The woman’s freedom in Islam

Woman’s freedom in Islam

Islam has granted women a great position and exalted their status, as irrefutably proved in the Quran, Sunnah and through incidents in the biography of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs. If the condition of women has deteriorated in recent times, it is only because of the influence of customs and traditions that have nothing to do with the Sharee’ah. Contrary to the allegations of defamers, the religion is not responsible for any part of that.

I will now restrict myself to discussing the freedom of women within the confines of political, familial and religious authority. And, we stress this last word – authority – as it is understood to mostly impede freedom, whether by means of compulsion or fear.

However, even while a woman is under the authority of her Waliyy, her guardian who gives her away in marriage, such as her father, she enjoys independence, as the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam (may Allaah exalt his mention ),said: “Women are to be consulted before marriage.”It was said to him:”A virgin may feel shy to express her opinion.“He, peace be upon him, replied:”Her silence implies her consent.” [Ahmad and An-Nasaa’i] This clearly indicates the Waliyy is expected and ordered to ask the opinion of the woman concerning marriage.

Then, when it comes to the practical application of freedom of choice [in marriage partners], this is also established, as in the story of the young woman who came to the Prophet, (peace be upon him), and said: “My father married me to his brother’s son, in order to raise his social status; and, I hate that.” Thereupon, the Messenger of Allaah, peace be upon him, summoned her father and gave her the option of having the marriage annulled. She said: “O Messenger of Allaah! I have accepted what my father has done. However, I wanted to make it known to women that fathers have no say in this matter.”[Ahmad] You may admire with me, the strong personality of this girl and her Islamically-secured right to choose a husband.

Moreover, a woman is not only permitted to practice her freedom in countering her Waliyy, but also other authority figures, ranging from the Caliph and the Commander of the Believers to the head of state. Here is an example of a woman who stood up among the masses and contested ‘Umar, may Allaah be pleased with him, when he wanted to limit the amount of a woman’s dowry.

She said: “O Ibn Al-Khattaab, you are not permitted to do that, for Allaah Almighty Says (what means): {And you have given one of them a great amount [in gifts]} [Quran 4:20].O ‘Umar, do you know the meaning of this verse?” ‘Umar, may Allaah be pleased with him, who was then the leader of Muslims, conceded: “The woman is right and ‘Umar is wrong.”

In another example, Khawlah bint Tha’labah, may Allaah be pleased with her, once said to the Commander of the Believers, ‘Umar, may Allaah be pleased with him,: “Stop, O ‘Umar.” He halted on his path and approached her while attentive. She harshly said: “I remember you when you were called ‘Umayr in the marketplace of ‘Ukaath, tending to sheep with your stick. Shortly thereafter, your name became ‘Umar and eventually, you became the Commander of the Believers. So, fear Allaah in your responsibility of the people; and know that the one who fears the threat of punishment in the Hereafter knows that it is imminent, and the one who fears death is wary of missing an opportunity [of obedience] in this life.” Al-Jaarood, may Allaah be pleased with him, said, “O woman, you have spoken so callously to the Commander of the Believers!” ‘Umar, may Allaah be pleased with him, said, “Let her be.” [As-Seerah Al-Halabiyyah (2/724)]

It was this same lady who also demonstrated the freedom that women enjoy in Islam, in even engaging the Prophet, (pbuh), himself in discussion, although he is obeyed by all, out of their love for him and a desire to please him.

Khawlah bint Tha’labah famously argued her opinion with the Prophet, (pbuh), whereupon Allaah Almighty revealed the 58th Chapter of the Quran, Al-Mujaadilah (The Arguing or Pleading Woman), concerning her, in response to her request and to address the problem faced by her and others in similar circumstances.

In another incident, Ibn ‘Abbaas, may Allaah be pleased with them, narrates that Mugheeth, may Allaah be pleased with him, was a slave, so when his wife, Bareerah, may Allaah be pleased with her, was emancipated, she asked for a divorce. He asked the Messenger of Allaah pbuh, to intercede with her on his behalf, which he did, saying: “O Bareerah, fear Allaah, for he is your husband and the father of your son.” She asked: “O Messenger of Allaah!, is this an order?” “No, I am just an interceder,”he, pbuh,  replied. Mugheeth, may Allaah be pleased with him, was in tears [at the refusal of his wife to reconcile], so the Prophet pbuh, remarked to Al-‘Abbaas, may Allaah be pleased with him,: “Do you not wonder at Mugheeth’s love for Bareerah and her hatred for him?” [Abu Daawood]

The point here is not her stubborn insistence on rejecting her husband despite the intercession of the Prophet, pbuh; rather, it portrays her precise understanding of and ability to distinguish between a divine revelation that she would have been obligated to adhere to and the mere advice of the Prophet,pbuh, as an individual, in which case, she had the right to choose compliance or not.

Wives of the Prophet, pbuh, would also discuss their opinions with him. ‘Umar, may Allaah be pleased with him, recounts: “Once, I got angry with my wife and [found her] disputing [with me]. As was the habit of the Arabs during the pre-Islamic era, I denied her right to do that. She said: ‘Why do you deny me to discuss my opinion with you? By Allaah! wives of the Prophet pbuh, debate with him and one of them would even forsake him for a whole day.’ I went to Hafsah may Allaah be pleased with her and asked: ‘Do you discuss your opinion with the Messenger of Allaah, pbuh,?’ ‘Yes,’ she replied. Then I asked: ‘Does one of you stay away from him for an entire day?’ She responded: ‘Yes.’“[Ahmad]

Evidently, the freedom of women in Islam transcends any restrictions, such that they may even talk about Divine Revelation, as when Umm Salamah, may Allaah be pleased with her, felt that a verse was only addressed to men; she hurried to the Messenger of, pbuh,,, and remarked: “O Messenger of Allaah, pbuh, men are mentioned in [the verse of] Hijrah (emigration), while we are not.” Thereupon, Allaah Almighty immediately revealed the verse in which He says (what means): {And their Lord responded to them, “Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another.} [Quran 3:195] [Al-Haakim]


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