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Friday, January 23, 2009

Islamic Concept of Modesty

Question: I am a western non-muslim woman. Help me understand the purpose of modesty.

Thank you for your interesting query. I trust the following explanation will provide the understanding you seek. At the outset I have to state that as a Muslim I shall be writing on this issue from a purely Islamic perspective, but will include real-life experience and human resources to support the Islamic theory.
It appears that in today's times it is only Islam that still extolls the virtue of, and advocates modesty in females. Other creeds and ideologies seem to have all discarded the importance of modesty in females, the ill effects of which I shall highlight later.

God created man and woman, and established a natural bond of love and attraction between the two. The purpose of this bond and affinity was to provide for the reproduction of human life over the period that this world would exist. Without this natural attraction and gravitation, there would be no cohabitation and no resultant off-spring. It was, therefore, imperative for the promotion of human life on earth that the one species be attracted to the other. Whilst experience of human nature will prove that both species experience different levels of attraction to the opposite sex, it is ultimately the male who is prone to greater desire and temptation. In Islam we believe the main reason for this is to put man to trial and test, an underlying concept that is attached to many of the laws of our Faith. Be that as it may, the fact is that according to this divinely ordained
system, man has always been attracted to woman.

In order to pass this test and prove himself to be truly a man of God, the male species has to avoid all forms of temptation, has to be always vigilant, control lust and desire, and wage a constant war against his lowly, base desires. When he achieves this, he rises to great spiritual heights and contributes to a morally clean society. On the other hand, should man fail to temper his lust and control desire, the disastrous consequences of such failure will reverberate throughout the strata of human life, as is evident today.
However, Almighty God has, in all fairness, levelled the playing fields by imposing certain restrictions on female dress and appearance, thus aiding man in his struggle against carnal desire. Such a rule for the female represents her test and trial. Women naturally pride themselves on attraction and adornment, so it is a challenge for her to rope in her instinct and aspirations, and adopt the path of modesty. So man is saddled with the challenge of lowering his gaze and safeguarding his desire, whilst the woman is challenged with the restriction of modesty in dress and appearance. The one compliments the other.

There is overwhelming evidence today, both in practice and scientific research that immodest dress, seductive behaviour and body language, as well as general exposure by women contribute to a number of societal ills. Dressing invitingly, speaking in a seductive tone, exposure of body parts and flesh, are factors that incite men towards rape, among others causes. Modern research on rape is clear on this. Females who exhibit their attractiveness and finery attract at first level, the stares of men, and at second level greater male attention. As a result married men who succumb to extra-marital affairs and carnal satisfaction end up destroying their marriages, whilst the unmarried are driven towards illicit sex, which in itself brings a host of complications that destroy moral fibre and impede spiritual advancement. Domestic problems create instability in the family environment, which in turn affects children, who then cannot perform at the desired educational levels to become role-players in their society. Through fornication the morality of a society is severely impaired. Greater female exposure brings about a ripple effect across the male spectrum of society, to the extent that it becomes acceptable for the female body to be subject to exposure and exhibit. The social evil of prostitution is another horrific spin-off from promiscuity.

It is therefore, in the best interest of humankind to impose modesty upon females. Islam has, through The Divine Plan of God Almighty, acknowledged these evils and created a mechanism to deal with it. This mechanism is the hijaab or system of segregation of sexes and the modest dress code for females which is mentioned in many places in the Holy Quran. In Chapter 33, verse 59 of the Holy Quran Almighty Allah provides the rationale for the law of hijaab or female concealment: "so that they may be recognized as noble or decent women, and thus not be molested"
Female molestation and sexual harassment are social ills endemic to our communities. The root cause of this on-going social malady is female immodesty and exposure. Even some female celebrities today have acknowledged such a reality. It is, therefore, a tribute to Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that structures were placed to deal with these social ills and safeguard the morality of both men and female.
In Islam a female is required to cover her entire body from the gaze of men who are not closely related to her, such as father, brother, son, nephew, etc. The face may be left open, but some Scholars opine that even the face should be concealed whenever possible.

This is, in a nutshell, the Islamic concept of modesty.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Better Business Dealings

Aayat number 282 of Surah Baqarah, is the longest verse in the Holy Quran, and consists of 21 sentences. “Aayat’ does not necessarily mean sentence; instead, one verse may consist of several sentences, as is the case with verse 282. Some verses of the Holy Quran contain only one sentence, whilst others have more than one.

