THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN IN ISLAM
Dear brothers and sisters, as you may all be aware; the International Women’s day is around the corner. This is the day put aside by the UN to promote the rights of women around the world.
Unfortunately, whenever the issue of the rights of women comes up, some people perceive Islam as a violator of these rights. Some do so out of ignorance and some do it deliberately.
Today’s sermon aimed at proving such people wrong.
I am therefore going to focus on the rights accorded to women and girls in Islam.
There is no religion, organization or group that values and respects women more than Islam.
It is well known that in all generations prior to the spread of Islam, women were not valued.
History shows us that world over, women were not considered less human portrayed in a negative image.
In Greece for example, women were considered dirty and satanic.
In ancient Rome, were sold like animals or merchandise. They were not equal to men before the law.
In India, women were considered less valuable than dead bodies.
In Persia (ancient Iran), women were viewed as a gods of love, sexual desire and giving birth.
In the pre Islamic Arabian peninsula, women were part of men’s belongings and baby girls were buried alive because they were seen as the cursed ones who could bring poverty and famine.
In China, they had a saying that ‘consult your wife but do not take what she says seriously’.
In Russia, they believed that out of every 10 woman, there is only one with “understands”.
In Spain, they used to say; ‘avoid a sinful woman and do not trust a progressive woman’.
In Italy, they had a saying that “a whip is for a horse, but a cane is for a woman, bad or good”.
Among many tribes in Uganda and other parts of Africa, a woman was considered a source of bad luck. Many believed and still believe that when you meet a woman first during a journey, you are destined for failure. Many people could cancel their journeys simply because they met a woman first, not a man.
Therefore, prior to the spread of Islam, the Allah given rights of women were not respected.
The spread of Islam by Prophet Muhammad PBUH was therefore the beginning of the emancipation of women around the world.
Among all the Abrahamic or the three main religions, as well as the modern schools of thought, there is none that respects and values women more than Islam.
In addition to that, there has never been any era in history that has empowered women more than the Islamic era.
To prove this, Allah has dedicated a whole chapter 4 in the Holy Quran – Surat An-Nisa to the rights of women.
In creation, a woman is part of a man, as indicated inthe following Quranic verse;
“O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer” (Quran 4:1).
In Islam a woman is valued first as a mother;
Kindness to parents (especially mothers) is next to worship of Allah:
Allah says in the Holy Quran;
“And We have enjoined on the human (to be good) to his/her parents: in travail upon travail did his/her mother bear him/her and in years twain was his/her waning: (hear the command) "Show gratitude to Me and to your parents: to Me is (your final) destiny." (Qur'an 31:14)
Mothers are accorded a special place of honour in Hadith:
Ibn Masud came to the Prophet Muhammad asking:
“O Messenger of Allah, who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?
The Prophet said, your mother. The man said then who is next: the Prophet said, your mother. The man said, then who is next? The Prophet said your mother. The man further asked, then who is next? Only then did the Prophet say, your father (Al Bukhari)”.
Apart from Islam, no religion, government, organisation or ideology values women to that level.
Islam values a woman as a Wife
Marriage in Islam is based on mutual peace, love, and compassion, not just the satisfaction of man's needs.
In the following verses, Allah refers to wives as mates to men. A mate is a companion, a friend, a colleague; not a slave or an inferior person.
He refers to husbands and wives as pairs. A pair is a couple or a set of two things that complement each other, just like a pair of shoes. This means that in marriage, a wife is very important to a husband.
In the Holy Quran (30:21), Allah says;
“And among His Signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves that you may well in tranquillity with them and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts); verily in that are signs for those who reflect”.
Allah also says:
“(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves and pairs among cattle: by this means does He multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Him and He is the One that hears and sees (all things)” (Qur'an 42:11)
The Qur'an urges husbands to be kind and considerate to their wives even if they do not like them.
“O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness that you may take away part of the marital gift you have given them except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings about though it a great deal of good” (Qur'an 4:19).
The husband is responsible for the maintenance, protection, and overall headship of the family within the framework of consultation and kindness. This however does not make him superior or more human than the wife. It emphasises to him the importance of a wife and his responsibility of loving and caring for her.
Prophet Muhammad PBUH said:
"The best of you is the best to his family (wives) ... I am also good to my family"
Prophet Muhammad also used to help in everyday household work in spite of his busy schedule.
As a Daughter
The Qur'an effectively ended the cruel pre Islamic practice of female infanticide (killing and burying of baby girls);
“And when the girl [who was] buried alive is asked. For what sin she was killed” Holy Qur'an 81:8-9.
The Qur'an went further to rebuke the unwelcoming attitudes among some parents upon hearing the news of the birth of a baby girl, instead of a baby boy:
“When news is brought to one of them of (the birth of) a female (child) his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on (sufferance and) contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil (choice) they decide on! (Qur'an 16:58 59)
In Islam, parents are duty bound to support and show kindness and justice to their daughters. Prophet Muhammad said:
"Whosoever supports two daughters till they mature, he and I will come in the Day of Judgement as this (and he pointed with his two fingers held together)." [Ahmad]
Right to Education
Education is not only a right but also a responsibility of all males and females. Prophet Muhammad said:
"Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim ("Muslim" is used here in the generic meaning which includes both males and females).
