Religious Obligations of Muslim Women by Dr. Israr Ahmad

The Importance of Religious Obligations

It is essential for every individual to acquire a comprehensive understanding of his religious obligations. If a person is ignorant of the duties assigned to him by Allah (SWT) through His Deen (the comprehensive code of life), he will be unable to perform his obligations in true spirit. Similarly, if one’s concept of the duties incumbent upon him is deficient in any way, he can only partially carry out his religious responsibilities. In such a case he is likely to meet with failure on the Day of Judgment no matter how sincerely committed he might have been to his religion in his opinion.

Another aspect of this problem is equally important that concerns women in special. There is a possibility that a person might take upon himself certain responsibilities that his religion has not imposed on him. This is bound to lead to disastrous consequences because even the desire to do good, when it exceeds the prescribed boundaries, gets channelized to completely undesirable directions. Monasticism, for instance, is the result of human extremism in trying to be pious. It was the desire to do good that led to the concept of celibacy in Christianity which later became the breeding ground for vice and immorality. Hence, negative and undesirable consequences are bound to follow if anyone overburdens his responsibilities. Therefore we must learn and understand our true religious duties and must not burden ourselves with the duties that have not been imposed upon us. When an individual begins to assign certain duties to himself other than the ones Allah (SWT) has imposed on him, he exposes himself to the danger of the Qur’anic indictment stated in Surah Al-Nisa:

“We appoint for him that unto which he himself has turned and expose him unto Hell, a hapless journey’s end.” [al-Qur’an 4:115]

In other words Allah (SWT) lets him opt for the way he himself has chosen and withdraws His support and help.

Therefore, with respect to the obligations we owe to Allah (SWT), we must have a comprehensive consciousness regarding the rights of Allah (SWT) that we have to fulfill, the rights of our ‘self’ upon us and the rights regarding our fellow human beings. We have to learn to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate, legal and illegal as ordained by Allah (SWT). If we blindly follow our wayward desires, we are bound to cross our limits into the forbidden (Haram). Similarly we have to perform our duty towards people, and mankind in general, according to the tenets set by Allah (SWT). If this principle is duly followed, our vision will remain clear and our target defined. If, on the other hand, we follow our own whims and desires, we will deviate from the divinely prescribed path.

The Three Levels of Our Religious Duties: An Analogy of a Building

In order to understand the true nature of our religious obligations, it will be helpful to use the analogy of a building with three floors’. With the help of this analogy, the duties that are particular to men will be explained first. Then, the duties that are equally applicable to women and men and duties with disparities between the two genders will be pointed out.

As mentioned, the building comprises of three floors, standing on four pillars. On the ground floor all you can see are the pillars, as there are no walls, hut of course there is the foundation beneath the pillars that supports them. Higher floors are dependent on the floors below them. In that respect, top floor is the highest but not the most important part of the building. Most important part is the foundation, while the pillars become the second most important, for they carry the weight of whole the structure. if the foundation or the pillars are weak, the whole structure would collapse, it is important to note that on the second and third floors, the pillars, hidden behind walls, though still present, become invisible.

The building accurately represents our religious obligations. The foundation of this building is Faith (linan), on which depends the strength of the structure. If the foundation is deep and firmly entrenched in the ground, the above lying structure will be unshakable. On the other hand, if the foundation itself is weak and unstable, the building can come crashing down any moment. The pillars are the four obligatory forms of worship: Salah2, Saum3, Zakah4, and Hajj5. In the Holy Qur’an, Salah is always preceded by Zakah, however, in the building, Salah is placed adjacent to Saum as both forms of worship are obligatory for all Muslims. Whereas Zakah and Hajj are binding upon only those Muslims who possess physical and financial capacity to perform them.

The roof of the first level can be referred to as Islam6, Ita’a7, Taqwa8, and ‘Ibadah9. The basic demand conveyed through these four terms is for the individual to submit and surrender wholeheartedly to the commands of Allah (SWT) and His messenger (SAW), becoming in the truest sense of the word, an ‘Abd’ — ‘slave’, thereby fulfilling the very purpose of her creation. As Allah (SWT) says:

“I created the ‘jinn’ and humankind only that they might worship Me.” [al-Qur’an 51:56]

When this submission, obedience, and piety reaches its climax, Islam becomes Ihsan —- the level of consciousness characterized by the feeling that one is in constant presence of Allah (SWT). This is the ground. floor of the edifice we are describing.

