10 December 2012

The Status of Women in Islam

In the history of the world, Islam was the first religion and the first social system which recognized the human status of women and awarded them the highest dignity and honor. In addition Islam granted women equal rights with men in every aspect, and abolished all discrimination on the basis of sex.                                                                                                         
 Islam’s attempts to liberate women from the shameful position were expressed in Prophet Muhammad’s own words. These words are, ‘Woman is the equal of man and the other half of the society, He who respects his wife’s rights is a good Muslim’.
In Islam, both women and men have the same status. In the words of the Quran God says “You are members, one of another.”  There is no difference between men and women in regards status, rights and blessings both in this world and in the hereafter. Both are equal participants as the carrying out of the functions of daily living. God clearly defined and guaranteed the rights of women in the Quran so that they could no more be exposed to those wrongs, injustices and oppression's which had been inflicted on them since the beginning of the human species.
The Qur'an states that both men and women are equal, but also, as in 4:34 that "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in the husband's absence what Allah orders them to guard."
Also, in the Qur'an it's indicated that all of mankind is made from a single soul. Islamic Scholars argue that Islam treats both men and women as equals and cite verses from Quran to prove their argument.  “O people be mindful (of your duty) to your Lord. Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread from these two, many men women”. Besides the above mentioned verse, there are a number of other verses which enshrines equality of status and rights for both men and women.
Islam deals with women in a comprehensive way in the context of her relationship with Allah, her Creator and Lord, with herself as a part of humanity, and with man, her partner and natural spouse in the family.
The Quran declares that men and women are equal in the eyes of God; man and woman were created to be equal parts of a pair (51:49). The Quran describes the relationship between men and women as one of "love and mercy" (30:21). Men and women are to be like "members of one another" (3:195), like each other's garment (2:187).
Men and women are equally responsible for adhering to the Five Pillars of Islam. Quran 9:71 -72 states,
"The Believers, men and women, are protectors of one another; they enjoining what is just, and forbid what is evil; they observe regular prayers, pay Zakat and obey God and His Messenger. On them will God pour His mercy: for God is exalted in Power, Wise. God has promised to Believers, men and women, gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein."
This verse draws added significance from the fact that it was the last Quran verse to be revealed that addressed relations between men and women. Some scholars argue on the basis of both content and chronology that this verse outlines the ideal vision of the relationship between men and women in Islam - one of equality and complimentary.
It is noteworthy that Islamic teachings are attentive to the needs and rights of the weaker gender throughout her life: as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and as a member of the Islamic society
However, after just a short time from the death of the Prophet Muhammad people started to change and misinterpret all the verses of the Quran and they started to use Quran by ignoring some parts of it. Women were started to be seen as inferior to men again and they were deprived of all rights. This has been a problem since those days and it has caused a big question for today’s societies.
 Have women any rights in Islam?
In order to understand the right place of women in Islam, firstly we must look at the Quran, which is the most reliable source, and has certain rules about Islam.
 If we look at the position of Islam in relation to women’s education in particular, we see that they are equal to men in the pursuit of education and knowledge Islam makes no distinction between man and woman. As Abdul-Ati Hammuda states in his article, almost fourteen centuries ago, Prophet Muhammad declared that the pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim male and female.
Women in Islam are permitted to full rights as citizens and Islam raised women to the status of being as worthy of human dignity. Islam has given women rights and privileges, which she has never enjoyed under other religious systems. Firstly, it prohibited the practice of burying female child alive and restored the birth rights of women. Islam raised them to the status of being as worthy of human dignity as were men. Therefore, both men and women were regarded as equal in humanity.
The Quran says “Allah created you from a single soul, and from the same soul created his mate”. Similarly the Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said “All people are equal, as equal as the teeth of comb. There is no claim of merit of an Arab over a non-Arab or of white over a black person or of a male over a female. Only God fearing people merit a preference with God”. It is clearly understood from these words that woman is recognized as a full and equal partner of man in the procreation of humankind by Islam. Both are essential for life. Women’s role is not less vital than men’s and they are equal to men in all essential rights and duties in Islam. The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to a man in the society of Islam and none of them is inferior to other.
