The debate on the role of men and women has always occupied much attention across the globe. Western societies have claimed to champion the progress of women by giving them rights which they were previously deprived of such as the right to vote or to seek an education. Giving women rights similar to those men have enjoyed for centuries in the West is seen as giving women “equal rights”.
Leaving aside the irony of trying to copy those who supposedly took away your rights in the first place, the standard for the Western woman is the search for achieving what men have regardless of whether that standard is even the right one.
It is from this perspective the West accuses Islam of not giving “equal rights” to women and suppressing them. However, before delving into this accusation it is important to understand the view of men/women in Western capitalist societies compared to Islam is completely different. Historically, the West viewed women as inherently inferior to men whilst Islam placed both men and women as equals before their Creator, Allah (SWT), from its inception.
Has Giving Women More Rights Led to ‘Equal Rights’?
A recent 2016 study in the UK found 52% of women had suffered sexual harassment in the workplace, a high number of these involved the manager or owner of the organisation, the very people who women trusted the most. Among women aged 16-24 the percentage of incidents rose to 63%.
Women in full-time employment are twice as likely to suffer from mental health related illnesses compared to men (19.8% vs 10.9%). In most extreme cases this leads to suicide, 6,188 recorded in 2016 in the UK, of which 25% were women [Office for National Statistics]. It is also well known that despite women reaching seniority within an organisation they are still not paid the same as men. It is a pretty damning indictment when the gender of the voice reading an autocue determines the salary of the person.
The agenda to grant women (and men) more rights in the workplace is based on the view of wealth creation which is supposed to lead to a better quality of life for all. Hence each member of society is encouraged to work to generate wealth in the country; to the extent that the government pays for childcare for infants so single parents can go to work.
The social consequences, however, rarely get considered; children looked after in nurseries and care centres who cannot replace the love and upbringing of the parents; the resultant lack of role models due to an absent mother or father leading to multiple social problems.
Western society often finds itself in a dilemma due to the contradictory messages it pushes out about women and their status. The lack of respect and dignity given to women through their exploitation in the music, film and cosmetics industry runs counter to the ‘equality’ narrative in school and the workplace. The objectification of the female form correlates with the endemic levels of harassment, assault and domestic violence (two women are killed every week in the UK by their partner). Despite decades of ‘equal opportunities’ legislation and the quest to be the ‘same’ as men, women are still viewed and treated as inferior albeit in a modern context.
The Islamic way of life does not view men and women in a constant battle or race to attain what the other has.
Islam views men and women as human beings, each with their own unique biological and physical make up. Men and women are ‘equal’ as human beings, one is not better or higher than the other except through their belief and good deeds. Each gender is judged according to their level of Taqwa – consciousness of Allah (SWT) in their lives.
Allah (SWT) says in the Quran:
إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ
“Verily the most honoured/best amongst you (men and women) are those that have the most Taqwa.” [Al-Hujurat: 13].
Allah (SWT) says in the Quran:
إِنَّ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَالْمُسْلِمَاتِ وَالْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْقَانِتِينَ وَالْقَانِتَاتِ وَالصَّادِقِينَ وَالصَّادِقَاتِ وَالصَّابِرِينَ وَالصَّابِرَاتِ وَالْخَاشِعِينَ وَالْخَاشِعَاتِ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقِينَ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقَاتِ وَالصَّائِمِينَ وَالصَّائِمَاتِ وَالْحَافِظِينَ فُرُوجَهُمْ وَالْحَافِظَاتِ وَالذَّاكِرِينَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا وَالذَّاكِرَاتِ أَعَدَّ اللَّهُ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا
“Verily, the Muslims, men and women, the believers, men and women, and the men and women who are obedient (to Allah), the men and women who are patient, the men and women who are humble, the men and women who give Sadaqat (charity), and the fasting men and women, and the men and women who guard their chastity, and the men and women who remember Allah much. Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward.” [Al-Ahzab: 35].
