Religion is the belief in or worship of supernatural power. It could be in an unseen being, a personal god, gods, or in rocks, trees, sun, moon, and even in streams. From the inception of mankind, there has always been the need for humans to have a firm belief in the existence of a supernatural being. There had to be an explanation for the workings of the earth, and all that was therein. Over time, there has been the development of different kinds of religion. While some belief in the existence of a supernatural being, some others do not and claim the supremacy of science. It should be understood though, that the belief in the inexistence of religion is in itself a religion. It can then be said that religion is the belief in the supremacy of an entity, god, or supernatural being overall.
These religions have a set of rules and doctrines that the adherents follow that regulates how they speak, eat, and interact with nature and in general their ways of life. However, these doctrines differ from one religion to the other.
A common issue among these religions is the status of women in their respective religions. The status of women differs according to religion and society in which they belong. In some communities, women are revered as gods and are highly respected. In some others, they are not only treated with disdain but are also denied some basic and important rights.
Going back to pre-Islamic times, one can easily see the difference in the status of women. This time, popularly known as the ‘Jahiliyah’ which means the ‘age of Ignorance’ referring to the ways of the Arabs before Islam. It was characterized by gambling, drinking of excess alcohol, treating women as part of an inheritance, and also killing of infant female children. The coming of Islam brought about a change in Arabia. Islam reformed their ways and introduced them to a civilized way of living. Islam raised the status of women, and ensured that they were not only catered for but also respected and duly honored.
From the inception of Islam, women have played vital roles in the growth of the religion. When the Prophet (saw) was visited by Angel Jibril, and he went home to his wife, Khadijah, it was she who calmed his nerves, and took him to her uncle, who explained that he was to be the prophet of Allah. One would note that she did not debunk what he said, but assured him of his attributes of being good and just. Also, Aisha bint Abubakr, wife of the Prophet (saw), was the most knowledgeable in terms of hadith. During her lifetime, she related many ahadith to the Sahabah.
All over the world, the concept of gender equality has been widely discussed. From social media rally to online articles, women have begun the fight for absolute equality between the male and female. Among the listed reasons for this is that women are marginalized, especially in the aspect of their chosen career. More and more women prefer to work rather than being confined to their homes. They further not only their education but also write professional examinations, just to boost their certificates. These same women, due to the fact that they are women, are not allowed to hold an important position in the organization, hence the fight for equality. A cogent question we need to ask ourselves is this; should there be agitation for gender equality or gender equity? The religion of Islam advocates for better treatment of women. A tradition of the Prophet (SAW) goes thus; The most perfect man in religion is one who excels in character. The best amongst you is he who gives the best treatment to his wife”. This shows that the religion of Islam places priority on the good care and treatment of women in general.
As opposed to what other cultures and religion may think, Islam is not a religion that restricts women. Rather, it helps them grow within the boundaries of what is righteous. For one, women are allowed to work. A woman is entitled to her private source of living, aside from her husband’s. That a woman is married does not mean that she cannot earn a living. She must fast, pray, give charity, and go for Hajj if she has the means, for she will be held accountable for her deeds on earth. Allah says, “So their Lord accepted their prayers (saying); I will not suffer to be lost the work of any of you whether male or female. You proceed one from the other”, (Quran 3:196). Also, Allah says in Quran 67:16 that, “He it is Who has made the earth even and smooth for you. So traverse ye through its tracts and enjoy of the sustenance which He furnishes. But unto him is the resurrection”. Although it is allowed for both male and female alike to work, Islam has set some ground rules on how transactions should take place. During business transactions, one is not allowed to employ the use of overpricing goods. Also, usury or collecting interest is forbidden.
In pre-Islamic times, women were not only not permitted to inherit, but they themselves were inherited as part of the property. When Islam came, it uplifted the status of women in society. As wives, daughters, and mothers, women could inherit from their sons, brothers, and husbands. Since it is allowed for them to earn income, they can be inherited from too. Concerning the percentage of share, Allah says in the Quran that “From what is left by parents and those nearest related is a share for men, and a share for women, whether the property shall be small or large; a determinate share”.
Muslims, especially the women, are dubbed illiterates if they are fully covered in a veil. Ironically, they are the most educated sect in the world. The fact is not surprising as the first words to be revealed were ‘Iqra’, which translates to ‘Read’. Islam enjoins people to look for knowledge where ever they can find it. A tradition of the prophet, related by Abu Huraira says “Wisdom is the lost property of the believer, let him claim it wherever he finds it”. Searching for knowledge is enjoined on every Muslim, whether male or female. It then cannot be said that females would be segregated. Aisha, the wife of the Prophet (saw) was knowledgeable in the traditions of the prophet. She related the sayings and deeds of the Prophet (saw). It is said that when you train a girl, you train a whole nation. These women grow up to be mothers who train and mold the minds of their young ones. It is then essential that women seek knowledge not just for themselves, but also for the world at large. Muslim women all over the world hold prestigious positions and can be found in professions like engineering, sports, and even the military.
Women have not just social rights, but also freedom of thought, occupation, and even though frowned upon, women have a right to divorce. Marriage is a lifelong contract between a man and a woman. It brings about the joining of two families. Between couples, there could be misunderstandings, some of which lead to lots of mistrust and arguments. If such a situation cannot be salvaged, Islam allows for divorce as the last resort. Either of the party can call for a divorce. At the instance of the husband, it is called Talaq, and if a woman calls for it, it is called Khul. Allah says “…and women have rights similar to those against them in a just manner”, (Quran 2:229). There is room for reconciliation after divorce, as there is a waiting period of three months called Iddah, where both parties are given the chance to forgive and learn to trust themselves again. If eventually the divorce has been finalized, there would be provisions that would cater to the woman. Also, the woman has custody of the children until they reach the age of maturity to chose who they want to stay with.
A common feature of marriage is that the female adopts her husband’s name after marriage. This is a contributing factor to why some cultures do not value the female child because she cannot carry on the family name. Allah says in the Quran that “Call them by the names of their fathers; that is just in the sight of Allah”. (Quran 33:6). A woman in Islam is allowed to retain her father’s name, even after marriage, but her children would bear the name of her husband. An example can be sited from the messenger of Allah (SAW), whose wives never took his name. Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, was called Aisha bint Abubakr, and his first wife, Khadeejah bint Khuwaybah.
Women in Islam are not oppressed as in the general conception of people but are rather liberated. They are given the freedom to choose, as the male. They have a right to life, love, and religion. Quran 2:257 says that “let there be no compulsion in religion”. This applies to both male and female.
Men and women are not competitors in the sight of Allah, except in the aspect of religion. Rather one should strive to complement the other for they each have different roles to play in the society. “Men are guardians over women…”, (Quran 4:35). To better understand this, an example can be seen on the football field. Every player has a role to play on the football field. While one guards the goal post, others defend it and yet some others strike against the opponent. They each have their significance, but there has to be a captain, a head. In every organization, there has to be a head. That though does not undermine the responsibility of the other workers. It is the same with a family; that a man is the head does not undermine the responsibilities and importance of the other.
“One who brings up three daughters, teaches them good manners and morals, and arranges their marriages, and treats them with fairness, deserves to be ushered in paradise” (Abu Dawud). This tradition further emphasizes the importance of women in Islam. It proves that women are not oppressed but live on the concept of equity in Islam.