Here is a list of Teachings from the Qur’an,
Muslims are proud of:
  • Female infanticide was abolished
  • Primogeniture, when inheritance goes only to the oldest male heir, is banned.
  • Women can inherit property from husbands, fathers, brothers, mothers, and sons, and it is their personal property to keep and use as they please.
  • Women retain their maiden names. In Islamic law there is no precedence or basis for changing the last name of a married woman.
  • Divorce may be initiated by women.
  • A woman has final approval on a marriage partner arranged by her parents.
  • Abolishing women's status as property,
  • Establishing women's legal capacity,
  • Granting women the right to receive their own dowry,
  • Changing marriage from a proprietary to a contractual relationship,
  • Allowing women to retain control over their property
  • Granted women financial maintenance from their husbands and controlled the husband's free ability to divorce.
  • What is the status of women in Islam?
 The legal status of Muslim women can be considered at different stages as a daughter, as a mother, as a sister and as a wife. Firstly, Islam stopped insisted on equal treatment between sons and daughters. The Prophet Muhammad urged parents not to make any differences between the children and to be kind to them, particularly young girls. He clearly indicates the status of female children in Islam by saying “If a daughter is born to a person and he brings her up, gives her a good education and trains her in the arts of life, I shall myself stand between him and hell fire”.
Furthermore, women have great respect and affection as a mother. The Quran advises Muslims to show love and consideration to the parents particularly to the mothers.
Prophet Muhammad states the value of motherhood with these words “The heaven lies under the mothers’ feet”. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammad emphasizes the value of women in Islam as a wife that “The best of you are they who behave best to their wives”. Besides the Prophet Muhammad was a good example as the model husband who treated his wives with great love, compassion and consideration.
 Shushtery (1938) writes that Islam contributed to the status improvement of women in the following ways: i) By stressing the need to respect and to give good treatment to a foster mother. ii) By making women the mistress of her own property in which the husband had no right to interfere except with her permission. iii) By giving her the right of claiming divorce (Khula), (iv) By allowing her to hold any public office. v) By giving her the freedom to remarry after divorce, and vi) By encouraging her to study and acquire knowledge.
Kapadia (1965) writes that Islam improved the status of women by restricting polygamy to four wives and favoring monogamy, by condemning female infanticide, by assigning share in inheritance, by declaring Mehr as a compulsory gift to the bride and by re-orienting the Arab law of marriage and divorce in favor of women like providing maintenance (for Iddat period) for divorced women and their children. Paradise was promised to a believing woman as it was to a believing man.
Maulana Thanavi one of the leaders of Deoband published a book entitled ‘Behishti Zewar' intended to strengthen the moral well being of Muslim women. The theme of the book is welfare of the family in particular and the society in general, and of the moral integrity of the women who serve as wife and mother. Her virtues of nurture and wisdom are shown as essential for the moral well-being of the children and the courage of the husband. Muslim women are portrayed as essentially a strong person who keeps the integrity of the family alive through her courage and support for all the members.
Siddiqui (1980) explains the concept of equality in Islam for the two sexes in detail. He says that according to Islam there is specific sex individuality in man and woman which each must preserve and cherish, because it is this individuality which gives them honor  and dignity and enables them to fulfill in an effective manner their specific roles in society Consistent with the exercise of their specific individuality and of the special function flowing there from and involving special rights and responsibilities, both sexes have equal rights and are looked upon by Islam as distinct legal personalities It is not that Muslim women did not enjoy equal rights in the past with their men.
 The Muslim women scholar Leila Ahmad (1992) has argued that the practices relating to gender among the Muslims in the days of Islam were shaped by several factors. According to her the ethical voice of ‘Quran' has also treated men and women as equal before God and could practice same rituals as that of men and her responsibility to God individually. In course of time because of the domination of male Muslim rulers both in the Muslim countries as well as in India and after the ‘Ulemas’ became guardians of the religious law, the position of Muslim women gradually began deteriorating and the Muslim men becoming absolutely authoritative.
Islam and Women’s Education

One of the most important rights granted to women by Islam is the right to education. Islam strongly encourages the education of women both in religious and social areas. Knowledge and education are highly emphasized in Islam.  In conclusion, when Islam enjoins the seeking of knowledge upon Muslims it makes no distinction between man and woman.
Hence, the Prophet Muhammad introduced his followers to educate the women in any position in the society by saying “A man who educates his slave girl, frees her and then marriages her, this man will have a double reward”. Also there is no limitation of women’s education in Islam. They are allowed to learn all the branches of science and also are free to choose any field of knowledge which interests them.
Islam and Women’s Rights
In a truly Islamic society women have the following rights in Islam:
  • The right and duty to obtain education.
  • The right to have their own independent property.
  • The right to work to earn money if they need it or want it.
  • Equality of reward for equal deeds.
  • The right to express their opinion and be heard.
  • The right to provisions from the husband for all her needs and more.
  • The right to negotiate marriage terms of her choice.
  • The right to obtain divorce from her husband, even on the grounds that she simply can't stand him. (Pls. note that God deeply frowns upon divorce as a solution unless there is hardly any other alternative but it does not mean that men have more right to divorce their wives than women do.)
  • The right to keep all her own money (she is not responsible to maintain any relations).
  • The right to get sexual satisfaction from her husband.
  • Custody of their children after divorce.
  • To refuse any marriage that does not please them
 Islam-The Veil.
“The custom of veiling predated Islam in Arabia and the Mediterranean region, but it was by no means universal. Aisha Bint-Talhah, an eighth-century noble beauty ”of proud and lofty spirit,” was married three times. When her second husband criticized her for not wearing a veil, she replied that the public had the right to see God’s gift of beauty to her, and under no condition would she veil herself.
The veil may have had its origin in the context of protection rather than subjugation of women, its purpose being to shield her from the prying and covetous gaze of the unworthy or to identify her as free-born. Only women of upper-class families could wear the veil, a status symbol.
Under Western influences, many Arab women discarded the veil during the first half of the twentieth century. It reappeared in a different form in the late 1960s. The new version, which is referred to as “Islamic dress,“ has gained wider acceptance among many educated and professional women. It consists of a long dress, or long skirt with along-sleeved blouse and a head cover, usually of colorful bright material.” (Arab World Studies Notebook, page 112).
The veil has always created a sense of sisterhood among its wearers. Early Arab feminists used it to their advantage. Still remembered is the 1919 “March of the Veiled Women” in Cairo organized by Huda Shaarawi who later organized the powerful Egyptian Feminist Union. The veiled women protested British colonial rule, and successively foiled a British plan to exile four Egyptian nationalist leaders, including Huda Shaarawi’s husband.” (Arab World Studies Notebook, page 113)
Women and Marriage in Islam
Marriage is undoubtedly one of the most important institutions of human society. Islam assigns great importance to marriage. Islam views marriage to be benefit to both the individual and the society.  However, it is a fact that Islam limited the number of wives to four (under certain conditions) and introduced monogamy as an ideal form of marriage.
Before Islam, men in Arabia could have many wives. Limiting the number to four was an Islamic reform of the practice; another restriction was that there is absolute equality in a husband’s treatment of several wives. This being impossible, it may be said that the Qur’an indirectly discouraged polygamy. The Quran has also served as a reference point for restricting the practice of polygamy.
Quran 4:3 commands, "Marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if you will not be able to deal justly [with them] only one."
A corollary verse (4:129) states, "You are never able to be fair and just between women even if that is your ardent desire."
Contemporary reformers have argued that these two verses together prohibit polygamy and that the true Quranic ideal is monogamy. Today, polygamy is illegal in many Arabic countries. polygamy was abolished in some countries and its severe limitation in others, expanded rights for women seeking divorce, including the right to financial compensation, expanded rights for women to participate in contracting their marriage and to stipulate conditions favorable to them in the marriage contract, the requirement that the husband provide housing for his divorced wife and children as long as the wife holds custody over the children, raising the minimum age for marriage for both spouses, prohibiting child marriage, and expanding the rights of women to have custody over their older children
A trend began with Tunisia outlawing the practice in 1956. Several Arabic countries permit polygamy under certain conditions such as the approval of the first wife, the approval of the judge, financial ability to support two wives, or a medical document certifying that the first wife cannot bear children. .
