Woman, in Islam, was created by God to be man's partner. The Creator built into both man and woman a mutual correspondence so that each would find contentment in the other. The Qur'an calls man and woman a "garment" for each other, signifying their reciprocal closeness to each other (what is physically and continuously closer to oneself than one's clothing?), their mutual interdependence. As far as religious duties are concerned, Islam made the sexes absolutely equal. It has exempted women from these duties when they are menstruating, pregnant, or recovering from childbirth.
Unlike most other societies of the time, Islam, from its beginning, recognized women as autonomous legal personalities with civil rights. As a complete legal person the adult Muslim woman is granted title to keep her name forever. She has the right to acquire, keep, and sell property as she pleases in perfect freedom. Her consent must be obtained for any transaction involving her, be it the lease of her property, the cultivation of her field, or, above all, her marriage. She cannot be coerced into anything. Unless she is a minor, and hence dependent upon her parents or guardians, or unless she has appointed another person to be her attorney-at-law or representative, she must exercise her rights in person in order to make a transaction legally valid.
Woman, in Islam, is not considered the source of evil. In Islamic belief she did not tempt Adam; nor did the devil or death, whether physical or moral, come into the world through her. The Qur'an tells that God had prohibited Adam and Eve from touching a certain tree and that they disobeyed and had to be expelled from Paradise. It does not say that the act of disobedience was sexual; nor did it have anything to do with the "tree of knowledge.
"Furthermore, the Qur'an adds that the disobedient act was repented and that God forgave its perpetrators. Evidently, the guilt was purely that of disobedience. The Qur'an even explains the act as the result of human forgetfulness (Qur'an 20:115) which Islam regards as punishable because of the tremendous importance it lays on moral responsibility. Hence, there is no "fall" in Islam, and no resultant "original sin" in any form. Woman, therefore, is innocent. She is a positive good, a consoler, a source of happiness and fulfillment to man, as man is to her.
Male-female relations have to be ordered and governed if the ethical demand of responsibility is to be met. To this end, Islam provided a whole system of laws governing those relations, for it believes that man-woman affairs cannot be left to the whimsy of the moment nor to the arrangements of others. Marriage itself, as an institution, is regarded by Islam as a solemn compliance with the ethical requisite of responsibility. In condemning sexual acts outside of marriage as punishable crimes, Islam does so not because sex is evil in itself but because it has been engaged in irresponsibly.
Islam considers that in male-female relations there is a physical side and an emotional side, as well as a spiritual side. Further, it maintains that adultery is a fulfillment of the physical side, and that it is often entered into at the cost of the long-run emotional side, and always at the cost of the spiritual. For in adultery one partner is always using the other, or allowing himself or herself to be used, as an object. Where one partner has proper regard for the other, surely he or she should be willing to transform the relationship into marriage. Marriage in Islam is not a sacrament but rather a civil contract by which the partners freely proclaim their plan to regard each other henceforth as ends, and not as means.
The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186