The Rights of Women in Islam

by

BISMILLAHI RAHMAAN, RAHIM

 In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, and the Most Merciful

MANY issues are brought to light of the atrocities committed against Muslim women on the mistaken belief that it is an Islamic prescription. This is in contrast to the fact that the Koran strongly condemns all forms of oppression and injustice and that Islam is a Faith based on Peace.

Allah (SW) is protective of the downtrodden and oppressed classes of people and in fact favors women but Muslim societies in general based on cultural patriarchy and not on Islamic Thought and Practice, tends to be far more concerned with the control of women’s bodies; thoughts; and action rather than with the Human Rights of Women as stipulated in the Holy Koran.

When women’s Rights are discussed by the Muslim Orthodoxy which is highly patriarchal for having integrated practices from their ethnic and cultural practices and which are not Islamic in origin and practice, women’s chastity is brought into focus, not their Right to Responsible Freedom.

The Koran is particularly solicitous of domestic well being and development but despite this, Muslim women have been the target of the most serious violation of Human Rights.

Very rarely is the Muslim ideal of peace; justice and harmony practiced in Muslim households. Often in Muslim households, there is a vast discrepancy between what such households practice and what Muslims have been enjoined to practice in the teachings of the Holy Koran.

Such households most often have dominant male figureheads who misinterpret the Holy Koran whether deliberately or from what they hear and learn from various religious leaders. The faith based leaders tend to carry baggage of cultural prejudice and practice having integrated such culture based on their socio ethnic backgrounds. They then include their socio ethnic prejudice against women in religious sermons to the extent, the lines between cultural practice and Islamic Thought; Practice and Jurisprudence has become blurred.

Male dominated Muslim societies having borrowed cultural practices from their ethnic groups and their natal specifics, keep asserting ”Islam has given more rights to Muslim women in comparison with other religious Faiths” but in practice, keep women in physical; mental; and emotional confinement; thus depriving women of the opportunity to actualize their human potential. The majority of the Muslim patriarchy sees emancipated Muslim women not as a symbol of modernity or development but as symbols of Westernization.

Traditional societies, which encompass a large Muslim populace, see the intrusion of women in the public sphere as an aberration and a disruptive influence and have used religion to segregate women, what some of us call religious apartheid, by stopping them from realizing their full potential. This practice is un Islamic because curtailing the Responsible Freedom of a person is in contrast to the Human Rights which are emphasized in the Holy Koran.

In Islam, men and women are created from a single being with no particular emphasis on either sex. Contrary to popular belief that woman – Hawa/Eve committed the first sin, hence the concept of ‘The original Sin’, the Koran states that Adam and Hawa/Eve sinned together and both are ordered by Allah (SW) to repent and begin a life on earth, thus establishing that the punishment was meted out in equal proportion.

In Islamic Theology, Man and Woman have been created equal by God who in His Might and Wisdom is the ultimate Arbiter of value. There is absolutely no ambiguity in God’s Might and Wisdom though the sermons we are given, often based on oppressive traditional practices has capitalized on the notion of the original sin, the fall from Grace as having originated from woman and still seeks to punish woman for it.

The Koran stipulates that God’s Creation is ‘for just ends’ and not for idle sport and insists that service to humanity and seeking of knowledge for the good of the individual and the community is the path of the righteous. The prevention and segregation of women seeking knowledge; or from working for gain; is a violation of the Muslim Credo.

Women are free to work and earn as a result of their work and no man- father; husband; brother; or son; has the right to control the earnings of a woman. This is so that Muslim women may have financial independence which is a human value at par with men.

In the family sphere, the Koran has pointed differences but has also emphasized an equitable distribution of duties and responsibilities. Western scholars tend to mistakenly assert that Islam is discriminatory towards women on the right to inheritance without taking into account the fact that Allah (SW) has commanded men to protect women therefore, what a woman inherits would become her estate and what her brother(s) inherit should be used for the wellbeing of the family.

When a woman marries, irrespective of whether she is engaged in paid employment or not, her husband has to provide her with shelter; daily sustenance; and gifts. Upon entering a marriage, a woman’s freedom to work or pursue of knowledge is not curtailed.

The gifts that a husband bestows on his bride upon marriage should not be taken as ‘buying a wife’ or bride price but should be seen in the spirit it is given and it is given to the bride to dispose of as she wishes, not to her father as compensation. This gift is irrevocable in the advent of a divorce. The gift is also set by the bride and is not negotiable.

The Holy Koran stresses those gifts given to a wife by a husband should not be recalled.

There is a Decree in the Islamic Jurisprudence that a woman can claim payment from a husband for performing household chores and if she obtains a divorce, she has the right to demand compensation.

