, the overall female literacy rate in Saudi Arabia is 50% compared to male literacy of 72%. UNESCO estimates many Muslim-majority nations had about 50% or less literacy rate in its adult women population in 2010; examples include Morocco, Yemen, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Niger, Mali, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Chad.[50] Egypt had a women literacy rate of 64% in 2010, Iraq of 71% and Indonesia of 90%.[50]

Female employment

Some scholars[51][52] refer to verse 28:23 in the Quran and to Khadijah, Muhammad's first wife, a merchant before and after converting to Islam, as indications that Muslim women may undertake employment outside their homes.

And when he came to the water of Madyan, he found on it a group of men watering, and he found besides them two women keeping back (their flocks). He said: What is the matter with you? They said: We cannot water until the shepherds take away (their sheep) from the water, and our father is a very old man.

Traditional interpretations of Islam require a woman to have her husband’s permission to leave the house and take up employment.[53][54][55]


During medieval times, the labor force in Spanish Caliphate included women in diverse occupations and economic activities such as farming, construction workers, textile workers, managing slave girls, collecting taxes from prostitutes, as well as presidents of guilds, creditors, religious scholars.[56]

In the 12th century, Ibn Rushd, claimed that women were equal to men in all respects and possessed equal capacities to shine, citing examples of female warriors among the Arabs, Greeks and Africans to support his case.[57] In the early history of Islam, examples of notable female Muslims who fought during the Muslim conquests and Fitna (civil wars) as soldiers or generals included Nusaybah bint Ka'ab[58] a.k.a. Umm Amarah, Aisha,[59] Kahula and Wafeira.[60]

Medieval bimarestan or hospitals included female staff as female nurses. Muslim hospitals were also the first to employ female physicians, such as Banu Zuhr family who served the Almohad caliph ruler Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur in the 12th century.[61] This was necessary due to the segregation of male and female patients in Islamic hospitals. Later in the 15th century, female surgeons were employed at Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu's Cerrahiyyetu'l-Haniyye (Imperial Surgery).[62]

File:Germents worker Bangladesh.jpg
Islamic women at work in a garment factory in Bangladesh. Majority of garment workers are women in Bangladesh, and it is the world's second largest exporter of garments.[63][64][65]

Modern era

Patterns of women's employment vary throughout the Muslim world: as of 2005, 16% of Pakistani women were "economically active" (either employed, or unemployed but available to furnish labor), whereas 52% of Indonesian women were.[66] According to a 2012 World Economic Forum report[67] and other recent reports,[68] Islamic nations in the Middle East and North Africa region are increasing their creation of economic and employment opportunities for women; compared, however, to every other region in the world, the Middle East and North African region ranks lowest on economic participation, employment opportunity and the political empowerment of women. Ten countries with the lowest women labour force participation in the worldTemplate:Spaced ndashJordan, Oman, Morocco, Iran, Turkey, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and SyriaTemplate:Spaced ndashare Islamic countries, as are the four countries that have no female parliamentarians.[67]

Women are allowed to work in Islam, subject to certain conditions, such as if a woman is in financial need and her employment does not cause her to neglect her important role as a mother and wife.[51][69] It has been claimed that it is the responsibility of the Muslim community to organize work for women, so that she can do so in a Muslim cultural atmosphere, where her rights (as set out in the Quran) are respected.[51] Islamic law however, permits women to work in Islamic conditions,[51] such as the work not requiring the woman to violate Islamic law (e.g., serving alcohol), and that she maintain her modesty while she performs any work outside her home.

In some cases, when women have the right to work and are educated, women's job opportunities may in practice be unequal to those of men. In Egypt for example, women have limited opportunities to work in the private sector because women are still expected to put their role in the family first, which causes men to be seen as more reliable in the long term.[70][page needed] In Saudi Arabia, it is illegal for Saudi women to drive, serve in military and other professions with men.[71][page needed] It is becoming more common for Saudi Arabian women to procure driving licences from other Gulf Cooperation Council states such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.[72]

Legal matters

File:Use of Sharia by country.svg
Use, by country, of Sharia for legal matters relating to women:
  Sharia plays no role in the judicial system
  Sharia applies to Muslims in personal status issues only
  Sharia applies in full, including criminal law
  Regional variations in the application of sharia

Most Muslim majority countries, and some Muslim minority countries, follow a mixed legal system, with positive laws and state courts, as well as sharia-based religious laws and religious courts.[73] Those countries that use Sharia for legal matters involving women, adopt it mostly for personal law; however, a few Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen apply the entire sharia code in legal matters for Muslim women.[74]

In some Islamic areas, practices such as jirga, vani, Ba'ad and "honor" killing remain an integral part of the customary legal processes involving Muslim women.[75][76] These have been traced to diyya ("blood money") and qisas ("eye for an eye") principles of Islamic law.[77] Diyya was established in pre-Islamic Arabia.[78][79] Sharia affirmed the practice of diyya, and the compensation paid to women victims have historically varied based on her gender and her religion.[80][81] Typically, women victims have been, and are compensated at half the rate as Muslim male victims for an equivalent case, while non-Muslim women compensation rates have varied between one sixteenth to half of a Muslim women, for an equivalent case.[82][83][84]

Islamic law treats intentional homicide, unintentional homicide and all forms of personal injury as a civil dispute between Muslims.[85][86] In all cases of murder, unintentional homicide, bodily injury and property damage suffered by a woman or her heirs, under sharia, the prosecutor is not the state, but the victim or the victim's heir.[87][88]

Other than applicable laws to Muslim women, there is gender-based variation in the process of testimony and acceptable forms of evidence in legal matters.[89][90] Some Islamic jurists have held that certain types of testimony by women may not be accepted. In other cases, the testimony of two women equals that of one man.[89][90]

Property rights

Bernard Lewis says that classical Islamic civilization granted free Muslim women relatively more property rights than women in the West, even as it sanctified three basic inequalities between master and slave, man and woman, believer and unbeliever.[91] Even in cases where the property rights were granted, they were very limited and covered only upper class women.[92] Over time, while women's rights have improved elsewhere, those in many Muslim-dominated countries have remained comparatively restricted.[93][94]

