Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds, and the most honorable prayer and peace be upon the master of the first and the last, our master, Muhammad, the chosen, the trustworthy, and upon his pious and pure family, his faithful companions, and those who followed them in goodness until the Day of Judgment, may Allah Almighty be pleased with them all.
Islam is a religion for humans, all of them, as they are all children of Adam. Allah says in the Qur’an, “People, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might know one another. The noblest of you before Allah is the most pious of you. Allah is the Knower, the Aware,” (surah 49, ayah 13), and Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him said, “Allah has removed the pride of Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic era) from you and boasting about lineage. (A person is either) a pious believer or a miserable sinner, and the people are the children of Adam, and Adam is created from dirt” (sunan al-Tirmithi, book 49, hadith 4337). So, it is obvious that there is no difference before Allah for a person to be a man or a woman, or from any nation or tribe, the most important thing is piety.
Islam, as we said in previous articles, is a universal religion, and it deals with men and women with justice. In its legislations, Islam has taken into consideration the different roles and duties of the man and woman. Each one has his or her own natural abilities given by Allah, thus, some duties differ as well, and this is justice. Likewise, Islam is treating the family as the main core of the society. It gave both men and women certain privileges and duties. Duties may increase or decrease in accordance with privileges. The duty of being a mother and a wife brings up more commitments, such as raising up children and caring for her family’s needs are huge duties on women, in general. As women alone can bear and nurse their children, in Islamic thinking, she is usually the one expected to take the burden of taking care of the baby and the man has the duty of fulfilling and maintaining the family’s needs, thus, she is not obliged to be employed outside the home, unlike the man. Thus she, in traditional Islamic thinking, works at home and he outside of it. This does not mean however that they cannot make other arrangements, that she cannot be employed outside her home, as we can clearly see that Khadija, may Allah be pleased with her, was both a successful merchant and a successful mother and Prophet Muhammed said, “Sufficient for you among the women of mankind are Mariam bint ‘Imran (the mother of Jesus peace be upon both of them, Khadijah bint Khuwailid, Fatimah bint Muhammad (her daughter) and Asiyah the wife of Pharaoh” (sunan al-Tirmithi, book 49, hadith 4252). We can clearly see that Khadija is thus one of the greatest women ever, so no one can criticize a woman for also working outside her home, but the core thinking is that husband and wife alike must support the other and create a healthy well-cared for family.
One may ask a question that heavy duties require more bounties from Allah. That is justice, right? The answer is yes, and this is the reality in Islam. The Qur’an says, “And for them (women) similar to what is due from them with kindness” (surah 2, ayah 229). In this regard, once a companion asked Prophet Muhammed saying, “Allah’s Messenger, who amongst the people is most deserving of my good treatment? He said: Your mother, again your mother, again your mother, then your father, then your nearest relatives according to the order (of nearness)” (sahih Muslim). We see how much the Prophet honored the mother, the woman, according to her three times the right of good treatment than the father, the man. Another hadith states that “women are the counterpart of men” (sunan abi-Dawud, 236). All of these ayahs and hadiths show deep respect for the sacrifices women make when they stay at home and care for their children, and even if they work outside their homes, the love and compassion they put forward to carry children in their wombs for nine months, to labor, and give birth and nurse their babies.
Some say that Islam prefers men over women. This is not true. But let us now examine some hadiths of the Prophet, peace be upon him, to see if that was true. One of the hadiths is, “Allah has forbidden you (1) to be undutiful to your mothers (2) to withhold (what you should give) or (3) demand (what you do not deserve), and (4) to bury your daughters alive. And Allah has disliked that (A) you talk too much about others (B), ask too many questions (in religion), or (C) waste your property” (sahih al-Bukhari, 5975). Before Islam, some Arabs, wanting sons instead of daughters, used to bury their daughters alive. Likewise, some were not dutiful to their mothers. In this hadith the Prophet, peace be upon him, forbid all of these things. He also said, “If anyone has a female child, and does not bury her alive, or slight her, or prefer his children (i.e. the male ones) to her, Allah will bring him into Paradise” (sunan Abi Dawud, 5146). Clearly, the Prophet believed daughters should be respected the same as sons. Another hadith narrated by Abi Sa’id al-Khudri that prophet Muhammed peace be upon him said, “No one has three daughters or three sisters and is good to them but that he will enter Paradise” (al-adab al-mufrad, 79). Notice that he did not say anything about a male child. Once a companion named Jahima, may Allah be pleased with him, wanted to go for jihad, so he told the Prophet, peace be upon him, “O Messenger of Allah! I want to go out and fight (in Jihad) and I have come to ask your advice.” The Prophet asked him: “Do you have a mother?” He said: “Yes.” The Prophet then instructed this man: “Then stay with her, for Paradise is beneath her feet” (sunan al-Nasa’i, 3104). Again, notice that he did not ask this companion about his father.
