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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I was surprised to read your claim that female circumcision is not Islamic. To the contrary not only is it Islamic, it is also compulsory. But at the same time what is required is the trimming of the prepuce of the clitoris, just like male circumcision.

MWL: There is nothing to suggest that it is compulsory.  The hadith that states that only a small portion of the genitalia is to be removed is a weak hadith and only found in one compilation.  Also, as a gynecologist who operates on women, I can say that it would be very difficult to remove the prepuce only and leave the clitoris.  This is especially true in female infants or children where the anatomy is even smaller.  In fact, I have examined numerous women who have undergone some form of circumcision and I have never seen a single patient with only the prepuce removed.  Usually part or all of the clitoris is gone too along with a portion of the labia minora.

An exposed clitoris (which would result in removing the prepuce) would cause discomfort and possible pain.  There are no health benefits whatsoever to any form of female circumcision.  It causes much more harm than good and is inconsistent with Islam.  In contrast, male circumcision has been shown, especially with recent studies on HIV transmission, to provide protection against certain diseases. 

It is really too bad that Muslims would be involved in endorsing a practice that pre-dated Islam and has resulted in so much harm to women and girls over the years.  I once saw an Egyptian woman who had her entire clitoris removed; she was told that it was her Islamic duty to accept this.  I'm sure that you are also aware that a woman has the right to enjoy a satisfying sexual relationship.  Without the clitoris (which is the primary source of orgasm for so many women), this woman has no chance of ever knowing what that is like.  Her sexual dysfunction has led to the disruption of her marriage.  I hardly think this is what the Prophet (pbuh) had in mind. 

Allah knows best.

Q: Divorce/Custody Issues

MWL: We recommend the National Association of Muslim Lawyers (www.namlnet.org) to help with specific divorce/custody issues.

Q: Finding a Marriage Partner

MWL: The MWL does not offer a matrimonial service. We encourage you to explore other possible websites that may suit your need by using a search engine and typing in Muslim Matrimonial.  ISNA may be one site that offers this service. 

Q: Polygamy

MWL: Regarding polygamy, our position is that, while it is allowed by God in certain very specific circumstances, it should by no means be considered the norm.  In addition, because there often is abuse of polygamy (e.g. in violation of laws of countries where it is prohibited or when the restrictions required are ignored), we generally oppose it.  However, because it is referred to in the Quran by God, we would not say that polygamy is always wrong under any circumstances.

We are not fully knowledgeable of the laws governing polygamy in Muslim countries.  You should be aware, though that the vast majority of Muslims in the world (well over 85%) practice monogamy.  Hopefully, this is of help to you.

Q: Is it true that men will be surrounded by 72 never ending virgins, while woman will only retain her one husband, and what are some other things it says about that subject?

MWL: The Qur'an refers to the uniting of individuals with the righteous among their family, including spouses in the hereafter.  The text refers to companions (both male and female) and the interpretation is that those who achieve paradise will be there in their youthful form.  There are no verses whatsoever that allude to 72 virgins or even to sexual relations as part of heavenly bliss.  This is the result of overactive human imagination.

We have never been able to locate a hadith (saying of Prophet Muhammad) that refers to the 72 virgins and no such saying exists in the authentic, undisputed traditions attributed to him. 

Finally, the hereafter is part of what is known as "al-ghaib" or the "unseen."  Muslims are advised by God and His prophet to avoid too much speculation about those things "about which we have no knowledge."  Surely, we can only guess what Paradise will be like; the truth is with God alone.  We have faith in what we are promised in the Qur'an which is eternal bliss, the most important part of which will be our closeness to the one we love most, God.

Q: Financial Help

MWL: Our organization is not in a position to make grants to individuals. 

Q: Authorship of Position Papers

MWL: The articles listed on our website are publications of the Muslim Women League.

Q: Woman Taking Husband’s Surname

MWL: This is not a thorough “sharia” analysis but there isn’t any requirement to take one’s husband’s surname.  There was no such thing as “sur-names” at the time of the Prophet (S) – people were identified by “son of so-and-so” and “daughter-of-so-and-so” and this identification didn’t change after marriage (eg. To “wife-of-so-and-so”).  The taking of a husband’s surname is, as far as is known, a western European tradition, and has roots in the concept of a woman moving from being her father’s property to her husband’s property upon marriage.  While there may be some aspects of this attitude in classical Muslim jurisprudence (eg. “obedience” of the wife) – an entirely different topic – it at least was never reflected in people’s names and kunyas (identifying names beyond the first name).  Another evidence that Islam doesn’t require changing one’s birth name is the precedence that even “adopted” children (eg. Zayd raised by the Prophet (S) are not to take their foster parents’ names, but are to keep all their birth rights of their natural parents, including their name as “son/daughter of so-and-so”.

Beyond all that, there is the basic principle that everything is permissible unless prohibited.  And there is nothing prohibiting a woman from keeping her name.  By the same token, there is nothing prohibiting a woman from changing her name either.  It is left to our own personal discretion and circumstances.  Inshallah, this has helped you and may God guide us all.

Q: Islam and Violent Events (Sept 11, etc.)

MWL: We understand your anger and disillusionment with Muslims (in general) when surrounded by intense media influence and in the aftermath of the shocking event of September 11, 2001.

It is unimaginable that any individual of any religion (Jew, Christian or Muslim) would participate in this horrific violent act in the name of God.  It is also unfortunate that the media and others have chosen to attribute this act and other violent acts to the religion of Islam.

There have been heinous acts committed throughout the centuries by individuals of all religions but that is no justification for any of them.  Any educated person may well understand the difference between a practicing Jew, Christian and Muslim as opposed to an individual who uses religion to his own gain for his/her agenda.  Killing innocent human beings is wrong and just as practicing Jews follow the Ten Commandments – so do we, practicing Muslims.  The killing of Christian worshippers in Pakistan is wrong or the suicide bombings in the other listed countries are wrong.

So many Americans are confused by what they hear on the media but many of them are visiting bookstores, mosques and getting to know Islam for what it really is and not some wild, violent religion portrayed by the media.  It is our hope then, that you and other Americans will be able to better discern facts from the misrepresentations in the media.

Q: Membership

MWL: The MWL at this time is exploring a restructuring of our organization to develop general membership and we will keep you posted through our website.

Q: Female Genital Mutilation/Reversing Procedure

MWL: There are numerous organizations, mostly based in Africa, that deal with this issue.  The World Health Organization has information and would also have some links.  Regarding the procedure to de-infibulate women, we would refer you to the website of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists based here in the US.  They have produced educational materials on this issue for their members and perhaps for the general public which specifically addresses the procedure involved for restoring normal (or as normal as possible under the circumstances) anatomy for women seeking care.

Hopefully, this will give you the information you are looking for and if you need additional help or have more questions, let us know.

Q: Texts in the Hadith re: FGM

MWL: We are very familiar with the texts in the hadith and we disagree with some people’s conclusion that female circumcision is mandatory in Islam.

What we can determine from the hadiths is that FGC was a custom at the time of the Prophet (PBUH) that he neither endorsed nor forbade.  Maliki's hadith regarding the "touching of the circumcised parts" also reflects that it was the norm among the people at the time.  As you know, all Muslim males everywhere in the world are circumcised shortly after birth.  Men who convert to Islam undergo circumcision as well.  Over the past 20 years, male circumcision has been shown to have health benefits that could not have been predicted thousands of years ago:  circumcised men have lower HIV infection rates; uncircumcised men are more likely to transmit HPV to their partners which can cause cervical cancer.

Of course, we follow the Sunnah because it is what Allah (SWT) had ordered in the Qur'an.  But the beauty of Islam in general is that the wisdom of God's law continues to be made manifest through our advanced knowledge of science and nature over time.  

It is hard to see anything similar with respect to female circumcision, or "hoodectomy."  I am a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist and have examined dozens of women who have undergone some form of female genital cutting from all over the world.  I have never seen a single woman have only the prepuce or hood of the clitoris removed.  Usually, part or all of the clitoris is removed.  Other women (especially if they were circumcised in infancy) had a portion of their labia minora removed.  In the most extreme cases (as practiced in Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere) all of the external genitalia have been removed leaving only a small opening for the passage of blood and urine.  

As a surgeon, I can tell you that the only way technically that the prepuce can be removed is by using specialized instruments (i.e. mosquito forceps) to create a plane between the prepuce and the clitoris and then to excise the "hood."  I have never seen this done and can say that it would be extremely difficult to carry out this procedure on a female infant without some kind of magnification given that the clitoris is very small.  Therefore, such a procedure would have to take place in a medical setting, under aseptic technique with the use of general and/or local anesthesia.  

