Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I was surprised to
read your claim that female circumcision is not Islamic. To the
contrary not only is it Islamic, it is also compulsory. But at the
same time what is required is the trimming of the prepuce of the
clitoris, just like male circumcision.
MWL: There is nothing
to suggest that it is compulsory. The hadith that states that only
a small portion of the genitalia is to be removed is a weak hadith
and only found in one compilation. Also, as a gynecologist who
operates on women, I can say that it would be very difficult to
remove the prepuce only and leave the clitoris. This is especially
true in female infants or children where the anatomy is even
smaller. In fact, I have examined numerous women who have undergone
some form of circumcision and I have never seen a single patient
with only the prepuce removed. Usually part or all of the clitoris
is gone too along with a portion of the labia minora.
An exposed clitoris
(which would result in removing the prepuce) would cause discomfort
and possible pain. There are no health benefits whatsoever to any
form of female circumcision. It causes much more harm than good and
is inconsistent with Islam. In contrast, male circumcision has been
shown, especially with recent studies on HIV transmission, to
provide protection against certain diseases.
It is really too bad
that Muslims would be involved in endorsing a practice that
pre-dated Islam and has resulted in so much harm to women and girls
over the years. I once saw an Egyptian woman who had her entire
clitoris removed; she was told that it was her Islamic duty to
accept this. I'm sure that you are also aware that a woman has the
right to enjoy a satisfying sexual relationship. Without the
clitoris (which is the primary source of orgasm for so many women),
this woman has no chance of ever knowing what that is like. Her
sexual dysfunction has led to the disruption of her marriage. I
hardly think this is what the Prophet (pbuh) had in mind.
Allah knows best.
recommend the National Association of Muslim Lawyers (www.namlnet.org)
to help with specific divorce/custody issues.
Q: Finding a
MWL: The MWL does
not offer a matrimonial service. We encourage you to explore other
possible websites that may suit your need by using a search engine
and typing in Muslim Matrimonial. ISNA may be one site that offers
polygamy, our position is that, while it is allowed by God in
certain very specific circumstances, it should by no means be
considered the norm. In addition, because there often is abuse of
polygamy (e.g. in violation of laws of countries where it is
prohibited or when the restrictions required are ignored), we
generally oppose it. However, because it is referred to in the
Quran by God, we would not say that polygamy is always wrong under
We are not fully
knowledgeable of the laws governing polygamy in Muslim countries.
You should be aware, though that the vast majority of Muslims in the
world (well over 85%) practice monogamy. Hopefully, this is of help
Q: Is it true
that men will be surrounded by 72 never ending virgins, while woman
will only retain her one husband, and what are some other things it
says about that subject?
MWL: The Qur'an
refers to the uniting of individuals with the righteous among their
family, including spouses in the hereafter. The text refers to
companions (both male and female) and the interpretation is that
those who achieve paradise will be there in their youthful form.
There are no verses whatsoever that allude to 72 virgins or even to
sexual relations as part of heavenly bliss. This is the result of
overactive human imagination.
We have never been able to locate a hadith
(saying of Prophet Muhammad) that refers to the 72 virgins and no
such saying exists in the authentic, undisputed traditions
attributed to him.
Finally, the hereafter is part of what is
known as "al-ghaib" or the "unseen." Muslims are advised by God and
His prophet to avoid too much speculation about those things "about
which we have no knowledge." Surely, we can only guess what
Paradise will be like; the truth is with God alone. We have faith
in what we are promised in the Qur'an which is eternal bliss, the
most important part of which will be our closeness to the one we
love most, God.
organization is not in a position to make grants to individuals.
of Position Papers
MWL: The articles
listed on our website are publications of the Muslim Women League.
Taking Husband’s Surname
MWL: This is not a
thorough “sharia” analysis but there isn’t any requirement to take
one’s husband’s surname. There was no such thing as “sur-names” at
the time of the Prophet (S) – people were identified by “son of
so-and-so” and “daughter-of-so-and-so” and this identification
didn’t change after marriage (eg. To “wife-of-so-and-so”). The
taking of a husband’s surname is, as far as is known, a western
European tradition, and has roots in the concept of a woman moving
from being her father’s property to her husband’s property upon
marriage. While there may be some aspects of this attitude in
classical Muslim jurisprudence (eg. “obedience” of the wife) – an
entirely different topic – it at least was never reflected in
people’s names and kunyas (identifying names beyond the first
name). Another evidence that Islam doesn’t require changing one’s
birth name is the precedence that even “adopted” children (eg. Zayd
raised by the Prophet (S) are not to take their foster parents’
names, but are to keep all their birth rights of their natural
parents, including their name as “son/daughter of so-and-so”.
