The Fairer Sex

>> Friday, January 28, 2011

Aselemoo alyekoom sisters,
I have many questions to ask you, but my biggest question is what are women's rights in Islam. I have been reading so much lately that I am starting to get confused. Can you tell me how you reconcile the fact that women must wear hijab, stay at home, etc. with women's rights? Is it alright to be a feminist and be a Muslim or not?

wa'alykum as salam wa rahmatullah wa barkatoo,
Dearest Sis,

This is a fantastic question. Unfortunately, the media often tries to portray Islam as a religion that oppresses women; the truth is the very opposite- Islam elevated the status of women. In fact, if by feminism you mean 'advocating the equality between men and women' (and not the sameness of men and women), then, yes, Islam is a feminist religion. Islam preaches that men and women are EQUAL....

But don't just take my word for it.

Let's take out our Holy Book. It is the Quran which clearly tells us in many ayahs that men and women are equal in the sight of God, created from a single soul (Adam).

O Mankind, keep your duty to your Lord who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate (of same kind) and from them twain has spread a multitude of men and women" (Qur'an 4: 1).

He (God) it is who did create you from a single soul and therefrom did create his mate, that he might dwell with her (in love)...(Qur'an 7:189)

And their Lord has accepted (their prayers) and answered them (saying): 'Never will I cause to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female; you are members, one of another... (3:195; cf 9:71;33:35-36;66:19-21

Moreover, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said that men and women are like twins or siblings!

What's more, unlike the Biblical tradition which put the blame of sin on Eve, Islamic tradition rejects the idea that Eve is the one who encouraged Adam to sin and instead sees it as a shortcoming on both of their parts’. Both did a mistake. Both repented and both were forgiven.

It should be clear then, that Islam promotes the equality of both genders. It's just that Islam says that they are 'distinct' (biologically, physically, etc.), each with their own roles to fulfill; however, these roles in no way signify that women are 'less'...

Let's take a closer look at the different roles a woman may have in her life (as a daughter, wife, and mother):

As a daughter: Islam completely changed the attitude people had about daughters. Before Islam, the Arabs used to bury their daughters alive! The Quran denounced this barbaric custom just as it criticized the attitudes prevalent at the time:

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? (Qur'an 16: 58-59).

However, Islam went even more than just being critical of such attitudes. It linked heaven to having daughters and treating them well. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said whoever has three daughters, takes care of them, and gives them a good upbringing will be rewarded heaven. He, then, agreed that the same reward would be given to anyone who has two daughters. As far as my knowledge, there is no hadith that explicitly grants the same reward for having three sons or two sons- proof that daughters are very elevated.

As a wife: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him said) that a woman who has hit puberty must give her consent for a marriage to be valid. Thus, Islamically speaking, a woman cannot be forced to marry anyone against her will.

Furthermore, a marriage contract is not valid unless a woman is given a gift or mahr to symbolize affection. This belongs to her alone- it’s not given to her father/ husband. (It’s very similar to the Western idea a man has to buy a ‘diamond’ ring if he wants to propose)

Moreover, the Quran repeatedly emphasizes that there should be love and mercy between spouses and that both have rights over each other.

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."(Qur'an 30:2 1).
And they (women) have rights (over their husbands) similar (to those of their husbands) over them as regards to what is reasonable, but men have a degree (of responsibility) over them.) [2:228].

But what truly shows the elevated status of a wife are a number of hadiths, including:

This world is nothing but temporary conveniences, and the greatest joy in this world is a righteous woman.”

“The Prophet said, “The best of you is the best to his family and I am the best among you to my family.”

He also said, “The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and best of you are those who are best to their wives. (Ibn-Hanbal, No. 7396)

It is important to note that just as Islam gave women the right to reject suitors, it gave them the right to ask for divorce if they find themselves in unhappy or seriously unfulfilling marriages.

Another important side note is the fact that when women marry, they do not take their husband’s name but keep their own last name- this is to emphasize that they are individuals with rights, not some property that changes ownership.

