STATUS OF WOMEN IN ISLAM
Islam has given rights to women, which perhaps we take for granted now, but were given by Allah (God) to women over 1400 years ago. Islam offers women dignity, justice, protection and the honour that have long remained out of their reach.
SAME PURPOSE IN LIFE
Allah teaches us in the Qur’an (the scripture revealed by Allah to Prophet Muhammad sallalahu alayhi wa sallam) that human beings, both men and women, were created to devote themselves to their Lord. Both have a soul, both will be judged equally by the Almighty, and both will be rewarded or punished according to their individual actions.
“Whoever does good deeds, male or female, while being a believer, surely, will be given a good life, and We shall certainly pay them a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do” (Qur’an 16:97).
EQUALITY IN WORSHIP
In the spiritual regard, Islam makes no distinction between men and women. Concerning religious obligations such as the daily prayers, fasting, charity and pilgrimage, the responsibilities are the same as the men, except where the Qur’anic verse or narration (hadith) states that it is specific for women. For example, Islam permits women to attend the masjid (place of worship) but gives them the privilege of offering prayers in the comfort of their own home.
ARE MEN AND WOMEN THE SAME?
As well as the obvious difference in physical appearance, medical science confirms that the male and female have a different biological makeup and temperament. The Almighty who created men and women as two different but complementary sexes has assigned to them the roles that each excel in due to their nature. Instead of the sexes competing with each other, Islam teaches mutual cooperation to form a harmonious society, the bedrock of which is a stable family. The Prophet’s hadith (narrations) speak of virtuous women with praise and respect:
“The world and all things in it are precious, and the most precious thing in the world is a virtuous woman” (Ahmed and Muslim).
FAMILY AND THE HOME
Islam recognizes the special bond of motherhood and a woman’s natural ability to sooth and care, hence granting her the duty to raise her family in a loving and righteous atmosphere. She alone can carry the child in her womb, bear the trials of child birth, and breast feed her newly born. It is because of her supreme role as mother that she is entitled to three times the devotion given to the father:
A man asked, “O Messenger of Allah, who is the person who has the greatest right on me with regards to kindness and attention?” He replied “Your mother”. “Then who?” He replied “Your mother.” “Then who?” He replied “Your mother.” “Then who?” He replied “Your father” (Ahmad).
While men are generally stronger, women’s temperament helps them excel as homemaker. To expect women to share the extra duty of being bread winner for the family is unfair. Thus, to allay financial concerns, she is given the right to her husband’s wealth:
“And they (women) have rights (over their husbands as regards living expenses, etc) similar to (the husband) over them to what is reasonable, but men have a degree (of responsibility) over them (Qur’an 2:228).
THE BLESSING OF A FEMALE CHILD
As crazy as it may seem, in some nations, people used to feel sad when a girl was born into their household. Although this still exists in some cultures, Islam came and removed such hatred and oppression of girls. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) said:
“Whoever looks after two girls till they reach maturity, he and I will enter Paradise together like these two (fingers)” (Muslim, Tirmidhi).
With regards to gaining an education, women have the same rights to pursue knowledge as men. The Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu alayhi wasallam.) said:
“Acquiring knowledge is compulsory for ever Muslim (male and female)” (Tabarani).
It is important to learn about belief in the oneness of Allah (tawheed), other aspects of faith (iman) and daily acts of worship before one focuses on other worldly knowledge. This will help us to achieve the ultimate success—everlasting life in Paradise.
RIGHT TO CHOOSE HER HUSBAND
Islam aims to establish a pure society built on strong families. Free mixing of men and women is not permitted, leaving no room for sex outside marriage. We need little reminder of the problems of the immoral society we live in today—broken marriages, illegitimate children, diseases such as AIDS, psychological problems, pornography, drug abuse, etc.
Forced marriages are not part of Islam. However, to prevent boyfriend and girlfriend relationships, marriages are arranged. The father, brother or uncle generally play an important role in finding a suitable match but the final decision lies with the woman. A woman once came to the Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu alayhi wa sallam) and complained:
“My father has forced me to marry my cousin in order to raise his own status” The Messenger of Allah told her that she was free to dissolve this marriage and choose who she wished to marry” (Ahmad, mbt shoes Nasa’i).
DIVORCE AND RIGHT TO CUSTODY
Although it is important to maintain marriage ties, a woman has the right to divorce her husband through the Islamic courts. Unlike Western law, in Islam, custody of young children goes to the mother (unless she remarries). The daughter stays with her mother until she marries, and the son joins his father at about 7 or 9 years of age.
