Women in Islamby Aicha Elshabini-Riad
"Women in Islam" is a multidimensional and a complex topic. The teachings of Islam are based essentially on the Qur'an (Allah's revelation) and Hadeeth ( elaboration by Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him ). The Qur'an and the Hadeeth, when properly and unbiasedly understood, provide the basic source for any position or view which is attributed to Islam.
I am not an expert or a religious scholar. I am speaking from my personal convictions and experience as a mother, a wife, and an educator.
It is rare in the west that someone should ask the Muslim woman about her opinion, experiences and feelings as she fulfills her role in life. We as human beings unfortunately tend to misjudge, that which does not meet our standards or that which we do nor understand, yet do we ever stop to think how superficial that may be? Do we ever think to look deeper and learn, and then judge? To the common lay person an uncut diamond may look like a stone, but to a jeweler it is a treasure beyond comparison. Such is Islam to a Muslim and all who care to learn. To set the stage for the subject of Islam and Women, we have to understand two basic Islamic concepts. These two concepts are:
1. Islam is not a common religion in the popular understanding of most people, rather Islam is a way of life to be practiced constantly and be reflected in all of our actions. The basis of these actions is the strong belief in God's commands in total obedience to his role. What our Creator commands is not for us, as his creations, to question. If one thinks of these commands, one does not find them insulting to his or her intelligence but rather they serve to enrich and improve humanity's well being. In this context, a Muslim man or woman understands their mutual role in society.
2. The status of woman in Islam is something unique, something novel, something that has no similarity in any other system.
Islam acknowledges women as equal partners to men in fulfilling God's purpose for our existence on this earth. Men and women are to complement each other and not to compete with each other. According to Islam, all and each one of us, men and women should only have one reason for doing whatever we do, and that reason is satisfied by Allah. In Islam, men and women are equal, yet they are not identical. It therefore follows that the rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man but they are not necessarily identical. Equality and sameness are two quite different things. People are not created identical but they are created equal.
Contrary to popular misconception, Islam has long recognized that man and woman are equal, equal spiritually and mentally. It is to Islam's credit that it does not commit hypocrisy and claim them to be identical.
The fact that Islam gives the woman equal rights, but recognizes her as an individual, shows that it takes her into consideration, acknowledges her, and recognizes her independent personality.
What Islam has established for woman is that which suits her nature, gives her full security and protects her against disgraceful circumstances and uncertain channels of life.
Allah says in His Holy Book Qur'an: "Every soul will be (held) in pledge for its deeds." (Qur'an 74:38). The Qur'an also states that: "... So their Lord accepted their prayers, (saying): I will not suffer to be lost the work of any of you whether male or female. You proceed one from another..." (Qur'an 3:195).
The woman is recognized by Islam as a full and equal partner of man in the procreation of humankind. He is the father; she is the mother and both are essential for life. Islam acknowledges and emphasizes the importance of the woman's role in her family and society as a mother. A mother whose function can not be substituted by any others. The man's function as a father can not be substituted by the woman. Both are there to complement each other. Islam respects both functions and calls on both men and women to fulfill their responsibilities in this regard. Neither men nor women should degrade the other party's function or look down to his or her own.
Among the greatest gifts Allah has blessed womankind with is the motherhood. Allah says in His Holy Book, the Qur'an: "Oh Mankind! Obey your Lord, who created you from a single person and creates from like nature his mate, and from both derived countless men and women. Obey Allah, whom you turn to and obey the wombs that bore you, for Allah is ever-watching you."
In a single verse Allah establishes the status and high rank of women as demonstrated by the most beautiful and incomparable role of mother in Islam, the place of the woman in general and mother in particular has no equal.
Like everything, Islam seeks to accomplish in our lives, it harmonizes between the physical, the mental and the spiritual. In other words, it treats the individual as a total being and does not ignore part. That is why rather than push man or woman to the denial of their nature, it instructs them to take advantage, to nurture and develop what Allah has given to them.
Allah says in His Holy Book, the Qur'an: "Your Lord has decreed that you worship none save Him, and that you be kind to your parents..." (Qur'an 17:23). Moreover, the Qur'an has a special recommendation for the good treatment of mothers: "And we have enjoined upon man (to be good) to his parents: His mother bears him in weakness upon weakness..." (Qur'an 31:14).
The Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) said: "Everyone of you is shepherd and everyone of you shall be asked about those under his (or her) guard. The king is a shepherd and shall be asked about his subjects, the man is shepherd and shall be asked about his family, and the woman is a shepherdess in the house of her husband and shall be asked about those under care."
In fact, the role of mother is given a higher position in importance, in responsibility and in respect, as illustrated in the following story bout the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). A man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and asked him to advise him on whom should he takes into consideration. The Prophet (peace be upon him) answered "your mother", the man said "then", the Prophet (peace be upon him) said "your mother", the man said "then", the Prophet (peace be upon him) said "your mother", the man said "then", the Prophet (peace be upon him) said "your father". and yet again the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Paradise lies at the feet of mothers" which means that the woman's role as a mother is a sacred one. Islam has emphasized this fact in great fashion by instructing us to respect and care for our mothers for more than what we do for our fathers.
In the light of the important function that mother serves, Islam has gone so far as to advice parents to pay extra attention and devote time and efforts in the up bringing and raising of their daughters. The Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) said: "Whoever takes care of three daughters will enter Paradise." So a man asked how about two daughters, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said "he, too, will enter Paradise," so the man asked how about one daughter and the Prophet (peace be upon him) answered "he, too, will enter paradise."
The role of mother in Islam is no less in importance or social impact than the role of man as protector and provider. Islam has given the wife all what it takes to protect her rights and to create the adequate environment for a healthy family life. In an Islamic family, the man is responsible for supporting his family's needs. If the wife has income, it is her privilege to decide what to do with it independently. Family related decisions are to be discussed jointly.
The role of mother in Islam is so majestic and noble that women in general and mother in particular have been called the "School of the Nation". From our mothers new generations have sprung forth and from today's mothers, new generations will spring forth again. A blessing and trust given to us to nurture, protect, guide and educate. The first seeds of knowledge and the first knowledge of Allah is planted and developed at home under the guidance and loving care of the mother. It is a role Allah has gifted her with the capabilities to accomplish, the sense of giving and ability to inspire a sense of belonging.
The torn families of our days, and our social problems can be all avoided if the motherhood is taken as a serious responsibility and a respectable duty. Islam does not ask of the women to stay at home, have children, and be limited to raising them. Islam emphasizes the importance of this task to a healthy family and a healthy society. If a woman is capable of taking other tasks of life without abandoning such an important and vital task, she is not only allowed to do so, but she is requested to do just that. Every person, man or a woman, is requested to do his utmost to be a positive productive useful member of his or her own society. Talking about my personal experience, Allah have blessed me with the ability to be a caring mother of two young boys, a house wife with a content husband, and a productive career as a university professor. I do all that because Allah gave me the capability to do them all, not because I am in competition with any body, and not to prove that women can do it. I do it all in the way of Allah, and for his sake. There is no feeling of being threatened or a need to compete. Each man and woman recognizes their capabilities and their limitations.
So much can be said about the rights of women in Islam. But to be fair, we would not be talking about that if it were not for the other societies which denied women of their fair share of rights and equality. Islam gives women this fair share. It is all logical and obvious, and can be summarized on one simple statement. In the words of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) "Women are men's mothers, sisters, and daughters."