Women in Islam

A Compilation of Neglected Facts

by Dr. Zahid Aziz

The Light & Islamic Review (US), July/August 1992 Issue (Vol. 69, No. 4, pp. 9–11)

1. Women cited as Examples for Believers:

وَ ضَرَبَ اللّٰہُ مَثَلًا لِّلَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوا امۡرَاَتَ فِرۡعَوۡنَ ۘ اِذۡ قَالَتۡ رَبِّ ابۡنِ لِیۡ عِنۡدَکَ بَیۡتًا فِی الۡجَنَّۃِ وَ نَجِّنِیۡ مِنۡ فِرۡعَوۡنَ وَ عَمَلِہٖ وَ نَجِّنِیۡ مِنَ الۡقَوۡمِ الظّٰلِمِیۡنَ ﴿ۙ۱۱﴾ وَ مَرۡیَمَ ابۡنَتَ عِمۡرٰنَ الَّتِیۡۤ اَحۡصَنَتۡ فَرۡجَہَا فَنَفَخۡنَا فِیۡہِ مِنۡ رُّوۡحِنَا وَ صَدَّقَتۡ بِکَلِمٰتِ رَبِّہَا وَ کُتُبِہٖ وَ کَانَتۡ مِنَ الۡقٰنِتِیۡنَ ﴿٪۱۲﴾

“And Allah sets forth an example for those who believe — 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 unjust people … And Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into him [i.e., the believer for whom Mary is an example] of Our inspiration …” (The Holy Quran, 66:11–12).

Here two women are presented as examples for all Muslim believers (men and women). Pharaoh’s wife typifies the believer who is not yet free from the bondage of sin (just as Pharaoh ‘s wife was subject to her evil husband), but prays to be delivered from it. Mary typifies the highest grade of believer, who guards himself against all low desires, and therefore receives inspiration from God.

So, the Quran has cited two women as examples for believers, including men, to emulate.

2. Women receiving Revelation:

Examples of righteous women receiving revelation from God are given in the Quran:

وَ اَوۡحَیۡنَاۤ اِلٰۤی اُمِّ مُوۡسٰۤی اَنۡ اَرۡضِعِیۡہِ ۚ فَاِذَا خِفۡتِ عَلَیۡہِ فَاَلۡقِیۡہِ فِی الۡیَمِّ وَ لَا تَخَافِیۡ وَ لَا تَحۡزَنِیۡ ۚ

“And We revealed to the mother of Moses, saying: give him [the baby Moses] suck, then when you fear for him, cast him into the river and fear not, nor grieve …” (The Holy Quran, 28:7).

Similarly, God’s revelation to Mary is mentioned in 19:24–26 and 3:42–43.

Note that the kind of revelation mentioned in these passages comes only to those who reach the highest rank of closeness to God.

3. A Woman mentioned like Prophets:

In chapter 19, just as we have the words “and mention Abraham in the Book” (v. 41), “and mention Moses in the Book” (v. 51), etc., to introduce the accounts of various prophets, we also have: “And mention Mary in the Book” in exactly the same words. Similarly, chapter 21 gives examples of various prophets (verses 51 to 90), and then refers to Mary in the same way in verse 91. Then the next verse, referring to the whole group, says:

اِنَّ ہٰذِہٖۤ اُمَّتُکُمۡ اُمَّۃً وَّاحِدَۃً ۫ۖ وَّ اَنَا رَبُّکُمۡ فَاعۡبُدُوۡنِ ﴿۹۲﴾

“Surely this your community is one community, and I am your Lord, so serve Me” (The Holy Quran, 21:92).

4. A Woman’s Complaint heard by Allah:

Chapter 58 begins as follows:

قَدۡ سَمِعَ اللّٰہُ قَوۡلَ الَّتِیۡ تُجَادِلُکَ فِیۡ زَوۡجِہَا وَ تَشۡتَکِیۡۤ اِلَی اللّٰہِ ٭ۖ

“Allah indeed has heard the plea of her who pleads with you (Prophet Muhammad) about her husband and complains to Allah.”

So, Allah heard a woman’s complaint against her husband and sent revelation to the Holy Prophet to redress her grievance.

Because of this revelation, this lady used to be held in high honour by Companions of the Holy Prophet. Once when Umar was Khalifa, while walking along with other illustrious Companions, he happened to see her. He left this distinguished company standing, and went and talked to her at length.

5. A Woman Ruler in Quran:

The Quran gives the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Solomon had a well-organised intelligence service. One of his intelligence officers brings him news about a neighbouring country as follows:

اِنِّیۡ وَجَدۡتُّ امۡرَاَۃً تَمۡلِکُہُمۡ وَ اُوۡتِیَتۡ مِنۡ کُلِّ شَیۡءٍ وَّ لَہَا عَرۡشٌ عَظِیۡمٌ ﴿۲۳﴾ وَجَدۡتُّہَا وَ قَوۡمَہَا یَسۡجُدُوۡنَ لِلشَّمۡسِ مِنۡ دُوۡنِ اللّٰہِ وَ زَیَّنَ لَہُمُ الشَّیۡطٰنُ اَعۡمَالَہُمۡ فَصَدَّہُمۡ عَنِ السَّبِیۡلِ فَہُمۡ لَا یَہۡتَدُوۡنَ ﴿ۙ۲۴﴾

“I found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given of everything and she has a mighty throne. I found her and her people adoring the sun instead of Allah … and they go not aright” (The Holy Quran, 27:23–24).

(Note: This was not a bird, as commonly supposed, but a man whose name was Hudhud.) What the Quran objects to here is not that a woman is ruling the country, but that she and her subjects worship the sun and do not follow the right path. The Quran then tells us how she rules the country:

قَالَتۡ یٰۤاَیُّہَا الۡمَلَؤُا اَفۡتُوۡنِیۡ فِیۡۤ اَمۡرِیۡ ۚ مَا کُنۡتُ قَاطِعَۃً اَمۡرًا حَتّٰی تَشۡہَدُوۡنِ ﴿۳۲﴾ قَالُوۡا نَحۡنُ اُولُوۡا قُوَّۃٍ وَّ اُولُوۡا بَاۡسٍ شَدِیۡدٍ ۬ۙ وَّ الۡاَمۡرُ اِلَیۡکِ فَانۡظُرِیۡ مَاذَا تَاۡمُرِیۡنَ ﴿۳۳﴾

“She said: O chiefs, advise me respecting my affair, I never decide an affair until you are in my presence. They said: We [i.e., the nation] are possessors of strength and mighty prowess. And the command is thine, so consider what you will do” (The Holy Quran, 27:32–33).

So, she rules with the counsel of her advisors, but “the command is thine”: the power of the ultimate decision lies with her. The Quran, while relating this, raises no objection to this. In fact, it appears to commend them for following a principle of good government.

In the subsequent account, Solomon’s efforts are directed at rescuing her from idolatrous beliefs, and when she becomes convinced by his arguments, she says:

رَبِّ اِنِّیۡ ظَلَمۡتُ نَفۡسِیۡ وَ اَسۡلَمۡتُ مَعَ سُلَیۡمٰنَ لِلّٰہِ رَبِّ الۡعٰلَمِیۡنَ ﴿٪۴۴﴾

“My Lord, surely I have wronged myself, and I submit with Solomon to Allah, the Lord of the worlds” (The Holy Quran, 27:44).

She does not submit to Solomon as her lord and master, rather she submits to Allah along with Solomon, as an equal.

6. Prophet’s Wives’ contribution to Religion:

It is a woman, the Holy Prophet’s wife Khadija, who has the distinction of being the very first person, man or woman, to believe in his Divine appointment and become a Muslim. Moreover, when the Holy Prophet returned home to her after his first revelation, in a state of great anxiety, she displayed profound insight into spiritual matters by being able to recognise that this was indeed a true experience of revelation. Thus she consoled and reassured him. This incident shows the accomplishment and understanding of a woman in the spiritual realm.

After the Holy Prophet’s death, his wives acted as teachers of religious knowledge to Muslims. Large numbers of people came to them with questions on various matters. A very large number of hadith are reported from them, particularly from Aishah. They did not merely recount to people the events of the Holy Prophet’s life, but used their judgment to draw conclusions and give decisions about religious issues. It is estimated that about

two-thirds of the hadith reports relating to matters of the Shariah can be traced to Aishah. When the compilers of Hadith collected the reports of the sayings and actions of the Holy Prophet, and checked the suitability of the narrators, they made no distinction between a man and a woman. The evidence of a woman reporter, that she had heard a certain saying from a certain source, was treated as being as reliable as that of a male reporter, by the collectors of Hadith.

7. Women correct Men in Matters of Religion:

There are instances in which a woman corrected the views, on a religious matter, of a man of the stature and position of Umar, the second Khalifa.

It is recorded in Bukhari that, on his death bed, Umar told a man who was weeping over him that

“the Messenger of Allah said that sometimes the deceased is punished on account of the crying of his relatives”.

When Aishah was informed of this after Umar’s death, she said:

“May Allah have mercy on Umar! By Allah, the Messenger of Allah did not say that Allah punishes a deceased believer on account of the crying of his relatives over him … The Quran is sufficient for you, (it says) No bearer of a burden can bear another’s burden” (Kitab al-Janaiz, chapter 37).

So, Aishah corrected what Umar had reported, by referring to a teaching of the Quran.

Once Umar, as Khalifa, announced that he would introduce a certain restriction to do with mahr [dowry or nuptial gift]. A woman rose up from among the audience and read a verse of the Quran opposed to this idea. Umar immediately withdrew his proposal, and said:

“The women of this city have more understanding than Umar.”

8. Prophet appoints Woman as Imam:

There is a hadith in Sunan Abu Dawud as well as Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal that the Holy Prophet Muhammad commanded a woman by the name of Umm Waraqah that

“she should act as imam of the people of her house”,

and she had a muazzin in her house who was a man. So men of the house prayed behind her.

9. Husband serving Wife in House:

A hadith in Bukhari is as follows:

“Aswad said: ‘I asked Aishah, What did the Holy Prophet do when in his house?’ She said: ‘He served his wife’, meaning that he did work for his wife” (10:44).

10. Position of Women Saints:

Tazkirat al-Auliya is a famous compilation of the lives of Muslim saints, written nearly 800 years ago by Farid-ud-Din Attar. It also includes the life of a woman saint, the famous Rabia of Basra. Attar writes at the start of the section dealing with her life:

“If anyone says, ‘Why have you included Rabia in the rank of men’, my answer is that the Prophet himself said: ‘God does not regard your outward forms’. The root of the matter is not form, but intention, as the Prophet said: ‘Mankind will be raised up according to their intentions’. Moreover, if it is proper to derive two-thirds of our religion from Aishah (Holy Prophet’s wife), surely it is permissible to take religious instruction from a handmaid of Aishah. When a woman becomes a ‘man’ in the path of God, she is a man and one cannot anymore call her a woman.”

Final Comment:

The above references illustrate the positions which, according to Islam, women can not only attain but did actually reach. I close with the following excerpts from the Holy Quran speaking of equal spiritual rank of men and women:

وَ الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ وَ الۡمُؤۡمِنٰتُ بَعۡضُہُمۡ اَوۡلِیَآءُ بَعۡضٍ ۘ یَاۡمُرُوۡنَ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ وَ یَنۡہَوۡنَ عَنِ الۡمُنۡکَرِ وَ یُقِیۡمُوۡنَ الصَّلٰوۃَ وَ یُؤۡتُوۡنَ الزَّکٰوۃَ وَ یُطِیۡعُوۡنَ اللّٰہَ وَ رَسُوۡلَہٗ ؕ اُولٰٓئِکَ سَیَرۡحَمُہُمُ اللّٰہُ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ عَزِیۡزٌ حَکِیۡمٌ ﴿۷۱﴾ وَعَدَ اللّٰہُ الۡمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ وَ الۡمُؤۡمِنٰتِ جَنّٰتٍ تَجۡرِیۡ مِنۡ تَحۡتِہَا الۡاَنۡہٰرُ خٰلِدِیۡنَ فِیۡہَا وَ مَسٰکِنَ طَیِّبَۃً فِیۡ جَنّٰتِ عَدۡنٍ ؕ وَ رِضۡوَانٌ مِّنَ اللّٰہِ اَکۡبَرُ ؕ ذٰلِکَ ہُوَ الۡفَوۡزُ الۡعَظِیۡمُ ﴿٪۷۲﴾

“And the believers, men and women, are friends one of another. They enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the Zakat, and obey Allah and His Messenger. As for these, Allah will have mercy on them …. Allah has promised to the believing men and the believing women, gardens wherein flow rivers, to abide therein … that is the grand achievement” (The Holy Quran, 9:71–72).

یَوۡمَ تَرَی الۡمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ وَ الۡمُؤۡمِنٰتِ یَسۡعٰی نُوۡرُہُمۡ بَیۡنَ اَیۡدِیۡہِمۡ وَ بِاَیۡمَانِہِمۡ بُشۡرٰىکُمُ الۡیَوۡمَ جَنّٰتٌ تَجۡرِیۡ مِنۡ تَحۡتِہَا الۡاَنۡہٰرُ خٰلِدِیۡنَ فِیۡہَا ؕ

“On that day, you will see the believing men and the believing women, their light gleaming before them and on their right hand. Good news for you this day! – gardens wherein rivers flow, to abide therein” (The Holy Quran, 57:12).