Woman in Islamic Intellectual Discourse: a study in the ideas of al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, Hasan al-Turabi and Mahmud Muhammad Taha

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Woman in Islamic Intellectual Discourse: A study in the ideas of al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, Hasan al-Turabi and Mahmud Muhammad Taha

Nahid M Alhassan Ali


Woman in History of Sudan

The message of Islam descended in a land of desolate nature, not touched by repose and without any elements of civilization. It did not encourage anything but a Bedouin life that did not demand but constant movement. It did not know a political system except paternal relationship for family or tribe (power of swearing alliance or warmth of protection), nor does it had any principle but reprisal, animosity in return of animosity and suppression of weaker by the powerful. Among the most vulnerable were women who were considered a material and moral burden, the reason for the less determined to throw her alive into the grave to run away from shame and poverty, a tradition of Qais bin Asim which entailed the evil practice to all women, particularly in the tribes of Rabiah, Kindah and Tamim.

This was the situation; it was difficult for a woman to have her own position, so any specialty that a person could not even decide his own life or life of his daughters and sisters? None was exempted from this humiliation except a few, and nobody rise above such weaknesses, but a few of men of honour.

When Islam came, it raised the women from the pit of burial and gave her life and freedom and equated her with men in most of the rights, so was it easy to tame the sentiments of land? No doubt Prophet Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him faced lots of difficulty in training the people something very clearly described in Quranic verses and Prophet’s traditions, like as recorded by Muslim of Ibn Umar who said: Prophet of Allah Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him said “do not prevent women in going out to the mosque at night” so Ibn Umar said to Abdullah Ibn Umar: we did not invoke them, they went out in dark said: so Ibn intercepted him saying: I tell you Prophet of Allah Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him said and say, “We did not invoke them”. It is well known that Islam entered Sudan at the hands of glanders and traders who illuminated their personal heritage which narrowly cleansed the invitation! So a new culture was brought to Sudan, a big shift with regard to women, where were the women and where they ended up? Women in Sudan passed important historical phases since the Marwi Kingdom (750 B.C – 350 A.D) passing the Christian kingdoms, the Islamic kingdoms, the Turkish period, the Mahdi movement, the rule of Sanai and post Sudanisation.

Marwi Period:

The women played very important role in social, religious and political life. Thus from the point of view of religion, Amnrdes the daughter of King Kashta 774-760 B.C reached the rank of the Worshipper of God and the wife of Sacred Amon, her heir Amnrdes II and her heirs followed her. Likewise King Anlmani gave away his four sisters to the Amon temples in north, Goddess worship was known to ancient Sudanese. As far as social life is concerned so the picture of mother, wife or daughter interfered into political negotiations for considerations during wars. The Marwi Women reached their peak in about third century BC; they earned the right to be buried in pyramids in the centre of pyramids of Kings. Marwi period was ruled by forty five kings and queens, most of them queens who became famous by the title Kandaka including Queen Amani Chekto who triumphed over the Roman Soldiers and put the head of their emperor under her feet when she came to the temple.

The Christian Kingdoms:

The residues of Marwi heritage can be clearly seen in what King George the son of King Zakaria has said, “Our affairs are in the hands of our women”, the reverence for goddesses continued in manifestation for coronation of kings.

The Islamic Kingdoms:

Islam spread in Sudan far away from centres of its teachings, so culture mixed with shariah, for example the wife used to marry soon after divorce without waiting for the mandatory period. The Sudanese Muslims or Non-Muslims practised various kinds of marriages before the first quarter of twentieth century like marriage of one woman with many men among slaves, exchanging of daughters or sisters in marriage without dowry or marriage after sexual intercourse as happened with princess Nusrat and her daughter princess Amina however there are difficulty in tracking the history of a thing that is reflective of the negligence of woman by historians, so sometimes right and justice see the light of day and vanish due to unknown reasons. Sanar the capital of Fonj is said to be on the name of a slave woman, likewise some women became famous for their knowledge in Shaigiyya region, however in the land of Jalien Queen Sittna became famous. But Dr. Mukhtar Ajubat has reported a number of paradoxes in this history, while the matter of women is left to her dear and near ones which even reached killing in the Sultanate of Zarqa’. It has been found that the status of woman was unparalleled in Sultanate of Fuor, during which they played a major role in enthroning of Sultans and it was them who filled the stockade with wealth (dowry) and enjoyed by men.

The Turkish Period:

Except (the Harem system) which had its own disadvantages, the Sudanese woman began their journey towards education in this period, for example the Turkish administration paid attention towards education of woman in Sudan especially those of freed slaves, so huge number of them were absorbed in the institution of marriage, they also brought Egyptian teachers (female) who trained them in cooking and housekeeping.

The Mahdi Movement:

Mahdi needed to highlight his lineage from his mother’s side to demonstrate the sincerity of his mahdism as he was accused of selling women. Generally woman were allowed to go out for education and sermons, however the Mahdi movement presented itself as a religious movement where revelation was taken as a source of religious legislation, which several scholars termed as innovation tantamount to blasphemy and exit from the Muslim community. For example it was made mandatory for women to take Hijab and shaking hands was prohibited, women were prevented from going out for Jihad as well except after menopause, talking in loud voice, uncovering of head and leaving Satr (mandatory hiding of body) invited a punishment of 27 whips for a women. A daughter of five years if not covered completely her parent would be beaten, if anyone shakes hand with a woman or adore her by shoulder would be punished 50 lashes with two months of fasting or freeing a slave, which shows the similarity of the Mahdi ideology with fundamentalist Salafi ideology. The defenders of Mahdism have found justification for this moral behaviour and likewise are they objective in their thesis or not, mahdism has brought a radical change in cultural structures of society by invoking more blockades for woman.

