Muhammad and his first wife Khadija

The Sunnahs are the practices and examples drawn from the Prophet Muhammad's life. Along with the Hadiths they are the most important texts in Islam after the Quran. They must adhere to a strict chain of narration that ensures their authenticity, taking into account factors such as the character of people in the chain and continuity in narration. Reports that fail to meet such criteria are disregarded.

The Sunnah reads: “The world and all things in it are valuable, but the most valuable thing in the world is a virtuous woman. I have not left any calamity more hurtful to man than woman. A Muslim can not obtain (after righteousness) anything better than a well-disposed, beautiful wife: such a wife as, when ordered by her husband to do anything, obeys; and if her husband look at her, is happy; and if her husband swear by her to do a thing, she does it to make his oath true; and if he be absent from her, she wishes him well in her own person by guarding herself from inchastity, and taketh care of his property. [Source: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 11-32]

“Verily the best of women are those who are content with little. Admonish your wives with kindness; for women were created out of a crooked rib of Adam, therefore if ye wish to straighten it, ye will break it; and if ye let it alone, it will be always crooked. Every woman who dieth, and her husband is pleased with her, shall enter into paradise. That which is lawful but disliked by God is divorce.

“A woman may be married by four qualifications: one, on account of her money; another, on account of the nobility of her pedigree; another, on account of her beauty; a fourth, on account of her faith; therefore look out for religious women, but if ye do it from any other consideration, may your hands be rubbed in dirt. A widow shall not be married until she be consulted; nor shall a virgin be married until her consent be asked, whose consent is by her silence. When the Prophet was informed that the people of Persia had made the daughter of Chosroes their queen, he said The tribe that constitutes a woman its ruler will not find redemption.

“Do not prevent your women from coming to the mosque; but their homes are better for them. O assembly of women, give alms, although it be of your gold and silver ornaments; for verily ye are mostly of hell on the day of resurrection. When ye return from a journey and enter your town at night, go not to your houses, so that your wives may have time to comb their disheveled hair.

Quran: "The Women"

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful: “4.1: 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) and spread from these two, many men and women; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, by Whom you demand one of another (your rights), and (to) the ties of relationship; surely Allah ever watches over you.

“4.3: And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course.

“4.4: And give women their dowries as a free gift, but if they of themselves be pleased to give up to you a portion of it, then eat it with enjoyment and with wholesome result.

“4.7: Men shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and women shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, whether there is little or much of it; a stated portion.


“4.12: And you shall have half of what your wives leave if they have no child, but if they have a child, then you shall have a fourth of what they leave after (payment of) any bequest they may have bequeathed or a debt; and they shall have the fourth of what you leave if you have no child, but if you have a child then they shall have the eighth of what you leave after (payment of) a bequest you may have bequeathed or a debt; and if a man or a woman leaves property to be inherited by neither parents nor offspring, and he (or she) has a brother or a sister, then each of them two shall have the sixth, but if they are more than that, they shall be sharers in the third after (payment of) any bequest that may have been bequeathed or a debt that does not harm (others); this is an ordinance from Allah: and Allah is Knowing, Forbearing.

“4.15: And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them.

“4.23: Forbidden to you are your mothers and your daughters and your sisters and your paternal aunts and your maternal aunts and brothers' daughters and sisters' daughters and your mothers that have suckled you and your foster-sisters and mothers of your wives and your step-daughters who are in your guardianship, (born) of your wives to whom you have gone in, but if you have not gone in to them, there is no blame on you (in marrying them), and the wives of your sons who are of your own loins and that you should have two sisters together, except what has already passed; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

“4.25: And whoever among you has not within his power ampleness of means to marry free believing women, then (he may marry) of those whom your right hands possess from among your believing maidens; and Allah knows best your faith: you are (sprung) the one from the other; so marry them with the permission of their masters, and give them their dowries justly, they being chaste, not fornicating, nor receiving paramours; and when they are taken in marriage, then if they are guilty of indecency, they shall suffer half the punishment which is (inflicted) upon free women. This is for him among you who fears falling into evil; and that you abstain is better for you, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

“4.32: And do not covet that by which Allah has made some of you excel others; men shall have the benefit of what they earn and women shall have the benefit of what they earn; and ask Allah of His grace; surely Allah knows all things.

“4.34: 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.

“4.124: And whoever does good deeds whether male or female and he (or she) is a believer -- these shall enter the garden, and they shall not be dealt with a jot unjustly.

“4.128: And if a woman fears ill usage or desertion on the part of her husband, there is no blame on them, if they effect a reconciliation between them, and reconciliation is better, and avarice has been made to be present in the (people's) minds; and if you do good (to others) and guard (against evil), then surely Allah is aware of what you do.

“4.130: And if they separate, Allah will render them both free from want out of His ampleness, and Allah is Ample-giving, Wise.

Quran on What Is Expected of Women

Bedouin woman in 1898

“2.222: And they ask you about menstruation. Say: It is a discomfort; therefore keep aloof from the women during the menstrual discharge and do not go near them until they have become clean; then when they have cleansed themselves, go in to them as Allah has commanded you; surely Allah loves those who turn much (to Him), and He loves those who purify themselves.

“2.223: Your wives are a tilth for you, so go into your tilth when you like, and do good beforehand for yourselves, and be careful (of your duty) to Allah, and know that you will meet Him, and give good news to the believers.

“2.228: And the divorced women should keep themselves in waiting for three courses; and it is not lawful for them that they should conceal what Allah has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allah and the last day; and their husbands have a better right to take them back in the meanwhile if they wish for reconciliation; and they have rights similar to those against them in a just manner, and the men are a degree above them, and Allah is Mighty, Wise.

