Are women neglected in the Islamic law?

Women obtained the position and value that they deserved with Islam and reached the peace and bliss they had always longed for throughout history. Islamic law has abolished the practices of excess and negligence and set up a perfect balance and harmony between two genders.

According to Islam, women and men are equal to each other in terms of being servants that Allah Almighty has created. (al-Hujurat, 13; an-Nisa 1) As the Prophet Muhammad put it, " All human beings whether male or female are equal like the teeth of a comb.” (Bilmen, Ömer, Nasuhi, Hukuk-u İslâmiye ve İstilahat-ı Fıkhiye Kamusu, II. 73-74).

Women and men are two halves of an apple. This verse expresses it most beautifully:

They are clothes (Lîbas) for you and you are clothes for them. (Al-Baqarah, 2:187) Just as clothes cover private parts, protect you from warmth or cold, so too does each of you cover one another’s bad deeds and amend your deficiencies.

Then the debate ‘whether men or women are superior’ is inappropriate. Again, according to the explanation in the Qur’an, men have some qualities and superiorities, which women do not have; likewise, women have some qualities and superiorities that men do not have. Therefore, both genders are in need of each other from different aspects; and thus, both genders have superiorities different from each other by nature. To make comparisons on the same points would lead us to wrong conclusions. (An-Nisa, 4:34)

According to the Quran, a human being has only one character regardless of gender. Both women and men are held responsible for the same ethical characteristics. What matters in the eye of Allah is religious ethics and taqwa. Allah informs us about this fact as follows in the Quran:

"Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you." (al-Hujurat, 13)

As it is seen, according to the Quran, affinity to Allah is not based on a person's gender, color or race but on the "ideal Islamic ethics" informed by Allah. As a matter of fact, Allah states that believers who acts in accordance with high ethics whether male or female will be rewarded in the best way both in the world and the hereafter:

"Whoever works righteousness, man or woman and has Faith, verily, to him will We give a life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions." (an-Nahl, 97)   

After this short introduction, let us examine closely some customs that Islam abolished in favor of women and the rights Islam gives to women.

1. Some Customs That Islam Abrogated in Favor Of Women: Islam rejected the notion that women are cursed, which is the belief of Christians and Jews. It severely prohibited the practice of burying girls alive, which was a custom of the pre-Islamic era in Arabia. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) declared that there was no ill omen in anything and smashed the belief of considering women inauspicious. He ordered men to show great compassion, love and care to women. He despised the hatred towards the girls and praised them by saying, “be fair while giving presents to your children; if I had to prefer one, it would be girls.” As an answer to one of his Companions who asked who was more worthy of respect, he said “Your mother” three times, in the fourth he said “Your father.”

2. The Rights Acknowledged To Women: Right and duty are two sister words. If there is a right, there must be a duty as well. The Islamic Law, which recognized women’s rights and freedom from the very beginning and despised their being looked down on, has assigned some duties onto them. Before mentioning them, we shall recall the principle he mentioned at the Last Sermon in the presence of 130.000 people:

O People! it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women but they also have right over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah's trust and with his permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste.

Again, in a hadith, he says, “Fear Allah in respect of fulfilling the rights of women. Beware of transgressing their rights and freedom. For, they have been entrusted to you.” (Ajluni, Kashfu’l-Khafa, Beirut, 1351, I.36)

After this generalization, let us examine briefly the rights acknowledged to women in the Islamic law:

Women’s Right for Alimony (Nafaqa): A husband is obliged to provide alimony for his wife and for the children she gave birth to. That is, women may demand alimony from their husbands. In the Islamic Law, the husband has to meet his wife’s expenses of food, clothing, housing, and servant. Women may not be forced to share the expenses: It is incumbent on the husband to supply sustenance for the wife and children...

Women’s Right of Action: In the Islamic law, women have the right for action. They have freedom over their own properties. They can acquire or take upon themselves any kind of civil rights.

Furthermore, the guardianship of children is given to women, for boys until the age of seven, and for girls until they get married.

Right of Inheritance: Contrary to all systems of custom-practices laws (Roman Law excluded) at the time of Islam’s rise, the Islamic Law acknowledged women right for inheritance. This practice has been based on the equality except for giving two shares to brothers and one share to sisters among siblings. The logical reasons of the one-to-two practice have been satisfactorily explained both in the Qur’an and in the hadiths. Women getting fewer shares in inheritance are not something absolute.

The Right of Study and Education for Women: Study and education have a significant role in the Islamic community. The woman is the perfect pedagogue. It is the woman who mostly brings up and educates children. It is unthinkable that women be deprived of education. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) always encouraged and commanded women to learn how to write and read. There came a large number of women hadith-narrators, women of literature, and most importantly great women jurists in the history of Islam.

Right to Work: Women may exercise any profession, which is not contrary to the religion and ethics.

The Other Rights that Women can Demand from Their Husbands: A woman may want her due dowries (mahr) from her husband. Besides, the husband has to get on well with his wife. The woman may visit her family by informing her husband whenever she wants. The husband needs to have fun with his wife and allow her for legitimate pleasures. The husband may not treat his wife brutally for no reason. The husband must not reveal the secrets of his wife.

Let us indicate that although women have these rights, the head of the family is the husband. This is the principle adopted in the classical law systems anyway. Agreeing to this principle does not mean that there are, as some jurists claim, differences between women and men. The verse that points out this fact by saying that the husband is the head of the family also rejects this claim. The Holy Qur’an announces:

“Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other (which means, women also excel men in certain points), and because they spend of their property (for the support of women).” (an-Nisa, 4:34)

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