The issue of women in Islam has always been a topic prone to misunderstanding and distortion, partly due to propaganda and media that misrepresent Islam and partly due to misbehavior of some Muslims or pseudo-Muslims, like ISIS and al-Qaeda, which are taken to represent the real visage of Islam.
Those who accuse Islam of considering a lower rank or status for women, mostly forget in their debates the differences between women and men which are necessitated by order of creation. Contrary to the popular myth, Islam has never acknowledged the superiority of men over women but has taken into account their differences and set appropriate regulations and guidelines based on them .
One of the issues addressed in the holy Quran is the creation of woman and man. Unlike some sacred books saying that: “woman was created out of an inferior stock to that of man or Adam's wife was created from one of his left-side parts of the body”, the Quran explicitly states in several verses that woman was created from nature of man, and from the same essence: “who created you from a single soul, and created its mate from it” (4:1), (7:189).
This demonstrates that women in Islam and men are of the same origin; hence, neither of them is superior to the other in the first place. Besides, men and women in Islam are each created for the other: “they are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them.” (2:187), and a woman is designated as the source of solace and comfort for man’s heart (30:21) which highlights her importance.
It is directly and clearly stated in the Quran that the earth and the sky, the clouds and the winds, plants, and animals, all have been created for “mankind” [i]. It means that everything in the universe is there to serve every single human being and not only men.
A woman is created to pave the way for improvement, like a man, and to reach the perfection that a human being deserves. The Quran has firmly declared that the afterlife reward and nearness of God do not depend upon one’s gender, but on his/her faith and deeds.
In verses (3:195) and (4:124), it is specified that whoever does acts of blessing and is a believer “whether male or female," God will give them an abundant reward.
The Quran also demonstrates the women’s role by emphasizing the importance of the company of a great and pious woman alongside every great and pious man (11-12: 66), (28: 7). The wives of Adam and Abraham, and the mothers of Moses and Jesus (PBUH) are the examples of great women mentioned in the Quran. There is, therefore, no superiority between men and women in Islam in the spiritual sense.
Among the Jews and Arabs of the pre-Islamic age, there was a belief that a woman is filthy and weak during her menstrual period, so, she was isolated and avoided until she became clean. The Quran says: “They ask you concerning [intercourse during] menses. Say, ‘It is hurtful.’ So keep away from wives during the menses...”(2:222).
It means that menstruation is harm leaving the woman’s body, but it is not deplorable at all. Instead, menstruation is a preliminary to receive a blessing from God, a miracle that takes place inside a woman’s womb and places paradise at the feet of mothers .
Men and women have undoubtedly “equal” rights in Islamic ideology, but the point is that their rights are not “similar”; in some conditions, women are given more rights while in other cases men have more rights. Every Muslim, female or male, is encouraged in Islam to seek knowledge.
The Prophet (PBUH&HP) said, “The acquisition of knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim, whether male or female” . Education, learning and gaining knowledge are therefore duties assigned to every woman as much as to every man.
Regarding economic rights also, men are not superior to women unlike what is reported in the media and many beliefs. The misunderstanding about the inheritance, for example, is caused by ignoring the whole rights and duties each of men and women have and the balance between those rights.
That is why in the Quran, people are told: "Do not covet the advantage, which Allah has given some of you over others. To men belongs a share of what they have earned and to women a share of what they have earned." (4:32) .
Contrary to the false impression that says Islam has restricted women to stay at home and does not permit them to appear in the society, in a truly Islamic society, there must be women in many social positions. There must be, for instance, women physicians and women nurses for some special treatments that women need; or, women teachers as girls require some teachings and guidance when they reach the age of puberty.
In Surah Nisa, it is said that: “Men are the managers of women, because of the advantage Allah has granted some of them over others, and by virtue of their spending out of their wealth” (4:34). Some use this verse to argue that Islam has given superiority to men, but the interpretation of these words will clarify the wisdom behind:
A family is known to be the smallest social unit. It requires, therefore, a supervisor or manager like any other social unit. This duty is generally attributed to the man in the family, mostly because men are physically stronger than women and they are less affected by their emotions [ii].
Moreover, the woman might also be given this responsibility after her husband’s death. Knowing the man as the supervisor of the family does not prove any inherent superiority in men, but assigns him the heavy responsibility of providing for his family needs from which women are exempted .
It is now clear that Islam has never inhibited women nor given them an inferior position to men; instead, it has undoubtedly caused the status of women to be improved by firstly recognizing their full personhood, and then describing the goal of their creation and the capacities and rights they have.
