In the first section of this entry we looked at the rights of women in some Islamic countries. We will now start to apply the points made in that earlier section to these examples of mistreatment, starting with the question 'Is this violence and lack of rights to women part of what Islam teaches, or is it something passed on through culture in that part of the world?' By answering this, we will effectively answer most of the other key points along the way.
The spiritual side
Let us take a look at what the Qur'an says about women.
O mankind, keep your duty to your lord who created you from a single soul and created its mate of same kind and from them twain has spreads multitude of men and women.
- Al Qur'an 4:1
He (God) it is who did create you from a single soul and from it did create his mate, that he might dwell with her (in love).
- Al Qur'an 7:189
Time and time again, the Qur'an points out that Islam is for both men and women, and that both have the rights to learn about Islam and that both are viewed as equal in the eyes of God.
For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who guard their chastity, for men and women who engage in Allah's praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and a great reward.
- Al Qur'an 33:35
So their lord accepted their prayers, (saying): I will not suffer to be lost the work of any of you whether male or female. You precede one from the other.
- Al Qur'an 3:195
According to the Qur'an, Eve was not responsible for the first sin and is not blamed for Adam's first mistake. Both of them together were disobedient to God, but both repented. God forgave them both - see Al Qur'an 2:36 and 5:20-24. In Al Qur'an 20:121 the blame is actually put mostly on Adam and not his wife, which shows that Islam does not believe that the woman's nature is impure in any way as he gave in to temptation first. The Ayah1 reads:
In the end, they both ate of the tree, and so their nakedness appeared to them: they began to sew together, for their covering, leaves from the garden: Thus did Adam disobey His Lord, and allow himself to be seduced.
- Al Qur'an 20:1212
A Muslim woman's religious obligations - like daily prayers, fasting, poor-due and pilgrimage - are no different from a man's, though due to some events they change to make it easier for her; for example, during her menstruation period she does not have to fast or pray. She is also excused from fasting when pregnant and for an additional forty days after her child's birth if she is nursing her baby or if there is a threat to her or her baby's life, as well as being relieved from her regular duty until her health permits.
Islam permits women to attend the place of worship but they are given the privilege to decide whether to offer prayers at home or at the mosque. This shows Islam's consideration for the woman, aware that she may be engaged in nursing her child or exercising some other duty that may render it difficult to attend Mosque. Islam fully accommodates a woman's psychological make up and takes in to consideration her physiological changes, thereby helping her coordinate her responsibilities to complement her nature.
Despite the customary pre-Islamic acceptance of female infanticide among some Arab tribes, the Qur'an forbade this custom and considers it an abominable crime.
And when the female infant buried alive is questioned, for what crime she was killed?
- Al Qur'an 81:8-9
It also condemns the attitudes of parents who reject their female children:
When news is bought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on sufferance and contempt, or bury her in the dust? Ah! What an evil choice they decide on.
- Al Qur'an 16:58-59
These two verses from the Qur'an are saying that those who bury their daughters alive will suffer hellfire. The first one is speaking in the future tense towards the questioning from God on the day of the resurrection. When God questions the baby girl she cannot answer this question and will go to Heaven. When the father and those responsible are questioned he will not be able to give a response to satisfy God or his soul and so is condemned to the hellfire.
Every child's life is important in Islam and is sacred. God though orders us to be kind and give just treatment to daughters. Prophet Mohammad said:
Who ever has a daughter and does not bury her alive, does not insult her and does not favour his son over her, God will enter him into paradise.
- Ibn Hanbal, Ahadith
Whoever supports two daughters till they mature, he and I will come on the day of judgment like this (and he pointed with his two fingers held together).
The allowance to get an education is extended to women as well as men in Islam.
Seeking knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim3.
- Al Bayhaqi
Zina and rape
As mentioned in Part 1, Pakistan has a supposedly Islamic law for dealing with adultery, fornication and rape by following this ayah:
The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication - flog each of them with a hundred stripes: let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day; and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment.
