A reflection on Islamic gender equality


It is common for non-Muslim critics of Islam to try to "prove" that Islam does not treat men and women equally by quoting the inheritance laws, by which men inherit a greater share of an estate than women. But if you consider the religious responsibility men have of looking after the women in their household, it should be clear that a larger inheritance helps to defray such an additional financial burden. To put it another way, what the women do not get as direct legacy, they get indirectly from the male responsible for their upkeep. Within the framework of an Islamic society both men and women have the freedom to contribute to society in keeping with their own particular skills and interests, providing they do not jeopardize their personal dignity and modesty.One of the Prophet's wives, A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) was consulted by many people (men and women) throughout her long life as an expert on the sayings of the Prophet and Islamic jurisprudence.

Women have many rights within the family and society at large; they have the right to choose their husbands and should not be forced into marriage against their own will. They can also divorce their husband if they so wish; an unsustainable marriage must not take precedence over the happiness of the parties concerned. Education is a right for women as well as men and all should have the opportunity to study at the highest levels, the only condition being that their modesty is not put at risk within the study situation. In other words, the Islamic guidance on dress and the limits on free-mixing with strangers must be observed and preserved. The same applies to the issue of whether women can seek employment or not. Clearly, there are occupations which will make it impossible for the Islamic codes to be followed, and so women should not seek employment in those jobs (for example, as fashion models). The fact that there are relatively few Muslim women in prominent positions in public life should not be used as a judgment against Islam. Instead, we should be asking why the few "Muslim" ladies employed to present news programmes, for example, should be required to adopt western dress first; would they have been offered such high profile if they were wearing a headcovering?

A cursory look at Islamic faith reveals that Islam has made adequate provisions for its adherents. The religion itself is a way of life. Sharia Law owes its origin to Allah. In this context, the Islamic faith has the greatest respect for the dignity of women. (See Quran 16: 97, Q 33:35 and Q49:13). Furthermore, the Islamic Legal System has varieties or plethora of rights for the benefit of all persons irrespective of his country of origin, religion, race, age, sex or colour. These basic rights includes right to life, right of justice, right to equality of human beings and freedom from discrimination, right to respect for chastity, right to freedom from slavery and inhuman treatment, right to freedom from want and deprivation. Sharia makes provision for a certain fundamental rights, including: right to security of life and property, right to protection of honour, right to privacy of life, right to personal liberty, right to freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of religion, right to equality before the law. Coming to women specifically the following are the rights guaranteed by the Sharia: right of equality in status, worth and value, right to education, right to own and dispose of property, right to inheritance and dower, right to maintenance, right to custody of children, right to obtain divorce...

[Excerpted from a longer work.]

Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom