The first of these characteristics of a Qur'anic society which affect women is
that both sexes are held to be equal in status and worth. In other words, the
Qur'an teaches us that women and men are all creatures of Allah, existing on a
level of equal worth and value, although their equal importance does not
substantiate a claim for their equivalence or perfect identity. This equality of
male and female is documentable in the Qur'an in passages pertaining to at least
four aspects of human existence and interaction.
A. Religious Matters
The first of these Qur'anic confirmations of male-female equality are contained
in statements pertaining to such religious matters as the origins of humanity,
or to religious obligations and rewards.
1. Origins of Humanity. The Qur'an is devoid of the stories found
in the Old Testament which denigrate women. There is no hint that the first
woman created by God is a creature of lesser worth than the first male, or that
she is a kind of appendage formed from one of his ribs. Instead, male and female
are created, we read, min nafsin wahidatin ("from a single soul or self") to
complement each other (Qur'an 4:1; 7:189). Whereas the Torah or Old Testament
treats Eve as the temptress of the Garden of Eden, who aids Satan in enticing
Adam to disobey God, the Qur'an deals with the pair with perfect equity. Both
are equally guilty of sinning; both are equally punished by God with expulsion
from the Garden; and both are equally forgiven when they repent.
2. Religious Obligations and Rewards. The
Qur'an is not less clear in commanding equality for men and women in its
directives regarding religious obligations and rewards. We read:
﴾Lo! Men who surrender unto Allah, and women who surrender, and men
who believe and women who believe, and men who obey and women who obey, and men
who speak the truth and women who speak the truth, and men who persevere (in
righteousness) and women who persevere and men who are humble and women who are
humble, and men who give aims and women who give alms, and men who fast and
women who fast, and men who guard their modesty and women who guard (their
modesty), and men who remember Allah and women who remember-Allah hath prepared
for them forgiveness and a vast reward. (33:35)﴿
B. Ethical Obligations and Rewards
Secondly, the Qur'an reveals to mankind the desired equality of the two sexes by
establishing the same ethical obligations and rewards for women and men.
﴾And who so does good works, whether male or female, and he (or she)
is a believer, such will enter Paradise and they will not be wronged the dint in
a date-stone. (4:124)﴿
﴾Whosoever does right, whether male or female, and is a believer, him
verily We shall quicken with good life, and We shall pay them a recompense
according to the best of what they do. (16:97)﴿
If Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala had not deemed the two sexes of equal status and
value, such explicit statements of their equality in ethical obligations and
rewards would not have been made in the Qur'an.
Although the more specific commands for the equal rights of women and men to
pursue education can be found in the hadith literature, the Qur'an does at least
imply the pursuit of knowledge by all Muslims regardless of their sex. For
example, it repeatedly commands all readers to read, to recite, to think, to
contemplate, as well as to learn from the signs (ayat) of Allah in nature. In
fact, the very first revelation to Prophet Mohammad (pbuh&hh) was concerned with
knowledge. In a Qur'anic society, there can never be a restriction of this
knowledge to one sex. It is the duty of every Muslim and every Muslimah to
pursue knowledge throughout life, even if it should lead the seeker to China, we
are told. The Prophet (pbuh&hh) even commanded that the slave girls be educated,
and he asked Shifa' bint 'Abdillah to instruct his wife Hafsah bint 'Umar.
Lectures of the Prophet (pbuh&hh) were attended by audiences of both men and
women; and by the time of the Prophet's death, there were many women scholars.
D. Legal Rights
A fourth evidence in the Qur'an for the equality of men and women is its
specification of legal rights which are guaranteed for every individual from
cradle to grave. Unlike the situation in the West, where until the last century
it was impossible for a married woman to hold property on her own, to contract
with other persons, or to dispose of her property without the consent of her
husband, the Qur'an proclaims the right of every woman to buy and sell, to
contract and to earn, and to hold and manage her own money and property. In
addition to these rights, the Qur'an grants woman a share in the inheritance of
the family (4:7-11), warns against depriving her of that inheritance (4:19),
specifies that the dower (mahr) of her marriage should belong to her alone and
never be taken by her husband (2:229; 4:19-21,25) unless offered by the woman as
a free gift (4:44).
As with any privilege, these rights of women carry corresponding
responsibilities. If she commits a civil offence, the Qur'an tells us, woman's
penalty is no less or no more than that of a man in a similar case (5:41; 24:2).
If she is wronged or harmed, she is entitled to compensation just like a man.
It is clear that the Qur'an not only recommends, but is even insistent upon, the
equality of women and men as an essential characteristic of a Qur'anic society.
The claim of the non-Muslim critics that Islam denigrates women is denied
emphatically by the Qur'an. Similarly denied are the arguments of certain
Muslims that women are religiously, intellectually and ethically inferior to
men, as Jewish and Christian literatures had earlier maintained.