Status of Women in Islam

Before the advent of Islam women were no better than animals. They were exploited and treated like a commercial commodity. They had no right, no privilege and no status in the society. Above all, the birth of a female child was thought to be “a curse”. The holy Qur’ān depicts this fact in a quite…

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Dr. Obaidur Rahman Nadwi

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Before the advent of Islam women were no better than animals. They were exploited and treated like a commercial commodity. They had no right, no privilege and no status in the society. Above all, the birth of a female child was thought to be “a curse”. The holy Qur’ān depicts this fact in a quite sublime way: “When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief.” (16:58) It is Islam which raised their position in the society. According to Islam, the world and all things in it are valuable, but the most valuable thing in the world is a virtuous woman. At the very outset Islam bestowed great importance to women.

Needless to add that Islam granted the share of inheritance from parents and other kindred to women. The following Qur’ānic citation is meaningful in this regard: “Just as there is a share for men in what their parents and kinsfolk leave behind, so there is a share for women in what their parents and kinsfolk leave behind – be it little or much – a share ordained (by Allah).” (4:7)

It goes without saying that men and women are alike in the sight of God in terms of equality in spiritual duties and responsibilities. The holy Qur’ān states: “The believers, men and women are protectors of one another, they enjoy in what is just, and forbid what is evil; they observe regular prayers, practise regular charity, and obey Allah and his messenger, on them Allah will pour His mercy, for Allah is exalted in power, wise.” (9:71) It further says: “Anyone, male or female, who does what is good and is faithful will enter the garden and will not be wronged at all.” (4:124) “… So their Lord accepted their prayers, (saying: I will not suffer to be lost the work of any of you whether male or female. you proceed one from another).” (3:195)


ln the pre-Islamic era scant attention was paid towards knowledge. It was Prophet Muhammad ﷺ who used knowledge as an essential tool for understanding realities of life. As regards acquiring knowledge of females, it is the same that of males. The Prophet said: “Seeking knowledge is a mandate for every Muslim (male or female).” “Seek knowledge from cradle to the grave.” “Seek knowledge even if one has to go to China.” “The person who brought up three daughters, embellished them, gave education to them and took care of them even after their marriage, his entry to Paradise is ensured by Allah.” A Tradition says: “If a person has a slave girl, then he educates her liberally and trains her in the best manner and culture, then sets her free and marries her, he has a double reward (from his Lord)”. (Bukhari)

It would be worthwhile to mention that divorce has been a telling issue of today. Islam strictly prohibits divorce for obvious reason. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Of all the lawful things, divorce is the most detestable thing in the sight of Allah.” (Abu Dawood) Islam mooted so many ways to avoid this obnoxious practice.

The holy Qur’ān says: “And if you fear a breach between them (i.e. husband and wife), appoint an arbiter from his family and an arbiter from her family. If they seek to set things aright, Allah will cause their reconciliation: For Allah has full knowledge and is acquainted with all things.” (4:35)

Islam permits to divorce only in critical condition. Needless to add that similar right has also been given to women that is called Khula in Islamic laws.

Despite the above-mentioned facts, there is a general feeling that Islam is a great impediment for women’s progress and prosperity alleging that Islam orders women to observe purdah and not let them allow to take part in outdoor activities. These allegations are quite contrary to the spirit of Islam. It is Islam’s distinction that it placed men and women on equal footing and removed the stigma of wickedness and impurity from women. As regards purdah, it is nothing but a tool of protection of them. Today we see a rise in cases of rape, molestation, eve teasing and a lot of other sexual abuses. No doubt, the mere reason of these menaces is nothing but nakedness and immodesty.

It is purdah alone which may stop these menaces and provide safety and security for women. That is why Almighty Allah said addressing prophet Muhammad ﷺ: “O Prophet! tell thy wives and thy daughters and to women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them when they go abroad. That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is oft forgiving, most merciful.” (Al-Ahzab 59)


Strangely, it is generally thought that women’s liberation movement began between 19th and 20th century. But the fact is that the Last Prophet Muhammad ﷺ favoured the same over 1,400 years ago. Islam bestowed upon women all kinds of rights whether it be social, educational, matrimonial, political or economic. A woman once came to the Prophet and complained: “My father has forced me to marry my cousin in order to raise his own status. The Prophet told her that she was free to dissolve that marriage and choose whoever she wished to marry. She replied: “Alright, I concede to my father’s choice, but my aim was to let the people know that fathers have no right to interfere in the marriage.” (Ahmad)

In Islam the girl has every right to marry the boy of her choice and her parents cannot impose their decision on her. He further said if a girl is forced to marry by her parents or anyone against her wish, she can declare the marriage “null and void.”


It should be noted that even if we have stepped on the threshold of the 21th century, which is considered the century of science and technology, it seems that we are reverting to the dark age. In ancient time people buried their female infants alive and today we kill them alive in foeticide itself. This menace has been a common practice these days. It is indeed a heinous act. At this juncture we may recall the admonition of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. When the verse of the holy Qur’ān, “For what crime she was killed” (81:9) came, the Prophet ﷺ along with his companions fanned out into the streets of Makkah, imploring people to shun the old practice of female infanticide. Then the Almighty God revealed this verse: “We have bestowed the dignity to the children of Adam.” (17:70) The accusation that Islam is insensitive on gender issue is absolutely wrong and reflect the ignorance of Qur’ānic dictates and the Prophet’s sayings.

[The writer is Faculty Member, Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh]