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Islam's Unique Attitude Towards Women

by Madrasah In'aamiyyah, Camperdown, South Africa

Unlike other popular beliefs, Islam does not blame Hawa A.S. (Eve) alone for the First Sin. The Quran makes it clear that both she and Adam (A.S.) were tempted, both of them sinned and Allah Ta'ala's pardon was granted to both of them after their repentance. They were addressed by Allah Ta'ala jointly.

Allah Ta'ala eloquently states in the Quran, " O Mankind! keep your duty to your Lord who created you from a single person, and created of like nature his mate, and from their twain scattered ( like seeds ) a multitude of men and women." (4:1)

Allah Ta'ala further states in the Quran, " He (God) it is who did create you from a single soul and therefrom did create his mate, that he might dwell with her (in love)........."

The humanity of woman is declared in these decrees. She is not a great temptress, nor is she a slave and some chattel created for the amusement to be used and abused by men.

The crux of the law of Sharia is to preserve the family. The emphasis in Islam is to move away from the materialistic life to one which is guided towards having functional individuals, families and communities. Thus the intelligent one is the one who disciplines himself / herself in order to avoid having dysfunctional families and as a result dysfunctional communities and society.

The word Islam is derived from the Arabic root "SLM" which means among other things, peace, purity, submission and obedience. In the religious sense the word Islam means submission to the Will of God and obedience to His law.

Islam was founded by Allah himself and not by Mohammed (sallalaahu alayhi wassallam) and Islam is not an "ism" as it has been made out to be by some outsiders.

A Muslim is one who obeys, fully submits to, and worships God alone and bears testimony that Mohammed (sallalaahu alayhi wassallam) was His last Prophet and messenger. ( Muslims never worshipped Mohammed ( sallalaahu alayhi wassallam) or any human being). Muslims believe in all the prophets of God without any discrimination.

The Muslim woman through her life stages

As a daughter

In pagan Arabia, little girls were considered a burden and a disgrace, so they were buried alive by their fathers.

With the advent of Islam, Nabi (sallallaahu alayhi wassallam) is reported to have said, "Whosoever has a daughter and he does not bury her alive, does not insult her, does not favour his son over her, GOD will enter him into Paradise."

When a girl is born, it is a sign of honour for the parents. She brings with her blessings into the home and Allah Ta'ala's rahmah descends upon the family.

It is mentioned in a hadith that Nabi (sallalaahu alayhi wassallam) said, " When a female child is born, Allah Ta'ala sends His angels to that house. They come to the dwellers of the house and pray that peace may be upon them, The angels then cover the newly born girl in the shadow of their wings and caressing the head of the baby with their hands they say that, this is a weak and frail person, whoever will bear the responsibility of cherishing her will go on having the blessing of Allah Ta'ala as long as that person remains alive." ( Al-Mojam al - Saghir li Tabrani).

He also stated that, " Whosoever maintains two girls until they attain maturity, he and I will come in the day of judgment like this", ( and he joined his two fingers held together). (Muslim).

The pursuit of education and knowledge was made incumbent on every Muslim male and female more than one thousand four hundred years ago.

Every girl has a right to education and she is allowed to seek knowledge which will benefit her in this world and the hereafter. She is expected to make a positive contribution to society by applying her skills in the service of her family and society.

Nabi (sallallaahu alayhi wassallam) said, " Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim."

As a wife

Allah Ta'ala has created men and women as company for one another, so that they can live in peace and tranquility. It will be found that men and women are jointly addressed in the Quran.

The Holy Quran states: " And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts. Undoubtedly in these are signs for those who reflect. (31:21)

According to Islamic law, women cannot be forced to marry without their consent. (No marriage in Islam can be valid without the consent of either partner)

Besides all other provisions for her protection at the time of marriage, it has been decreed that the woman has full the right to her marriage gift which is presented to her by her husband. It is included in the nuptial contract, and that such ownership does not transfer to her husband or her father.

Among the aims of marriage is the provision of solace, comfort, peace and rest, for both of them. Both of them are entitled to each other's companionship and partnership. The husband has no Shari right to impose his whims and fancies on her. Although most wives cook and take care of domestic chores, her husband cannot compel her to wash clothes or cook food.

In fact, Aisha (R.A.) reported that Nabi (sallallaahu alayhi wassallam) helped his wives in domestic chores........." He used to mend his shoes, sew his clothes, and work in his house just as any of you works in his own house."

The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man but they are not necessarily identical with them. This difference is understandable because men and women are not identical but they are created equals. Islam thus takes into due consideration, acknowledges her, and recognizes her independent personality.

