Taken from the book American Muslim Agenda by Dr. Mike Ghouse
Chapter 16: Islamic Value No. 9
Equality and Gender Equality
Equality is the mother of all values of Islam. It is one of the most compelling benefits for me to choose Islam. Over the years, I have discovered that it drew the oppressed people towards it, in particular, the Blacks and the untouchables of South Asia. Prophet Muhammad, maybe the first man in history to restore liberation to women from the tyranny of men. Indeed, equality permeates in every aspect of Islam, particularly the rituals.
Gender Equality is one of the most critical values in society. If we can fix this, nearly half of the world’s conflicts will be resolved. Each one of us will be free to live our lives instead of battling who controls the household, who gets paid more for the same work, who has the right to manage the reproductive rights and who has more privileges than the other. Do all of us have equal access to every place on earth?
I was watching a video clip of Muhammad Ali, a teenage girl from the audience asks him, why he chose Islam. He says it was the equality factor and elaborates on the idea of equality. He noted that among Muslims he does not feel rejected, or does not have to sit in the back of the bus or drink water from a different fountain. Most of the untouchables in South Asia who chose Islam would say the same.
Prophet Muhammad was crystal clear with his message. Each is responsible for his or her actions. A husband is not responsible for the actions of wife and vice-versa. No individual can ever blame the Imam or their religious leaders for his or her acts. Get this, even Prophet Muhammad would not help you on the Day of Accountability, and he showed the way, the right way earns peace, and the wrong way becomes hell. You are on your own, take responsibility for your actions. He said that even to his daughter in the Islamic Value of Amin, and that is what my mother told me when I was a kid. Such is the emphasis placed on equality and equal access to God’s grace.
The Quran recognizes that men and women are endowed with unique qualities (4:32, 4:34 verses listed below). Because of unique attributes, men and women share different rights and responsibilities. It does not mean that they are not equal. Despite such unique qualities, men and women are equal in the eye of God (3:195, 33:35). Men and women are each other’s garments, that is protectors, defenders, secret keepers, and the soul mates.
Prophet declared in his last sermon
“All humanity is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white;”
The Quran acknowledges the unique sacrifice rendered by the mother to her child. It teaches us to treat both mother and father equally (17:23, 46:15).
An excellent functional society strives to be just to every citizen when justness becomes a norm in every aspect of life – be it between spouses, family members, members of the community, towns, state, and the nation, then people trust each other and mind their own business.
Every community has the same problem as the Muslims. Since this book is about the American Muslims, recommendations for restoring the Pristine, Pluralist, Prophet Muhammad’s Islam are made at the end of each chapter to put us back on the right track.
Prophet Muhammad took severe steps in bring equality to race by freeing the slaves at that time. He had to fight with the traditions and endure assaults on his life, the men at that time could not believe that this guy Muhammad, one from among them wanted to give equal rights to the slaves.
It took many centuries to legislate racial equality.
Prophet Muhammad took the first step by freeing the slaves and making a declaration of equality in his last sermon on March 6, 632 AD. Then the second major milestone was accomplished 1231 years later on January 1, 1863, with the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln and he was killed. It took another century for President John F. Kennedy to propose legislation in June 1963 and he was shot dead. Rev. Martin Luther King delivered the iconic “I have a dream” speech on the steps of Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, that turned things around later on he was shot dead too. Finally, President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed the bill forward, and the Civil Rights Act was enacted on July 2, 1964.
What a journey it was! Many sacrifices were made along the way, and we need to appreciate them all. We became a near perfect union by electing President Barack Obama, and when we choose a woman president and a president from another minority community. Be it Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Native American, LGBTQ or an Atheist we would become a perfect union when all men (meaning humans) are treated equally.
