Tuesday, 19 January 2021
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Women Empowerment in Islam


Article by Muallima Shamiela

GIS Teacher

In pre-Islamic Arabia, parents would often commit female infanticide because they considered the birth of a daughter an inauspicious omen for the family. The Qur'an condemned feelings of shame at the birth of a girl, and said of those who commit such acts: "He hideth himself from the folk because of the evil of that whereof he hath had tidings, (asking himself): Shall he keep it in contempt, or bury it beneath the dust. Verily evil is their judgment" (Qur'an 16:58-59).

Fourteen centuries after Islam's beginnings and the progress, development, education and enlightenment that followed, we still observe the stigma attached to having a daughter in certain parts of the world, like in much of South Asia, for example. In a society where men often support the entire family, the birth of a son is seen as greater cause for celebration.

Though the empowerment of women, resulting from better education and employment, is changing societal structures, we must do more to honour the gender equality expounded by the Qur'an. Islam granted rights of inheritance to women 12 centuries before they were granted to European women: "Unto the men (of a family) belongeth a share of that which parents and nearer kindred leave, and unto the women a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether it be little or much – a legal share" (Qur'an 4:7).

Islam was revealed at a time and in a society in which women themselves had been inherited as property; it was nothing short of revolutionary for them to have their own inheritance rights recognised.

In Muslim discourse, the debate over women's rights, or any rights for that matter, is always understood in the context of rights and responsibilities from an Islamic perspective. To respect these rights and responsibilities and to understand our role in the development of a society, we must educate ourselves. Education and knowledge are mandatory upon men and women in Islam.

After all, it is education that serves as a catalyst for change. "Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Are those who know equal with those who know not? But only men of understanding will pay heed" (Qur'an 39:9).

The Qur'an says: "O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward God in Whom ye claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bear you)" (Qur'an 4:1).

This verse clearly demonstrates that men and women in Islam are equal to each other both intrinsically – within the very act of creation – and extrinsically, with respect to both their relationship with one another and their duties before God. In fact, the singling out of women at the end of this verse for special reverence as effective mothers is the only indication of relative inequality, although in favour of women.

All praise is due to Allah, the Rabb of the worlds and may His choicest blessing shower upon our Master who emancipated both men and women from the burden of repression.

Anas Radhi-Allahu ‘anhu reports that Nabi Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam has said: “From among the women of the world who have reached perfection and who are worthy of following are (the following four): Miryam the daughter of Imrân; Khadija daughter of Khuwailid; Fatima daughter of Muhammad and Asiyah wife of Fir’aun” (Tirmidhi).

The scholars of hadith are of the view that this statement was made before Aisha Radhi-Allahu ‘anha reached the position of excellence whereupon Nabi Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said: “The virtue of Aisha Radhi-Allahu ‘anha over all the women of the world is like the virtue of tharîd [a meat dish] over all other food.” The hadith however refers to four women who acquired perfection in faith and character by virtue of their devotion, patience, toil and morality. Their lives radiated with piety, trust, patience and gratitude. Their lives serve as beacons of guidance for all believers, especially in times of hardship, difficulty and struggle.

Miryam: The Daughter of Imrân
Miryam Alayhas-Salâm spent her young days in total seclusion within the precincts of Baitul Muqaddas. She devoted her life to prayer and worship of the Almighty. Although unmarried she miraculously gave birth to Isa Alayhis-Salâm. She was accused of adultery and chastised for bringing disrepute to the family name. Who would have believed her innocence when she came to her people as a spinster with a child in hand, and how could she exonerate herself from the charge of adultery? Just how could an unmarried woman convince her people that this was no ordinary birth… nor was this an ordinary child? The Holy Quran says: “So she came to her people carrying the child with her.” They said:” O Miryam you have indeed done an amazing thing” … she pointed to him- they exclaimed: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” But He (the child) said: “I am the servant of Allah who has given me the Book and made me a Prophet.” (19:27-30). The breast suckling child spoke and vindicated his mother from the accusation of infidelity. When she gave her life to Allah, Allah gave her a child that protected her integrity even whilst he was in the cradle.