The Sanai Rule:

The English government allowed Mr. Babikar Badri to start the first girl’s school in 1907 and whereas the government was not well intentioned, the education movement progressed very slowly, that reflects in the rise in the women literacy rate after five years from Sudanisation. The English initially tried to organise women’s economic activities, especially in the market of Umm Darman, as well as women worked in cotton, silk and woollen clothes at al-Jazira, Kardfan and al-Shumalia. Then political awareness began to show represented in al-Azat wife of freedom fighter Ali Abd-al-Latif and al-Haja Nafisa Suroor who sewed the White Brigade flag on her machine, then appeared Association of Sudanese Women led by Dr. Khaleda Zahir in 1946, the Women of Mahdi in 1947, Nurses Union in 1948 which took its first lady nurse member in 1955, Teacher’s Union in 1949, White Charitable Association in 1951 under the leadership of Ms. Nafisa Kamil, then came the Women Union in 1952 which struggled despite obstacles it faced in the periods of dictatorship that mostly froze its activity or limited it.

Post Sudanisation:

The Women Union achieved equal wages for equal work in 1968 and agreed on service pension; likewise Sudan is counted as one of the states which endorsed the Convention of the International Organisation on January 1, 1970 at a time when most of the Gulf countries were yet to endorse it.

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

The charter has an introduction and 30 Articles, and is known as the charter of discrimination against women and it implies to all kinds of distinction, exclusion or selection based on gender, which results or is intended to weaken or abolish the recognition of women or enjoyment of their rights and practices, regardless of their marital status on the basis of equality of men and women in Human Rights, fundamental freedoms i.e. political, social, economic, civil and cultural or in any other field. Once any country endorsed this charter, its becomes mandatory to take series of actions including to report every four years which was included in the convention from December 3, 1981. The number of signatory states has reached 168, meanwhile some Arab states including Sudan remained politically and religiously conservative, even some Arab countries which were signatory to the convention were dropped when the optional protocol was issued that made the implementation mandatory.

Woman and Sudanese Personal Status Act:

Till the Act was issued in 1991 there was no law in any know material, and the matter would depend on the Chief Justice or the Supreme Court and refers to the codified law of the Hanafi School or publications issued from the Chief justice or the Supreme Court.

What is offered by Islamic Intellectual Discourse to reform the status of women in this society?

The study would follow the following structure:

Part One: Study of Relation with Woman and the Intellectual Approach of Each One of Mr. Sadiq al-Mahdi, Dr. Hasan al-Turabi and Mahmud Muhammed Taha.

The name of intellectuals is recorded in (Arabic) alphabetical order.

Part Two: Study of Reasons for Ideological Convergence between Them.

Conclusion: Reflections on the status of woman despite the presence of progressive preachers and the shapes of Islamic Intellectual Discourse in general.

Part One: The Approach and Relation with Woman

Al-Sai’d Sadiq Mahdi: Relationship with Woman:

In fact, it was difficult to trace the history of woman in the Umma Party, the references mentioning such point are far and few as well as on the Islamic Front and Republican Brotherhood, except some scattered information here and there. As mentioned above about relation of woman with Mahdism, like (Women Development Association) that was established by the women of house of Mahdi in 1947, which was one of the earliest initiatives for woman emancipation. The Association had major link with political stand and its activities revolved around organising classes for its members in history and geography of Sudan, organise workshop for eradicating illiteracy, establishment of library and organising lectures. One of the important positions taken by al-Sai’d Abd-al-Rahman al-Mahdi was the call for educating men and women, so he took care to provide education to his daughters right from the start and got support from Sheikh Babikar Badri in his stand all along. He supported him in reducing and absorbing the heat of British provocation, as well as funded and organised the journey for Sai’da Sara al-Fazil to receive higher education in United States despite inhibitions of men in the family, colleagues and even friends. He has a very clear stand on participation of woman in politics and in case of any publication by the Umma Party for women to introduce them with the political atmosphere; he would send delegates to explain the major political happenings to women particularly in al-Jazira. He fought against the habits of tattooing, wasl, pharaonic female genital mutilation and excessive mourning as well as called for reducing the dowry and organised the famous (Koura) marriage. An editorial written on the page Women of al-Rai’ al-Aam daily says “the women bodies have the right to mourn al-Sai’d al-Imam Abd-al-Rahman, as he was a blessing for these bodies and their material support but a strong pillar for renaissance of women in its purest form. He may Allah bless him, was very forthcoming in honouring women delegations coming from abroad.....” It was in the context that he invited a number of members of Committee of Sudanese Women Union at his house in Khartoum (the current heritage house) in 1945, which was a major honour and encouragement. Al-Sai’d Sadiq al-Mahdi wrote on woman in his books Dialectics of Origin and Age: Woman and their Rights in Islam, 1985, and Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the perspective of Islam - Conference: Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Islam - United Nations – Geneva - November 1998.

