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Rights of women in Islam

After having quoted Quranic injunctions regarding the equality and respect of women and the protection of women’s rights in my last two columns, today’s references are about the rules of marriage, divorce, family responsibilities and relations between a husband and wife.

The following Quranic passages are relevant: The purpose of sexual life (2:187, 222, 227, 228, 282; 16:72; 30:21). The differences between men and women (2: 222, 228; 4:11). The number of wives (4:3, 129). Decent manners between men and women (24:27, 30, 31, 58-60; 33: 32, 33, 53). Respect for women (2:231; 3:45,46; 24:4, 23). Marriage – Nikkah (2:221; 4: 22-25; 24:32, 33; 33:37). Manners of living (2:187, 222, 223, 233; 20:132; 57:20; 64: 14, 15; 65:6; 66: 6). Differences between husband and wife (4: 19, 34, 35, 128, 130). Divorce and separation (2:228-232, 241; 65:1-7, 33, 49). Swearing to abstain from sexual contact with wife (2:226, 227; 5:89). Calling one’s wife as mother or sister (58:2, 4; 33:4). Period of breast feeding (2:223; 65:6, 7).

The above-mentioned divine edicts are all there to regulate women’s rights, family life, etc, but everyone knows that many women face severe and complex difficulties in modern-day living. There has been a long struggle, with many forums and hot discussions and often with hard feelings, on the subject of women’s rights in the West. The recent developments of freedom of speech and freedom of action have, unfortunately, often resulted in situations in which actions are at odds with religious teachings and/or the principles of good health.

As is often pointed out, before the advent of Islam, women in the West were not treated well or equally. This led to activism by which they managed to achieve their goals – in our eyes, not all of them positive. Of the negative ones, what springs to mind is consensual sexual relations during the teenage years, resulting in a large number of children born outside of wedlock – often without proper parental, financial, medical, social and psychological support. In some countries, same-sex relationships have been legalised. However, we must remember that all these developments could only take place in societies that are truly democratic, where the opinion of the majority is the law of the land.

We may disagree with their way of life, but we should not criticise them for it, in the same way as we do not want to be criticised for the way we live our lives. Even though we have strict moral and penal codes in Islam, horrendous and heinous crimes often go unpunished. Take, for instance, female infanticide, honour killings, throwing acid on girls to disfigure them – all highly despicable crimes. Imagine what this looks like when seen through Western eyes!

Moreover, these crimes are totally against Divine edicts. Every religion teaches responsibility for ones deeds. We believe that whosoever Allah guides stays on the right path. The Almighty has also said that there are some things that we may like but that are not good for us, and some things that we don’t like but that are good for us.

The issue of women’s rights, like any other social issue, should be dealt with in the spirit of our cultural and religious background, without being hostage to Western laws and/or morals. We need to look at our own past and (rather mixed-up) present. Sometimes it is necessary to pass laws that have been set out by religion, as has been done for murder, robbery, rape and other crimes. We badly need to put our own house in order and a lot of correction is needed. Unfortunately, many ‘enlightened’ people feel that the only way to go is to simply adopt Western sociocultural perspectives to define women’s rights. However, we, as Muslims, need to view the matter from an Islamic perspective.

In Islam, women have often been given preferential treatment. As mothers, they have been given an edge over their husbands in many ways. As mentioned earlier, our holy Prophet (pbuh) said that it is under the feet of the mother that Jannah lies. This is because a mother gives dual birth. First, there is the biological birth, something common to all mammals, but then this is supplemented by another birth: the seed of moral and cultural development. It is the latter element that makes man superior to all other forms of life.

About motherhood, the Quran says: “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” (31:14). We should also appreciate that the basic formation of human character and personality are established in the mother’s lap. Remember, when she is a daughter, she opens a door to Jannah for her parents; when she is a wife, she completes half of the deen (religion) for her husband; and when she is a mother, Jannah lies under her feet. Who says women are less than men?

Of the important pillars of Islam, three are: Tauhid, Akhirat (Qiamat) and Khilafat. Allah alone is the Creator, Sustainer and Master of man. There was a purpose for the creation of man, and all men will be judged on the day of resurrection (Akhirat). We have been given the intellectual wisdom to differentiate between good and bad. I appreciate that it is sometimes difficult in these modern times to live strictly by religious principles, without being considered a rare breed or being made a laughing stock.

Moderation is the key here. I lived in Europe for 15 years and never compromised on basic Islamic principles, never indulged in religious or political controversies and never felt prejudice for doing so. It paid off well: I learnt about an invaluable technology that made our defence impregnable.

To be continued Email: dr.a.quadeer.khan@gmail.com

Dr A Q Khan, "Rights of women in Islam," The News. 2016-05-09.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social aspects , Religious ideology Social laws , Women rights-Islam , Social events , Honour killings , Islamic principles , Divorce , Crimes , Humanity , Islam