What are the rights of women in Islam?
Islam establishes numerous rights for women.
On a societal level, Islam affirms the rights of women to maintain their identities, property, and dignity throughout their lives. Even after marriage, a Muslim woman’s name remains her own; she is not obligated or expected to adopt her husband’s surname. If she owns property, it remains in her name and under her purview for as long as she chooses to own it. Additionally, Muslim women have the right to represent themselves in court, to testify before a judge, and to pledge their allegiance on their own behalf.
On a familial level, Islam establishes the right of a Muslim woman for her male relatives to financially provide for her. She maintains full rights over money she obtains elsewhere (e.g., from her dower or through work). Islam also exalts the status of the mother and describes great reward for those who raise daughters with kindness.
Islam explicitly establishes the equality of men and women in their humanity, the inviolability of their respective rights, their eligibility for salvation, and their existence as a sign of God’s Mercy.
Are men and women equal in Islam?
Every man and woman is equal in their humanity and dignity before God.
In Islam, nobility and distinction are a function of piety, not of gender, race, wealth, or any other worldly trait.
O people, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous among you. God is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ also declared that, “Women are the shaqā’iq (full siblings) of men.”
How did Islam impact women’s role in society?
Islam elevated women in a time when they were viewed as inferior to men or simply property.
Prior to Islam, a common practice among some Arab tribes was female infanticide, where baby girls were buried alive. Among other tribes, women were inherited like property. But in the words of Umar ibn al-Khattab, one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ:
“In the pre-Islamic period, we used to have no regard for women whatsoever. But when Islam came and Allah made mention of them, this caused us to realize that they have rights upon us.”
The arrival of Islam in Arabia brought a halt to female infanticide, condemning it in the strongest of terms, and instigated a new era of women’s rights. Women gained the right to refuse marriages they weren’t interested in, own property, testify in court, maintain their own financial interests, seek divorce, and speak up when they faced injustice.
What is hijab?
Hijab is an Arabic word that means veil. It usually refers to the headscarf that many Muslim women choose to wear, which covers the hair. The definition of hijab can be extended to include the covering of the entire body excluding the face and hands.
A hijab is not the same as a burqa or niqab; these more extensive veils also cover the hands and face.
Is hijab mandatory?
Yes, hijab requirements are mandatory for practicing Muslims.
The obligation of what we call hijab (the act of veiling) was commanded by God in the Qur’an, and understood and practiced by the companions of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. A scholarly consensus affirms the wearing of a hijab as a religious obligation.
This does not mean that all Muslim women must dress the same. Hijab practices can look very different across cultures, and this cultural variation is both expected and accepted.
Why do Muslim women wear hijab?
The act of veiling fulfills the Islamic obligation to establish modest dress and character.
Many Muslim women wear the hijab out of a desire to fulfill a commandment of God. For some, it is also an opportunity to outwardly express their Muslim faith. And for still other women, it is additionally a rejection of societal standards that constantly seek to objectify and sexualize women.
Although often overlooked in discussions of hijab, men have their own version of it. Though they are not obliged to cover their entire bodies, they too have specific requirements of dress and behavior that must be dignified and modest.
Does Islam oppress women?
No, Islam does not oppress women. Rather, it affirms their right to maintain their identities, property, and dignity throughout their lives.
Even after marriage, a Muslim woman’s name and property remain her own. She is not obligated to spend her own money on her family. Additionally, Muslim women have the right to represent themselves in court as well as to testify on their own behalf. The Prophet ﷺ was directed in the Qur’an (60:12) to take the pledge of allegiance from women directly, thus giving them primary responsibility for themselves and their own lives and choices.
Even in the earliest days of Islam, women were free to speak on their own behalf, and their voices would be heard. One chapter of the Qur’an begins by mentioning a woman’s grievances to the Prophet ﷺ, stating:
Surely, Allah has heard the speech of the woman who argues with you [O Muhammad] concerning her husband and directing her complaint to God. And Allah hears your dialogue; indeed, Allah is Hearing and Seeing.
The Prophet’s ﷺ companions would treat women with great respect. Umar ibn Al-khattab said, “We used to have no regard for women until Allah revealed about them what He revealed, and portioned for them what He portioned.”
Are honor killings allowed in Islam?
