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In the Name of God بسم الله
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Woman in Qur'an

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(bismillah) Now we propose to answer the question whether Islam

regards woman equal to man as a human being, or

regards her inferior to him.



With regard to the rights of man and woman, Islam has

a special philosophy of its own which differs from

what happened 1400 years ago and what is happening

now. It does not believe that in all cases man and

woman have the same rights and obligations. In certain

cases their rights and obligations are different, with

the result that in certain cases their position in

this respect is similar, and in certain others


This is not because Islam, like some other schools of

thought, looks at woman contemptuously or considers

her to belong to an inferior sex. Islam differentiates

between the two sexes for some other valid reasons.

You might have heard that the followers of the Western

systems refer to the Islamic rules of dower,

maintenance, divorce, polygamy and the like in a way,

as if they were insulting to woman and derogatory to

her position. They mislead the people into the belief

that these rules are unreasonable and clearly in

favour of man.

They say that during the entire period of history,

prior to the 20th century, all laws and rules in the

world were based on the presumption that man belonged

to a superior sex and that woman was created for his

benefit and enjoyment. The rights accorded by Islam

also revolve round man's interests, and are no

exception to the general rule.

They assert that Islam is the religion of the male

sex. It does not recognise woman to be a full human

being. That is why it has not accorded her equal

rights. Had it recognised her as a full human being,

it would not have allowed polygamy; it would not have

given man the right of divorce; it would not have

considered the evidence of two females equal to that

of one male; it would not have fixed the share in

inheritance of a female as half of the share of a

male; it would not have ordered the naming of a price

for woman under the name of dower, and would not have

made woman dependent on man for maintenance, instead

of making her economically and socially independent.

The Islamic teachings in all these cases show that

Islam looks at woman contemptuously. Islam claims to

be a religion of equality but, at least in the case of

family relations, no equality has been observed by it.

They maintain that in the matter of rights, Islam

gives a clear preference to man, and that is why it

has given all these concessions to him.

If we like we can put their argument into a logical

form thus: Had Islam considered woman to be a full

human being, it would have accorded her rights similar

and equal to those of man; but as it has not done so,

it does not consider her to be a full human being.


This argument is based on the ground that human

dignity being common to man and woman, they both must

enjoy the same rights. In this connection, the point

worth considering is whether on the basis of human

dignity they both should have equal rights without any

discrimination, or should have the same rights

irrespective of their different roles in life. No

doubt, human dignity being common to them, they both

should have equal rights. But how about the similarity

of their rights?

If, instead of blindly following the Western ideas, we

allow ourselves some independent thinking, the first

question which comes to mind is whether equality of

rights does really mean their similarity also. In

fact, they are two different beings. Equality means a

condition of being equal in degree and value, whereas

similarity means uniformity. It is possible that a

father may distribute his wealth among his three

children equally, but not uniformly. Suppose his

wealth consists of several items such as a commercial

store, some agricultural land and some property, which

has been leased out. He, taking into consideration

their respective tastes and aptitudes, gives the store

to one, the agricultural land to another and the

leased property to the third. He takes care that what

he gives to each of them should be of fair value, and

at the same time should suit their aptitude. Thus he

distributes his wealth equally, but not uniformly.

Quantity is different from quality, and equality is

different from uniformity. Islam does not believe in

uniformity between man and woman. But at the same time

it does not give preferential treatment to men, in the

matter of rights. It has observed the principle of

equality between man and woman, but it is opposed to

the uniformity of their rights.

Equality is a charming word, for it implies a sense of

indiscrimination. A particular sanctity is attached to

it. It evokes respect, especially when it is

associated with rights.

What a beautiful and sacred construction 'equality of

rights' is! Any conscientious person is bound to

succumb to its charm.

But we cannot understand how things have got to this

extent that others who have once been the standard

bearers of science and philosophy want to impose their

ideas about the similarity of rights between men and

women on us.

This is exactly as if a person sells boiled beets and

gives to them the name of pears.

No doubt, Islam has not in all cases accorded similar

rights to man and woman. But it has not also

prescribed similar duties and similar punishments for

the two sexes. Anyway, the total value of the rights

accorded to woman is not less than that of the rights

accorded to man. We propose to prove this point.

Here the question arises as to what is the reason that

in certain cases dissimilar rights have been accorded

to man and woman. Would it not have been better, had

their rights been similar, as well as equal in all

cases? To give full consideration to this point, we

propose to discuss it under three headings:

(i) The Islamic view of the position of woman from the

angle of her nature.

(ii) The effect of the physical disparity between man

and woman. Does it make them dissimilar in the matter

of rights also?

(iii) What is the philosophy behind the Islamic rules,

which are in some cases different in respect of man

and woman? is this philosophy still valid?


