Evolution of Women

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Many individuals today, feel that Islam has given nothing towards the women cause.  Rather it has oppressed them and kept them isolated from society.  These voices of concern are echoed especially throughout the western world, bringing influence to women movements in the east too.  Nevertheless, the historical aspect of this discussion is never tackled; many never learn what Islam really has to offer and how it has brought about the most crucial changes of though with relation to the female gender in this current civilisation.  To appreciate this, both pre-Islam and during Islamic era will be highlighted.


Women Before Islam

In the first instance, we will see what the condition of women in Arabia was before the advent of Islam.  In those days, women were treated like slaves or property. Their personal consent concerning anything related to their well-being was considered unimportant and unnecessary to such an extent that they were never even treated as a party to a marriage contract.

Women were used for one purpose, and then discarded. They had no independence, could not own property and were not allowed to inherit. In times of war, women were treated as part of the loot. Simply put, their plight was unspeakable.

Furthermore, the birth of a daughter in a family was not an occasion for rejoicing, but was regarded with humiliation.  The practice of killing female children was rampant. The pagan Arabs used to bury alive their daughters with the fear that these girls will grow up and will get married to some men who will be called their sons-in-law.  After the death of the father, the sons used to share his wives among themselves as they shared their father’s property. After the death of the husband, the widow was kicked out of the house and was forced to live in a small hut, which was unventilated and dark, for one year. She was not permitted to leave the hut, nor was she allowed to take bath or change clothes. After one year, she was allowed to come out of the hut. People threw the camel dung into her lap and asked her to rub her body against the body of an animal. Then she was forced to go round the village in the same dirty attire, throwing the camel dung on her right and her left. This was the indication that she has completed her Iddat (waiting period).

In India , the Hindu woman was the most suppressed creature. She was born to serve her men folk? Her father and brother before marriage, and husband and father-in-law and husbands brothers after the marriage. She was forced to worship her husband. After the death of her husband she had no right to live and was forced to be burnt alive at the pyre of her husband. This inhuman custom was called the Sati. If she had no issue from her husband, she was forced to lie with her husband’s brothers to get pregnant. This practice was called “Niyoga”.

Outside Arabia , conditions for women were no better. In Egypt and all European countries in the Dark Ages, women were treated worse than slaves. They were not regarded as human beings but as sort of sub-species between humans and animals.


WOMEN AFTER ISLAM

Islam brought a new lease of life to women. Islam elevated the status of women to great heights: so high that she stood shoulder to shoulder with man. Like men, their rights were also well defined and Islamic Courts supported them to achieve these rights. Islam granted women the right to ownership. They now owned the amount of their Mehr.  They could engage in trade and have their own properties. They were also given the right to inherit the property of the deceased father and husband.

With the advent of Islam came the verse from the Quran condemning those who practiced female infanticide:

When news is brought to one of them, of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief!  With shame does he hide himself from his people, because of the bad news he has had! Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on. (16:58-59)

The Holy Quran makes no distinction between man and woman as regards to the fundamental human rights. Here we may specifically state that: Woman, like man, is the possessor of free personality, and enjoys equality with man, in respect of:

Her spiritual and moral status:

The Quran says: “Unto men the benefit of what they earn (of virtue) and unto women the benefit of what they earn (of virtue) (i.e., in matters of spiritual grace both, man and woman, enjoy equal status and are independent of one another)” (4:32)

Her economic rights:

The Quran says: “Unto the men (of a family) belongs a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, and unto the women a share of that which the parents and near kindred leave, whether it be little or much #150; a legal share.” (4:7)

Her legal rights:

The Quran says: “And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them, according to what is equitable.” (2:228)

Islam ensured a dignified life to the fair sex, which was hitherto treated in an unfair manner. Woman became the mistress of the household. Man was not allowed to beat or manhandle them nor deprive them of their share in the property.

The Holy Quran declared: “A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child, nor he to whom the child is born (be made to suffer) because of his child (because both are equal before the law).” (2:233).

Almighty Allah commanded man to behave well. “O Believers! It is not lawful for you to be heir of the women forcibly, and prevent them not with this design that you may take away part of what you had given them as dower except in this shape that they commit an act of flagrant, indecency and treat them fairly; then if you dislike them, it is likelihood that you may dislike a thing and wherein Allah has placed much good.” (4: 19)

It is necessary to establish the Quranic viewpoint with respect to the concepts of Duty and Right.  The Quranic moral code is based on the emphasis on obligation not duty in contrast to the emphasis on right. Now, the implications of the emphasis respectively on duty and right are: Right is a right against someone. Duty is a duty towards someone. Right means that someone owes something to us. For, when we say: it is our right, it means that someone has to perform a duty to us. On the contrary, when we say: it is our duty, it means that someone has a right against us.

Islam has granted to the husband a senior position in the functioning of the household and appointed him as the commander so that he could get through any crisis with the help of wisdom and initiative given to him by Almighty Allah. Islam has prescribed certain obligations that a husband has to fulfil in the interest of his wife. Simultaneously, Islam has enjoined upon the wives to appreciate their duties towards their husbands. This is a give-and-take business.  Both man and woman are closely connected with each others rights and duties.