Our focus here is the meanings conveyed to us by Allah Azza Wa Jall in verse 282 of Al-Baqarah. This aayat was revealed to teach Muslims how to conduct their business dealings and thus provide for greater harmony. There is no gainsaying that poor dealings lead to poor communication, and that in turn leads to break up of unity. Whilst it is clear that the causes of our failure to unite are not only found in bad business dealings, poor dealings can certainly be identified as at least one of the main causes for mutual discord.

To make it easy for readers, we will list hereunder the guidelines mentioned by Allah Ta’ala in verse 282, without going into the full translation of this aayat,
1. When doing a deal on credit, write it down. The word used in the aayat is dayn which means buying goods and paying for them later or paying for them in instalments.
2. If need be, solicit the help of a scribe or accountant to assist in recording the transaction.
3. The scribe or accountant should not refrain from fulfilling this responsibility when asked to do so. It has, thus, been made imperative upon him to record the deal between two parties if they request his assistance.
4. The scribe should write what is dictated and conveyed to him by the debtor (the one owing the money). But he (the debtor) should fear Allah and not cheat by dictating an amount less than what he actually owes.
5. If the debtor is ill or frail and cannot dictate, then he should appoint his representative to dictate the terms of the deal. The representative should be just in this matter.
6. Two witnesses should be present at this deal. Ideally the witnesses should be two adult (baaligh) males.. However, if two men are not available then one adult male and two adult females will suffice.
7. The witnesses must be people of integrity and reliability.
8. The witnesses should not refuse to witness a deal when asked to do so.
9. People should not be lethargic or complacent to write down even the smallest transaction.
10. If the deal is cash then there is no need to put it into writing.
11. However, we are encouraged to have witnesses for all transactions.
12. Witnesses and scribes are not to be intimidated or threatened in any way. This is an act of transgression.
13. Taqwa or God-fearing should be dominant when doing any deal. This will ensure honesty and fairness.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Women and Work

In a recent Radio program broadcast from Cape Town and aired on our local community Radio, a female interviewee mentioned that the idea of women not being allowed to work was that of ‘Indian’ Ulema and not standard teaching of Islam. She further averred that the Muslim woman should take her rightful place in society, and that is to get into the work place alongside male counterparts. This article is designed to refute these obnoxious and spurious claims that make a mockery of Islamic teaching.
Firstly, it is great lie to claim that ‘Indian’ Ulema, or Ulema from the Indo-Pak subcontinent rule that women are not allowed to work, for two reasons: One: there is no blanket law in Islam that prohibits a female from working, for that depends on circumstances, as we shall explain further.

