A vast majority of non-Muslims believe that Islam oppresses women. If truth be told, they are not entirely at fault. The examples many Muslim countries set, do not represent the theories and values of Islam. It is unlikely that someone with little knowledge of Islam would get the past rulings of society and search for the truth. Hence, they believe what they see and sometimes come to conclusions which are exactly opposite to what the religion says.
Not only that, even we Muslims hear a few verses here and there and without further research about the context or the situation in which the verse was revealed, we tend to believe that maybe Islam is not that fair after all.
But in reality, Islam has actually uplifted women’s honour, dignity and respect. It is no secret that in the seventh century Arabia the arrival of a female child caused disappointment and anger. Some lived lives deprived of their rights and were treated like a burden. Some were buried alive right after their birth. Even today, in the 21st century in many parts of the Indian sub-continent a girl child is treated inferiorly compared to her brothers. They are denied of their educational rights, which further leads to being deprived of their economic rights. When people see Muslims who pray five times a day, treating their daughters like so and dismissing their opinion about issues which involve her, isn’t it obvious they will think it is the religion which is flawed?
Now, let’s look at the things our Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said regarding this issue.
“Whoever has a female child and does not bury her alive, nor holds her in contempt, nor prefers his male child above her, God will make him enter into paradise.” (Abu Dawud)
Hazrat Ibn ‘Abbas reported that the Messenger of Allah SallAllahu Alaihi wa Sallam said,
“…and whoever brings up three daughters or a like number of sisters, training them well and showing kindness to them till Allah enriches them (i.e. till they reach the age of puberty), Allah will guarantee Paradise for him.” A man asked: “O Messenger of Allah! Does this apply to two also?” He said: “even to two.” If they had asked whether to one also, the Messenger of Allah would have said that, “even to one…”
Education has been made compulsory on every individual, be it male or female. According to the hadith, “Whoever treads a path in seeking knowledge, Allah will make easy for him the path to Paradise.” (Al-Tirmidthi)
“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
When your religion did not allow anyone to remain ignorant, who are you to prevent your daughter from going to school?
Now, coming to a more controversial issue, which is the ruling of Islam on inheritance. In order to understand that, we must first know about the economic rights of a female. It is the duty of a father or a brother to take care of the girl. They are supposed to be the providers of her food, clothing and shelter. It is also very well known that it is the duty of a husband to run the household in financial aspects. In Muslim marriages it is the man who gives his wife dowry which is also known as the mahar. It is compulsory for the women to receive something (may be monetary or something equivalent) when she is getting married. Her property, be it her own income, a gift from her parents or the dowry she receives from her husband is entirely hers. She is most welcome to contribute her wealth to her family and help her husband financially but it is not compulsory for her. She can spend it the way she likes (of course it has to be halal). Not even her parents can use her wealth without her consent.
According to the laws of Sharia, the woman inherits half the amount her brothers receive. It is very easy to think that Islam is unjust. But when we look at the bigger picture we know that it has been made compulsory for a man to take care of his wife, children and sisters (if needed). Is it really too much that they inherit more? I don’t see women complaining about men having to give them dowries. No one says it is unfair and that both parties should give dowries. Then why complain when Islam only tries to make it easy for everyone to live their life in harmony?
There are countless other hadiths which talk about the importance of women in her household and in society. If we read about Islamic history and the women closely associated with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), we come to know how Islam has empowered women. Khadija (RA), the Prophet’s wife was a wise, strong and an intelligent business woman. She handled trade and was independent. She chose her own life partner, who was younger than her. Nusayba b. Ka‘b al-Anṣārīyya also known as Umm ‘Ammara, was a member of the Banū Najjār tribe. She is most remembered for taking part in the Battle of Uhud (625), in which she carried sword, shielded and fought against the Meccans. She shielded the Prophet Muhammad from enemies during the battle and even sustained several lance wounds and arrows as she cast herself in front of him to protect him. Khawla b. al-Azwar is best known for her participation in the Battle of Yarmuk (636) against the Byzantines. Aisha (RA) was very knowledgeable and had a wonderful memory. She is one of the major narrators of the hadith. The prophet told his companions that they could take half of their knowledge of Islam from this red girl, referring to Aisha.
In every aspect of life, Muslim women have proved that they are not the inferior sex. They can take care of their family and be financially independent. They can gain knowledge and teach others the good things they acquired. They showed the world that modesty never meant sitting at home and letting injustice happen around you.
It is the humans who are flawed. We are unable to distinguish the fine line between religion and societal practices. We are too busy with ourselves to look into matters deeply. It is time we start representing Islam like it truly is — a body of justice and equity.