Beyond all that,
there is the basic principle that everything is permissible unless
prohibited. And there is nothing prohibiting a woman from keeping
her name. By the same token, there is nothing prohibiting a woman
from changing her name either. It is left to our own personal
discretion and circumstances. Inshallah, this has helped you and
may God guide us all.
Q: Islam and
Violent Events (Sept 11, etc.)
MWL: We understand
your anger and disillusionment with Muslims (in general) when
surrounded by intense media influence and in the aftermath of the
shocking event of September 11, 2001.
It is unimaginable
that any individual of any religion (Jew, Christian or Muslim) would
participate in this horrific violent act in the name of God. It is
also unfortunate that the media and others have chosen to attribute
this act and other violent acts to the religion of Islam.
There have been
heinous acts committed throughout the centuries by individuals of
all religions but that is no justification for any of them. Any
educated person may well understand the difference between a
practicing Jew, Christian and Muslim as opposed to an individual who
uses religion to his own gain for his/her agenda. Killing innocent
human beings is wrong and just as practicing Jews follow the Ten
Commandments – so do we, practicing Muslims. The killing of
Christian worshippers in Pakistan is wrong or the suicide bombings
in the other listed countries are wrong.
So many Americans
are confused by what they hear on the media but many of them are
visiting bookstores, mosques and getting to know Islam for what it
really is and not some wild, violent religion portrayed by the
media. It is our hope then, that you and other Americans will be
able to better discern facts from the misrepresentations in the
MWL: The MWL at
this time is exploring a restructuring of our organization to
develop general membership and we will keep you posted through our
Genital Mutilation/Reversing Procedure
MWL: There are
numerous organizations, mostly based in Africa, that deal with this
issue. The World Health Organization has information and would also
have some links. Regarding the procedure to de-infibulate women, we
would refer you to the website of the American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists based here in the US. They have
produced educational materials on this issue for their members and
perhaps for the general public which specifically addresses the
procedure involved for restoring normal (or as normal as possible
under the circumstances) anatomy for women seeking care.
will give you the information you are looking for and if you need
additional help or have more questions, let us know.
Q: Texts in
the Hadith re: FGM
MWL: We are very
familiar with the texts in the hadith and we disagree with some
people’s conclusion that female circumcision is mandatory in Islam.
What we can
determine from the hadiths is that FGC was a custom at the time of
the Prophet (PBUH) that he neither endorsed nor forbade. Maliki's
hadith regarding the "touching of the circumcised parts" also
reflects that it was the norm among the people at the time. As you
know, all Muslim males everywhere in the world are circumcised
shortly after birth. Men who convert to Islam undergo circumcision
as well. Over the past 20 years, male circumcision has been shown
to have health benefits that could not have been predicted thousands
of years ago: circumcised men have lower HIV infection rates;
uncircumcised men are more likely to transmit HPV to their partners
which can cause cervical cancer.
Of course, we
follow the Sunnah because it is what Allah (SWT) had ordered in the
Qur'an. But the beauty of Islam in general is that the wisdom of
God's law continues to be made manifest through our advanced
knowledge of science and nature over time.
It is hard to see
anything similar with respect to female circumcision, or "hoodectomy."
I am a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist and have examined
dozens of women who have undergone some form of female genital
cutting from all over the world. I have never seen a single woman
have only the prepuce or hood of the clitoris removed. Usually,
part or all of the clitoris is removed. Other women (especially if
they were circumcised in infancy) had a portion of their labia
minora removed. In the most extreme cases (as practiced in Somalia,
Sudan and elsewhere) all of the external genitalia have been removed
leaving only a small opening for the passage of blood and urine.
As a surgeon, I can
tell you that the only way technically that the prepuce can be
removed is by using specialized instruments (i.e. mosquito forceps)
to create a plane between the prepuce and the clitoris and then to
excise the "hood." I have never seen this done and can say that it
would be extremely difficult to carry out this procedure on a female
infant without some kind of magnification given that the clitoris is
very small. Therefore, such a procedure would have to take place in
a medical setting, under aseptic technique with the use of general
and/or local anesthesia.
circumcision has never been adopted by the vast majority of Muslims,
it would be hard to imagine that such a recommendation would be
followed by millions of Muslim women around the world. My
experience has been that this practice has led to great pain and
suffering, physically, emotionally and psychologically of millions
of women and girls. That cannot be consistent with the goals of
Shariah and Islam in general.