At the second level, the person invites others towards the message of Islam, striving to the best of his ability to spread and propagate’° it. He enjoins good and forbids evil11 and performs the sublime duty of being witness-hearer against mankind12 so that on the Day of Judgment mankind would not be able to proclaim their ignorance regarding the message of Islam.

The third floor of the building is representative of the establishment of the just social, economic and political system of lslam.13 Terms such as Islamic Revolution and Takbeer ar-Rahb14 are employed at this level. The goal is to implement Islam in its totality so that the Word of Allah (SWT) reigns supreme as stated in a Hadith:

“So that the word of Allah becomes supreme.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

The intended objective is that the “Word of Allah” becomes the law of the land taking precedence over everything else until the whole social structure including the parliament and judiciary are subordinate to it. To work towards this end by utilizing all of one’s material and mental resources, to live for this cause and be ready to die for it, is what constitutes the third and the highest level of our religious responsibilities.

The Difference Between Men and Women’s Obligations

The Ground Level: Nearly Similar Obligations

There is a minute difference between the obligations of the two genders as far as the obligations of the ground floor are concerned. Faith is an essential prerequisite for the salvation of all human beings irrespective of their gender. The words occurring in Surah Al-’Asr and Surah Al-Teen:

“save those who believe and do good works”

are general in nature applying to both men and women. Furthermore, it is categorically stated in the Ayah15 124 of Surah Al-Nisa that those who act righteously, be they male or female, will surely enter Paradise’6.

The foremost duty of every Muslim, man or woman is to attain firmness of Faith. Then daily prayers and fasting in the month of Ramadan, both being equally compulsory for men and women. Zakah and Hajj are the duties to be fulfilled by both men and women, who have the ability (physical and financial) to perform them. In addition, women cannot perform Hajj unless and until there is a Mahram17 to escort them. Similarly all the restrictions regarding Halal and Haram are the same for both genders. In short, obedience to Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW) in all spheres of life is meant for the whole mankind, irrespective of any difference in gender.

The slight difference between the obligations of men and women at the ground level can be understood via• the example of Salah. Women are exempted from the congregational prayers and encouraged to pray at home. At home, it is preferred that they pray in a room instead of the lawn. If the room happens to have a small chamber in it, then the chamber is preferred over the room.

Exceptional has been the case of the congregational Friday and ‘Fid prayers. Women were encouraged by the Prophet (SAW) to attend these two prayers. This was due to the fact that no communication media and other means of propagation (books, magazines or audio/visual facilities) were available in those days. The sermons of Friday and ‘Eid prayers were the sole source of education and information for them. However, these are two exceptions and the overriding rule is that it is better for ladies to offer their prayers privately in their homes rather than at public places.

Besides these and other negligible differences, the duties of Muslim men and women at the first stage are similar in nature. It will be pertinent here to discuss three important verses (34-36) of Surah Al-Ahzab. Although the direct addressees of these Ayahs are the wives of the Prophet (SAW), all Muslim women have been indirectly addressed through them. The first of these Ayahs deals with the acquisition of real and conscious faith, the primary source of which is the Qur’an itself. lndeed it is reading the Holy Qur’an, learning and teaching it and pondering over it that gives rise to faith and strengthens our conviction. The Ayalz reads:

“And hear in mind that which is recited in your houses of the revelations of Allah and wisdom. Lo, Allah is Subtle, Aware.” [al—Qur’an 33:34]

The wives of the Prophet (SAW) are being addressed here. It was in their houses that the Prophet (SAW) received the Divine revelation (Wahi), recited its verses, and preached the words of wisdom (Hikinah). The word Hikmah here refers to the Holy Qur’an, the fountainhead of knowledge and wisdom. Moreover, he (SAW) used to explain the Holy Qur’an in the form of Hadith18, which also reflected the wisdom of Qur’an. The first and foremost lesson that is evident from the verse is that we are being told to engage ourselves in reading and comprehending the Holy Qur’an and Hadith, and in comprehending the Holy Qur’an and Hadith, and in learning and teaching them. For this is what will sustain and enrich our belief in Allah (SWT) as well as bolster and reinforce it. if we hasten to the stage of preaching without first sufficiently strengthening and entrenching our own belief, we will he putting the cart before the horse.

