Posted by a western women on postsecret.com
The inspiration for this blog was a ‘retort’ by a reader to my comment about how the equality of colors, caste and creeds preached by Islam helped eliminate racism amongst Muslims. Unable –or unwilling- to refute the evidence I gave; he altered course: “So Hassan, pray tell, where do women stand in this wonderful democratic system”? And thus for the ‘umpteenth time’ I was confronted with yet another westerner convinced about the evils of Islam based on wrongly fed notions about the ‘ill treatment of women in Islam’.
I had never worried about the issue since I knew through personal experience what great respect and rights women enjoy in Muslim society. Yet since the question has been asked, I need to reply.
First I would like to reframe the question –and answer it myself. This is the same thing most ‘western’ critics of Islam do .My doing so is intended to clarify to the reader what westerners do when tacking this issue. So, Incognito pray tell, where do women stand in the wonderful western democratic system of yours! Let’s see, shall we? Three out of every four married Nicaraguan women are abused In the USA– allegedly the most civilized western country – one in six of every female over 12 has been a victim of rape. you Want to know more? In any year about 1 million sex offenders serve US jail sentences. In 1994 alone there was one rape for every 270 females 12 years old and older, one robbery for every 240 women, one assault for every 29 women and one homicide for every 23,000 women.
Monstrous isn’t it? Yet the real state is far worse for we are told that the above figures may represent only 1/3 of the actual occurrences as “many factors inhibit women from reporting victimizations”, including shame, fear of the stigma attached with the victimization, and a belief in the futility of reporting. Quite apart from these obnoxious crimes is the legal exploitation of women by the advertising media, Holly wood, the porno industry, and the sex service ‘trade’; where trillions of dollars are earned by marketing women as a sex symbol -while the family values, the morals and resultantly – the values of the nations, goes to dogs.
And once these sex goddesses –or even the toiling masses- have been milked dry, and the wrinkles take over; most have to live out their lives in the misery of old peoples homes- instead of a loving family to care for them.
Yet what would you think of my mental abilities if I were to blame the above on the teachings of Christ? Are these the crimes of present day Americans or the teachings of Christianity? Jesus was more communalistic then evens the communists! The Virgin Mary never went around with an uncovered head; and even the nuns keep alive that tradition today -but only the nuns and Islamic Muslimas!
The western men decided long ago they wanted ‘greener pastures’; and so their women complied. Till at last it appears only nuns in the flimsiest t-strings, singing ‘pop’ hymns as the choir, will be able to draw most of such ‘enlightened ones’ to any future Sunday church service.
So while the attribution of these crimes against women to the teachings of Christ may be ridiculous, an attribution to western ‘enlightenment’ may perhaps be more reasonable. In a similar vein western writers who love to write about the oppression of women in Islam; picking on issues like women not being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, forced marriages, child brides, honor killings, wife beatings, wearing of head scarves etc …are guilty of mixing their facts. They know fully well none of the above, except for the head scarf or the ‘hijab’ has anything to do with Islamic teachings .Yet they insist on presenting these cultural acts as the religious teachings of Islam –only to give greater force to their anti-Islam arguments!
As for the ‘hijab’ it should be obvious by now why Islam places such great emphasis on this as a proper dress code for Muslim women. In all ages we have recognized professions – and therefore how we treat people – by the dress they wear. Don’t we identify a laborer, an executive, a police person, a judge, a priest, a nun – name any profession this way; and tailor our expectations and demands accordingly? I apologies for what I am going to state next in case it offend any body, but this is the best way I know of making my point.
Quite obviously the dress code applies in even greater measure to the oldest profession in the world. If we reduce the dress code of our sisters, our wives ,our mother –even grand mothers- nay of all women, to that which the most shameless hookers of a few decades back would be reluctant to wear in public ,what dignity are we leaving them –or propelling them towards? The dress code of Muslim women plays a priceless role in this regards – it guarantees the preservation of her dignity by unmistakably proclaiming both her role as well as her resolve.
The Status of Women before the Advent of Islam
In order to see where women stand in Islam we have to see where they stood before the advent of Islam. Western civilization is rooted in three older sources-Greek, Roman and Christianity. In all three women were treated most atrociously–yet I must admit that their treatment in Arabia and the sub-continent was even worse; for the first buried alive their baby daughters on birth; and the second burned the widows on their husband’s funeral pyre! But as you shall see even in the better ones, the women particularly the married ones, were treated no better then slaves:
The Rights of Women in Ancient Greece. In Athens, a woman was subject to and controlled by men throughout her life – if unmarried by her father during his life, other wise by the nearest blood relations. In the absence of blood relations, the extended family would take charge .On marriage – for which her consent was not needed – her husband took control, and any property she might later inherit went directly to his name.
