The Status of Woman in Islam
Al-Azhar Magazine – May 1975
There are various talks and writings about the status of woman in Islam. Some of them hold the opinion that Islam degrades the woman offers her a lesser fortune in life and empowers the man to marry her or divorce her when it pleases him. Some others deal with the high status of woman in Islamic legislations. There are also long talks and writings about one or two aspects in which Islam has dealt with the case of the woman i.e. polygamy, divorce, inheritance.
If we refer to the Quran, which is the supreme source of the Islamic legislations and the true guidance in these matters, we find that Islam places the woman in a place of honour, and introduces legislations, which highly cultured woman in any high standard society, would never dream of anything like to place her so highly. Only the Quran itself can illustrate to people how Islam cares for the woman. It is the arbitrator in this subject.
It is impossible to assimilate here everything said in the Quran about woman. The Quran deals with the case of the woman in more than ten ‘Surahs’. But the following set of subjects dealt with in the Quran about the woman may be a guide line to see the truth in many aspects in which Islam had dealt with the status of the woman.
The Holy Quran says:
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلنَّاسُ ٱتَّقُواْ رَبَّكُمُ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفۡسٍ۬ وَٲحِدَةٍ۬ وَخَلَقَ مِنۡہَا زَوۡجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنۡہُمَا رِجَالاً۬ كَثِيرً۬ا وَنِسَآءً۬ۚ وَٱتَّقُواْ ٱللَّهَ ٱلَّذِى تَسَآءَلُونَ بِهِۦ وَٱلۡأَرۡحَامَۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيۡكُمۡ رَقِيبً۬ا
(O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah in Whom ye claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bare you). Lo! Allah hath been a watcher over you.) (4 :1)
In this verse the Quran speaks about the partnership of the man and the woman in the making of the origin of mankind. This partnership is regarded by the Quran a blessing for which man should be pious and watchful.
The Quran preserves in this history of the woman and her attitude towards her problems, and her capability for the grant and readiness for the offer. Recording for depth of insight in clarifying truths, and management of matters, let us quote here the following two examples:
- The story of Shoeb’s daughter. The Quran says :
قَالَتۡ إِحۡدَٮٰهُمَا يَـٰٓأَبَتِ ٱسۡتَـٔۡجِرۡهُۖ إِنَّ خَيۡرَ مَنِ ٱسۡتَـٔۡجَرۡتَ ٱلۡقَوِىُّ ٱلۡأَمِي
(One of the two women said: O my father! Hire him! For the best (man) that thou canst hire is the strong, the trustworthy.) (28:26)
In this verse the strength of her insight is recorded. Honesty is one of the internal qualities which could be grasped only through long life and various experiences. It is not to be grasped in one meeting or by one glimpse. Shoeb’s daughter had not seen Moses except when he came to Madian’s water place and found a crown of people watering their flocks and found her with sister struggling to find a place, he said :
وَلَمَّا وَرَدَ مَآءَ مَدۡيَنَ وَجَدَ عَلَيۡهِ أُمَّةً۬ مِّنَ ٱلنَّاسِ يَسۡقُونَ وَوَجَدَ مِن دُونِهِمُ ٱمۡرَأَتَيۡنِ تَذُودَانِۖ قَالَ مَا خَطۡبُكُمَاۖ قَالَتَا لَا نَسۡقِى حَتَّىٰ يُصۡدِرَ ٱلرِّعَآءُۖ وَأَبُونَا شَيۡخٌ۬ ڪَبِيرٌ۬ (٢٣) فَسَقَىٰ لَهُمَا ثُمَّ تَوَلَّىٰٓ إِلَى ٱلظِّلِّ فَقَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّى لِمَآ أَنزَلۡتَ إِلَىَّ مِنۡ خَيۡرٍ۬ فَقِيرٌ۬
(And when he came unto the water of Midian he found there a whole tribe of men, watering. And he found apart from them two women keeping back (their flocks). He said: What aileth you? The two said: We cannot give (our flocks) to drink till the shepherds return from the water; and our father is a very old man. So he watered (their flock) for them. Then he turned aside into the shade, and said: My Lord! I am needy of whatever good Thou sendest down for me.)(28: 23-24)
The secrets of the deepest soul could not be known to a person by this bit of insight unless he has the strength of insight which Shoeb’s daughter had.
