Equal Rights for Women?

Question and answer details
Hello, I don’t have faith in any religion and I don’t believe there is something like a god. But I’m, however, very interested in religions and different ways of life. I want to learn about and respect how people live all over the world. I live in Sweden, a western Christian country and I don’t think that our lifestyle is the best or the only one. Our society has come far in erasing the differences in social treatment between males and females. Islam is very often, or always, referred to as a religion that doesn’t respect females whatsoever. As far as I know, Islam men treat women with no respect, beat them, oppress them and sometimes kill them! Personally, I don’t think that there should be any differences between how we treat men and woman. I believe that woman have the exact, same, rights as I and should be respected doing whatever she wants with her life. BUT! I also understand that what I have learned to believe can’t be 100% right. My sense tells me something else than TV and newspapers. Please give me your view on the relation between men and woman. Let me know how Islam thinks and acts in this matter. I would like to be free from prejudices, but it’s not easy in a world full of that! Thank you very much.
Amani Aboul Fadl Farag

Salam (Peace) dear Jakob,

Thank you for your attitude, which is free from prejudice and for contacting Ask About Islam.

I do agree with you that many images of Islam have been dreadfully and deliberately distorted by hostile mass media, especially after September the 11th. As for this image of women in Islam, actually it has been the target of the western spears and arrows, long before that time! This is not only due to prejudice, but also due to the ill practices of ignorant Muslims, which validate such a negative image.

I do not think it is worthy to tell you about the aspects of equality, between the two genders, either in the way they were created or their rights and duties towards God, since you don't believe in Him. Let me focus then on the aspects of equality in our materialistic world.

First, you have set a contrast between the Swedish society, as a model of respecting women, in opposition to Islam, which you have heard about to encourage people to kill them! I dare say that your society and many of the Islamic societies suffer from the same dilemma of the gap between paradigm and practice.

Considering paradigms, the Islamic law is not less respecting for women than any other liberal constitution, if indeed it is not more respecting! But when it comes to practice, I don't think that the Swedish or any other western society is any less than many Islamic societies in the rate of violence against women, which is only one symptom of the general violence syndrome, recently spreading in people's lives, due to factors, which are the target of sociological studies. I have a valid study for the high rate of violence against women even in the family in Sweden regardless of the strict rules that "dictate" respect for women.

This validates the fact that the law itself is not enough, unless there is an inherent power in people to respect this law. This inherent power, we - the religious people – define as ‘piety’ or ‘God love and fearing’. Therefore, the problem is with the practice and not with the law either in Islam or any other culture.

This value of mutual respect amongst humans is a keynote to the Islamic moral code. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

"A Muslim would neither abuse nor speak bad words to, nor curse others." (Sahih Muslim)

Also, he always stressed the fact that men should treat their women in a fair way and never to use violence in dealing with them. He said:

"Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not harm his neighbors. And I command you to take good care of the women." (Bukhari)

Even when women misbehave, tolerance and not violence is recommended, as a way to solve the problem. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

"No believing man should hate a believing woman, if he hates one of her manners, he should be satisfied with another." (Muslim)

The same meaning is repeated in a heavenly advice for husbands through the Quran - the holy book of Muslims – that says:

{... live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and God brings about through it a great deal of good.}

Surah 4 Verse 19

Again, the Prophet (peace be upon him) stressed this meaning, saying:

"The believers who have the best manners are those who have the most perfect faith. The best amongst you are the best towards their wives." (Tirmidhi)

He also criticized those who misbehave towards women saying:

"Many women come to Muhammad's family members to complain about their husbands, those men are not the best amongst you." (Ibn Magah)

As a matter of fact, The Prophet was keen to make a model example of himself in treating women. His beloved wife 'Aisha narrated that he used to make a running competition with her! When she was newly married and still slim, she used to win. Then, after many years, she became fatter and thus he won. He used to taunt her saying: ‘this for that’ - meaning to revenge his earlier loss!

These are but few glimpses of how women should be treated in Islam. This image has been neglected by some Muslims, which paved the way for the enemies to deliberately take their example as the established law of Islam, concerning women.

You mentioned that in Sweden men and women are equal - a fact that you should be proud of - but I believe that they are not equal to the extent and degree, which Islam gave us, as Muslim women! For example, the husband should not share the money or assets that a Muslim woman possesses, either through inheritance or from her work. He doesn't have any claim on any part of it, which is opposite to many Western constitutions that give the husband a claim on his wife's wealth!

On the other hand, while husbands are not obliged to sustain their wives in western family laws, the Muslim wife is exempted from spending her income - however big it is - on the family unless she would like to help in a voluntary way. This is while the husband is asked to sustain her fully, regardless of her wealth. If he doesn't do it, it becomes a reason for her to get a divorce.

Those who are hostile towards Islam like to play on the rule that men and women are not equal in the way they inherit; the brother inherits more than his sister! Well… this is true, for a very simple reason that it is obligatory in Islam that the male member of the family should be responsible for sustaining all female members, either the wife, the mother or even the unmarried sisters. If he doesn't fulfill this obligation out of his free will, he should be forced by the power of law. This is while the sister takes her share to spend on her own interest. Thus, the matter is perfectly balanced.

Another important point, is that the Islamic law grants the woman the right to get divorce if, simply, she is not happy in her marriage! This advantage is not granted to western women, without many legal complications resulting from the gap between civil and church laws.

There are so many other examples of this Islamic equity, between the two genders, in all fields of life such as labor laws, criminal laws… etc. Also, what distinguishes the Islamic concept of equality, between the two genders, from other constitutions, is that it respects the biological differences between men and women. An example is the respect of the woman's need to spare a certain stage of her life for her role as a mother.

Thus, in my country, as well as many Islamic countries, new mothers get fully paid long maternal leaves, which I know do not exist in western societies. Also women have their own separated sections in public transportation to avoid sexual harassment, that if they choose to use it, not obligatory. In fact, examples are endless and can never be summed up in this brief answer.

I hope this answer is satisfying. Thank you again for your interest and I hope to hear from you again.


Useful Links:

Women's Deficiency: What's the Deal?

What Do You Know About Women in Islam?

Position of Women in Islam — Social Aspect