Assalamu alaikum respected brothers and sisters
Every now and then we hear on television or read in the newspapers of a horrific story about violence and injustices committed by an individual or society against a wife, a daughter, a sister or a girl child. And sadly often this injustice seems to be committed in the name of Islamic law or Shariah. As a believer and committed member of the Islamic Ummah I often feel despair and anger at how Islam and Allah are being used to justify committing crimes, injustice and discrimination against women and girls in the name of Shariah. How can a woman be forced to marry the stranger who sexually attacked her and assaulted her? How can a pregnant woman who is raped be imprisoned for committing Zina and the rapist set free? How can a wife lose her children when they reach a certain age just because she was divorced by her husband? How can this be called Islam? This is not the Islam that I love and practice and this is not the justice that Allah blessed his Prophet and followers with. So why do we just accept it as such or if we challenge it we are doubted as non-believers or corrupted by outside influences?
These are some of the examples we as people who work with women, children and families from Muslim communities are often asked to defend and explain to government, the police, civil society, human rights organisations and the world at large.
Very often, those who attack Islam and Muslims as unjust and barbaric in its treatment of women site the example of Ayah 34 in Chapter 4 (An-Nisa) as the basis of how women are treated in Islam. The Ayah says:
Men are qawwamun in relation to women. According to what God has favoured some over others and according to what they spend from their wealth.
Rightous women are qanitat guarding the unseen according to what God has guarded. Those whose nushuz you fear, admonish them and abandon them in bed and strike them. If they do not obey you, do not pursue a strategy against them. Indeed, God is Exalted, Great.
Qawwamun is interpreted to mean protectors or maintainers
Qanitat is taken to mean obedient
Nushuz is interpreted as women who are disobedient
The concepts of Qiwamah and wilayah seem to be at the heart of Muslim laws governing gender relations. These two terms are commonly understood to mean men have authority over women. And the verse above is used by classical jurists to justify notions of gender justice and equity in Islamic legal rulings. Qawwamun is a term that is hardly used in the Quran. In contrast three terms that are used around 20 times in the Quran to talk about relations between spouses are ma’ruf, rahma and mawadah . Why did jurists choose not to translate these terms into legal rulings? Could it also be argued that the term Wilayah when it occurs in the Quran refers to a sense of friendship and mutual support rather than endorsing male authority and supremacy over women?
I also believe we have to make a distinction between Shari’ah as revelation and sacred in comparison to Fiqh, the Science of Islamic Jurisprudence which is a human endeavour to formulate and extract legal rulings from scared sources of Islam. A debate amongst ulema and Imams and all those that deal with the family disputes and familiar discord on a daily basis, needs to be had on how gender equity and justice can be reflected in legal Islamic rulings. Just as we have been debating the issues of muslims living as minorities in the west or the impact of genetic science as well as organ donation, similarly this subject matter needs to be dealt with. How can we raise and maintain a just, pious and righteous ummah when the very unit that forms it, the family, is experiencing violence, abuse or injustice?
Wa salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullah.