The status of woman in Islam constitutes no problem. The attitude
of the Qur'an and the early Muslims bear witness to the fact that
woman is, at least, as vital to life as man himself, and that she is
not inferior to him nor is she one of the lower species. Had it not
been for the impact of foreign cultures and alien influences, this
question would have never arisen among the Muslims. The status of
woman was taken for granted to be equal to that of man. It was a
matter of course, a matter of fact, and no one, then, considered it as
a problem at all.
In order to understand what Islam has established for woman,
there is no need to deplore her plight in the pre-Islamic era or in
the modern world of today. Islam has given woman rights and privileges
which she has never enjoyed under other religious or constitutional
systems. This can be understood when the matter is studied as a whole
in a comparative manner, rather than partially. The rights and
responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man but they are
not necessarily identical with them. Equality and sameness are two
quite different things. This difference is understandable because man
and woman are not identical but they are created equals. With this
distinction in mind, There is no problem. It is almost impossible to
find even two identical men or women.
This distinction between equality and sameness is of paramount
importance. Equality is desirable, just, fair; but sameness is not.
People are not created identical but they are created equals. With
this distinction in mind, there is no room to imagine that woman is
inferior to man. There is no ground to assume that she is less
important than he just because her rights are not identically the same
as his. Had her status been identical with his, she would have been
simply a duplicate of him, which she is not. The fact that Islam gives
her equal rights - but not identical - shows that it takes her into
due consideration, acknowledges her, and recognizes her independent
It is not the tone of Islam that brands woman as the product of
the devil or the seed of evil. Nor does the Qur'an place man as the
dominant lord of woman who has no choice but to surrender to his
dominance. Nor was it Islam that introduced the question of whether or
not woman has any soul in her. Never in the history of Islam has any
Muslim doubted the human status of woman or her possession of soul and
other fine spiritual qualities. Unlike other popular beliefs, Islam
does not blame Eve alone for the First Sin. The Qur'an makes it very
clear that both Adam and Eve were tempted; that they both sinned; that
God's pardon was granted to both after their repentance; and that God
addressed them jointly. (2:35-36); 7:19, 27; 20:117-123). In fact the
Qur'an gives the impression that Adam was more to blame for that First
Sin from which emerged prejudice against woman and suspicion of her
deeds. But Islam does not justify such prejudice or suspicion because
both Adam and Eve were equally in error, and if we are to blame Eve we
should blame Adam as much or even more.
The status of woman in Islam is something unique, something
novel, something that has no similarity in any other system. If we
look to the Eastern Communist world or to the democratic nations, we
find that woman is not really in a happy position. Her status is not
enviable. She has to work so hard to live, and sometimes she may be
doing the same job that a man does but her wage is less than his. She
enjoys a kind of liberty which in some cases amounts to
libertinism. To get to where she is nowadays, woman struggled hard for
decades and centuries. To gain the right of learning and the freedom
of work and earning, she had to offer painful sacrifices and give up
many of her natural rights. To establish her status as a human being
possessing a soul, she paid heavily. Yet in spite of all these costly
sacrificeqs and painful struggles, she has not acquired what Islam has
established by a Divine decree for the Muslim woman.
The rights of woman of modern times were not granted voluntarily or out of kindness to the female. Modern woman reached her present position by force, and not through natural processes or mutual consent or Divine teachings. She had to force her way, and various circumstances came to her aid. Shortage of manpower during wars, pressure of economic needs and requirements of industrial developments forced woman to get out of her home - to work, to learn, to struggle for her livelihood, to appear as an equal to man, to run her race in the course of life side by side with him. She was forced by circumstances and in turn she forced herself through and acquired her new status. Whether all women were pleased with these circumstances being on their side, and whether they are happy and satisfied with the results of this course is a different matter. But the fact remains that whatever rights modern woman enjoys fall short of those of her Muslim counterpart. What Islam has established for woman is that which suits her nature, gives her full security and protects her against disgraceful circumstances and uncertain channels of life. We do not need here to elaborate on the status of modern woman and the risks she runs to make her living or establish herself. We do not even need to explore the miseries and setbacks that encircle her as a result of the so-called rights of woman. Nor do we intend to manipulate the situation of many unhappy homes which break because of the very "freedom" and "rights" of which modern woman is proud. Most women today exercise the right of freedom to go out independently, to work and earn, to pretend to be equal to man, but this, sadly enough, is at the expense of their families. This all known and obvious. What is not known is the status of woman in Islam. An attempt will be made in the following passages to sum up the attitude of Islam with regard to woman.
