Status of women in Islam has often been a subject of controversy. Among many, the image of a Muslim woman is viewed as one under oppression and domination of males, confined within the boundaries of her home, not having the opportunity to express herself or take part in public life. Such misconceptions are due to the fact that non-Muslims are seldom presented with the Qur’anic directives concerning the rights and responsibilities of women and usually their perception of Islam is based on the traditions and cultural practices of certain individuals specific within a locality, which are then stereo-typed as legitimate Islamic practices. This grave situation results due to the fact that the Muslim world of nowadays has distanced itself from Allah’s Book, and the majority of those who may identify themselves as Muslim, are themselves unaware of its contents, and instead blindly follow the doctrines of the sect in which they are born into, assuming them to be consistent with the Qur’an.
It should be understood that when we say something is Islamic, then what exactly is the authority for that matter? Is something Islamic, just because people who may apply the label of a Muslim on them selves are practicing it? Even a mere superficial study of the Qur’an makes it evident that the final authority for all matters of Islam lies with the Book of Allah. Whatever is confirmed by the Qur’an, is valid as Islamic practice, and what is refuted or resented by it, is not. Hence the following article presents what is that status that the Qur’an has given to women. The Qur’anic directives for this matter should be considered as the final authority, and opinions or actions of those who label themselves as Muslims or associate themselves with Islam should be judged in the light of the Holy Qur’an, and should not be accepted as ‘Islamic’ if they are refuted or resented by the Qur’an.
The Qur’an declares that the male and the female are equal in status and utility as both have been created by Allah. Unlike the Bible, which states that Eve (woman) was created from Adam’s rib (See Genesis 2:4, 3:24), the Qur’an informs us that both the male as well as the female were created out of one single source material called “Nafsin wahida”.
“O Mankind! be careful of (your duty to) your Sustainer, Who created you (all humans, men as well as women) from a single Self <Nafsin wahidatin> and created from it, its complimentary pair and spread from these two, many men and women; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, by Whom you demand one of another (your rights), and (to) the ties of relationship; surely Allah ever watches over you.” (4:1)
“He it is Who created you (o human beings) from a single self <Nafsin wahidatin>, and made from her, her complimentary pair, that she may find peace in her..” (7:189)
Discarding the Biblical story where Eve is held responsible for Adam’s temptation and expulsion from Heaven (See Genesis 2:3), the Qur’an states that both Adam (man) as well as his pair (woman) were equally tempted by Satan, both of them tasted of the forbidden fuit, both of them were equally admonished for their forgetfulness, and both repented and their repentance was accepted by their Sustainer. This is stated in the following verses of Sura Al-Araaf:
“And (We said): O Adam! Dwell you and your pair in the garden; so eat from where you desire, but do not go near this tree, for then you will be of the unjust. But the Shaitan made an evil suggestion to both of them that he might make manifest to them what had been hidden from them of their evil inclinations, and he said: Your Sustainer has not forbidden you this tree except that you may not both become two angels or that you may (not) become of the immortals. And he swore to them both: Most surely I am a sincere adviser to you. Then he caused them to fall by deceit; so when they (both, Adam and his pair) tasted of the tree, their evil inclinations became manifest to them, and they both began to cover themselves with the leaves of the garden; and their Sustainer called out to them: Did I not forbid you both from that tree and say to you that the Shaitan is your open enemy? They said: Our Sustainer! We have been unjust to ourselves, and if Thou forgive us not, and have (not) mercy on us, we shall certainly be of the losers.” (7:19-23)
Earlier in Sura Al-Baqara, it was also said that both man and woman, were tempted by Satan:
“But Shaitan made them both fall from it, and caused them to depart from that (state) in which they were..” (2:36)
Thus it is clear from the above that the Qur’an maintains that both men as well as women were created out of one source material called “Nafsin wahidatin”, i.e ‘A Single Self’, and both man and woman were equally responsible for their expulsion from the Garden. The Qur’an does not harmonize with the view that the first woman was created from a man’s rib or that she was the one who caused humankind to be expelled from Heaven.
