Of course not. The wives of the Prophet, who were directly referenced (“Oh wives of the Prophet…”) did not take these verses literally and lived their normal lives, inside and outside the house.
“On the contrary, like Muslim men, Muslim women can go out, learn, and work, provided that they observe decency and their chastity is preserved.” -Dr. Mohsen Haredy
Asalamu Alaikum Mohamed,
Thank you for your question and for showing interest in knowing more about Islam.
Before I answer your question, let me make it clear that women in Islam have a special status.
They are considered an integral part of the society. Along with men, they complete the structure of society.
The verse you mentioned in your question is as follows:
And stay in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former Times of Ignorance. Be regular in prayer, and pay the poor-due, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah’s wish is but to remove uncleanness far from you, O Folk of the Household, and cleanse you with a thorough cleansing. (Quran 33:33)
These Verses Addressed to The Wives of the Prophet, Not All Women
Muslim scholars agree that the above verse addresses the Prophet’s wives, as is clear from the preceding verse:
O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women. If you keep your duty (to Allah), then be not soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease aspire (to you), but utter customary speech. (Quran 33:32)
Another verse asserts the fact that the Prophet’s wives had a duty to teach Muslims about Islam.
Their relationship with the Prophet allowed them to learn about it firsthand and on an intimate level:
And bear in mind that which is recited in your houses of the revelations of Allah and wisdom. Lo! Allah is Subtile, Aware. (Quran 33:34)
The words “O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women” imply that there were special rulings for the Prophet’s wives, as they have a special position within the Muslim community.
Muslims all over the world hold the Prophet’s wives in high esteem. They are called Ummahat al-Mu’mineen (the Mothers of the Believers.)
Some rulings applied exclusively to them. For example, the Prophet’s wives were not permitted to remarry after the Prophet’s death:
And it is not for you to cause annoyance to the Messenger of Allah, nor that you should ever marry his wives after him. Lo! that in Allah’s sight would be an enormity. (Quran 33:53)
These Words Were Never Meant to be Taken Literally
However, the literal meaning of the words “and stay in your houses” did not prevent the Muslim women at the time of the Prophet from the right of going out of their homes.
They used to teach others the principles of Islam. They sought knowledge from the Prophet and transmitted it to others.
History records that Muslim women accompanied the Muslim armies in battles to nurse the wounded, prepare supplies, serve the warriors, and so on.
Sumayyah was among the first to be martyred in Islam. Muslim women took part in the first and second Pledges of Allegiance.
Furthermore, we read in Islamic history that the female companions used to go around doing their business in the city.
Islam grants women equal rights to contracts, to enterprise, to earn, and to possess property independently.
This was the interpretation in the first Islamic century about the so-called confinement of women in houses. So what about more than 1,400 years later?
Applying This Verse Today
The verse you mentioned shows that Muslim women should not show their beauty and physical attractions that may make them subject to people with diseased hearts and impure intentions.
Also, Muslim women should not go out while displaying their various adornments, as was the custom in the pre-Islamic period.
Nowadays, no one can come and say that Muslim women are not allowed to go out or to work, or even to go to school and universities.
If this were true, imagine a society where all the women just stayed at home; this would mean that a large part of the society would be missing from communal and public life.
On the contrary, like Muslim men, Muslim women can go out, learn, and work, provided that they observe decency and their chastity is preserved.
The command not to display women’s attractions implies one of the conditions of the Islamic dress code for women.
Her clothes must not be transparent, and they must be loose and long enough to hide the attractive parts of her body.
Covering the body is required in order to preserve women from “dazzling display” as mentioned in the verse in question.
I hope this answer helps. Thank you again for your question and keep in touch.
(From AboutIslam’s archives)