The Qur'an is not merely a collection of laws. It is

not a body of dry rules and laws with no explanation

of their ultimate aims. it contains laws, as well as

history, religious exhortations, an explanation of the

meaning of Creation, and thousands of other things. At

certain places it sets forth a course of action in

legal form, and at others it explains the meaning of

existence. It unravels the mysteries of the earth, the

heavens, the plants, the animals and the human beings.

It gives out the secrets of life and death, honour and

disgrace, rise and fall, wealth and poverty.

The Qur'an is not a book of philosophy, but it has

expounded, in very definite terms, its views on the

three basic subjects of philosophy: the world, man and

society. It does not teach its followers law alone,

and does not indulge in mere exhortation and

admonition, but, also by its interpretation of

Creation, gives its followers a special outlook and a

peculiar way of thinking. The basis of the Islamic

regulations regarding social matters like ownership,

government, family rights etc. are its very

interpretation of Creation and various things.

One of the subjects explained in the Qur'an is that of

the creation of man and woman. The Qur'an has not

observed silence in this respect. It has left no

opportunity to the philosophical meddlers to invent

their own philosophy for the rules concerning man and

woman, and to describe them as being based on Islam's

contemptuous attitude towards the fair sex. Islam has

itself given its views regarding woman.

To know the views of Islam on woman, we should see

what the Qur'an says about her innate character. Other

religions also have referred to this question, but it

is the Qur'an alone which in a number of verses

expressly says that woman has been created of the

species of man, and both man and woman have the same

innate character. While referring to Adam it says: He

(Allah) made all of you from one being, and from that

being He made its mate. (Surah an-Nisa, 4 : 1)

With regard to mankind in general, it says: He made

your mate from among you. (Surah an-Nisa, Surah Ali

Imran and Surah Rum).

Unlike some other religious books, there is no mention

in the Qur'an that woman has been created of some

inferior material, or that she has any parasitic and

leftist aspect. Islam does not support the notion of

the people who suppose that the spouse of Adam was

created of his left ribs. Islam has no contemptuous

view of woman in regard to her nature and innate


There is another contemptuous theory which was current

in the past, and has left some undesirable traces in

the world literature. According to it, woman is the

cause of all sins. Her very existence stimulates evil.

Woman is a little devil. It is said that woman has had

a hand in every sin and every offence committed by

man. Men themselves are free from sin; it is the women

who drag them to it. It is also said that the Devil

cannot have direct access to men. It is through women

that he lures them. He prompts woman with wicked

suggestions, and woman in turn prompts man. Adam was

thrown out of Paradise because of a woman. The Devil

misled Eve, and it was Eve who misled Adam.

The Qur'an has narrated the story of Paradise, but it

says nowhere that the Devil or the Serpent misled Eve

and Eve misled Adam. It neither blames Eve nor

exonerates her.

The Qur'an says: We said to Adam: 'Take residence in

Paradise.' both you and your Spouse, and eat the

fruits thereof, freely wherever you wish and go not

near that tree else you become wrongdoers. (Surah

al-Baqarah, 2:35). It puts the pro. nouns in the dual

form. It also says: Then the Satan made a suggestion

to them (both). Then he led them (both) on with guile.

He swore to them (both): I am a sincere adviser to you

(both). Surah al-A'raf, (7 : 20 - 21)

Thus the Qur'an vehemently opposed the false notion

which was current after the time of its revelation,

and the echoes of which still resound in various parts

of the world, It absolved woman from the charge that

she was the prompter of sin, and herself a little


Another contemptuous theory which has existed concerns

woman's spiritual position. It was asserted that woman

could not enter Paradise. She could not cover the

spiritual and divine stages. She could not reach such

a stage of proximity to God as man could. But the

Qur'an, in a number of passages, has expressly said

that the reward of the Hereafter and the proximity to

Allah are not linked with sex. They depend on faith

and deeds, and there is no difference between man and

woman in this respect. In the Qur'an, side by side

with every great and saintly man, a great and saintly

woman has been mentioned. It has glorified the wives

of Adam and Abraham and the mothers of Moses and

Jesus. If it has mentioned the wives of Noah and Lot

as unworthy of their husbands, it has not ignored the

wife of the Pharaoh, and has mentioned her as a great

woman who was in the hands of a wicked man. The Qur'an

in its stories has maintained a sort of balance. Its

heroes are both men and women.

While referring to the mother of Moses, the Qur'an


We made Our Will known to Musa's mother saying.' Put

him in a box and throw it into the river. The waves

shall cast him on to the bank. . . (Surah Taha, 20 :


About the mother of Jesus, it says that she had

attained such a high spiritual position that the

angels used to talk to her while she was worshipping

in the Sanctuary. She used to receive eatables from

supernatural sources. Her sublime spiritual position

caused bewilderment even to Zachariah, the Prophet of

that period.

