Women in Islam: Defying ‘Misconceptions’, Defining ‘Real Status’

Prof. Kidwai’s ‘Women in Islam’ portrays the place, role and contribution of women in its real context through authentic sources and defies the misconceptions about Muslim women
Women in Islam: Defying ‘Misconceptions’, Defining ‘Real Status’
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Title: Women in Islam—What the Quran and Sunnah Say

Author: Abdur Raheem Kidwai

Publication Details: Leicestershire, UK: Kube Publishing Ltd., 2020

Pages: 190; ISBN: 9781847741400; Hardbound; Price: $ 14.95/-

One of the fiercely debated and discussed topics in the present times is ‘women in Islam’. There are numerous ‘misconceptions’ and ‘misinterpretations’ related to their status, place, role, and contribution. Numerous works, written from different perspectives, deliberate on this topic, which, nevertheless, appears as a ‘never-ending’ one. A latest addition is Women in Islam—What the Quran and Sunnah Say (hereinafter WI). Written by Professor Abdur Raheem Kidwai (Professor of English and Director of UGC-HRDC and K.A. Nizami Centre for Quranic Studies at Aligarh Muslim University), this succinct, slim, and simple Volume demystifies and deconstructs the main misconceptions and misconstructions on this vital but sensitive issue and highlights the rights, status, role, and contribution of Muslim women in its real context.

Published by Kube Publishing (UK) in 2020, WI attempts to provide the readers with an “opportunity to consider some of the references to women in authentic Islamic sources in order to shape an informed view”, with an aim to “let readers appreciate the high status that women enjoy in Islam” (p. vii).

Divided into three main sections, preceded by a ‘Preface’ (vii-x) and ending with Index (pp. 170-80), WI is simple compilation of those passages from the Quran and hadith collections which ‘refer to or address women specifically’. Engaging the readers in a ‘moment of reflection’ on the “Islamic stance on womanhood: her existence as a creation of Allah, her purpose of life as a slave of Allah, her capacity for attaining self-development and proximity with Allah and her accomplishments”, it brings to the fore that the Quran repeatedly addresses and urges men and women “to be active, positive stakeholders in the construction of God-conscious society” (p. ix).

In the Preface, the author mentions that “certain Islamic practices ... [and] aspects of the faith such as polygamy, divorce, patriarchy, segregation of the sexes etc.” have been increasingly taken “in isolation”, resulting in “imposing degradation and suffering upon women”; while as, the primary Texts of Islam demonstrate that women in Islam—in the capacity of a mother, daughter, and wife—are bestowed “dignity and exalted status” (p. vii). However, he does not overlook the fact that over the centuries, some “socio-cultural practices in Muslim societies, past and present”, along with ‘patriarchal’ supremacy snatched this high status from them, which has given place to various prevailing ‘misconceptions’ on this issue today (p. vii).

In Section-I, ‘Quranic Verses and Ahadith Addressing and Referring to Women (pp. 3-136), Kidwai first presents a collection of 76 passages/quotations from the Quran, which either address men and women collectively or to women specifically, with a brief explanation of many of them demonstrating ‘gender parity’. For instance, in the explanation of Q. 4: 32, ‘Do not be jealous over what God has given more to some [men and women] than others’, he writes: “The Qur’an is clear in pointing out that men and women will be recompensed alike; there is no distinction between men and women” (p. 6); in the explanation of Q. 55: 60, ‘Can the reward for goof be anything except good?’, Kidwai stresses that this “Divine promise of reward is for everyone, irrespective of gender, caste, colour, nationality or any other label” (p. 21). Similarly, in the explanation of Q. 4: 34, ‘Men are the protectors and maintainers of women....’—one of the highly contested, diversely debated verse and is one of the extremely (mis) interpreted, misconstrued and misunderstood verses—Kidwai’s explanation provides many clarifications: “Since Islam does not lay any financial burden on women, it charges men with the responsibility to support their wife and family and hence his role as the protector. ... Wife-beating or any other form of domestic violence is completely ruled out in Islam and is a serious offence in itself” (p. 43).