A woman is not less important than a man. She has to be treated equally, with justice and fairness. However, Allah Ta'ala has conferred the responsibility of leadership in the union to the man.

The Quran states, " And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them, and men are a degree above them."

The leadership role does not mean the husband's dictatorship over his wife, rather it emphasizes the importance of consultation, mutual agreement and taking counsel in the family (decisions).

Economically, a wife does not have to compete in the market place for her upkeep. In return for the solace she provides to her husband, the Shariah has commanded the husband to compulsorily fulfill her material and spiritual needs. He cannot order her to earn a living nor order her to assist in his business.

The husband is encouraged to deal leniently and kindly with his wife when disputes or differences arise.

Nabi (sallallaahu alayhi wassallam) is reported to have said, " The most perfect believers are the ones who are best in conduct, and the best of you are those who are best to their wives."

Verbal, physical, financial and emotional abuse of a wife is totally out of keeping of a Muslim man's character. These actions are considered as disgraceful cowardice and he will be accountable for his cowardly treatment against his wife in the hereafter. He has to remember that his wife is not his property, she is Allah Ta'ala's property and was given to him by Allah Ta'ala as a "gift", to be treasured, respected and cherished.

The Quran states, "Deal with women correctly and with kindness. If then, you dislike them, then it is possible that you dislike something in which Allah has created abundance of goodness therein." ( Surah Nisa, Ayat 19).

Just as a husband finds some characteristics disagreeable, he will find other characteristics agreeable. He is guided to seek and highlight the good in his wife.

As the woman's right to decide about her marriage is recognized, so also is her right to seek an end for an unsuccessful marriage is recognized.

Divorce is detested by Allah Ta'ala even though it has been made lawful by Him.

This is because it disrupts the stability of the family and rocks the family system.

Certain steps and waiting periods should be observed by men and women seeking divorce. A woman can bring her request for a divorce before (Muslim) judge/s who will grant her a divorce by examining the circumstances.

Marriage in Islam is considered to fulfill five fundamental functions.

Protective and supportive function: Marriage serves as a "shock absorber" from the pressures of the over-bearing outside world. The ability to understand, sympathize, and support is a critical function of the spouses. It is within the ambit of a nurturing, loving and secure home life that marital harmony thrives and by extension a functional family and community.

Recreational function: Nabi (sallalaahu alayhi wassallam) played and competed in running with his wife Aisha (R.A.). He would frequently say, " The best of you are those who are best to their wives." Leisure activities within the family group are encouraged, as the family that plays together stays together.

Social function: Marriage unites two families and the couple have to accord respect to family members and foster ties with both sides of the family. Nabi (salallaahu alayhi wassalallam) is reported to have said, " Whosoever desires that sustenance be expanded for him and his life be prolonged, let him foster ties with the family."

The children learn to interact with their elders and peers. The virtues of respect, caring , sharing and reciprocating love for the pleasure of Allah Ta'ala are cultivated.

Educational function: " Nobody shall meet Allah Ta'ala with a sin greater than that of having left his family in ignorance ( Daylami).

Ibn Atta (R.A.) said that "Aisha (R.A.) was among all the people, the one who had most knowledge of fiqh, the one who was the most educated, and compared to those who surround her, the one whose judgment was the best."

Her companions called her " Bahrul Uloom", the ocean of knowledge. This was due to the vast amount of knowledge she gained from her husband.

Religious function: A religious atmosphere within the home helps to develop humility and a sense of accountability for all our actions. When the couple mutually create this atmosphere, they then personify the following verse of the Holy Quran: " Verily for all men and women who have surrendered themselves to Allah, all believing men and women, all pious men and women, all honest men and women, all patient men and women, all humble men and women, all accountable men and women, all fasting men and women, all chaste men and women who remember Allah increasingly; Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward" ( 33:35).

Nabi (sallalaahu alayhi wassallam) has said, " This world (and all it's contents) are but perishable commodities, the best of all perishable commodities is a pious wife."

Sex within the marriage is not mere sexual gratification, it is an act of charity. Nabi (sallallaahu alayhi wassallam ) said, " In the sexual act of each of you there is sadaqah."

The companions asked, " O' messenger of Allah! When one of us fulfills his sexual desires, he will be given a reward for it?"

He replied, " Do you not think that if he were to act upon it unlawfully, he would be sinning? Likewise, if he acts upon it lawfully, he will be rewarded." ( Muslim).