The Intellectual Approach:

Al-Sai’d Sadiq in his intellectual approach called for what he named consolidation of conscience, which opens the door of Ijtihad as being the main pupose of Islamic Shariah, and mentions that “The Holy Quran is an authentic book of Allah but a lot of its verses are full of thought e.g. Almighty says: “In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical” (3:7, translation by Yusuf Ali, retrieved from http://hyahya.org/Quran_translation/Quran_translation3.php) and traditions of Prophet Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him, the traditions that is reported of him as being practised by him majority of them are not authentic and are backed by narration and the Books of authentic traditions (The Authentic Six) are not structured in chronological order and there is no definitive account of their occurrences as in the case of Quranic verses (Ishaq narrated to us said Khalid narrated to us through Shaibani said Abdullah bin Abi Aufa asked: did the Prophet of Allah Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him recited “the curse” before or after Surah Nur, he said: I don’t know. Even after confirming the authenticity, there are seemingly contrasting text for example the Almighty says: “whether he be grateful or ungrateful (rests on his will)” (76:3, translation by Yusuf Ali, retrieved from http://hyahya.org/Quran_translation/Quran_translation76.php) this verse and other are argument for reparation and emphasises on drive and the Almighty says: “Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it)” (18;29, translation by Yusuf Ali, retrieved from http://hyahya.org/Quran_translation/Quran_translation18.php), this verse is argument of selection and emphasise on choice, so which verse would be considered the law?” al-Sai’d Mahdi has discussed the areas of cultural awakening such as saying the most important issue is issue of woman, which is mentioned in his handling of the case, the most important of these several points are (sources of human knowledge is revelation, inspiration, reason and experience and the comparison of most important methods of preaching, as well as Muslim women in the confusion between the practical and legal rights and the jurisprudence of provisions related to woman on the basis of authentic text in the Book and traditions).

Dr. Hasan Abdullah al-Turabi: Relationship with Woman:

Leave it, the doctor speaks of himself about relation of Islamic movement with women:

“Three positions developed in a row for the Islamic movement in Sudan as far as the status of women is concerned, the first position is in compliance of traditionalists i.e. seeing the role of woman in religion as general and her role often characterised. So it is considered that the religion deals with men in the first place and the affairs of Jihad and Preaching are the exclusive responsibility of them and women do not foray into any such thing. The second position is of review that began with the period after independence in 1964, the reasons for them is challenging external provocation than in longing and self-realisation, they were pushed behind in the elections due to loss of the voice of women”, this is what Dr. Fatima Babiker has quote in the document which she reviewed for one of the leaders of the organization (Mohammad Sadiq al-karuri) February 7, 1967 under the title Problems of Stewardship, the State and the Fundamental Rights of Women, in which she discussed not allowing women the right to vote and to stand in elections as they are like bottles that can be broken and women’s place is the home. To challenge the Communist Women Union the Islamic movement led by Turabi was founded. National Women Front for to meet the challenge posed by Communist Women Union. As far as the third position is concerned so it was personal until a social platform for the movement was made available in the late sixties. She noted the tendency in the balance of her call between male and female, and noted what preceded Islamic Preaching which came with the message of humane justice and the commissioning of an equal, inclusive world for men and women. She has the following books under her name on women: How do women carry messages from the Islamic movement in Sudan, Women between the teachings of the religion and traditions, Male and Female, Example of Life and the Centre of Women Studies has clubbed together her two latest books into one called Women between Principles and Traditions.

The Intellectual Approach:

The movement was leaned towards the reformist school in its ideology and looks like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in its ideology right from special education to general mobilisation, however it did moved ahead, particularly after October Revolution. It called for renewal of Islamic Thought mentioning, “The religion and jurisprudence has been earned by human, from what befalls him in form of events from advancement, torsion, regeneration and renovation, and the means of renewal before Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him) was based on coming of Messengers but after the end of prophecy, this became a responsibility of the group of Muslims whom Allah made his deputy on earth generation after generation and was called by opening the door of Ijtihad wide open to all the Muslims saying: “the Ijtihad is like Jihad which all Muslims have to participate in....”. This is how he formulated the ideology of reform throughout his book The Islamic Movement in Sudan and wrote at one place “because it cannot hope for Islamic reform except it is cemented in Sudan”; here “it” stands for the movement, as far as the Islamic renewal school is concerned it has been deliberated in his other views in other issues like (Freedom and Unity) (Shura and Democracy) (Religion and Art) and women issues is the topic of this research.

Mahmud Mohammad Taha: The relationship with Women:

The movement for democracy took along the issue of women since its inception and secondly his political detention during colonialism was due a woman and the Republican Brotherhood narrated their relationship with women in their book (The Human Women, second edition December 1977) as follows; “we are Republicans and our concern with women is that their freedom and humanity, stems from the essence of religion and its high principles and so the issue of women is our concern since we had a newspaper, we opened the door of women affairs through our statements reflecting our idea of women which is the idea of religion and so we advocated their fundamental right from the principle of Quran and published our basic books based on it (The Second Message in Islam: the Development of Personal Law, like wise we published our monthly booklet during the Women Year, which totalled up to 16 books and on the marriage affairs we published it from quotation marriage to legal marriage which is held through symbolic dowry and conditions for dignity, which we described in a booklet Steps towards marriage in Islam, so the women are bigger than how weak they have been made on earth and they are the last vulnerable after all the issues have been resolved through revolutions.

The Intellectual Approach: There is no better outline of the republican idea than what was presented by Prof. Omar al-Aqrai.

