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Women and the Koran

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A Child Bride’s Indiscretion

After the honey calamity came the incident with Muhammad’s child bride. The lovely Aisha had wandered into the desert and gotten lost, only to be rescued by a young man who brought her back to Medina…the next day. Needless to say, this started people talking. Talk, if revelations pertaining to the incident are to be believed, that really distressed the Messenger. Again, God intervened, not only to vouch for Aisha’s faithfulness, but also to make sure that none of the Prophet’s wives would ever put His Messenger in an embarrassing situation again, in a position where he would be the object of “chatter,” as Allah calls it.

It is worth presenting this series of verses so the reader can gain a real appreciation of the mindset of Allah and His Messenger in relation to the beautiful, young Aisha’s alleged indiscretion under an Arabian moon more than a thousand years ago.

24:10 And, but for Allah’s Bounty towards you and His Mercy and that Allah is a remitter of sins and is All-Wise;

24:11 Those who spread the slander (against Aisha, wife of the Prophet, according to the commentators) are a band of you. Do not reckon it an evil for you; rather it is a good thing for you. Everyone of them will be credited with the sin he has earned, and he who bore the brunt of it shall have a terrible punishment.

24:12 Would that the believers, men and women, when you heard it (the slander) had though well of themselves saying: “This is manifest slander!”

24:13 And would that they had brought forth four witnesses [to vouch for it]! But since they did not bring any witnesses, those are, in Allah’s sight, the real liars.

24:14 And but for Allah’s Bounty to you and His Mercy, in this world and the next, you would have been visited, due to your chatter, by a terrible punishment.

While God makes a big deal of the whole situation with Aisha, He readily admits that His Messenger’s friends and neighbours thought the situation with Aisha was no big deal and thought nothing of discussing it openly.

24:15 Since you received it on your tongues and you uttered with your mouths what you had no knowledge of, deeming it a simple matter; whereas in Allah’s Sight it was very grave.

But they would be wrong; this was not a trivial matter.

24:16 And would that, upon hearing it, you were to say: “It is not for us to speak about this. Glory be to You; this is truly a great calumny.”

And let us never talk about this again.

24:17 Allah admonishes you never to return to the like of this, if you are real believers.

24:18 And Allah expounds clearly for you the Signs. Allah is all Knowing, Wise.

Aisha’s alleged sexual indiscretion appears to be the source of God’s condemnation of what he sees as the spread of indecency among the believers, what Muslim clerics today would call Western libertinism. His condemnation is followed by the usual promise of a very painful punishment in the next world and, a less frequent occurrence, the added promise of a very painful punishment in this life.

24:19 Indeed, those who love to see indecency spread among the believers will have in this world and the next a very painful punishment. Allah knows, but you do not know.

24:20 And but for Allah’s Bounty to you and His Mercy and that Allah is truly Clement and Merciful;

24:21 O believers, do not follow in the footsteps of Satan; for he who follows in the footsteps of Satan, simply bids to indecency and disrepute. But for Allah’s Bounty to you and His Mercy, no one of you would have ever been pure; but Allah purifies whomever He pleases. Allah is All-Hearing, All Knowing.

A reminder from Allah about forgiveness: it’s all about quid pro quo.

24:22 Let not the bounteous and wealthy among you swear off giving freely to kinsmen, the destitute and the Emigrants in the Path of Allah. Let them pardon and forgive. Do you not wish that Allah should forgive you? Allah is All-Forgiving, Merciful.

It was the tradition of the Arabs of the Peninsula, during the time of the Prophet, that if there was any doubt about a wife’s faithfulness, she was divorced on the spot and then stoned to death. In Virgil Gheorghiu’s biography of the Prophet, La Vie de Mahomet, Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, suggests as much in his remark to Muhammad that “Allah has not placed any limits on the choices of a wife. They are plentiful.” (Author’s translation of « Allah n’a point limité le choix de femmes. Elles sont nombreuses. )

It is obvious that Muhammad cherished his child-bride and did not wish to part with her. This may explain God’s attack on those who would “slander married women.”

24:23 Surely those who slander married women, who are heedless and believing, are accursed in this world and the next, and they shall have a terrible punishment.

And who will be your accusers? On Judgement Day, your limbs, the organs by which you sinned, will speak and tell everyone how you used them to sin against Allah and in this particular instance, His Messenger.

24:24 On the Day when their tongues, their hands and their feet shall bear witness against them, regarding what they used to do.

24:25 On that Day Allah will pay them their just dues and they will know that Allah is the Manifest Truth.

In this verse, somewhat off-topic, God makes his views known on how men and women should be paired based on whether they’ve been bad or good.

24:26 Foul women for foul men, and foul men for foul women; and good women for good men, and good men for good women. Those are acquitted of the burden of what they say; they will have forgiveness and a generous provision.

In an extraordinary and revealing series of verses, Allah also has a few instructions for men should they perchance come into contact with an unsupervised woman to whom they are not related or married.

24:27 O believers, do not enter houses other than your own before you ask leave and greet their occupants. This is better for you, that perchance you may remember well.