Since female circumcision has never been adopted by the vast majority of Muslims, it would be hard to imagine that such a recommendation would be followed by millions of Muslim women around the world.  My experience has been that this practice has led to great pain and suffering, physically, emotionally and psychologically of millions of women and girls.  That cannot be consistent with the goals of Shariah and Islam in general.

So because it is mentioned in the texts is not reason enough to adopt it and enforce it as a practice.  Of course, there are knowledgeable religious scholars who can speak to the doctrinal aspects of this practice.  As a Muslim activist who cares about women, I can say that, in practice, female circumcision has no place in our communities.

While it may be desirable to perform "hoodectomy" in what you believe to be is in accordance with the Sunnah, my feeling is that it is technically impossible to do so.  I also doubt that the early circumcisers removed just the hood of the clitoris.  I suspect they grabbed what they could see (most likely the labia minora or majora) and cut a piece off.  I'm not sure how it is done in Malaysia but I wonder if the prepuce is truly removed or simply a portion of the labia.  While there may be benefits (as you reference in your email), we believe that there is much more harm than good that is taking place as female circumcision is practiced today.

Finally, we hope that Muslims such as yourself are strong advocates for other issues pertaining to women such as the education of girls, which, as you know, was highly valued by our beloved Prophet (PBUH).  Sadly, Muslim women and girls around the world are among the least educated, most impoverished groups.  Insha-Allah, we can work together to improve their situation.

Allah (swt) knows best.

Q: History of the MWL

MWL: The Muslim Women’s League (MWL) is a non-profit organization working to strengthen the role of Muslim women through education, and awareness of Islam and women’s rights.  This organization is also dedicated to informing non-Muslims about Islam in order to dispel stereotypes and prevent discrimination.  There is a particular emphasis on programs, which address misconceptions about women in Islam, enhance the self-esteem of Muslim girls and project positive role models.

The MWL was formed in 1992 when local civic and religious women’s groups were looking for a way to help the women in Bosnia.  The Muslim Women’s League spearheaded the formation of the Women’s Coalition Against Ethnic Cleansing, whose main goal was to bring an end to the atrocities, including rape, being committed against Bosnia women.  We led two delegations to Croatia to determine which grassroots women’s groups we could support and helped fundraise over $30,000 in donations for Zena B-H and Kareta, both based in Zagreb, Croatia. The MWL was able to work with the members of the coalition and provide effective leadership.  Our participation helped to enhance awareness about Muslim women in general and improve relations between groups that otherwise might not be involved in common projects.

In 1995, we participated in the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China.  Dr. Al-Marayati (then MWL President) was a member of the official US delegation and Asifa Quraishi and Samer Hathout attended as board members of the MWL, the only American Muslim NGO.   We held a workshop on the challenges and opportunities facing American Muslim women.  By networking with Muslim women from around the world, particularly with groups like Sisters in Islam from Malaysia, we were able to appreciate that our views resonate with many Muslim women who are looking for faith-based ways of dealing with oppressive practices that reinforce the status quo.

As a result of our participation in the Beijing Conference, we developed a relationship with Mrs. Clinton that resulted in her attendance at a luncheon in her honor in May 1996.  In 1997, the MWL in conjunction with the Muslim Public Affairs Council hosted, at Mrs. Clinton’s invitation, a celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr, marking the end of our month of fasting, Ramadan.  These events serve to link American Muslims to the greater community in which we have a vital role to play.

In August 1998, we conducted the first annual Muslim Girls Sports Camp, which was held for one week at Westridge Girl’s School in Pasadena California. The purpose of this day camp is to increase girl’s participation in sports (soccer, basketball, volleyball, and tennis), particularly between the ages of 9 and 16 years.  Studies have shown that involvement in athletics increases girl’s self-esteem, confidence, and leadership opportunities as well as reduce teen-age pregnancy and drug use.  Muslim girls, in particular, often are not allowed to participate in sports in other settings due to perceived cultural and religious restrictions.  We expanded this program to two weeks in 1999 and are committed to continuing this annual project in the future.

