18.2 Women in Islam
Amongst the Arabs at this dark and cruel period of human history, so many human beings of both sexes and all ages were considered possessions, that women, by nature less strong, were considered per se as belonging to someone. A woman might be rich, even respected, but only as the daughter of so-and-so, the wife of so-and-so, or the sister of such-and-such a chief or ruler. No one thought of her as an individual in her own right.
With the advent of Islam and the gradual revelation of the Koran women were given one right after another. First she had a right to think for herself, to believe what she would and to proclaim her belief. Next, she was an individual before Allah who had both rights and responsibilities towards Him and towards the society she lived in. As a person responsible before Allah, she was not to blindly follow her husband's or father's belief, but to think for herself. If she did believe then she was to go to Mohamed and swear allegiance to Allah and His Messenger as men did.
She had a right to be educated and to demand education and it was the father's or guardian's duty to educate his ward. If a husband found his wife uneducated, it was his duty to have her educated. Amongst the Arabs before Islam women were inherited from father to son as a possession. After Islam such marriages became forbidden and a man was no longer able to marry his father's widow who now acquired the status of a mother. Women were given the right to choose their own husbands so that if a father or guardian married a woman to someone against her will or without consulting her, the marriage was considered invalid and she had the right to annul it.
A woman was given the right to inherit from her relatives-father, mother, husband, or brother (if the latter has no son). She had a right to have property of her own apart from her husband, and to manage it alone as she wished. In every aspect of life she was given clear and just rights.
Amongst the Arabs before Islam a man could marry any number of wives. Islam limited the number of wives a man could keep to four wives. As a woman could not live alone in that tribal society, marriage was a matter of social convenience and accommodation rather than an individual choice. It was the union of two tribes. While man is allowed freedom of choice, he is made fully responsible for the women he marries, whether one, two or more. He is to support his wife or wives and children and to treat all his wives with equal fairness (a condition that most Muslims find impossible to meet and so very rarely do they marry more than one). Legally, morally, and financially he is responsible for his family or families. It is a system that discourages more than one marriage, without making it impossible for a man to meet certain circumstances he may encounter in life. Adultery is a very grave sin in Islam, and the punishment for it is being stoned to death. It is a better system for women than one where one woman is betrayed and another is deprived of all rights and reduced socially to a depraved and humiliating position.
The laws of Islam liberated women from their bondage and they became active companions to men in the struggle for Allah's sake. Before the Battle of Tabuk, when the Muslims did not have enough cash, the women of Medina collected all their jewelry, bracelets, earrings, anklets, made a great pile and sent it to the Messenger. Men began to look upon them as companions in the struggle. In other battles they used to walk among the rows of fighters to give them water to drink. In the battle of Al-Yarmuk when the Muslims were outnumbered four to one by the Romans, the women joined in the fighting with the men.
Muslim women used to carry the wounded from the battlefield to nurse them. A certain woman called Rufayda used to erect a great tent behind the battle lines and collect other women as volunteers to nurse the wounded.
The Koran revealed verses giving women rights unheard of in the world at the time, and Mohamed taught the Muslims to follow the decrees of Islam in word and spirit by setting the best of examples. Upon every occasion he treated women with chivalry and gentleness. "The most gracious among you is he most gracious to his womenfolk," he used to teach his followers. In his farewell speech, one of the last commandments he urged men to observe was to be good and fair to women.
The Koran decrees that one should be humble and kind to one's aged parents, but mothers in particular are given a most elevated status.
"Paradise is under the feet of the mothers,"
Mohamed taught his followers.
At the conquest of Mecca, a polytheist asked Umm Rani, Mohamed's cousin, to place him under her protection although, before Islam, only men could offer such protection. Ali ibn Abi Talib, Umm Rani's brother, thought the man deserved to be killed. Mohamed ruled that Umm Rani had the right to protect him, saying, 'We safeguard he whom you safeguard, Umm Rani.'
"And who would dare touch a man to whom the Messenger of Allah had promised protection?"