Greek women had no political or legal rights. They could not vote; sign any document or contract, or be a part of any state office or organization. They weren’t even allowed to watch the Olympic Games. Jobs that a woman could perform in the public sphere were restricted to child bearing and rising, weddings, funerals and public religious festivals in which women played prominent public roles in honoring the gods.
Simonides depicted women as ‘the consumer of men, their sex, their strength, their food, and their wealth, and the instigator of all evils in the world; yet without her, society cannot continue’. Euripides in his book ‘Meda’ writes; ‘If only children could be got some other way without the female sex! If women didn’t exist, human life would be rid of all its miseries’. Many scenes on Greek Pottery depict women – but these are working women, dancing girls or prostitutes!
So the Greeks had little respect for women, who were kept as chattels and pictured as slaves to men’s desires. Surprisingly how ever the females amongst divinity were the most adored of Greek gods!
The Rights of Women in Ancient Rome. The status of women in Rome was no different. Amongst the Greek, a Roman woman was a life long ward, incapable of doing or acting according to her own free will. On marriage, she and her property went into the hold of her husband. She could not witness, be a surety, curator or tutor; nor could she make a will or sign a contract. She could however witness only in cases of treason and witchcraft. Her role in the public religious ceremonies was reduced, and taken over by the institution of the Vestal Virgins.
Women did have a few legal privileges, justified on the grounds of bodily weakness and presumed mental incapacity!!! Thus she could plead ignorance of law as a ground for dissolving an obligation, which a man could not. And in certain cases she was exempt from torture.
Further, women could not obtain citizenship, she could not be adopted or adopt. She could not hold state office –in fact the women were only to be seen and not heard, for they were not even allowed to make suggestions. In short she was a purchased property of her husband, and like a slave acquired only for his benefit.
All this changed for the better in the last century of the Empire, when a new form of marriage was introduced. The wife was no longer placed under the authority of her husband, but allowed to remain under the authority of her family. The Upper class women could achieve release from family control and hire an agent to manage their finances .Thus despite a few remaining disabilities—such as not being able to stand surety ,or witness to a will, or sign a contract, the position of women had become one of greater independence. They could now hold, aquire, sell, lease and manage property through hired agents.
Also in these later days Roman leaders as well as Romans in general, started listening to the advice of their wives; they also acted as hostesses when the husband’s friends visited, and grand mothers were actively involved in advisory role in the raising of children. Women thus acquired a genuine influence in family affairs.
The Rights of Women in Christianity. The status of women became worse then ever with the advent of Christianity. The Early Church Fathers blamed women for ‘the fall of man’, and were particularly zealous in condemning her for this. Thus she was required to live in continual penance on account of the curse she brought on man; her dress was something to be ashamed of, it being a memorial of her fall; her beauty too was the most potent instrument of the devil. She represented the door of hell being the mother of all human ills. Tertullian in particular attacked women in the most venomous terms:
“Do you know that you’re an Eve?”
– You are the devil’s gateway
– You are the unsealed of that forbidden tree
– You are the first deserters of the divine law
– You are she who persuades him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.
– You destroy so easily God’s image, man.
No wonder Christianity reversed what ever small gains women had made under the Roman system –and kept them enslaved in their bitter chains for the next over 1800 years-burning millions of them as witches! In particular the canon law, looked with disfavor on female independence, and re-introduced the absolute subjection in all things, of the wife to the husband. The rationale being if husband and wife are “one body” before God, they are “one person” in the law and that “one person” is represented by the husband!
This was used to hound the Christian married women back to the state of an Athenian wife. Having no legal entity of her own; she could not vote, own, buy, deal with property, handle her own earnings, write her own will, be the legal guardian of her own children –in short do anything independently. As late as 1855 Caroline S. Norton writing a letter to the Queen, reviewing the position of married women under English law. Western women till then had not started the movement for their liberation, and so hadn’t become bold enough to demand social and political rights. She lists 12 points which are a remarkable indictment of the injustices western women still faced in regards to financial and material independence.Incidently each one of these –and more- Islam granted immediately more then 1400 years back to Muslim women:
1. A married woman has no legal existence whether or not she is living with her husband;
2. Her property becomes his property;
3. She cannot make a will; the law gives what she has to her husband despite her desires or his behavior;
4. She may not keep even her earnings (Which in Caroline’s case she earned from writing books);
5. He may sue for restitution of conjugal rights and thus force her, as if a slave to return to his home;
6. She is not allowed to defend herself in divorce;
7. She cannot divorce him since the House of Lords in effect will not grant a divorce to her;
8. She cannot sue for libel;
9. She cannot sign a lease or transact business;
10. She cannot claim support from her husband, his only obligation is to make sure she doesn’t land in the parish poorhouse – if he has means;
11. She cannot bind her husband to any agreement.
12. In short, as her husband, he has the right to all that is hers; as his wife she has no right to anything that is his-or even what is her own!
