If you follow the writings of ex-Ahmadis on Twitter, you may have come across the following image, put together by someone with much time on their hands:

Ahmadiyya Muslim Leaders on Women

These three criticisms are trotted out in the form of this image, at every opportune juncture by ex-Ahmadis. We deal with the three criticisms each in turn. Click on the links below to jump to the relevant criticism and its refutation:

  1. Do Men have Greater “Mental Strength” than Women?
  2. Did the 4th Khalifa (rh) advocate Domestic Violence?
  3. Does the 5th Khalifa (aba) threaten women who don’t observe Hijab?

#1 Do Men have Greater “Mental Strength” than Women?

This criticism revolves around two passages: 

  1. A quote from a commentary of the Qur’an written by Malik Ghulam Farid, a scholar of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in which he states that men are made guardians of women by virtue of possessing “superior physical and mental faculties”.
  2. The following passage of the Promised Messiah (as): 

One of our readers has raised the objection as to why the Holy Qur’an has left the matter of divorce to the pleasure of the husband. What he seems to be saying is that men and women being equal, it is unfair to leave divorce solely in the hands of the husband. The answer is that men and women are not equal. Universal experience has shown that man is superior to woman in physical and mental powers (taaqatein). There are exceptions, but exceptions don’t make the rule. Justice demands that if man and wife want to separate, the right to decide should lie with the husband.

Essence of Islam Vol 3; Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, p. 314

On the basis of these passages Sohail raises the following point here that this text is misogynistic and that once Ahmadis start reading into these text and “after you consider the volume of the arguments on both sides, eventually you’ll see what I did—that Islam, including Ahmadiyyat—requires many acts of theological and scriptural gymnastics to reconcile with modern notions of fairness and scientific truth.”

Refutation

Essential Context

The passage written by Malik Ghulam Farid is unconcerning to me, since his words are, I believe, well explained by the words of the Promised Messiah (as). If his words are poorly chosen, then the Promised Messiah’s (as) choice of words reveal the truth of what he was seeking to say. 

The first thing to note about the statement by the Promised Messiah (as) is that he is discussing the permission of men to divorce their wives without recourse to the courts. This is what is meant by the phrase “Justice demands…the right to decide should lie with the husband“. This does not mean that the wife is not allowed to divorce her husband in Islam. She is allowed to do this, and the full text of the Promised Messiah’s (as) words go on to describe how the wife has the right of divorce through the courts, known as Khula in Islam.

While men can divorce their wives in Islam without recourse to the courts, they must do so over a period of many months, including a four month period of separation of all conjugal relations. The aim of this is to engender feelings of love and affection for the other, as per the old adage, distance makes the heart grow fonder. On the other hand, women can obtain a divorce the same day, but must do so through the courts.

In explanation of this difference, the Promised Messiah (as) tackles the allegation that this discrepancy in the process of divorce for men and women is unjust because men and women are “equal” in respect of all their faculties. In response to this, the Promised Messiah (as) replies that this is an untrue premise, and that men and women differ, specifically in respect of physical and mental strengths.

What has this got to do with Divorce?

Since a man may pronounce divorce in a fit of anger, the Quran requires men to undergo a four month cooling off period. For the woman however, she may need to obtain immediate divorce if the husband is abusive. Indeed, her life may be in danger. As such, authorities should be involved if the woman wishes to divorce her husband. Thus it is obvious that in this scenario, the man being physically stronger means that she should have recourse to the courts. With his greater physical strength comes the risk of physical abuse.

As for psychological resilience, the argument is simple: under the strains of a difficult marriage, a woman, being less resilient, may wish to divorce more easily than a man. The courts are therefore a buffer against trivial reasons for divorce. The evidence that women may be more prone to divorce than men can be seen in the fact that women initiate divorce in over two-thirds of cases, according to a recent study by the American Psychological Association, analysing divorces between 2009-2015. This is found to be the case across multiple countries. This may explain why the Promised Messiah (as) referenced the difference in psychological resilience between men and women when discussing why Islam proposes different processes for divorce between men and women.

Who’s More Psychologically Resilient – Men or Women?

While many jump to immediately comparing male and female IQ (which show no difference in the mean and median values), the immediate impression one receives on reading that men possess superior mental strength than women, relates to coping with stress. This is sometimes characterised (sloppily) as being “emotional” in general parlance. This is a scientific question and therefore should be given a scientific answer. Let us see whether this view is in keeping with the “scientific truth” Sohail lauds. Do women show greater, equal or less mental strength, in the terms set out above, than men? 

One excellent review of the scientific literature can be found here on the website Psychology Today. One need not regurgitate the whole article here; you can read it for yourself. The conclusion however, from a wealth of scientific studies is pretty clear (references in the original article):

  1. Women demonstrate greater intensity and frequency of “negative emotions” in everyday life such as guilt, embarrassment, sadness, fear and shame. 
  2. Women experience greater social anxiety than men cross-culturally. 
  3. In response to stressful life events, “women are more likely to use negative emotion-related coping strategies such as cognitive rumination and seeking emotional support”.
  4. Women react more negatively to unpleasant experiences in experimental settings than men. Women tend to express greater sadness in response to sad events than men do.
  5. Women score significantly higher than men on the personality trait most associated with negative emotion and anxiety – neuroticism. This particular difference is noted across multiple different cultures, and found augmented in more gender equal countries, indicating that it is more biologically rooted than culturally learned, since as cultural gender-typical pressures diminish, the difference manifests itself more.
  6. Women experience depression more than men, this difference again being greater in more gender equal societies.

