What is Islam?

by James William Lovegrove (Habeeb-Ullah)

Women in Islam

The subject of equality between man and man will remain incomplete if I remain silent on the position of women in Islam. Before the advent of Islam woman had no position in the world. Islam raised her from the lowest status to equality with man when the Quran brought the following gospel:

“O people, be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, who created you from a single being, and created its mate of the same (kind)” (The Holy Quran, 4:1).

The Prophet’s words explain the verse very eloquently when he says:

“Women are the twin halves of men.”

Could there be any justification in view of these passages of the misstatement of some writers who say that Muslims do not believe that a woman has a soul? The Quran in various places admits the equality of man and woman on almost every plane—moral, spiritual, and intellectual.

The present position of woman in Christendom is not the result of Christianity. Jesus more or less remains silent on the subject, but the real founder of Church religion, St. Paul, had not a good word to say for woman.

The very basic principle of Christianity reduces her to the utmost degradation when it makes her the cause of human perdition. She tempted Adam to commit sin, and brought eternal condemnation on the head of man; she opened the door of sin and brought death into the world. No wonder the early fathers in the Church used harsh words respecting her.

With one word Muhammad raised her to the highest pedestal when he said:

“Heaven lies at the feet of thy mother.”

Under the teaching of Christianity, if the first mother brought us eternal hell, in Islam she has opened the door of paradise. There has been during the last twenty years a regular fight between the two sexes as to their respective rights and obligations; but could the advocates of the suffragette movement claim a better position for woman than has already been awarded her in the Quran?

“To them (women) is due what is due from them.”

Man, under this teaching, cannot bring the other sex under any obligation or duty until and unless he himself is prepared to do the same in her favour. In Islam, woman is an independent personality; she can enter into any business, make any contract or testament in her own name; she is entitled to inherit, as mother, wife, sister and daughter, a thing unknown in any other religion, civilization, or legislation. A Western home is not a commendable home for woman. Marriage is a lottery. Heart-burning transference of love and affection, neglected wives, and daughters, sons in affluence and parents in indigence, are the common features of our home life. But a Muslim home opens the door of quite a different life. Religion is nowhere more strictly observed, and the teacher’s words nowhere more strictly obeyed than in Muslim lands, and the reader may picture for himself the felicitous state of a Muslim home if the following words of the Prophet are put into practice:


The best of you is he who behaves best in his household.

Women are the twin halves of men.

The world and all things in it are valuable, but the most valuable thing in the world is a virtuous wife.

When a woman observes the five times of prayer, and fasts the month of Ramadan, and is chaste, and is not disobedient to her husband, then tell her to enter Paradise by whichever door she likes.


A virtuous wife is a man’s best treasure.

Admonish your wives with kindness.

A Muslim must not hate his wife, and if he be displeased with one bad quality in her, then let him be pleased with another which is good.

Do you beat your wives as you would a slave? That you must not.

The best of you before God and His creation are those who are best in their own families, and I am the best to my family.

One of the disciples inquired of the Apostle as to what treatment should be meted out to a wife. He answered:

“Give her to eat when you eat yourself, and clothe her when you clothe yourself, and do not slap her in the face, nor abuse her, nor separate yourself from her in displeasure.

Give your wife good counsel, and do not beat your noble wife like a slave.

If a woman undertakes more than one day’s journey some of her male relations should accompany her.”


Polygamy, it must not be forgotten, existed in the world before Islam. Many of the Israelite patriarchs were polygamous, and the number of wives in some cases amounted to five hundred.

Founders of other religions in the world were no exception to it. Christianity did not make any change in this direction, and until the sixteenth century the whole of Christendom was polygamous. The worst of the polygamous types were the clergy and the bishops. The present law of monogamy was framed after the Institutes of Justinian, a Roman lawgiver, and an atheist. Islam came to reform the system. It reduced the number of wives, and allowed a second marriage only under certain restricted conditions, where it was the only possible solution of the situation. Again, the Quran laid down certain conditions as to the treatment to be awarded to the different wives. This made polygamy next to an impossibility. Islam, unlike other religions, made laws for everything, including polygamy, and was largely instrumental in checking it. We hear a lot of Muslim polygamy, and yet the number of polygamous marriages is not one in ten thousand.

