It goes without saying that both women and men have very important roles in society. Without one or the other, we would not have a viable society. Both genders have their own importance, set of roles, and rights. But why does history talk about women as having fewer rights than men?
Giving women their rights has been a relatively new phenomenon in our societies. We Americans see ourselves as very progressive, but it wasn’t until 1893 that Colorado became the first state to grant women rights to vote and inherit property. Women in our society have been only recently seen as capable humans. However, there are still women around the world who are not given their rights and importance. March being Women’s History Month, we should celebrate all the women around the world and remember the history that makes our future brighter.
We usually think that women in Islam have no rights or status. In reality, Islam, before any society, was the first to grant women rights. Islam is progressive in its thinking compared to the society of the time from which it came. The women in Arabia 1,400 years ago had minimal if any rights and were seen merely as a piece of property that men could use, give away, and inherit from father and husband. While American society accorded the rights of inheritance to women in 1820, Islam was the first religion and society to grant women such rights and gave them the power to maintain their identity in the early 7th century.
It is a myth that Islam does not allow Muslim women to have a professional career. The Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, was a very successful businesswoman in Arabia in the 6th century. Massachusetts, in 1787, was the first state in the U.S. to allow unmarried women to pursue trade professions. In the Holy Qur’an, God commands that, “ … Men shall have the share of what they have earned, and women shall have the share of what they have earned. And ask God of His bounty. Surely, God has perfect knowledge of all things.” (4:33)
Islam stresses the importance of education for both men and women. Prophet Muhammad said, “It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge.” In another place talking about the status of daughters, the Prophet said, “He who brings up two girls through their childhood will appear on the Day of Judgment attached to me like two ﬁngers of a hand.”
Islam accords mothers such a high status that Prophet Muhammad stated that “Paradise lies at the feet of the mother.” The saying means that mothers are the ones who are the nearest to their children and have the greatest influence over them so that they become valuable members of the society.
It is true that there are many Muslim countries that seemingly oppress women, and blame is placed on the religion of Islam. We, as a progressive and educated society, need to understand that such faults lie with the humans and not the religion.
Given all these rights and many more, we have to understand that men and women both have different roles in a household and society. Both are smart, strong, and capable of working late hours. However, for a society to function properly, everyone has to perform according to their innate abilities. Just as we need teachers to educate, doctors to cure our sicknesses, government to ensure our rights are protected, and so on, we also need men and women to perform their individual roles for a functional and harmonious society.
Ramlah Malhi is a guest writer for the Jihad of the Pen column. She is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, the oldest Muslim organization in the United States. Raised in the Bay Area, Malhi is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley. She also organizes and leads service projects such as the Muslims for Life initiative and teaches a class, Jesus, Muhammad, and the Modern State, at Berkeley.