Sometimes the media portrays Islam as an oppressive religion, one which oppresses women especially. While sadly it is true that some Muslim women are oppressed in some areas in Muslim countries around the world, any form of emotional, physical, or psychological abuse or oppression towards women is prohibited in our faith and goes strongly against the teachings and laws of Islam. The overall suppression of women occurs in many parts of the world regardless of the oppressor’s religion or culture, even if the oppressor is atheist in faith. However, no Islamic laws stand in place to oppress women; moreover, Islam specifically states that women have every right to a decent life without facing aggression or abuse of any sort–just as a man does. The Holy Quran states that God the Almighty created all species in pairs, thus indicating that both men and women were created of the same species. Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him stated in a narration that ‘Women are the twin halves of men.’ God states in the Holy Quran that:
Islam states that both men and women were created in a pure state and that both are equal in the eyes of God. The only real criterion that judges the superiority of one person over another is that of piety, God-consciousness, and righteousness.
Both men and women in the Islamic faith are expected to fulfill the same obligations of faith, worship, prayer, charity, etc., and—as stressed in the Holy Quran–women are no different than men in the spiritual sense. Both men and women are subject to the reward or punishment of God.
While both men and women are spiritually equal in the eyes of God, the two genders are not identical and claim many biological, psychological, and physical differences—therefore, it would not be logical to compare the roles of men and women. The rights, responsibilities, and roles of each gender are balanced, yet are not necessarily the same. Each gender claims different roles in life, and each is suited for that role by their functions, as designed by nature. Generally speaking, men in general, possess more physical strength than women, which is why men and women compete in separate athletic competitions in rigorous sports such as boxing or basketball.
“…And the male is not like the female…” (Quran 3:36)
For example, women are equipped for childbearing, while men are incapable of performing this function. On the other hand, a man is suited for military field battles during times of war; the appointment of a woman to fight in the field in place of a man would disadvantage an army.
One should not misinterpret these differences to mean that men are superior or inferior to women; rather, these roles are attributed to the natural capacity and proper functioning between genders. Men and women complement each other, with each existing as a means of mutual fulfillment to the other.
Men and women have different preferences and degrees of advantage in different areas. The Holy Quran states that men stand at one degree over women, with Islamic scholars referencing the Verse indicating that men are caretakers of women and should fulfill all their rights to women in terms of protecting, supporting, and providing for them. This Verse is not implying that men stand as authority over women. Women, as a matter of fact, are in truth the beneficiaries of this Verse. A woman’s role is to comfort and support their man. He who created both men and women knows the capabilities, weaknesses, and strengths of each gender.
Islam, in fact, was the first religion to grant women status in society. In past societies, such as those maintained by the Romans, Greeks, and Babylonians, women were denigrated, used for sex and pleasure, treated as property, and prostituted. Some civilizations even considered women as evil instruments of the devil and deprived women of various basic rights. Some societies even buried baby girls alive after birth.
Additionally, in many societies, women were deprived of their basic inheritance rights by men and were considered and treated as transferable properties. However, Islam gave women the right to own property and receive their just inheritances from relatives. Islam provided women the right to education, the right to marry whom they please, to retain their family name after marriage, to divorce, to work outside the home, the right to earn her own independent income, to start her own business, to vote, all at a time when the giving of these rights to females was not the norm. In Islam, the husband is not allowed to touch his wife’s money without her will, and he is obligated to support her and cover household expenses. Islam introduced the rights of a mother, wife, daughter, etc., to the annals of culture.
When the Holy Quan was revealed, its Scripture condemned sexist attitudes and discrimination towards women and at the same time raised and uplifted the status of women, honored them, and demonstrated as to how they could maintain their God-given honor. Nowhere in the Holy Quran would you find a Verse that degrades women or gives them a secondary status. The Holy Quran even devotes an entire chapter named ‘The Women,’ and there is no such chapter named ‘The Men’. The Holy Quran also contains a Chapter named ‘Mary,’ and she is mentioned throughout the Book. Islam’s first follower was a woman (Khadijah, the Prophet’s wife). The first martyr in Islam was also a woman.
Prophet Muhammad stated: ‘The most complete of the believers in faith, is the one with the best character among them. And the best of you are those who are best to your women.’ We learn from another narration in which Prophet Muhammad stated: ‘Whoever has three daughters, or three sisters, or two daughters, or two sisters and he keeps good company with them and fears Allah regarding them, then Paradise is for him’
Treating one’s parents well, especially the mother, is highly mandated in Islam and in the Holy Quran. The Holy Quran elevates mothers to a very high status and commands everyone to treat their mothers with the utmost respect, kindness, tenderness, love, devotion, and care. Our Prophet peace be upon him stated: ‘Paradise lies under the feet of your mother.’ Additionally, when Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him was asked by a companion, ‘Who amongst the people is the worthiest of my companionship?’ Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him responded, ‘Your mother.’ Then the man asked, ‘Then who?’, and Prophet Muhammad replied, ‘Your mother’, and the companion replied, ‘Then who?’ Then Prophet Muhammad replied, ‘Your mother’–at which point the companion replied, then who? And finally, Prophet Muhammad replied, ‘Then your father.’
While the media often portrays Muslim women as oppressed, weak, and submissive to their husbands based on the way they look and dress, the apparel of Muslim women stands as a symbol of their liberation from societal objectification. A Muslima is honored in Islam and Sharia (Islamic Law). Often, non-Muslim women dress to attract attention to opposite gender, while a Muslim woman’s goal is to dress appropriately, modestly, and to attract the least amount of attention in a world where the physical form is constantly emphasized and given undue focus.
Islam elevates the one that covers herself, safeguarding her integrity by not allowing herself to be treated as a sexual object; to be valued and judged externally based solely on her appearance, rather than internally on her righteousness, character, mind, and intellect. A Muslima woman does not desire to adorn her body for men, sexualizing herself to gain attention from those other than her husband. Muslim women look up to and identify with Mary, the mother of Prophet Jesus peace be upon her, who is known for her piety, righteousness, character, God-consciousness, and modesty.
Sadly, it is true that some Muslim women are oppressed around the world. However, if Muslim women were indeed granted their God-given rights, this oppression would not exist in any form. Unfortunately, Islam is not being practiced as it was originally intended—even in Muslim countries, as they fail to practice the true principles of Islam. Islam honors women; yet sadly, Muslim women fall victim to cultural aberrations that have no place in this beautiful, perfect faith.