Early Islam’s Feminist Air

The founders of three great religions, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed (in order of appearance) were remarkably feminist in their leanings. In the month of Ramadan I would like to explore the feminist air of early Islam.

For centuries Muslim women enjoyed greater rights than most women in the world. The Koran gives women the right to work and to own property. Mohammed abolished female infanticide, slavery, and a widow’s obligation to marry her husband’s brother. Indeed, women were given the right to give their consent to marry.

Some things that look sexist today were a great step forward at the time. Women could become heir to one third of what a male inherited. (Since men’s role was to support women they were given extra help.) Muslim women were able to inherit much sooner than their Western sisters.

Islamic men are also allowed to marry up to four wives, and each wife must be treated equally. Doesn’t sound too heavenly to our ears, but this was progress from a time when men could marry as many women as they wanted.

Even the most problematic scripture in the Koran was an improvement. Chapter 4 verse 34 reads, “As for those women whose rebellion you justly fear, admonish them first; then leave their beds; then beat them.” This scripture actually gave women some protection against abuse in that men were cautioned against battering as the first response.  

Some Islamic feminists note that there are other definitions for the word “daraba,” than “to beat,” one of which is “to go away.” Something to think about.

With early feminist beginnings it is not surprising that one of the largest, most egalitarian and peaceful societies is West Sumatra, Indonesia.

Yet over time the religion has become increasingly patriarchal in most corners of the world.

In what is claimed “countering Westernization,” Islamic states have kept busy restricting women’s rights, sometimes going against the Koran, as when the Taliban took away women’s right to work, or when the right to consent to marriage is ignored.

As one Islamic feminist put it, “Islam needs to go back to its progressive 7th century roots if it is to move forward into the 21st century.”

Georgia Platts


Asra Q. Nomani. “A Gender Jihad for Islam’s Future.” The Washington Post. November 6, 2005

Neil MacFarquhar. “Translation of Koran Verse Spurs Debate.” San Jose Mercury News. March 25, 2007. (Originally published in the New York Times.)

27 Responses

  1. That, indeed is a different view at Islamic feminism.

  2. At least the early traces of feminism give Islamic feminists something to work with. They can call back to that feminist intention and work to make it a bigger part of Islam. Most of the sexism in the Muslim world is cultural, not religious, and as such is a bit easier to change.

    • Please read what I posted below in responce to what you believe are the
      ” Earliest traces of feminism in Islam”
      This is what you believe Islamic women should
      Work with?

      Sad, very sad. Many courageous Muslim women speak
      Against your beliefs and one of them after reading
      your beliefs called your beliefs “Dangerous to ALL women”

      • I have read your responses.

        I teach women’s studies and both my Muslim students and the Islamic feminists I have read say that the best way to turn the Muslim world toward greater gender equality is to focus on the feminist aspects of the Quran.

        Women who are fighting for greater gender equality in Islam make a distinction between the Quran and all other texts. Only the Quran is considered the word of God, so the rest can actually be thrown out. Again, while the Quran is seen as the word of God, Mohammed, himself, is not. His life isn’t the same as God’s word.

        Since making these points are what Muslim women see as most effective in increasing gender equality, I ask again:

        How do you feel that your critique is going to increase equality within the world?

  3. I am not sure if I want to laugh or cry at the belief
    that muhammed was a feminist.
    I am calling BullShit.

    Understand that it is the Hadith (traditions), Sira (biography of Muhammad) and the Qur’an together that provide the true Islamic counterpart to the Christian Bible and Jewish Torah.  The Qur’an is simply the purported words of Allah arranged in no particular order.  It makes little sense outside of the context provided by the other two sources.

    It is against Islam to rape Muslim women, but Muhammad actually encouraged the rape of women captured in battle. This hadith provides the context for the Qur’anic verse (4:24):

    The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) sent a military expedition to Awtas on the occasion of the battle of Hunain.  They met their enemy and fought with them.  They defeated them and took them captives.

    Some of the Companions of the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) were reluctant to have intercourse with the female captives in the presence of their husbands who were unbelievers.  So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Qur’anic verse: (Sura 4:24) “And all married women (are forbidden) unto you save those (captives) whom your right hands possess.” (Abu Dawud 2150, also Muslim 3433)

    Actually, as the hadith indicates, it wasn’t Muhammad, but “Allah the Exalted” who told the men to rape the women in front of their husbands, which is all the more reason not to think of Islam as being the same as other religion.

    There are several hadith in which Muhammad is asked for his opinion on how women should be raped following their capture.  This pertains to an episode in which his men were reluctant to devalue their new slaves for later resale by getting them pregnant. 
    As one might imagine, Muhammad’s obvious approval of raping women captured in battle, and his own personal participation as recorded in many places, is of intense inconvenience to the Muslim apologists of our time.  For this reason, some of them attempt to explain away these many episodes and Qur’anic references to sex with captives by pretending that these are cases in which women have fled bad marriages and sought refuge with the Muslims.  Some apologists even refer to them as “wives,” even though the Qur’an makes a clear distinction between “those whom thy right hand possesses” and true wives (see Sura 33:50).

    • I wouldn’t call Muhammad a feminist, either. But early Islam did have a feminist air to it. And one that I would like to see Muslim women grab onto as a way to decrease patriarchy in this world. Many Islamic feminists are trying, and I feel they need the support of their feminist sisters.

      • A Barbaric culture that onced buried it’s female infants alive progressed only slightly when Mohammed came along. Today we see the examples again and again of Mohammed’s “feminisim.”

        What a sick joke!

  4. You are talking about a man who had a 9 year old as a “wife”

    It is probably fair to say that Muhammad did not approve of the intentional killing of children.  A verse from the Qur’an laments the pre-Islamic Arab practice of infanticide against baby girls.  Other evidence from the Hadith suggests that he instructed his men not to kill children in battle, if it could be avoided, but to capture them for slavery. 

    Children were often given a specific reprieve from the mandate to “kill those who disbelieve in Allah”:

    [Muhammad said] “Fight everyone in the way of Allah and kill those who disbelieve in Allah.  Do not be deceitful with the spoils; do not be treacherous, nor mutilate nor kill children.” (Ibn Ishaq 992)

    But Muhammad’s definition of a child was not the same as our modern understanding.  Following the surrender of the Qurayza stronghold, he ordered the execution of every male child who had reached puberty.  His men had the boys drop their pants so that they could chop the head off of anyone with pubic hair (Sahih Muslim 4390).

    Keep in mind that many Muslims often insist that Aisha reached puberty at age nine, since that is the age that Muhammad began having sex with her.  If so, then the age for “manhood” among boys might have been considered around twelve.

    Muhammad also played a bit loose with the lives of women and children during wartime.  As recorded in both Bukhari and Sahih Muslim:

    It is reported on the authority of Sa’b b. Jaththama that the Prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him), when asked about the women and children of the polytheists being killed during the night raid, said: “They are from them.” (Sahih Muslim 4322, see also Bukhari 52:256)

    This does not justify the targeted killing of women and children per se, but it does prove that collateral damage is entirely acceptable if it accomplishes the military goal of spreading Islamic rule.  It is doubtful that Muhammad would ever shrug off the killing of young Muslims as he did the killing of non-Muslim children.

    Muhammad did, in fact, draw a distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim children and said that it would be permissible to kill a child who has no prospect of accepting Islam:

    The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) used not to kill the children, so thou shouldst not kill them unless you could know what Khadir had known about the child he killed, or you could distinguish between a child who would grow up to he a believer (and a child who would grow up to be a non-believer), so that you killed the (prospective) non-believer and left the (prospective) believer aside. (Sahih Muslim 4457)

    After capturing Mecca, the prophet of Islam also ordered the execution of two “singing girls” who had mocked him in verse:

    “…two singing-girls Fartana and her friend who used to sing satirical songs about the apostle, so he ordered that they should be killed…” (Ibn Ishaq 819)

  5. I could go on all day about Feminism and Islam
    But my head is exploding.

    The Qur’an places men and women on equal foundation before Allah.  Each person is judged according to his or her own deeds.  Women have equal rights under Islamic law. 

    The Truth: 

    Merely stating that individuals will be judged as such by Allah does not mean that they have equal rights and roles, or that they are judged by the same standards.

    There is no ambiguity in the Qur’an, the life of Muhammad, or Islamic law as to the inferiority of women to men, despite the efforts of modern-day apologists to salvage Western-style feminism from scraps and fragments of verses that have historically held no such progressive interpretation.

    After military conquests, Muhammad would dole out captured women as war prizes to his men.  In at least one case, he advocated that they be raped in front of their husbands.  Captured women were made into sex slaves by the very men who killed their husbands and brothers.  There are four Qur’anic verses in which “Allah” makes clear that a Muslim master has full sexual access to his female slaves, yet there is not one that prohibits rape.

    The Qur’an gives Muslim men permission to beat their wives for disobedience.  It plainly says that husbands are “a degree above” wives.  The Hadith says that women are intellectually inferior, and that they comprise the majority of Hell’s occupants.

    Under Islamic law, a man may divorce his wife at the drop of a hat.  If he does this twice, then wishes to remarry her, she must first have sex with another man.  Men are exempt from such degradations.

