Are women inferior to men in Islam?
According to Islam women are not considered inferior to men. Men and women have similar rights and in some areas women actually enjoy certain privileges that the men do not. In terms of property, marriage and divorce women have been given rights and in fact at each turn they have been considered and provided for as appropriate. It is true to say that Islam gave women rights which are unparalleled in the history of women.
Allah has declared in the Holy Qur’an that He has created men and women as equal beings.
He has created you from a single being; then from that He made its mate. (Ch 39: V.7)
There is also a hadith of the Holy Prophet(sa) that:
‘A person who is blessed with a daughter or daughters and makes no discrimination between them and his sons and brings them up with kindness and affection, will be as close to me in Paradise as my forefinger and middle finger are to each other.’ (Muslim II, Section Beneficence).
The above removes any concept of inferiority leveled at women in Islam. Furthermore, there are many references in the Holy Qur’an that refer to the various spheres of life where the status of women has been elevated.
In summary Islam is the only religion that gives women the right to an education, property rights, the right of inheritance, and freedom of marriage and divorce. Similar rights were not available to women in Europe for many centuries after the advent of Islam.
The Holy Qur’an repeatedly proclaims men and women’s equality in spiritual status:
But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter Heaven. (Ch.4: V.125)
Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms, and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him – Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward. (Ch.33: V.36)
The Holy Qur’an is unique amongst all scriptures. It repeatedly emphasises this equality by addressing both men and women in its verses.
Islam teaches that both men and women are equal in the sight of God. Allah states in the Holy Qur’an:
But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter Heaven, and shall not be wronged even as much as the little hollow in the back of a date-stone. (Ch.4: V.125)
And think of the day when thou wilt see the believing men and the believing women, their light running before them and on their right hands, and it will be said to them, ‘Glad tidings for you this day! Gardens through which streams flow, wherein you will abide. That is the supreme triumph.’ (Ch. 57: V.13)
Whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, We will surely grant him a pure life; and We will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works. (Ch.16: V.98)
This makes clear that in Islam there is equality between men and women.
On the intellectual level Islam stresses that education is equally important for men and women. The Holy Prophet(sa) said:
‘It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge’ (Ibne Majah)
Islam gave women the right to an education over 1500 years ago. In contrast, it was not until 1886 that women were permitted to sit exams at Cambridge University and it was not until 1948 that the university would confer academic degrees on them. Women were first admitted to Oxford University in 1920.
On the economic front, Islam entitles women to possess money, property and other assets. (Ch.4:V.33 – … Men shall have their share of that which they have earned, and women a share of that which they have earned…). Upon marriage the husband is required to give his wife a dowry which then becomes her exclusive property. A woman can work for financial gain, without any obligation on her part to contribute to the household expenses. Islam also gives her inheritance rights, making it a requirement for women to get their determined share.
In terms of inheritance the Qur’an states that,
For men is a share of that which parents and near relations leave; and for women is a share of that which parents and near relations leave, whether it be little or much – a determined share. (Ch.4: V.8)
In England, women could not own their own property until 1882 (any property a woman had would automatically become her husband’s). Islam on the other hand has always given women economic rights including: ownership of assets and property, earnings from work and rights of inheritance. It is interesting to contrast this against the fact that widows in England gained the right to inherit their husband’s property after 1890 – a right that Islam had given to women over twelve centuries earlier.
Islam elevated the social status of women by ensuring that their they are treated respectfully by their husbands, sons and fathers.
A husband and wife have an equal role to play in providing support, comfort and protection for one another, fitting each other like a garment fits the body. (They are a garment for you and you are a garment for them. (Ch. 2:188))
The Holy Prophet(sa) has said,
‘The best among you is he who is best in his treatment towards his wife.’ (Abu Daud)
Women also have equal rights in marriage as well in divorce.
As a mother emphasis is placed on giving full consideration and respect to her needs and wishes. The Holy Prophet(sa) has said,
‘Paradise lies under the feet of your mother.’ (Nisai)
Men and women are not the same
Whilst there is no disputing the equality of men and women it is important to note that according to Islam men and women have been created in different forms for different but complementary purposes. This stresses a difference in role and nature but not a difference in status (as illustrated above).
On one occasion, the Holy Prophet(sa) explained that woman is by nature like the rib bone, (Bukhari) meaning that she performs her function in the scheme of things by virtue of the very qualities in which she differs from man and that it would be foolish on the part of man to attempt to cast her into his own mould. Her charm lies in being what she is and not in becoming an image of man.