The Spiritual Aspect
The Qur'an provides clear-cut evidence that woman iscompletely
equated with man in the sight of God interms of her rights and responsibilities.
The Qur'an states:
"Every soul will be (held) in pledge for its deeds" (Qur'an 74:38).
It also states:
...So their Lord accepted their prayers, (saying): I will not
suffer to be lost the work of any of you whether male or female.
You proceed one from another ...(Qur'an 3: 195).
Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily
to him will We give a new life that is good and pure, and We will
bestow on such their reward according to the their actions. (Qur'an
16:97, see also 4:124).
Woman according to the Qur'an is not blamed for Adam's first mistake.
Both were jointly wrong in their disobedience to God, both repented,
and both were forgiven. (Qur'an 2:36, 7:20 - 24). In one verse in
fact (20:121), Adam specifically, was blamed.
In terms of religious obligations, such as the Daily Prayers,
Fasting, Poor-due, and Pilgrimage, woman is no different from man.
In some cases indeed, woman has certain advantages over man. For
example, the woman is exempted from the daily prayers and from fasting
during her menstrual periods and forty days after childbirth. She
is also exempted from fasting during her pregnancy and when she
is nursing her baby if there is any threat to her health or her
baby's. If the missed fasting is obligatory (during the month of
Ramadan), she can make up for the missed days whenever she can.
She does not have to make up for the prayers missed for any of the
above reasons. Although women can and did go into the mosque during
the days of the prophet and thereafter attendance et the Friday
congregational prayers is optional for them while it is mandatory
for men (on Friday).
This is clearly a tender touch of the Islamic teachings for they
are considerate of the fact that a woman may be nursing her baby
or caring for him, and thus may be unable to go out to the mosque
at the time of the prayers. They also take into account the physiological
and psychological changes associated with her natural female functions.
Despite the social acceptance of female infanticide among some
Arabian tribes, the Qur'an forbade this custom, and considered it
a crime like any other murder.
"And when the female (infant) buried alive - is questioned, for
what crime she was killed." (Qur'an 81:8-9).
Criticizing the attitudes of such parents who reject their female
children, the Qur'an states:
When news is brought to one of them, of (the Birth of) a female
(child), his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief!
With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the
bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on (sufferance) and contempt,
or bury her in the dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide
on? (Qur'an 16: 58-59).
Far from saving the girl's life so that she may later suffer injustice
and inequality, Islam requires kind and just treatment for her.
Among the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (P.) in this regard are the
Whosoever has a daughter and he does not bury her alive, does
not insult her, and does not favor his son over her, God will
enter him into Paradise. (Ibn Hanbal, No. 1957).
Whosoever supports two daughters till they mature, he and I
will come in the day of judgment as this (and he pointed with
his two fingers held together).
A similar Hadeeth deals in like manner with one who supports two
sisters. (Ibn-Hanbal, No. 2104).
The right of females to seek knowledge is not different from that
of males. Prophet Muhammad (P.) said:
"Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim". (AlBayhaqi).
Muslim as used here including both males and females.
The Qur'an clearly indicates that marriage is sharing between
the two halves of the society, and that its objectives, beside perpetuating
human life, are emotional well-being and spiritual harmony. Its
bases are love and mercy.
Among the most impressive verses in the Qur'an about marriage
is the following.
"And among His signs is this: That He created mates for you from
yourselves that you may find rest, peace of mind in them, and
He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, herein indeed are
signs for people who reflect." (Qur'an 30:2 1).
According to Islamic Law, women cannot be forced to marry anyone
without their consent.
Ibn Abbas reported that a girl came to the Messenger of God, Muhammad
(P.), and she reported that her father had forced her to marry without
her consent. The Messenger of God gave her the choice . . . (between
accepting the marriage or invalidating it). (Ibn Hanbal No. 2469).
In another version, the girl said: "Actually I accept this marriage
but I wanted to let women know that parents have no right (to force
a husband on them)" (Ibn Maja, No. 1873).
