A Question Related to Women and Activism in the West

Author: Resident Fatwa Committee
| Category: Woman Matters

Question:

Is it permissible that a woman stands to give a word before a congregation of men and women? This is because in the graduation ceremonies male students are asked to give a word when in the meantime, some do not allow girls although they may be more efficient than boys.

In the USA, the issue of equality of men and women, in terms of rights and duties, is a basic one, and the participation of women in the Islamic action is mandatory. In our Islamic schools, the girls proved themselves cleverer and more eloquent than boys. Therefore, on what base would we prevent them from carrying this noble mission and from participating actively and enjoying this wonderful moment of their lives at the end of the academic year?

Indeed the psychological distress that this attitude causes to our girls and the feeling of inferiority it transmits to them in the fields of Islamic action and science lead to many negative results. There is no doubt that in many situations, the role women play in USA is as important as that of men. Furthermore, the life style dictates that many of them work in scientific circles, not necessarily Islamic, in which the presentation of researches and papers and the like by women is an ordinary and a very usual matter; there is nothing wrong or strange about it. We would say that this is a common issue and a customary matter here that does not transgress the moral ethics and values.

Many of our daughters graduate with excellent grades and go to high-ranking universities where they compete with others on scientific excellence. For instance, I have three daughters and I was very keen to educate them and to make them excel. They all graduated with excellent degrees, praise be to Allah. One of them is a surgeon and participates in scientific congresses with outstanding papers and presents reports of her patients before a team of specialized doctors, whereby they can make critical decisions related to survival and mortality of one of the patients or the injured. We are in a dire need for clever Muslim female doctors especially in the field of surgery. Whatever fulfills an obligatory matter is obligatory. How on earth could I tell her that it is unlawful for her to lecture males?

My second daughter is a teacher of science, English language and the Noble Qur’an to class 2 secondary in a mixed school. My third daughter is a lecturer in the University of Kansas and was nominated by the university to the best university staff award of the academic year. She too, has important researches published in specialized scientific journals and has written scientific books in collaboration with other non-Muslim scientists. In addition, she has scientific papers, which she intend to present in highly ranked scientific congresses within the next few months. How dare I stand in the face of this progressive scientific excellence and tell her that it is unlawful for her to lecture men?

It could be that some of the knowledgeable eminent scholars based their opinion of the unlawfulness of the participation of women in the advisory council and of giving a word in the graduation ceremony on the fact that the Prophet (PBUH) did not do that and did not appoint a woman to any of the leading positions. On the contrary, it is authenticated that he (PBUH) said, “Such people as ruled by a lady will never be successful.” I wonder whether not doing it indicates it is unlawful or offended. Is this a fixed matter that we should not deviate from or there is vastness? Can this be included among the transactions that are subject to change with the change of time, place, circumstances and concomitants or is it an established Islamic rule?

In what way can we apply to this matter the criteria that our eminent sheikh Dr. Salah as-Sawy explained in his valuable book “The Established and the Variables in the Course of Islamic Action”? Was the Prophetic hadith (narration) relevant to specific circumstances or it is a general command that applies at all times and places and has no restrictions? Does this hadith undervalue the rank of women? And to what extent does it agree with the success of the Queen of Sheba as mentioned in Surat an-Naml? The Qur’an did not comment negatively that she was the leader of her people. Is it possible that we take it as absolute that this hadith signifies unlawfulness? Is there a ground for comparing this matter to Allah’s saying, “And you will never be able to be equal [in feeling] between wives, even if you should strive [to do so].” [4:129]; knowing that Allah made it lawful for man to marry more than one woman?

From the standpoint of Dawah , if the press took notice of this matter, they would make a story out of it to the public in the news agencies. How can we justify our view on this subject?

Answer by the Resident Fatwa Committee:

We ask Allah to bless you and to render your knowledge a reserve for Islam and the Muslims. Peace, Mercy and Blessings of Allah be upon you.

In the Name of Allah, The all Merciful, The Ever-Merciful.

Praise be to Allah; Prayers and Peace of Allah be upon the Messenger of Allah, his household and his companions.

In its conference about Political Participation held in Sacramento, and its convention on The Contemporary Issues Concerning the Youth Outside the Lands of Islam held in Montreal, Canada, AMJA jurists and scholars discussed some issues concerning women. Of the issues discussed were the mixing of men and women and the legibility of women for political participation. Here are the decisions and recommendations made in this regard:

First: On the mixing of men and women:

Mixing is a collective term that encompasses both lawful and unlawful matters; both of which include what is agreed upon and what is controversial.

If the term is meant to describe the meeting of men and women in open places for performing a common work, be it a religious or a worldly one and there is adherence to religious regulations such as hijab, holding down one’s gaze, and the like, and the meeting is set to serve this purpose, then there is no sin in that. Similarly is the mixing of men and women outdoors to attend the two eid (feast) prayers, during hajj (pilgrimage) around the sacred places and in open religious lessons in the mosque or anywhere. Women may go to public places to buy their needs on condition that they adhere to hijab and to remain, as much as possible, at a distance from men; both men and women should stick to lowering the gaze and chastity.

