Women in Islam

A perpetuated notion in current society states that women in Islam are deemed as second-class citizens, and are not only denied basic rights but are oppressed as well. These misinformed beliefs have been ‘substantiated’ by way of looking at Muslim women in the context of marriage, the Islamic gender roles and the lack of equality given to women. However, in reality, Islam has in fact elevated the status of women, as seen in their rights granted as daughters, mothers and wives, how women are viewed in Islam as opposed to how they were treated in pre-Islamic Arabia, and the honorable women mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah. 

The status of women

The general understanding of the genders within Islam is that men and women have one key role – to worship Allah.[1]AlQuran 51:56 Modern Western Society has significantly decreased the status of women – to the extent that a woman’s worth has been made synonymous with her ability to please men. This is seen in the constant need for Western women to beautify themselves in the presence of non-Mahrams, people with whom marriage is generally permissible (i.e; coworkers and strangers).

Islam, on the other hand – highlights that the worth of women, and mankind – is in proportion to the extent that they worship Allah and follow His Religion. Hence, the Qur’an explicitly draws parallels between men and women – mentioning the importance of being devoted to Him, obedient to Him, truthful, steadfast, humble, charitable, fasting, chaste and in remembrance of Him often.[2]AlQuran 33:35 Contrary to the lies that have been circulated, Islam also ensures the continued safety and dignification of women. The last Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (ﷺ) said: “I urge you to treat women well.”[3]Sahih al-Bukhari 5185, 5186 This is indicative of the fact that women in Islam should not be oppressed, and those who do abuse women are transgressing the commands given by the Prophet (ﷺ).

Furthermore, while women were trying to gain basic rights, such as the ability to gain an education, work and own property – Islam had provided these equitable rights more than 1400 years ago. ‘Islam raised the status of women and made them equal to men in most rulings. So women, like men, are commanded to believe in Allah and to worship Him. And women are made equal to men in terms of reward in the Hereafter. Women have the right to express themselves, to give sincere advice, to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, and to call people to Allah. Women have the right to own property, to buy and sell, to inherit, to give charity and to give gifts. It is not permissible for anyone to take a woman’s wealth without her consent. Women have the right to a decent life, without facing aggression or being wronged. Women have the right to be educated; in fact, it is obligatory to teach them what they need to know about their religion.'[4]She is Asking about the rights of women in Islam – IslamQA.info

Pre-Islamic Arabia

Before Islam came to the Arabian Peninsula, it was a vindictive environment – and particularly so towards women. It was an environment that denied women their basic rights – the most notable of which is their right to life. When a female child was born in this time era, also known as Jahiliyya – the era of ignorance – she would be buried alive by way of female infanticide. This was a rampant crime, perceived as the norm by the rest of society, and the Qur’an mentions how the baby girl who was murdered will ask for what sin she was killed for.[5]AlQuran 81:8-9 Fathers during this time, upon hearing that their wives had given birth to a female – would become dismayed, to the extent that their faces would darken. In his shame, he would hide from the rest of the people and wonder as to whether he should kill his daughter or suffer the attack on his honor in allowing her to live.[6]AlQuran 16:58-59

Aside from this, women were also unable to inherit from their parents, diminishing any financial security they may have had. Unlike their way of thinking, Islam had ensured that a woman is entitled to a share of what her parents and close relatives leave behind, whether the legacy is small or large.[7]AlQuran 4:7

In spite of their utter contempt and disgust for women at the time, slave girls were forced into prostitution – regardless of their consent or will. As a result, the Qur’an states how one cannot force a slave girl into prostitution, let alone any woman – as they are not trash that ought to be discarded.[8]AlQuran 24:33 However, women themselves during this time era would entice men through revealing themselves, contrary to how Islam commands the protection of women from the eyes of non-Mahram men.[9]AlQuran 33:33

It is interesting to note how Western society is actively encouraging women to flaunt their adornments in a similar fashion to pre-Islamic Arabia. Whether it be through media or through books, Western society has propagated the belief that a woman’s worth and the greatest tool at her disposal is her sexuality. They may conclude that these are strides towards Liberalism, but in fact – it is nothing but a regression, towards the worldview of such an ignorant time. 

Mothers in Islam

Mothers are given the utmost respect and gratitude, which is a manifest reality presented by the words of the Prophet (ﷺ) and verses of the Qur’an. An example showing this is that Islam obligates good companionship with one’s mother, three-fold in comparison to the father.[10]Sahih Muslim 2548 b This is due to the status that Allah has granted them for bearing the burden of labor, of carrying her child, of raising them and nurturing them.[11]AlQuran 46:15 Islam recognizes the sacrifices that many women have made in order to become great mothers, and this is reciprocated by the love that we are commanded to show them.

