SOURCES:

  • The rights and duties of women in Islam by shaykh Abdul Ghaffar Hassan, translated by Khola Hasan
  • Islaam – elevation of women’s status by shaykh Ali Al-Timimi
  • Equality of Men an Women in all three levels of Islam by shaykh Abdul Rahman Abdul Khaliq
  • The status of women in Islam by Dr Jamal A. Badawi
  • Gender equity in Islam by Dr Jamal A. Badawi
  • Women in Islam versus women in the Judaeo-Christian tradition: the myth & the reality by Dr. Sherif Abdel Azeem
  • Women in the Qur’an and the Sunna by Prof. Abdur Rahman I. Doi
  • Rulings pertaining to Muslim women by Dr. Saleh al Fauzan

Alhamdulillah. Indeed, all praise is due to Allah. We praise Him and seek His help and forgiveness. We seek refuge with Allah from our soul’s evils and our wrongdoings. He whom Allah guides, no one can misguide; and he whom He misguides, no one can guide. I bear witness that there is no true god except Allah alone without any partners. And I bear witness that Muhammad (Salla-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam) is His servant and messenger.

INTRODUCTION:

In the West, Islam is believed to be the symbol of the subordination of women and especially since the height of the feminist movement in late 70’s there has been a magnifying glass placed over the status of the Muslim woman. The subject of the rights and duties of women in Islam has often been clouded by controversy, personal opinions and sheer ignorance. In the media the Muslim woman is often portrayed as oppressed: oppressed because she has to cover her head as well as the rest of her body; because she has to stay in the kitchen and is not allowed to leave the home; because she is not allowed to seek education or work; because she is forced to marry the man her parents choose for her and so on and so forth.

However, despite the negative image of the Muslim woman and Islam in get there has been a surge of people reverting to Islam. Moreover, the number of women who embrace Islam actually outnumbers men! In the States, women revert out number men by 4 to 1 and in the UK also make up the bulk of the new Muslims. How come all these women make the choice of willingly entering this religion which, according to popular opinion, will tie them in chains, lock them up forever and make them miserable for the rest of their lives? Have they all been brainwashed?!

In order to get to the truth of the matter, it is important to ask whether Islam in fact does treat women so poorly or whether it is just a misunderstanding or an attempt to make Islam look bad in the eyes of the world. One important point that we have to keep in mind when we examine this issue is that we should use the teachings of Islam, namely the Qur’an and the Sunnah (sayings and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Salla-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam) as a yard stick, and not the cultural practises of people who are claiming to follow this religion. In other words, to judge Muslim practices we have to look at the actual teachings of Islam and examine whether the actions of the Muslims are actually in compliance with what the religion teaches. There is unfortunately a wide gap between Islamic beliefs and teachings on the one hand, and practices of some Muslims on the other, and the actions of Muslims do not necessarily represent Islam. This is of fundamental importance, because many non-Muslims as well as new Muslims and unfortunately even those born into Islam, confuse culture with religion, don’t know what the religious books are saying or, worse, don’t even care.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

In order to put things into their right perspective, it may be useful to review briefly how women were treated in previous civilizations and religions.

When we look at women in ancient civilization, Indian women for example were to be subjected and kept in a state of dependence by their protectors day and night. In Hindu scriptures, the description of a good wife is as follows: “A woman, whose mind, speech and body are kept in subjection, acquires high renown in this world and, in the next, the same abode with her husband.” The ancient laws of India state that disease, death, Hell, snake venom and fire were all better than woman. Her right to life came to an end when her husband’s – or master’s – life ended. When he saw his body burning she would throw herself into the flames; if she did not do so, she would be subject to curses.

In Athens, Greece, the women were always minors, subject to a male. Her consent to marriage was not generally thought to be necessary and she was obliged to submit to the wishes of her parents, and receive from them her husband and her lord, even though he was a stranger to her.

A Roman wife was completely dependent, if she married she and her property passed into the power of her husband; she was the purchased property of her husband and like a slave only acquired for his benefit.

