Friday, 12 July 2013

Women in Islam – An-Nisa

The status of women in Islam has been one of controversy and stereotypical public discourse since Islam was introduced.  One of the main reasons for its existence today is the melding of cultural traditions and Islam as well as the Western disagreement with the concept of supposed female subjugation in Islam. As Professor Ali Asani, the chair of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department and the Director of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University and a scholar in Islam, explains, we have to ask which women and which Islam are you talking about? Are you even talking about Islam or the culture, nation-state, etc.?[1] Religion cannot do anything, people can; it is religious institutions that were rejecting women not the religion itself. Religious traditions change with time; when the world was shunning women so was religion and now that the world is embracing women, the religious scriptures seem to reflect a similar attitude. But why are there stereotypes of oppressed Islamic women? Stereotypes such as these began to generate from a variety of factors, for example when colonial powers suggested that they needed to “liberate” Islamic women, this was a way to justify imperialism; while most women from the countries that colonized remained unable to vote, gain an education or work.[2]Late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto claimed that it was men and rulers that restricted women, not Islam. [3]Iranian Human Rights Activist ShirinEbadi blames mothers who raise their sons to create and enforce patriarchal cultures.[4] Others call for gender neutral reading of Qur’an translations which ring truer to the Qur’anic context. For example the word “zawj” is translated as wife in Qur’anic translation when it actually means spouse. Most men and women call for a better use of Qur’an, the Islamic religious scripture in order to enforce Women’s Rights.[5] Islam teaches that men and women are equal before God. It grants women divinely sanctioned inheritance, property, social and marriage rights, including the right to reject the terms of a proposal and to initiate divorce.
Historically, the Qur’an has been instrumental in protecting and liberating Women. The Qur’an is what prohibited female infanticide, granted divorce rights, female rights to inherit, manage property, choose your own spouse. Islam does not follow the patriarchal tradition of taking your husband’s name or the notion that women cannot work. During the Islamic Golden Age women were educated, held monopolies over most of the textile industry, and performed surgery the concept of treating a woman with respect was far ahead of its time let alone providing women with an education, and employment with worker’s rights attached. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Prophet of Islam’s first wife Khadijah was a wealthy business woman, after her death he married Ayesha who was both a teacher and a political leader. Another figure, Umm ulSulaim was one of the first female nurses creating a Red Cross-like system; Summaya was the name of the first martyr in Islam.

Just like men and women, the roles and rights of men and women differ, they are however equitable. A woman has her own identity, she is just as accountable as a man for her actions. Although, it is the responsibility of the husband to provide for his family, it does not stop the woman from assisting him, the Prophet Muhammad fulfilled his responsibilities while helping out with chores at home.[6] Before Islam it was perpetuated that Eve caused Adam to fall, making women the source of evil, women were not given the right to inherit but were inherited themselves as property. [7]
The amount of Qur’anic verses portraying the equity of men and women in Islam is incredible, here are a few:
v For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much - an obligatory share.(4:7)
v Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has Faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions. (16:97)
v O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. (4:1)
v The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those - Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (9:71)
v Allah has promised the believing men and believing women gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they abide eternally, and pleasant dwellings in gardens of perpetual residence; but approval from Allah is greater. It is that which is the great attainment. (9:71)
v Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so - for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward. (33:35)

Written by Yasmeen Husain 

[1]Asani, A. “Equal Before Allah?Women in Islamic Religious Tradition”.Retrieved from lecture notes, October 30th 2012.
[2]Asani, “Equal Before Allah?Women in Islamic Religious Tradition”.
[3]Asani, “Equal Before Allah?Women in Islamic Religious Tradition”.
[4]Asani, “Equal Before Allah?Women in Islamic Religious Tradition”.
[5]Public Broadcasting Service.Muhammad and Women.Public Broadcasting Service. 2002. Retrieved from:
[6]Badawi, Jamal.Gender equity in Islam.World Assembly of Muslim Youth, 1995.
[7]Public Broadcasting Service.Muhammad and Women.

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