Published On:12 August 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Rights of women in Islam

By Dr Javed Jamil

There are certain basic criteria in Islam for granting rights to and enforcing duties on men and women. First, Islam recognizes the natural capabilities and weaknesses of men and women; and designs its laws in accordance with them. Second, Islam would not tolerate any form of exploitation. Third, it aims to form a society without sexual crimes, sexual abuses and illicit relationships. Fourth, to ensure the above, it promotes legal marriages; it would purposefully create such conditions as would minimise the number of unmarried persons in society; for, it understands fully well the dangers that the herds of unmarried men and women can create for society. Fifth, it would ensure social and economic equality (not uniformity) between men and women.

Islam knows that men have certain specified natural characteristics. So do women. How can then their rights be uniform? None is inferior to the other. Men are stronger physically, more alert mentally and have a more dominating nature. Women are physically and mentally delicate, this delicateness being a positive quality for their natural duties that include companionship of the husband and birth and care of children. In fact, God has bestowed upon females one of His own major attributes of creating and cherishing and sustaining the human children. Of course, human beings are only secondary creators, God being the primary creator. And there can be no greater duty than to become an essential and indispensable part of the birth and care of mankind. In fact, men have only been created by nature to help women in this work. Being mainly responsible for providing women and the children with the material resources for their sustenance, men have to be physically capable of carrying out their duties. The uniformity of all rights would mean total negligence of the natural manliness of men and natural womanliness of the women. The truth is that uniformity is one thing that can never exist in society. The rights (and also the duties) of parents and the minor children cannot be uniform, those of the ruler and the ruled cannot be uniform, and the same applies to those of the superiors and subordinates. For example, minors do not possess certain rights that majors possess. They have to grow under the guardianship of others; their futures too are largely directed by others; and they would not be allowed to roam alone by their parents or guardians. If they start raising voice for granting them a status ‘equal’ to that of majors, what would happen? They may say that they do not accept the guardianship of any person, they want to do whatever they like; they would not tolerate anybody stopping them from going anywhere they like; should be given voting rights; and as soon as they attain puberty, they would not tolerate any interference, if they bring to their houses any kinds of friends for any kind of sex. So the concept of uniformity implies that they should be granted all those rights without any hitch. But would the social requirements permit that? And if they are bestowed upon such permissions, would it not lead to dangerous implications for them and society?

Islam grants equal status to men and women, granting to them privileges in different areas. A man is duty-bound to earn and maintain his wife, children and dependent parents; woman has the right to earn if she so wishes but is also free to receive her maintenance from her husband in return of her duties as wife. Man has the primary responsibility to fulfil the financial requirements; so he receives a larger share in inheritance. Yet, it goes to the credit of Islam that it was the first religion of the world to grant women rights of inheritance; while distributing the shares, Islam is not affected by emotional considerations; but judges on the basis of the respective needs of men and women. Unlike several other religions, a Muslim woman enjoys the same status in religious affairs as man. If she obeys God in the prescribed way, she is as much entitled to Paradise as her father, husband, brother or son. As mother, she commands respect several times greater than man does as father. She has rights to choose her spouse, has reproductive rights, has rights to marry as a widow or as a divorcee, has right to seek divorce, and in case of any defamation, she can demand punishment to the offender. She is as much exhorted to earn knowledge as man. If there are places where man seems to be a little more privileged, there are equal number of places where woman seems to be more privileged.
The modern world can boast of giving rights to women; but it has hardly cared for their safety and security. The result is that the “freedom” of women has opened ways for their exploitation; and a strange kind of chaos prevails in society. Sex has not only become one of the biggest global markets; it has also become perhaps the greatest tormentor of humanity. It is killing people (AIDS, suicides, murders), destroying families and disturbing social harmony; women and children become its biggest victims. In contrast, Islam while giving them rights ensures their safety and security. A woman in a true Islamic system cannot become a victim of the sex market (for commercialisation of sex cannot have any place in a civilised society); she runs minimum risk of assault on her modesty (for Islam severely, and in an exemplary manner, punishes such crimes); and has an added satisfaction that her husband cannot drink, gamble or have sex outside marriage. All these are big security concerns for women, and Islam attends all of them with perfection.

