Women's Rigts in Islam, by Sayed Mumtaz Ali (Part 1)

Translated by Masood Ashraf Raja


In these few pages I have explained the crux of my thoughts about the rights of women, a subject upon which I have often thought and reflected. Although my thoughts have gone through slight changes over a period, my views on all- important aspects of this subject have neither weakened nor changed too drastically. In fact, I believe that these reflections have strengthened my resolve and bettered my character. I am hopeful that my expression of these thoughts and the attendant practice of these ideas would enhance the cultural development of our nation. And that is the reason I am daring to share my thoughts openly.

I am aware that my thoughts would be given various unsavory names: emulating English values will be one of the charges brought against me and my views. A hundred pens will write against me and numerous lips will criticize my attempt. But those true souls who find the way of the Prophet (peace be upon him) better than their own family values will find some truth in my thoughts and will, I hope, attempt to live according to the example of the Prophet. And the barbs of the critics, I am sure, will not deter these true souls.

If my this humble attempt enables, in any way, the rights of one lone old woman to be upheld in Hindustan, I would consider it a worthwhile reward of my efforts.

The False Preference of Men Over Women

Men and women are both part of the human race and cannot, therefore, have any essential preference of one over the other. A few characteristics that privilege men over women are strictly related to the societal role played by men while using those [gender-specific] characteristics. Other than these existential differences, all other differences that fix a male essence and a female essence are just arbitrary and unreliable. These existential differences are always caused by the material conditions such as the differences in one’s regional abode, climate, difference of age, or cultural differences. I will prove that the gender differences that have been normative in our current culture, a difference that should have been based in natural division of labor, are highly accentuated and are based in myth, prejudice, and male ignorance. Thus, our current explanation of gender roles is harmful and based on uncivilized and prehistoric barbaric ideas.

The entire edifice of our culture is based on this false premise: Men are rulers, women the subjects, and that the women are created for men’s comfort.

From this it is construed that men have the same rights over women as they have on other things that they own and in such a relationship women can never be considered men’s equal. Now if men had considered this unclean principle only as a product of their male prejudice, I would have had no problem with it. But the tragedy is that men consider this claim to be rational, just, and divinely inspired. To refute these claims and to prove them wrong is the main purpose of this book.

I will conduct this discussion in five parts. In Part 1, I will refute the evidence used to prove privilege of men over women; Part 2 deals with the question of women’s education and Part 3 with Purdah. In part four I will discuss the rules of marriage, and in part 5 the cultural norms for marriage.