The 8th of March is celebrated as “International Women´s Day”, reminding us every year of the great sacrifices women have made in order to obtain equality. It has to date been a long and chequered journey, and unfortunately the journey is not yet over:
There are many parts of the world where women have been dispossessed of equality and basic human rights. In some countries, women have been deprived, and until only last year, of the right to drive a car, and in other countries women do not have due access to contraception, abortion or education. Nevertheless, in general, the 20th century has constituted a milestone for women when it comes to achieving basic human rights, such as the right to vote, inherit, divorce, marry, work, own property, abort, and to enjoy the same education as men.
All of these rights that Western women have recently received were, in fact, bestowed by Islam in the seventh century. 1,400 years ago there was no need for women to demonstrate in the streets, to appeal to governments or political organisations, or to implore men for equal rights because God Himself declared the equal status of women in accordance with the advent of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) – the founder of Islam.
From the very beginning of Islam, women have held the right to inherit, work, independently own property, marry without consent, divorce, remarry, and to vote – in other words, to have the same rights as men. In stark contrast to some other religions, Islam clearly condemns the belief that woman was created from the ribs of a man or that a woman is the origin of sin. Islam teaches that men and women - despite being created differently and having different responsibilities in society –are nonetheless completely equal in terms of spiritual, intellectual and social status as mentioned in the Holy Quran: “Just as men have rights upon women, so do women have rights upon men.” (Ch.2:Vs.229)
In fact, in Islam women and men are not just equal but women are also considered as exemplary role models such as the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) who, on account of her chastity and loyalty towards God, has been upheld as a role model, and not just for Muslim women but also for Muslim men. Furthermore, the first person who accepted Islam was a woman and it was also a woman who the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) praised as a great teacher and scholar of the Islamic faith.
Further elevating the status of women, Islam has attributed paradise to be underneath the feet of mothers, which means that the kindness and respect towards one’s mother is the bridge towards attaining paradise in this world and the hereafter. According to Islam, women are nation-builders and hence play a key role in the reformation and development of societies. Therefore, Muslim men are commanded to treat women with the utmost respect, tenderness and kindness as the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) declared:
“The best among you is he who is best towards his wife.”
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad – the founder of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and who we believe to be the Promised Messiah – elaborates further regarding the high status accorded to women:
“How can one claim to be pious when he does not behave well towards his wife? He can be only good and pious to others if he behaves well towards his wife.”
Now, some dissenting voices may point to the obvious truth that they do not currently find Muslim countries to be implementing the rights of women, as adumbrated above. However, the withholding of women’s basic rights cannot be attributed to the teachings of Islam but is sustained rather by extraneous political and cultural factors. The fact that Islam extended equal status to women in the seventh century, a far cry from the oppression that afflicted their Western counterparts at that time, underscores the author’s view that Islam seeks throughout to uphold equal rights for women and men.
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