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Ask Zahra

Welcome to the Ask Zahra advice column!  Sister Zahra is ready and willing to answer your questions about Islam.  Her answers are based on years of studying Islamic scholarship and culture throughout the Muslim world.  Zahra welcomes your questions, and looks forward to providing balanced and credible access to information on the many issues that are important to Muslim women.

Ask Zahra

Do you have questions about Islam or Islamic law?

What do we Have to Hide? What is the Islamic Principle of Satr?

Many of the victims who reach out to KARAMAH face a serious dilemma. They are told by those around them that bringing such issues into the public eye violates the Islamic principle of satr. However, the popular understanding of the principle of satr in our community is loaded with cultural biases. It reduces the options of a victim into two equally unfair and unrealistic ones: 1. Obey God who ordered us Muslims to cover each other’s shortcomings and flaws, and remain silent at the expense of the victim’s safety and well being; or 2. Speak up and publicly denounce the perpetrator of the abuse, and hence disobey God and create fitnah (chaos and conflict) in the community. Read more

Is it Islamically permissible for a woman to receive a pension or alimony from her ex-husband upon divorce? And is it permissible for her to take a share of the marital wealth/property especially if the woman did not have a job outside the house during the marital life while her husband worked?

Divorce is a last resort in Islam for couples who cannot live in kindness: “A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness.” 2: 229. Marriage is a solemn covenant in Islam and is supposed to last. It is however permissible for couples who can no longer live with each other in harmony to resort to divorce. There are different forms of divorce with different legal and financial consequences, which also vary from one school of legal thought to the other and from Sunni to Shi’i traditions.  Read more

Could you provide some insight into the mother’s right to the custody, hadanah, of her children, male and female, in the case of divorce in Islamic law? Does she have the right to keep them with her? Is there an age limit as to how long she can do so? What if the mother wishes to remarry? Does she loose her right to the custody of her children?

In the event of divorce, the term hadanah in Islamic law refers to the upbringing of a minor child by the mother or by someone who is legally entitled to it. The Arabic root of the word hadanah, literally means to hold in one’s arms, to embrace, and to place on the lap. A broader definition of the word refers to nursing, bringing up and raising a child. The concept of hadanah therefore refers to taking physical care of a child who is not able to do so by him/herself. It includes protection, love and care, education, and sheltering.

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Could you explain what mahr is in the context of the Islamic marriage contract?

Mahr is the obligatory gift given by the husband to the wife at the time of marriage. It is an expression of the man’s love, respect, and serious commitment to his wife to be and to married life. It is the right of the woman, and hers alone. She may do with it as she chooses. The Qur’an enjoins men to give their prospective wives a mahr upon contracting the marriage: “And give the women [upon marriage] their gifts graciously (saduqaatihinna nihlah). But if they give up willingly to you anything of it, then take it in satisfaction and ease.” Read more

Could you please tell me whether I am “unclean” during menstruation?

A menstruating woman is not unclean. What is unclean is her menstrual blood. This is an important distinction, as we shall see below. To enlighten the questioner, we shall examine the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad as well as relevant verses from the Qur’an. The sunnah is very clear. For example, the Prophet rested his head on his wife Aisha’s lap and read the Qur’an while she was menstruating. (SM 3:211) Furthermore, when the Prophet was in seclusion, he asked Aisha to bring to him the prayer carpet from the mosque. Concerned, she informed him that she was menstruating. He replied: “Your menstruation is not in your hand.” (SM 3:209-10) Read more

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