1. Textual injunctions on gender equity and the prophetic model are sometimes disregarded by some if not most Muslims individually and collectively. Revision of practices (not divine injunctions) is needed. It is not the revelatory Qur'an and the Sunnah that need any editing or revision. What needs to be reexamined are fallible human interpretations and practices.

  2. Diverse practice in Muslim countries often reflect cultural influences (local or foreign), more so than the letter or spirit of the Shariiah.

  3. Fortunately, there is an emerging trend for the betterment of our understanding of gender equity, based on the Qur'an and Hadeeth, not on alien and imported un-Islamic or non-Islamic values and not on the basis of the existing oppressive and unjust status quo in many parts of the Muslim world.


  1. The term equity is used instead of the common expression 'equality" which is sometimes mistakenly understood to mean absolute equality in each and every detailed item of comparison rather than the overall equality. Equity is used here to mean justice and overall equality of the totality of rights and responsibilities of both genders. It does allow for the possibility of variations in specific items within the overall balance and equality. It is analogous to two persons possessing diverse currencies amounting, for each person to the equivalence of US$1000. While each of the two persons may possess more of one currency than the other, the total value still comes to US$1000 in each case. It should be added that from an Islamic perspective, the roles of men and women are complementary and cooperative rather than competitive.

  2. The Sunnah refers to the words, actions, and confirmations (consent) of the Prophet Muhammad in matters pertaining to the meaning and practice of Islam. Another common term which some authorities consider to be equivalent to the Sunnah is the Hadeeth (plural: Ahadeeth) which literally means "sayings."

  3. In both Qur'anic references, 15:29 and 32:99, the Arabic terms used are basharan and al Insaun both mean a human being or a person. English translations do not usually convey this meaning and commonly use the terms "man" or the pronoun" him" to refer to "person" without a particular gender identification. Equally erroneous is the common translation of Bani Adam into "sons of Adam" or "men" instead of a more accurate term "children of Adam."

  4. A common question raised in the West is whether a Muslim woman can be ordained as a priest as more "liberal" churches do? It should be remembered that there is no "church" or "priesthood" in Islam. The question of "ordaining" does not arise. However, most of the common "priestly" functions such as religious education, spiritual and social counseling are not forbidden to Muslim women in a proper Islamic context. A woman, however, may not lead prayers since Muslim prayers involve prostrations and body contact. Since the prayer leader is supposed to stand in front of the congregation and may move forward in the middle of crowded rows, it would be both inappropriate and uncomfortable for a female to be in such a position and prostrate, hands, knees and forehead on the ground with rows of men behind here. A Muslim woman may be an Islamic scholar, In the early days of Islam, there were several examples of female scholars who taught both genders.

  5. Islamic Shariiah recognizes the full property rights of women before and after marriage. This contrast with the legal provisions in Europe which did not recognize the right until nearly 13 centuries after Islam. "By a series of acts starting with the Married Women's Property Act in 1879, amended in 1882 and 1997, married women achieved the right to won property and to enter into contracts on a par with spinsters, widows, and divorcees." See Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968, vol. 23, p. 624.

  6. In the event of a family dispute, the Qur'an exhorts the husband to treat his wife kindly and not to overlook her positive aspects. If the problem relates to the wife's behavior, her husband may exhort her and appeal for reason. In most cases, this measure is likely to be sufficient. In cases where the problem continues, the husband may express his displeasure in another peaceful manner by sleeping in a separate bed from hers. There are cases, however where a wife persists in deliberate mistreatment of her husband and disregard for her marital obligations. Instead of divorce, the husband may resort to another measure that may save the marriage, at least in some cases. Such a measure is more accurately described as a gentle tap on the body, but never on the face, making it more of a symbolic measure than a punitive one. Following is the related Qur'anic text:

    Men are the protectors and maintains of women because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience seek not against them means (of annoyance): for Allah is Most High, great( above you all). (Qur'an 4:34)

Even here, that maximum measure is limited by the following:

  1. It must be seen as a rare exception to the repeated exhortation of mutual respect, kindness and good treatment discussed earlier. Based on the Qur'an and Hadeeth, this measure may be used in the case of lewdness on the part of the wife or extreme refraction and rejection of the husband's reasonable requests on a consistent basis (nushuz). Even then other measures such as exhortation should be tried first.

  2. As defined by the Hadeeth, it is not permissible to strike anyone's face, cause any bodily harm or even be harsh. What the Hadeeth qualified as dharban ghayra mubarrih or light beating was interpreted by early jurists as a (symbolical) use of the miswak (a small natural toothbrush).

    They further qualified permissible "beating" as beating that leaves no mark on the body. It is interesting that this latter fourteen centuries old qualifier is the criterion used in contemporary American law to separate a light and harmless tap or strike from "abuse" in the legal sense. This makes it clear that even this extreme, last resort and "lesser of the two evils" measure that may save the marriage does not meet the definitions of "physical abuse," "family violence," of "wife battering" in the twentieth century laws in liberal democracies, where such extremes are commonplace that they are seen as national concerns.

  3. Permissibility of such symbolical expression of the seriousness of continued refraction does not imply its desirability. In several Ahadeeth, Prophet Muhammad discouraged this measure. Among his sayings: "Do not beat the female servants of Allah," "Some (women visited my family complaining about their husbands (beating them). These (husbands) are not the best of you," "[Is it not a shame that], one of you beats his wife like [an unscrupulous person] beats a slave and maybe he sleeps with her at the end of the day." See Riyad Al Saliheen, op cit., pp. 130 140. In another Hadeeth, the Prophet said:

    "How does anyone of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and then he may embrace (sleep with) her?" Shaheeh Al Bukhari, op. cit., vol. 8, Hadeeth no. 68, pp. 42 43.

  4. True following of the Sunnah is to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who never resorted to that measure regardless of the circumstances.

  5. Islamic teachings are universal in nature. They respond to the needs and circumstances of diverse times, cultures, and circumstances but unnecessary in others. Some measures may work in some cases, cultures, or with certain persons but may not be effective in others. By definition a "permissible" it is neither required encouraged, or forbidden. In fact, it may be better to spell out the extent of permissibility such as in the issue at hand, than leaving it unrestricted and unqualified or ignoring it all together. In the absence of strict qualifiers, persons may interpret the matter in their own way lending to excesses and real abuse.

  6. Any excess, cruelty, family violence, or abuse committed by any "Muslim" can never be traced, honestly, to any revelatory text (Qur'an and Hadeeth). Such excesses and violations are to be blamed on the person(s) himself as it shows that he is paying lip service to Islamic teachings and injunctions and is failing to follow the true sunnah of the Prophet.
  1. For more details on marriage dissolution and custody of children, see A. Abd al Ati, Family Structure in Islam, Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1977, pp. 217 49.

  2. For more details on the issue of polygyny, see Jamal A. Badawi, Polygyny in Islamic Law, Plainfield, IN: American Trust Publications, also Islamic Teachings (audio series), Islamic Information Foundation, 1982, album IV.

  3. For more details on the issue of polygyny, see Edward A. Westermarck, The History of Human Marriage, 4th ed.( London: Macmlllan, 1925), vol 3, pp. 42 43; also Encyclopedia BibRca, Rev. T. K. Cheyene and J. S. Black, eds.)(London: Macmillan, 1925), vol. 3, p 2946.