So because it is
mentioned in the texts is not reason enough to adopt it and enforce
it as a practice. Of course, there are knowledgeable religious
scholars who can speak to the doctrinal aspects of this practice.
As a Muslim activist who cares about women, I can say that, in
practice, female circumcision has no place in our communities.
While it may be
desirable to perform "hoodectomy" in what you believe to be is in
accordance with the Sunnah, my feeling is that it is technically
impossible to do so. I also doubt that the early circumcisers
removed just the hood of the clitoris. I suspect they grabbed what
they could see (most likely the labia minora or majora) and cut a
piece off. I'm not sure how it is done in Malaysia but I wonder if
the prepuce is truly removed or simply a portion of the labia.
While there may be benefits (as you reference in your email), we
believe that there is much more harm than good that is taking place
as female circumcision is practiced today.
Finally, we hope
that Muslims such as yourself are strong advocates for other issues
pertaining to women such as the education of girls, which, as you
know, was highly valued by our beloved Prophet (PBUH). Sadly,
Muslim women and girls around the world are among the least
educated, most impoverished groups. Insha-Allah, we can work
together to improve their situation.
Allah (swt) knows
Q: History of
MWL: The Muslim
Women’s League (MWL) is a non-profit organization working to
strengthen the role of Muslim women through education, and awareness
of Islam and women’s rights. This organization is also dedicated to
informing non-Muslims about Islam in order to dispel stereotypes and
prevent discrimination. There is a particular emphasis on programs,
which address misconceptions about women in Islam, enhance the
self-esteem of Muslim girls and project positive role models.
The MWL was formed
in 1992 when local civic and religious women’s groups were looking
for a way to help the women in Bosnia. The Muslim Women’s League
spearheaded the formation of the Women’s Coalition Against Ethnic
Cleansing, whose main goal was to bring an end to the atrocities,
including rape, being committed against Bosnia women. We led two
delegations to Croatia to determine which grassroots women’s groups
we could support and helped fundraise over $30,000 in donations for
Zena B-H and Kareta, both based in Zagreb, Croatia. The MWL was able
to work with the members of the coalition and provide effective
leadership. Our participation helped to enhance awareness about
Muslim women in general and improve relations between groups that
otherwise might not be involved in common projects.
In 1995, we
participated in the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing,
China. Dr. Al-Marayati (then MWL President) was a member of the
official US delegation and Asifa Quraishi and Samer Hathout attended
as board members of the MWL, the only American Muslim NGO. We held
a workshop on the challenges and opportunities facing American
Muslim women. By networking with Muslim women from around the
world, particularly with groups like Sisters in Islam from Malaysia,
we were able to appreciate that our views resonate with many Muslim
women who are looking for faith-based ways of dealing with
oppressive practices that reinforce the status quo.
As a result of our
participation in the Beijing Conference, we developed a relationship
with Mrs. Clinton that resulted in her attendance at a luncheon in
her honor in May 1996. In 1997, the MWL in conjunction with the
Muslim Public Affairs Council hosted, at Mrs. Clinton’s invitation,
a celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr, marking the end of our month of
fasting, Ramadan. These events serve to link American Muslims to
the greater community in which we have a vital role to play.
In August 1998, we
conducted the first annual Muslim Girls Sports Camp, which was held
for one week at Westridge Girl’s School in Pasadena California. The
purpose of this day camp is to increase girl’s participation in
sports (soccer, basketball, volleyball, and tennis), particularly
between the ages of 9 and 16 years. Studies have shown that
involvement in athletics increases girl’s self-esteem, confidence,
and leadership opportunities as well as reduce teen-age pregnancy
and drug use. Muslim girls, in particular, often are not allowed to
participate in sports in other settings due to perceived cultural
and religious restrictions. We expanded this program to two weeks
in 1999 and are committed to continuing this annual project in the
Currently we are in
the last year of a three-year grant program designed to focus on the
reproductive health of Muslim women. The project has two major
components, service and education. We have partnered with the Umma
Clinic, the only free clinic in South Central Los Angeles, and NISWA,
an organization that runs a shelter for women and children who are
victims of domestic violence in Southern California. The program
provides needed reproductive health and family planning,
contraceptive counseling, STD prevention and cancer screenings to
underserved populations. Our educational project has developed a
sex education curriculum for Muslim schools, a series of brochures
related to reproductive health with a particular focus on issues of
concern to Muslim women, health fairs, a domestic violence seminar
and sensitivity training for health care professionals related to
the special needs of Muslim women patients.