Therefore, both men and women are addressed in this way clearly showing their value in both being able to seek the pleasure of their Creator.
The Rights Given to Men and Women in Islam and Under the Khilafah
Both genders can own property, they can seek an education, work and accumulate their own wealth.
However, there are specific rules which are given to men and specific rules for women. For example, the married men are commanded to work to look after their wives, children and parents. The married women on the other hand are ordered to raise the infant and to look after the husband’s property whilst he is away from the home. At the same time, this does not mean that the woman cannot work or engage in dawah, voluntary work and other community activities.
The fact that each gender has specific rules given to them does not mean inferiority or superiority of one gender over the other, rather it is seen as the correct rule for each based on the commandments of the Creator of mankind, Allah (SWT). Who else knows the nature of men and women better than the Creator of both?
Allah (SWT) also says:
وَلَهُنَّ مِثْلُ الَّذِي عَلَيْهِنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ ۚ وَلِلرِّجَالِ عَلَيْهِنَّ دَرَجَةٌ
“Women have the same rights (in relation to their husbands) as are expected in all decency from them, while men stand a step above them (in responsibility/accountability).” [Al-Baqarah: 228].
This is why in Islam the search for some apparent equality for women (or men) is not an issue. The quest for equality and equal rights is a Western pursuit due to man-made laws that discriminated against women for centuries and still do.
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
“And among His signs is this: that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest and peace of mind in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Certainly, herein indeed are signs for people who reflect.” [Ar-Rum: 21].
Men and women are commanded to treat each other with mutual respect and care. In fact, the onus is on men to display the correct behaviour. The Prophet (SAW) said:
أَكْمَلُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِيمَانًا أَحْسَنُهُمْ خُلُقًا وَخِيَارُكُمْ خِيَارُكُمْ لِنِسَائِهِمْ خُلُقًا
“The most complete of the believers in faith are those with the best character, and the best of you are the best in behavior to their women.” [At-Tirmidhi]
The teachings of Islam are backed up via the Khilafah state’s apparatus such as the media, education system and judiciary. The role of the state is to facilitate individuals and citizens who base their actions on Taqwa and Tawakkul (reliance on Allah alone).
This naturally leads to an atmosphere of accountability in individuals who would uphold the Shari’ah rules such as avoiding seclusion (khalwa) in a private or public place with the opposite sex, avoiding illegal free mixing and relationships whether on social media or in person and treating other members of society with respect and honour.
An active role for women in Islamic history has never been in doubt. At the time of the Prophet (SAW) women participated in carrying the call of Islam and sticking to the principles of Islam in the face of hostility and torture. It is well known the first martyr of Islam was a woman. Women participated in the second bai’yah (pledge) to the Prophet (SAW) which led him to become the ruler in Madinah. Women also played an active role in supporting the Muslims who were fighting in battles by carrying arms, nursing the wounded and even volunteering to participate when needed the most.
It is also well known how a woman accounted ‘Umar (ra) – the second Khalifah of the Khilafah ar-Rashidah when he made a public announcement to limit the dowry. The woman questioned him by saying how can you place a limit on something Allah (SWT) has not placed a limit on? ‘Umar (ra) retracted this proposal and stood corrected in public due to a lady accounting the ruler.
Throughout history to the current day Muslim women have excelled in all industries, obtaining qualifications and recognition in writing, politics, economics and the sciences to mention just a few.
It is through the correct application of the Islamic Shari’ah rules relating to men and women that the Khilafah state correctly progressed the role of women in society. From the political and judicial systems through to education as well as rules on trading, women were allowed to participate in areas that interested them.
The Khilafah state in future will Inshallah apply the same rules from Islam demonstrating to the world the correct relationships between men and women in society, leaving behind the oppression and injustice done to women in both the West and the East. A state where women are not exploited for profits by selling their bodies and are not subject to societal pressures to maintain a certain image or have to face constant harassment in their everyday lives.