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Equality between women and men in Islam PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Hind Obiedin   
Thursday, 16 December 2010 16:52

Equality between women and men in Islam

By Hind Obiedin

Equality between men and women in Islam is a very sensitive and controversial issue.

Many Muslim women oppose equality for different reasons for example:

1- Lead to many social problems and increase divorce rates.

2-They, think that Equality could abolish their femininity and destroy their gender identity.

3- It threatens their religion and their moral values.

Non Muslim researcher judge Islam by looking at women`s position in Muslim countries. They emphasize that among all Muslim countries, the lowest rates of female education are to be found in those countries which enforce Islamic restrictions. The more conservative the definition of Islam adopted, the more restrictions on Muslim women. They accuse Islam of being responsible for women's subordination as a result of placing man in a superior position and giving him the right of  qiwama, guardianship over women in the family. They add that according to Islamic teachings, women are entitled to inherit half the amount a man inherits. In legal testimony, two women are regarded as the equal to one male witness.


All these studies come to the same conclusion that women in Muslim countries, whether at home or at the work place, are absolutely subjugated persons, and that they have no word in decision making. They are excluded from public life and restricted to the private sphere. These researcher focus on Islam as a major factor that determines women's condition in the society, and they ignore other social, economic, and political factors.

Men's superiority is not absolute in Islam. Men are superior to women in some aspects and women are superior in another.

Women's rights in Muslim countries are interpreted by men. Most of these interpretations are affected by customs and traditions in these societies. Also, political leaders determine women's rights and women's participation in the labor force according to their understanding of Islam and their own interests.

I think we have to be cautious in using the word "equality" between sexes in Islam. There are no direct verses in the Quran which said that men and women are equal. However, there are many verses which are literally directed to men and women to show that, they are equal in front of God. As human beings.

Many Muslim women do not believe in equality, but in complementary. They emphasize that each sex is important for the existence of mankind. But no-one is superior or inferior to the other. Everyone has his / her role and functions in the society.

Muslim women emphasize that they do not want equality. They just want their  rights in Islam. Muslim women in many countries are subordinated, but Islam  is not responsible for that.

Islam is used and interpreted according to different political, economic,  and social systems.

Many thinking Muslims - both men and women - would agree that their societies do not fulfill the Islamic ideals and traditions laid down in the Quran and reinforced by the example and directives of the Prophet Muhammad, It is reported in the Quran and from history that women not only expressed their opinions freely in the Prophet's presence but also argued and participated in serious discussions with the Prophet himself and with other Muslim leaders of the time (1:58). Muslim women are known to have even stood in opposition to certain caliphs, who later accepted the sound arguments of those women.  A specific example took place during the caliphate of 'Umar ibn al Khattab The Quran reproached those who believed woman to be inferior to men (16:57/59) and repeatedly gives expression to the need for treating men and women with equity (2:228, 231; 4:19, and so on).  Therefore, if Muslim women experience discrimination in any place or time, they do not and should not lay the blame on Islam, but on the un-Islamic nature of their societies and the failure of Muslims to fulfill its directives.

Another Islamic tradition affecting the future of feminism in Muslim societies is the separate legal status for women which is demanded by the Quran and the Shari'ah.  Every Muslim individual, whether male of female, retains a separate identity from cradle to grave.  This separate legal personality prescribes for every woman the right to contract, to conduct business, to earn and possess property independently.  Marriage has no effect on her legal status, her property, her earnings - or even on her name.  If she commits any civil offense, her penalty is no less or no more than a man's in a similar case (5:83; 24:2). 

Islamic tradition does indeed allow a man to marry more than one woman at a time.  This leniency is even established by the Quran (4:3).[5] But.  it is certainly not imposed by Islam; nor is it a universal practice.  It is instead regarded as the exception to the norm of monogamy, and its exercise is strongly controlled by social pressures

The woman in Islam is a full human being in her mental and rational capabilities, and her mind is no less than that of a man. She has the right to learn reaching the highest levels of education in all academic and scientific fields. She also has all social, political and economic rights. She is an independent person economically speaking. She has the right to possess and make all business transactions without the supervision or authority of any man over her. She is also a social person that has the right to practice all charity, educational, and similar activities. She is also a political person that has the right to elect and be elected and represent the people who elect her.

The Verse that allows polygamy "was revealed after the battle of Uhud in which many Muslims were killed, leaving widows and orphans for whom due care was incumbent upon the Muslim survivors."

The translation of the verse is as follows: "If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then (marry) only one…" (Qur’an 4:3)

From this verse a number of facts are evident:

1-That polygamy is neither mandatory, nor encouraged, but merely permitted.

2-That the permission to practice polygamy is not associated with mere satisfaction of. Rather, it is associated with compassion towards widows and orphans, a matter that is confirmed by the atmosphere in which the verse was revealed.

3-That even in such a situation, the permission is far more restricted than the normal practice which existed among the Arabs and other peoples at that time when many married as many as ten or more wives.

4-That dealing justly with one’s wives is an obligation. This applies to housing, food, clothing, kind treatment…etc., for which the husband is fully responsible. If one is not sure of being able to deal justly with them, the Qur’an says: "then (marry) only one." (Qur’an 4:3)

This verse, when combined with another verse in the same chapter, shows some discouragement of such plural marriages. The other verse plainly states: "You are never able to be fair and just between women even if it is your ardent desire…" (Qur’an 4:129)

The requirement of justice rules out the fantasy that man can "own as many as he pleases." It also rules out the concept of a "secondary wife", for all wives have exactly the same status and are entitled to identical rights and claims over their husband. It also implies, according to the Islamic Law, that should the husband fail to provide enough support for any of his wives, she can go to court and ask for a divorce.

5- The verse says "marry," not kidnap, buy or seduce. What is "marriage" as understood in Islam? Marriage in Islam is a civil contract which is not valid unless both contracting parties consent to it. Thus, no wife can be forced or "given" to a husband who is already married.

It is thus a free choice of both parties. As to the first wife:

A - She may be barren or ill and see in polygamy a better solution than divorce.

B - She may divorce him (unilaterally) if he is married to a second wife provided that the nuptial contract gives her the right of unilateral divorce (ismah)

C - She can go to court and ask for a divorce if there is evidence of mistreatment or injustice inflicted upon her.

Last Updated on Saturday, 12 November 2011 10:48

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