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Women in Islam

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Today, people think that women were liberated in the west and that the women's liberation movement began in the 20th Century. Actually, Islam preceded all the existing systems in introducing women's rights more than fourteen centuries ago. The women's liberation movement was revealed by God to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the seventh century. A whole package of new rights was given at once to women by their creator without their having to strive to get them. The Qur'an and the Traditions of the Prophet (Hadith and Sunnah) guarantee every Muslim woman certain rights and duties.

Equality vs. Sameness

These rights are equal to those of a man but they are not necessarily identical. Equality and sameness are two different things. This difference is understandable because man and woman are not identical but they are created equals. The distinction between equality and sameness is of paramount importance. With this distinction in mind, there is no room to imagine that woman is inferior to man, just because her rights are not identical. Had her status been identical with his, she would have been simply a duplicate of him, which she is not. The fact that Islam gives her equal rights - but not identical rights- shows that it takes her into consideration, acknowledges her, and recognizes her independent personality and role.

In the Qur'an Allah frequently addresses both the man and the woman. In one passage, Allah reveals:

"For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise - For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward." (33:35)

Human Rights

Woman is recognized by Islam as an equal partner in the procreation of humankind. Man is the father, woman is the mother, and both are essential for life. By this partnership, woman has an equal share in every aspect; she is entitled to equal rights; she undertakes equal responsibilities, and she has as many qualities and as much humanity as her partner. Therefore, fourteen centuries ago, Islam made men and women equally accountable to God in glorifying and worshiping Him - setting no limits on her spiritual progress. In the Qur'an in the first verse of the chapter entitled "Women", God says:

"O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord who created you from a single soul and from it its mate and from them both have spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah in Whom you claim (your rights) of one another, and towards the wombs (that bore you). Lo! Allah has been a Watcher over you." (4:1)

Again in the Qur'an:

"O mankind! Verily we have created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other." (49:13; cf.4:1)

Civil Rights

When we then consider the area of civil rights, education is of greatest importance. The Prophet (pbuh) said: "Seeking knowledge is a mandate for every Muslim (male and female)." Keeping people ignorant equals oppression; whether man or woman. In the case of women, their civil rights were considered necessary for the proper functioning of the community.

Recognizing her individuality, Islam grants a woman freedom of choice and expression. We are encouraged to contribute opinions and ideas. In addition, it was 1400 years ago that the right to vote was given to the woman. When the women came to Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) and swore their allegiance to him, he had to accept their oath. This established the right of women to participate in the selection of their leader.

Economic Rights

In terms of contributions to society, the status of women economically is unique. From the earliest days, greater financial security was assured for women. Women are entitled to receive marital gifts, and to keep properties and income for their own security. No married woman is required to spend a penny on the household. She is entitled to full financial support during marriage and during the waiting period ('iddah) in case of divorce. Whether she is a wife or mother, a sister or daughter, she is allowed to receive a certain share of an inheritance, and no one can disinherit her.

Although both man and woman are entitled to inherit property of relations, their portions may vary. In some instances, the man receives two shares whereas the woman gets one only; this is because the man by law is solely responsible for the complete maintenance of his family. It is also his duty to contribute financially to all good causes in his society. The woman, in contrast, has no obligatory financial responsibilities. She is provided for, whether by her husband, son, father, brother, or other male relative.

Rights and Duties of a Wife

In further addressing rights, it is important to look at the role of the wife. The Qur'an states:

"And among

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