What You Need to Know about the Status of Women in Islam
O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the Mahr you have given them, unless they commit open illegal sexual intercourse. And live with them honorably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good. — Qur’an 4[An-Nisa’]:19
Of all Abrahamic faiths, Islam is one which distinctively preserves the dignity of the woman in all ramification. A whole chapter in the holy Qur’an was revealed in honor of the woman and another was dedicated to Maryam — the mother of Jesus the Messiah. This isn’t a mere coincidence as evidence further showed over a hundred verses were revealed as direct injunctions for women. However, there’s a great misunderstanding and distortion on the issue of women rights in Islam. This may be due to either of the following: 1. Ignorance on the path of some Muslims and the populace 2. Attitude of some Muslims which makes the populace judge other Muslims 3.What we hear, see and read from the media.
This piece intends to shed light on issues around the rights of the Muslim woman. My thesis will focus on three grey areas viz: spiritual, economic and socio-political standpoints.
Islam establishes equality between a man and a woman. We’re not talking gender equality here for there exists a clear disparity between the physiologic nature of humans. There’s equality in terms of creation and obligation with no superiority in spiritual sense. If a man prays five times a day, a woman is entitled to do the same. With regards to morality, spiritual duties, and acts of worship, the requirements of men and women are the same. Except in few cases where women have certain concessions because of their feminine nature or health standard. For instance, she is exempted from fasting in Ramadan during menstrual period or pregnancy with an option for make up at a later date.
And whoever does righteous good deeds, male or female, and is a true believer in the Oneness of Allah (Muslim), such will enter Paradise and not the least injustice, even to the size of a Naqeera (speck on the back of a datestone), will be done to them. — Qur’an 4[Nisa]:124
Debunking the Original Sin
In most ancient tales and scriptures, there’s blame on Eve (Hauwa) the wife of Adam for eating from the forbidden tree. In some climes, women are maligned for this sin which they know nothing about. A true narrative of this occurrence was clearly reported in the Qur’an. They were both whispered to by the devil and were deceived. They both disobeyed and realized the consequence. Together they sought God’s forgiveness and they were pardoned. Islam never blamed a woman for the expulsion of man from Eden, nor has she been ever considered as an evil being.
Islam abolished female infanticide
During the pre-Islamic days, the pegan Arabs used to bury their daughters alive. This was because the birth of a girl-child came with shame unlike the male which they took pride in. The credit goes to Islam for stopping this barbaric practice of female infanticide. In addition, the Quran condemned the chauvinistic attitude of those who met the birth of a boy with gladness and see that of a girl as an evil omen.
Let’s draw ourselves down memory lane. In Europe, until the 19th century, women did not have the right to own property. In an instance where she’s married, she has to transfer her belongings to the husband or she would not be able to dispense it without his approval. Britain was perhaps the first country to give women some property rights. The “Married Women Property Act.” was passed in the 1960s.
For more than 1300 years earlier, that right was clearly established in Islamic law. The woman has a right to her property without interference or ownership of the husband. Furthermore, there is no restriction in Islamic law that says a woman cannot work or have a profession. Nor does it categorically state that her only place is in the home. However, whatever job a Muslimah wants to engage in should be within limits set by Islam. For instance, there shouldn’t be free intermingling with the opposite gender and the proper dress code should as well be in form.
In a truly Islamic society, there must be women physicians and nurses to attend to the need of women. It is not ideal for women to expose themselves to men who are not chaperones. This is to the extent which Islam encourages her to guard her chastity. Also, women educators are needed because it’s preferable to separate teenagers in the volatile years of adolescence. In recent times, more Muslim women have explored freelancing and entrepreneurship as it gives them the freedom to dictate their work routine.
Financial security for women
Islam lifts the burden of hustling to provide for the family upon the woman. It’s the sole responsibility of the husband to provide food, clothing and shelter for his household. This means that if a woman works and earns money, it’s exclusively hers. The husband has no right whatsoever to demand money from his wife or request to split bills with her. However, if she chooses to do that voluntarily, then let her hope for a reward from her Lord.
And give to the women (whom you marry) their Mahr (obligatory bridal gift given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage) with a good heart, but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it, and enjoy it without fear of any harm (as Allah has made it lawful). — Qur’an 4[Nisa’]:4
Also, at the time of marriage, a woman is to be spoilt with gifts. Her husband is supposed to pay for a marital gift which is exclusively the right of the woman. She doesn’t have to spend it on the household, she doesn’t have to give it to her father or anyone else. She has an explicit right to spend it whichever way she wills.
