Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Did Women's Status Improve With Islam?

Contrary to common belief of the Muslims, Islam did not improve not even “a little” the status of women in Arabia. It actually denigrated them instead of elevating them. There are many proofs to that and one of the evidences can be found in this hadith.

Bukhari Volume 3, Book 43, Number 648:
Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Abbas:
I had been eager to ask 'Umar about the two ladies from among the wives of the Prophet regarding whom Allah said (in the Qur'an saying): If you two (wives of the Prophet namely Aisha and Hafsa) turn in repentance to Allah your hearts are indeed so inclined (to oppose what the Prophet likes) (66.4), till performed the Hajj along with 'Umar (and on our way back from Hajj) he went aside (to answer the call of nature) and I also went aside along with him carrying a tumbler of water. When he had answered the call of nature and returned. I poured water on his hands from the tumbler and he performed ablution. I said, "O Chief of the believers! ' Who were the two ladies from among the wives of the Prophet to whom Allah said:

'If you two return in repentance (66.4)? He said, "I am astonished at your question, O Ibn 'Abbas. They were Aisha and Hafsa."

Then 'Umar went on relating the narration and said. "I and an Ansari neighbor of mine from Bani Umaiya bin Zaid who used to live in 'Awali Al-Medina, used to visit the Prophet in turns. He used to go one day, and I another day. When I went I would bring him the news of what had happened that day regarding the instructions and orders and when he went, he used to do the same for me. We, the people of quraish, used to have authority over women, but when we came to live with the ansar, we noticed that the ansari women had the upper hand over their men, so our women started acquiring the habits of the ansari women. Once i shouted at my wife and she paid me back in my coin and i disliked that she should answer me back.She said, 'Why do you take it ill that I retort upon you? By Allah, the wives of the Prophet retort upon him, and some of them may not speak with him for the whole day till night.' What she said scared me and I said to her, 'Whoever amongst them does so, will be a great loser.'

(This is a long Hadith; please read all of it in my article Maryiah the Coptic Maid.)

As you see here Umar is complaining that while the people of Quraish, used to have “authority” over their women, since they came to Medina they noticed that the Ansari women had the upper hand over their men.

Mecca was a religious hub. In all religious centers, often fanaticism overrides commonsense and wherever religion has a stronger grip, women are discriminated. Mecca was no exception. It was natural that women in Mecca had a lower status than their Jews and Ansari counterparts and when they encountered the liberty that the women of Medina enjoyed, they wanted it too. This of course did not sit well with Umar and Muhammad, the two misogynist men of Mecca. The above conversation between these two central figures of Islam clearly shows that they were not pleased to see their wives getting used and enjoying the taste of freedom.

Arabs were not used to write their history. Very little is left of their pre Islamic culture and way of life. What the Muslim historian wrote of that time is all derogatory calling it the days of ignorance "jahiliya" and claiming that until the advent of Islam they were barbarians, who buried their daughters alive and were constantly in war. They say that women prior to Islam were worth less than camels and it was the Prophet who gave them the status of human being. The above hadith however tell us a different story. We can see that Arab women everywhere, except in Mecca, had more rights that Islam took them away. And it shows that the dismal treatment of women in Islam is not a Divine mandate but is how the Qurash used to treat their women. The Prophet being from Quraish himself was used to that kind of women abuse and to him that was the right way. Naturally he projected his is bias against women in his religion and his book.

But there is also another factor that played a great role in the destiny of Muslim women; and that is the impact that the wives of the Prophet had on the Quran and its laws about women.

Anytime that the Prophet needed to say the ultimate word and make others shut up, he would make his Allah reveal a verse. He was an old man, having a harem of almost 20 wives and concubines. All of his wives were young and beautiful (Except the first two, Kadijah and Saudah, whom he married when he was a poor man). In his old age he became the chieftain and very powerful. So he could afford to marry anyone and some even came and offered themselves to him. He would choose only the pretty ones. But political power is not a substitute to physical stamina. The Prophet was fully aware of the age gap between his young wives and himself. He was jealous of other young men looking at them and would warn his wives to not betray him.

O Consorts of the Prophet! If any of you were guilty of evident unseemly conduct, the Punishment would be doubled to her, and that is easy for Allah.

31. But any of you that is devout in the service of Allah and His Messenger, and works righteousness,- to her shall We grant her reward twice: and We have prepared for her a generous Sustenance.