Currently we are in the last year of a three-year grant program designed to focus on the reproductive health of Muslim women.  The project has two major components, service and education.  We have partnered with the Umma Clinic, the only free clinic in South Central Los Angeles, and NISWA, an organization that runs a shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence in Southern California. The program provides needed reproductive health and family planning, contraceptive counseling, STD prevention and cancer screenings to underserved populations.  Our educational project has developed a sex education curriculum for Muslim schools, a series of brochures related to reproductive health with a particular focus on issues of concern to Muslim women, health fairs, a domestic violence seminar and sensitivity training for health care professionals related to the special needs of Muslim women patients.

The MWL interacts with the larger community on a variety of levels including public speaking, publications, conferences and participation in the State Department Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, and the Harvard Pluralism Project, all of which help to dispel stereotypes others have regarding Muslim women and Islam in general.  Such efforts directly impact the Muslim community here, who suffer from discrimination and harassment mainly based on ignorance.  In addition, by focusing awareness among Muslims of women’s rights in Islam, we continuously strive to improve the status of women in the Muslim community.

Q: From the research I have done, many aspects of Islam seem to be liberating for women. This seems to be contrary to the western conception of Muslim women in the Middle East. What do you believe to be the causes for discrimination against Muslim women?

MWL: The Quran seeks to elevate the relationship between man and woman to one of equality, sheltering and shielding each other.  You can refer to our website where there are specific Quranic references to equality, inheritance, etc. 

Also, I think the western view of Muslim women is very negative and somewhat condescending.  Our organization hopes to address these misconceptions and present a progressive Muslim Women's voice.

Q: An issue that has evoked much interest among American women is that of the veil.  I have encountered a lot of contradicting information regarding the veil and have discovered that it is a touchy subject.  Do you think the differences of opinions are influenced by the regions in which these women live? 

MWL: Yes, you are correct, the veil is a sensitive issue and I would suggest that you approach it with caution.  The Quran requires both men and women to lower their gaze and dress modestly (see our website for the exact verses).  All women wear a scarf of some kind when they pray, so your question is related to wearing a scarf outside the home or around men they are not directly related to.  Some women believe they best fulfill their religious requirement for modesty by covering their hair, others wear a loose coat, scarf, and sometimes gloves, others cover their face.  If you ask them if they are oppressed, they will tell you no, they feel protected and valued by covering themselves and that western women who uncover themselves and are sex objects are oppressed.  Other women, for a number of reasons do not wear a scarf, but otherwise dress modestly.  The MWL believes this is a personal decision between a woman and Allah (God) and should not be imposed by others.  A woman should not be forced to wear a scarf in countries such as the gulf region nor should they be required to take it off in order to serve in the Turkish Legislature.

Q: I'm also interested in other traditions, such as the prayer ritual.  I've read that it is both a physical and mental process. Could you describe it to me?  Is it the same for everybody?

MWL: There are many books about prayer (you can go to Islamscope or MVI sites to order books).  As with any religion, there are the specific rituals of prayer and the larger picture of what prayer is to accomplish.  Muslims pray 5 times a day, sunrise, early and late afternoon, sunset and evening.  Muslims face towards Mecca and recite verses from the Quran and assume various positions, standing, bending from the waist, on your knees but leaning back on your heels and placing your forehead to the floor. The overall objective is to take time out of our busy schedules at various times of the day to establish a personal connection with God.  We do not have intercessors between Allah and ourselves, it is a very personal process where we ask Allah for help, guidance, health or anything we need.

Q: Islam seems like such a peaceful way of life, yet there is still so much conflict in the middle-east, where a large percentage of the population is Muslim.  Do you have any idea why this might be so?

MWL: Actually the country with the largest population of Muslims is Indonesia, not an Arab country but your point is taken.  This is a political and historical question more than a religious question. One area that you should study is how current middle eastern countries were colonized by European countries in the early 1900's (England colonized, Iraq and Egypt, France colonized Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, and Morocco and Italy colonized Libya) as well as how Europe created arbitrary borders and established countries that never existed prior to world war II. (friction which caused the first gulf war between Iraq and Kuwait). The establishment of Israel is another sensitive issue, again done after world war II, taking land from one people and giving it to another.

Q: Do you feel that extremist groups such as the Taliban have “distorted" views of Islam?

MWL: Yes, greatly.  The media gives extensive time to these fringe groups but the great majority of Muslims find it difficult to reach the wider American public.

Q: I know this is a broad question, but what is it about Islam that you find most rewarding or appealing?

