Women’s Rights in Islam
In order to understand the rights of women particularly in Islam it is necessary to look at the status of women in other civilizations. In Hindu society subjection of a female has been a cardinal principle. Women must be in a state of dependence all the time. Even the rule of inheritance was agnatic; that is, descent is traced through males to the exclusion of females. A good wife is one whose mind, speech and body are kept in subjection.
In Greek society women were no better off. The women were always regarded as minors, subject to some male, to her father, brother or some other male who was in near relation. Her consent in marriage was not necessary and she was obliged to submit to the wishes of her parents and receive her husband as her lord, even though he was a stranger to her.
In Italy, a Roman wife was regarded as a minor and person incapable of doing or acting anything by her will. In Roman law a woman was completely dependent. When she got married her property passed into the ownership of her husband and she was considered like a slave who has been purchased by the husband.
According to English law, all property which a wife held at the time of her marriage became the possession of her husband .It was only in 1870 that married women acquired the right to own property and to manage it in accordance with their own wishes. John Stuart Mill wrote.
“We are continually told that civilization and Christianity have restored to the women her just rights. Meanwhile the wife is the actual bond servant of her husband; no less so as far as legal obligation goes the slaves commonly so called.”
Women in Islam:
A fresh, noble and universal message was delivered by Islam. The Holy Quran says:
“O Mankind, keep your duty to your Lord who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate (of same kind) and from them twain has spread a multitude of men and women “
He (GOD) it is who did create you from a single soul and there from did create his mate, that he might dwell with her (in love)—-Al-Quran.7:189.
And God has given you mates of your own nature, and has given you from your mates, children and grandchildren and has made provision of good things for you.
Is it them in vanity that they believe and in the grace of God that they disbelieve?
The Holy Quran clearly lays down that man and woman are equal in the eyes of God. “Every soul will be responsible for its deeds. (74:38)”.The Holy Quran further lays down:
“Whoever works righteousness, man or woman and has faith, verily to him we give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions”.
Man and women were jointly blamed for their first mistake.(2:36&7:20-24).In one verse(20:121) man has been specifically blamed .
Islam lays down that marriage is sharing between man and woman. It is based on love and mercy. According to Islamic law; women cannot be forced to marry anyone without their consent. The Quran says that: women have rights similar to those of men and men are a degree above them (2:228).This verse does not mean that men are superior in any way but that in married life a husband is placed in the position of an administrator. As we know there is an administrator in every office who has to oversee that things are being rightly done. No office can function without an able and qualified administrator. A famous saying of the Prophet (PBUH) is that “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers.” A man came to the Holy Prophet (PBUH and asked him who is the most worthy of his company. This question was asked three times and each time the Holy Prophet (PBUH) replied that his mother came in that category.
The teachings of Islam give clear evidence that woman is equated with man so far as political rights are concerned. As regards the economic aspect, Islam does not forbid women seeking employment through it lays down that a woman’s role essentially is a a mother and wife.
A survey of Quranic verses and Hadith brings out the following points :
The history of Muslims in rich with women of great achievements in all walks of life from as early as the seventh century.
It is impossible for anyone to justify a mistreatment of women by the decree or rule embodied in the Islamic law.
Throughout the history, the reputation, chastity and maternal role of Muslim women were object of administration by impartial observers.
The Quran clearly states that men and women who practice the principles of Islam will receive equal reward for their efforts. This has been laid down below for reference:
“Men who surrender unto Allah ,and women who surrender, and men who believe and women who believe ,and men who obey and women who obey, and men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth ,and men who preserve (in righteousness)and women who preserve, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard (their modesty) and women who guard (their modesty) and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Allah hath prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward”(Al-Quran 33:35)
Each of the five pillars of Islam —Belief, Prayer, Fasting, Zakat and Hajj, are as important for women as for men, and there is no differentiation in their reward. The Holy Quran lays down:
“O mankind, we have created you from male and female, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the best in conduct “(xl vI.13).
