Based on an article by Mary Ali —
Contrary to what many non-Muslims mistakenly believe, women in Islam enjoy many rights and duties. History clearly shows that the revelation of the divine message to Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.S.) in the seventh century led to the liberation of women from various types of oppression that was prevalent in many societies of the world. The Quran and the Sunnah (traditions and practices) of Prophet Muhammad are the primary sources from where every Muslim woman derives her rights and duties. The following sheds light into some of those rights and duties.
Equal Human Rights
Fourteen centuries ago, Islam made women equally accountable to Allah in glorifying and worshiping Him – setting no limits on her moral progress. Since men and women both came from the same essence, they are equal in their humanity and in earning of rewards for their good deeds. Islam establishes the basis of equality among both genders. In the Quran, in the first verse of the chapter entitled “Women”, Allah says:
“O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) He created his wife [Hawwa (Eve)], and from them both He created many men and women; and fear Allah through whom you demand (your mutual rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allah is Ever an All-Watcher over you.” (Quran 4:1)
The Quran also says:
“That He may admit the believing men and the believing women to Gardens under which rivers flow (i.e. Paradise), to abide therein forever, and He may expiate from them their sins; and that is with Allah a supreme success.” Quran (48:5)
The Quran also states:
“And wish not for the things in which Allah has made some of you to excel others. For men there is reward for what they have earned, (and likewise) for women there is reward for what they have earned, and ask Allah of His Bounty. Surely, Allah is Ever All-Knower of everything.” (Quran 4:32)
So, we see from the above Quranic verses that both men and women are mentioned on equal footing in terms of being rewarded for their good deeds.
In Islam, a woman enjoys basic freedom of choice and expression based on recognition of her individual personality. For example, women have been given the right to accept or deny marriage proposals. She is also to keep her and her father’s name after marriage. Islam also encourages women to express their opinions and ideas. History shows that women used to pose questions directly to Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.S.) and offer their opinions concerning religion, economics and social matters. We find evidence of this in many traditions of the Prophet (S.A.W.S.).
Importance of Women Education in Islam
The Prophet said:
“Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim (male and female).” (At-Tirmidhi)
This includes knowledge of the Quran and the Hadeeth as well as other types of worldly knowledge that can bring good to people and societies at large. Both men and women must promote morality and goodness and condemn evil in all walks of life. Muslim women, therefore, must acquire the appropriate education to perform this duty in accordance with their natural talents and interests.
Islam recognizes and fosters the natural differences between men and women despite their equality. Due to their physical makeup, some types of work are more suitable for men than women. This in no way diminishes the efforts of anyone. Allah will reward both sexes equally for the value of their work, though, it may not necessarily be the same activity. So, while bearing, raising and teaching of children, and providing support to her husband and maintenance of a home are among the foremost duties of a mother and a wife, and very highly regarded role for a woman in Islam, if she has the skills to work outside the home for the good of the community, she may do so, as long as her family obligations are not neglected.
Concerning motherhood, the Prophet said:
“Heaven lies under her feet.” (An-Nasai)
We see from this hadith the high status and respect that Islam gave to a woman. Many studies show that the first and greatest influence on a person comes from the sense of security, affection, and training received from the mother. It is vital, therefore, that mothers become educated to impart appropriate morals in their children who in turn would influence the future of healthy societies.
A right given to Muslim women was the right to voice her opinion on socio-political issues. On any public matter, a Muslim woman may voice her opinion and participate in politics. An example from history is Abdurrahman Ibn Awf who consulted many women before he recommended Uthman Ibn Affan to be the Caliph and leader of the Muslims.
Economic Rights of Women in Islam
A Muslim woman has the privilege to earn money, the right to own property, to enter into legal contracts and to manage all of her assets in any way she pleases. She can run her own business and no one can claim her earnings, including her husband.
Islam has also provided a woman the right to inherit from her relatives. The Quran states:
“There is a share for men and a share for women from what is left by parents and those nearest related, whether the property be small or large – a legal share.” (Quran 4:7)
Rights of a Woman as a Wife
Islam has attached a lot of importance to marriage. A marriage provides the bedrock for ones emotional well being. Divine guidance in the Quran and Hadith has clearly laid out a system of laws to support harmonious interaction between the sexes. Many verses in the Quran stress the need for husbands and wives to be affectionate with each other and to exercise patience in challenging times. The Quran states:
“And among His signs is this that He created for you wives from among yourselves, that you may find repose in them, and he has put between you affection and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed signs for a people who reflect.” (Quran 30:21)
To foster the love and security that comes with marriage, Muslim wives have various rights. The first of the wife’s rights is to receive mahr, a gift from the husband, which is part of the marriage contract and required for the legality of the marriage. This is unlike un-Islamic practices in certain parts of the world where women are forced to pay dowry to the husband to enter in marriage contracts. Unfortunately, many Muslims also engage in such illegal practices.
The second right of a wife has to do with maintenance. Despite any wealth she may have, her husband is obligated to provide her with food, shelter and clothing. He is not forced, however, to spend beyond his capability and his wife is not entitled to make unreasonable demands.
The Quran states:
“Let the rich man spend according to his means, and the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allah has given him. Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. Allah will grant after hardship, ease.” (Quran 65:7)
Islam is clear in its teachings that God created men and women to be different, with unique roles, functions and skills. As in society, where there is a division of labor, so too in a family, where each member has different responsibilities. Generally, Islam upholds that women are entrusted with the nurturing role, and men, with the guardian role. Therefore, women are given the right of financial support.
The Quran states:
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means…” (Quran 4:34)
This guardianship and greater financial responsibility given to men requires that they provide women with not only monetary support but also physical protection and kind respectful treatment.
The Prophet said: “The most perfect believers are the best in conduct. And the best of you are those who are the best to their wives.”
Duties of a Wife
With rights also come responsibilities. Therefore, wives have certain obligations to their husbands. For instance, a wife is prohibited to talk foul about their husbands and are obligated to keep her husband’s secrets and protect their marital privacy. A husband, too, is expected to guard her honor.
A wife must also guard her husband’s property. She must safeguard his home and possessions, to the best of her ability, from theft or damage. She should manage the household affairs wisely so as to prevent loss or waste. She should not allow anyone to enter the house whom her husband dislikes nor incur any expenses of which her husband disapproves.
A Muslim woman must cooperate and coordinate with her husband. There cannot, however, be cooperation with a man who is disobedient to Allah and His teachings. In such cases, religious advice should be sought as fulfilling requests that are against Allah’s teachings is not allowed. The Quran states:
“It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed strayed in a plain error.” (Quran 33:36)
Islam defined the duties and responsibilities of women 1400 years ago and got them out of oppression. Rather than showcasing them as sex symbols, Islam laid down rules to protect their honor and gave them a key role in the upbringing of families along with their husbands that in turn contributes to the foundation of healthy societies.