(Prof. Mahmud’s idea is based on the ideology of development of jurisprudence, so he opines that the Benevolent Quran has been revealed at two levels, the principle verses and the subsidiary verses. This in his views is manifested in the manner as indicated by Almighty the Glorified in the words, “Allah has revealed (from time to time) the most beautiful Message in the form of a Book, consistent with itself, (yet) repeating (its teaching in various aspects)”, (39:23, translation by Yusuf Ali, retrieved from http://hyahya.org/Quran_translation/Quran_translation39.php). The principle verses are those that is on Tawhi, and sublime meanings of humanity like freedom, justice, equality and subsidiary verses are those which deals with less important things that was revealed to empower the society at that point of time, earlier the subsidiary verses were deliberated, the application was based on them, the state was formed to establish human equality at that time, but the principle verses were never applied nor deliberated upon in past, they were stored for humanity for future and it is appropriate for us at present. The principle and subsidiary verses had been woven together and the subsidiary verses were utilised from that time, so according to this position, Prof. Mahmud abolished the custody of women argument and made her equal to men and made it a constitutional law, the stewardship to each other for men as well as women, likewise he said that Jihad, Slavery, capitalism, veil, polygamy and social segregation of women is not part of Islam in reality.

Part Two: The Object of Intellectual Rapprochement between the Three Thinkers

  • The three thinkers called for development of religious ideas and opening of the door of Ijtihad to the full in pursuit of Islamic Shariah, all the three took the women issues as a priority.

  • All the three acknowledged that the society with segregation of women from men is not the objective of religion pointing towards the basics of Tradition. Al-Sai’d Sadiq al-Mahdi and Dr. Hasan al-Turabi went beyond in their discourse regarding mixing of sexes. Dr. Al-Turabi argues that when people see the seclusion as practised they accept it. Al-Sai’d Mahdi says that hiding from stranger is based on the opinions of constitutional jurist Abd-al-Jalil Mutawalli who said about the ‘mahram, non-mahram’ tradition “A man does not mix with a woman except the presence of Shaitan as their companion”: “he does not press in this regard by saying that the meaning of this tradition is reporting of a general rule and a every rule has exceptions; so any rule without an exception to it in original is exempted from it?!” So the consideration is that any such mixing will be evil depends upon lot many of things like age, education, character, fear, health, shape and free time.

  • In addition to that all the three recognise the right of women to vote and run for office.

  • There are other important issues where there is agreement between al-Sai’d Mahdi and Prof. Mahmud however not much has been found in this regard about Doctor al-Turabi like, the right to take over the judiciary, the state and lead the prayers, status at par with men in blood money and testimony before the courts, as far as the right to inherit is concerned al-Sai’d Mahdi clarifies that the man as per circumstances has the right to disburse his belongings, depending on the situation before his death, so he nullifies the idea of inheritance originally advocating a socialist society and repudiates capitalism on consideration that it is not part of Islam.

  • As far as the issue of education and work is concerned, all the three vowed for the right of women to pursue higher education and right to work outside home except that they differ on pursuing the type of education and work according to biological nature of woman and her household chores. The gravity of this statement can be understood from the following:-

  1. This point of view does not emerges from the historical context of biological classification of woman, and in a society like Sudan these assumptions constitute a major impact on a broad spectrum of people, this assumption will change into profound conviction through inspirations and as Margret Farthaem, “in any culture, the assumptions about homosexual roles often have deep rooted belief to the extent that they remain latent in the subconscious and therefore reach a point that they are not presumed as assumptions, but accepted simply at face value as the (natural order) and are often linked to and promoted as certain religious rites and practices”. The latency of the seriousness of these assumptions in the unconscious means that they become part of conscious human thought and thus the women kill their creative energies without even be aware of this and this is precisely what Dr. Emile Coue explains in his book Self Mastery Through Conscious Auto Suggestion, saying “if we compare the self-conscious with subconscious, we find that self-conscious has memory of questionable veracity, but in comparison the subconscious has a fantastic memory, infallible from error, recording without awareness small and petty events in front of us, most of this self-conscious is considered naive and docile to tell him for no apparent reason, and is responsible for the engagement of our organs to the brain. Thus, if an organ considers that a particular work can be done well or not gives that impression and so the organ suitable to do that work well takes the work well, likewise it works on engagement of our actions no matter how we do that so we even work against our desire”.

  2. This vision began to turn into practice, both Dr. Fatima Babikar and Prof. Nida Mustafa have reported the following information respectively:-

  1. It so happened that, it was observed in the University of Khartoum that the number of girl students in faculties of medicine, engineering and architecture started to outweigh the number of boys, which was seen as a dangerous phenomenon that threatens the future of higher education and even the state apparatus being the largest employer for graduates, it became a challenge deal with this (problem)! The state is silently trying to limit the appointments of women in judiciary, higher ministries, diplomatic corps and police. Not just this but there are public and private attempts to introduce the quota system to limit the entry of women students in these faculties.

  2. Studies indicated that some universities in Sudan have reduced the number of intake for girl students in colleges by raising the eligibility criteria for girl students, for example, College of Veterinary Medicine, Institute of Shambat and Higher Institute of Physical Education.

  1. It is well known that the interest in sciences among boys and girls are equal and the women must have the right (without barriers) to choose according to their own area of interest more so not to repeat the example of (Emi Notre) in Sudan and prohibit some fields for women in their aim to become researchers, thinkers and pioneers.

  2. It is feared that our thinkers would cause historical refrain to women.


  • Despite political constraints, the issues on which the three thinkers agree, e.g. work, education, mixing of sexes, voting and elections had been taken over by issues of Women movement and struggle.

  • Both al-Sai’d Mahdi and Prof. Mahmud terminated the issues of equal rights in testimony before courts, lead the prayer, presidency of state, chairing of court, and blood money in women’s interest. The remaining issue of inheritance was left for the opinion of the inheritor in the teaching of al-Sai’d Mahdi and the dream of ideal society in the teaching of Prof. Mahmud.

