For all of human history, it could be argued, women have suffered cruelty and injustice in the name of religion simply because of their gender. Every religion must answer to its followers from its teachings in this regard, and Islam is no exception. Yet why does it seem that only Islam as a religion gets singled out as the cause for the gang-rapes, honor killings, acid attacks, beheadings and other atrocities committed against Muslim women today? Hindu women have been the victims of these same crimes (and worse, if you consider being doused with kerosene and set on fire to be “worse” than being raped to death or beheaded) yet Hinduism is seldom if ever presented as the cause of these evils.
The question then, with respect to Islamic teachings, is simple: are the cruelties and injustices suffered by Muslim women at the hands of Muslim men or Islamic governments encouraged and commanded in the Holy Quran or presented from the life of Muhammad (pbuh) as examples for Muslims to follow? The answer, on both counts, is an emphatic “No.”
Let’s examine “honor killings” which are routinely cited as a product of Islamic theology and culture. The problem with this charge is that there is not a single verse in the Quran that says a husband can murder his wife – for any reason – let alone because she offended his or his family’s honor.
Ironically, at the time of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), killing girls in their infancy was not unheard of among Arab families of high social status. Having a female first-born child and not a male was considered a disgrace that brought dishonor to the family name, and some parents buried their infant daughters alive in the desert sand until a son was born to them.
Islam condemned this barbaric practice of female infanticide 1400 years ago, yet it continues in these times on a genocidal scale that makes the death tolls of World War I and II seem inconsequential by comparison. In fact, over a period of 60 years in India and China, it is estimated that 100-million girls from each of these two countries have gone “missing,” [ Google or search YouTube for: “IT’S A GIRL” or read this article from June 2011: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/27/opinion/27douthat.html?_r=0 ] The tragedy, of course, is that these girls are not “missing,” they are dead -- the vast majority either aborted or murdered at birth – only because they were females and not males.
Vicious attitudes and behaviors towards women were common in pre-Islamic Arabia, and to correct these, the advent of Islam through the teachings of the Holy Quran and the example and pronouncements of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) were, literally, a Godsend. Here are some verses of the Quran pertaining to women, affirming their worth and spiritual equality:
“Among His Signs is that He has created mates for you so that through them you may find peace of mind, and He has put love and tenderness between you. . .” (30:22.
In answer to the desire for a happy and righteous family life, the Holy Quran offers sage commandments, as well as this insightful prayer: “Lord, grant us of our spouses and our children [that they may be] the delight of our eyes, and make us a model for the righteous.” (25:75)
In some religions and cultures, marrying widows or divorced women is viewed as taboo or a disgrace. This results in a large number of women being condemned to a life without a husband due to this cruel prejudice. Islam encourages marrying such women, and the Holy Prophet (pbuh) led by example by marrying both divorcees and widows. God says in the Quran in 2:235: “There shall be no blame on you [disgrace] in hinting at a proposal of marriage to divorced or widowed women. . .”
“Of the believers who act righteously, whether male or female, We will surely grant each of them a pure life; and We will certainly reward them according to the best of their works.” (16:98)
And likewise in 9:71 of the Quran we read: “The believers, men and women, are friends one to another. They enjoin good and forbid evil and observe [the five-times daily] Prayer and pay the Zakat [a charity tax for the poor] and obey Allah and His Messenger [Muhammad]. It is these on whom Allah will have mercy. . . “
There are tens of thousands of collected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) called hadith. Here are just a few pertaining to women:
Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Paradise lies at the feet of your mother.” This means a person can achieve Paradise by serving and respecting his or her mother, and that it is the responsibility of the mother to ensure the moral and spiritual development of the children because she spends the most time raising and educating them, thus helping them (and her) attain Paradise in this life and in the next.
The Holy Prophet (pbuh) also said: “Whoever has daughters and provides for them the same as he does for his sons will be close to me in Paradise.” And in one of his most famous sayings on the treatment of one’s spouse and children, Muhammad (pbuh) said: “The best of you is he who is best in behavior with his family members.” If we put into practice just this one saying of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), the lives of both men and women would be a paradise on earth. May God -- and us -- make it so.
[ with Imam Shamshad A. Nasir.]