Women's Liberation Through Islam
By Mary and Anjum Ali
III&E Brochure Series; No. 21
(published by The Institute of Islamic Information and Education
and reproduced with permission)
WOMEN'S LIBERATION THROUGH ISLAM
Today people think that women are liberated in the West and
women's liberation movement began in the 20th century. Actually,
women's liberation movement was not begun by women but was revealed
to a man in the seventh century by the name of Muhammad (peace
him), who is known as the last Prophet of Islam. The Qur'an and
Traditions of the Prophet (Hadith or Sunnah) are the sources
every Muslim woman derives her rights and duties.
I. HUMAN RIGHTS
Islam, fourteen centuries ago, made women equally accountable
to God in
glorifying and worshipping Him - setting no limits on her moral
Also, Islam established a woman's equality in her humanity with
In the Qur'an, in the first verse of the chapter entitled
says, "O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who
from a single soul and from it its mate and from them both have
abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty
in Whom you claim (your rights) of one another, and towards the
bore you). Lo! Allah has been a Watcher over you." (4:1)
Since men and women both came from the same essence, they
are equal in
their humanity. Women cannot be by nature evil (as some religious
or then men would be evil also. Similarly, neither gender can
because it would be a contradiction of equality.
II. CIVIL RIGHTS
In Islam, a woman has the basic freedom of choice and expression
recognition of her individual personality. First, she is free
her religion. The Qur'an states: "There is no compulsion
Right has been made distinct from error." (2:256)
Women are encouraged in Islam to contribute their opinions
There are many traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) which indicate
pose questions directly to him and offer their opinions concerning
religion, economics and social matters.
A Muslim woman chooses her husband and keeps her name after
Muslim woman's testimony is valid in legal disputes. In fact,
in areas in
which women are more familiar, their evidence is conclusive.
III. SOCIAL RIGHTS
The Prophet (pbuh) said: "Seeking knowledge is a mandate
for every Muslim
(male and female)." This includes knowledge of the Qur'an
and the Hadith
as well as other knowledge. Men and women both have the capacity
learning and understanding. Since it is also their obligation
good behavior and condemn bad behavior in all spheres of life,
must acquire the appropriate education to perform this duty in
with their own natural talents and interests.
While maintenance of a home, providing support to her husband,
raising and teaching of children are among the first and very
regarded roles for a woman, if she has the skills to work outside
for the good of the community, she may do so as long as her family
obligations are met.
Islam recognizes and fosters the natural differences between
men and women
despite their equality. Some types of work are more suitable
for men and
other types for women. This in no way diminishes either's effort
benefit. God will reward both sexes equally for the value of
though it may not necessarily be the same activity.
Concerning motherhood, the Prophet (pbuh) said: "Heaven
lies under the
feet of mothers." This implies that the success of a society
can be traced
to the mothers that raised it. The first and greatest influence
person comes from the sense of security, affection, and training
from the mother. Therefore, a woman having children must be educated
conscientious in order to be a skillful parent.
IV. POLITICAL RIGHTS
A right given to Muslim women by God 1400 years ago is the
right to vote.
On any public matter, a woman may voice her opinion and participate
politics. One example, narrated in the Qur'an (60:12), is that
(pbuh) is told that when the believing women come to him and
allegiance to Islam, he must accept their oath. This established
of women to select their leader and publicly declare so. Finally,
does not forbid a woman from holding important positions in government.
Abdur-Rahman Ibn Auf consulted many women before he recommended
Affan to be the Caliph.
V. ECONOMIC RIGHTS
The Qur'an states: "By the creation of the male and female;
ends) ye strive for are diverse." (92:3-4)
In these verses, God declares that He created men and women
different, with unique roles, functions and skills. As in society,
there is a division of labor, so too in a family; each member
responsibilities. Generally, Islam upholds that women are entrusted
the nurturing role, and men, with the guardian role. Therefore,
given the right of financial support.