  • Dr. Hasan al-Turabi refused to indulge in some of the above mentioned issues, which raises two very important questions:-

  1. Is it possible to extract his opinion from his writings? And 2. What is that opinion?

I think that the answer to the first part of the question is “Yes” and second part is “No” on the basis of following:-

  • Dr. al-Turabi mentioned that the movement progressed (depending upon) in thought and structure in comparison to some movements and when it reached the state of a mature ideology, it developed and revived these thoughts. The issues which it revived include (issue of Muslim women and their renaissance in Sudan, 1974). We will refer to these issues which he has refrained himself from, in those schools of thought which he has watered his ideas from, as long as he does not see any need to revive, these schools include school of Sheikh Muhammad al-Gazali and Abu al-Ala’ al-Maududi etc. They have been chosen because they are two conflicting school of thought on these issues.

  1. Sheikh Muhammad al-Gazali in his book (The Prophetic Tradition among the people of Fiqh and Hadith) recognised the right of women in chairing the embassies, ministries and presidency of state, equated her for testimony to men even in punishment and retribution.

  2. Abu al-Ala’ al-Maududi explained his traditional intellectual inclination regarding women particularly in his books (The Veil) and (Codification of Islamic Constitution) in which he has denied women the right to hold the post of Judge, President of State. So which of the two shades of opinion does al-Turabi is inclined? It’s clear that he is more inclined towards Maududi for the following reasons:

  1. Dr. al-Turabi suggested the incoherence of the general state as mentioned earlier.

  2. The book of Sheikh al-Gazali was published in 1989 after Dr. al-Turabi mentioned his opinion in his Anthology of Women punlished in 1974 as noted above and the book was reprinted again in 2000 without any change in content.

  3. The quote “I bear responsibility for these words” in Gazali’s book is fraught with fear of a man who knows the reservation of a school from which he graduated and in fact the book has already raised a major controversy among Muslim Brotherhood.

  • Why Dr. al-Turabi refrained from embarking into these important matters which were in the list of feminist rights in Islamic world and he forced the three to display his opinion in these affairs as he was at times in a position of influence in government during September Laws and Bashir government during which these laws were violated among which was the women Judges part about work after famous September laws directly and Women in strategic positions like foreign affairs and general deputies part and some lawyer women by the argument of lack of faith. So for how much duration in his opinion was the impact in these decisions? This can be answered by none other than Dr. Hasan al-Turabi himself.

Part Three: The Reason behind Intellectual Disparity

The difference in understanding of protection is the basis of dealing with different issues like the jurisdiction in marriage, divorce, number of wives, general jurisdictions and the right to admonition.

  1. Protection:

The Almighty said in Surah Nisa’a, verse (34) “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance)”, (4:34, translation by Yusuf Ali, retrieved from http://hyahya.org/Quran_translation/Quran_translation4.php), approved by Allah, the Great.

Al-Sai’d al-Mahdi:

The protection is limited here to the family affairs and the detail indicate towards earning as nature of man and his tendencies.

Dr. al-Turabi:

“The men don’t have the above hand in marital life except in matters of expenditure, admonition and promotion of virtue”.

Prof. Mahmud:

This verse invalidate the principle verse, “For they like to what is reasonable and the men have a degree”, the women have been kept at lower status in subsidiary verse as part of her freedom regarding security and expenses, so as when the society developed and the women became able to work and spend by themselves, the security of men and women became a part of constitutional law, so it becomes necessary for the society to move and raise the inheritance of women to the individual level (everyone who earns has to keep) and the level intended in the verse means that at the peak of human perfection man followed his wife and then followed by a number of women and the men were ahead in the level of proximity to Allah.

The Results:

  • Both al-Mahdi and al-Turabi acknowledged the protection of men over women under the family system.

  • Prof. Mahmud raised the rules of inheritance for women inside and outside the family making it part of constitutional law for both men and women.

  • There is no difference here between what Mahdi and Turabi have followed i.e. the opinion of (Ibn Taimia) which is similar to the traditional Salafi trend: “similarly there is agreement in housing, relation and compliance to in zest, so it is mandatory on her agree and not move, journey, go out from house without need and his permission as Prophet Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him, “they have the will at the house on slaves and their property and shall enable him to enjoy as it is requested from her”.

  1. The jurisdiction over marriage:

The jurisdiction in the terminology of jurisprudence is authority that requires human to implement his words, agreed to others or it is less if the matter relates to the person and high in case it relates to others.

Al-Sai’d Mahdi:

He invoked the opinion of Imam Abu Hanifa who said, “The women are free in their marriage, Allah has bestowed her right to spend from her wealth so in first part she has the right to spend on herself.

Dr. al-Turabi:

He says it is imperative to the contract is taken under custody.

Prof. Mahmud:

He argues that a mature woman has the right to marry her and the rest as said in the Hanafi School with some changes in the conditions of efficiency and its changes.

  • The Personal Status Law of 1991 brought a new vision to the idea of Guardian as a condition for validity of marriage in opposition of the jurisprudence in the four schools where it has been said that the guardian is not a necessary condition for validity of marriage.


  1. Al-Sai’d Mahdi and Prof. Mahmud gave the women her right to marry as per the Hanafi School that is known for its advancement in women affairs.

  2. Dr. al-Turabi stood on the side of law, Maliki and Shafai schools in denying women her right of jurisdiction in marriage.

