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1400 Years Ago, Islam Offered the Perfect Social System for Women

A Look at the Status of Women throughout History

1400 Years Ago, Islam Offered the Perfect Social System for Women
For 1400 years, Muslim women have enjoyed many rights women in other societies hardly possessed until recently.

God created men and women with certain differences so that they complete each other. The biological differences assigned women primarily to bear and raise children and men to be the protector and maintainer of the family due to his physical strength.

Since Ancient times, however, these differences have made men feel superior over women who suffered from ill-treatment and injustice, being deprived of many social and economic rights throughout history. In the West, the chain has gradually broken only when historical events forced societies to grant women their rights – only to take advantage of them in other ways in return, causing great harm to the society which we can clearly see today.

In the Arabian peninsula, however, the chain of women’s exploitation has already broken hundreds of years ago by the arrival of Islam that, due to its Divine nature, remains the only system which gives rights to women and fully acknowledges their abilities and valuable skills while providing a harmonic atmosphere in which they take equal part in building a healthy society.

Women in Western Culture

In ancient Europe, men had fairly low opinion of women and often considered them property rather than humans. The noble Greek philosopher, for example, Aristotle said the following in his book The Politics: “as regards the sexes, the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject.” [1]

The ancient world basically excluded women that they had no rights to participate in the decision making. They fully depended on men for their entire lives. Anything a woman possessed belonged to her father or her husband, and she couldn’t make a contract or enter financial transaction without the permission of her guardian. Inheritance was downright illegal to her.[2] Only the poor were forced to do physical work for living; elite women usually stayed  indoor so their guardian could make sure they don’t converse with other men as that was a sign of prostitution. [3] In Sparta, brothers could share the same wife and single men might have borrowed a wife![4]

The Roman Empire valued women the same way, except for a short period in which Emperor Augustus introduced a series of laws that gave much freedom for women. He restricted adultery, which was a morally accepted and common practice in the entire ancient world, and women were allowed to hold public office or work in the government.[5] However, the protests of men were of great impact that the circumvention of the laws began.[6]4abe71391536126332ce5991ec4f37ab

Even Christianity failed to improve the situation of women in the West due to its distorted teachings. Unlike Islam, the Bible we know today accuses Eve of persuading Adam to eat from the forbidden tree thus causing humankind to fell from Paradise to the Earth. God in the Bible even curses Eve and her female offspring with the pain of childbirth and threatens that her husband “will rule over you”. (Genesis 2:4-3:24)

This concept led to the common belief that women are evil, unreliable and morally inferior to men (Ecclesiastes 7:26-28 and Ecclesiasticus 25:19, 24) and created a society in Europe that restricted, oppressed and deprived women of their basic rights. (Timothy 2:11-14)

In the 18th century, the industrial revolution brought changes in the economic structure that forced women (usually from lower class) to enter the labor market. In the meantime, aristocracy allowed women to be educated although politics and business remained reserved for men.

Silence was still a woman’s best characteristics. But this gradually changed; by the early 20th century when women could obtain degree and enter the work field typically as teachers or nurses. During the French Revolution (1787-1799), women began to form feminist movements and expressed a collective voice, demanding economic, political, and educational rights.”[7]

Scandinavian countries granted the demanded rights to women first followed by Britain where the Matrimonial Causes Act (1857) allowed ordinary people to divorce (only on the grounds of adultery)[8], and where women voted the first time in 1928. Countries with Roman heritage remained behind, but soon after WWI and II, women entered the work market to compensate for the huge losses of men’s lives. However, it was not a choice any more.

By the middle of the 20th century, Western women successfully gained equality before the law; but gender feminists (unlike equality feminists) have continued their mission and “challenged that women should not be identified as wife and mother.”[9]

In post-modern times, gender feminists claim that”gender roles are boxes that people are asked to fit themselves into”[10]and that there aren’t anything biological about men or women that should form social roles despite scientific facts which show the opposite.[11]


Today’s feminists seem to take revenge against the centuries-long deprivation of their rights and go further by seeking gender privilege instead of equal justice.[12] In reality, individualism and the value-free approach of the West is just another way to harm women where the picture of the ideal woman is shaped according to the interest of the market while ridiculing those who refuse being part of the system. Hence, modesty and norms are looked down, and the role of motherhood  and the importance of family are devaluated which have had extreme social and financial cost in the Western society.[13]

Women in Islam

In Arabia, women used to live under conditions similar to that of the Ancient World. Men used to marry dozens of women and buried female children alive. With the arrival of Islam, such barbaric traditions were demolished and the status of women has risen to the extent that no any other social system could compete with it.

Islam views both men and women to be equal in the sight of Allah and equally responsible in their (religious) duties as outlined for them in the Qur’an. [4:124] In social context, however, “Islam fully recognizes the biological differences of men and women and the different demands these differences impose on the life course of believers.”[14]

First of all, in an Islamic marriage, husband and wife co-operate with each other in kindness and peace (30:21) working hand in hand to better the society and bring up the next generation; violence, abuse and ill-treatment that used to be common cannot be tolerated. “They (your wives) are your garment and you are a garment for them.” (Qur’an 2:187) 

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also said: “The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and best of you are those who are best to their wives.”

Mistakenly, non-Muslims (and Muslims) frequently raise the issue of guardianship (qawamah) of a husband over his wife in Islam and bring the Quranic verse (4:34) as proof: “Men are qawwam (the protectors and maintainers) of women…”

However, being qawwam over women actually means always being present, protecting and maintaining women in a proper manner; providing stability and constant source of support; being a guardian[15] – features most wives certainly want in her husband. This also requires looking after women’s emotional and psychological needs as well,[16] which is often more important for them than money and provision. In the sight of Allah, what makes one better is solely his or her level of taqwa.  (49:13)prophet-muhammad-women

For 1400 years, Muslim women have enjoyed many rights women in other societies hardly possessed until recently. For example, brides can decide whom they wish to marry; a woman’s direct consent is actually one of the conditions of a valid marriage. Second, Islamic Law fully acknowledges the right of woman to her money, real estate, and other properties which does not transfer to the husband upon marriage. Muslim women have the right to seek divorce (khul’a), remarry and even inherit.

Although, Islam holds motherhood in the highest esteem (“Be dutiful to your mother, as Paradise is at her foot.”[Ahmed, Nasai] and Quran 46:15), Muslim women are respected as independent human beings; singles, widows, and infertile sisters are certainly not cast out in an Islamic society.

Women can perform many roles besides motherhood, if they wish, providing important contributions to the community while not worrying about the finances as even though they work, their guardian is still responsible for them and the family’s provision. We can have a glimpse at early Islamic history to ascertain. Khadijah, the successful trader and first wife of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), great scholars like Aisha bint Abu Bakr or Umm Al-Darda’, or Layla bint Abdullah, the first woman to hold public office are just some of the few great examples to mention.

Once, a woman argued with Caliph Umar ibn Khattab in the mosque when he wanted to limit the amount of a woman’s dowry. She proved her point and caused him to declare in the presence of people: “The woman is right and ‘Umar is wrong.” This occasion indicates that Muslim women are also involved in serious discussions along with men. As a matter of fact, even the Prophet (PBUH) would consult his wives in the most sensitive matters.

Hence, we can conclude that in the milieu of today’s value-free Western and oppressing Muslims societies, which practice cultural Islam rather than Islamic culture, we can clearly see that Islam is the only system that ensures justice between men and women by believing that God provides the best unbiased source of knowledge about how men and women should live their lives. Islam appreciates women, gives them equal rights, and encourages them to be productive members of the society – as mothers, wives, educators, or otherwise.


First published: March 2016


[1] Smith, D. N., Plato and Aristotle on the Nature of Women, retrieved 17 December, 2015 from https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/journal_of_the_history_of_philosophy/v021/21.4smith.pdf

[2] Thomson, J. C., Women, money and law in ancient Athens, (July 2010), retrieved 17 December 2015 from http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/womenandmoneyinancientathens.htm

[3]  Thomson, J. C., How secluded were Athenian women (July 2010), retrieved 17 December 2015 from http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/secluded.htm

[4] Thomson, J. C., Women in Sparta (July 2010), retrieved 17 December 2015 from http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/spartanwomen.htm

[5] Thomson, J. C., Women in Ancient Rome (July 2010), retrieved 17 December 2015 from http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/women_in_ancient_rome.htm

[6] Thomson, J. C., Augustan Reformation (July 2010), retrieved 17 December 2015 from http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/augustanreformation.htm

[7] European Socrates Program, Womens politics: The feminist movement, retrieved 17 December 2015 from http://www.helsinki.fi/science/xantippa/wee/weetext/wee214.html

[8] The Guardian, A brief history of divorce (September 2009), retrieved 17 December 2015 from  http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/sep/19/divorce-law-history

[9] ibid. 7.

[10] Libby, A., (January 2013), On Equality Feminism and Gender Feminism, retrieved 17 December 2015 from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2013/01/on-feminism-gender-roles-social-constructs-and-biology.html

[12] Cicero, T., (December 2013), Muslim woman destroys feminism,

, retrived from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOYJNzmfxEc

[13]Women in Islam and women in the West, retrived 17 December from  http://muslimwomenstudies.com/Convergences.htm

[14] ibid., 13.

[15] Bayyinah institude, (October 2015), Responsibilities of Husbands and Wives [ video file] retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbGir6-vUoU

[16] Dr. Shafaat, A., Tafseer of Surat An-Nisa’, Ayah 34 (2000), retrived 17 December from  http://www.islamicperspectives.com/quran-4-34.htm

About Aya Timea

Timea Aya Csányi pursues her BSc. degree in Psychology and Islamic Studies at the Islamic Online University (IOU). She is a freelance writer and editor of the Ask the Counselor section.

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