The Qur'an states: "Men are the maintainers of women
because Allah has
made some of them to excel others and because they spend of their
(for the support of women)." (4:34)
This guardianship and greater financial responsibility is
given to men,
requires that they provide women with not only monetary support
physical protection and kind and respectful treatment.
The Muslim woman has the privilege to earn money, the right
property, to enter into legal contracts and to manage all of
her assets in
any way she pleases. She can run her own business and no one
has any claim
on her earnings including her husband. The Qur'an states:
"And in no wise covet those things in which Allah hath
bestowed His gifts
more freely on some of you than on others; to men is allotted
earn, and to women, what they earn; but ask Allah of His bounty,
hath full knowledge of all things." (4:32)
A woman inherits from her relatives. The Qur'an states: "For
men there is
a share in what parents and relatives leave, and for women there
is a share
of what parents and relatives leave, whether it be little or
much - an
ordained share." (4:7)
VI. RIGHTS OF A WIFE
The Qur'an states: "And among His signs is that He created
for you mates
from among yourselves that you may live in tranquillity with
them, and He
has put love and mercy between you; Verily, in that are signs
who reflect." (30:21)
Marriage is therefore not just a physical or emotional necessity,
fact, a sign from God! It is a relationship of mutual rights
obligations based on divine guidance. God created men and women
complimentary natures, and in the Qur'an, He laid out a system
of laws to
support harmonious interaction between the sexes.
"...They are your garments and you are their garments."
Clothing provides physical protection and covers the beauty
and faults of
the body. Likewise, a spouse is viewed this way. Each protects
and hides the faults and compliments the characteristics of the
To foster the love and security that comes with marriage,
Muslim wives have
various rights. The first of the wife's rights is to receive
mahr, a gift
from the husband which is part of the marriage contract and required
the legality of the marriage.
The second right of a wife is maintenance. Despite any wealth
have, her husband is obligated to provide her with food, shelter
clothing. He is not forced, however, to spend beyond his capability
his wife is not entitled to make unreasonable demands. The Qur'an
"Let the man of means spend according to his means, and
the man whose
resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allah
him. Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given
God tells us men are guardians over women and are afforded
in the family. His responsibility for obeying God extends to
family to obey God at all times.
A wife's rights also extend beyond material needs. She has
the right to
kind treatment. The Prophet (pbuh) said: "The most perfect
the best in conduct. And the best of you are those who are best
wives." God tells us He created mates and put love, mercy,
tranquillity between them.
Both men and women have a need for companionship and sexual
marriage is designed to fulfill those needs. For one spouse to
satisfaction to the other, temptation exists to seek it elsewhere.
VII. DUTIES OF A WIFE
With rights come responsibilities. Therefore, wives have certain
obligations to their husbands. The Qur'an states: "The good
women in the
absence of their husbands guard their rights as Allah has enjoined
them to be guarded." (4:34)
A wife is to keep her husband's secrets and protect their
Issues of intimacy or faults of his that would dishonor him,
are not to be
shared by the wife, just as he is expected to guard her honor.
A wife must also guard her husband's property. She must safeguard
and possessions, to the best of her ability, from theft or damage.
should manage the household affairs wisely so as to prevent loss
She should not allow anyone to enter the house whom her husband
nor incur any expenses of which her husband disapproves.
A Muslim woman must cooperate and coordinate with her husband.
cannot, however, be cooperation with a man who is disobedient
to God. She
should not fulfill his requests if he wants her to do something
A husband also should not take advantage of his wife, but be
her needs and happiness.
The Qur'an states: "And it becomes not a believing man
or a believing
women, when Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad) have decided on
(for them), that they should (after that) claim any say in their
and whoso is rebellious to Allah and His Messenger, he verily
in error manifest." (33:36)
The Muslim woman was given a role, duties and rights 1400
years ago that
most women do not enjoy today, even in the West. These are from
are designed to keep balance in society; what may seem unjust
or missing in
one place is compensated for or explained in another place. Islam
complete way of life.
-- Mary Ali and Anjum Ali