WOMENS’ TREATMENT BY UNBELIEVERS
In a society which is governed by superstition, ignorance and self interest of the elite, the female gender is oppressed to the fullest extreme and she is always considered as a lowly being in comparison to men. Her rights are usurped by the influential class and she seldom has the opportunity to voice her grievances. The Qur’an detests such a mentality which considers females to be of a lower worth than males, for we are clearly told that in the sight of God, every human child, regardless of race, gender, or social affiliation is equally honored and worthy of respect:
“And indeed We have honored every Human Child..” (17:70)
The Qur’an informs us that in a society of unbelievers, the female gender is despised and a son is preferred over a daughter. In Sura Al Nahl their mentality is identified:
“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 it on (sufferance and) contempt or bury it in the dust? Ah! what an evil (choice) they decide on?” (16:58-59)
In such a society, the female gender is not only despised, but she is also deprived of the nourishment that was to be meant equally for her as well as her male counterpart. The unbelievers are identified to restrict females from the sustenance that was meant for the consumption of both the genders, on the basis of self made traditions:
“They say: “What is in the wombs of such and such cattle is specially reserved (for food) for our men and forbidden to our women; but if it is still-born then all have share therein. For their (false) attribution (of superstitions to God) He will soon punish them: for He is full of wisdom and knowledge.” (6:139)
Such is the treatment imparted by the unbelievers to the feminine gender. In any society, where males are preferred over females, where females are deprived of their essential nutrition, such should be identified as a society of disbelievers in the divine values, for Allah has informed us in His Book, that the birth of a male or a female is in accordance with His laws of nature and not something to raise discrimination against:
“Allah’s is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth; He creates what He pleases; He grants to whom He pleases daughters (in accordance with His laws) and grants to whom He pleases sons (in accordance with His laws). Or He makes them of both sorts, male and female; and He makes whom He pleases barren (in accordance with His natural laws) ; surely He is the Knowing, the Powerful.” (42:49-50)
A child is born not only of a father, but also a mother, therefore it should not be subjected to any bias on account of its birth:
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (49:13)
Now let us proceed to see what would be the status of women in a society which is governed by Quranic principles.
RIGHT TO ACQUIRE EDUCATION
The Qur’an has stated that the acquisition of education is compulsory for all the believers. About the messenger it is stated that he taught the Book of Allah to his audience, which included men as well as women:
“He it is Who raised among the inhabitants of Mecca a messenger from among themselves, who recites to them His verses and provides development to their personalities, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom, although they were before certainly in clear error.” (62:2)
For imparting knowledge, no fee was charged:
“Say: I do not ask you any reward except that any who wills, may take the way to his Sustainer.” (25:57)
In the acquisition of knowledge, women are also included, as the wives of the Nabi (S.A.W) were commanded:
“And keep to mind what is recited in your houses of the communications of Allah and the wisdom; surely Allah is Knower of subtleties, Aware.” (33:34)
Thus the Qur’an has stipulated that women should also be educated and trained to know the realities of life.
RIGHT OF EXPRESSION
The Qur’an informs us that women in a Qur’anic society not only have the right to express themselves freely but she is in such a position that she may even argue and hold discussions with the head of the community. The messenger of Allah (p) who was not only the divine emissary to his people but also the first head of the Islamic state, gave so much freedom in society that the people, including women were in a position to argue with him. The Qur’an records this in the Sura titled “Al-Mujadilah” (the title of the Sura itself means “the woman who argues”). We are informed:
“Allah indeed knows the plea of her who argues with you (O messenger) about her husband and complains to Allah, and Allah knows the contentions of both of you; surely Allah is Hearing, Seeing.” (58:1)
Women are also to take an active part in public life. In Sura Al-Mumtahina we are informed of their public allegiance to the Prophet (See 60:12). Along with men, women were also included in these public discussions with the office bearers of the Islamic state: (See 60:10).
RIGHT TO SELECT A LIFE PARTNER
For the subject of marriage, the Qur’an has provided detailed guidance. We are told that marriage is the name of a contract between consenting adu