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Women in Islam

Does Islam elevate the status of women?


The answer is yes. This is a topic people are most misinformed about.


The misconceptions around women in Islam being oppressed can be blamed on various factors including the focus on cultural practices in Muslim countries which are said to be in the name of Islam.


These are often inconsistent if not contrary to Islamic teaching and are being practised in spite of Islam, not because of it.


The most important message we want you to go away with after reading this section is that Islam is neither backward nor repressive in respect of its treatment of women and to provide you with an accurate understanding of the rights of women in Islam.


We will show you how the advent of Islam led to women of pre-Islamic Arabia securing the same, if not greater, rights and freedoms that women in this society have only secured in the past 100 years, after a long and bitter struggle.


Islam clearly teaches that women have the right to seek an education, own property, operate a business and receive equal pay for equal work ? the later is still a point of contention in Britain today!



Of the Same Essence and Spiritual Worth


Men and women are equal in Islam with regards to creation and spiritual worth. Women have the same religious duties as men and will be rewarded or punished according to exactly the same criteria as men. It is interesting to note that the honour of becoming the very first Muslim was given to a woman! after the prophet (pbuh).


The advent of Islam brought about a change in attitudes and practices.


  • Female infanticide  The pre-Islamic custom whereby fathers would bury alive newborn girls for fear of the loss of dignity and standing was forbidden by Islam ? unfortunately this is still practised in some parts of China and India and is carried out by people of various faiths.
  • Favouritism:   It also taught that daughters were not to be treated less favourably than sons. They are an equal blessing. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said; ?Whoever has a daughter and did not bury her alive, nor insult her, nor favour his son over her, Allah will enter him into Paradise.?


The Prophet himself had four daughters.



Educational Rights


Islam places a great emphasis on men and women seeking knowledge.


The Prophet (pbuh) is known to have said ?Knowledge is incumbent on every male and every female? and ?seek knowledge even if it takes you to China?.


Of course this doesn?t mean that we all leave for China tomorrow! The Prophet (pbuh) was emphasising the importance of education by showing that knowledge should be sought after even if it meant travelling to far off lands.


Don?t forget, cultural practices in some countries contradict this ? everyone is all too familiar with the images seen from Afghanistan. Remember that the legislation or rulings passed by Governments or people in power that seem alien, oppressive or unjust are there despite Islam, not because of it.



Work Rights


All Muslims are given the right to work, regardless to gender. However, men have been given the responsibility for providing for their families. The Qur?an states: ?Men are the protectors and maintainers of women because Allah has given the one more strength than the other and because they support them from their means?? (Surah An Nisa, Chapter 4 Verse 34)


If a woman did choose to work, any profession permissible for men would be permissible for women, so long as it does not place her in an environment where her dignity would be undermined.



Economic Independence


Until the last century it was not possible for married women to hold property on her own or dispose of her property without her husband?s consent ? the law was only changed in 1870 in Britain and in 1937 in France!


The Qur?an, clearly proclaimed over 1400 years ago, that would be 607 AD, the right of every woman to buy, sell and manage her own property and to earn a living. In fact the Prophet?s wife ? Kadhijah (may God be pleased with her), was a successful business woman. She was a widow and was older than the Prophet (pbuh) and she was the one that proposed to him! It has only recently become socially acceptable and possible for women to have similar financial independence coupled with family life.


Even if the wife is wealthy in her own right, the husband has no right to take from his wife to support the family ? he has to support his wife with his own resources. If she decides to help then that is her choice.



Different But Equal


It is very important to clarify the difference between equality and justice at this point.


Equality means that all people should be dealt with the same, irrespective of their needs, abilities, strengths and weaknesses.


Justice, however, acknowledges the fact that men and women are different in their mental, physical and emotional make up. They are presented with different opportunities in life and have different roles to play.


Islam is based on both these principles:


  • Equality:  It has already been explained that in the spiritual sense men and women are equal
  • Justice: The day to day responsibilities given to each are reflective of the nature and life opportunities of men and women.


According to the Qur?an, men and women are two halves of a whole. Their roles in life complement one another to achieve a harmonious family unit. The man?s responsibility is as head of the family because:


  • He has been given the responsibility of earning the livelihood for the family
  • He has been given the mental, physical and emotional qualities that are more suitable for this role


The woman?s priority lies in being a good mother. This is an important full time career which requires dedication and professionalism. Islam liberates a woman from the pressures of being a ?supermum,? juggling career with family, by elevating the status of motherhood and placing the financial burden on husband. The decision to work is hers if she chooses but she will not be disrespected if she decides to concentrate on her primary role as a mother.


Muslims view marriage as the foundation of society and family life. Roles of husband and wife are complementary and collaborative. Rights and responsibilities of both sexes are equitable and balanced in their totality. Marriage is seen as way of stabilising society through legitimate sexual relationships and procreation.

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