Islam and Women
study of different cultures, traditions, religions, and their views of men, as well as a purely scientific analysis of the woman in the fields of nature and society, which has, for the first time, been presented in this treatise, reveals that, as a religion, culture, tradition, and ideology, Islam has a comprehensive view of woman. This view is based on her natural and essential rights, begins with the principles of the genesis of human beings (the story of eating the forbidden fruit), and then continues with explaining all the stages of the woman’s life, whether from a natural and social aspect or from a legal and philosophical one. In what follows, we will cast a look at the above mentioned issues from an Islamic point of view:
1. Principle of the Creation of Woman
The first point concerns the principles of woman’s creation beside the man (Adam and Eve). Unlike the Torah and other Jewish texts, the Qur’an maintains that woman and man have been created from a single substance or common soul that God has breathed into their bodies. However, the difference is that He first created the man and then the woman. This succession is not a temporal one; rather, it refers to a kind of relationship, pursuance, and copulating (al-A‘raf chapter: verse 189; al-Zumar chapter: verse 6; al-An‘am chapter: verse 98)
The word “pair” (zoj) is frequently used in the Qur’an to show that a man is incomplete without a woman, and that they are inseparable from each other. In more precise terms, neither a man nor a woman is the referent and true instance of a human being without the other. This is because each lacks certain spiritual elements that exist in the other. In sum, they are equal to each other.
The incorrect and distorted interpretation of the story of the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib in the Torah has led the Jewish and Christian clergy to view women as lower than men and deprive them of many of their human rights.
This view also affected the cultures of Christian, Jewish, Greek, and Roman peoples. The two Christian and Roman cultures coincided in the Catholic branch of Christianity and created a false view against women. They went so far as introducing remaining single or abandoning married life as one of the ways of keeping away from evil and its temptations.
The religious interpretations of women’s place and honor, whether positive or negative, influence to a great extent social opinions and behaviors and even cultures. Islam has done women a great service to in this regard and voted for their superior status in nature and law.
Therefore, it is not surprising that, unlike earlier religions and ideas, Islam views men and women to be equal in humanity and their essential rights. According to Islamic principles, woman , like a man, has certain obligations and must obey the law. In return, she has certain rights that are divided into three categories: human rights, common civil rights, and the rights arising from the division of labor (which we will refer to later).
For human beings, having obligations is more important than having rights. This is because it is the sign of spiritual maturity, talent, intellect, the ability to distinguish between the good and evil, and free will. None of these virtues exists in animals, the young and insane; therefore, according to religious principles and the law, although they enjoy certain rights, the latter do not have to observe the law and follow the existing principles.
2. The First Sin
As mentioned before, according to the Old Testament or the Torah, Adam and Eve lived a good life in Paradise; however, when Eve was deceived by evil and ate the forbidden fruit, she forced Adam to do the same. As a result of her sin, Adam was also expelled from the heaven (Genesis, 3: 16).
According to historical-religious Jewish texts, Christian and Jewish religious men consider woman as the first and principal sinful creature and believe that she must pay the penalty for this sin and be blamed and humiliated until the end of her life.
Nevertheless, the Qur’an does not prefer either Adam over Eve or Eve over Adam. Rather, it says, “But Satan caused them to deflect there from and expelled them from the (happy) state in which they were, and we said: Fall down, one of you the foe unto the other! There shall be for you on earth a habitation and a provision for a time.” (al-Baqarah chapter: verse 35-36)
Even in the following verse (“Then Adam received from his Lord words (of revelation), and He relented toward him…”), He says that Adam repented and not both of them. Here, we can infer that the main culprit was Adam. This point has also been emphasized in Persian literature.
According to these verses and the general view of the Qur’an and Islamic Sunna of woman, she is neither the main culprit nor has to be punished in this world. Pregnancy and child labor bring honor to women but motherhood is the cause of their holiness. The man requires the woman in order to have children and raise them. He does his best to provide for his wife’s welfare and comfort in life. According to Islamic law, a woman’s sole duty at home is to satisfy her husband’s sexual desires, become pregnant, and raise children. She does not have to do any other thing at home, whether easy or difficult, and thus a Muslim woman does all the household chores voluntarily and without any religious or legal obligation. Islam has also removed heavy social responsibilities such as military service, fighting, and jihād from women’s shoulders.
3. Woman’s Social Rights
Woman has a valueless social role in the Roman and Greek cultures and the Christian and Jewish ideologies. In contrast, in Islam she has an important role in society and enjoys the same rights as men in the field of politics. She can have her basic rights realized and elect the members of the government. For example, the first time in the history that women obtained the right to determine their own future was in the Holy Prophet’s time. At that time, the Prophet (pbuh), according to the order of the Qur’an (al-Mumtahinah chapter: verse 12), allowed women to vote for the leader of the Islamic government (known as bey‘at or swear to allegiance). In another place (al-Tawbah chapter: verse 71), the order has also again been given to the Prophet (pbuh) to grant the right to vote to women and familiarize them with the new civil laws and penal codes of the government so that they do not commit any criminal acts and, as a result, do not receive a punishment. The above points reveal the equality of men and women in their fundamental and civil rights. Like their obligations, women’s right to vote and her other rights are separate from those of men, and this shows their originality and independence in the society. As we will discuss later, exactly like a man, a woman is responsible for her acts and obligations before God and society. She is independent in performing this responsibility and her character is valid and officially recognized.
One of the signs of human beings’ social rights is their social responsibility. In Islamic law, men and women are equal in terms of their social duties. According to Islamic law, “all people are responsible before each other (like a shepherd before his flock).” There is no difference between men and women in this regard. Therefore, women are responsible for the prevention of social diversion and corruption not only among themselves but also among men. Today, Muslim women perform this duty naturally in society.
One of the other common social rights and obligations of men and women is their responsibility for social inspection or, in the Qur’anic sense, the law of “bid good and prohibit doing evil”. In other words, they should encourage people to behave correctly and warn them in a friendly manner against doing wrong deeds and breaking the law. According to this law, both men and women, enjoy “wilāyah”, i.e. the legal right to stand against social diversion, suppression of moral values, and even the political mistakes of government people and bid or prohibit. As we know, these two acts are something other than demand and plead. They require a kind of official right according to which women have legal authority over others, whether men or women, in order to guide them. God has granted this fundamental right to them, and as we know, a fundamental right cannot be negated by means of normal laws. This indicates that women are qualified and have the necessary talents and prerequisites to enjoy this right.
This law and the previous one reveal the warp and woof of the human society from the viewpoint of Islam. Here, both men and women, without one being superior to the other, build this human structure and perform their specific roles in creating an honorable and healthy society and protecting its values. This reveals woman’s high character and equality with man.
Woman’s peripheral roles and tasks, such as doing the housework, taking care of children, and the like, can never tarnish or decrease her real value and social status. By no means are they the signs of her inferiority to men. Likewise, doing low-level jobs can never harm men’s main rights and human character.
4. Woman’s Essential Dignity
The issue of “human dignity” has no philosophical place in the common law of the world. Nevertheless, it has been explained in form of a fundamental philosophical principle in Islam (and in the Qur’an). The Western schools of thought that claim to have dealt with this topic cannot offer any natural and essential cause for it, and thus what they say remains merely at the level of an unfounded claim. Although Europe became familiar with this issue after the rise of Islam and after the conquest of the Muslim Spain, it never tried to find its natural roots.
However, Islam believes that human beings enjoy essential and innate dignity because, according to the text of the Holy Qur’an, they are God’s vicegerents and successors on earth. They are responsible for His other creatures, and, evidently, enjoy more dignity and grace than other earthly creatures and are superior to them. The sublime position of being God’s successor brings grace and honor by itself. God has given this as an essential gift to human beings along with their existence.
This dignity is equally shared by men and women and no one can deprive either of them (for example, the woman) from it by force or deception. It is the human being himself or herself who can lose this dignity by committing sins, i.e. breaking the laws of nature (which God has sent to them in the name of religions). The criterion for this dignity before God is “piety”. This issue has been explicitly emphasized the Qur’an. The important point here is that, like men, women also enjoy the position of divine vicegerency on earth and essential dignity. There is no higher station for human kind than this, and as we see, there is no difference between the two sexes in this regard. Rather, we might even say that a pious woman enjoys more grace and dignity than a pious man and holds a higher place than him.
Islam is the only religion that openly and unlike all misogynistic traditions introduces woman as man’s equal in humanity and defines her social and familial positions in plain terms. It also limited to a great extent their duties in the social division of labor and, due to their natural important role – which is called “motherhood” in practice, granted them a high place in the social domain. At the same time, it released them from a great number of tasks and duties that were more compatible with men’s natural powers and talents. However, this does not mean that their essential or social degree and status is lower than those of men. The denial of such masculine duties to women can even, in a sense, be considered an extra credit for them. As we can see, God has set certain superiorities for women; for example, He says in the Qur’an, “Make them superior to yourself.” The Holy Prophet (pbuh) says, “Paradise is under the feet of mothers” and recommends fathers to be kinder to their daughters.
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We cannot decide, based on the social division of tasks, which duties are more suitable for women, and which difficult social tasks have been removed from their shoulders. Likewise, we cannot claim that household chores (doing the housework) should specifically be done by women. In Islam, woman does not have to work in the house, but she has been asked to marry (preferably in a friendly manner), have children and, in her married life, look at everything that is directly related to these two moral and natural duties (giving a positive response to sexual relationships with her husband and taking care of her children and, particularly, her babies) as necessary obligations.
According to her natural and social duty, the woman is responsible for giving birth to children and protecting them. However, she has never been forbidden any social work and partnership with men in political and governmental affairs which do not interfere with her main responsibilities, unless she considers them to be heavy jobs or obstacles to her natural and religious duties. A woman’s working in society means accepting a kind of extra work. However, if it endangers her mental and sometimes physical health, it is not usually to her good and advantage. Of course, if she can dispense with her peace and comfort, there is no problem with her having a job. From an Islamic point of view, there is no defect in the woman that makes her incapable of doing social jobs and tasks.
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5. Heaven and the Hereafter
In some Jewish and Christian texts, woman is not considered worthy of heaven and her good deeds are said not to be taken into consideration in the Hereafter. In contrast to such decrees of the clergymen of other religions and the oppressive culture of Arabs in the Period of Ignorance, the Qur’an says in several places, “Whoever does good deeds, whether male or female, and he (she) is a believer, such will enter paradise.”
Being qualified to enter Heaven is the highest honor and privilege for human beings among all other creatures. According to the Qur’anic verses and the Prophet’s Sunna, not only such holy women as Lady Fāìima Zahra (as) (the Prophet’s honorable daughter) and the Blessèd Virgin (as) but also all faithful and pious women have a sublime place there, exactly in the same way that faithful men do. This is another reason for the equality of men and women, and men’s official privileges and responsibilities in the society cannot contradict it.
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The issues discussed so far represent Islam’s view of women in terms of their creation, status, and essential dignity in a brief comparison to those of other cultures, Judaism, and Christianity in this regard. Evidently, the short explanations provided above cannot present a comprehensive discussion of what Islam offers on this topic. However, it might be useful as an introduction to the issues in the field of philosophy of women in Islam.
The Islamic philosophical view of women is the foundation of women’s rights in Islam. The Qur’an introduces Islam as a religion in harmony with nature (fiìrat). That is, Islamic laws conform to natural laws and are rooted in them. Therefore, all Muslims should bring their lives into harmony with its nature and principles. Woman’s rights in Islam can be viewed as rights that nature has determined for her considering her physical and mental structures. Her spiritual and bodily characteristics necessitate the devising of a series of specific rights (different from those of men), and Islam has taken this important point into account. Unfortunately, women themselves have an incomplete knowledge of such critical differences and are only aware of the existence of some outward physical or spiritual differences between men and themselves.* * *
. In the interpretation of Qur’anic verses, the People of the Prophets’ House (Shi‘i Imāms) have said, “Could God not create Eve from something other than Adam’s chest rib? When Adam was created, he saw the woman beside himself and asked who the creature that resembled him was. Then the revelation came, ‘She is Eve, my other creature and your wife’.”
. A woman has certain obligations in her married life and must act in coordination with her husband when making joint decisions in family life.
. An Islamic hadīth.
. al-Tawbah chapter: verse 71.
. al-Hujarat chapter: verse 13.
. al-Room chapter: verse 23.
. Working in the house has a vaster meaning and is mainly used in the sense of taking a greater moral and spiritual care of the husband and children and preparing them for performing their social duties, protecting their mental security and peace, and the like in the home. This is called “taking care of a husband in the best way possible” in hadīth.
. al-Nisa chapter: verse 124; al-Ahzab chapter: verse 35.
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