What does Islam teach about the status of women in Islam, especially in regards to the role and respect deserved of mothers and wives?
At a time when the rest of the world, from Greece and Rome to India and China, considered women as no better than children or even slaves, with no rights whatsoever, Islam acknowledged women’s equality with men in a great many respects. The Qur’an states:
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُمْ مِنْ أَنْفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُمْ مَوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ 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.”
The Qur’an clearly indicates that marriage is sharing between the two halves of the society, and that its objectives, besides perpetuating human life, are emotional well-being and spiritual harmony. Its bases are love and mercy.
Allah تعالى has made man and women equal in their own rights. They have been created with different attributes and roles which play a huge part in life. Allah (SWT) has made them equal spiritually as mentioned in the Qur’an:
وإِنَّ 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 لَهُمْ مَغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا
“Lo! Men who surrender unto Allah, and women who surrender, and men who believe and women who believe, and men who obey and women who obey, and men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth, and men who persevere (in righteousness) and women who persevere, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their modesty and women who guard (their modesty), and men who remember Allah much and women who remember – Allah hath prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward.” [Al-Ahzab 33:35]
This shows that a deed of a female is equal to a male. Allah (SWT) has not belittled them in any way.
Allah (SWT) has blessed women with many responsibilities. One being carrying, giving birth and weaning a child. With this he has placed the child’s Jannah (Heaven) below the mother’s feet. The Prophet has also emphasized that the best Muslims are those who are best to their wives;
“The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives.”
The clearest examples of Islam honouring its women are the great statuses given to mothers in Islam. Islam commands kindness, respect and obedience to parents and specifically emphasizes and gives preference to the mother. Islam raises parents to a status greater than that found in any other religion or ideology.
Disobeying the parents is a major in Islam. Numerous times in the Qur’an Allah (SWT) has mentioned parents in the same verse as Himself, which shows the extent to which we should strive in our efforts to serve our mothers and fathers who have sacrificed so much to give us love and attention. Doing so will help us become a better person;
َقَضَىٰ رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا ۚ إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِنْدَكَ الْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَا أَوْ كِلَاهُمَا فَلَا تَقُلْ لَهُمَا أُفٍّ وَلَا تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَقُلْ لَهُمَا قَوْلًا كَرِيمًا وَاخْفِضْ لَهُمَا جَنَاحَ الذُّلِّ مِنَ الرَّحْمَةِ وَقُلْ رَبِّ ارْحَمْهُمَا كَمَا رَبَّيَانِي صَغِيرًا
“Thy Lord hath decreed, that ye worship none save Him, and (that ye show) kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age with thee, say not “Fie” unto them nor repulse them, but speak unto them a gracious word. (23) And lower unto them the wing of submission through mercy, and say: My Lord! Have mercy on them both as they did care for me when I was little.”
This verse illustrates the debt we owe to our mothers is magnified more than we imagine due to the difficult nature of pregnancy in addition to the efforts required for nurturing and the attention paid during infancy. We cannot even utter the words “uff” or any of its sorts to our parents. Allah (SWT) also instructs us how we should be towards our parents;
وَوَصَّيْنَا الْإِنْسَانَ بِوَالِدَيْهِ حَمَلَتْهُ أُمُّهُ وَهْنًا عَلَىٰ وَهْنٍ وَفِصَالُهُ فِي عَامَيْنِ أَنِ اشْكُرْ لِي وَلِوَالِدَيْكَ إِلَيَّ الْمَصِيرُ وَإِنْ جَاهَدَاكَ عَلَىٰ أَنْ تُشْرِكَ بِي مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ فَلَا تُطِعْهُمَا ۖ وَصَاحِبْهُمَا فِي الدُّنْيَا مَعْرُوفًا ۖ وَاتَّبِعْ سَبِيلَ مَنْ أَنَابَ إِلَيَّ ۚ ثُمَّ إِلَيَّ مَرْجِعُكُمْ فَأُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
“And We have enjoined upon man concerning his parents – His mother beareth him in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years – Give thanks unto Me and unto thy parents. Unto Me is the journeying. But if they strive with thee to make thee ascribe unto Me as partner that of which thou hast no knowledge, then obey them not. Consort with them in the world kindly, and follow the path of him who repenteth unto Me. Then unto Me will be your return, and I shall tell you what ye used to do.”
The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم continually used to remind his followers of the status of the mother and the obligation of being good to one’s parents. The following narration is a beautiful example of the noble position of the mother;
A man came to the Prophet and said:
“O Messenger of Allah! Who from amongst mankind warrants the best companionship from me?” He replied: “Your mother.” The man asked: “Then who?” So he replied: “Your mother.” The man then asked: “Then who?” So the Prophet replied again: “Your mother.” The man then asked: “Then who?” So he replied: “Then your father.”
