Originally Published in Arkansas Democrat Gazette on February 10th, 2018
by Hameed Naseem
It is widely believed in the West that Islam stands in opposition to women’s rights. However, even a cursory study of the Holy Quran leaves a strong impression that Islam treats women just the same as men, with love and respect, grants them equal rights and places a very high expectation on both in terms of moral and spiritual growth. The Quran promises equal reward for both.
About the creation of humans we read in the Quran: “He it is who has created you [humans] from a single soul, and made therefrom its mate [as well]” — Chapter 7, verse 190. Also, Allah says: “Of his signs [miracles] it is that he has created mates for you of your own kind that you may find peace of mind through them, and he has put love and tenderness between you. In that there are signs [of great wisdom] for a people who reflect” — Chapter 30, verse 22. Thus male and female are equal in their creation, and in their desires and ambitions.
The story of the fall of man from divine grace is mentioned in chapter 20, verses 121-123, of the Holy Quran: “But Satan whispered evil suggestions to him [Adam]; he [Satan] said, ‘O Adam, shall I lead thee to the tree of eternity and to a kingdom that never decays?’ Then they both [Adam and his mate] ate thereof, so that their shame became manifest to them, and they began to stick the leaves of the garden together over themselves. And Adam observed not the commandment of his Lord, so his life became miserable. Then his Lord chose him for his grace, and turned to him with mercy and guided him.” It is apparent that Adam is placed squarely in the cross hairs for the “original sin” and not his mate, Eve. Allah absolves her completely. Of course, Adam was pardoned through grace and mercy.
Men and women are equally treated in Islam in terms of their obligations and responsibilities and their earning equal rewards for equal work. The Quran declares: “Surely, Muslim men and Muslim women, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women, and truthful men and truthful women, and steadfast men and steadfast women, and humble men and humble women, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember Allah much and women who remember him much — Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward — Chapter 33, verse 36. It is exactly the same reward for both, men and women, whether they are Muslims or not, for the same act of humility, charity or chastity.
Islam protects the honor and dignity of both men and women equally. The Holy Quran declares: “And those who malign believing men and believing women for that which they have not done, shall bear the guilt of a calumny and a manifest sin” — Chapter 33, verse 59. Furthermore, in chapter 85, verse 11, the Quran warns of a dreadful punishment for those who persecute either the believing men or the believing women. It might be noted that the Arabic word Mo’min — used in the Quran to identify a believer — literally means the one who offers peace and security to others. So, in a wider application of these verses, God protects the honor and comfort of those men and women who are the peacemakers.
I will now mention some of the rights that Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him.) declared unequivocally to belong to women 1,400 years ago that were not available to them in the West until recently. In a marriage, man was made responsible for all due expenses of the wife and the children, including food, clothing and shelter. The wife was given the right to own property and invest her wealth in her own business. She is not bound to spend her money on the family at all. Khadija, the first wife of the Prophet, was a very successful businesswoman. The prophet worked for her for years before and after their marriage.
A Muslim woman inherits the property of her deceased husband or parents according to a prescribed formula given in the Quran. Early Muslims were so keen to follow this injunction that they invented algebra to make it work for all.
In Islam, marriage itself is presented as a contract between a man and a woman, and both are granted the right to divorce. Imagine the time when the Prophet gave these teachings 14 centuries ago. In Arabia and in the rest of the world, women had no rights and were treated with contempt. A young bride once came to the Prophet and said she wanted to divorce her husband. He asked her if he abused her or was not a good man. She said that he was very generous and righteous, but she did not feel attracted to him. The Prophet assented readily. Of course, divorce is not considered a preferred option, but a last resort. A divorced woman or a widow may remarry without any stigma as this is her God-given right.
We often hear, “Knowledge is power.” The Prophet empowered women by making education mandatory for every Muslim man and woman. The first revelation given to the Prophet emphasized the importance of reading and writing as a means of gaining knowledge and honor for humanity. Prophet Muhammad advised his followers they could learn half of the knowledge about Islam from his able and scholarly wife, Ayesha. And, in fact, a large portion of the Islamic knowledge has come down to us through her interpretations and discourses.