This then was a world in which women groaned under the tyranny and contempt of man; unable even to question their slave like status, let alone demand basic human and civic rights. The Greeks treated them as chattels ,the Romans as slaves, and the Christians as shameful –and hateful objects- made only for procreation and exploitation and likely to lead them to hell. Even as late as the eighteenth century their church councils wondered if women had a soul or could enter paradise!
It was thus a time when man could be God –and even ordinary men god’s images. Yet it was also a time when the gods made earth a hell for a woman.
The Liberation of Women by Islam.
In an era of such darkness, from its darkest corner; where a female baby could be buried alive on birth; shone forth a blazing beacon of hope, and liberation. The deserts of Arabia reverberated to the calls of a long awaited deliverer: “We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures” (Surah Al-Anbiyah v 107)
It was a message for the entire world, but accepted by the Arabs alone. And what a message it turned out to be for those who accepted it ; for within a generation it converted a lowly, despised, powerless and uneducated people into world leaders in every field – ethics, morality, justice, good governance, education, arts, sciences, military –you name it. Within this same period defeating all the super powers –and ideologies- of the time; they emerged as the first creators of a uni-polar world.
“A mercy for all creatures”! Indeed!! An empty boast or a genuine claim? Since the oppressed and deprived women of the world were almost half the world’s population , it would be a sorry claim indeed were it to fail in freeing women from their sorry fate. Let’s see how Islam in fact did do just that.
Proclaiming Absolute Equality of the Sexes. In a world which viewed women as the inferior and even wondered if they possessed a soul; a re-establishment of a proper balance in the dignity, value and worth of women was an essential prelude – a necessary first step –to the emancipation of women. Islam did this by preaching absolute equality of both sexes in moral, religious and spiritual aspects – their standing in the sight of God if you may. Islam taught such equality even in the pre-existence stage. It looks on the ‘ruh’ or spirit as the real existence. The ‘ruh’is eternal, it existed before it was placed into the body, and continues to exist after the body dies. In this pre-existence phase The Quran describes the Lord taking a testimony from all ‘ruhs’:
“Am I not your Lord (Who cherishes & sustains you)? They said: “yea! We do testify!” (Surah A`araf v 172).
Clearly in pre-existence they were all equal -they were all there! She is an equal testifier along with all others. God makes no separate testament with men or women. Can you even imagine what a great boost this would have been to the status of women who till then were led to believe they were the ‘the lowest of the low’. This perception of equality in the sight of God is further reinforced by the verses on physical creation:
O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women; (Surah Nisa v 1). … And also…“We created humanity in the best of moulds”.(Surah Tin v 95).
Oh! How amazingly uplifting for the world’s despised women .One can imagine the joy and relief which must have swept through them. I can almost picture it: “Hey! Did you hear? Muhammad (p) just declared we and men are created from the same source! And from the best of moulds too!! We have absolute equality and men can claim no superiority”!!!…perhaps adding triumphantly…. “How can they now deny, what Allah himself asks Muhammad (p) to proclaim?”
Demolishing the Other Myths about Women. But just one blow could never bring low the chain of falsehoods which people like Tertullian had forged to enslave women. And so each of these is attacked individually:
The Quran denies the belief that women are more evil then men: Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions (Surah Nahal v 97).
It declares as false the equally erroneous belief that women could not enter –or would find it more difficult to enter- heaven: “if any do deeds of righteousness, be they male or female and have faith, they will enter Heaven and not the least injustice will be done to them.” (Surah Nisa v124)
It teaches Muslims to stay away from the rubbish about women being the devil’s gateway; the source of all evil or the doors to hell; by informing them: The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise. (Surah Tawba v 71)
It declares false the belief that man has a greater role to play in society, by assigning the same broad seven goals to all “Muslim”, “devoted” and “believing” men and women–:
“Verily, for all men and women who have surrendered themselves unto God, and all believing men and believing women, and all truly devout men and truly devout 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 Ahzab v 35)
It denounces the equally widely held nonsense that man would get greater reward for his efforts –in this world or the next- because of his greater role ;or because of women’s part in the ‘fall of man’: To men is allotted what they earn and to women what they earn but ask God of His bounty. For God hath full knowledge of all things.” (Surah Nisa v 32)
Women’s Rights in Islam. Raising the status of women in ‘the sight of God’ by itself would be just psychological word play; unless real steps were initiated to free women from the clutches of men. Islam did this through an immediate promulgation of rights which could empower women. As I shall show here women in Islam were freely given those rights which it took women in other societies another about 1400 years to secure even partially –and then after a violent ‘women’s lib movement’! I hope therefore that the reader will be able to see that in the history of humankind, none worked harder or had more influence upon advancement of women’s rights, then the teachings of the Prophet and the verses of the Quran.
