The Social Aspect
a) As a child and an adolescent
Despite the social acceptance of female infanticide among some Arabian tribes, the Qur'an forbade this custom, and considered it a crime like any other murder.
"And when the female (infant) buried alive - is questioned, for what crime she was killed." (Qur'an Surat At-Takwir: 8-9).
Criticizing the attitudes of such parents who reject their female children, the Qur'an states:
“When news is brought to one of them, of (the Birth of) a female (child), his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on (sufferance) and contempt, or bury her in the dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on?” (Qur'an Surat An-Nahl: 58-59).
Far from saving the girl's life so that she may later suffer injustice and inequality, Islam requires kind and just treatment for her.
Among the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) in this regard are the following:
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. (Reported by Ibn Hanbal, No. 1957).
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).
A similar Hadeeth deals in like manner with one who supports two sisters. (Reported by Ibn-Hanbal, No. 2104).
The right of females to seek knowledge is not different from that of males. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:
"Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim". (Reported by Al Bayhaqi). Muslim as used here including both males and females.
b) As a wife:
The Qur'an clearly indicates 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.
Among the most impressive verses in the Qur'an about marriage is the following.
"And among His signs is this: That He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest, peace of mind in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, herein indeed are signs for people who reflect." (Qur'an Surat ArRum: 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). (Reported by Ibn Hanbal No. 2469). 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)" (Reported by Ibn Maja, No. 1873).
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, a marriage gift, which is presented to her by her husband and is included in the nuptial contract, 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.
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 of leadership. This is a matter which is natural in any collective life and which is consistent with the nature of man.
The Qur'an thus states:
"And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them, and men are a degree above them." (Qur'an Surah Al-Baqarah: 228).
Such degree is Quiwama (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 Qur'an gives us an example:
"...If they (husband wife) desire to wean the child by mutual consent and (after) consultation, there is no blame on them..." (Qur'an Surah Al-Baqarah: 233).
Over and above her basic rights as a wife comes the right which is emphasized by the Qur'an and is strongly recommended by the Prophet (Peace be upon him); kind treatment and companionship.
The Qur'an states:
"...But consort with them in kindness, for if you hate them it may happen that you hate a thing wherein God has placed much good." (Qur'an Surat Al-Nisa’: l9).
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.” (Reported by Ibn-Hanbal, No. 7396)
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.
More specifically, some aspects of Islamic Law concerning marriage and divorce are interesting and are worthy of separate treatment.
When the continuation of the marriage relationship is impossible for any reason, men are still taught to seek a gracious end for it.
The Qur'an states about such cases:
“When you divorce women, and they reach their prescribed term, then retain them in kindness and retain them not for injury so that you transgress (the limits).” (Qur'an Surat Al-Baqarah:231). (See also Qur'an Surat Al-Baqarah:229 and Surat Al-Ahzab:49).
c) As a mother:
Islam considered kindness to parents next to the worship of God.
"And we have enjoined upon man (to be good) to his parents: His mother bears him in weakness upon weakness..." (Qur'an Surat Luqman: 14) (See also Qur'an Surat Al-Ahqaf: 15, Surat Al-Ankabut: 8).
Moreover, the Qur'an has a special recommendation for the good treatment of mothers:
"Your Lord has decreed that you worship none save Him, and that you be kind to your parents. . ." (Qur'an Surat Al-Isra’:23).
A man came to Prophet Muhammad (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? Only then did the Prophet (Peace be upon him) say, Your father. (Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
A famous saying of The Prophet is "Paradise is at the feet of mothers." (Reported by Al'Nisa'i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad).
"It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them."
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-Hanifa and Al-Tabary 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." (Qur'an Surat An-Nisa': 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.
The Political Aspect
Any fair investigation of the teachings of Islam or 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 Qur'an and in Islamic history we find examples of women who participated in serious discussions and argued even with the Prophet (Peace be upon him) himself, (see Qur'an Surat Al-Mujadila: 14 and Surat Al-Mumtahanah: 10-12).
During the Caliphate of Omar 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 Omar is wrong."
Although not mentioned in the Qur'an, one Hadeeth of the Prophet is interpreted to make woman ineligible for the position of head of state. The Hadeeth 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 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 cannot 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.
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 Qur'an 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 profess 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 (B.C.)
It is not 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 especial; 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 Qur'an 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.
Please write: COMMENT in this box to verify that you are human