The major religious texts for Muslims are the Quran (also spelled Koran) and the Sunnah or hadith. The Quran is the last scripture revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad through Angel Gabriel.
Let us look at a few verses of the Quran and some prophetic sayings that discuss the role and status of women.
In this section we will explore the role of Muslims women. We will do so by exploring the primary religious texts. Quran, the Muslim holy scripture, envisages common origin of men and women. The Quran also describes the repentance of Adam and Eve from the sin of eating the forbidden fruit and God’s forgiveness for both of them.
'And you Adam, dwell in the garden, you and your wife, and eat of whatever you two want; but do not approach this tree, for then you would be transgressors.'
'So by deceit he (Satan) brought about their fall...The couple said, 'Our Lord, we have wronged our own selves. If You do not forgive us and have mercy on us, we will certainly be among the lost.'"
The five pillars, the main acts of worship asked of every Muslim, are also identical for men and women. The Profession of Faith, praying, charity, fasting, and Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca are all equally required of both genders.
Both, in return, are promised the same reward.
Equal Nature and Humanity
Numerous verses of the Quran stress that men and women have the same nature and share a common origin – they all descend from Adam and Eve. The Quran states,
'O mankind, be conscious of your Lord, who created you form one soul.'
Another beautiful passage with far-reaching implications for all human interactions states,
'O mankind, We created you from a male and a female, and We made you races and tribes for you to get to know each other. The most noble of you in the sight of God are those of you who are most conscientious. And God is omniscient, fully aware.
The message of this passage is that all humans are equal and that their differences, whether based on race, ethnicity, or gender, should not be a source of division or arrogance. Rather, it instructs people that they should celebrate diversity and realize that their value is not based on these external God-given characteristics, but on their character.
Islamic texts hold that both Adam and Eve were responsible for eating from the forbidden tree, hence both of them turned to God in repentance and were forgiven:
‘And you Adam, dwell in the garden, you and your wife, and eat of whatever you two want; but do not approach this tree, for then you would be transgressors.’..So by deceit he (Satan) brought about their fall…the couple said,’ Our Lord, we have wronged our owns elves. If you do not forgive us and have mercy on us, we will certainly be among the lost.’
(Quran 7:19, 7:22-23)
Same Religious Obligations
Both genders also share similar religious duties and aspire to develop same spiritual qualities. Islam emphasizes the same religious obligations and responsibilities for men and women as well as encourages developing the same fine qualities for which they will be rewarded.
'For the men who submit to the will of God, and the woman who submit, the men who believe and the women who believe, the men who are devout and the women who are devout, the men who are truthful and the women who are truthful, the men who are constant and the women who are constant, the men who give in charity and the women who give charity, the men who fast and the women who fast, the men who are chaste and the women who are chaste, and the men and women who remember God a lot, God has arranged forgiveness for them and a magnificent reward.'
The verse repeats each obligation and fine quality twice, for men and for women, and draws a picture of what an ideal Muslim should look like: a believing, devout, true, patient, humble person who gives in charity, fasts, and consistently remembers God. The picture for men is identical to that for women.
The Quran lays down the important principle that all people are equally rewarded for their actions.
“And their Lord answered them, ‘I am never unmindful of the work of a worker among you, male or female. You are from each other.’
The message of this beautiful Quranic passage is that all human beings are interrelated and interconnected.
Men and women are equally rewarded for their good deeds:
‘Whoever does right, male or female, and is a believer, We will grant them a good life; and We will pay them their due according to the best of what they have done.’
The idea of equal reward and spiritual responsibilities was not accepted widely at the time the Quran was revealed. Women, throughout the world, were viewed as inferior to men.
Quran and hadith ask for equal treatment of boys and girls and praises parents who do so. The Prophet of Islam stressed equal treatment of boys and girls. This is in striking contrast to prevailing traditions which favored male children for socio-economic reasons. It was a common practice in Arabic before Islam for fathers to bury their baby girls at birth because a girl was supposed to bring shame on the family!
Prophet Muhammad strongly condemned this practice inherited from before Islam. He promised immense reward to those who treated their children equally whether they be boys or girls:
‘Whoever has a daughter and does not bury her alive, nor insult her, and does not favor her over his son, God will enter him into Paradise.’
Sadly, many modern day societies still prefer males to females and some even abort females in preference to have boys.
Prophet Muhammad also announced, ‘Anyone who has three daughters and provides for them, clothes them, and shows mercy to them will definitely enter Paradise. A man asked, ‘What about two daughters?’ He said, ‘And two.’ This concern for the well-being of girls was also contrary to the prevalent norms of his time.