As a sister
Islam also values women as sisters;
The Prohpet PBUH said;
“If anyone cares for three daughters/sisters, disciplines them, marries them, and does good to them, he will go to Paradise” Abu-Dawood Hadith 5128, Narrated by Abu Sa'id al-Khudri
According to the Prophet Muhammad's saying: "Women are but sisters (or the other half) of men (Shaqa'iq).
The different ways in which Islam values women
Women are very important in the process of recreation. It takes a male and female gene to make a baby, and all men and women come from this process.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted” Quran 49:13.
In the above verse, Allah also tells mankind that male or female, the best among humanity are the righteous.
In Islam, woman are entitled to constant love, care and protection; by their parents when they are at their parental home, by their husbands when they get married and by their children when they grow old or divorce.
They are entitled to this care and protection even after divorce.
Prior to the spread of Islam, women were denied the right to inheritance. Islam gives them the right to inherit a share as wives, mothers, daughters and sisters.
“For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much - an obligatory share” Quran 4:7.
In the pre Islamic era, women never got dowry, they were instead sold off and the money was given to the seller who was always the father.
Islam put an end to this and introduced Mahar and dowry given to the bride herself following a consented and lawful marriage. No one has the right to receive Mahar or gifts meant for the bride without her permission. This is stressed in the Holy Quran as follows:
“And give the women [upon marriage] their [bridal] gifts graciously. But if they give up willingly to you anything of it, then take it in satisfaction and ease” Quran 4:4.
In Islam, a woman’s opinion or idea is highly valued. This is evidenced in the Holy Quran 58:1 where Allah says;
“Certainly has Allah heard the speech of the one who argues with you, [O Muhammad], concerning her husband and directs her complaint to Allah. And Allah hears your dialogue; indeed, Allah is Hearing and Seeing”.
Islam respects and upholds the right of a woman to choose her marriage partner.
In Islam, a female has the right to accept or reject marriage proposals. Her consent is prerequisite to the validity of the marital contract according to the Prophet's teaching. It follows that if by "arranged marriage" is meant marrying the girl without her consent, then such a marriage is nullifiable if she so wished.
"Ibn Abbas reported that a girl came to the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad, and she reported that her father had forced her to marry without her consent. The Messenger gave her the choice ... (between accepting the marriage or invalidating it). "(Ahmad, Hadith no. 2469).
Islam gives married women the right to leave a husband (khulua) just as a man has a right to divorce.
When it comes to child custody in Islam, priority for custody of young children (up to the age of about seven) is given to the mother. A child later chooses between his mother and father (for custody purposes). Custody questions are to be settled in a manner that balances the interests of both parents and well being of the child.
Men and women are addressed as equal in Islam
On the basic social and religious responsibilities, the Qur'an establishes equality;
“The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those - Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise” Quran 9:71.
Concerning the equality of men and women in receiving rewards and the entry of paradise, Allah says:
"So their Lord accepted of them (their supplication and answered them), "Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female" [Quran 3:195].
In another chapter, Allah says;
“Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer - We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do” [Quran 16:97].
When it comes to financial matters, the rule of Islam abolished the unjust practices among many nations that deprived the woman of the right of property ownership.
As a rule, Islam acknowledges the woman's rights to all kinds of ownership, spending and channelling of her money. It gives her the rights of inheritance, selling, buying, renting, donating, lending, allocating property for religious and charitable purposes, giving alms, legal transfer and mortgage, as well as many other forms of contracts and actions.
In conclusion, Islam has an extensive tradition of protecting the rights of women based on the guidelines set forth by Allah and His Prophet. Women are empowered with many rights and protections under Islamic law and are honored with a dignified stature in society.
I would like to make it clear that when looking at the Islamic perspective on women, there should be a clear distinction between the normative teachings of Islam and the diverse cultural practices among Muslims, which may or may not be consistent with Islamic teachings.
It cannot be stated enough times that anyone who exercises unjust authority in the name of Islam is actually doing so to uphold their own cultural influences or personal interests. All of Allah’s creation is dignified and protected under Islamic law.
I appeals to all those involved in women emancipation activities to understand the Islamic teachings on the women before branding it the oppressor of women rights.
I also appeal to women that as they demand for their rights, they should not seek to be equal to men. There are rights that are exclusive to women and those that are exlusive to women. Advocate for your rights in a manner that is acceptable in Islam.
I also urge men to stop violating the rights of women. Several studies have concluded that men are the leading violators of the rights of women. It is not Islam that undermines women; it is you men who hide behind islam to control women. My appeal to you is; be more loving, caring, protective and supportive to the women in your lives.
Islam is the champion of the rights of women as indicated in some of the evidence above.
By Sheikh Imran Ssali
Imam, National Mosque
Kampala - Uganda