What about Judaism and Christianity, do they truly offer women a better treatment than Islam does? If we look at the view of women of the early Christian church, we find that it carried on the view of the famous philosopher Aristotle, who argued in his writings that women were not full human beings and that the nature of woman was not that of a full human person, something which they even debated over in church. Fifty years before the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Salla-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam), we find that there was a gathering of bishops in France to discuss whether women possessed souls or no, and that, if they do possess souls, what would be their purpose on earth? Was it to worship God? And if they worshipped God, would they go to Paradise? In the end it was decided that yes, women do possess souls – which was a break from previous tradition – but that their purpose was not just to worship God, but also to serve men.

Added to this, the issue of Adam and Eve and the image of Eve as temptress in the Bible has resulted in an extremely negative impact on women throughout the Jewish/Christian tradition. All women were believed to have inherited the guilt from their mother, the Biblical Eve, when according to the Bible she listened to the snake and ate from the forbidden tree, after which she seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam, he put the blame on Eve and consequently God punished her with the pains of child bearing and child birth. Also Adam was punished by having to work hard on the land for his livelihood.

Jewish Rabbis listed nine curses inflicted on women as a result of the so-called ‘Fall’: “To woman He gave nine curses and death: the burden of the blood of menstruation and the blood of virginity; the burden of pregnancy; the burden of childbirth; the burden of bringing up the children; her head is covered as one in mourning; she pierces her ear like a permanent slave or slave girl who serves her master; she is not to be believed as a witness; and after everything – death.” To the present day, orthodox Jewish men in their daily morning prayer recite “Blessed be God King of the universe that Thou hast not make me a woman.” Another prayer found in many Jewish prayer books: “Praised be God that He has not created me a gentile. Praised be God that He has not created me a woman. Praised be God that He has not created me an ignoramus.”

In Christian theology the sin committed by Eve has played an even bigger role because the Christian idea of the reason for the mission of Jesus Christ on earth stems from her disobedience to God. She had sinned and then seduced Adam and then they were both thrown out of Heaven. Their sin was passed on to all their descendants and so all humans are born in sin. Eve is responsible for the so-called original sin of all humans: in other words, one woman acting on her own caused the fall of the whole of humanity! In the Catholic Bible we read: “No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman… Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die.” (Ecclesiasticus 25:19,24) In the same book we read: “The birth of a daughter is a loss.”

In the New Testament Paul says: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don’t permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one who deceived; it was the woman who deceived and became a sinner.” (1 Tim. 2:11-14)

The following are the sayings of two Christian saints:

  • St. Tertullian: “Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity lie to. You are the Devil’s gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough (i.e had not enough courage) to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die.”
  • St. Augustine: “What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.” To sum up, the Jewish/Christian idea of women has been poisoned by the belief in the sinful nature of Eve and her female offspring.

Not only did the church affirm the inferior status of women, it deprived them of their legal rights. According to the English Common Law, all real property which a wife held at the time of marriage became a possession of her husband and his power was complete: he could do with it as he pleased. Furthermore, the consent of a girl was not necessary in order to marry her, she had no right to divorce, to give testimony, to make contracts or to inherit. Only by the late 19th century did the situation start to improve.

Looking at the position of the women of both faiths according to their original sources, it is obvious that they are not being practised by their millions of followers in the world today.  The contemporary woman in Europe, America and other industrial nations is a creature which is degraded and abused for commercial purposes. She is a feature of advertising campaigns, and things have reached a stage where she takes off her clothes in order to advertise products on posters, and she sells and displays her body according to systems devised by men, so that she is no more than an object of pleasure for them in every place.

When examining the original sources of Islam, we see that what is being practised today by many Muslims is actually contrary to what Islam teaches. But before we clarify that, let us briefly look at the position of the woman among the Arabs before Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) sent mankind His final Messenger, Prophet Muhammad (Salla-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam). Women at this time generally lived oppressed lives; the birth of a girl for example was an unwelcome event, to the point where they used to bury their daughters alive. If the girl was spared this fate, she would eventually be regarded as her husband’s property and was inherited along with the rest of his wealth upon his death. The number of wives a man was allowed to have was not limited, so at many times many women lived under one husband, which naturally caused many problems and pressures and which was an oppression to the women. Women were treated as objects of pleasure possessing no rights or position whatsoever.