Khadija Daughter of Khuwailid
She was extremely wise, intelligent, gentle, and influential called Tahira [chaste and pure] even in the era of ignorance. She was exceptionally wealthy and a prosperous business woman. She married Nabi Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam at the age of forty while he was twenty five. She provided the moral, financial, and emotional support for Nabi Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam when he was blessed with Nubuwat. When Nabi Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam first saw Jibreel Alayhis-Salam in the cave of Hira, he was terrified and feared for his life. He ran down the mountain trembling and crying: “Cover me up! Cover me up!” It was Khadija Radhi-Allahu ‘anha who consoled him; she was his pillar of support; she believed in him when everyone else doubted him. She served as his refuge, consoled him, supported him and cared for him when he was alone, confused and terrified. She stood by him when everyone else shunned him. Khadija Radhi-Allahu ‘anha rallied to the call of Islam, she gave a home to Nabî SallAllah u ‘alayhi wasallam, she was his first confidant, and tower of strength.

Fatima Daughter of Muhammad
Nabi Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam would often say: “Fatima is of my flesh, he who angers her, angers me” (Bukhari & Muslim). Fatimah Radhi-Allah u ‘anhu was the youngest child of Nabi Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam and the only child who survived him. Hers was a life of extreme poverty and struggle. She constantly saw her father being mistreated, insulted and humiliated by the disbelievers. One day, when she was barely ten years old, she accompanied her father to the Masjid al-Haram. He stood in the place known as al-Hijr facing the Kabah and began to pray. Fatimah stood at his side. A group of Quraysh gathered around him. They included Abu Jahl ibn Hisham, the Prophet’s uncle, Uqbah ibn Abi Muayt, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, and Shaybah and Utbah. Abu Jahl, the ringleader, asked: “Which of you can bring the entrails of a slaughtered animal and throw it on Muhammad?” Uqbah ibn Abi Muayt, one of the evilest of the lot, volunteered and hurried off. He returned with the obnoxious filth and threw it on the shoulders of the Prophet while he was still prostrating. Imagine the feelings of Fatimah as she saw her father being humiliated in this manner. She went up to her father and removed the filth and then stood firmly and angrily before the group of Quraish thugs and lashed out against them. Such scenes of vicious opposition and harassment against her father and the early Muslims were witnessed by the young Fatimah almost every day. She did not meekly stand aside but joined in the struggle in defence of her father and his noble mission.

Asiyah wife of Fir’aun
“And for those who have faith Allah has set forth a parable in the (story) of Fir’aun’s wife when she prayed: O my sustainer! Build for me a mansion in paradise by You and save me from Fir’aun and his doings and save me from all evil doing people.”
When the magicians fell into sajdah and declared their faith in Allah and accepted Mûsa Alayhis-Salâm as the Nabî of Allah – the wife of Fir’aun also declared her faith. Fir’aun began punishing her by pegging her to the ground and exposing her to the midday sun. Whenever he turned away from her the angels would give her shade with their wings. He then gave her a choice: ‘Either retract from your belief or be prepared to be crushed by a huge boulder.’ She chose to be crushed. As she was placed onto the ground she raised her sight towards the sky -she saw her place in Jannah and prayed: “O my sustainer! Build for me a mansion in paradise by You and save me from Fir’aun and his doings and save me from all evil doing people. As she said this, her rûh left her body and the boulder then crushed her lifeless body.

These four women changed the course of human history, through their perseverance, faith and courage. Miryam Alayhas-Salâm life was characterized by piety, chastity and faith, Khadija Radhi-Allahu ‘anha neither succumbed to the trappings of wealth, nor to power and fame, Fatima Radhi-Allahu ‘anha made sabr in the face of unending hardships and was crowned the ‘leader of all women in Jannah’, whilst the wife of Fir’aun chose faith over royalty. These were women distinguished by sabr who found the true friendship of Allah through their unfailing steadfastness in the face of grinding sacrifices.

May Allah grant us the taufîq to emulate the beautiful conduct of these icons of virtue, humility and courage.