بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
A few days ago I was asked the following questions: Why do women have a lower status than men in islaam? And how come women have to cover up from men? Why can’t they just look away….? I find that the perception of Muslim women in the west is more so a reflection of a very over-patriarchal culture rather than a reflection of true Islamic values. It consists of this wrong idea that Islam encourages domestic abuse, forced marriages, forcing women to cover every bit of skin, women not being able to go out in the workforce or study, that Muslim women don’t have rights and that this so called “peaceful religion” is just built up on male dominance. This negative perception of Islam has just joined the band wagon of other misconceptions that causes the public to think that Islam is a problem. It is as if westerners are explicitly associating Islam with the oppression of women in the eighteenth century and emphasising the view of Cromer, the British Consul-General when he announced to Egypt (1883-1907), “I am here to liberate Muslim women, I am here to liberate them from Islam.” A view that shows a desire for rescuing Muslim women, even if it’s against her will. (Status of Women, 2005) Hmmm……a bit worrying. This may come as a surprise to you but I believe Islam is the solution rather than the problem and this complete way of life is what liberated women and Muslims in general from an era of ignorance to one filled with honour and victory. By the will of God, what comes to follow should open your eyes to the status of Muslim women in Islam and the justice both males and females are treated with in Islam. Most importantly I hope that this educates some of our own Muslim sisters on how to answer a question like the one above. (I acknowledge that there is more than one way to answer the question above and that I have missed out on a lot more information) Firstly, Alhamdulillah (all praise is due to God) for the blessing of Islam as it is the only way of life on the face of the earth that has honoured women. I apologise but this may be lengthy due to the various evidences available to show the status of a Muslim woman in Islam 🙂 (Bear with me) I can say with confidence that there is no basis for the claim that “women have a lower status than men.” Allah has clearly stated in the Qur’aan that men and women who practice the principals of Islam will receive EQUAL rewards. This question only arises due to the impact of foreign cultures and alien influences. The rights and privileges that Islam has given women, before any other religious or constitutional system, can only be understood if it is looked at as a whole in a just manner rather than partially by trying to deplore her plight in the pre-Islamic era or in the modern world of today. I want to make it clear that the rights and responsibilities of men and women are treated justly but they are not identical and this is understandable as men and women were not created identically rather created as equals. If you understand this distinction between equality (justice, fairness) and sameness/to be identical, then everything to follow will be easily understood. In actuality, when Islam gives her equal rights- but not identical- it takes her into due consideration, acknowledges her and recognises her independent personality, otherwise she would have been simply a duplicate of a male, which she isn’t. In reality it isn’t Islam that brands women as the product of evil or the seed of evil. Nor was it Islam that introduced the question of whether or not women had a soul! Never in history has any Muslim doubted the human status of women or her possession of soul and other qualities. Nor does Islam blame Eve alone for the First Sin and the Qur’an clearly stated that both Adam and Eve were tempted, that both of them sinned; and that God’s pardon was granted to both of them after they repented – God addressed them jointly (Ida Glaser, 1998). Let’s look at Eastern Communist World or the democratic nations- if you look at it closely women aren’t happy with their position in society. She has to work so hard to live and in some cases she may have the same job as a man but doesn’t get the same wages. She enjoys a type of liberty and to get to where she is now, she’s had to struggle for decades and centuries- to earn even a bit of respect from men. To gain the right of learning and the freedom to work and earn money, she had to make numerous amounts of sacrifices and give up her natural rights. To establish her status as an individual- human being with a soul, she paid heavily. Her rights, weren’t granted to her voluntarily or out of kindness- rather the modern woman reached her present position by force, not through Divine teachings. And if you really look at history then you will see this- till now women are still trying to be seen as equal to men in the work field. Various circumstances assisted the modern woman to get to her status such as pressure of economic needs and requirements of industrial developments which forced woman to get out of her home – to work, to learn, to struggle for her livelihood, to appear as an equal to man, to run her race in the course of life side by side with him. She was forced by circumstances and in turn she forced herself through and acquired her new status. The fact remains that whatever rights modern woman enjoy falls short of those of her Muslim counterpart. (Ida Glaser, 1998) Islam has given women a role that suits her nature, gives her full security and protects her against immoral circumstances and we won’t be elaborating or exploring the many setbacks that encircles the modern woman as a results of the so-called rights of women. Some rights of the Muslim Woman
- Women are rewarded justly for the deeds they do. She is acknowledged as an independent personality, with her own human qualities and worthy of spiritual aspirations
“And their Lord has accepted (their prayers) and answered them (saying): ‘Never will I cause to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female; you are members, one of another…” (Qur’an 3:195; 9:71;33:35-36;66:19-2)
- In the 7th century, Muhammad peace be upon him declared that the pursuit of knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim- male and female. One of the most eminent scholars in Islam was the Prophet’s wife, Aisha! After his death, men and women would travel to learn from her. And the recognition of female scholars and their participation in academia is strongly encouraged throughout Islamic history for example one of the oldest running university’s in Morocco was funded by a woman!
- She is entitled to freedom of expression and on many occasions women not only expressed their opinion freely but argued and participated in serious discussions with the prophet himself and Muslim leaders- their views on legislative matters of public interests were never disregarded.
- Islam gives women equal rights to contract, to earn and possess independently. Her property, her wealth- everything belonging to her, is hers! And her husband has no possession to it. Whatever’s his is hers and whatever’s hers is hers XD The Husband has to provide for his wife and family but she has no financial expenses within the home. But if she chooses to assist her husband financially then she is rewarded for it.
