Women and their status in Islam

HISTORY is silent as to whether there was any distinction in status between the male and the female sexes during the beginnings of human civilisation. In later days, no doubt, the female sex was regarded as inferior to the male and the idea of inferiority developed to such an extent that the male sex not only claimed a complete superiority over the female sex, but further arrogated to itself the right to utilise and employ the female sex as it liked.

Surveying the history of the world on this point, we find that in pre-Christian Europe, Greece, which was the centre of light and learning for a long time and which provided philosophical and scientific inspiration to the Europe of later days, regarded woman as something definitely inferior to man. She was a subservient creature who had come into existence solely for the purpose of breeding citizens for the state and soldiers for the army.

In the Asian cradles of civilisation woman was no better off. Hinduism, which is the oldest among the present day religions of the world, laid it down: “In childhood a female must be subjected to her father, in youth to her husband, when her husband is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.”

In pre-lslamic Arabia, the general conception of womanhood was of such a degraded type that her very existence was considered ignominious for the family. Female infanticide was, consequently, practised on a wide scale. Those women, however, who escaped early death were allowed to live only on sufferance.

Such was the condition of the female sex in the world when Muhammad, the Saviour of womanhood, stood up in Arabia and, through the Devine Revelation of the Lord of the Universe who created both the male and the female and who loves them equally, preached to the world that females are just like males, having equal rights, equal honour and equal status in life.

They were on account not to be treated as the property of the males. They have the right of ownership of property in the same way as the males have, though no doubt under the principle of the division of labour the female sex have some specialised duties to perform in life, just as the male sex has its own duties.

There are three stages through which the womenfolk have to pass in life i.e. (a) as daughter, (b) as wife, and (c) as mother.


As a daughter

Islam denounces in unequivocal terms the pre-Islamic inhuman custom of female infanticide and commands people to love and cherish their daughters, even more than their sons.

Allah again commands humanity: “Kill not your children for fear of want. We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily, to kill them is a great sin.” (17:31) Fatimah was the youngest daughter of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. In dealing with her, he set an example of fatherly love which is a model for mankind. “Fatimah,” he would say, “is a part of my being; whosoever annoys her annoys me.” (Mishkat-ul-Masabih, XLIV:S) He also emphasised preferential treatment towards the female sex and said “When you bring anything for your children for distribution, begin with the girls first because the girls love their parents more than the boys.”


As a wife

Marriage, in the Islamic law is really a contract just like other civil contracts between two parties. As far as the conditions of the contract are concerned, both the parties, the man and the woman, stand upon the same level. Each party has certain rights and duties. Islam commands justice to be observed in every contract, and so in the contract of marriage too justice should be observed. The Holy Qur’an says: “The women have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable.” (2:228)

No doubt, under the principle of the distribution of labour, work should be divided between the pair. The womenfolk have naturally to take care of their offspring until they grow up. They have to engage themselves in bringing them up and so are not in a position to pay attention to securing their means of livelihood. The men, therefore have been made responsible for maintaining the family, including the wife, and have been given the duty of securing all the requirements of the home. Thus we might say that in a Muslim home, the husband is supposed to work as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the wife as the Minister of the Interior.

The Holy Prophet is reported to have said: “Woman is the queen of her house.” The Holy Qur’an describes the position of the wife in a beautiful verse:

“He created for you mates from among yourselves that you might find solace in them and he ordained between you love and mercy” (30:21)

The Prophet said: “The most perfect of believers in faith is the best of them in morals and the best of you are those who are kindest to your wives.”

In his famous Address at the Farewell Pilgrimage, the Prophet again laid stress on the good treatment on womenfolk. He said: “O my people, you have certain rights over your wives and so have your wives over you ….they are Allah’s trust in your hand. See that you treat them with all kindness.”

The conditions of the marriage contract are to be settled by the parties of the marriage. If, on the one hand according to the Islamic teaching, the husbands are entitled to have the right of divorce, the wives also are entitled to the right of fixing their dowry and maintenance as they like and they may also take the authority of separating themselves from their husbands when they find it necessary to do so. If agreement at a time of marriage is made with complete consideration, the parties stand practically at the same level and there remains no possibility for the womenfolk to suffer.

Islam enjoins justice, equity and straightforwardness. Therefore if those who claim to be Muslims do not observe the Islamic principles, it is their fault and Islam can on no account be accused for that. If today people misuse the permission for polygamy and try to hide their lustful actions under the cloak of Islamic legality, it is their fault and they deserve the most severe punishment at the Court of the All-Knowing Allah who knows what is in their hearts.


As a mother

As a mother the status of woman has been raised by Islam to such an extent that nothing higher is conceivable.

The Holy Qur’an says: “Your Lord has commanded that you shall worship none but Him and goodness to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour, And make yourself submissively gentle to them with compassion and say: O my Lord bestow on them compassion even as they cherished me in my childhood.” (17:23-24)

It is reported that when the Prophet was questioned by a disciple as to who after God and his Prophet should be revered most, the Prophet said “Your mother.” When questioned “Who, after the mother?” The Prophet said “Your mother.” He was again asked “And, then, who after the mother?” He again replied: “Your mother.” The man put the question for the fourth time and the Prophet then answered: “Your father.” This tradition shows that the position of the mother in the eyes of her sons and daughters should be three times higher than that of the father.

In Islam, the best action of worship is the performance of Pilgrimage to Makkah, i.e., the Hajj, and the reward to a person who performs the Hajj properly is that all his past sins are pardoned and he receives a high rank in the estimation of Allah. But in expressing the dignity of the mother, the Holy Prophet said: “One who looks at the face of his mother with sentiments of reverence and love once is rewarded as if he had performed the Pilgrimage.” People asked him, what if he looked twice, to which he replied: “It is as if he had performed two Pilgrimages, if thrice, as if he had performed three Pilgrimages and so on.”

In this respect, the Prophet himself set a model for the world. Once Halimah, the lady who nursed him in his childhood came to see him. The Prophet was sitting with his disciples. As soon as he saw her, he stood up with reverence and spread his mantle on the floor and requested his foster-mother to take her seat there.

It is quite evident from the above that the respect which a mother receives from her children in Islam is the highest to which no other worldly relationship can aspire.

The doors of spiritual elevation are open to women in the same way as they are open to men. They are commanded to educate themselves in the same way as the men, and if they attain a high position in learning even the men are expected to learn and benefit from their knowledge and wisdom. It is reported that after the Prophet’s death, his disciples used to visit Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, and seek knowledge from her.

Islamic history is resplendent with a long list of the names of the ladies who received the highest honour in society, the highest degree in learning and the highest qualifications in different branches of human activity. It was through the influence of other societies, which were not Muslim, that the idea of the inferiority of the female sex already existing in those societies spread to the uneducated class among the Muslims, who knew very little about the teachings of Islam. If they had known the teachings of Islam, they would have known that in Islam the female sex deserves the same position, the same respect and the same dignity as the members of the male sex who, in their turn, are not allowed to degrade and insult them and make them their tools.


Source: Muslim Village – Maulana Shah Muhammad Abdul Aleem Siddique