It is not out of place here to examine the place given to women in some of the so-called glorious civilizations prior to Islam. For instance, in Greek mythology a woman, Pandora, was considered to be the source of all evil. In the name of art, the Greeks depicted women in such a way that promoted unbridled sex. In the second civilization, the Roman one, their philosopher, Seneca, reprimanded Romans about the degenerating family system. A sport named “Floralia” promoted licentious atmosphere.
When it came to Christianity, Chrysostom says: “Woman is an unavoidable evil, a delicious calamity and an attractive trouble.” Aristotle declared: “The female state is a deformity.” A Roman Catholic, Aquinas, believed: “A female is a misbegotten male.” Nietzsche, the German philosopher, opines: “Woman is the source of folly, unreason.” In modern Europe, women were not given equal rights and the situation led to feminist movements that have been constantly struggling for equal rights for women.
Before the advent of Islam in Arabia, the position of the fair sex was appalling. Girls were sometimes killed as soon as they were born. The infant girls were buried alive. A man could marry and abandon or divorce a woman any number of times. The number of wives was unlimited. Islam emancipated woman in all respects. Provisions for empowerment of women in the Islamic system of life:
1. Freedom. Girls are as free to receive education as boys are. “It is obligatory for every man and woman to receive education.” Education and training in etiquette is the best gift of parents to children. A girl cannot be married off to anybody without her consent. As man has liberty to divorce; a woman is also allowed to take “khula” (divorce) if she dislikes her husband who is cruel, unjust or impotent. A widow or a divorcee is allowed to re-marry if she wishes. In Islam it is preferred that women remain at home to look after the family and train children. Still if no male guardian lives with her or if he is ill or his income is insufficient, she may go out to earn but in hijab. During the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), there were women traders and there were instances when women participated in wars to supply water or to nurse the wounded. At present thousands of Muslim women in hijab work in hospitals, banks, schools, colleges and many other congenial working places.
2. Equality. There is no gender disparity in Islam. “And whoever does righteous good deeds — male or female — and is a true believer in the Oneness of Allah, such will enter Paradise and not the least injustice, even to the size of a Naqira (speck on the back of a date-stone), will be done to them.” (Qur’an, 4:124) Man is the head of the family. Critics of Islam quote this out of context. This position of man is to safeguard and strengthen the institution of the family. It is the responsibility of man to provide food, shelter and other needs to all family members. Women are equal to men in all civil and criminal acts of judiciary.
3. Security: The security of woman in Islam is very important. She is not inferior to a male. “The person to whom a daughter is born and he does not … mete out preferential treatment to boys, Allah will reward him with heaven.” (Hadith i.e. saying of the Prophet). Parents are motivated to nurture girls. The responsibility to provide bread and meat to girls and women lies with the male guardian. “You should feed her when you eat, and clothe her when you yourself put on clothes. And in case of temporary boycott due to strained relations, it should be limited to the four walls of your house.” (Hadith). When she travels a long distance, a male guardian must accompany her to facilitate her journey. Islam restricted the number of wives to four. Divorce, though permissible, is not encouraged.
4. Economic empowerment. Women receive money in the form of bride price (mehr). She gets bread and meat from either father or husband. She has a lawful share in property. “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 — a legal share.” (Qur’an, 4:7)
5. Dignity: In contrast to the Christian idea that woman is the source of evil and she opened the door to Satan, Islam believes that Satan simultaneously seduced both Adam and Eve. The mother’s place is higher than the father’s. Heaven lies under the mother’s feet. Woman is the ruler/queen of her husband’s establishment. The veil is only a protective device to shield her from mischievous staring eyes. When women are asked to wear veil, men are ordered not to stare at women. “And tell the believing women to reduce (some) of their vision.”