Looking beyond cultural prejudices into the very roots of Islam

In the centuries after the advent of Islam, culture played a vital role in the lifestyles of Muslims, often going beyond the very teachings of the Holy Quran. A common belief among many from the West is that Islam confines the woman, but this notion is far from the truth.

Islam gave rights to women at a time when they were considered akin to animals, during the age of Jahiliyya (age of ignorance). However, Islam destroyed this inhumane attitude from society and elevated the status of women, giving equal rights for men and women alike. In fact, when a woman is honoured with motherhood, she becomes even more esteemed than a man in terms of companionship, for heaven lies beneath her feet.

After all, Hazrat Khadija (Rali) has the honour of being the first person to believe in Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and embrace Islam.

To emphasize that men and women had the same origin and that the one is not superior to the other, the Quran says, in many instances:

O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and female

Surah Hujarat Chapter 49 Verse 13

For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who …

surah ahzab chapter 33 verse 35

1. Right for Food, Clothes, and Security

During the days of Jahiliyya— the Age of Ignorance — women were treated as degraded beings, but with the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH), husbands were commanded to care for their wives and treat them with respect. If she is mistreated, Islam has given her the right to seek legal advice and reach a satisfactory conclusion, rather than suffer in an abusive marriage.

And if a woman fears from her husband contempt or evasion, there is no sin upon them if they make terms of settlement between them — and settlement is best

Surah Nisa Chapter 04 verse 128

She also has the rights to acquire food, clothes, security and respect, and if her husband is guilty of neglecting her needs, he becomes distasteful in the eyes of Allah (SWT).

You should give her food when you eat, clothe her when you clothe yourself, not strike her on the face, and do not revile her or separate from her except in the house – Sunan Abi Dawud 2143 

While a husband has duties to his wife, the wife, too has responsibilities to fulfil with regards to her husband. Here we see one of those marvellous instances in Islamic teachings where the man and the woman — although two separate individuals — are equally dependent on one another for their needs and wants.

They (your wives) are your garment and you are a garment for them.

Surah Baqarah Chapter 02 Verse 187

2. Respecting and Honoring Women

Fabricating tales of dishonour about an honest woman when she had done no wrong and casting doubt upon her character are acts which kindle the wrath of Allah (SWT), which, according to Islam, is a major sin. Allah says, in the Holy Quran:

And those who accuse chaste women and then do not produce four witnesses — lash them with eighty lashes and do not accept from them testimony ever after

Surah An Noor Chapter 24 Verse 04

While our cultures give prominence to women concealing themselves from the gazes of men and blame the woman even if she is faultless, Islam asks both men and women to play their part in preserving modesty and virtue equally. This is clear in the two verses below, which appear consecutively in the Qur’an:

Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their private parts: that will make for greater purity for them: and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do

SURAH AN NOOR CHAPTER 24 verse 30

And tell the believing women to reduce (some) of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which (necessarily) appears thereof …

SURAH AN NOOR CHAPTER 24 VERSE 31

Abdullah bin Abbas narrates, in Sahih al-Bukhari, that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) turned the face of his companion away for staring at a beautiful woman, instead of admonishing the woman for attracting his attention:

Al-Fadl (his brother) was riding behind Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) and a woman from the tribe of Khath’am came and Al-Fadl started looking at her and she started looking at him. The Prophet (ﷺ) turned Al-Fadl’s face to the other side. The woman said, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! The obligation of Hajj enjoined by Allah on His devotees has become due on my father and he is old and weak, and he cannot sit firm on the Mount; may I perform Hajj on his behalf?” The Prophet (ﷺ) replied, “Yes, you may.” That happened during the Hajj-al-Wida (of the Prophet (ﷺ) ) –  Sahih al-Bukhari 1513

3. Education, Goals and Dreams

When culture was stripping women of education and persuading her to focus only on household duties, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) encouraged women to educate themselves and to pursue their dreams, while also practising all aspects of the religion.

When Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her was questioned about menstruation and bath after intercourse, she spoke about how keen the womenfolk of the Ansar were to learn the religion.

A’isha said: How good are the women of Ansar (helpers) that their shyness does not prevent them from learning religion.

Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 332

Aisha (Rali), the beloved wife of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), was one of the most intelligent scholars of the time and narrating more than 2000 hadith from memory alone. Even educated people often consulted her with difficult issues.

“Never was a Hadith unclear to us – the Companions of the Messenger of Allah – and we asked ‘Aishah, except that we found some knowledge concerning it with her.” – Sunan al-Tirmidhī 3883

What is more, the world’s first university was founded by a woman, Fatima Al-Fihriya, in the year 859 CE in Fez, which is now Morocco. The university is still operating to this day, called the University of Al Qarawiyyin

4. Right to Inherit Property

For far too long, a man was the sole inheritor of property — he alone had the right to use it, sell it, or gift it, but for the first time in history, Islam bestowed woman with the right to inherit property and possess it according to her will.

For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and the close relatives leave, be it little or much — an obligatory share.

Surah nisa chapter 04 verse 07

With verses like these, Islam shattered the concepts of a patriarchal society and gave the woman many ways to fulfil her needs and wants, and support her family if she is widowed or divorced, just like men.

5. Women in Commerce and Trade

When a woman runs a business, men often look at that company in distrust, even in modern times. Despite this, Islam, with its diverse teachings and examples, proved that women too, like men, have the capability to engage in trade.

The very first woman of Islam, Khadija (Rali), wife of Prophet (PBUH), was one of the most successful business leaders of the Arabian world. She was strong, independent and intelligent. After embracing Islam, she engaged in countless acts of charity, donating her entire wealth to uplift the lives of others.

Ash-Shifa bint Abdullah became a prominent figure in Madinah during the rule of Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab (Rali). She was consulted about the best practices in business matters. She was skilful in folk medicine. She was the first women to be able to read and write while at that time in Makkah only a handful of people knew how to read and write.

6. Playing Leading Roles

Although our culture today emphasizes women being stay-at-home moms, the role of women during the time of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was very different. Not only were they taking care of household matters and strengthening the bond of family, but they were also courageous and strong. They shaped society from its core, from institutes and masjids, not limiting it to the house.

Zaynab Bint Umar Al Kindi was illustrious hadeeth scholar in Damascus. She was a righteous and charitable woman who even built a hospice for the poor willed it for the sake of the religion. She was the teacher of Imam Ath Tahabee who was a well renowned Islamic scholar.

Imam Ath Tahabee who was a major leading scholar in the field of hadeeth and who had achieved a distinction as the significant critic and expert of the examination of hadeeths, ‘Al Jarh wa Ta’deel.’ was a student of many female scholars. More than 100 of his teachers were female. Therefore criticizing Islam as a religion of male chauvinism is fictive.

Khawla bint Thalabah once came to the Prophet complaining about her husband who had proclaimed divorce on her stating she is like his mother to him. Retorting to this Allah(SWT) revealed a verse in favour of her.

Certainly has Allah heard the speech of the one who argues with you, [O Muhammad], concerning her husband and directs her complaint to Allah . And Allah hears your dialogue; indeed, Allah is Hearing and Seeing.

Surah Al Mujadila chapter 58 verse 01

here were women in Islam who even contributed in the battlefield for the sake of the religion like Umm Sulaym bint Milhaan and Khawlah bint al-Azwar. Umm Sulaym bint Milhaan had joined the battlefield with a cloth tied around her stomach when the men had fled instead of following the commands of the Prophet. She also took part in the battle of Hunain, Yamamah and the Treaty of Hudaybia and Khawlah bint al-Azwar was also a warrior who massacred the enemy.

We can find hundreds of inspirational, Muslim women who have been expert scholars, jurists, doctors, poets, mathematicians and even warriors, commanders, queens and sultanas. They are proof that Islam taught women to discover their strengths and use their wisdom to guide the entire community towards the right path.

Our status in the eyes of Allah depends solely on our actions. The more good we do and abide by the laws of Islam, while showing compassion to all those around us, the higher we are in His esteem, regardless of our gender.

If any do deeds of righteousness, be they male or female and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them

Surah Nisa Chapter 04 verse 124

Are men and women equal in Islam? Undoubtedly.

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