Salman Ahmed Shaikh
Islam grants equal rights to all humans in almost all matters irrespective of gender. On the other hand, Islam identifies certain natural differences which entail that there can be effective institutionalization of the family system by having specialization of roles. It does not mean that the roles remain completely non- overlapping.
Islam provides generous rights to women in many matters and Muslim societies do not need to look beyond their faith when it comes to providing women human, civil and socioeconomic freedoms1.
It also needs to be understood that Muslim countries are not a homogeneous group. Muslim countries show tremendous political, economic and cultural heterogeneity2. Thus, distinction between religion and culture can provide a flexible basis of legal and cultural changes in Muslim society3.
For OIC countries where data is available, there are 16 out of 52 OIC countries whose proportion of women parliamentarians exceeds the average of middle-income countries. In 17 Muslim majority countries, legislation for ensuring equal remuneration has been made. In 16 Muslim majority countries, legislation for ensuring non- discrimination in hiring has been made. Furthermore, except in Suriname, there has been legislation to provide maternity leave in all OIC countries. Such legislation can ensure a long-term stay in labour force as well as re-entry into the labour force. In 38 Muslim majority countries, legislation for ensuring no child marriage has been made4. Nonetheless, in other countries where such legislation is yet to be made, it is not due to Islam. Rather, Islamic principles are favourable to equal remuneration to the same quantity and quality of work, non-discrimination in hiring and providing personal and social freedoms to women.
The institution of family is highly respected in Islam. Women are an indispensable part of this institution. As per Islamic worldview, mental and physical capabilities that we enjoy are the blessings of Allah and we hold them as a trust. Therefore, based on the differences in these mental and physical capabilities alone, no one is superior and powerful in the eyes of Allah.
As per Islam, following is a brief summary of women rights.
- Muslim women must educate themselves like men. Education is not only allowed, but it is also compulsory for women like for men (Source: Sunan Ibn-e-Majah, Book of Sunnah: Hadith No. 224).
- Women can choose an occupation and earn their livelihood. They are allowed to do that. But, they are not made responsible for it. Men are made responsible for it in the Islamic family system.
- Women have the right to own property and engage in trade. The first wife of Holy Prophet (pbuh) was a businesswoman. It was not until the late 1870s onwards in Europe that married women achieved the right to enter into contracts and to own property through Married Women’s Property Act 1870. Also, women got the right to vote in the USA 100 years ago only through Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which was passed in 1919 and adopted in 1920.
- Women have the right to choose their husbands and the right to separate from their husbands.
- Married women are entitled to ‘Mehr’ (wealth at the start of marriage) as well as ‘Wirasat’ (prescribed share in wealth at the death of husband, children and parents).
- The mother must be respected three times more than the father according to a Hadith (Source: Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book of Manners, Hadith 5971).
- In another Hadith, it is said that ‘paradise lies beneath mother’s feet’ as a symbolic representation to highlight the importance of how critical one’s attitude towards mother really is for having eternal success in the life hereafter. (Source: Sunan Al-Nisai, Book of Jihad, Hadith No. 3106)
- As per a Hadith, best men are considered those who are best to their wives. (Source: Jam-et-Tirmizi, Chapters on Suckling, Hadith 1162)
- No man is allowed to have extra-marital relationships with any other woman.
- Adultery and prostitution is a severe crime in Islam and can lead to capital punishment.
