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Asghar Ali Engineer: csss <>

What is position of women in Qur’an and hadith? It is very interesting to compare what is stated in qur’an about women and what do we find on women in hadith literature? And here I am not referring to ahadith from an other source but from what is known as Sihah Sitta (.e. six most authentic sources of hadith). I wish our Ulama reflect on the contrast between how Qur’an treats women and how ahadith treat them. Much of woes of Muslim women will be over if we follow Qur’an rather than these ahadith.

Women lost in ahadith what they had gained through Qur’an. Today if world thinks Islam treats women in very unfair way it is because we follow hadiths rather than Qur’an as far as women are concerned. In pre-Islamic period women had lowest of low social status and Qur’an lifted them far above and our ‘Ulama never tire of saying this. But within few decades of the revelation of the Qur’an women came down to their pre-Islamic status in a fiercely male dominated society. And this was accomplished through ahadith as a legitimizing factor.

 Those who narrated these ahadith never thought for a moment how they contradict Qur’an as these ahadith served the social purpose very well. Qur’an provided ideals and values but society could not rise to that level and instead dragged Islam to its own level and ahadith served that interest best.

When Islam was confined to Arabian peninsula it was different but when it spread to far off places, parts of Roman empire, Sasanid empire (Iran), Central Asia etc. these regions were very different in their culture, religious values and social ethos and it was quite natural for Islam to adapt to what these societies needed. Even Shari’ah, all jurists (fuqaha’) agree incorporated much of Arab ‘adati (customary law).

It was not easy to avoid these cultural values and customary practices found in non-Arab societies when people of these regions embraced Islam. Position of women in these regions was no different from what it was in pre-Islamic Arabia and when one embraces a religion which originated outside that region he/she does not automatically caste away his/her own cultural values and social ethos.

Also, it is a well-known fact that Islam spread far and wide much quicker than Shari’ah laws were compiled in different schools. In fact various Shari’ah schools (madahibi) came into existence in different regions where Islam had spread. Even before the Arabs could grasp full significance of Islam and adjust their lives to new values and ideals, it had already spread to various parts of the world, right up to China. In fact Islam spread to these regions with lightening speed.

It is also interesting to note that various companions of the Prophet (PBUH) also had spread to these parts of the world and these companions in many cases married local women and adopted cultural values of the region and being companions of the Prophet (PBUH) they were also source of Islamic knowledge and those converted to Islam would flock to them for guidance and hence number of ahadith were narrated by these companions relying on their memory and understanding. Thus along with authenticity of ahadith sociology of ahadith also becomes equally important.

While Qur’an was compiled during Prophet’s (PBUH) life time and when some deviations from standard recitation was noticed (on account mainly of tribal dialects) Hazrat Uthman had wisdom to compile standard copy and destroy all others and thus Qur’an was saved from differences in the text. All other copies of the Qur’an were prepared from this copy.

Ahadith, on the other hand, were compiled two to three centuries after the death of the Holy Prophet and underwent much changes due to passage of time. Though there was chain of narrators and despite honesty and integrity of narrators, there was every possibility of change in text with different narrators with even differences in their understanding and cultural background. Unfortunately for ahadith honesty and integrity of narrators became the only criterion rather than its conformity with the Qur’anic approach, values and ideals.

 Also, there were those who did not hesitate to produce a hadith to legitimize some action or requirement of someone powerful and influential. Thus while there never arose any differences about the Qur’anic text, there have been all sorts of differences about authenticity or otherwise of ahadith. In fact much problems could have been avoided if ahadith in such large numbers and in different compatios had not been accepted. For these very reasons the Prophet (PBUH) had discouraged from compiling these ahadith. But ahadith became socio-cultural and socio-religious needs in vastly different circumstances.

These needs were such that a doctrine was evolved that even if a hadith stands in contradiction of the Qur’an hadith will prevail. Many Shari’ah injunctions were developed on this basis. Then various questions arose whether hadith is da’if (weak), narrated by only one or by several narrators or its different variations or whether its narrators (ravi) were da’if (weak) and so on. The whole hadith literature is full of these controversies. Also different sects relied on different ahadith to legitimize their positions. In short many controversies originated due to excessive reliance on ahadith.

The rest of the article will appear in our next edition. editor

Posted on 2008-02-04

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