Q1: What is the Islamic concept of equality between men and women?
A: The Holy Qur’an states that all believers, without distinction, are equal and that only righteous deeds elevate one person above another. Muslims therefore have an immense respect for righteous and pious men and women. Islamic history also tells us that men and women both served in many capacities from being teachers, doctors, leaders and even as soldiers in battle when Muslims were under attack.
Islam however also recognises that such equality does not mean that men and women are the same. It notes their different physical and emotional strengths and in view of this sets out their key roles in life. The roles are therefore not a question of superiority or inferiority, but a question of natural capacity and proper functioning.
For example men have been assigned the duty to work and provide for their family and women have been assigned the role of motherhood and of looking after the household.
Islam places equal importance on both and also stresses that the roles are not exclusive nor inflexible. This does not mean that women cannot work or serve society or that men have no duties or responsibilities for their children or for their household.
It is interesting to note that where women choose to work the money they earn is theirs and the husband has no right over it, whereas a husband must provide financially for the whole family.
All of this is in direct contrast to the status of women before the advent of Islam
Status of women before Islam
Before the advent of Islam, women were treated extremely harshly. It was acceptable for female babies to be buried alive and women were treated more as chattels and objects of sexual pleasure. Islam changed all this, and taught equality of both genders.
It also granted women the right of inheritance and accordingly they received their due share as prescribed by the Shariah Law (Islamic Law). A woman is entitled to individual ownership of property as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, and as a sister. – rights that were granted to women in England hundreds of years later.
The Holy Prophet exalted the intellectual and spiritual status of women and said that the acquisition of knowledge is an incumbent duty to every Muslim male and female. The Holy Prophet of Islam knew the essential part women had to play in the development of society, so he laid great stress on the upbringing of girls by saying:
“A man who has two daughters and brings them up and educates them to the best of his capacity shall be entitled to paradise”
Q2: Are women inferior to men in Islam?
According to Islam women are not considered inferior to men. Men and women have similar rights and in some areas women actually enjoy certain privileges that the men do not. In terms of property, marriage and divorce women have been given rights and in fact at each turn they have been considered and provided for as appropriate. It is true to say that Islam gave women rights which are unparalleled in the history of women.
Allah has declared in the Holy Qur’an that He has created men and women as equal beings.
He has created you from a single being; then from that He made its mate.
(Ch 39: V.7)
There is also a hadith of the Holy Prophet(saw) that:
‘A person who is blessed with a daughter or daughters and makes no discrimination between them and his sons and brings them up with kindness and affection, will be as close to me in Paradise as my forefinger and middle finger are to each other.’
(Muslim II, Section Beneficence).
The above removes any concept of inferiority leveled at women in Islam. Furthermore, there are many references in the Holy Qur’an that refer to the various spheres of life where the status of women has been elevated.
In summary Islam is the only religion that gives women the right to an education, property rights, the right of inheritance, and freedom of marriage and divorce. Similar rights were not available to women in Europe for many centuries after the advent of Islam.
The Holy Qur’an repeatedly proclaims men and women’s equality in spiritual status:
But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter Heaven
Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms, and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him – Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward.
The Holy Qur’an is unique amongst all scriptures. It repeatedly emphasises this equality by addressing both men and women in its verses.
Islam teaches that both men and women are equal in the sight of God. Allah states in the Holy Qur’an:
But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter Heaven, and shall not be wronged even as much as the little hollow in the back of a date-stone.
And think of the day when thou wilt see the believing men and the believing women, their light running before them and on their right hands, and it will be said to them, ‘Glad tidings for you this day! Gardens through which streams flow, wherein you will abide. That is the supreme triumph.’
(Ch. 57: V.13)
Whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, We will surely grant him a pure life; and We will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works.
This makes clear that in Islam there is equality between men and women.
On the intellectual level Islam stresses that education is equally important for men and women. The Holy Prophet(saw) said:
‘It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge’ (Ibne Majah)
Islam gave women the right to an education over 1500 years ago. In contrast, it was not until 1886 that women were permitted to sit exams at Cambridge University and it was not until 1948 that the university would confer academic degrees on them. Women were first admitted to Oxford University in 1920.
On the economic front, Islam entitles women to possess money, property and other assets. (Ch.4:V.33 – … Men shall have their share of that which they have earned, and women a share of that which they have earned…). Upon marriage the husband is required to give his wife a dowry which then becomes her exclusive property. A woman can work for financial gain, without any obligation on her part to contribute to the household expenses. Islam also gives her inheritance rights, making it a requirement for women to get their determined share.