Each of us should appreciate what we have in our mothers. They are our teachers and our role models. Every day with them is an opportunity to grow as a person. Every day away from them is a missed opportunity.
One should never suffer in silence. There is help for victims of domestic violence. One must acknowledge and accept that they are a victim of this evil. Counselling is the first step to resolve issues like this. It is mistaken to think that it is un-Islamic to seek counselling. Counsellors help people to explore feelings and emotions that are often related to their experiences. This allows them to reflect on what is happening to them and consider alternative ways of doing things. Working in a confidential setting, counsellors listen attentively to their clients and offer them the time, empathy and respect they need to express their own feelings and perhaps understand themselves from a different perspective. The aim is to reduce their confusion and enable them to make changes in their life if they decide to do so. Counsellors do not give advice, but help clients to make their own choices within the framework of an agreed counselling contract.
Marriage in Islam is a sanctified bond that should not be broken except for compelling reasons. Couples are instructed to pursue all possible remedies whenever their marriages are in danger. Divorce is not to be resorted to except when there is no other way out. In a nutshell, Islam recognises divorce, yet it discourages it by all means if the marriage can be repaired. As the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said;
“Among all the permitted acts, divorce is the most hateful to Allah.”
A Muslim man should not divorce his wife just because he dislikes her. The Quran instructs Muslim men to be kind to their wives even in cases of lukewarm emotions or feelings of dislike:
وَلَا تَعْضُلُوهُنَّ لِتَذْهَبُوا بِبَعْضِ مَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ إِلَّا أَنْ يَأْتِينَ بِفَاحِشَةٍ مُبَيِّنَةٍ ۚ وَعَاشِرُوهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ ۚ فَإِنْ كَرِهْتُمُوهُنَّ فَعَسَىٰ أَنْ تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَيَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا
“Live with them (your wives) on a footing of kindness and equity. If you dislike them it may be that you dislike something in which Allah has placed a great deal of good”
Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم gave a similar instruction;
“A believing man must not hate a believing woman. If he dislikes one of her traits he will be pleased with another.”
However, Islam is a practical religion and it does recognize that there are circumstances in which a marriage becomes on the verge of collapsing. In such cases, a mere advice of kindness or self restraint is no viable solution. So, what to do in order to save a marriage in these cases? The Quran offers some practical advice for the spouse (husband or wife) whose partner (wife or husband) is the wrongdoer;
وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ شِقَاقَ بَيْنِهِمَا فَابْعَثُوا حَكَمًا مِنْ أَهْلِهِ وَحَكَمًا مِنْ أَهْلِهَا إِنْ يُرِيدَا إِصْلَاحًا يُوَفِّقِ اللَّهُ بَيْنَهُمَا ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا خَبِيرًا
“And if ye fear a breach between them twain (the man and wife), appoint an arbiter from his folk and an arbiter from her folk. If they desire amendment Allah will make them of one mind. Lo! Allah is ever Knower, Aware.”
Islam offers Muslim married couples much viable advice to save their marriages in cases of trouble and tension. If one of the partners is jeopardizing the matrimonial relationship, the other partner is advised by the Quran to do whatever possible and effective in order to save this sacred bond. If all the measures fail, Islam allows the partners to separate peacefully and amicably.
Domestic violence is wrong morally and legally as well as forbidden in Islam. Women are not objects of slavery or to be abused. Even if they may be at fault but they are human, so they too also may be subject to faults and mistakes. We never resolve problems with violence but all we do is escalate it. Even when men may be angered by them they are told to control their anger as anger is from Shaitaan. Subduing ones anger is subduing Shaitaan. It has been narrated by Abu Huraira (May Allah be pleased with him) That Allah’s Messenger Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said;
“The strong is not the one who over comes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls him while in anger.”
We can learn a great deal regarding this matter when anger overcomes a husband towards his wife with the story of Ayub عليه السلام and his wife. When his wife asked him to seek Allah’s help and to cure him from his illness. Angered by this, Ayub عليه السلام took an oath to give her 100 lashes if he regains good health;
وَخُذْ بِيَدِكَ ضِغْثًا فَاضْرِبْ بِهِ وَلَا تَحْنَثْ ۗ إِنَّا وَجَدْنَاهُ صَابِرًا ۚ نِعْمَ الْعَبْدُ ۖ إِنَّهُ أَوَّابٌ
“Take in your hand a bundle of thin grass and strike therewith your wife, and break not your oath.” Truly! We found him patient. How excellent a slave! Verily, he was ever oft returning in repentance to Us!”