Let us now reflect on the next Ayah. In the Holy Qur’an, usually the grammatical tense of the male gender is used while discussing the desirable traits of both men and women. Therefore whenever men are addressed it is understood that women are also being spoken to. The following Ayah, however, is an exception in the sense that both genders are mentioned here separately. This signifies that the qualities that Islam expects of its followers are the same for men and women. The Ayahi states:

The ten traits mentioned in this Ayah are:

  1. “Muslim men and Muslim women”
    Men and women who totally submit themselves to the will of Allah (SWT).
  2. “Believing men and believing women”
    Those who believe in Allah (SWT), the angels, the prophets, the revealed hooks and the Day of Judgment.
  3. “Obedient men and obedient women”
    Those who stand like slaves, all vigilant for the Master’s call.
  4. “Truthful men and truthful women”
    Those who are true in their words and deeds.
  5. “Patient men and patient women”
    Patience is a very comprehensive term. Patience can mean abstaining from the forbidden. Patience can imply doing Allah’s bidding in the face of ordeals. For instance, performing ablution with icy cold water in the winter when warn water is not available is a manifestation of patience and a submission to Allah’s will. Patience also refers to remaining steadfast in the face of all odds and calamities while following the straight path.
  6. “Humble men and humble women”
    Who humble themselves in front of Allah (SWT).
  7. “Charitable men and charitable women”
    Who spend on others despite their own needs for the sake of pleasing Allah (SWT).
  8. “Fasting men and fasting women”
    Those who observe fast to cleanse and purify their soul and body from the lust of materialistic desires and bear the pangs of hunger and thirst only to please Allah (SWT).
  9. “Men and women who strictly guard their modesty”
    In this respect, Islam imposes the same restrictions on men and women.
  10. “Men and women who indulge much in Allah’s remembrance”

In the next Ayah, the essence and the sum up of the first level is stated in a very explicit manner.

“And it is not befitting for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His messenger have decided an affair (for them), that they should have any option about their decision; and whosoever is rebellious to Allah and His messenger, verily goes astray in error manifest.” [al-Qur’an 33:36]

This means that there is no room whatsoever for any believing man or woman to act according to their personal preferences once Allah (SWT) and His messenger (SAW) have passed their verdict regarding a particular matter. The only option open to them is to listen and obey. And if one chooses to differ from the decision of Allah (SWT) and His messenger (SAW), be they men or women, it would be plain disobedience and infidelity; they are the ones who have definitely gone astray. This is the essence of Islam, Ita’a, and ‘Ibadah. For what is Islam? It is total submission to commands of Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW). What is Ita’a? Obedience to Allah and His Prophet. What is ‘lhadah? To become a slave of Allah in all aspects and at all times. The most important factor in this regard is that we are devoid of authority and choice where there is a clear order from Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW). If authority is exercised against the Will of Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW), it will be against the tenets of Islam. We are only free to act according to our will and understanding if there is no explicit ruling about an issue.

As said earlier there is a minimal difference between the responsibilities of men and women as far as the ground floor of religious obligations is concerned. The disparity gradually becomes more and more pronounced as we advance to the higher levels. It is vital to understand the basis for this disparity in Islam. Islam lays great emphasis on modesty and chastity and aspires to uphold and preserve these values in a Muslim society. That is why there is a separate dress code for men and women and the segregation of genders. The injunctions regarding the dress code (Satr and Hijab) are more strict for women and the conditions vary from Mahram to non-Mahram.19 What we need to understand here is that the difference in the nature of the duties assigned to men and women is in order to maintain an atmosphere of modesty, decency and purity in the society.

Islam discourages unnecessary intermingling of men and women and determines separate spheres of activity for them. In this context, we can easily understand why a woman’s prayer is best in the most secluded part of the house, and why her presence is discouraged in the mosque (though not forbidden). In short, the rationale behind the dissimilarity between men and women’s obligations, whether slight or pronounced, is to close all avenues that may lead to indecency and immorality.

The Second Level: The Three Circles Of Da‘wah

The second level deals with spreading the message of lslam to others. A general principle of Tableegh and Da’wah20, proposed by Islam, is that we should begin by first reforming our own selves. Next, we should focus on those who are closest to us — our immediate family members. Only then we may approach other people. Contrary to this, preaching Islam in foreign lands while the religious condition of one’s own house is unsatisfactory, indicates that the process of Da’wah has been inversely prioritized. Such practice can never bring about the desired results as were seen as a consequence of Da’wah carried out by the Prophet (SAW) and his. companions.

If we keep the proper sequence in mind, we can conclude that, for the Muslim woman, the highest priority should be her home. The propagation of Islam is simultaneously carried out in three integrated circles. In the first circle she should bring up her children as Muslims in the true sense of the word. The second circle of Da’wah includes Muslim women and the third consists of Mahram males. These three circles and domains are the premises in which the Muslim woman is required to perform Da’wah. Concerning the first circle, Surah Tahreem states:

“Save yourself and your families from .the fire.” [al-Qur’an 66:6]

In the same context, we should also consider the following Hadith narrated by ‘Abdullah bin ‘Omar (RA):

“Everyone of you is a shepherd and every one of you is accountable for his herd.” [Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ahu DawudJ

Just as a shepherd is responsible for his herd, everyone is responsible and accountable for the people he is in charge of. Then the Prophet (SAW) added,

“a man is a custodian of his home and he will be held accountable for his family.”

Meaning, everyone will be asked about the duties which he had to perform concerning his family and household. He will be asked about whether he carried out his duties of educating them and fulfilling their rights. Then the Prophet (SAW) said, “And a woman is responsible for her husband’s home and she will be held accountable for whatever and whoever she is given charge of”

Naturally her children are the most vital part of her husband’s home. In another narration, the word ‘children’ is mentioned separately:

“And a woman is responsible for her husband’s household and his children and she is accountable for them.”

She is accountable for the servants as well but her main responsibility is with respect to the children.

It goes without saying that the future of a nation depends, to a great extent, on its coming generation and the tremendous task of bearing and~ rearing it has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the mother. It is the mother who acts as the very embodiment of selflessness, sacrificing her own comfort for the sake of her children, it is the mother who acts as the first school that the child conies in contact with. The poet-philosopher lqhal says about a Muslim mother:

“0 Woman! Grind grain while Qur’an is on your lips”

In our childhood we had the privilege of witnessing with our own eyes such mothers who used to recite the Qur’an while nursing their child, and grinding grain. Something of value must transfer from the mother to the child in a subtle and imperceptible manner during this process. After all, we are asked to say Adhan21 and Iqamal22 in the newborn’s ears. There has to he some logic behind this ritual. The infant is obviously not capable of making sense of the words hut all of us know that a tape- recorder is also a sehseless device that efficiently records voice impressions and reproduces them. Therefore, it would not he too far fetched . to assume that some meaningful impressions are conveyed to the child’s subconscious that leave a lasting impact on his personality. As lqhal said:

“In this condition, in your lap, will grow a son like Hussain [RA]”

Hence, the command from the Prophet (SAW):

“Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”

The major responsibility entrusted to the mother is imparting purposeful education and moral values in her children. To seek other avenues at the cost of this major responsibility is certainly not admissible. If, however, her circumstances are such that she can spare some time, she should definitely do Da’wah work outside her home.

What actually is happening in our society is that we tend to preach in the remote corners of the world but overlook our homes. We should remember the Qur’anic admonition:

“Do you enjoin righteousness upon mankind and you yourselfforget (to practice it)?” [al-Qur’an 2:44]

We cannot go on a mission to save the world unless we save ourselves first. Our younger generation is at the receiving end of the most vicious onslaught of western cultural influences. Our youngsters today are exposed to the pernicious effects of media like newspapers, magazines, television and the Internet. In this scenario, if the responsibility of bringing up a child is set aside and women spend more time in preaching outside their homes, then this is an adulteration of the priorities of their responsibilities.

As for stepping out of the home to preach other women, surely this needs to be done in a very organized manner. In this endeavor, middle-aged women are best suited for the task as the restrictions of Islamic dress code are relaxed to a great extent in their case. Surah Al-Noor states regarding the aged women:

“It is airight for them if they put aside their coverings.”

They certainly will continue to foflow the orders of Satr23, but the orders of Hijab24 will now be relaxed in comparison to a young woman. However, what happens in our society is that the ladies who have always been observing Satr and Hijab and staying at home become so accustomed to it that they are reluctant to go out even in their old age. This attitude needs to be changed. They should not hesitate to participate in the activities that involve studying and teaching of the Holy Qur’an in their own cities, even if they are not accompanied by their Mahrams. As far as young women are concerned it is extremely inappropriate for them to go out alone. If they can afford to devote time to the propagation of their Deen, they should cover themselves properly and a Mahrain should accompany them. Keeping these general guidelines in mind, Qur’anic study circles must be arranged and there should be a systematic and intensive effort to organize wonien’s gatherings on a regular basis for the purpose of effectively propagatmg the message of the Holy Qur’an to the masses. This is the most-pressing need of the time.

The third circle of women’s efforts in this regard is that of the. Mahram men i.e., husband, brothers, father, uncles and nephews, etcetera (please note that the husband’s nephews are not Mahram). You must have noticed that under the influence of various Islamic movements like the Tableeghi Jama’at and Jama’at-e-lslami, more and more young men and women belonging to the middle class are choosing to adopt the Islamic way of life. We see many bearded young men and veiled young women whose parents and other family members are oblivious of Islamic values. In this scenario, the younger generation needs to reach out to the older one to invite theni to the right path of Islam. The third circle for Muslim women, therefore, involves their Malzram men.

In Pakistan we see that a particular Islamic group sends its female members from door-to-door canvassing prior to elections. As this group aspires to bring about change through the ballot box, naturally they need to get in touch with the masses for large scale campaigning which probably leaves them no choice but to send the women door to door. But whatever their compulsions are, this practice is highly inappropriate. Even though these women follow the Islamic dress code, which in itself is commendable, nonetheless, they. go to houses of people who are completely alien to them. Islam does not allow Muslim women to freely mingle even with unfamiliar women. The list of Malzrains given in Surahz Al-Noor includes “their women” —- meaning familiar women who are known to .be of decent, righteous character. Hence, Islam does not allow strange women into homes and it certainly does not allow women to go into strange houses.

We believe that the real change in the existing secular system can never be brought about through the prevailing election process. This change calls for a moral, ideological, and intellectual revolution that permeates all the spheres (i.e. political, social and economic) of life. We need to work towards forming a “Hizbullah”25, and for that, women should ideally be working within the three circles that have been discussed above. In exceptional situations, their duties may exceed the ones already mentioned. However under the present conditions, working within the three spheres mentioned is all that they are required to do in the realm of Da’wah and Tableegh.

The Third Level: Women and the Struggle for the Establishment of Islam

The third level involves the struggle for an Islamic Revolution, the peak of all obligations, for bringing about an Islamic Order “so that Allaah’s Word reigns supreme” At this stage the formation of an organized and dedicated group of individuals becomes inevitable. Such a group will consist of committed individuals who will stand united for a single purpose: abolishing tyranny of the status quo,, to set up in its place, the ideal Islamic System of Social Justice. These individuals will be ready to lay down their lives for this cause. This is the responsibility that women have been exempted from except in certain extreme cases.

25 Hizbullah is an organized and disciplined party working for the ascendancy of Islam.
Some people falsely assume that women too are required to participate in this highest level in the hierarchy of our responsibilities. They argue that in the glorious history of Islam, women did leave their homes and sacrifice their lives. Sumayyiah (RA) was martyred along with her husband Yasir (RA). Ruqayyiah (RA) migrated tO Madinah just as her husband Usman (RA) did. However, the people who quote these instances fail to realize that the migration’ and martyrdom of these women represent the essence and apex of the first level (not the third) of our building. It was for the sake of her staunch belief in Tauheed – the oneness of Allah (SWT) – that Sumayyiah (RA) did not yield before Abu Jahal. A woman giving her life in order to keep her faith is the foundation (representing Iman), in relation to our building, where there is no difference in men’s and women’s responsibilities. It was a matter of standing up for what one believes in and remaining steadfast even if one’s life is at stake. It was not a matter of encountering the disbelievers on the battlefield. Even today, if a believing woman is faced with a choice between her faith and her life, the best and the most honorable thing is to remain firm on her faith and not to care for her life. It is, however, permissible in Islam to profess disbelief verbally in such a life threatening situation. Sumayyah (RA) and Yassir (RA) sacrificed their lives to uphold their faith, whereas their son ‘Ammar (RA) saved his life by orally claiming faithlessness. .

Similarly, when practicing Islam becomes impossible in a land then the Muslims should migrate in the way of Allah (SWT). Ruqayyah (RA) and Umm Habibah (RA) with few other women migrated with their Mahrams because life in Makkah became unbearable. Migration for keeping the Divine message alive while abandoning homeland and belongings is actually holding on to faith, the foundation of the building of Islam. In short, remaining loyal to Faith is something that applies to both men and women as does migrating in the way of Allah (SWT). In this connection, please note the following verse of Surahi Aal-e-’Imran:

“And their Lord hath heard from them (and He says) Lo! I suffer not the work of any worker, mnale or female, to be lost. You are one and the same. So those who fled and were driven forth from their homes and suffer damage for My cause, and fought and were slain, verily 1 shall remit their evil deeds from them and verily I shall bring them unto gardens underneath zvhich rivers flow.” [al-Qur’an 3:195]

Men and women were all put through the same ordeals during the thirteen-years stay of the Prophet (SAW) in Makkah. They were the victims of the same hatred and persecution. And they were all forced to leave their beloved homes. They also sacrificed their lives for the noble cause of defending their faith. On the other hand, we do not find any instance of female participation in the armed conflicts in which Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his valiant companions raised the flag of the Revolutionary Movement in Arabia.
The Prophet (SAW) sent eight expeditions immediately after the migration to Medina and there is no mention of any women being sent. The first real battle fought in the way of Allah (SWT) in Islamic history was the battle of Badr and the books of Seerah make no mention that Muslim women took part in it. On the basis of this, we can easily determine what our religion requires from us. Instead of inventing fictitious duties for us, we should objectively understand our actual responsibilities.

Uhad is the only battle where we find, as an exception, when women participated in the battle but this was an emergency situation. The news that seventy Muslims were martyred had reached Medina. There was the rumor that the Prophet (SAW) himself had been martyred.. Naturally there was a state of extreme panic in the city. Moreover, Uhad was only two and a half miles away . from Madinah. Therefore, the muslim women rushed to the scene of the battle to tend the wounded and supply water. In addition, we must keep in mind that the commands regarding Hijab had not been revealed at that time. It is important for us to keep in mind the chronological sequence of the events. The orders of Hijab were introduced for the first time in Surah Al-Ahzab, which was revealed following the battle of Ahzab after the fifth year of Hijrah. Surah Al-Noor was revealed in 6th year after Hijrah and contains explicit commands about Hijab.

Afterwards in the battle Of Ahzab, which was the toughest battle of all, the Muslims fought while their women stayed inside a fortress. There is no evidence of any woman taking part in this battle. Only Safiya (RA) is said to have killed a Jew in self-defense. In 7th year after Hijrah, the battle of Khyber was fought. The following incident, narrated in the books of Hadith and Seerah, throws light on the role of women in this battle:

“Hashraj bin Ziyad narrates from his grand mother that she and five other women left for Khyber along with the Prophet (SAW). She says, ‘When the Prophet (SAW) learned of our presence, he called for us. When we came to him, he was furious and said, ‘With whom have you come and with whose permission?’ We said, ‘We will make wool and work in the cause of Allah (SWT). We have some bandages for the wounded; we will hand arrows to the fighters and give them water.’ The Prophet (SAW) said, ‘Get up and go back. When Khyber was conquered the Prophet (SAW) gave us a share from the spoils of the battle. ‘Hashraj says he asked his grandmother about what she received as share. She replied, ‘Some dates. ,,,

There are lessons to be learnt from this story. The Prophet’s query: “With whom have you come and with whose permission” is very important. Whenever a woman comes out of her house she should . see to it that she is accompanied by a Mahram. Sometimes women who want to work for their religion become over-zealous and cross certain limits that they are supposed to stay within. For example, they begin to neglect their household duties and their children. It will be useful for such ladies to bear in mind a certain incident from Seerah:

Asma bint al-Yazeed (RA) was an Ansari woman. She once came to the Prophet (SAW) and said, “Women have sent me to you as their representative. What all of them are saying is similar to what I will say and they have the same point of view as I. Allah (SWT) sent you as a Prophet (SAW) to both men and women. Therefore we believed in you and obeyed yozu. However, as women, we are supposed to observe veil and remain inside our homes. Our duty is to keep our men satisfied and to look after their children. Men outdo us in matters such as the Friday congregational and funeral prayers and also in Jihad in the way of Allah (SWT). When they go to war, we protect their houses and tend their children. Will we get the same reward as them?” When the Prophet (SAW) heard this eloquent speech, he turned to his comnpanions and asked themu, “Have you ever heard a woman give a more excellent speech about her religion than this one?” All the companions of the Prophet (SA W) swore that they had not. Then the Prophet (SAW) turned to Asma (RA) and said, “0 Asma, help me in conveying my answer to the women who sent you as their representative. Fulfilling your housekeeping responsibilities, keeping your husbands happy and co-operating with them, is equal to all those acts of the men that you have described.” Asma (RA) returned happily after listening to this answer and did not raise any objection.

What we must learn from this incident is that our actual aim is to carry out the tasks that Allah (SWT) has assigned to us. If we assume certain duties that were never meant for us, it will be totally unfair to our own selves. Whenever an individual takes on unnecessary, self-assigned duties Allah (SWT) lets him carry them out hut withdraws His help and support. And if, in the process, he happens to exceed Divinely ordained limits, he may end up among the unfortunate lot in the Hell according to the Qur’anic words:

“We appoint for him that unto which he himself has tiurned and expose him unto Hell, a hapless journey’s end” [al—Qur’an 4:115]

In short, women are exempted from any direct participation in the duty of establishing the Deen. They are indirectly involved, by taking care of the household and children in order to provide a harmonized and congenial atmosphere for the men, who are directly involved in this struggle. They should focus on fulfilling the responsibility of bringing up the children and of their education and moral guidance.. In this way, men will have ample free time to devote themselves to the cause of Islam. Women should facilitate their husbands’ participation in the struggle for the supremacy of Islam by relieving them of unnecessary burdens and by not being over-demanding. By doing this, they would be making the most valuable and a substantial contribution to this noble cause. After all why should they bother to come out if they can earn the same reward inside their homes!

Difference Between Bai’yah of Men and Women

Regarding the differences between men and women, a significant difference exists in the Bai’yah26 of the two genders. Just before the Hijrah, the Prophet (SAW) took the pledge for Iqamah al-Deen, also known as the Second Pledge of ‘Aqabah, only from his male companions. The terms of this oath were very strict and demanded the obedience to the Ameer — leader — under all circumstances, even if one has to force himself against his will. It also required one to obey all the persons in the hierarchy of authority other than the Ameer. Without doubt the terms and conditions of this oath are very strict, but the formation of an organized and dedicated group of people who are ready to make any kind of sacrifice to bring about an Islamic revolution, cannot be achieved without such discipline. In the oath, therefore, the whole emphasis is on discipline and maintenance of this discipline is guaranteed positively by stressing the right attitude of “listen and obey” and negatively by sealing off all doors that might lead to disobedience or disorder in the ranks of the revolutionary group.

As far as the Bai’yah of women is concerned, at the occasion of the Second Pledge of ‘Aqabah, there is no mention of either women not taking part in it, nor any mention of a separate Bai’yah for them (even though the presence of at least two women, at this occasion, is confirmed). However, the oath administered to women, as can be proved by the Qur’an and Sunnah, is basically an oath of piety and righteousness: to denounce all gods but Allah, to give up bad deeds – harming, lying, stealing, adultery, fabricating falsehoods and finally not to go against any order of Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW). The words used in this Bai’yah are same as those of the First Pledge of ‘Aqabah, which took place a year before the second pledge, taken from twelve men from Yathrib (Madinah). This proves that the strict discipline, required of men, as members of a disciplined organization, is not required of women. This can be naturally explained by the fact that women are not supposed to directly participate in the highest stage of religious responsibilities. Their participation is more of an indirect nature27.

Organization – Compulsory for Both Men and Women

Nonetheless, I believe that Jaina’ah (organization) is necessary for both men and women. It provides a positive environment in which we take inspiration from others. It is on the account of being a part of this collective existence that we find motivation to do more and more good deeds and the courage to abandon the Nawahi (the forbidden things). Therefore, Allah (SWT) has not deprived women of the blessings and spiritual benefits of belonging to an organization. Allah (SWT) says in Surah Al-Taubah:

“And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends of one another; they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and they establish worship and they pay ‘the poor-due and they obey Allah and His messenger (SAW). As for these, Allah will have mercy on them. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Wise.” [al-Qur’an 9:71]

It was due to the blessings and. benefits of the organizational environment that the Prophet (SAW) took Bai’yah from Muslim women as well. As a result, women felt that they were also part of an organization, that they too had allegiance to a leader, that they also had to listen and obey the commands of the Prophet (SAW), that they also had to do good deeds, and that they were under an oath. This gave rise to the spirit of self-criticism, that if they deviated from their oath, then they would be breaching the covenant and held responsible for it.

