By Imam Murtadha Gusau
Can a religion that considers morality to be a part of faith clearly define the equality of men and women and their rights and responsibilities?
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all creation. May the salutations of Allah, His peace and blessings be upon our Prophet, his family, his companions and his true and sincere followers until the Last Day – then to proceed:
Dear brothers and sisters! For centuries, Muslim women in all corners of the world have been aware of the liberation that is achieved by adhering to the concept of Hijab. Current world events have once again brought the issue of women’s liberation in Islam to the forefront of people’s minds.
Can a Woman Who Adheres to Hijab Be Liberated?
Can a religion that considers morality to be a part of faith clearly define the equality of men and women and their rights and responsibilities? The answer is a resounding “yes.” In a day and age when the basic tenets of Islam are being questioned by some Muslims and non-Muslims alike, we must be cautious when evaluating Islam.
The general picture that is painted by the media is biased and unsubstantiated. The impression that some Muslims give to the world is often not a true reflection of the religion, one that is the completion of all religions. Islam, the religion for all people in all places and times, which takes the equality of men and women very seriously. It sees the liberation of women as essential and considers modesty, good character, and manners to be the way to achieve such liberation.
Too often, the image of a covered woman is used to represent what much of the world views as oppression. Her very existence is described in terms that convey ignorance and unhappiness. Words like “beaten,” “repressed” and “oppressed” are bandied about by the Western media in a desperate attempt to convince the readers that women in Islam have no rights. Descriptive and intrinsically oppressive terms such as “shrouded” and “shackled” are used to portray an image of women who have no minds and who are the slaves or possessions of their husbands and fathers. In the 19th century, T. E. Lawrence described women in Arabia as “death taking a walk,” and from that time forward, the true status of women in Islam has been shrouded by misunderstanding. The truth about women and Islam is far from this melodramatic portrayal.
Over 1,443 years ago, Islam raised the status of women from a position of oppression to one of liberation and equality. In an era when women were considered possessions, Islam restored women to a position of dignity.
In order to gain a true insight into the real and lasting liberation that Islam guarantees women, we must first examine the concept of liberation as viewed by the West. In Western countries where liberation encompasses unlimited freedom, many women are actually finding themselves living lives that are unsatisfying and meaningless. In their quest for liberation, they have abandoned the ideals of morality and stability and found themselves in marriages and families that bear little resemblance to real life.
What is liberating about working all day and coming home at night to the housework? What is liberating about having babies who, at six weeks old can be deposited in childcare centers to learn their behaviour and morality from strangers? Girls as young as six years old have been diagnosed with eating disorders, teenage pregnancy is rampant, and women who choose to stay at home to raise their families are viewed as old fashioned or unemployable.
Women in the West are liberated: liberated to the point that they are no longer free to choose the life that is natural for them. They are free only to choose from the selection of consumer goods offered to them by their masters. The so-called liberated women of the West have become slaves. Slaves to the economic system, slaves to the fashion and beauty industries, and slaves to a society that views them as brainless machines, taught to look desirable, earn money, and shop. Even the career woman who has managed to push her way through the glass ceiling is a slave to the consumer society, which requires her to reside in a spacious house, wear only the latest designer clothes, drive a luxurious car, and educate her children at the most exclusive and expensive schools.
Is This Liberation?
The natural inclination of women is to please, comfort, and support their men: their husbands, fathers, brothers, or sons. The natural inclination of men is to protect, support, and provide for the women lawfully in their lives: wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters. Islam, the only true religion and infallible guide to life, requires that we follow such natural inclinations. It allows us to abandon ideas that are intrinsically foreign to human nature and supports us in developing and sustaining natural family relationships that spread out to form part of the wider Muslim community.
A Muslim woman knows her place in society and knows her place in the family infrastructure. Her religion is her first priority; therefore, her role is clear-cut and defined. A Muslim woman, far from being oppressed, is a woman who is liberated in the true sense of the word. She is a slave to no man or to any economic system; rather, she is the servant of Allah. Islam clearly defines women’s rights and responsibilities spiritually, socially, and economically. Islam’s clear-cut guidelines are empowering; they raise women to a natural and revered position.
