International Women’s Day: Women’s rights in Islam

by Farah Ahmad

International women’s day is celebrated each year on March 8th. It originated from the women’s rights movement which raised awareness of gender equality, higher wages, better working conditions and the privilege to vote in the 19th century. This day has upheld its importance to advocate for women’s rights.

The truth is, Muslim women have been enjoying rights for over 1,400 years with which western women are still struggling. This may seem like a surprise to some since the stereotypical Muslim woman is often associated as an oppressed individual, deprived of her rights and dominated by men, often highlighted by media. The Islamic teaching about treatment of women is one of the most misunderstood, which is usually the result of lack of knowledge and misinterpretation.

It is undeniable, that in some so-called “Muslim” countries, women are very much neglected and victims of patriarchy. This is mostly linked to reasons based on illiteracy or cultural influences.

When tracing back the pre-Islamic era in Arabia and in the rest of the world, women had no status in the society. They were subjected to enslavement and could neither own nor inherit property. In domestic affairs, they had no rights over their children and neither the right to divorce their husband if they were abused by them.

The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (peace be upon him) endowed the women with equal rights and put them on the same spiritual, intellectual and social level with men. “He has created you from a single being; then of the same kind made its mate.” (Holy Quran, Chapter 39, Verse 7)

He also placed special emphasis on the education and fair upbringing of girls. Men were instructed to treat their wives fairly and to show them kindness. They were given the right to divorce and inheritance. In Islam, a husband has no right over his wife’s wealth and earnings, unless she wishes to share it with him. She is gifted with the highest status in her role as a mother, which is emphasized by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the most beautiful words: “Paradise lies at the feet of the mother.”

While many in the west may view the veil and modest dress-code with scepticism, in Islam it provides a protection for women – garb which does not reduce her identity or stature in society.

Upon analyzing the true teachings of Islam, one may realize that the concept of feminism has long existed. Therefore, the fact is, women play a vital role in forming a civilized society, not to forget that they make up almost half of the world’s population. Therefore, it is important to safeguard and honor their rights and dignity in any part of the world.