Muslim Matrimonials and More

Articles and Essays on Marriage and Family in Islam


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 (III&E)
and reproduced with permission)


Today people think that women are liberated in the West and that the
women's liberation movement began in the 20th century. Actually, the
women's liberation movement was not begun by women but was revealed by God
to a man in the seventh century by the name of Muhammad (peace be upon
him), who is known as the last Prophet of Islam. The Qur'an and the
Traditions of the Prophet (Hadith or Sunnah) are the sources from which
every Muslim woman derives her rights and duties.


Islam, fourteen centuries ago, made women equally accountable to God in
glorifying and worshipping Him - setting no limits on her moral progress.
Also, Islam established a woman's equality in her humanity with men.

In the Qur'an, in the first verse of the chapter entitled "Women," God
says, "O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you
from a single soul and from it its mate and from them both have spread
abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah
in Whom you claim (your rights) of one another, and towards the wombs (that
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 believe)
or then men would be evil also. Similarly, neither gender can be superior
because it would be a contradiction of equality.


In Islam, a woman has the basic freedom of choice and expression based on
recognition of her individual personality. First, she is free to choose
her religion. The Qur'an states: "There is no compulsion in religion.
Right has been made distinct from error." (2:256)

Women are encouraged in Islam to contribute their opinions and ideas.
There are many traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) which indicate women would
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 marriage. A
Muslim woman's testimony is valid in legal disputes. In fact, in areas in
which women are more familiar, their evidence is conclusive.


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 for
learning and understanding. Since it is also their obligation to promote
good behavior and condemn bad behavior in all spheres of life, Muslim women
must acquire the appropriate education to perform this duty in accordance
with their own natural talents and interests.

While maintenance of a home, providing support to her husband, and bearing,
raising and teaching of children are among the first and very highly
regarded roles for a woman, if she has the skills to work outside the home
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 nor its
benefit. God will reward both sexes equally for the value of their work,
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 on a
person comes from the sense of security, affection, and training received
from the mother. Therefore, a woman having children must be educated and
conscientious in order to be a skillful parent.


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 in
politics. One example, narrated in the Qur'an (60:12), is that Muhammad
(pbuh) is told that when the believing women come to him and swear their
allegiance to Islam, he must accept their oath. This established the right
of women to select their leader and publicly declare so. Finally, Islam
does not forbid a woman from holding important positions in government.
Abdur-Rahman Ibn Auf consulted many women before he recommended Uthman Ibn
Affan to be the Caliph.


The Qur'an states: "By the creation of the male and female; Verily, (the
ends) ye strive for are diverse." (92:3-4)

In these verses, God declares that He created men and women to be
different, with unique roles, functions and skills. As in society, where
there is a division of labor, so too in a family; each member has different
responsibilities. Generally, Islam upholds that women are entrusted with
the nurturing role, and men, with the guardian role. Therefore, women are
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 wealth
(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 but also
physical protection and kind and respectful treatment.

The Muslim woman has the privilege to earn money, the right to own
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 what they
earn, and to women, what they earn; but ask Allah of His bounty, for Allah
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)


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 for people
who reflect." (30:21)

Marriage is therefore not just a physical or emotional necessity, but in
fact, a sign from God! It is a relationship of mutual rights and
obligations based on divine guidance. God created men and women with
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." (2:187)

Clothing provides physical protection and covers the beauty and faults of
the body. Likewise, a spouse is viewed this way. Each protects the other
and hides the faults and compliments the characteristics of the spouse.

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 for
the legality of the marriage.

The second right of a wife is maintenance. Despite any wealth she may
have, her husband is obligated to provide her with food, shelter and
clothing. He is not forced, however, to spend beyond his capability and
his wife is not entitled to make unreasonable demands. The Qur'an states:
"Let the man of means spend according to his means, and the man whose
resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allah has given
him. Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him."

God tells us men are guardians over women and are afforded the leadership
in the family. His responsibility for obeying God extends to guiding his
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 believers are
the best in conduct. And the best of you are those who are best to their
wives." God tells us He created mates and put love, mercy, and
tranquillity between them.

Both men and women have a need for companionship and sexual needs, and
marriage is designed to fulfill those needs. For one spouse to deny this
satisfaction to the other, temptation exists to seek it elsewhere.


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 upon
them to be guarded." (4:34)

A wife is to keep her husband's secrets and protect their marital privacy.
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 his home
and possessions, to the best of her ability, from theft or damage. She
should manage the household affairs wisely so as to prevent loss or waste.
She should not allow anyone to enter the house whom her husband dislikes
nor incur any expenses of which her husband disapproves.

A Muslim woman must cooperate and coordinate with her husband. There
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 unlawful.
A husband also should not take advantage of his wife, but be considerate of
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 an affair
(for them), that they should (after that) claim any say in their affair;
and whoso is rebellious to Allah and His Messenger, he verily goes astray
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 God and
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 is a
complete way of life.

-- Mary Ali and Anjum Ali


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