Consequently, we have a women’s wing in Tanzeem-e-Islami and they also take Bai’yah. Our highest priority is to emulate, in all matters and as closely as humanly possible, the example set by our Prophet (SAW). Consequently, in the Tanzeem that we have formed for the purpose of bringing about an Islamic Revolution, we expect both men and women to refrain from evil and to struggle for making Allah’s Word supreme and we consider both men and women as being bound by the pledge of allegiance occurring in the 111th verse of Surah Al-Taubah28. However, the more stricter Bai’yah of “listening and obeying fte al-Ma’roof’29, which we find in an agreed-upon Hczdith, has been exclusively reserved for men only. The oath administered to women is the one found in the 12th verse of Surahi Mumtahanah30. In the said verse, instead of positive demand of “listen and obey”, women are asked “not to disobey” the messenger of Allah (SWT). It is easy to note that the pledge of allegiance for women is much more lenient as compared to men. This is further supported by the fact that the above Ayah includes the wording of “Fee Ma’roof’ even in the obedience to the Prophet (SAW).

In conclusion, women need to belong to a jaina’ah and to pledge allegiance to an Ameer so that they can have constant self-censor and a consciousness of being an active participant in the struggle for the establishment of Deen. However, they are not entrusted with the responsibility of directly taking part in this struggle. They have a comparatively more passive, hut equally vital, role to play. Hence, the best course of action for them is to stick to their Divinely-prescribed role. May Allah (SWT) prevent us from taking on unnecessary burdens and May He (SWT) help us in performing our duties in the best possible manner. Aameen!

End Note:

1 Refer to the inside of book cover.

2 The obligatory daily prayers

3 Fasting during the month of Ramadan

4 Annual obligatory charity

5 Pilgrimage to Makkah

6 ‘Submission’, ‘resignation’ and ‘surrender’

7 ‘Obedience’

8 Being conscious of Allah (SWT)

9 ‘Slavery’ to Allah (SWT)

10 Tableegh and Da’wah

11 Ainr bil Ma’roof Wa Nahi ‘A nil Munkar

12 Shahadah ‘Ala an-Naas

13 The Qur’anic term for “establishing the Deen” is Iqamah AlDecn.

14 “To glorify and proclaim the greatness of Allah (SWT)”

15 An Ayah is a verse of Qur’an. The plural of Ayah is Ayaat. .

16 “And whoso does good works, whether of male orftmale, and he (or she) is a believer, such will enter paradise”

17 Mahram refers to the male with whom a woman can directly interact without having to completely cover herself.

18 Had ith pertains to the sayings of the Prophet (SAW).

19 Non-Mahrams to women are those men with whom women cannot interact.

20 Tabl eegh and Da’wah are terms used for spreading and propagating Islam.

21 Call for prayer.

22 Call to begin the prayer of congregation.

23 Satar refers to the parts of body which, in normal conditions, must be covered at all times and may not be displayed to anyone but one’s spouse. The whole of a woman’s body is considered Satr except hands, feet, and face excluding ears and hair.

24 Hijab refers to the parts of body which, in normal conditions, must be hidden from non-Mahrams. Hijab refers to Satr plus face excluding the eyes.

25 Hizbullah is an organized and disciplined party working for the ascendancy of Islam.

26 A pledge of allegiance

27 It should be pointed out that the Bai’yah taken by the Sufiyaah, known as Bai’yah al-Irshad, is similar to the one taken by the women. This is due to the fact that the concept of Iqamah alDeen as an obligation is non-existent among them.

28 “Allah hath purchased fromn the believers their lives and their wealth;for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause and slay and arc slain: a promise binding on Him in truth through the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur’an: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded: that is the achievement supremne.” [al-Qzur’an 9:111]

29 “Fee al-Ma’roof’ refers to obeying someone as long as the orders are within the bounds of Shari’ah. In case of the Prophet (SAW), such condition need not exist, however, for any other leader it is necessary eto enforce this condition.

30 “0 Prophet! when believing women come to thee to take the oath of allegiance to you that they will not associate in worship any other thing with Allah that they will not steal that they will not commnit adultery (or fornication) that they will not kill their children that they will not utter slander intentionally forging falsehood and that they will not disobey you in any just matter, then you should receive their allegiance and pray to Allah for the forgiveness (of their sins): for Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.” [ai-Qur’an 60:12]

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Dr. Israr Ahmad

Dr. Israr Ahmad was born on April 26, 1932 in Hisar (a district of East Punjab, now a part of Haryana) in India, the second son of a government servant. He graduated from King Edward Medical College (Lahore) in 1954 and later received his Master's degree in Islamic Studies from the University of Karachi in 1965. He has widely traveled abroad and the audio and video tapes of his Qur'anic discourses in Urdu and English languages have circulated in thousands throughout the world.

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