We as an ummah have seen the rights of women steadily erode over the last 1400 years, to a point that cultural and social practices supersede the rights guaranteed to women by Allah, as seen in the Quran and Hadith. The rights that are inherent in Islam are taken for granted by societal misconceptions leading to the degradation of our women.
Allah has given us the guide by which we live our lives, and he has offered the perfect example to model ourselves after. I feel it is imperative that we look closer at the way we treat or allow others to treat women, and judge these actions according to the way of Allah. Let us begin our work in understanding a woman’s role in Islam by going to the source of Allah’s words:
“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.” Holy Quran 33:35
This is one of the most prolific versus in stating the significance of women in Islam because her role is stated unequivocally as that with a man. The term “men and women” associating their actions as the same is repeated not once or twice, but it is mentioned ten times ending in “for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.”. Men and women, for them, not him and not her, but for them is a great reward.
Is man somehow a more perfect creation then his counterpart? Again let us look to the most definitive source for the answer:
“O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from this pair scattered (like seeds) countless men and women. Reverence Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and reverence the wombs (that bore you); for Allah ever watches over you.” Holy Quran 4:1
“And among His signs is this that He has created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them; and He has put love and mercy between you. Verily in that are signs for those who reflect.” Holy Quran 30:21
In the abovementioned verses it is clear that Allah has created man and woman from a single “person” and of “like nature” and that He has created us to “dwell in tranquility” and he put “love and mercy” between us. If you look at the verses closely you notice that Allah mentions man and woman were created the same, with similar natures and are to live together in peace. It was not revealed with one in a position of superiority over the other.
Marriage gives special importance to women as well as evidenced in the Quran and the Hadith. Women have been given rights in Islam that were not seen elsewhere for hundreds of years. The nature of marriage was revealed in many ways, one of which describes the family unit that comes from wedlock:
“And Allah has made for you your mates of your own nature, and made for you, out of them, sons and daughters and grandchildren, and provided for you sustenance of the best.” Holy Quran 16:72
Describing a man and his wife Allah once again uses a most beautiful metaphor to describe them:
“They (your wives) are your garment and you are a garment for them.” Holy Quran 2:187
This simple statement means so many things if one but looks sincerely. “The garment is the grace, the beauty, the embellishment of the body, so too are wives to their husbands as their husbands are to them." – A garment helps preserve our modesty, just as a husband and wife protect each others modesty; a garment offers comfort and security to ones body just as husband and wife offer security and comfort to each other. Such a simple statement that means so much. The relationship between man and woman is described further ensuring certain protections for her; Allow me to offer a few evidences:
“Live with them in kindness; even if you dislike them, perhaps you dislike something in which Allah has placed much good” Holy Quran 4:19
“Then keep them in all decency or part from them decently. It is not lawful for you to take anything you have given them” Holy Quran 2:229
Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "A matron should not be given in marriage except after consulting her; and a virgin should not be given in marriage except after her permission." The people asked, "O Allah's Apostle! How can we know her permission?" He said, "Her silence (indicates her permission)." Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 67
The afore mentioned versus describe three very important aspects regarding women and marriage; First we find the Quran warns men, not women to live in kindness with his wife because Allah knows what we do not, and surely his wife can have goodness that he will not see until he opens his heart. We then move onto another verse directed to men regarding their wives, and it is a command “keep them in decency” and if that can not be done then to “leave them decently” and this too is something that seems so simplistic today, but when one sees how Allah wanted men to treat women over 1400 years ago, it becomes an amazing change of social and cultural customs that were so prevalent during this period of history. The last verse is in fact a Hadith chosen for the subject that it clarifies. Through social and cultural traditions it had become common then and even today to force ones daughter into a marriage she had no choice in. This hadith clearly demonstrates that women should not be given against their will, and even more important is that it says "Her silence (indicates her permission).” the significance of which is that if her silence is her permission, then it is not only allowing but promoting that a woman actually voice her objection and be heard. This is something not always common even by todays standards.
I will leave off with the most important role of a woman. We have seen the woman as an individual, and as a wife, now let us look at her as a mother. The most important role of a woman is as a mother, so important that the Rasool Allah said:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
A man came to Allah's Apostle and said, "O Allah's Apostle! Who is more entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me?" The Prophet said, "Your mother." The man said. "Who is next?" The Prophet said, "Your mother." The man further said, "Who is next?" The Prophet said, "Your mother." The man asked for the fourth time, "Who is next?" The Prophet said, "Your father." Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 73, Number 2:
I could say so much more about the importance, and significance of women in Islam but for now I will save that for another article. I urge all Muslims to carefully look at the role of women in Islam and take a closer look at some of the most influential women in Islam – Khadija bint Khuwaylid, Aishah bint Abi Bakr, Sumayyah Bint Khabbab, Nasibah bint Ka'b al-Maziniyyah to name but a few of the many Muslimah who helped forge the path of Islam and shape our Ummah in their own ways.