Muslim Women: In the Qur'an and Sunnah
Islam is the complete way of life ordained by God for all humanity. It is based on the Qur'an
, God's last revelation, as well as the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) or Sunnah
. It is a way of life that honors all human beings, regardless of race or gender. The purpose of this article is to present some of the voluminous evidence from the Qur'an and Sunnah which displays the lofty position of Muslim women.
Women in the Qur'an
The Qur'an clarifies that piety alone, not gender or ethnicity, determines one's status with God:
Qur'an 49:13. O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most noble among you in the sight of God is the most pious.
Verily, God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.
And the Qur'an further says that the righteous deeds of both genders will be rewarded because they are equal before God:
Qur'an 3:195 I shall not lose sight of the labor of any of you who labors in My way, be it man or woman; each of you is equal to the other
And the Qur'an again emphasizes that both men and women will be rewarded with heaven for their righteousness and neither will be wronged:
Qur'an 4:124 If any do deeds of righteousness - be they male or female
- and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them.
Qur'an 40:40 Whoever does an evil deed will not be recompensed except by the like thereof; but whoever does righteousness - whether male or female -
and is a believer, such will enter Paradise, being given provision therein without limit.
And in another verse the Qur'an promises reward in both this life and the next to both genders:
Qur'an 16:97 Whoever works righteousness, man or woman
, and has Faith, verily, to such will We grant a good and pure life, and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions.
The fact that the Qur'an continually goes out of its way to emphasize that gender has no bearing on one's reward is undoubtedly significant. It would have been easy to simply state 'the believers' without going further to specify that the ruling includes both men and women. But the Qur'an sought to forever demolish even the slightest notion that one's gender may bar one from God's great reward. The quotations from the Qur'an demonstrate that both
men and women will be rewarded for their good deeds by God. The Qur'an emphasizes this equality most extensively in the following verse:
33:35 For Muslim men and women,- for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for truthful men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God's praise,- for them has God prepared forgiveness and the greatest reward
The Qur'an not only declares both genders are entitled to the greatest reward, but it offers examples of both men and women who were honored by God for their righteousness. God provides the shining example of Mary the mother of Jesus, and 'Asiyah the wife of Pharoah:
Qur'an 66:11-12. And Allah presents an example of those who believed: the wife of Pharaoh
, when she said, "My Lord, build for me near You a house in Paradise
and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds and save me from the wrongdoing people."And [the example of] Mary, the daughter of 'Imran
, who guarded her chastity, so We blew into her a soul from Us. And she believed in the words of her Lord and His scriptures and was of the devoutly obedient.
Mary's story is related in many places in the Qur'an, where she is extoled for her virtues. The Qur'an also declares Satan to be the enemy of both Adam and Eve (20:117), thus establishing both genders to be on the side of good and opposed to evil .
The Qur'an continually upholds the rights of women when it comes to family affairs. It commands men as follows:
Qur'an 4:19 ...Live with them (women) on a footing of kindness and equity.
As it states:
Qur'an 2:226 And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women.
Qur'an 2:187 They (your wives) are a garment for you as you are a garment for them.
The Qur'an stresses love and mercy as the foundation of marriage:
Qur'an 30:21 And from amongst His Signs is this: That He created for you mates from amongst yourselves, so that you may find serenity and tranquility in them. And He has put between you love and mercy
. Indeed, in this are signs for those who reflect.
The Qur'an also calls upon man to be dutiful to his mother:
Qur'an 31:14 And [God says:] ‘We have enjoined upon man goodness towards his parents: his mother bore him by bearing strain upon strain
, and his utter dependence on her lasted two years: [hence, O man,] be grateful towards Me and towards thy parents, [and remember that] with Me is all journeys’ end.”
And again in another chapter:
Qur'an 46:15 And We have enjoined upon man, to his parents, good treatment. His mother carried him with hardship and gave birth to him with hardship, and his gestation and weaning [period] is thirty months.
[He grows] until, when he reaches maturity and reaches [the age of] forty years, he says, "My Lord, enable me to be grateful for Your favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents and to work righteousness of which You will approve and make righteous for me my offspring. Indeed, I have repented to You, and indeed, I am of the Muslims."