- Sura4 24 ayah 2
Before moving on to the whole Islamic perspective it is important to point out that the punishment for adultery and fornication is not due to breaking the right of God (i.e. an article of faith) but rather the punishment is for breaking the public's right. The Islamic community is very strict on its moral frame work and so if two people commit adultery in secret, they have broken one of God's laws but when it becomes public knowledge they have broken God's laws and the rights of the moral community. It is for the act becoming public knowledge that they are being punished, either through witnesses or self confession. In either case they will have to face God with what they have done on the day of the resurrection. The first thing that needs to be looked at here regarding adultery and fornication is what constitutes adultery or fornication in Islam to be viable for punishment in the Qur'an in the above ayah and what evidence is needed. There are only two types of evidence for adultery in Islam which are confession and four male witnesses. In the case of a confession the guilty person has to confess four times. The first three confessions are ignored and if he says it a fourth time, then retracts his statement then without physical evidence, it is deemed as no evidence and so is free from punishment. The confession has to be given in exact details using a mix of metaphors and basic facts as Islam only sees the actual sexual penetration of a man's penis into a women's vagina to be punishable for zina. The reason for there to be four confessions is because in the Ahadith a man came to the Prophet Muhammad and confessed to adultery, but each time the Prophet turned away from him, until the fourth time, only then did the Prophet question him. It is also related in the Ahadith that there must be no doubt that the guilty person has committed adultery. The Ahadith reads:
A man from the tribe of Aslam came to the Messenger - peace be upon him - while he was in the mosque and said to him: 'O Messenger of God, I have committed adultery.'
The Messenger turned away from him. The man then stepped in front of the Messenger and said: 'I committed adultery.'
The Messenger again looked away. The man did the same thing four times. When he confessed four times the Messenger called upon him and asked him: 'Are you insane?'
The man said: 'No!'
The Messenger then asked him: 'Were you married (muhsan) when you committed this act?' to which he said: 'Yes!'
Only then did the Prophet order that the man be punished for zina.
In another Hadith it is reported that:
The Prophet said to Ma'iz: 'Maybe you just kissed, maybe you touched her, or looked ... ' and the man said: 'No!'
He (the Messenger) said, 'So, did you penetrate her?' and the man said: 'Yes!'
The Prophet then ordered his punishment.
In another version of the same Hadith:
The Prophet asked the man: 'Till that of yours disappeared in that of hers?'
The man said, 'Yes.'
The Prophet asked, 'Like a stick disappears in a kohl canister and a rope in a well?'
The man said, 'Yes!'
He then asked him, 'Do you know the meaning of zina?'
The man said, 'Yes! I did with her illegally what a husband does with his wife legally.'
This highlights that even when a person says that they have committed adultery or fornication that the person is to be questioned to make sure that they have actually performed the act and that they know exactly what it is they are saying they did. If someone has confessed and then withdraws there confession then they can not be charged as there is no longer any evidence unless there are witnesses.
Islamic law prescribes that there should be four male witnesses to adultery and fornication which should fit the following requirements:
- They should all be honest, free Muslim men;
- Each witness had actually seen the actual act, i.e. that the man's penis was inside the women's vagina;
- They should testify about the same zina act at the same trial and that there is no disagreement with their statements - no matter how trivial.
Normally in Islamic law only two witnesses are required, but in the case of adultery and fornication there must be at least four. The primary reason for all of this is to protect women from false charges. The reason for male witnesses is because generally women have more freedom to enter other people's homes and private rooms in a Muslim community and so it acts as further protection on people's privacy. This is further backed up by the fact that a few ayahs after it is prescribed for four witnesses on adultery and fornication the Qur'an goes onto say:
O ye who believe! Enter not houses other than your own, until ye have asked permission and saluted those in them: that is best for you, in order that ye may heed (what is seemly).
- Sura 24 ayah 27
As for all the other requirements, they exist because this particular law is one that is to act as a preventive measure and not one that should be heavily enforced. The point is to give an idea of the seriousness of committing adultery and fornication in God's eyes. This is backed up by a Hadith5 that says it is better for a judge to let a guilty person go than to punish a innocent person; regardless if they are charged or not they will still be accountable to God and so they will get their dues. Several scholars also derived a school of thought that it is preferable for a person who witnesses an act of zina not to report it and instead to cover the shortcoming of others while at the same time advising them to change their behaviour. This is based on a Hadith that says:
Whoever covers the shortcoming ('awrah) of a Muslim, God will cover his shortcomings here and in the thereafter.
Naturally with the call of four witnesses it is virtually impossible to be prosecuted for the crime of adultery and fornication unless the people committing it have absolutely no regard for the moral grounds of the society they live in, which as said before is what the punishment is for.
To further secure women's safety from false claims the Qur'an makes the junction that anyone who accuses a women of adultery or fornication without the above requirements of witnesses and evidence then they are punishable to 70 lashes as without proof they should keep things to themselves6.