    Muslim women are not free to marry whomever they please, as are Muslim men.  Their husband may also bring other wives (and slaves) into the marriage bed.  And she must be be sexually available to him at any time (as a field ready to be “tilled,” according to the holy book of Islam).

    Muslim women do not inherit property in equal portions to males.  Their testimony in court is considered to be worth only half that of a man’s.  Unlike a man, she must cover her head – and often her face.

    If a woman wants to prove that she was raped, then there must be four male witnesses to corroborate her account.  Otherwise she can be jailed or stoned to death for confessing to “adultery.”

    Given all of this, it is quite a stretch to say that men and women have “equality under Islam” based on obscure theological analogies or comparisons.  This is an entirely new ploy that may be designed for modern tastes, but is in sharp disagreement with the reality of Islamic law and history.


    • I’m wondering what you feel is most productive for increasing women’s equality in the world: Being clear that Islamic foundations are far from feminism or highlighting the feminist aspects of Islam in an attempt to open Islamic minds to greater possibilities for equality? I’m very curious as to how you see this. I hope you will respond.

      Also, the Quran doesn’t say anything about women covering anything other than their bosoms. The rest is cultural.

  6. Again ….Understand that it is the Hadith (traditions), Sira (biography of Muhammad) and the Qur’an together that provide the true Islamic counterpart to the Christian Bible and Jewish Torah.  The Qur’an is simply the purported words of Allah arranged in no particular order.  It makes little sense outside of the context provided by the other two sources.

  7. Seriously what Quran are you reading

    The Qur’an:

    Qur’an (24:31) – Commands women to “draw their headscarves” over their neckline as well.

    Qur’an (33:59) – “Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them…”

    Qur’an (24:31) – “And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known.”  The woman is not only supposed to cover herself, except with relatives, but to look down, so as to avoid making eye-contact with men.

    From the Hadith:


    Bukhari (6:321) – Muhammad is asked whether it is right for a young woman to leave her house without a veil.  He replies, “She should cover herself with the veil of her companion.”


    Bukhari (60:282) – After Muhammad issued the command (Qur’an 24:31) for women to cover themselves, the women responded by tearing up sheets to cover their faces.


    Abu Dawud (32:4092) – The Apostle of Allah… said: “O Asma’, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands”  This was according to Aisha.


    Abu Dawud (2:641) – The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Allah does not accept the prayer of a woman who has reached puberty unless she wears a veil.


    Bukhari (52:250) – [The Prophet said] “It is not permissible for a man to be alone with a woman, and no lady should travel except with a Muhram (i.e. her husband or a person whom she cannot marry in any case for ever; e.g. her father, brother, etc.).” – Neither is a woman allowed to travel by herself.


    Additional Notes:

    Islamic law (Sharia) clearly requires women to cover themselves.  The degree of covering varies with how seriously a Muslim government interprets this, with the Taliban at one extreme (requiring full burqas) and moderate governments such as Turkey and Tunisia (actually banning headscarves in public buildings) at the other.


    The head covering is interpreted as a symbol of male domination by most critics outside the faith, and by many Muslim women, who have been fighting for the right to dress as they please.  In December of 2007, a father in Canada beat his 16-year-old daughter to death for refusing to wear the hijab (headscarf).


    Some insist that the veil is not mandated by the religion, although they do not have anything within the sacred texts to counter the passages in which Muhammad instructed its use.  In fact, verse 24:60 says that the veil is only optional for unmarried women who are too old to have children, and even then the freedom to uncover the head is discouraged.


    Muslim clerics, such as Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, have said that unveiled victims of public rape invited their attackers: “If I came across a rape crime – kidnap and violation of honour – I would discipline the man and order that the woman be arrested and jailed for life.’ Why would you do this, Rafihi?  He says because if she had not left the meat uncovered, the cat wouldn’t have snatched it…  If you take uncovered meat and put it on the street, on the pavement, in a garden, in a park or in the backyard, without a cover and the cats eat it, is it the fault of the cat or the uncovered meat?  The uncovered meat is the problem.”


    Perhaps for this reason, many women do say that they relay on the veil for for protection against unwanted male attention in the Muslim world.  Even in the West, some describe it as ‘liberating.’ 


    Veils and burqas are becoming more common in Muslim countries with the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism.  In the West, they are gradually becoming a chic statement of political protest or a symbol of distinction. 

    • So, really…is the Cat from a part of town where they eat meat any time? Or do they abstain on certain days for reasons such as acknowledging that they’re not Cats, but divinely inspired MEN who would have some respect for themselves if they had something in control of their actions besides animal instinct?

  8. Not debating anyone who believes that Islam is one
    Of the three great religions and equates Jesus and Budda
    To Islam.
    In arabic the word is Taquiyya.
    You are a deciever.
    I have proved you wrong every step of the way.