In Islam, the mother is to be obeyed and treated kindly, and when she reaches old age, Muslims are commanded to refrain from impatience and harshness towards her, and instead show respect and mercy. In fact, Muslims are not allowed to say so much as ‘uff’ to them as a result of anger, highlighting the necessity of love for one’s mother.[12]AlQuran 17:23 They are to be cherished for all of the difficulties they endured in raising us, both during their life, and after they die.

Any vows that the mother made but couldn’t fulfill due to passing away – must be carried out by her child. This is evident in a narration of the Prophet (ﷺ) whereby a man inquired about a vow his mother had made to go for Hajj (the Islamic pilgrimage) before she died. In response, the Prophet (ﷺ) stated that he must perform it on her behalf.[13]Sahih al-Bukhari 1852 Thus, every mother has significant rights upon their child, to the extent that they are obliged and encouraged to benefit her – even after death.

As aforementioned, a mother is to be looked after by her child, and this is especially the case when she becomes elderly. In a narration, three men found themselves trapped in a cave when a large rock rolled down from the mountain and blocked the entrance. In order to free themselves of such a dire situation, each man supplicated to Allah by way of the virtues they accumulated throughout their life. One of the men mentioned how after he tended to his flock of sheep, he would bring milk with him to give to his elderly parents, and the leftover milk would be given to his children – who would be crying at his feet due to thirst. However, on one particular occasion, his parents were asleep and because he didn’t wish to disturb them, he waited and waited until dawn broke – despite the weeping of his children.[14]Sahih al-Bukhari 2333 The rights of a mother to be looked after by her child is, without a doubt, of paramount importance, a command that will remain until the Day of Judgement. 

After all, in Islam, Paradise is under the feet of one’s mother[15]Sunan an-Nasa’i 3104, and the way to attain this reward is by fulfilling her rights.

Wives in Islam

Wives in Islam are given specific rights in accordance with their elevated status. In Islam, before a woman is married – she is encouraged to understand her rights, as well as that of the husband – so that ignorance does not permit the abuse of power. One of the most recognizable factors of marriage that sets Islam apart from many other religions is that of the Mehr – a dowry given to the wife by her husband, to maintain her financial security, to ensure the validity of the marriage contract and to show that the husband can provide for his wife.[16]AlQuran 4:4 

Wives in Islam are to be protected and treated respectfully in accordance with their God-given status, and there are a plethora of verses to show this. In one verse, a woman must not be treated harshly, her dowry cannot be taken back, and she must be treated in a just manner.[17]AlQuran 4:19 A profound principle in Islam is that wives and husbands have similar rights and responsibilities, but husbands have a degree of authority and responsibility over their wives.[18]AlQuran 2:228 Contrary to the beliefs of many anti-Islamic figures, men and women do in fact have varying degrees of duties and rights, yet as Allah remains exalted in Might and Wisdom, these differences remain equitable. This is because equality does not work with Islam; as men and women are different, mentally and physically. For the genders to become ‘Absolutely Equal’ under the guise of Feminism – we need to ensure that women are made masculine and, in turn, feminize men. This concept rejects the natural disposition of mankind, whereas Islam does not. It instead corresponds with the innate natures of both men and women – the former is given a more dominant role in the marital structure, commanded to provide for his family. Yet, this does not allow for oppression – rather, it allows for the marriage to work in a natural, fluid way. This is entirely rational, as the One most worthy of telling humans how they should live their lives is the One who created them.

There are also many examples of the Prophet’s (ﷺ) excellent treatment towards his wives. For example, when one of the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) was standing at the door to watch the children play, he covered her with his cloth so that she may watch them in comfort, and he stood there until she was the one who had enough.[19]Mishkat al-Masabih 3244 In another narration, the Prophet (ﷺ) would turn to his wife after finishing the prayer and if his wife was awake – he would talk with her, and if she was asleep – he would lay down as well.[20]Sunan Abi Dawud 1263 These demonstrate qualities that all men are encouraged to exhibit themselves; traits such as patience, compassion and love for one’s wife.

Aside from good treatment, women have the right to be looked after and cared for by their husband. This entails the fact that he must spend on her regarding necessities such as food and shelter, and they are encouraged to please their wives insofar as much as is permissible in Islam.[21]AlQuran 65:7, AlQuran 2:233

Also, in Islam, the wife is promised to be reunited with her husband in the afterlife, as long as they died Muslims, and they will not be deprived of their deeds.[22]AlQuran 52:21 As Allah says: “And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them, and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.”[23]AlQuran 30:21

Daughters in Islam

In comparison to pre-Islamic Arabia, daughters are given particular attention in light of their rights, the responsibilities that one has if granted a daughter, and their status. The Prophet (ﷺ) mentions the great reward that one will gain if they care for their daughter(s). Jabir ibn Abdullah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever has three daughters and he cares for them, he is merciful to them, and he clothes them, then Paradise is certainly required for him.” It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, what if he has only two?” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Even two.” Some people thought that if they had said to him one, the Prophet would have said even one.[24]Hadith on Daughters: He will enter Paradise if he cares for even one – Daily Hadith Online الحديث اليومي This Hadith clearly underlines the bountiful outcome of being blessed with daughters. To look after them and appreciate them; as opposed to murdering them in cold blood. In fact, the majority of the Prophet’s (ﷺ) children were daughters – and Fatima (رضي الله عنها), one of his daughters – is deemed to be among the greatest women to have ever lived.