He would often remind them to behave in a way as not to attract the attention of other men and cover themselves as not to make themselves desired by strangers.

32. O Consorts of the Prophet! Ye are not like any of the (other) women: if ye do fear (Allah), be not too complacent of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak ye a speech (that is) just.

33. And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former Times of Ignorance; and establish regular Prayer, and give regular Charity; and obey Allah and His Messenger. And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, ye members of the Family, and to make you pure and spotless.

The above clearly shows the worries of an aging man concerned of numerous young and attractive wives. He needed to control them and that is why he ordered them to cover themselves. ironically what was originally meant for the wives of the Prophet became part of the Sharia and was imposed for 1400 years in all Islamic countries.

The Prophet (pbuh) repeatedly emphasized to women the importance of obeying their husbands. Did this too have something to do with the fact that most of his wives were teenagers that he needed to control? They perhaps would not listen to him but they sure would have no choice but to submit to what Allah said. So when he had some domestic problems his Allah would rush to his rescue and reveal verses the the following to put all his wives in their place.

Q. 66: 5.
"It may be if he divorced you (all) that his Lord will give him instead of you, wives better than you, Muslims (who submit to Allâh), believers, obedient to Allâh, turning to Allâh in repentance, worshipping Allâh sincerely, fasting or emigrants (for Allâh's sake), previously married and virgins.“

The truth that women in Arabia had more liberty and authority before Islam than after it can also be evinced from the fact that Khadijah, the Prophet’s first wife had a business of her own and had many men at her service. Muhammad, in fact was but one of her employees. Do we have any tale of women after Islam, running their own business and hiring men to work for them?

For Muhammad (pbuh) women were nothing more than sex objects. It is reported that he refused to shake hands with them. And when they came to give their allegiance he delegated Umar for a such task. What is so sexual about a simple shake hand? Perhaps the Prophet was torn between his sexual impulses and his religious ideals. Something must have happened in his mind that made him feel guilty when he touched women.

The holy Prophet also thought that women are deficient in intelligence and the majority of them will go to hell because they are ungrateful, not to Allah, but to their husbands. Here is what he said.

Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Number 541:

Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri
On 'Id ul Fitr or 'Id ul Adha Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) went out to the Musalla. After finishing the prayer, he delivered the sermon and ordered the people to give alms. He said, "O people! Give alms." Then he went towards the women and said. "O women! Give alms, for I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-Fire were you (women)." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is the reason for it?" He replied, "O women! You curse frequently, and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. O women, some of you can lead a cautious wise man astray."

It is hard to believe that a man who thought women are responsible for leading men astray, that the majority of them go to hell because they are ungrateful to their husbands and that they are deficient in intelligence, really respected women at all. Various versions of this Hadith are repeated in several places. In another version the Prophet explains the reason for which he believes women are deficient in intelligence in this way:

Bukhari Volume 1, Book 6, Number 301:

Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:
Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o 'Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion."

So according to the holy Prophet’s great reasoning, women are deficient in intelligence because the witness of two of them equal to the witness of one man. And they are also deficient in religion because during their menses they cannot pray or fast. It is not clear what the holy Prophet meant by "deficient in religion". Perhaps he meant that women are spiritually less evolved than men. By using these excuses to prove his case It seems that these unjust laws have been already prevalent among the Arabs. The Prophet, however made them universal by inserting them in the Quran. But isn’t it absurd to prove an absurdity by the authority of another absurdity? Who said a woman’s witness should be worth half of that of a man? Whether it was the Prophet who devised such an unfair ordinance or he echoed what was customary among his people, this law is unreasonable and cannot be used as a proof to call women deficient in intelligence.

The Prophet always used fear as a means to drive home his point. His Allah would send women to hell for the most trivial things like displeasing their husbands.

Bukhari Volume 2, Book 18, Number 161:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin Abbas:
I also saw the Hell-fire and I had never seen such a horrible sight. I saw that most of the inhabitants were women." The people asked, "O Allah's Apostle! Why is it so?" The Prophet replied, "Because of their ungratefulness." It was asked whether they are ungrateful to Allah. The Prophet said, "They are ungrateful to their companions of life (husbands) and ungrateful to good deeds. If you are benevolent to one of them throughout the life and if she sees anything (undesirable) in you, she will say, 'I have never had any good from you.'"

However, there is no mention of men going to suffer any consequence for their mistreating of their wives. As a matter of fact, men are instructed to abuse their wives verbally, emotionally and physically. Yes, that is precisely what Allah has ordained.

Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.

If anyone has any doubt about the position of women in Islam, the above ayah will dissipate it. It clearly says that men are “maintainers” of women, thus taking away their independence and autonomy, making them subservient to men. It suggests that men are the masters and the owners of the house because they are the breadwinners. It implies that women are incapable or should not be allowed to work and become independent and providers. It assumes that women’s work at home, taking care of the children and the house is worth nothing and she must be grateful for the piece of bread that her husband graciously provide her. Up to here women are nothing but slaves. Yet the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) did not stop there. He instructs men to punish their wives, verbally, sexually and even physically, thus downgrading them to the level of animals. In a world that you could pay a fine for cruelty to animals, these “divine’ teachings are very difficult to swallow. It is unthinkable that a compassionate and just God could ever say such a horrendous things about women. The superiority of men over women is also ratified in another verse of Quran where it says: and men are a degree above them (women)”. Q.2:228

There are also other versions of the above hadith in Sahih Muslim.

Sahih Muslim Book 004, Number 1926:

Jabir b. 'Abdullah reported: I observed prayer with the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) on the 'Id day. He commenced with prayer before the sermon without Adhan and Iqama. He then stood up leaning on Bilal, and he commanded (them) to be on guard (against evil for the sake of) Allah, and he exhorted (them) on obedience to Him, and he preached to the people and admonished them. He then walked on till he came to the women and preached to them and admonished them, and asked them to give alms, for most of them are the fuel for Hell. A woman having a dark spot on the cheek stood up and said: Why is it so, Messenger of Allah? He said: For you grumble often and show ingratitude to your spouse. And then they began to give alms out of their ornaments such as their earrings and rings which they threw on to the cloth of Bilal.

Basically the holly Prophet (pbuh) used these scare mongering tactics to collect money from his foolhardy audience who gathered around him and listened to his nonsense stories.

In another place the Prophet of Allah compares women to devil.

Bukhari Volume 1, Book 6, Number 301:

Jabir reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) saw a woman, and so he came to his wife, Zainab, as she was tanning a leather and had sexual intercourse with her. He then went to his Companions and told them: THE WOMAN ADVANCES AND RETIRES IN THE SHAPE OF A DEVIL, so when one of you sees a woman, he should come to his wife, for that will repel what he feels in his heart.

Perhaps the Prophet thought it is so holy to go to one of his wives after desiring another woman. I wonder how a wife would feel when her husband actually is fancying another woman but is using her just to relieve himself?

There are numerous verses in Quran and hadithes that are outrageous. The following Hadith however, in my opinion, takes the cake.

Bukhari Volume 4, Book 54, Number 460:

Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "If a husband calls his wife to his bed (i.e. to have sexual relation) and she refuses and causes him to sleep in anger, the angels will curse her till morning."

The above makes one wonder, whether Allah has nothing else to do than worrying about the sexual pleasures of his male servants? It seems quiet absurd that God would employ so many angels to do nothing but sit around and curse the women who do not want want to please their husbands sexually. Hadithes like this are repeated so many times that one start to suspect whether Allah is a dirty old pervert voyeur who gets pleasure, watching people doing it.

Sahih Muslim Book 008, Number 3367:

Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: By Him in Whose Hand is my life, when a man calls his wife to his bed, and she does not respond, the One Who is in the heaven is displeased with her until he (her husband) is pleased with her.


Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 122:

Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "If a woman spends the night deserting her husband's bed (does not sleep with him), then the angels send their curses on her till she comes back (to her husband)."

It is hard to determine why the holy Prophet (peace be upon his immaculate soul) was so concerned about this issue. But again we should remember that he was an old man. Perhaps his teeth were decaying and his mouth had a foul smell. On the other hand his wives were very young ladies. They must have enjoyed their status as the wives of the Prophet and the first ladies of Arabia, but probably they were not that much desirous to share the bed with and old man like him. Perhaps these warnings of angels’ curses and the Allah’s displeasure were to coerce his own wives to sleep with him.

I am not a woman but still I am offended at so much insult hurled at my my own sister and my sisters in humanity. The following is the most obscene and offensive statement of the holy Prophet. I find it extremely derogatory to women.

Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 33:

Narrated Usama bin Zaid:
The Prophet said, "After me I have not left any affliction more harmful to men than women."

But he did not stop there. In every occasion he found an excuse to show his despise of women and poison the minds of his followers with ridiculous talks like the following.

