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Farooq Malik   

The status of women in society is neither a new issue nor is it a fully settled one. The position of Islam on this issue has been among the subjects presented to the Western reader with the least objectivity. Before discussing about the status of women in Islam, first we have to look towards the spiritual and social aspects of women in society in the light of Quraanic verses.

1. Spiritual aspect:
The Holy Quraan provides clear-cut evidence that the woman is completely equated with man in the sight of Allah in terms of her rights and responsibilities. It says:

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. (16:97)

The woman according to the Holy Quraan are not blamed for Adams first mistake. Both were jointly responsible for their action to Allah, both repented, and both were forgiven. (2:36, 7:20-24)

In terms of religious obligations, such as the daily Salaah (Prayers), Sawm (Fasting), Zakaah (Poor-due), and Hajj (Pilgrimage), woman is not different from man. In some cases, indeed, woman has certain advantages over man. For example, the woman is exempted from participating in congregation of the daily prayers and from fasting during her menstruation periods and forty days after childbirth.

2. Social aspect:
Despite the social acceptance of female infanticide among some Arabian tribes, the Holy Quraan 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. (81:8-9)

Criticizing the attitudes of such parents who reject their female children, the Holy Quraan 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? (16: 58-59)

Far from saving the girls life so that she may later suffer injustice and inequality, Islam requires kind and just treatment for her. Among the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam) in this regard are the following:

Whosoever has a daughter and he does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favour his son over her, Allah will enter him into Paradise. (Ibne Hanbal, No 1957)

The right of females to seek knowledge is not different from that of males. Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam) said: Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim (man and woman). (Al-Bayhaqi)

The Quraan 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 Holy Quraan 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. (30:21)

According to Islamic Law, women cannot be forced to marry anyone without their consent: Hadhrat Ibne Abbas reported that a girl came to the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam), and she reported that her father had forced her to marry without her consent. Allahs Messenger (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam) gave her the choice... (between accepting the marriage or invalidating it). (Ibne Hanbal No 2469)

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 Quraan thus states: And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them, and men are a degree above them. (2:228)

Such degree is 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, mans role of leadership in relation to his family does not mean the husbands dictatorship over his wife. Islam emphasises the importance of taking counsel and mutual agreement in family decisions. The Holy Quraan gives us an example:

...If they (husband and wife) desire to wean the child by mutual consent and (after) consultation, there is no blame on them... (2: 233)

Over and above, her basic rights as a wife comes the right which is emphasised by the Holy Quraan and is strongly recommended by the Prophet (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam); kind treatment and companionship.

The Quraan states: ...But consort with them in kindness, for if you hate them it may happen that you hate a thing wherein Allah has placed much good. (4: l9)

Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam) 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. (Ibne Hanbal, No. 7396)

More specifically, some aspects of Islamic law concerning marriage and divorce are interesting and are worthy of separate treatment. When the continuation of marriage relationship is impossible for any reason, men are still taught to seek a gracious end for it.

The Quraan 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). (2:231)

Islam considered kindness to parents next to the worship of Allah. Says the Divine Book: And we have enjoined upon man (to be good) to his parents: His mother bears him in weakness upon weakness... (31:14)

Moreover, the Holy Quraan 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... (17:23)

A man came to Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam) asking: O Messenger of Allah, who among the people is the most worthy of my good behaviour? The Holy Prophet (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam) said, Your mother. The man said, Then who else. The Holy Prophet (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam) said, Your mother. The man said, Then who else. The Holy Prophet (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam) said, Your mother. The man said, Then who else? Only then did the Holy Prophet (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam) say, Your father. (Bukhari and Muslim)

A famous saying of the Holy Prophet (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam) is, Paradise is underneath the feet of mothers. (Nisai, Ibne Maajah and Musnad Ahmad)

After considering these major aspects, the question that arises in our mind that why must women still be considered inferior to men?