“2.233: And the mothers should suckle their children for two whole years for him who desires to make complete the time of suckling; and their maintenance and their clothing must be -- borne by the father according to usage; no soul shall have imposed upon it a duty but to the extent of its capacity; neither shall a mother be made to suffer harm on account of her child, nor a father on account of his child, and a similar duty (devolves) on the (father's) heir, but if both desire weaning by mutual consent and counsel, there is no blame on them, and if you wish to engage a wet-nurse for your children, there is no blame on you so long as you pay what you promised for according to usage; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah and know that Allah sees what you do.

“2.234: And (as for) those of you who die and leave wives behind, they should keep themselves in waiting for four months and ten days; then when they have fully attained their term, there is no blame on you for what they do for themselves in a lawful manner; and Allah is aware of what you do.

“2.236: There is no blame on you if you divorce women when you have not touched them or appointed for them a portion, and make provision for them, the wealthy according to his means and the straitened in circumstances according to his means, a provision according to usage; (this is) a duty on the doers of good (to others).

“2.240:And those of you who die and leave wives behind, (make) a bequest in favor of their wives of maintenance for a year without turning (them) out, then if they themselves go away, there is no blame on you for what they do of lawful deeds by themselves, and Allah is Mighty, Wise.

“2.241: And for the divorced women (too) provision (must be made) according to usage; (this is) a duty on those who guard (against evil).

Quran on Hijab

young woman in Iran

According to the BBC: “The Qur'an makes a few references to Muslim clothing, but prefers to point out more general principles of modest dress. “Both men and women are commanded to lower their gaze and "guard their modesty". The most basic interpretation of "guard their modesty" is to cover the private parts, which includes the chest in women ("draw their veils over their bosoms"). However, many scholars interpret this injunction in a more detailed way and use Hadith (recorded sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) to support their views. [Source: BBC, September 3, 2009 |::|]

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.” — Quran 24:30

“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, [a list of relatives], [household servants], or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss. ) — Quran 24:31

Hadiths and Women

Muslim Texts other than the Qur’an include: 1) the “Hadith” , a collection of sayings and deeds of the Prophet (Muhammad); 2) the “sunna” , the body of Islamic social and legal customs based on the Prophet’s response to his revelations; 3) the “ sira” , biographies of the Muhammad; and 4) “ tafsir” and 5) “ tawil” , Qur’anic commentary and explanation. Sometimes all these texts are collectively called as the Hadiths Both the Hadith and Sunnah must adhere to a strict chain of narration that ensures its authenticity, taking into account factors such as the character of people in the chain and continuity in narration. Reports that fail to meet such criteria will be disregarded.”[Source: BBC, July 14, 2011 |::|]

Many of the precepts for appropriate behavior are specified in the Qur’an. Other spiritual and ethical guidelines are found in the hadis (in Arabic, hadith ), an authenticated record of the sayings and actions of Muhammad and his earliest companions. Devout Muslims regard their words, acts, and decisions called collectively the sunna as models to be emulated by later generations. Because of its normative character, the sunna is revered along with the Qur’an as a primary source of seriat (in Arabic, sharia ), or Islamic law. [Source: Library of Congress]

The Hadith provides the basis for much of Islamic law. It contains many laws and rules based on interpretations of the Qur’an. Much of Islamic thought is found in the Hadith partly because the Hadith has traditionally been understood to be a text open to "interpretation. argument and rigorous intellectual inquiry."

The Hadith is a collection of more than 60,000 accounts of Muhammad’s words and actions. They are divided into six revered collections, or “ sahib” , meaning “sound.” The authenticity of some hadiths is still a matter of debate. Those who told the stories, and recorded them, were not always reliable.

Some hadiths with historical contexts are erroneously used to justify modern prohibtions. One that forbids women from traveling alone is used to deny women the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. Gormez said, “This is clearly not a religious injunction but related to security in a specific time and place. In the Qur’an Muhammad laments the days when women could travel alone from Yemen to Mecca.”

Turkey’s Effort to Update the Hadith in Regard to Women

Prof Mehmet Gormez, a senior official in the Department of Religious Affairs and an expert on the Hadith, told the BBC: "There are some messages that ban women from travelling for three days or more without their husband's permission and they are genuine. But this isn't a religious ban. It came about because in the Prophet's time it simply wasn't safe for a woman to travel alone like that. But as time has passed, people have made permanent what was only supposed to be a temporary ban for safety reasons." [Source: Robert Piggott, BBC News, February 26, 2008 /=/]

Robert Piggott of the BBC wrote: “Prof Gormez points out that in another speech, the Prophet said "he longed for the day when a woman might travel long distances alone". So, he argues, it is clear what the Prophet's goal was. Yet, until now, the ban has remained in the text, and helps to restrict the free movement of some Muslim women to this day. /=/

“As part of its aggressive programme of renewal, Turkey has given theological training to 450 women, and appointed them as senior imams called "vaizes". They have been given the task of explaining the original spirit of Islam to remote communities in Turkey's vast interior. One of the women, Hulya Koc, looked out over a sea of headscarves at a town meeting in central Turkey and told the women of the equality, justice and human rights guaranteed by an accurate interpretation of the Qur’an - one guided and confirmed by the revised Hadith. /=/

“She says that, at the moment, Islam is being widely used to justify the violent suppression of women. There are honour killings," she explains. "We hear that some women are being killed when they marry the wrong person or run away with someone they love. "There's also violence against women within families, including sexual harassment by uncles and others. This does not exist in Islam... we have to explain that to them."” /=/

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong; A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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