    • As I do with students who disagree with me, I’ll leave readers to consider your points and mine, and make up their own minds.

      • Have you made up your mind about the wearing
        of the veil as you stated NOT being in the Qur’an?

        It is as I proved you incorrect.

        You do an in justice to Muslim women and all women
        When you repeat the Taquiyya. Please do not repeat
        the Islamic talking points it is dangerous.
        Have you traveled as a woman to an Islamic country?

        I am so angry right now I can’t see straight.
        Next you’ll want to repeat the Religion of Peace BS.
        Since you believe it one of the world greatest religions
        Its a fight club,
        Don’t you dare use the name of Jesus or Buddha in the
        Same sentence with Allah.

        And finally this
        Only the Quran is considered the word of God, so the rest can actually be thrown out.
        That’s laughable do you think anyone would agree to throww
        It ou????? Islam will kill over a cartoon about Muhammed
        He is the prophet. Throw it out…..yeah good try..maybe
        They’ll throw out Shariah law too!!
        Ask nicely….

        • Barbara and Dora,

          I’ve said all I have to say. People have heard both sides, they have their own information besides anything we have said.

          They can decide for themselves.

  9. That would be equating Jesus and Budda to

    What’s your purpose?

  10. Barbara – although I could never state is as well as you have, I agree with everything you have written.

    Thank you so much.

  11. Sorry…you are misinforming
    And I have a HUGE problem with
    that. Problem is too many people
    Listen to your Bullshit.
    The Imam building a mosque at
    Ground Zero also believes
    Muhammed the first feminst. He
    also believes Shariah law combatable
    With the US constitution.
    I have seen my sisters stoned to death.
    I filmed from behind a burqua in the
    70s 3 women beheaded in the name
    of what you defend as feminism?
    Crap its human rights. They murder
    Women for sport.
    You say great religion and equate Jesus with this?
    Out of respect for BJ I have refrained from telling
    You to F off. With women like you
    Fighting for women rights we are in deep shit.
    Sister Georgia educate yourself.
    And trust me its not over I will never
    Be SILENT.

  12. Here you go…a Saudi woman who has been blogging about the gender apartheid inherit in their “culture”


  13. Thanks prowlerzee
    I did say “nice try”
    cause I was thinking about how
    this woman wants to manipulate the teachings
    of Islam.
    Kinda like the “contributions of Islam to the world”
    Give me proof. I’ve given proof.
    Empty words..empty words.
    In a perfect world. I wish they
    Would “throw it away”

  14. From prowlerzee limk
    Saudi women
    I was born a Muslim and now a convert to Christianity. I really left Islam at 19 in my heart and soul when I realized I wanted my freedom, to make decisions on my free will and to be respected as a free woman as graced by God originally – Amen to that. And I found that in Christianity after a long journey towards searching for my inner and physical freedom. I applaud Ms. Al Nafjan for her bravery – especially speaking from the women/girls-hating primitive Saudikingdom but she sounds like a wealthy Saudi woman (the travel to Venice for ex)- thus we can imagine a poor Saudi or Muslim woman, not being able to speak as freely as her publicly! But it’s time to face up to an open debate that Islam, founded by a pedophile (including towards Jewish female captives and a child of 6 years old as his ‘brides’ amongst 15 altogether) and mass murderer of the Jews, Mohammed, simply cannot be a religion. It is instead a primitive socio-political cult, in order to assert Arabic dominance and conquest, using God, over believers and non-Muslims alike, until today – hence the creation of Islam as a religion for political power

  15. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tiffany Chen, BettyJean. BettyJean said: Early Islam’s Feminist Air: The founders of three great religions, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed (in order of appear… http://bit.ly/aH8Kvs […]

  16. Islam is not compatible with feminism.
    Feminism is about freedom.

    Islam reduces women to breeders and slaves.
    Islam is not compatible with liberty or democracy or humanity or decency.
    Beatings, stonings, rape? Hello?

    Let’s not sugar coat it.

    Thank you, Barbara, for calling bullshit.

    Islam sucks.

    • Thank you Persephone for calling the Bullshit Bullshit.

      Hard to believe that a woman wants to manipulates
      the abused into believing they walk amongst a religion
      that equates women to farm animals and actually
      Gives farm animals more rights Is on the path
      to feminism if she just looks for the “feminism airs”
      that have never existed in Islam.

      Last time I checked Islam was still stoning women to death
      Century’s later….something ain’t it?

      • Our Victorian Mothers called those “airs” vapors, and that gave them the excuse they needed (as LADIES) to faint….thus avoiding the issue or changing the subject by creating a distraction.

        Somebody bring her some water!!!

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