Dr. Fawziya Al `Ashmawy
Women have a high status in Islam and if they enjoy that status, the Western women will envy them
• Historical hostility of Islam was promoted by Orientalists, clergymen, and the Zionist media.
• The Western ignorance of Islam and our negligence in presenting it in a proper manner have played a great role in inheriting wrong concepts about Islam.
• I call on Islamic institutions to coordinate with Muslim minorities to defend our religion.
• Many European people converted to Islam when they knew about its reality, and became advocates for it.
Interviewed by Jamal Salem
Dr. Fawziya Al `Ashmawy, the Professor of Islamic History and Civilization at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, confirmed that the wrong image of Muslim women that handed down to Western generations emerged from the inheritance of hostility, the lies of Orientalists, and the fear of clergymen from the spread of Islam. She explained that she is correcting this through cooperation with the leaders of Muslim minorities in the West through the media, lectures, and seminars. However, this correction will not happen overnight, but will take years. All Islamic institutions are required to participate so as not to be limited to individual efforts. She noted that some fair-minded Western thinkers understand the truth of Islam, and some of them embrace it when the real image becomes clear to them; because the bad image in their minds traces back to their ignorance of Islam and our negligence. In the following dialog, we shall shed light on this issue :
• People accuse Islam of being hostile to women's education, and hold the high rate of illiteracy among women in the Muslim world as a proof to that, what do you say about that?
These practices which take place in some environments are wrong and Islam is free of them: The evidence is that all commands of Allah and His Prophet in terms of education came without distinction between men and women; where Allah (Glory be to Him) says: "It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allâh." [Surat Fatir: 28]. The only command which Allah asked His Messenger to gain more and more of it is knowledge. "And say: "My Lord! Increase me in knowledge."" [Surat Taha: 114]. The Prophet (peace be upon him) urged all Muslims to seek knowledge, where he said: "Seeking knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim." The word Muslim includes men, women, and children.
I cite some situations from the Prophetic Biography to convince them where the Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded his Companions to teach their daughters and wives, and applied that to himself, where most of his wives could read and write. `A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) was the most important reference in biography, Sunnah, and a jurist too who used to edit the sayings of narrators, reciters, and jurists, and likewise was Um Salamah. Moreover, the Prophet (peace be upon him) sought the help of a woman from the tribe of Banu `Ady, who was called Ash-Shifa' bint `Abdullah to teach his wife Hafsah how to improve her handwriting, moreover most jurists received their knowledge and Fiqh from female jurists.
Keeping women home
• The West accuses Islam of preventing women from work in general, and private posts in particular, how do you refute this accusation?
The right of work is guaranteed for women when needed on condition that it will not lead to her negligence in housework or her first mission on earth which is the care of her husband and her children.
As for the general posts, the simplest example is Ash-Shifa' bint `Abdullah, the first minister in Islam, where she was characterized by wisdom and prudence to the extent that the Prophet (peace be upon him) made her a teacher of his wife Hafsah. Then `Umar chose her to control the ministry of trade, balances, markets, and transactions where she was watching, calculating, and judging among merchants and the people.
In the early era of Islam, women used to help their husbands in their professions or work. That was the description of Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr, and the wife of Az-Zubayr ibn Al `Awwam: "I used to fodder and water his horse, and transfer the seeds of palm trees from the land of Az-Zubayr on my head for two-thirds leagues. Once, I met the Prophet (peace be upon him) while he was with a group of the Ansar (Supporters) and he called me to ride his mount, but I was shy to do so." Islam has ensured the rights of all working women without any distinction between them and men.
Marrying someone she does not love
• Forcing a woman to marry someone whom she does not love is the permanent accusation of the Western media against Islam and its followers, what should you do to correct this misconception?
As a professor of history and civilization, I say to them through lectures, media, and conferences: Do not limit yourselves to draw the image of Islam through your heritage, but read our history, heritage, and the tolerance of our religion then judge us. Do not you take some wrong behavior done by few Muslims and accuse all Muslims of, so as to deepen our distorted image in your minds.
I tell them about what the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) decided regarding women; if a woman is forced to marriage, her contract will be null and void and she has the right to break it and refer the matter to the judge to remove harm from her. Moreover, the Prophet (peace be upon him) applied that to Khansa bint Khaddam Al Ansariyyah, whose father forced her to marriage without her consent, so the Prophet (peace be upon him) broke her marriage. `Abdullah ibn `Abbas reported also that a virgin girl came to the Prophet complaining about her father who forced her to marry someone she hates, so the Messenger of Allah gave her choice between acceptance or rejection, and he said: "A previously married woman should not be given in marriage except after consulting her; and a virgin until she is asked for permission." `A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said: O Messenger of Allah, a
virgin girl is shy. He said: "Her consent is silence."
• Western media portrays Muslim women as oppressed and captured at home, however Islam honored them and gave them more rights than those given to them in any other religion or man-made-law, would you highlight this bright aspect?
Often we explain to the west simple matters but they are highly significant, such as: A Muslim woman keeps her name, her father's name, and her family name after marriage even if her husband is the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) which is the biggest proof to the honor and equality of women with men, unlike the Western women who hold the names of their husbands and their families names after marriage.
Another proof is: The participation of women with the Prophet (peace be upon him) in battles, where they were treating the wounded and made food, which was a positive participation in spreading the light of Islam. Moreover, the special pledge of allegiance which the Prophet (peace be upon him) took from women in the beginning of Islam. When he settled in Medina, he gave religious lessons for women, received their questions and answered them. Furthermore, he did not prevent them from Salah in the Masjid as the Western media portrays.
Injustice in inheritance
• The West claims that Islam has oppressed women in inheritance; where it has given males a double share of inheritance, how do you refute this claim?
The general rule of Islam is that women have different shares in inheritance according to their closeness to the deceased. Their share may be equal to the share of men in some cases and may exceed the right of males in other situations. This is the general rules of inheritance. "There is a share for men and a share for women from what is left by parents and those nearest related, whether the property be small or large - a legal share." [Surat An-Nisa': 7]. As for the only case which states that a male takes double share of female is when they are brethren, where Allah (Glory be to Him) says: "Allâh commands you as regards your children's (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females." [Surat An-Nisa ': 11 ].
I explained to them that the distribution of inheritance shares may benefit women more than men because they are in charge of spending on them in all cases: as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, and any kind of women in their custody, while they are not asked to spend on men even if they are poor and women are rich. There are studies confirm that there are more than 10 cases in which they inherit more shares than men; would we say that Islam oppressed men in favor of women? !
Khul` (divorce initiated by a wife for a consideration) against divorce
• They said: Islam oppressed women when it gave men the right of divorce and described that by servitude of women, how do you correct this misconception?
I try with my colleagues in Muslim minorities in the West to refute these lies and explain that all consequences of divorce are borne by men such as expenditure, moreover Islam described divorce as a good release and refused to cause any harm to women. Allah (Glory be to Him) says: "But do not take them back to hurt them, and to treat them unjustly and whoever does that, then he has wronged himself." [Surat Al Baqarah: 231]. At the same time, we find that Islam gave a woman the right of divorce if she hated to live with a man for enduring some expenses and giving up her deferred dowry. Allah (Glory be to Him) says: "Then if you fear that they would not be able to keep the limits ordained by Allâh, then there is no sin on either of them if she gives back (the Mahr or a part of it) for her Al-Khul' (divorce)." [Surat Al Baqarah: 229]. The Prophet (peace be upon him) applied this in his lifetime when he commanded the woman who asked for Khul` to pay back her husband's garden which she took as dowry, accordingly there is no injustice to women at all.
Guardianship is a kind of charging
• The guardianship of men is abuse for women where the Messenger (peace be upon him) described them as incomplete in mind and religion, how do you correct that wrong Western conception?
The West has forgotten that guardianship does not mean superiority, preference, control, or domination of women, but it means a higher rank of leadership. Guardianship does not mean tyranny of opinions and control, otherwise Islam would not have approved the principle of consultation and urged for it in all walks of life, including the family affairs in which husband and wife share, as was stated in the Hadith: "All of you are guardians
and are responsible for your subjects." So, guardianship means: Each man and woman has a rank in leadership, where the rank of man is higher than the rank of woman because he is like the ship's captain who leads the ship to safety.
As for the decrease of reason and religion, it is a confirmation to a fact and not a contempt where the emotions of women surpass their reason. Moreover, they do not offer Salah or fast Ramadan during their periods, consequently, their religion is not complete as men. Islam forbids them to offer Salah or fast in these cases, so Islam does not hold them countable for that. This is not inferiority in women's minds who may be smarter than some men or their religion may be more than some men.
Sources of doubts
• What are the sources of these oppressive doubts which the West inherited about the status of Muslim women?
Unfortunately, the main sources of our distorted image are the words of the Orientalists who are hostile to us whose words are still studied in curriculums, published in cultural books, and broadcast in media, add to that hostile legacy the result of the Crusades, and other colonial periods to our Muslim world. Moreover, the deliberate distortion to our Islamic presence in Andalusia and the anti-Islam statements which have been said by Christian clergymen and Jews since ancient times. Islam and the Prophet (peace be upon him) are slandered by the worst insults to the extent that it has become a devotional method. They translated the meanings of the Quran and Hadith to distort them, to attack Islam, and to limit its circulation throughout history.
We are trying to refute these claims by clarifying the reality and tolerance of Islam which rescued women from the old traditions which led to burying them alive and humiliating them if they survive. However, Islam has honored women and made them reasonable and responsible before Allah and the society and equated between them and men in the acts of worship, rewards, and punishments. Allah (Glory be to Him) says: "And indeed We have honored the Children of Adam." [Surat Al Isra': 70]. Eve is innocent of the charge of seducing Adam. Allah says: "Then the Shaitân (Satan) made them slip therefrom (Paradise), and got them out from that in which they were. We said: "Get you down, all, with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be a dwelling place for you and an enjoyment for a time." [Surat Al Baqarah: 36]. Islam made them repent as men: "They said: "Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers."" [Surat Al A`raf: 23]. Islam perfected this honor and equation by Allah's Saying: "And whoever does righteous good deeds, male or female, and is a (true) believer [in the Oneness of Allâh (Muslim)], such will enter Paradise and not the least injustice, even to the size of a speck on the back of a date-stone, will be done to them." [Surat An-Nisa': 124]. Moreover, Islam made women the best pleasure of this world; where the Messenger (peace be upon him) said: "The best pleasure of this world is a good wife; who makes you happy when you look at her and who protects herself and your money when you are absent." The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) commended women while he was on his deathbed: "I entrust you of women." Moreover, he considered taking care of women is the way to Paradise. He said: "No one has three daughters or three sisters and is good to them but that he will enter the Garden," and Islam made Paradise under the feet of mothers.
I call upon those who misunderstand Islam to know the status of women through the codes of their religion and not through some false traditions and practices of few men because Islam is the argument against its followers, and not the opposite.
I call on all Islamic institutions to coordinate with the members of minority groups to clarify the true image of Islam instead of the current erroneous image resulting from their ignorance of Islam and our negligence in presenting the facts of our religion by deeds before words.
Dark past and present
• If there is a negative view of the West towards Muslim women, and permanent distortion to their image, the Western women's past and present are tragic and pitiful, so why do not you clarify that and refute their claims about the rights of Western women and their liberation?
This is what we are doing right now, where we explain to them that the Greek law deprived women of their freedom and civil rights, where they considered them underage all their lives long and subject to the authority of man who disposes with them as he wants. Moreover, in the era of the veterans Athenians, women were not different from many animals, but they considered them devils and impure spirits.
In the light of the Roman law, they were completely subject to the authority of the head of the family and that condition did not change relatively except in the law of Justinan who died in 565 AD, who considered them incompetent to deal with others. When the European held a conference in 586 AD, they wanted to decide whether a woman is human or not and ended up to: Women are created to the service of men.
After the French Revolution, the French law considered women underage and the Napoleonic Code stated that women are not qualified to sign a contract without the consent of their guardians, whether a woman is married or not. That law remained effective, not only in France but in many European countries until 1938, where women were given some rights except in financial transactions, and they subjected to their husbands until now, moreover they share the debts of the family and their husbands.
I am also keen to present the European legacy toward women where we find them cursed in Judaism because she seduced Adam and took him out of Paradise, where it was mentioned in the Torah: "Woman is part of death, and the good man in the sight of
Allah shall be safe of her." She does not inherit if she has a brother.
In Christianity, it is according to the saying of St. Tertullian: "Woman is the entrance of Satan to the soul of human." In the fifth century, after studying the issue of women "whether a woman is just a body without soul or has a
soul," Macon Academy decided that women are without soul which will survive from the Hell-Fire except Mary the mother of Christ.
Finally, I hope to prove and assure the West that many of the things which distort the image of Muslim women has nothing to do with the essence of Islam because Islam has given women a high status if it is applied as was in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Medina, the European women will envy them for that status.
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