Islam provided woman with care and attention, elevated her status and provided her with honor and good treatment whether she is a daughter, wife, sister or mother. Islam stated that both women and men were created out of the same origin. Therefore, women and men are equal in humanity. Allah (be He Exalted) says:
O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah , through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer. (An-Nisa’ 4:1)
Many other verses show that Islam eradicated the principle of distinction between men and women in the common value of humanity.
Status of Women in Islam
Recalling these principles and disapproving the habits of Jahiliyyah and previous nations with regard to the status of woman, Islam came to defend woman and place her in a status which she could not reach in old or later nations.
Fourteen centuries ago, Islam prescribed for woman –as a mother, sister, wife and daughter– rights which western woman is still struggling to get but in vain!
Islam stated that women and men are equal in status and prestige, and that nothing detracts women because they are women. In this regard, the Prophet (peace be upon him) established an important rule when he said: “Women are counterpart of men”(At-Tirmidhi). He (peace be upon him) always urged Muslims to take care of women. He told his companions: “I urge you to take care of women.” (Al-Bukhari) He repeated this advice during his farewell pilgrimage when he addressed thousands of people of his nation.
Status of woman in Jahiliyyah
If we want to discern the rules and pillars that Islam brought to elevate and honor woman, we first should recognize the status of woman in ancient and contemporary nations in order to see the real darkness she experienced and still experiences. Then, we will find out the reality of woman’s status in the light of the teachings of Islam and Islamic civilization.
Arabs used to burry alive their daughters and deprive them of the right to life, but the Noble Qur’an criminalized and prohibited this act, as Allah (be He Exalted) said:
And when the girl [who was] buried alive is asked * For what sin she was killed. (At-Takwir 81:8-9)
Furthermore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) made it one of the greatest sins.
Ibn Masu’d (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated: “I asked Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him): ‘Which sin is the greatest? He said: ‘To set up a rival unto Allah, though He Alone created you.’ I said: ‘What next?’ He said: ‘To kill your son lest he should share your food with you.’ I further asked: ‘What next?’ He said: ‘To commit illegal sexual intercourse with the wife of your neighbor.’
Women’s rights in Islam
Islam did not stop at preserving woman’s right to life only, but it also urged good treatment for her at early age. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever is in charge of these daughters and treats them generously, then they will act as a shield for him from the (Hell) Fire.” (Al-Bukahri) The Prophet (peace be upon him) also ordered her education. He said: “Any man who has a girl whom he educates properly, teaches good manners… will get a double reward.” (Al-Bukhari) The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to allocate a day for women to advise them, remind them and order them to obey Allah Almighty. (Al-Bukhari)
As a girl grows up and becomes adult, Islam gives her the right to accept or reject a fiancé. She may not be forced to accept a man whom she does not want. In this regard, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “A woman who has been previously married (Thayyib) has more right to her person than her guardian. And a virgin should also be consulted, and her silence implies her consent. (Muslim)
He also said: ‘A matron should not be given in marriage except after consulting her; and a virgin should not be given in marriage except after her permission.’ The people asked, ‘O Allah’s Messenger, how can we know her permission?’ He said, ‘Her silence (indicates her permission).’ (Al-Bukhari)
When a woman becomes wife, Islam urges good treatment for her, as good treatment of woman implies nobleness and kindness of man. For instance, the Prophet (peace be upon him) temptingly says: “If a man gives water to his wife to drink, he will be rewarded.” (Ahmad) And he warningly says: “O Allah, I declare sinful the one who fails to safeguard the rights of the two weak ones, namely orphan and woman.” (Ibn Majah)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was a practical example in this regard. He was so kind and gentle with his family. Al-Aswad ibn Yazid Al-Nakh`i narrated that he asked `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her): “What did the Prophet use to do in his house?” She replied, “He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for prayer he would go for it.” (Al-Bukhari)
If a wife hates her husband and cannot afford living with him, Islam gives her the right to leave her husband through Khul`. Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the wife of Thabit ibn Qays came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said, “O Allah’s Messenger, I do not blame Thabit for defects in his character or his religion, but I, being a Muslim, dislike to behave in un-Islamic manner (if I remain with him).” On that Allah’s Messenger said (to her), “Will you give back the garden which your husband has given you (as dowry)?” She said, “Yes.” Then, she gave back the garden to her husband, and the Prophet asked him to divorce her. (Al-Bukhari)
In addition to the above, Islam provides for financial independence of women just as men. So, she can sell, buy, rent, lease, deputize and grant, and there will be no ban on her as long as she is intelligent and rational. This comes out of Allah’s saying:
Then if you perceive in them sound judgment, release their property to them. (An–Nisa’ 4:6)
When Umm Hani bint Abi Talib provided asylum for an infidel man, and her brother `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) insisted to kill him, the Prophet (peace be upon him) made his judgment and said: “O Umm Hani! We will grant asylum to the one whom you have granted asylum.” (Al-Bukhari) So, he gave her the right to grant asylum for non-Muslims during war time or peace time.
Thus, Muslim women are decent, dear, proud and protected under the teachings of Islam and under the noble Islamic civilization.
Source: Taken from the book “The Importance of Ethics and Values in Islamic Civilization”