Islam considers the family as the smallest and basic social structure of society. While both have equal responsibility for the overall well being of the family, it considers man as only the protector and sustainer of this unit at all times ; and the woman as its chief nourisher. She has the more important role of raising and molding the future generations. Women therefore always stay a part of the original family even after marriage, on divorce or even after becoming widows –and the head of the family is always responsible(out of his own assets) for ensuring their dignity and security. Also Islam gives as you will see greater respect, dignity and right of obedience to women so as to enable her to perform this role.
Islam treats women in four broad social categories; Woman in general, the mother, the wife and the daughter. It grants all women some basic rights; and then specifies additional ones for each category; the aim being complete emancipation of the women, while also ensuring greater dignity, social responsibility, security, and empowerment commensurate with responsibilities within each category. Let’s have a look at some of those rights:
1. Right to Intellectual Freedom. Islam lays great emphasis on gaining knowledge as a means of proper insight and understanding. Repeatedly The Quran asks Muslims to observe and reflect on creation as a means of gaining knowledge. The Prophet (p) declared, “The pursuit of knowledge is a duty of every Muslim, man and woman”, and also advised his followers to “go to China to gain knowledge’ “if needed. Muslims were expected to attain faith and belief as a result of enquiry and study. As the Quran states: There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the true path is clearly distinct from error….and also asks ….So, will you (O Muhammad) then compel mankind so they will become believers?
At a time when elsewhere the world was not ready to listen to a women’s advice-or even accept them as tutors of children, Islam extended the same rights to intellectual freedom and education to its women as it gave to the men. This was considered essential for their role as molders of the character of its future citizens.
Women used to compete with men in attaining knowledge at the mosque and at the houses of Muhammad. At their request he also set aside a special day for teaching them so that they could be better in religion knowledge; better mothers and wives; and better members of the society. The result was that in an age in which women elsewhere were considered incapable of looking after them; Islam produced great women scholars in the fields of medicine, sciences, and religion. Based on this knowledge they could even guide a commander of the faithful (constitutional advice) if he was erring or humble a tyrant if he became too arrogant or even take over leadership if men were unavailable or had become united in disobedience of God’s commands.
Thus once when Hazrat Umar (p), the second caliph of Islam, was considering putting an upper limit on the ‘Mahr’, to encourage young men to get married earlier, – a lady from the back seat objected and said: “The Quran says’ you can even give a heap of treasure, a heap of gold in ‘Mahr’ (Surah Nisa v 20) who are you to put a limit?” Immediately the caliph admitted: ‘Umar is wrong and the lady is right’. Imagine, she was a common lady – if she had been a famous lady, the name would be mentioned in the Hadith.So even a common lady could object to a ‘breach of the constitution’ by the head of the state! All she needed was the necessary knowledge of the law.
And then a time came when a ruthless Muslim tyrant for the sake of a throne massacred the grandsons of the holy prophet along with 72 male members of the family and their followers. Bibi Zainab grand daughter of the Holy Prophet (p), along with the surviving women and children – after being paraded through Yazids Empire as rebels and trophies of war- were brought in chains to his court. This is where Yazid planned their final humiliation-a breaking of their will if you must.
Yazid had assembled all the foreign ambassadors, dignitaries and officers of his capital for that occasion. When the prisoners were brought in, they saw that Imam Hussein’s head was at the foot of Yazid’s throne. Yazid was joyfully reciting some poems in which he openly rejected the Prophet hood of Prophet Muhammad (p) and called on his ancestors (who were killed by the Muslim army in the battle of Badr) to witness the revenge which he had extracted from the family of the Prophet.
Under such emotionally charged circumstances Lady Zaynab bin Ali, stood up to give a powerful rebuttal: “In the name of God, the Beneficent, and the Merciful. All praise is due to God, the Lord of the Universe, God’s blessings be on His Messenger’s Family.
In the long run evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil; for that they rejected the Signs of God, and held them up to ridicule. (Surah 30 v 10)
“Do you, O Yazid, think that – when you blocked all our avenues of the earth and the horizons of the heavens before us, so we were driven as captives – that we are worthless in the eyes of Allah and that you are respectful in His eyes? ………………. But wait! Have you forgotten that Allah said?
Do not regard those who disbelieved that we grant them good for themselves? We only give them a respite so that they may increase their sins, and for them there is a humiliating torment. (3:178)
So scheme whatever you wish to scheme, and carry out your plots, and intensify your efforts, for, by Allah, you shall never be able to obliterate our mention, nor will you ever be able to kill the revelation (that was revealed to us), nor will you ever exault our position, nor will your shame ever be washed away. Your view shall be proven futile, your days limited in number, and your wealth wasted on the Day when the caller calls out,
“The curse of Allah be upon the oppressors.” (11:18)
It was a stirring and bold speech, with each sentence loaded with such symbolism and imagery as to have the court weeping at the evil they were witnessing. This was to set the ball rolling to waken the consciousness of the Muslims, till in a few years the worlds most powerful empire crumbled at the hands of those seeking revenge – an empire which was so powerful that even its sole survivor proved powerful enough to set up Muslim rule in Spain. Her full speech is here
After such powerful demonstrations as the two above of the role educated women had taken on as molders of a nations character and protectors of it’s laws and values ,it is no wonder that successive despots through out Islamic history, have tried their best to deprive women of their right to education and intellectual freedom.