The MWL interacts
with the larger community on a variety of levels including public
speaking, publications, conferences and participation in the State
Department Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, and the
Harvard Pluralism Project, all of which help to dispel stereotypes
others have regarding Muslim women and Islam in general. Such
efforts directly impact the Muslim community here, who suffer from
discrimination and harassment mainly based on ignorance. In
addition, by focusing awareness among Muslims of women’s rights in
Islam, we continuously strive to improve the status of women in the
Q: From the research I have done, many aspects
of Islam seem to be liberating for women. This seems to be contrary
to the western conception of Muslim women in the Middle East. What
do you believe to be the causes for discrimination against Muslim
MWL: The Quran seeks to elevate the
relationship between man and woman to one of equality, sheltering
and shielding each other. You can refer to our website where there
are specific Quranic references to equality, inheritance, etc.
Also, I think the western view of Muslim women
is very negative and somewhat condescending. Our organization hopes
to address these misconceptions and present a progressive Muslim
Q: An issue that has evoked much interest
among American women is that of the veil. I have encountered a lot
of contradicting information regarding the veil and have discovered
that it is a touchy subject. Do you think the differences of
opinions are influenced by the regions in which these women live?
MWL: Yes, you are correct, the veil is a
sensitive issue and I would suggest that you approach it with
caution. The Quran requires both men and women to lower their gaze
and dress modestly (see our website for the exact verses). All
women wear a scarf of some kind when they pray, so your question is
related to wearing a scarf outside the home or around men they are
not directly related to. Some women believe they best fulfill their
religious requirement for modesty by covering their hair, others
wear a loose coat, scarf, and sometimes gloves, others cover their
face. If you ask them if they are oppressed, they will tell you no,
they feel protected and valued by covering themselves and that
western women who uncover themselves and are sex objects are
oppressed. Other women, for a number of reasons do not wear a
scarf, but otherwise dress modestly. The MWL believes this is a
personal decision between a woman and Allah (God) and should not be
imposed by others. A woman should not be forced to wear a scarf in
countries such as the gulf region nor should they be required to
take it off in order to serve in the Turkish Legislature.
Q: I'm also interested in other traditions,
such as the prayer ritual. I've read that it is both a physical and
mental process. Could you describe it to me? Is it the same for
MWL: There are many books about prayer (you
can go to Islamscope or MVI sites to order books). As with any
religion, there are the specific rituals of prayer and the larger
picture of what prayer is to accomplish. Muslims pray 5 times a
day, sunrise, early and late afternoon, sunset and evening. Muslims
face towards Mecca and recite verses from the Quran and assume
various positions, standing, bending from the waist, on your knees
but leaning back on your heels and placing your forehead to the
floor. The overall objective is to take time out of our busy
schedules at various times of the day to establish a personal
connection with God. We do not have intercessors between Allah and
ourselves, it is a very personal process where we ask Allah for
help, guidance, health or anything we need.
Q: Islam seems like such a peaceful way
of life, yet there is still so much conflict in the middle-east,
where a large percentage of the population is Muslim. Do you have
any idea why this might be so?
MWL: Actually the country with the largest
population of Muslims is Indonesia, not an Arab country but your
point is taken. This is a political and historical question more
than a religious question. One area that you should study is how
current middle eastern countries were colonized by European
countries in the early 1900's (England colonized, Iraq and Egypt,
France colonized Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, and Morocco and Italy
colonized Libya) as well as how Europe created arbitrary borders and
established countries that never existed prior to world war II.
(friction which caused the first gulf war between Iraq and Kuwait).
The establishment of Israel is another sensitive issue, again done
after world war II, taking land from one people and giving it to
Q: Do you feel that extremist groups such as
the Taliban have “distorted" views of Islam?
MWL: Yes, greatly. The media gives extensive
time to these fringe groups but the great majority of Muslims find
it difficult to reach the wider American public.
Q: I know this is a broad question, but what
is it about Islam that you find most rewarding or appealing?
