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! Be dutiful to your Lord, who created you from a single person (Adam) , and from him (Adam) He created his wife [Hawwa (Eve)], and from them both He created many men and women; and fear Allah through Whom you demand (your mutual rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely Allah is Even an All-Watcher over you” (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:“ It is He Who has created you from a single person (Adam), and (then) He has created from him his wife [Hawwa (Eve)], in order that he might enjoy the pleasure of living with her. When he had sexual relation with her, she became pregnant and she carried it about lightly. Then when it became heavy, they both invoked Allah their Lord (sayin): ” If You give us a Salih (good in every aspect) child, we shall indeed be among the grateful” (Qur’an 7:189).
“ The Creator of the heavens and the earth. He has made for you mates from yourselves, and for the cattle (also) mates. By this means He creates you (in the wombs). There is nothing like Him; and He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer” (Qur’an 42:11).
“ And Allah has made for you Azwaj (mates or wives) of your own kind, and has made for you, from your wives, sons and grandsons, and has bestowed on you good provision. Do they then believe in false deities and deny the Favour of Allah (by not worshipping Allah alone)” (Qur’an 16:72).
The rest of this paper outlines the position of Islam regarding the status of woman in society from its various aspects — spiritually, socially, economically and politically.
1. 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 person is a pledge for what he has earned” (Qur’an 74:38). It also states:“ … So their Lord accepted of them (their supplication and answered them), “Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female. You are (members) of one another…” (Qur’an 3:195).
“ Whoever works righteousness — whether male or female — while he (or she) is a true believer (of Islamic Monotheism) verily, to him We will give a good life (in this world with respect, contentment and lawful provision), and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do (i.e. Paradise in the Hereafter)” (Qur’an 16:97).
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. In some cases indeed, woman has certain advantages over man. For example, the woman is exempted from the daily prayers and from fasting during her menstrual periods and forty days after childbirth. She is also exempted from fasting during her pregnancy and when she is nursing her baby if there is any threat to her health or her baby’s. If the missed fasting is obligatory (during the month of Ramadan), she can make up for the missed days whenever she can. She does not have to make up for the prayers missed for any of the above reasons. Although women can and did go into the mosque during the days of the prophet and thereafter attendance at the Friday congregational prayers is optional for them while it is mandatory for men.
This is clearly a tender touch of the Islamic teachings for they are considerate of the fact that a woman may be nursing her baby or caring for him, and thus may be unable to go out to the mosque at the time of the prayers. They also take into account the physiological and psychological changes associated with her natural female functions.This is clearly a tender touch of the Islamic teachings for they are considerate of the fact that a woman may be nursing her baby or caring for him, and thus may be unable to go out to the mosque at the time of the prayers. They also take into account the physiological and psychological changes associated with her natural female functions.
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 (as the pagan Arabs used to do) is questioned: For what sin, was she 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 new 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 (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in this regard are the following:“ Whoever 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).
“ Whosoever support two daughters till they mature, he and I will come in the Day of Judgment as this (and he pointed with his two fingers held together)”.
A similar Hadeeth deals in like manner with one who supports two sisters. (Ibn-Hanbal, No.2104).
“ The right of females to seek knowledge is not different from that of males. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim” (Al-Bayhaqi). 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 for you wives from among yourselves, that you may find repose in them, and He has put between you affection and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed signs for a people who reflect” (Qur’an 30:21).
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 (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and she reported that he 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). In another version,“ the girl said: Actually I accept this marriage but I wanted to let women know that parents have no right (to force a husband on them)” (Ibn Maja, No.1873).
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 of 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 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 a 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 emphasizes the importance of taking counsel and mutual agreement in family decisions. The Qur’an fives us an example:“ . . . If they (husband wife) desire to wean the child by mutual; consent and (after) consultation, there is no blame on them . . .” (Qur’an 2:233).
Over and above her basic rights as a wife comes the right which is emphasized by the Qur’an and is strongly recommended by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him); 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 4:19).
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) 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 period should be observed by men and women seeking divorce. Considering the relatively more emotional nature of women, good reason for asking for divorce should be brought before the judge.