Prophet Muhammad pushed the envelope of equality further deep by anointing Bilal; the freed slaved, to make the first ever prayer call. It ticked off many wealthy new Muslims who wanted to have that privilege. The point was made, and the prophet did not stop at that. He said Bilal was given the highest status with God – is guiding people to learn to respect and accept the Black man as equal to them. The seeds of Pluralism were sown then!
Prophet Muhammad was determined to bring equality to humans, and to knock out the racial barriers and promote a society of racially equals; he encouraged inter-racial marriages.
They call it five pillars of Islam. God cares less if you pray or not if you fast or not, and if you pay zakat (Sharing 2.5% of your wealth with the weak ones) or not. These are the three mandatory rituals for all Muslims while Haj Pilgrimage is optional, as it involves travel and requires money. The first one is the Shahadah, the pledge, and it is not a ritual but the door to get in.
What is the bottom line? The practices are designed to make you think, feel and act as equals with fellow humans. Steven Covey had written a book if you practice an item for seven times it becomes a part of you. So, if you practice these rituals, not only you build a cohesive society, but it is mini-yoga five times a day to keep you fit.
When the folks with lots of money go to Haj pilgrimage, they dressed the same – two pieces of white unstitched cloth wrapped around you. They all stand shoulder to shoulder when they pray.
The seekers feel a sense of humility and equality of humankind, while the fakers make a big deal about going to Haj, and some of them repeat it many times negating the very idea of Hajj. I wish Prophet had said no to that kind of show off, and I want to they donate that money to educate fellow humans to create better societies. However, Islam accepts and respects the uniqueness of each human. The idea of Hajj was to understand that we are merely a speck in the universe as Carl Sagan had said. So, shed the arrogance and treat others as equals, there is a joy in it, that most arrogant people miss it.
Misogyny is a disease.
We have landed on the Moon and have explored the universe and everything beyond infinity. We have learned about genes and certainly know what is programmed in the tiniest of tiny cells, but we have not learned to identify the misogyny gene. What makes men insecure and why they don’t think, act and believe that women are equal beings? I don’t have the answers but will explore if misogyny is religiously sanctioned or men took it upon themselves to make things that suit them, and in the process, the unintended consequence was making a villain out of God and religion.
A new milestone is achieved in 2018 in how women are treated, for the first time in the human history, the men in the Senate are showing their true colors of misogyny by reluctantly agreeing to listen to the testimony of Dr. Christine Ford. Right off the bat, they do not want to believe her but believe their man. This attitude of discounting women’s evidence has got to end.
Religion is about justice, inclusiveness, and universal goodness and it is time, religious misinterpretations are corrected. Men make almost all of the interpretations, some of them lacked any sensitivity.
Islam welcomes Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar, the first Muslim woman in 1400 years to fix the misogynistic interpretations of a few verses relating to women. Most of the men have finally subscribed to her accurate descriptions, but I still find many Imams not caught up on that. They always wake up to the pre-9/11 translations.
It is time to start a Mandatory Continuing Education course for all Muslim preachers, as well as the activists on the left like Tarek Fatah, Asra Nomani, Zuhdi Jasser and on the right who are a stick in the muds. Both the left and the right keep harping at the stuff that existed twenty years ago to earn the sympathies and support from the Christian, Jewish, and Hindu right.
By the way, when I was president of the North Texas Cricket Association, we introduced MCE for all the players, so they are aware of the changes and updates and cut down on disputes. We won the international award for the best cricket development in the western hemisphere.
A few Men tend to be insecure about their own worth compared to women and devise ways to feel secure by causing women to be vulnerable. I am not talking about the Taliban in a distant land, but our own Taliban mindset right here in America that is denying women the right to choose what she does with her body, rejecting her equal pay or expect her to earn, raise kids, cook and obey the husband.
“A woman should behave like a woman” “Her place is home.” They may not say it, but that is what the Conservative religious men from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and other traditions secretly want.
Women have put up with this crap from men far too long, it’s time we feel, act and talk like equals. The silence of the righteous people is considered an endorsement to the right-wing views on women? We need to oppose misogyny aggressively.