MWL: Islam literally means peace. The Quran
is filled with references to justice and fair dealing with each
other. Muslims look at all of the prophets from Adam to Muhammad as
a continual line of specially selected human beings who brought
mankind a message from God. We respect all prophets, Abraham
(Ibrahim), Jesus (Issa), Noah (Nuh), Moses (Musa) and all of God's
other messengers. We believe that there is hope in that message for
our future, knowing that we have much more in common that we have
Q: Opinion of American Muslim women re: the US
actions against Iraq
MWL: We have no statistics to on opinions of
American Muslim women re: the US actions against Iraq.
Q: Misconceptions of Muslim women
MWL: Muslim women tend to be stereotyped as
"oppressed," "backward," and "ignorant" as well as "subservient to
men." The veil (for Muslim women who choose to wear it for modesty
purposes) seems to have casted them into this category. American
society equates this with the status of "oppression." Rather, I
think most Muslim women would like to be judged on their actions and
contributions to our families, communities and society as a whole.
Q: What is the traditional role of Muslim
women in the Middle East?
MWL: We are an American Muslim Women's
organization and this question should be posed to women residing in
the Middle East (but may differ with respect to the individual
countries and culture differences).
Q: How differently are Muslim men vs. women perceived in
MWL: It appears Muslim men have been
stereotyped as "terrorists" ("violent") - this is what one would
surmise when watching images portrayed by the media.
Q: Muslim Feminists
MWL: This is not a title we use although our
organization works toward bringing to light our God-given rights and
educating women of their rights as well. Muslim men and women work
toward similar goals of becoming more God-conscious and contributing
positively to society (establishing social justice and peace).
MWL: The proper
term to use regarding the dress, and particularly the head covering,
of a Muslim woman is "hijab". The burka is a style of dress that is
limited to certain countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan. We have
never seen any Muslim women in America actually wearing a burka.
There is no single
definition of Islamic dress or hijab. It depends on whom you ask.
Most Muslim women will define what is proper for themselves. So a
headscarf pulled back as you describe above can qualify as a
religious head-covering as does a scarf pulled around the front and
under the chin that covers the shoulders. A few Muslim women cover
their face, too, leaving only a small opening for the eyes. This is
usually referred to as "niqab" and it, too, is considered religious
Basically, if a
Muslim woman covers her hair for religious reasons, there isn't one
style that is "right" and another that isn't. Some women, especially
after 9/11, began to cover their hair with hats so as not to draw
attention to themselves. This is still within the guidelines of
Islam which many believe dictates that a woman's hair should not be
seen in public. Bottom line is that it doesn't really matter how
she chooses to cover it, especially from your perspective when you
are trying to determine how to approach these individuals. From a
religious perspective, Muslims will argue about what constitutes
proper dress for women, but, in the end, the woman herself makes the
MWL: The Afghanistan Report posted on our
website may give some insight to your question whether Afghan women
believe that Westerners are trying to push their cultural beliefs
and practices on Afghan women. When you get a chance to read the
report issues such as landmines, poverty, malnutrition, lack of
educational facilities, unemployment, illiteracy are vital subjects on
every Afghan man's and woman's mind. I went back to Afghanistan after 21
years of war and devastation. I found my country destroyed but not
the spirit of its people and its culture of hospitality. Please
read the section regarding the Rabat Refugee Camp. Our 19 member
delegation was treated as compassionate Americans.
Q: Do Afghans think the US foreign
policy is compassionate?
MWL: No. Our delegation trip coincided with a
meeting of the Loya Jerga (Grand Assembly) held in Kabul to draw the
road map that the country will take. Prominent
Afghan women such as Dr. Simar Samar Minister
of Women's Affairs, Tajwar Kakar the Deputy Minister of Women's
Affair and other Afghan women who participated in this Grand
Assembly objected to the presence of Warlords in the Assembly.
These Warlords committed crimes in Afghanistan. I do discuss why
the Warlords became part of the political process in the section
titled "Political Realties." One of the reason that the Warlords
became part of the political process was due to the US's mission to
capture Taliban and Al Qaeda members. The US cut deals with the
warlords and pressured the Kabul government to keep the warlords in
power. This policy does not threaten Afghan women's culture but
does threaten Afghanistan's destiny. I agreed with Ahmed Rashid's
analysis when he states in his book "Taliban," that the US should be
criticized for '"picking up single issues and creating policies
around them, whether it be oil pipelines, the treatment of women or
Q: Do Muslim women really feel about
Westerners and their practices?