Besides all other provisions for her protection at the time of
marriage, it was specifically decreed that woman has the full right
to her Mahr, a marriage gift, which is presented to her by her husband
and is included in the nuptial contract, and that such ownership
does not transfer to her father or husband. The concept of Mahr
in Islam is neither an actual or symbolic price for the woman, as
was the case in certain cultures, but rather it is a gift symbolizing
love and affection.
The rules for married life in Islam are clear and in harmony with
upright human nature. In consideration of the physiological and
psychological make-up of man and woman, both have equal rights and
claims on one another, except for one responsibility, that of leadership.
This is a matter which is natural in any collective life and which
is consistent with the nature of man.
The Qur'an thus states:
"And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over
them, and men are a degree above them." (Qur'an 2:228).
Such degree is Quiwama (maintenance and protection). This refers
to that natural difference between the sexes which entitles the
weaker sex to protection. It implies no superiority or advantage
before the law. Yet, man's role of leadership in relation to his
family does not mean the husband's dictatorship over his wife. Islam
emphasizes the importance of taking counsel and mutual agreement
in family decisions. The Qur'an gives us an example:
"...If they (husband wife) desire to wean the child by mutual
consent and (after) consultation, there is no blame on them..."
(Qur'an 2: 233).
Over and above her basic rights as a wife comes the right which
is emphasized by the Qur'an and is strongly recommended by the Prophet
(P); kind treatment and companionship.
The Qur'an states:
"...But consort with them in kindness, for if you hate them it
may happen that you hate a thing wherein God has placed much good."
(Qur'an 4: l9).
Prophet Muhammad. (P) said:
The best of you is the best to his family and I am the best
among you to my family.
The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and best
of you are those who are best to their wives. (Ibn-Hanbal, No.
Behold, many women came to Muhammad's wives complaining against
their husbands (because they beat them) - - those (husbands) are
not the best of you.
As the woman's right to decide about her marriage is recognized,
so also her right to seek an end for an unsuccessful marriage is
recognized. To provide for the stability of the family, however,
and in order to protect it from hasty decisions under temporary
emotional stress, certain steps and waiting periods should be observed
by men and women seeking divorce. Considering the relatively more
emotional nature of women, a good reason for asking for divorce
should be brought before the judge. Like the man, however, the woman
can divorce her husband with out resorting to the court, if the
nuptial contract allows that.
More specifically, some aspects of Islamic Law concerning marriage
and divorce are interesting and are worthy of separate treatment.
When the continuation of the marriage relationship is impossible
for any reason, men are still taught to seek a gracious end for
The Qur'an states about such cases:
When you divorce women, and they reach their prescribed term,
then retain them in kindness and retain them not for injury so
that you transgress (the limits). (Qur'an 2:231). (See also Qur'an
2:229 and 33:49).
Islam considered kindness to parents next to the worship of God.
"And we have enjoined upon man (to be good) to his parents: His
mother bears him in weakness upon weakness..." (Qur'an 31:14)
(See also Qur'an 46:15, 29:8).
Moreover, the Qur'an has a special recommendation for the good
treatment of mothers:
"Your Lord has decreed that you worship none save Him, and that
you be kind to your parents. . ." (Qur'an 17:23).
A man came to Prophet Muhammad (P) asking:
O Messenger of God, who among the people is the most worthy
of my good company? The Prophet (P) said, Your mother. The man
said then who else: The Prophet (P) said, Your mother. The man
asked, Then who else? Only then did the Prophet (P) say, Your
father. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
A famous saying of The Prophet is "Paradise is at the feet of mothers."
(In Al'Nisa'I, Ibn Majah, Ahmad).
"It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it
is the wicked who insults them."
Islam decreed a right of which woman was deprived both before
Islam and after it (even as late as this century), the right of
independent ownership. According to Islamic Law, woman's right to
her money, real estate, or other properties is fully acknowledged.
This right undergoes no change whether she is single or married.
She retains her full rights to buy, sell, mortgage or lease any
or all her properties. It is nowhere suggested in the Law that a
woman is a minor simply because she is a female. It is also noteworthy
that such right applies to her properties before marriage as well
as to whatever she acquires thereafter.
