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 Powers” 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.

There are different processes for men and women to initiate divorce, which we will shortly review. 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 with the general point that this is an untrue premise, and that men and women differ, specifically in respect of physical and academic strengths.

#1 Do Men Have Greater “Strength relating to Knowledge” Than Women?

The translation given, that men have greater “mental powers” does not do full justice to the original Urdu. The original Urdu uses the words “ilmi taaqatein”. “Ilmi” literally means “related to knowledge”, based on the word “ilm”, of Arabic heritage, meaning “knowledge” or “academia”.

The point that is being made is that throughout human history, men have been in a superior position as regards women when it comes to possession of knowledge. That this is true is not worth even debating. The Promised Messiah (as) at no point asserts that this difference is due to inherent mental problems of women. He is merely stating that a key difference throughout history is that men have excelled women generally in the possession of knowledge. Knowledge in respect of what?

The point being made is related to the issue of divorce. When we look throughout history and consider that women have traditionally been homemakers rather than breadwinners, we understand then that women likely had less knowledge of their rights under the law. Even today in the UK, we know that women as a whole take on more of the responsibility for childcare and homemaking than men. This is evidenced by the Office for National Statistic’s analysis of the gender pay gap. They clarify that one of the chief reasons for this is the relative abundance of part-time work amongst women:

The gender pay gap is higher for all employees than for each of full-time employees and part-time employees. This is because women fill more part-time jobs, which have lower hourly median pay than full-time jobs, and are more likely to be in lower-paid occupations. This is explained further in this blog, written in 2018.

Office for National Statistics

But what has all this to do with divorce?

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.

The key differences in the process of divorce for men and women is referenced by the Promised Messiah (as) as having its cause in the real difference in physical strength and knowledge, between men and women. Indeed, since a man is more likely to pronounce divorce in a fit of anger, the Quran requires men to undergo a four month cooling off period, confirming the decision divorce three times at fixed intervals of that period of time. For the woman however, she may need to obtain immediate divorce if the husband is abusive. Indeed, her life may be in danger. In such cases, the greater physical strength of the husband necessitates her right to a rapid process. This also explains why in such a case, authorities should be involved if the woman wishes to divorce her husband. In addition, if a woman wishes to obtain a divorce but the husband does not, without recourse to the courts, he may be able to forcibly prevent her from physically separating from him or moving out. Thus again, the difference in physical strength necessitates a difference in divorce process, depending on who initiates the divorce.

Similarly, a woman who has spent much of the marriage as a homemaker rather than breadwinner, is more likely to not know her rights, than the husband. This may also go too for women even in today’s society, whose roles in society may, as they get older, increasingly become more insular, focussing on the needs of the home. This is how a difference in knowledge or ilmi taaqatein (“strengths related to knowledge”) is relevant to this discussion.

Thus, the court is there to ensure that she may not do harm to her own interests through lack of knowledge of her rights, too. Indeed, this is precisely what the Promised Messiah (as) states explicitly:

It [Islam] orders even greater care in case of divorce, and enjoins recourse to the authorities to protect her from any harm she may do to herself on account of her lack of understanding.

[Chashma-e-Ma‘rifat, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 23, pp. 286-289; Essence of Islam Vol. 3; p. 316)

Thus, the difference in the process of divorce in Islam reflects the very real differences that have historically and continue to exist between men and women in relation to physical strength and knowledge. Of note, the differences exist so as to ensure a fair process for both parties, women in particular. That the critic is against such a position indicates his lack of understanding of the real challenges women still face in the matter of the securing of their legitimate rights.

Finally, some might argue that this difference in knowledge of one’s rights are entirely societally constructed, since this is largely as a result of the gender discrepancy that exists in the role of homemaker versus breadwinner, with homemakers being more insular and less experienced – potentially – in worldly matters. We could point out in response, however, that a woman being able to bear and breastfeed child is a biological, not a societal, imperative, and that this primary nurturer in the first years of life is more likely to always be the mother, given the more innate and natural connection she has formed with her child. We would also point out that Islam is not in favour of women failing to give regard to their children in favour of their careers, at least when children are young, since such an act would harm the moral, intellectual and emotional development of the next generation. Thus, at least when children are young, women are seen in Islam as the ideal choice for the role of the homemaker, making the protection of their rights as a group, through involving the courts in divorce proceedings, a necessity.

#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.

This article was modified on the 01/07/2021 in respect of argument #1 so as to reflect a more accurate understanding of the term “ilmi taaqatein”.