No man has the right to throw out his wife from the marital home, but he is commanded to move out of the marital home for three months and if reconciliation hasn’t taken place, and a divorce is decided, the man has to provide sustenance for a prescribed time or unless she marries another husband. The household items belong to the woman and as such, she can dispose of them as she sees fit.

A husband has to gift his wife with money and/or gold adornments for breastfeeding their child during the period prescribed in the Koran.

A woman has the right to ask for divorce on the grounds of mental or physical cruelty and a man does not have the right to revoke the gifts given during the period of the marriage.

A Muslim woman has the right to use her clan/family name and cannot be forced to assume the clan/family name of the husband. Regarding polygamy, men have chosen to interpret it to suit their wants because although allowed in Islam, the Koran states that if a man does not have the financial means or the temperament to treat both wives equally, then it is better to remain with one.

Forced marriages are not legal in Islamic Sharia and a woman has the right to choose a husband from among the Muslim community. Husbands are directed to treat their wives with kindness; honor and patience and in one Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in his last sermon, reminded men to “Fear Allah (SW) concerning women “For verily you (men) have taken them on the security of Allah (SW) and you have made their persons lawful unto you by the Words of Allah (SW). The Koran has stated that Muslim men and women should marry with peace and if there is need for a divorce, they should separate in peace”.

Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had on various occasions spoken against the practice of emotional and verbal abuse by a husband to a wife and he is said to have abhorred wife beating, calling it “A shameful act”.

The Koran states that mankind be careful towards the wombs that bore them. Mothers are especially held in high esteem while the prophet said “Of the two parents, a mother deserves the higher honor and consideration”.

 

Some of the Human Rights stated in the Holy Koran

  • That everyone has the Right to Life and Security: regardless of gender; class; color or age, meaning that the Koran does not create a hierarchy in which men are placed above women, nor does it put men against women in an adversary position.
  • Everyone has the Right to Respect
  • Everyone has the Right to Justice- two concepts are consistently used in the Koran for Justice and these are ‘Adil’ which is justice in the legal sense and which is represented by a scale which is equally balanced. While ‘Ihsaan’ goes beyond Adil and refers to the restoring of balance by making up for a loss or deficiency. The nature of Ihsaan is based on the nature of the ideal community- ummah- which is a derivative of Umm meaning Mother. Thus the community or ummah is likened to a mother because communities should be supportive and nurturing.

It should also be noted that the two symbols of maternal love and compassion are two attributes most characteristic of Allah (SW) ‘Rahman’ and ‘Rahim’ both of which are derived from the root word ‘Rahm’ meaning womb. Thus an ideal ummah/community cares about all its members just as a loving mother cares for all her children, knowing they may be different but deserve equal care and compassion.

  • The Right to Freedom: A notable point is the Koran’s emphasis on freeing humans from ignorance; authoritarianism; tribalism; caste and slavery. In fact one way of atonement for a Muslim is to free a slave. Also, the greatest guarantee of personal freedom for a Muslim lies in the Koran decree that no being other than God can limit human freedom and that the ultimate judgment regarding what is right and what is wrong rests with God alone.
  • In political matters, the Koran emphasizes on the Right of Mutual Consultation (Shura’a) and gives mandate to Responsible Dissent the status of a fundamental Right. The Koran also emphasizes that “There shall be no coercion in matters of Faith”.
  • The Right to Privacy: The Koran recognizes the Right to Privacy as a Human Right and has laid down Rules in the individual’s life in the home from intrusion from within and without,
  • The Right to Protection from Slander; Backbiting and Ridicule and that “No person be maligned on assumed guilt”.
  • The Right to Knowledge which is a pre requisite for a Just world in which Peace and harmony can prevail.
  • The Right to work and to sustenance which should be rightfully gained.

And Allah (SW) is the Judge above all Judges.

References:

  1. The Holy Koran with translations by Yusuf Ali (English) and Saleh Farsy (Swahili).
  2. Women in Islamic Thinking (unpublished MS) by Dr. El Back- Adam Abdou Moumari University, Niamey.
  3. Rights of Women (unpublished MS) by Rifat Hassan.
  4. Polygamy in Islam by Dr. Jamal Badawy, published by International Islamic Publishing House.
  5. The Protection of Women in Islam by Salma maoulid, (unpublished MS).
  6. Dissolution of Islamic Marriages in Tanzania by AbdulRahman Kaniki, published in the Guardian/1995.
  7. Conversations with the late Sheikh Mahmud Kipengule and the late justice Ali Omar.
  8. The Rights of Women in Islam (unpublished MS) by Leila Sheikh for TGNP/GDSS.

“Together We Can Make it Happen”

Leila Sheikh