The status of women in Islam


By Nadia Hussain

The idea of women as evil has a historical pattern. For instance, Pandora in Greek mythology is a source of all evil. In Christianity, women are wicked that opened the door to Satan for Adam and so are found in the thoughts of Western philosophers like Aristotle, Nietzsche and others.[i] Hindu myths and mythologies of Indian women is the vehicle for the degradation of Indian women to a great extent.[ii]

For Muslim women, the main idea is of oppressed women deprived of intellectual and spiritual skills. This is due to biased media but also because the value of Muslim women is mostly misrepresented by many (not all) Muslim male scholars in an insulting way. Explained out of context, women are labelled ‘temptations’ and ‘crooked’. The responsibility of ‘guardianship’ of women is misinterpreted to ‘repression’. The topic of ‘chastity’ and ‘hijab’ is often dealt with bias, extremely targeted at women, when chastity and righteousness are a devout duty for both believers. In Islamic discourse, the identity of Muslim women by many religious scholars in India is either ignored with no visibility or is ‘submissive’ and ‘voiceless’. With such restrictive approach, religion is misused by some to justify discrimination against Muslim women and violate her fundamental rights.

The dawn of Islam rescued her from human right violations of pre-Islamic Arabian custom wherein she was just men’s personal property. Islam emancipated women and granted her human rights. Allah commands believing men, ‘Live with them on footing of kindness and equity’.[1] She has the right to education, heritage, marriage, separation, property, gender justice, equity, dignity and security.

Islamic law ensures gender justice and equity based on differences and uniqueness of both genders. In a marriage, both male and female have rights over each other. Men are the guardians of women, and women are the husband’s trustee.[iii]  Marriage is to be based on solid foundations, striking a balance between physical, mental and spiritual needs of partners to avoid personality clashes.[iv] Guardianship of women is a matter of responsibility and duty, not that of favour. ‘It is an additional not a superior quality considering men’s physical strength and quality of protectiveness’ says Mulana Wahiduddin. He further states, ‘Man and woman in the eyes of Islam are not the duplicates of one another, but the complements, there being in each incontrovertible, biological differences which lead to the natural separation of sphere and occupation. This division of labour permits the shortcomings of one sex to be compensated for by the strengths of the other.’ However, the fundamentals of faith, human dignity, justice, righteousness and reward are the same. Women are equal in all civil and criminal acts of judiciary.[v]

Muhammad (pbuh) empowered women to take active role in the society without ‘overlapping men’s role’ [vi]. He urged them to participate in Islamic events and prayers and allocated certain days in a week for women education. Women could meet Muhammad, to talk and seek help and advice. He also asked women to do a formal pledge (as men did) for they were responsible to the Islamic law. Although priority was given to the task of raising children, women worked and participated in religious, social, and political life.[vii]

Quran mentions of women of faith in an honourable way. Women have played tremendous roles in the lives of the Prophets and fulfilment of divine plan. Maryam (mother of Jesus), known for religiosity, chastity and sincerity, underwent an extraordinary divine plan of pregnancy against intense societal pressures just to fulfil Allah’s commandments.[viii] Allah’s grace and protection through her solitary labour pangs and delivery is remarkable.[ix] And a whole chapter in the Quran is named Maryam. The extraordinary willpower of Hajar and her desperate run for rescue from Safaa to Marwa is a mandatory pilgrim ritual in Umrah and Hajj. The heavenly gift of Zamzam is upshot of her remarkable courage and fortified faith. The mention of Queen Bilqis of Sheba’[x] shows intelligence and democratic governance. The four women in Musa’s life (mother, sister, wife and queen Asiya) tell inspiring stories of women’s faith to trust Allah’s plan; courage at the face of threat; sincerity of love of Allah; wisdom of judgement; power of decision making; and, resistance to tyranny. The stern address of Allah against the slanderers of Aisha (ra)[xi] is a message of women’s dignity and honour of one’s spouse, and the redressal of ‘The Pleading Woman’[xii] against marital abuse ‘zihar’; condemns abuse against women. Surah Nisa is a detailed chapter on women status and rights dealing with marriage, divorce, inheritance, mahr, and other issues. Quran encourages superiority of mother because of her suffering through pregnancy and breastfeeding[xiii] ‘and (reverence) the wombs (that bore you)’[xiv]. These are subtle yet powerful mentions in the Quran pointing on how precious women of faith are to Allah.

