Women make up half of humanity but, unfortunately attitude of many Muslims towards women is not truly Islamic; it is conservative and medieval. This attitude toward women is morally wrong and at the same time it does not meet the demands of the time.
It appears that we are very much influenced by the alien ideas with regard to women. According to one of these beliefs, Eve was the cause of the first act of disobedience and this gave rise to the concept that women are the roots of all evils. From this ‘original sin’, woman’s ‘moral degradation’ found its expression in every human thought and attitude. Christians initially subscribed to this belief, but now recognize most women’s rights because of the human rights movement, yet Muslims still follow the stories and legends of Israeliaat (Biblical stories) whereas the Quran declares that Adam and Eve, both committed the lapse ( The Quran 2:36, 7:22 and 7:23).
Islam declares unequivocally that a woman, as a human being, is equal to a man. The Holy Quran addresses both men and women in the same manner: i.e. An-Nas (O! People), Al-Insan (O! Human Beings), Al-Bashar (O! Humans) and Al-Momin (O! Believers). All these terms equally applicable to both women and men without any distinction whatsoever on the basis of gender. The Quran describes the equality of human origins: ‘O’ mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person’ (The Quran 4:1) and ‘O’ mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, ….Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you’ (The Quran 49:13). Islam gives equal value to the life of women and men and emphasizes that point by defining equal punishment for a killer of either gender: ‘If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (For ever) (The Quran 4:93).
However, it is generally but wrongly believed in Muslim societies that men are superior to women. Adherents to this position use this verse as an excuse: ‘…but men have a degree (of advantage) over them’ (The Quran 2:228). This verse merely provides guidance to the Muslims as how to conduct their family matters. Islam considers family as a basic social unit and, therefore, Allah has defined equitable rights and obligations for both wife and husband within the sacred unit.
The words ‘men have a degree over them’, exclusively point to the responsibility of men to earn for their family.
It does not give men a license to control and mistreat women. According to the Quran, dignity belongs to human beings, both men and women, and human beings are Allah’s best creation and that is the reason
He has blessed Adam with enormous respect: ‘We have honoured the sons of Adam. (The Quran 17:70). The Quran views the birth of female children as a blessing and advises its followers that the birth of female children should not be a sad occasion for the families: ‘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!.....? Ah! what an evil (choice) they decide on? (The Quran 16:58-59). Islam condemned the evil practice of killing female children in the pre-Islamic era. The Holy Quran reprimands the perpetrators, stating emphatically that they will be questioned for the same heinous crime on the Day of Judgment: ‘And when the female (infant) buried alive is questioned: For what sin was she killed? (81:8-9).
Islam makes seeking knowledge mandatory for both women and men. There are many Ahadith that support and motivate for female education: (i) ‘Acquisition of knowledge is obligatory for all Muslims’ (Ibn-Majah); (ii) Some women requested The Prophet (PBUH) to fix a day for them as the men were taking all his time. On that The Holy Prophet (PBUH) promised them one day for religious lessons and commandments (Bukhari, Hadith No. 101). Islam encourages Muslim women to express their views in all the matters of life, from home affairs to political organization. The Holy Quran describes a characteristic of its followers in the following words, ‘Who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation (42:38).
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to consult his wives on various matters and seek their opinions (Bukhari, Vol 3, Hadith No. 891). Umar (RA), the second Khalifah, once in his sermon advised not paying a big Mehar (dower gift to a bride). Hearing this a woman stood up and confronted Umar (RA) by saying when Allah wants to give us more, why are you depriving us? Did Allah not ordain in the Holy Quran, ‘Even if ye had given the latter a whole treasure for dower, take not the least bit of it back’ (4:20). Hearing this argument, Umar (RA) confessed his mistake and withdrew his orders of fixing Mehar.
Islam guarantees protection to women from false accusation and introduces exemplary punishment (Hadd) to protect their honor. The Holy Quran has declared that all women are chaste and has prohibited its followers from leveling baseless allegations. If any woman is charged with committing adultery, the man has to produce four eyewitnesses to prove his charge. If he fails to do so, he will be awarded the punishment of 80 stripes and, furthermore, he will be debarred from giving testimony forever, (The Quran 24:4). Islam protects economic rights of the women. It has given inheritance rights to women in their capacities as mother, sister, daughter and wife.
