Unfortunately, the way people treat one another these days in so called "Muslim lands" also bloats the cloud of confusion. More often then not, people confuse the teachings of Islam with what those who call themselves "Muslims" do, forgetting the glaring fact that Islam isn't the personal property of anyone. Nor is it a 'label'. Islam is a dynamic way of life that nurtures and supports the sincere follower who lives his life according to the Divine injunctions.
To know the real position of women in Islam, one first needs to educate oneself on what Islam's all about.
Islam is not a new religion, its principles are the same principles that had governed the lives of the prophets and believing peoples throughout the ages. Simply put, the way of Islam is the Creator's guidebook for His beloved creation, man. And who knows this limited creature better than the one who made him? And who can best guide him and counsel him if not the Maker?
Allah doth wish to lighten your (difficulties), for man is created weak (in flesh). (Quran:4:28)
Islam is therefore a divinely ordained path for humanity, a way of life that empowers the individual and the society to live in accordance with the laws of the Divine -- the benefit of which is reaped by society as a whole.
We have to understand that Allah is the Creator of all and all are equal before Him: men, women, black, white, brown, tall, fat, thin, rich, poor, none are excluded from the mercy of Allah. The Creator looks only at the heart of man and the human being is judged according to his good intentions and actions, not according to his gender or lineage.
The Messenger of Allah said,
"Whosoever is slowed down by his actions (on that Day),
will not be hastened forward by his lineage."
Man is created for a purpose and each and everyone of us has a role to play; and women are not exempt from this rule, nor are they burdened with more than they can bear.
While women are equal to men before Allah, they are different from men, and I have yet to meet a normal woman who wishes to become a man.
Now, what rights do women have in Islam?
Common sense tells us that the best place to seek an answer to this question is to go right to the heart of the matter, the source of Islam -- instead of relying on other people's opinions and judgments as these would only lead us further away from the truth.
At the outset, we have to realize that Islam abhors all kinds of oppressions and mistreatment of the weak by the strong.
Allah says, as related by the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, 'O My servants, I have forbidden oppression for Myself and have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not oppress one another.'
Hence, those who tend to oppress women do it only out of their own selfish greed and not because they are being ordered to do so by Allah. On the contrary, believers are warned against such propensity: "O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness." (Quran:4:19)
A believer is not only forbidden to mistreat his wife, he's warned against harboring any dislike for this good creation of Allah: "If you take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good." (Q:4:19)
Even in the case of divorce, the husband must exercise utmost caution in the way he deals with the situation: "When ye divorce women, and they fulfill the term of their (iddah). Either take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms; but do not take them back to injure them, (or) to take undue advantage." (Q:2:231)
It's even forbidden for men to take back their gifts, 'It's not lawful for you, (men), to take back any of your gifts (from your wives) except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah. (Q:2:229) Also read (Q:2:236 &237)
Islam not only gives women rights in their day to day affairs, it places women in an enviable position, a status that demands respect and veneration:
'O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) He created his wife (Eve)], and from them both He created many men and women and fear Allah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (that bore you). Surely, Allah is Ever an AllÂÂÂWatcher over you. (Quran:4:1)
The Messenger of Allah said, "The most perfect of the believers is the best of you in character, and the best of you are those among you who are best to their wives."
Slandering women is forbidden, and punishable by law: "And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations) Flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors-" (Q:24:4)
Such as willfully hurt believing women: "Are cursed in this life and in the Hereafter: For them is a grievous Penalty."(Q:24:23)
In this world, such people as hurt the feelings and honor of believing women may put on an air of being 'the good guys' themselves. However, in the Hereafter and that's where true justice shall be served, 'Their tongues, their hands, and their feet will bear witness against them as to the actions.'(Q:24:24)
In the Qur'an couples are described as "partners"
And as "garments of each other"
Believing men and women are:
"are protectors of one another"
"enjoining what is just, and forbidding the evil."
And are equally "honored".