There have been many eminent and saintly women in the

history of Islam. Few men can attain the high position

of Khadija, the beloved wife of the Holy Prophet, and

no man, except the Holy Prophet and Ali (P) can match

with Zahra, the beloved daughter of the Holy Prophet.

She holds a position superior to that of even her

sons, who are Imams, and to that of the Prophets,

other than the last one. Islam does not discriminate

between man and woman in the matter of the 'journey

towards Allah', but it regards man more suitable for

shouldering the responsibility of Prophethood, which

can be described as a 'return journey from Allah' to

the people.

Another contemptuous theory that exists about woman is

related to renunciation and celibacy. Certain

religions regard sexual relations as a dirty thing.

According to the belief of their followers, only those

can attain higher levels of spiritual life who pass

their whole life in celibacy. A well-known world

religious leader says: "Cut down the tree of marriage

with the axe of virginity." Such religious leaders

tolerate marriage only as a lesser evil. In other

words, they maintain that as most of the people are

unable to lead a life of celibacy, and there is an

apprehension that they will be unable to control

themselves, and so will become involved in illicit

relations with a number of women, it is better that

they marry so that they do not come into contact with

more than one woman. These gentlemen advocate

renunciation and celibacy because they look upon the

fair sex with suspicion. They consider love for woman

to be a great moral evil.

Islam is severely opposed to this absurdity. It

reckons marriage as sacred and celibacy as dirty. To

like woman has been described by Islam as a part of a

prophetic character. The Holy Prophet has said: "I am

interested in three things: perfume, woman and


Bertrand Russell says: "All religions other than Islam

look at sexual relations with a pinch of suspicion.

Islam, with an eye to social interest, has regulated

and restricted them, but has not regarded them as


Another contemptuous theory with regard to woman,

which has existed, is that woman has been created for

the benefit of man.

Islam does not say any such thing. It has stated the

purpose of Creation in clear terms. It expressly says

that the earth, the heavens, the air, the clouds, the

plants and the animals, all have been created for the

sake of mankind. It does not say that woman has been

created for the sake of man. According to it, both man

and woman have been created for the sake of each

other. The Qur'an says: They (women) are raiment

(comfort, embellishment and protection) for you, and

you (men) are raiment for them. (Surah al-Baqarah: 2 :


Had the Qur'an stated that woman was a mere appendage

of man, and was created for his sake, that view would

certainly have been reflecte6 in the Islamic laws, but

the Qur'an has expressed no such view. It does not

explain Creation that way. It does not consider woman

a mere appendage to man. That is why this view is not

reflected in Islamic laws.

Another contemptuous theory about woman, which

previously existed, is that woman is an inescapable

evil. In the olden days, many people held her in great

contempt and looked upon her as a source of misfortune

and all sorts of trouble. In contrast, the Qur'an has

emphasised that woman is a blessing for man and a

source of his comfort and relief.

According to another contemptuous theory, little

significance was attached to the role of woman in

childbearing. Pre- Islamic Arabs and some other

communities regarded woman just as a receptacle for

keeping and developing the seed of man. The Qur'an in

several of its passages has said, We have created you

from a man and a woman. The same idea has been deduced

from some other verses by the commentators of the

Qur'an. Thus Islam has put an end to that wrong way of


It is clear from the above that Islam holds no

contemptuous view of woman.

Now the time has come to see why there is a

dissimilarity between the rights of man and woman.


We have already said that in respect of the family

relations and the rights of man and woman, Islam has a

special philosophy of its own which is quite different

from what was the practice, 1,400 years ago as well as

what is practised today.

We have also said that it is not a debatable point

whether man and woman are equal or not, as human

beings, and whether their family rights should or

should not be of equal value. From the Islamic point

of view they are both human beings and, as such, enjoy

equal rights.

The point which is worth considering is that man and

woman, because of the sex difference, are dissimilar

in many respects. Their very nature does not want them

to be similar. This position demands that they should

not be similar in respect of many rights, obligations,

duties and retributions. In the West an attempt is

being made at present to make their rights and

obligations uniform, and to ignore their natural and

innate differences. There lies the difference between

the Islamic view and the Western system. In our

country, the point at issue between the supporters of

Islamic rights and the supporters of the Western

system, is the question of uniformity and similarity

of rights and not that of equality of rights between

man and woman. Equality of rights is only a label

which has been wrongly attached to this Western gift.

The present writer, in his writings and speeches, has

always refrained from using this false label and has

never condescended to give the name of equality to

what is actually the theory of similarity of rights.