- The reference to the Queen of Saba’a. It is related that the Queen said : If he ( Soliman, peace be upon him ) is a true messenger, he will not accept our present from preaching the message of God. But if he is not, he will rejoice in the present which will dazzle him and consequently avoid fighting us. What she had predicted did happen. The Holy Quran says:
وَإِنِّى مُرۡسِلَةٌ إِلَيۡہِم بِهَدِيَّةٍ۬ فَنَاظِرَةُ بِمَ يَرۡجِعُ ٱلۡمُرۡسَلُونَ
(But lo! I am going to send a present unto them, and to see with what (answer) the messengers return.) (27:35)
When the Queen;s ambassadors offered their present Soliman, the messenger said:
فَلَمَّا جَآءَ سُلَيۡمَـٰنَ قَالَ أَتُمِدُّونَنِبِ مَالٍ۬ فَمَآ ءَاتَٮٰنِ ۦَٱللَّهُ خَيۡرٌ۬ مِّمَّ آءَاتَٮٰكُم بَلۡ أَنتُم بِہَدِيَّتِكُمۡ تَفۡرَحُونَ
(So when (the envoy) came unto Solomon, (the King) said: What! Would ye help me with wealth? But that which Allah hath given me is better than that which He hath given you. Nay it is ye (and not I) who exult in your gift. (36)) (27: 36)
The Quran referred to the ability of the woman to manage matters of good quality on a good basis without sticking to one opinion, by relating the way in which Saba’a handled the matter when she received a not from Soliman. The Quran says:
قَالَتۡ يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلۡمَلَؤُاْ أَفۡتُونِى فِىٓ أَمۡرِى مَا ڪُنتُ قَاطِعَةً أَمۡرًا حَتَّىٰ تَشۡہَدُونِ (٣٢) قَالُواْ نَحۡنُ أُوْلُواْ قُوَّةٍ۬ وَأُوْلُواْ بَأۡسٍ۬ شَدِيدٍ۬ وَٱلۡأَمۡرُ إِلَيۡكِ فَٱنظُرِى مَاذَا تَأۡمُرِينَ (٣٣) قَالَتۡ إِنَّ ٱلۡمُلُوكَ إِذَا دَخَلُواْ قَرۡيَةً أَفۡسَدُوهَا وَجَعَلُوٓاْ أَعِزَّةَ أَهۡلِهَآ أَذِلَّةً۬ۖ وَكَذَٲلِكَ يَفۡعَلُونَ (٣٤)
(She said: O chieftains! Pronounce for me in my case. I decide no case till ye are present with me. They said: We are lords of might and lords of great prowess, but it is for thee to command; so consider what thou wilt command. She said: Lo! kings, when they enter a township, ruin it and make the honour of its people shame. Thus will they do) (27: 32 -34)
We can find here a proof of sound judgement and ability to go deep into the bottom of souls. She is not deceived by what her followers show off self-esteem, strength and courage in speech. She could conceive that their attitude is the attitude of a promoter to his followers to satisfy their desires without apprehension for facts or willingness to give guidance and advice.
Now let us have a glance at the relations between the man and the woman. Quran puts the man and the woman on equal level in their responsibility before God. The Quran states the difference between people whether male or female. Each is compensated according to his deeds; good for good and evil for evil. This principle is clearly seen in the following Quranic verse:
وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤۡمِنٍ ۬وَلَامُؤۡمِنَةٍ إِذَا قَضَى ٱللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ ۥۤ أَمۡرًا أَن يَكُونَ لَهُمُ ٱلۡخِيَرَةُ مِنۡ أَمۡرِهِمۡ ۗوَمَن يَعۡصِ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۥ فَقَدۡ ضَلَّ ضَلَـٰلاً۬ مُّبِينً۬ا
(And it becometh not a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His messenger have decided an affair (for them), that they should (after that) claim any say in their affair; and whoso is rebellious to Allah and His messenger, he verily goeth astray in error manifest.)( 33:36)
وَعَدَ ٱللَّهُٱ لۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ وَٱلۡمُؤۡمِنَـٰتِ جَنَّـٰتٍ۬ تَجۡرِى مِن تَحۡتِهَا ٱلۡأَنۡهَـٰرُ خَـٰلِدِينَ فِيہَا وَمَسَـٰكِنَ طَيِّبَةً۬ فِى جَنَّـٰتِ عَدۡنٍ۬ۚ وَرِضۡوَٲنٌ۬ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ أَڪۡبَرُۚ ذَٲلِكَ هُوَ ٱلۡفَوۡزُ ٱلۡعَظِيمُ
(Allah promiseth to the believers, men and women, Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide – blessed dwellings in Gardens of Eden. And – greater (far)! – Acceptance from Allah. That is the supreme triumph.) (9: 72)
These are the verses that impose laws of God on both parties equally. But the Quran puts more responsibilities on the man in the maintenance and the guidance of his family, as the Holy Quran says:
