Women in Islam, the reforms and misconceptions

Women in Islam, the reforms and misconceptions

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


Here is an article dealing with the real position of women in Islam.

The Holy Religion of Islam brought many reforms to in Arabia, much of Africa, Europe and many other places in the world.

But let us analyse the treatment of women in the late 500’s and early 600’s, i.e. BEFORE Islam. The males among the Arabs were allowed to:

– Bury their daughters alive.
– Force women to pay for their dowries (also allowed in the west).
– Inherit women (the step son would inherit the step mother or the family maiden).
– Take back wedding gifts from divorced wives.
– Treat women harshly.
– Strip women off inheritance rights (also allowed in the west).
– Have unlimited polygamy.

– Beat and raped their maidens.

– Have prostitution with women (also allowed in the west).

– Have women impress lustful men by stripping (also allowed in the west).

As well as this, they also put women under life-imprisonment in their houses for committing adultery, yet never laid a finger to punish a man who committed adultery. Words can never describe the cruel and barbaric treatment of women by the Arabs prior Islam and the low-level of women in Arab society, though women from rich backgrounds were given decent rights (and they were a minority).

The teachings of Islam and the abrogations and restrictions Islam had brought to some of these sick, practices had astounded the pagans:

– Stop the burial of new-born girls (Surah an-Nahl 16:59-60, Surah at-Takwir 81:8-9, 14, Surah Bani Israel 17:31)
– Give women their wedding gifts for free (Surah an-Nisa 4:4)
– Do not inherit women against their will (Surah an-Nisa 4:19)
– Do not take back wedding gifts from women (Surah an-Nisa 4:19)
– Treat women kindly (Surah an-Nisa 4:19)
– Give women a fixed right to inheritance (Surah an-Nisa 4:7)
– Only marry 1 women, unless you can treat more than 1 with justice, in which case you can marry up to 4 (Surah an-Nisa 4:3)

– Punish both the man and the woman equally for adultery (not just the woman) (Surah an-Nur 24:2)

– Treat your wives and your maidens with kindness (certainly meaning you cannot beat or rape them) (Surah an-Nisa 4:36)

– Women, dress modestly so you are not troubled (meaning they cannot strip or wear little clothing) (Surah al-Ahzab 33:59)

– Execute those who do not desist from harassing women (Surah al-Ahzab 33:60-61)

– Free your slave-girl if you hit her (Muslim 15:4079, 4082, 4088, 4108)

– Give half-punishment for adultery to maidens (Surah an-Nisa 4:25)

These are only some of the reforms Islam did bring to the majority of women in 6th – 7th century Arabia, who were extremely victimised.

Unfortunately, there exist many misconceptions on Islam, concerning women and the most commonly used ones will be analysed and explained.

Misconception 1: Men are superior to women:

This is a misinterpretation of the starting statement of Surah an-Nisa 4:34.

What the verse says is that men are made as guardians over women, because God has made one of them excel the other.

This does not say that men are superior to women, but excel them as guardians, of course, because unlike women they have more physical strength and are not burdened with natural responsibilities, such as taking care of children, being pregnant, cleaning the house etc.

Misconception 2: Husbands are prescribed to beat their wives:

This is a misinterpretation of the same verse.

The verse states that if men fear ?Nushooz’, i.e. rebelliousness and disloyalty from their wives, they must first warn them, meaning they should first tell them to fulfill their duties and not to transgress. If they continue this transgression, men must stop sharing beds with them until they stop their acts.

If they still rebel, men are told to ?Idribuhoona’ them. This Arabic term has many meanings among which are, heal, strike, beat, discipline, travel etc. Lastly, men they must divorce if ongoing problems do not stop.

The most widely used translation is ?beat’, ?scrouge’ or ?chastise’. However, after analysing the background to this verse, through commentaries and other verses from the Holy Qur’an, the ?beating’ in this verse is under very extreme and rare conditions and is one where the woman is not to be beaten violently, not to feel pain, not to be hit in the face and not to have any mark left behind (see Tafsir of ibn KathirTafsir of al-JalalaynTafhim al-Qur’an, by Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi and The Message of the Quran, by Muhammad Asad).