On education, Islam highly encourages the Muslim woman to be learned. In fact, One of the most knowledgeable woman in Islamic history was the mother of the believers, Aisha bint Abubakr. She had committed the Quran to memory at an early age, she was the third most narrator of hadith, she home schooled some great companions — Anas bn Malik, Abdullah bin Zubayr. She was an authority the companions consulted on matters of the deen and issues that needed clarifications. Fatimah al Fihri was also the founder of the first university in the world. The remains of which is in Feiz, modern day Morocco.
The modern feminist debate
It’s quite bewildering to see young Muslim ladies on social media making claims to feminism and woman right. Modern feminist today will tell you they can’t change their names to that of any man under the guise of marriage. There’s a rise in young Muslim women taking pride in that aspect as well. It’s unfortunate that some of these women don’t know that this is a privilege Islam has granted them from time immemorial. It’s incumbent upon the Muslim woman to keep her father’s name and identity. There’s no obligation in Islam to change name to that of the husband after marriage.
The veil of modesty
It’s not strange to hear mischievous people say the Muslim woman is being oppressed by wearing the veil of piety. Whereas, many of these people only want women to be seen as an object of sexual gratification. If you find any woman who believes in Allah and the last day, ask her why she covers from head to toe. She will never tell you it’s an imposition by her husband, father or brother. This will be her response:
And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like palms of hands or one eye or both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms, etc.) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands fathers, their sons, their husbands sons, their brothers or their brothers sons, or their sisters sons, or their (Muslim) women (i.e. their sisters in Islam), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigor, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful. — Qur’an 24[An-Nur]:31
And on the political front
We learned from Islamic history about Muslim women making “bayy’ah” to the Prophet — peace be upon him. Bayy’ah is an Islamic term that connotes a pledge of allegiance. This was given in his capacity not only as a Prophet, but also as a head of state. Women gave allegiance and as such had a voice in state affairs. During the reign of ‘Umar as leader of the faithful, it was more prominent as women participated in law making. ‘Umar made a proposal of a certain regulation concerning the dowry for marriage. A woman in the mosque stood up and this ensued:
Abdur Rahman As-Salami reported: Umar ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “Do not be excessive in the dowry of women.” A woman said, “It is not so, O Umar, for Allah said: And you gave one of them a great amount,” (4:20). Umar said, “Indeed, a woman has disputed Umar and she has defeated him.” In another narration, Umar said, “The woman is right and the man is wrong.”
Also it is permissible for a woman to be a leader in a position which she is qualified for and needs less interactions with men. However, Islam frowns at her being a sole commander in chief. This is evident from the Hadith: “a people will not succeed who are commanded by a woman” (Bukhari). So this gives a limitation in her ability to lead a congregation of both men and women.
Glad Tidings to the Women
I have never thought how amazing being a woman was until I came across some ahadith that made me jealous. Here I share with you a few of them and I hope it makes some of the women folk smile:
- Al-Miqdam ibn Ma’di reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, Allah enjoins you to be good to women. Verily, Allah enjoins you to be good to women, for they are your mothers, your sisters, and your aunts.”
- Ibn Abbas reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The best of you are those who are best to women.”
- Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “There is not one of you with three daughters or three sisters, or two daughters or two sisters, fearing Allah regarding them and treating them in the best manner, except that he will enter Paradise.”
- Abdullah ibn Amr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The world is provision and the best provision in the world is a righteous woman.”
- Mu’awiyah ibn Al-Qushayri reported: I said, “O Messenger of Allah, what are the rights of women over us?” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “You should feed her when you eat, clothe her when you clothe yourself, do not strike her on the face, and do not rebuke her or separate from her except inside the house.”
- Abu Huraira reported: It was said to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, “Which woman is best?” The Prophet said, “The one who pleases her husband when he looks at her, who obeys him when he commands her, and she does not contradict him regarding herself or her property in anything he disapproves.”
And here comes the creme de la creme…
Abdur Rahman ibn Awf reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “When a woman prays her five prayers, fasts her month, guards her chastity, and obeys her husband, then it will be said to her: Enter Paradise from whichever gate you wish.”
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