From the Jacket:
This book covers various aspects relating to the status of women in pre-Islamic period - customs and traditions, forms of marriage in pre-Islamic period, divorce and forms of divorce, dower, traditions regarding slave-girls, and so on. It then goes on to deal with status of women in post-Islamic period - the Quranic concept of women's rights in marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody of children, polygamy, maintenance, properly, right to earn, etc. It quotes extensively from the Quran and Sunnah. It also deals with the Arab adaat, that is, pre-Islamic customs and traditions regarding women.
Altogether, it attempts to arm Muslim women with Islamic arguments for their empowerment. The author, a renowned scholar, has sought to set the record straight by reinterpreting women's rights in the true Quranic spirit. He argues quite convincingly that the Holy Book gives equal rights to both the sexes, and it does not discriminate between them in respect to personal, democratic and human rights. The question whether in a secular society Muslim personal law needs any change, and, if so, in which direction reform should be undertaken is dealt with in detail. The related issues of the introduction of a common civil code, doing away with religiously discriminating laws, are also considered.
About the Author:
Asghar Ali Engineer, Director of the Institute of Islamic Studies, Mumbai, is an internationally reputed scholar and theologian of Islam. He has written a number of books, research papers and articles on Islamic theology, jurisprudence, history and philosophy, and lectured in many countries. He has participated in Muslim women's movements for their rights, and is also actively involved in movements for communal harmony and reform in the Bohra community.
Preface to the First Edition
Democratic polities and both capitalist and socialist economies have brought about a new consciousness of rights for women. Women can no longer be subjugated as they were in feudal society. Indeed, they now refuse to be treated as the property of men. They even refuse to be considered lower in social status than men. Women insist, and rightly so, on being equal to men in every respect.
However, in the countries of South Asia - and other Asian and African countries as well - religion is predominant and everything, including women's rights, is seen through the prism of religion. Religion, moreover, is a strong cultural force and an important constituent of our social consciousness and a significant determinant of our traditions. Hence, religion still plays a crucial role in determining women's rights in our society.
Islam is one of those religions that has discussed in detail women's rights, both in the Quran and in the formulations of Shari'ah (Islamic law). These rights pertain to marriage, divorce, property, inheritance, custody of children, evidence and rewards and punishments. Every right has been discussed in great detail. This book is an attempt to set out women's rights in Islam in the true Quranic spirit for there has been much deviation from this spirit in practice. Islamic society began to be feudalist within a quarter of century after the death of the Prophet. This feudalisation had a telling impact on the concept of the rights of women in Islam. It is this spirit which still predominates. The new consciousness among women makes it necessary once again to go back to the original Quranic spirit.
The Quran not only awards equal status to both the sexes in the normative sense but it also concedes a degree of superiority to men in its own social context. However, the theologians ignored the context and made men superior in the absolute sense. I have attempted in this book to recapture the original spirit of the Quranic laws with regard to the male-female relationship and to separate what is contextual from what is normative. I hope that this book will equip Muslim feminists with a powerful weapon in their fight for equal status with men.
It is, therefore, highly necessary to interpret the text properly. This book is an attempt to do precisely that. If the Quranic text and the hadith literature can be suitably re-read and reinterpreted, it will not be difficult to accord women an equal status in society. This book is a modest attempt to arm Muslim women with Islamic arguments for their empowerment. It is the experience of this author that when these arguments have been presented publicly, the orthodox elements have found it very difficult to defend their position on women.
It will not be easy to break the hold of fundamentalists and conservatives. We have no such illusions. But these textual arguments would certainly help the cause of Muslim women in Asian and African countries. The Quran has accorded concrete rights to women in respect of marriage, divorce, property, inheritance, custody of children and much else, but over time these rights were overlaid with feudal and patriarchal prejudices. This book is no more than an attempt to shake off this dust. It is hoped the book will help many more women and those men too who are struggling to project the women's cause.
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