If the media and its ensuing stereotypes are to be
believed then Islam does not have very much to offer women, except
for a life of misery, oppression and slavery. However, if one bothers
to look closely at Islam then it has an abundance to offer men and
There is little doubt that many Muslim women are subject
to abuse and subjugation - without making sweeping generalizations,
many women in some so called Muslim lands are denied the rights
given to them by Islam - rights to which they are entitled as human
beings and as women. However we must separate Muslims from Islam;
we must separate theory from practice. In Islam this separation
is possible - Islamic legislation has given women unprecedented
status, even if Muslims did not always live up to these amazing
Let us take a quick look at some of the rights of
women in Islam, comparing them with some of the legislation relating
to women in Britain:
Considered by many these days as a basic human right,
in Islam both men and women are duty bound to seek education for
the Prophet Muhammad said: "The search for knowledge is a duty
on every Muslim." (Bukhari) So, while there were no places
at British Universities until the late 1870s (Ox. Ill. His. Brit.
p493), there have been records of Islamic Universities with women
students throughout the history of Islam: Nafisah was an early 8th
century hadith scholar and the great jurist Shafi participated in
her circle at Al-Fustat. Shaika Shuhuda another 8th century scholar
was a lecturer at Baghdad University - the Oxford and Cambridge
of its time. Nazhun was a 12th century scholar and of course we
cannot forget Ayesha, the wife of the Prophet who in the 7th century
was one of the greatest relaters of hadith.
So, whilst Muslim women were attending universities
and were lecturers and scholars in the 8th century, 80% of London
Women and 100% of East Anglican women were illiterate in 1640 -
figures taken from A. Fraser page 129 and D. Cressy page 178.
Women in the UK managed to gain the right to vote
in 1918, but that was only for women over thirty. They did not manage
to gain full voting rights equal with men until 1928. These gains
were not achieved easily though - to gain the vote the Suffragettes
marched, rallied, chained themselves to railings, went on hunger
strike and eventually one of them jumped in front of the Royal Horse
on Derby Day. Muslims women however each had the right to give or
not to give their allegiance from the beginning - and this right
was given them without them having to march, rally, not eat or jump
in front of a horse.
Up until 1801 British women did not have the right
to own anything - not even themselves. For up until this time a
husband had the right to sell his wife. In Sweden in 1984 a man
was entitled to half his wife's earnings. Islam though has allowed
women to own their own property from the outset. Everything a woman
earns belongs to her. She is not a chattel to be bought and sold,
but rather an individual human being, responsible to no one for
her income except for God. A married woman may remind her husband:
"What's his is theirs, what's hers is her own!"
It would be easy to go on with a list of the rights
of women in Islam - but how does Islam really benefit women?
Islam has given women the right to be themselves!
They are equal before God - on the Day of Judgment they will be
answerable as individuals and cannot say "my husband told me
to do it", "my, father, brother, uncle - led me astray".
Nor will they be treated unfairly because they are women - women
have souls in Islam - and there has never been any debate about
that in Islamic history unlike in Christianity!
Islam offers to women, as it does to men, a belief
in God, and this upholds everything. Belief in the Creator gives
life a wholeness, and a balance, for it means that we do not look
at everything in the short term - the intrinsic whole is this world
and the Hereafter. This belief in God, this taqwa - God consciousness
- thus shapes everything in Islam.
Men and women in Islam are protecting friends of one
another; they are garments of each other hiding each other's faults.
The Qur'an says:
"Verily, for all men and women who have surrendered
themselves unto God, and all believing men and believing women,
and all men and women who are true to their word, and all men and
women who are patient in adversity, and all men and women who humble
themselves before God, and all men and women who give in charity,
and all self-denying men and self-denying women, and all men and
women who are mindful of their chastity, and all men and women who
remember God unceasingly: for all of them has God readied forgiveness
of sins and a mighty reward"
(Surah 33: verse 35).
This verse offers women so much; it offers them paradise
on the basis of their own actions. It demands of them good character,
tells both men AND women to be active; and instills in them the
sense of individual responsibility.
So, Islam offers to women, as it offers to men - paradise
as a reward, it offers a complete picture which considers both this
world and the hereafter - built solidly upon the foundation of a
believe in The Creator. A relationship with one's Creator brings
untold peace - for men and for women.
Islam allows women to know themselves as they are.
Thus in Islam women are equal to men, but they are not the same.
Men and women are equal before God - they are the protecting friends
of one another, they are garments of one another, hiding one another's
faults; but they are not the same. In Islam - imitation is not liberation.
Women are not men - an obvious statement, but one
which is often overlooked. Islam offers a balance - which can be
seen if one looks to nature - black and white, up and down, day
and night etc. etc. Two halves to form a whole. Balance is absolutely
vital. But, after the industrial revolution women and men are becoming
more and more alike. Men have become cogs in the system. Women have
also been pulled into the consumerism of an industrialized society
and have been forced into the work place, but still receive no help
at home - a recent study showed that 9 out of 10 men were not 'New
Men' and did not help out at home (The Times, Nov. 1995).
Western society has ignored the balance and told women
that for them to have status they must achieve what men achieve.
Western society has created a new image for women based on the male
- and this is very objectionable. Rather than highlighting her individual
strengths, she is told to compete according to male criteria in
order to have value. But she is not given any help to cope with
her additional responsibilities. "Work, have a career to achieve
status - but we will not provide crhche facilities, or time off
during school holidays." We are now facing a situation where,
as the President of Bosnia, Alija Ali Izebegovic, said:
"Modern civilization has disgraced motherhood...
It has preferred the calling of a salesgirl, model, teacher of other
people's children, secretary, cleaning woman and so on to that of
mother. It has proclaimed motherhood to be slavery and promised
to free women from it." (Islam Between East and West p.144-145)
So, we have put down the feminine and are saying:
'masculine criteria is the best, indeed only thing to judge by,
feminine criteria is second class - useless'.
But in Islam both are equal, but they are different.
So in Islam we do not have the situation where: -the logical is
perceived as better than the lateral; the firm is perceived as better
than the tender; the analytical is perceived as better than the
intuitive. In Islam women do not say: "I'm only a housewife"
- Where did this ONLY come from? - It came from taking the masculine
criteria as best. Why is being in the rat-race superior to being
a mother? Because we see the masculine as superior to the feminine.
Where is the spirit of the Malcolm X (Malik El Shabazz) quote:
"If you educate a man you educate one person;
if you educate a woman you educate and liberate a nation".
Women in Islam of course have a role beyond that of
motherhood - one does not spend 25 years preparing for and another
25 years recovering from motherhood - but the point is do not demean
motherhood; and do not demean and belittle the feminine. Islam offers
to women pride in the feminine. The equal but different roles of
men and women in Islam have to be understood, and in understanding
- individuals can be themselves, and thus find a balance and true
And this peace and security allows and gives room
for the development of a woman's potential based on her own strengths.
[courtesy of Young Muslims UK]