The status of women in Islam, is an issue that is pertinent in present times;
both due to the divergence of cultural practices in the Muslim world from the
Islamic perspective and the erroneous perception in the West, that Islam
A dispassionate study of the primary sources of Islam, along with an analysis of
the position of women in societies where
Islam was implemented, actually proves that for women Islam is a special
Prior to Islam, write the authors of The Cultural Atlas of Islam, a woman was
regarded by her parents as a threat to family honor and hence worthy of burial
alive at infancy. As an adult, she was a sex object that could be bought, sold
and inherited. From this position of inferiority and legal incapacity, Islam
raised women to a position of influence and prestige in family and society.
The rights and responsibilities of women are equal to those of men but they are
not necessarily identical. This difference is understandable because men and
women are different, in their physiological and psychological make-up. With this
distinction in mind, there is no room for a Muslim to imagine that women are
inferior to men. Thus it is perhaps more apt to refer to the Islamic approach on
gender relations, as one of equity rather than the commonly used word
equality, which could be misunderstood to mean equality in every minute aspect
of life, rather than overall equality.
The Spiritual Aspaect
The sacred text of the Glorious Quran and the history of early Muslims bear
witness to the fact that women are considered as vital to life as men.
Islam refuted the idea that Eve tempted Adam to disobey God, and thus caused his
downfall. The Quran says that they both disobeyed, and negates the idea that
women are a source of evil.
In a world where women were no more than objects of sexual gratification for
men, and at a time when the religious circles argued over whether women were
human or not, possessing souls, Islam proclaimed:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female.
O Mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, Who created you from a single person,
created of like nature his mate, from them scattered countless men and women.
Fear Allah, through whom you demand your mutual rights and reverence the wombs
(that bore you), for Allah ever watches over you.
Men and women are of the same family, and as such have similar rights and
duties, and their Lord promises them in the Glorious Quran:
Never will I waste the work of a worker among you, whether male or female, the
one of you being from the other.
Thus, in the Islamic tradition, a woman has an independent identity. She is a
responsible being in her own right and carries the burden of her moral and
Women have as much right to education as men do. Almost fourteen centuries ago,
Prophet Muhammad (p)1 declared that the pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on
every Muslim, male and female. This declaration was very clear and was largely
implemented by Muslims throughout history.
Islam elevated the position of women in society and treated them on an equal
footing with men, and in some cases, as a mother for instance, clearly gave them
precedence over men. Thus when a man asked Prophet Muhammad (p): Who is most
entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me? the Prophet (p)
replied, Your mother. The man asked, Who is next? The Prophet (p) said,
Your mother. Again the man asked, Who is next? The Prophet (p) repeated,
Your mother. The man asked for a fourth time, Who is next? The Prophet (p)
then replied, Your father.2
On another occasion, when a man came to the Prophet (p), and expressed the
desire to join a military expedition, the Prophet (p) asked him if he had a
mother. When he replied that he had, the Prophet (p) advised him, Stay with
her, for Paradise is at her feet.3
As daughters, women have a right to just and equitable treatment from their
parents. The Prophet(p) gave glad tidings to those who did not insult their
daughters or favored sons over daughters.4
A woman has the right to accept or reject marriage proposals, and her consent is
a prerequisite to the validity of the marriage contract. A marriage is based on
mutual peace, love and compassion. Dr. Jamal Badawi, a Canadian Islamic scholar,
states in his book Gender Equity in Islam:
The husband is responsible for the maintenance, protection and overall
leadership of the family within the framework of consultation and kindness. The
mutuality and complementarity of husband and wife does not mean subservience
by either party to the other. Prophet Muhammad (p) helped with household chores,
although the responsibilities he bore and the issues he faced in the community
The responsibility of maintaining social and moral values lies on both men and
women. Both must refrain from all deeds and gestures that might stir the
passions of people other than their legitimate spouses or cause evil suspicion
of their morality.
Women are entitled to freedom of expression just as men are. Among the early
Muslims, women participated in public life, especially in times of emergencies.
It is reported in the Quran and in history that women not only expressed their
opinion freely but also argued and participated in serious discussions with the
Prophet (p) himself as well as with other Muslim leaders. They were not shut
behind iron bars or considered worthless.
The Economic Aspect
Islam grants women equal rights to contract, to enterprise, to earn and possess
independently. A womans life, her property and her honor are as sacred as those
of a man. If she commits any offense, her penalty is no less or more than of a
mans in a similar case. If she is wronged or harmed, she gets due compensation
equal to what a man in her position would get.5
Islam has given women a share of inheritance. Before Islam, women were not only
deprived of that share, but were themselves considered as property to be
inherited by men. Out of that transferable property Islam made an heir,
acknowledging the inherent individuality of women. Whether the woman is a wife
or mother, a sister or daughter, she receives a certain share of the deceased
kins property, a share that depends on her degree of relationship to the
deceased and the number of heirs. This share is hers, and no one can take it
away or disinherit her. Even if the deceased wishes to deprive her by making a
will to other relations or in favor of any other cause, the Law will not allow
him to do so.
Women are exempt from all financial liabilities. As a wife, a woman is entitled
to demand of her prospective husband a suitable dowry that will be her own. She
is entitled to complete provision and total maintenance by the husband. She does
not have to work or share with her husband the family expenses. She is free to
retain, after marriage, whatever she possessed before it, and the husband has no
right whatsoever to any of her belongings. As a daughter or sister she is
entitled to security and provision by the father and brother respectively. That
is her privilege. If she wishes to work or be self-supporting and participate in
handling the family responsibilities, she is quite free to do so, provided her
integrity and honor are safeguarded.
It is thus clear that the status of women in Islam is very high. Islam has
granted them rights that match beautifully with their duties. What Islam has
established for women is that which suits their nature, gives them full security
and protects them against disgraceful circumstances and uncertain channels of
There does exist a gap between the rights of women outlined in the Quran, and
the prevalent reality in the Muslim world. However, images of Muslim women as
ignorant, oppressed and submissive are stereotypical and do no justice to the
large number of Muslim women whose firm conviction in the Islamic concepts of
family cohesiveness and happiness, and their own individuality, ensures their
sense of self-fulfillment.
1 (p) here stands for (peace be upon him)
2 Reported by Bukhari
3 Reported by Ahmad, Basai and Al-Baihaqi
4 Reported by Ahmad
5 Al-Quran, 2:178; 4:45, 92-93