Women’s rights in Islam

By Shahana Ali | 15 June 2021

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

There are many misconceptions surrounding women’s rights in Islam. The purpose of this article is to shed some light on the basic rights of women in Islam. It only covers a basic outline regarding women’s rights to worship, education, employment, inheritance and marriage.

Understanding differences between men and women

In Islam a woman can attain the same reward and closeness to Allah (SWT) through worship that a male can attain. 

In surah An-Nahl, Allah (SWT) says: 

مَنۡ عَمِلَ صَالِحًـا مِّنۡ ذَكَرٍ اَوۡ اُنۡثٰى وَهُوَ مُؤۡمِنٌ فَلَـنُحۡيِيَنَّهٗ حَيٰوةً طَيِّبَةً​ ۚ وَلَـنَجۡزِيَـنَّهُمۡ اَجۡرَهُمۡ بِاَحۡسَنِ مَا كَانُوۡا يَعۡمَلُوۡنَ۔

 “Whosoever, male or female has acted righteously, while being a believer, We will certainly make him live a good life; and will surely grant such persons their reward for the best of what they used to do” (16:97)

Allah (SWT) has given rights to both genders; men have rights over women and women have rights over men. These rights exist for social interactions and for other worldly dealings.

In the Quran, Allah (SWT) says:

وَلَهُنَّ مِثْلُ الَّذِي عَلَيْهِنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ، وَلِلرِّجَالِ عَلَيْهِنَّ دَرَجَةٌ

….“Women have rights upon them similar to those of (men) according to what is reasonable, though for men there is a step above them”….(2:228)

Although the rights of women and men are similar, for worldly order (responsibility and authority), Allah (SWT) through His wisdom, has granted men one level of authority above that which He has given women.

What is meant by this, is that men bear the major responsibility of financially supporting their family (wife and kids), their parents, blood relatives and in keeping their family and community safe.

To fulfill these major responsibilities, the man of the house is seen like a CEO that is common in a business model and this is what is meant by “a degree above them.” Thus, the above Qur’anic verse does not imply any sort of inequality or dictatorship.

Women’s rights to education and employment

It is obligatory on every Muslim, male and female to seek knowledge. After all, the first revelation was 

اِقۡرَاۡ بِاسۡمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِىۡ خَلَقَ​ۚ‏

“Read in the name of your Lord who created.” (96:1)

This commandment did not distinguish between male and female believers. The Prophet Mohammed’s (SAW’s) first wife – Khadijah – was a successful, highly educated businesswoman. One of the most famous hadith narrators was Aisha (RA), another of the Prophet’s wives. She was extremely scholarly and she narrated approximately 2,200 hadith.

Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) praised the women of Madinah for their pursuit of knowledge: “How splendid were the women of the Ansar; shame did not prevent them from becoming learned in the faith.” 

Both Khadijah (RA) and Aisha (RA) are to be seen as role models for women. The Prophet (SAW) openly praised women for seeking knowledge. These examples explicitly show that it was not prohibited for women to seek knowledge, an education nor to have business dealings.

Women’s rights to Inheritance

Women are entitled to inheritance, however it is half that of males. It does not mean women are oppressed. In Islam we believe that Allah (SWT) is a fair judge and that His justice is absolute.

In Surah An-Nisaa, Allah (SWT) says:

لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصيِبٌ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ الْوَالِدَانِ وَالأَقْرَبُونَ وَلِلنِّسَاء نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ الْوَالِدَانِ وَالأَقْرَبُونَ مِمَّا قَلَّ مِنْهُ أَوْ كَثُرَ نَصِيبًا مَّفْرُوضًا۔

“For males shall be a portion of that which their parents and others near of kin may leave; and unto females shall be a portion of that which their parents and other near of kin may leave, whether it be small or large, an obligatory share.” (4:7)

Allah (SWT) through His divine wisdom, has split inheritance so that men receive a larger portion than females. As mentioned earlier, men have to spend in the way of their wives, children, parents, and relatives. Women on the other hand, are not required to share this inheritance with anyone. This also applies for any other wealth she may have. She is not financially responsible for anyone and can choose to spend her wealth as she desires. 

Women’s rights to financial support in a marriage

In a marriage, the wife has financial rights over her husband. When she gets married she is entitled to a mahr (dowry) from her husband.

In Surah An – Nisaa, Allah (SWT) says:

وَاٰ تُوا النِّسَآءَ صَدُقٰتِهِنَّ نِحۡلَةً​

“And give to the women their Mahr graciously” [4:4]

The prescription of the mahr demonstrates the seriousness and significance Allah (SWT) has placed on the marriage contract. It also emphasises how women should be respected and honoured. 

Women are protected through all financial implications. When she is a daughter, it is her father’s responsibility to look after her financial needs. When she is married, it is her husband’s duty to provide for her. Islam never asks a women to work. Of course, if she does work, it should be her own choice and it is within her discretion how she spends that money.

In summary, Islam confirms that men and women are different; yet these differences are valued and given respect as facets of how Allah has created human beings. To be equal in the sight of Allah, a woman does not need to be the same as a man; she does not need to compete nor compare herself to a man because the ‘male’ of the human species is not the standard by which Allah judges. It is important to understand that differences exist yet both males and females are made to complement each other and to work together; neither is superior nor inferior to the other.

Shahana Ali is a student of Alimiyah programme at An-Nidaa Academy.

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