Evidently, the Qur'an contains numerous passages which honor and elevate the status of women.
Women in the Sunnah
There is certainly no shortage of statements from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which honor women and promote their rights, beginning with the explicit mandate: 'I command you to be kind to women.' (Sahîh Bukhârî).
He often described a man's treatment of women to be reflective of his own nobility or worth. The Prophet said: 'None but a noble man treats women in an honorable manner. And none but an ignoble treats women disgracefully' (Sunan At-Tirmidhî)
The Prophet said: 'The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and the best of you are those who are best to their wives.'
The Prophet said: 'The most perfect of the believers in faith are the best of them in moral excellence, and the best of you are the kindest to their wives.
Muslims are commanded to always follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In light of this, the Prophet said: 'The best of you is the one who is best to his wife. I am the best of you to his wife and I'm the best to my wife.' (Sunan At-Tirmidhî, Sunan Ad-Dârimî, Sahîh Ibn Hibbân)
There is no one who could describe better about how the Prophet (peace be upon) was with his wives, then the latter themselves. A'isha, the wife of the Prophet, was asked, "What did the Prophet used to do at home?" She answered, "he kept himself busy helping the members of his household, and when the time for prayer came, he would go out for the prayer". (Sahîh Bukhârî). The Prophet Muhammad participated in the household chores and helped his wives. "He would attend to his clothes, milk his sheep and serve himself." (Musnad Ahmad)
The Prophet advised one of his companions, Abdullah ibn 'Amr ibn al-'Aas, who used to fast all day and pray all night: 'Do not do that. Fast and break your fast, pray qiyaam and sleep, for your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you, your wife has a right over you
and your visitors have a right over you.' (Sahîh Bukhârî, Sahîh Muslim)
The Prophet censured those who quarreled with their wives, describing them as being driven by the most evil of devils:
"Iblîs (Satan) sets up his throne on water, then he sends out his armies of devils (to incite humans to do evil). The closest to him of these troops are the ones who cause the most tribulation. One devil comes and says, 'I have done such and such.' Iblîs says, 'You have not done enough.' Then another one comes and says, 'I never left him alone until I created trouble and caused division between him and his wife.
' Then Iblîs comes close to this devil and says, 'How excellent you are!' " (Sahîh Muslim)
Likewise, the Prophet denounced those men who were unfaithful regarding their wives' secrets:
'Verily among the most evil of people with Allah in ranking on the Day of Resurrection is a man who goes to his wife and whose wife goes to him, and then he spreads her secrets.' (Sahîh Muslim, Musnad Ahmad, Sunan Abû Dawûd)
Prophet Muhammad forbade hostility towards one's wife: 'The believer should not harbor hatred towards his wife. If he dislikes something in her, then surely he will be pleased with another quality in her.' (Sahîh Muslim)
Instead, he encouraged both men and women to be patient with their spouses: 'If any man shows patience with his wife's bad temper, Allah will give him a reward similar to the reward of Ayyub for his patience, and if any woman shows patience with her husband's bad temper, Allah will give her a reward similar to the reward of Asiyah daughter of Muzahim, the wife of Pharoah (Cf. Qur'an 66:11).' (Al-Kabâ'ir of Adh-Dhahabî)
The Prophet encouraged couples to enjoy time together: 'All activities of a man in which there is no mention of God are frivolity, except for four things: A man enjoying time with his wife, training his horse, walking between two purposeful goals, and teaching another man to swim.' (Sunan An-Nasâ'î, Mu'jam At-Tabarânî)
He spoke of the mutual rights of men and women on many occasions: 'Consult with women. Indeed, you have some rights over your women and they have some rights over you. It is their right on you that you provide for their food and clothing generously, and your right on them is that they do not let anyone whom you dislike in the house, walking upon your floor. (Sunan Ibn Mâjah, Sunan At-Tirmidhî)
And he said concerning the virtuous woman:
'The life of this world is bountiful, and the best of bounties is the righteous woman
.' (Sahîh Muslim)