Daughters are an immense blessing in Islam, and they bring with them immense responsibilities. More than ever before, a father – a mother, must ensure the dignity of their daughter is maintained, and this can only be done through educating them on their worth at a young age.

Honored Women in Islam

Just as there were great men in Islam such as Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه) and Umar (رضي الله عنه) – there existed great women in Islam as well. In a profound Hadith, there was a mention of such women who attained not only paradise but perfection as well. Ibn Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The best of women among the people of Paradise are Khadija bint Khuwaylid, Fatimah bint Muhammad, Maryam bint ‘Imran, and ‘Asiyah bint Muzahim, the wife of Pharaoh.”[25]Hadith on Women: Four best women in Paradise – Daily Hadith Online الحديث اليومي Furthermore, as mentioned in a similar Hadith – “…the superiority of `Aisha to other women is like the superiority of Tharid (an Arab dish) to other kinds of food”, as she had attained a lofty station in Islam.[26]Sahih al-Bukhari 3769

Regarding Khadija (رضي الله عنها), she was the first wife of the Prophet (ﷺ). Despite being wealthy and running a business, her noble characteristics ensured that she would always give to the poor. After marrying the Prophet (ﷺ), who was significantly poorer in comparison to her – she stood by his side and believed in him when the revelation first came down, comforting him despite the fear he had. At a time when none believed him, she believed in that which he said and made many sacrifices in order to support him, and this is why the Prophet (ﷺ) was especially heartbroken when she later passed away. In fact, the Angel Jibreel asked the Prophet (ﷺ) to greet her with peace on behalf of himself and her Lord, as well as asking him to give her glad tidings of a palace in paradise.[27]Sahih Muslim 2432 Her tenacity and faith stand among the many reasons as to why she is incredibly respected by all Muslims across the world.

As for Fatima (رضي الله عنها), she was the daughter of the Prophet (ﷺ) from his first wife, Khadija (رضي الله عنها). Known to be one of the most beloved people to him, she was distinguished from many women due to her modesty, patience, and purity. Whenever she entered upon the Prophet (ﷺ), he would stand up and kiss her on the forehead. However, when the Prophet (ﷺ) later fell sick, she bent over and kissed him instead, and began to cry. Shortly afterwards, she bent over him again, but this time it caused her to lift her head and laugh – as the Prophet (ﷺ) informed her of the fact that when he was to die, she would be the first of his family to meet him.[28]Jami` at-Tirmidhi Arabic reference: Book 49, Hadith 4246, English translation: Vol. 1, Book 46, Hadith 3872

Aisha (رضي الله عنها) was another wife of the Prophet (ﷺ) and is one of the most honored women in Islam – as well as one of the greatest Scholars. A large portion of the Ahadith (recorded sayings and traditions of the Prophet (ﷺ)) are a result of her own narrations, and she is renowned for her excellent understanding of the religion and the Qur’an. In one Hadith, a companion asked the Prophet (ﷺ) who the most beloved person to him was – in which he replied, Aisha (رضي الله عنها). The companion then asked who was the most beloved to him among the men, in which he replied – her father, Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه).[29]Sahih al-Bukhari 3662 Aisha (رضي الله عنها) was made an excellent role model for all women; for her knowledge, wisdom, kindness and love for the Prophet (ﷺ) and the religion.

Asiyah (رضي الله عنها) was a woman who did not live during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), but instead that of Musa (عليه السلام). She was the wife of the Pharaoh, a man destined to the pits of Hell for his claims to Lordship, his tyranny and persistence in evil. Despite being the wife of such a vindictive tyrant, she still believed in the oneness of Allah, whilst her husband claimed to be Him. As a result, she was tortured mercilessly and in the end, murdered by her husband for believing in Allah – yet she was made an example of those who truly believed.[30]AlQuran 66:11

Another venerated woman is Maryam (رضي الله عنها). She was the mother of Isa (Prophet Jesus) (عليه السلام) – a mighty Messenger and Prophet, and was honored for her astonishing patience and trust in Allah. In fact, a whole chapter in the Qur’an is solely named after her – Surah Maryam, chapter 19. She guarded her chastity despite the accusations of adultery that were thrown at her.[31]AlQuran 66:12 By remaining steadfast and believing in the words and plan of her Creator, the great Maryam (رضي الله عنها) was granted an incredible status in Islam – alongside incredible reverence that she has been given for centuries, by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Indeed, these are but a few of the noble and great women in Islam, and although there are many which I have not mentioned, we must all try our hardest to emulate their excellent characteristics.