  3. Divorce:

In shariah it is well known that the solution of marital dispute is on the spot and wealth.

Al-Sai’d Mahdi:

“The wife has the right to enter optional conditions in marriage contract that she may wish from guarantees including the right to preservation”.

Dr. al-Turabi;

“The women have the right to demand a divorce through a judge as per family law”.

Prof. Mahmud:

“The image of the contract document must be modified so that they have a fixed place of delegate this that helps to spread and act upon it and participation in the immunity in addition to some of the women's considerations be responded to, helps to discipline the actions of men they reduce the probability of divorce because it is restricted for both”.

  • The law has approved the right of women in the exercise of authority.

Results: -- 
1. Both al-Sai’d Mahdi and Prof. Mahmud approved the right of women to exercise authority where the four Imams (except Zahiriah) agree and the law did not mention the mandate divorce. Dr. Hassan al-Turabi had referred women to the judge as said in Fiqh of the family, something that has so many complexities as it is known. 

  1. Right to Admonition:

Based on the text in Surah Nisa’ (Women) where the word Qawammah (Custody) has come.

Al-Sai’d Mahdi:

He does not ascribe beating as a means of admonition, however he do acknowledge it at the end by saying, “this right is conditioned with that the man meets the requirement of his duties and the woman a rebel...it is known that beating brings the relationship to the edge if not after that except the equality order for the man and woman, and his decision in the matter should be final.

Dr. Turabi:

The man has the right to admonition for good.

Prof. Mahmud:

The subsidiary Shariah has given the men, right to admonition and that was the best wisdom for the seventh century when it was given, but it was not the final word in religion and it has been nullified by a principle verse “For them what is like on them on good and the men have a degree over them”.

  • The Law dropped the disobedient wife’s expenses (after divorce) and has not accounted pregnant as disobedient however her right is constant among all four schools and to solve the problem of disobedience, divorce by paying off or through Khula’ is suggested.


  • Both Mahti and Turabi argue in favour of the right of men in admonition of disobedient wife.

  • Mahmud Taha has prohibited any such right based on the Principle Verse.

  • The Law took a middle position by dropping the expenses but it has both pros and cons.

  1. Polygamy:

Al-Sai’d Mahdi:

He allows polygamy citing the nature of man as having more sexual desires and he says, “he is less patient than her, and the tendency to bypass the relation is more, his sexual life is longer than women as his hormones start at maturity and continue till the end of life, however women’s hormones are affected at the middle age. Likewise a man can have sex all the time but a woman drops the sexual desirability at the time of menstruation and after pregnancy and during pregnancy”. He adds that the women have the right to put a condition in their marriage contract against taking another wife.

Dr. al-Turabi:

He agrees with Sadiq Mahdi regarding the reason for polygamy in the outline as explained ahead, “the men enjoy manhood for almost lifelong, his sexual desires and fertility are pretty long and so its allowed for them to take four wives, as the matter extends to the weakness of female whereas she lacks the sexual desire during menstruation and post pregnancy, but there is high chances of sexual aberration and committing adultery and rape through aggressing and kidnapping, and they are less shy, flirtatious and evil sighted.

Prof. Mahmud:

Professor renounced polygamy indicating towards provisional nature of the order by saying, “Tradition established justice by this saying, “If you fear not to be just then take only one” so ‘justice’ became short of justice in division bypassing the wishes of the heart, so the tradition has come to bind polygamy on the basis of these words of Almighty, “you will not be able to do justice to your wives even if you desire........so don’t go for it”, if one overtakes some desire to make the law of polygamy possible, it was the law that was required for that time and waving off some minor evil, taking the tendency of two defects, it is correct in process and is not correct at the end, as he says, “if you fear not to be just then take only one” become a conclusive quote at the end on polygamy. That because justice in fact transcends from justice of division to justice to the inner evil and there is no doubt that the heart doesn’t do justice between two so there does not remain any argument for polygamy.”


  • Professor Mahmud terminated polygamy like in Tunisian Law that penalises through fine and imprisonment for it.

Mahdi and Turabi have allowed polygamy citing biological and psychological nature of men and women, the dangers of such explanation are as follows:-

  • Sexual leering and homosexuality can be treated through psychiatric medication and not by polygamy that will aggravate the situation rather than treating it.

  • The justification in favour of polygamy exceeds the basic idea which is a argument in vacuum and transfers it from human dimension to instinctive dimension.

The Quran and Sunnah have found solution for a youth who cannot marry due to poverty (who spends more than fifteen years trying to improve his economic condition without wife) with abstinence through fasting, lowering of eyes and so on, and other means of proper education that improves the problem so the married can also keep patience for a week or forty days maximum in devotion of the institution of family at the least.

The fertility of a man continues longer than women but the strength does not continue and he become weaker with the passage of time as well as all parts of body lose strength and lastly becomes (except some psyche of men), so if we demand patience from a bachelor youth shouldn’t we demand from married men, loyalty to the wife who spent her life in his and his children’s service, after the menopause?

  1. Hijab (The Veil):

The Almighty says: “Let those who find not the wherewithal for marriage keep themselves chaste, until Allah gives them means out of His grace. And if any of your slaves ask for a deed in writing (to enable them to earn their freedom for a certain sum), give them such a deed if ye know any good in them: yea, give them something yourselves out of the means which Allah has given to you. But force not your maids to prostitution when they desire chastity, in order that ye may make a gain in the goods of this life. But if anyone compels them, yet, after such compulsion, is Allah, Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (to them)”. (24: 33, translation by Yusuf Ali, retrieved from http://hyahya.org/Quran_translation/Quran_translation24.php)

Al-Sai’d Mahdi:

The Muslim women are required to dress modestly and hide the temptations and attractions except what appears on face or hands.

