Women and the Dawn of Islam

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dex A. Eastman

The dawn of Islam changed the world's perception of women's rights, gave them the voice to demand that which was justly theirs and provided them with unprecedented freedoms.

History is littered with examples of women being treated as lesser citizens and deprived of even the most basic of rights. Centuries ago in societies such as Egypt, Rome and Greece, which were considered the most enlightened of their day, women were at the disposal of men.

Ancient Greek philosophers believed that women were of strong emotion but weak mind and that they had to be protected from themselves. Women were classed as either a wife or a non-wife. The former were kept for producing legitimate heirs, while the latter were little more than instruments of pleasure and amusement for men.

In ancient Rome, women were thought to be only slightly more intelligent than children. They had no right of inheritance or ownership. A wife was the purchased property of a husband, acquired for his benefit. A father or a husband had the right to sell his daughter or wife to whomever he pleased. Women were treated like chattels and were inherited by the oldest son.

After the death of a husband in ancient Egypt, all his belongings, which included his wife or wives, were buried in his tomb. The wife was buried so that he could benefit from a delicate and tender being in the next world.

In Hindu scripture, a 'good' woman was described as being one "whose mind, speech and body are kept in subjection" i.e. weak and incapacitated. The practice of Sati, whereby a wife immolates herself on her husband's funeral pyre was a feature of ancient Hindu cultures. Although the practice was in theory, voluntary, many records exist of women being physically forced to death. A case of suspected forced Sati occurred as recently as 1987 in the Indian state Rajasthan.

In Britain, the right for married women to own property was not recognized until the late 19th century. Even now in some Arab countries, women are still denied the right to vote.

The dawn of Islam

The Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) considered the birth of a girl as a blessing from God and a sign of divine attention to the newborn's parents. The Prophet kissed his daughter's hand and described her as a gift from God. He displayed paternal love, especially to daughters, as a way to gain nearness to God.

The Quran describes girls as a bestowal and a symbol of trust from God. Parents have a duty to care for the trust they have received, and the contentment of children has even been mentioned as one of the conditions for entering heaven. In addition, according to Islam, looking at the face of one's mother is considered a pardon for sins.

In view of the fact that there are many differences between men and women, the Quran states that piety is the only criterion for superiority and not gender.

One of the first laws laid down in support of women by Islam was the prohibition of live burials, a practice common in some regions in the pre-Islamic era. This practice was condemned as an unlawful and immoral act. The new laws also prohibited the horrific abuse of women, which had been a feature of earlier cultures.

The right to an education is not equal in many societies even to this day, but under Islam men and women have the same right to be educated. The daughter of the Prophet, under the guidance of her father and her husband, not only became a knowledgeable person but also an educator of other women. Her teachings are still used and studied by authorities in Islam.

The concept that all a woman has is owned by her husband is common throughout history. Ownership of property is an important right that was denied to women in many cultures. In Islam however, women are independent in the use of their assets and their husbands have no right to interfere. Khadijah was the richest of the women of Arabia when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) married her. As his wife, she willingly put her wealth at the disposal of the Prophet to be used in the way of Islam.

Islam obliges a husband to provide everything that his wife had in her father's house. According to Islam, a woman is not forced to work in her husband's house and may even ask for money in return for the tasks she performs.

Islam also holds men and women as no different in regard to working. Women must perform social duties and are generally free in choosing their profession.

In Islam, women have the right to choose their own spouse, and parents are only able to give advice regarding their choice of husband. Islamic law completely disapproves of arranged marriages. The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) nullified marriages that had been forced upon women without their consent and approval.

Islam says a close relationship between a husband and wife where partners are equal in their attention to one another is important to guarantee the strength of the family. According to Islam, a better and healthier life depends upon relationships being realized in this way.

Contributing to important social decisions, for example through voting, is also one of the first rights that Islam gave to both men and women. All Muslims are encouraged to participate in this important social duty.

The truth of Islam's views on women, however, has widely been twisted by governments, corporations and individuals across the world. This may be due to ignorance or a lack of understanding, or at worst a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the teachings of Islam. For some, ignorance has become the best tool to control the masses and a lack of information on the part of individuals has played into the hands of those who seek to counter the growing popularity of the religion.


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