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Islamic Women and their Role in Islamic Society


It was said that traditional Islam has protected through Quranic reforms, the role as well as the rights of women in Islamic society which is patriarchal that relates to the Muslim family and its respected society and prescribe rules about marriage, divorce and inheritance that embraces a step forward for women from their role status in Islamic society as often thwarted by a male-dominated society, relegating women to a subordinate role and position. Thus, Islamic society had an extended family structure, consisting of a father, his wives, unmarried sons and daughters and married sons and their wives and children. The father or a senior male was head of the family, controlling and guiding it. The male members of the family had considerable power in family matters: they could marry and divorce as often as they wished, and women were excluded from inheritance. A woman was no more than a belonging, first of her father, and after marriage, of her husband. Women's primary roles were as wife and mother, looking after household matters, raising children and taking responsibility for their religious and moral training. The restricted sphere of activity for women led to the seclusion of women and gave rise to purdah. The custom of women wearing veils is less a Quranic stipulation than an influence of Persian and Byzantine social customs. Veiling and seclusion may have been intended for the protection, honor and distinction of women, they were mostly adopted by upper class women in Islamic times, but were forced upon all women.


The majority of women, in Islamic societies, led separate lives and had to be content with the domestic sphere of activity and Muslim women have not escaped the influences. Elite Muslim families who had lived in the West, had educated their daughters in England, Europe and America. The exposure to western feminist ideas was bound to affect Muslim women. Education, voting rights and employment opportunities brought the public realm of society within the reach of women, modernized Islamic countries of Egypt, Syria, Iran and Bangladesh. Muslim women became instrumental in furthering the cause of Muslim women's rights. It is the voice of Islamic women in the Middle East protesting their longtime political and economic second-class status. It is a voice of indignation from women who have long been suppressed in traditionally male- dominated societies. It has been heard where women, despite the election of a hard-line conservative president, demonstrated against sex discrimination under that country's Islamic leadership. In many Arab nations of Islam, women have often been relegated to obscurity, denied a role economically, politically, socially. In many countries women suffer from unequal citizenship, and are denied the right to vote or hold office. In a somber conclusion, the UN report declared: "Society as a whole suffers when half of its productive potential is stifled."

In Iran, Islamic women have participated in rare and unauthorized demonstrations against sex discrimination by the ruling Islamic regime. Iranian law requires women to assume inferior roles to men; they are rarely promoted to senior roles in government service, and need permission from their husbands to work outside the home or travel abroad. Though Iranian women are pessimistic about the prospects for reform until there is a regime change, they nevertheless forced candidates in the recent presidential election to pay lip service to the issue of women's roles.  A woman is given the role of a mother; a role that Islam gives the highest respect to after Allah. People who disobey their mothers are held in God’s eyes as the worst type of sinners. Such is the place of women in the eyes of Allah. She is a "rehmat" or the bringer of fortune and joy in the form of a daughter. And she is a wife; companion to man in all his social, physical and economic endeavors.  A woman is no commodity or slave but an equal to man in all spheres of life. She is in no way compelled to subjugate her will to the will of a man if she has the right stance. Thus, the examples of women suppression that we see in Middle Eastern countries are extreme misinterpretations of what Islam actually states about the due place of women in an Islamic society. In Islam the basis of submission is not that women are submitting to men, but those men and women together submit to God as the passages of the Quran, it becomes very clear that the obedient from among both the believing men and women receive paradise, the greatest aim and objective in a Muslim's life.

Islam assigns a Muslim woman a due role to play in discharging collective responsibilities which preserve the essence of the religious society in general. She must, therefore, assiduously apply herself to fulfill her part; for if all Muslims neglect to discharge these collective responsibilities, she would have to answer for that default like every man. Some special obligations like maintenance of the family, attendance of group prayers, and the levy or mass general conscription for war are too onerous for the ordinary female. Islam has relieved women from attending to these as a matter of original, personal responsibility, if Muslim men can sufficiently attend to them. That does not mean that a woman is barred from doing any of these things. She may very well participate in all such activities even when there is no dearth of men to do them. However if men are not fulfilling their due obligations in this regard, it would be her duty to compensate their default or complement their effort. The equal personal responsibilities of women in Islam are evident and clearly established. That collective duties are commonly borne by men and women is shown in the practice of the Prophet, who commanded women to act charitably and give for the sake of God, and in that women used to respond. Muslim Women used also to participate in military expeditions bringing water to the thirsty combatants, treating the wounded, and carrying them to safety, and sometimes engaging in active warfare.

On the basis of the uniform principles of Islamic jurisprudence, a Muslim Woman enjoys the same capacity and freedom enjoyed by a man. She too can propose to a man for marriage, orally or in writing, she can freely choose her spouse, reject a suitor she does not like or obtain divorce from an estranged husband against his will. But a male relative normally formalizes the marriage contract, and marriage dissolution or divorce on a woman's initiative is only granted by a judge. A wife can have whatever creed of scriptural religion at variance with her Muslim Husband without any compulsion. She can and should acquire any education without any limit or hindrance. It is reported that Prophet (peace be upon him) strongly recommended the good education of girls. Any one from among the people of the scriptures who believed in his own Prophet as well as in Prophet Muhammad, a slave who endeavors to meet his obligation towards God as well his masters and anyone who has a slave girl and strove to educate her and teach her well and then gives her freedom and marries her. It is worthy of note that women have been attending the general assemblies for learning held by the Prophet.


Therefore, women are entitled to full freedom of expression of their proper views in order for them to advance on their juristic opinions and venture their views in the presence of the Prophet. Thus, she is competent to own property and dispose of it in any manner since, the Sharia generally provides for an equitable and fair role for women in the economic life of Muslim society. In an Islamic society women take part in the appointment of counseling and control officers responsible for the public affairs of society through the process of consultation. A woman is quite entitled to go out for any need. She may go to the market to do business or otherwise as this may entail someone inconveniencing her. The issue of women in Islam is highly controversial as agreed that the rights granted to women in the Qur'an and by the prophet Muhammad were a vast improvement in comparison to the situation of women in Arabia prior to the advent of Islam, after the Prophet's death the condition of women in Islam began to decline and revert back to pre-Islamic norms. Yet just as the women's movement in the West began to pick up steam in the twentieth century, the same thing occurred, although to a lesser extent, in the Muslim world at this time. Consequently Muslim women have been developing a distinctly "Islamic" feminism, as women of color in the West have been developing "womanism" in contrast to feminism, which shaped by the concerns of the American women.

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