There has been criticism of Islam’s policy on polygyny (more commonly known as polygamy), and this has been presented as one of the “proofs” of discrimination against women. It is argued that it is an unnecessary privilege to men; and is also responsible for the rapid growth of population. What an irony that polygyny is being attacked by those very people who have been promoting promiscuity all over the globe! In the modern world, one can have relations with as many women as possible without attracting any legal action, or can have as many mistresses as one desires, but cannot have a second legal wife. Unlike promiscuity, polygyny protects the social and legal status of women. Polygyny is also not associated with the sex transmitted diseases the way promiscuity is; for unlike in promiscuity where both men and women have several relationships, mostly casual, in polygyny, man has long-term relations with women none of whom has relations with any other man. It follows that whereas polygyny is self-limiting and medically minimally hazardous; promiscuity is all-enveloping and medically enormously dangerous. This is practically impossible for a significant minority to become polygamous, as the demography does not allow it, but it is a distinct possibility that the majority of the population becomes promiscuous. There are several other reasons why strict monogamy is not preferable. Almost always, there has been a tendency in the human population to have more women than men. The number of marriage-seeking women is surely greater than that of the marriage-seeking men. This tendency accentuates in times of wars and other calamities. If strict monogamy is enforced there cannot remain any hope of a family life for the remainder of women. Polygyny often helps the cause of widows, aged virgins and divorcees. Obviously, the incidence of polygyny depends on the ratio of marriage-seeking females and marriage-seeking males in society. The more it increases the more the incidence. Moreover, it often happens that a man has genuine reasons for a second wife. His first wife may be incapacitated due to an illness, or may not be in a position to bear a child. In the case of strict monogamy, the husband has no option but either to continue with her suppressing his genuine human desires, or divorce her. If he divorces her she will have been left with hardly any future. Even when the reasons for the second marriage are not so genuine, it saves the man from indulging in unhealthy sexual practices and the woman from becoming his victim. Those who argue that polygyny helps in the growth of population are also misinformed. The rate of the growth of population depends only on the number of fertile women in that population. Polygyny does not change this number and has therefore nothing to do with the growth of population.

There is yet another question that people often put: Why only polygayny, why not polyandry? The answer is simple. Polygyny does not adversely affect the social fabric; it also does not increase the dangers from sex-related diseases. Polyandry will destroy the family system and social fabric. The children will be the greatest sufferers.

Islam allows polygany but prefers monogamy. This ensures the survival and health of family system. The world of economic fundamentalism has opposed it because it is bent upon observing the last rites of family as soon as possible. It wants to discuss rights only in the context of its own interests, and has hardly any genuine concern for women.

Another question that is often put as a proof as Islam’s discriminatory laws against women is that of divorce. Contrary to common belief however Islam does not promote divorce. The method prescribed by the Qur’an is the most perfect one possible; it gives at least a period of three months (Iddah) to reconcile before the final separation. Unfortunately, in some parts of the Muslim world, Triple Divorce, which is considered abominable by all the Islamic scholars and absolutely illegal by many, is in practice. Furthermore, wives also have right to seek divorce; for this they must approach suitable authorities so that their security and honour are assured while the process of divorce continues.


And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts)..(30: 21/A)

They are your garments and ye are their garments. (2: 187/A)

Care of wives

Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will; but do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear God. And know that ye are to meet Him (in the Hereafter), and give (these) good tidings to those who believe... (2: 223/A)

And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree over them. (2: 228/A)

Girl Child

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! Shall he retain it on (sufferance and) contempt, or bury it in the dust? Ah! what an evil (choice) they decide on? (16: 58-59/A)

No marriage against wish

....Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may take away part of the dower ye have given them,…….(4: 19/A)

No prostitution

But force not your maids to prostitution… (24: 33/A)

Economic Rights

To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn...(4: 32/A)

From what is left by parents and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large,-a determinate share. ( 4: 7/A)