Two: when a fatwa was issued prohibiting females from working under specific circumstances, it was based on Quran, Hadith, and rulings of Arab ‘Ulema of the past. This has nothing to do with Indian or Pakistani ‘Ulema. Let us now proceed to understand this issue in proper Islamic terms.
The Shariah of Islam has allocated distinct roles to man and woman. Each of these species of Allah’s creation have unique and singularly peculiar characteristics vested in them by The Permission and Will of Almighty Allah, and based on this Allah Ta’ala has identified certain responsibilities. In Surah Baqarah, verse 233 Allah Ta’ala declares: “And upon the fathers is their (the mothers) sustenance and clothing.” Then in Surah Talaaq, verse 6 Allah Ta’ala commands: “House them (your wives) in the places you live, according to your affordability..” In the very next verse of the same Surah, Allah Taa’la repeats the command to spend on wives from one’s ability. These verses allocate the duty of expenses to the husband, and this then becomes his Shar’ee role. The nature of a man is such that he possesses the ability and strength to go out and work. The emergence of man is in perfect concord with the Law of Nature, which is the Law ordained by Allah.
On the other hand, Shariah has devised a different role for females. In Surah Baqarah, verse 233 Allah Ta’ala states: “And mothers shall breastfeed their babies for two full years… In this verse the mother has been allocated a maximum period of two years for breastfeeding, one of the crucial stages of a baby’s development. Rasoolullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said in a hadith narrated in Saheeh Bukhari: Each one of you is a shepherd and each one will be questioned about his flock. A woman is a shepherd over the household of her husband, and she will be questioned about her charges. Here the Muslim woman is saddled with the task of rearing her children and controlling the household affairs. From these few quotations, which are few of many, it is evident that the role of the female is domestic in essence. This is the natural law for females established by Allah Ta’ala. Note that we have quoted Quranic verses and sayings of Allah’a Noble Messenger (alayhis-salaam). These are not views expressed by ‘Indian’ Ulema.
When humankind go against this natural Law of Allah and they attempt to subvert the Divine System created by Allah The Almighty, the consequences are serious and far-reaching. By sending women out to work alongside men, in breach of Allah’s Law of Nature. the result will be nothing but societal chaos. It is no small wonder that our society today is in such turmoil. Every alteration to nature brings in its wake unbearable consequences. The Holy Quran refers to this as wide-spread corruption on land and in sea because of man’s doings. (Sura 30, verse 41)
The Devil, Iblees swore an oath when he was expelled from Jannat. He said: “I shall certainly command them, and they shall alter the creation of Allah..” (Sura Nisaa, verse 119) ‘Ulema of Tafseer say that this alteration of Allah’s creation refers to any form of change in the Natural Law of Allah, from the shaving of beard to the abandonment of hijaab. The concept of the working woman is exclusively western in origin and essence. Sadly, our Muslim females, having succumbed to this un-Islamic influence, are following suit. Shaytaan has made good his promise in this regard, for undoubtedly the role envisaged by Shariah for women has been drastically altered.
Many ahadeeth of Rasoolullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) prohibit females from emerging. Once The Messenger of Allah (alayhis salaam) said: “A woman is an object of concealment. When she emerges, shaytaan fixes his gaze upon her. And the closest she is to Allah is when she is in the innermost recess of her home.” (Tabarani) Here is another emphatic command from Shariah for a female to exercise caution as regards emerging. How can a Muslim then echo statements of the West that ‘females should take their rightful places, alongside menfolk in the work environment’? A female’s rightful place in society is the role allotted to her by Allah Ta’ala.
At the same time, let it be made clear that during times of need, a woman is allowed to leave home. It appears in Saheeh Bukhari that Rasoolullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) permitted women to leave the home for the fulfilment of their needs. Hence, if a woman has no form of income and no means of survival, she is allowed to leave home and earn a living, on condition that she retains her hijaab and avoids intermingling with men. It is precisely for this reason that a widow who is in iddat may leave the house between sunrise and sunset to earn a living, whereas the divorcee may not do so since there is a husband to support the latter but not the former.
A woman is also allowed to work from home and acquire income. The Holy Quran has afforded women their share of income. In Surah Nisaa, verse 32, Allah Ta’ala states: “For men is a share of what they earned, and for women is a share of what they have earned.” In this sacred verse, Allah Ta’ala has clearly granted women her individual right to any property that she has earned. So clearly Islam does not deprive women of the right to earn and the right to own property. Islam came to restore and not restrict the rights of females. However, when an individual is granted permission by Allah Ta’ala to acquire certain rights and privileges, he or she may only do so whilst simultaneously observing the other rules and regulations of Shariah.
It is erroneous to assume that one may go about enjoying a privilege granted by Shariah, but at the same time discard other laws that apply to the same individual. For example, when Islam allows man to acquire property, man is still bound to observe the other laws of Islam such as salaah, fasting, Hajj, etc. He may not argue that since Islam granted freedom to work and earn an honest living he had to abandon salaah because work prevented him from offering salaah, or from performing Hajj. In like manner, a female may not contend that since Islam has accorded her the right to earn and acquire wealth, she may discard Hijaab and intermingle with men. In short, all the laws of Islam must apply in harmonious conjunction, and this is quite simple for those who sincerely wish to fulfil the commandments of Allah. Rather than contradict each other, the Laws of Shariah are perfectly complementary to one another, and only people ignorant of Deen will fail to observe this.
From the afore-going paragraphs we can conclude that during times of need, such as when a female has no income and desperately needs money to support herself and her kids, Islam will allow her to work under conditions of hijaab and purdah, whilst avoiding any interaction with men. But for a Muslim female to get into the work environment just to pursue a career and perpetuate a Western trend, is a serious breach of Shariah and conflicts with the Law of Allah. As explained earlier, this is also against the Law of Nature.