Treatment of Women in Islam
The Islamic teaching about treatment of women is one of the most misunderstood. Western women generally view Muslim women as repressed and deprived of their rights. The media portrays the stereotypical Muslim woman as fully covered and dominated by her husband, with little more status than a slave. The fact is that for 1400 years, Muslim women have been enjoying rights for which western women are still struggling.
Islam provides guidance for the peaceful and ideal society. For such a society to exist, there must be a social system which upholds the rights and responsibilities of each individual. Such a system would provide a balance in the role and status of men and women, thus putting the status of women on an equal footing with that of men. Such a society was in fact created over 1400 years ago by the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, through the guidance of Allah in the Holy Qur’an.
In this paper we will provide you with an explanation of the rights that Muslim women enjoy, along with other women’s issues and their place in society.
Treatment of Women in Islam
Before discussing the position of women in Islam, it is important to understand what the condition of women was before the advent of Islam. In pre-Islamic Arabia, and in the rest of the world, their condition was equal to that of slaves and chattels with no rights. Women could neither own nor inherit property. In domestic affairs, they had no rights over their children or themselves; in fact, they could be sold or abandoned by their husbands at will. If they were abused by their husbands, they had no recourse to divorce. They had no real status in the society, not being respected as wife, mother or daughter. In fact, daughters were considered worthless and were often killed at birth. Women were given little or no education, and had no say in religious matters, being regarded as limited in spirituality and intellect.
These abusive conditions existed well into the 19th century in most parts of the world, even in England and the United States, where some basic rights were given to women only in the beginning of the 20th century. But in Arabia, in the 7th century, with the advent of Islam the condition of women changed dramatically. Almost overnight, women were endowed with equal rights and put on the same level with men. In the Holy Qur’an, Allah makes it clear that He created men and women as equal beings, He says:
“He has created you from a single being; then of the same kind made its mate.” (Holy Qur’an, Chapter 39, Verse 7)
This single verse removes any taint of inferiority levelled at women by men. The Holy Qur’an further ensures woman’s equality on the spiritual, intellectual, social and economic level. In addition, women’s rights were safeguarded by the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, as he himself carried out the commands of Allah and treated women with great honour, kindness and dignity.
Spiritual Status of Muslim Women
The most important change that Islam brought for women was to raise their spiritual status. Allah has clearly declared in the Holy Qur’an that woman has a soul, that she has the same spiritual capacity as man, and that she can attain equal spiritual rewards by her own efforts. The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 4, Verse 125, relates:
“But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter heaven…”
Intellectual Status of Muslim Women
Another area where you will find that Muslim women have the lead over other women is in the field of education. Islam stresses that education for men and women is of equal importance, and the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, laid down that education is compulsory for both. He said:
“It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge”
He also exhorted both to “seek knowledge even if you have to go to China,” and to “seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”
The Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, encouraged his wives to seek knowledge and once stated that “half the religion of Islam could be learned from Hazrat Ayesha (his wife).” Indeed, after his death, the advice of his wives was sought by the entire Muslim community. Nowadays, you will see Muslim women active in many professions, such as medicine, nursing and teaching. Providing the career does not interfere with the upbringing of the children or the upkeep of the house, the woman may if she desires and with her husband’s permission, pursue a career. Any country which prevents women from pursuing a career is not following the Islamic teachings.
Economic Status of Muslim Women
Never before were women given the economic freedom such as given to her by Islam. Islam makes it clear that she is entitled to possess wealth and property of her own, whether it is inherited or earned, and has full rights over it.The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 4, Verse 33 states:
“Men shall have the share of what they have earned and women shall have the share of what they have earned.”
A married woman is not even required to spend out of her own wealth, as it is the duty of her husband to provide for her. The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 4, verse 35, states that:
“men are guardians over women, because Allah made some of them excel others and because they spend of their wealth.”
This means that the husband is responsible for his wife’s needs and her protection, and he is to supply the money for the maintenance of his wife and their home.
Islam further protects the economic status of women by requiring a husband to give her a dowry at the time of marriage. This becomes part of her exclusive wealth, and her husband has no right over it, unless she wishes to share it with him. The common practice found in some Islamic countries today where the groom demands that his bride bring a dowry of gold and household items to the marriage is totally un-Islamic. Islam has also given the right of inheritance in the property of their fathers, husbands and children etc.
Social Status of Muslim Women
The pre-Islamic practice of killing infant girls at birth for fear of humiliation or poverty was totally abolished by Islam. Islam goes on to teach a father that he must raise his daughters in the same way as his sons. In fact, taking good care of a daughter opens the door to Paradise for a Muslim.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, said
“He who brings up two girls through their childhood will appear on the Day of Judgement attached to me like two fingers of a hand.”(Muslim)
Thus it is clear that Islam raised the status of a daughter from that of being despised and unwanted to being loved and cherished.
Islam also changed the role of a wife from being little more than a servant to being an equal with her husband on all levels. Marriage is a harmonious union of two souls, with the object of marriage to seek comfort from each other. The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verse 188, beautifully defines the equality of the relationship:
“They are a garment for you and you are a garment for them.”
This shows that Islam regards husband and wife equal in providing support, comfort and protection from one another, fitting each other like a garment fits a body. Islam further teaches that the woman be treated with kindness and generosity and be given equal rights in marriage and divorce.
In their role as mothers, Muslim women achieves their highest social status, because the mother is revered in Islam unlike any other individual, one saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, emphasised the love and respect due to the mother when he said: “Paradise lies at the feet of the mother.”
We have reproduced some sayings of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) concerning women:-
- Mu’awiah ibn Haidah relates: I asked the Holy Prophet: “What is the right of a wife against her husband?” He replied: “Feed her when you feed yourself, clothe her when you clothe yourself, do not strike her on her face, do not revile her and do not separate yourself from her except inside the house.” (Abu Daud)
- Abu Hurairah relates that the Holy Prophet said: “The most perfect of believers in the matter of faith is he whose behaviour is best, and the best of you are those who behave best towards their wives.” (Tirmidhi)
- Abdullah ibn Amr ibn ‘As relates that the Holy Prophet said: “The world is but a provision and the best provision of the world is a good woman.” (Muslim)
- Ayesha (the wife of the Holy Prophet) relates: A woman came to me begging with her two daughters; I could not find anything except a single date which I gave her. She divided it between her daughters and did not eat any of it herself. Then she got up and left. When the Holy Prophet came, I told him of it. He said “One who is tried with daughters and treats them well will find that they will become his shield from the Fire.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
- Abu Hurairah relates that the Holy Prophet said: “Let no Muslim man entertain any rancour against a Muslim woman. Should he dislike one quality in her, he would find another which is pleasing.” (Muslim)
- Umm Salamah relates that the Holy Prophet said “If a woman dies and her husband is pleased with her, she will enter paradise.” (Tirmidhi)
- Abu Hurairah relates that the Holy Prophet said: “Of the dinar (money) you spend in the cause of Allah; the dinar you spend in procuring the freedom of a slave; the dinar you give away in charity to the poor and the dinar you spend on your wife and children, the highest in respect of reward is the one you spend on your wife and children.” (Muslim)
- Sa’ad ibn Abi Waqqas relates that the Holy Prophet said: “Whatever you might spend seeking thereby the pleasure of Allah will have its reward, even that which you put in the mouth of your wife.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
- Abu Shuraih khuwailad ibn Amr Khuzai relates that the Holy Prophet said that, Allah has said: “I declare sinful any failure to safeguard the rights of two weak ones: orphans and women.” (Nisai)
I hope this has helped you.