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Equal Rights for Women?

Questioner

Jakob

Reply Date

Mar 04, 2017

Question

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, Muslim 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 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 women. 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.

Consultant

Answer


Salam (Peace) Jakob, 

Thank you for your open attitude and desire to learn.

I do agree with you that many images of Islam have been dreadfully and deliberately distorted by a hostile mass media.

As for this image of women in Islam, it has been the target of the Western criticism for some time. This is not only due to prejudice, but also due to the ill practices of ignorant Muslims, who unfortunately validate such a negative image. 

I do not think it would be beneficial 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.

So, I will 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 encourages people to kill them. I dare say that your society and many Muslim majority societies suffer from the same dilemma of the gap between paradigm and practice. 

Considering paradigms, the Islamic law is in no way less respectful toward women than any other “liberal” constitution, if indeed it is not more respectful.

But when it comes to practice, Swedish society or any other Western society suffer the same rate of violence against women as any Muslim majority society, which is only one symptom of the general violence syndrome.

Studies show that there is a 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.

Therefore, the problem is with the practice—people ignoring the law—and not with the law either in Islam or any society.

This value of mutual respect among humans is key 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 women in a fair way and must never 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)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) also 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 God’s advice for husbands through the Quran – the holy book of Muslims – that says:

{[…] live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them, it may be that you dislike a thing, and God brings about through it a great deal of good.} (Quran 4:19)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) 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 among you. (Ibn Magah)

These are just a 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. 

As for what Islamic law teaches specifically and materially, some examples follow: The husband has no share in the money or assets of his wife, 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 law, the Muslim wife is exempted from spending her income – however big it may be – 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: it is obligatory in Islam for the male member of the family to be responsible for financially 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 can be forced to do so by the power of law. This is while the sister takes her share to spend on her own interest. In this way, the matter is perfectly balanced. 

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 Muslim majority countries, new mothers get fully paid and lengthy maternity leave, which I know does not exist in some Western societies.

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.

Salam.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Prophet Muhammad’s Respect and Love for Women

The Story of Women in Islam

Prophet Muhammad – The Liberator of Women




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