The Male is Not Like the Female : Gender Equity and Quran 3:36

(iii) “The male is not like the female”

The Quran recounts to us the story of the pious woman who, while pregnant, vowed to dedicate the coming child to the service of God. She had been expecting a son (who could serve in the Temple at Jerusalem), but went on to deliver a daughter. It is at this time that she (or God, according to a different reading) remarks, “The male is not like the female.” The statement is not clear-cut in indicating overall preference for either one of the genders.

Language-wise, there are three possibilities, and each of these views is a position held among Muslim scholars:

  1. to indicate preference for the male, i.e. the male is not like the female, he has the advantage of being able to serve in the temple (under Jewish ritual law) without the monthly menstrual interruption [Mawardi, and many other scholars of exegesis]
  2. to indicate preference for the female, i.e. the male I wanted is not like the female God gave me; God’s choice is necessarily better [Zamakhshari, Abu Hayyan; two prominent exegetes, both of whom are heavyweights in the Arabic language]
  3. to not imply any preference either way (simply that they are different), like red is not like green, nor is green like red. [Ibn Hazm]

Even if one takes the first or second interpretation, it is still contextual, and cannot be a proof-text for overall superiority of one gender, because:

From this post, along with the preceding three (1 2 3), it is clear that the Quran does not teach intrinsic superiority of either of the two genders. Certainly, an ordinary believing man cannot claim superiority over the prophetesses and spiritual heavyweights like Mary and Fatimah. Rather, the criterion is piety: “Indeed, the most noble of you before God is the most pious.” And believing men and women are expected to support, protect and help one another – not to deride nor to oppress one another (despite what too often happens in some Muslim societies).

— Suheil Laher

Gender Equity and Quran 4:34

A previous post showed the basic spiritual equality of men and women, as derived from the Quran. We now need to look more closely at three verses that are sometimes misunderstood to conclude an automatic superiority for men:

(i) “Men are in charge of [taking care of] women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. ” (Qur’an, 4:34)

(ii) “And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable. But the men have a degree over them.” (Qur’an, 2:228)

(iii) “And the male is not like the female.” (Qur’an, 3:36)

(i) Men are qawwamun over women”

“Men are in charge of [taking care of] women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. ” (Qur’an, 4:34)

Firstly, the Qur’an has told us clearly that the criterion for superiority before Allah is taqwa, not gender:

“Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.” (Qur’an, 49:13)

Indeed, no Muslim man would dare claim that, merely by being male, he is better than Lady Khadijah, Lady Fatimah, or the Virgin Mary!

Remember also that two verses before this (4:32), we were reminded that men and women have each been blessed in different ways by Allah. What the verse 4:34 is telling us, therefore, is that men have the responsibility of taking care of women, because (generally) their constitution and nature are such that they are more capable or working and providing physical protection and defense.

Secondly, note that the wording is not فضلهم عليهن (which would clearly mean: graced/blessed men over  women) but rather: بِمَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ literally: “has graced some of them over others.”  Shaykh al-Sha`rawi, the famous 20th-century Egyptian (male) scholar of tafsir, pointed out that although men may be graced/blessed in one aspect, they are less endowed in other respects, and that the two genders have complementary roles in which each utilizes their respective strengths to support the other. The 3rd-century theologian and polymath `Uthman al-Jahiz has pointed out several aspects in which women can be considered superior to men, including various positive traits of character (remember the Prophet (s) was described as more modest than a virgin in her chamber), and the fact that there has been a woman (the Virgin Mary) for whom Allah created a child without male involvement, but there has never ben a man for whom Allah made a child without female involvement. Contemporary female Syrian scholar Hanan Lahham expressed succinctly the logical conclusion to make from 4:34, tying together the concepts that were already known to earlier exegetes (mufassireen), even if they didn’t express it so explicitly. She writes that, “Allah granted to each gender characteristics that help them to perform their roles; the intended meaning is not a superiority of one gender over the other.”

