By Varsha Sharma,
It is common knowledge that before the advent of Islam, women were treated as valueless objects. It took long decades for womenfolk to acquire status equal to men. Nevertheless, the age-old struggle for gender equality and women’s empowerment is yet to be accomplished in its true sense. Unfortunately, many people engaged in this struggle wrongly perceive Islam as a roadblock in the achievement of women’s empowerment. On the contrary, when we look into the verses of the Quran regarding women, we find the reality just the opposite.
The holy Qur’an says: “O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.” (Qur’an 4:1).
This verse clearly proves that men and women in Islam are completely equal to each other in all respects and duties. Women’s status is no different or less than that of men, intrinsically or extrinsically. Their relationship with each other and duties towards God go hand in hand.
Before Islam, Arabs were accustomed to bury their girl babies alive, because they believed that giving birth to a girl child was a stigma. The holy Quran strongly condemned this pernicious feeling of shame deeply embedded in Arab psyche. It gave warning to those who indulged in this evil practice: “He hides 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).
It is an irony that some of us still have this obnoxious feeling of shame and stigma attached to giving birth to a girl child. Today, when we have successfully stepped into a brighter world of scientific progress, social development, education and enlightenment, it is a matter of massive humiliation to observe this pre-Islamic Arabian stigma in many parts of the Muslim world, particularly in South Asia. In our Indian societies where men often take care of the entire family, the birth of a son is seen as greater cause for pride and honour as compared to daughters.
Though the tangible efforts are being made to safeguard the rights and empowerment of women by providing them better education and employment opportunities, we must do more concerted efforts to establish the broader Qur’anic notion of gender equality in Muslim societies. It is absolutely untrue and baseless misconception that Islam endorses anti-women social evils and vices like forced marriage, honour killing, women’s confinement to the home and other vicious customs and abhorrent norms that pose great threat to the entire existence of the womenfolk today.
It is about time the intelligentsia, political leaders, Ulema and other Muslim religious leaders came forward to uproot the evil of misogyny from the Muslim societies by restricting the clear violation of Qur’anic views of women’s status and rights. They should work to reform the traditionally conservative Muslim societies such as the tribal areas in Pakistan, where women rights are brazenly violated day in and day out. Every possible effort should be exerted to highlight the true teachings of Islam regarding women’s rights and they must take precedence over the misogynist customs, patriarchal dominations and widely-spread bias against women. It is, indeed, a big irony that women’s constructive role is being undermined today and their basic rights are violated in many Muslim societies in the name of the very religion that has granted women far greater rights than any other social or religious entity.
Islam is the religion that granted rights of inheritance to women twelve centuries before they were granted to women even in European societies. Long ago, the holy Quran had clearly announced: “For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much – an obligatory share.” (The holy Qur’an 4:7). The fact is that Islam was revealed in a society in which women themselves had been inherited as property. Islam came crushing down all such anti-women customs and brought a revolution for the Arab women to have their own inheritance rights recognised.
In order to honour the rights and duties of women and appreciate their pivotal roles in the building of a humane society, Muslims need to educate themselves. Islam laid great emphasis on acquiring education and made the pursuit of knowledge mandatory for both men and women. Islam believes that only education can propel a people from being a beast-like and uncivilized tribe to become a progressive and enlightened society. The holy Quran, therefore, poses a question to all humankind: “Are those who know equal to those who do not know?” (Quran- 39:9).
(Varsha Sharma (Writer and Translator), is pursuing Mphil in Comparative Religions from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi -Courtesy: NewageIslam)