Sept. 19 (Crescent International)-- At first glance this topic seems fairly simple, yet it is not so. For too long the inferior role of women in Muslim society has become so entrenched that their marginalization is not even recognized. Coming as I do from South Africa, I am reminded of the way that Blacks were marginalized under the apartheid system. It is ironic that, while Muslim men in South Africa were rightly outraged by the inferior status accorded to them under apartheid, they did not see, and many are still unable to see, the parallels between the marginalization of non-Whites under the apartheid of South Africa and the marginalization of women under the 'apartheid' (separation) imposed by Muslim men.

The question that we must confront is whether Muslim men who profess to uphold Islamic values are willing to redress the indignity and humiliation that Muslim women continue to suffer.

The key question that one is prompted to ask, is where does all this come from? Is this the Islamic way? Is this the way our Prophet intended women to be treated? The problem is that much of what has been historically handed down to us, even from sources which many in this hall would consider unquestionable, is steeped in obvious male-dominated bias. Before I discuss the role of the Prophet's wives, let me demonstrate that even our so-called "unquestionable sources", such as Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, are replete with false ahadith - and I want to emphasize "false" ahadith as opposed to "weak" ahadith. There is a fundamental principle regarding the authenticity of ahadith, which is accepted by all Muslims, that any hadith that conflicts with the Qur'an must be rejected. There are no "ifs" and "buts" regarding this principle. Unfortunately, when it comes to women, there are many ahadith that conflict either with other ahadith of the Prophet or with verses of the Qur'an.

We have a very sad situation: most Muslims say that they hold the Qur'an as the most important source for all Islamic issues, but when it comes to practice, it seems that "traditions" determine how we conduct our lives. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the treatment of women. And apparently it all stems from the perception that Eve, or Hawaa, who was supposedly created from the rib of Adam, was the cause of the downfall of man.

Ask most Muslims where they get this information from and they will readily tell you it is from the Qur'an. Now, if I were to pose the question how was Eve created, I am almost always told, even by those 'ulama' that we call the 'imams' of mosques, that she was created from Adam's rib. But that is not what the Qur'an says. So where do Muslims get this information from? Surely they haven't started to read the Bible? - for this is a Biblical view. In fact, they get it from ahadith. Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim have between them six different sayings on women's creation that are demeaning and insulting to women. The question then is whether the Prophet could have made such statements, especially as they run contrary to what Allah says on the subject.

Instead of giving you all six ahadith, let me quote you one from each source:

From Sahih Bukhari: "Treat women nicely, for a women is created from a rib, and the most curved portion of the rib is its upper portion, so if you try to straighten it, it will break, but if you leave it as it is, it will remain crooked. So treat women nicely."

From Sahih Muslim: "A woman is like a rib. When you attempt to straighten it, you will break it. And if you leave her alone you will benefit by her, and crookedness will remain in her."

If we are going to talk about the Seerah and the Sunnah of the Prophet, let us be absolutely sure that we will not accept blind adherence to hadith sources, however "sahih" or "authentic" they may be labelled. If they conflict with the Qur'an, then they must be so completely rejected that no doubt is left as to their rejection. The ahadith which I have quoted are in clear violation of what Allah says in the Qur'an.

The first verse of surah an-Nisa ('the women') leaves no doubt that Hawaa was not created from Adam, Iet alone from his crooked rib. Allah says: "O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty to Allah in Whom you claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bare you). Lo! Allah hath been a watcher over you" ( 4:1).

In this conference about the Seerah of the Prophet (saw), I cannot overemphasize the need for very close examination of the Prophet's own treatment of women. Muslim women have suffered much over the years because of false accounts of the "seerah" of the Prophet. Now we need to understand that to accept the texts of early historians uncritically is an insult to the pristine honor accorded to the wives and daughters of the Prophet.

We must remember that truth is often camouflaged in the very source of information we use as reference. Often the information at our disposal is imbedded in the indiscriminate use of isolated traditions or of groups of traditions emanating from single biased sources or from well-defined socio-political and religious groups. Each seeks to establish that version of "history" that is best suited to its own aspirations and prejudices.