24:28 If you find no one in them, do not enter until you are given permission; and if it is said to you: “Go back”, then go back. That is purer for you, and Allah knows well what you do.

24:29 It is no offence for you to enter uninhabited houses in which you have some means of enjoyment. Allah knows what you reveal and what you conceal.

And if they do come into contact with a woman or girl to whom they are not married or related, they must not look at her directly and make sure their “private parts” are covered.

 24:30 Tell the believers to cast down their eyes and guard their private parts. This is purer for them. Allah is conversant with what they do.

The alleged indiscretion by Aisha is also, in my estimation, responsible for God placing severe restrictions on believing women’s freedom of movement; for instance, telling them what they could wear and how they must wear it, leaving instructions on the company a woman could keep, and justifying why they should cover up “their private parts” and not stamp their feet.

24:31 And tell the believing women to cast down their eyes and guard their private parts and not show their finery, except the outward part of it. And let them drape their bosoms with their veils and not show their finery, except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, the sons of their husbands, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their sisters, their women, their maid-servants, the men-followers who have no sexual desire, or infants who have no knowledge of women’s sexual parts yet. Let them, also, not stamp their feet, so that what they have concealed of their finery might be known. Repent to Allah, all of you, O believers, that perchance you may prosper.

 God also has a few instructions that apply specifically to Muhammad’s wives. In a book for the ages this seems out of place, but the Prophet’s wives are in a class by themselves. As befitting their exalted status, if they make a fool of His Messenger again, they will suffer double the punishment of an ordinary wife—Revelation 33:30—and He will see to this personally.

 33:28 O Prophet, say to your wives: “If you desire the present life and its finery, so come along that I might provide for you and set you free kindly.

33:29 “But if you desire Allah, His Messenger and the life to come, surely Allah has prepared for the beneficent among you a great wage.”

33:30 O wives of the Prophet, whomever of you commits a flagrant foul act, her punishment will be doubled; and that for Allah is an easy matter.

If the fear of double the punishment for putting His Messenger in an embarrassing situation is not enough, God is not beneath offering a monetary incentive.

33:31 Whoever of you obeys Allah and His Messenger and does the righteous deed, We shall pay her wage twice over, and we have prepared for her a generous provision.

Being the wife of God’s Messenger may not have been all that fulfilling for some of the women and girls confined to the Prophet’s household for God to admonish them to “not be abject in speech,” e.g., express hopelessness, when talking about their lives with the greatest of them all. They may have even expressed a wish that their husband give them their freedom, which would explain why Allah revealed that “he in whose heart is a sickness may covet you.” Hope springs eternal. The “sickness” alluded to by God may simply have been young men expressing the desire that, because a wife of the Prophet expressed a wish to be free of her husband, they might one day get a share of Muhammad’s bounty of beautiful women and girls.

33:32 O wives of the Prophet, you are not like any other women. If you are God-fearing, do not be abject in speech, so that he in whose heart is a sickness may covet you, but speak in an honourable way.

Some may have done what young women do when they are desperate for the attention that a busy older man may not have been able to provide, and that is, look for validation of their attractiveness in a young man’s eyes. This would explain God’s demand that they stay inside and out of sight so as not to expose their "finery," and keep busy with prayers and giving "the alms." As to how they could do so without being allowed to leave the house was problematic. In any event, the extreme restrictions Allah imposed on His Messenger's wives, effectively making them invisible to the outside world, was not to cause them hardship—which it obviously did—but to purify them ‘fully’.

33:33 Stay in your homes and do not display your finery as the pagans of old did: perform the prayer, give the alms and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah only wishes to turn away abomination from you and purify you fully. O People of the House.

33:34 And remember what is recited in your homes of Allah’s Signs and of wisdom. Indeed, Allah is Subtle, Well-Informed.

33:35 Men and women who have submitted, believed, obeyed, are truthful, steadfast, reverend, giving in charity, fasting, guarding their private parts and remembering Allah often, Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward.

Because of the beautiful young Aisha’s alleged sexual indiscretion and God’s concern over His Messenger being ridiculed for not being able to control his young brood, women everywhere in the conservative Muslim world are forced into seclusion to this day. Allah admonished His Messenger’s wives to stay at home, and conservative Muslim men have been enjoining their wives and daughters to do the same ever since.

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God relaxed his severe dress code for women past child-bearing age who had no chance of marriage.

24:60 Those women who are past child-bearing and have no hope of marriage are not at fault if they take off their outer garments, not exhibiting any finery; but to refrain is better for them. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.

He also made an exception allowing women to display their "finery" during hostilities.

33:59 O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the wives of the believers, to draw their outer garments closer. That is more conducive to them being known and not being injured. Allah is All-Forgiving, Merciful.

Muhammad’s wives, according to Fakhry, are not at fault if they appear unveiled to members of their close family and female slaves. If you are female and Muslim and believe this verse only applied to the wives of the Prophet, you will not feel compelled to cover your face in public, otherwise you have no choice if you want to avoid God finding fault with you.

33:55 They (the wives of the Prophet, if they appear unveiled) are not at fault regarding their fathers, their sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons’ or their wives and what their right hands possess; so fear Allah. Surely, Allah is Witness of everything.