Women: Position in society

Q693 :Islam provides equal rights to men and women, but it is a fact of life that men dominate women. A woman must obey some men in all matters and she is never free to act according to her will. In young age, she lives in her father's house, obeying him. She must also obey the man in whose house she finds herself, whether he is her brother, husband or son (in her old age). In some cases she has to share her husband with other wives which inevitably causes her mental torture. Moreover, why should a girl bring dowry to her husband. Is this fair?

A693 : May I begin by answering your question where it ended. I am with you. Why should a girl bring dowry for her husband? Why indeed, when it is totally unfair? Why when Islam has provided for the reverse type of action? Islam wants man to pay a meher or a dower to his wife at the time when he gets married to her. This is something that she can claim by right, and she can determine its level. A woman can decide that her maher, i.e. dower, is a large or small amount. When the man agrees to it, he must pay it at the time when the marriage contract is made. If she allows payment to be postponed, it remains due at any time she demands it. If the husband dies without paying it, it remains a preferred debt which must be paid out of the man's estate. She has full right to do with it what she likes. Her husband may not interfere in that. Why, then, should a woman pay her husband a dowry? I can tell you that this practice is un-Islamic. It is found in certain Muslim communities, but it is borrowed from other traditions from the pre-Islamic days of those communities. You will find it, for example, among Muslims in India, and you find the same practice in the Hindu society. Therefore, it can be said to have been borrowed from Hinduism. May I suggest that this practice is not only unfair to the woman, but it is unfair to the man, because what happens in practice is that a father of moderate means starts to think about his daughter's marriage from the time she is very young. He starts saving for her dowry. A brother who travels abroad for better employment considers saving for his sister's dowry one of his main priorities. Indeed, he often delays his own marriage in order to see that his sisters are suitably married. They cannot have decent marriages unless he is ready to pay their dowries. This is certainly unfair and this practice cannot be sanctioned by Islam. You speak of a woman being dominated by her men folk. And you cite her supposed obedience as evidence, supporting your claim. I do not think that Islam built its social order on the basis of women's obedience in the way you have mentioned. Rather the opposite. The Prophet has repeatedly said: "Take good care of women." It is clear that this order is given to men who are required, by Islamic law, to look after their women. In return, a woman has to be respectful. And that respect does not mean slavish obedience. Indeed, the Prophet has encouraged mutual consultation in family affairs between men and women. He himself practiced that. Moreover, he has given the best example of the proper treatment of women. In an authentic Hadith, the Prophet is reported to be "in the service of his household", whenever he was at home. Now the Prophet's household consisted of his wives and daughters. He did not have a brother or a father to look after and his sons died in infancy. He never went about ordering his wives or daughters when he was at home. On the contrary, he looked after them and served them. To follow his example is a duty required of all Muslims. There is in practical fact a difference between what people do and what Islam requires. Responsibility for that discrepancy should not be placed at the doorstep of Islam. It is people who either abide by what Islam requires of them or pay little regard to it. Hence, it is they who bear the responsibility. Equality between men and women is emphasized in numerous Qur'anic verses and Hadiths. To say that they are unequal because men want their women to obey them is to place responsibility for violating the law on the law itself, when that responsibility lies, fairly and squarely, on the person who perpetrates it. You bring the question of polygamy. I have often explained that we have to look at the permission Islam grants to a man to marry up to four wives at the same time as a legislation to emergencies. The permission is granted in order to provide a solution to many social problems that may occur at the individual and social levels. If that solution involves some bitterness for individual members of the community, I can tell you that its absence will result in a much worse situation for individuals and the society as a whole.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )