Are Women Oppressed in Islam?
“O Mankind! Fear your Lord who has created you from a single soul, and from it He created its mate; and from them both, He brought forth multitudes of men and women. Be mindful of God through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and revere the wombs that bore you. Surely, God is ever watching over you” (Quran, 4:1).
From the very beginning of the human saga, God makes it quite clear that men and women are equal beings created from one single soul, sharing the same father and mother, and subservient unto the same Lord. The verse mentioned above came to the Messenger of God, peace upon him (pbuh), at a time when women were being humiliated and oppressed.
God says: “…and when the female child, buried alive, will be asked: For what sin was she killed” (Quran, 81:8-9) This refers to an ancient practice of the Arabs (and even some modern societies through abortion) who would kill their female children out of fear of being humiliated in the community as only sons were prized, or out fear that they would not have the means to provide for them. Islam eradicated this heinous practice, amongst others, and after twenty-three years of prophetic teachings it had conferred upon women a status that was previously unthinkable.
The rights and responsibilities of women are equal to those of men but they are not necessarily identical. This difference is understandable because men and women are different, in their physiological and psychological make-up. With this distinction in mind, there is no room for a Muslim to imagine that women are inferior to men.
A woman is to be treated as God has endowed her, with rights, such as to be treated as an individual, with the right to own and dispose of her own property and earnings, enter into contracts, even after marriage. She has the right to be educated and to work outside the home if she so chooses. She has the right to inherit from her father, mother, and husband. A very interesting point to note is that in Islam, unlike any other religion, a woman can be an imam, a leader of communal prayer, for a group of women.
It is thus clear that the status of women in Islam is very high. Islam has granted them rights that match beautifully with their duties. What Islam has established for women is that which suits their nature, gives them full security and protects them against disgraceful circumstances and uncertain channels of life.
There does exist a gap between the rights of women outlined in the Qur’an, and the prevalent reality in the Muslim world. However, images of Muslim women as ignorant, oppressed and submissive are stereotypical and do no justice to the large number of Muslim women whose firm conviction in the Islamic concepts of family cohesiveness and happiness, and their own individuality, ensures their sense of self-fulfillment.