Perhaps the clearest example of Islam's honoring of women is in its directives for man to be dutiful to his mother. The Prophet said in a famous narration: 'Paradise lies at the feet of your mother'
(Musnad Ahmad, Sunan An-Nasâ’i, Sunan Ibn Mâjah)
Scholars have proven the preference of the mother over the father from the following narration:
A man came to Prophet Muhammad asking “ O Messenger of God, who among the people is the most worthy of my good company?” The Prophet said “Your mother”. The man said “then who else?” The Prophet said “Your mother”. The man asked, “then who else?” The Prophet replied “Your mother” When the man asked for the fourth time, only then did the Prophet say, “Your father” ( Sahîh Bukhârî, Sahîh Muslim)
The Prophet did not stop at commanding kindness to wives and honoring one's mother. He continually singled out daughters when emphasizing the good treatment of one's children. The Prophet said: 'Anyone who cares for three daughter, gives them a good upbringing, marries them to good husbands and treats them well, they will enter paradise. The companions asked, "What about two daughters?" He said, "Even two daughters". They asked what about one daughter? He said "even one". (Sunan Abi Dawûd, Musnad Ahmad, Mustadarak Al-Hâkim). It is significant that in the above narration, the Prophet has promised nothing short of paradise to the believer on account of good treatment to women. Can there be any weightier statement in favor of women?
The Prophet explictly forbade any gender bias towards one's children, though it was prevalent in pre-islamic arabian culture. The Prophet said: 'Whoever has a daughter born to him, and he did not prefer his son over him
, Allah will admit him to Paradise because of her.' (Mustadarak Al-Hâkim)
The Prophet also extended honorable treatment to include one's sisters in addition to daughters: 'There is no one who has three daughters, or three sisters, and he treats them well, but Allah will admit him/her to Paradise.' (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad of Bukhârî)
The Prophet said: 'There is no one among my ummah who has three daughters, or three sisters, and he supports them until they are grown up, but he will be with me in Paradise like this – and he held up his index and middle fingers together.' (Mu'jam At-Tabarânî)
Thus, the Prophet not only made virtuous treatment of women a path to paradise, but he said it would bring one close to the Prophet himself in paradise.
In another narration, the Prophet Muhammad said that a believing woman's sacrifice for he daughters was a cause for her entrance to paradise. A'isha, the wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him), said: 'A poor woman came to me carrying her two daughters. I gave her three dates to eat. She gave each child a date, and raised the third to her own mouth to eat it. Her daughters asked her to give it to them, so she split the date that she had wanted to eat between them. I was impressed by what she had done, and told the Messenger of Allah about it. He said, “Allah has decreed Paradise for her because of it”
.' (Sahîh Muslim)
At a time when a woman was valued only for material benefits or superficial qualities, the Prophet Muhammad taught his companions to value women for their piety. The Prophet said: 'A woman is married for four reasons: for her property, her status, her beauty, and her religion; so marry one who is religious, may you be blessed.
' (Sahîh Bukhârî)
The Prophet also said: 'Whoever Allah has blessed with a virtuous woman has been helped with half of his religion. So let him be mindful of God concerning the remaining half.' (Mu'jam At-Tabarânî, Mustadarak Al-Hâkim)
He also upheld women's right in choosing their spouse, as seen in the following narration:
Al-Khansaa’ bint Khidaam complained to the Prophet that her father wanted her to marry someone she didn’t want, saying “I do not wish to accept what my father has arranged.” The Prophet said, “Then this marriage is invalid, go and marry whomever you wish.” Al-Khansaa’ said, “I have actually accepted what my father has arranged, but I wanted women to know that fathers have no right in their daughter’s matters” (i.e. they have no right to force a marriage on them). (Fath Al-Barî Ibn Hajr, Sunan Ibn Mâjah)
The Prophet said: 'Assuredly, women are the twin halves of men.' (Sunan Abî Dawûd, Sunan At-Tirmidhî, Musnad Ahmad).
In light of the numerous teachings honoring women, it would be no exaggeration to say that the greatest advocate of women's rights was none other than the Prophet Muhammad himself, peace be upon him.