Controlling women is not part of Islam

In Saudi Arabia, there is a movement to put an end to the guardianship system that controls the lives of women. Under this system, Saudi women cannot work, study,travel, or even open a bank account without the permission of their guardian–a man. Opponents of this system, like Wajeha Al-Huwaider, a Saudi women’s activist, argue that it prevents women from carrying out normal lives. Supporters, on the other hand, maintain that the guardianship system is in line with Islamic law and have even gone so far as to launch the campaign “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me.”

Arguing that guardianship stems from Islam strips women of the very rights that Islam itself gives them. For example, education is a right for both women and men. A hadith, saying of the Prophet Muhammad, that is often cited is “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.” – [Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74] In this hadith, no distinction is made between women and men.  Also, it is well known that  Ayesha, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, played a big role in preserving many of the hadiths that directly contribute to our knowledge of him.

Another problem with the idea of guardianship is that there is nothing in Islam that says that women are subordinate to men. The verse from the Qur’an that is often cited to support the opinion of subordination is:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means…(Qur’an 4:34)

However, in discussions of this verse, many have highlighted that men are not superior to women, but are responsible to take care of them. In other words, it is not a right but a responsibility. Moreover, Islamic history presents many examples of women who were not subjected to subordination by men. Khadija, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, was a prominent businesswoman and before their marriage, he worked for her. She was held in great esteem by the Prophet Muhammad and by Muslims. Her example, and the Prophet Muhammad’s deep respect for her, is indicative of the fact that women in Islam were  able to work and did not need a man’s permission. In fact in the early Muslim community as opposed to the current example of Saudia Arabia, women were very active members of their society. In Islam, women and men are equal in front of God.

Thus, when anyone argues that a guardianship system like the one in Saudi Arabia is based on Islam, they are automatically contradicted by what we know of the early Muslim community and how the Prophet Muhammad himself dealt with women. The guardianship system does not stem from Islam and makes the issue of “maintaining women” an issue of control rather than support. There is no place in Islam for this kind of repression.

What do you think of the guardianship system? Do you think the Saudi system is representative of Islam? What, if any, change is needed to that system? Please share your thoughts below.

4 thoughts on “Controlling women is not part of Islam

  1. I think it’s important to look at what a young country Saudi Arabia is; it was only founded in 1932. Society as a whole takes a long time to evolve into what many more liberal countries would consider acceptable. I think it is conjecture to say that the guardianship system exists to control women, rather I believe it is a formality that hasn’t met extreme measures of distaste until recently.

    To understand why the guardianship system was put in place it would be necessary to witness the events that made it seem glaringly important; I don’t doubt that it was for the benefit of women in that time period. However, I do understand that times have changed and am glad to see that Saudi may be moving forward on the front of equal rights.

  2. I think this is an interesting article, and I’d like to add a point:

    The verse that is cited (Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means…(Qur’an 4:34)) can be interpreted and read into as much, or as little, as a person, community, state wills to read into it, and the meaning that is read into it depends on one’s social space. In North America, for example, the meaning does not extend to control over a woman’s body or movement, but can mean financial responsibility in the family or the responsibility of physical sercurity without a component of extreme obedience. But in other societies it is given greater importance, not because they are necessarily more correct, but it fits a particular social or cultural understanding, an understanding that probably *pre-exists” that particular interpretation.

  3. On one hand, I don’t agree with the “guardianship concept” in general and your article gave the reasons that I believe in too. On the other hand, I the two comments by “Laith” & “MuslimAct” explained the reasons behind this issue in particular and I agree with their explanations.

    Generally speaking, Although Women Rights are indeed found in Islam and elevated Women status, some Muslims in different societies still not aware of this due to part of the cultrual/social heritage that they interpret as “Islam”

  4. I m a working women living in Karachi Pakistan and m quite surprised to know about teachings of Quran that “men” are not superior than “women” because this is what we are told and taught right from childhood. girls should not have any opinion, any feeling, any right to advice n that they should be quite and i personally saw many families being ruined just because of this one factor.

    In my understanding and as per my study Islam is the region of ease. take the example of namaz for instance. it is said to offer your prayers five times a day. if you cant offer it standing, offer it sitting, if you cant offer it sitting, offer it laying on bed, if you even cant offer it laying offer it by signal. then how can this easy religion be too stiff to women that there is left no sense of self esteem, self respect and sense of being for them. If we follow the true teachings o Islam this world would become heaven.