Book Review: The Position of Women in Islam: A Progressive View
Author: Mohammad Ali Syed
Paperback: 150 Pages
Publisher: State University of New York
The book begins with an introduction and is followed by twelve chapters of different dimensions regarding the position of women in Islam. The first chapter entitled ‘Roles of Quran and Hadith in Islamic Law’ is an exploration of the respective roles of the Quran and the Hadith in Islamic law, emphasizing the Quran’s role as the supreme authority followed by a discussion of these two primary sources (Quran and Hadith) of Islamic law. The author has emphasized the fact that these two sources supersede all claims by all authorities including the founders of the four schools of Sunni law. The author in the second chapter deliberates an extensive discussion on the reward and punishment of men and women as prescribed by the Quran pointing out clearly that both the sexes are treated equally by God in the life hereafter. The third chapter of the book is focused on the Quran’s dealing with the origin of men and women. The chapter also explores how the Quran prescribes complete equality of men and women regarding their origin. The author subsequently had tried to simplify Quran’s attitude towards women in the preceding three chapters but the fourth chapter is totally contradictory to the ideas presented by some ‘alleged’ sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The author in this chapter questions the authenticity of these ‘alleged sayings’ and shows why they cannot be accepted as genuine. However, the author seems to misrepresent various things and didn’t put forward any explanations to them.
The fifth chapter entitled as “Rules of Marriage in Islam” starts with various forms of marriage in pre-Islamic Arabia. As the background of Islamic rules on this subject, the author has raised few important questions why muta (temporary) marriage, concubinage, and the rules of akfa are contrary to the rules of marriage in Islam. The chapter then turns to discuss specific aspects of Islamic marriage including the independence of Muslim women to marry without a marriage guardian; child marriages; polygamous marriages; and marriages of Muslims with non-Muslims. The author however in this chapter is very much inconsistent while discussing the inter-community marriages.
The author in the sixth chapter has explored the respective positions of the husband and wife as prescribed by Islam and has endeavored to explain whether equality exists within this relationship or not. The seventh chapter’s subject matter is on the rules of dissolution of marriage in Islam where the author has subdivided it into three topics, namely, unilateral dissolution of the marriage by the husband; the wife’s right to divorce her husband; and the roles of the court and of the arbitrators in the dissolution of marriage. While discussing the unilateral dissolution of the marriage by the husband, the author has tried to remain engrossed on the current practice of talaq (divorce) in one sitting and dispensing with the intervention of arbitrators in talaq. The eighth chapter directly addresses the rights of men and women in custody and access to children. The ninth chapter deals with the financial and economic provisions for women in Islam. This chapter is divided into three subtopics, namely, women’s rights of inheritance; women’s rights of maintenance from her husband or from her husband’s estate; and women’s right of mahr (dower). The author claims that the inferior rights of women in inheritance have traditionally been controversial. When addressing this issue he has tried to show that the lesser rights of women can be remedied by the wills of a testator. The tenth chapter is revolved around the Islamic rules regarding the women as witnesses. The author has tried to dissect the discourse about women’s equality with men in this sphere but there are some arguments which are not convincing enough for the reader.
The author in the last two chapters (eleventh and twelfth) has dealt with two of the most controversial topics relating to women. In discussing Islamic rules regarding the seclusion of women in chapter eleven, the author points out that the current Islamic practice in many parts of the world is far from the rules laid down by the Quran and the Hadith. The questionable practice of seclusion of Muslim women in some societies is challenged, and a woman’s right to participate in all activities of society is affirmed. The twelfth chapter which is more controversial explores the woman’s right to participate in politics and to become a head of state. The author demonstrates that this subject has invited a great deal of interest among both Muslims and non-Muslims, especially since the election of three Muslim women to the position of prime minister namely Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, Khaleda Zia and Hasina Wajed in Bangladesh and Sukornoputri in Indonesia. The author calls this alleged saying and refutes the fact that the Prophet (PBUH) had opposed women’s promotion to the position of head of state. Ironically, the author (though misleadingly) stresses upon the fact that there is nothing wrong or un-Islamic for a Muslim woman to be elevated to this position.
The book overall is a good read and may introduce the reader to the basis for calling for a reform of the position of Muslim women in contemporary times. However, the problematic part of it is that the author has miserably failed to comprehend the subsequent backlashes if these so-called ‘reforms’ are reinforced in the present day Muslim world. Not only this, the author has put sweeping arguments at various points of instances to demonstrate his line of thinking. The meager and less explained argument(s) on the part of the author leaves his account wanting in integrity and sincerity. Toeing the feministic line by the author also makes this book more contested in terms of its objectivity.
*The author has masters in Sociology from Aligarh Muslim University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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