Dr. al-Turabi:

A man or a woman should not expose the body or encourage temptations through exposure or talk or movement, and quotes the tradition from Asma’ Bint Abu Bakr, “O’ Asma’ a woman when reaches the age of maturity then she should not expose except this and indicated towards his pious face and hands” (narrated by Abu Da’ud).

Professor al-Turabi:

He says that the veil is not Islamic in origin. It is in fact a punishment for misuse of freedom of adornments using the following verse as reference, “and those of your women who commit obscenity then take testimony of four among yourself and if they testify then confine them to houses till they die or Allah opens some means for them”. So obscenity here is nothing but adultery and the punishment for adultery is “confine to home”, punishment for misuse of freedom of adornments so veil is there in Shariah but not in religion. He also says that flaunting is the proof of cheap, nonsense and weakness in faith and adornment in itself is not an end, but a means of freedom and proposed a uniform conforming to the covering of Satar below knees and white non transparent dress.


  • Al-Sai’d Mahdi and Dr. al-Turabi shares their view on the issue of veil (Islamic Dress), and that a Muslim Woman should not expose any part of her body except her face and hands.

  • Prof. Mahmud has come up with an unusual argument through this tradition on veil by terming it as a punishment for misuse of freedom of adornment, which is an important idea with regard to the study.

Summary of the chapter:-

  • The three thinkers call for renewal of legislation through (Consolidation of Awareness Address) by Sadiq al-Mahdi, (Revival of Islamic Idea) of al-Turabi and (Proclamation of Principle Shariah) to Mahmud Muhammad Taha.

  • The three talk about the issue of women and the need of taking into account issues of development so as not to derive their freedom of ideas out of religion.

  • The three agreed on the right of women to vote, to take part in election, mixing of sexes, their right to education and work, even though they have exercised a form of intellectual tutelage in other matters.

  • Professor has abolished the limitation of inheritance for women and equated her with men inside and outside the family and al-Sai’d Mahdi agrees with him on right of women for leading of general prayers, becoming Judge, custody in marriage, leading of prayer, right of preservation and equated her in testimony and inheritance however the issue of patrimony remains unresolved. He differs from him in the guardianship of men on women, right to admonition and polygamy.

  • Dr. Turabi has committed himself to trends of traditional Islamic movements like Hasan al-Banna, Syed Qutub and Abu al-Ala’ Maududi in the matters of guardianship to men on women, right to admonition to him, polygamy and right to infallibility, he denied women the right to custody in their marriage, leading the prayer and court, taking over the state, testimony before court (he has not said it clearly but we have come to this conclusion as mentioned earlier). It seems that off late he has distanced himself from even the scholars of same school of thought like Sheikh Muhammad al-Gazali and Yusuf al-Qarzawi and even farther away from even Imam Abu Hanifa in some matters.

  • Al-Sai’d Mahdi and Dr. Turabi discussed about veil as it was known i.e. not to show anything but face and hands, however professor takes veil as a punishment for misuse of freedom of adornment.

  • Professor has taken a new approach in religious thought that helped him stand with international convention that calls for women’s right on equal footage to men.

  • We may count Syed Sadiq from among the advocates of middle Islamic trends for his similarities of thought with Imam Muhammad al-Gazali who has termed Dr. Muhammad Ammara as the pioneer of this trend and it is a great step in the direction of progress of women within the religion.

  • Dr. Turabi cannot be counted as a modernist in women issues as he has distanced himself off late from even middle trend and Iman Abu Hanifa and has moved towards traditional Salafi trend in many aspects.


The researchers have suffered in the field women issues in Islamic societies from (deadlock in religious discourse), so when they studied women issues without referring to religion, they have mostly been accused of secularism, thus the discourse loses its sheen among religious people. If they refer to religious texts to get essence of the writings, they have been accused of reaction from both sides through Ijtihad from traditional or out of religion. This is what ended creative writing to non encouraging fate. Professor Mahmud invested his life in evaluating his ideas; meanwhile he received Degree in Jurisprudence from Al-Azhar under Imam Muhammad Abduhu and Degree in Jurisprudence from Al-Zaitun under Sheikh Tahir Haddad Tunisi. When female researcher such as Professor Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim tried to take up women issues from religious point of view the secularists attacked her with reactionary ideas. Islamic intellectual discourse suffers in general from problems to which the reason for continuous reverses in journey of Sudanese women can be attributed. This has been summarised by Dr. Fatima Babkir in her speech on September Laws (the question began about meaning and essence of women’s equality once again and as if it is an innovation, the people returned talking basically about issues like rationality of women, the possibility of her education in all the fields and may be getting out of work or not through various interpretations, likewise those laws were also discussed as complete dark in the life of Sudanese women and charged with the beginning for adultery to humiliate the women.........and so on). So what are these intellectual disabilities that cause such reverses? This has been summed up by Prof. Salah Jarushi in some important points, mainly:-

  • A general fear of integration of women in public life, a thing that pushes them to make more rules to curtail her movement as well as the discourse focuses on her duties towards their partner and family more than her rights and the ways to achieve them.

  • Focus of discourse on movement in a way changes it to an obsession or something that causes the irrational relations in the society.

  • This idea is thought to be almost circular facilitating the product of sayings and starting of battles by the same old means and fulfils only one stage of the journey towards maturity and beyond, coming up from the same school which tries to drag it to the earlier positions.