Women's property rights in the Quran are based around the marriage contract. A woman, according to Islamic tradition, does not have to give her pre-marriage possessions to her husband and receive a mahr (dower) which she then owns.[95] Furthermore, any earnings that a woman receives through employment or business, after marriage, is hers to keep and need not contribute towards family expenses. This is because, once the marriage is consummated, in exchange for ‘‘tamkin’’ (sexual submission), a woman is entitled to nafaqa – namely, the financial responsibility for reasonable housing, food and other household expenses for the family, including the spouse, falls entirely on the husband.[53][54] In traditional Islamic law, a woman is also not responsible for the upkeep of the home and may demand payment for any work she does in the domestic sphere.[96]

Property rights enabled some Muslim women to possess substantial assets and fund charitable endowments. In mid-sixteenth century Istanbul, 36.8% of charitable endowments (awqāf) were founded by women.[97] In eighteenth century Cairo, 126 out of 496 charitable foundations (25.4%) were endowed by women.[98] Between 1770 and 1840, 241 out of 468 or 51% of charitable endowments in Aleppo were founded by women.[99]

The Qur'an grants inheritance rights to wife, daughter, and sisters of the deceased.[100] However, women’s inheritance rights to her father’s property are unequal to her male siblings, and varies based on number of sisters, step sisters, step brothers, if mother is surviving, and other claimants. The rules of inheritance are specified by a number of Qur'an verses, including Surah "Baqarah" (chapter 2) verses 180 and 240; Surah "Nisa(h)" (chapter 4) verses 7–11, 19 and 33; and Surah "Maidah" (chapter 5), verses 106–108. Three verses in Surah "Nisah" (chapter 4), verses 11, 12 and 176, describe the share of close relatives. The religious inheritance laws for women in Islam are different from inheritance laws for non-Muslim women under common laws.[101]

Sexual crimes

See also: Zina (Arabic)

In Islam, sexual intercourse between a Muslim woman and any man to whom she is not married is zina, a religious crime.[102][103] This includes extramarital sex, premarital sex and rape. It is listed as a hadd crime, i.e. a crime against God (murder of a Muslim; theft of a Muslim's property; zina; consumption of alcohol or other intoxicants; and apostasy).[104][105] The punishment in Islam for unlawful sex is fixed at a 100-lash public flogging, or stoning to death.[106] Accusing anyone of sex crime or rape, without proper witnesses, is also a hadd crime.[107]

Zina cannot be alleged by any woman or man without four male Muslim eyewitnesses or without confession in court by the man who committed zina.[102][103][108] This sharia requirement of four eyewitnesses severely limits a woman's ability to press rape charges, a crime often committed without eyewitnesses.[102][109][110] Sex with non-Muslim slave women is not considered adultery.[111] This principle of religious crime only applies for unlawful sex between free Muslim men and free Muslim women.[112][113]

The crime of rape, according to Sunni Ḥanafī and Mālikī jurists, is as an act of zinā. If the consent was granted under coercion or in a defective legal capacity such as by a mentally impaired person, it is considered non-consent or invalid consent.[114] While a sunnah suggests that a woman should not be punished for having been coerced into having sex,[115] it is the burden of the victim to establish coercion with eyewitnesses. If a man does confess to zina, eyewitnesses are not required.[116] Such a confession may, however, be withdrawn and the need for four male Muslim eyewitnesses reinstated. Failure to provide evidence is treated as a crime of false accusation, punishable with flogging.[117] Currently, it is common for a Muslim woman who makes a claim of rape not only to be denied justice but to be charged with fornication or adultery.[118][119][120][121]

Several Islamic countries, such as Morocco (Penal Code Article 475), allow rapists to avoid criminal prosecution if they marry their victim. In 2012, a 16-year-old Moroccan girl, having been forced by her family and the government prosecutor to marry her rapistTemplate:Spaced ndashand, subsequently, having endured the rapist's abuseTemplate:Spaced ndashcommitted suicide by swallowing rat poison.[122] Morocco’s parliament proposed to revise its Article 475 in 2013. Other Islamic nations with similar laws that protect the rapist in this manner include Lebanon (Article 514), Algeria, Jordan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.[123][124][125][126] There is a disagreement whether this practice is sanctioned by Islam or part of local custom.[127][128]

Witness of woman

In Qur'an, surah 2:182 equates two women as substitute for one man, in matters requiring witnesses.[129]

O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing. Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe refuse to write: as Allah has taught him, so let him write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear His Lord Allah, and not diminish aught of what he owes. If they party liable is mentally deficient, or weak, or unable himself to dictate, let his guardian dictate faithfully, and get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her. The witnesses should not refuse when they are called on (For evidence). Disdain not to reduce to writing (your contract) for a future period, whether it be small or big: it is juster in the sight of Allah, More suitable as evidence, and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves but if it be a transaction which ye carry out on the spot among yourselves, there is no blame on you if ye reduce it not to writing.

The sunnah in various hadiths, which record the teachings and actions of Muhammad, are more explicit in comparing Muslim women to Muslim men, in matters of testimony. Of these, Sahih Bukhari, considered authentic and among the most trusted binding hadiths in Islam, two hadiths record the tradition set by the Prophet and his companions:

Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o 'Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" Allah's Apostle said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion."
The Prophet said, "Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?" The women said, "Yes." He said, "This is because of the deficiency of a woman's mind."