MWL: Islam literally means peace.  The Quran is filled with references to justice and fair dealing with each other.  Muslims look at all of the prophets from Adam to Muhammad as a continual line of specially selected human beings who brought mankind a message from God.  We respect all prophets, Abraham (Ibrahim), Jesus (Issa), Noah (Nuh), Moses (Musa) and all of God's other messengers. We believe that there is hope in that message for our future, knowing that we have much more in common that we have differences.

Q: Opinion of American Muslim women re: the US actions against Iraq

MWL:  We have no statistics to on opinions of American Muslim women re: the US actions against Iraq. 

Q: Misconceptions of Muslim women

MWL: Muslim women tend to be stereotyped as "oppressed," "backward," and "ignorant" as well as "subservient to men."  The veil (for Muslim women who choose to wear it for modesty purposes) seems to have casted them into this category. American society equates this with the status of "oppression."  Rather, I think most Muslim women would like to be judged on their actions and contributions to our families, communities and society as a whole.

Q: What is the traditional role of Muslim women in the Middle East?

MWL: We are an American Muslim Women's organization and this question should be posed to women residing in the Middle East (but may differ with respect to the individual countries and culture differences).

Q: How differently are Muslim men vs. women perceived in America?

MWL: It appears Muslim men have been stereotyped as "terrorists" ("violent") - this is what one would surmise when watching images portrayed by the media.

Q: Muslim Feminists

MWL: This is not a title we use although our organization works toward bringing to light our God-given rights and educating women of their rights as well.  Muslim men and women work toward similar goals of becoming more God-conscious and contributing positively to society (establishing social justice and peace).

Q: Burka

MWL: The proper term to use regarding the dress, and particularly the head covering, of a Muslim woman is "hijab".  The burka is a style of dress that is limited to certain countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan.  We have never seen any Muslim women in America actually wearing a burka.

There is no single definition of Islamic dress or hijab.  It depends on whom you ask.  Most Muslim women will define what is proper for themselves.  So a headscarf pulled back as you describe above can qualify as a religious head-covering as does a scarf pulled around the front and under the chin that covers the shoulders.  A few Muslim women cover their face, too, leaving only a small opening for the eyes.  This is usually referred to as "niqab" and it, too, is considered religious garb.

Basically, if a Muslim woman covers her hair for religious reasons, there isn't one style that is "right" and another that isn't. Some women, especially after 9/11, began to cover their hair with hats so as not to draw attention to themselves.  This is still within the guidelines of Islam which many believe dictates that a woman's hair should not be seen in public.  Bottom line is that it doesn't really matter how she chooses to cover it, especially from your perspective when you are trying to determine how to approach these individuals.  From a religious perspective, Muslims will argue about what constitutes proper dress for women, but, in the end, the woman herself makes the decision.

Q: Afghanistan

MWL: The Afghanistan Report posted on our website may give some insight to your question whether Afghan women believe that Westerners are trying to push their cultural beliefs and practices on Afghan women.  When you get a chance to read the report issues such as landmines, poverty, malnutrition, lack of educational facilities, unemployment, illiteracy are vital subjects on every Afghan man's and woman's mind.  I went back to Afghanistan after 21 years of war and devastation. I found my country destroyed but not the spirit of its people and its culture of hospitality.  Please read the section regarding the Rabat Refugee Camp. Our 19 member delegation was treated as compassionate Americans.

Q: Do Afghans think the US foreign policy is compassionate? 

MWL: No. Our delegation trip coincided with a meeting of the Loya Jerga (Grand Assembly) held in Kabul to draw the road map that the country will take.  Prominent

Afghan women such as Dr. Simar Samar Minister of Women's Affairs, Tajwar Kakar the Deputy Minister of Women's Affair and other Afghan women who participated in this Grand Assembly objected to the presence of Warlords in the Assembly.  These Warlords committed crimes in Afghanistan.  I do discuss why the Warlords became part of the political process in the section titled "Political Realties."  One of the reason that the Warlords became part of the political process was due to the US's mission to capture Taliban and Al Qaeda members.  The US cut deals with the warlords and pressured the Kabul government to keep the warlords in power.  This policy does not threaten Afghan women's culture but does threaten Afghanistan's destiny.  I agreed with Ahmed Rashid's analysis when he states in his book "Taliban," that the US should be criticized for '"picking up single issues and creating policies around them, whether it be oil pipelines, the treatment of women or terrorism."

