March 8, 2019, marks the 108th anniversary of International Women Day (IWD), a day on which millions of people around the world observe and celebrate the enormous political, economic and cultural accomplishments of women throughout the history of mankind.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is #BalanceForBetter focuses on striving together to build a gender-balanced society. While the world will join hands to strive towards the gender-balanced world we examine the role of women in Islam and how it aligns with gender equality.
In Islam, men and women are morally equal in the sight of Allah and are expected to fulfill the same kinds of religious duties of worship and other religious obligations. Islam considers marriage between man and woman as a contract where rights are given to the woman in the form of Mehar, a gift to be given to a woman by a man upon the signing of the marriage contract. Islam gives the right to women as a daughter, wife, sister, and mother and has identified the importance they have in the building of the educated and tolerant Islamic society.
Islam also guarantees the right of women in the inheritance. With the advent of Islam in Arabia, the status of women improved prohibiting female infanticide and recognition of women as an equal human being as man.
Islam gives equal right to women to acquire knowledge and education. According to Islamic historical records and hadith, Prophet Muhammad PBUH gave importance to the opinion of women in decision making. Muslim women played a significant role in the canonization of the Holy Quran.
Prophet Muhammad’s PBUH first wife Hazrat Khadija use to get involved in the business transactions and trade. Prophet Muhammad PBUH beloved wife, Hazrat Aisha played a significant role in hadith transmission and teaching during the early years of Islam after the death of prophet Muhammad PBUH.
Many Muslim women during the 1400 years of Islamic history have also enjoyed the political powers. Khayzuran governed under Abbasid Caliphate in the eighth century, Malika Asma bint Shihab al-Sulayhiyya and Malika Arwa bint Ahmad al-Sulayhiyya, also held power in Yemen during the eleventh century. Besides these women, there have been many other Muslim women like the Fatimid queen of Egypt, Mamluk queens in eleventh and twelfth century respectively. Razia Sultana of India was another prominent ruler in the subcontinent during the thirteenth century.
The most prominent Muslim women in recent years to enjoy political powers are Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan in the Nineteen Nineties and Sheikh Hasina Wajid of Bangladesh who is also the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh. This is quite contrary to the USA that is considered to be an epicenter of modern democracies and civilization where until today no women have been able to win the Presidential elections.
Hilary Clinton who was the Democratic Presidential contestant in previous 2016 US election lost to President Donald Trump despite the fact that then-candidate Donald Trump was found in various women related scandals including the story of Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe who weathered painful criticism from Trump two decades ago about her body and her weight and for the recording of an extremely lewd conversation that Donald Trump had about women in 2005.
The 2016 US election proved that the American population despite making politically correct tall claims about women equality are still not mentally gender-balanced society. American and western society has shown great liberalism in allowing women to expose their bodies but in reality that is also an action to appease the man-centric society that considers women beautiful when dressed in revealing clothes.
Islam, on the other hand, mandates women to cover their bodies and wear modest non-revealing clothing that can prevent the potential spreading of vulgarity in the society Wearing Hijab and Abaya does not make Muslim women any less than men. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto back in the nineties conducted her duties as prime minister while pregnant. This proves that women in an Islamic society can be politically powerful and respected for their leadership qualities without having a need to expose their bodies for appeasing men.
There is a lot that western societies can learn from Islam when it comes to respecting women however the current Muslims in many Islamic countries of today also need to learn from the teachings of Islam and the rights that Allah has given to the women. There are millions of women in third world countries who are treated badly, prevented from seeking education or subjected to domestic violence and deprived of their right in inheritance. While Muslim countries have produced prominent women leaders they have failed to give a significant number of their women population the equal rights they deserve.
In the US, however, there is some encouragement that we can get from the record number of the election of congresswomen last year in 2018 midterm US election. Most of the newly elected Women House of Representatives were from the democratic party. We hope that someday in the future the US will also elect its first US President in history.
On this International Women Day, I urge Muslims around the world to revert back to the Islamic teachings to ensure the equal rights of women in the society as prescribed by Allah and conveyed by the teachings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH.
Western societies of today are although more tolerant to women rights, there is a lot to be desired in terms of equality i.e. as per IWD – “gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, gender-balanced sports coverage”
Let’s build a gender-balanced world!