Within the Muslim community, there has long been the debate over Islam’s gender discrimination and oppressive take on women’s roles. That being said, during the founding stage some 1,400 years ago Islam was revolutionary and feminist in its approach towards inclusion of women in the society.
The first person to embrace Islam after Prophet Muhammad received the decree from Angel Gabriel was his wife Hajrat Khadijat Bint Khuwaylid. At the time, Hajrat Khadijat was also the top merchant trader in all of Arabia who travelled across the lands for her work.
But today’s reality is completely different and mind boggling. What troubles me most is the prevalent day-to-day gender roles followed in Muslim communities. For instance, women’s testimony in some Islamic courts counts as half that of a male witness, men can take four wives and pronounces verbal divorce whereas women can only have one husband and that too a Muslim.
The gendered segregation also affects Muslim women and men in different ways, especially if we are to talk about the Hajj pilgrimage – one of the five pillars of Islam its followers are encouraged to make at least once in their life time, if economic conditions allow. So basically Muslim men can go to Hajj but single Muslim women cannot travel to Mecca to perform the Hajj.
Growing up in a moderate Muslim family, I was always struck with the fact that my mother who was widowed at a very young age never could think of making the pilgrimage. Initially I could not understand why male family relatives, uncles, cousins could have made the Hajj but not her. It was only in my teenaged years after much rebelling with family and relatives I got answers that left much to be desired.
Her being a widow whose husband had passed away was robbed off the chance to make the spiritually enlightening voyage just because she was alone. We kept hearing these strange things from people even outside our family and soon I understood that our societal narratives were based upon curbing women’s rights in name of Islam.
It was not just my own family, that believed in such notions, but people in the neighborhood, the religious scholars, local iman and so on.
Personally I always laughed at the justifications such as women are not capable, its an emotionally and physically taxing experience, men need to protect and keep safe women therefore they cant go alone. So in essence Muslims know we have the sexual perversion and harassment problem within our community right? If so, by that logic if you are telling me that women wont be safe during Hajj, you mean to say that all while performing the pilgrimage the self styled pious Muslim men will indulge in sexually abusing the women?
If we look further into religious scripture which by the way will be discussed by my co-author Papatia Feauxzar in her part, there are different schools of thought on whether the company of a mahram is among the conditions that are obligatory to be fulfilled. We also have to acknowledge that rules are applied by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, not exactly famous for its women rights stances.
Overall, the dominant opinion believes that its permissible for a woman to go for hajj without a mahram but with a trustworthy male company and ensure a safe traveling route by water, land and or air to reach Mecca.
By logic, many women regardless of their religious background find it daunting to travel alone especially abroad, therefore the presence of a companion is always appreciated. Given a choice, most would prefer to go with their family members as a group to experience the spiritual unity and solidarity. But to take away that choice, by enforcing ideas that do not represent Islam as whole is unacceptable.
Impressively, these laws do not apply to women belonging from the Shia sect of Islam, as they do not require to travel with a Mahram. Such restrictions are applicable to Sunni women, who are in majority as a sect that follows a warped version of Wahabi narrative on women rights matters.
As a feminist I also have a problem with such laws as they just don’t enforce patriarchal systems but also treat women as objects. This idea that Muslim women cannot make decisions and actions on their own is to infantilize women as incapable.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2019, Hajj pilgrimage procedures had to be modified and initially KSA had barred foreign Muslims from entering the country for the annual ritual. Following which for the first time in the history – Saudi legislation allowed Muslim women to perform the Hajj without the mandatory requirement of a male guardian.
Moreover, the kingdom’s so called “guardianship laws” have been modified allowing more mobility to women and rights for traveling purposes. Such progressive changes are an encouraging sign for the marginalized Muslim women that continue to fight against the limited notions of womanhood.
Part II by Papatia Feauxzar
First, I would like to expound on some points that my co-author brushed on. The first is about the weight of a woman’s testimony and the second is the fact that only men are allowed to marry non-Muslim women.
On the weight of a woman’s testimony, the male’s take has been widely incorrect. A woman testimony is not half of a man. From a seerah class I took and other female halaqas I have attended, the teachers said that the ratio is 2:1 to suggest that in a case that a woman is testifying, she needs another woman with her in order to deter the opposing parties from intimidating her. The second woman is merely there as moral support and to prevent common gender micro-aggressions or misogynist behavior to occur.
Now, based on my own analysis of things, we see that Islam once again has always been ahead of times. For instance, today if a woman says she is been abused, no one will believe her or even take her seriously. The norm is to try to shut her off or silence her right away. However, if many women come forward, you see that the movement gains traction and their voices become suddenly heard! Isn’t that right? Yes, no one can deny these #metoo movements even if some have no basis. The point is, women are usually marginalized without good reasons and if many women come forward to testify, they can no longer be ignored. The power is in the numbers not in the male gender.