Q:  Do Muslim women really feel about Westerners and their practices? 

MWL:  One should differentiate between people and policies.   If Muslim and Western women have an objective understanding of each other, they have a lot in common.  An objective understanding means we look beyond our attire and physical presentation of assumed liberation or subjugation.  Our goals of justice, peace, equality, humanity, morality are our common bond. 

Q: What is your view of Islam in the modern world? 

MWL: Our understanding of Islam as a religion is that it is not in conflict with modernity or democracy.  If you ask why some predominantly Muslim counties are not democratic, I would have to study and analyze the impact of colonialism, imperialism, power and creed in those societies.  A book that you may find interesting would be Islam and Democracy, Fear of the Modern World by Fatima Mernissi.  A different view could be derived from The Principles of State and Government is Islam written by Muhammad Asad and Islam At the Crossroads written by Muhammad Asad. 

Q: Asking Permission to Use MWL Articles

MWL: The Muslim Women League allows the use of their articles for the purpose of  education etc. as long as it is made clear that it is the property of the Muslim Women's League and  that the article has "posted with permission of the MWL" on it. We would be happy if you kept us abreast of the developments of your project and if you have any feedback re: our articles.  May God bless you and help you in your endeavor.

Q: Women Traveling with Male Relative

MWL: In Islam, it is not forbidden for women to attend a coeducational school.  Some families prefer this and feel very strongly about it because they want to minimize the chance that their daughter will be involved in relationships with men that she is not related to.  But there is no text (i.e. Qur'an or hadith) that say this is required Islamically.

The restriction on travel comes from classical Islamic jurisprudence that says that women are not to travel away from home (like on a trip, not just going outside the house) without a male family member accompanying them.  While this may be what is recommended classically, it is not enforced except in strict Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia.  Also, it is subject to interpretation.  In the past, this limitation had more to do with safety than limiting the movement of women (imagine a woman traveling alone on a camel in the middle of the desert.  Since that is no longer an issue in most circumstances, it could be argued that the rationale for such a restriction no longer applies.

Again, both issues mentioned may be practiced by some Muslims in accordance with the school of thought in Islamic jurisprudence that they identify with but they are not universally applied in the Muslim world.

Q: Women’s Status in the Middle East

MWL: The topic of the status of women in countries such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, or Saudi Arabia, is out of our scope.  We suggest you contact Muslim women organizations in those countries for firsthand information.  We would also suggest you study the differences of religion versus culture to delineate the factors for certain attitudes/ practices.  .  

Q: Why Muslim Men vs. Muslim Women Can Marry People of the Book?

MWL: The Qur'an discusses marriage to non-Muslims in two different chapters.  In the first instance, Muslim men are advised that they can marry from among the women of the People of the Book (Surah 5, verse 5).   In another chapter, the believers (men and women) are told that it is forbidden to marry from among the polytheists (mushrikeen) (Surah 60, verses 10-11).

These are the only two Qur'anic references that deal with this issue.  In our research to date, we have not come across any hadith that deal with this specific question.  Based on the unanimous acceptance by Muslim scholars of the notion that Muslim women can only marry Muslim men, we conclude that this ruling is based on Ijma'a, or consensus of the 'ulema.

As you may know, Islamic rulings affecting legal matters are based on four major sources: Qur'an, Hadith, Ijma' and Qiyas (reasoning by analogy).  The issue of Ijma' is not without controversy as the various schools of thought have different definitions of what constitutes ijma':   is it consensus by certain scholars in a certain place in a certain time?  What happens if one scholar disagrees?  How are such rulings documented?  It seems that some of these issues evolve and then are institutionalized over time and are not decided upon at one moment where they are then written down for posterity.

All of this may not help much in addressing your question, but it might explain why this is such an entrenched and rarely questioned practice among Muslims.  In many societies, Muslim women who marry outside the faith are ostracized or threatened.   Oftentimes the prospective husband will convert in name only to satisfy his bride's family and reduce the chances for conflict.  Some critics of Islam argue that this is a form of "forced" conversion, even though the men who make this choice do so willingly and are free not to convert.

The argument used to explain this ruling is that in most cases, children follow the faith of their fathers and so if a Muslim woman marries a non-Muslim man, her children are less likely to become Muslims.  Many people believe that exactly the opposite will happen since the woman is often the primary caretaker of the children and thus has the most influence. Nevertheless, this is the explanation given.