The husband is reminded that he should handle their sexual relationship with care, warmth, and comfort and not treat his wife as a doormat who can be dispensed with according to his own selfish desires. He should seek mutual bliss, satisfaction and fulfillment with her.

As a mother

A woman is a full and equal partner of man in the procreation of mankind. Her role is no less vital than his.

It is mentioned in a hadith that Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said, " Does it not please you ( O Women!) that when you conceive from your husbands whilst he is pleased with you, then that woman will receive such reward equal to that of a fasting person in the path of Allah and spending the night in Ibadat. When her labour pains commence, the inhabitants of the earth and the sky are unaware of the stores of comfort that are prepared for her. When she delivers and breast feeds her child, then she will be granted a reward for every gulp of milk; and if she had to remain awake during the night for the sake of her child, she will receive the reward of emancipating seventy slaves in the path of Allah.

Do you know who these women are? They are pious, upright, delicately natured but yet are obedient to their husbands and not ungrateful to them."

Another hadith states: "A woman from her pregnancy till the time of weaning her child is like one protecting the boundaries of the Islamic state. If she passes away during this period, she attains the reward of martyrdom (shaheeda).

The mother is the first seat of learning for her children. It is here, in the warmth of her love and care that the child learns about Allah Ta'ala, Nabi (sallallaahu alayhi wassalaam), about honesty, fairness, justice, treatment of strangers, the poor, the helpless, etc. The child's socialization process is not just geared towards filling his/ her head with information and fairy tales. The child learns his/ her responsibilities as a Muslim from an early age from the mother who is truly the centre of the child's universe at that stage.

The Quran has special recommendations for the good treatment of both parents.

Due to the great sacrifices she makes in bearing her children, spending sleepless nights watching over them when they are ill, virtually turning her day into night for their comfort and for rearing them with so luch love and attention, the mother is given precedence and a higher status than the father.

A famous saying of Nabi (sallalaahu alayhi wassallam) is " Paradise is at the feet of your mother."

A man came to Nabi(sallallaahu alayhi wassallam) asking , " O messenger of Allah, who among the people is the most worthy of my good company?"

Nabi (sallallaahu alayhi wassallam) said, " Your mother."

The man then asked, "Who else?"

Nabi (sallallaahu alayhi wassallam) replied, " Your mother."

The man then asked again, " Then who else?"

Nabi (sallallaahu alayhi wassallam) said, " Your mother."

The man then asked, " Who else?"

Only then did he get the answer, " Your father."

The Muslim woman's economic status.

Islamic Law fully acknowledged the woman's right to her money, real estate or other property over one thousand, four hundred years ago. This right undergoes no change whether she is single or married. She retains her full right to buy, sell, mortgage or lease any or all of her properties. Her right to her properties applies even if she acquires them after her marriage. She is not regarded as a minor simply because she is a woman.

(It was not until 1938 that the French Law was amended so as to recognize the eligibility of women to contract. A married woman was however, still required to secure her husband's permission before she could dispense with her private property).

A Muslim woman is guaranteed her share of inheritance. Before Islam, she was not only deprived of that share but was herself a "transferable property" to be inherited by man.

Whether she is a wife or mother, a sister or daughter, she receives a certain share of the diseased kin's property. This share depends on her degree of relationship to the diseased and the number of heirs. She cannot be disinherited.

Even if the diseased wishes to deprive her by making a will to other relations, or, in favour of some cause, the Law will not allow him to do so.

Her share of inheritance is completely hers, her father and husband can make no claim on it whatsoever.

As far as the woman's right to seek employment is concerned, it should be remembered that Islam regards her role in society as a mother and wife as the most sacred and an essential one, as she largely "shapes the future of nations". This vital and noble role cannot by any means be fulfilled by maids and baby-sitters.

A Muslim man is fully responsible for the maintenance of his wife, his children, in some cases his needy relatives, especially the females. Her husband's responsibility is neither waived nor reduced because of his wife's wealth or because of her access to any personal income gained from rent, work or profit.

Just as her possessions do not transfer to her husband after she marries him, she is not obliged to spend her wealth on her family. She was also given the choice of keeping her maiden surname over fourteen hundred years ago.

She is financially secure and provided for.

If she is a wife, her husband is the provider.

If she is a mother, it is the son who is the provider.

If she is a daughter, her father is the provider.

If she is sister, it is the brother who is the provider, etc.

If a Muslim woman wishes to work or be self-supporting and participate in handling the family responsibilities, she is quite free to do so, provided her integrity and honor are safeguarded.

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