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said:
“The best women is she who, when you see her you feel pleased, and when you direct her she obeys. She protects your rights and keeps her chastity when you are absent”
Lastly females enjoy a very high status in Muslim society. As daughters, sisters, mothers and mothers in law as well as grandmothers they are given due respect, love and affection. Compared to the west, women in Muslim societies do not have to go out in the competitive world to earn their living just to prove that they are equal to males. The days of chivalry are still being retained in the Islamic way of life.
Let us now turn out attention to the legal status and position of women in Pakistani society particularly in the light of some decisions of the superior Courts of Pakistan. The Constitution of Pakistan clearly states that man and woman are equal in the eyes of law and that there shall be no consonance with the Holy Quran and Sunnah and every law that violate these sources of Islamic law shall be void. Customary laws which denied rights to females have been repealed. The Honourable Supreme Court has decided in PLD 1990 Supreme Court page 1 (Sardar Ali vs. Ghulam Sarwar) that men are protectors and maintainers of women. Reliance was placed on the Sura for verse 34. In this case the brothers had been in possession of land of their sister and had excluded her completely from it. Later on they claimed ownership on the basis of adverse possession. The Hounourable Supreme Court did not accept this contention and protected the rights of the sister. No brother can now usurp the rights of the sister on the ground of adverse possession. In Khurshid Bibi’s case (PLD 1967 Supreme Court 97) their Lordhips had laid down Khula is the right of a wife and she may seek dissolution of marriage on that ground. It has further been held in Shahida Khan’s case (PLD 1984 Supreme Court 329) that a court can order dissolution of marriage on the strength of Khullah even if the husband does not agree. It has been held in Sahi Bibi’s case (1973 SCMR 577) that if a husband and a wife are in disagreement then if the wife is SUI-JURIS she may live separately from him.
The Superior Courts have held that a sound, sane and adult women cannot be kept in the Dar-Ul-Aman without their consent. This was held in Farmanullah’s case (1975.Cr.L.J 472)
There have been cases where women contracted a second marriage on the behalf that they have been validly divorced by their first husband. That husband brought proceedings against the wife under Hadood Ordinance alleging that she was leading a life of sin. The Courts have, however, come to the conclusion that for an offence to be committed Mens Rea must be present and if a woman has mistakenly entered into a second marriage genuinely believing that she stood divorced from her first husband, then the intention was not to commit an offence but to enter into a second marriage. Thus no offence was committed. This has been held in PLD 1998 Supreme Court 186.
On the question of discrimination, Shirin Munir’s case (PLD 1990 SC 295) comes readily to mind .In this case, female students were not got admitted to a co-educational medical college on merit. When the matter was taken to Court it was decided in the following manner:
“In the view of the discussion that has proceeded on merits, the claim of the girl students merited acceptance on the ground that they have been discriminated against in the matter of admission to co-educational medical college suppressing their merit as against the boys admitted thereto”.
In spite of Quranic provisions and the decisions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the position of women is still not what it should be. There are several reasons for this. One is that females are not aware of their rights and they are very largely dependent upon their husbands.
This leads to exploitation but with more education this state of affairs is likely to improve, particularly in villages. In this matter the Holy Quran lays down in Surah Al-TALaq verse 1,
“O Prophet, when you divorce women them for their prescribed period and calculate the period, and keep your duty to Allah, your Nourisher. Do not turn them out of their houses, nor should they themselves do that “.
“Theirs houses” means the house in which the wife lives. Thus this verse gives guidance that the house can be transferred to the wife. This law has been enacted in Egypt and in some other countries as Islamic law.
There is a common misconception that the evidence of a female is half that of a male. This means that in the absence of a male witness two females are required to prove a fact. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is proposed at this stage to examine the value of female evidence in the light of Quranic text and also by the reference to Articles 3, 7 and 79 of the Qanoon-e-Shahadat Ordinance 1984.