Today, polygamous marriage represents less than 5% of all marriages and is rapidly disappearing as these countries become more developed and literate. “However inadequate the teachings and practices of Islam … seem to be, they were significant step forward. Comparatively speaking, against the backdrop of 7th century Arabia, the Qur’an was a virtual champion of women’s rights. Much of what the Quran advocates for women was not seen in the West until proximately a hundred years ago.” (I. Zepp, p. 129)
Islam -Women and Divorce.
Women have had little right to initiate divorce, whereas men did not have to provide any justification or reason for declaring a divorce. However, the Quran does not give men this blanket right. In fact, the Quran guarantees women equality with respect to the right of divorce: "And women have rights equal to what is incumbent upon them according to what is just" (2:228).
This equality of divorce rights is also reflected in the Hadith literature, and legal reformers have called upon the Quran and Hadith to support contemporary reforms in divorce laws.
Most Islamic societies have been patriarchal, and women have long been considered to be the culture-bearers within these societies. Prior to the twentieth century, the Quran, Hadith (traditional stories of the Prophet), and Islamic law were interpreted by men in these patriarchal societies, and these interpretations reflect this environment. Women were not actively engaged in interpreting the Quran, Hadith, or Islamic law until the twentieth century. Since then, however, reformers have argued that Quranic verses favoring men need reinterpretation in light of the new social, cultural, and economic realities of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Women have been assigned second-class status in Islam based upon Quran 4:34, which says,
"Men have responsibility for and priority over women, since God has given some of them advantages over others and because they should spend their wealth for the support of women."
However, contemporary scholars have noted that the "priority" referred to in this verse is based upon men's socioeconomic responsibilities for women. It does not say women are incapable of managing their own affairs, controlling themselves, or being leaders. Nowhere in the Quran does it say that all men are superior to, preferred to, or better than all women. God's expressed preference for certain individuals in the Quran is based upon their faith, not their gender
Quranic interpretation is at the center of many debates. Some note that the Quran itself specifically distinguishes between two types of verses: those that are universal principles and those that were responding to specific social and cultural contexts or questions and were subject to interpretation (3:7). They believe that those verses that assign greater rights to men (such as 2:223 and 2:228) reflect a patriarchal context in which men were dominant and solely responsible for supporting women. Today, rather than being interpreted literally, these verses should be reformulated to reflect the interests of public welfare. Reformers further argue that gender equality is the intended order established by God, because God does not make distinctions based upon gender in matters of faith.

However, Muslims who advocate a literal interpretation of the Quran believe that the gender inequalities it prescribes apply to every time and place as God's revealed social order. Biology is often used as a justification; because only women can bear children, they argue, the man must provide for and maintain the family so that the woman can do her job of bearing and raising children.
Another apparent example of second-class status for women appears in the Quranic stipulation (2:282) that two female witnesses are equal to one male witness. If one female witness errs, the other can remind her of the truth: "And call to witness two of your men; if two men are not available then one man and two women you approve of, so that if one of them is confused, the other would remind her." Over time, this was interpreted by male scholars to mean that a woman's testimony should always count for one-half of the value of a man's testimony.
Contemporary scholars have revisited this question also, offering several observations about the socio historical context in which the verse was revealed. First, the verse specifies that witnessing is relevant in cases of a written transaction, contract, or court case. At the time the Quran was revealed, most women were not active in business or finance. A woman's expertise in these fields would most likely have been less than a man's. Another interpretation argues that the requirement for two female witnesses to equal the testimony of one man was based upon the concern that male family members might pressure a woman into testifying in their favor.
Some contemporary female scholars have argued that the requirement of two female witnesses demonstrates the need for women to have access to education, both secular and religious, in order to receive the training and experience to be equal to men in a business environment - something that is not prohibited by the Quran. In light of the right of women to own property and make their own investments, this interpretation is in keeping with broader Quranic values.
In conclusion, Islam has granted the women broad social, political and economic rights, education and training rights and work opportunity rights contrary to all misconceptions. Islam should be viewed as a religion that had immensely improved the status of women and had granted them many rights fourteen hundred years ago.
The twenty-first century has brought numerous significant reforms for women's rights in both the public and the private spheres. In the overwhelming majority of Muslim countries, women have the right to public education, including at the college level. In many countries, they also have the right to work outside of the home, vote, and hold public office. Particularly notable in recent years have been reforms in marriage and divorce laws.
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