The pre-2Oth century Europe is a clear example of

injustice to woman. Till the beginning of the 20th

century the woman of Europe was deprived of human

rights, both practically and legally. She had rights

neither equal to, nor similar to, those of man. It is

during the past decades that, as the result of a hasty

movement, more or less similar rights have been

granted to her, but she has not yet been able to

secure equal rights in conformity with her natural

position and physical and spiritual needs. If woman

wants equality of rights and domestic happiness, she

must discard the idea of similarity of rights. That is

the only way of establishing cordiality between man

and woman. In that case, man will not only accept her

equality of rights, but will also be willing to give

her, in some cases, more rights without any question

of deceiving her.

Similarly, we do not claim that in a Muslim society

woman actually enjoys rights equal to those of man. We

have often said that it is essential that the position

of woman should be reviewed, and the abundant rights

which Islam has granted her and which throughout

history have been denied to her, should be restored to

her. Anyhow, we must not blindly imitate the Western

way of life, which has produced catastrophic results

in the West itself. What we claim is that

non-similarity of rights between man and woman, within

such limits as are required by the disparity between

their natures, is more in keeping with justice. It

meets the requirement of natural rights better,

ensures domestic happiness better and pushes society

forward on the path of progress better.

It may be remembered that we claim that natural

justice demands that, in certain cases, there should

be a dissimilarity between the rights of man and those

of woman. Being related to the philosophy of rights,

this question has a hundred percent philosophical

aspect. It is also connected with the principle of

justice and equity, a cardinal principle of Islamic

law and Islamic scholasticism. It is the principle of

equity that has brought into existence the doctrine of

conformity between reason and Divine law. According to

the Islamic or at least the Shiah jurisprudence, if it

is proved that equity demands that in a certain case

the law should have a particular form, that very form

will be the legal form irrespective of any other

argument to the contrary, for according to the basic

teachings of Islam the law must, in no case, infringe

natural justice and basic rights. The Muslim scholars,

by expounding the principle of equity, laid the

foundation of the philosophy of rights, though

following some unhappy historical events they could

not continue the good work started by them. It was the

Muslims who, for the first time, paid attention to the

question of human rights and the principle of equity,

and set them forth as original and self-existing

principles unaffected by any contractual law. The

Muslims were the pioneers in the field of the inherent

natural rights.

But it was so destined that they could not continue

their work and ultimately, after eight centuries, it

was further developed by European intellectuals and

philosophers, who appropriated the credit for it. The

Europeans brought social, political and economic

philosophies into existence, and acquainted the

individuals, societies and nations with the value of

life and human rights.

In our opinion, apart from historical reasons, there

was a psychological and regional reason too, which

prevented the Muslim-East from pursuing the question

of inherent rights.

It is one of the differences between the spirit of the

East and that of the West. The East is enamoured of

morals and the West of rights. The man of the East is

more sentimental and believes that he should be

forgiving, chivalrous and philanthropic. But the man

of the West thinks that as a human being he should

know and defend his rights and must not allow others

to violate them.

Humanity needs morals as well as rights. Humanism is

concerned with both rights and morals. Neither of them

alone is the criterion of high human qualities.

Islam has had and still has the big distinction of

simultaneously paying attention to both the morals and

the rights. In Islam sincerity, forgiveness and virtue

are sacred moral qualities. At the same time

consciousness of one's rights and the preparedness to

defend them, are also equally sacred and human.

Nevertheless, the Eastern spirit has been dominant

with the Muslims, and consequently, though in the

beginning both morals and rights engaged their

attention, gradually the field of their activity

became confined to morals.

Anyhow, at present we are concerned with the question

of rights which may also be a philosophical question

and needs to be dealt with at length. It is more

closely related to the real meaning of justice and the

true nature of rights - justice and rights which

existed even when there was still no law in the world,

and whose meanings cannot be changed by any law.

Montesquieu says: "Before laws were made by man, just

human relations were possible on the basis of the laws

which governed the relations among all existing

things. It was the existence of these relations which

led to the framing of laws. To say that prior to the

framing of laws by man no just or unjust order existed

to regulate human relations is tantamount to saying

that before a circle is actually drawn its radii are

not equal".

Herbert Spencer says: "Justice is interwoven with

something other than feelings, namely the natural

rights of human beings. We must respect the natural

rights so that justice may have a practical


Most of the European intellectuals are of the view

that all declarations of human rights have been

derived from natural rights. In other words, the

theory of natural rights has assumed the form of the

declarations of rights.

As we know, Montesquieu, Spencer etc. have said the

same thing about justice as the scholastic

philosophers of Islam have said about the rational

basis of good and evil and the principle of equity.

Among the Muslims there have been scholars who have

denied the existence of inherent rights and maintained

that justice was contractual. Similarly, among the

Europeans also this belief has existed. The English

philosopher, Thomas Hobbes denied justice as a


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