MWL: One should differentiate between people
and policies. If Muslim and Western women have an objective
understanding of each other, they have a lot in common. An
objective understanding means we look beyond our attire and physical
presentation of assumed liberation or subjugation. Our goals of
justice, peace, equality, humanity, morality are our common bond.
Q: What is your view of Islam in the
MWL: Our understanding of Islam as a religion
is that it is not in conflict with modernity or democracy. If you
ask why some predominantly Muslim counties are not democratic, I
would have to study and analyze the impact of colonialism,
imperialism, power and creed in those societies. A book that you
may find interesting would be Islam and Democracy, Fear of the
Modern World by Fatima Mernissi. A different view could be derived
from The Principles of State and Government is Islam written by
Muhammad Asad and Islam At the Crossroads written by Muhammad Asad.
Permission to Use MWL Articles
MWL: The Muslim
Women League allows the use of their articles for the purpose of
education etc. as long as it is made clear that it is the property
of the Muslim Women's League and that the article has "posted with
permission of the MWL" on it. We would be happy if you kept us
abreast of the developments of your project and if you have any
feedback re: our articles. May God bless you and help you in your
Traveling with Male Relative
MWL: In Islam, it
is not forbidden for women to attend a coeducational school. Some
families prefer this and feel very strongly about it because they
want to minimize the chance that their daughter will be involved in
relationships with men that she is not related to. But there is no
text (i.e. Qur'an or hadith) that say this is required Islamically.
The restriction on
travel comes from classical Islamic jurisprudence that says that
women are not to travel away from home (like on a trip, not just
going outside the house) without a male family member accompanying
them. While this may be what is recommended classically, it is not
enforced except in strict Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia.
Also, it is subject to interpretation. In the past, this limitation
had more to do with safety than limiting the movement of women
(imagine a woman traveling alone on a camel in the middle of the
desert. Since that is no longer an issue in most circumstances, it
could be argued that the rationale for such a restriction no longer
Again, both issues
mentioned may be practiced by some Muslims in accordance with the
school of thought in Islamic jurisprudence that they identify with
but they are not universally applied in the Muslim world.
Status in the Middle East
MWL: The topic of
the status of women in countries such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, or
Saudi Arabia, is out of our scope. We suggest you contact Muslim
women organizations in those countries for firsthand information.
We would also suggest you study the differences of religion versus
culture to delineate the factors for certain attitudes/ practices.
Q: Why Muslim Men vs. Muslim Women Can Marry
People of the Book?
MWL: The Qur'an discusses marriage to
non-Muslims in two different chapters. In the first instance,
Muslim men are advised that they can marry from among the women of
the People of the Book (Surah 5, verse 5). In another chapter, the
believers (men and women) are told that it is forbidden to marry
from among the polytheists (mushrikeen) (Surah 60, verses 10-11).
These are the only two Qur'anic references
that deal with this issue. In our research to date, we have not
come across any hadith that deal with this specific question. Based
on the unanimous acceptance by Muslim scholars of the notion that
Muslim women can only marry Muslim men, we conclude that this ruling
is based on Ijma'a, or consensus of the 'ulema.
As you may know, Islamic rulings affecting
legal matters are based on four major sources: Qur'an, Hadith, Ijma'
and Qiyas (reasoning by analogy). The issue of Ijma' is not without
controversy as the various schools of thought have different
definitions of what constitutes ijma': is it consensus by certain
scholars in a certain place in a certain time? What happens if one
scholar disagrees? How are such rulings documented? It seems that
some of these issues evolve and then are institutionalized over time
and are not decided upon at one moment where they are then written
down for posterity.
All of this may not help much in addressing
your question, but it might explain why this is such an entrenched
and rarely questioned practice among Muslims. In many societies,
Muslim women who marry outside the faith are ostracized or
threatened. Oftentimes the prospective husband will convert in
name only to satisfy his bride's family and reduce the chances for
conflict. Some critics of Islam argue that this is a form of
"forced" conversion, even though the men who make this choice do so
willingly and are free not to convert.
The argument used to explain this ruling is
that in most cases, children follow the faith of their fathers and
so if a Muslim woman marries a non-Muslim man, her children are less
likely to become Muslims. Many people believe that exactly the
opposite will happen since the woman is often the primary caretaker
of the children and thus has the most influence. Nevertheless, this
is the explanation given.
