Women - The Social Aspect
Women have as much right to education as men do. Almost fourteen centuries ago, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) declared that the pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim, male and female. This declaration was very clear and was largely implemented by Muslims throughout history.
Islam elevated the position of women in society and treated them on an equal footing with men, and in some cases, as a mother for instance, clearly gave them precedence over men. Thus when a man asked Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): “Who is most entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me?” the Prophet (PBUH) replied, “Your mother.” The man asked, “Who is next?” The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Your mother.” Again the man asked, “Who is next?” The Prophet (PBUH) repeated, “Your mother.” The man asked for a fourth time, “Who is next?” The Prophet (PBUH) then replied, “Your father”.
On another occasion, when a man came to the Prophet (PBUH), and expressed the desire to join a military expedition, the Prophet (PBUH) asked him if he had a mother. When he replied that he had, the Prophet (PBUH) advised him, “Stay with her, for Paradise is at her feet.”
As daughters, women have a right to just and equitable treatment from their parents. The Prophet (PBUH) gave glad tidings to those who did not insult their daughters or favoured sons over daughters.
A woman has the right to accept or reject marriage proposals, and her consent is a prerequisite to the validity of the marriage contract. A marriage is based on mutual peace, love and compassion. Dr. Jamal Badawi, a Canadian Islamic scholar, states in his book Gender Equity in Islam:
“The husband is responsible for the maintenance, protection and overall leadership of the family within the framework of consultation and kindness. The mutuality and complementarily of husband and wife does not mean ‘subservience’ by either party to the other. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) helped with household chores, although the responsibilities he bore and the issues he faced in the community were immense.”
The responsibility of maintaining social and moral values lies on both men and women. Both must refrain from all deeds and gestures that might stir the passions of people other than their legitimate spouses or cause evil suspicion of their morality.
Women are entitled to freedom of expression just as men are. Among the early Muslims, women participated in public life, especially in times of emergencies. It is reported in the Qur’an and in history that women not only expressed their opinion freely but also argued and participated in serious discussions with the Prophet (PBUH) himself as well as with other Muslim leaders. They were not shut behind iron bars or considered worthless.