WOMEN IN ISLAM

We have already described the poor status of women in the Jewish/Christian world by the 7th century. There was a great need for a new Divine Message that would guide humanity back to the Straight Path. In the midst of this darkness which engulfed Arabia as well, 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 person and from him created his mate (of the same kind) and from them both has spread a multitude of men and women.” (Surat An-Nisa verse :1)

The Qur’an describes the mission of the new Messenger as a release for Jews and Christians from the heavy burdens that had been upon them:

“Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own Scriptures, He commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good and prohibits them from what is bad; he releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them.” (Surat Al-A’raf verse: 157)

Thus, Islam is not a rival to Judaism or Christianity. It has to be regarded as the completion and perfection of the Divine Messages that had been revealed before it.

While the church was debating whether or not a woman had a soul, the Qur’an said:

“The Creator of the heavens and the earth. He has made for you mates from yourselves…” Surat Ash-Shura  verse:11) and “And Allah has made for you mates or wives of your own kind…” (Surat an-Nahl verse:72)

The message here is that all human beings come from a single source, a single family, and that woman share in full humanity with men. As the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam) said, women are the twin halves of men. What, then, is the purpose of the creation of men and women, according to the Islamic faith? What is the aim of humanity? For a Muslim, the main purpose behind the creation of mankind (and the jinn for that matter), is that they should worship Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala), struggle against the forces of shaytan and live their life according to Allah’s Commandments in order to achieve eternal bliss in Paradise. (Surat Ad-Dhariyat  verse :56, Surat Az-Zumar verse :11 and Surat Az-Zumar verse:66) In this spiritual regard, Islam makes no distinction between men and women. Both have a soul, both were created for he same purpose in life, both have a duty to fulfill their religious obligations, both will be judged by the Almighty, and both will be rewarded or punished according to their individual actions. Therefore, the essence of humanity is the same between male and female, and they also share the same aim and that is to worship Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala). For a Muslim, the greatest aim is to serve Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) and to worship Him alone. Men and women share this same aim and are expected to have the same responsibilities, in that men and women are both required or obligated to testify that there is none worthy of worship but Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) alone, and that Muhammad (Salla-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam) is His Messenger. Men and women are both obligated to pray 5 times a day, to fast the month of Ramadan, to make the hajj and to give charity. They are obligated to seek knowledge, to have the same beliefs and are obligated to have the same type of morality and the same type of code of conduct and behavior. The duties that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) has obligated the human beings with are but a means to honor us, to raise our ranks. To adhere to Allah’s Straight Path and the manners of Islam are, without doubt, a means to honor us and not to humiliate us as imagined by those who are ignorant of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) and follow their desires. The ultimate objective of a Muslim man and woman is to selflessly serve Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) and the Ummah (Muslim community) in whatever appropriate capacity. What makes a person valuable and respectable in the sight of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala), the Creator of mankind and the universe, is neither one’s prosperity, position, intelligence, physical strength nor beauty, nor whether one is male or female, but only one’s Allah-consciousness and awareness (taqwa).

In Islam, the basis of submission is not that women are submitting to men, but that men and women together submit to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) and His Laws. When reading the appropriate passages in the Qur’an, (Surat An-Nisa verse:124, An-Nahl :97, At-Taubah verse:71 and Surat Al-Ahzab verse :35) it becomes very clear that those who are obedient to Allah SWT from among both the believing men and women receive Paradise. Likewise, those who are disobedient and do not want to worship Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) will receive the same punishment.

Now a person may ask, that if there is such complete and comprehensive spiritual equality between the two sexes, why is this identical treatment not found in other rights, duties and privileges. Muslims and especially non-Muslims question why men go out to work while women are encouraged to stay at home, why women have to wear the veil, why a brother receives a larger share of inheritance than his sister, why man can be a ruler but a woman can not etc. and then they conclude that Islam treats women as inferior beings. Nothing can be further from the truth. The laws in Islam for males and females are based on the medically established fact that men and women have different biological compositions and temperaments. The biological difference existing between men and women does not come from the particular form of the sexual organs, the presence of the uterus or from how they were educated. Every single cell of the body of a person bears the mark of that person’s sex, whether male or female. The simple fact is that a man is profoundly different from a woman. These major biological differences between men and women mean that the two sexes do not copy each other, each fighting to fulfill the same roles and behaving in the same manner. Instead they complement each other. So these natural and indisputable differences between men and women do not imply any ‘supremacy’ of one over the other. The differences simply imply the complementary roles of both sexes in life: both are helping each other. A simple example may shed light on the position of Islam regarding the nature of men and women, namely that they are spiritually the same but biologically different. Two people both have different currencies, both to the value of DHS 1000:  one is having Dinars and the other Riyals. While one of the persons may be having more coins than the other, depending on the rate, the total value of the money he is holding is still the same as that of the other person: DHS 1000. The make-up is different, but it all adds up to the same value.

Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) created and knows this biological difference better than we do, and has thus assigned to men and women the roles that each excels in due to its nature. Neither gender is inferior or superior to the other; instead they complement each other like the two halves of a whole. In every day life we see that society consists of many different kinds of people, all of whom play their particular roles to keep society intact. The farmer and the doctor make different contributions to the society, but both are equally important. Each excels in his own field and each provides a service for the other. Similarly, men and women are different sexes and play vital roles in their own areas of excellence.

In Islam, men and women are different, but this difference does not mean that men are inherently good and women are inherently evil. According to the Qur’an, Eve is not blamed for Adam’s first mistake. Both were jointly wrong in their disobedience to Allah and most importantly, both repented and were forgiven. In Islam, childbearing and child birth actually give the woman the right to more love and respect than the father, and it is not seen as a punishment whatsoever.

Just like Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) created the day and the night with wisdom behind it, which is that the day has a purpose and the night has a purpose (the day is for working, and if there was no daylight life on this earth would not be the same, and the night is for rest); it would not be correct to say that the day is good and the night is evil. In the same way the man and the woman are different and have different roles to play, but that does not mean that the man is better than the woman.

Some people argue that the roles of men and women in society are only defined by culture, environment and upbringing, and that there is really no true role for men and no true role for women and that we can switch this, if we just teach the society correctly. But in Islam there is a defined role for men and a defined role for women. Who is the one who defines this role for men and women? It is their Creator. The woman is completely equated with man in the sight of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) in terms of her rights and responsibilities: just as the man has certain rights and responsibilities, so does the woman, although they are not the same in quality, just as the man and the woman are not the same in nature. In the Qur’an, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) says:

“Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while he/she is a true believer, verily, to him We will give a good life and we shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do.” (Surat An-Nahl verse:97)

We should not forget that the value of a woman has been given to her by Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) and not by men. We should not measure women by comparing how much they live up to the man’s standard – how much they resemble men and can do what they do. Women should live up to the standard given to them by their Creator.

Thus, from the Islamic point of view, the roles of men and women are complementary and cooperative rather than competitive. Men and women are not in opposition to each other, and as such there is no struggle between men and women, there is no so-called battle of the sexes. Just as you can not live only in day, and you cannot live only in night, likewise, men and women are not against one another, but rather they share the same aim, the same purpose of being, the same humanity.

They have different roles, but these roles complement each other and are needed by one another in order for the success of humanity, not in this world, but also – of course since Muslims believe in the Hereafter – in the Hereafter, which is the ultimate goal for all Muslims.

