A general misconception today is that women do not hold the same status as men in Islam. Some people may perceive women as being suppressed in Muslim families and as members whose voices are not heard. But far from that, Islam has in fact recognized women’s rights at its inception fourteen centuries ago. Islam recognized women as the other half of men and men as the other half of women, and gives women respect and regard as mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. At a time when the male heir used to get the whole inheritance, Islam recognized the female’s due share, and moreover allotted her with full possession of her wealth to spend as she pleases. Furthermore, Islam recognized women as important partners in the Muslim community and urged taking care of their needs and allowing them to participate in the community’s public life.
The best way to understand and present the real status of women in Islam is to consider the way the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad ﷺ, treated women, as well as his advice to his companions regarding women.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ gave a concise and eloquent statement regarding the treatment of women in Islam. These words act as a main tenet of Islam:
عن أبي هُرَيْرَةَ رضي الله عنه قال: قالَ رسولُ الله صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم: « أَكْمَلُ المُؤْمنينَ إِيمَاناً أَحْسنُهُمْ خُلُقاً، وَخِيارُكُمْ خيارُكُم لأهلِهِ» . رواه أبو داود والترمذي وابن حبان، والبيهقي إلا أنه قال: « وَخِيارُكُمْ خيارُكُم لِنِسَائِهِم» .
Narrated Abu Hurayra, may Allah be pleased with him, that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The most perfect of the believers in faith are the best among them in moral character. And the best among you are those who treat their family the best.” Related by Abu Dawud, Al-Tirmidhi, and Al-Bayhaqi.
Al-Bayhaqi said: “And the best among you are the best to their wives.”.
Not only did the Prophet ﷺ say these words, but he also exemplified them in action. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was the best of people in good treatment to his family. If we consider his treatment of his wife A’isha, we notice this kind and respectful treatment. A’isha herself admitted to his superior treatment of her. And who is a better judge than a wife to attest to the kind of treatment she receives from her husband.
عن عائشة رضي الله عنها، قالت: ( قال رسولُ الله صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم: « إِنِّي لَأَعْرِفُ غَضَبَكِ وَرِضَاكِ»، قَالَتْ: قُلْتُ وَكَيْفَ تَعْرِفُ ذَاكَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ؟ قَالَ: « إِنَّكِ إِذَا كُنْتِ رَاضِيَةً قُلْتِ: بَلَى وَرَبِّ محمَّد، وَإِذَا كُنْتِ سَاخِطَةً قُلْتِ: لَا وَرَبِّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ»، قَالَتْ قُلْتُ: أَجَلْ، لَسْتُ أُهَاجِرُ إِلَّا اسْمَكَ) . رواه البخاري ومسلم.
Narrated A’isha , may Allah be pleased with her: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said to me: ‘I know your anger from your pleasure.’ I asked: ‘And how do you know that, O Messenger of Allah?’ He replied: ‘When you are pleased you say: ‘No, by the Lord of Muhammad,’ but when you are angry, you say: ‘No, by the Lord of Ibrahim.’ I said: ‘You said the truth, I only leave out your name.’ ” Related by Al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim.
We find here the gentleness and kindness the Prophet ﷺ maintained in his treatment with A’isha. The Prophet ﷺ did not express anger or displeasure when A’isha left out his name; instead, he good-naturedly informed her of his awareness of her behavior. Upon such gentleness, she professed her deep regard of him while at the same time admitting the truthfulness of his statement.
We can clearly see the same high manners of the Prophet ﷺ with his wives in many other occasions. Many of these occasions had been described by A’isha herself as a lesson for the nation and as an example for other men. Indeed, the Prophet used to go out of his way to accommodate his wives and make them happy within his means, as shown in the following hadith, also narrated by A’isha:
وعن عُرْوَةَ بْنِ الزُّبَيْرِ، قال: ( قَالَتْ عَائِشَةُ: وَاللَّهِ لَقَدْ رَأَيْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُومُ عَلَى بَابِ حُجْرَتِي، وَالْحَبَشَةُ يَلْعَبُونَ بِحِرَابِهِمْ فِي مَسْجِدِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، يَسْتُرُنِي بِرِدَائِهِ لِكَيْ أَنْظُرَ إِلَى لَعِبِهِمْ، ثُمَّ يَقُومُ مِنْ أَجْلِي حَتَّى أَكُونَ أَنَا الَّتِي أَنْصَرِفُ، فَاقْدِرُوا قَدْرَ الْجَارِيَةِ الْحَدِيثَةِ السِّنِّ حَرِيصَةً عَلَى اللَّهْوِ). رواه البخاري ومسلم.
Narrated ‘Urwa Ibn Az-Zubayr: “A’isha said: ‘By Allah, I remember the Messenger of Allah ﷺ standing at the door of my apartment screening me with his mantle to allow me to see the sport of the Abyssinians as they played with their daggers in the mosque of the Messenger of Allah. He would keep standing for my sake until I had enough and then I would return. Thus you can well imagine how long a girl of tender age who is fond of sports (could have watched it, while the Prophet ﷺ waited patiently for me).’ ” Related by Al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim.
Again we find here the utmost degree of affection and kindness that the Prophet ﷺ showed to his wife. He would wait for her to watch the people play until she was the one to say she had enough. One may ask: were her rights violated and was she kept a prisoner in her home, or did she enjoy her rights as much as any free women would? Indeed, A’isha not only related the way of the Prophet ﷺ, but also the etiquette of Islam regarding women.
Islam urges on the highest code of morals and manners, and chief among them is the kind treatment of one’s family and wife. Therefore, the Prophet ﷺ mentioned in the hadith above that the highest of people in faith are the best among them in morals and manners, and the highest among people in regard and reward are the best among them in manners and good treatment of their wives.
But at the same time, Islam also urges women to take serious their responsibilities and try to be effective members of the community. Islam commands women to follow the orders of Allah and His Messenger ﷺ and also to show respect to the husband, as summarized in the following hadith:
عَنْ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنِ عَوْفٍ رضي الله عنه قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم: « إِذا صَلَّتْ الْمَرْأَةُ خَمْسَهَا، وَصَامَتْ شَهْرَهَا، وَحَفِظَتْ فَرْجَهَا، وَأَطَاعَتْ زَوْجَهَا، قِيلَ لَهَا: ادْخُلِي الجَنَّةَ مِنْ أَيِّ أَبْوَابِ الجَنَّةِ شِئْتِ» . رواه أحمد.
Narrated Abd ar-Rahman Ibn ‘Awf, may Allah be pleased with him, that that the Messenger of Allah said: “If the woman prayed her five daily prayers, fasted her month (of Ramadan), guarded her private parts, and obeyed her husband, it would be said to her: Enter Paradise from whichever door of Paradise you wish.” Related by Imam Ahmad.
Thus, we see that, contrary to what some may claim, Islam recognizes the rights of women and puts great emphasis on their kind treatment. This is not to deny any abuse or mistreatment of women that may happen on an individual basis; instead, the point is that the religion’s teachings have always maintained a consistent, principled stance in support of the honor, dignity, and happiness of women. Islam recognizes them as members of the community and as important partners and essential members of the Muslim family. The Muslim family in turn is seen as one unit where both husband and wife strive to be kind to each other and recognize each other’s rights in order to bring about a happy family blessed with the obedience of Allah and His Messenger ﷺ, as well with good in this life and the next.