Historically, this principle that the testimony of a man had twice the strength of a woman, was applied in financial, civil as well as criminal matters such as rape (Zina).[89][90] In modern practice, several Islamic countries presently treat a woman's testimony as half of a man's, in their Sharia courts. For example, since 1979, Pakistan courts have accepted the principle that a woman's testimony is half as reliable as a man's per Islamic guidelines, and adopted it in practice.[130] Similarly, the law in many Arab countries gives a woman’s testimony half the weight of a man’s.[131]

Domestic violence law

File:A comparison of acceptance of domestic violence in select Arab and Muslim majority countries, UNICEF 2013.png
Acceptance of domestic violence by women in some Islamic countries, according to UNICEF (2013).[132]

Scholars[133][134] claim Islamic law, such as verse 4:34 of Quran, allows and encourages domestic violence against women, when a husband suspects nushuz (disobedience, disloyalty, rebellion, ill conduct) in his wife.[135] Other scholars claim wife beating, for nashizah, is not consistent with modern perspectives of Quran.[136] Some conservative translations suggest Muslim husbands are permitted ‘‘Idribuhunna’’ (use ’’light force’’) on their wives, and others claim permissibility to strike, hit, chastise, or beat.[137][138] The relationship between Islam and domestic violence is disputed by some Islamic scholars.[137][139]

In practice, the legal doctrine of many Islamic nations, in deference to Sharia law, have refused to include, consider or prosecute cases of domestic violence, limiting legal protections available to Muslim women.[140][141][142][143] In 2010, for example, the highest court of United Arab Emirates (Federal Supreme Court) considered a lower court's ruling, and upheld a husband's right to "chastise" his wife and children with physical violence. Article 53 of the United Arab Emirates' penal code acknowledges the right of a "chastisement by a husband to his wife and the chastisement of minor children" so long as the assault does not exceed the limits prescribed by Sharia.[144] In Lebanon, as many as three-quarters of all Lebanese women have suffered physical abuse at the hands of husbands or male relatives at some point in their lives.[145][146] In Afghanistan, over 85% of women report domestic violence;[147] other nations with very high rates of domestic violence and limited legal rights include Syria, Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.[148] In some Islamic countries such as Turkey, where legal protections against domestic violence have been enacted, serial domestic violence by husband and other male members of her family is mostly ignored by witnesses and accepted by women without her getting legal help, according to a Government of Turkey report.[149]


File:Signing the Nikah.jpg
A bride signing the Nikah, the Muslim marriage contract. In Islam, there is no legal concept of marital property. Mahr defines the right of woman in case of divorce or death of her husband.

Under Islamic law, marriage is not a status, it is a contract, that requires a woman's consent.[150] "Women were given inheritance rights in a patriarchal society that had previously restricted inheritance to male relatives/ family members." Annemarie Schimmel claims, "compared to the pre-Islamic position of women, Islamic legislation meant an enormous progress; the woman has the right, at least according to the letter of the law, to administer the wealth she has brought into the family or has earned by her own work."[151] Other scholars suggest Islam subsumed and expanded many cultural practices with regards to women, such as their gender role before and after marriage, continuation of bride price as mahr, and the sanction of female circumcision before she can be married, as Islam started and expanded from the Arabian peninsula.[152][153][154]

In contrast to the Western and Orient world where divorce was relatively uncommon until modern times, divorce was a more common occurrence in certain parts of the late medieval Muslim world. In the Mamluk Sultanate and Ottoman Empire, the rate of divorce was high.[155][156] In medieval Egypt, Al-Sakhawi recorded the marital history of 500 women, the largest sample of married women in the Middle Ages, and found that at least a third of all women in the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria married more than once, with many marrying three or more times. According to Al-Sakhawi, as many as three out of ten marriages in 15th century Cairo ended in divorce.[157] In the early 20th century, some villages in western Java and the Malay peninsula had divorce rates as high as 70%.[155]


Marriage customs vary in Muslim dominated countries. Islamic law allows polygamy, where a Muslim man can be married to four wives at the same time, under certain conditions. Some countries allow Muslim men to enter into additional temporary marriages, beyond the four allowed marriages, such as the practice of sigheh marriages in Iran,[158] and Nikah al-Mutah elsewhere in some Middle East countries.[159][160]

In some countries, polygamy is restricted by new family codes, for example the Moudawwana in Morocco.[161] Polygamy is permitted under restricted conditions,[162] but it is not widespread.[163] The Sharia requires that polygamous men treat all wives equally. Muslim women are not allowed to engage in polyandry, whereas men are allowed to engage in polygyny.[164][165]

A marriage of pleasure, where a man pays a sum of money to a woman or her family in exchange for a temporary spousal relationship, is found and considered legal among Shia sect of Islam, for example in Iran after 1979. Temporary marriages are forbidden among Sunni sect of Islam.[8] Among Shia, the number of temporary marriages can be unlimited, for a duration that is less than an hour to few months, recognized with an official temporary marriage certificate, and divorce is unnecessary because the temporary marriage automatically expires on the date and time specified on the certificate.[166] Payment to the woman by the man is mandatory, in every temporary marriage and considered as mahr.[167][168] Its practitioners cite sharia law as permitting the practise. Women's rights groups have condemned it as a form of legalized prostitution.[169][170]


File:Cousin tree (with genetic kinship).png
Consanguineous endogamous marriages are common for women in Islam.[171] Over 250 million women of Islamic faith are in endogamous consanguineous marriages, typically with first cousin marriages.[172][173] Over 65% of all marriages in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are endogamous and consanguineous arranged marriages; more than 40% of all marriages are endogamous and consanguineous in Mauritania, Libya, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Kuwait, UAE and Oman.[172][174]

Endogamy is common in Islamic countries. The observed endogamy is primarily consanguineous marriages, where the bride and the groom share a biological grandparent or other near ancestor.[175][176] The most common observed marriages are first cousin marriages, followed by second cousin marriages. Consanguineous endogamous marriages are most common for women in Muslim communities in the Middle East, North Africa and Islamic Central Asia.[177][178] About 1 in 3 of all marriages in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan are first cousin marriages; while overall consanguineous endogamous marriages exceed 65 to 80% in various Islamic populations of the Middle East, North Africa and Islamic Central Asia.[176][179]

Some marriages are forbidden between Muslim women and Muslim men, according to sharia.[180] Examples include marrying one's biological father, biological son, biological brother, biological sister's son, milk son or milk brother she has nursed, husband of her biological daughter, and a step father who has had sexual relations with her biological mother.[181][182] There are disputes between Hanafis, Malikis, Shafi'is and Hanabalis schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence on whether and which such marriages are irregular but not void if already in place (fasid), and which are void (batil) marriages.[183]

Age of marriage

The age of marriage in Islam for women varies with country. Traditionally, Islam has permitted marriage of girls below the age of 10, because Sharia considers practices of Muhammad, the Prophet, as a basis for Islamic law. According to Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, the two Sunni hadiths, the Prophet married Aisha, his third wife when she was 6, and consummated the marriage before she reached the age of 10 (this version of events is rejected by Shia Muslims).[184][185]

Narrated 'Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his passing away).

