By Nazrana Darvesh
Women and Islam has always been a topic of discussion all around the globe. 18th October 2021 marks the birth anniversary of the Last Prophet of Allah – Muhammad ﷺ. Let us, on this occasion, explore his beneficence towards women.
In the 7th century – the time when women were the most oppressed part of society, Muhammad ﷺ arrived as a torchbearer of rights of women.
To understand this, one must browse his life in hadith books. Muhammad was an orphan, who had lost his father before his birth. He was raised by Foster Mother Halima Saadia. Islam accords Foster Mother the status of additional mother with special rights and her children are considered real brothers and sisters, prohibiting marriages with them. Thus when his foster sister Shaima once happened to meet him, he welcomed her, spread his shawl for her and asked her to sit next to him.
Young Muhammad’s first marriage was with an elderly widow who was in her forties while he was in his twenties. Though polygyny was a common state of affairs then, Muhammad ﷺ remained in a monogamous marriage with Khadija, while he was in fifties, until her death. Khadija was a businesswoman of Arabia, who was supported by Muhammad ﷺ in her career.
Islam restricted the practice of polygyny and subjected it to terms and conditions which was earlier unlimited and without any constraint. The revelation for polygyny was sent in fact to streamline the rights of orphans by allowing men to marry their mothers as a support for their living with the condition of treating all wives equally.
“And if you be apprehensive that you will not be able to do justice to the orphans, you may marry two or three or four women whom you choose. But if you apprehend that you might not be able to do justice to them then marry only one wife.” (The Qur’ān – 4:3)
Thus we see, the Prophet’s later marriages were either to cement political ties or to provide physical and economic shelter for the widows. His marriage with the divorced wife of his adopted son was as per commandment of God to break the tradition of ignorance which recognised adopted child as real child.
Among his all wives only Aisha was not previously married. Aisha is known as the greatest scholar of hadith. Muhammad ﷺ had given her authority for consultation on religious queries which continued even after death of the Prophet. She opened the first ever school of Fiqh (jurisprudence) in Islam.
The relationship between Aisha and Muhammad ﷺ was so adorable that they played together, drank from the same spot on the cup, and constantly exchanged sweet words to one another. The famous incident of the Prophet ﷺ challenging his wife to race is well known.
Once, when a man asked Hadrat Aisha, “What did the Prophet do at home?” Hadrat Aisha said, “He kept busy with housework. He patched his clothes, swept the house, milked the animals, and bought supplies for the house from the market. If his shoes were torn, he mended them himself. He tied the rope to the water bucket. He secured the camel, fed it and ground the flour with the slave.” (Bukhari)
Regarding wives he lived with this principle: “The best of you is the one who is best to his wife, and I am the best of you to my wives.” (Tirmidhi)
“You will be rewarded for whatever you spend for Allah’s sake even if it were a morsel which you put in your wife’s mouth.” (Bukhari)
Regarding safeguarding chastity of wives, the Prophet ﷺ described the one who discloses his wife’s affairs to others as among the worst of people (Musnad Ahmad)
History witnesses the unprecedented affection between Muhammad ﷺ and his daughter Fatima. Whenever she entered the Prophet’s room, he would stand up for her, kiss her, take her hand and make her sit in his place.
The Prophet ﷺ said , “Fatima is a part of me and whoever makes her angry, makes me angry.” (Bukhari)
Besides this love and care for women of his family, the Prophet ﷺ uplifted the status of women in general, provided them with equal status in the society with accorded rights and dignity.
He abolished the practice of female infanticide which was prevalent at that time by reminding the punishment for the crime on the Day of Judgement when the Almighty God would gather all for accountability.
“And when the souls are reunited (with their bodies), and when the infant girl, buried alive, is asked for what crime she was slain, and when the records are unfolded, and when the veil of heaven is removed, and when Hell is set blazing, and when Paradise is brought near, then each person shall know what he has brought with him.” (The Qur’ān – 81 :7-14)
He approved the consent of girl for her marriage: “Once a girl came to the Prophet ﷺ complaining that her father married her to his nephew despite the fact that she did not like him. The Prophet called the father and gave the girl the freedom to accept or refuse the proposed marriage. She then decided of her own will to accept the marriage and said: “O Messenger of Allah! I have accepted what my father has done; yet I wanted to teach women that fathers have no control over these matters.” (Abu Dawood)
He gave them the right to get divorce: “Once, the wife of Thabit b. Qais requested the Prophet for a divorce from her husband. The Prophet asked her to return the garden given to her at the time of marriage as Dower (Mehr). She accepted this condition and the marriage was dissolved.”
To safeguard the chastity of women and avoid false allegations on them, he implemented the strict condition of testimony as commanded by Allah in the Qur’ān, “If any of your women commit fornication, call in four witnesses from among yourselves against them.” (The Qur’ān – 4:15)
Islam entitled women to inherit from the deceased person in the 7th century, long before the slogans for women’s rights were raised. However, the shares of men and women are different in inheritance. These shares are justifiable, keeping in view the status and role of men and women in the society. It was revealed as a commandment from God in the Holy Qur’ān that men and women have shares in inheritance.
“To men (of the family) belongs a share of that which parents and near kindred leave and to women a share of that which parents and near kindred leave whether it be little or much – a determinate share,” (The Qur’ān – 4:7)
And as Prophet of God, Muhammad ﷺ implemented this with strict warning in these words: “Even if a man worked all his life, like the men of Paradise, yet ended his life’s record by making a wrongful bequest, he would be consigned to Hell.” (Ibn Kathir, vol. 2, p. 218)
This is a terrifying warning in which those who either tamper with God’s laws of inheritance or violate the legal bounds categorically laid down by God in His Book are warned of unending punishment.
Some of his other teachings about rights of women are:
“Do not prevent women from going to mosques.” (Muslim)
“The one who has a daughter born to him and he does not bury her alive, nor keeps her in disgrace, nor prefers his son to her, Allah will admit him to Paradise.” (Abu Dawood)
“Seeking knowledge is a Muslim man’s and woman’s duty.” (Ibn Majah)
The writeup won’t be complete without mentioning the treatment towards mother regarding whom the Prophet ﷺ said that in terms of good treatment mother deserves the first position consequent for further two positions and then the position of father is determined. (Bukhari)
Thus we see Muhammad ﷺ gave a complete code of life which not only provides rather ensures social space to women in society.