The Conditions of Women in Arabia Before Islam
In those days before Islam, women were treated like slaves or property. Their personal consent concerning anything related to their well-being was considered unimportant, to such a degree 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 own no property and were not allowed to inherit. In times of war, women were treated as part of the prize. Simply put, their condition was unspeakable.
In addition, 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 uncontrolled.
With the advent of Islam came the verse from the Quran condemning those who practiced female infanticide:
"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 of that whereof he has been informed. Shall he keep her with dishonor or bury her in the earth? Certainly, evil is their decision." [An-Nahl 16:58-59]
And as part of a description of various events on the Day of Judgment, the Quran mentions:
"And when the female (infant) buried alive (as the pagan Arabs used to do) shall be questioned. For what sin she was killed?" [Quran 81:8-9]
Outside Arabia conditions for women were no better. In India, 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 a sub-species between humans and animals.
Allah (SWT) Gave the Women Their Rights
The rights of Muslim women were given to us by Allah (SWT), who is All-Compassionate, All-Merciful, All-Just, All-Unbiased, All-Knowing and Most Wise. These rights, which were granted to women more than 1400 years ago, and were taught by the perfect example of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), were given by the one Who created us and Who alone knows what rights are best for our female natures. Allah (SWT) says in the Quran:
"O You who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the Mahr (bridal-money given by the husband to his wife at time of marriage) you have given them, unless they commit open illegal sexual intercourse. 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." [Quran 4:19]
The most basic right of a woman in Islam is the knowledge and recognition that she never has to ask or demand or fight for her rights which are guaranteed to her by Allah (SWT) Himself.
Rights That Islam Gives to Women
Islam considers a woman to be equal to a man as a human being and as his partner in this life. Women have been created with a soul of the same nature as man’s. Allah (SWT) says in the Quran:
"O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) He created his wife (Eve), and from them both He created many men and women and fear Allah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allah is Ever and All-Watcher over you." [Quran 4:1]
And in the words of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW),
"Assuredly, women are the twin halves of men." (Sahih reported by Abu-Dawud (RA)
Islam does not blame Eve alone for the First Sin. The Quran makes it very clear that both Adam and Eve were tempted, that they both sinned and were both forgiven after their repentance. Allah (SWT) says in the Quran:
"Then Satan whispered suggestions to them both in order to uncover that which was hidden from them of their private parts (before); he said: "Your Lord did not forbid you this tree save you should become angels or become of the immortals." And he (Satan) swore by Allah to them both (saying): "Verily, I am one of the sincere well-wishers for you both." So he mislead them with deception. Then when they tasted of the tree, that which was hidden from them of their shame (private parts) became manifest to them and they began to stick together the leaves of Paradise over themselves (in order to cover their shame). And their Lord called out to them (saying): "Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you: Verily, Satan is an open enemy unto you?" They said: "Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers." (Allah) said: "Get down, one of you an enemy to the other (i.e. Adam, Eve, and Satan, etc.). On earth will be a dwelling-place for you and an enjoyment, - for a time." He said: "Therein you shall live, and therein you shall die, and from it you shall be brought out (i.e. resurrected)."[Quran 7:20-25]
In Islamic law a woman is an independent, unique individual in her own right. She has the same responsibilities towards herself, towards Allah (SWT) and towards other human beings as the male, and will be punished or rewarded in the Hereafter without discrimination towards her female gender.
There is no compulsion in religion according to the Quran:
"There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the Right Path has become distinct from the wrong path. Whoever disbelieves in Taghut [anything worshipped other then the Real God (Allah)] and believes in Allah, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower."[Quran 2:256]
A Muslim woman is not permitted to change her family name to her husband’s name upon marriage. She is always known by her father’s name, as a mark of her own identity. In choosing a marriage partner, her consent to accept or reject any prospective suitor for marriage must be respected. A Muslim woman has the right to seek divorce, if necessary within the laws of Islam.
Muslim Women Have the Right to Go Outside of Her Home
Muslim women are not forbidden from going out in the community, working, or visiting relatives and female friends, if there is no objection from their guardian/husband and they are covered and behave and speak according to Islamic guidelines and, if necessary, escorted by their Mahram (a close male relative). However, a woman’s home should be the main base that she works from. Allah (SWT) instructed the wife’s of the Prophet (SAW):
"O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women. If you keep your duty (to Allah), then be not soft in speech, lest he is whose heart is a disease (of hypocrisy or evil desire for adultery, etc.) should be moved with desire, but speak in an honorable manner. And stay in your houses, and do not display yourselves like that of the times of ignorance, and offer prayers perfectly (Iqamat-as-Salat), and give Zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah wishes only to remove Ar-Rijs (evil deeds and sins, etc.) from you, O members of the family [of the Prophet (SAW)], and to purify you with a thorough purification." [Quran 33:32-33]
A Woman in Islam Has the Right to Get an Education
In the words of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW):
"To seek knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim."
(Declared Authentic By Shaikh Muhammad Naasir-ud-Deen Al-Albaani)
Muslim here meaning male and female Muslims, as women are the twin halves of men. The Prophet (SAW) also said:
"Whoever follows a way to seek knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a way to paradise." (Declared Authentic By Shaikh Muhammad Naasir-ud-Deen Al-Albaani)
A woman in Islam has the right to knowledge and education. Allah (SWT) encourages women to read and keep up the learning process. He also bestows His mercy upon all who seek knowledge, and gives them high status:
"Is one who is obedient to Allah, prostrating himself or standing (in prayer) during the hours of the night, fearing the Hereafter and hoping for the Mercy of his Lord (like one who disbelieves)? Say: "Are those who know equal to those who know not?" It is only men of understanding who will remember (i.e. get a lesson from Allah’s Signs and Verses)." [Quran 39:9]
"O you who believe! When you are told to make room in the assemblies, (spread out and) make room. Allah will give you (ample) room (from His Mercy). And when you are told to rise up (for prayers, Jihad, or for any other good deed), rise up. Allah will exalt in degree those of you who believe, and those who have been granted knowledge. And Allah is Well-Acquainted with what you do." [Quran 58:11]
This is referring to religious knowledge, in the first place, and to any other kind of knowledge, in the second place, where one has the intention of benefiting herself, her family and the Islamic society. Additionally, a husband should not forbid his wife from going out of the house to seek basic religious knowledge, unless he is teaching her at home. The Quran advises mankind to pray:
"Then High above all be Allah, the True King. And be not in haste [O Muhammad (SAW)] with the Quran before its revelation is completed to you, and say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge." [Quran 20:114]
The Right to Go to the Mosque
The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said:
"If someone’s wife asks his permission to go to the mosque, he should not deny it to her."
Women should be covered Islamically, according to the Muslim woman's dress requirements (see Her Dress).
At the same time, a woman’s prayer in her home is better, from the standpoint of her household duties and duties as a mother. Also it is better in the sense that it prevents unnecessary mixing with men. The Prophet (SAW) also stated on another occasion:
"But their homes are better for them." (Reported by Abu Dawud and Ahmed)
Islam Gives Men and Women Equal Rights
In reality, and in Islam, the rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of man, but they are not necessarily identical with them. Equality and sameness are two very different things. I think you’ll agree that, for one thing, women and men are physically very different from one another, although they are equal to each other in other important ways.
In the West, women may be doing the same job that men do, but their wages are often less. The rights of Western women in modern times were not created voluntarily, or out of kindness to the female. The modern Western woman reached her present position by force, and not through natural processes or mutual consent of Divine teachings. She had to force her way, and various circumstances aided her. Shortage of manpower during wars, pressure of economic needs and requirement of industry forced women to leave their homes to work, struggling for their livelihood, to appear equal to men. Whether all women are sincerely pleased with these circumstances, and whether they are happy and satisfied with the results, is a different matter. But the fact remains that whatever rights modern Western women have, they fall short of those of her Muslim counterpart! Islam has given woman what duties her female nature. It gives her full security and protects her against becoming what Western modern women themselves complain against: a "mere sex object."
The Right to Seek Employment
If you take a look at many societies today, a woman is only valued and considered important if she performs the functions of a man, (while at the same time displaying her feminine attractions to the public). While these women may carry the immense responsibility of bearing and rearing children, you have to admit that they may still be at par with men in nearly every area of life. The result is the present-day confusion concerning sex role differentiation, resulting in very large numbers of divorces and emotionally distraught children.
In Islam, however, the value and importance of women in society and the true measure of their success as human beings, is measured with completely different criteria: their fear of Allah (SWT) and obedience to Him, and fulfillment of the duties He has entrusted them with, particularly that of bearing, rearing and teaching children.
Nevertheless, Islam is a practical religion, and responds to human needs and life situations. Many women need, or wish, to work for various reasons. For example, they may possess a needed skill, such as a teacher or a doctor.
While Islam does not prohibit women working outside the home, it does stipulate that the following restrictions be followed to safeguard the dignity and honor of women and the purity and stability of the Islamic society, (the conduct of women, after all, is the "backbone" of any society):
1. Outside employment should not come before, or seriously interfere with her responsibilities as wife and mother.
2. Her work should not be a source of friction within the family, and the husband’s consent is required in order to eliminate later disagreements. If she is not married, she must have her guardian’s consent.
3. Her appearance, manner and tone of speech and overall behavior should follow Islamic guidelines. These include: restraining her glances in relation to any men near the work place, wearing correct Islamic dress, avoiding men, not walking in a provocative manner, and not using make-up or perfume in public.
4. Her job should not be one which causes moral corruption in society, or involve any prohibited trade or activity, affect her own religion, morals, dignity and good behavior, or subject her to temptations.
5. Her job should not be one which is mixing and associating with men.
6. A woman should try to seek employment in positions which require a woman’s special skills, or which relate to the needs of women and children, such as teaching, nursing other women, midwifery, medicine with specialization’s like pediatric or obstetrics-gynecology.
A Muslim Woman is Required to Dress a Certain Way When She Goes Out in Public
For a Muslim woman, her modest dress is an expression of a universal sisterhood. An Islamic dress also liberates the Muslim woman, and she is then automatically respected for her mind instead of her body. Simply put, she retains her dignity! It is like saying: I am a respectful woman. I am not for every man to look at, touch, or speak to. I am protected, exactly like a precious white pearl which, if touched by everyone, will become black and dirty.
A woman’s modest dress protects society from adultery and other forms of illegal sexual relations that lead to the break up of families and corruption of society.