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Did Prophet Muhammad Really Oppress Women?!

23 October, 2020
Q Did Muhammad advocate the oppression and subjugation of women?


Short Answer: 

  • Of course not. He specifically spoke about the equal status of men and women, worked to improve the lives of those women in his life, and taught men to treat women with respect.

Salam Dear Sister,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

Did Prophet Muhammad Really Oppress Women?!

It is a misconception that the Prophet Muhammad advocated the oppression of women as it has been perceived to be shown in his actions and the principles that he taught his followers.

Some ask: how can one dismiss the oppression of women as wrongful acts perpetrated by some misguided Muslims, when it was endorsed by the very Prophet of Islam?

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Furthermore, some argue, since the Prophet Muhammad prescribed laws for women from the perspective of a man and the patriarchal, tribal society in which he lived, this would naturally lead to diminishing the status of women.

Therefore, the argument goes, Islamic attitudes and laws should be viewed as outdated and in need of revision.

But is it really the case that the Prophet’s teachings and practices endorse an oppressive way of life for women?

Moreover, were his teachings based on his personal knowledge, experience, or the conditions of the society in which he lived?

Gender Equality in Islam

Are Islamic attitudes toward women related to personal, social, and historical conditions? As stated in the Quran:

It is God who created you from a single person, and made its mate of like nature, in order that you might dwell with each other in mutual love. (Quran 7:189)

This important verse expresses equality in the essence of both men and women.

It is a principle that is grounded in an overarching view of humankind in Islam: that men and women are at the most fundamental level equal in the pursuit of ultimate happiness.

While Islamic law takes for granted certain biological and social differences between men and women, this overarching view of gender equality is never sacrificed.

At the same time, the rules and regulations that apply to women that seem discriminatory from a modern perspective were not based on the Prophet’s personal opinion or historical contingencies.

Rather, Muslims believe that the Prophet was the conveyer of divine speech which carries far-reaching wisdom.

Grasping aspects of God’s wisdom requires learning, spiritual insight, and experience. Thus, for a Muslim, it is not to be refuted simply because they run contrary to some modern sentiments.

It should be added that although there are biological and social differences between the genders, the Prophet’s ethics connect man and woman in a very significant way. In their pursuit of good works, the two are meant to be agents of good and help one another in doing what is ultimately virtuous.

Prophet Muhammad Worked to Improve the Lives of Women

The Quran not only endows women with the lofty ideals of attaining virtue and knowledge but also inextricably links the function of men with that of women. Thus one gender is not privileged over another.

In describing the relationship of a husband to his wife, the Quran says:

You are a garment to her and she is a garment to you. (Quran 2:187)

Both are to be mutually supportive in the pursuit of good.

The Prophet not only treated women fairly and equally, but also raised her status in a society that treated women as a curse and as inferior.

This was a society that buried alive newly born girls to protect a skewed view of honor.

Two critical instances demonstrate the care and rank he assigned to women.

First, just before his death, when one would be concerned with the most significant of matters, the Prophet strongly advised his companions to treat women gently and compassionately.

Another occasion was his farewell speech at Mount Nur, on his only Pilgrimage which was reportedly attended by one hundred and twenty thousand people.

He purposely used that unique and rare occasion to instruct his companions to treat women fairly and compassionately, lest people go back to their old and unjust practices.

Hundreds of examples can be cited from his own life that show how he treated women compassionately and with utmost dignity and respect.

He taught them that “women are exactly like men.”

This is an explicit statement from the Prophet proclaiming the equality of women and men in status and rank.

He Personally Worked Helping the Women In His Life

Whenever his daughter Fatima would come to see him, he would stand to greet her, kiss her, and seat her in his place.

Whenever he visited her, she would do the same: stand up to greet him, kiss him, and seat him in her place.

Women who many would consider unimportant were able to take his attention and go around the streets of Medina to fulfill some of their needs. 

In the Prophet, they would always find a helping hand- such was his humbleness, tenderness, and mercy towards women.

Hundreds of examples can be cited from his own life that show how he treated women compassionately and with the utmost dignity and respect.

He showed respect and dignity not only towards Muslim women and women of his community, but also to non-Muslim women and outsiders alike.

Women from various backgrounds, races, and ages found in him refuge and mercy.

I hope this helps answer your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

(From AboutIslam’s archives)

Read more…

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

Women and Men in Islam as Allies – (Interview with Prof. Ingrid Mattson)

Why Are So Many Women Choosing Islam As Their Religion?

What Islam Really Says About Women (TED Talk)