[i] (2 :29), (24:32-33), (45:13)
[ii] Exceptions might exist, but, the general case is always considered to set the regulations and guidelines.
Contrary to popular belief, women in Islam has been empowered and respected. We previously discussed the Islamic viewpoint on the rights of women and the position of women in the society. Knowing that the justice considers equal rights for both men and women, it revealed that Islam had given “equal” -not similar- rights to women and men. Here, we provide more evidence on the Islamic approach to demonstrate that females are greatly respected in Islam.
In the pre-Islamic era in Arab countries, females were considered as weak members of the society, and they were an economic burden especially during times of famine since they were supposed to be less useful. If a girl was born to a family, the father became disappointed (“And when one of them is informed of [the birth of] a female, his face becomes dark, and he suppresses grief.” (16:58)) and afraid of that girl being held captive by the invaders in the future, which would bring shame to the family. So, they used to bury baby girls alive (“Should he keep it in humiliation or bury it in the ground?” (16:59)).
Of course, Islam prohibited this practice by the divine commands in the Quran as well as the deeds and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The reaction of the Quran to this act is: “evil is what they decide” (16:59) and adds: “do not kill your children out of poverty; We will provide for you and them” (6:151).
This act is so blamed and hated in Islam that in Surah Takwir it is said on the Day of Judgement, the first issue that will be dealt with before everything else will be burying the baby girls alive: “For what sin she was killed” (81:9). This demonstrates how invaluable females are in Islam.
Islam also attempts to show the position of the daughter in the family and how she brings blessings to it. In this regard, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said: “God bless the father who has daughters. Daughters are lovely and bring divine blessing, and sons are like good news. Daughters are enduring good deeds (Baqiyat al-Salihat)” .
He (PBUH&HP) wondered why people were unhappy and sorry for having a daughter and said that daughters are like fragrant flowers for him to smell . Imam Sadiq (AS) said that: “Daughters are your good deeds and sons are your blessings. You will be asked for the blessings you have been given, but you will be only rewarded for your good deeds” .
This narration emphasizes how important female children and women in Islam are and warns us to treat them well. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has advised buying gifts for the family members and said that this act would be rewarded similar to giving charities. Then, he (PBUH) adds: “Firstly give your daughters their gifts, and then your sons. Because whoever makes her daughter happy is similar to the one who has set one of the children of Ishmael free (AS)” .
The respect and importance given to daughters are also pointed out about women in Islam and especially wives such that according to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) the best of men is the one who is the best to his wife. And, he (PBUH) is the best man who other men should follow in act and behavior towards their wives .
Another manifestation of the respect for the wives is the Islamic point of view on polygamy. Islam does not approve of polygamy; rather it has restricted polygamy by setting some terms and conditions on that matter.
Islamic Advice on Respect for Mothers
Mothers are of high value in Islam because of their efforts such as how they withstand the difficulties during the pregnancy, the care and protection they provide after giving birth to the baby, the selfless sacrifices they make so that the child could grow up in the most comfortable condition and with the best education.
The rights of mothers are even known to be superior to those of fathers . According to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), one can never pay back the rights of the mother .
This amount of concern about females from childhood to motherhood and the considerations for the equal rights for women in Islamic teachings all the indicate the respect and attention paid to women in this religion.
- M. Nuri, "Mustadrak al-Wasa'il", vol. 15, p. 115, T. 17700.
- "Makarim al-Akhlaq Supplication", p. 219.
- Shaykh Al-Kulayni, “Al-Kafi”, vol. 6, p. 6.
- Shaykh Al-Amili, "Wasa'il al-Shi'a", vol. 15, p. 227.
- Shaykh al-Saduq, "Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih", vol. 3, p. 443.
- H. T. Nuri Ṭabarsi, “Mustadrak al-Wasail”, vol. 15, p. 203.
There are always great people in history who successfully move through the stages of spiritual development, reach the top, and become role models for human generations. One of the shiniest examples of such people is undoubtedly Lady Zainab (AS), the daughter of Imam Ali (AS) and Lady Fatimah (AS). The life of Zainab (AS) was full of story.
She was born to a family formed by the Prophet (PBUH&HP), the most outstanding figure in history. Her parents were also great figures from whom the principle of Imamate originated . So Zainab (AS) shared with her brothers and sister the extraordinary position of having such examples to look up to, emulate, and learn from .
She had barely attained the age of seven when her beloved mother passed away. Her mother's death had closely followed her cherished grandfather's passing away. Sometime later Imam Ali (AS) married Umm ul-Banin (AS), whose devotion and pledge encouraged Zainab (AS) in her learning.
After receiving her father’s consent, Zainab (AS) married her first cousin, Abdullah, the eldest son of Imam Ali (AS)’s elder brother Ja'far al-Tayyar.
Although Abdullah was a man of means, she lived a modest life, avoiding luxury. Having been brought up under the direct care of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and Imam Ali (AS), Abdullah was a man of pleasing manners and was known for his sincere hospitality to guests and selfless generosity to the poor and needy .
He never prevented his wife from accompanying her father, and two brothers, Imam Hassan (AS) and Imam Hussain (AS). It has been narrated that Zainab (AS) asked Abdullah, as a marriage stipulation, to always let her accompany Imam Hussain (AS); Abdullah accepted it wholeheartedly and some years later, also sent their two sons with her to support Imam Hussain (AS) at the battle of Karbala.
While still a young girl she was fully able to care for and be responsible for the comforts and ease of her husband, children, father, brothers, and sister. However, in her own wants, she was frugal and unstintingly generous to the poor, homeless, and parentless .
She found little of interest in worldly adornments, always preferring the bliss and comfort of the Next World over that of this world. Being Humble and of high morals, her main concern was to strive to please Allah, and in doing so, she avoided anything which was the least bit doubtful .
In fact, her character reflected the best attributes of those who raised her. In sobriety and serenity she was likened to her grandmother, Khadija (AS), in chastity and modesty to her mother Fatimah Zahra (AS), in eloquence to her father Imam Ali (AS), in forbearance and patience to her brother Imam Hasan (AS), and in bravery and tranquility of the heart to Imam Hussain (AS). Her face reflected her father's awe and her grandfather's reverence .
In the pure environment where she was raised, Zainab (AS) absorbed the Islamic teachings that the Prophet (PBUH&HP) imparted. Accordingly, she was endowed with an abundant amount of knowledge she shared with women in regular meetings in Medina and later in Kufa.
In her well-attended gatherings, Zainab (AS) conveyed the precepts of the religion of Islam as explained in the Holy Quran with absolute clarity, eloquence, and fluency. She has also narrated many quotes (hadiths) from her grandfather Muhammad (PBUH), her mother Fatimah Zahra (AS), and her father Imam Ali (AS).
Women’s modesty is of great importance in the religion of Islam. There are some verses in the Holy Quran that explain the necessity of the Hijab and modesty and warn people about it. Zainab (AS) always appeared in modest clothes in society and spoke firmly in a non-provocative way.
In observing such rules and principles about Hijab, she was exemplary, and so she became a role model for all Muslim women.
The life of Zainab (AS) was always laden with hardship, but she never feared to cope with difficulties. As a young and a six or seven- year- old girl, she lost her beloved mother, only a few months after her grandfather’s passing away.
Some years later in Kufa, she had to bear her father’s loss after he was martyred by a stroke from a poisoned sword on his head in the mosque while he was praying. Then she was faced with another hardship when her older brother Imam Hassan (AS) was killed by poison under the order of the Caliph of that time.
And the hardest suffering she went through was when she witnessed her younger brother’s and his companions’ martyrdom in the battle of Karbala. Zainab (AS)’s conscious patience made her endure all such difficulties just for God’s satisfaction. This kind of patience is achieved only through a strong faith in Allah.
Zainab (AS) had heard from her father say: “one cannot fully understand the truth of faith unless they have three features: awareness of the religion, patience through sufferings and good life strategies” .
Being raised in the Prophet Muhammad’s family, Zainab (AS) was fully familiar with the truth of religion. So she could not bear it when she saw the religion was being distorted and the insurgents, evildoers, and breakers of covenants defy the true Islam of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), promoted by Imam Hussain (AS).
She found out that the people of the time were absolutely ignorant about religion. Accordingly, nothing of the religion would remain except the surface if she had not informed the people of those oppressions and tyrannies. Zainab (AS), therefore, obediently accompanied Imam Hussain (AS) to wipe such improprieties and falsehood from Islam.
She would follow her vocation by revealing the tyranny of the oppressors courageously in her thought-provoking sermons in the court of Yazid. This would soothe the inconsolable women and children and help them realize that their sacrifices and devotions were not in vain. Certainly, if it were not for Lady Zainab (AS)’s dedications, the truth of religion would fade away.