So there is no question of women not getting their "equal share" by the Grace of Allah, and theirs will be: "Gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein, and beautiful mansions in Gardens of everlasting bliss."
Among the Allah-given-rights to women, besides the
obligatory kind treatment,
the enviable position of motherhood,
there's the exclusive right to ownership of property, etc.
Even after marriage, her property and whatever she earns are "hers" alone, and no man, whether he is a brother or a husband, can put a claim to it.
Women are pampered in Islam:
From the day she's conceived in the womb, she becomes the father's sole responsibility to feed, cloth and educate; as a wife, that duty is transferred to the husband, if widowed to the next of kin, and so on, and these Divine obligations which Allah placed on the shoulders of men are evaded at the evader's own peril, for there will come a day when the evader of duty will have to answer to Allah.
Although a woman has all these social and economical rights from birth, that is not the end of it. At the time of inheritance, she too becomes an eligible candidate, as daughter, as mother, as widow or as sister:
"From what is left by parents and those nearest related, there is a share for men and a share for women." (Q:4:7) Also read (Q:4:32) &(Q:4:176)
At the time of marriage the husband-to-be will have to part with something of his hard-earned earnings in the form of 'dowry'. There are two advantages for the woman in this. While on the one hand, the giving of dowry proves the man's sincerity, on the other hand, the 'dowry' becomes some sort of an economical security for the wife-to-be.
However, if a man is unable to carry out his duties, due to his economical constraints, then he is warned against bothering believing women with empty promises he is unable to keep. And let those who find not the financial means for marriage keep themselves chaste, until Allah enriches them of His Bounty. (Q:24:33)
To keep the limits of Allah, and in order not to become an unwanted burden on women, the prophet of Islam recommended fasting as a way of controlling man's base desires.
For the maintenance of widows: "And those of you who die and leave behind wives should bequeath for their wives a year's maintenance and residence without turning them out?" (Q:2:240)
"And for divorced women, maintenance (should be provided) on reasonable (scale). This is a duty on Al Muttaquin. (the pious) (Q:2:241)
And for the maintenance of divorced nursing mothers and offspring: "The mothers shall give suck to their children for two whole years, (that is) for those (parents) who desire to complete the term of suckling, but the father of the child shall bear the cost of the mother's food and clothing on a reasonable basis.
"No person shall have
a burden laid on him greater than he can bear.
No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child?"
Kindness to parents is a "duty" on Muslims and Muslims are enjoined by Allah to treat their mothers with utmost care, 'And We have enjoined on man to be dutiful and kind to his parents. His mother bears him with hardship and she brings him forth with hardship.'(46:15)
Indeed as the prophet Muhammad had said,
"Paradise lies at the feet of your mother."
Even young girls are not forgotten, on the Day of Judgment their case is brought to the forefront, amidst the great upheavals of that Day:
'When the sun is folded up;
And when the stars darken;
And when the mountains shall be set in motion;
And when the pregnant camels shall be neglected;
And when the wild beasts shall be herded together;
And when the seas boil over;
And when the souls are reunited (like with like);
And when the girl-child buried alive is asked;
For what sin she was slain.' (Q:81:1-8)
With just a few short verses the message of Islam had uprooted with one stroke the evil practice of burying young girls in Arabia. That was 1427 years ago at a time when women were not even considered human in other parts of the world.
Needless to say, women's rights in Islam are enshrined in the Divine message sent to the last Messenger of Allah. It's to be noted that these human rights are neither the fruits of struggle on the part of women nor are they the result of men's generosity.
These privileges are part and parcel of the message of Islam to humanity; a munificent declaration of peace and prosperity on earth where charity, love and fair dealing among humanity is the norm.
History has it that Muhammad's message of equality and justice for all did not go down well with the powers-that-be of that time. The privileged few felt threatened and fought hard against what they perceived as a threat to their life style. The more than 300 gods of Mecca being the center of attraction for idolatrous Arabia the custodians of the Kaba basked in self admiration. Keeping the status que meant high prestige for the chieftans of Mecca. For One God posed a direct threat to the "tourism industry" that thrived on the presence of these gods.