Don’t look to any one group to blame, look at yourselves first. A sentence that I have been repeating lately is “for every Muslim ass; there is a Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh or other ass” add hole if you need to. No group of people is free from this disease. Every ill that you slap on one group, you can find that in your group.
Eventually, we need to realize that individuals must be held accountable for their wrongdoing, and not their religion.
I believe everything on the earth is created to seek its balance, whether it is matter or individual, family or a nation. Everyone struggles to have that Elusive equilibrium which goes off balance as regularly as it is desired to be in balance.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) qualifies to be the first women’s liberator in human history. In a short span of 23 years of sharing his wisdom about building cohesive societies, he brought drastic changes in restoring women’s inalienable rights.
The Prophet said men and women have equal rights and equal rights upon each other. That was 1400 years ago, remember that was not the case even in the west until 100 years ago. He declared, a woman could own her own business and property apart from her husbands. She has the right to initiate marriage and divorce. Indeed, his wife Hazrat Khadija proposed to marry him and he accepted and married her. Further, he said all contracts should be in writing, and it is similar to the law of contracts. A woman’s consent and her signature were required to marry, meaning education was critical.
The verse “no compulsion” is restricted by Muslims (not Islam) to religion, but is the crux of civilization. The prophet went further on the sentence and applied that in the marriage. He married Maria, a Christian lady and did not compel her to convert, of course, she did it on her own later. In support of the rights of women, he said, if a husband compels the wife to do things against her will, she has a reason not to obey. More about this in the chapter Islamic Value – Free will.
A few Muslims leaders claim ” We gave the rights to women.” Hell, you gave them the rights, the rights were theirs, to begin with! You had usurped it. They sound like current day laws but were lost in the Men’s culture for centuries. Thanks to America for leading the battle for equal rights, we are not there yet, but together we all have to advance. Yes, we can do it.
Let me address a few of the many attitudes among Muslim men that needs fixing;
Islam has been at the forefront of receiving the accusations, but when I study Islam, the problem is not the religion, it is always the men.
Wife Beating, what a cruel phrase! It goes against the very foundations of Islamic values and the idea of Prophet Muhammad as a mercy to the humankind. The Muslim ‘Men’ scholars in the past have made up their own stories, and no Muslim has dared question that interpretation. Thanks to Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar for the correction.
Prophet Muhammad had time and again said, “Justice:” among people, within the family, among nations and tribe is the key to building prosperous societies where no one has to live in fear of the other. The other word for Islam would be Justice that is not what you see in the world today. Neither do you see Jesus’s teachings practiced by Christians or Jews follow Torah or Bhagavad Gita by Hindus?
Let me turn to Misogyny among Muslims. A full book needs to be written about this topic, but for this book, I will keep it short.
Basam writes in his research paper, “A common criticism exists that Islam is an anthropocentric religion that authorizes the oppression of women both in public and private spheres. Wife beating is often cited to support this claim.”
For 1400 years, Muslims have been duped to believe that a man can beat his wife as a last resort to get her to obey. The translation I rely on is Muhammad Asad’s, and even he has got a few verses wrong, it may have suited to the public once, but not anymore. Even here in the United States women were considered men’s property till the early 20th century. Remember, if it is not common sense, then it is not Islam.
Quran 4:34, translations by Muhammad Asad, “MEN SHALL take full care of women with the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions. Moreover, the righteous women are the truly devout ones, who guard the intimacy which God has [ordained to be] guarded. Also, as for those women whose ill-will you have reason to fear, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them; and if thereupon they heed, do not seek to harm them. Behold, the God, is indeed most high, great!”
Apology to Muslim women
Do you recall the chapter “Apology to Jews, Christians and others”? Here is another one owed to Muslim women for keeping them under tensions, believing that their husbands have the right to beat them if needed.