In contrast to being prescribed to beat their wives, men are told to treat them kindly (Surah an-Nisa 4:19, 36) except if they do transgress, in which case they are to take certain measures and under extreme and rare conditions, are allowed to lightly strike them, meaning the most they can do is lightly tap them with a toothbrush, grab them by the arm and lightly squeeze it (so they don’t feel pain) etc.

Misconception 3: Men are permitted to rape their maidens:

The pagans of Arabia permitted this, but it was Islam that abolished this barbaric act.

Allah (SWT) ordered us to treat our maidens with kindness (Surah an-Nisa 4:36) and the Holy Prophet Mohammad (SAWW) ordered people to free their slaves if they ever hit them (Muslim 15:4079, 4082, 4088, 4108). With all this in mind, how can anyone even think that Islam would allow men to rape their maidens?

Although marriage is allowed with maidens (Surah an-Nisa 4:25) and thus sexual relations are allowed with them, rape is certainly not.

Female-war captives are maidens and are to be treated kindly (Surah an-Nisa 4:36) and sex with them is only allowed if they convert to Islam and do it willingly. During times of war this is allowed, but under normal circumstances sexual relations are only allowed with them by lawful marriage (Surah an-Nisa 4:25). The reason for this was because men in those days would find it difficult to control their lusts, as they were away from their wives for many, many days.

However, the raping of maidens has been condemned by major Islamic Scholars. See this article. Also see this excellent article by brother Karim.

Misconception 4: Men have more rights then women:

People believe that men have greater rights to women in Islam, because a son inherits twice that of his sister (Surah an-Nisa 4:11), a male has the right to have up to 4 wives, only if they can deal justly with them (Surah an-Nisa 4:3), but a woman does not (Surah an-Nisa 4:23), a woman has to cover herself, except the face and hands (Surah al-Ahzab 33:59) while the man is not told to do so and because only one man is required to testify in court while two women are required (Surah al-Baqara 2:282).

Let us tackle these issues briefly 1 by 1.

Issue 1: Inheritance: Firstly, a man has the right to inherit twice that of his sister, because he has the burden of taking care of his family using money, while a woman does not have this burden and can spend the money on whatever she wants. Secondly, a woman is not told to give a husband a dowry, while a man must give his wife a free dowry (Surah an-Nisa 4:5). It’s all evenly balanced out in the end.

Issue 2: Polygamy: The reason polygamy is allowed in Islam (but it is recommended not to do it), is because many men from 7th century Arabia were ?in simple terms’ used to a lifestyle of sex. Unlimited polygamy was allowed and raping of the wife and maiden was allowed.

Islam allowed polygamy to keep the men from committing illegal sex. In the west today there is so much adultery, which goes unpunished, just because men are not allowed to marry more than one wife. Islam gives the solution to this problem.

Issue 3: Modest dressing: The reason Islam prescribes head-covering for a woman and not for a man, is because men are generally more lustful than woman. Islam prescribes a headscarf for the woman so that she can maintain her honour and so men do not lust for her or trouble her (Surah al-Ahzab 33:59). However, for a man, there is no significant reason in Islam for him to cover his head.

Issue 4: Testimonies: Many people misinterpret this verse to say that a woman’s testimony is only worth half a man. This is a blatant misrepresentation of the Holy text. In Islam, the woman’s testimony has equal value to that of a man. The verse states that 2 women are required because if one of them errs, the other one can correct her.

The other woman is not there to testify at all, but to correct the first one just in case. The reason for a second woman to correct the first one is because women are burdened with many more duties in life than men, which make it more difficult for them to remember their statements in court. In the end, only 1 woman testifies and only 1 man testifies, making the value of their testimonies equal.


The religion of Islam brought great reforms to the victimised woman of the 7th Century Middle East, some of Africa and Persia. History testifies of the mistreatment of women all over the world and they’re backwards societies. Islam turned a fair portion of the world upside down and abolished the low reputation, opinions and treatment of women in these areas.

Unfortunately today Muslims have strayed from the right path and must look back at the Muslim Ummah of our forefathers, which was for almost 1000 years, the most advanced civilisation in terms of justice, education, knowledge and technology in the entire world.

Verily all Praise belongs to Allah (SWT), the Lord of all Creation, who created woman to be the proper companion of man, who is different but equal.

And verily Allah (SWT) knows best.

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