The Prophet of Islam has condemned any unjustifiable beating. Some Muslim wives complained to him that their husbands had beaten them. Hearing that, the Prophet categorically stated that;
“Those who do so (beat their wives) are not the best among you.”
It has to be remembered at this point that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم has also said;
“The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family”
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم advised one Muslim woman, whose name was Fatimah bint Qais, not to marry a man because the man was known for beating women:
“I went to the Prophet and said: Abul Jahm and Mu’awiah have proposed to marry me. The Prophet (by way of advice) said: As to Mu’awiah he is very poor and Abul Jahm is accustomed to beating women.”
There should not be any confusion that marital disputes occur when the husband is not pleased with the wife as it may and does happen vice versa. Additionally, there are many instances when the domestic violence itself is rooted in ill feelings or a lack of respect towards women/men which is harboured with ethnic/fostered cultural values or incorrect religious ideologies. For some perpetrators, the reason is no more expandable than their desire to have authority and dictatorship in the home. Such people are no better than oppressors, and cause their partner to live under zulm (oppression). This takes all sakeena (tranquillity) from the home and affects not only the victim, but also any children and extended family.
How big an issue do you think domestic violence is, considering most violence is aimed at the women, who are usually often than not the foundation of the home and provide structure and a loving stability for their children and husband?
It is a big issue that needs to be addressed to the Muslims. People need to become aware of this and that it can be happening to someone they may know.
These women live in fear, unable to predict when the next attack will come. They often blame themselves for the abuse, or deny it is taking place. They may ignore it, hoping it won’t happen again. Abused women become isolated from family and friends and increasingly dependent on the abuser. In this situation it can be hard to make sense of what is really happening. The abused woman hopes the violence will end. She believes her partner will change.
Over time her self esteem is worn down. She starts to believe the insults and criticism. It’s a mistake to think that abused women are submissive victims. It takes a lot of strength to stay with an abusive partner. Women have to be strong and resourceful, adopting all kinds of coping strategies and survival techniques.
They may feel weak and helpless, but in reality they have an enormous amount of strength. That strength is used on surviving from day to day.
This also affects their daily chores and the upbringing of her children. Not only is the victim suffering but also their family and people around them. This can lead to permanent scaring upon a child’s life, how the child grows up. This then can cause a chain reaction of domestic violence that passes down.
Furthermore, women are often the centrefold structure of stability in the home and their role as mothers is also greatly important. They are their children’s first teachers, aiding their development and growth vastly. How can any community or society in general flourish if the basic foundations at home are being eroded away? If the wife/mother is being abused or oppressed, how can a house be called a home?
Do you believe there is a need to educate Muslims about the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah in respect to domestic violence, and how that may be achieved?
There is always a need to educate the Muslims on these kinds of matters. Many confuse religion with culture and traditions. But most of the time it’s all misconstrued and it is just ones opinion. So they point fingers at their religion or culture. It is people’s attitudes towards their spouse that needs changing. They fail to remember that their other half is human too and they will be questioned regarding their responsibilities towards them. Education regarding married life should take place before one marries, so they fully understand the rights, responsibilities and attitude they should have towards one another. Islamic advice should be easy accessible to people and this is one of the objectives of NOUR.
Furthermore, local communities and mosques need to become active in domestic violence and openly reject it and offer solutions, advice and refuge. The mosques are the beacon and centre of Muslim communities, but if they fail to address this issue, then where else are Muslim victims or perpetrators expected to turn to, for receiving help and guidance.
We need to engage our friends and family to discuss this problem, and highlight that it does exist and requires urgent attention. If we all unite and educate each other on this matter then insha’Allah we can eradicate domestic violence for everyone.
Do you believe there is enough attention and help offered to deal with domestic violence or do you feel it is one that is too often swept under the rug in this modern age?
I do not believe that there is enough help out there for victims of domestic violence and there is even less awareness of such help. For it being a sensitive subject, it is hardly spoken of thus, leaving the victims to suffer in silence and feel alone. People need to be aware of how they can seek help, as well as be encouraged to stand up against such torment. It is not something that should be ignored and turned a blind eye to. As the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said;
“He who amongst you sees something abominable should modify it with the help of his hand; and if he has not strength enough to do it, then he should do it with his tongue, and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should (abhor it) from his heart (by always disliking what is evil or harmful), and that is the least of faith.”