Now we may ask the logical question, why didn’t the Prophet mention men in all the prementioned hadiths? They should have been mentioned at least once in these hadiths. So, it should be obvious now that Islam honors women and accords them a special rank. Another thing that might be confusing for some people, is then why did Allah say that men have a higher rank than women, “Divorced women shall wait by themselves for three periods. It is unlawful for them, if they believe in Allah and the Last Day, to hide what He has created in their wombs, in which case their husbands would have a better right to restore them should they desire reconciliation. And for them similar to what is due from them with kindness. But men have a degree above them. Allah is Mighty and Wise” (surah 2, ayah 228). What is this degree that men have above women, and why is it given to men rather than women? The degree is that the man must provide for and take care of his wife and children and has a God-ordained duty is to go for work to meet the needs of his wife, particularly when she is pregnant and has small children and needs protection, as he is created with the integrated ability for hard work, for travelling and other work needs. Women, on the other side, are biologically prepared to carry in their wombs, give birth and nurture their babies—all tasks which require protection and support as they do so. Some would argue that this aspect of their biology also predisposes them to do passionate and emotional jobs, like raising the children and teaching them good manners with love and affection, although we should acknowledge that men are also equipped to love and raise their children, once they are weaned from breastfeeding, but the bond that is formed in the womb and with nursing makes it beyond men’s capacity to be like a mother to the child.
Thus, we see according to Allah’s creation, each sex has rights and has duties, and a woman must take her rights and perform her duties as a human being, for she is equal to the man in this respect, as the man also has duties and has rights. In humanity and work in society, she is independent in her work, and in owning the result of her work. Traditionally, in Islam, the one who is responsible for making choices for the family is the man, but that does not mean that he does not talk with his wife to discuss important things for the family, even though the decision is normally taken by the man. Allah says in the Qur’an, “Men are the maintainers of women for that Allah has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have spent of their wealth. Righteous women are obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded.” (surah 4, ayah 34), This ayah entails that if there is gridlock between a husband and a wife and there is no way of finding a satisfactory resolution, and in the same time the husband does not transgress his wife’s fundamental Islamic rights, then the husband’s opinion is the one which rules. But this scenario is rare, as God gave both men and women intellect and exhorted them both to pursue education and they have the duty to respect and to complement each other for the good of their society and their family, as prophet Muhammed peace be upon him said, “Seeking knowledge is a duty upon every Muslim” (sunan Ibn Majah, 224), that meaning for both the man and woman.
There is another similar ayah, which is, “Men are the maintainers of women for that Allah has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have spent of their wealth” (surah 4, ayah 34). This ayah is talking in general about men, this includes the husband for sure, but it also includes the father, who is responsible for his daughter/s, a brother who is responsible for his sister/s. the man has an obligation of seeking the best for women he is taking care of, whether she was his wife, daughter, mother …etc. This is the default status for men, even the Qur’an talks with Adam and Eve about Satan’s temptation, “Adam, ‘ We said, ‘This is you and your wife’s enemy. Do not let him expel you from the Garden, so that you (Adam) will be tired” (surah 20, ayah 117). It is clear that the one who is going to be tired is Adam, not Eve, as he is the maintainer of Eve and responsible to protect her—for her good, and for his own.
Last, but not least, the allegation that Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him humiliated women and dishonored them when he said, “O women folk! You should give charity and be diligent in seeking Allah’s forgiveness because I have seen (i.e., on the Night of the Ascension to the highest heavens) that dwellers of the Hell are mostly women.” A woman amongst them said: “Why is it that the majority of the dwellers of Hell are women?” The Prophet peace be upon him replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. In spite of your lacking in wisdom and failing in religion, you are depriving the wisest of men of their intelligence.” Upon this the woman asked: “What is the deficiency in our wisdom and in our religion?” He peace be upon him replied, “Your lack of wisdom can be well judged from the fact that the evidence of two women is equal to that one man. You do not offer Salat (prayer) for some days and you do not fast (the whole of) Ramadan sometimes, it is a deficiency in religion” (sahih Muslim, 1879). To understand this hadith, we have to understand the following concept. In general, Islam put fixed foundations which are common in every time and place. Fixed means that they are not changeable and they are applicable in every time and place, such as justice, peace, non-aggression, individual property, self-defense, mutual respect, voluntary contracts …etc. When we find what appears to be in contradiction with these general foundations we should know that it is either contextual, i.e. related to certain incident in a certain time and/or place, or it can be interpreted in a way that does eradicates this contradiction, or it is not true, which means that it is fabricated. Going back to the hadith, it is an authentic hadith, but it is contextual, as it was said in the Eid, which is a day of joy and fun, the Prophet peace be upon him was joking with women and showing his amazement of the women’s ability of “depriving the wisest of men of their intelligence”, but while he jokes with others, he does not say but truth, that is why some women asked him about what he said. The deficiency of wisdom is related to her memory being affected by her menstrual cycles and pregnancy, as latest scientific studies proved nowadays, Moreover, it was something uncommon for a woman to testify in commercial contracts in those days. However, there are many other instances in which the testimony of a woman is equal to the man, such as when a wife is defending herself against her husband who accused her of adultery, and there are instances when only the woman is testifying, such as when a woman testifies for a birth certificate, being a midwife. As for the deficiency in religion that the Prophet jokes about, it is related to the leniency accorded to women during their menstrual cycles and puerperium, for women are not required to perform prayers or fasting during these times, which is not related to their level of piety by all means. So, the Prophet was joking with the women and stating that even with all these ‘so called deficiencies’ they are able to deprive the wisest of men of their intelligence!
To conclude this article, we say that Islam decided two instrumental characteristics for women, the first is that she is similar to the bountiful earth, for she forms humans, and the survival of human species depends completely on her, thus men are called to protect and uphold her and all are called upon to honor their mothers. The second is that her existence is based on the gentleness of her structure and the tenderness of her feelings, and this affects her conditions and social functions but in no means is this dishonored in Islam. Instead it accords her great honors and men’s obligations to protect her.
Praise be to Allah the Lord of the Worlds