This is followed by a collection of 102 (numbering 178 in total) Ahadith/ Prophetic Traditions from various authentic Hadith books related to different aspects of women in different contexts.

Besides making numerous references to women in different contexts the Qur’an also “portrays some women as role models”, and, thus, Section-II, ‘Women Specifically Mentioned in the Quran’ (pp. 137-158) provides an account of these women “gleaned from the Qur’an and other authentic Islamic sources” (p. 139). It is divided broadly into two sub-sections: ‘Believing’ and ‘Disbelieving’ Women in the Qur’an (pp. 139-155, 155-158). In former, it refers to Maryam (Mary), Queen of Sheba, Pharaoh’s Believing Wife, Prophet Moses’s Mother, Prophet Shuayb’s Daughters, and Allah’s Response to Some Women’s Pleas, respectively, as examples of “pious women”. Among these, the longest account is dedicated to Maryam (AS), because of certain noticeable reasons: she takes “pride of place among all the women mentioned in the Qur’an”; she is portrayed with “enviable appellations” like a “saintly woman” (as in Q. 5: 75) or being preferred to “all the women in the world” (as in Q. 3: 42); a whole Surah (Q. 19) is named after her; and she is “prominent not only for being mother” of Prophet ‘Isa/ Jesus (AS), but the “Qur’an heaps praise on her for her piety, her chastity, and her devotion to Allah” (pp. 139, 140).

Among the ‘Disbelieving’ or “wicked women”, Kidwai mentions the wives of Prophets Nuh/ Noah (AS) and Lut/Lot (AS), who are “censured for their lack of faith” (as in Q. 66: 10); Egyptian Potiphar’s Wife, known as Zulaykhah in popular lore, who appears as a “temptress” in the account of Prophet Yusuf/Joseph’s (AS) account (as in many verses of Surah Yusuf, Q. 12); and Abu Lahab’s Wife (as in Q. 111: 1-5)—who, along with her husband, were “die-hard unbelievers and inveterate enemies of the Prophet (pbuh)”.

This is followed by Section-III, ‘Women Hadith Narrators and Teachers (pp. 159-169), which, as the title clearly reveals, provides a list of some “prominent Hadith scholars from early Muslim history” with a view “to exemplify the dynamic contribution that Muslim women have made to Islamic history” (p. ix). These names and data (presented in this Section) are entirely based on Dr M. Akram Nadvi’s prolegomena to his multi-volume work on female hadith narrators, entitled al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam (Oxford, 2007). For example, in this section, it mentions names of the Companions who have narrated hadith on the authority of Aishah, Umm Salmah, Hafsa (RA), etc. It is interesting to add here that as many as “2764 Hadith feature in the six standard collections of Hadith [known as Sihah al-Sitta or Kutb-e-Sitta] on the authority of lady Companions”, which are not “restricted to the personal hygiene and purification of women”, but “embrace a wide range of topics including prayer, fasting, Zakah, Hajj, food, clothing, business, jihad, marriage and divorce, death, the Hereafter, supplication, morals and manner and the Prophet’s illustrious life” (p. 163).

Thus, highlighting a collection of passages related to women, and women role models, in the Quran and hadith, providing a list of women Hadith narrators, and describing a succinct overview of the Islamic stance on womanhood, Kidwai’s Women in Islam fairly justifies both the title and aim of this volume: providing readers an opportunity to ‘appreciate the high status that women enjoy in Islam’.

There are few typos and technical errors in this book: e.g., names of all the Prophets are anglicised followed by the Islamic appellation (Alayhi Salam) in Arabic, which is an odd combination; and the number of verses in Surah al-Lahab (Q. 111) on page 158 is mentioned wrongly as 15 instead of five (5).

In sum, written lucidly, presented beautifully, and using the Quran and Hadith as the main sources, Kidwai’s Women in Islam portrays the place, role and contribution of women in its real context and defies the misconceptions about Muslim women. It is, indeed, a valuable and welcome addition to the literature that depicts women in Islam in their real and right context.

The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC Sogam, Kupwara (J&K).

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