Article 3 clearly states that all persons shall be competent to testify unless the Court considered that they are prevented from understanding the question put to them or from giving rationale answers to those questions by the tender years, extreme old age, disease, whether of body or mind, or any other cause of the same kind. It has further been laid down in this Article that the competence of a witness shall be determined in accordance with the qualification as laid down in Islam in the Holy Quran and Sunnah for a witness and, where such witness is not forthcoming then the Court may take the evidence of a witness who may be available. It is clear from a bare reading of this Article that there is no discrimination between a male and a female as regards evidence. Islam lays down that a witness whetather a male or female shall have the following five qualities: Aqil, Adil, Baligh, Beena and Natiq.
The Holy Quran lays down in Surrah Talaq verse 2 that:
“There should be two responsible witnesses from amongst you and they should give correct evidence in the name of Allah. Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa states that an Adil witness is he who is able to overcome his weaknesses and who is able to keep away from major sins.
The Quran states in 2:282 that a witness should be an adult and not a minor. It states two adult witnesses should be produced.
It is also essential that a witness should be sane. The evidence of a person who is insane or who is not in his proper senses is not acceptable .An Aqil is defined as a person who is able to distinguish between what is essential and what is not essential that is, what is irrelevant.
It is also necessary that a witness should be able to speak. According to Imam Abu Hanifah the evidence of a dumb witness is not up to the mark but another view is that if a dumb witness is able to give evidence by signs or through writing than his evidence may be acceptable.
It is also necessary that a witness should be able to see. A blind witness is no witness in the eyes of law. Similarly a person upon whom Qazf has been imposed; his evidence will not carry any weight even though he may have repented. Again the evidence of a female who is a singer or a prostitute is not up to the mark and the evidence of a habitual drinker is also not acceptable.
Article 17 regarding the evidence of females is a translation of verse 282 of Sura Baqara of Holy Quran, it states that:
“In matters pertaining to financial or future obligations, if reduced to writing, the instrument shall be attested by two men or one man and two women so that one may remind the other, if necessary and evidence shall be laid accordingly.”
A common sense and a practical approach to the interpretation of Articles 3 and 17 read together will indicate that the mention of two females has been made only to assist the memory of a female witness if she forgets .It is evident therefore that the testimony of only one female is being recorded and the other will be present inside or outside the court to help her memory in case she forgets. But if she does not forget then there is no need of assistance to her memory.
This throws into bold relief the fact that the evidence of only one female is being recorded and the other one is present to remind her should she forget. Experience has shown that men are more likely to forget than females. It is not understandable why the prejudice and misconception against female evidence has crept in the minds of many persons when both the Holy Quran and the law of evidence enacted on the basis of Quranic text clearly indicate otherwise.
If the intention of the lawmakers had been otherwise, that is to say, if they had regarded the evidence of a female as a half that of a male then surely an amendment would have been made in the Article 79 of the Qanoon-e-Shahadat Ordinance 1984.That Article states that “if a document is required by law to be attested, it shall not be used as evidence until two attesting witnesses at least have been called for the purpose of providing its execution”. This article does not state that two females will be required to give evidence in place of one male.
Human experience has indicated that females have mind, perception and are quite capable of stating facts as clearly and as accurately as males. If a man and a woman have both witnessed an occurrence, it does not stand to reason that the evidence of a female should be rejected only because of her sex. Our superior Courts have held that it is not the status of a witness which is important but courts have to look at the intrinsic worth of the statement. If a husband and wife are attacked in their home by some persons and the husband is unfortunately killed then the wife is the most natural and competent witness. Murderers cannot be let off just because of the wife happens to be a female.
In conclusion it would not be safe to opine that the evidence of a female is half that of man. Such a conclusion would be against human experience, logic and common sense. It is not conceivable that such a rule can be laid down by the Holy Quran or by the lawmakers.