- Before Islam, women were deprived of her share of inheritance, but Islam gave her that share and never can it be taken away from her, nor can anyone disinherit her.
- Women are entitled to a dowry from her husband when she gets married. This legally belongs to her alone and even after divorce she has the right to keep this- this ensures a woman’s financial security and independence-so she can support herself in the case of divorce.
- She has the right to accept or reject marriage proposals and without her approval- the marriage contract cannot be completed. She cannot be forced to marry anyone against her will and this only occurs due to cultural practices which is a direct opposition to the true teachings of Islam.
I have only briefly mentioned some of the rights of women and I really believe this answer doesn’t do justice to this topic. As for the second question “and how come women have to cover up from men? why can’t they just look away….?” There are two parts to this question, and I will try to make this answer more concise: Firstly: why women ‘cover up from men’ I want to first say that the hijab (the head scarf, the loose clothing a Muslim woman wears) is NOT worn for men or to protect men, she does not wear it to cover for men, rather it is to honour her as a believing woman. The primary reason for covering is the same reason that Muslims- male and female- implement any of the commandments of Islam and that is because the fundamental concept of Islam is submission to Almighty God, recognising that in His infinite knowledge and wisdom, He knows what is best for His creation. It is a command from Allah (God), He says in the Qur’aan: “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their outer garments over themselves. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” [The Qur’an: al-Ahzab: 33:59] This passage tells us that: The clothing she wears makes it known to society that this individual is a practising Muslimah. It is a uniform that she adopts making her an ambassador for Islam and showing others the true moral conduct of the religion, through her actions and her dress code. Like the veil that nuns wear, it serves to make a statement that this woman is of high moral standards and should be treated with honour and respect and there is no doubt that people are-rightly or wrongly- judged by their appearance and that sometimes the way people dress affects the way we deal with them for example- a person in authority wearing their uniform is treated respectfully. Same goes for our sisters in Islaam who adopt this symbol of modesty and cover up only for the sake of her Lord because she knows she is pleasing Him alone by following His commandment. Also to expand on this briefly, we cannot deny that images of inadequately dressed women (not all women) are regularly used in advertising products from cars to perfume, women are being encouraged and pressured by today’s society to fill this fake image of beauty, which now consists of having a smaller waist, higher heals, shorter dress, a bit of a cleavage if you’re trying to attract someone, makeup has to be on point and yeah…. Whereas a Muslim woman knows she is beautiful and doesn’t need all that to make it apparent to herself and to the public. Why did I say to herself? Because I know a lot of the time people dress and pile on make up to feel beautiful but in actual fact they are doing it all the wrong way because with that comes unwanted attention (which I might mention later). A Muslim woman is more precious than any jewel or pearl and is more worthy of a righteous husband whom she can dress up for. She adorns herself with modesty and radiates her beauty with him. She saves herself from the prying eyes of men and from shackles of male scrutiny. She sends out a message that she is an individual who is valued for her intellect and her character and not an object of desire to be leered at. And in an environment that constantly emphasizes the physical form through various platforms, women are faced with an unattainable standard of beauty and Muslim women are liberated from this objectification by society. It only promotes a deeper appreciation for who she is as a person. And through this we follow the example of Mary, the mother of Jesus (pbuh), who is known for her piety and modesty Secondly: Can’t men just look away…? Men do have the obligation and are told to lower their gaze. But man is weak, ESPECIALLY to women. So God has given men a hijab as well, men are supposed to lower their gaze because of modesty. Because of shame and self-effacement. In fact, the verse in one chapter of the Qur’aan, commanding men to lower their gaze and guard their private parts is mentioned before the verse for women to cover. So there is a wisdom to men lowering their gaze and maybe part of that wisdom is that it is purer for the heart and shows their religious commitment. Lowering the gaze from that which is unlawful for men to look at only protects them from a much greater sin like, fornication. I’m not saying that every man that looks at a woman just thinks of having sex with her…Shari’ah (the laws of God) came to forbid the ways that lead to immorality. Again I want to emphasise that women don’t cover up except to fulfil the commandments of God. In addition, men work differently to women, not restraining your gaze from the opposite sex corrupts a man. It’s like if they see women who they are attracted to or features of a woman that attract him, whether it’s her eyes, face, other parts- this image is imprinted in his heart/memory. They can recall this same image days later, then, if they are married, they begin to compare their wife to that woman that they saw at work or wherever. So sometimes it can break marriages because a man who lets his gaze run loosely will never be satisfied with the wife he has, because he will just want more and more and more… It’s been said that “between the eyes and the heart is an immediate connection; if the eyes are corrupted, then the heart follows.” If men continue to look at whatever he wants then it prevents him from feeling pleased with the limits God has set, which in Islam is, lower your gaze and don’t commit illegal sexual intercourse with women outside of what God has mentioned. In conclusion, Islam has an extensive tradition of protecting the civil liberties of women based on the guidelines set forth by God and His Prophet. Women are empowered with many rights and protections under Islamic law and are honored with a dignified stature in society. Muslim women make the wilful decision to adopt and fulfil the commands of God and men have the same obligation to follow the commands of God. (Status of Women, 2005)
Ida Glaser, N. J. (1998). Partners or Prisoners? Solway. Status of Women. (2005). Retrieved from Why Islam: http://www.whyislam.org/on-faith/status-of-women/