Woman in the Light of the Qur’an
Mar 16, 2023
Muslim women scientist (photo: iStock by Getty Images).
Who can question the vital role played by the mother in a family? From the moment of conception to birth and to rearing, it is the mother who spends most of her time with and carries most of the burden of the baby. The child’s early development is shaped primarily by the mother.
To acknowledge the mothers’ fundamental role in building the worldwide community of the faithful, the Qur’an uses the word Ummah, a derivative of word Umm meaning mother. And the Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said that heaven lies under the feet of the mother. The women are honored in the Qur’an by having chapter Al-Nisa (The Women) after them. But misunderstandings and misconceptions about women are abound. Here are a few of them:
Did the product of a crooked rib cause man’s fall from paradise?
The Qur’an does not support the story that woman was created from man’s rib.
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً ۚ
O MANKIND! Be conscious of your Sustainer, who has created you out of one living entity, and out of it created its mate, and out of the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women. (4:1) [Asad]
Contrary to the popular belief woman was not responsible for man’s first act of disobedience and his subsequent expulsion from the paradise:
فَأَزَلَّهُمَا الشَّيْطَانُ عَنْهَا فَأَخْرَجَهُمَا مِمَّا كَانَا فِيهِ
But Satan caused them both to stumble therein, and thus brought about the loss of their erstwhile state. (2:36) [Asad, emphasis added]
Equality of man and woman
As a whole, the Qur’an treats man and woman on an equal basis. But the roles assigned to each of them is not the same but rather complementary.
فَضَّلَ اللَّـهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ
Allah has made one of them to excel the other. (4:34) [Khan & Al-Hilali]
The reality and significance of the above verse has yet to sink in the minds of those men who habitually and traditionally assign an inferior status to women. Based on research we know that men surpass women in mechanical skill and women surpass men in linguistic ability.
How could this be clearer than the following verse of the Qur’an:
إِنَّ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَالْمُسْلِمَاتِ وَالْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْقَانِتِينَ وَالْقَانِتَاتِ وَالصَّادِقِينَ وَالصَّادِقَاتِ وَالصَّابِرِينَ وَالصَّابِرَاتِ وَالْخَاشِعِينَ وَالْخَاشِعَاتِ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقِينَ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقَاتِ وَالصَّائِمِينَ وَالصَّائِمَاتِ وَالْحَافِظِينَ فُرُوجَهُمْ وَالْحَافِظَاتِ وَالذَّاكِرِينَ اللَّـهَ كَثِيرًا وَالذَّاكِرَاتِ أَعَدَّ اللَّـهُ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةً 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.(33:35) [Pickthall]
And according to the Qur’an, the opportunity for good deeds and their reward exists equally for both men and women:
وَمَن يَعْمَلْ مِنَ الصَّالِحَاتِ مِن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَىٰ وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ وَلَا يُظْلَمُونَ نَقِيرًا
If any do deeds of righteousness, – be they male or female – and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them. (4:124) [Yusuf Ali]
And on the subject of ownership rights:
لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا اكْتَسَبُوا ۖ وَلِلنِّسَاءِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا اكْتَسَبْنَ
To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn. (4:32) [Yusuf Ali]
The Qur’an also tells that women are equal participants in enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong (Amr bil M‘aroof-and-Nahya ‘Anil Munkar). Obviously, this implies women’s right to participate in public life.
وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ ۚ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ
AND [as for] the believers, both men and women they are close unto one another: they [all] enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong. (9:71) [Asad]
Only one verse (4:3) in the Qur’an allows polygamy, but that too, in special circumstance when there are a large number of widows and orphans left after war. The context of the verse is to address this situation. The verse is very explicit in that a man may marry more than one from among the orphans/widows (fil-yatama) only on the condition that justice is done among all (up to a total of four) wives. If not, then only one wife is allowed. Thus polygamy is permitted but only under very strict conditions and is more like a sacrifice on the part of both men and women to address a societal issue in a dignified manner. It is not a license for men to marry more women to satisfy their lust and/or to have more children. For this the fault lies with us as interpreters and not with the Qur’an.
Woman as a witness
Another prevailing misconception is that, in Islam, two women’s witnesses are equal to one man’s witness. This is related to verse (2:282) which says that in matters of contracting a loan if one cannot find two men as witnesses then one can bring one man and two women. The Qur’an itself has given the reason for this that if the woman who is giving witness forgets or gets confused (tadilla) then the other woman may remind her. That is, only one woman gives witness. The other woman is just for moral support.
In light of all of the above, do we still need to believe that woman is inferior to man; that she cannot lead, govern, or decide critical matters in an Islamic government as the proponents of man-made Shariah would have us believe?
During the early period of Islam, men and women enjoyed equal rights in all respects of their lives. Caliph Umar ibn Khattab (R) proudly proclaimed that an old woman taught him the meaning of word Khilafah. But unfortunately the Khilafat was turned into a hereditary kingship by Umayyads and Abbasids who treated women more like objects of pleasure than human beings. As a consequence, women lost their position of dignity and self-respect. For the sorry state that continues to the present day, Muslims alone are responsible, not Islam.
The truth is men and women are like the two wheels of a cart. Each wheel is called Zauj of the other in Arabic. If one wheel dominates the other, the cart will not move properly. This cart of life will move smoothly along the straight path (Sirat al-mustaqim) only if the two wheels are equal and balanced and one wheel does not try to dominate the other, which means there can be no real Islam until women (constituting half of humanity) regain their God-given human rights of dignity, self-respect, and equality with men in all walks of life.