Women play a major role in the development of any civilisation. An important aspect of Islam too is women, however, they are portrayed in such bad light. This post is mainly written to shine light on how its not just some sects of Islam that treat women shabbily. Its sects of every religion and country in the world. For example, for the status of the Indian woman, Encyclopedia Britannica states: In India, subjection was a cardinal principle. Day and night must women be held by their protectors in a state of dependence says Manu. The rule of inheritance was agnatic, that is descent traced through males to the exclusion of females. In Hindu scriptures, the description of a good wife is as follows: “a woman whose mind, speech and body are kept in subjection, acquires high renown in this world, and, in the next, the same abode with her husband.”
Women are crucial for civilizations to advance, and this holds true for Islamic societies and civilizations as well. Yet, women in Islam are usually shown in a negative way. Not only in Islam, but also in other religions and societies, women are sometimes treated and represented poorly. In India, for instance, women were often shown as hopeless and subjected to the wishes of their "protectors" instead of independent and self-reliant. Inheritance, too, was handed down through males while females were left out.
In Athens, women were not better off than either the Indian or the Roman women.
Athenian women were always minors, subject to some male – to their father, to their brother, or to some of their male kin.
Her consent in marriage was not generally thought to be necessary and “she was obliged to submit to the wishes of her parents, and receive from them her husband and her lord, even though he were stranger to her.”
Another example is of women in Greece. Athenian women were also treated like subjects to male family members such as brothers or fathers. They often did not have a say in their own marriage, and had to give in to the wished of their parents and marry whoever they wanted her to, regardless of whether the man was a stranger or not.
A Roman wife was described by an historian as: “a babe, a minor, a ward, a person incapable of doing or acting anything according to her own individual taste, a person continually under the tutelage and guardianship of her husband.”
In the Encyclopedia Britannica, we find a summary of the legal status of women in the Roman civilization:
In Roman Law a woman was even in historic times completely dependent. If married she and her property passed into the power of her husband… the wife was the purchased property of her husband, and like a slave acquired only for his benefit. A woman could not exercise any civil or public office, could not be a witness, surety, tutor, or curator; she could not adopt or be adopted, or make will or contract. Among the Scandinavian races women were: under perpetual tutelage, whether married or unmarried. As late as the Code of Christian V, at the end of the 17th Century, it was enacted that if a woman married without the consent of her tutor he might have, if he wished, administration and usufruct of her goods during her life.
Historians describe women in Rome too as "babes", "minors" or "wards" who were under the custody and of their husbands, unable to decide or do anything for themselves.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica summarizes how women were treated by Roman Law by stating that they were fully reliant on their husbands, to the point that their property was also passed into charge of the husbands. They could not hold office or govern in any way, nor could they testify as witnesses, nor could they hold positions as tutors or curators. Apart from such public services and posts, they could not even choose to adopt or write their own wills. The Encyclopaedia also mentions that Scandinavian women, regardless of their marital status, were always under guardianship. If a woman decided to get married without the consent of her guardian, she would face dire consequences.
According to the English Common Law:
…all real property which a wife held at the time of a marriage became a possession of her husband. He was entitled to the rent from the land and to any profit which might be made from operating the estate during the joint life of the spouses. As time passed, the English courts devised means to forbid a husband’s transferring real property without the consent of his wife, but he still retained the right to manage it and to receive the money which it produced. As to a wife’s personal property, the husband’s power was complete. He had the right to spend it as he saw fit.
The English Common Law is another instance of the same thing that all the examples above illustrate. It states that when a woman got married, all property she owned would go into ownership or control of her husband. If she owned property that brought in money, he would have all rights over that income as well. Over time, the court put into place rules that prevented husbands from handing over property without consent of their wives, but they still had the right to the income it brought in.
Contradictory to most of these, Islam actually provided with a number of rules that respected women.
The Quran clearly indicates that marriage is sharing between the two halves of the society, and that its objectives, besides perpetuating human life, are emotional well-being and spiritual harmony. Its bases are love and mercy.
On the other hand, we actually see rules in Islam that treat women far better than any of the instances discussed.
According to the Quran, marriage is not important only for procreation, but also for "emotional well-being" and "spiritual harmony". Love and mercy are two of the fundamental aspects of marriage.
Among the most impressive verses in the Quran about marriage is the following.
“And among His signs is this: That He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest, peace of mind in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, herein indeed are signs for people who reflect.” [Noble Quran 30:21]
The Quran says much about marriage, and one verse in particular speaks about how God created a spouse or a soul mate for everyone so that human beings may find peace of mind, comfort and accord with their husband or wife.
According to Islamic Law, women cannot be forced to marry anyone without their consent.
Ibn ‘Abbas reported that a girl came to the Messenger of God, Muhammad, and she reported that her father had forced her to marry without her consent. The Messenger of God gave her the choice… (between accepting the marriage or invalidating it). [Ibn Hanbal No. 2469]
In another version, the girl said:
“Actually I accept this marriage but I wanted to let women know that parents have no right (to force a husband on them)” [Ibn Majah, No. 1873]
Islamic Law also states that women cannot be forced into marriage without consent, and it contains a story in which a girl who was being forced into marriage was approached by the "Messenger of God" who asked her to agree or disagree to the marriage. In one version of the story, the girl actually agrees to the marriage, but she wanted to make a point of letting her parents realize that it was her right to decide.
The rules for married life in Islam are clear and in harmony with upright human nature. In consideration of the physiological and psychological make-up of man and woman, both have equal rights and claims on one another, except for one responsibility, that of leadership. This is a matter which is natural in any collective life and which is consistent with the nature of man.
The Quran thus states:
“…And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them, and men are a degree above them.” [Noble Quran 2:228] (in relation to protection)
In Islamic law, therefore, both men and women in marriage have equal rights, apart from rules about leadership, which lie with men only.
The Quran says that women have "similar" rights that men have, but men are a "degree above" women when it comes to leadership and protection, traits that are usually considered natural for men in any society.
Islam decreed a right of which woman was deprived both before Islam and after it (even as late as this century), the right of independent ownership. According to Islamic Law, woman’s right to her money, real estate, or other properties is fully acknowledged. This right undergoes no change whether she is single or married. She retains her full rights to buy, sell, mortgage or lease any or all her properties. It is nowhere suggested in the Law that a woman is a minor simply because she is a female. It is also noteworthy that such right applies to her properties before marriage as well as to whatever she acquires thereafter.
Islamic Law also differs from the examples of other societies discussed above in the matter of property. Here, a woman's property is solely her own, whether or not she is married. Women can do whatever they like with their money, land, or any sort of property, and they are not considered minors. Not only does this rule hold for property in her possession before marriage, but also to property she attains after marriage.