No Muslim that I know of is comfortable with this thought, in particular, Muslim women, they have difficulty in seeing this in the Quran. Prophet was the kindest man to his women, and he set the example of what equality was by doing a variety of things including doing dishes in his household and freeing women from traditional bonds that held women as a chattel; a property. He did not cut off when a Woman was talking.
Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar has finally put this non-sense translation to rest. She has done extensive research and found that meaning of the Arabic word “Idrib,” was traditionally translated as “beat,” which has been understood and abused over the centuries by men who would be abusive whether they are Muslim or not. The word means ‘to go away’ – either one from the other, it meant separation as a process of re-evaluation. In the United States among the general population, more than twice as many women were shot and killed by their husband or intimate acquaintance than were murdered by strangers using guns, knives, or any other means.
What is needed is for Muslims to come together and make a universal declaration about the wrongness of that interpretation, the problem is not with the Quran, but with translations. I hope this book will stir up activism to fix our problems.
You may watch Dr. Bakhtiar on YouTube on the topic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=833pm2pOhgw
alternatively, go to WorldMuslimCongress.org and place 4:34 in the word search, you will get to see many articles on the subject.
No man should have the right to force a woman to wear the Hijab (full body and face covering) against her will, nor should she be forced to take it off as France has imposed it on women. Women should have the freedom to choose what they wear in public.
I hope the Muslim Authorities (Oxymoron term Per Islam) can come together and make a declaration that Hijab is a woman’s choice and no one should ‘compel’ her covertly or overtly.
All that was required of men and women was modesty in public space. Men were suggested to lower their gaze and women to cover their bosom. What was fashioned from there was the Shuttle Cock Burqa that completely covers a woman’s body except for a slit over the eyes or a flip grill over the face? It was the invention of men to go that route, but it has become cultural now. The American women wear the head covering out of their own volition, against the practices of their mothers who don’t. It had become an identity since 9/11, before that a majority of women just wore the scarf in places of worship. I am pro-choice, women should decide what they wear, and no man or state should dictate what she wears. We have come a long way and got ways to go.
Quran 34:31, Translation by Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar, ” And say to the females, one who believes to lower their (f) sight and keep their (f) private parts safe and show not their (f) adornment but what is manifest of it. Also, let them (f) draw their head-coverings over their (f) bosoms, and not show their (f) adornment but to their (f) husbands or their (f) fathers or the fathers of their (f) husbands or their sons or the sons of their (f) husbands. Their (f) brothers or the sons of their (f) brothers or the sons of their (f) sisters or their (f) women, or what their (f) right hands possess, or the ones Who heed, imbued with no sexual desire among the men or small male children to whom was not manifest nakedness of women. Moreover, let them (f) not stomp their feet to be known what they (f) conceal of their adornment. So turn to God altogether for forgiveness. O the ones Who believe, so that perhaps you will prosper.
Way back in 1995, a Muslim Lady from Lebanon gave a talk on Hijab in Richardson, Texas, I was a newspaper publisher then, and made extensive notes and quotes. Mr. Ghulam Bakali, president of the Islamic center then, walked up to me and took my notes to make copies or some such thing and promised to provide me the transcript of the speech. It never happened, he was nervous about the talk, he probably had wished she was not invited. It is a typical Muslim male response.
The conservatives in all faith traditions have a similar stinky attitude to “keep the woman in her place.” I have heard religious men from all faiths more are less saying, if a woman has to lead the prayers, it would be over their dead body. The American Christians have opened up to the idea of women priests, so are the Jewish, not all of them though, but others need to catch up.
In 2009, at the Parliament of World’s Religions in Melbourne Australia, there was a Panel of religious leaders, nine of them, all men. Dr. Joseph Prabhu and I teamed up to harass the panelists for not having women to represent their religion. No one gave a right answer. They were not even open to the idea, and it was disappointing.
