Muslims believe that the One, Unique and Incomparable God, Allah, created in pairs. He created all humans essentially equal, from a “single person” or “self” and breathed into each human something of His spirit to give it life and innate God-consciousness (without depleting Himself to any degree or ‘incarnating’ in the physical body of any created being). God created Adam and Eve (pbuh) from this ‘single human self’: “It is He Who created you from a single person and made his mate of like nature in order that he might dwell with her (in love)…” (The Qur’an, 7:189)
According to the Qur’an, woman is not blamed for the “fall of man” as in Judeo-Christian culture. According to Islamic teaching, mankind is to live in the world as a test. Muslims believe that Adam and Eve were forgiven for their disobedience and that their progeny were all born in purity (not ‘born in sin’); therefore pregnancy and childbirth are not seen as punishments for “eating from the forbidden tree”, but, on the contrary, grounds for love and respect due to mothers: “And We have enjoined on the person kindness to his/her parents: in pain did his/her mother bear him/her and in pain did she give him/her birth….” (The Qur’an, 46:15)
“Paradise is under the feet of the mother.” This saying (hadith) of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) refers the kind treatment of mothers as being a very important way of achieving Paradise in the life after death, as well as referring to the pure state of the baby at birth.
“Allah said: I am Allah and I am the Most Merciful. I created the womb and named it with a derivative of My name. Whoever honours it (by maintaining the links established with the womb) I shall honour him and whoever violates it (by severing the links established with the womb) I shall disown him.” (Hadith Qudsi of Prophet Muhammad [pbuh])
Men and women have the same spiritual and moral duties and responsibilities:
“For Muslim men and women and for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise: for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and a great reward.” (The Qur’an, 33:35)
God-consciousness and piety are the only bases for superiority, not gender, colour, or nationality:
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know/identify each other (not that you might despise one another). Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (one who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well-acquainted (with all things).” (The Qur’an, 49:13)
Man and woman are equal before God but not identical. In Islam there is a distinction between equality and sameness and this is important in understanding the balance of rights and responsibilities between males and females. Some of the important rights and concessions accorded to women are:
Spiritual equality: “Never will I cause to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: you are members, one of another…” (The Qur’an, 3:195) (also the Qur’an, 33:35 as above)
Differences in human male and female nature are in accordance with biological differences:
“Men are the qiwamah [protectors and maintainers] of women, because Allah has given the one more strength, and because they spend of their means. Therefore righteous women are the obedient, guarding (in the husband’s absence) what Allah has guarded.” (That is, do not be intimate with other men and do not betray trusts.) (Qur’an, 4:34)
Some people mistakenly translate the Arabic word “qiwamah” in the Qur’an, responsibility for the family, as superiority of men. It means that a man has a legal advantage in taking back his wife if he has divorced her, but only two times. Mothers are given a higher status than fathers (46:15)
In Islam woman is not seen as a spiritual pollutant, and marriage is desirable over celibacy:
“By one of His signs He created you from dust; then behold, you became people, and multiplied throughout the earth. By another of His signs He created for you spouses, from among yourselves, that you might live in peace with them, and He has planted love and mercy in your hearts. Surely in that are signs for people who reflect. (Qur’an, 30: 21)
Allah has explained that masculine strength must not be used to abuse women and children, but that is for the purpose of protecting and supporting his family. He has commanded men to be kind to women, and women to be supportive of men:
‘They are your garments and you are their garments…’ (2:187)
‘The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil…’ (9:71)
‘…live with them (that is, your wives) on a footing of kindness and equity…’ (4:19)
Even women who don’t have children share this nature and status, as they can be role models and have community involvement or professions, caring for orphans, teaching children, or working in the medical field, for example. There were wives of the Prophet (pbuh) who didn’t bear children, but they are still known as “Mothers of the Believers”.
When women have their monthly cycle, they are not regarded as unclean, but are simply exempted from some duties without sacrificing any blessings of God. Women may do the usual religious practices except for performing the ritual Salat prayer, and do not have to make up these particular prayers later on. Husbands should be affectionate and sensitive to their wives at this time, but not have intercourse.
Allah (swt) has reminded people that the believers are: …Those who listen to their Lord (God), and establish regular prayer; and conduct their affairs by mutual consultation… (42:38)
Male children are not to be preferred over female children. Allah (swt) has commanded fathers to be affectionate with children and equitable with daughters. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) explained: “Whosoever has a daughter and does not bury her alive (which was a custom of Arabs of the time to get rid of ‘surplus’ females), does not insult her, and does not favour his son over her, Allah will enter him into Paradise.” (related by Ahmad)
Some essential rights of Muslim women
- The right to life (Qur’an, 6:151; 81:89)
- The right to be fully maintained according to father’s, guardian’s or husband’s means (4:34; 4:2-3, )
- The right to education and the right to teach at even the highest levels (9:71 and hadith);
- The right to be treated with dignity, equity and kindness (e.g. 24:30, 42:38, 46:15, 4:3, 4:8, 4:19-20, and hadith)
- The right to consent to her own marriage (in fact, marriage is illegal without the consent of both parties), to draw up a marriage contract, and the right to seek a divorce (e.g. 4:24-25, 4:128 and hadith) (see ‘Marriage in Islam’)
- The right to receive a marital gift from the husband of a pre-specified amount or property (4:4, 4:20, 4:24) .