Does this relate to intelligence differences? No. Does this mean that individual women are unstable emotionally? Certainly not. These are studies performed looking at differences in men and women generically, and indeed, many of the differences, though significant, are not very large. Some are small. Most, certainly. But differences, they are.

In light of these facts, is it a reasonable statement to say that men, as a generality, possess greater “mental strength” than women? It depends how you define “mental strength”, but the above list of psychological gender-differences certainly offer a reasonable criteria. After all, if you have two friends, one of whom was more prone to depression, negative thoughts, social anxiety and seeking support from others more easily, would you describe them as weaker psychologically, or psychologically less resilient? You may very well do.

Indeed, it would be a strange thing if men were not equipped with greater psychological resilience to deal with stress than women, given that a major role of men, is that of a protector and guardian. For this reason, men are equipped with greater physical strength. Yet the survival challenges facing a young couple in the wilderness test not only the physical faculties but also the mental faculties as well. It would be a strange thing that men would be equipped with greater physical strength to face the challenges of wild animals and hostile tribes, but would not be equipped with greater mental resilience to face those difficulties. Having larger muscles is useless unless one is mentally willing to use them in acts of conflict and violence.

In addition, we should recognise that these differences between men and women should not be seen as negative points for women. They are in fact strengths, when we recognise the role that women have played throughout history, which men would utterly fail at: motherhood. It is a unique position that requires two important characteristics:

  1. Heightened recognition of danger
  2. Emotional responsiveness

The first characteristic – heightened danger perception – helps keep the child safe. This latter characteristic is another way of describing the personality trait of neuroticism, for which women show consistently and significantly higher scores, listed above.

The second characteristic enables a woman to empathise and respond to the needs of her child. After all, children don’t speak for the first few years of their lives; women must be able to pick up on subtle emotional cues from the child. Such sensitivity or emotional responsiveness may also be associated with the findings listed earlier – greater sensitivity to negative emotions, greater social anxiety and greater recourse to seeking emotional support in times of stress. Thus, it may be a necessary by-product of the greater emotional sensitivity that women need for child-rearing that they also become more sensitive to stress, and end up less psychologically resilient on average.

These two characteristics are essential qualities for that most important and indispensable role of motherhood. Had God – from a religious perspective – not invested women with these capacities and capabilities, children would suffer through a lack of care or attention. If women were not different to men in this regard, then they would be at a disadvantage for the biological role they have to play for the continuation of society. Women have been designed perfectly for the unique role only they can play.

Thus, while men may be lacking as compared to women in their capability to respond to their childrens’ emotional needs as robustly as women, women may be lacking as compared to men when it comes to the psychological resilience. It is precisely for this reason that Islam advocates that men and women through marriage, quite literally complete each other. They are sub-units to the whole, and therefore have been created to complement one another.

To Sohail to see that male/female difference in psychological resilience as a deficiency in women is in itself misogyny, for it involves discounting and dismissing that which is necessary for the adequate discharge of the role that is uniquely and essentially feminine – motherhood – beyond the reach of the male grasp.

#2 Claims of Domestic Violence Analysed

In this criticism, Sohail and others take objection to an excerpt of the 4th Khalifa’s (rh) Question and Answer session on the question of whether Islam permits men to beat their wives. The question is in relation to the following verse of the Quran:

Men are guardians over women because Allah has made some of them excel others, and because they (men) spend of their wealth. So virtuous women are those who are obedient, and guard the secrets of their husbands with Allah’s protection. And as for those on whose part you fear disobedience, admonish them and leave them alone in their beds, and chastise them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Surely, Allah is High, Great.

Quran 4:35

The full audio of the question and answer can be found here, and I encourage readers to listen to the entire piece, from start to finish. When you do listen to it, you can see what a hatchet job, what a misrepresentation the above image is. It is a slur and a smear against a man who repeatedly and emphatically stood for and championed the rights of women during his life.

The 4th Khalifa (rh) begins his answer by referring to such women who sometimes beat their husbands, explaining that this verse lies in the context of such an abusive relationship. Indeed, as we explain at length in another response to Sohail (“Does Islam Sanction Domestic Abuse?”) this is the meaning of the Arabic word “Nushooz”, translated vaguely as “disobedience”. We can explain that the construction of the word refers to a situation of a man in a relationship with a habitually abusive wife. The 4th Khalifa (rh) explains this verse in that same context.

He goes on to state that the purpose of the verse is to enact the reformation of such barbarians in Arabia who were the Qur’an’s first addressees. He references their brutal practice of burying their daughters alive, explaining that for a man in that age, to strike or even kill his wife was of no consequence.

He explains that to tame such men, the Quranic injunction is a perfect remedy. He states that in the heat of anger, a man of such a violent temperament may wish to strike his wife. Telling him he cannot do so under any circumstances will be less efficacious in preventing domestic abuse, than advising him that he may still strike her if he wishes, but that first he must admonish her, and if she does not stop with her abusive behaviour, he should then separate his bed from her. The wisdom behind this order to the verse is explained at around the 3 minute mark:

“Even you, when you treat your children or your friends, during the height of anger, it is possible that you may strike them. But if you are suddenly reminded that you are not permitted yet to strike; first start admonishing. The moment you begin admonishing the occasion of striking would never arise in fact. But, if somebody persists, despite good admonishment, somebody persists in ill-behaviour, revolt and rebellion, even then husbands are not permitted to beat. They are told to keep their beds separate. This is a punishment for the husband as well, if it is a punishment for the wife. Moreso for the husband than the wife. Now if the beds are separated, whatever anger there was in a man will automatically subside and get punctured entirely. Because, suppose for 15 days or month, he lives in the same house, the point which roused his anger has been left behind, by weeks, will he ever think of striking the woman at that time? He will, in fact, try to mend things and beg pardon of the wife and say “let’s join hands again”. So that is a psychological situation which will naturally arise and this is what has been advised in this verse of the Holy Quran”.

From the above text, he clearly argues that the purpose of this verse of the Quran is to diffuse a man’s anger, and prevent him from striking his wife, and that this measure is much more likely to achieve a cessation of domestic violence than simply reminding that violent tempered man, at the height of his anger, that he should restrain himself.

It is in this context that the 4th Khalifa (rh) states that if the abusive behaviour continues, then this verse gives a theoretical permission for such men to act in self-defence, as we explain in this article here.

The Fourth Khalifa (rh) emphasises that:

“This treatment (the Quranic verse) is the most appropriate psychological treatment which, if carried out – unfortunately it is not carried out – in these steps, will give no occasion for any man to beat his wife. And the life of the Holy Prophet (sa) is an ideal example”.

He goes on to cite the fact that though the Prophet of Islam was made angry by his wives on multiple occasions, he never struck any of them, and the maximum step he took was to separate his beds. He emphasises that if we wish to follow the teachings of Islam, we must follow his example, and diffuse the situation through utilising this method.

It can be seen now, in light of the full point made, how unfair this allegation is against a man revered for his holiness, piety and goodness by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

This approach to dealing with domestic violence is one that he describes as a “psychological treatment” since it acts by taking the anger of a man, and diffusing it, rather than challenging it. This is an intelligent approach to a problem that plagues families the world over. Yet those who would seek to smear, misrepresent and slur the Quranic teaching and Muslims too, seem to be the least interested in actually ending domestic violence, and more interested in smearing Ahmadis.

#3 Threatening women who don’t observe Hijab?

In this quote, the current head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, is quoted as stating the following during a speech:

“If you or your daughter have the right to not observe purdah (the Islamic veil of dressing modestly) then remember that I also have the right to expel such disobedient people from the Community”.

A series of clips from the same speech can be seen here.

The context of this speech is that the 5th Caliph is referencing a specific lady who had stated that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community should relax the teachings and Islamic injunctions on modest dress for men and women, and that men and women should be enabled to more freely intermingle socially.

It is one thing to suffer a personal failing in the discharge of a religious duty. Many individuals, after all, suffer from some failing or other when it comes to religious observance. The issue here is not that an individual is unable to meet the full standards of religious observance. The issue here relates to that individual’s open preaching against the doctrinal positions of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, while being a member of that community. While the former can be overlooked and forgiven as a matter relating to human failing, the latter constitutes a violation of the very religious purpose of the Community itself. In this vein, the Khalifa makes clear that such individuals are free to leave to the community as they wish, and that if they persist in seeking to undermine the doctrinal position of the Community, then he has the right as the leader of the Community to remove such people, on account of their breach of their pledge of allegiance when they entered it.

Thus, the purpose of this quote, which is to misrepresent the Khalifa as threatening all women who do not observe the Hijab with expulsion from the community, is entirely wrong. He is threatening with expulsion from the community such individuals who advocate for changing the doctrinal position of the religious faith.

Is this supposed to be controversial? Any religious order or community of any kind has basic rules that are required to be followed. In this case, it is not simply failure to follow the religious teaching that is the issue, but open rebellion against the doctrinal position of the religious community. Why should it be surprising that such individuals should face removal from the community?

Further, we should remember what “removal from the community” is, in the case of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. It means that financial contributions to the community are no longer taken, and the individual in question is not permitted to hold any positions of office in the administration of the community. The person is still free to attend the mosque and religious functions. The individual is still to free to call themselves an Ahmadi Muslim – and indeed may still be one from a theological perspective. In short, such “removal” is an administrative one, done for the purpose of rectifying an individual’s views or behaviour.

In conclusion therefore, this quotation aims to misrepresent the Khalifa as threatening all women who do not observe the Hijab, with expulsion from the community. This is simply not the case. The quotation was in respect of an individual who, more than simply failing to observe Purdah, was spreading views within the Community that the teachings of Islam should be changed.