Prophet’s wives, the Mother of Believers, were women of great honour and scholarly knowledge. Aisha(ra) for 44 years contributed to the spread of Muhammad’s message. She narrated 2,210 hadith on topics such as Muhammad’s private life, inheritance, pilgrimage and eschatology.[xv] Hafsa(ra) had authority in Islamic knowledge; she narrated 60 hadith[xvi] and was given the custody of the first original hand-written copy of the Holy Quran.[xvii] And when Uthman became leader he used Hafsah’s copy to standardize the text of the Quran.[xviii] Khadija(ra) was a woman, independent and honourable, then a wife, strong and faithful, and a pious Muslim, sincere, determined, and enduring.[xix]

Professor Tariq Ramadan, in Messenger recounts how when Mohammad received the first Revelation, troubled and fearful, he immediately turned to his wife and she was the first human to meet, console and stand by him. She answered God’s call with him and followed the path of spiritual initiation. Her presence alone protected the Prophet but who also underwent with him trials of rejection by kin, persecution, and isolation.[xx] Umm Salama was in political activism, law making and narrated 378 hadith. [xxi] We have warriors like Nusaybah, Safia, Khawlah and humanitarian services of Fatimah and Umm Atiya in battlefields.

Thus, to overcome the preconditioned mindset, Muslim women should own the Quran and Prophetic traditions to recognize her honourable status given by Allah.



[1] Quran 4:19

[i] Women’s empowerment in Islamic system of life, Arab News

[ii] Jayasree Jayan, Divine Gender Inequality: A Study of Mythological Degradation of Hindu Women in India, 10 Apr 2017.

[iii] Khan, Maulana Wahiduddin. Women Right in Islamic Shariah, Goodword Books 2015, The Islamic Centre, New Delhi

[iv] Ali al-Hashmi, Muhammad. The Ideal Muslim

[v] Women’s empowerment in Islamic system of life, Arab News

[vi] The Prophet of Islam MUHAMMAD, Osoul Global Centre, pg 141, 6th Edition, KHT Press, 2018.

[vii] ibid.

[viii] Quran (3:45. 19:22, 21:91)

[ix] Quran (19:23-26)

[x] Quran (27 :15-44)

[xi] Quran (24:11-20)

[xii] Quran (chapter 58)

[xiii] Quran (31:14)

[xiv] Quran (4:1)

[xv] Sayeed, Asma. Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam. Cambridge University Press.

[xvi] Siddiqi, M.Z. (2006). Hadith Literature: Its Origin, Development, Special Features and Criticism. Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust

[xvii] Dr Murtaza, Muhammad. Selected Hadiths (Part-4), Islamic Propagation Office in Rabwah, KSA.

[xviii] Sahih Bukhari

[xix] Ramadan. Tariq. The Messenger- The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad, Penguin Books, Oxford University Press 2007.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Sahih Bukhari

9 thoughts on “The status of women in Islam

  1. The perspective this writer presents is pretty much the standard defense of the “status of women in Islam” repeated ad nauseum in every generation, and in the social media on almost a daily basis. The heading is incomplete: It should have said” . . . as preserved in the highly selective Sunnah of RasulAllah s.a.w.s.” The supposed abolition of female infanticide during the first few decades of “Islam” is touted as proof and evidence of gender rights endowed by the Prophet of Islam, as if that historical fact had guaranteed women’s rights in any Muslim society, at any time or place in history. That’s how the arguments are cast.

    These apologists for actual, lived Muslim tradition, go on to cite a few Qur’anic ayats to bolster their arguments and create the image of model “Islamic” human relations, without regard to the actual reality. End of story. Back to honor killing, FGM in some places, the accursed dowry system (which in effect auctions off the groom to the highest bidder), which is really a reversal of the actual Bedouin culture, and, of course, always, always supported by the local ulema, who are always open for business.

    I write as the father who, with Nayeem Sultana, helped raise two daughters to grow up to be happy, useful and decent human beings, who carry in their hearts and mind the basic Muslim ideals, expressed through the Kalima. They are aware of their Muslim heritage, but they have mostly been shaped by the values of their time and place, America in the 20th and 21st centuries. If a boy or girl grew up in the Saudi society, surely their idea of Islam would be different. The same can be said of anybody born anywhere within their historical / economic, cultural context.

    Back to the realities of gender rights in terms defined by the holy texts, and those guaranteed by society anyplace in real time. The picture that emerges of the status of women in their various historical contexts is not very good.

    Actually, it is restricted, exploited, unequal, usually victimized within the family. All cultures assign the burdens of perpetuating culture disproportionately to women. Muslim cultures do more of it, and are more restrictive of women in this respect. Consider for a moment the reality of a great diversity of Muslim life all over the globe. The American Muslim women’s experience is different from that of the Saudi women’s experience, or that of Egyptians, Iraqi, Syrian, Punjabi, Bengali women. They seem to pay a higher price for stepping outside the bounds of community norms, than do boys of any age. Women are not allowed a great deal of individuality, individual expression, at least not equally.

    Personally, I believe it is still the American Century, and America is in the lead in terms of upholding moral values of democracy, equal rights for all, and the rule of law. American dynamism, faulty at times, is still a force for the good.

