Muhammad Al-Ghazaly, Trans. Arabic to English & Commentary by: Jasser Auda
Language : English
Year : 2002
Edition : First Edition

In the name of God, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

The Author’s Introduction

A group of Muslim immigrants in Britain requested a permit from the British authorities to build private Islamic schools.[1] This is a normal request. In Muslim countries, for example, it is normal that immigrants from other countries build their own private schools, where they learn about their religion and their language, as well as some general background knowledge that is required by the governmental education systems.

However, some British journalists and writers opposed the request and showed dislikeness to the idea of founding such schools. They said that such schools would be based on ‘discrimination between boys and girls.’ They, further, accused Islam of discriminating against women and disregarding their rights.

But the British Labor Party supported the request! Their official spokesperson for educational affairs, Mr. Jack Straw, said, as quoted by the Times Magazine, ‘Those who oppose founding those schools are wrong. Perhaps they are influenced by some racist thinking.’ He also said, ‘they do not know what Islam is all about.’

Mr. Straw added the following, in a conference held in London on The Future of Islamic Education in England (exclamation marks are mine):

The attitude of the Muslim society towards women must be studied carefully. This study has to be based only on the fundamentals of Islam. (!) I heard a lot of false claims that Islam is against women, based on what people see nowadays, that Muslims women do not preach Islam and are not allowed to lecture in the mosques and that Muslim men monopolize this field as they monopolize politics … But there is almost a total ignorance in the world now about the role of women in Muslim theology and in Islamic history itself. (!) Careful consideration shows that the status of Muslim women was much better than the status of Jewish or Christian women in the ancient days. Moreover, Prophet Mohammed gave women inheritance rights thirteen centuries before the British government did. (!)

I, honestly, appreciated for the British Labor Party representative his excellent defense, although the BBC related it to some political game to win some votes from the Conservative Party in the next election!

In this book, I will talk briefly about the topic of Islam in the West, since I detailed it in another book. The main topic of this book, however, is the following: Islam is accused of humiliating and oppressing women! Is there any evidence in the Book of God or the Sunnah[2] of his Messenger? We have the Qur’an, not a single character of it is altered. The Qur’an is clear that humanity flies with two wings, men and women, together. Breaking one of the two wings means stopping and falling.

Now, let us consider what the Sunnah says. However, I would like first of all to filter out the opinions that are falsely associated to the Sunnah. Islam’s crisis is because of those who talk about it out of their own whims, not because of the scripts themselves. The hadith[3] narrations of the Prophet, peace be upon him, are encouraging women to go to the mosques, under only one condition, that they do not display their ornaments. But Al-Qastellani, when he was explaining Al-Bukhari’s collection of hadith,[4] thought that women should go to the mosques, ‘with their kitchen outfits, with the smell of food in them.’ (!) Another interpreter said that they ‘should never go anyway.’ I wonder which of the two interpretations did more evil to Islam.

The following is another example. In Al-Bukhari’s collection, the Prophet, peace be upon him, told `A’ishah, his wife, ‘This was Gabriel (the angel) and he is greeting you with peace.’ Gabriel, in the shape of a man, greeted `A’ishah. But some people say, ‘Men could only greet women when there is no possibility of mischief.’ Some others say, ‘This only applies to close relatives, the elders, and the ugly ones.’ So, despite of the fact that the sunnah is showing men greeting women and women greeting men, interpreters’ contribution was to restrict these greetings to very particular situations. And as time passed, restrictions increased, until the Islamic principle is totally replaced with a false and pessimistic interpretation!

In every era, there are outstanding, cultured, and knowledgeable Muslim women, who are capable of converting their homes into mosques that are full of good deeds. Among them is Umm Waraqah. Al-San`ani said in Hadith number 392, in his collection, ‘The Prophet, peace be upon him, ordered her to lead her household, men and women, in prayers.’ She wanted to fight in the battle of Badr, but the Prophet exempted her from fighting and appointed for her a man to call for prayers. Al-San`ani said, ‘She was leading him in prayers, as well as her servant and her maid.’ (!) Abu Thawr, Al-Muzni, and Al-Tabari evaluated this narration as ‘authentic,’ but all other scholars thought otherwise!![5]

I am inclined to the opinion that this woman was a special case because she was knowledgeable with the Qur’an. However, as far as leading prayers in major mosques is concerned, men are usually more capable of doing this job.