Perhaps the first woman-led Muslim prayer occurred on a Friday in March 2005, Dr. Amina Wadud led the prayers. An hour before the prayers I took the call from Dr. Wadud, Asra Nomani and Salima Ghafoor on the air on my Radio show in Dallas. I wanted to encourage the progress. Sadly, I was chewed out by a few conservatives, and ugly demonstrations were held against the prayers at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. I wrote about the shameless men carrying derogatory placards ridiculing the woman led prayers. It was not a Muslim thing to do; Prophet Muhammad would have slapped these guys if he were there.
Now women-led prayers are becoming known, there are several mosques in the US, Canada, and the UK and there is one in Chennai, India as well. Morocco has training programs for women to become scholars and China has women Imams for a long time. Ms. Ani Zonnevald is the President of Muslims for Progressive values, and she is performing the duties of a guest Imam in many cities in the US.
Conservative men feel secure living in caves, their security notch, to come out of it is painful to them. Eventually, they will start accepting the change.
Muslim organizations like many a Christian and orthodox Jewish and other religious group are still figuring out how to cope with the change. The new generation is less opposed to the change. All it takes is for the Organization of Islamic Countries, a total of 56 of them and Muslims representing other nations to hold a conference and make a declaration that they are pro-choice on Hijab and that the form of Hijab used is not prescribed in Quran, but a cultural development.
My late wife Najma, a public figure in Dallas was urged to being on the board of all men Carrollton Islamic Center. Her name was placed on the list, but the members decided that their Center is not ready to have a woman on their board, and as usual the women who had recommended her name understood that their voices are meaningless and no one argued or stood up for what he or she believed. Most of the Islamic Council Boards look like the Senate Judiciary Committee of eleven men making decisions for others.
She was one of the most respected persons among the Pakistani community for many years. When she ran for the President of Pakistan Society of North Texas, there was opposition, not by her qualifications, but because she was a woman. At the polling booth, one of the guys thumped on his chest and said, as long as there is a man among Pakistanis, he will not let a woman be the President of the society. What surprised me was the men, the leaders of the community were hearing him out but did not say a word to that guy.
The change is coming at the same pace as it is among other faith communities. The Long Island Islamic Center, New York decided to elect Isma Chaudhry as their first woman president. The Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, elected Lubna Ejaz as their first president. A few mosques in California followed it up, and now and it is catching on, but the resistance from the men is there.
The Dallas Peace Center held an awards Banquet at Double Tree Hotel in Dallas sometimes around 2012 and honored Dr. Hind Jarrah for her outstanding work in establishing the Texas Women’s Center. When she went up to receive the award on the stage, the conservative men on her table walked away. The ultra-conservative guys don’t believe a woman belongs on a public stage. I moved from another table to hers to give her the company and gave a piece of advice to the guys in vain.
Prophet Muhammad, the liberator.
Prophet Muhammad was like Dale Carnegie, he was sensitive about other people, and cared about the feelings of others when he made a statement, they were guidance. However, he was clear in encouraging what was right and discouraging what was wrong.
Muslims have a collective responsibility to undo the men-interpretation and bring in God’s justness and dignity to every human. Prophet Muhammad is a mercy to the universe and Muslims have to show that he is. All it takes is to put a white paper together by Muslim Scholars and Imams, get their consensus, and make a declaration (fatwa) and ask for endorsements from major Muslim organizations.
A woman gets half of what a man receives.
A woman gets ½ of what a man receives of parent’s property (4:11). The philosophy is simple. The financial burden is on men in traditional societies. However, the Quran recommends (2:180) that a will shall be left to conform to the specific circumstances of the deceased. The bottom line to these verses that don’t sound just on the surface is indeed about Justice and equity.
You take the formula of fairness and apply to the prevalent culture of a given society, it works. A majority of women are dependent on men for support in most nations, whereas a woman is entirely independent in the United States. The essence of distribution is equity and fairness, and not the set percentage.