The only time when four witnesses are not required and the punishment for false accusations is not given is when a man or a woman accuses their spouse of having an extra-marital affair. In these circumstances if there is no witnesses the accuser must swear three times that the accused has committed a illicit act and then a fourth oath that if they are lying then God will punish them for it, and the accused is instantly seen as being guilty unless the accused then makes the same oath but swearing that they have not performed any illicit acts. This makes the trial redundant and the two people can either work out their differences or get divorced - it is left in God's hands to deliver punishment in this life or the next.
This brings us up to the last area of evidence, which is pregnancy outside of marriage. Islam does not see pregnancy as anything other than circumstantial evidence that at best can prove that a woman has had contact with seminal fluid and can never prove adultery or fornication. There are two Ahadith relating to this which read:
An unmarried pregnant woman was bought before Omar to be tried for zina. Omar asked her to defend herself, she then said: 'I am a heavy sleeper, and a man raped me while I was asleep and then he left. I could not recognise him thereafter.' Omar accepted her defence and released her.
Imam Ali asked a pregnant woman: 'Maybe you were forced to have sex?'
She said: 'No.'
He then said: 'Then maybe somebody raped you when you were asleep?'
These cases highlight the fact that pregnancy can never itself be proof for zina and that other evidence is needed alongside pregnancy to implicate someone.
Now that we have dealt with the case of zina it is time to see what the Islamic law on rape is compared to that of Pakistan's law. To begin with all, Muslim scholars are unanimous in that a rape victim can never be given the punishment for zina due to a Hadith that reads:
God has forgiven my people mistakes, forgetfulness and anything that they were coerced into.
This is further backed up by the actions of Omar when he was Caliph. A woman who was tried before Omar for zina claimed that she was thirsty and asked a shepherd for some water. The shepherd denied her water unless she allowed him to have sex with her. Having no choice, she did. Omar consulted with Ali whose opinion was that the woman had no other choice. Consequently, Omar dropped the case against her and gave her monetary compensation. In another case an alleged adulteress was brought before Omar and she claimed that she was sound asleep when a man came unto her and forced her in to having sex. Omar released her even though she was unable to prove she was raped or able to recognise and hence identify the rapist. When asked about his decision, he explained that as a ruler he was bound to waive punishment for a crime whenever there was the slightest doubt about its applicability.
This highlights how a woman living under proper Sharia law will not be prosecuted for zina if she says she was raped regardless of it can be proven or not, and either if it was through brute force or other means. Furthermore, if it can be proven, i.e. in this day and age tests can reveal if a women was raped or not and DNA can be used to catch the culprit, then the person(s) responsible would find themselves up on not only the charge of zina but will be given additional sentencing due to the nature of the crime. This highlights how Pakistan's zina and rape laws do not fit the Islamic requirements needed to be called Sharia law. For a more in-depth look at Pakistan's rape laws compared to the Islamic law on rape please visit the article called Zina, rape, and Islamic law: an Islamic legal analysis of the rape laws in Pakistan.
Women as wives
Marriage in Islam is based on an equal partnership between man and woman. Besides perpetuating human life, marriage is stressed for our emotional well-being, to provide us with a caring, loving and stable relationship and to foster mental and spiritual harmony between the sexes.
And among his signs is this: That he created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest, peace of mind in them, and he ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, herein indeed are signs for people who reflect.
- Al Qur'an 30:21
Upon entering marriage the woman is allowed to keep her maiden name as a symbolic statement of her unique identity. Women also have the right to choose their marriage partner and cannot marry without their own free consent.
In one of the Ahadith it is reported that a girl went to the Prophet and reported that her father had made her marry without her consent. The Prophet told her that she had the choice of accepting the marriage or annulling it. It then goes on to say that the girl said:
Actually I accept this marriage but I wanted to let women know that their parents have no right to force a husband on to them.
A wife is generously taken care of in Islam. Together with all the required provisions for her welfare and protection at the time of marriage, Islam additionally gives the woman the right to a marriage gift (Mahr). This gift is from the husband as a symbol of his love and affection. This ownership of wealth does not transfer to the wife's in-laws, father or husband and is at the disposal of only the woman. The rules for married life in Islam are simple and in harmony with the natural dispositions of both sexes. Each partner takes the other's concerns and sentiments into account and both recognising the rights of the other:
If they (husband and wife) desire to wean the child by mutual consent and (after) consultation, there is no blame on them.