The Muslim establishment rarely if ever
discusses this issue as it is perceived as a very threatening
subject. That is to say, if Muslim women begin to marry
non-Muslims, the whole Ummah will be weakened which will lead to the
decline of Islam in general.
In our humble opinion, if a Muslim, male or
female, is devout, she will seek out someone who shares her belief
system. The important question is not whether one's spouse is
Muslim, but whether the individual places a priority on religious
faith in the first place. Matters of spirituality, faith and
commitment are exceedingly private, such that none of us has the
authority to judge intentions or behavior.
Clearly, this issue deserves a substantive
discussion especially for Muslims living as minorities in non-Muslim
Q: Male Dominance Effect on Females
MWL: This is a
serious issue that results in the disregard for women resulting in
the repression of women. This repression translates into many of
the current issues our articles address. These issues include forced
early marriage, deprivation of women's right for advanced education,
honor killings and other forms of violence, including but not
limited to domestic violence, female genital mutilation etc. We
appreciate your points and will explore this suggestion of posting
an article delineating this matter.
Q: Do you
know the Muslim perspective on abortion if the woman is being
MWL: I am assuming that she is married. If
this is the case, the majority of scholars say that abortion is ok
if the woman's life is in danger, that is, if the pregnancy could be
life-threatening. In the past, according to all of the major
schools of thought, abortion was considered a form of birth control
and therefore lawful during the first trimester. At that time, a
woman's health and that of her children would be taken into
I suspect that this person's health (mental
and otherwise) is suffering greatly while she is being abused.
Also, many men increase their acts of violence against their wives
during pregnancy, threatening both the mother and the child.
Finally, during the war in Bosnia, Muslim clerics ruled that it was
lawful for Bosnian women to terminate pregnancies resulting from the
rape of Serbian soldiers.
This is not an easy decision to make and we
are not in a position to give or deny permission. I know many times
individuals seek validation to support their decisions and I
certainly understand that need.
But all we can do is give the information as
we know it, recommend that she pray and ask Allah for guidance and
then make a decision. We would then support her emotionally.
of Muslim Women to Non-Muslim Men
MWL: It is true
that the Qur'an does not explicitly prohibit the marriage between a
Muslim woman and a Christian or Jewish man. Interestingly, the
Qur'an is very clear that Muslim men and Muslim women must not marry
pagans. The prohibition against marriages between Muslim women and
Christian or Jewish men is based on a consensus of Muslim scholars
over the centuries. It is our experience that this perspective has
not changed. We are not aware of any well-established scholars who
support an alternative view.
For Muslims living
in non-Muslim countries, the question really becomes one more of
cultural and family matters than one of Islam. In this country, it
is not against the law to marry anyone of your choosing. What
Muslim women face is potential ostracism by their family and
community and whether or not someone can deal with that is the major
question...especially if the marriage doesn't work out. Also, an
observant Muslim woman who is devoted to God may wonder if marrying
outside of her faith constitutes a sin and that would interfere with
her decision to marry a non-Muslim.
You are correct
that it doesn't make sense for a family to prefer a bad Muslim man
for their daughter over a decent, kind, respectful non-Muslim. In
fact, we know of several instances where the non-Muslim husband has
turned out to be a devoted son-in-law as well.
In the end, this is
a decision that only a couple can make. Some of us were brought up
in mixed faith households and the circumstances were very confusing
for the children, to say the least. The main reason that Muslims
are advised to marry other Muslims (this is true for men too, by the
way) is to ensure that the children will be raised as Muslims. The
general viewpoint is that it is more likely for that to be the case
if the father is Muslim. This is a point that you may disagree
with, but it is the main rationale for the tradition.
We doubt that you
will find the "permission" you seek from a reputable Islamic source
to say that it is lawful for you and your friend to marry. Our
experience is that couples often look for such validation to present
to the girl's family to diminish the degree of resistance that is
encountered. Unfortunately, even if you find someone who interprets
the religious texts differently, it usually is not enough to
convince parents who have a somewhat rigid understanding of Islam
(for example, you could go to the MuslimWakeUp website for more
progressive and liberal interpretations of many issues, but that
might not persuade more traditional Muslims.)
So, in the end,
this simply becomes a question of choice and a willingness to accept
the consequences of going through with a difficult decision. To us,
the best way to seek guidance in these circumstances is to ask God.
