THE various constructive roles (as a daughter, a wife, a mother and a sister-in-faith ) a woman plays. It deals into what is essentially required of a woman to play, at times, these roles simultaneously.
As a daughter:
(1) The Qur’an ended the cruel practice of female infanticide, which was before Islam. Allah has said: “And when the female (infant) buried alive (as the pagan Arabs use to do) is questioned: For what sin was she killed.” (Qur’an 81:8-9)
(2) The Qur’an goes further to rebuke the unwelcoming attitude of some parents upon hearing the news of the birth of a baby girl, instead of a baby boy. Allah has said: “And when the news of (the birth of) a female (child) is brought to any of them, his face becomes dark, and he is filled with inward grief. He hides himself from the people because of the evil whereof he has been informed. Shall he keep her with dishonor or bury her in the earth? Certainly, evil is their decision.” (Qur’an 16:58-59)
(3) Parents are duty-bound to support and show kindness and justice to their daughters. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Whosoever supports two daughters until they mature, he and I will come on the Day of Judgment as this (and he pointed with his fingers held together).”
(4) A crucial aspect in the upbringing of daughters that greatly influences their future is education. Education is not only a right but a responsibility for all males and females. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim.” The word “Muslim” here is inclusive of both males and females.
(5) Islam neither requires nor encourages female circumcision. And while it may be practiced by some Muslims in certain parts of Africa, it is also practiced by other peoples, including Christians, in those places, a reflection merely of the local customs and practices there.
As a wife:
(1) Marriage in Islam is based on mutual peace, love, and compassion, and not just the mere satisfying of human sexual desire. Among the most impressive verses in the Qur’an about marriage is the following:
“And among His signs is this, that He created for you wives from among yourselves, that you may find repose in them; and He has put between you affection and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed signs for a people who reflect.”(Qur’a n 30:21, see also 42:11 and 2:228)
(2) A female has the right to accept or reject marriage proposals. According to the Islamic Law, women cannot be forced to marry anyone without their consent.
(3) The husband is responsible for the maintenance, protection, and overall leadership of the family, within the framework of consultation (see the Qur’an 2:233) and kindness (see the Qur’an 4:19). The mutuality and complementary nature of the role of husband and wife does not mean subservience by either party to the other. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) instructed Muslims regarding women: “I command you to be good to women.” And “The best among you are those who are best to their wives.”
The Qur’an urges husbands to be kind and considerate toward their wives, even if a wife falls out of favor with her husband or disinclination for her arises within him:
“…And live with them honorably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good.” (Qur’an 4:19)
It also outlawed the Arabian practice before Islam whereby the stepson of the deceased father was allowed to take possession of his father’s widow(s) (inherit them) as if they were part of the estate of the deceased (see the Qur’an 4:19).
(4) Should marital disputes arise, the Qur’an encourages couples to resolve them privately in a spirit of fairness and goodness. Indeed, the Qur’an outlines an enlightened step and wise approach for the husband and wife to resolve persistent conflict in their marital life. In the event that dispute cannot be resolved equitably between husband and wife, the Qur’an prescribes mediation between the parties through family intervention on behalf of both spouses (see the Qur’an 4:35).
(5) Divorce is a last resort, permissible but not encouraged, for the Qur’an esteems the preservation of faith and the individual’s right – male and female alike – to felicity. Forms of marriage dissolution include an enactment based upon mutual agreement, the husband’s initiative, the wife’s initiative (if part of her marital contract), the court’s decision on a wife’s initiative (for a legitimate reason), and the wife’s initiative without a cause, provided that she returns her marital gift to her husband. When the continuation of the marriage relationship is impossible for any reason, men are still taught to seek a gracious end for it. The Qur’an states about such cases:
“And when you have divorced women and they have fulfilled the term of their prescribed period, either take them back on reasonable basis or set them free on reasonable basis. But do not take them back to hurt them, and whoever does that, then he has wronged himself.” (Qur’an 2:231, see also 2:229 and 33:49)
(6) Associating polygamy with Islam, as if it was introduced by it or is the norm according to its teachings, is one of the most persistent myths perpetuated in Western literature and media. Polygamy existed in almost all nations and was even sanctioned by Judaism and Christianity until recent centuries. Islam did not outlaw polygamy, as did many peoples and religious communities; rather, it regulated and restricted it. It is not required but simply permitted with conditions (see the Qur’an 4:3). Spirit of law, including timing of revelation, is to deal with individual and collective contingencies that may arise from time to time (e.g. imbalances between the number of males and females created by wars) and to provide a moral, practical, and humane solution for the problems of widows and orphans.
As a mother:
(1) The Qur’an elevates kindness to parents (especially mothers) to a status second to the worship of Allah:
“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honor. And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say, ‘My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was young.” (Qur’an 17:23-24, see also 31:14, 46:15, and 29:8)
(2) Naturally, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) specified this behavior for his followers, rendering to mothers an unequaled status in human relationships. A man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said,“O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?” The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Your mother.” The man said, “Then who?” The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Then your mother.” The man further asked, “Then who?” The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Then your mother.” The man asked again, “Then who?” The Prophet said: “Then your father.”
As a sister-in-faith
(1) According to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Women are but shaqa’iq (twin halves or sisters) of men.” This saying is a profound statement that directly relates to the issue of human equality between the genders. If the first meaning of the Arabic word shaqa’iq, “twin halves,” is adopted, it means that the male is worth one half (of society), while the female is worth the other half. If the second meaning, “sisters,” is adopted, it implies the same.
(2) Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught kindness, care, and respect toward women in general: “I command you to be good to women.” It is significant that such instruction of the Prophet (pbuh) was among his final instructions and reminders in the farewell pilgrimage address given shortly before his passing away.
(3) Modesty and social interaction: The parameters of proper modesty for males and females (dress and behavior) are based on revelatory sources (the Qur’an and Prophet’s sayings) and, as such, are regarded by believing men and women as divinely-based guidelines with legitimate aims and divine wisdom behind them.They are not male-imposed or socially-impose d restrictions. It is interesting to know that even the Bible encourages women to cover their head: “If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.” (1 Corinthians 11:6).
The legal and political aspect of women in Islam
(1) Equality before the law: Both genders are entitled to equality before the law and courts of law. Justice is genderless (see the Qur’an 5:38, 24:2, and 5:45). Women do possess an independent legal entity in financial and other matters.
(2) Participation in social and political life: The general rule in social and political life is participation and collaboration of males and females in public affairs (see the Qur’an 9:71).There is sufficient historical evidence of participation by Muslim women in the choice of rulers, in public issues, in law-making, in administrative positions, in scholarship and teaching, and even in the battlefield. Such involvement in social and political affairs was conducted without the participants’ losing sight of the complementary priorities of both genders and without violating Islamic guidelines of modesty and virtue.
The status which non-Muslim women reached during the present era was not achieved due to the kindness of men or due to natural progress. It was rather achieved through a long struggle and sacrifice on woman’s part and only when society needed her contribution and work, more especially during the two World Wars, and due to the escalation of technological change. While in Islam such compassionate and dignified status was decreed, not because it reflects the environment of the seventh century, nor under the threat or pressure of women and their organizations, but rather because of its intrinsic truthfulness.
If this indicates anything, it would demonstrate the Divine origin of the Qur’an and the truthfulness of the message of Islam, which, unlike human philosophies and ideologies, was far from proceeding from its human environment; a message which established such humane principles that neither grew obsolete during the course of time, nor can become obsolete in the future. After all, this is the message of the All-Wise and All-Knowing God whose wisdom and knowledge are far beyond the ultimate in human thought and progress.