- Al Qur'an 2:233
They (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them and men have a degree over them.
- Al Qur'an 2:228
The later verse is often misunderstood as an example of how men have more rights than women in Islam. This comes from misunderstanding of the Arabic used. The Arabic context of the verse refers to the male's pertaining to economic maintenance and protection of the wife. Islam sees that males are physically stronger than women and has so put a greater responsibility on to them concerning economic maintenance and protection and overall leadership of the family. This responsibility does not imply superiority over the woman; this would go completely against the spirit of equality and justice in Islam.
Men are the protectors and maintainers of woman because Allah has given the one more strength than the other and because they support them from their means.
- Al Qur'an 4:19
The Prophet said: 'The best of you is the best to his family and I am the best among you to my family.'
The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and the best in conduct are those who are best to their wife's.
He further said:
Behold, some women came to Mohammad's wives complaining against their husbands (because they beat them), those (husbands) are not best of you.
Here is another verse from the Qur'an that is always misunderstood by non-Muslims and some Muslims:
Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.
- Al Qur'an 4:34
A lot of discrediting of Islam is due to the fact that most people, including so-called Muslims, don't know how to interpret the original Arabic used in the Qur'an. In the Ayah above the Arabic word translated 'to hit' in the Qur'an is not a good translation for that word. This 'hitting' can only be done after the husband has tried all other methods of reasoning as well. The reason this was allowed is because the men before Islam came about husbands in Makkah used to beat their wives whenever they were displeased with them. Some women came to the Prophet and complained about it; upon hearing it the Prophet immediately prohibited the practice by allowing women to have equitable retribution. The men where not happy about this and complained back about the prohibition. They argued that it allowed their wives the upper hand; at that point the Prophet Mohammad had another revelation which is the above ayah. Now to understand this ayah we need to look at it in the shade of the Qur'an, i.e. by comparison with the other passages in the Qur'an that call for a high standard of gender interaction and communication. What this verse did was to draw an immediate prohibition on hitting women in a complex way7.
The Qur'anic conjunction now imposes severe limitations on men who used to beat their wives, as the husband after this was revealed had to first established that the wife was nashiz, which means dishonouring the marital covenant, and hence disobeying God (thus the focus of obedience here is God, not the husband).
Then the husband has to go through several steps of anger management and conflict resolution before he can even think of 'hitting' his wife. If these steps do not work, then the husband is allowed to 'hit' his wife symbolically (with a bunch of basil or a handkerchief) to express his anger and frustration. Any harm to the wife from his action is clear ground for divorce. Furthermore, this symbolic act defined the minimal standard below which no Muslim may stoop8.
Another thing to put in perspective is that the Holy Prophet Mohammad never hit any of his wives and Muslims believe that the Prophet is the best example of how humans should conduct themselves. This is why Muslims follow the Ahadith.
There is a Hadith that relates to women and hitting them, which is this:
Ai'shah and Mohammad where walking on the beach and Ai'shah was complaining about something. A woman walked up to the prophet and said: 'You are the prophet of Islam, how can you let her talk to you like that.' His reply was: 'What should I do this,' and he poked Ai'shah with his miswak9.
This is a very misunderstood Hadith as people overlook the characteristics of the prophet and Ai'shah and say that he is hitting her. Rather what was actually happening is the Prophet Mohammad was being slightly sarcastic to the women saying, 'how can you let her talk to you like that'. Or, in other words, Ai'shah's so-called complaining was not bothering the Prophet and instead of doing what the women expected i.e. telling her off, he instead jokingly prodded her with a twig. Even the Prophet Mohammad had to put up with a good ticking-off by his wife at some time or another.
Another Hadith quoted that people say is debasing women is the one where the Prophet Mohammad says that a woman is like a bent rib and if you push her too hard she will snap. What is meant by this Hadith is that a women has her own way of doing things and that a man should accept this way. If he tries to change her way of doing things and thread of thought i.e. straighten the rib, she will break or snap. So men should try to understand and accept the way women do things before they start criticising and trying to change them.
For more information on Islam and domestic violence then you can check out An Islamic Perspective On Domestic Violence for an in-depth view.
It is the woman's right in Islam to decide and choose whom she marries; it is also her right to terminate an unsuccessful marriage. However, to prevent irrational decisions taking place in the midst of a trauma that may be developing and for the sake of the family's stability, Islam asks that both parties observe a waiting period of roughly three months (usually three menstrual cycles) before a divorce is finalised. This enables both husband and wife to cool down, assess the situation rationally and then be in a better position to make the right decision. The waiting period is also to make sure the woman is not pregnant. If she is pregnant then she is entitled to the right for the husband to keep supporting her until the child is born and them to provide money for the child and any other children she may have from him. This right includes the same expenses the husband paid when they were man and wife.