O mankind! Verily We have created your from a single (pair) of
a male and a female,m and made you into nations and tribes
that you may know each other... (Qur'an, 49:13; cf. 4:1).
And their Lord has accepted (their prayers) and answered them
(saying): 'Never will I cause to be lost the work of any of
you, be he male or female; you are members, one of another...
(3:195; cf 9:71;33:35-36;66:19-21).
First man, is the person solely responsible for the complete maintenance of his wife, his family and any other needy relations. It is his duty by Law to assume all financial responsibilities and maintain his dependents adequately. It is also his duty to contribute financially to all good causes in his society. All financial burdens are borne by him alone.
Secondly, in contrast, woman has no financial responsibilities whatsoever except very little of her personal expenses, the high luxurious things that she likes to have. 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; if she is a daughter, it is the father; if she is a sister; it is the brother, and so on. If she has no relations on whom she can depend, then there is no question of inheritance because there is nothing to inherit and there is no one to bequeath anything to her. However, she will not be left to starve, maintenance of such a woman is the responsibility of the society as a whole, the state. She may be given aid or a job to earn her living, and whatever money she makes will be hers. She is not responsible for the maintenance of anybody else besides herself. If there is a man in her position, he would still be responsible for his family and possibly any of his relations who need his help. So, in the hardest situation her financial responsibility is limited, while his is unlimited.
Thirdly, when a woman gets less than a man does, she is not actually deprived of anything that she has worked for. The property inherited is not the result of her earning or her endeavors. It is something coming to them from a neutral source, something additional or extra. It is something that neither man or woman struggled for. It is a sort of aid, and any aid has to be distributed according to the urgent needs and responsibilities especially when the distribution is regulated by the Law of God.
Now, we have a male heir, on one side, burdened with all kinds of financial responsibilities and liabilities. We have, on the other side, a female heir with no financial responsibilities at all or at most with very little of it. In between we have some property and aid to redistribute by way of inheritance. If we deprive the female completely, it would be unjust to her because she is related to the deceased. Likewise, if we always give her a share equal to the man's, it would be unjust to him. So, instead of doing injustice to either side, Islam gives the man a larger portion of the inherited property to help him to meet his family needs and social responsibilities. At the same time, Islam has not forgotten her altogether, but has given her a portion to satisfy her very personal needs. In fact, Islam in this respect is being more kind to her than to him. Here we can say that when taken as a whole the rights of woman are equal to those of man although not necessarily identical (see Qur'an, 4:11-14, 176).
And women shall have rights similar to the rights against
them, according to what is equitable; but man have a degree
(of advantage as in some cases of inheritance) over them
This degree is not a title of supremacy or an authorization of
dominance over her. It is to correspond with the extra responsibilities
of man and give him some compensation for his unlimited
liabilities. The above mentioned verse is always interpreted in the
light of another (4:34).
It is these extra responsibilities that give man a degree over woman in some economic aspects. It is not a higher degree in humanity or in character. Nor is it a dominance of one over the other or suppression of one by the other. It is a distribution of God's abundance according to the needs of the nature of which God is the Maker. And He knows best what is good for woman and what is good for man. God is absolutely true when He declares:
O mankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord, Who created you from a single person, and created of like nature his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women (4:1).