The verse (4:34) also intimates that some women have certain superiorities over some men, and vice-versa. Thus, some women might be physically stronger, or more capable breadwinners, than some men. None of this is ruled out by the verse, nor by the labelling of men as maintainers, because as `Allamah Ibn `Ashur (a high-ranking 20th century Tunisian scholar) has commented in his tafsir, what the verse is describing is not a universal but a customary norm. (We may note, in passing that patriarchically organized societies have dominated human history for several millenia.) Even among pre-modern mufassirin, the possibility had been raised that this verse conveys that there are some women who are better than many men. In fact, the famous medieval linguist and mufassir, Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi, mentioned the possibility (suggested by the verse) that the term “men” (الرجال) in the verse (4:34) refers not to gender (for otherwise the term “males” (الذكور) could have been used) but only to those males who are deserving of being called “men” by virtue of their strength, wisdom and resoluteness. A lot of women would not be able to fully respect a man who does not live up to his expected role. Thus, many of the fuqaha allow a wife to annul the marriage if the husband is not able to provide financial support to his wife. (Of course, she has the option of remaining with him and being patient, and also the option of spending her own money on the household, and can expect reward from Allah for doing so, but she is not obliged to do either of these).


-Suheil Laher

Lost in Translation: Friendships with Non-Muslims

A closer analysis of Qur’an, 5:51

By Suheil Laher

Are Muslims allowed have non-Muslim friends? If not, then what should be our stance towards others?! Anyone who thinks that Muslims must take all non-Muslims as enemies is ignorant of the Qur’an and the life and teachings of Prophet Muhammad, and ignorant of the centuries of friendly co-existence between Muslims and others across history, not mention that such a person is blind to the decency and goodness to be found and appreciated in many other human beings. The Prophet’s own example clearly illustrates that the attitude of the Muslim toward the non-Muslim is not one of bigotry or unconditional animosity. For example, “when Makkah was in the grip of famine, [the Prophet Muhammad] personally went out to help his enemies. When non-Muslim prisoners of war were presented before him, he treated them with such tenderness [as] many cannot even claim to have done in respect to their children. A delegation from Banu Thaqif who had not yet embraced Islam upto that time came to visit him. They were given the honor of staying in the Mosque of the Prophet. Umar [the second Caliph] gave allowances to needy dhimmis (non-Muslim subjects) [rather than obliging them to pay the jizyah tax.” [see: Muhammad Shafi`’s (erstwhile Grand-Mufti of Pakistan) Ma`ariful-Qur’an, 2/57-58.]

Nor can it be that Muslims are supposed to just pretend to be nice to others while hating and cursing them among themselves in private, for the Prophet has denounced duplicity:

You will find the worst person to be the two-faced one, who comes to [one people] with one face, and to [another people] with another face.” [Bukhari]

In the Qur’an, the common origin (and hence essential oneness) of the human race is stressed:

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” [Qur’an, 49:13]

And basic values and decency are not to be reserved only for fellow Muslims:

God does not prohibit you from being kind and just to those who have not fought you on account of religion, nor expelled you from your homes. Allah loves those who are just.” Q[60:8]

We may note that the word used in the verse for ‘kindness’ (al-birr) is the same word used in some hadiths for loving, kind treatment of one’s parents.

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Completing the Qur’an in Tarawih

Image of Quran (book)

Completing recitation of the Qur’an at least once in Tarawih can be shown to be recommended (mustahabb). This article discusses the basis for this ruling, and concludes with some practical notes and advice.

[Note: this article does not discuss the preferred number of rak`ah of tarawih, nor the ruling on offering tarawih in jama`ah.]

