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:

ﭑ ﭒ ﭓ ﭔ ﭕ ﭖ ﭗ ﭘ ﭙ ﭚ ﭛ ﭜ ﭝ ﭞ ﭟ ﭠ ﭡﭢ ﭣ ﭤ ﭥ ﭦ ﭧ ﭨﭩ ﭪ ﭫ ﭬ ﭭ ﭮ ﭯ

{O Mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate (of same kind) and from them both He created many men and women…} [an-Nisa’ :1]

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.

Allah said:

ﭱ ﭲ ﭳ ﭴ ﭵ ﭶ ﭷ ﭸ ﭹ ﭺ ﭻﭼ ﭽ ﭾ ﭿ ﮀ ﮁ ﮂ ﮃﮄ ﮅ ﮆ ﮇ ﮈ ﮉ ﮊ ﮋ ﮌ ﮍ ﮎ ﮏ ﮐ

{It is He Who created you from a single soul and then created from it its pair, that he might dwell with her (in love)…} [al-A’raf :189]

ﭑ ﭒ ﭓﭔ ﭕ ﭖ ﭗ ﭘ ﭙ ﭚ ﭛ ﭜﭝ ﭞ ﭟﭠ ﭡ ﭢ ﭣﭤ ﭥ ﭦ ﭧ ﭨ

{The Creator of the heavens and the earth. He has made for you pairs from among yourselves} [ash-Shura :11]

ﰁ ﰂ ﰃ ﰄ ﰅ ﰆ ﰇ ﰈ ﰉ ﰊ ﰋ ﰌ ﰍ ﰎ ﰏﰐ ﰑ ﰒ ﰓ ﰔ ﰕ ﰖ ﰗ

{And Allah has made for you mates of your own kind, and has made for you from your mates, children and grandchildren, and has bestowed on you good provision. Is it then in false that they believe and deny the grace of God?} [an-Nahl: 72]

These verses of the Qur’an clearly give the woman a position that cannot be miscrewed by anyone thereafter. A woman is in Islam, a mate and pair to the man. The man is a vital part of the society, just as the woman too. When both live together, in love and understanding, the peak of happiness and pleasure is their gain.

However, the woman has special duties given to her in Islam. These are but to make her play are befitting role. In doing such, her nature and powers are duly considered. That is why in certain cases, she is not in any way different from the male counterpart, while in other situations, she is considered in a differently befitting manner.

A Woman in the Society

As a child, Islam places her as equal to the male. Female infanticide which was common among some Arab tribes was totally prohibited and considered as a crime like any other murder. It further criticized the attitudes of such parents who reject their female children. It states:

ﭱ ﭲ ﭳ ﭴ ﭵ ﭶ ﭷ ﭸ ﭹ ﭺ ﭻ ﭼ ﭽ ﭾ ﭿ ﮀ ﮁ ﮂﮃ ﮄ ﮅ ﮆ ﮇ ﮈ ﮉ ﮊﮋ ﮌ ﮍ ﮎ ﮏ ﮐ ﭼ

{And when news of (the birth of) a female (child) is brought to any of them, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! He hides himself from the people because of the bad news he has been informed of. Shall he retain her with dishonor or bury her in the dust? Certainly, evil is their decision} [an-Nahl: 58-59]

Not stopping there, Islam goes further to protect her all through her life as she grows. She is to be given kind and just treatment. The following are among the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in this regard:

Whosoever 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. [Ahmad]

Whosoever supports 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). Something of this similarity was said with regards to sisters. [Ahmad]

It is her birth right to seek knowledge just like the male child. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim”. [Abu Dawud]

This includes every Muslim, male and female.

After growing up, she gets married and becomes a wife. In this aspect, she also have her regards. In the Quran, it is explicitly indicated that marriage is sharing between the two halves of the society, and that its objectives, besides perpetuating human life, are emotional well-being and spiritual harmony. Its bases are love and mercy. Below are some of the impressive verses in the Quran about marriage.

ﮉ ﮊ ﮋ ﮌ ﮍ ﮎ ﮏ ﮐ ﮑ ﮒ ﮓ ﮔ ﮕ ﮖﮗ ﮘ ﮙ ﮚ ﮛ ﮜ ﮝ ﮞ

{And among His signs is that He created mates for you from among yourselves, that you may find repose in them, and He put between you love and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed are signs for a people who reflect} [ar-Rum: :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 be upon him), and she reported that her father had forced her to marry without her consent. The Messenger of God gave her the choice… (between accepting the marriage or invalidating it). [Ahmad]

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 Majah]

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, which is presented to her by her husband, 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, which the woman has all the right to spell out exactly what and how she wants it, though could be mutually bargained if above the man’s power.

The rules for 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 is of leadership. This is a matter which is natural in any collective life and which is consistent with the nature of man. In a collection of people, there must be a leader. Or else, chaos will be the order of the day. Same thing applies here. The Quran thus states:

ﮘ ﮙ ﮚ ﮛ ﮜﮝ ﮞ ﮟ ﮠﮡ

{…And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them to what is reasonable, and men are a degree above them (in responsibility)} [al-Baqarah: 228]

ﭑ ﭒ ﭓ ﭔ ﭕ ﭖ ﭗ ﭘ ﭙ ﭚ ﭛ ﭜ ﭝ ﭞﭟ

{Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because of what they spend from their wealth} [an-Nisa’: 34]

Such degree is Quwwamah (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 Quran gives us an example:

ﯲ ﯳ ﯴ ﯵ ﯶ ﯷ ﯸ ﯹ ﯺ ﯻﯼ

{…If they both decide on weaning the child, by mutual consent, and (after) due consultation, there is no blame on them…} [al-Baqarah: 233]

Over and above her basic rights as a wife comes the right which is emphasized by the Quran and is strongly recommended by the Prophet (peace be upon him); kind treatment and companionship.

