Islam introduced freedoms for women that we may be taking for granted today
Some Muslims ignore the principles of Islam, just as some Christians and Jews fail to follow the tenets of their faiths. This article is to dispel many of the misconceptions about Islam and women.
With the rise of Islam in the seventh century, women were respected in a way they had never been. Islam forbade the Arab practice of female infanticide.
While boys and girls were believed to be gifts from God, Islam taught that girls conferred a greater gift and blessing to the parents. Under Islamic law, women also acquired the rights to own property in their own names, inherit under wills, initiate divorce and vote in community affairs, rights which were unheard of for women at that time.
Islamic law made it clear that if a husband mistreats his wife, he will be questioned on the Day of Judgment and punished in the afterlife. Contrary to popular belief, cooking and cleaning are the husband’s responsibilities. If she chooses not to perform these tasks, he must hire a servant.
The role of mother in Islam is one of utmost dignity and respect. It was taught by the Prophet Mohammed (peace upon him and his pure family) that a child who causes his mother displeasure commits a greater sin in the sight of God than one who displeases the father. The Prophet also said that Paradise lies under the feet of the mother, indicating the mother should be treated with the highest respect to enter Heaven.
Islam also helped women achieve dignity. Many of the practices deemed oppressive to Western sensibilities are in fact ways to guarantee women’s freedom from exploitation. For example, Muslim women are taught to wear modest attire which provides them protection – attire that is loose-fitting and covers the body except for the face and hands. In some Muslim countries, such as Iran, where there are many female Muslim scientists, doctors, and politicians, this helps prevent them from being viewed as sexual objects. Women are valued for their intellectual abilities and accomplishments rather than their physical attributes. Contrary to the practice of some other countries, Muslim women can both drive and work outside the home.
Pre-Islamic cultural traditions in some cases have been allowed to override Islamic teachings, but this should not be held against Islam.
Islam teaches women as well as men to seek learning and become educated. The Prophet taught that seeking knowledge was an obligation on every Muslim, male or female. He also taught that a father who raises his daughters up with a good education would have a barrier placed between him and Hellfire.
The importance of women is also illustrated by the examples, taught by the Prophet, of the four Master Women of Islamic history. The mother who raised Prophet Moses protected him and stood beside him during his ordeals; Mary, mother of Jesus, did the same. Khadija, wife of the Prophet Mohammed, and Fatima, his daughter, both endured great hardship and supported him financially and emotionally. Without the support of these women, the great religions associated with the prophets might not exist today.
Because the prophets were men, the highest religious leaders or authorities in Islam are men. Due to their ability to handle the burden and responsibility of religious leadership, this task is expected of them alone. This does not, however, prevent women from becoming CEOs, directors or political figures. By choosing men to bear this religious burden, Islam relieved women of the task, but did not prevent them. The same applies to the family: Men are given the obligation to support the family. With this obligation comes great responsibility; if men are given authority, they need to exercise it with justice and fairness. If they abuse this power, they will be punished in this world and in the hereafter.
Imam Safdar Razi is the leader of the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Association, a participant in Austin Area Interreligious Ministries.