They are all entitled to get a fixed share in the properties of their ancestors (The Quran 4:7). Khadija (RA), The Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) first wife, was a famous trader of Quraish and The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in his youth used to take her goods to foreign lands. Umm-ul-Momineen Zainab Bint-e-Jahash (RA) used to process leather and then sew different things from it to sell in the market (Nasa’i, Vol. 2, Hadith No. 1307). Islam allows the marriage of choice. A young girl once came to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and said that her father wanted her to marry his nephew and that her father wants her to honor his decision.
The Prophet (PBUH) declared that she has a right to choose, (Bukhari and Abu Dawud). Similarly, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) sought the consent of his own daughter Fatima (RA), before her marriage to Ali (RA). The marriage proposal of Khadija (RA) to The Holy Prophet (PBUH) is yet another clear example of the right of a woman to choose her husband.
During the golden era of Muslim civilization, women participated widely and effectively in the social and cultural life of the Muslim communities. Ayshah (RA), the wife of The Prophet (PBUH), was a profound scholar and the leading companions of The Prophet (PBUH) would come to consult her on questions of jurisprudence, history and literature. Umm al-Darda (RA) delivered public lectures in the Jerusalem Mosque, which were attended even by Suleiman, Umayyad King. Imam Shafi’i, founder of one of the four leading schools of Islamic Law, was the student of Nufaysa in Cairo.
Ibn Hajar al-Asqalany, a well-known Imam in Islam, was trained, together with fifty of his co-disciples, at the school of Ayshah al-Hanbaliyah and in his ‘Biographies’ he mentions more than 1500 women jurists and scholars. Al-Suyuti devoted his ‘Nuzhah’ to the biography of 37 women poetesses. Some of the greatest scholars of Islam, such as Ibn Khallikan, al-Baghdadi and al-Zamakhshari owe much of their knowledge to their female contemporaries.
There were women who specialized in various other branches of religious sciences and literature, such as Ayshah of Damascus (grammarian and rhetoricist) and Ayesha of Jerusalem (transmitter of Hadith and teacher). Ibn Jubair, an Andalusian historian of the twelfth century of AH, reported the participation of women in debates with men of letters. In his Nafh-al-Tib, al-Maqqari, devoted a long section to women’s poetry. Grenada seems to have been the leading city of women’s literature.
The blossoming of the female genius in the arts and literature was due to the widespread social freedom enjoyed by the women of Grenada. Some of them were renowned for their talent in calligraphy, such as Lubnah and Fatima (secretaries to al-Hakam II).
Al-Marrakushi reported 170 female calligraphers in a single district of Cordoba. Since printing was not available, the art of calligraphy played an important role in the world of letters. Women also worked in the army, not only as nurses but also as genuine combatants. The historian, Ibn al-Athir, cited Safiyyah as an example of heroism. In an episode during the celebrated Battle of Yarmuk, Asma killed nine soldiers on her own.
The example of Ghazalah, who put to flight the Umayyad army of al-Hajjaj, has become proverbial. Several women are reported to have fought side by side with their husbands at the time of the Crusades in Palestine. Shajarat al-Durr was the widow of the Sultan As-Salih Ayyub (d.1249) who played a crucial role after his death during the Seventh Crusade against Egypt (1249 –1250) and became the Sultana of Egypt in 1250. Raziah was the Sultana of Delhi (1236-1240). Turkan Khatun ascended to the throne of Khurasan in the fourteenth century. At the same time, the celebrated Tanzu reigned over Persia and Iraq.
Contrary to this illustrious tradition, modern Muslims have ostracized women from the society. Women have nothing to do with the world outside. It is great injustice that Muslims have debarred women even from going to the mosque to offer regular congregational prayers and Eid prayers.
My considered view is that in the present times when humankind is awakened and vigilant, education is widespread and the Women’s Rights Movement is gathering momentum, Muslims should change their attitude as present thinking and attitude towards women are untenable. We shall accept, ‘Women Shall Have Similar Rights’, (The Quran 2:228).
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