The Muslim establishment rarely if ever discusses this issue as it is perceived as a very threatening subject.  That is to say, if Muslim women begin to marry non-Muslims, the whole Ummah will be weakened which will lead to the decline of Islam in general.  

In our humble opinion, if a Muslim, male or female, is devout, she will seek out someone who shares her belief system.  The important question is not whether one's spouse is Muslim, but whether the individual places a priority on religious faith in the first place.   Matters of spirituality, faith and commitment are exceedingly private, such that none of us has the authority to judge intentions or behavior.

Clearly, this issue deserves a substantive discussion especially for Muslims living as minorities in non-Muslim majority environments.

Q: Male Dominance Effect on Females

MWL: This is a serious issue that results in the disregard for women resulting in the repression of women.  This repression translates into many of the current issues our articles address. These issues include forced early marriage, deprivation of women's right for advanced education, honor killings and other forms of violence, including but not limited to domestic violence,  female genital mutilation etc.   We appreciate your points and will explore this suggestion of posting an article delineating this matter.

Q: Do you know the Muslim perspective on abortion if the woman is being physically abused?

MWL: I am assuming that she is married.  If this is the case, the majority of scholars say that abortion is ok if the woman's life is in danger, that is, if the pregnancy could be life-threatening.  In the past, according to all of the major schools of thought, abortion was considered a form of birth control and therefore lawful during the first trimester.  At that time, a woman's health and that of her children would be taken into consideration.

I suspect that this person's health (mental and otherwise) is suffering greatly while she is being abused.  Also, many men increase their acts of violence against their wives during pregnancy, threatening both the mother and the child.  Finally, during the war in Bosnia, Muslim clerics ruled that it was lawful for Bosnian women to terminate pregnancies resulting from the rape of Serbian soldiers.

This is not an easy decision to make and we are not in a position to give or deny permission.  I know many times individuals seek validation to support their decisions and I certainly understand that need.

But all we can do is give the information as we know it, recommend that she pray and ask Allah for guidance and then make a decision. We would then support her emotionally.

Q: Marriage of Muslim Women to Non-Muslim Men

MWL: It is true that the Qur'an does not explicitly prohibit the marriage between a Muslim woman and a Christian or Jewish man. Interestingly, the Qur'an is very clear that Muslim men and Muslim women must not marry pagans.  The prohibition against marriages between Muslim women and Christian or Jewish men is based on a consensus of Muslim scholars over the centuries.  It is our experience that this perspective has not changed.  We are not aware of any well-established scholars who support an alternative view.

For Muslims living in non-Muslim countries, the question really becomes one more of cultural and family matters than one of Islam.  In this country, it is not against the law to marry anyone of your choosing.  What Muslim women face is potential ostracism by their family and community and whether or not someone can deal with that is the major question...especially if the marriage doesn't work out.  Also, an observant Muslim woman who is devoted to God may wonder if marrying outside of her faith constitutes a sin and that would interfere with her decision to marry a non-Muslim.

You are correct that it doesn't make sense for a family to prefer a bad Muslim man for their daughter over a decent, kind, respectful non-Muslim.  In fact, we know of several instances where the non-Muslim husband has turned out to be a devoted son-in-law as well. 

In the end, this is a decision that only a couple can make.  Some of us were brought up in mixed faith households and the circumstances were very confusing for the children, to say the least.  The main reason that Muslims are advised to marry other Muslims (this is true for men too, by the way) is to ensure that the children will be raised as Muslims.  The general viewpoint is that it is more likely for that to be the case if the father is Muslim.  This is a point that you may disagree with, but it is the main rationale for the tradition.

We doubt that you will find the "permission" you seek from a reputable Islamic source to say that it is lawful for you and your friend to marry.  Our experience is that couples often look for such validation to present to the girl's family to diminish the degree of resistance that is encountered.  Unfortunately, even if you find someone who interprets the religious texts differently, it usually is not enough to convince parents who have a somewhat rigid understanding of Islam (for example, you could go to the MuslimWakeUp website for more progressive and liberal interpretations of many issues, but that might not persuade more traditional Muslims.)

