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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Status of Women in Islam

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The Status of Women in Islam


Introduction


In the history of the world, Islam was the first religion and the first social system which recognized the human status of women and awarded them the highest dignity and honor. In addition, Islam granted women equal rights with men in every aspect, and abolished all discriminations on the basis of sex. Amina Muhsin, who is well-known Islamic author, claims that “Women’s rights in the civil, political, social, economic and cultural areas are indivisible from one another in the realities of daily life; it is thus insufficient to see only civil and political rights as relevant for legal protection. Similarly, women’s rights, stemming from the recognition of their subordinate position, cannot be isolated from the economic, social and political rights of all the male members of the society.” (7) According to the ancient Persians, woman was a symbol of filth and evil, and all wicked deities were represented as females. During this period, in which women were deprived of all rights, Islam’s attempts to liberate them from this shameful position were expressed in Prophet Muhammed’s own words. These words are, ‘Woman is the equal of man and the other half of the society, He who respects his wife’s rights is a good Muslim’. In Islam, both women and men have the same status. In the words of the Quran God says “You are members, one of another.” (15) There is no difference between men and women in regards status, rights and blessings both in this world and in the hereafter. Both are equal participants as the carrying out of the functions of daily living. God clearly defined and guaranteed the rights of women in the Quran so that they could no more be exposed to those wrongs, injustices and oppressions which had been inflicted on them since the beginning of the human species.


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However, after just a short time from the death of the Prophet Muhammed people started to change and misinterpret all the verses of the Quran and they started to use Quran by ignoring some parts of it. Women were started to be seen as inferior to men again and they were deprived of all rights. This has been a problem since those days and it has caused a big question for today’s societies. What is the status of women in Islam and have women any rights in Islam? This is worth studying since people believe that Islam is a religion for men rather than women and it gives no right to women. Additionally, Islam is displayed as the worst religion that exists in the world by abusing real Quran’s rights. For instance, Sarah Shaver Hughes says that Islamic practices regarding women are so resistant to change because they have the sanction of the Quran (). It is obvious that she sees Islam as a very restrictive religion for women. This misconception of Islam is just because of the wrong applications in some Islamic countries which are governed by theocracy such as Iran. In order to understand the right place of women in Islam, firstly we must look at the Quran, which is the most reliable source, and has certain rules about Islam. After that, to understand what Islam provides women with better, we can compare status of women before Islam and after Islam in terms of some qualifications such as women’s education and rights in marriage. For instance, if we look at the position of Islam in relation to women’s education in particular, we see that they are equal to men in the pursuit of education and knowledge. When Islam enjoins the seeking of knowledge upon Muslims, it makes no distinction between man and woman. As Abdul-Ati Hammuda states in his article, almost fourteen centuries ago, Prophet Muhammed declared that the pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim male and female. This declaration was very clear and was implemented by Muslims throughout history (www.unn.ac.uk). As a conclusion, it will become apparent from this study that contrary to the world-spread misconceptions, women in Islam are permitted to full rights as citizens and Islam raised women to the status of being as worthy of human dignity.


The Place of Women in Society Before Islam


As Javad Haifaa states in his book “The Rights of Women in Islam”, it is a well-known fact that the condition of women in general before Islam was dismal. The history of human civilization shows that women were slaves for their husbands, who could keep them or divorce them at their will and pleasure. Women were viewed as the symbol of sin, misfortune, shame and they had no rights or positions in society. They were not individuals themselves and men had absolute domination over them (1). Additionally they were deprived of all opportunities to develop their personalities and their individualities. Women were also denied all rights of inheritance and ownership in this period. In fact, women were being seen not as a person but as a thing to buy and sell.


However, in the Arabian Peninsula, the birth place of Islam, the situation of women was obviously worst before Islam. Men have absolute domination over them in this time. They belonged to their fathers or to their husbands; therefore, they were not individuals themselves. It has been stated in Baveja’s book that “At annual gatherings and fairs women were made to dance naked and poets sat around composing poems on various parts of their body and movements.”(5) It is clear that they were treated as an object of sex with no respect and they had the lowest dignity.


On the other hand, women were also considered as a heavy burden on the family in pre-Islamic Arabia. The birth of a daughter was thought as a cause of disgrace and shame and it would make the father sad and sorrowful. They would feel pride when they had sons but felt ashamed when they had daughter. The Quran describes this situation “When the birth of a girl is announced to one of them, his face grows dark and he is filled with inward gloom. Because of the bad news, he hides himself from men should he keep her with disgrace or bury her under the dust? How ill they judge!”(1656). Therefore, a large number of Arab fathers buried their newly born daughters alive in order to escape their disgrace.