The Muslim Ummah needs to unite together to stamp this out of our society. Just because one has not endured or encountered domestic violence it doesn’t mean one should disregard it just because it does not involve them. There is a lot of disunity amongst the Muslims regarding certain issues such as sectarian beliefs. Regardless of these and other issues, none can deny that all Muslims should stand against domestic violence. We need to feel one another’s pain and suffering and support the victims and ward off the perpetrators. Eradicate those who boast of abusing others and bring shame upon them. As the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said;
“The believers are like a single person: if the head hurts, the entire body complains, and if his eyes hurt, the entire body complains.”
And his saying “the believers” means that every single believer – regardless of their race, color, and nationality – cannot be except like a single person in their cooperation and compassion and unity. They are like a single man, feeling the pain as if they are one body, feeling concerned for each other just as a man feels pain and concern in his entire body when a single limb of his hurts.
Many use the following hadith to show men and women are not equal in Islam. “If I were to command anyone to prostrate to anything other than Allah, I would have commanded women to prostrate to their husbands.” Please could you clarify this hadith and explain how it is not contrary to the Islamic teaching that men and women are both different, yet equal.
The Hadith in question is narrated to show what degree of obedience the Shariáh commands the wife to have for her husband? It explains, ‘If I had to command anyone to prostrate to somebody, I would have commanded the wife to prostrate before her husband.’ However, if your husband commands you to do something against the Shariáh you do not have to obey him. If the objectives of both husband and wife are to please Allah, the couple will find more common ground on which to build the relationship. The husband here is the loving, the protector and the companion. He is none of the above if he is acting violent towards his wife.
To help clear ones doubt about Islam being a ‘man’s religion’, since the question relates to the topic of “Status of women in Islam”, we will mention some background information in this regard. Man and woman are members of humankind and the Quran has invariably called them spouses and companions of each other. As human beings, man and woman are equal having the same human rights and obligation. The Quran states;
يا أيها الناس اتقوا ربكم الذي خلقكم من نفس واحدة وخلق منها زوجها
“Oh mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one being and created from it its mate.”
From the above verse we understand that man and women are created from the same being. The notion that a woman is a sub-human creature or at least treated as such is totally incorrect. Man and woman are two complementary parts of humanity and in the absence of one of them, humanity is incomplete. The roles of either gender are neither opposed to each other nor inferior or superior to each other. Men are the protectors and maintainers of women. Regarding this, the Quran states;
الرجال قوامون على النساء بما فضل الله بعضهم على بعض وبما أنفقوا من أموالهم
“Men are in charge of women by (right of) what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend (from maintenance) from their wealth.”
Therefore it is the husband’s duty to provide for his family and the duty of the wife to manage the household affairs and the upbringing of the children. Women enjoy a very high status of respect and honour in an Islamic society. As a wife she is the queen of the house and enjoys full and complete social, religious, cultural, legal and economic rights. She is entitled to receive the dower and maintenance from her husband. She can own and manage her property and can also purchase and sell the property without the intervention of the husband. She is allowed to work and have independent finances which her husband is Islamically not allowed to demand or use. She can even seek the dissolution of marriage in extreme cases.
We can see that it is clear from the beautiful teachings of Islam that women hold a very lofty status and is no less part of the human race than man; thus, Islam can in no way be called a ‘man’s religion’.
Nowhere in the teachings and examples of our beloved Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم have we come across an incident where he beat up or raised his voice against any of his wives. His wives were human and they did make errors and incur his disapproval. He did not resort to any form of violence against them, be it physical, emotional, financial, psychological or verbal.
He left behind him the most excellent examples of how a wife should be treated by her husband. Allah Ta’ala sent him to this world to teach us how to conduct our lives. Muslim men are expected to, and should, follow his examples in the treatment of their wives. Instead, many Muslim men choose the ape ‘Period of Ignorance’ or follow the fashion of being the man who can be most abusive/ most mean to his wife.
To be honest, many Muslim men most probably take a top ten position in the “abusers” pole. They behave in the most distasteful manner when it comes to the treatment of their wives. They adopt the postures of being the powerful guys who are in control and who can get things done their way by beating up their wives. They do not care nor take heed that when they abuse their wives, they also abuse their little children. These innocent beings suffer a great deal as they watch and hear all, they experience their mother’s terror too, no matter how old or young they are.
Let us take a look at what treatment the wives of Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم received and shared with him during their marriage. They lived a life of having domestic help from their husband in their home. He was caring, gentle, supportive, helpful, understanding, tolerant, forgiving, loving, amusing and with the ability to share with them unconditionally. I do not think that any woman should suffer in silence. There is help for them and why should you suffer in silence when your spouse is perpetrating violence against you? How long will a woman exercise sabr? The problem rather, will escalate and become worse if she does not do anything about it. What sort of marriage will be left? What relationship will one share?