According to Islam, women are not inferior to men. Allah creates both of them and both of them are equal in the sight of Allah. If they are equal in the sight of Allah, then how can they be inferior in the society or in the sight of men?

Allah says in the Holy Quraan: O people! We have created you from a male and a female and made you into groups and tribes, so that you may know each other. Indeed, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah are the most righteous among you. (49:13)

According to Islam, men and women complement each other. They are equal members of society and they have their duties and responsibilities. There are some differences between the roles of men and women in society, but these differences do not make one gender superior and the other inferior. The talks of superiority or inferiority are based on some of non-Islamic cultures, but it is certainly not a part of Islam.

One should remember that Men are the managers of the affairs of women because Allah has made some to excel the other, It is also applicable about the family organisation where the husband has the responsibility to take care of his wife and children.

It is not saying that every man is a caretaker of every woman. Secondly, this verse is not about the spiritual, moral or intellectual excellence of husband over his wife. It is talking about his physical strength and capabilities, because of which he must protect his family and must be the provider for his wife and children.

The position of women in Islam has recently been an issue of debate. Some misconceptions arise, either from traditional practices, which are thought to be Islamic, but are not, or else from prejudices.

However, the real issue is how women are regarded in the Islamic faith, and when we look at this, we see that Islam gives women great social value, freedom and comfort.

Allahs commandments about the status of women and the relations between men and women, which have been revealed to us through the Quraan, consist of full justice.

In this regard, Islam suggests equality of rights, responsibilities and duties between the two genders. Islam is based on sympathy, tolerance and respect for human beings, and does not discriminate against women in this matter.

The examples of good morals communicated to us in the Quraan are universally compatible with human nature, and are valid for all stages of history.

Respect for women and womens rights fall within this. In the Quraan, Allah insists that the rights of women are the same as that of men. Furthermore, while performing the tasks and responsibilities of their jurisdictions, men and women must help and support each other.

The men and women of the believers are friends of one another. They command what is right and forbid what is wrong, and establish Salaah and give Zakaah, and obey Allah and His Messenger (SallAllaho alaihe wasallam). They are the people on whom Allah will have mercy. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. (9:71)

In another verse, Muslim men and women are considered together, and it is stressed that both have the same responsibility to Allah and same status in Allahs sight.

Men and women who are Muslims, men and women who are believers, men and women who are obedient, men and women who are truthful, men and women who are steadfast, men and women who are humble, men and women who give alms, men and women who keep Sawm (Fast), men and women who guard their organs, men and women who remember Allah much: Allah has prepared forgiveness for them and an immense reward. (33:35)

Islam does not see women as objects. Therefore, it is not seen appropriate that a woman of good morals should marry a man of bad morals. In the same way, it is not permitted for a woman of bad morals to marry a man of good morals.

Corrupt women are for corrupt men and corrupt men are for corrupt women; good women are for good men and good men are for good women. The latter are innocent of what they say. They will have forgiveness and generous provision. (24:26)

We can say that the mentality that despises women, excludes them from society and regards them as second class citizens is a wicked pagan attitude which has no place in Islam.

In fact, devout women are depicted as good examples for mankind in the Quraan. One is Hadhrat Maryam, the mother of Hadhrat Eesaa (Jesus Christ) [Alaihimus salaam]. Another is the wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh who, despite her husbands wickedness, is also described as an ideal Muslim.

The Quraan also describes very gentle conversations between Prophet Sulaiman and the Queen of Saba, and between Hadhrat Moosaa and two young ladies, which symbolise the civilized social relationship between the two genders.

Therefore, it is impossible for a Muslim to have a bigoted approach towards women. In a society where true Islamic morals are practised, immense respect and sympathy will be shown to women, and it will be ensured that they can live in freedom and comfort.

Islam emphasises equality and not unqualified similarity of treatment of men and women and it has foreseen a special status for women in order to protect their rights unequivocally.


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