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ قُوٓاْ أَنفُسَكُمۡ وَأَهۡلِيكُمۡ نَارً۬ا وَقُودُهَا ٱلنَّاسُ وَٱلۡحِجَارَةُ عَلَيۡہَا مَلَـٰٓٮِٕكَةٌ غِلَاظٌ۬ شِدَادٌ۬ لَّايَعۡصُونَ ٱللَّهَ مَآ أَمَرَهُمۡ وَيَفۡعَلُونَ مَا يُؤۡمَرُونَ
(O ye who believe! Ward off from yourselves and your families a Fire whereof the fuel is men and stones, over which are set angels strong, severe, who resist not Allah in that which He commandeth them, but do that which they are commanded.) (66: 6)
The word ‘family’ means wife and offspring, male and female. If protection of one;s family from Hell in the Hereafter is a duty, a thing which cannot be done without the teachings and the guidance to the rights and obligations. So it is the duty of the believers to teach themselves and their families everything necessary for their happiness in this world and the Hereafter. The Quran gives the woman equal right for learning, for free expression of opinion, the full right to possess and mange her own property, and the man is forbidden to touch any thing she owns without her permission and agreement. The Holy Quran says:
وَإِنۡ أَرَدتُّمُ ٱسۡتِبۡدَالَ زَوۡجٍ۬ مَّڪَانَ زَوۡجٍ۬ وَءَاتَيۡتُمۡ إِحۡدَٮٰهُنَّ قِنطَارً۬ا فَلَا تَأۡخُذُواْ مِنۡهُ شَيۡـًٔاۚ أَتَأۡخُذُونَهُ ۥ بُهۡتَـٰنً۬ا وَإِثۡمً۬ا مُّبِينً۬ا
(And if ye wish to exchange one wife for another and ye have given unto one of them a sum of money (however great), take nothing from it. Would ye take it by the way of calumny and open wrong?) (4 : 20)
وَلَاتَتَمَنَّوۡاْ مَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بِهِۦ بَعۡضَكُمۡ عَلَىٰ بَعۡضٍ۬ۚ لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ۬ مِّمَّا ٱڪۡتَسَبُواْۖ وَلِلنِّسَآءِ نَصِيبٌ۬ مِّمَّا ٱكۡتَسَبۡنَۚ وَسۡـَٔلُواْ ٱللَّهَ مِن فَضۡلِهِۦۤۗ إِنَّٱ للَّهَ ڪَانَ بِكُلِّ شَىۡءٍ عَلِيمً۬ا
(And covet not the thing in which Allah hath made some of you excel others. Unto men a fortune from that which they have earned, and unto women a fortune from that which they have earned. (Envy not one another) but ask Allah of His bounty. Lo! Allah is ever Knower of all things.)
(4 : 32)
Islam gives the woman the right to inherit in several cases; as a daughter, as a mother, as a sister, as a wife etc.
لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ۬ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ ٱلۡوَٲلِدَانِ وَٱلۡأَقۡرَبُونَ وَلِلنِّسَآءِ نَصِيبٌ۬ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ ٱلۡوَٲلِدَانِ وَٱلۡأَقۡرَبُونَ مِمَّا قَلَّ مِنۡهُ أَوۡكَثُرَۚ نَصِيبً۬ا مَّفۡرُوضً۬ا
(Unto the men (of a family) belongeth a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, and unto the women a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether it be little or much – a legal share.) (4 : 7)
Islam does not stop at this point but gives her the right to manage civil contracts of buying and selling, allows her to appoint somebody to represent her in what she owns and to present others in what they own, permits her to guarantee others and be guaranteed by them, in the same way as man. The Quran stresses the importance of the mutual nice company and fulfilling matrimonial obligations in order to strengthen family ties and prevent its slackening. The degree to which woman has been elevated by Islam is clear from an eminent law devised by the Quran, so as to be a solid basis for a sound family life, through this short verse:
وَٱلۡمُطَلَّقَـٰتُ يَتَرَبَّصۡنَ بِأَنفُسِهِنَّ ثَلَـٰثَةَ قُرُوٓءٍ۬ۚ وَلَايَحِلُّ لَهُنَّ أَن يَكۡتُمۡنَ مَا خَلَقَ ٱللَّهُ فِىٓ أَرۡحَامِهِنَّ إِن كُنَّ يُؤۡمِنَّ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلۡيَوۡمِ ٱلۡأَخِرِۚ وَبُعُولَتُہُنَّ أَحَقُّ بِرَدِّهِنَّ فِى ذَٲلِكَ إِنۡ أَرَادُوٓاْ إِصۡلَـٰحً۬اۚ وَلَهُنَّ مِثۡلُ ٱلَّذِى عَلَيۡہِنَّ بِٱلۡمَعۡرُوفِۚ وَلِلرِّجَالِ عَلَيۡہِنَّ دَرَجَةٌ۬ۗ وَٱللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
(Women who are divorced shall wait, keeping themselves apart, three (monthly) courses. And it is not lawful for them that they should conceal that which Allah hath created in their wombs if they are believers in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands would do better to take them back in that case if they desire a reconciliation. And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them. Allah is Mighty, Wise. )
(2 : 228)