Women in Islam have no need to protest and demonstrate for equal rights. They have no need to live their lives aimlessly acquiring possessions and money. With the perfection of Islam as the natural and only true religion came the undeniable fact that women and men are equal, partners and protectors of one another. Allah Almighty says:
“So their Lord accepted from them; Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, be they male or female. You are of one another; so those who emigrated or were driven out from their homes, who suffered harm in My cause, and fought and were killed, I will verily expiate from them their evil deeds and admit them into gardens under which rivers flow: a reward from Allah; and with Allah is the best rewards.” [Qur’an, 3:195]
And Allah the Most High says:
“And whoever does righteous good deeds, male or female, and is a true believer in the Oneness of Allah, such will enter paradise; and not the least injustice, even to the size of a speck on the back of a date stone, will be done to them.” [Qur’an, 4:124]
Respected servants of Allah! Women in Islam have the right to own property, to control their own money or money that they earn, to buy and sell, and to give gifts and charity. They have formal rights of inheritance. They have the right to an education; seeking and acquiring knowledge is an obligation on all Muslims, male or female. Married Muslim women are completely free from the obligation of supporting and maintaining the family, yet may work if they wish too.
They are in no way forced into marriage, but have the right to accept or refuse a proposal as they see fit. Women in Islam have the right to seek divorce if it becomes necessary, as they also have the right to save their marriages.
Islam teaches that the family is the core of society. In Western cultures, the fabric of society is being torn apart by the breakdown of the family unit. It is in these crumbling communities that the call for the liberation of women arises. It seems to be a misguided and feeble attempt to find a path of security and safety. Such security is available only when the human being turns back to Allah and accepts the role for which he or she was created.
Yes, liberation means freedom, but not the freedom to do as one pleases. Freedom must never be at the expense of oneself or of the wider community. When a woman fulfills the role for which she was created, not only is she liberated but she is empowered.
The modestly dressed or covered woman you see in the street is liberated. She is liberated from the shackles that have tied the feet of her Western counterparts. She is liberated from the economic slavery of the West, and she is liberated from the necessity of managing a house and family without the support of her husband or the help of a wider community. She lives her life based on divine guidelines; her life is filled with peace, happiness, and strength. She is not afraid of the world, but rather embraces its tests and trials with patience and fortitude, secure in the fact that true liberation is only achieved by full and willing submission to the natural order of the universe.
Oppression is not defined by a piece of material, but rather by a sickening of the heart and a weakening of the mind. Oppression grows in a society that is crumbling because its members have lost sight of the true purpose of their existence. Liberation arises and takes root in a society that is just, cohesive, and based on natural order and divine guidelines. Islam is such a society, and this is what makes a Muslim woman is liberated.
Dear brothers and sisters! A historical study of the existence of differences between men and women in various societies leads to the conclusion that these differences are indications of different values as well. Because of the values and culture of male domination and of discrimination against women, the position of women in the West was no better than their position in Asia and Africa. Even worse, women were unaware of their rights even there until the beginning of the 19th century. When Western women fought for the recognition of their rights denied for centuries and the struggle for them came into focus with the Suffragette movement in the beginning of the 20th century. This gave birth to women’s liberation movements in various parts of Europe and the Americas. Starting with the Married Women’s Property Act 1882 and ending for the time being with the Pension Act 1995, women in the UK have slowly gained the economic, social, and political freedom denied to them earlier. Unfortunately, the attitude of the Christian Church, until the end of the 18th century, was not very friendly towards women and this caused further difficulties. However, the process of reinterpreting Christian texts and the restating of its values in the 19th and the 20th centuries have been of immense help to Christian women.
In pre-Islamic Arabia the position of women was even worse. Women were treated as nothing but cattle. Married women were treated as heritable property, to be inherited by the heirs of a husband. In this dark era for women, Islamic reforms through the Qur’an and the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) were revolutionary. Due to these Islamic reforms, between 610 and 632 Muslim women gained rights unparalleled in the world. In fact, Muslim women enjoyed more rights than women in any other society until the liberation of women in the western world. The Qur’an, the principal authority for all Islamic rules and regulations, put women on an almost equal footing with their male counterparts, and the rights conferred on Muslim women by the Qur’an were supported and supplemented by the authentic Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
It was Islam that uplifted the status of women and made them parallel to men, they got right of inheritance and other equal rights. The Prophetic Hadiths mainly focus on uplifting the female child and prescribe that one who nourishes a female child is guaranteed paradise. This degree hasn’t been given to a male child. Moreover there are many other Hadiths that clearly indicate that women entertain more freedom and rights in an Islamic society. There are many stories from the Prophetic era and episodes from the time of rightly guided Caliphs that talk about the liberty women then enjoyed.
Islam guarantees the rights and liberty of women, but those rights were snatched from women in different names. There are women who have shown great character and talent, and the Prophet (Peace be upon him) even encouraged them. But later women were deprived of such freedom. This resulted in the worst condition of women, which then gave birth to feminism and claimed those rights which don’t suit a woman. The need of the hour is to return to Islam’s basic sources and seek out What rights and privileges it gives women, so that their freedom, liberty and rights can be protected.
All praises and thanks are due to Allah alone, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org or +2348038289761.
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