When divorce is unavoidable, God instructs the husband to depart from his wife peacefully with no ill-will or malice:
When you divorce women, and they reach their prescribed term, then retain them in kindness and retain them not for injury so that you transgress the limits.
- Al Qur'an 2:228-232.
In Islam, kindness and obedience to parents is paramount and is enjoined after worship.
Your Lord has decreed that you worship none save Him, and that you be kind to your parents.
- Al Qur'an 17:23
And we have enjoined upon man to be good to his parents. His mother bears him in weakness upon weakness.
- Al Qur'an 31:1410
Once a woman becomes a mother in Islam, her seat of honour and dignity becomes extra special:
Paradise lies at the feet of your mother.
It is also reported that a man came to the Prophet Mohammad and asked:
O Messenger of God, who among the people is the most worthy of my good company? The Prophet replied: 'Your mother.' The man then asked who came next and the Prophet replied: 'Your mother.' The man yet again asked who came next and the Prophet replied yet again with 'Your mother.' The man then asked 'Then who else?' Only then did the prophet say 'Your father.'
It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked that insults them.
Economic rights of women
The economic rights of women were denied before Islam and in secular cultures after it and were only awarded to women as late as the 20th century. However, Islam gives the right to personal ownership of wealth and property to women. Islam says that women have the same right to their money, real estate or other property as she has before marriage. The woman also has the right to independently buy, sell, mortgage or lease any portion of her property.
If a woman is married and her husband is niggardly (mean with money) then the wife has the right to take from her husband's property without consent to satisfy her own and her family's reasonable needs. This does not mean that she can take his money to buy jewellery without his permission: what it means is if the husband does not give her enough money to clothe herself or her children properly then she can take his money without his permission.
Islam also gives women the ability to work like men do. The role of mother and wife is paramount and indispensable to society. Professionalism, hard work and loving commitment are the natural skills that a woman, as a mother, imparts. However, Muslim women are free to pursue employment if they are able to and with the agreement of their husbands if they are married. Any money a woman earns in a job is her money and if married it is not permissible for the husband to take it. The money can be spent as she wishes and she does not have to contribute to the running of the household with it. She can, of course, spend it on helping the family if she chooses to. History shows that women's contribution to civilisation in Islam is in various professions such as teaching, medicine etc.
Islam also gives women the right to inherit, whereas in some cultures women are themselves objects to be inherited. The woman is alloted a share of any inheritance and it is hers to do with as she pleases; no one has any rights over her to take possession of that money or property.
Unto men of the family belongs a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, and unto woman a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether it be a little or much. a determined share.
- Al Qur'an 4:7
Normally her share is one half of the man's share. The variation that occurs is due to the financial responsibilities of the two sexes. The man is responsible for the financial stability of the family and the woman does not need to worry about it. If a woman has no family to support her then it is considered the job of the community to provide for her. It is not fair if the man or the woman have all the money and neither is it fair for them both to have the same amount. As the man has the responsibility of the family he is given a bigger portion to reflect on the extra expense he has to pay. For example, if a married man with three children and a unmarried sister loses their father and mother then it would not be fair for them to both get a straight cut of the wealth as it would be the brother's responsibilities to look after, clothe and buy food for himself, the family and his sister, whereas his sister's half can be spent as she pleases. In most cases the brother ends up with far less than the women do in the end due to the added financial burden men are given. Another thing is that, according to Western inheritance laws, if someone dies without a will then the oldest gets all the property and money owned by their parents.
Political aspect of Women in Islam
A study of Islamic history will show that through the ages there are plenty of examples of women's political rights in Islam. Women in Islam have always had the equal to men right of election, nomination to political office and right to participate in all public affairs. We find examples of women activity participating in serious debates with the Prophet himself11. Also, during the Caliphate of Omar Ibn al-Khattab, a woman proved to be correct in an argument to which the leader, with humility, declared before an audience: 'The woman is right and Omar is wrong.' This was of course to the woman's advantage as the Caliphate was trying to set a upper limit to the amount a man can give his wife as a dowry.
