Women’s Rights In Islam

Women’s Rights in Islam is a very comprehensive subject. From one perspective it is open to debate. It’s very difficult to summarize my thoughts on this kind of platform. In one sense we don’t separate men and women. In another sense there are physical and psychological differences. Women and men should be the two sides of truth, like the two faces of a coin. Man without woman, or woman without man, cannot exist; they were created together. Adam suffered in Heaven because he had no mate, and then Heaven became a real Heaven when he found Eve. Man and woman complement each other.

Q: If we approach the matter from an Islamic perspective?

A: Our Prophet, the Qur’an, and Qur’anic teachings don’t take men and women as separate creatures. I think the problem here is that people approach it from extremes and disturb the balance. There are differences on specific points. For example, men usually are physically stronger and apt to bear hardship, while women have deeper emotions; they are more compassionate, more delicate, more self-sacrificing. While looking for a place for each gender in society, we should consider these and other innate differences. God created everything, from sub-atomic particles to human beings, in pairs to form a unity.

Protesters carry candles as they shout slogans during a demonstration to mark the first anniversary of the Delhi gang rape in New Delhi, India. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Protesters carry candles as they shout slogans during a demonstration to mark the first anniversary of the Delhi gang rape in New Delhi, India. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Q: Are there examples for the female role?

A: In the social atmospheres of Muslim societies where Islam is not “contaminated” with customs or un-Islamic traditions, Muslim women are full participants in daily life. For example, during the Prophet’s time and in later centuries when the West gave women no place in society, when the West was debating whether or not women had spirits or were devils or human beings, ‘A’isha (one of the Prophet’s wives) led an army. She also was a religious scholar whose views everyone respected. Women prayed in mosques together with men. An old woman could oppose the caliph in the mosque in a judicial matter.

Even in the Ottoman period during the eighteenth century, the wife of an English ambassador highly praised the women and mentioned their roles in Muslim families and society with admiration.

Q: Can women be administrators?

A: There’s no reason why a woman can’t be an administrator. In fact, Hanafi jurisprudence says that a woman can be a judge. Maybe some women could explain certain matters more comfortably to a judge of their own gender.

Q: How did the Prophet view children?

A: He treated his children and grandchildren with great compassion, and never neglected to direct them to the Hereafter and good deeds. He smiled at them, caressed and loved them, but did not allow them to neglect matters related to the afterlife. His ultimate goal was to prepare them for the Hereafter.

All of the Prophet’s sons had died. Ibrahim, his last son born to his Coptic wife Mary, also died in infancy. The Messenger often visited his son before the latter’s death, although he was very busy. Ibrahim was looked after by a nurse. The Prophet would embrace, kiss, and caress him before returning home. When Ibrahim died, the Prophet took him on his lap again, embraced him, and described his sorrow while on the brink of tears. Some were surprised. He gave them this answer: “Eyes may water and hearts may be broken, but we do not say anything except what God will be pleased with.” He pointed to his tongue and said: “God will ask us about this.” [1]

Whenever he returned to Medina, he would carry children on his mount. On such occasions, the Messenger embraced not only his grandchildren but also those in his house and those nearby. He conquered their hearts through his compassion. He loved all children.

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Q: How should parents treat their children?

A: These who bring children into this world are responsible for raising them to realms beyond the heavens. Just as you take care of their bodily health, so take care of their spiritual life. For God’s sake, have pity and save the helpless innocents. Do not let their lives go to waste.

The future of every individual is closely related to the impressions and influences experienced during childhood and youth. If children and young people are brought up in a climate where their enthusiasm is stimulated with higher feelings, they will have vigorous minds and display good morals and virtues.

The first school for children, whose souls are as bright as mirrors and as quick to record as cameras, are their homes. Their first educators are their mothers. Thus it is fundamental for a nation’s existence and stability that mothers be brought up and educated to be good educators for their children.

If parents encourage their children to develop their abilities and be useful to themselves and the community, they give the nation a strong new pillar. If, on the contrary, they do not cultivate their children’s human feelings, they release scorpions into the community.

Improving a community is possible only by elevating the young generations to the rank of humanity, not by obliterating the bad ones. Unless a seed composed of religion, tradition, and historical consciousness is germinated throughout the country, new evil elements will appear and grow in the place of each eradicated bad one.

Children should respect and obey their parents as much as possible. Parents should give as much importance to their children’s moral and spiritual education as they do to their physical growth and health, and should entrust them to the care of the most honorable teachers and guides. How ignorant and careless are those parents who neglect their children’s moral and spiritual training, and how unfortunate are the children who experience such neglect and are so victimized.

Children who are inconsiderate of their parents a rights and disobey them are “monsters derived from a deteriorated human being.” Parents who do not secure their children’s moral and spiritual welfare also are merciless and cruel. Most brutish and pitiless of all are parents who paralyze their children’s moral and spiritual development after their children have found their way to human perfection.

Q: What about young people?

A: Those who wish to predict a nation’s future can do so accurately by analyzing the education and upbringing its young people receive.

Desires resemble sweets, and virtues resemble food that is a little salty or sour. When young people are free to choose, what are they likely to prefer? Regardless of this, however, we must bring them up to be friends of virtue and enemies of indecency and immorality.

Until we help our young people through education, they are captives of their environment. They wander about aimlessly, moved by intense passions and far away from knowledge and reason. They can become truly valiant young representatives of the national thought and feeling only if their education integrates them with their past and prepares them intelligently for their future.

Think of society as a crystal vessel, and of its young people as the liquid poured into it. Notice that the liquid assumes the vessel’s shape and color. Evil-minded champions of regimentation tell young people to obey them instead of the truth. Do such people never question themselves? Should they not also obey the truth?

A nation’s progress or decline depends on the spirit and consciousness, the upbringing and education, given to its young people. Nations that have raised their young people correctly are always ready for progress, while those who have not done so find it impossible to take even a single step forward.

A young person is a sapling of power, strength, and intelligence. If trained and educated properly, he or she can become a “hero” who overcomes obstacles and acquires a mind that promises enlightenment to hearts and order to the world.

By M. Fethullah Gulen

This article has been published separately in The Fountain Magazines April-June 2002 volume and thus is not contained in the book.


[1] Bukhari, “Jana’aiz,’a 44; Muslim, “Fada’ail,” 62; Ibn Maja, “Jana’aiz,” 53.

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