Back to the endeavor the Muslims in Britain will go through after they build their private schools. I wonder whether they will require female students to cover their faces! If this happens, it will be the end of the Islamic cause in the west. Not a single man or woman will accept this religion! Europeans know the uniforms of chastity, which some nuns wear, for example. These styles are very similar to the hijab.[6] If we stick to this dress code, we will do justice to our religion and encourage chastity-lovers to accept it! But hiding hands with gloves, hiding faces behind those veils, and making women walk in the streets looking like ghosts that are isolated from the society – these are things that no religion has ever asked of people! This will make the Labor Party defense void and darken the future of the Islamic cause.

I have a question for those who preach covering the face. You know that the vast majority of interpreters, narrators, and scholars do not support your opinion. So, why don’t you give it up, for the sake of gaining a higher benefit and avoiding a serious harm?

I know Dr. Omar Nassif, the President of the Muslim World League.[7] He is one of the most mature and pious workers in the field of the Islamic call, and he is well aware of the obstacles in its way. Can’t this smart man convince the religious authorities in his country with a more guided stand? Then, efforts will be gathered towards the most prior of good deeds, like establishing prayers, giving charity, enjoining the good, and forbidding the evil.

Nowadays, there are young and older men who have dark and hard heads. They say, ‘Our opinion is the only valid one, and there is no room for any other opinion.’ This is the new version of the old Kharijites![8]

One of my excellent students narrated to me a dialogue that he had with an extremist  who is – as he describes himself – affiliated to the brothers who call themselves the People of the Hadith. He asked my student, ‘Are you among those who hang images on walls and agree on publishing them in newspapers?’ The student said, ‘Yes.’ He replied, ‘You will be punished according to the hadith, “the ones who are tortured the most in the day of judgment are the image-makers,” because you urge them and support them.’ The student said, ‘The opinion that my teacher and I believe in is that the hadith is talking about those who fashion statues not those who draw on paper.[9] I do not want to argue with you, but I want to remind you that there are many Islamic acts of worship that requires revival today and there is no difference of opinion over reviving them! So, come along, bring your group, and let us cooperate in our efforts of reform. Let us stop arguing about the controversial issues.’ The man’s answer was, ‘We are not to cooperate with you. We are not to trust your faith. In fact, you and the enemies of Islam are equal.’

I told my student after I heard his story, ‘If the man is diligent but blinded with fanaticism, then he will see the truth one day and return to it! But I am afraid of one thing: that he and his group turn into supporters of the evil while they are not even aware of it.’

The enemies of Islam in Muslims countries are skillful and cunning. They know that if knowledgeable Muslims, who mastered fiqh[10] and true knowledge of Islam, lead the Islamic front, Islam will certainly be victorious! That is why they open one thousand ways for extremists, like the above People-of-the-Hadith brother, to make their loud voices dominate the Islamic front. Now, when the wise people in the society reflect upon the dominant ‘Islamic’ talk, they will certainly decide to quit Islam altogether.

The Algerian Islamic movement in the nineties was advanced, with a bright future. It was about to free that country from the remnants of the old occupation. Chastity replaced permissiveness and the Islamic morals were guiding civil development, leading it to freedom, good deeds, and all other human rights! Suddenly, some mad loud voices started to call for the necessity of covering the face, wearing coats, and other irrelevant issues. The result was that the Algerian wise men got scared of Islam and its revival, and they have an excuse to think this way! A big mess occurred and the Islamic movement has been moving backwards since then.

If we move from Africa to Asia, we will find the same disease and the same results. Most non-Arabs, who are the majority of Muslims, follow the Hanafi or the Shafi`i School of law. However, those who call themselves the People of Hadith like to defame those two schools and those major scholars.[11] Consequently, mischief occurs. Our religion has no future with all of this academic and moral chaos.

