Published by the All India Personal Law Bpard,
Camp Office, Nawatu Ulama, Lucknow, India

The Status of Women in Islam

Never in the history of the world, under other religions and constitutional systems, [have] woman enjoyed the rights and privileges which Islam gives her. The status of [a] woman in Islam is something unique, something novel, something that has no similarity under any other system. The Quran categorically states that a woman is as vital to life as man himself and granted the status equal to that of a man. The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man, but they are not necessarily identical with them. 

Equality and identity are not the same thing, The difference lies in the very nature of the roles the two have to play and there is no ground to assume that she is in any way less important or inferior to men. 

Islam gives her due consideration and recognizes her independent personality, makes her directly accountable to God and confers rights on her equal [to men] though not identical [with them].

In [the] pre-Islamic world, the plight of [a] woman was abject and pathetic. She was branded as the product of [the] devil or the seed of evil. Some systems placed men as the dominant lord of a woman [and she was] to surrender to his dominance. 

There was a time when it was said of women, "He for God and she for God in him." Somewhere questions were raised if she [even] possessed a soul. Never in the history of Islam has any Muslim ever doubted the dignity of women, her possessions or a soul and other fine spiritual qualities. Unlike beliefs of some other religions, Islam does not blame Eve alone for the First Sin. The Quran precisely states that both Adam and Eve were tempted, that they both sinned and that God's pardon was given to both after [both] repented.

The rights of [the] woman of modern times were not granted voluntarily [n]or out of kindness to the female. She had to struggle hard for centuries to get to where she is now-a-days. Even now her status in many parts of the world and under many systems is not enviable and she is not really in a happy position.

She paid heavily to establish her status as a human being possessing a soul. She had to force her way and various circumstances arose to aid her. [A] shortage of manpower during [various] wars, [the] pressure of economic needs and [the] requirements of industrial development, forced her to get out of the home, to work and struggle for [a] livelihood, to appear as an equal to man and to run side by side with men in the race of life. 

She has come to enjoy a kind of liberty which in same cases amounts to libertinism. Whether she is really happy, whether she can discharge the dual responsibility of running her home, taking care of her children and labouring outside to earn her living and augment that of her husband[‘s], whether there are any miseries and setbacks that encircle the freedom and rights of [a] modern woman are different matters which need not be elaborated here. They are quite well known. What is not known is the status of women in lslam. 

As Lady Cobbold says in her Pilgrimage to Mecca, "It was Islam that removed the bondage in which women [were] held from the very dawn of history and gave them a social standing and legal rights such as were not granted to them in England till many centuries later." Islam did more than that. What it gave her "suits her nature. gives her full security and protects her against disgraceful circumstances and uncertain channels of life."

The Quran has honoured women so much so that there is a whole chapter on her entitled “Woman”  and her status and dignity are explicitly stated therein as also [it is] in so many other verses of the Quran. Some of her rights and indications of her status are stated below.

(1) Islam recognized woman as a full and equal partner of man in the procreation and [the] survival of mankind. Her role is no less vital than [that of] men's. As a consequence of this partnership, she has an equal share in every aspect and is entitled to equal rights. She undertakes equal responsibilities and possesses as many qualities and as much humanity as there are in her partner. About his equal partnership in the reproduction of humankind God says:

"Oh mankind! Verily. We have created you from a single (pair) -- male and female;and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other. (Q. 49:13)

Again the Quran says:

"Women and men mutually form complements of one another." (Q. 2:18) 
He created for you helpmates from yourselves that ye may find rest in them and He ordained between you love and mercy." (Q. 30:21) 

(2) She is acknowledged as an independent personality, possessing all human qualities and worthy of spiritual inspiration. Her human nature is neither inferior to nor deviates from men. She is equal to man in bearing personal and common responsibilities and in receiving rewards for her deeds. 

God says:

"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 friends. one to the other (Q. 3:145; 9:71; 33:35-36: 66:19-21). 

(3) Islam grants [a] woman [the] equal right to contract, enterprise, to earn and [to] possess independently. Her life, her propert and her honour are [as] sacred as those of [a] man[’s]. If she commits an offence, she is no less or more guilty than a man in a similar case. If she is harmed or wronged, she is entitled to the same compensation as a man in her position would get. (Q. 2:118; 4.45 R 92-93). 

Not until 1922 in a civilized country like England, was a married woman entitled to own property. In exercise of legal powers and functions, women have been placed by Islam on terms of perfect equality with men. Whether married or not [a] woman is entitled to separate ownership of property with the authority to dispose of it in [a] manner she chooses.

(4) To protect her honour from slander and calumny, the Quran decrees that if a person accuses a woman of immorality and does not produce four witnesses in support of his accusations, he is not only liable to the penalty for false accusation, but [he is] also to be declared, for perpetuity, as untrustworthy of giving evidence before any court and this is in addition to the punishment is the Hereafter. 

It says, 

“Those who defame virtuous women and do not produce four witnesses (in support of their accusation) flog them with four score stripes and never admit their testimony. . And these are to be regarded as wicked people", (Q. 24:4)
(5) The Holy Prophet elevated the dignity and status of a woman by saying,
The best among you is the one who is best towards his wife."
The world is an ephemeral thing, of which one takes advantage and among the worldly things nothing is better than a good, pious wife."
The perfect believer is one who has a perfect character and is kind to his wife."
Even paradise lies underneath the feet of your mothers."

She has to be shown respect, care, regard, affection, obedience and to be helped and assisted. In short, she has to be served accordingly. When the Prophet was asked what should be done if one's mother has died, he answered, “Then serve her sister."

(6) Islam does not state the rights of a woman in dry statistical terms. It puts them into practice as integral articles of faith. It does no tolerate any prejudice against women or any discrimination between man and woman. Time and again, the Quran reproaches those who believe [that]women [are] inferior to men

It says:

“And when to any one of them the tidings of the birth of a daughter is conveyed, dark shadows settle on [their] faces, and [they are] filled with grief. He keepeth himself aloof because of these tidings and begins to [wonder] whether he shall keep it as a sign of disgrace or bury it in the earth. Mark! How vile is their lire of thought" (Q. 16:58-59) 

God's is the kingdom of the heavens and of the earth! He brings into being. What He likerh and He giveth daughters to home He will, and sons [what] He will; or He giveth them children of both sexes …(Q. 42:49-50) 

Indeed, for all of these -- the men who submit themselves to God and the women who submit themselves, and believing men and the believing woman, and the devoted men and the devoted women, and the truthful men and the truthful women, and the men who bear patiently and the women who bear patiently, and the men endowed with humility and the women endowed with humility and the men who give alms and the women who give alms, and the men who observe the prescribed fasts and the women who observe the fasts and the men who preserve their chastity and the women who preserve their chastity and the men who oft remember God and the women who oft remember God--for all these, God holds out forgiveness and a great recompense. (Q. 51: 5) 
This verse could have been worded by saying [that] believing men and women of the various traits will receive forgiveness and great recompense. The obvious purpose of mentioning women of every trait is to emphasize the independent personality of women, her equality to men in reaching spiritual heights, her recognition in every respect and the concern for her.

(7) Women are equal to men in pursuit of education and knowledge. Over 14 centuries back, the Prophet declared that the pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim male and female. This declaration has been followed by Muslims throughout history.

(8) She is entitled to freedom of expression as much as [a] man is. Her sound opinions cannot be disregarded just because she belongs to the fair sex. The Qur’an and history of Islam bear testimony that women not only expressed their opinion but also argued and participated in serious discussions with the Prophet himself and with other Muslim leaders. (Q. 58: 1-4; 60: 10-2).

Muslim women expressed their views in legislative matters of public interest in opposition to their English counterparts. In a discussion, Hadrat Umar the great had to concede that the woman was right and he was wrong.

(9) Though the more pressing role of [a] woman lies in the home, she has not been confined to the house. Even in the early days of Islam, women participated in public life, especially in times of emergencies. They used to accompany [the] Muslim armies engaged in battle [in order to] nurse the wounded.

(10) In recognition of the fact that women have independent personalities and equal rights, she has been given [a] share in inheritance. She is an heir to the deceased like the male heirs. Whether she is a wife or [a] mother or a sister or a daughter, she receives a certain share in the deceased kin’s property, the share depending upon her degree of relationship and the number of heirs. The shares are mentioned in verses 14 and 176 of Surah Woman of the Quran. The law does not allow a man to deprive her by making a will to other relations or in favour of any other cause. In principle, both men and women are equally entitled to inherit the property of the deceased, but the portions they get may vary.  In some instances, a man receives two shares, whereas [a] woman gets only one. If all factors are taken into consideration, it will be apparent that this is not a discrimination against woman [n]or [a] preference to men. 

If the totality is seen, the daughter gets more than the son. The following discussion will establish it:

Firstly, man,  is solely responsible for [the] complete maintenance of his wife, his family and other relations. He has to assume all [of the] financial responsibilities and maintain the dependants adequately. It is also his duty to contribute financially to all good causes in society.