Islam completely rejects honor killings. While there have been concerted Islamophobic efforts to paint Islam as a source of honor killings, Islam does not tolerate honor killings.
The Shariah, which includes direct rulings made by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, has a clear position on honor killing: a husband who kills his wife and/or her lover has committed homicide, even if the husband caught the two in the act. Similarly, a father or brother who kills their female relative face the full weight of a murder trial. Furthermore, the Qur’an states that,
“[W]hoever takes a life…it will be as if they killed all of humanity; and whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity” [5:32].
Does Islam treat men and women differently?
Unless otherwise specified, men and women are to be treated identically, with the same rights and responsibilities.
However, this does not entail sameness. Men and women are distinct, and Islam’s teachings and prescriptions often reflect these differences.
An example of Islam’s recognition of gendered difference can be found in the prayer. Men and women are both required to pray at appointed times, five times daily. However, women are exempt from their daily prayers during menstruation.
Does the testimony of a woman weigh less than a man’s?
While there are cases—particularly in financial matters or courtroom scenarios—that might require the testimony of two women, this is not a universal rule. Some scholars have noted that such differences are a reflection of the fact that, in most societies, women were less likely to be involved in and familiar with conventional economic spheres. Other scholars have noted that having two women testify in lieu of one protected them from being pressured or coerced during testimony (particularly given that people often testify against people they know personally). Nonetheless, in domains where women would be assumed to have a greater familiarity than men (e.g., childbirth) the testimony of a woman was often deemed superior to a man’s.
One of the most critical and weighty forms of testimony in Islam is the narration and transmission of hadiths of the Prophet Muhamamd ﷺ. Given the importance of ensuring the accurate preservation of hadiths and their crucial role in formulating Islamic beliefs, laws, and ethics, the standards of scrutiny for hadith narrators were exceedingly high. Despite these high standards, male and female hadith narrators were subjected to the same scrutiny and their testimonies were treated equally.
If testimony around something as critical as hadith did not devalue women, we should know that regardless of how Islamic law differentiates between male and female courtroom testimony, women are not the object of denigration or dismissal.
Do women receive less inheritance than men?
Gender differences in inheritance law exist within a larger system of gendered rights and duties laid out in Islamic law. While men receive greater shares of inheritance in certain situations, they also have greater financial responsibilities within this system.
For instance, a man is financially responsible for providing for his wife and children, while a wife is not obligated to spend anything on her husband, her household, or anyone else.
Additionally, if inheritance laws are examined comprehensively, women inherit less than men in only four instances, while they inherit more than men in 16 instances, and equal to men in 10.
“It is notable that Islam’s declaration of inheritance for women preceded the Western world by a millennium, where ‘until the end of the sixteenth century, women were basically denied the right to inherit property.’”
Can a woman divorce her husband?
A woman can request a divorce through the process of khul or tafriq.
Khul is when a woman requests her husband divorce her in exchange for some form of compensation. This compensation is usually a return of the dower the husband paid the wife and/or a forfeiture of alimony and financial support.
If a woman wants to end her marriage and her husband is unable or unwilling to grant her a divorce through talaq or khul, then she or her relatives can petition authorities to obtain a tafriq or faskh (judicial dissolution or annulment of a marriage). If a husband, for example, is not fulfilling any one of his wife’s rights within marriage (e.g., treating her well, financially providing for her), then she may obtain a judicial divorce without compensation.
Are sons more valuable in Islam than daughters?
No, sons are not more valuable than daughters in Islam.
In fact, one of the earliest stances the Qur’an took against the blatant injustices within pre-Islamic society was in regard to its treatment of daughters. In particular, it denounced the practice of female infanticide, whereby infant girls, who were often considered to be little more than a financial burden and reputational liability, were buried alive. The Qur’an condemned the practice of female infanticide in the following verses:
And when one of them is informed of [the birth of] a female, his face becomes dark, and he suppresses grief. He hides himself from the people because of the ‘evil’ of which he has been informed. Should he keep it in humiliation or bury it in the ground?
Unquestionably evil is what they decide.
In addition, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ promised that anyone who “raises two daughters and does well with their upbringing” will be in Paradise with him ﷺ.
The Prophet ﷺ also instructed us to, “Treat your children equally when you give gifts. And if I were to favor anyone over another, I would favor women over men.”
Explore more on this topic
What Islam Says About...