The Muslim prayer, known as istikhara, involves asking God to bring
something nearer to you if it is good for you and good for your
Islam and to remove it from you if it is harmful to you and harmful
to your Islam. Usually, this prayer is done at night and upon
wakening one experiences a kind of awareness or some other sign that
is God's response.
We wish you the
best in your search for the truth. May God guide you, the ones you
love and all of us to the straight path.
MWL: As you point
out, the decision of some Muslims not to shake the hand of the
opposite sex is more based on culture than on religion. However,
there are several hadiths (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) that serve
as the basis for which individuals choose not to shake hands.
First, the Prophet did not shake hands with women when they gave
their pledge of allegiance. Second, he reportedly said that any
physical contact between a man and woman who are not related is
later determined that the restrictions on both dress and physical
contact could be waived in cases of necessity, like in the care of
patients. This is an accepted concept although many Muslims still
prefer being cared for by a physician of the same gender. Sometimes
that is impossible and therefore they accept the situation and make
the best of it.
A woman's choice to
cover or uncover any part of her body is her choice. It may appear
oppressive to many of us and certainly should not be imposed under
any circumstances, but is it right for us to deny women the right to
choose how to dress? Sometimes the offense comes from a sense that
something is wrong with us such that the woman is uncomfortable
revealing herself in our company. Also, it is difficult to get to
know a person when her face is covered, but it is not impossible and
you might be surprised about what you find if you have a chance to
get to know her.
In certain areas of
the Arabian Gulf countries, people are very conservative, like your
colleague and his wife. Adjusting to the exact opposite situation
here in the US or Canada is difficult and disorienting, especially
at a time when Islam and Muslims are viewed so negatively. Some
Muslims from overseas choose not to integrate or adopt customs of
their host country and maintain an isolated existence, socializing
only with members of their own community. And even though they've
been there for 5 years, they still may be under the impression that
their stay is not permanent.
I understand your
feelings since I have experienced them myself. But overtime, with
experiences with a variety of people, I found that, while my own
understanding of Islam is different, I was in no position to judge
them and what was most important to me was developing a sense of
mutual respect. If your colleague is appropriate in all other ways,
it would be generous of you to overlook the hand-shaking issue since
I doubt it will not change any time soon.
Your ability to
respect your colleague for his behavior as a professional is
probably more important than how you feel about his personal life
and religious practices. If he treats you as an equal in all other
aspects of the job, that is tremendously important since, working
alongside women in the first place may be something he had to adjust
MWL: We recommend
you contact New Star Family Center: (310) 803-5775.
Q: Issue of
MWL: This question
addresses the issue of 'awra which is that part of the body that is
not to be seen by anyone other than a person's spouse or physician.
The understanding of the definition of 'awra' is based on
interpretations of hadith since the Qur'an is silent on this issue.
In Yusuf al-Qaradawi's
The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam, he quotes the following hadith
from Muslim, Abu Daoud and Tirmidhi: A man should not look at the 'awra
of another man nor a woman of a woman.
He goes on to state
that the 'awra of a man is the area from his navel to his knee
although some jurists (like Ibn Malik) do not include the knee (i.e.
genital area only). According to al-Qaradawi, a woman's 'awra
(when she is in the presence of other women or men who are part of
her family) includes her back, abdomen, thighs and genital area. He
does acknowledge that other scholars consider a woman's awra to be
from her navel to her knees.
Most scholars agree
the 'awra does not include the breasts since women are likely to
breastfeed infants in front of one another.
All of these things
apply after a girl has reached puberty, not before. Some people
would say that the main thing is not to be naked in front of others
and to avoid showing the genital area to anyone at the very least.
Many Muslim women feel comfortable wearing bathing suits and
swimming in front of each other but a lot of them prefer to wear
shorts or trunks over their swimsuits.
Q: Halal vs.
MWL: People who eat
only zabiha meat usually just eat fish or non-meat (i.e. vegetarian)
food when they travel. If they must have meat, then they have to
decide if they think its ok or not to eat meat that has not been
killed according to the Islamic standards (zabiha). Many Muslims
feel that it is ok (halal) to eat the food, including meat, of
Christians and Jews. So for some, that means eating kosher foods
and for others it means eating whatever is available. It really
depends on what the person decides to do. I'm sure there are
numerous scholars who have issued fatwas about this issue.