So, in the end, this simply becomes a question of choice and a willingness to accept the consequences of going through with a difficult decision.  To us, the best way to seek guidance in these circumstances is to ask God.  The Muslim prayer, known as istikhara, involves asking God to bring something nearer to you if it is good for you and good for your Islam and to remove it from you if it is harmful to you and harmful to your Islam.  Usually, this prayer is done at night and upon wakening one experiences a kind of awareness or some other sign that is God's response.

We wish you the best in your search for the truth.  May God guide you, the ones you love and all of us to the straight path.

Q: Handshaking

MWL: As you point out, the decision of some Muslims not to shake the hand of the opposite sex is more based on culture than on religion.  However, there are several hadiths (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) that serve as the basis for which individuals choose not to shake hands.  First, the Prophet did not shake hands with women when they gave their pledge of allegiance.  Second,  he reportedly said that any physical contact between a man and woman who are not related is prohibited.

Muslim scholars later determined that the restrictions on both dress and physical contact could be waived in cases of necessity, like in the care of patients.  This is an accepted concept although many Muslims still prefer being cared for by a physician of the same gender.  Sometimes that is impossible and therefore they accept the situation and make the best of it.

A woman's choice to cover or uncover any part of her body is her choice.  It may appear oppressive to many of us and certainly should not be imposed under any circumstances, but is it right for us to deny women the right to choose how to dress?  Sometimes the offense comes from a sense that something is wrong with us such that the woman is uncomfortable revealing herself  in our company.  Also, it is difficult to get to know a person when her face is covered, but it is not impossible and you might be surprised about what you find if you have a chance to get to know her.

In certain areas of the Arabian Gulf countries, people are very conservative, like your colleague and his wife.  Adjusting to the exact opposite situation here in the US or Canada is difficult and disorienting, especially at a time when Islam and Muslims are viewed so negatively.  Some Muslims from overseas choose not to integrate or adopt customs of their host country and maintain an isolated existence, socializing only with members of their own community.  And even though they've been there for 5 years, they still may be under the impression that their stay is not permanent.

I understand your feelings since I have experienced them myself.  But overtime, with experiences with a variety of people, I found that, while my own understanding of Islam is different, I was in no position to judge them and what was most important to me was developing a sense of mutual respect.  If your colleague is appropriate in all other ways, it would be generous of you to overlook the hand-shaking issue since I doubt it will not change any time soon.

Your ability to respect your colleague for his behavior as a professional is probably more important than how you feel about his personal life and religious practices.  If he treats you as an equal in all other aspects of the job, that is tremendously important since, working alongside women in the first place may be something he had to adjust to.

Q:  Adoption Organizations

MWL: We recommend you contact New Star Family Center: (310) 803-5775.

Q: Issue of the ‘Awra

MWL: This question addresses the issue of 'awra which is that part of the body that is not to be seen by anyone other than a person's spouse or physician.  The understanding of the definition of 'awra' is based on interpretations of hadith since the Qur'an is silent on this issue. 

In Yusuf al-Qaradawi's The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam, he quotes the following hadith from Muslim, Abu Daoud and Tirmidhi:  A man should not look at the 'awra of another man nor a woman of a woman.

He goes on to state that the 'awra of a man is the area from his navel to his knee although some jurists (like Ibn Malik) do not include the knee (i.e. genital area only).   According to al-Qaradawi, a woman's 'awra (when she is in the presence of other women or men who are part of her family) includes her back, abdomen, thighs and genital area.  He does acknowledge that other scholars consider a woman's awra to be from her navel to her knees. 

Most scholars agree the 'awra does not include the breasts since women are likely to breastfeed infants in front of one another. 

All of these things apply after a girl has reached puberty, not before.  Some people would say that the main thing is not to be naked in front of others and to avoid showing the genital area to anyone at the very least.  Many Muslim women feel comfortable wearing bathing suits and swimming in front of each other but a lot of them prefer to wear shorts or trunks over their swimsuits.

Q: Halal vs. Zabiha Meat

MWL: People who eat only zabiha meat usually just eat fish or non-meat (i.e. vegetarian) food when they travel.  If they must have meat, then they have to decide if they think its ok or not to eat meat that has not been killed according to the Islamic standards (zabiha).  Many Muslims feel that it is ok (halal) to eat the food, including meat, of Christians and Jews.  So for some, that means eating kosher foods and for others it means eating whatever is available.  It really depends on what the person decides to do.  I'm sure there are numerous scholars who have issued fatwas about this issue.

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