Today people think that women are liberated in the West and that the women’s liberation movement began in the 20th century. Actually, the women’s liberation movement was not begun by women but was revealed by Allaah (God) to a man in the seventh century by the name of Muhammad sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ). The Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) are the sources from which every Muslim woman derives her rights and duties.
Islam, fourteen centuries ago, made women equally accountable to Allaah in glorifying and worshipping Him – setting no limits on her moral progress. Also, Islam established a woman’s equality in her humanity with men.
In the first verse of the chapter entitled “Women”, Allaah Says (what means):”O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Aadam), and from him (Aadam) He created his wife [Hawwaa (Eve)], and from them both, He created many men and women and fear Allaah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allaah is Ever an All-Watcher over you.” [Quran 4:1]
Since men and women both came from the same essence, they are equal in their humanity. Women cannot be by nature evil (as some religions believes) or then men would be evil also. Similarly, neither sex can be superior because it would be a contradiction of equality. Allaah Says (which means): “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allaah is that (believer) who is the most pious of you. Verily, Allaah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” [Quran 49:13]
Allaah also Says (what means): “Verily, the Muslims men and women, the believers men and women, the men and women who are obedient (to Allaah), the men and women who are truthful (in their speech and deeds), the men and women who are humble (before their Lord), the men and women who give charity, the men and women who observe fasting, the men and women who guard their chastity (from illegal sexual acts), and the men and women who remember Allaah much with their hearts and tongues. Allaah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward (i.e. Paradise).” [Quran 33:35]
In Islam, a woman has the basic freedom of choice and expression based on recognition of her individual personality. First, the non-Muslim woman (from the people of the Book) is free to maintain her religion. Allaah Says (what means):”There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the Right path has been made distinct from wrong path.” [Quran 2:256]
Women are encouraged in Islam to contribute their opinions and ideas. There are many traditions of the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) which indicate women would pose questions directly to him and offer their opinions concerning religion, economics and social matters.
A Muslim woman chooses her husband and keeps her family name after marriage. A Muslim woman’s testimony is valid in legal disputes. In fact, in areas in which women are more familiar, their evidence is conclusive.
The Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) said: “Seeking knowledge is a mandate for every Muslim (male and female).” [Ibn Maajah] This includes knowledge of the Quran and the Hadeeth as well as other religious knowledge. Men and women both have the capacity for learning and understanding. Since it is also their obligation to promote good behavior and condemn bad behavior in all spheres of life, Muslim women must acquire the appropriate Islamic education to perform this duty in accordance with their own natural talents and interests.
While maintenance of a home, providing support to her husband, and bearing, raising and teaching of children are among the first and very highly regarded roles for a woman, if she has the skills to work outside the home for the good of the community, she may do so (if she has to) as long as her family obligations are met, and as long as there is no intermingling between her and men in the work place.
Islam recognizes and fosters the natural differences between men and women despite their equality. Some types of work are more suitable for men and other types for women. This, in no way, diminishes either’s effort nor benefit. Allaah will reward both sexes equally for the value of their work, though it may not necessarily be the same activity.
The success of a society can be traced to the mothers. The first and greatest influence on a person comes from the sense of security, affection, and training received from the mother. Therefore, a woman having children must be educated and conscientious in order to be a skillful parent.
Allaah Says (what means): “By Him Who created male and female; Verily, your efforts and deeds are diverse.” [Quran 92:3-4]
In these verses, Allaah declares that He created men and women to be different, with unique roles, functions and skills. As in society, where there is a division of labor, so too in a family; each member has different responsibilities. Generally, Islam upholds that women are entrusted with the nurturing role, and men, with the guardian role. Therefore, women are given the right of financial support.
Allaah Says (what means): “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allaah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means…” [Quran 4:34]
This guardianship and greater financial responsibility is given to men, requires that they provide women with not, only monetary support, but also physical protection and kind and respectful treatment.
The Muslim woman has the privilege to earn money, the right to own property, to enter into legal contracts and to manage all of her assets in any way she pleases. She can run her own business and no one has any claim on her earnings including her husband. Allaah Says (what means): “And wish not for the things in which Allaah 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 Allaah of His bounty. Surely, Allaah is Ever All-Knower of everything.” [Quran 4:32]
Furthermore, a woman inherits from her relatives. Allaah Says (what means): “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.” [Quran 4:7]
Rights of a Wife:
Allaah Says (what means): “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 affection and mercy between you; Verily, in that are signs for people who reflect.” [Quran 30:21]
Marriage is therefore not just a physical or emotional necessity, but in fact it is a relationship of mutual rights and obligations based on divine guidance. Allaah created men and women with complimentary natures, and in the Quran, He laid out a system of laws to support harmonious interaction between the sexes. Allaah Says (what means): “…They are your garments and you are their garments.” [Quran 2:187]
Clothing provides physical protection and covers the beauty and faults of the body. Likewise, a spouse is viewed this way. Each protects the other and hides the faults and compliments the characteristics of the spouse.
To foster the love and security that come with marriage, Muslim wives have various rights. The first of the wife’s rights is to receive Mahr (marriage dowry), a gift from the husband, which is part of the marriage contract and required for the legality and validity of the marriage.
The second right of a wife is maintenance. Despite any wealth she may have, her husband is obligated to provide her with food, shelter and clothing. He is not forced, however, to spend beyond his capability and his wife is not entitled to make unreasonable demands. Allaah Says (what means): “Let the rich man spend according to his means, and the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allaah has given him. Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. Allaah will grant after hardship, ease.” [Quran 65:7]
Allaah tells us in the Quran that men are guardians over women and are afforded the leadership in the family. His responsibility for obeying Allaah extends to guiding his family to obey Allaah at all times.
A wife’s rights also extend beyond material needs, as she has the right to kind treatment. The Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) said: “…The best of you are those who are best (in treatment) to their wives.” [At-Tirmithi, Ibn Maajah and Al-Bayhaqi]
Allaah tells us that He created mates and put love, mercy, and tranquillity between them. Both men and women have a need for companionship and sexual needs, and marriage is designed to fulfill those needs. For one spouse to deny this satisfaction to the other, temptation will rise to seek satisfying it elsewhere.
Duties of a Wife:
With rights come responsibilities. Therefore, wives have certain obligations towards their husbands. Allaah Says (what means): “…The righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allaah and their husbands), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allaah orders them to guard (i.e. their chastity, their husband’s property, etc.).” [Quran 4:34]
A wife is to keep her husband’s secrets and protect their marital privacy. Issues of intimacy or faults of his, that would dishonor him, are not to be spread by the wife, just as he is expected to guard her honor.
A wife must also guard her husband’s property. She must safeguard his home and possessions, to the best of her ability, from theft or damage. She should manage the household affairs wisely so as to prevent loss or waste. She should not allow anyone to enter the house whom her husband dislikes nor incur any expenses of which her husband disapproves.
A Muslim woman must cooperate and coordinate with her husband. There cannot, however, be cooperation with a man who is disobedient to Allaah. She should not fulfill his requests if he wants her to do something Islamicaly unlawful. A husband also should not take advantage of his wife, but rather he should consider her needs and happiness.
Allaah Says (what means): “It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allaah and His Messenger (Muhammad) have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allaah and His Messenger, he has strayed in a plain error.” [Quran 33:36]
The Muslim woman was given a role, duties and rights more than 1400 years ago that most women do not enjoy today, even in the West. These are rights granted by Allaah and are designed to keep balance in the society; what may seem unjust or missing in one place is compensated for or explained in another place.