Ramadan is the month of revelation of the Qur’an [Qur’an, 2:185], and a month for more intensive recitation and study of the Qur’an. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) used to meet Angel Gabriel (peace be upon him) every night, and they would study the Qur’an [Bukhari]. Another narration tells us that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) would go over the entire Qur’an with him once every Ramadan, and that in the last Ramadan of the Prophet’s life, they reviewed the entire Qur’an twice [Bukhari, Muslim]. Hence, it is sunnah to recite or listen to the recitation of the entire Qur’an at least once during the month. Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq is reported to have allowed finishing the Qur’an only once a month outside of Ramadan, but once every three days in Ramadan. [Wasa’il].

Recitation does not necessarily have to be in tarawih, although recitation in salah is generally held to be more meritorious than recitation outside of salah.
[This can be supported by the logical reasoning that recitation in salah is necessarily accompanied by additional good deeds: wudu’, ruku`, sujud, etc. A hadith in Mishkat al-Masabih states explicitly that, “Recitation of Qur’an in salah is more virtuous that recitation of Qur’an not in salah”, but its chain of transmision is weak.]
Nevertheless, tarawih itself could be performed even with recitation of short surahs, even every day, if need be. It is reported that Caliph `Ali ibn Abi Talib led the tarawih reciting 5 verses in each rak`ah. [Yahya ibn Hamzah in al-Intisar], which would mean approximately half a juz’ was recited per night.
[Twenty rak`ah were performed each night during Caliph `Ali’s time, as we find in the Musnad of Imam Zayd ibn `Ali and elsewhere].
Rabi`ah, the famous teacher of Imam Malik, observed that in the past, not all the imams of tarawih had memorized the entire Qur’an [Mudawwanah]. Certainly, if there are time constraints, whether on the community (such as during summer tarawih in extremely northern latitudes, where the night is extremely short) or on the individual (who has work commitments, for example, or who is praying alone and has not memorized long surahs), then it is valid to shorten the tarawih recitation in this manner, and the sunnah of finishing the Qur’an could be accomplished outside of salah. In the absence of such constraints, the preference is for prolonged recitation in the optional night prayer.
“Arise [to pray] the night, except for a little – Half of it – or subtract from it a little. Or add to it, and recite the Qur’an with measured recitation. Indeed, We will cast upon you a heavy word. Indeed, the hours of the night are more effective for concurrence [of heart and tongue] and more suitable for words.” [Qur’an, 73:2-6]

There are further textual indications that make a case for completion of the Qur’an in tarawih being a sunnah. We know that in general, throughout the year, the Prophet (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) used to stand in prolonged prayer by night, to the extent that his feet would become swollen [Bukhari], or torn [Tirmidhi]. The Mother of the Believers, Aishah, was asked about his prayer by night, and she replied that he would offer 8 rak`ah every night – but do not ask about how long and beautiful they were [Bukhari]. There are also narrations that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) would exert himself even harder in the last ten nights of Ramadan [Muslim], when he might stay awake all night [Bukhari]. Given these descriptions of the Prophet’s (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) night prayer, we can easily conclude that he must have completed recitation of the Qur’an at least once during the month in his night prayer. In addition to this enacted sunnah of the Prophet, we also find an authentic hadith of verbal encouragement for long recitation in salah.
“Whoever stands [in prayer] with 10 verses will not be written among the negligent. Whoever stands [in prayer] with 100 verses will be written among the devoted. Whoever stands [in prayer] with 1000 verses will be written among those amassing a treasure.” [Narrated by Abu Dawud.]

A narration recorded by Bayhaqi might provide further support for this practice:
“The Messenger of Allah came out one night in Ramadan, and saw people in a corner of the mosque praying, whereupon he asked, “What are these [people] doing?” Someone replied, “O Messenger of Allah, these are people who do not have the Qur’an [memorized], so Ubayy ibn Ka`b is reciting and they are following him in salah.” He said, “They are doing good,” or “They are correct,” and he did not disapprove of that.”
[There is disagreement over the authenticity of this hadith. It was narrated by Abu Dawud, who graded it weak on account of one of its narrators (Muslim ibn Khalid). Al-`Ala’i judged it acceptable (salih) in his fatawa, and Nimawi graded it as good (jayyid) in Athar al-Sunan; vide I`la al-Sunan, 7/69]
If authentic then this indicates that they were praying with the specific aim of hearing the entire Qur’an, for Ubayy had memorized the Qur’an, whereas not all of the other Companions had.