Many people believe that women in Islam have no power and are not allowed in to high positions. While in fact Pakistan itself has actually had a female President, Benazir Bhutto, who was elected twice. In Bangladesh voters have had women Prime Ministers since 1991, with two major rivals twice swapping the post: Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the daughter of the country's founder Mujibur Rehman, and incumbent Khalida Zia, the wife of slain president Zia ur Rehman.
The view of some people in the West is that a Muslim woman has to cover her whole body from head to foot. The truth is rather different though. Many people talk about the hijab as being the sign of a woman's oppression, though this is actually not a Qur'anic ruling but rather a Hadith one. Before continuing we must first distinguish one important thing about hijab. The hijab is a scarf that covers the hair of the woman, not the face. The niqab does the actual covering of the face. An interesting point to be made is that the word hair is not found in any verse from the Qur'an in reference to covering it. Islamic scholars have recommended that a woman should cover her hair but this choice is actually hers, though in some countries they do not have the choice. This is not actually due to Islamic ruling but rather regimes like the Taliban in Afghanistan, which do not follow the Islamic rules properly. This ruling was given because the Prophet said (in the Hadith) that a woman should cover everything except this and this, and he indicated his face and his hands.
The scarf is mentioned in several Ahadith and in the Qur'an but it is being asked to be drawn across a woman's bosoms. This is because in the days of the Qur'an being revealed, women were wearing tops that revealed a lot of cleavage and this is not allowed in Islam, so they were asked to draw their scarves over this area to stop men looking it. We will come back to the headscarf in a bit. Let us focus on the dressing rules as a whole.
All Muslims, male or female, should cover their bodies with clothes that are not transparent and tight and must not add to a person's attractiveness, meaning the garment itself should not increase the beauty of the wearer. Standard dress codes for a Muslim man and woman are the same: one should wear loose trousers and a loose top that is long enough so that it covers the groin and backside. Many people say this is not fair as the woman has to cover her beauty, but they seem to forget that the man has the same dress code in regards to type of clothing allowed to be worn, except that they cannot wear silk or gold while women can.
Coming back to the veil - there is no Hadith or Sura that says it is essential for a woman to cover her face to be a Muslim, nor is anything said that people can forcibly impose hijab or niqab on a woman. As previously mentioned, the Prophet Mohammad said that a woman should cover everything except the face and hands. This Hadith does support the wearing of hijab but it is not saying it is compulsory, meaning it is not permitted to force a woman to wear a hijab, but if she does wear one then this will please Allah and is worn because she wants to be recognised easily as a Muslim and to be modest12. Another Hadith that mentions the Niqab is actually reported by Ai'shah (one of the Prophet's wives) and says that she and the other wives had to cover their faces; but this was ordered upon the Prophet's wives and not all Muslims.
Islam is not the first religion to have women covering their heads: there are Jewish scriptures that suggest a woman should cover her head and in Christianity nuns cover their heads for the same reason that Muslim women cover theirs - an act to show their faith in public. The reason why the hijab and even the niqab are in the forefront of people's minds is that Muslim scholars are taking a strong opinion on this issue at the moment. The problem is that a lot of them have not even got a beard and yet there are far more Hadiths saying a man should have a beard than those that mention that Muslim women must wear headscarves. This means that at the moment we find a lot of Muslims making mountains out of molehills on the subject of women covering the head while not looking at themselves and seeing their own faults; on one occasion there was a man talking about the hijab and he himself wore clothes that did not comply with Islamic rules.
The reason why both sexes have to cover up in Islam is so that when people are mingling with the opposite sex, there is no lust or desire as one can only see the head of the person talking to them or around them. It is also requested that both sexes keep their eyes away from those who are not dressed in a decent manner. This enables women and men to walk and talk to each other knowing that there is no question about their beauty coming in to people's minds, meaning that both men and women are treated in the same way.
A good understanding of what the role of hijab and niqab is can be found in the following quote:
Protected on her own symbol of dignity (her dress), the woman can feel free to take whichever role in her society that she wishes to do without the added burden of having to constantly look beautiful (more artificially than naturally) or having to succumb to the temptations of being used for ornamental beautification of streets and offices. The unspoken 'jargon' of the Muslim dress is really to say to the man: 'Hey, stop looking at my own private body and look at my mind instead!'13
This brings us to the end of the second section, which shows that the Qur'an and Ahadith contradict the actions committed towards women in modern Muslim countries. This leaves us with two questions to answer: why are women in Muslim countries oppressed? And what is the cause of this oppression? So let us move on to the third section to try and answer these questions.