In contrast, [a] woman has no financial responsibilities what[so]ever. She is well-provided for and is financially secure. If she is [a] wife, the husband is the provider, if she is [a] mother, it is the son; if she is a daughter, it is the father; if she is a sister, it is the brother and so on. If she has no relations [up]on whom she can depend, there is no question of inheritance and there is no-one to bequeath anything to her. Maintenance of such a woman is the responsibility of society as a whole and the State.

Secondly, on the occasion of her marriage. she is provided [for] by her father with ornaments, clothes and [the] many necessities of life which together are called Jahez. Their value and number depends upon the financial status of the father. If the father had died and [the] brothers arrange the marriage, they [are to] see to her requirements. Then she gets Mehr from the husband, which can be prompt or deferred [by] her choice. In Middle-East countries, it is generally prompt while in India it is generally deferred. But the practice [of deferment] has [become] in vogue due to [the] financial weakness of Muslims.

Thirdly, whatever is inherited by an heir, whether male or female, is not something for which he or she might have struggled. It is a sort of aid, and any aid has to be distributed according to the urgent needs and responsibilities of the beneficiaries.

So on the one [hand] we have a male heir, burdened with all kinds of financial responsibilities and liabilities. Besides his own family, he has to maintain his mother, young brothers and sisters and to arrange their marriages. In addition, if he has the means to do so, he has to support public causes. 

On the other [hand], there is a female heir with no financial responsibility and assured of her own maintenance. Would it have been fair to give equal shares to both? In Agricultural Law of the land, no share at all has been given to [the] daughters or to the widow. Their names are mentioned in the line of succession as a platitude, but the possibility of their getting any share is so remote that it can be taken as non-existent. They can get something only in the event of [the] deaths of all the sons.

(11) In some instances of being witness to certain civil contracts, like a contract of [a] debt, two men are required. But if both are not men, then one man and two women can witness it(Q. 2 : 282).

This is not an indication of [the] inferiority of women, but [rather it is] a measure of securing the rights of the contracting parties because woman, as a rule, [are] not so experienced in practical [matters] as men [are]. 

The objective is to guarantee honest transactions and proper dealings between people. If one woman forgets something, the other can remind her. If she commits any error, the other can correct [it]. Women, as a rule, are not conversant with [the] sleight of hand or shady business of deceit. Giving testimony is a trying job for any person where the counsel for the opposite side tries to wear down the witness and to exasperate him by putting [forth] leading and misleading questions in an attempt to prove that a truth is untruth or vice versa. 

Even the most highly educated woman finds it a very trying business and more often then nor looses her equipoise in [a] battery of misleading questions and [so] in desperation either says yes to everything or resorts to silence.

It may be noted that in certain matters [where] only a woman is [the] exclusive witness and her expertise is conclusive. In such cases [the] evidence of only one woman is required and that of [a] man is not accepted.

(12) Women enjoy certain privileges which are not granted to men. She is exempt from some religious duties like prayers and fasting [during] her periods and at times of confinement.

(13) Some people are inclined to think that it is derogatory [for] a Muslim woman [to be] required to put on a veil! She is not required to put on a veil of any particular design or cut but to put on a veil of honour. dignity, purity and integrity. The Quran directs believing women to lower their gaze before men and to keep their passions under restraint. (Q. 24 :30). 

Likewise it directs men in the verse preceding this verse to lower their gaze before women and to keep their passions under restraint. In the case of women, it further directs them not to display their ornaments except which use external, and [to] throw veils over their bosoms and to not walk in a manner that the charms on their feet become noticeable. 

Islam sets up a high standard of morality and takes steps to safeguard a woman's honour, dignity and chastity.

It should be apparent that Islam gives to woman unprecedented high status [that is] realistically suited to her nature. Her rights and duties are equal to those of men, but not necessarily [n]or absolutely identical. If she gets half [a] share in inheritance, it is more than compensated [for] in other ways. Her rights are beautifully consonant with her [other] duties. The Quran sums up:

"And women have rights over men, even as men have rights over women, according to what is equitable, albeit men rank a degree above them." (Q. 2:228)
This degree is not a matter of supremacy [n]or [is it] an authorisation of dominance over her. It is in accordance with the needs of the nature of the two of which God is the Maker and [this] corresponds with man's extra responsibilities as the head of the family. No sensible woman can [be]grudge it and no sensible woman would like to become head of the family in the presence of her husband.