A woman has the right to keep her property or wealth, whether earned or inherited, and spend it lawfully as she may please. This right, which Muslim women were granted 14 centuries ago, was only obtained by Western women recently, and women in India had to wait until 1956.
ENJOINING GOOD AND FORBIDDING EVIL
Islam gives Muslim women the honourable role of inviting women to goodness and preventing them from evil:
“Believing men and believing women are protectors of one another, they enjoin right and they forbid wrong” (Qur’an 9:71).
With the guidance of the scholars who follow the Qur’an and sunnah (way of the Prophet Muhammad sallalahu alayhi wa sallam), she invites to the truth with wisdom and beautiful words and confronts evil whenever she sees it, opposing it with knowledge, reason and deliberation.
HIJAB: THE MUSLIM WOMAN’S DRESS
The Muslim woman’s dress (hijab) provides a woman with ultimate control of her body and physical beauty so she is appreciated wholly as a person and not a mere object of beauty. Hijab is not just a covering dress but also relates to behaviour, manners and speech. When appearing in public, the Muslim woman is required to wear clothes that cover the whole body except the face and hands. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) said:
“When a girl reaches the menstrual age, it is not proper that anything should remain exposed except this and this. He pointed to the face and hands” (Abu Dawud).
The dress must be thick and loose enough so as to not describe the shape of a woman’s body, and should not attract men’s attention. The head-covering is drawn over the chest:
“…they should draw their veils over their juyubihinna (neck and chest) and not display their beauty except to their husbands…” (Qur’an 24:31).
Some people think that women who insist on wearing hijab are oppressed and enslaved by the men folk. This is far from the truth. Kathy Chin, who was studying Psychobiology and Women’s studies at the University of California, explains how she felt when she experimented with hijab for a day:
“I covered up that day out of choice, and it was the most liberating experience of my life. I noticed that men’s eyes did not glide over my body as had happened when I wasn’t hijabed. Initially, I thought that the Western oppressive view of headscarf was true. After this experience and much reflection, I have arrived at the conclusion that such a view is superficial and misguided”.
It seems that in today’s world, women are taught from early childhood that their worth is proportional to their attractiveness. Teenagers compete with each other for the latest look, the craziest diets, the most outrageous fashion. Today it’s the arms bare and the belly button showing, tomorrow it’s the low neck line and mini skirt. Women are being made to suffer awful psychological illnesses trying to obtain the body beautiful and fulfil the impossible male standard of beauty.
Conversely, a woman in hijab becomes liberated without the constant nagging in her mind as to whether her clothes look right, her hair are in place, her make up looks fresh and her appearance is appealing. Sister Khaula, a Japanese convert to Islam explains further:
“In hijab, I felt myself different. I felt myself purified and protected. I was very happy and proud in hijab. It tells me: ‘be careful; you should conduct yourself as a Muslim’.
WOMEN’S ROLE IN SOCIETY
As well as her individual devotion to Allah, the Muslim woman plays a vital role in contributing to society in her own areas of excellence.
Women have played an important role from the dawn of Islam to present times. The prophet’s first wife, Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) was the first person to accept his message and convert to Islam. Women from the earliest Islamic period owned property, cultivated crops, bought and sold materials, taught Islam and produced handicrafts. Some were skilled in providing care to the sick and wounded in battles; some even defended the believers from attacking armies.
Today, and Allah knows best, there are essential and urgently-needed kinds of work which need to be undertaken by women, such as teaching, medicine, nursing, and provision of social services and charitable work to women. It can be seen that the woman’s natural and most rewarding career is her home, family and children. It is important that any career she follows should not involve free mixing with men so as to prevent any out-of-marriage relationships. This is essential for the development of a just, safe and peaceful society that safeguards the family.
Our brief glance here at women’s status in Islam hopefully corrects some of the misconceptions and highlights the dignity, purity and noble status given to them by God. The role of women in Islam can only be truly understood when placed in a complete Islamic framework. Islam is unique in that it is more than a religion—rather it is a complete way of life providing a belief system and code of conduct for a successful and happy society. We hope that we have stimulated you to explore its beauty for your own self. May Allah guide us closer to Him and accept our good deeds and forgive our shortcomings. Ameen.
If you would like to learn more about Islam and Muslims, please contact us at the Islamic Information Centre, and we would be pleased to answer any of your questions.