Women in Islam

It is often stated that Islam considers women to be in a relatively lower position of a human being than men, and many times we hear that the Prophet Muhammad has been reputed as being “anti-women.” However, upon an in-depth examination of the Quran and the sayings and practices of the Prophet, one finds this to be a disingenuous accusation.

The Prophet was greatly aware about the rights of women and spoke about their lofty status. In fact, he fought actively to respond to them through legislation, and private and public practice.

An entire chapter of the Quran entitled “The Women” discusses a woman’s spirituality, in addition to her domestic and social rights. The chapter begins with,

“O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord Who created you from a single soul, and He created its mate out of it, and from them both He created many men and women.” (4:1)

Oftentimes, Islam has been depicted and judged by the misconduct of some Muslims, rather than by the content and philosophy of its teachings.

Islam equalizes men and women in their creation, religious obligations, honor, and dignity. Islam has recognized women as an integral part of life, however it also recognizes that there are natural differences in the peculiarities of each gender hence they require varying guidelines of life. The female, as a mother, differs in her personality than that of the man, as a father, and thus for each gender, there is a specified message of life.

Islam innovated social and individual rights for women, and respectively, has accredited women as full partners in life. She is entitled to pursue an education and no career is closed to her, unless it interferes with their dignity, respect, and chastity in society. Islam enables a woman to own and dispose of her property without the consent of her father or husband or any other male family member. She is able to contract and manage her own business affairs, as well as to earn and manage her own money, and Islam entitles her to an inheritance as a mother, daughter, sister, and wife!

Muslim women have the full right to choose their own husbands without pressure or intimidation and an ‘arranged marriage’ – one which is carried out without the tacit consent or acknowledgment of the woman is unlawful in Islam and the marriage mahr (gift) (which her and her husband decide upon) is solely for her.

She is entitled to vote (which is considered to be a religious duty), and to give her opinion or opposition in issues. The Quran states,

“O Prophet! When believing women come to you to give you political and religious allegiance … then accept their allegiance…” (60:12)

Her penalty in a civil offense is the same as a man’s and if she is harmed, she is entitled to just compensation.

The following are verses from the Quran that illustrate women’s rights in society:

There is a share for men and a share for women from what is left by parents and those nearest related, whether the property be small or large, a legal share. (4:7)

O You who believe, you are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness, rather, live with them honorably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and that Allah brings through it a great deal of good. (4:19)

For men there is reward for what they have earned, and for women there is reward for what they have earned. (4:32)

Whoever performs righteous acts, whether male or female, while he or she is a true believer, verily to him We will give a good life in this world, with respect, contentment, and lawful provision, and We shall certainly pay them a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do.(16:97)

Islam requires men and women to be conservative in their attire and behavior. However, the attire for men and women varies. Islam does not permit women to display and flaunt their physical beauty in society. Muslim women when they are among other men (who they are not directly related to – through marriage or blood), are required to cover modestly. The term used for moderate covering is known as hijab which includes covering the contour of the body and one’s hair. The only parts permitted to be left uncovered are the hands and face.[1] The hijab also includes the way a woman carries herself in public and thus, the ‘modest covering’ of Islam is not only a physical covering, but it is also an awareness of how a woman interacts with people of the opposite gender.

Covering is a form of protection, maintenance of chastity, and it avoids negative temptations in society for women and men alike. When women cover, they provide dimensions of moral character and dignity, not only for themselves, but also for the entire society. Most importantly however, it is to protect women from being victimized. It is well noted that throughout history women have been the victims of physical, mental, and emotional abuse within societies. Many societies exploit and dishonor women, and therefore, Islam wants to shield her honor and dignity by protecting her physical nature.

Besides protecting the honor of women, Islam wants to inculcate upon men the importance of women in the sphere of life. Men must regard women in a dignified manner and value them as human beings. The acknowledgment of a woman should not be based on her physical appearance. Rather, respect and acknowledgment must be focused on her character, her intelligence, and her moral qualities.

[1] Refer to the Quran 33:53, 33:59, and 24:31.

Discovering Islam by Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini

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