With regard to the woman's right to seek employment it should
be stated first that Islam regards her role in society as a mother
and a wife as the most sacred and essential one. Neither maids nor
baby-sitters can possibly take the mother's place as the educator
of an upright, complex free, and carefully-reared children. Such
a noble and vital role, which largely shapes the future of nations,
cannot be regarded as "idleness".
However, there is no decree in Islam which forbids woman from
seeking employment whenever there is a necessity for it, especially
in positions which fit her nature and in which society needs her
most. Examples of these professions are nursing, teaching (especially
for children), and medicine. Moreover, there is no restriction on
benefiting from woman's exceptional talent in any field. Even for
the position of a judge, where there may be a tendency to doubt
the woman's fitness for the post due to her more emotional nature,
we find early Muslim scholars such as Abu-Hanifa and Al-Tabary holding
there is nothing wrong with it. In addition, Islam restored to woman
the right of inheritance, after she herself was an object of inheritance
in some cultures. Her share is completely hers and no one can make
any claim on it, including her father and her husband.
"Unto men (of the family) belongs a share of that which Parents
and near kindred leave, and unto women a share of that which parents
and near kindred leave, whether it be a little or much - a determinate
share." ((Qur'an 4:7).
Her share in most cases is one-half the man's share, with no implication
that she is worth half a man! It would seem grossly inconsistent
after the overwhelming evidence of woman's equitable treatment in
Islam, which was discussed in the preceding pages, to make such
an inference. This variation in inheritance rights is only consistent
with the variations in financial responsibilities of man and woman
according to the Islamic Law. Man in Islam is fully responsible
for the maintenance of his wife, his children, and in some cases
of his needy relatives, especially the females. This responsibility
is neither waived nor reduced because of his wife's wealth or because
of her access to any personal income gained from work, rent, profit,
or any other legal means.
Woman, on the other hand, is far more secure financially and is
far less burdened with any claims on her possessions. Her possessions
before marriage do not transfer to her husband and she even keeps
her maiden name. She has no obligation to spend on her family out
of such properties or out of her income after marriage. She is entitled
to the "Mahr" which she takes from her husband at the time of marriage.
If she is divorced, she may get an alimony from her ex-husband.
An examination of the inheritance law within the overall framework
of the Islamic Law reveals not only justice but also an abundance
of compassion for woman.
Any fair investigation of the teachings of Islam o~ into the history
of the Islamic civilization will surely find a clear evidence of
woman's equality with man in what we call today "political rights".
This includes the right of election as well as the nomination
to political offices. It also includes woman's right to participate
in public affairs. Both in the Qur'an and in Islamic history we
find examples of women who participated in serious discussions and
argued even with the Prophet (P) himself, (see Qur'an 58: 14 and
During the Caliphate of Omar Ibn al-Khattab, a woman argued with
him in the mosque, proved her point, and caused him to declare in
the presence of people: "A woman is right and Omar is wrong."
Although not mentioned in the Qur'an, one Hadeeth of the Prophet
is interpreted to make woman ineligible for the position of head
of state. The Hadeeth referred to is roughly translated: "A people
will not prosper if they let a woman be their leader." This limitation,
however, has nothing to do with the dignity of woman or with her
rights. It is rather, related to the natural differences in the
biological and psychological make-up of men and women.
According to Islam, the head of the state is no mere figurehead.
He leads people in the prayers, especially on Fridays and festivities;
he is continuously engaged in the process of decision-making pertaining
to the security and well-being of his people. This demanding position,
or any similar one, such as the Commander of the Army, is generally
inconsistent with the physiological and psychological make-up of
woman in general. It is a medical fact that during their monthly
periods and during their pregnancies, women undergo various physiological
and psychological changes. Such changes may occur during an emergency
situation, thus affecting her decision, without considering the
excessive strain which is produced. Moreover, some decisions require
a maximum of rationality and a minimum of emotionality - a requirement
which does not coincide with the instinctive nature of women.
Even in modern times, and in the most developed countries, it
is rare to find a woman in the position of a head of state acting
as more than a figurehead, a woman commander of the armed services,
or even a proportionate number of women representatives in parliaments,
or similar bodies. One can not possibly ascribe this to backwardness
of various nations or to any constitutional limitation on woman's
right to be in such a position as a head of state or as a member
of the parliament. It is more logical to explain the present situation
in terms of the natural and indisputable differences between man
and woman, a difference which does not imply any "supremacy" of
one over the other. The difference implies rather the "complementary"
roles of both the sexes in life.