In fact, one of the arguments of non-believers was to say how we can accept this religion which gives such generous rights to women. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) Himself married an old widow who was a businesswoman. Several non-Muslim historians, for this reason, hold the view that Islam modernized the Arab world at that time in terms of human rights and especially the women rights. Gustave Le Bon says in his book Arab Civilization writes:
“The principles of inheritance which have been determined in the Qur’an have a great deal of justice and fairness. The person who reads the Qur’an can perceive these concepts of justice and fairness in terms of inheritance through the verses I quoted. I should also point out the great level of efficiency in terms of general laws and rules derived from these verses. I have compared British, French and Islamic Laws of inheritance and found that Islam grants the wives the right of inheritance, which our laws are lacking while Westerners consider them to be ill-treated by the Muslim men.5”
But, in reality, we also see things like honour killing and discouragement of education and social mobility of women in some parts of the Muslim world. Moreover, we also see strong encouragement for complete body covering in some Muslim societies. Briefly, we give an answer to these issues. Honour killing has nothing to do with Islam. It is to do with ignorance and especially about Islam. Education is a religious responsibility for all Muslims, men and women included. Regarding social mobility, there is no strict restriction, but a set of etiquette. The etiquette is also prescribed for men (An-Nur: 30). Women are also prescribed to cover themselves modestly in public (An-Nur: 31). With this modesty, they play socio-economic and even political roles as well in most parts of the Muslim world. Regardless of how much the Muslim societies conform or do not conform to Islamic ideals, the Islamic standpoint does not negate the socio-economic mobility of women. Islam asks both men and women to lead their lives virtuously and it is only God-consciousness and good actions which make one person more successful than the other in the grand purpose of this life in the Islamic worldview.
The Islamic family system makes husbands financially responsible as head of the family. This also means that they have an additional responsibility since husbands are made primarily responsible for their family’s financial sustainability. In Muslim societies, low labour force participation by women is not because of strict prohibitions by Islam. The economic and social role of women had remained important, especially in building social capital. The primary contribution and expected responsibility of women as mothers is to inculcate the right values as first nursery and learning institution for their children. Undocumented labour that women provide in agrarian economies understates their economic role in some Muslim countries where agriculture is still a significant contributor to the national income. As Muslim economies become more knowledge- based and industrialized in the future, the labour force participation of women will further increase in non-agricultural occupations.
The institution of family brings social capital into existence. It ensures empathy and responsibility. It brings a very lasting and durable social safety net. Islamic injunctions about how to treat orphans foster social security for individuals with special circumstances. Furthermore, the Islamic inheritance laws ensure that the wealth of the deceased is distributed widely among the members of the family of the deceased and this permanently and systematically ensures reducing concentration of wealth in every generation.
Empirical evidence shows that more crimes happen against women in societies where the family institution had been ignored or established with different norms. The frequency of unwed mothers has risen significantly, especially in West. Since 1970, out-of- wedlock birth rates have soared from 24% in 1965 to 64% in 1990 for black infants and 18% from 3.1% for white infants during the same period in USA alone6. Moreover, reported crimes against women are more in numbers in regions with less Muslim population7. The 2016 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which measures sexual assaults and rapes that may not have been reported to the police, estimated that there were 431,840 incidents of rape or sexual assault in USA in 2015 alone8.
- Hashim, I. (1999). “Reconciling Islam and Feminism”, Gender & Development, 7(1), 7 – 14.
- Spierings, N., Smits, J., & Verloo, M. (2009). “On the Compatibility of Islam and Gender Equality”, Social Indicators Research, 90(3), 503- 522.
- Warren, C. S. (2008). “Lifting the Veil: Women and Islamic Law”. Cardozo JL & Gender, 15, 33 – 65.
- Shaikh, S. A. (2020). “Women in OIC Countries: State of Participation, Freedom and Supportive Legislation” In ‘Economic Empowerment of Women in the Islamic World: Theory and Practice (Eds.)’ by Azid, T. & Ward-Batts, J. L, UK: World Scientific Publishing Company.
- Le Bon, Gustave (1974). “The World of Islamic Civilization”. New York: Tudor Publishing Company.
- Akerlof, G. A. & Yellen, J. L. (1996). “An Analysis of Out-of- Wedlock Births in the United States”, Brookings Report.
- Harrendorf, S., & Heiskanen, M. (2010). “International Statistics on Crime and Justice”. S. Malby (Ed.). European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control.
- Truman, J. L.; Morgan, R. E. (2015). “Criminal Victimization 2015 Report”. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington DC.