We can now address the favor of Allah upon men when it comes to non-Muslim women. To many people, Muslim men can marry any non-Muslim woman. However, they can’t. Polytheist women are forbidden to them; Quran 2:221. The Quran says these non-Muslim women should be of the book if that is the choice the man wants to go with.
As women, we should not deny the place of men as they were created first but also, we shouldn’t take any nonsense either based on that seniority. I just had to set the record straight.
Now, I believe that Allah has elevated the body of a Muslim woman by ordering her not to lay with a non-Muslim person. Think of ghusl or any other unseen spirit that might be tagging on that non-Muslim man. Personally, I don’t see it as a restriction, I see it as a fadl-blessing and grace from Allah subhannahu wa ala. I value my body, and I don’t let anyone have access to it freely. If you want a non-Muslim man as a Muslim woman, think of the unseen aspect of it to put things in perspective. While intimacy is both an active act for both genders, ultimately women are on the receiving end of the final act.
As a clean and pure Muslim woman, do you want to be on the receiving end of that act from a person who doesn’t perform wudu on the regular? It has taken me years to arrive at this conclusion. May Allah facilitate it for the single and searching Muslim women out there. Aameen.
Muslim men are not on the receiving end of the final act, so I believe it’s OK for them. But the thing is they still face challenges with that choice. The woman cannot inherit from them, and there is a high risk that the children will choose a religion that will lead them astray as we know Islam is the only yaqeen-certainty. So, is it worth it to follow our desires instead of submitting to Allah’s will? What are going to say to Allah on Yaum al Hisab when our flock goes astray because we chose a mate of a different creed?
“He or she was too alluring or treated me well, so I decided to disobey You, oh Creator?”
Let’s reflect on Quran 2:216. May Allah always guide us and give us hiddayah. Aameen.
Finally, let’s broach the topic of hajj. For a long time, I found it problematic that women needed a man’s permission to go to hajj until I read a passage in the seerah where the Prophet sallallahu aleihi wassalam showed to a group of people his uncle and prompted them to show him their uncles. The uncle in question was a little boy who was not even a teenager. The morale of the lesson was to keep our ego in check. It’s not about age. It’s about one’s willingness to be tested on the arrogance traits.
So, as a woman, when you are told that you need your son’s, your little brother, your husband, and any other male relative to dictate your hajj fate, how will you take it? Will you pass the test of arrogance with much sabr (patience and coolness) and comply just to please Allah? There is no doubt many of these men secretly relish the power they have over you wickedly. Having said that, let’s not deny that travelling in a group or even with a male can deter people with not so pure intentions to not target you.
Nowadays, Saudi Arabia has changed the rules and many young women like me won’t find out if they will fail the test of arrogance. That being said, women over 45 years old didn’t need a mahram to perform this fundamental pillar of Islam. I hope and pray that women who were denied this religious rite before that age were able to assert themselves and perform the journey when they reach 45. This is a fight that many women over 45 should have thought before the new rules to challenge patriarchal Muslim societies. If they didn’t, may Allah reward them for their sacrifice. Aameen.
It’s also important to note that many well-known scholars of the past had no issues with women going to hajj. Their only concern was travelling by boat where the space was too tight to relieve yourself when need be. Consequently, many women’s awrat parts came to be exposed. For those reasons, they preferred women to travel by other means like land instead of like in tight places like a small boat where many other men were also faring.
The thing is many people today will use part of their arguments and not reveal the reason why these scholars expressed their partial disapproval. Hiding knowledge is a sin; just saying.
Above all, women should not be denied the right to hajj. It’s a major pillar of this deen. Being there beats sending someone by proxy on account of protection from perverts or simply because of patriarchal views which have no basis in Islam. A woman can protect herself. Allah is ultimately the Wali.
I will end with Quran 2:197 to stress the point of “la rafatha” and that any God-fearing man should mind his business there and let women be.
“Hajj is [during] well-known months, so whoever has made Hajj obligatory upon himself therein [by entering the state of ihram], there is [to be for him] no sexual relations and no disobedience and no disputing during Hajj. And whatever good you do – Allah knows it. And take provisions, but indeed, the best provision is fear of Allah. And fear Me, O you of understanding.”– Quran 2:197
Allahu alim. Thank you for reading.
‘The Written vs. NOT Written Stuff’ is the copyrighted online series on issues within the global Muslim communities- joint initiative of two Muslimah writers, Papatia Feauxzar & Saadia Haq. Readers feedback is highly appreciated, so please do drop us a line here or at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bio Saadia Haq: The brainchild of this blog, she’s a Pakistani feminist writer and an investigative journalist on human rights issues.
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