The Place of Women in Society After Islam


However, Hamada Abdul-Ate clearly explains that Islam has given women rights and privileges, which she has never enjoyed under other religious systems (www.unn.ac.uk). Firstly, it prohibited the practice of burying female child alive and restored the birth rights of women. Islam raised them to the status of being as worthy of human dignity as were men. Therefore, both men and women were regarded as equal in humanity. The Quran says “Allah created you from a single soul, and from the same soul created his mate”. Similarly the Prophet Muhammed is reported to have said “All people are equal, as equal as the teeth of comb. There is no claim of merit of an Arab over a non-Arab or of white over a black person or of a male over a female. Only God fearing people merit a preference with God”. It is clearly understood from these words that woman is recognized as a full and equal partner of man in the procreation of humankind by Islam. Both are essential for life. Women’s role is not less vital than men’s and they are equal to men in all essential rights and duties in Islam.


The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to a man but they are not necessarily identical with them. Equality and sameness are two quite different things. “This distinction between equality and sameness is of paramount importance. Equality is desirable, just, fair; but sameness is not. People are not created identical but they are created equals.” (www.unn.ac.uk). Therefore, even though men and women are not identical, they are equal in the society of Islam and none of them is inferior to other.


Within the context of family ties, the legal status of Muslim women can be considered at different stages as a daughter, as a mother, as a sister and as a wife (Javad 1). Firstly, Islam stopped such cruelties and insisted on equal treatment between sons and daughters. The Prophet Muhammed urged parents not to make any differences between the children and to be kind to them, particularly young girls. He clearly indicates the status of female children in Islam by saying “If a daughter is born to a person and he brings her up, gives her a good education and trains her in the arts of life, I shall myself stand between him and hell fire” (Javad 1). Furthermore, women have great respect and affection as a mother. The Quran advises Muslims to show love and consideration to the parents particularly to the mothers. Prophet Muhammed states the value of motherhood with these words “The heaven lies under the mothers’ feet”. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammed emphasizes the value of women in Islam as a wife that “The best of you are they who behave best to their wives”. Besides the Prophet Muhammed was a good example as the model husband who treated his wives with great love, compassion and consideration.


Islam and Women’s Education


One of the most important rights granted to women by Islam is the right to education. Islam strongly encourages the education of women both in religious and social areas. Knowledge and education are highly emphasized in Islam. Both are indivisible parts of Islamic religion and learning is an unending process according the Quran. As Javad says “The Quran is full of verses which praise learned people, encourage original thinking and personal investigation and denounce unimaginative imitation (16). It also emphasizes the importance of the study of nature and its laws. It is a fact that the first verse of the Quran was a command to the Prophet Muhammed to read (Iqra). It is obvious that here he was introduced to learn, to study and to understand the God and the universe. Similarly the other Quranic verses which advocate knowledge and learning are “Allah will raise to high ranks those that have faith and knowledge among you. He is cognizant of all your actions” (58), “Are the wise and ignorant equal?” (). The Prophet Muhammed also emphasized the importance of knowledge to his followers and encouraged to seek it by saying “Search for knowledge though it is in China”, “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”. In conclusion, When Islam enjoins the seeking of knowledge upon Muslims it makes no distinction between man and woman.


There is no priority for men over women in relation to the right to education. Both are equally encouraged to acquire education from the cradle to the grave. Indeed all the Quranic verses which are related to education and knowledge were directed to both men and women. Neither the Quran nor the Prophet Muhammed prohibit or prevent women from seeking knowledge and having an education. Hence, the Prophet Muhammed introduced his followers to educate the women in any position in the society by saying “A man who educates his slave girl, frees her and then marriages her, this man will have a double reward”. Also there is no limitation of women’s education in Islam. They are allowed to learn all the branches of science and also are free to choose any field of knowledge which interests them.


Women and Marriage in Islam


Marriage is undoubtedly one of the most important institutions of human society. Islam assigns great importance to marriage. As Javad clarify in his book, the Quran clearly indicates that the real and natural way to gain peace and satisfaction in life is through a husband-wife relationship (0). In fact it is extremely recommended on religious, moral and social grounds. Islam views marriage to be benefit to both the individual and the society. Moreover, fulfilling one’s sexual desire is another important aspect of marriage. It helps to control sexual passion and direct it in the right direction according to the Islam. It protects the people against adultery and fornication which both are forbidden in Islam. In addition, it provides an opportunity to develop oneself in a good way as the result of the family responsibility.