As a mother: The Quran repeatedly reminds us that our parents have rights over us- so much so, we are commanded not even to utter “ouf” (or the least sign of annoyance). But mothers, especially, have an elevated status. It is doubtful that any other religion has elevated their status to the same degree.

In fact, a man once came to the Prophet and said, “O Messenger of God, who among the people is the most worthy of my good company? The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Your mother’. The man said,’ Then who else?’ The Prophet said,’ Your mother’. The man said, ‘Then who else?’ The Prophet said, ‘Your mother’. The man asked, ‘Then who else?’ Only then did the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) say, Your father. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

Furthermore, recognizing how painful labor is, the Prophet revealed that at the very first contraction a woman experiences, all of her sins are erased. Also, the Prophet said that any woman who dies while in labor is considered a martyr.

Islam thinks so highly of mothers that Muslims are told they can never repay their mothers, no matter what good they may do. What is more, the Prophet told us to remain at our mothers’ feet because that is where heaven lies.

To fully demonstrate how important mothers are, the Prophet revealed that before Islam, there was a man who used to worship Allah and who would pray a lot. Whenever he would start his supplementary prayers (extra ones beyond the obligatory prayers), his mother would call his name to ask him to do something- the man would wonder whether he should continue praying or answer his mother’s call, but he would reason that his prayer was more important and he would ignore her. His mother became very upset one time and she prayed against him. Allah granted her prayer teaching us that obeying our mothers is more important than supplementary acts of worship.

Finally in every Lesser pilgrimage (umrah) and Hajj, Muslim men, especially, are told to commemorate Hajar, Abraham’s wife’s, struggle to find water for her son, Ismael, after Prophet Abraham left her in the desert at the command of Allah. Thus, Muslim men imitate her, running where she ran between the mountains looking for water. Is there any other religion that has so memorialized a mother’s act of love?

(An important note is that Muslim women are given the right to abortion only if their pregnancy endangers their health.)

So far, it should appear obvious, then, that women are highly esteemed as daughters, wives, and mothers. Each role in fact, elevates their status.

But what about women's economic rights in Islam?

Again, Islam has given women rights that no modern society has been able to match. Muslims believe that men are financially responsible for women- thus, they must secure decent clothing, housing, food, etc for their wives and daughters (and their female relatives, such as their sisters, mothers, etc if their “guardians” have passed away) regardless of whether or not the women in the family have money. Let us say, for instance, a woman makes $100,000 a year. This does not mean her husband does not have to pay for her financial needs- Islamically, he is still supposed to pay for her basic finances! Interestingly enough, women are not under any obligations to pay or help out financially in their homes. Their money belongs solely to them- completely at their disposal. How can anyone think that this system oppresses women? As for working, Islam believes that motherhood is such a sacred duty that it should come first before work. However, women may work if they find suitable jobs where they do not have to compromise religious principles.

Related to this, is the fact that Islam gave women the right to own and sell property just as it gave them the right to inherit. These may seem like basic rights, but two or three hundred years ago, many Western women still did not have these rights!

Thus, economically, women are not oppressed at all.

How about women as individuals? Many people often think of Muslim women as oppressed, silent shadows. Although some women may be oppressed, this is due to cultural backwardness rather than Islam. Women in Islam have always played an active role. The first person to believe in Prophet Mohammed was his wife, Khadija (May Allah be pleased with her). The first martyr in Islam was a woman. Besides being pioneers and fighting alongside men in wars, women were scholars. It was under Aisha’s tutelage, one of the Prophet’s wives, (May Allah be pleased with her) that many of the scholars learned about Islam.

Scholars? Really? So Islam isn't against women being educated?

Of course NOT! Did you know that the first degree granting university ever built in the entire world was built by two Muslim sisters in the 9th century (in 859)? Princess Fatima al-Firhi and her sister built the al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University in Morocco long before Western women were even given the right to enter a university!

Therefore, as should be obvious, Islam did not oppress women.

It liberated them.


