Iffat Mirza, Raynes Park, UK
When the International Women’s March took place on 21st January 2017 with an estimated 4.8 million participants, it made some wonder what the current status of women and feminism in the modern world is. In the case of Islam many are quick to dismiss it as a backward religion which unjustly imposes the veil upon its women, allows child marriages and is generally in every way misogynistic. These assumptions could not be any further from the truth, and many Muslim women are proud to not only stand up for their rights as women, but as brave and true Muslim women.
In order to fully understand the status of women in Islam, one must closely examine the role and status of women before the advent of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) and this beautiful religion. From the moment of their birth, girls in Arabia were subjected to the cruellest patriarchy, in which many new born girls would be buried alive in order to save the family’s reputation. Men would indulge in numerous wives, and in all areas of life, women would be treated as second class citizens. A woman would not receive a share from the wealth of her father, nor was she considered the heir of her husband’s wealth; in some countries she was the custodian of her husband’s assets, but only during his lifetime. Once a woman was married to a man, she was declared his forever, and in no circumstance could she part from him. However while she had no right to separate from her husband, no matter how afflicted she might be, her husband had the right to divorce her.
Here is the true root of the misogyny and in an area today known to be Islamic one can understand why there may be a misconception of Islam being inherently a misogynistic religion. However, as with any religion, it is important to assess the justice of a religion by its own values, not the past values and customs of the countries that are predominantly of said religion.
Before we begin an analysis of women and Islam, this quote from the Holy Qur’an beautifully encapsulates the status of women to be in every way equal to that of men.
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 (33:36)
The Holy Prophet (peace be on him) was a great advocate of women’s rights, and indeed his wives are admirable role models for young girls even today in the 21st century. Many of the above restrictions placed on women, particularly in regards to property rights and divorce rights, are also issues that western women have faced for a very long time. It was not until the Matrimonial Causes Act 1937, less than a century ago, that the majority of British women were able to initiate a divorce. Yet Islam recognised the voice and freedom of women over 1,400 years ago and has allowed women to initiate divorce, “Khulla” on the grounds of a large majority of marital issues.
Likewise, with the issue of property, the second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Movement and the Promised Son, Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-din Mahmood Ahmad writes
“The Holy Prophet (peace be on him) announced that God Almighty had especially entrusted to him the task of safeguarding the rights of women. He declared in the name of God Almighty that men and women by virtue of their common humanity were equal to one another… Women could own property just like men; husbands had no rights to spend the wealth of their spouses unless they willingly gave it to them as a gift. To seize a woman’s wealth by force or to acquire it in a manner that could be adjudged that she had only consented out of deference was unacceptable…Daughters were rightful heirs of their parents’ wealth just as sons.”
It was not until the Married Women’s Property Act 1882 that women were allowed to have rights over their own property in Britain.
Finally, another great status that Islam has granted mothers in particular is something that all societies should aspire to. The Holy Prophet says “Paradise lies under the feet of mothers”. The position of mothers is so high in Islam because it recognises the sacrifices mothers make and the unconditional love that they grant again and again to their children. The love of a mother is incomparable in Islam, except when Allah himself compares his love for mankind to be greater than that of a mother’s love for her child.
The second Caliph relates
“Mothers were not consulted about their children regarding education or upbringing; their rights over their children were unrecognised. In cases where husbands and wives separated, the fathers were given the custody of the children.”
Islam recognises and actively encourages the participation of a mother in her child’s life and the child’s reciprocation to the extent that in another tradition, the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) is reported to have stated when asked to whom a man should be kind: “to your mother.” When asked a second time, again said: “to your mother.” He was asked a third time, again the reply was: “your mother.” Only upon being asked a fourth time did he reply: “your father.” Thus he emphasised three times how important it is for a Muslim to take care of his/her mother and to give full consideration and respect to her needs and wishes.
As all this has illustrated, Islam is not a patriarchal religion that degrades or dehumanises its women. Women are seen as irreplaceable treasures and extremely valuable members of society. They were given many rights denied to western women for centuries after. It is undeniable that patriarchy exists in many Islamic countries – but one of the most dangerous things we can do is to assume that the misogyny is a result of Islam. Like all extremists, it is a personal desire being propagated in the guise of a religion.