Al-Baqarah · Juz 2 · Qur'an Tafseer

The Place of Women in Islam


In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

treat women with honor

[Explanation in the light of Surah Al-Baqarah Ayah 228]

At this point, it seems pertinent to explain to some extent the status given by Islam to women. If understood in its full perspective, it will certainly lead to the conclusion that a just and moderate social system would not have required more than this. It may be noted that this is the crucial place, any deviation or departure from which becomes a great danger for man’s life here and in the Hereafter.

Deliberation would reveal that two things serve as the necessary basis for the survival and development of this world. These are woman and wealth. But, a look at the other side of the coin shows that this twosome is also a source of disturbance, bloodshed, and tribulation. Further deliberation would easily help one reach the conclusion that although these two, given their real place in life, are instrumental in the progress of this world, yet, as and when, they are aimlessly moved away from their real place, they are capable of shaking the world like an earthquake.

The Qur’an has given man a way of life, a system. Both these human factors have been assigned their correct respective places in a way that they yield the maximum benefits to the total exclusion of chaos.

Being discussed here, at this point, is the woman and her rights and duties. About this, the verse under reference states: As there are rights of men over women which must be given, so there are rights of women over men which must be given. However, the quantum of difference that must be recognized here is: Men have a ‘step’ above women. Almost the same subject has appeared in Surah an-Nisa ayah 34.

The Status of Women in pre-Islamic Society

Before Islam, in the age of ignorance [Jahiliyah], it was common practice that women were equated with articles of home use. They would be bought and sold like cattle. She had no right whatsoever in relation to her marriage. She had to go where she was sent by her guardians. Far from being entitled to some share in the inheritance from her relatives, she herself was treated as a piece of inheritance like any other household item. She was considered as something owned by men while she owned nothing. And, even that which she allegedly owned she could not spend without the permission of men.

However, her husband had all the right in the world to spend that which belonged to her as and how he elected to do so. She did not even have the right to question. So much so that some groups from among the European countries which are considered to be among the most civilized in the world today had reached the limit where they did not even accept that women were human beings!

[Women Before Islam: Eradication of Injustices]

Women had no place in religion. They were considered unfit for worship, and for Paradise. In some synods of Rome, it was decided after mutual consultations that she was a dirty animal which had no soul. Usually, it was considered permissible for a father to kill, or even, bury her daughter alive. In fact, this act was judged to be a mark of honor and a standard of nobility. There were some who held the opinion that anybody who killed a woman did not have to pay blood-money or be charged with retaliatory action. And should the husband die, the wife too was burnt alive with his dead body.

Following the birth of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and before his Prophethood, in the year 586, France showed its compassion for women by passing a resolution, of course after great deliberation and controversy, that woman is, after all, a human being, but she has been created for the sole purpose of serving man!

In short, the whole world, and all nations and religions that inhabited it had been treating women with the callousness that makes one tremble with fear. For this poor creature, there was no reason, no justice, anywhere.

Ransomed be our lives for him who came as mercy for the worlds (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and for the true religion which opened the eyes of the people of this world, taught man to respect man, made justice and equity the law, men were made responsible for the rights of women parallel to their own rights on them. A woman was made free and independent.

[Women Before and After Islam]

She became the owner of her life and property, similar to men. No man can, even if he be a father or grandfather, force a woman to marry someone. Should she be given in marriage without her consent, the act remains dangling on her consent. If she says no, it stands annulled. No man has any right to spend anything from that which belongs to her, without her consent and approval. After the death of her husband or after having been divorced by him, she becomes independent and she cannot be compelled by anyone for anything. She gets a share in the inheritance of her relatives just like men. To spend on her and to keep her happy has been declared an act of ‘ibadah [worship] under the blessed law of Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Should the husband fail to give the rights due, she could, through an Islamic court, force him to do so or to divorce her.

[Financial Rights of Women]

Man’s Guardianship is Essential for Peace and Order

Not giving women their due rights was ranked as injustice, oppression, stinginess, and villainy which was erased by Islam.

Similarly, leaving them to go their way with an unbridled liberty from the guardianship and care of men, and to make them earn their own sustenance and life support amounts to wasting her rights and destroying her genius. Neither does she deserve that fate in view of her physique nor does that great mission of bringing up children and the charge of family management, which has been naturally entrusted to her, deserve it.

In addition to that, women are, when deprived of the guardianship and care of men, a great danger for the whole human society, a situation that is bound to create all sorts of disturbances, including riots and bloodshed, as a matter of daily routine. That is why the Qur’an, while stating the mandatory rights of women, also declared: But the men have a degree over them (in responsibility and authority) (2: 228).

As it was in the first age of ignorance before Islam, all nations of the world, by keeping women as a household item or a dumb animal, had fallen prey to this mistake. So it came to pass that, following Islam’s age of decadence, there started a later age of ignorance. Here the first mistake is being matched by yet another mistake, as a reaction in the opposite direction, when efforts are being made continuously to get rid of even this much degree of precedence men have over women. As a result, obscenity and shamelessness became common, the world became a home of conflicts and disorder, and bloodshed became so cheap that the first age of ignorance remained no match anymore. There is an Arab saying: The ignorant man never stays in moderation. If he decides to stay from acting excessively, he slides into a behavior of neglect.

[The Muslim Nation has a Universal Message for Mankind]

This is the prevailing attitude in the world of today. There was that time when they were not even prepared to call or understand women as a member of the human race. Now they have advanced to the limit that the “yoke” of man’s guardianship and care-taking of women, which is perfectly wise and suitable universally for men, and women, is being thrown away, the ill consequences of which are becoming visible every day. And believe it, unless they bow down before this statement of the Qur’an, such disorders will go on increasing day by day.

Governments today make new laws incessantly to bring peace into the world. New institutions are established for this purpose. Millions are spent but the source of disorders goes unnoticed by them. If a Commission of Inquiry was to be established to determine the causes of disorder, bloodshed and internecine wars, it is likely that the cause of more than fifty percent of such crimes will turn out to be a woman and her unbridled freedom. But, in the contemporary world, the prevailing pursuit of desires has confounded even the best of minds.

No corrective check against the worship of desires is even entertained.

May Allah Almighty enlighten our hearts with the light of faith and help us act according to the guidance given in His Book and in the conduct of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam because that is our blessed capital both in this world and in the Hereafter.

[SOURCE: Ma’arif ul Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani]

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