The precedent set by the Prophet (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) was continued by his Companions and subequent generations after him. In every generation, there are many Muslims who have not memorized large portions of the Qur’an, and who therefore seek to benefit from hearing it being recited by others. Hence, the Companions would gather in small groups in the masjid, each group praying behind a reciter/memorizer. This was the state of affairs that motivated Caliph `Umar ibn al-Khattab to gather people in a single congregation, reviving and institutionalizing the congregational aspect of the prayer that had only been performed on a couple of nights by the Prophet (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) himself [Bukhari, Malik]. `Umar appointed Ubayy ibn Ka`b to lead the men and (according to one narration) Tamim al-Dari to lead the woman in salah, because they were both memorizers of the Qur’an. The more authentic narrations tell us that the Companions would perform 20 rak`ah every night. Some narrations also point out that the recitation was long, to the extent that people would even tend to support themselves with sticks towards the end, due to the length of standing. [Recorded by Bayhaqi, and authenticated by Nawawi and others] Bayhaqi has also recorded a narration [I have not found discussion of, nor looked into, its authenticity yet] which states that Caliph `Umar summoned three reciters, and had them recite before him. Then, he told the fastest one to recite 30 ayat in each rak`ah, the medium-paced to recite 25 ayat in each rak`ah, and the slowest to recite 20. Even with 20 ayat per rak`ah, and 20 rak`ah, the Qur’an would actually be finished twice over a month. In the face of all of this, it is inevitable that they would be completing recitation of the Qur’an at least once during the month.

`Umar ibn `Abdil-`Aziz told the Taraweh leaders to recite 10 ayat in each rak`ah (which would lead to completion of the Qur’an once over a month) [Mudawwanah]. Imam al-Bukhari used to lead his companions in tarawih reciting 20 ayat in each rak`ah until they completed the Qur’an [Reported by al-Hakim]. Some of the imams of fiqh (Malik and Ahmad) permitted reading from the mushaf in tarawih, even if they did not normally permit it, due to the importance they saw in completing recitation of the Qur’an in tarawih. This emphasis actually can be traced back to the Companions. The wife of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) Ummul-Mu’mineen Aishah (who would have her servant Dhakwan lead her in tarawih from the mushaf) [Cited by Bukhari as ta`liq]. Imam al-Zuhri of the Tabi`in said, “[Some of] the best of us used to recite from the mushaf [in Ramadan].” These scholars would not have conceded permissibility of reading from the mushaf had completing the recitation of the Qur’an in tarawih not been a sunnah.

In summary then: Ramadan is the month of the Qur’an, the Prophet (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) would go through the entire Qur’an during Ramadan with Gabriel (peace be upon him), and we also know he would stand in prolonged salah by night. The Companions continued upon his path, and the practice of completing the Qur’an at least once in tarawih every year continued to be handed down through the generations. This practice has played an important role in the oral preservation of the Qur’an.

Practical Notes / Advice

Without detracting from the above strong desirability and importance, we may nevertheless observe that:

1) It is not necessary to complete the Qur’an inside tarawih, so if it is a personal or communal hardship to do so, then the tarawih can be made shorter.

2) Completion of the Qur’an is not the sole aim of tarawih. Some mosques hold ‘marathon’ tarawih sessions in which the Qur’an is completed within the first ten nights or less (3 juz’ per night). This is well and good, but those who attend should not be doing so with the aim of ‘getting the khatm done’ and then neglecting tarawih (or performing it with extremely short recitation) for the rest of the month. Nor should the recitation ever be so fast that the letters and words are not properly pronounced.