In his book “Status of Women in Islam” Qamaruddin Khan explains that polygamy means having more than one wife at the same time. Before Islam, it was widely practiced in the world and regarded as a symbol of male virility, power and domination (16). The practice of polygamy in Islam continues to be one of the most controversial subjects concerning women and Islam. Javad says that “Misconceptions about this traditional Islamic institution are widespread and it is vigorously condemned by non-Muslims (4). Moreover, it is claimed that Islam has introduced and encouraged the practice of polygamy which is therefore portrayed as confined to Muslims only. Before Islam, polygamy was a well-known practice without any limitation among most ancient nations. For instance, in pre-Islamic Arabia, a man was allowed to marry an unlimited number of wives without any restrictions.


However, it is a fact that Islam limited the number of wives to four (under certain conditions) and introduced monogamy as an ideal form of marriage. Moreover, Islam prohibited some forms of polygamy which were prevalent in Arabia such as marrying to sisters at the same time or a woman and her aunt, etc.


On the other hand polygamy is allowed only if there is no worry about the issue of injustice towards the wives, and it is forbidden if the husband doubts his ability to deal with them justly (Javad 45). It is obvious that a man in Islam can not have more than one wife if he has not the ability to achieve absolute justice towards his wives. Quran recommends “if you fear that you will not do justice, then marry only one” (Muhsin 15). The Quran is clearly explaining that if there is fear of injustice, a man has to marry one wife. This constitutes a moral and religious limitation of polygamy.


Polygamy is permitted under exceptional conditions. For instance, one of the conditions is the desire of man to have children if his wife is unable to give birth. It is known by everyone that one of the aims of marrying is having children. In societies which don’t give permission to polygamy, the solution of the problem when women have an illness which prevents them from giving birth depends on divorcing her and marrying another woman. In fact, instead of divorcing barren women, marrying a second woman is regarded as more humane and moral for the first wife and for the society. In this situation, polygamy is more acceptable and beneficial for women than divorcing for another woman. Another situation is a social necessity when women outnumber men as the result of war. In fact the verse of Quran which permits polygamy is revealed to the Prophet Muhammed after the battle of Ohud which many Muslim men were killed. Another example is that during the II. World War, Germany lost 7 million people. German sociologist tried to solve the problem of widows because their number reached a dangerous limit after the war. One of the solutions that were considered for this problem was giving legal permission for polygamy. In this condition, polygamy was considered to solve the problems of people.


Conclusion


In conclusion, Islam has granted the women broad social, political and economic rights, education and training rights and work opportunity rights contrary to all misconceptions. Islam should be viewed as a religion that had immensely improved the status of women and had granted them many rights fourteen years ago that the modern world has recognized only this century. Additionally as Far�qi expresses “Islam still has so much to offer todays woman dignity, respect and protection in all aspects and all stages of her life from birth until death in addition to the recognition, the balance, and means for the fulfillment of all her spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional needs” (6).


Ambassador Herman Eilts, in a testimony in front of the committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress on June 4th, 185, said, The Muslim community of the globe today is in the neighborhood of one billion. That is an impressive figure. But what to me is equally impressive is that Islam today is the fastest growing monotheistic religion. This is something we have to take into account. Something is right about Islam. It is attracting a good many people. (www.unn.ac.uk). Yes, something is right about Islam and it is time to find that out.


References


Baveja, Malik Ram. Women in Islam. New York Advent Books, 181


Far�ki, Lamya. Women, Muslim Society, and Islam. USA American Trust Publications.11


Haifaa, A. Javad. The Rights of Women in Islam. USA St. Martin’s Press, Inc. 18


Hammuda, Abdul-Ati. The Status of Woman in Islam. http//www.unn.ac.uk /societies


/islamic/women/status1.htm.


Huges, Sarah Shaver & Huges, Brady. Women in World History. London M. E. Sharpe.


15.


Khan, Qamaruddin. Status of Women in Islam. India Sterling Publishers Private Ltd. 10


Muhsin, Amina Wadud. Quran and Woman. Malasia Percetakan Direct Art Sdn. 1


Sherif, Muhammed. Book rewiev of a Landmark Book on Status of Women in Religions.


http//www.unn.ac.uk/societies/islamic/women/jcepilog.htm


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