Historically, the message of Islam came at a time of great need. That was some 600 years after the person of Isa (Jesus) disappeared from the face of the earth, and in many quarters that had earlier received previous revelations only a shadowy version of the original remained where the priesthood manipulated the ignorant masses. Cruelty flourished and ignorance prevailed the earth. From East to West the unsavory condition of women the world over is known to historians. Divine intervention was not only awaited by those who knew the earlier scriptures it was also a necessity.
Arabia was no exception. Pre-Islamic era was a time of jahiliya (ignorance); gods many abounded in the holy precinct of the Kaba whose foundations were once raised by none other than Ibrahim and Ismael (Abraham and Ishmael).
It's no secret that this period of jahiliya where the true worship of the One True God was almost non existent, evil filled the vacuum. Materialism, drunkard ness, decadence, slavery, tribalism and sectarian violence was the order of the day.
No true prophet of God was ever self appointed. And Muhammad was no different. History has it that this soft spoken man who by nature shunned pomp and show, was propelled into the midst of this ungodly scenario by none other than the Almighty Lord of Mecca.
Muhammad's first encounter with the Arch Angel Jibril (Gebriel) attest to this:
"Read!" The Angel commanded.
"I can not read!" Muhammad replied,
"Read!" the Angel repeated.
"I can not read!" Muhammad repeated.
"Read!" the Angel repeated for the third time to which the unlettered Muhammad replied in the same fashion.
But the author of the Quran would've none of it and Muhammad was soon forced out of his seclusion by nothing less than Divine miracle. And Muhammad read after the Arch Angel, word for word:
"Read! In the Name of thy Lord, Who has created (all that exists),
Has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood).
Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous,
Who has taught by the pen,
Has taught man that which he knew not." (96:1-5)
These first five verses of the Qur'an (meaning the reading) were the beginning of a long period of Divine communication, of benevolent admonition and of good news stretching some twenty three years.
The Qur'an is described as ummul kitab (mother of the Book) a culmination of Allah's Word to humanity and Muhammad was simply the last of a long history of prophet hood that began with the first man.
In this latest Divine communication, God once again speaks to humanity:
- I am your Creator Lord, I am One, has always been the One and Only,
the Eternal, Absolute, Supreme Lord of Heaven and Earth.
- I am not the father of anyone of you, nor Am I begotten.
- I am He that has given you life and I am just as capable of taking it away from you.
- Just as I created you from nothing I will bring you back to life.
- The signs are all around you, take a moment and ponder.
- Look at the stars, look at the moon, see how I have raised the heavens.
- Look at your own creation, ponder, ponder, ponder...
- Look at the your food.
- These objects of worship that you've fashioned in your own hands are nothing but
Satan's handiwork. They have no power over you. They can neither benefit you nor
cause you any harm.
- But I have your lives in My own Hands, will you not think?
- Satan is your enemy.
- Pride was the downfall of Satan, beware.
- Covet not what I have given to the others; your sustenance is with Me alone.
- Oppress not yourselves.
- Kill not one another
- Life on earth is but a fleeting moment; work for the next.
- Killing of children is a grave sin
- Women are your mothers, sisters, daughters and wives.
- It's Allah that has caused diversity, don't hate one another on account of that.
- Trust in Me. I am the only Lord over you.
Humanity was created equal from a single father and mother, said the author of the Quran,
"O mankind! We have created you all male and female and have made you nations and tribes so that you may recognize each other (not hate one another). The most honored among you in the sight of God is the most pious of you. God is All-knowing and All-aware" (49:13).
It's to be noted that social justice did not come as an after thought, for Islam came to free the spirit, not only from the shackles of man-made worship, but also from all forms of superstitions and oppression. Small wonder than that the first converts were: a man, a woman, a former slave and a child.
The first one to hear the call was a woman; the prophet's beloved wife, Khadija.