Right to remarry

If any of you die and leave widows behind, they shall wait concerning themselves four months and ten days: When they have fulfilled their term, there is no blame on you if they dispose of themselves in a just and reasonable manner. And God is well acquainted with what ye do. (2: 234/A)

Rights of widows

Those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year’s maintenance and residence; but if they leave (the residence), there is no blame on you for what they do with themselves, provided it is reasonable. (2: 240/A)

Health Protective Social System

As has been said before, the social system of Islam protects all the dimensions of health, which is an essential constituent of peace. Apart from banning all hazardous foods and drinks, it also bans practices that pose grave dangers to individual and family health. The enormous effects of alcohol and gambling are well known. The sex that Islam promotes and the family system it establishes protect the people from life-threatening sex-transmitted diseases including AIDS and the problems related to divorces and single parent families. I will like to discuss here one important aspect of the family system that Islam espouses: Iddah (Waiting period).

Iddah is the period for which a woman has to wait to marry again after the initiation of the process of divorce or after the death of her husband. The following facts about Iddah are to be noted:

(1) The period of Iddah in case it follows the pronouncement of divorce is three menstruation-cycles if by that time she shows no signs of pregnancy.

(2) If a woman undergoing Iddah develops signs of pregnancy her Iddah will be extended till the termination of the process of delivery. (This must include the postnatal period of 40 days.)

(3) If she is having irregular menstruation cycles her Iddah will be of three months.

(4) If she is undergoing Iddah after the death of her husband its duration will be four months and ten days.

The legal provision of Iddah has enormous implications on family and social health. I was struck with the extraordinary role of Iddah during the compilation of my monograph, “Islamic Model for Control of AIDS” when to my amazement I found that Iddah would play a crucial role in protecting men and women from sexually transmitted disease. Since then I have continued to get more and more convinced about the extraordinary importance of Iddah in Family Health and Peace. One of the primary objectives of Iddah is to ensure that right from the first day of conception till the completion of the process of delivery (including postnatal period) she would be looked after financially, physically as well as socially by her husband. During this period, the husband is not entitled to formalise the divorce even if he has decided to part with her. Thus the antenatal, natal and postnatal cares are obligations imposed by Islam on fathers. This also provides the couple with an opportunity to reconcile their differences; the news that she is pregnant is more often than not likely to facilitate this reconciliation. It is obvious that such an extraordinary status of mother also ensures the safety of child.

Family is not an artificial creation of man for every born has a father and a mother. It is therefore necessary that the parentage of every child must be established beyond doubt. The establishment of the identity of mother is a foregone conclusion, as she physically delivers the child. But the establishment of the identity of father will create huge problems if the propriety of the institution of marriage is not maintained. If there had been no provision of a mandatory period of waiting it would have become impossible, in case a woman married within a few days of separating from her husband, to know the real father. If the identity of the father of the child is not established, it is bound to cause immense damage to the future prospects of the child; he or she may have to grow outside the shadow of fatherly protection. Thus Iddah preserves the family system ensuring that the children and parents live without their mutual love and affection getting diluted by any kind of suspicion. This of course also preserves the credibility and honour of the woman.

Another important role of Iddah is to prevent the sexually transmitted diseases. The provision of Iddah means that no woman can ever have sexual relations with two men without a gap of at least three months. This is greatly helpful in minimising the risks of HIV and other STDs. It is interesting to note that the incubation period of all STDs is less than 90 days, and the window period of HIV/AIDS is also about 90 days. In Syphilis for example the median period of incubation is 21 days though occasionally it may be up to 90 days. Thus in the case of Syphilis, the woman will develop symptoms of Syphilis within and not more than three months. The development of a painful swelling in her private parts is likely to prevent her from marrying till she gets relieved. The same is true of other STDs like Lymphogranuloma venereum, Reiter’s disease, Herpes etc. In the case of AIDS, while the incubation period may be several years, the blood test for HIV becomes positive within three months. So if the spread of AIDS warrants a strict vigilance a woman may get her HIV tested after the expiry of Iddah before getting married again. This rule may be used with good effect for the AIDS prevention programmes.