Sahih Muslim Book 008, Number 3466:

AbuHuraira (Allah be pleased with him) reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Woman is like a rib. When you attempt to straighten it, you would break it. And if you leave her alone you would benefit by her, and crookedness will remain in her. A hadith like this is reported by another chain of narrators.

How can a society (ummah) truly respect their women when their prophet was so scornful of them? When he was so contemptuous of their faith, so derisive of their intelligence, so disrespectful of their rights and so disdainful of their status, can we expect more from his followers?

Bukhari Volume 4, Book 55, Number 623:

Narrated Abu Musa:
Allah's Apostle said, "Many amongst men reached (the level of) perfection but none amongst the women reached this level except Asia, Pharaoh's wife, and Mary, the daughter of 'Imran. And no doubt, the superiority of 'Aisha to other women is like the superiority of Tharid (i.e. a meat and bread dish) to other meals."

Here Mohammad is confusing the Miriam (in Arabic Maryam) the daughter of Imran and the sister of Moses and Aaron with Mary (alos Maryam in Arabic) the mother of Jesus. He made the same mistake in Quran. Miriam, the daughter of Imran is not an important religious figure. In fact she even disobeyed God once. We also don't know who is this Asia the Pharaoh's wife it must have part of a legend that Muhammad had heard, which is now forgotten.

The moral standard and ethical values of the holy Prophet (peace be upon his immaculate soul) can be revealed by his examples and stories of his life.Like this one:

Bukhari Volume 7, Book 63, Number 182:

Narrated Abu Usaid
We went out with the Prophet to a garden called Ash-Shaut till we reache d two walls between which we sat down. The Prophet said, "Sit here," and went in (the garden). The Jauniyya (a lady from Bani Jaun) had been brought and lodged in a house in a date-palm garden in the home of Umaima bint An-Nu'man bin Sharahil, and her wet nurse was with her. When the Prophet entered upon her, he said to her, "Give me yourself (for sex) as a gift." She said, "Can a princess give herself to an ordinary man?" The Prophet raised his hand to pat her so that she might become tranquil. She said, "I seek refuge with Allah from you." He said, "You have sought refuge with One Who gives refuge. Then the Prophet came out to us and said, "O Abu Usaid! Give her two white linen dresses to wear and let her go back to her family.

Didn’t the Prophet have enough women already? Did he have to mount every beautiful woman whom he met? Look at his temper. In one moment he is overtaken by lust asking his hostess to "give herself to him as a gift", when he is rejected he becomes violent and raises his hand to beat the poor woman, then when she seeks refuge with Allah the Prophet (peace be upon his immaculate soul) comes to his senses and feels guilty for his despicable behavior and to alleviate his conscience decides to compensate his victim by bribing her. Is this the profile of a mentally stable man?

The Prophet had no regard for women. To him women represented everything that was evil. Even at a subconscious level the holy messenger of God, saw women as the mark of disease and affliction. When he dreamt a black woman in his dream, his disparage of women and the blacks made him interpret it as the sign of epidemic.

Bukhari Volume 9, Book 87, Number 163:

Narrated Salim's father
The Prophet said, "I saw (in a dream) a black woman with unkempt hair going out of Medina and settling in Mahai'a. I interpreted that as (a symbol of) epidemic of Medina being transferred to Mahai'a, namely, Al-Juhfa."

Even in religious matters he asserted the symbolical inferiority of women.

Narrated Sahl bin Sa'd:
The people used to pray with the Prophet tying their Izars around their necks because of their small sizes and the women were directed that they should not raise their heads from the prostrations till the men had sat straight. (Sahih Bukhari 1.778)

And as recorded in the following hadith he sealed the eternal enslavement of them.

Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to travel for one day and night except with a Mahram." (Sahih Bukhari 2.194)

Let us end our review of the status of woman in Islam with these inspiring words of wisdom uttered by the messenger of Allah (peace be upon his immaculate soul) found in hadiths:

"To find a good woman among women is similar to finding a white crow among a hundred crows."

"The marriage commitment is a kind of slavery for women."

"If anybody has been required to prostrate before others beside God, the woman should prostrate before her husband."

"If the body of the husband is covered with pus and his wife licks it with her tongue, she still will not be able to pay her debt to him."

Ali Sina is the editor of He is has contributed in 'Beyond Jihad - Critical Voices from Inside Islam'.  His latest book is Understanding Muhammad: The Psychobiography of Allah’s Prophet.