By Neelofar Rafeeq
The status of women in society is neither a new issue nor is it a fully settled one. In the midst of the darkness that engulfed the world, the divine revelation echoed in the wide desert of Arabia with a fresh, noble and universal message to humanity, declaring that “O mankind! Reverence your guardian, lord, who created you from a single person, created of like natures, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women…”(Q. 4: 1).
Muslims accept that the main purpose behind the creation of jinn and mankind was that they should worship Allah, struggle against the forces of Satan and live their life according to Allah’s commandments in order to achieve eternal bliss in paradise:“I have only created jinn’s and men that they may serve me”(Q.51: 56);“Nay, but worship Allah, and be of those who give thanks”(Q.39: 66).
In this spiritual regard, Islam makes no distinction between men and women. Both have a soul; both were created for the same purpose in life; both have a duty to fulfill their religious obligations; both will be judged by the Almighty and both will be rewarded and punished according to their individual actions. Whenever the Quran mentions those fortunate beings that will enter the gardens of bliss, because of their piety and good deeds, it mentions men and women together: “If any do deeds of righteousness, be they male or female and have faith they will enter heaven” (Q.4: 124).
In terms of religious obligations, such as the daily prayers, fasting, zakat and pilgrimage, women are neither different from men nor have a low status. As human beings, both are equal. In some cases indeed, women have certain advantages over men. For example, women are exempted from the daily prayers and from fasting during their menstrual periods and forty days after child birth. She is also exempted from fasting during her pregnancy and when she is nursing her baby, if there is any threat to her health or her baby’s. This is clearly a tender touch of the Islamic teachings towards these matters, taking into account the physiological and psychological changes associated with female nature.
The Sacred verses of the glorious Quran and the history of early Muslims bear witness to the fact that women are considered as vital to life as men. Islam refuted the idea that Eve (Hawa) tempted Adam to disobey God and thus caused his downfall. The Quran says that they both disobeyed and negates the idea that women are a source of evil. Islam gave women a high status in a world where women were no more than objects of pleasure or gratification for men, and at a time when the religious circles argued over whether women were human or not. In Islamic tradition, a woman has an independent identity. She is a responsible being in her own right and carries the burden of her moral and spiritual obligations.
Women have as much right to education as men. Almost fourteen centuries ago, Prophet [S.A.W] declared that the pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim, male and female. This declaration was very clear and was largely implemented by Muslims throughout history. The responsibility of maintaining social and moral values lies on both men and women. Both must refrain from all deeds and gestures that might stir the passions of people other than their legitimate spouses or cause evil suspicion of their morality.
It is also worthy to mention that Islam grants women equal rights to contract, to enterprise, to earn and possess independently. A woman’s life, her property and her honour are as sacred as those of man. If she commits any offence, her penalty is no less or more than of a man’s; in a similar case if she is wrong or harmed, she gets due compensation equal to what a man in her position would get. Islam has given women a share of inheritance. Before Islam women were not only deprived of that share but were they considered as property (chattel) to be inherited by men. From merely being transferable property Islam made women heir, acknowledging their inherent individuality. Whether a woman is a wife or mother, a sister or daughter, she receives a certain share of the deceased kin’s property, a share that depends on the degree of her relationship to the deceased and the number of heirs. This share is hers and no one can take it away or disinherit her even if the deceased wishes to deprive her by making a will to other relations or in favour of any other cause, the law will not allow this.
Numerous Qur’anic verses reveal that there is no indication that the Quran intends for us to understand that there is a primordial distinction between male and female, with regard to spiritual potential. Both are equal here. Supremely so as the following Quranic verse attests:
The Noble Qur’an says: “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” (Q.49: 13).
In sum, Islam gave women numerous rights, and she has an equal status. She is, in no way, an inferior or sub ordinate to man–as far as their role, rights, and responsibilities are concerned.
—The author has completed her PG in Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora. She can be reached at: [email protected]