Polygamy is not an obligation in Islam; it was provided to meet certain contingencies of life which could only be remedied in this way. If marriage in the bald sense of the word means the companionship of man and woman for connubial purposes, then the West is more polygamous than the East.

There are often hard cases in a man’s life—when he cannot separate from his first wife, and yet is in need of a second marriage. Take the case of a barren woman, or a confirmed invalid incapable of bringing forth children, or of looking after domestic duties. The second wife would be more desirable than all the substitutes which human ingenuity could devise. Until today human society has failed to create any adequate check on illicit sexual intercourse and illegitimate birth. These things are to a great extent unknown in the East, and polygamy is one of the chief means of removing the stigma of illegitimacy from those poor souls who were never consulted as to their being brought into this world, and who, according to Western ideas, have become disinherited, though inheriting all the physical infirmities of the father, whatever they may be. Besides, woman in Islam is entitled to receive every protection, regard and maintenance from the male sex. She is not supposed to work hard and earn her livelihood. The physical difference between the two sexes apportions the hardness of life to man.

“Men are the maintainers of women,”

says the Quran [4:34]. They must look after them. Accidents or events in the world have often depleted the male ranks, and the number of women has always exceeded that of man for the same reason. The last war decreased the population by about a million men. The question of unemployment is growing serious, and the members of the fair sex are compelled to vacate their position for men. This is one of the contingencies when polygamy plays its part. Those verses of the Quran which deal with the subject received their revelation in the time of war; just after the battle of Uhud, when seventy out of seven hundred choice soldiers of Islam fell on the battlefield, leaving widows and children, who could not otherwise honourably live without showing signs of immorality and moral degradation, unless sheltered by a cosy and affectionate roof.

Men were killed and left behind them widows and orphans. Their protection and maintenance, especially in the countries of the East where it is a disgrace for society to see woman subjected to the hardships of life by earning her livelihood, could not be secured except through polygamous marriage. The several marriages of the Prophet have the same explanation. A man who was married in the prime of his youth, when twenty-five years of age, to a widow of forty, especially in hot countries, where women grow pre-maturely old, and who could remain faithful to her up to the age of fifty-two, could not be a prey to his passions.

After the death of his first wife, the Prophet took Ayesha, the daughter of his friend Abu Bekr [Abu Bakr], as his wife. Then came the period of fighting, in which many of his devoted friends were killed, leaving unprotected widows, almost all of whom were old. He took some of them in marriage in order to give them a home and protection. It should not, however, be forgotten that the law of polygamy does not give a man a blank cheque, as it were, to be filled in by him as his fancy may suggest. Where there is no necessity for them such alliances are not allowed; they become sin. The restriction of equal treatment of the wives in lodging, comfort, etc., make it next to impossible to have a second wife in ordinary cases. Monogamy is recommended in the Quran. Monogamy is a food and polygamy a medicine, with all its bitterness, which can only be used when illness renders it necessary. No marriage can take place without free consent of the parties concerned, and no woman can be forced to marry a man who has already a wife living with him. In the case of a bachelor, the possibility of the husband contracting a second marriage can be provided against. Marriage with all its sacredness is a civil contract in Islam, and can be subjected to any reasonable and lawful stipulation. For instance, it can be stipulated that in the event of a man marrying another wife his first wife will become absolved from all her duties as wife. She may treat it as nullifying the marital relation. She can also claim a penalty and maintenance for life, if these are provided in the marriage contract. She can marry another man, and that act will not disqualify her from claiming the maintenance from her first husband. In short, polygamy in Islam came into practice to serve the interest of the weaker sex, and will come automatically to an end when human society becomes purified of its moral ill-health. This is the spirit of the Muslim law of polygamy.

I need not say much about divorce here. The Western world has realized the hardship of the dogma under which it is believed that human agency cannot separate what has been joined together by God. Cases like that of Rutherford are something unimaginable in Islam, where even incompatibility of dispositions is a valid cause for separation and divorce. Scandals of divorce cases in the West are unknown in the East. The method of divorcement is a private concern, and mutual arrangement between the parties saves them from becoming victims of public scandal and leaves them a fair chance of entering into new marital relations. With all this freedom of action in the matter of divorce, it is nevertheless very rare in Muslim countries. This speaks well for the happy relations existing between a Muslim and his wife. After all

“she is the sovereign of the house,”

in the words of the Prophet, who also says,

“the thing that is lawful, but disliked by God, is divorce.”