  • Debate on the text has started to shift towards social life moving towards legal debate.

These constraints have resulted into loss of many rights and huge amount of time despite the presence of progressive preachers whom we took as example in this study. Sudan did not sign the CEDAW agreement citing religion even though al-Sai’d Sadiq al-Mahdi acknowledged its compliance with Islamic Shariah. Similarly Personal Status Law remained free from development despite calls by Professor for its development since the inception of his movement. Dr. Abdullah Naim says about it, “The Personal Status and Inheritance Laws has remained less affected from foreign influences and is governed by shariah all over the Islamic world with some differences”. Salah Jarushi also said, “It did not happen in record of history of Islamic movements that it started in a Islamic country and launched a strong campaign to introduce reforms in personal laws and strengthen the status of women in the society”.

From this it can be concluded that the legal differences occurred right from the time of Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him) in his life and after his death till eight schools came into existence after expansion of the boundaries of Islamic State. The people followed the four popular schools of thought which from inside is many schools and various intellectual divisions and the differences is a benevolence on Muslims which means more freedom to them and lesser implementation as long as the origin of things are permissible and not prohibited.


(Listed in order of their appearance in the paper)

1.  Muhammed Hussein Heikal, The Life of Muhammed (Thirteenth Edition), Al-Sunnah Al-Muhammaedia Press, Cairo, 1968. 
2. Dr. Ahmad Muhammed Hufi, The Arab life from Jahiliyah Poetry (fifth edition), Dar Al-Qalam, Beirut, 1972. 
3. Dr. Salah Omar al-Sadiq, Women Rulers of old Sudan, The Sheriff Academy Library, 2002. 
4. Centre for Sudanese Studies, the writings of many Sudanese, No. XIX. 
5. Dr. Mukhtar Ajubah, Sudanese Women: The Bright and Dark Past, (first edition), Mohammad Omar Bashir Centre, 2002. 
6. Centre for Sudanese Studies, the writings of many Sudanese: VII, XIII, VI. 
7. Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, Our Way to Liberation, Sudan Press Limited. 
8. Dr. Fatima Babiker Mahmud, Women between Tradition and Modernity, Cambridge House for publication. 
9. Babiker Badri Scientific Association, A Series of Booklets on Women, Law and Development, Women and Labour Laws. 
10. Friedrich Ebert Foundation, A Guide for working on Gender Issues, Jordan, Oman. 
11. Awatif Abdul Majid, A Vision to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Women's Studies Centre. 
12. Lawyer Ali Ahmed, Women in the Law of Personal Status, 1991.
13. Centre for Sudanese Studies, Memoirs of Imam Abdul Rahman al-Mahdi, Cairo, 1996. 
14. Professor Yusuf Fazal (ed.), Proceedings of the Scientific Symposium to Commemorate the Centennial Celebrations. 
15. The life of the late Imam, Printing and Publishing Company, Khartoum. 
16. Sadiq al-Mahdi, Dialectical Origin and Age, Dar Al-Shamasha, 2001. 
17. Sadiq al-Mahdi, Women and her Right in Islam, National Publications. 
18. Hassan Abdullah al-Turabi, The Islamic Movement in Sudan, Institute of Social Studies Research, (second edition), 1992. 
19. Hassan Abdullah al-Turabi, The Renewal of Islamic Thought, Al-Huda Quran Academy, Faith Publication, Khartoum, 1998. 
20. Republican Brotherhood's website on the Internet; http://alfikra-org/biography/index.htm;
 Publications of Republicans Brotherhood. 
21. Women and Human. 
22. International Women's Day in 1975. 
23. Uniform Title of the Woman's Mind and Character. 
24. Duties before Rights. 
25. Mixing between the Law and Religion. 
26. House of Obedience: Problem or Solution. 
27. Law of Personal Status and Judges: Limitations of the Law and Backwardness. 
28. Federation of Women in Sudan and the Cause of Women. 
29. Women in the Quranic Principles. 
30. Women: Is Home her Place? 
31. Women's Rights in Religion, Law, Jurisprudence. 
32. Women and Religion. 
33. The Professor talks to Women of their Rights. 
34. Polygamy: Not Islamic. 
35. Divorce: Not Islamic. 
36. Women and the Religious Preaching. 
37. What Women have made in the Year of Woman 1975? 
38. Women not an Enemy of Man, Ignorance their Enemy Together. 
39. Spotlight on the Law of Personal Status. 
40. Why and How did the Republican Women came out for Preaching Religion? 
41. Omar Alaqrai, Women's Rights among the International Conventions and Political Islam, Cairo Human Rights Centre, Human Rights Debates (6). 
42. Dr. Hassan Abdullah al-Turabi, Women between Principles and Traditions, Centre for Women's Studies, 2000. 
43. Mahmud Muhammed Taha, The Second Letter, (fifth edition). 
44. Mahmud Muhammed Taha, The Development of Law of Personal Status. 
45. World Culture Magazine; Issue 116. 
46. Self Mastery through Conscious Auto Suggestion, Emile Coue 
47. Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies, Arab Corridor Journal, Number XV and XVI. 
48. Abu al-Ala’ Maududi, Codification of Islamic Constitution. 
49. Mi’waz Sarhan, Personal Status, Ramses Publication, Alexandria, (First edition), 1953. 
50. Republican Brothers - A Step towards Marriage in Islam. 
51. Centre for Sudanese Studies, Sudanese Writers, No. XV

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