Women in Islam are thought to be subjugated, degraded, oppressed – but are they really? Modest Muse investigates this theory further.
Equal but different
While men and women have equal rights as a general principle, the specific rights and responsibilities granted to them are not identical. Men and women have complementary rights and responsibilities.
Aside from external and internal anatomical differences, scientists know there are many other subtle differences in the way the brains of men and women process language, information and emotion, just to mention a few.
A socio-biology expert, Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University, said that females tend to be higher than males in verbal skills, empathy and social skills, among other things, while men tend to be higher in independence, dominance, spatial and mathematical skills, rank-related aggression, and other characteristics.
It would be foolish to treat both genders the same and to ignore their differences. Islam teaches that men and women have complementary, yet different, roles because it is best suited to their nature. God says:
“And the male is not like the female.”Qur’an 3:36
“Does not the One who created, know? And He is the Most Kind, the All Aware.”Qur’an 67:14
The family unit
God created men and women to be different, with unique roles, skills and responsibilities. These differences are not viewed as evidences of superiority or inferiority, but of specialisation. In Islam, the family is of central importance. The man is responsible for the financial well being of the family while the woman contributes to the family’s physical, educational and emotional well being. This encourages cooperation rather than competition. By fulfilling their mutual responsibilities, strong families are created and hence strong societies.
Also, emotionally, neither men nor women live a happy life without one another. Allah describes this beautifully by saying:
“They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them.”Qur’an 2:187
Clothing provides comfort, warmth and security as well as making one look good – this is how the relationship between the husband and wife is defined in Islam.
Love and mercy in spousal relationships
The Prophet (peace be upon him) also encouraged men to treat their spouses in the best way, “The best of you are those who are best (in treatment) to their wives.”
“And among His signs is that He created or you wives amongst yourselves that you may dwell in tranquillity with them; and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts). Surely in this are Signs for people who reflect.”Qur’an 30:21
Aisha (the Prophet’s wife) was once asked how the Prophet’s conduct was in his home. She said, “He was like one of you at home, yet he was most lenient and most generous … He was ready to give a helping hand to his wives in the ordinary work of the house, [he] sewed his own clothes and mended his own shoes.” In general, he helped in whatever work his wives did.
Lofty positions of mothers and daughters
A mother has the greatest influence on a child especially in the earlier years through her affection, care and love. Undoubtedly, the success of a society is due to mothers. Therefore, it is only right for Islam to honour and raise their status.
Allah says in the Qur’an:
“And we have enjoined on man to be dutiful and kind to his Parents, His mother bears him with hardship and she brings him forth with hardship.” Qur’an 46:15
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was once asked, “O Messenger of Allah, who among people is most deserving of my good treatment?” He said, “Your mother.” The man asked twice more, “Then who?” and was given the same response. Only until the fourth time did the Prophet respond, “Then your father.” Reward is not only given to the good and kind treatment towards mothers. In fact, Islam has designated a special reward for raising daughters that is not granted for raising sons.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever Allah has given two daughters and is kind towards them, they will be a reason for him entering Paradise.”
Before Islam, women were considered shameful, female children were buried alive, prostitution was rampant, divorce was only in the hands of the husband, inheritance was only for the strong, and oppression was widespread. Islam came and abolished these practices. Even now, in “developed countries”, women are not granted respect, dignity and honour, let alone equal pay for equal work. Islam, however, regards women as precious and valuable, not to be disrespected or disgraced. The mistreatment of women in some Middle-Eastern countries or Muslim families is due to cultural factors that some Muslims wrongly follow, not because of Islam. Why would many women around the world willingly enter Islam if it is an oppressive religion?
We end with the words of our Lord and your Lord, the Creator and Sustainer of all men and women:
“Surely the men who submit and the women who submit, and the believing men and the believing women, and the obedient men and the obedient women, and the truthful men and the truthful women, and the patient men and the patient women, and the humble men and the humble women… Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward.” Qur’an 33:35
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