I advice those who raise the banner of the sunnah – while they themselves do not really follow the sunnah – to fear God for what they do to themselves and their ummah.[12] They have to unite efforts not scatter them. They have to pave the way for the return of Islam instead of filling it with obstacles. They have to know that the Muslim nation recognized and tolerated differences in opinions for centuries.

In this book, there are scattered and brief thoughts about fiqh, literature, history, and old and contemporary fatawa.[13] They are all, however, related to women, family, and community issues. I thought that this style will be more appealing to the seekers of knowledge among Muslims and, hopefully, appealing to the non-Muslim reader when he/she reads about Islam in this modern short-essays style. The knowledge of fiqh might seem dry when presented in an abstract and traditional format. So, I decided to be creative!

Those articles were originally published in several newspapers, but I thought that it would be beneficial to gather them in a small book. May God make it of use, and may He support the truth and widen its circle.

Muhammad Al-Ghazaly

[1] The Sheikh wrote this book in the late eighties of the twentieth century.

[2] Literally, the tradition or the way. It is an Islamic term that comprehends all saying, actions and endorsements of Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.

[3] The sayings of Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. Plural: Ahadith.

[4] Muhammad Ibn Isma`il Al-Bukhari (810-870), Sahih al-Bukhari, The translation of the meanings of Sahih al-Bukhari: Arabic-English, by Muhamad Muhsin Khan, Beirut, Dar al-Fikr, 1979. There are several other available English translations.

[5] I ‘followed the chain’ of the hadith and found it ‘authentic,’ narrated after trustworthy narrators all along.  Scholars who rejected it did that ‘based on its content,’ and not its chain of narrators! But based on this narration, women are allowed to lead men in prayers in every school of Islamic law, albeit always under some condition of necessity and usually only in optional, rather than obligatory, prayers! The only prophetic narration that is against women leading men in prayers is a narration attributed to Ali Ibn Abu Talib, which states: ‘a woman does not lead (prayers)’ (la ta’umm al-mar’ah). However, it is rendered ‘weak’ or ‘non-authentic’ by all scholars. Nevertheless, it is always used as counter-evidence in classic literature!

[6] Literally, a barrier, and commonly used for ‘headscarf.’

[7] An international Saudi-based Muslim organization

[8] Arabic: Khawarij. Literally: Those who withdrew. The earliest Islamic sect, which traces its beginning to the controversy over the Caliphate between the companions Ali and Mu`awiyah. After fighting the indecisive Battle of Siffin (657 A.C.E.) against Mu’awiyah’s forces, Ali agreed to arbitration. This concession aroused the anger of a group of Ali’s followers, who protested that, ‘judgment belongs to God alone’ (Qur’an 6:57). They withdrew under the leadership of Ibn Wahb and, when arbitration proved disastrous to Ali, were joined by a larger group. They formed the Kharijites, who engaged in campaigns of massive killing against any Muslim or non-Muslim who rejected their views. In Nahrawan (658 A.C.E.), Ali killed Ibn Wahb and most of his followers, but the Kharijites persisted in a series of uprisings against Ali (whom they assassinated) and Mu’awiyah (who eventually succeeded Ali as caliph). The Kharijites were known for their extremism. They considered any Muslim who commits a major sin an ‘apostate who must be killed.’

[9] Prohibiting full statues is the opinion endorsed by the majority of Muslim scholars. The rationale behind this ruling is to ‘cut the roots’ of idol worshipping. However, a number of contemporary scholars, for example Sheikh Muhammad Abduh, restrict the prohibition to nude statues or statues that are purposefully fashioned for worship.

[10] Fiqh is, literally, the understanding. It is the branch of Islamic sciences that deals with the Islamic practical rulings as understood from to the scripts and the general principles of Islam.

[11] The Islamic schools of law (madhahib) are named after renowned scholars who, independently, put distinct sets of rules/theories for concluding rulings from the Islamic sources of legislation. In addition to those scholars’ brilliance, the popularity of their schools is also due to several historical and political reasons, for example, the support that the Ottoman Empire gave to the Hanafi School, etc.

[12] Literally, nation. All Muslims are one nation/ummah according to verse 2:143.

[13] The plural of fatwa, which is an Islamic legal opinion based on the Qur’an or Sunnah or their interpretations.