In my case, my family received a decent amount of money selling the family property in Yelahanka, Bangalore, India, and we are four brothers and a sister, we distributed the proceeds equally. Even though a few were suggesting that per the local Sharia, the girl should get half of what she got.
A fatwa is warranted on this issue from the Muslims to save many conflicts in the families.
Verse of Equality
I am pleased to share a few verses from the Quran on equality, including gender equality. Islam has always been accused of treating men as superior to women, but it is not Islam, it is the men who err, and men in all faiths do err.
The penalty of adultery which involves lashing is equal for both men and women.
Divorce laws in the Quran apply to both men and women equally.
Men and women are equal in the eye of God (3:195, 33:35, 24:26).
Quran 3:195, Their Lord responded to them: “I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female—you are equal. Thus, those who immigrate, and get evicted from their homes, and are persecuted because of Me, and fight and get killed, I will surely remit their sins and admit them into gardens with flowing streams.” Such is the reward from GOD. GOD possesses the ultimate prize.
Quran 33:35, “The submitting men, the submitting women, the believing men, the believing women, the obedient men, the obedient women, the truthful men, the correct women, the steadfast men, the faithful women, the reverent men, the respectful women. The charitable men, the philanthropic women, the fasting men, the fasting women, the chaste men, the unmarried women, and the men who commemorate GOD frequently, and the commemorating women; GOD has prepared for them forgiveness and a great recompense.”
Quran 4:129, “Moreover, it will not be within your power to treat your wives with EQUAL fairness, however much you may desire it; and so, do not allow yourselves to incline towards one to the exclusion of the other, leaving her in a state, as it were, of having and not having a husband. However, if you put things to rights and are conscious of Him – behold, God is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.”
Quran 4:32, “Hence, do not covet the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on some of you than on others. Men shall have a benefit from what they earn, and women shall have a benefit from what they earn. Ask, therefore, God out of His bounty: behold, God has full knowledge of everything indeed.”
Quran 4:124, “Whereas anyone – be it man or woman – who does [whatever he can] of good deeds and is a believer withal, shall enter paradise, and shall not be wronged by as much as [would fill] the groove of a date-stone.”
Quran 9:71, “AND [as for] the believers, both men and women they are close unto one another: they [all] enjoin the doing of what-is right-and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and are constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues, and pay heed unto God and His Apostle. It is they upon whom God will bestow His grace: verily, God is almighty, wise!”
Quran 16:97, “As for anyone – be it man or woman – who does righteous deeds, and is a believer withal – he shall We most certainly cause to live a good life.  and most certainly shall We grant unto such as these their reward per the best that they ever did.”
Quran 3:195, “And thus does their Sustainer answer their prayer: “I shall not lose sight of the labor of any of you who labors [in My way], be it man or woman: each of you is an issue of the other.  Hence, as for those who forsake the domain of evil,  and are driven from their homelands, and suffer hurt in my cause, and fight [for it], and are slain. I shall most certainly efface their bad deeds, and shall most certainly bring them into gardens through which running waters flow, as a reward from God: for with God is the most beauteous of rewards.”
Quran 33:35, “VERILY, for all men and women who have surrendered themselves unto God, and all believing men and believing women, and all truly devout men and truly devout women, and all men and women who are true to their word, and all men and women who are patient in adversity, and all men and women who humble themselves [before God]. Also, all men and women who give in charity, and all self-denying men and self-denying women, and all men and women who are mindful of their innocence, and all men and women who remember God unceasingly: for [all of] they have God readied forgiveness of sins and a mighty reward.”
The following verse is merit-based
Quran 4:95, “such of the believers as remain passive – other than the disabled – cannot be deemed EQUAL to those who strive hard in God’s cause with their possessions and their lives: God has exalted those who attempt hard with their properties and their lives far above those who remain passive. Although God has promised the ultimate good unto all, yet has God exalted those who strive hard above those who remain passive.