Health, Reproductive & Child Health and Family Peace in Qur’an

Hygienic food

Say: Who hath forbidden the beautiful (gifts) of God, which He hath produced for His servants, and the things, clean and pure, (which He hath provided) for sustenance... (7: 32/A)


Why were there not, among the generations before you, persons possessed of balanced good sense, prohibiting (men) from mischief (and disorder) in the earth - except a few among them whom We saved (from harm)? (11: 116/A)

And the Firmament Has He Raised high, and He has set up The Balance of (Justice), In order that ye may Not transgress (due) balance.. (55: 7-8)

Personal Hygiene

In Book well-guarded, which none shall touch but those who are clean (56: 78-79/A)
And thy garments keep free from stain! (74: 4/A)

Unhealthy food prohibited

Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than God. that which hath been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which hath been (partly) eaten by a wild animal; unless ye are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars); (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows...(5: 3/A)

Unhealthy social practices prohibited

They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: “In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.” (2: 219/A)

Mental and spiritual health

Then will he be of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion. (90: 17/A)

O ye who believe! Persevere in patience and constancy; vie in such perseverance; strengthen each other; and fear God that ye may prosper. (3: 200/A)

(They are) those who persevere in patience, and put their trust on their Lord. (16: 42/A)

Sexual Hygiene

O ye who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say,- nor in a state of ceremonial impurity (except when travelling on the road), until after washing your whole body. (4: 43/A)

They ask thee concerning women’s courses. Say: They are a hurt and a pollution: So keep away from women in their courses, and do not approach them until they are clean. But when they have purified themselves, ye may approach them in any manner, time, or place ordained for you by God. For God loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean. (2: 222/A)

Say: the things that my Lord hath indeed forbidden are: shameful deeds, whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason... (7: 33/A)

Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils). (17: 32/A)

Homosexuality forbidden

If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. (4: 16/A)

Mother & Child Health

..for those who carry (life within their wombs), their period is until they deliver their burdens... (65: 4/A)

And if they carry (life in their wombs), then spend (your substance) on them until they deliver their burden... (65: 6/A)

The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years, if the father desires to complete the term. But he shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms. No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child; nor father on account of his child; an heir shall be chargeable in the same way. (2: 233/A)

If they both decide on weaning, by mutual consent, and after due consultation, there is no blame on them...(2: 233/A)

If ye decide on a foster-mother for your offspring, there is no blame on you, provided ye pay (the mother) what ye offered, on equitable terms. (2: 233/A)

Let the man of means spend according to his means: and the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what God has given him. (65: 7/A)

Social manners


O ye who believe! let those whom your right hands possess, and the (children) among you who have not come of age ask your permission (before they come to your presence), on three occasions: before morning prayer; the while ye doff your clothes for the noonday heat; and after the late-night prayer: these are your three times of undress: outside those times it is not wrong for you or for them to move about attending to each other...(24: 58/A)


But when the children among you come of age, let them (also) ask for permission, as do those senior to them (in age) (24: 59/A)

Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage,- there is no blame on them if they lay aside their (outer) garments, provided they make not a wanton display of their beauty: but it is best for them to be modest...(24: 60/A)


O ye who believe! enter not houses other than your own, until ye have asked permission and saluted those in them: that is best for you, in order that ye may heed (what is seemly). If ye find no one in the house, enter not until permission is given to you: if ye are asked to go back, go back: that makes for greater purity for yourselves...(24: 27-28/A)

No slandering

Those who slander chaste women, indiscreet but believing, are cursed in this life and in the Hereafter. (24: 23/A)

Say Insha Allah

Nor say of anything, “I shall be sure to do so and so tomorrow”- without adding, “So please God.” (18: 23-24/A)

[Dr. Javed Jamil is Executive Director, International Centre for Applied Islamics PEACE, New Delhi. He can be reached at doctorforu123@yahoo.com]

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on August 12, 2012. Filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on August 12, 2012. Filed under , , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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