The first part of this paper deals briefly with the position of
various religions and cultures on the issue under investigation.
Part of this exposition extends to cover the general trend as late
as the nineteenth century, nearly 1300 years after the Qur'an set
forth the Islamic teachings.
In the second part of the paper, the status of women in Islam
is briefly discussed. Emphasis in this part is placed on the original
and authentic sources of Islam. This represents the standard according
to which degree of adherence of Muslims can be judged. It is also
a fact that during the downward cycle of Islamic Civilization, such
teachings were not strictly adhered to by many people who profess
to be Muslims.
Such deviations were unfairly exaggerated by some writers, and
the worst of this, were superficially taken to represent the teachings
of "Islam" to the Western reader without taking the trouble to make
any original and unbiased study of the authentic sources of these
Even with such deviations three facts are worth mentioning:
1. The history of Muslims is rich with women of great achievements
in all walks of life from as early as the seventh century (B.C.)
2. It is impossible for anyone to justify any mistreatment of
woman by any decree of rule embodied in the Islamic Law, nor could
anyone dare to cancel, reduce, or distort the clear-cut legal rights
of women given in Islamic Law.
3. Throughout history, the reputation, chastity and maternal role
of Muslim women were objects of admiration by impartial observers.
It is also worthwhile to state that the status which women reached
during the present era was not achieved due to the kindness of men
or due to natural progress. It was rather achieved through a long
struggle and sacrifice on woman's part and only when society needed
her contribution and work, more especial!; during the two world
wars, and due to the escalation of technological change.
In the case of Islam such compassionate and dignified status was
decreed, not because it reflects the environment of the seventh
century, nor under the threat or pressure of women and their organizations,
but rather because of its intrinsic truthfulness.
If this indicates anything, it would demonstrate the divine origin
of the Qur'an and the truthfulness of the message of Islam, which,
unlike human philosophies and ideologies, was far from proceeding
from its human environment, a message which established such humane
principles as neither grew obsolete during the course of time and
after these many centuries, nor can become obsolete in the future.
After all, this is the message of the All-Wise and all-knowing God
whose wisdom and knowledge are far beyond the ultimate in human
thought and progress.
The Holy, Qur'an: Translation of verses is heavily based on A.
Yusuf Ali's translation, The Glorious Qur'an, text translation,
and Commentary, The American Trust Publication, Plainfield, IN 46168,
Abd Al-Ati, Hammudah, Islam in Focus, The American Trust Publications,
Plainfield, IN 46168, 1977.
Allen, E. A., History of Civilization, General Publishing House,
Cincinnati, Ohio, 1889, Vol. 3.
Al Siba'i, Mustafa, Al-Alar'ah Baynal Fiqh Walqanoon (in Arabic),
2nd. ea., Al-Maktabah Al-Arabiah, Halab, Syria, 1966.
El-Khouli, Al-Bahiy, "Min Usus Kadiat Al-Mara'ah" (in Arabic),
A 1- Waay A l-lslami, Ministry of Walcf, Kuwait, Vol.3 (No. 27),
June 9, 1967, p.17.
Encyclopedia Americana (International Edition), American Corp.,
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Encyclopedia Biblica (Rev.T.K.Cheynene and J.S.Black, editors),
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The Encyclopedia Britannica, (11 th ed.), University Press Cambridge,
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Encyclopedia Britannica, The Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago,
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Hadeeth. Most of the quoted Hadeeth were translated by the writer.
They are quoted in various Arabic sources. Some of them, however,
were translated directly from the original sources. Among the sources
checked are Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal Dar AlMa'aref, Cairo, U.A.R.,
1950, and 1955, Vol.4 and 3,SunanIbnMajah, Dar Ihya'a Al-Kutub al-Arabiah,
Cairo, U.A.R., 1952, Vol.l, Sunan al-Tirimidhi, Vol.3.
Mace, David and Vera, Marriage: East and West, Dolphin Books,
Doubleday and Co., Inc., N.Y., 1960.