There is a debate among Islamic scholars what the above sunnah means. Some scholars suggest that it is not the calendar age that matters, rather it is the biological age of the girl that determines when she can be married under Islamic law. According to these Islamic scholars, marriageable age in Islam is when a girl has reached sexual maturity, as determined by her nearest male guardian; this age can be, claim these Islamic scholars, less than 10 years, or 12, or another age depending on each girl. There is a strong belief among most Muslims and scholars, based on Sharia, that marrying a girl less than 15, or 12 years old is an acceptable practice for Muslims.[186][187] Muslim communities in Yemen,[188][189] Saudi Arabia,[190] India,[191][192] Bangladesh, Pakistan,[193] Indonesia,[194] Egypt,[195] Nigeria[196] and elsewhere have insisted that it is their Islamic right to marry girls below age 15.[197]

According to Islamic law (sharia), marriage cannot be forced.[95][198] Other scholars suggest that all child marriages are implicitly forced marriages.[199][200]

Interfaith marriages and Muslim women

In Islam, Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men, a term that includes infidel, apostate, ex-Muslims, other monotheistic (Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian), non-theistic and polytheistic men (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and others).[201][202][203] Further, a Muslim – either by birth or after conversion – is not allowed to leave Islam to marry a non-Muslim, because leaving Islam is a religious hudud crime of apostasy punishable with death.[204][205][206] The Quran allows Muslim men to marry women of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians), however any children from such marriage automatically belong to Muslim father's faith. Many Islamic scholars explain this gender difference in marriage restrictions, where men can marry some non-Muslim women while Muslim women may never marry non-Muslim men, is that Islam considers marriage an unequal relationship, where a wife is subservient to her husband, and Islam forbids Muslim women who are superior because of their religion to place themselves in a subservient position as a wife of men with inferior religions.[201][207] Sharia stipulates severe punishment for non-Muslim and dhimmi men who marry and consummate their relationship with Muslim women. Hadd punishments are also stipulated for women who marry non-Muslims on their own accord.[9][201][208]

If after marriage, the husband leaves Islam or converts to another religion such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism, the marriage of the Muslim woman to him is automatically dissolved.[209]

Behaviour and rights within marriage

Islamic law and practice recognize gender disparity, in part, by assigning separate rights and obligations to a woman in married life. A woman's space is in the private sphere of the home, and a man's is in the public sphere.[210][211] Women must primarily fulfill marital and maternal responsibilities,[212] whereas men are financial and administrative stewards of their families.[210][213] According to Sayyid Qutb, the Qur'an "gives the man the right of guardianship or superiority over the family structure in order to prevent dissension and friction between the spouses. The equity of this system lies in the fact that God both favoured the man with the necessary qualities and skills for the 'guardianship' and also charged him with the duty to provide for the structure's upkeep."[214]

The Quran considers the love between men and women to be a Sign of God.[Quran 30:21] This said, the Quran also permits men to first admonish, then lightly tap or push and even beat her, if he suspects nushuz (disobedience, disloyalty, rebellion, ill conduct) in his wife.[135][Quran 4:34][215]

In Islam, there is no coverture, an idea central in European, American as well as in non-Islamic Asian common law, and the legal basis for the principle of marital property. An Islamic marriage is a contract between a man and his wives. A Muslim man and woman do not merge their legal identity upon marriage, and do not have rights over any shared marital property. The assets of the man before the marriage, and earned by him after the marriage, remain his during marriage and in case of a divorce.[216] A divorce under Islamic law does not require redistribution of property. Rather, each spouse walks away from the marriage with his or her individual property. Divorcing Muslim women who did not work outside their home after marriage do not have a claim on the collective wealth of the couple under Islamic law, except for deferred mahr – an amount of money or property the man agrees to pay her before the woman signs the marriage contract.[69][217]

In case of husband's death, his property is inherited partially by his wives according to a combination of sharia laws. If the man did not leave any children, his permanent wives will share a quarter of the movable property and the three quarters is shared by the blood relatives of the husband (for example, brother, father).[218] If he had children from any of his wives, his wives share an eighth of the property and the rest is for his surviving children and blood relatives.[218] The wives share as inheritance a part of movable property of her late husband, but they do not share anything from immovable property such as land, real estate, farm or such value. A woman's deferred mahr and the dead husband's outstanding debts are paid before any inheritance is applied.[219] Sharia mandates that inheritance include male relatives of the dead person, that a daughter receive half the inheritance as a son, and a widow receives less than her daughters.[219][220]


In Islam, a Muslim woman can only have sex after her "nikah" - a proper marriage contract – with one Muslim man; sex is permitted to her only with her husband.[102][111][221] The woman's husband, may however, marry and have sex with more than one Muslim woman, as well as have sex with non-Muslim slave girls who are unmarried or married to non-Muslim men.[103][111][222] According to Quran and Sahih Muslim, two primary sources of Sharia, Islam permits only vaginal sex.[223]

(…) "If he likes he may (have intercourse) being on the back or in front of her, but it should be through one opening (vagina)."

There is disagreement among Islamic scholars on proper interpretation of Islamic law on permissible sex between a husband and wife, with claims that non-vaginal sex within a marriage is disapproved but not forbidden.[223][224][225]

After sex, as well as menstruation, Islam requires men and women to do ghusl (major ritual washing with water, ablutions), and in some Islamic communities xoslay (prayers seeking forgiveness and purification), as sex and menstruation are considered some of the causes that makes men and women religiously impure (najis).[226][227] Some Islamic jurists suggest touching and foreplay, without any penetration, may qualify wudu (minor ritual washing) as sufficient form of religiously required ablution.[228] A Muslim men and woman must also abstain from sex during a ritual fast, and during all times while on a pilgrimage to Mecca, as sexual act, touching of sexual parts and emission of sexual bodily fluids are considered ritually dirty.[229]

Sexual intercourse is not allowed to a Muslim woman during menstruation, postpartum period, during fasting and certain religious activities, disability and in iddah after divorce or widowhood. Homosexual relations and same sex marriages are forbidden to women in Islam.[224] In vitro fertilization (IVF) is acceptable in Islam; but ovum donation along with sperm donation, embryo donation and child adoption are prohibited by Islam.[223][230][231] Some debated fatwas from Shia sect of Islam, however, allow third party participation.[232][233]

