Fethullah Gülen on Women in Islam

Fethullah Gülen on Women in Islam

Q: The relationship between men and women in Islam is one of the controversial topics debated in the modern day. What are your thoughts of the place of women in society?

Fethullah Gulen: The Qur’an invites people to form a family life and points out many wisdoms and benefits of marriage.  “And Allah has given you wives of your own kind, and has given you, from your wives, sons and grandsons, and has made provision of good things for you. Is it then in vanity that they believe and in the grace of Allah that they disbelieve?” (16:72). The Qur’an views marriage as a serious commitment on the part of the husband and wife; it is a covenant between the husband and wife.  It speaks of the rights of the husband and the wife.  “If you wish to divorce one wife and marry another, do not take from her the dowry you have given her, even if it be a talent of gold.  Is it appropriate to take this by making up reasons for divorce and intentionally sinning?  How can you take it back when you have lain with each other and put your heads on the same pillow and entered into a firm contract?  That would be improper and grossly unjust” (4:20-21).

In addition to this, the Holy Book, in principle emphasizes what is good and consistently declares that spouses should do what is good towards each other.

“O you who believe! It is not lawful for you forcibly to inherit the women (of your deceased kinsmen), nor (that) you should put constraint upon them that you may take away a part of that which you have given them, unless they be guilty of flagrant lewdness. But consort with them in kindness, for if you hate them it may happen that you hate a thing wherein Allah has placed much good.” (4:19).

In order to strengthen the ties of marriage, the Qur’an places more responsibility upon the husband’s shoulders.  It also imposes part of the responsibilities upon the community, in the case of a disagreement between spouses.  It views divorce, which God dislikes, as the last resort when reconciliation becomes impossible.

“O Prophet! When you (men) divorce women, divorce them for their (legal) period and reckon carefully the period, and keep your duty to Allah, your Lord particularly about the rights of your wives. Expel them not from their houses nor let them go forth unless they commit an immorality such as adultery. Such are the limits (imposed by) Allah; and whoso transgresses Allah’s limits, he verily wrongs his soul. You know not: it may be that Allah will afterward bring some new thing to pass. Then, when they have reached their term (a three month period), take them back in kindness or part from them in kindness, and call to witness two just men among you, and keep your testimony upright for Allah. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day is exhorted to act thusly. And whosoever keeps his duty to Allah, Allah will appoint a way out for him.” (65:1-2).

Another Qur’anic verse says:

“When you divorce your wives, lodge them where you dwell according to your wealth, and do not pressure them to leave through harassment. And if they are with child, give them their expenses until they give birth to their child.  After you cut your relationship with them, if they continue to suckle your children, give them their due payment.  Resolve the issue of payment due with kindness amongst yourselves according to your legal customs.  If the mother of the child, by not suckling the child causes problems, the father should pay for another woman to suckle his child.  Those who are wealthy should give according to their wealth.  Those who have limited income, let them give according to their wealth from what God has given them.  God makes people responsible only according to their capacity.  God bestows ease after difficulty.” (65:7).

Thus, the Qur’an as in many cases, in this matter, in addition to reminding the spouses about their duties towards one another, emphasizes the main principles of human morality, and invites individuals to be respectful to God and virtuous towards each other.  Such an atmosphere of respect is necessary for the continuation of humane and legal relations.  That is because institutions, such as marriage, with a unique aspect of privacy, can hardly be controlled by outsiders.  As a matter of fact, it is a considerable issue to refer to a judge or a referee in the case of disagreement between spouses.  Yet, the fundamental issue is to prevent the problems from the very beginning, or to solve them at the very time of occurrence.  This is, in a great deal, related to the personality, ethics, and characteristics of the two parties.  It is highly difficult to keep the harmony of married life through various philosophical and legal orders, without putting the faith of God in the heart without a sense of self-criticism and respect for people.

The Qur’an, in various places, draws attention via emphasis on the warm atmosphere of the home “And one of the signs of His existence and power is this: He has created for you helpmates in order to make you feel comfortable with one another, and He ordained between you love and mercy. There are lessons in this sign for those who reflect.” (30:21).

Islam addressed women and men equally and raised women, with its remarkable breath, to a blessed position.  It took women from being objects for men to the level that paradise laid under her feet.  After the emergence of Islam, no one could force such a gentle creature to adultery, whoredom, and impurity.  She would not be treated as property; she could not be accused of impurity. Such an accusation would result in a severe punishment on the part of the accuser. “And those who accuse honorable women but bring not four witnesses, scourge them (with) eighty stripes and never (afterward) accept their testimony – They indeed are evil-doers. Save those who afterward repent and make amends. (For such) lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. As for those who accuse their wives but have no witnesses except themselves; let the testimony of one of them be four testimonies, (swearing) by Allah that he is of those who speak the truth; And yet a fifth, invoking the curse of Allah on him if he is of those who lie.” (24:4-7). Female children would not be looked down upon.  Infanticide would be prohibited. “Slay not your children, fearing a fall to poverty, We shall provide for them and for you. Lo! The slaying of them is great sin.” The Qur’an has declared. Even if she is physically different, this is not a reason to be looked down upon.

In the Qur’anic view of creation, Adam is created first and Eve is created from the same leaven (2:187).  This Qur’anic picture reminds us that men and women are both equally humans.  They are two entities that complete one another, as the Qur’an presents.  The difference between both is based on certain purposes and designs and is not ontological.  The Qur’anic verses that give the impression of the superiority of men over women are expressions with regard to certain capacities. “Do not desire something that God has given more of to someone else other than you.  Men have the share of what they have earned, and women have the share of what they have earned.  (Envy not one another) but ask Allah of His bounty. Lo! Allah is ever Knower of all things.” (4:32). The Qur’an reminds us of these differences, and that being from a certain gender should not be seen as a reason for complaint.  There is no difference at all as far as human relationships are concerned.  Whoever gains, gains for him or her.

As stated above, with regard to humanity and human relationships with God, there is no difference between women and men.  They are equals concerning their rights and responsibilities.  Woman is equal to man in the rights of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of living a descent life, and freedom of finance.  Equality before the law, just treatment, marriage and founding a family life, personal life, privacy and protection are all among the rights of women.  Her possessions, life and dignity are assured like that of men.  Violation of any of these rights results in severe punishment.

Yes, woman is free and independent before law.  Her femaleness does not limit or invalidate any of her eligibilities.  When her rights are violated, she can seek for justice just as men can.  If someone takes her possessions wrongly, she has all rights of reclamation.  Considering some qualities of women and men, Islam has developed certain legal prescriptions: for example, women are exempted from certain charges such as military services, going to war, taking care of the financial obligations of a family and herself, etc.

As for testimony, yes, the Qur’an says that when you cannot find two men to testify, find one trustworthy man and two women, for if one forgets, the other will remind her. (2.282). It is not acceptable to deduce any meaning from this verse to indicate the superiority of men over women in humanity and in value.  The fundamental issue here is the realization of justice.

This is not a matter unique to women.  The testimony of some male Bedouins has been rejected when the matter is related to the rights and realization of justice.  The issue of testimony is related to a strong commitment to communal life.  The involvement of witnesses in all segments of social life—even today a reality—the lack of witnessing many aspects of the life of people are always possible for some men and women. This issue of testimony in the Qur’an relates to oral testimony with regards to financial matters and loans.  Otherwise, the testimony of women in writing, when needed, is accepted as equal by some scholars of Islamic law.


This article is taken from “An interview with Fethullah Gülen for the Muslim World Journal” The Muslim World Journal, Volume 95 – Number 3- July 2005. page 462-465

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