    1. @Usama Khalidi,

      You’re obviously an uneducated westernized idiot with the IQ of room temperature. You have no idea what womans rights are. You have no knowledge of religion or history. Only a blind moron would believe its the “american century” two decades into the 21st century, at a time when the American empire is receding. What “American 21st values” have you taught your daughters? To be promiscuous as part of the hook up culture? To worship greed and narcissism? To drink and engage in drugs? You’re a disgrace, and unfit to be a parent. Your neither know Islam or live Islam. Typical third world inferiority complex mentality worshiping the white man like the brainwashed slave that you are. Furthermore to believe that America is a “good” force with all the crimes, genocide, occupation, terrorism etc they’ve committed over the last 250 years simply demonstrates you are an immoral, pathetic, and opportunistic hypocrite. An apologist for the most violent country in the world.

  2. I don’t know what kind of women rights supported in Islam but it is true that today Muslim women are the most backward women all over the world. They are backward in terms of education, financial power, gender equality etc.
    In India, 50% muslim women are illiterate.. it means they can’t even read & write. Hardly 4% are graduate. Thus situation is pathetic. In order to improve the situation, muslim community should follow below steps:
    1) Follow ‘hum do hamare do’ policy.
    2) Promote women to get rid of Hijab.
    3) Allow muslim women to work even after marriage so that they will become financially strong.
    4) Ban polygamy.

    1. Idhar bhi aa gaya Manuwad promote karne, Sanghi chaddi!

      Aaj poori duniyaa face-mask me haye, full sleeves Hijaab PPE kits me haye,
      which devil’s blood do you suck, you pea-brained Fascist!

      For curing your whatsapp university poison:
      Best medicines—
      2. Riddles of Hinduism–from Vedas and Puranas by Bharat Ratna Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.

      Women are always allowed to work in decent non-Sanhghi work-places as in Europe, within the realm of modesty of Islam.

      Beautiful researched article by sister Nadia Hussain!
      May our informed sisters lead the reform of our Ummah to a single united informed equal honest balanced and fair/just community, devoid of culture-mixtures or sectarian firqaparasti….as Ertugrul did while pioneering the Ottaman khilafate in Turkey..

    2. Wrong as usual, jealous Hindu gutter rat,

      Your hatred of Islam and Muslims is so transparent. Dirty lying Hindus can’t hide the fact that India is the WORST country to be a woman in. Islam elevates and gives dignity and honor to women. This is the exact opposite of how Hinduism treats women. The most backward “religion” in the world is Hinduism which is satanic, primitive, violent, racist, filthy and deeply misogynistic. Hindu books are open in their hatred towards women. Its cruelty is unmatched towards women. Islam brought civilization to India while it languished in backwardness and filth. The condition of Hindu women will improve once the following steps are taken :

      1) Abolish the caste system aka brahmin supremacy. Hindu brahmin women must be able to marry Dalit men, bringing equality to Hindu society. Dalits should be educated, given work and armed to defend themselves from Brahmin terrorists as well. Abolishing Hinduism would be the best thing ever for India.

      2) Ban abortion of baby girls. Since evil Hindus love killing baby girls in sex selective abortions. It has destroyed the order of nature with more men then women in society.

      3) Abolishing dahej aka dowry so Hindu women don’t have pay their husbands family and endure a lifetime of abuse and even murder. Hindu women should be encouraged to convert to other faiths, preferably Islam.

      4) Public execution of all rapists. This is drastically cut down on rape incidence and reduce the population of Hindu men, thereby restoring balance to the male female population ratio. Hindu men will have to be reeducated to be civilized observing personal hygiene and respect for women.

      5) Editing and removing violence and rape references in Hindu religious books. They should be discarded altogethers as nonsense and fairy tales of idiots and perverts. Hindu temple prostitution should also be abolished.

      6) Extermination of RSS, Sangh Parivar, BJP terrorists. Hindu women who are members of these criminal organizations should be jailed for minimum 10 years and rehabilitated to clean gutters for the rest of their lives.

      You should thank me for giving you such valuable advice on improving the lives of oppressed Hindu women.

    3. Hum do hamare do implies there is no child more than one. Now the question is that the organisation which uses females to give birth children only, the fault is of them not the whole Muslim community. Please try to understand and to learn. Please don’t underestimate any religion and don’t give a blame to other religions.

  3. my god, what a saint you are man, why don’t you give some advice to your suicide bomber brothers who kill innocents to meet some kind of hoor, god knows when. you vomited all the dirt that you had in your brain about hindus . i pity you cause you actually don’t know anything about Rss and i know you can’t even prove anything that you said about Hinduism . I can prove a lot about your faith but i won’t cause that’s not what we want to. May God bless you…

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