In terms of inheritance the Qur’an states that,
For men is a share of that which parents and near relations leave; and for women is a share of that which parents and near relations leave, whether it be little or much – a determined share
In England, women could not own their own property until 1882 (any property a woman had would automatically become her husband’s). Islam on the other hand has always given women economic rights including: ownership of assets and property, earnings from work and rights of inheritance. It is interesting to contrast this against the fact that widows in England gained the right to inherit their husband’s property after 1890 – a right that Islam had given to women over twelve centuries earlier.
Islam elevated the social status of women by ensuring that their they are treated respectfully by their husbands, sons and fathers.
A husband and wife have an equal role to play in providing support, comfort and protection for one another, fitting each other like a garment fits the body. (They are a garment for you and you are a garment for them. (Ch. 2:188))
The Holy Prophet (saw) has said,
‘The best among you is he who is best In his treatment towards his wife.’ (Abu Daud)
Women also have equal rights in marriage as well in divorce.
As a mother emphasis is placed on giving full consideration and respect to her needs and wishes. The Holy Prophet(saw) has said,
‘Paradise lies under the feet of your mother.’ (Nisai)
Men and women are not the same
Whilst there is no disputing the equality of men and women it is important to note that according to Islam men and women have been created in different forms for different but complementary purposes. This stresses a difference in role and nature but not a difference in status (as illustrated above).
On one occasion, the Holy Prophet (saw) explained that woman is by nature like the rib bone, (Bukhari) meaning that she performs her function in the scheme of things by virtue of the very qualities in which she differs from man and that it would be foolish on the part of man to attempt to cast her into his own mould. Her charm lies in being what she is and not in becoming an image of man.
Q3: Are women allowed in mosques?
Yes. Mosques are for both men and women but they pray in separate areas, most often in separate halls.
The reason for this is that during worship nothing should distract them from focusing on God. Also the postures during prayer in Islam mean that it makes sense for men and women not to pray together so that everyone can stay focused on God.
Some mosques around the world do not have a separate prayer halls for men and women, however, the vast majority do.
A very good example of a mosque with prayer halls for both men and women is the Baitul Futuh Mosque in London. It was designed to ensure that the men’s prayer hall in the mosque was equal in size to the women’s prayer hall – so welcoming men and women to the mosque without distinction. It also includes baby changing facilities and even a sound proof crèche so that everyone can attend the mosque with little distraction. The Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) is reported to have instructed Muslim men that they are not to stop their wives from attending the mosques, even at night:
‘Narrated Ibn Umar: The Prophet(saw) said, “Allow women to go to the Mosques at night.” ’
(Sahih Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 13, Number 22)
As well being a place of worship it is important to remember that in Islam the mosque is an important centre of learning for the community and plays an important role in the spiritual and social life of Muslim men and women. It is therefore for all to use and benefit from.
Verse references to the Holy Qur’an item count ‘Bismillah…’ (In the Name of Allah…) as the first verse of each Chapter. In some non-standard texts, this is not counted and should the reader refer to such texts, the verse quoted in Islamic FAQs will be found at one verse less than the number quoted. All Quranic quotes are from the translation by Maulawi Sher Ali as edited by Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru).
In Islamic FAQs, for the ease of non- Muslim readers, ‘(saw)’ or ‘saw’ after the words, ‘Holy Prophet’, or the name ‘Muhammad’, are used. They stand for ‘Sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam’ meaning ‘Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him’. Likewise, the letters ‘(as)’ or ‘as’ after the name of all other prophets is an abbreviation meaning ‘Peace be upon him’ derived from ‘Alaihis salatu wassalam’ which are words that a Muslim utters out of respect whenever he or she comes across that name. The abbreviation ‘ra’ or (ra) stands for ‘Radhiallahu Ta’ala anhu and is used for Companions of a Prophet, meaning Allah be pleased with him or her (when followed by the relevant Arabic pronoun). Finally, ‘ru’ or (ru) for Rahemahullahu Ta’ala means the Mercy of Allah the Exalted be upon him.
In keeping with current universal practice, local transliterations of names of places are preferred to their anglicised versions, e.g. Makkah instead of Mecca, etc. For Biblical references the King James translation is used unless otherwise stated.
Generally the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community follows the Hanafi school of thought in light of the guidance of the Promised Messiah (as) and his Khalifas.