Following notes on woman in Islam have been taken from An introduction to Islamic Ideology by Anwar Hashmi.
Table of Contents
Equality of Man and Woman:
“0 people! be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread from these too many men and women” (iv: I).
Thus men and women are quite equal to each other in their origin, their abode as well as in their place of return and are as such entitled to similar and equal rights.
Islam gave her the right to life, to honor, and to property like men.
The Holy Prophet said: “It is forbidden for a Muslim to take the life, honor and property of another Muslim.” (Bukhari and Muslim).
The reward for both sexes for their good acts is also similar:
” And their Lord hath heard them (and He sayeth): Low I suffer not the work of any worker, male or female, to be lost. Ye proceed one another”
Men and women are equal in their rights to realize their material needs in the world including similar rights to hold property, and dispose of it as they should wish. They are free to mortgage, to give it in lease, or bequeath it, sell or buy it or exploit it for his or her own benefit:
“Unto the men belongeth a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, and unto the women a share of that which parents and near kindred leave” (iv: 7),
and “unto men a fortune from that which they have earned, and unto women a fortune
from that which they have earned” (iv : 32).
The Right for Marriage
Woman could not be given in marriage without her assent: no marriage was valid unless she agreed to it.
The Holy Prophet says: “No widow should be married without consulting her; and no virgin be married without her assent, and her assent is her silence” (Bukhari and Muslim).
The Right for Divorce
Before Islam woman had to adopt a roundabout and crooked course to free herself of her husband who held her in a state of perfect subservience, for neither the law of the land nor the common law gave her the right to leave her husband by securing separation.
Islam gave her this right in clear and unequivocal terms which she could exercise whenever she had a mind to do so. Not content with this, Islam even went a step further giving her the right to propose her marriage to any man she liked to marry.
The Right to Acquire Knowledge
Islam made it obligatory upon Muslims to acquire knowledge as a necessary condition to their being true believers in God and Islam.
It also goes to credit of Islam that it was the first religion that acknowledging a separate and independent human status of woman impressed upon her that she could not achieve perfection without knowledge.
Europe did not even recognize any such right for woman till very recently and did in the end grant it to her only when compelled by the pressure of economic circumstances.
Separate Functions for Man and Woman
“And as a consequence of this fundamental difference in their functions and objectives we find that man and woman have so come to differ from each other in disposition as well as in constitution that each is equipped with what it can suitably accomplish its respective primary functions.
“It is for this reason that I am at a loss to understand how all this empty talk about an absolute equality between man and woman can ever bring it to pass. The demand for equality between man and Woman as human beings is a natural and reasonable demand. Man and woman are two equally important component parts of a whole humanity, proceeding from the one and the same progenitor. But so far as the demand for treating them as equals in their functions in life and the modes of their actual performance is concerned, can that ever be feasible?
“And all this tenderness of feelings, intuitional impressibility, and highly susceptible disposition with which a woman is endowed show that basically she possesses an emotional character rather than an intellectual one. It is this very emotional character that forms the most lively and ever flowing spring of her motherly attributes, as the upbringing of a child calls for qualities not intellectual which may be passive or active and mayor may not successfully meet the requirements of a child, but an overflow of vehement feelings and passions such as does not allow her to meditate coolly but impels her to answer the child’s call immediately without delay or slackness”.
Why it is that man joyfully pursues the professions where he has mostly to draw on his physical and intellectual faculties whereas in emotional life he is just as mercurial as a child; and why is it that a woman is adjusted in her natural sphere of emotional activities only and derives so great a pleasure out of these, for it is through these alone that she can best realize the real objective of her earthly existence?
That is also why she feels at ease in those professions only that have got an emotional appeal for her feminine nature viz. nursing, teaching or fostering.
“This does not, however, mean that man and woman are fundamentally and irreconcilably different from each other. Nor does it imply that all the members of a sex lack all the potentialities necessary for the functions which the members of the opposite sex alone by nature are fit to perform.
“The two sexes are thus found mixed up, as it were, in a medley. If you find a woman who is capable of ruling, dispensing justice, lifting heavy burdens and fighting in wars….and if you come across a man who can cook, do household chores or has got very tender motherly feelings for children or is very fickle emotionally and is visited by shifting moods, then you must remember that it is all natural; there is nothing unnatural about it. It is the logical result of the fact that each sex has in itself the germs of both sexes.
History of Woman in Europe
When the industrial revolution took place in Europe it brought in its wake the worst possible sufferings for woman yet experienced by her throughout the history of mankind.
The economic conditions of life during the periods of slavery and feudalism along with the prevalent agricultural milieu were such as made man responsible for the support of woman.
The woman nonetheless at that time worked in some simple cottage industries such as are found in any agricultural society. In this way she paid back the price to men for supporting her.
But with the industrial revolution the whole of the social scene underwent a radical change in the country no less than in cities. The family life was completely ruined, and the ties holding together its members were torn asunder when women and children were, thanks to the industrial revolution, forced to go out and work in factories. The working classes slowly and gradually left the country life, a life based on the principles of mutual responsibility and co-operation, and came over to cities wherever everybody lived a solitary life and where nobody was interested in his neighbors nor was anyone in a mood to Support others but worked and earned to support his own-self.
