The Status of Women Throughout History

The subject of the status of women in Islam is frequently debated in the present time. This discussion is often shared by people of different backgrounds: communists, nationalists, secularists, etc.; and all claim that they are the only ones who seek to achieve what is beneficial and good for women. Yet, such partisan people introduce their own understanding when discussing this subject. They often embrace Christian or secular ideals and organizations that claim to seek what is the woman’s rightful status, in their continuing plot to destroy Islam by corrupting Muslim women and men.

The enemies of Islam go even further in their plots to distort and then destroy Islam by frequently claiming that Islam does not give women an equal status with men and that Islam treats women as second class citizens. They also seek to destroy Islam by corrupting women and inciting rebellion against the Islamic moral code. Some of these misguided people know that Prophet Mohammad, Salla Allahu Alayhi Wasallam, once said, “I have not left a Fitnah (trial, test) after me greater than women for men.” [Ahmad].

Islam stresses the importance of women’s role in societies, for they are men’s wives, sisters, mothers and daughters. Islam gives each person his or her due rights, along with a reasonable set of responsibilities. Islam firmly disallows men from transgressing Allah’s appointed limits with regards their treatment of women. In this article, we will discuss the status of women in various civilizations, and then in Islam:

1 – Women’s status in ancient Greek culture: Women were despised and belittled in the Greek society, as the Greeks claimed that women are a part of Satan’s plots against mankind. Greek men used to buy and sell their women just as they would buy and sell material goods. Even Socrates, whom western philosophers hold in a high position as a philosopher and thinker, said, “Women are the reason behind all the crisis and destruction in the world. The woman is like a poisonous tree, it looks beautiful on the outside, yet when the birds eat from it, they instantly die.” Just before the destruction of the Greek civilization, vice and moral decay became so widespread that immoral behaviors became an act of worship that draws one closer to the “gods”.

2 – The status of women in the Roman civilization: The Romans’ slogan as regards women was that, “The woman has no soul.” This is why they sometimes used to discipline their women by pouring hot oil on their stomachs, tying them to poles that were dug in the ground, or even by dragging them behind their horses until such condemned women die.

3 – The status of women in the ancient Chinese civilization: Chinese philosophers equate women with impure water that washes away happiness and money. Chinese women used to be inherited, just like cattle and sheep. Until today, some Chinese still kill their female children, because they prefer to have male children to help them work in the fields.

Islam firmly disallows men from transgressing Allah’s appointed limits with regards their treatment of women.

4 – The status of women in Babylon: Hamorabi’s law considered women to be just like cattle. Furthermore, Babylon’s law stated that if a person kills the daughter of another man, then he is obliged to give away his own daughter to be killed or enslaved in return.

5 – The status of women in ancient Hindu methodology: Hindu law and teachings state that, “The wind, death, hell, poison, snakes, and the fire are all better than the woman.”

6 – The status of women in the Persian civilization: Before Islam, the Persian society allowed the man to marry his mother, sisters, aunts and nieces! In addition, women were banished to an isolated place during their monthly period. Women had no rights in the Persian society, as they were under the total control of their husbands, including the right to give them life or death.

7 – Judaism and women: Some Jewish sects used to treat women like servants. The Jewish father had the right to sell his daughter, even when she was still very young. Jewish law specifies that women should be avoided during their monthly period. During that time, Jewish men would neither sit next to their women, nor eat with them, nor are women allowed to even touch any pot, so that the pots do not become impure!

8 – Women in Christian societies: Marriage was sometimes considered an impure act, and until the present time, Catholic priests are not allowed to marry, as single man are considered better than married men. They believe that women are the door to Satan, and that any type of relationship with women is impure. They also consider that elevation in righteousness will not be achieved except by refraining from marriage. Tertolian, who is referred to as “the saint” said that the woman, “Is the door for Satan to the human’s soul, as she destroys God’s law and corrupts men.”

9 – The Status of women in Arab societies before Islam: Before Islam, Arab women were neither given a share of the inheritance, nor did the wife have any right on her husband. Whenever a man dies, his eldest son inherits his wives like he inherits other possessions. Also, Arabs used to force their women into prostitution. Furthermore, Arab men used to gamble away their women and children. Some types of food were allowed only for men, and some people used to kill their daughters so that they do not share their food with them!

Women in Islam

Islam considers women to be men’s sisters. In Islam, women have rights and reasonable responsibilities. Islam specifies that it is a bounty from Allah that He has created women for men, a bounty that all men should be thankful and appreciative for. Allah said, what translated means,{And among His Signs is this, that He created for you wives from among yourselves, that you may find repose in them, and He has put between you affection and mercy.} [30:21]. Also, the Messenger of Allah, Salla Allahu Alayhi Wasallam, said, what translated means, “Women are only Shaqa-iq (halves or siblings) of men.” [Ahmad].