2. Equal Components of Society. To a world accustomed to looking down upon women as ‘the consumer of men, and the instigator of all evils’, The Quran declared that: ‘The men and the women they are maintainers and supporters of each other. (Surah Taubah v 71)The word ‘Auliya’ here means ‘supporters’ and ‘maintainers’ – hence the Islamic custom of the use of the word brother or sister for the opposite sex. All the rights of Islamic women flow from this basic right of being helpers and supporters of – and expecting help and support from – men. This includes the additional specials rights granted to daughters, wife’s and mothers which we will consider separately
3. Right to Inheritance. While Islam did not invent the right of inheritance, it did how ever lay down fixed ratio’s in which women would inherit from the properties of not only their parents, but also the relatives and husbands. Men have a share of what their parents and relatives leave behind, and women have a share of what their parents and relatives leave behind, whether the estate be small or large – a legal share. (Qur’an 4:7) More over by declaring that all property was held as a trust from God, to be legally passed on to all inheritors; it ensured that the usual mechanizations to deprive women of their property were eliminated.
4. Right to Really Own Her Property. From day one Islam gave adult Muslim women the right to fully manage and enjoy her property. She could own, buy, dispose or disown any property, irrespective of whether she was married or single; thus eliminating it’s transfer in the name of ‘guardian husbands, fathers or brothers’ which left her with no control over it. The west only gave this right to its women in 1870, when England first gave it to married women.
5. Right to Work .Islam gave its women the same rights to work as men. They could opt for any job as long as it was not unlawful i.e. had anything to do with sex, liquor, gambling, unethical or dishonest business, or jobs dealing with interest dealing securities or institutions. The important differences were that the women had no financial or military obligations –these being entirely the duty of men, hence she was not obliged to work or join jihad. She could how ever do either if she wished –or if it became imperative. Even then no one could force her .The choice had to be hers. She can also ask to be paid for any house hold chores she does. The second requirement is to keep in mind the requirements of hijab at her place of work. Once a woman came to the Prophet complaining that some men forbade her from working on her farm. Allah’s Messenger (p) told her: “Go work your date palms; for perhaps you might give some charity or do acts of righteousness. And so since the dawn of Islam, women have engaged in many occupations such as education, medicine, commerce, agriculture, and manufacturing.
6. Right to Her Earnings. Till as late as the last quarter of the 19th century, western women had absolutely no say in even how the wages they earned through their own efforts were spent. As against this the Muslim women could always retain her earnings and use them as they wished –their husbands having no right over it! Islam obliged its men to spend a (considerable) portion of their earnings on the maintenance of the household, wife/wives and children.
7. Right to a Marriage Contract. While continuing to lay the responsibility for marriage on the parents, Islam did away with three notorious customs which reduced woman to a chattel after marriage. First it did away with the evil practice of paying a ‘bride price’ to the father which was rampant in the world since Nomadic times and instead made it a Mehr (compulsory gift to the bride) which she could use or spend any way she liked. Second it disallowed marriage with out the girls consent and third it made marriage a written contract rather then a status which had been the world wide practice till then. This is a right which the west is now getting round to framing in their ‘pre-nuptial contracts’. More details on the marriage contract when we get to ‘legal rights given to daughters by Islam’.
8. General Right to Divorce. A wife can ask for divorce if she believed that continuing the marriage relationship would do her more harm than good. Or if her husband fails to support her even if despite her having own resources. She can even get alimony from her ex-husband. For other grounds for divorce see ‘rights to daughters’ below.
9. Special Right to Support When Pregnant. The Quran orders, “And if they’re pregnant, then spend (your sustenance on them until they give birth. And if they suckled your children, you should pay them for it, and take mutual counsel together, according to what is just and reasonable, and if you find yourselves in difficulties, let another woman suckle the baby on the fathers behalf.”(Qur’an 65:6).
10. Political Rights of Women .In spite of politics being a very limited activity in those days, we find the Muslim women granted full rights to participate in what ever was considered political activity in those days. One form of such activity was ‘Hijrat’ or emigration as famously practiced by the Holy prophet when he migrated to Medina to practice and propagate his message with greater freedom. Another was participation in the selection of, and swearing of allegiance to leaders. Yet another was mutual consultation and rendering of advise for the better, regarding the day to day affairs of the Muslim state .We find that the holy scriptures support equal participation of women in all such affairs: “And their affairs are by mutual consultation”, a general text which applies equally to both men and women. But this is made even clearer by other texts like: “The believers, men and women, are protectors of one another; they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong”.
