Contrary to the common misconception, Islam does not degrade women. It gives the utmost respect to women.
The following traditions of the Prophet indicate the elevated function of woman in Islam:
“Women are half of men.
Fear God in respect of women.
“Heaven lies beneath the feet of mothers.” (That is, those who serve their mothers well are deserving of Paradise.)
“The best among you is he who is best for his family. For my family, I am the best of all of you.”
“The most perfect man of religion is one who excels in character. The best among you is he who gives the best treatment to his womenfolk.”
These traditions makes it clear that, although males and females differ from one another biologically, they are equal in terms of human status. No distinction is made between women and men as regards their respective rights.
Man and woman in the eyes of Islam then are not the duplicates of one another, but the complements. This concept permits the shortcomings of one sex to be compensated for by the strengths of the other. This is all to the good if they are to be lifetime companions.
It is a fact that women in general are not physically as strong as men, but their physical weakness in no way implies their inferiority to men. The eyes are the most delicate parts of our body, while the nails by comparison are extremely hard. That does not mean that the nails are superior to the eyes.
Just as two different kinds of fruits will differ in colour, taste, shape and texture, without one being superior or inferior to the other, so also do men and women have their different qualities which distinguish the male from the female without there being any question of superiority or inferiority. They are endowed by nature with different capacities so that they may play their respective roles in life with greater ease and effectiveness.
However, in respect of innate talents all individuals, be they men or women, differ from one another. Yet their need for each other is equal. All are of equal value. One is not more important or less important than the other. Similarly when it comes to the establishment of a home and raising of a family, men and women have their separate roles to play. But each is vital. Each is indispensable to the other. And for them to come together, function in unison and live in harmony, there must be mutual respect and a prevailing sense that a difference of biological function does not imply inequality. For the biological division of human beings into male and female is the result of the purposeful planning of our Creator.
In Islam, a woman enjoys the same status as that of a man. But in ancient times, women had come to be considered inferior and were deprived, among other things, of the right to inherit property. Islam for the first time in human history gave them their due legal rights over property. Neither did it distinguish between men and women as regards status, rights and blessings, both in this world and the Hereafter. Both were considered equal participants in the carrying out of the functions of daily living.
Since the earliest ideal phase of Islam, Muslim women have successfully exploited their talents towards the field of education in particular. Homes had become centres of learning. As women performed their role without going outdoors, there is a general impression that Islam has restricted women’s workplace to performing only domestic chores. But this is not the truth. First of all Islam encouraged them to receive education, and then enthused them with a new zeal. Subsequently, they went out to impart this learning to the next generation. Let’s take the instance of the Prophet’s wives, held up as role models for women in Islam. Preserving their femininity, they participated in all kinds of religious and worldly activities. For instance, the Prophet’s wife Aisha, having gained full knowledge of Islam from the Prophet, was able, after the death of the Prophet, to perform the task of teacher and guide to the Muslim community for a period of about fifty years. Abdullah ibn Abbas, a Companion of great stature, and one of the best commentators of the Qur’an, was one of Aisha’s pupils.
As modern day research tells us women are better with words than men. It is perhaps this reason why they are able to run educational institutions successfully. Besides this there may be many such workplaces where women are able to exploit their full potential. Since earliest days of Islam we find Muslim women working outdoors. Umm Dahdah, wife of a Companion of the Prophet worked in her orchard. Khadija, Prophet’s wife conducted business, to cite only a few of such examples. However, Islam sets great value on the proper management of home. It is because home is the most important unit of any society. Home is the centre of preparing succeeding generations. Thus neglecting home front will amount to neglecting the next generation, which in turn will result in a great national loss.
I would say that Islam grants even more respect to women than to men. According to one Hadith a man once came to the Prophet and asked him who rightfully deserved the best treatment from him.
“Your mother,” said the Prophet. “Who’s next?” asked the man. “Your mother.” “Who comes next?” the man asked again. The Prophet again replied, “Your mother.” “Who is after that?” insisted the man. “Your father,” said the Prophet.
Another example concerns Hajra, the Prophet Abraham’s wife. Hajj, regarded as the greatest form of worship in Islam, entails the performance of Sai, one of the main rites of the Hajj. This is accomplished by running back and forth seven times between Safa and Marwah, two hillocks near the Kaba. This running, enjoined upon every pilgrim, be they rich or poor, literate or illiterate, kings or commoners, is in imitation of the desperate quest of Hajra, Abraham’s wife, for water to quench the thirst of her crying infant, four thousand years ago. The performance of this rite is a lesson in struggling for the cause of God. It is of the utmost significance that this was an act performed by a woman. Perhaps there could be no better demonstration of a woman’s greatness than God’s command to all men, literally to follow in her footsteps.
We can see that the principle implied by the expression ‘ladies first’ in modern times had already been established in Islam at the very outset.
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