Many people are both misguided and confused regarding the treatment of women in Islam. They believe the wrong media portrayal of Muslim women and they confuse Islam with male chauvinistic actions that are not supported by teachings in Islam or the example of our Prophet (saaw)*. What I would like to ask them is: Have you ever studied Islam and seen for yourself what it teaches about the treatment of women? Most have not. But yet some westerners speak and write as authorities based on the false propaganda broadcasted in the media and the poor examples of some Muslim men portrayed in the Islamic world. The following will help present a few facts regarding how Muslim women are viewed and treated according to the teachings of Islam:
1. The Prophet Muhammad (saaw) taught that the Muslim father who educates his daughters will go straight to heaven. Why did he have to say that? He was coming from a society that buried their female baby daughters alive and thought that it was only great to have sons. Allah blessed the Prophet to abolish that practice with the teachings of Islam. Also it shows the value that Allah places on the importance of women being educated. It shows that Islam expects contributions from women in society.
2. The Prophet said, "Heaven is at the feet of the mother." This shows the great importance of women to society. How she raises her children can bring about heaven for a society if she raises them correctly.
3. The Prophet was asked, "Who in this world should be loved more than anyone else?" He answered, YOUR MOTHER. He was asked then who next? He answered, YOUR MOTHER. Again he was asked who after that? He answered, YOUR MOTHER. And again he was asked who after that? Then he said, YOUR FATHER." This powerful Hadith should be enough to emphasize the importance and high regard in which women and especially mothers are held in Islam.
4. The Qur’an teaches that both men and women can reach the same mental and spiritual heights. It does not make the woman a lesser being than man in respect to mental and spiritual possibilities. In addressing the believers, the Qur'an often uses the expression, “believing men and women” to emphasize the equality of men and women in regard to their respective duties, rights, virtues and merits. It says:
For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true 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, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward. (33:35)
The special relationship between a man and his wife is captured in these beautiful words from the Qur’an:
And among His Signs is this that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. Qur’an 30:021
A life of tranquility filled with love and mercy between their hearts is what Allah ordained in the Qur’an for husband and wife.
The Qur’an says:
If any do deeds of righteousness - be they male or female - and have faith, they will enter Paradise, and not the least injustice will be done to them. (4:124)
The Prophet (saaw) said, “O People! It is true that you have certain rights with regards to your women, but they also have rights 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.”
Instead of suppression, the Prophet (saaw) said "The best among you is he who is most kind to his wife." And the Qur’an says: "Live with them in kindness; even if you dislike them, perhaps you dislike something in which Allah has placed much good" (4:19).
Kindness to our wives is very heavily emphasized. The Prophet also said: "Do not beat the female servants of Allah."
The idea of women being some kind of lesser being in Islam to be treated badly is totally false. There is no justification to be found for that view in anything Islam teaches.
5. Did you know that Islam gave women the right to vote, to own properties and to initiate divorce 1400 years ago long before women in the western world got those rights? When did women get these rights in the U.S.? It was only in the 1920s and it took a women’s suffrage movement to make it happen.
6. Did you know that in the brief history of maybe about 70 years being free from colonial rule Islamic women were able to accomplish a feat that women in the more than 200 year history in the U.S. have not been able to accomplish? What is that you ask? In three Muslim countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia women were elected Prime Ministers of their countries. They became the top leaders of their countries. How could that be if Islam treats women as "inferior"?
7. Did you know that the veil worn by some women in Islamic countries is not dictated by Islam? Did you know that even the Burgah in Afghanistan and black Abayya dress in Saudi Arabia is cultural NOT Islamic? Read the Qur'an and study Islamic literature and see what it says. The only requirement Islam puts on women's dress is modesty.
And say to the believing women that they restrain their looks and guard their private parts, and that they display not their beauty or their embellishment except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head-coverings over their bosoms, and that they display not their beauty or their embellishment save to their husbands, or to their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers or the sons of their brothers, or the sons of their sisters, or women who are their companions, or those that their right hands possess, or such of male attendants as have no desire for women, or young children who have not yet attained knowledge of the hidden parts of women. And that they strike not their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may become known. And turn ye to Allah all together, O believers, that you may prosper. (24:31)
Go look at a movie portraying women in the U.S. around the 1900s. You would see that they too dressed modestly. It was not until deliberate and overt immoral messages were infused into society by the people in control of mass media advertisements, popular entertainment, and the fashion industry that women began to take their modest dress off and they began to feel that exposing their bodies as sexual objects was to be viewed as some kind of "freedom".
Islam teaches that women have great value in society, and it protects them from being demeaned and viewed as sexual objects.
Regarding modesty, the Qur'an gives these general rules, which may help in understanding how to interpret dress and other
rules in modern times.
O ye Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover your shame, as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness,- that is the best. Such are among the Signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition! (7:26)
So clothing does not have to be drab: it is all right for both sexes to use clothing to enhance beauty as well as to cover nakedness. The most important thing is for a Muslim's character to be modest and righteous.
8. The veil came into Islamic countries 300 years after the passing of Prophet Muhammad. According to Karen Armstrong:
"There is nothing in the Qur’an about obligatory veiling for all women or their seclusion in harems. This only came into Islam about three generations after the prophet's death, under the influence of the Greeks of Christian Byzantium, who had long veiled and secluded their women in this way. Veiling was neither a central nor a universal practice; it was usually only upper-class women who wore the veil. But this changed during the colonial period." Link
There is much more that I can point to in the teachings of Islam and practices of Muslims that can help clarify the deliberate misrepresentations about the position of women in Islam. But, if you want to know the truth, go talk to a Muslim woman. Let her tell you how "oppressed" and "not free" she is. Go observe the respect and care that her husband and male members of her family and society gives her and the protection they demand for her. The Prophet (saaw) said "the foundation of the family is in the woman". And we know that the foundation of any society is in the family. Rather than disrespect the woman, Islam places her on a high pedestal of respect and honor for the dignified being that Allah has created her to be. Western women may believe that exposing themselves is a symbol of true womanhood. But they are sadly mistaken.
The etymological meaning of the word "woman" is "womb of mind". Women are both the physical and mental wombs for the development of all minds in society. As a result more respect is demanded for them. They are not to be treated as sexual objects but should be honored and held in high esteem. This is and always has been the position of Islam on women. Do not be fooled by media distortions and practices of "Muslims" who are ignorant of their religion.
_______*The abbreviation "saaw" is for the arabic word صلى الله عليه وسلم which is phonetically pronounced "sallallahu alayhee wasallam". It is a salutation used after mentioning the name of a Prophet. It means, "May Allah honor him and grant him peace".