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 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 food) 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 (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) asking:“ O Messenger of God, who among the people is the most worthy of my good company? The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, your mother. The man said then who else: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, Your mother. The man said then who else? The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), Your mother. The man asked, then who else? Only then did the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) 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).
“ It is generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them”.
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 as well as to whatever she acquire there after.
With regard to the woman’s right to seek employment it should be stated first that Islam regards her role in society as a mother and a wife as the most sacred and essential one. Neither maids nor babysitters can possibly take the mother’s place as the educator of an upright, complex-free, and carefully-reared children. Such a noble and vital role, which largely shapes the future of nations, cannot be regarded as “idleness”.
However, there is no decree in Islam which forbids woman from seeking employment whenever there is a necessity for it, especially in positions which fit her nature and in which society needs her most. Examples of these professions are nursing, teaching (especially for children), and medicine. Moreover, there is no restriction on benefiting from woman’s exceptional talent in any field. In addition, Islam restored to woman the right of inheritance, after she herself was an object of inheritance in some cultures. Her share is completely hers and no one can make any claim on it, including her father and her husband.
“ Unto men (of the family) belongs a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, and unto women a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether it a little or much – a determinate share” (Qur’an 4:7).
Her share in most cases is one-half the man’s share, with no implication that she is worth half a man! It would seem grossly inconsistent after the overwhelming evidence of woman’s equitable treatment in Islam, which was discussed in the preceding pages, to make such an inference. This variation in inheritance rights is only consistent with the variations in financial responsibilities of man and woman according to the Islamic Law. Man in Islam is fully responsible for the maintenance of his wife, his children, and in some cases of his needy relatives, especially the females. This responsibility is neither waived nor reduced because of his wife’s wealth or because of her access to any personal income gained from work, rent, profit, or any other legal means.
Woman on the other hand, is far more secure financially and is far less burdened with any claims on her possessions. Her possessions before marriage do not transfer to her husband and she even keeps her maiden name. She has no obligation to spend on her family out of such properties or out of her income after marriage. She is entitled to the “Mahr” which she takes from her husband at the time of marriage.
An examination of the inheritance law within the overall framework of the Islamic Law reveals not only justice but also an abundance of compassion for woman.
4. The Political Aspect
Any fair investigation of the teachings of Islam or into the history of the Islamic civilization will surely find a clear evidence of woman’s equality with man in what we call today “political rights”.
Both in the Qur’an and in Islamic history we find examples of women who participated in serious discussions and argued even with the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) himself, (see Qur’an 58:1-4 and 60:10-12).
During the Caliphate of Omar Ibn al-Khattab, a woman argued with him in the mosque, proved her point, and caused him to declare in the presence of people: “A woman is right and Omar is wrong”.
Although not mentioned in the Qur’an, one Hadeeth of the Prophet is interpreted to make woman ineligible for the position of head of state. The Hadeeth referred to is roughly translated: “A people will not prosper if they let a woman be their leader.” This limitation, however, has nothing to do with the dignity of woman or with her rights. It is rather, related to the natural differences in the biological and psychological make-up of men and women.
According to Islam, the head of the state is no mere figurehead. He leads people in prayers, especially on Fridays and festivities; he is continuously engaged in the process of decision-making pertaining to the security and well-being of his people. This demanding position, or any similar one, such as the Commander of the Army, is generally inconsistent with the physiological and psychological make-up of woman in general. It is a medical fact that during their monthly periods and during their pregnancies, women undergo various physiological and psychological changes. Such changes may occur during an emergency situation, thus affecting her decision, without considering the excessive strain which is produced. Moreover, some decisions require a maximum of rationality and a minimum of emotionality – a requirement which does not coincide with the instinctive nature of women.
Even in modern times, and in the most developed countries, it is rare to find a woman in the position of a head of state acting as more than a figurehead, a woman commander of the armed services, or even a proportionate number of women representatives in parliaments, or similar bodies. One can not possibly ascribe this to backwardness of various nations or to any constitutional limitation on woman’s right to be in such a position as a head of state or as a member of the parliament. It is more logical to explain the present situation in terms of the natural and indisputable differences between man and woman, a difference which does not imply any “supremacy” of one over the other. The difference implies rather the “complementary” roles of both sexes in life.