By Brother Hameed
Juz’ 5 of the Qur’an comprises Surah al-Nisa (Women; 4:24–147), which was revealed shortly after the hijra to Medina, extensively summarizes a variety of rulings and admonitions pertaining to the rights of women, orphans, the ethics of marital dealings, and some details pertaining to the Sacred Law.
O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs that bore you. Indeed, Allah is a watcher over you. – 4:1
This oft-repeated ayah is included in the Khutbatul-Haajah (The Sermon of Necessity) that Muhammad, the final Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) used to begin his counsel and lectures. In following his example, scholars have adopted this practice as well. Why did the Messenger of Allah mention this ayah so often, what lesson was he trying to convey to us with its frequent repetition, and what is its value in contemporary times?
This first ayah of the surah encompasses the objectives of the other ayahs pertaining to women: first to revere Allah and the wombs that bore you. In pre-Islamic Arabia, under a stringent patrilineal society, women were objectified and denied their inalienable rights, including marriage and inheritance. In fact, women were relegated to bearing children, who often had more rights than their mothers. Pre-Islamic Arabian culture celebrated sons, but eschewed daughters to the extent that young girls were buried alive. Allah restored the sanctity and honor of women with this ayah by admonishing mankind to revere Him and immediately afterwards to revere the wombs (women). It is noteworthy that Allah who is al-Rahman and the word for womb (arhaam) have the same root meaning.
At-Tirmidhi recorded from Abdur-Rahman bin `Awf hearing the Messenger of Allah say,
“Allah Almighty said, ‘I Am al-Rahman. I created the Raham (womb) and derived its name from My Name…”
Hence, Allah protects and nourishes us with the uttermost tenderness in a manner similar to the womb. Likewise, just as we should be dutiful in serving Allah Almighty and protect His rights over us, we should also protect the divinely preserved rights of women. Moreover, this is further emphasized in the Farewell Sermon, where the Messenger of Allah said:
“O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under a trust from Allah and with His permission.”
At present, the rights of women as mentioned in the Qur’an and from the Sunnah have seemingly been forgotten especially within the Muslim world. Some women seek liberation by escaping from Muslim-majority countries because of the abuse and rampant discrimination they suffer; discrimination that hearkens back to societal norms of the pre-Islamic period more so than the Prophet’s community in Medina.
Fortunately, women are pushing back against this tyranny and advocating for their rights that were mandated in the Qur’an 1,400 years ago. If we examine the mistreatment and abuse of women within our Black communities, along with the misogyny promoted by prominent hip hop artists, we see semblances of objectification.
Just as the revelations from Surah al-Nisa provided divine guidance to an impoverished community in Medina after the devastating loss at the Battle of Uhud, al-Nisa provides guidance to our Black communities in America, where single mother households are the norm and where countless children are forsaken and forgotten. This is why Allah being fully aware that we can succumb to the evils within our souls legislated certain laws for men and women to abide by. Despite the gravity of the times and the many tribulations therein, obeying Allah and His Messenger would be the remedy for all of our societal ills.
To revive our communities, we must return to the communal and spiritual mandates outlined in Surah al-Nisa. First and most important, we commit to worshiping Allah alone and not fall victim to the idols of materialism, naturalism or the shirk of white supremacy. We must be good to our parents, children, close relatives, neighbors, travelers, and the poor and downtrodden in society. We should strive to be humble. Finally, we must establish justice in the cause of Allah, even if it causes us hardship. Ultimately, by collectively implementing these principles, we will draw nearer to Allah, and He will raise our status in this life and the hereafter.
Brother Hameed is the author of the forthcoming groundbreaking book on the Black Muslim experience, From the Back of the Bus, to the Back of the Camel: Analyzing the Psychology of Toby Muhammad. You can follow him on Facebook at Islam and the Third Resurrection.