Perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts about Islam today is that of the status and role of women. Many practices in the Muslim world today are merely customs and have nothing to do with Islam. The truth is that Islam brought revolutionary changes to women's rights. For the first time, the souls of women were explicitly declared in a sacred book to be equal to those of men. (see Surah An-Nisa’, 4:1). Rights and obligations are equally bestowed upon them both (see Surah Al-‘Imran, 3:195).
Islam gave women complete economic independence before and after marriage. They are under no obligation to share in family expenses; the husband bears the full responsibility regardless so f how wealthy his wife may be. The Muslim woman has the right to a specified gift from her husband at marriage, she may determine its value, and she can handle it as she pleases.
Islamic Shari'ah gave women the right to choose their own husbands and to initiate divorce. Muslim girls have the right to be educated and it is the duty of those raising them to provide education.
In Islam, both men and women are entitled to a specified share of the estate of their deceased parents or close relatives (see Surah An-Nisa’, 4:7), whereas in some western countries until recent times the whole estate of the deceased was passed on to the eldest son. Both genders are entitled to specific rights before the law and courts of law; justice is genderless. (see Surah Al- Ma'idah, 5:38, Surah An-Nur, 24:2, and Surah Al- Ma'idah, 5:45).
Women also possess an independent legal entity in financial and other matters. (In contrast, the right of independent ownership was not given to women in Europe until the late 19th and the 20th centuries.)
The general rule in social and political life is the participation and collaboration of males and females in public affairs (see Surah At-Taubah, 9:71). There is historical evidence of participation by Muslim women in the choice of rulers (a right Western women only recently obtained), public issues, lawmaking, administrative positions, scholarship and teaching, and even in the battlefield. In Islam, women even have the right to directly question their head-of-state, as is evident in history.
The west has in recent years become obsessed by the Muslim woman's dress. The parameters of proper modesty for males and females (dress and behaviour) are based on the Qur'an (see Surah An-Nur, 24:30-31, Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:59 and Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:32) and sunnah with legitimate aims and divine wisdom behind them. They are neither male-imposed nor socially imposed restrictions, Muslim women wear the “hijab” (covering of the whole body except the face and hands) when in public out of devotion and obedience to the command of God.
It is a part of their religious practice, neither a symbol nor a political statement. In dressing modestly, a woman also forces others to judge her by her intellect, integrity and personality, in other words, herself, and is no longer valued only for her looks.
Men are also required to dress modestly, although the extent of covering is less. Western culture teaches that for things to be fair between the two sexes, they must be identical. Although men and women are equal in the sight of God, Islam acknowledges that they are physically, biologically and emotionally different, and therefore some aspects of life, including dress, are different for each.
For 1400 years Islam has given woman rights of which she was deprived in other religions, and which women in the west only recently started to obtain after a long struggle.
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