Marriage and Relationships Mary (as) The Americas Women and Islam

Women in the Holy Qur’an

49The Review of Religions – November 2003 Women in the HolyQur’an tionship created by Allah. He instructed through the Holy Q u r’an that just as men had certain rights over women, women have certain rights over men. In the Holy Qur’an, Allah says: And one of His Signs is this, that He has created wives for you from among yourselves that you may find peace of mind in them, and He has put love and tenderness between y o u . (Ch.30: V.22 ) The sad reality is that not all marriages last forever, but the triumph of Islam in this matter is that women for the first time were given the right to ask for a divorce from their husbands. This is astonishing given that many Western countries did not allow women to divorce their husbands except in very extreme cases, if even that, until the early 1900’s. It is mothers that are most honoured above all male or female roles in Islam. The Holy Prophet(sa) repeatedly stated that, ‘Paradise lies under the feet of the mother,’ meaning that the way to heaven is treating one’s mother well. A companion of the Holy Prophet(sa) relates the story of a man who approached the Holy Prophet(sa) and inquired, ‘O Messenger of Allah! Of all people, whom should I honour and respect the most?’ He replied, ‘Your mother.’ The man enquired a second time, ‘And then who?’ The Holy Prophet(sa) replied, ‘Your mother.’ The man asked a third time, ‘Who then?’ ‘Your mother,’ was the reply. The man asked once more, ‘Then who?’ Then Holy Prophet( s a ) replied, ‘Your father.’ But even as women are honoured for their roles as daughters, wives and mothers, they are respected and encouraged in many other roles throughout their lives. Muslim women are required to be students, as the pursuit of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim man and woman. Islam instructs that the best men are those who educate their daughters well. In 50 The Review of Religions – November 2003 Women in the HolyQur’an Islam, women are also property holders. Through the teachings of Islam 1,400 years ago, Allah gave women the right to inherit the property of their fathers, mothers, brothers and husbands. Again, this was unheard of in many parts of the so-called First World until the early 1900’s . Muslim women are also encouraged to participate in the political systems of their country, along with their male counterparts. Aside from spiritual and social equality, the Holy Qur’an also helps us understand our roles and responsibilities as humans, and especially as women. While their status is the same, their roles are inherently different due to the laws of nature. Because of these laws, women carry three specific burdens that determine their role in society. They carry the two burdens of beauty and childbirth because of the way Allah created them. Thirdly, they are respon- sible for the moral upbringing of their children because of the instinctual bond created between a mother and child. It is because of these burdens, that Muslim women are not required to work outside the home. The burden of providing for the family thus falls on the man in the household. Women are not prohibited from working outside the home, however, they are not required to in order to lighten the immense responsibilities that women already carry. Consider that every woman, regardless of which society or religion she belongs, is given these vast responsibilities, whether she accepts it or not. Yet it is only through Islam that mankind is taught to honour and praise women for the burdens they bear. ALLAH, THROUGH THE TEACHINGS OF ISLAM 1,400 YEARS AGO, GAVE WOMEN THE RIGHT TO INHERIT THE PROPERTY OF THEIR FATHERS, MOTHERS, BROTHERS AND HUSBANDS. AGAIN, THIS WAS UNHEARD OF IN MANY PARTS OF THE SO-CALLED FIRST WORLD UNTIL THE EARLY 1900’S. 51The Review of Religions – November 2003 Women in the HolyQur’an It is impossible to discuss women in the Holy Qur’an without mentioning the two women that Allah blessed with extraordinary lives and praised in the pages of His Holy Book: And Allah sets forth for those who believe the example of the wife of Pharaoh when she said, ‘My Lord! Build for me a house with Thee in the Garden, and deliver me from Pharaoh and his work and deliver me from the wrongdoing people; and the example of Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity – so We b reathed into her of Our Spirit – and she fulfilled in her person the words of her Lord and His Books and was one of the obedient. (Ch 66: Vs.12-13) The story of Mary, mother of J e s u s( a s ) is oft-repeated in the Holy Qur’an. We are told in Chapter 3, that Mary’s mother devoted her to the service of Allah even before she was born. She grew to be a pious, righteous woman, so much so that Allah chose her to be the mother of the Messiah. Allah says in the Holy Q u r’an that He chose Mary above the women of all people because she preserved her chastity (Ch.3: V.43). What is most important about the stories of the wife of the Pharaoh and Mary, is that Allah commands all believing men and women to look towards them as examples for us all. They are women who have attained the highest status in the sight of Allah and they did it by being chaste, obedient, pious and truthful. Consider especially the case of Mary, a woman revered by billions around the world. No other woman has achieved the status she has. Yet, as a woman living over 2,000 years ago, she had none of the secular ‘rights’ that many women have today. After having discussed women praised by Allah for preserving their chastity, it is fitting to conclude with a look at the concept of modesty in Islam. The idea of the Islamic covering is one of the most misunderstood and 52 The Review of Religions – November 2003 Women in the HolyQur’an most often degraded aspects of Islam by many. Yet, the laws of this land and many others do not even come close to doing for women and their protection what the Islamic teachings of modesty and appropriate covering do. We r e a d : Say to the believing men they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely Allah is well aware of what they do. And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private p a rts and they not display their beauty and embellishments except that which is apparent there o f , and that they draw their head-coverings over their bosoms, and that they disclose not their beauty save to their husbands… and they walk not in a style that such of their beauty as they conceal is noticed. (Ch.24: Vs.31-32) Further in the Holy Qur’ a n , Allah instructs: O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they should pull down upon them of their outer cloaks from their heads over their faces. That is more likely that they may thus be distin- TH E R E Q U I R E D O U T E R C O V E R I N G N O T O N LY D I S T I N G U I S H E S A W O M A N A S MU S L I M, I T A L S O P R O T E C T S H E R F R O M N E G AT I V E O U T S I D E I N F L U E N C E, S P E C I F I C A L LY F R O M B E I N G M O L E S T E D. AT A N O T H E R L E V E L, T H E O U T E R C O V E R I N G A C C O M P L I S H E S W H AT W O M E N T H R O U G H O U T T H E W O R L D C O N T I N U E TO S T R I V E F O R: R E S P E C T F O R T H E I R C H A R A C T E R A N D I N T E L L I G E N C E R AT H E R T H A N T H E I R L O O K S A N D W H AT T H E Y M AY O R M AY N O T B E W E A R I N G. 53The Review of Religions – November 2003 Women in the HolyQur’an guished and not molested. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. (Ch.33: V.60) As noted before, a woman’s beauty is among the burdens Allah has placed on her. This is merely the articulation of something that all of us who watch television or read magazines know to be true. It is women who are used to sell goods because of their beauty. They are commodified and objectified merely because of their gender. Islam protects women from this type of objectification. The required outer covering not only distinguishes a woman as Muslim, it also protects her from negative outside influence, specifically from being molested. At another level, the outer covering accomplishes what women throughout the world continue to strive for: respect for their character and intelligence rather than their looks and what they may or may not be wearing. Even those Islamic command- ments that may seem oppressive are in fact meant to preserve the dignity of women. Through the Holy Qur’an, Allah handed down all the rights and freedoms for Muslim men and women. It is up to us to preserve them. The Prophet Muhammad(sa) once said: THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD(SA) ONCE SAID: ‘ALLAH I DECLARE S I N F U L A N Y FA I L U R E TO S A F E G U A R D T H E R I G H T S O F T W O W E A K O N E S: O R P H A N S AND WOMEN.’ SAFEGUARDING R I G H T S R E Q U I R E S A N AT T I T U D E O F R E S P E C T. I T R E Q U I R E S T H AT W E U N D E R S TA N D T H E VA L U E O F EACH OTHER AND DO NOT SEE EACH OTHER AS INFERIOR. THE D I F F I C U LT Y TO D AY I S T H AT WOMEN ARE NOT HONOURED, R AT H E R T H E Y A R E O B J E C- TIFIED AND DEGRADED. IN OUR RUSH TO SECURE MORE AND MORE RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS, IN THE NAME OF LIBERATION, WE HAVE LOST SIGHT OF HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO PROTECT YOUNG GIRLS AND WOMEN 54 The Review of Religions – November 2003 Women in the HolyQur’an ‘Allah I declare sinful any failure to safeguard the rights of two weak ones: orphans and women.’ Safeguarding rights requires an attitude of respect. It requires that we understand the value of each other and do not see each other as inferior. The difficulty today is that women are not honoured, rather they are objectified and degraded. In our rush to secure more and more rights and freedoms, in the name of liberation, we have lost sight of how important it is to protect young girls and women. The number of young boys abducted and killed, while tragic, does not even compare to the number of girls that are assaulted, kidnapped or killed, or the number of women who suffer from domestic violence. We have more laws than ever, more police than ever, but we have more problems than ever before. Bear in mind that America’s Emancipation Proclamation did not cure racism. The Equal Protection clause of the United States Constitution is not stopping discrimination. Unfortunately, it is difficult to dictate attitude through laws. But religion can and does. The Holy Qur’an specifically addresses the treatment of individuals in society and establishes an attitude towards them, before dictating laws. It establishes a mindset towards women that honours and protects them at the same time, yet it also places responsibility on women to safeguard themselves. It was through the Holy Qur’an that women were granted extra- ordinary rights and freedoms, not from man, governments or referendums. The Holy Qur’an does more for women’s rights than Feminism, Wo m e n ’s Liberation, or a potential Constitutional Equal Rights Amendment will ever be able to do. That is one of the most profound beauties of the Holy Qur’an.