As a Muslim, I feel obliged to question the discrepancies, in terms of rights, between men and women in our religion. Why is it that a woman’s testimony is worth half as much as a man’s? Why does a woman only receive half as much inheritance compared to a man? Why does a woman receive half the indemnity money a man would receive, and why would a man not be killed for killing a woman, but a woman will be killed for killing a man? Where is fairness and justice in that? We always hear that Islam is a religion of justice and equality in rights and duties. It is yet to be proven that women are intellectually inferior to men, so why are women treated like that in Islam?
In the Name of Allah, the All-Beneficent, the All-Merciful.
May Allah bless Muhammad and his Family and damn their enemies.
It is right for a Muslim to ask questions to understand their faith, but it is not right for them to object to the sacred laws of Allah by claiming that they are unfair, simply because they do not understand the many aspects of the rules they are objecting to, usually due to ignorance or negligence.
It is unfair, for example, to denounce the differential rights between men and women in Islam while forgetting – or turning a blind eye – to the differences between the two sexes when it comes to their religious duties. If all aspects of the rulings are understood, then the divine wisdom behind these rulings is made clear and the objections presented are made null.
Firstly, we must think well of Allah and have confidence in His divine justice, even when the wisdom behind His decree is unknown. Secondly, we must seek to understand one aspect of the wisdom behind His decree so that we attain clarity and strengthen our certainty of Allah’s justice in all his sacred laws.
Objections such as these take into account only the immediate social norms and how family problems are managed from the perspective of deficient, man-made laws. More often than not, it is these laws that are responsible for creating an imbalance in society’s fabric due to straying too far from Allah’s divine and holy wisdom.
Therefore, it is better to take into account the divine, sacred legislation of Allah – the true Islam, as it was established by the Holy Prophet (may Allah bless him and his pure family) who was succeeded by the Protectors of the Religion, the infallible Imams, of his pure family (peace be upon them). We turn to them to solve every dilemma and probe the depths of every wisdom.
As for why there are differences between men and women in some rights, it is worthwhile to first remind you of some of the verses of the Wise One that did not differentiate between male and female while abolishing biases towards women in the days of Jahilia (pre-Islam) and restoring her position as an individual who has rights, just as men do, while decreeing that the finest (male or female), in His eyes, are the ones who are most sincere in their faith.
He does not differentiate between male and female in the following verses:
The Most High said:
O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.
al Hujurat, verse 14
And the Most High said:
Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do.
Nahl, verse 98
And the Most High said:
Whoever does an evil deed will not be recompensed except by the like thereof; but whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – those will enter Paradise, being given provision therein without account.
Ghafir, verse 41
And the Most High said:
And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer – those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged, [even as much as] the speck on a date seed.
Nisaa, verse 125
And the Most High said:
Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another.
Aali Imran, verse 196
The is no bias against one sex or another, or difference between men and women when it comes to their ability to pursue the highest levels of perfection – the very purpose of their existence: ‘Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.
Al Ahzab, verse 36
As we mentioned briefly, men and women have different religious duties that require suitable rights to accommodate demands placed upon the individual to fulfil them. Therefore, men may have certain rights that women do not for the costs they incur (for some of their religious duties) that women are exempt from; rights that are proportionate to their nature and the roles assigned to them within the framework of the sacred law.
The following narration of Imam al-Sadiq describes the wisdom behind inheritance rights differences between men and women:
Ibn Abi al-’Awja said: ‘Why is it that the vulnerable, poor woman may only receive half of what her male counterpart does in inheritance?’ He said: ‘Some of our companions mentioned this to Abu Abdullah (peace be upon him) so he said: A woman does not have to fight (do Jihad), spend (financial responsibilities), or pay indemnity. These are the duties of man.
Al-Hur Al-Ameli, Waseel Al-Shiaa, vol. 26, p. 93, Aal Al-Bayt Foundation publication; Sheikh Al-Tusi, Tahdheeb Al-Ahkam, vol.9, p. 174 and 275, Dar Al-Kitab Al-Islamiyyah publication; Al-Kafi, vol.7, p. 85
And in another narration of him (peace be upon him):
Ibn Sinan said, I asked: ‘What determined that the inheritance of the male is equal to the shares of two females? Abu Abdullah (peace be upon him) said: ‘When (Allah) gave her a (the right to) dowry.
Sheikh Al-Saduq, Illal Al-Sharai`, Part 2, p. 57, Dar Al-Kutub Al-Islamiyyah, 1365
By observing the numerous narrations, as well as taking into account the perspective of the Noble Qur’an, it becomes clear that just as Allah (the Most High) gave men and women equal means of achieving perfection, granted them an equal right to live, bestowed them with dignity, and various other rights, He also differentiated between men and women because while men might have a specific duty, women would be entirely exempt from it, and vice versa.
As for the reason behind the difference in indemnity between men and women, it must be noted that retribution for murder is only for intentional killing, and the family of the murdered has the choice between choosing the reasonable solution of accepting compensation or choosing revenge by executing the killer.
As for reprisals dealing with transgressions towards religion, such as insulting the divine, the infallible, or apostasy, it is not permissible for anyone, besides the Infallible, to carry them out – that is his right, not ours. The infallible may very well pardon the transgression as it is his right to do so. As our Imam (peace be upon him) is concealed, we cannot guarantee his consent to carry out punishments or pardon a transgression. Therefore, it is better to reserve judgment and stay our hand out of precaution. Yes, there is no problem with ‘Ta’zir’ (chastisement according to Shari’a rules) in some circumstances in which the transgression affects the public as a whole. In that case, it is the right of the ruling grand religious authority – as he represents the public – to judge the offender and carry out punishment on behalf of the public.
Accordingly, the provisions of ‘hudud’ and ‘qisas’ (punishments in Islam), as they are understood, remain disciplinary and prohibitive rather than practical. Even during the presence of the infallibles (may peace be upon them), particularly under the rule of the greatest Prophet (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon them) and the rule of the Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon him) after him, punishments were not enforced except in rare cases, as history attests.
As for accidental killing or manslaughter of a man and a woman, indemnity is only paid to the victim’s relatives. Indemnity for a woman and a man is equal in scrapes and scratches unless it exceeds a third*. When it exceeds the third, the indemnity is paid in full. In that case, the ruling that states a woman’s indemnity money is half the man’s indemnity applies.
The reason for the disparity in its value is to compensate for the economic loss caused by the killing of a man compared to the killing of a woman according to the legitimate duties that fall upon his shoulders, such as the payment of the dowry, the maintenance of the wife, children, mother, the alimony of jihad, and his share of expiation money of a murdered individual of his relatives according to the rules of ‘al-Aqilah’, who are the next of kin of a man or a woman murderer who must pay indemnity to the family of the murdered. Females are exempt from this duty, even if they are relatives of the killer. As you can see, there are very practical reasons why there are such differences between men and women rights. The notion that Islam is biased against women due to their perceived inferiority is incorrect – it is the duties Allah placed upon them that dictate their rights.
- A third of the indemnity of a fully damaged or severed part or organ. E.g., the cost of damage to a finger not exceeding a third of the cost of a complete loss of the finger, as determined by the religious authority.
The Office of Sheikh al-Habib