Men and women no longer bothered about moral scruples if they but once found an opportunity to gratify their sexual urge. As a result thereof the will to marry and support a family suffered decline among these people or if it still persisted in some hearts the trend was to postpone it at least for some years longer.
We do not intend in these pages to dwell on the history of Europe. We are merely concerned with the factors that influenced the career of woman in European history.
In the factories, she was exploited most ruthlessly by the factory owners; she worked there for long hours but was paid far less than the men doing a kindred job in that very factory.
Under these circumstances the stupendous revolution that at last broke out in Europe was but inevitable. It swept away the centuries-old iniquity and gross injustice.
In this struggle for her rights the woman resorted to strikes and non-co-operation; addressed public meetings, and employed journalism to advance her cause. Then she realized that in order to set things right she would have to participate in legislation as well. So first she demanded the right to vote and then proceeded to ask for a right to become a Member of Parliament. As she had received an education similar to that imparted to man, for both were required to do similar jobs, now as a logical sequence to it she demanded an equal share in government along with men.
But despite all this the readers will be surprised to learn that even today in England the cradle of democracy-women serving in government departments continue to receive less pay from the government than men do, although there are already so many honorable lady-members in the British Parliament.
The distribution of Inheritance:
About inheritance Islam says: “To the male the equivalent of the portion of two females,” which is quire natural and justified, fur it is man alone who is charged with shouldering all the financial obligations.
Normally it is the man who shoulders the financial burdens of his family including a woman-his wife-not as an act of grace but as a moral obligation.
If a woman possesses a property of her own, her husband cannot take it away from her without her consent.
But so far as their earnings are concerned, there is no difference between man and woman; n or in their wages for a work, nor in the profit gained in trade, nor in revenues from land etc., for, in these matters Islam follows another law, the law treating on a perfectly equal footing man and woman with regard to their labors and the wages thereof.
That the evidence of two women is in Islam equivalent to that of one man also does not prove that woman is not better than a half man. It is rather a wise step to secure and preserve the genuine character of legal evidence in courts through all possible means and against all possible perversities irrespective of the fact whether the evidence is for or against the accused. The woman is by her very nature vehemently emotional, impressionable and liable to digress from the real facts of the case in hand. Therefore it is wise to have another woman along with her “so if the one erreth the other will remember,” for it is quite possible that the accused, against or for whom a woman appears as a witness, may be an attractive woman which may make the witness jealous and hostile towards her and so give a wrong evidence; again maybe that the accused is a young man whose sight may so arouse the mother in the witness that knowingly or unknowingly she proffers evidence that is false. But it is very rare that two women appearing before the court at once should fall a prey to such an error, both of them offering false evidences. The chances in such situations are rather that if one of them is deceived or confused about truth, her companion may correct her.
Headship of the Family:
Is the one equipped with rational qualities in a better position to head the family or that whose existence is characterized by emotions? The problem is resolved the moment we realize that it is the man, equipped as he is with rational qualities and a strong physical body, who is more entitled to head than woman who is by her very nature emotional, susceptible to external influences and thus ill equipped for the struggle of life as well as the headship of the family.
This does not, however, mean that man should be a dictator over woman or in his house, for the leadership entails obligations and duties which can be discharged only through mutual consultation and co-operation.
Islam insists that love and mutual understanding and perpetual sympathy rather than conflict and competition should form the basis of family life.
Says the Holy Qur’an: “Consort with them in kindness” (iv: 19),
and the Holy Prophet said: “Best amongst you is he who is good to his wife” (Tirmizi).
The position of mother is very exalted in Islamic society.
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said; “Paradise lies underneath the feet of your mother”.
As regards the woman as wife, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said:
“The best among you is the one who is best towards his wife.”
With regard to woman as a daughter, the Islamic attitude can be guessed from the reproaches against the pagan, the pre-Islamic behavior at the birth of daughters: “And they assign unto God daughters-be He purified (Glory be to Him) – and for themselves what they desire (i.e., sons); and when any one of them received tidings of (the birth) of a female his ramineth darkened, and is wroth inwardly. He hideth himself from the folk because of the evil of that thereof, he hath tidings (asking himself): Shall he keep it in contempt, or bury it beneath the dust? Verily, evil is their judgment” (An-Nahl: 57-59).
The Purdah System:
God proclaims in Surah Nur of the Holy Quran:
“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty, so that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except that appear thereof (must ordinarily appear); that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands,” (Surah Nur: 31)
A similar injunction regarding Purdah is contained in Surah Ahzab of the Holy Quran:
“O’ Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they lower upon them their head coverings a little. In this way it is more probable that they will be recognized (as gentle women) and not be annoyed (molested).” (Al-Ahzab: 59)
Islam enjoins the believing men and women to keep their eyes down and avoid staring at the opposite sex.
By the segregation of the two sexes and keeping them apart through the observance of Seclusion (purdah) Islam has minimized the chances of moral lapses and hateful deeds to a great extent. IN this way the honor of the woman is saved.
Apart from the view point of molarity, women who do not wear veil, have to worry a lot about their make-up and costly fashionable costumes.
On the other hand, a veiled lady may wear simple and unostentatious dress and go about her business without fear of curious remarks and uncalled for criticism.
The veil in no way hinders them from decent pursuits, educational activities and simple recreations.