It is to be stressed that the separation between the two sexes is important in educational institutions as this is more apt to conserve the values, keep away temptations and block the way to excuses and is more stimulating for focusing on learning. Lately, some of the educational institutions in Western countries started to recognize this.

Concerning mixing of men and women in queues, the rule is forbiddance unless there is a necessity or a legally accepted extreme need. The latter is either stated in texts or judged by analogy; for instance, in wars, courts, and in medicine. It should be taken into consideration that necessities and needs are judged according to their degrees.

There are certain regulations that should be followed whenever mixing is allowed for a necessity or an appreciable need. Of these regulations: gaze lowering, avoiding obscenities and messing, forbidding seclusion and body contact, preventing crowdedness, abiding by chastity and body covering and the place is set to aid in gaze lowering.

Excluded from the permissible interests and needs are the imposing of girls as presenters or to receive guests or the like in public meetings when there are boys that can carry out these jobs as efficiently and as professionally as girls.

Excluded also from the permissible interests and needs are the gathering of families on common mixed tables on the occasions of social activities or wedding banquets and so on.

There are factors that come into play, whether as restricting or expanding this issue. Looking up the texts and the work of the predecessors reveals that the ruling on mixing differs with the ages of men and women, the need calling for this mixing, and the surrounding circumstances such as the presence or absence of temptations. The regulator is the weighing of interests and blights. In these cases, the competent person has to consult the scholars on the specific situation and act accordingly.

The prime opinion is that caution should be exercised to adhere to the Islamic values that our religion recommends such as virtuousness, chastity, modesty and morality. The need for the participation of women and men in the field of charity and the cooperation in righteousness, piety, da’wa (missionary activity) and reformation should be taken into consideration. In such a case, a likely interest takes precedence over a suspected blight.

Second: The recommendations concerning the participation of Muslim women in political work:

Indeed, women are counterpart of men; and due to them is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable. The rule in religious speech is that it addresses men and women equally except that for which there is evidence on specifying one of them.

The fulfillment of house duties and the bringing up of children take precedence in a Muslim woman’s life. The relation between men and women has peculiarities that should be considered such as the unlawfulness of meeting in private with a stranger woman, or looking at her, or mixing with her unless there is a necessity.

A Muslim woman can participate in missionary and voluntary activities including political work in general, as long as she abides by the regulations of hijab and chastity, and according to what her circumstances permit and what suits her nature and constitution and does not violate her modesty or femininity.

There is no sin in the participation of women in the membership of the municipality or the Islamic centers whether as a voter or as a nominee within the aforementioned limits. This is if she is qualified, and the interest of the community calls for that. Newer means and measures that prevent or decrease the blights should be adopted. The membership of these councils is a sort of voluntary work, supervision and accounting. It is partial or specific authority that a Muslim woman can handle bearing no sin. It is not a general authority that entails general supervision or leadership of the Muslim nation, which the scholars agree that women are not competent to handle.

It is obvious that the responsibilities of a member of these municipalities, Islamic centers and national institutes differ from those of a principal or a leader in these places. The latter position entails burdens and mixing which a woman should be safeguarded from; such as frequent travelling, staying away from home during night and daytime. Hence, whenever this is the case, women should not bear these burdens. This is in appreciation of her natural mission and for withholding her from the party life and administrative loads.

The best setting for the participation of women is to be a delegate for women in these councils. This is through establishing special departments and committees for women in political parties and Islamic institutes to participate in political and missionary activities. This ensures the best utilization of their capabilities without breaching Sharia’s rulings.

When the need arises for the participation of men and women in public meetings to discuss matters that need the opinion of both, or decide on what is in the best interest of all, extreme caution should be paid to the Islamic rules on the mixing of both sexes with respect to the order of seats and the behavior of the participants.

As to what you mentioned on the talking of women to men in public circles, there is no sin as long as there is a necessity or an apparent interest and there is abidance by Islamic ethics. We should not impose such a situation; neither should we oppose, it as long as there is a necessity and there is no question about it.

We would like to mention more on the resolution of the association concerning the current social issues of the youths that is relevant to this case.

The rule is to lower one’s gaze in mixed meetings. It is permissible to look to women when there is a need for that such as in education, in witnessing, for treatment and the like.

There is nothing wrong with talking to a stranger woman as long as it is not in seclusion or questionable situations and there is a necessity or a considerable need for that, be it a religious or a worldly matter.

It is not sinful that women attend educational lessons without the presence of a barrier between them and men in places that accommodate both. This is on condition that the general Islamic ethics are taken into consideration. Women should be seated behind men or at a reasonable distance in such a way to permit the lowering of gaze. In narrow places, a barrier should be kept between them if possible, especially in the current times.

In cases of necessity and in unquestionable situations, there is no sinning that both sexes converse according to what is reasonable. It is advisable that one of the parents attend the conversation to shove away doubts about seclusion. Mere chatting and spending time invites temptation and is a sort of treading in the footsteps of Satan.

We hope this answers your question.

Please accept our best regards.

Resident Fatwa Committee

AMJA Resident Fatwa Committee.
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