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The Status of Women in Islam

By: Rosemary J. AI-Attar
(Adapted from: Al-Noor, Vol. 2, No. 16, Rabi'uth - Thani, 1413 A.H. - Oct. 1992 AD pp 4-5)

In response to a prejudiced article written by Matthew Parris in The Times, I tried to explain to the writer and to the readers, the true status of women in Islam. The following letter was sent to the newspaper's editor, who replied regretting he could not publish it:

I have just read Matthew Parris article on the oppression of Muslim women, 'Still the world's outcasts', (10 August), and as a (female) English convert to Islam, who observes the modest Islamic dress, I feel I cannot let it pass without putting the record straight on behalf of all women everywhere who profess Islamic principles. I believe there is an ulterior motive behind this article, as it is incredible that anyone, who is writing about Islam, can be so ignorant of it.

In order to have a correct understanding of Islamic ideals it is necessary to distinguish between women's status in so-called Muslim societies, and her status according to Islamic laws, principles and values. It is unjust to regard Islam - as a religion and law - responsible for the backwardness of the Muslims, nor is it right to convict Islam - in any one of its aspects - because of the backward social life lived by the Muslims ever since they drifted away from its teachings, and neglected it in practice and application.

In true Islamic society, woman has an honored position and, beside her legal and civil rights, enjoys special respect, love, affection and the gentle feelings which she deserve most. She is the compassionate mother, the beloved wife, and the affectionate daughter. This is best expressed by the following verses of the Holy Qur'an:
And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents: In travail upon travail Did his mother bear him, And in years twain Was his weaning: Hear The command, 'Show gratitude To Me and to thy parents: To Me is thy final Goal'. (Qur'an 31:14)
The Lord hath decreed That ye worship none but Him, And that ye be kind To parents. Whether one Or both of them attain Old age in the life, Say not to them a word Of contempt, nor repel them, But address of honor. And, out of kindness, Lower to them the wing Of humility, and say: 'My Lord! bestow on them The Mercy even as they Cherished me in childhood. (Qur'an 17: 23-24)
It is clear that Islam has called for women to be honored, affectionately treated and cared for in an unprecedented way, which no other civilization, culture or society has ever done. To emphasize women's respected position, the Prophet Mohammed said, 'Paradise is at the feet of the mothers.'

As for the rights of woman in society, Islam grants woman equal rights with man, except where there are natural differences connected to the physical, psychological and sexual constitution as well as social position.

Among the rights Islam grants woman are the following:

The right to learn: Actually Islam commands both men and women to learn. A tradition (an acknowledged saying of the Prophet Mohammed - peace be with him) Says: "Seeking knowledge is a duty imposed on all Muslims - male and female".

The right to work: Both man and woman are given the right to work. All religiously lawful work is open to woman, as they are open to man. The married woman, however, is not allowed to work without her husband's consent, because matrimonial rights and the family's needs come first in Islam. It is obligatory for the wife to protect family life and take care of household duties. However, it should be noted that it is obligatory for the man to provide and pay for a domestic servant if the wife so desires.

Political rights: In Islam woman enjoys full political fights, except nomination to the post of Head of State, or judge, which are exclusively reserved for a man, as he is less likely to become emotionally involved. She participates in all political and social activities, such as electing the Head of State, and the nation's representatives to parliament, etc. She may be a member of all kinds of establishments, organizations and parties. She may be a minister, or a Member of Parliament. In Iran, for example, these are fully implemented.

Civil rights: Woman, like man, enjoys legal rights. She may inherit, buy, sell, give, take, conclude contracts, etc. There is no Islamic law that says she may not drive. This is a law made by man which has been imposed on woman in certain countries. In Islam, the woman has legally an independent personality, and her obligations are independent from those of her father, husband, or brothers. Thus, woman in Islam enjoys all rights and is treated equally to man in this respect.

At the present time, there is a struggle going on in the Muslim world, between current of lewdness and unrestrained sexual behavior that has sneaked in, along with European culture and education, and a primitive current that is still adhering with European culture and education, and a primitive current that is still adhering to certain non Islamic, outdated social customs and traditions left behind by backward environmental circumstances, across many centuries. These concepts about woman and her relation to man, society and life, have no connection whatsoever with Islam and its lofty values and ideals. Unfortunately, these social attitudes are actually the offspring of the decadence of 'Muslim' societies, and point out the absence of Islamic concepts and relations.

There should be a distinction between woman's status in so-called Muslim societies and their status according to Islamic laws and values

Regarding the much-publicized Muslim marriage with four wives, this is permitted but with such regulations and restrictions as to make it extremely difficult. For instance, the man must be able to provide for and treat each wife with absolute equality - not an easy job. However, is it not better to practice lawful, healthy polygamy, where children will be legitimate and the family assured of the care and protection of a father, rather than to stick to the hypocrisy of monogamy, which leads to countless illicit affairs (regularly publicized by the media), and illegitimate children, and consequently to diseases and social perversion. The day Europe realizes the freedom, liberty and rationality Islamic laws offer, it will get rid of all its social ills.

In conclusion, Islam makes no distinction between man and woman as human beings. Both are of the same soul, and the noblest of them is the best in conduct, whether man or woman. Islam has no special regulations for man, and different ones for woman, except within the framework of their particular physical and natural characteristics, suiting their different roles in life. Consequently, the so-called advocators of woman's liberate her and regard her equal to man in knowledge. Civil rights, etc., are alien calls to Islam, and totally strange. In Islam the head never arises for such calls about liberating her and giving her rights, for Islam does not prevent a woman from any right - only man does that. Can any non-Muslim woman in the West believe she is truly liberated, when she is the victim of man's sexual desires, of his unwanted children, left to provide for them alone as best as she can? Her clothes, chiefly, are designed by man to be deliberately provocative, to attract his attention, to make her a sexual object rather than a woman. She is used, again, to decorate advertisements, in clothes and positions any Muslim woman would be ashamed of Is this liberation? If so, then Western woman is welcome to it Muslim is not interested.

* For further reading, please consult, "The Rights of Women in Islam" written by Ayatullah ash Sheikh Murtadha Mutahhari and published by WOFIS, P.O. Box 2245,Tehran, Iran.