After that first daunting encounter with the Angel, the Messenger of Islam did not rush to hobnob with the lords of Mecca. He headed straight for his wife. At the news, Khadija's trust in her husband's integrity did not waver even for a second. And Khadija's personal and material sacrifice from there on did not go unnoticed. This great woman was once with her husband when Allah's greetings reached her through the Angel Jibril, "?Give her greetings of peace from her Lord and from me, and give her the good news of a palace of jewels in the Garden?"
In the Quran, a whole sura (chapter) is named after women (Surat an Nisaa).
Pharoah's wife, Aasiya, we are told, was a good woman, Allah had answered her prayers and she was saved from the iniquity of her husband, the Pharoah. And she happened to be a woman.
Isa's (Jesus) mother, Mariam (Mary) a virtuous woman is described as the best woman of her time. A whole chapter of the Quran is named after this honorable woman (Sura Mariam).
Quran relates the story of Mariam's mother and how she had personally implored the Lord and how the Lord granted her request in a manner that brings one's eyes to tears. Subsequently, Allah protected Mariam and her child from the influence of Satan the accursed. (Quran:3:35-37)
Prophet Muhammad said, "Satan toucheeth every son of Adam the day his mother beareth him, save only Mary and her son."
Nor is the Lord of Heaven and Earth above listening to the pleas of a simple housewife who complains to the prophet about her husband.
"Allah has indeed heard (and accepted) the statement of the woman who pleads with thee concerning her husband and carries her complaint (in prayer) to Allah. And Allah always hears the argument between both sides among you: for Allah hears and sees all things." (Quran:58:1)
At the time of giving allegiance to the prophet, women were not left behind. They too committed themselves to the cause of Islam and the role they played is no secret to Muslims.
If education is important for boys, it is equally important for girls. Even after marriage, it becomes incumbent on Muslim husbands to teach their wives their religion. Husbands must not stand in their way if their wives choose to seek knowledge on their own.
Needless to say, the prophet's wives were themselves a necessary link through which the Muslims learned their religion; delicate issues were referred to them. Allah had Himself conferred on them the distinguishing title of 'Mothers of the believers', "The prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves and his wives are their mothers." (Quran:33:6)
The role the early women of Islam played in the field of education is well known to Muslims. Aisha, a mother of the believers, said, 'In the time of the Messenger of Allah, whenever any verse was revealed, we used to memorize the lawful and the unlawful contained in it even if we did not memorize its exact words.'
Aisha was a woman of sharp intellect. She lived long after the prophet's death and taught many great scholars. She had a great memory and was an authority on solving inheritance problems among other things. People came from far and wide to learn from her. She alone narrated 2210 Ahadith (sayings of the Prophet). And is described as a professor of professors.
Dear readers never in history had the Almighty ever been unjust to women. The Almighty Lord hates oppression of any kind, for oppression "is worse than killing."
And while Muslims, men and women, are commanded to exercise great patience they are allowed to defend their rights. If there's injustice in the world today, it's due to man's own weaknesses and his departure from his spiritual self.
Men and women are equal in the eyes of Allah and each gets what he/she earns:
'Verily, for Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for men and women who are obedient to Allah for devout men and women , for truthful men and women, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves before their Lord Allah, for men and the women who give in charity, for men and the women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity and for men and women who engage in Allah's praises, for them has Allah prepared a forgiveness and great reward (Quran: 33:35)
The first recipients of the Divine injunctions are described in the Qur'an as (what means) 'the best of people evolved for mankind.' These were sincere people for whom Allah's word meant the last word in everything. To serve God's creation was to serve God; their reply to God's commands being, 'We hear and we obey.' And that is where their success lay. Because they were sincere to God, when they heard a commandment they obeyed it, no questions asked. And that's exactly what's lacking in many Muslims today.
Dear readers, the above is only a drop in the showers of mercy that descend from above on this beautiful creation of Allah the Most High.
For a more in-depth study of how Islam advocated women's rights right from the beginning of Prophet Muhammad's message please refer to the Qur'an and the Prophet's traditions.
Comments and suggestions most welcome. And do watch out for any human errors on my part.