CONCLUSION:

Without going into the various details here of the specific rights and duties of women in Islam, it is important to add here that according to the Islamic teachings, Muslims believe that what they are taught, what they believe, what they practice, is part of a divine Revelation given to them by Allah(Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala). And so, its truth and accuracy is not questionable because it is a Revelation from Allah(Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala). The argument is that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) knows best that which He created. He created human beings, He is a God of wisdom and a God of knowledge and so therefore He knows what’s best. And He decrees only what’s best for humanity, is creatures.

When comparing especially the 3 major monotheistic religions, we see that where Judaism and Christianity seem to have gone in the reverse direction when it comes to the rights of women, Islam gave women rights more than 1400 years ago which have only recently in history been returned to women in the West. For Muslims men and women share the same humanity, have the same aim on this earth and also expect the same reward, which is the goal which they are working for together as human beings. Islam should be viewed as a religion that immensely improved the status of women and granted them many rights that the modern world has recognized only this century. Islam still has so much to offer today’s woman: dignity, respect and protection in all aspects and all stages of her life from birth until death in addition to the recognition, the balance, and means for the fulfillment of all her spiritual, intellectual, physical and emotional needs. We find that Islam has treated the woman not only fairly, but generously. Where Jewish/Christian women would have an inferiority complex and low self-esteem, Al-Hamdulillah [all praise is due to Allah(Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala)] the Muslim woman is grateful for being a woman!

No wonder Islam today is the fastest growing monotheistic religion with, as mentioned earlier, the majority of reverts being women. This is something that has to be taken into account. Something is right about Islam. It is attracting a good many people. Yes, something is right about Islam and it is time to find that out.

FINAL COMMENT:

One last question remains and that is: do Muslim women in the Muslim world today receive the noble treatment that Islam would have them receive? The answer, unfortunately, is: No. Just as we can’t label the position of women in the West today as “Jewish/Christian”, we can also not label the status of the women in the Muslim world as “Islamic. There is a wide range of attitudes towards women in the Muslim world and almost all Muslim societies have, to one degree or another, deviated from the ideals of Islam with respect to the status of women. Either they have become too conservative and restrictive, where they don’t allow women any rights at all and instead oppress them, or too liberal and westernised, where they blindly imitate the Western culture thinking it to be better and more modern than what Islam has to offer. They fail to see that the Western talk of women’s liberation or emancipation is actually a disguised form of exploitation of her body, deprivation of her honor and degradation (humiliation) of her soul. A woman is more than a commodity and should be valued for her brain and not for her bra-size!

However, the problem goes deeper than merely the position of Muslim women: Muslim societies have deviated from the Islamic law and rules concerning so many aspects of their lives for so long. There is a wide gap between what Muslims are supposed to do and believe in and what they actually practise.  It is exactly this deviation from the correct Islamic law that is the cause of the poor status of Muslim women in the world today; to say that Islam itself is the cause, is a complete misunderstanding and misjudgement. It is not that the Muslims are too attached to Islam and that’s why the situation is as it is today: it is because they are detached from Islam and have been away from Islam for too long, that so many Muslim women have been denied their basic Islamic rights.

It is therefor a duty on all Muslims to correct the mistakes of the past. We have to reject the traditions and customs of our forefathers if they are not in accordance with Islam, and replace the cultural with the Qur’an and Sunnah. At the same time, we have to be critical towards whatever we receive from the West or from any other culture for that matter. We have to judge things, whether it comes to women’s rights or any other issue, from an Islamic point of view, regardless of our background and/or culture – whether we are Arab or non-Arab, whether we are a born Muslim or a revert. We can interact with and learn from these other cultures, however, to blindly imitate them is a sure sign of an utter lack of self-esteem. We must hold firm to the belief that we will never find success and/or solutions to our problems until we realize that only Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala)] knows best.

“And wish not for the things in which Allah has made some of you to excel others. For men there is reward for what they have earned (and likewise) for women there is reward for what they have earned., and ask Allah of His Bounty. Surely, Allah is Ever All-Knower of everything.” (Surat An-Nisa, verse: 32)

Glory is to You, O Allah, and praise is to You. I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but You. I seek Your forgiveness and repent to You

 

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