So we find innumerable examples of Muslim women participating independently in all these activities right from the dawn of Islam.e.g. Umm Kulthûm bint `Uqbah and Umm Salamah (may Allah be pleased with them both) who emigrated independently; women like Umm Salamah who advised the Holy Prophet(p) and Bibi Aisha(p) who advised subsequent caliphs and scholars. As for allegiance to leaders apart from the verses of the Quran given above, we also have many recorded cases of women participating in the selection process, and the swearing of allegiance to various caliphs.
Special Rights for Individual Categories of Women
Special Rights for Mothers
1.Right of Mothers to Greater Love and Respect the Holy Quran states: ‘We have enjoined on the human beings to be kind to his parents. In pain did their mother bore them and in pain did she give them birth’. (Surah Ahqaf 46:15).The mothers are given more respect because of the pains of giving birth. This is in sharp contrast to other cultures where the pains are a sign of humiliation and eternal punishment. Thus the Quran also enjoins: ‘Respect the womb that bore you’. (Surah Nisa 4:1) .And the holy prophet declares: ‘Paradise lies at the feet of the mother’. On another occasion when a man asked The holy Prophet (p): ‘Who requires the maximum love and respect and my companionship in this world? He replied – ‘your mother’. ‘Who is next’? – ‘your mother’. ‘Who is next?’ – ‘your mother’. The man asked for the fourth time, – ‘Who is next’. The Prophet (p) replied ‘your father’. And so the mother deserves three times the love and respect due to a father!
2. Right to Care and Love in Old Age. Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. (Qur’an 17:23) .And so no old peoples home for Muslim parents!
Did you ever hear any man proclaim such rights to obedience and respect for women before –or even after- The great prophet Muhammad (p)?
Special Rights to Daughters
1. The Right to Life. Islam put an immediate end to the evil practice of killing baby girls. The holy Quran asked the Arabs what they would say on judgment day: ‘when the female child is buried alive and when she questions you, for what crime was she killed’. (Surah Taqveem 81:8-9).Muhammad (p) reinforced his message with announcements like: Whosoever has a daughter and does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favor his son over her, Allah will enter him into Paradise. …And… Whosoever supports two daughters until they mature, he and I will come on the Day of Judgment as this (and he pointed with his two fingers held together)? Within a generation girl infanticide was finished. Compare that say to a country like India where even now millions of baby girls are killed before delivery every year; and huge bill-boards declare, “spend Rs500 and save Rest 500,000”- meaning save the expense of raising and marrying a girl!!
2. The Right to a Good Name. One of the foremost duties on parents is to give the girl a good name- it evokes good feelings in others and also raises her self esteem. Thus most Muslim girls are named after female icons of purity e.g. Mary (mother of Jesus) or Fatima (daughter of Muhammad-p) or given names like Nur Jehan(light of the world) or Shagufta(rose bud or fresh fragrance etc).Initially this too had the immediate impact of helping eliminate girl infanticide by awakening a feeling of love for girls.
3. The Right to a Good & Equitable Upbringing. In the pre-Islamic era, children were considered to be properties of their fathers to be bought or sold, or sacrificed to gods, or raised as the father felt. Islam did away with this proclaiming they were a trust from God held by the father: “Every one of your (people) is a shepherd. And every one is responsible for whatever falls under his responsibility. A man is like a shepherd of his own family, and he is responsible for them. And also ‘Kill not your children for want of sustenance for it is Allah that will provide sustenance for you and for children’. (Surah Al An am 6:151).Children were thus given the right to be properly brought up, raised and educated. Children were also given the right to be treated equally in educational and financial terms as well as love and affection. Islam extended these rights to the girls, with the provision that all children be treated equally. ‘In the presence of the Prophet, once a man kissed his son and placed him on his lap but did not do the same to his daughter. The Prophet immediately objected and said that you are unjust – You should have even kissed your daughter and placed her on the other lap’. Prophet Muhammad (p) was also reported as saying: “Be fair and just in terms of the gifts you offer your children. If I was to give preference to any (gender over the other) I would have preferred females over males (in terms of giving gifts).”
4. Right to a Happy Marriage. Islam taught that it was the right of girls to be married as soon as they came of marriageable age. Allah’s Apostle(p) said: Ali, there are three matters which should not be deferred: the Prayer when its time is due, the funeral as soon it is ready, and the case of a woman without a husband, when there is a suitable (spouse) for her in her class.
Special Rights to Wives.