Those who complete the tarawih khatm a few nights before the end of Ramadan are encouraged to avoid the temptation to thereafter perform tarawih with only the last 10 surahs each night (especially if they are able to recite other verses). There is no harm in shortening the duration of the tarawih if circumstances call for it, but the sunnah is actually to increase the volume of worship in the last ten nights, in search of Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Destiny / Value). Even the 27th night of Ramadan, although considered very likely by many scholars is not guaranteed to be Laylat al-Qadr.

And Allah knows best.

Photo credit: Afshad Subair,

Order of Verses in Surahs

Islamic religion,Koran,Muslim scriptures,Photographs,prayer books,religious booksThe Qur’an has always been central to Islam and to the religious lives of Muslims, and this has provided the impetus, generation after generation, for them to devote care and attention to memorizing, reciting, preserving and transmitting the Qur’an. Wherever you go in the Muslim world, whether among Sunnis, Twelver Shi`ah, Zaydi Shi`ah or any other sect or school, you find the verses in the same order within the surahs. There is no disagreement on the sequence of verses within the surahs.
There are also numerous hadiths indicating that the order of verses within the surahs was fixed by the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) himself:
  1. Zayd said, “We used be in the presence of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), gathering the Qur’an from pieces of parchment.” [Narrated by al-Hakim with an isnad on the criteria of Bukhari and Musch surlim]
  2. As part of a longer hadith, narrated by `Uthman (may Allah be well-pleased with him), in response to a question from Ibn `Abbas, “…when something [of the Qur’an] came down upon [the Prophet], he summoned some of those who would write, and tell them, ‘Put these verses in the surah that mentions such-and-such.'” [Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasai, Ibn Hibban, al-Hakim] Read more

Origin of Names of Surahs

bookmarks,flames,holy books,Koran,lamps,lights,oil lamps,Quran,religion,scriptures,symbols The names of the surahs are not part of the actual text of the Qur’an, nor were they written in the early mushafs.  For some (but not all) surahs there are explicit narrations telling us that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) himself used a particular name. And the narrations suggest that all the names were well-known and widely used among the Sahabah. `Allamah al-Suyuti has stated that the names of all the surahs can be found in either hadiths or aathaar (sayings of the Companions). Among these is the narration that the polytheists used to make fun of the fact that there are surahs named after the cow, the spider, etc, whereupon Allah sent down the verse meaning, “We are sufficed for you against the mockers.” [Qur’an, 15:95]
However, the scholars disagreed as to whether the name of every surah was given by the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) himself. It is quite possible that some of the names were assigned by the Sahabah. Al-Suyuti also mentions that some surahs are known by more than one name, and similarly sometimes the same name may be used to refer to more than one surah.
And Allah knows best.
[The above information is drawn mainly from Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti’s Al-Itqan fi `Ulum al-Qur’an]

3b – The Qur'an

The Qur’an is the speech of Allah, sent down upon the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household), conveyed to us by mass-transmission, the very recitation of it constitutes worship, and the smallest surah of it constitutes a challenge. (see: Q[9:6, 26:192-5, …])

Preservation of the Qur’an
The Prophet memorized the Qur’an as he received it, as did many of his companions, and it was also written down during his lifetime. The tradition of memorizing the entire Qur’an has continued in every generation, such that the Qur’an has been preserved through dual means: through writing as well as orally. Every year, during the recommended extra night prayers in the Islamic month of Ramadan, it is customary for the Huffaz (those who have memorized the Qur’an) to complete recitation of the entire Qur’an from memory. This massive coordination of human effort over history, which has today continued and extended further into new forms of media, is the illustration of Allah’s having undertaken the Qur’an’s preservation.
“Verily, it is We who have revealed the Reminder (i.e. the Qur’an), and it is We who shall guard it.” [Qur’an, 15:9] Read more