The Quran states:

ﯢ ﯣﯤ ﯥ ﯦ ﯧ ﯨ ﯩ ﯪ ﯫ ﯬ ﯭ ﯮ ﯯ ﯰ

“…And consort with them in kindness, for if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing wherein Allah has placed much good.” [an-Nisa’: 19]

Prophet Muhammad (peace 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.

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 periods should be observed by men and women seeking divorce. Considering the relatively more emotional nature of women, a good reason for asking for divorce should be brought before the judge. Like the man, however, the woman can divorce her husband without resorting to the court, if the nuptial contract allows that.

Now that she is married, she becomes a mother. As a mother, Islam considered kindness to parents next to the worship of God.

ﭶ ﭷ ﭸ ﭹ ﭺ ﭻ ﭼ ﭽ

{And we have enjoined upon man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents: His mother bore him in weakness upon weakness…} [Luqman: 14]

ﮗ ﮘ ﮙ ﮚ ﮛ ﮜ ﮝ

{And your Lord has decreed that you worship none save Him, and that you be kind to your parents…} [al-Isra’: 23]

Moreover, the Quran has a special recommendation for the good treatment of mothers. A man once came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) asking:

O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good company? The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Your mother. The man said then who else? The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Your mother. The man asked, Then who else? The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Your mother. The man asked, Then who else? Only then did the Prophet (peace be upon him) say: Your father. [Bukhari and Muslim]

A famous saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is: “Paradise is at the feet of mothers.” [an-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah and Ahmad]

It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.

1. The Spiritual Aspect

The Quran provides clear-cut evidence that woman is completely equated with man in the sight of God in terms of her rights and responsibilities. The Quran states:

“Every soul will be (held) in pledge for its deeds” [Noble Quran 74:38]

It also states:

“…So their Lord accepted their prayers, (saying): I will not suffer to be lost the work of any of you whether male or female. You proceed one from another…” [Noble Quran 3:195]

“Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him will We give a new life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward according to their actions.” [Noble Quran 16:97, see also 4:124]

Woman according to the Quran is not blamed for Adam’s first mistake. Both were jointly wrong in their disobedience to God, both repented, and both were forgiven. [Noble Quran 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 (peace and blessings be upon him) and thereafter attendance at the Friday congregational prayers is optional for them while it is mandatory for men (on Friday).

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.

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 acquires thereafter.

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 baby-sitters 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. Even for the position of a judge, where there may be a tendency to doubt the woman’s fitness for the post due to her more emotional nature, we find early Muslim scholars such as Abu-Hanifah and At-Tabari holding there is nothing wrong with it. 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 be a little or much – a determinate share.” [Noble Quran 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. If she is divorced, she may get an alimony from her ex-husband.

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 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”.

This includes the right of election as well as the nomination to political offices. It also includes woman’s right to participate in public affairs. Both in the Quran and in Islamic history we find examples of women who participated in serious discussions and argued even with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) himself (see the Noble Quran 58:14 and 60:10-12).

During the Caliphate of ‘Umar 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 ‘Umar is wrong.”

Although not mentioned in the Quran, one Hadith of the Prophet is interpreted to make woman ineligible for the position of head of state. The Hadith 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 a 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 the 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 the sexes in life.

IV. CONCLUSION

The first part of this paper deals briefly with the position of various religions and cultures on the issue under investigation. Part of this exposition extends to cover the general trend as late as the nineteenth century, nearly 1300 years after the Quran set forth the Islamic teachings.

In the second part of the paper, the status of women in Islam is briefly discussed. Emphasis in this part is placed on the original and authentic sources of Islam. This represents the standard according to which degree of adherence of Muslims can be judged. It is also a fact that during the downward cycle of Islamic Civilization, such teachings were not strictly adhered to by many people who professed to be Muslims.

Such deviations were unfairly exaggerated by some writers, and the worst of this, were superficially taken to represent the teachings of “Islam” to the Western reader without taking the trouble to make any original and unbiased study of the authentic sources of these teachings.

Even with such deviations three facts are worth mentioning:

The history of Muslims is rich with women of great achievements in all walks of life from as early as the seventh century (A.D.)

It is impossible for anyone to justify any mistreatment of woman by any decree of rule embodied in the Islamic Law, nor could anyone dare to cancel, reduce, or distort the clear-cut legal rights of women given in Islamic Law.

Throughout history, the reputation, chastity and maternal role of Muslim women were objects of admiration by impartial observers.

It is also worthwhile to state that the status which women reached during the present era was not achieved due to the kindness of men or due to natural progress. It was rather achieved through a long struggle and sacrifice on woman’s part and only when society needed her contribution and work, more especially during the two world wars, and due to the escalation of technological change.

In the case of Islam such compassionate and dignified status was decreed, not because it reflects the environment of the seventh century, nor under the threat or pressure of women and their organizations, but rather because of its intrinsic truthfulness.

If this indicates anything, it would demonstrate the divine origin of the Quran and the truthfulness of the message of Islam, which, unlike human philosophies and ideologies, was far from proceeding from its human environment, a message which established such humane principles as neither grew obsolete during the course of time and after these many centuries, nor can become obsolete in the future. After all, this is the message of the All-Wise and All-Knowing God whose wisdom and knowledge are far beyond the ultimate in human thought and progress.