Women in Islam
By Jamal A. Badawi
The status of women in society is neither a new issue nor is it a fully settled one. The position of Islam on this issue has been among the subjects
presented to the Western reader with the least objectivity.
In the midst of the darkness that engulfed the world, the divine revelation echoed in the wide desert of Arabia with a fresh, noble, and
universal message to humanity: “O Mankind, keep your duty to your Lord who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate (of
same kind) and from them twain has spread a multitude of men and women” (Qur’an 4: 1). A scholar who pondered about this verse states: “It is believed that there is no text, old or new, that deals with the humanity of the woman from all aspects with such amazing brevity, eloquence, depth, and originality as this divine decree.”
Stressing this noble and natural conception, the Qur’an states: He (God) it is who did create you from a single soul and there from did
create his mate, that he might dwell with her (in love)…(Qur’an 7:189)
The Creator of heavens and earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves …Qur’an 42:1 1
And Allah has given you mates of your own nature, and has given you from your mates, children and grandchildren, and has made provision of
good things for you. Is it then in vanity that they believe and in the grace of God that they disbelieve? Qur’an 16:72
1. The Spiritual Aspect
The Qur’an provides clear-cut evidence that woman is completely equated with man in the sight of God in terms of her rights and
responsibilities. The Qur’an states:
“Every soul will be (held) in pledge for its deeds” (Qur’an 74:38). It also states:
…So their Lord accepted their prayers, (saying): I will not suffer to be lost the work of any of you whether male or female. You proceed one
from another …(Qur’an 3: 195).
Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him will We give a new life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on
such their reward according to the their actions. (Qur’an 16:97, see also 4:124).
Woman according to the Qur’an is not blamed for Adam’s first mistake. Both were jointly wrong in their disobedience to God, both repented,
and both were forgiven. (Qur’an 2:36, 7:20 – 24). In one verse in fact (20:121), Adam specifically, was blamed.
In terms of religious obligations, such as the Daily Prayers, Fasting, Poor-due, and Pilgrimage, woman is no different from man.
2. The Social Aspect
a) As a child and an adolescent
Despite the social acceptance of female infanticide among some Arabian tribes, the Qur’an forbade this custom, and considered it a crime like
any other murder.”And when the female (infant) buried alive – is questioned, for what crime she was killed.” (Qur’an 81:8-9).
Criticizing the attitudes of such parents who reject their female children, the Qur’an states:
When news is brought to one of them, of (the Birth of) a female (child), his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With
shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on (sufferance) and contempt, or bury her
in the dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on? (Qur’an 16: 58-59).
Far from saving the girl’s life so that she may later suffer injustice and inequality, Islam requires kind and just treatment for her. Among
the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (P.) in this regard are the following:
Whosoever has a daughter and he does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favor his son over her, God will enter him
into Paradise. (Ibn Hanbal, No. 1957).
The right of females to seek knowledge is not different from that of males. Prophet Muhammad (P.) said:
“Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim”. (AlBayhaqi). Muslim as used here including both males and females.
b) As a wife:
The Qur’an clearly indicates that marriage is sharing between the two halves of the society, and that its objectives, beside perpetuating
human life, are emotional well-being and spiritual harmony. Its bases are love and mercy.
Among the most impressive verses in the Qur’an about marriage is the following.
“And among His signs is this: That He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest, peace of mind in them, and He
ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, herein indeed are signs for people who reflect.” (Qur’an 30:2 1).
According to Islamic Law, women cannot be forced to marry anyone without their consent.
Ibn Abbas reported that a girl came to the Messenger of God, Muhammad (P.), and she reported that her father had forced her to marry without
her consent. The Messenger of God gave her the choice . . . (between accepting the marriage or invalidating it). (Ibn Hanbal No. 2469).
Besides all other provisions for her protection at the time of marriage, it was specifically decreed that woman has the full right to her Mahr, a marriage gift, which is presented to her by her husband and is included in the nuptial contract, and that such ownership does not transfer to her father or husband. The concept of Mahr in Islam is neither an actual or symbolic price for the woman, as was the case in certain cultures, but rather it is a gift symbolizing love and affection.
The rules for married life in Islam are clear and in harmony with upright human nature. In consideration of the physiological and psychological make-up of man and woman, both have equal rights and claims on one another, except for one responsibility, that of leadership. This is a matter which is natural in any collective life and which is consistent with the nature of man.
The Qur’an thus states:
“And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them, and men are a degree above them.” (Qur’an 2:228).
Such degree is Quiwama (maintenance and protection). This refers to that natural difference between the sexes which entitles the weaker sex
to protection. It implies no superiority or advantage before the law. Yet, man’s role of leadership in relation to his family does not mean
the husband’s dictatorship over his wife. Islam emphasises the importance of taking counsel and mutual agreement in family decisions.
Over and above her basic rights as a wife comes the right which is emphasised by the Qur’an and is strongly recommended by the Prophet
(P); kind treatment and companionship.
The Qur’an states:
“…But consort with them in kindness, for if you hate them it may happen that you hate a thing wherein God has placed much good.” (Qur’an 4: l9).
Prophet Muhammad. (P) said:
The best of you is the best to his family and I am the best among you to my family.
The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and best of you are those who are best to their wives. (Ibn-Hanbal, No. 7396)
Behold, many women came to Muhammad’s wives complaining against their husbands (because they beat them) – – those (husbands) are not the best of you.
As the woman’s right to decide about her marriage is recognized, so also her right to seek an end for an unsuccessful marriage is recognized. To provide for the stability of the family, however, and in order to protect it from hasty decisions under temporary emotional stress, certain steps and waiting periods should be observed by men and women seeking divorce. Considering the relatively more emotional nature of women, a good reason for asking for divorce should be brought before the judge. Like the man, however, the woman can divorce her husband with out resorting to the court, if the nuptial contract allows that.
More specifically, some aspects of Islamic Law concerning marriage and divorce are interesting and are worthy of separate treatment.When the continuation of the marriage relationship is impossible for any reason, men are still taught to seek a gracious end for it.
The Qur’an states about such cases:
When you divorce women, and they reach their prescribed term, then retain them in kindness and retain them not for injury so that you transgress (the limits). (Qur’an 2:231). (See also Qur’an 2:229 and 33:49).
c) As a mother:
Islam considered kindness to parents next to the worship of God.”And we have enjoined upon man (to be good) to his parents: His mother
bears him in weakness upon weakness…” (Qur’an 31:14) (See also Qur’an 46:15, 29:8).
Moreover, the Qur’an has a special recommendation for the good treatment of mothers:
“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none save Him, and that you be kind to your parents..” (Qur’an 17:23).
A man came to Prophet Muhammad (P) asking:
O Messenger of God, who among the people is the most worthy of my good company? The Prophet (P) said, Your mother. The man said then who else: The Prophet (P) said, Your mother. The man asked, Then who else? Only then did the Prophet (P) say, Your father. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
A famous saying of The Prophet is “Paradise is at the feet of mothers.” (In Al’Nisa’I, Ibn Majah, Ahmad).
3. The Economic Aspect
Islam decreed a right of which woman was deprived both before Islam and after it (even as late as this century), the right of independent
ownership. According to Islamic Law, woman’s right to her money, real estate, or other properties is fully acknowledged. This right undergoes
no change whether she is single or married. She retains her full rights to buy, sell, mortgage or lease any or all her properties. It is nowhere suggested in the Law that a woman is a minor simply because she is a female. It is also noteworthy that such right applies to her properties before marriage