P.s. As for hijab, when a woman adorns the hijab, she is signaling to the world that she is a Muslim and has submitted herself to her Lord. She rejects the idea that anyone should be able to look at her and instead, declares her body her own private property- firmly, she tells the world that she will not parade her beauty and instead will only reveal it to the people who truly love and value her. Thus, she decides who will be able to see what and how much (of course, it is Allah who decided who can see what but by wearing the hijab a Muslim woman shows that she accepts His Wisdom). Doesn't this sound like the ultimate feminist tool? Besides, it allows women to be flag bearers of their faith. And let's not forget that men also have a dress-code to follow.

P.s.S.  Please read this link, too!!

9 wonderful sprinkely thoughts:

Fida Islaih January 28, 2011 at 1:13 PM  

This is such a powerful post, masha'allah! Thank you!!

Azzahra Asmara January 28, 2011 at 4:48 PM  

Very well explanation sister..This perception of women depressed in Islam is one of the successful story framed by western media..Islam in fact hears women's voice and what's we need..I made a cartoon about one of this issue..take a look here inshaallah..
Have a great day! :)

* January 29, 2011 at 10:58 AM  

Salam alaikum ladies..I just have a thought about this topic and I want to focus more on the feminism part of the questions, since you have done a wonderful job identifying the real Islam in your answer.

I am not sure if any woman should have to ask if she can be a Muslimah and a feminist.
Feminism is defined one way in the West, but other parts of the world women are defining it in ways that best suit their needs and their realities. Muslim women value family, their husbands and Allah. We value Islam as the threshold of our existence, thus, there is a greater community to take into account, it is the global community.

Years ago, Middle class women in the US, Canada & England went out to fight for the so-called rights of women...they meant women like them right? At the same time OTHER women (poor, coloured, disabled) cleaned their houses, cooked their meals, and tended to their babies, how is that feminism? It's more like hypocrisy.
We don't want that hypocritical legacy...we are Muslims.

I just want to say that a Feminist Muslimah is one who takes care of herself and her community. Unfortunately, men from all races, religion, cultures use forces to take away basic rights given to each of us by Allah, BUT, feminism should never just be about the woman whose opinions we hear...women who are not in the forefront are no less feminists (if they want to be).

Women who chose to stay at home, OR work outside, wear hijab and practice Islam are the best women. Also, au contraire to the West definition of freedom of person, Allah does not deem that men and women are oppositional...we are perfect pairs. Family disruptions and imbalance are often the forces behind individuality. In Islam we are complimentary to each other, and it is Allah's will.

It is very clear that Muslim women have been active and successful in society for many one can take away our history. We (Muslim women)cannot and should not blame Islam for the wrongs of the society...instead we must look at our cultural practices, follow the teachings of the Prophet(pbuh), and be careful and diligent when we choose our mates.

*Sisters you did a wonderful job giving man many examples about women's rights, kudos to you for that.*

I'm sorry for the long comment.

Little Auntie January 29, 2011 at 11:23 AM  

Sorry for the long comment? ARE you joking?!! I loved your answer. So beautiful and true. Thank you for taking the time to type it up. I hope the person this was written for will read it thoroughly, inshaAllah.

Fida and Zahrah, little miss aunty says thank youuuuu <3

I saw your cartoon, Zahrah. Going to comment there, nowish, inshaAllah <3

Bubbli January 30, 2011 at 12:42 PM  

mashAllah i was just wondering about this topic.

jzk allah little miss aunty

MoOn January 31, 2011 at 10:56 AM  

Very interesting question and enlightening answers Mashallah :)

Maria February 2, 2011 at 3:56 PM  

That was an amazing post! :) I'm in high school and the next time a teacher asks me about religion i have more back up facts.

Just last week i was asked how i feel about Iran banning woman from watching sports. I was like...?!?! :O That's culture, not religion!!!

Thank you!

Abeer S - a world with strangers June 19, 2012 at 11:32 PM  

Asalam Alaikum wa Rahmatu Allah,

I had written my thoughts on Feminism and Islam, and I thought I'd share them here:

:)I'd love to hear your comments.

DaisyChainSister,  July 15, 2012 at 1:15 PM  

A great post (as usual Mashallah!)Keep up the amazing work!

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Asalamu aialkum!
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