The status of women in Islam is an issue that is largely misunderstood in present times. Muslim women are generally viewed as repressed and deprived of their rights, and considered inferior to men.
Some accuse Islam with lack of women rights, violence against women such as female genital mutilation and honour killing, lack of right to marry someone of their choice, or the right to divorce, or the right to inheritance, or to education, job or business, etc.
On the contrary, Islam gives great respect to women. In the Holy Quran hundreds of teachings which apply to both men and women are explained.
The moral, spiritual and economic equality of men and women as ruled by Islam is unquestionable. Islam has really elevated the status of women. In Islam men and women are equal in dignity and rights, however, they are assigned different duties and responsibilities.
Before the coming of Islam, the condition of women was equal to that of slaves and chattels, with no rights. Women were sold as personal commodities. Women could neither own nor inherit property. In domestic affairs, they had no rights over their children or themselves. If they were abused by their husbands, they had no recourse to divorce. They had no real status in the society.
A woman was not respected as wife, mother or daughter. In some Arab tribes, female children were buried alive because they were considered a curse on the family. Women were given little or no education, and had no say in religious matters,being regarded as limited in spirituality and intellect.
Islam, 1,400 years ago, gave women their rights and equal status with men. It made women heirs to property and gave them the right of inheritance. Muslim women can go to a mosque, perform pilgrimages, observe fasting and give to charity.
Islam awarded woman the samespiritual capability as man, and that she can attain equal spiritual rewards through her own efforts.
Islam also awarded equal opportunities to women and men to seek knowledge and taught that they should pray for the advancement of their education.
Prophet Muhammad exhorted both to “seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”, and emphasised that education is compulsory for both: “It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge.”
Muslim girls and women have equal and similar rights as boys and men to marry someone of their choice. Forced marriages were never appreciated in Islam. According to Islamic law, the bride’s approval and consent for marriage is compulsory. Parents or guardians have no authority to force a girl to marry anyone.
Forced marriages were never appreciated in Islam
Let me quote a tradition of Prophet Muhammad: “It is narrated that a virgin girl came to the Holy Prophet Muhammad [peace be on him] and said that her father had married her with someone but she did not like him. The Holy Prophet Muhammad gave her the option to maintain that marriage or reject it.”
Islam has been foremost in assigning to woman a position of economic independence. Any property that a woman might acquire by her own effort, or might inherit as an heir or receive as a legacy or gift, belongs to her independently ofher husband.
Khadija the wife of the Prophet was herself a business woman. Islam has also granted woman the right to inherit. Woman is entitled to inherit from the deceased in her role of mother, wife, daughter or sister.
In her role as mother, Islam grants woman the highest social status, because the mother is revered in Islam unlike any other individual. Muslims are instructed to show great care to their parents and particularly to their mothers. Prophet Muhammad said that: “Paradise lies under the feet of your mothers.”
Woman as a daughter has also been given extreme respect. The pre-Islamic practice of killing infant girls at birth for fear of humiliation was totally abolished by Islam. Islam has taught that a father must raise his daughters in the same way as his sons. In fact, taking good care of a daughter opens the door to paradise, as the Prophet said: “He who has a daughter and does not bury her alive nor humiliate her, nor give priority to son over daughter, God will grant him paradise.”
Woman as a wife has also a very great status in Islam. In Islam, there are exactly equal rights for women as for men.
There is total equality and there is no difference whatsoever between the fundamental human rights of women and men. The Holy Quran commands Muslim men “to consort with their wives in kindness”. The Prophet Muhammad 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.”
Moreover, in his farewell address, Prophet Muhammad has laid great emphasis on the kind treatment of women, he stood before a large gathering of Muslims and said:
“O men, you have some rights against your wives, but your wives also have some rights against you. Your duty is to provide for them food and clothing and shelter, according to your own standard of living. Remember, you must always treat your wives well. God has charged you with the duty of looking after them.”
This is a glimpse at Islamic teachings on the kind treatment of women. Anything contrary to that is not the teachings of Islam.
Any violence or ill-treatment with women by Muslims are condemned and extremely rejected by Islam. “The true believer is the one who behaves best towards his wife.”
Honour killing, forced marriages, female genital mutilation, treating women like personal commodities, denying them to acquire knowledge or pursue with their careers and businesses, domestic violence against women, are all barbaric and un-Islamic.
It is true that we also find these unlawful practices in some Muslim countries. However, Islam has nothing to do with these practices. These are the result of tribal or sometimes historic legacy issues, culture or customs and a false sense of pride.
Such maltreatment of women should be condemned and anyone who uses violence and aggression against women must be brought to justice and punished accordingly.
Laiq Ahmed Atif is president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Malta.