Women have the same responsibilities as men do with regards to practicing the cornerstones of Islam. But, when women are experiencing their monthly periods, they do not pray or fast. Also, Islam makes no distinction between men and women with regards to acquiring the rewards of the Last Life. Allah said, what translated means, {Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while he (or she) is a true believer (of Islamic Monotheism) verily, to him (or her) We will give a good life (in this world with respect, contentment and lawful provision), and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do (Paradise in the Hereafter).} [16:97].

Islam strictly forbids killing female fetuses and babies. It also prohibits killing women during combat. Islam recognizes that Allah created women with distinct emotional needs and fragility. In addition, Islam recognizes that women play a crucial role in preserving men’s honor. This is why Islam treats women with care, kindness and honor. The Prophet has commanded men to, “Treat women righteously.” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]. He also said, “The best ones among you are those who are the best with their wives.” [At-Tirmithi]. Islam has stressed women’s rights, for they are our mothers, sisters and daughters.

Allah has commanded Muslims to treat their mothers with utmost respect, kindness and care, {And We have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years give thanks to Me and to your parents, unto Me is the final destination.} [31:14]. Also, a man once came to the Messenger of Allah asking him, “O Messenger of Allah! Who deserves my best companionship?” He said, “Your mother.” He said, “Whom then?” He said, “Your mother.” He said, “Whom then?” He said, “Your mother.” He said, “Whom then?” He said, “Your father.” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]. Furthermore, when a man came to the Messenger of Allah asking for permission to join the Jihad, the Messenger asked him, “Do have a mother (meaning is she still alive)?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “Then stay with her, for Paradise is beneath her feet.” [An-Nasaii’]. Al-Bukhari also narrated that ibn Umar once saw a man who was carrying his mother on his back in Hajj and saying, “I am her pet camel, if her camel became startled, I will not be startled. Allah, my Lord, the Exalted and Ever Generous, if I carry her more than she carried me, do you think that I have fulfilled her right, O ibn Umar?” He then said, “O ibn Umar, do you believe that I have fulfilled her right?” Ibn Umar said, “No, not even one scream,” meaning while she was in labor with you.

Allah has commanded Muslims to treat their mothers with utmost respect, kindness and care.

As for the daughters, Islam does not differentiate between the way male and female children are treated. Islam has strictly forbidden killing the daughters, as Allah said, what translated means,{Indeed lost are they who have killed their children, from folly, without know-ledge,} [6:140]. Also, Ibn Abbas narrated that the Messenger of Allah said, what translated means, “Whoever has two sisters or two daughters and treats them righteously as long as they are still with him, I and he will be like those two in Paradise —and he joined between two of his fingers.” [Al-Khatib in his book, At-Tarikh]. Furthermore, the Prophet has set the best example in the righteous way he used to treat his wives and daughters, such as his daughter Fatimah. He once said, “Fatimah is some of me, and whoever makes her angry, makes me angry.” [Al-Bukhari].

With regards to the wife, Allah gave each of the spouses their own rights and responsibilities, as He has said, what translated means, {And they (women) have rights (over their husbands as regards living expenses, etc.) similar (to those of their husbands) over them (as regards obedience and respect, etc.) to what is reasonable.} [2:228]. This Ayah indicates that women have certain rights on their husbands just as their husbands have certain rights on them. Also, the Messenger of Allah said, what translated means, “The Dunya is Mata’ (material joy), and the best of its Mata’ is the righteous wife.” [Muslim]. Al-’Hakim also narrated that the Prophet said, “Whoever Allah has endowed with a righteous wife, He will have helped him regarding half of his religion. Therefore, let him fear Allah in the second half.” Furthermore, Islam has commanded the husband to spend on his wife, as the Prophet said to a man who asked him about the wife’s right on her husband, “And feed her when you eat, give her clothes when you get clothes for yourself, and neither curse her nor ignore her except in the house.” [Ahmad]. He also said, “The best woman is she who pleases you when you look at her, obeys you when you command her, and protects her honor and your money in your absence.” [At-Tabari in Al-Kabir].

A poet once said, “The best of what mankind can acquire, so that their religion is made more solid for them, is a thankful heart, a Thakir tongue (that remembers Allah often) and a righteous wife who helps her husband.”

Islam has also protected the rights of the woman by giving her a rightful share in the inheritance and by commanding her children to respect and obey her. When a woman is alone, without a husband or child or brother etc., the Islamic community is obliged to spend on her and to provide for her, until she departs this earthly life.

This is how Islam protects women and guarantees them their full rights. Is there any religion or constitution on earth that comes close?!