1. The Right to Dignity. All the previous civilizations, held women to be an ‘instrument of the devil’. The Quran refers to women as ‘Mohsana’, that is a ‘fortress against the devil’. It considers good women as a garment and support for a husband as she can shield him from many devilish acts like excessive drinking and gambling, sexual promiscuity, fornication and homosexuality – which lead to the grossest erosion of family and moral values. The Quran expresses this idea when it says:’ your wives are your garments, and you are their garments’. (Surah Baqarah 2:187). The Holy Prophet (p) reinforces this with his saying: The whole world is a provision, and the best object of benefit of the world is the pious woman.
2. Right of Consent to Marriage. Islam did away with the thought that girls consent was unnecessary for her marriage. The Holy Quran says: ‘You are prohibited to inherit women against their will’ Surah Nisa, Ch.4v19, and Allah’s Messenger (peace is upon him) said: “A previously married woman has more rights over herself, and a virgin must have her permission sought.” There are cases where the Holy Prophet (p)annulled the marriages of women who were married against their will.’ a lady was forced by her father to marry against her wishes’ – And she went to the Prophet(p) and the Prophet(p) invalidated the marriage’..Also in another Hadith: ‘a daughter was forced by her father to get married – And when the daughter approached the Prophet, the Prophet said you can either continue, or if you wish you can invalidate the marriage.’
3. Right of Marriage Contract. Before Islam marriage was a status-and a one sided one at that; in that the wife was reduced to the status of a chattel with no say in her own affairs. Islam changed this into a contract between the spouses in which the two agree to share rights and responsibilities to develop a happy family. According to Surah Nisa, Ch.4, Verse No.21, marriage is a sacred contract entered upon by both participants who vow to be ruled by the established law of Allah. Surah Baqarah, Ch.2, Verse No.187, which says: The consent of the girl is essential for the completion of the marriage.
Both the bride and groom may make any stipulations provided they are not in violation of the laws of Islam. It is customary for marriage contracts to be written down, when either side makes a stipulation. Customary stipulations include, can include giving up or demanding certain responsibilities, specifying where the couple will live, a prohibition on the husband marrying other women (a wife has the right to annul the marriage if her husband violates this condition), specifying whether or not the first wife will allow the husband to take a second wife without her consent, whether or not the wife has the right to initiate divorce, and other such matters.(Islam does not allow right of divorce to women under normal circumstance).
A husband demanding dowry from the wife, directly or indirectly is prohibited in Islam. If the parents of the girl give the girl something out of their own free will, it is accepted. Also Islam did away with the bride money paid to the girl’s father. Instead the bride receives the Mehr in marriage, which is the exclusive right of the woman. This Mehr may be paid at once after the solemnization (Nikah) of marriage or any time in life. But if it is not paid during the lifetime, it is considered a debt and like all other debts must be paid from the legacy of the deceased even before distribution of property among the legal heirs. Like any debt the bride of her free will may forgive the debt.
After a lady is married, it was the duty of the husband to provide her with the Religious education. If he couldn’t do it himself, and if she wanted, he should allow her to go somewhere else to acquire the education
Widows were granted the right to re-marry after a suitable period of mourning ‘Iddah’ for their dead husbands. Divorced women are also allowed to re-marry. The rights and contract are exactly the same as given above. In case of divorce, she is given financial support for the period of ‘Iddah’ – and if she has children, she is also given child support
4. Right to Equality.’ Treat your wives on a footing of equity and kindness even if you dislike her – For you may be disliking a thing for which Allah has made good for you’. (Surah Nisa, 4:19).However The Holy Quran also says: ‘the women have been given rights similar against them on equitable terms but the men have a degree higher’. (Surah Baqarah 2:228).There is no contradiction here as the word ‘Kawwam’ meaning one degree higher come from ‘Ikamah’ meaning to standup; so here it means one degree higher in responsibility for protection-and not superiority over women. This right to equality is emphasized so much, that even for household jobs like cooking, house cleaning or washing clothes a woman can not be forced to do so. It is only allowed if she wishes to do so herself-and even then if she wishes she can demand payment for the job.
5. Right to Protection and Maintenance. And here is the explanation of why men are a degree higher not only in protection but also in maintenance. ‘The men are the protectors and maintainers of the women, for Allah (SWT) has given one of them more strength than the other and they give them their means’. (Surah Nisa 4:34). Irrespective of how rich the wife is, it is the duty of the husband to give lodging, boarding, and clothing and look after the financial aspects of the wife and children.
6. Right to love and kindness The Quran says : ‘And amongst our signs We have created for you mates or companions, so that you may dwell in them in tranquility and we have put love and mercy between your hearts’. (Surah Rum 30:21) The Prophet (p) said: “The best among you is the one who is the best towards his wife.”
7. Right To Family Care if Widowed or Divorced. If she becomes a widow or is divorced, she reverts her back to the paternal home where she is looked after with love and affection. The Holy Prophet (p) said, “should I not tell you what is the best charity” That you should show kindness to that daughter who(becoming a widow or having been divorced) has been returned to you, and who has no other maintainer or supporter.”
Conclusion. Arab women were amazed; and took to voting with their feet! Many converted even though their fathers, husbands, and the rest of their male relatives remained disbelievers. Thus Umm Habîbah, the daughter of Abû Sufyan converted, even though her father was the leader of the forces opposing Muhammad. Umm Kulthûm, the daughter of `Uqbah accepted Islam and emigrated in spite of the fact that every member of her family remained polytheists.Fatimah, the sister of ‘Hazrat Umar(p)’the second Caliph of Islam became Muslim before he did. There were many women who pre-ceded their husbands in converting to Islam including Umm Sulaym – the wife of Abû Talhah, and Umm Hakîm the wife of `Ikrimah. Women thus formed a considerable portion of the early converts to Islam, and proved an important factor in the early success of Islam by converting their relatives.
How could the matter have been any different? No matter which aspect you look at Muslim women had to be overjoyed at the rights Islam gave them. Islamic criminal law, offered equal protection to the life and property for men or women –for sons as or daughters, for wives as for widows. The punishment for crimes was also the same .An Islamic woman was always as equal a citizen as the men. She could legally manage her own property and money as she wished, and raise her children in accordance with her own wishes. She could own, hold, acquire, sell, lease and manage property, spending her earnings as she liked. She was able to sue, stand witness, be a surety, curator or tutor even great scholars –leave alone children; she could make a will or sign a contract, bind her husband to an agreement, get a separation from husband, or transact a business. She had equal rights to work, education –and even participation in public affairs. And all this at least 1500 years before any other civilization gave those same rights to its women. That is why in spite of all the hue and cry in the west, there has never been a serious ‘women’s lib movement’ in Islam.
It says much for our Holy prophet’s(p) commitment to the cause of rights for women that even in his farewell address where he informed the Muslims this would be his last Hajj amongst them he did not forget their cause:
“O people it is true that you have rights with regards to your women, but they also have rights over you. If they abide by your rights, then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your parents and committed helpers. It is your right that they do no make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve as well as they never committed adultery…….. Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers” (Last sermon of Prophet (p).
I will end this by giving the views of three very educated women who have studied this issue deeply. One a prize winning and respected British journalist who converted to Islam after studying it, second a British women and a Christian who did a BBC program on women’s rights in Islam and finally a women studying in a Canadian University.
Yvonne Ridley converted to Islam after reading the rights and dignity it gave to Muslim women. And says “Do you know, five years ago I had never even heard of The Prophet (p), but now I would give my last drop of blood to protect his name, his honor and his memory”.
Next the views of a Muslim student at a western university: “It is the desire to please popular culture that makes 15 year old girls want to fit into Kate Moss’s jeans by sticking their fingers down their throats and wretching (throwing up) three times a day. It is the unattainable Perfect-Body society has conjured, that make “fat”, “ugly” girls splatter themselves on sidewalks because they just are “not thin and pretty enough”. AND THEY TELL ME ISLAM OPPRESSES WOMEN??. I am thankful that I am not suicidal or psychologically unbalanced because I can’t meet the demands of my culture. I am quite content with my religion, for it values my power to achieve great things through my mind, not through my body.
And these are the views of Mary Walker Production Coordinator on the BBC2 series “Living Islam”, after interviewing women in 19 Muslim countries. She gave these in an article written after completing this series: “When I joined the team of “Living Islam” two years ago, my perception of Islam was dominated by prejudice and ignorance, and I found its treatment of women abhorrent…… The emancipated woman in the West faces the conflict between confirmation of her femininity and the privileges that she associates with it, and repudiation of the confines of her female role and all the limitations that men want her to assume………
By choosing to wear the veil, these women were making a conscious decision to define their role in society and their relationship with men. That relationship appeared to be based more on exchange and mutual respect (a respect that was often lacking in the personal relationships I saw in the West)…….
To some extent, they were freer than me – I had less control over my destiny. I could no longer point at them and say they were oppressed and I was not. My life was influenced by male approval as theirs – but the element of choice had been taken out of mine. Their situations and their arguments had, after all, served to highlight shortcomings in my view of my own liberty.
Incognito I wrote this for you. Because I saw your comment some where else “Hate and bigotry is rooted in ignorance and is passed down from generation to generation…… and most people are unwilling to make the effort to understand”. I saw it as the observation of a sensible man, and therefore thought it worth while to educate such a man on what Islam offered –and still offers – to women”.
I am conscious how ever of the many specific objections which westerners put forward. I assure you they are equally false and groundless-having been taken out of context to present a distorted picture. I have not dealt with those here, firstly because the blog has already become a rather lengthy article; and second I do not know which ones you –and others may like to raise. I look forward to addressing them in the comments portion of this ‘article’.