Women were liberated by Islam. It was a revolution much more significant than the women’s rights liberation movement in the 1960s. Women in pre-Islamic Arabia were treated like belongings and were inherited when their husbands died. They had no marital rights and promiscuity was rampant. Female girls were buried alive just because they were females and though to bring shame to a family if it had too many girls, and justifying what they considered “honor killing”.
When Islam came, it waged a war on infanticide. Women were given the right to inherit, at the same time not pay for their own expenses. They had the right to not work and the right to work, and still had the right to have their expenses covered. Women as men are obligated to acquire education. Islam has turned the society that believed that women were to be owned, to giving them the right to ownership. When the society forced girls into arranged unwanted marriages, the Quran and the prophet peace be upon him had explicitly stated that women had the freedom to choose whom they want to marry, not to mention the right to freedom of speech…etc. It wasn’t until then, that women were to be treated with respect and dignity.
According to Islam women have a role in society complementing the role of the men. They are equal in the eyes of God Almighty, as He Almighty said (16:96): “Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while he (or she) is a true believer (of Islâmic Monotheism) verily, to him We will give a good life (in this world with respect, contentment and lawful provision), and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do (i.e. Paradise in the Hereafter).” Yet, being equal in humanity and status does not mean being fully equal in rights and responsibilities, since each one was created with special gifts and potentials to suit the tasks that each was created to do. For example: the brain of the female is lighter in weight, and has different configuration, and lower density of synapses. This does not mean men are smarter than women, but it does mean that they function differently in terms of emotion, perception, decision making, and other cognitive functions as has been shown by recent research. These differences were created for a purpose by the Creator. We see that women have more mercy and compassion, but may also have more hesitancy in decision making. The aim here, is not to try and address the debate about sex difference but rather explain why in Islam each of the sexes has a different role and responsibility in society.
Women in Islam were voting in the early 7th century, when 73 men and two women from Aws and Khazraj tribe pledged their allegiance to the Prophet (PBUH). In the U.S., women were allowed to vote only as late as 1893 when Colorado was the first State to allow women to vote.
Muslim women were poets, merchants, and leaders in society from the very early stages. The prophet’s wife Khadija was a merchant. Umm Salamah, his wife, was his personal advisor even on political matters. Alkhansa’, one of the prophet’s companions was a famous poet, Rufayda Alaslamiya was a nurse. Later, in history other women were main scholars that have taught men and women, such as Kareema Almirwiziya who was a scholar of hadeeth, and Fatima Alfihriya, who built a mosque in Fez, Morocco that soon become a university.
The Issue of Polygamy In Islam.
Many think wrongly that Islam innovated polygamy, when in reality Islam was the first to put a limit to the number of wives a man takes. Polygamy was practiced by the pagan Arabs, Jews and Christians in early history. The context of permitting polygamy in Islam was mainly for the sake of the orphans and widowed women, who were left with no caretaker, see Quran (4:3). Islam prohibits any lustful relations outside of wedlock, but opens doors for marriage on a condition that the husband would be just and qualified to fulfill the needs of all wives equally. However it is nevertheless allowed, and for the sake of argument, which is better having two wives or a wife and a mistress?
Indeed the prophet also had more than one wife. Yet, if we look at every wife, and the reason behind her marriage, we would realize that the reason for having several wives was directly related to political reasons, that the culture of that time meant when one marries from a tribe, their allegiance is guaranteed. In some cases the marriage was for compassionate reasons like marrying the elder Um Salema after she lost her husband Abu Salema. But this tradition for prophets is not new where Prophets Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon (Peace Be upon Them) all had multiple wives according to the Bible.
Age of Marriage.
Islam is a universal religion that embraced people from different cultures, therefore did not set an age limit, and more left it to the community’s context to decide based on each individual’s puberty. During the time of the prophet peace be upon him, and due to the hot climate area, girls reached puberty at the average of nine years old. Marrying at a young age was the custom, and is in fact a custom in many countries today like India. In Islam, puberty is when a child develops the physical changes and becomes a man or a woman, by then they are considered adults, and are responsible for their actions. Eligibility for marriage varies individually and on a case by case. The youngest wife of the Prophet (PBUH) Aisha (the mother of believers) was engaged and broke her engagement before the Prophet (PBUH) married her. Today in Texas a women can be married at age 14 with parental consent. In Jewish belief a woman can marry at age 12 years.
Other Rights of Women in Islam.
Islam guarantees many rights, but cultures that Muslims practice are not necessarily what Islam teaches.
Islam has its standards on what is modesty, freedom..etc. Modesty is a standard God Almighty had obligated men and women to abide by throughout history, and in all holy text books, but man has chosen to edit God’s words by making different standards, under the pretense of modernity and other reasons. The amount of covering is different from men to women.