Islam requires both husband and wife/wives to meet their conjugal duties. Religious qadis (judges) have admonished the man or women who fail to meet these duties.[234]

A high value is placed on female chastity and exhibitionism is prohibited.[235]

Female genital mutilation

There is no mention of female or male circumcision in the Quran. Although its origins are pre-Islamic, female circumcision—also known as female genital mutilation (FGM)—became associated with Islam because of the high value placed on female chastity, and is found only within or near Islamic communities.[236] Muḥammad did not subject any of his daughters to this practice.[237] However, female circumcision is praised in several hadith (sayings attributed to Muhammad) as noble, but not required, along with advice that the milder forms are kinder to women.[153][238]

A 2013 UNICEF report finds that there is a widespread belief in several countries, particularly Mali, Eritrea, Mauritania, Guinea and Egypt, that female genital mutilation is a religious requirement.[6] A concerted effort is underway to end the practice of female genital mutilation. In Mauritania, where "health campaigners estimate that more than 70 percent of Mauritanian girls undergo the partial or total removal of their external genitalia for non-medical reasons", 34 Islamic scholars signed a fatwa banning the practice in January 2010. Their aim was to prevent people from citing religion as a justification for genital mutilation.[239][240] After years of contradictory rulings on female genital mutilation by Egypt's Al-Azhar University, sometimes favoring and sometimes disfavoring FGM,[241] it declared, in 2007, that FGM is a sin that should be avoided.[242]

Birth control

Muslim jurists of the two major sects of Islam, Sunni and Shia, generally agree that birth control and family planning is not forbidden by Sharia.[243] Some fatwas such as from Egypt and Turkey[244] claim birth control is permitted, while others such as from Saudi Arabia discourage or forbid birth control. Large families and many children are considered assets for an Islamic woman. Islamic scholars who oppose birth control cite al-An’am (Sura 6:151), al-Isra' (Sura 17:31), al Takwir (Sura 81:8,9), and al-Mumtahana (Sura 60:12) to argue that even al-Azl (coitus interruptus) is infanticide.[243] Islamic scholars who support birth control quote hadiths where al-Azl was practiced by companions of Muhammad on women who they had seized as captives of war, and with their female slaves.[245] Muslim children are highly valued by Islam, and are considered gifts from God (al-Nahl, Sura 16:72).[246] In practice, several Islamic nations such as Saudi Arabia forbid birth control for Muslim women, with contraception inaccessible; in some nations such as Qatar, the husband decides if his wife can use birth control.[247][248]

Female infanticide

Islam condemns female infanticide.[249]

When the female (infant), buried alive, is questioned – For what crime she was killed;
Qur'an[Quran 81:8]

In some Islamic populations, sex selective female infanticide is of concern because of abnormally high boy to girl ratio at birth.[250] In Islamic Azerbaijan, for example, the birth sex ratio was in the 105 to 108 range, before the collapse of Soviet Union in the early 1990s. After the collapse, the birth sex ratios in Azerbaijan has sharply climbed to over 115 and remained high for the last 20 years.[250] The persistently observed 115 boys for every 100 girls born suggests sex-selective abortion of females in Azerbaijan in last 20 years.[251][252][253] Other Muslim majority countries with high birth sex ratio, implying[254][255] female sex selective abortion include Albania (112)[256] and Pakistan (111).[257][258]


Main article: Divorce (Islamic)

In Islam, in some circumstances, a woman can initiate a divorce. If a Muslim woman wishes to divorce her husband she has two options under Sharia law: seek a tafriq, or seek a khul. A tafriq is a divorce for certain allowable reasons. This divorce is granted by a qadi, a religious judge, in cases where the qadi accepts her claims of abuse or abandonment. If a tafriq is denied by the qadi, she cannot divorce. If a tafriq is granted, the marriage is dissolved and the husband is obligated to pay her the deferred mahr in their marriage contract. The second method, by far more common in wife-initiated divorces, khul is a divorce without cause, by mutual consent. This divorce requires a husband's consent and it must be supported by consideration that passes from the wife to the husband. Often, this consideration almost always consists of the wife relinquishing her claim to the deferred mahr. In actual practice and outside of Islamic judicial theory, a woman’s right to divorce is often extremely limited compared with that of men in the Middle East.[259]

In contrast to limited allowable methods of divorce to a woman, Islam allows a Muslim husband may unilaterally divorce his wife, as talaq, with no requirement to show cause, nor is there any intervention by a qadi. However, upon talaq, the husband must pay the wife her deferred mahr.[260] The husband is free to marry again immediately after a divorce, but the woman must observe iddah, that is wait for 3 lunar months[261] before she can remarry after divorce, to establish paternity, in case she discovers she is pregnant. In case of death of her husband, the iddah period is 4 lunar months and 10 days before she can start conjugal relations with another Muslim man.[262][263][264]

Obligations during divorce

A key verse relating to obligation of women during divorce is 2:228:[265]

And the divorced women should keep themselves in waiting for three courses; and it is not lawful for them that they should conceal what Allah has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allah and the last day; and their husbands have a better right to take them back in the meanwhile if they wish for reconciliation; and they have rights similar to those against them in a just manner, and the men are a degree above them, and Allah is Mighty, Wise.
Qur'an[Quran 2:228]

This verse not only explains the divorce rights of women in Islam, it sets out iddah to prevent illegal custody of divorcing husband's child by a woman, specifies that each gender has divorce rights, and that Muslim men are a degree above Muslim women.[265][266][267]

Movement and travel

Although no limitation or prohibition against women's travelling alone is mentioned in the Quran, there is a debate in some Islamic sects, especially Salafis, regarding whether women may travel without a mahram (unmarriageable relative).[268] Some scholars state that a woman may not travel by herself on a journey that takes longer than three days (equivalent to 48 miles in medieval Islam).[269] According to the European Council for Fatwa and Research, this prohibition arose from fears for women's safety when travel was more dangerous.[268] Some scholars relax this prohibition for journeys likely to be safe, such as travel with a trustworthy group of men or men and women, or travel via a modern train or plane when the woman will be met upon arrival.[268]

