Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: The Rights of Girls

When Umm Salama, a woman famous for her intelligence and sound judgment and argumentative nature, asked the Prophet “Why are men mentioned in the Qur’an and why are we not?” she did not only challenge the pre-Islamic customs that were abrasive to women and had not yet been overturned by the unfinished Revelations, but almost single-handedly initiated a powerful feminist movement–and one that was sealed into morality by God. Not only was the following verse revealed in reply to her:

Indeed, the men who surrender to God and
the women who surrender to God,
the believing men and believing women,
the obedient men and obedient women,
the truthful men and truthful women,
the patient men and patient women,
the humble men and humble women,
the charitable men and charitable women,
the fasting men and fasting women,
the men who guard their modesty and the women who do so,
and the men who remember God often and the women who do so –
for them God has prepared forgiveness and a great reward. (Qur’an 33:35)

but the women who came to the wives of the Prophet demanding the recognition of their sex were so successful that an entire chapter of the Qur’an (Chapter 4, An-Nisa, or Women) was revealed. The verse cited above was not only evidence of the total equality of men and women–but, most significantly, it is GOD who speaks of men and women in these equal terms and recognizes both sexes as members of the community and consequently grants them, mutually, all the rights accompanied with being a member of the ummah. Also incredible is the expectation that men maintain characteristics that the patriarchy in which we live expect only of women: obedience (to God), patience, humility, and modesty.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a feminist movement if it weren’t immediately met with violent outrage by men.

An-Nisa, chapter 4 of the Qur’an, established new laws that would regulate relations between the sexes. In pre-Islamic custom when a woman’s husband passed away, she would be inherited by the dead husband’s son, who could then marry her himself (if she was not his mother) or else marry her to someone else and pass her rights to his nephew or brother. The widow was ripped of her rights, and was no more than the property that sons inherit. She could not oppose; as Tabari noted, “If the son and heir was too young, the stepmother was prevented from remarrying, and she was obliged to wait until he became old enough to be able to make a decision regarding her.”

And then verses were revealed that not only strictly prohibited this, but guaranteed women inheritance. When women were once property to be inherited, they could now inherit themselves. Naturally, men were infuriated (awwwe) and threw hissy fits accordingly. Many of the Companions were of the opinion that Islam should not interfere with the privileges men have over women. Now men had just lost a great portion of their inheritance, not only by being unable to inherit women–who themselves constituted a large part of inheritance–but losing inheritance to women, who were given by God the same rights as men.

The men immediately rejected the laws. They rushed to the Prophet and demanded that he retract them. When neither worked, they began to look for loopholes and interpreted the verses in ways that would privilege them. The war on Islam by patriarchy had begun even while the Prophet was still alive. But Muhammad (P) was unmoved. And so were the women. They did not allow their God-given rights to be taken by patriarchy. On various occasions of injustice, they complained directly to the Prophet and demanded the application of the new laws. Kubaysha bint Ma’an, distressed by the persistence of her son-in-law to attempt to “inherit” her, came to the Prophet and said, “Prophet of God, I have neither inherited from my husband nor retained the freedom to remarry whom I wish.” In reply to her verse 19 of An-Nisa was revealed.

O you who have believed!
it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will.
And do not make difficulties for them
in order to take [back] part of what you gave them
unless they commit a clear immorality.
And live with them in kindness.
For if you dislike them –
perhaps you dislike
a thing wherein God has placed much good. (Qur’an 4:19)

Additionally, since the unjust argument of men for why women should not inherit had been that women do not mount horses and fight in wars, the son-in-law in question lost his privileges of engaging in warfare. Of course, none of this prevented patriarchal men who had converted Islam from fighting against it; in Medina, the ‘adl was employed, a contract which prevented a divorced woman from marrying without the permission of the ex-husband. Verses were dedicated to declaring such contracts immoral and wrong.

When Chapter 4 of the Qur’an was revealed, the very early verses involved not just the rights of orphans but particularly the inheritance rights of orphan girls. This was absurd and ridiculous according to Arab men. Before the Revelation (and after, despite it) orphaned girls were sexually abused and mistreated: the aesthetically pleasing among them would be forced to marry their guardians, who took over their inheritances. The ones who were not conventionally attractive would never be allowed to marry, so that the guardians would wait for them to die and claim their inheritances. To condemn this practice was–among others–verse 2 of An-Nisa.

Give unto orphans their wealth,
and [in your management] exchange not the good for the bad,
nor absorb their wealth into your own wealth.
That would be a great sin. (Qur’an 4:2)

This was incredulous. Incredulous! Why should a female orphan have the same inheritance as a male orphan, especially if she is (gasp!) unattractive? Why should children of both sexes be granted such rights? There was a parade of strong resistance to this idea. A man, who was the guardian of his fatherless cousin and refused to marry her away so that he may have her inheritance for himself, came to the Prophet and demanded, “Does an ugly young girl who is blind have the right to inherit?” To which the Prophet replied–yes.

The plans of God do not center around the tantrums of men, and this made it clear. But the men continued to attempt to distort the verses with the instrument of interpretation so that their privileges over women would be restored and maintained.

And they still do. Because they are douches.

10 thoughts on “Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: The Rights of Girls

  1. I agree that the Prophet was a feminist but those around him,even his close friends,were not.My opinion is that they didn’t leave up to that ideal and that’s why we have the sorry state we live in.Sometimes it’s difficult to make people see because they don’t understand how these powerful men in Islamic history, the very people who upheld the best Islamic values, could go anywhere wrong.So if they are found to do certain acts( which we condemn now)then they are still considered as Sunnah and therefore should be folllowed.(you know the hadith about the 1st 3 generations being the best)The way I see it there’s so much to educate people about Islamic history and thank you for putting up a ‘fight’ thru’ your wonderful posts against a stagnant patriarchial system which shouldn’t be there in the first place,if the Prophet’s ideals were exercised correctly.

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  2. Latah

    “The men immediately rejected the laws. They rushed to the Prophet and demanded that he retract them.”

    Nahida, would you mind explaining that passage, cause I’ve never heard of it before (in a positive way).

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    1. Nahida

      Sure! The rushing, or the rejection? xD There are several accounts of men openly rejecting these laws. Kubaysha bint Ma’an, as mentioned in the post, was someone who complained of the men neglecting to act Islamically on these accounts. Umm Kajja is another who demanded the law be applied–after her husband died, she was prevented from inheriting.

      The rushing to the Prophet part–from Ibid, volume 9:

      “How,” say the men, “can one give the right of inheritance to women and children, who do not work and do not earn their living? Are they now getting to inherit just like men who have worked to earn that money?” They waited for a rectification from Heaven. Then they said to themselves: “We must go ask for clarification.” And they went to the Prophet and asked him questions on the subject.

      But the Prophet didn’t move on his position, on what God had commanded.

      There was also Jabir Ibn’ Abdallah–the one mentioned in the post who interrogated the Prophet because he did not want to give his cousin inheritance because she was blind and unattractive according to him.

      Hope this answers your question somewhat. It was a vague statement on my part, apologies.

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    1. Nahida

      I think the fact that common sense had to be Revealed is in itself a miraculous and sad insight into human character. It shouldn’t have needed to be asked for, because the men shouldn’t have been so oppressive to the point where they had to be TOLD it was wrong. That’s probably why it wasn’t revealed from the beginning.

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