Various references and facts having been compiled below showing the true
capabilities and position of women as taught by Islam.
1. Women cited as examples for believers.
The Holy Quran says:
"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,
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 the evil Pharaoh), but prays to be delivered from it. Mary
typifies the highest grade of believer, who guards himself or herself
against all low desires, and therefore receives inspiration from God.
"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 ..." (66:11-12)
So the Quran has cited two women as the highest examples for
Muslim men and women to follow.
2. Women receiving revelation.
Examples of righteous women receiving revelation from God are given in
"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 ..." (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 ch. 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, ch.
21 gives examples of various prophets (verses 51 to 90), and then refers
to Mary in the same way in verse 91, and then says in the next verse referring
to the whole group:
"Surely this your community is one community, and
I am your Lord, so serve Me".
4. A woman's complaint heard by Allah.
Ch. 58 begins as follows:
"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.
5. A woman ruler in Quran.
The Quran gives the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Solomon had
a well-developed intelligence service. His intelligence officer brought
him information about a neighbouring country as follows. (Note: This was
not a bird, as commonly believed, but a man whose name was Hudhud.)
"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"
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:
"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." (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 the subsequent account, Solomon's efforts are directed at
rescuing her from idolatrous beliefs, and when she becomes convinced
by his arguments, she says:
"My Lord, surely I have wronged myself, and I submit
with Solomon to Allah, the Lord of the worlds." (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 as teacher of religion.
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 (may Allah be pleased with her). 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
It is estimated that about two-thirds of the hadith reports relating
to matters of the Shariah have been related by 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 narrator being a man or a woman.
The evidence of a woman reporter, that she had heard a certain saying
from a certain source, was treated on the same basis as that of
a male reporter, by the collectors of Hadith.
A verse of the Quran which is often discussed is the following:
"O wives of the Prophet, you are not like any other
women. If you would keep your duty, then be not soft in speech, lest
he in whose heart is a disease yearn; and speak a word of goodness.
And stay in your houses and display not your beauty like the displaying
of the ignorance of yore" (33:32-33)
This verse is in reference to the public duties of the Holy Prophet's
wives as teachers of the Muslims. The teaching function is given in the
words, "Speak a word of goodness". They were public figures
holding a delicate position, and not private individuals, and therefore
they had to avoid doing things which could be misrepresented and bring
them under the slightest shadow of suspicion. At the same time, they had
to fulfil their duty of giving instruction, which meant that they had
to come into contact with a large number of people of all kinds. Hence
the precautions mentioned above, including that of not talking informally
7. Women correct men in matters of religion.
There are instances in which women corrected the views of a man of the
stature and position of Hazrat Umar. It is recorded in Bukhari that, on
his death bed, Umar asserted that the Holy Prophet had said that the "weeping
and wailing of the relatives of a deceased person increases the punishment
of that person in the after-life". Aishah, on being informed of this,
said that Umar was wrong, and that the Holy Prophet had not said this
because it contradicts the teaching of the Quran that a person cannot
be punished for what others do.
Once Umar, when he was Khalifa, announced that he would introduce
a certain restriction to do with mahr (gift given to wife by
husband at time of the wedding). An ordinary 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
(Can you imagine any modern Islamic rulers doing this?)
8. Holy Prophet appoints woman as imam
in her house.
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 mu'azzin
(caller of prayer) in her house who was a man. So men of the house prayed
9. 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 any
more call her a woman."
This was written nearly 800 years ago!
The above references illustrate the positions which, according to Islam,
women can not only attain but did actually reach. We close with the following
excerpts from the Holy Quran:
"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." (9:71-72)
"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." (57:12)