Sheikh Ayed Al-Qarni, a Saudi Islamic scholar, has said that neither the Quran nor the sunnah prohibits women from driving and that it is better for a woman to drive herself than to be driven by a stranger without a legal escort.[270] He also stated, however, that he "personally will not allow [his] wife or daughters or sisters to drive."[270] In most Muslim countries women are allowed to drive. However, they are forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia per a 1990 fatwa (religious ruling);[271] Saudi Arabia is currently the only Muslim country that bans women from driving.[272][273] John Esposito, professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, has argued that these restrictions originate from cultural customs and not Islam.[274]

Cleanliness and travel restrictions

A Muslim woman may not move in a mosque, or perform salat, while she is menstruating or during postpartum period, because bodily fluids are considered ritually impure in Islam. Some Muslim scholars suggest that the woman should stay in her house, or near her house, during this state.[229][275][276] Some Islamic jurists claim that this is an incorrect interpretation of sharia, and suggest the Islamic intent was about hygiene, not about religious ritual cleanliness.[229]

Dress code

Early costumes of Arab women.
File:Hijab world2.png
A map showing dress code types in Islamic countries, 2008.

Islam admonishes Muslim women to dress modestly in garments that does not reveal the extremities to any man other than their husband, father, certain male family members, small children and male slaves free of sexual needs.[229][277] However, the Quran does not specify particulars, style or design of the clothing and other dress forms; clothing have varied widely across Islamic regions, styles have changed over the centuries, as do interpretation and regional requirements of Muslim dress codes. In some Muslim countries, some sort of head covering or veiling (hijab) is mandated for both Muslim women and men.[229][278] In a handful of Islamic countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia all women are required to veil in public.[279] The forms of veiling vary between countries; for example, from hijab, burqa, khimar to other designs.

Historically, Muslim societies have used dress to distinguish social status, occupation, purity, believers from non-believers, male from female, and sometimes regional identity.[229] Under Ottoman law, for example, dress of women from various religious communities within the empire was strictly regulated, with each religion allowed only specific colors, dress, shoes, and garments. In modern era, dress codes for Muslim women vary by region, and ranges from strict enforcement of mandatory dress code considered proper under Islam, to an optional personal choice that is partly based on pre-Islamic customs.

Islamic women’s dress code, and the veil in particular, has become controversial in many non-Muslim countries.[280] It is viewed by many as a sign of oppression of Muslim women, a security threat, or double standards where non-Muslim women visiting Islamic countries are required to accept local dress codes while Muslim women visiting non-Islamic countries are unwilling to accept the same principle.[281][282][283] Others, however, view attempts to ban burqa in public as a sign of disrespect, and double standards where a Christian nun may wear her religious dress but Islamic woman may not wear her religious dress.[284] Controversy over discriminatory dress code for Muslim women, and for non-Muslim women or slave girls under Muslim rule, is not new under Islam; from Spanish Caliphate to West Asia to South Asia to North Africa, dress code for women in Islam has been debated for centuries.[285] The Muslim veil has constituted a symbol of Muslim religious fanaticism and misogyny, as well as that of individual choice and free religious expression.[286]

Religious life

According to a saying attributed to Muhammad in the hadith Sahih Bukhari, women are allowed to go to mosques.[287] However, as Islam spread, Muslim authorities stressed the fears of unchastity from interaction between sexes outside their home, including the mosque. By pre-modern period it was unusual for women to pray at a mosque.[288] By late 1960s, women in urban areas of the Middle East increasingly began praying in the mosque, but men and women generally worship separately.[289] (Muslims explain this by citing the need to avoid distraction during prayer prostrations that raise the buttocks while the forehead touches the ground.[290]) Separation between sexes ranges from men and women on opposite sides of an aisle, to men in front of women (as was the case in the time of Muhammad), to women in second-floor balconies or separate rooms accessible by a door for women only.[290] Women in the state of ritual impurity, such as menstruation, are forbidden from entering the prayer hall of the mosque.[291]

Female religious scholars were relatively common from early Islamic history throughout the 16th century.[292] Mohammad Akram Nadwi, a Sunni religious scholar, has listed 8,000 female jurists, and orientalist Ignaz Goldziher estimates 15 percent of medieval hadith scholars were women.[293] Women, during early history of Islam, primarily obtained their knowledge through community study groups, ribat retreats and during hajj when the usual restrictions imposed on female education were more lenient.[294] After the 16th century, however, female scholars became fewer.[293] In the modern era, while female activists and writers are relatively common, there has not been a significant female jurist in over 200 years.[295] Opportunities for women's religious education exist, but cultural barriers often keep women from pursuing such a vocation.[293]

Women's right to become imams, however, is disputed by many. A fundamental role of an imam (religious leader) in a mosque is to lead the salat (congregational prayers). Generally, women are not allowed to lead mixed prayers. However, some argue that Muhammad gave permission to Ume Warqa to lead a mixed prayer at the mosque of Dar.[296][297]

Hui women are self-aware of their relative freedom as Chinese women in contrast to the status of Arab women in countries like Saudi Arabia where Arab women are restricted and forced to wear encompassing clothing. Hui women point out these restrictions as "low status", and feel better to be Chinese than to be Arab, claiming that it is Chinese women's advanced knowledge of the Quran which enables them to have equality between men and women.[298]

Sufi female mystics

Sufi Islam teaches the doctrine of tariqa, meaning following a spiritual path in daily living habits. To support followers of this concept, separate institutions for men (ta'ifa, hizb, rabita) and women (khanqa, rabita, derga) were created. Initiates to these groups pursued a progression of seven stages of spiritual discipline, called makamat (stations) or ahwal (spiritual states).[299]

Rabiah al-Basri is an important figure in Islamic Mysticism called Sufism. She upheld the doctrine of "disinterested love of God".[300]

Current female religious scholars

There are a number of prominent female Islamic scholars. They generally focus on questioning gender-based interpretations of the Quran, the traditions of the Prophet and early Islamic history. Some notable Muslim women scholars are: Azizah al-Hibri, Amina Wadud-Muhsin, Fatima Mernissi, Riffat Hassan, Laila Ahmad, Farhat Hashmi, Aisha Abdul-Rahman, and Merryl Wyn Davies.[301]


File:Benazir bhutto 1988.jpg
Benazir Bhutto became the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state.[302] She was assassinated while campaigning for the Pakistani general election of 2008.
The coins issued during the rule of Razia Sultana. She inherited and ruled the Sultanate of Delhi for 3 years in the early 13th century.[303]

Many classical Islamic scholars, such as al-Tabari, supported female leadership.[304] In early Islamic history, women including Aisha, Ume Warqa, and Samra Binte Wahaib took part in political activities.[296] Abdurrahman ibn `Awf consulted with women in their rooms when he was charged of choosing `Uthman or Ali as the third caliphate after the death of Umar.[305] The Caliph Umar appointed Samra Bint Nuhayk Al-Asadiyya as a market inspector in Mecca and Ash-Shifa bint Abdullah as an administrator in Medina. Ash-Shifa would later on become the head of Health and Safety in Basra, Iraq.[306] Other historical Muslim female leaders include Razia Sultana, who ruled the Sultanate of Delhi from 1236 to 1239,[303][307] and Shajarat ad-Durr, who ruled Egypt from 1250 to 1257.[308]

Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah, an Islamic institute that advises Egypt's ministry of justice, had said women can both be rulers and judges in an Islamic state.[309]

Female heads of state in Muslim-majority countries during the modern era

In the modern era, Pakistan became the first Muslim-majority state with an elected female head of government (1988).[310] In the past several decades, a number of countries in which Muslims are a majority, including Indonesia (President Megawati Sukarnoputri, 2001),[311] Kosovo (President Atifete Jahjaga, 2011),[312] Pakistan,[313] Bangladesh (prime ministers Begum Khaleda Zia (1991) and Sheikh Hasina (1996, 2009),[314] Turkey (Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, 1993),[315] and Kyrgyzstan (President Roza Otunbayeva, 2010) have been led by women.[316]

Female legislators in Muslim-majority countries in the twenty-first century

According to Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi, Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston’s Southeast Mosque, nothing in Islam specifically allows or disallows voting by women.[317] Until recently most Muslim nations were non-democratic, but most today allow their citizens to have some level of voting and control over their government. However, some Muslim countries gave women suffrage in the early 20th century. For example, Azerbaijan extended voting rights to women in 1918,[318] two years before it became part of Soviet Union. Females in Turkey similarly gained the right to vote in municipal and parliamentary elections in 1930 and 1934 respectively.[319][320]

Several Muslim-majority nations have passed laws to incorporate more women in their parliaments and political processes. For example, Indonesia passed a law in 2013 that required political parties to field at least 30% women candidates in elections or pay penalty;[321][322] Tunisia's mandated electoral lists composed of 50% women in both the 2011 and 2014 legislative elections;[323][324] and in 2012, Algeria set a minimum parliamentary female membership requirement of 30%.[325] Following the May 2012 legislative elections, women constitute 31.6% of Algerian MPs.[325] In Senegal, 50% of local and national electoral lists have to be female as of 2012.[326][327]

In 2012, among all regions of the world, the Gulf Arab region had the lowest overall percentage of women in parliament, and no women in the parliaments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.[328] However, since 2012 Saudi women have been allowed to vote in some elections.[329][330] The Shura Council of Saudi Arabia now includes female members after a January 2013 decree by the Saudi King that created reserved parliamentary seats for women.[331] Kuwait granted its women the right to vote in the first half of the 1980s;[332] this right was later rescinded, and then reintroduced in 2005.[333]

Comparison with other religions

The Marxist writer Valentine Moghadam argues that the position of Muslim women is mostly influenced by the extent of urbanization, industrialization, proletarization and political ploys of the state managers rather than culture or intrinsic properties of Islam; Islam, per Moghadam, is neither more nor less patriarchal than other world religions, such as Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism.[334][335] William Montgomery Watt claims that Muhammad, in the historical context of his time, can be seen as a figure who improved women's rights among those who were free and Muslim.[336]

In contrast, for slave women who accepted Islam and women who refused to accept Islam, women’s rights were severely limiting. Slaves are mentioned in at least twenty-nine verses of the Quran.[337] including references to slave women, slave concubinage, and when to free slaves. Quran and hadiths recommended the institution of slavery, using the words 'abd' (slave) and the phrase ma malakat aymanukum ("that which your right hands own") to refer to women slaves, seized as captives of war. The Qur'an recognizes the basic inequality between master and women slave, between free women and slave women, as well as their unequal rights.[338][339] According to Muslim theologians, it has been lawful[340][341] for male masters to have sexual relations with female captives and slaves without her consent; the purchase of female slaves for sex was lawful from the perspective of Islamic law, and this was a motive for the purchase of slaves throughout Islamic history.[342][343] Slave women did not have a right to free movement or consent, nor did they have a right to bride price or property such as a ‘‘mahr’’.[344][345] Sikainga claims women slavery was widespread and "female slaves in many Muslim societies were prey for members of their owners' household, their neighbors, and their guests."[344]

Notable women in Islam

Women have played an integral part in the development and spiritual life of Islam since the inception of Islamic civilisation in the seventh century AD. Khadijah, a businesswoman who became the Prophet Muhammad's employer and first wife,[346] was also the first Muslim.[347] There have been a large number of female saints throughout the Islamic world spanning the highest social classes (a famous example being Princess Jahānārā, the daughter of the Moghul emperor Shāh Jahān) and the lowest (such as Lallā Mīmūna in Morocco);[348] some of them, such as Rābi'a of Basra (who is cited reverentially in Muḥammad al-Ghazālī's classic The Revival of Religious Sciences) and Fāṭima of Cordoba (who deeply influenced the young Ibn 'Arabī) have been pivotal to the conceptualisation of Islamic mysticism.[348]

Today, some notable personalities of the Islamic world include the Turkish Sufi teacher Cemalnur Sargut – a disciple of the novelist and mystic Samiha Ayverdi (1905-1993),[349] Camille Adams Helminski, the first woman to translate a substantial portion of the Qu'ran into English,[350] and Shaykha Fariha al Jerrahi, the guide of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi Order.[351]

The Hala Sultan Tekke complex in Larnaca, Cyprus – a shrine to the Prophet Muḥammad's wet nurse, who according to Sunni tradition is buried there – is deemed to be the third or fourth most significant Islamic holy site in the world.