- The right to work, provided the situation is safe and care of the husband and children is not sacrificed in the process (hadith and seerah detail the examples of women’s lives at the time of Muhammad [pbuh]);
- The right to inherit, own or earn without the property transferring to the property of others, such as her husband;
- The right to be seen as an individual in her own right, including keeping her own family name after marriage, not being treated as the property of someone, e.g. her husband;
- The right to sexual fulfillment in marriage (see ‘Marriage in Islam’);
- The right to have her intimate relations with her husband kept private by him (hadith);
- The right to participate in government and jurisprudence (There are many examples of this to be found in Muhammad’s family and community, such as his taking oaths of allegiance from women in the same way that he took them from men, and the example of his wife Aisha’s (may Allah be pleased with her) role after his death, at his advice, of explaining the Qur’an and teaching Islamic Jurisprudence to the community);
- General equality before the law (e.g. 2:228);
- Legal protection from slander (e.g. 4:19);
- The right to a settlement and alimony;
- The right not to be forced to do all the housework, or any of it if there is a prenuptial agreement and the husband can afford to hire a housekeeper (i.e. if the marriage contract specifies it). Prophet Muhammad (s) did a share of the housework, even mending his own shoes.);
- Exemption from military service, but not prohibition.
What are the duties of Muslim women?
The same religious duties as men, with some exemptions because of monthly cycle, pregnancy, childcare or family duties (e.g. not having to attend Friday prayers at the mosque):
- Seeking knowledge is incumbent upon all Muslims;
- As a wife a woman should be faithful to her husband, not allowing male visitors apart from her close family members (father, brothers, for example) into the home in his absence without his consent (Qur’an, 4:34), or accepting gifts from them without his approval;
- A wife should not deliberately avoid conception without her husband’s knowledge;
- A wife be a pleasant companion to her husband and a caring mother to their children (Surah 25:ayah 74 and hadith including ‘The mother is the school of the home’)
Does Islam condone violence against women?
As outlined above, Allah (s.w.t.) forbids violence against women and commands kind treatment even if a husband dislikes his wife. Therefore, it is a sin to not be kind to women, and that sin is compounded when a man is also unkind or cruel to his mother, wife, sister, etc.
There is a verse in the Qur’an that has been often taken out of context, both by Muslim men and non-Muslims. In part of Surah 4: verse 34 a certain kind of marital problem is referred to:
“Men are the protectors and maintainers (in Arabic, qawwamun) of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah has guarded (or ‘would have them guard’). As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them, refuse to share their beds, and then beat them. But if they return to you in obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance) for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all)…”
This clearly doesn’t refer to normal disagreements or differences in personality, because the Qur’an says in the solution to those is: ‘…if you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger’ (4: 59)
In the case of bad conduct by a wife that is seriously effecting marriage or the family, the Qur’an encourages to deal with the issue rather than immediate divorce. The first step in the process referred to in 4:34 is for a husband to speak to his wife, about the issue. Then, if she persists, he separates the bed in an act of protest; if she continues to threaten the marital relationship, he then can hit her lightly without causing hurt or damage. Prophet Muhammad, who was the living example of the Qur’an indicated that this strike would be a gesture, such as with a tooth-brush so as not to cause physical or psychological damage. The act of symbolical hit is there as a wake up call to the women.
Major scholars of Islam agree with this hadith because it is sound. Muhammad (pbuh) made many statements to men about kind treatment of women, specifying that they must never strike a woman on the face, and that men who beat their wives were not ‘the best of men’. Because the Qur’an must be read as a whole, parts cannot be taken out of context, and it can be seen that divorce is a final solution to an incompatible marriage, not taking the law into one’s own hands.
The Qur’an advises a separate process to women who have misbehaving husbands. Since a misbehaving husband is highly unlikely to listen to his wife, the Qur’an advises women to involve trusted third parties to mediate between them.
In the case of adultery on the part of the wife evidence must be produced to support his accusation. The husband cannot accuse her without evidence: that is, four eye witnesses to the act who are practicing Muslims, or (if the husband has been the only eye witness) voluntary confession four times and an invocation for the curse of God if she is lying, or if the husband has been the only witness his testimony four times and an invocation for the curse of God if he is lying (false witness of slander of an innocent woman incurs a severe penalty) (Surah 4:19). Eyewitnesses or voluntary confessions are also required for the case of adultery of a husband. Obviously it would be extremely difficult to find four pious Muslims in a situation of witnessing this crime, and demonstrates the seriousness of slander (particularly) of women. Therefore, the so-called ‘honour killings’ usually have nothing to do with Islamic legal procedures.
Written by Latifa Craig