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Women's Rights in Islam


Rabia Salim

Nowadays the crisis of Afghanistan, especially the plight of women, has once again brought many attacks on Islam into the forefront. I feel compelled to talk about the Annual Convention of Ahmadi Muslims last month in the UK, in which the head of the Ahmadiyya Community delivered a beautiful speech on women’s rights

Within the speech were gems of encouragement for all women and girls. He spoke about how a righteous woman can be many steps and ranks above men.  Can any worldly organisation be proud of such an assertion?  Sadly, no, as even in recent times, men are treated as superior to women, in pay, respect, and status.  However, our faith leader reiterated the Islamic view, that men and women are equal.  In fact, in the Nikah (marriage) sermon it states  that men and women are equal in qualities and intellect. This makes me feel absolutely reassured, and the fact that I am a Muslim woman writing this should make it evident.  

Our leader also recounted several examples of situations of female subjugation, and explained what rights women have in those instances.  Firstly, how men shouldn’t feel too superior to take counsel from women. In this connection, he related an incident from the life of the Prophet Muhammad’s companion and successor Omar (ra).  In this incident Omar (ra)’s wife is assertive and vocal, and when he as a husband questioned it, she backed it up with examples of Prophet Muhammad, and gave the credit to Islam. In Pakistani and Indian culture sometimes it is considered that living in a joint family is a noble and Islamic deed.  However, Islam requires that the couple lives in their own house rather than living in a joint family system, unless there is a specific need to live together. Contrary to the common belief, Islam is very particular about respecting each person and their role in their own right.

In Islam, the husband should give his wife the agreed dowry and the husband is not entitled to her property at any point unless this is her wish - either during the marriage, or at the end of the marriage if it ends unfortunately or after death.  The wife’s earnings are hers, and the husband’s earnings go towards taking care of the family, as he is responsible for the family’s well being.  

The concept of polygamy in Islam is always questioned. In this particular speech, the Khalifa laid out when a man is allowed to remarry. If the man can’t fulfill these strict rules, then he shouldn’t marry more than one wife.  Men may talk about multiple marriages in Islam, however, this is certainly very restricted and cannot be a way to feed his carnal desires. 

When we look at Islam, it doesn't subject or belittle women - rather it addresses the rights and responsibilities of all to uphold a peaceful society.  Take the concept of the Islamic veil, or ‘purdah’ for example.  Literally, the purpose of this is to put a barrier between men and women, to avoid indecencies in society, however, it certainly does not mean to lock someone up.  In fact, men and women are both told to practice lowering of the eyes, or ‘Ghadde Basr’ first, and then women are enjoined to cover their heads and so on. I would like to quote my own example here. While wearing the headscarf at work as a speech therapist, I feel free to voice my professional opinion and certainly feel apart from objectification by men. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The speech not only clarified so many misconceptions about women in Islam but also empowered them in countless ways.

Rabia Salim is a mother of 3 and a Speech Therapist for pediatrics, school and college aged children with a range of special education needs. In her spare time she volunteers, cooks, plays sports travels and reads. She lives with her family in the outskirts of London, England. 

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