Notable recent female converts to Islam include the German author Kristiane Backer,[352] American singer Janet Jackson,[353] and Malaysian model Felixia Yeap.[354] Notable recent women born in a Muslim family who became atheist or converted to another religion include Dutch feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali,[355] Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin,[356] Indian actress Nakhat Khan and Iranian-American women's right activist Parvin Darabi.[357][358]

Modern debate on the status of women in Islam

File:Raden Adjeng Kartini.jpg
Kartini, with the help of her husband, encouraged the education of girls in colonial Indonesia.

Within the Muslim community, conservatives and Islamic feminists have used Islamic doctrine as the basis for discussion of women's rights, drawing on the Quran, the hadith, and the lives of prominent women in the early period of Muslim history as evidence.[359] Where conservatives have seen evidence that existing gender asymmetries are divinely ordained, feminists have seen more egalitarian ideals in early Islam.[359] Still others have argued that this discourse is essentialist and ahistorical, and have urged that Islamic doctrine not be the only framework within which discussion occurs.[359]

Conservatives and the Islamic movement

Main articles: Islamic revival and Islamism

Conservatives reject the assertion that different laws prescribed for men and women imply that men are more valuable than women. Ali ibn Musa Al-reza reasoned that at the time of marriage a man has to pay something to his prospective bride, and that men are responsible for both their wives' and their own expenses but women have no such responsibility.[360]

The nebulous revivalist movement termed Islamism is one of the most dynamic movements within Islam in the 20th and 21st centuries. The experience of women in Islamist states has been varied. Women in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan faced treatment condemned by the international community.[361] Women were forced to wear the burqa in public,[362] not allowed to work,[363] not allowed to be educated after the age of eight,[364] and faced public flogging and execution for violations of the Taliban's laws.[365][366] The position of women in Iran, which has been a theocracy since its 1979 revolution, is more complex. Iranian Islamists are ideologically in favour of allowing female legislators in Iran's parliament[367] and 60% of university students are women.[368]

Liberal Islam, Islamic feminism, and other progressive criticism

File:Islamic Feminism Symbol.svg
Islamic Feminism Symbol.

Liberal Muslims have urged that ijtihad, a form of critical thinking, be used to develop a more progressive form of Islam with respect to the status of women.[369] In addition, Islamic feminists have advocated for women's rights, gender equality, and social justice grounded in an Islamic framework. Although rooted in Islam, pioneers of Islamic feminism have also used secular and western feminist discourses and have sought to include Islamic feminism in the larger global feminist movement. Islamic feminists seek to highlight the teachings of equality in Islam to question patriarchal interpretations of Islamic teachings.[370] Others point out the incredible amount of flexibility of shariah law, which can offer greater protections for women if the political will to do so is present.[371][372]

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, international attention was focused on the condition of women in the Muslim world.[373] Critics asserted that women are not treated as equal members of Muslim societies[374][375] and criticized Muslim societies for condoning this treatment.[374] Some critics have gone so far as to make allegations of gender apartheid due to women's status.[376] Phyllis Chesler has alleged that Western academics, especially feminists, have ignored the plight of Muslim women in order to be considered "politically correct".[377] However, one survey has found that most Muslim women do not see themselves as oppressed.[378]

The Indonesian Islamic professor Nasaruddin Umar is at the forefront of a reform movement from within Islam that aims at giving women equal status. Among his works is a book The Qur'an for Women, which provides a new feminist interpretation.

Some Muslim women exposed to the growth in civil rights accessible to secular or non-Muslim women have protested to strengthen their own rights within Islamic communities. One example is Malaysia, where 60% of the population is Muslim, and where there are separate parallel legal systems for secular law and sharia law. In 2006, Marina Mahathir, the daughter of Malaysia's former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, published an editorial in the Malaysia Star newspaper to denounce what she termed "a growing form of apartheid" for Malaysia's Muslim women:
Non-Muslim Malaysian women have benefited from more progressive laws over the years while the opposite has happened for Muslim women.
She pointed out that polygamy was illegal in Malaysia for non-Muslims but not for Muslims, and that child custody arrangements for Muslims were biased towards fathers as opposed to the shared-custody arrangements of non-Muslim parents.[379] Women's groups in Malaysia began campaigning in the 1990s to have female sharia judges appointed to the sharia legal system in the country, and in 2010 two female judges were appointed.[380]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Motahhari, Morteza (1983). Jurisprudence and Its Principles, translator:Salman Tawhidi, ISBN 0-940368-28-5.
  2. ^ a b c Kamali, Mohammad Hashim. Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, Cambridge: Islamic Text Society, 1991. ISBN 0-946621-24-1
  3. ^ a b c d Haddad and Esposito, (1998), Islam, Gender, and Social Change, Oxford University Press, pp. xii–xx.
  4. ^ Priscilla Offenhauer, WOMEN IN ISLAMIC SOCIETIES: A SELECTED REVIEW OF SOCIAL SCIENTIFIC LITERATURE, Library of Congress, Washington DC (2005)
  5. ^ Joseph Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973)
  6. ^ a b Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Statistical Overview and Exploration of the Dynamics of Change, United Nations Children's Fund, July 2013 (UNICEF 2013)
  7. ^ Shari'ah, see section on family law (polygamy) Encyclopedia Britannica (2012)
  8. ^ a b Elizabeth Fernea (1985), Women and the Family in the Middle East: New Voices of Change, University of Texas Press, ISBN 978-0292755291, pages 258-269
  9. ^ a b Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America (Keller et al, Indiana University Press), pp. 624–626.
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  11. ^ Karin van Nieuwkerk. Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West. University of Texas Press. Retrieved 2007-12-31. Secular feminists in Muslim societies demanded full equality in the public sphere, calling for access to education, work, and political participation as part of women's self-development and the empowering of the society in the decolonizing process. Within this feminist framework women accepted the notion of complementarity in the private sphere, upholding the notion of male predominance, regarded as benevolent predominance in the family. 
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Further reading


External links