Allegations of Oppression of Women


Critics allege that the Holy Qur’an and the Islamic tradition is oppressive to women. Verses of the Holy Qur’an are showcased by detractors as promoting the inferiority of women, misogyny and abuse against women.

On the contrary, the Holy Quran and the Islamic tradition have probably the greatest historical legacy of the emancipation and empowerment of women. The Holy Quran unequivocally announces the equality of men and women in several verses such as 16:98– Whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, We will surely grant him a pure life; and  We will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works.

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) had a direct hand in this legacy. One of the first acts of the Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) to shift attitudes towards women was halting the practice of female infanticide. He announced that daughters were a blessing upon the household they were born into: A person who is blessed with a daughter or daughters and makes no discrimination between them and his sons and brings them up with kindness and affection, will be as close to me in Paradise as my forefinger and middle finger are to each other.” (Muslim II, Section Beneficence).

The Holy Prophet spent his career as a trader working for a woman named Khadijah who later became his wife. Throughout his ministry he regularly consulted her in matters and decisions as the leader of the Muslim community. Islam accorded women the right to accept or refuse a proposal for marriage, and the right to inheritance and ownership of property. While acknowledging that men and women have been endowed with different roles and functions in society, the Quran exhorts on equality between men and women in the eyes of God in that both will be rewarded solely on the basis of their deeds (see section below ‘Fundamental Teachings of Islam About Women’).

The women of the family of prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) became revered figures and great examples among Muslims which aided in shifting attitudes about women. His first wife Khadijah (ra) was a business leader and his trusted advisor. His daughter Fatimah (ra), known for her piety, was a great example to the Muslim community. And his wife Ayesha (ra) came to be known as a religious and community leader.

2:224 - "Have Sex With Your Wives As And When You Want"

Your wives are a tilth for you; so approach your tilth when and how you like and send ahead some good for yourselves; and fear Allah and know that you shall meet Him; and give good tidings to those who obey.

The allegation against this verse is that it allows men to demand sex from their wives as and when they please without consent encouraging the problem of marital rape. In fact, this verse places a very high regard on the sanctity of a woman.

2:229 - "Men Are Above Women In Rank"

And the divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three courses; and it is not lawful for them that they conceal what Allah has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allah and the Last Day; and their husbands have the greater right to take them back during that period, provided they desire reconciliation. And they (the women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in equity; but men have a rank above them. And Allah is Mighty, Wise.

In this verse some take the words of men being given a ‘degree ‘ or ‘rank’ over women to mean that men have been given a higher status– this is a grave mistake, the Holy Qur’an makes it clear: “Whoever does deeds of righteousness, whether male or female, while being a believer – those will enter Paradise, and not the least injustice will be done to them. [4:125]

2:283 - "Testimony Of A Man is Twice That Of A Woman"

O ye who believe! when you borrow one from another for a fixed period, then write it down. And let a scribe write it in your presence faithfully; and no scribe should refuse to write, because Allah has taught him, so let him write and let him who incurs the liability dictate; and he should fear Allah, his Lord, and not diminish anything therefrom. But if the person incurring the liability be of low understanding or be weak or be unable himself to dictate, then let someone who can watch his interest dictate with justice. And call two witnesses from among your men; and if two men be not available, then a man and two women, of such as you like as witnesses, so that if either of two women should err in memory, then one may remind the other. And the witnesses should not refuse when they are called. And do not feel weary of writing it down, whether it be small or large, along with its appointed time of payment. This is more equitable in the sight of Allah and makes testimony surer and is more likely to keep you away from doubts; therefore omit not to write except that it be ready merchandise which you give or take from hand to hand, in which case it shall be no sin for you that you write it not. And have witnesses when you sell one to another; and let no harm be done to the scribe or the witness. And if you do that, then certainly it shall be disobedience on your part. And fear Allah. And Allah grants you knowledge and Allah knows all things well.

It is alleged that this verse discredits women as credible witnesses in a court of law. A prudent review of the verse and its context, in fact, empowers women as credible witnesses which was a revolutionary change in the status of women in history.

4:4 - "Marry Up To Four Wives"

And if you fear that you will not be just in dealing with the orphans, then marry of other women as may be agreeable to you, two, or three, or four; and if you fear you will not be able to do justice, then marry only one or marry what your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that you will not do injustice.

It is alleged that this verse reduces the status of women due to it allowing men to marry up to four women. However, this verse addresses an important social aspect for the preservation of a moral social order and has wartime context.

4:12 - "Men's Inheritance Is Twice That Of A Woman"

Allah commands you concerning your children; a male shall have as much as the share of two females; but if there be females only, numbering more than two, then they shall have two-thirds of what the deceased leave; and if there be one, she shall have the half. And his parents each of them a sixth of the inheritance, if he have a child, but if he have no child and his parents be his heirs, then his mother shall have a third; and if he have brothers and sisters, then his mother shall have a sixth, after the payment of any bequests he may have bequeathed or of debts. Your fathers and your children; you know not which of them is more beneficent to you. This fixing of portions is from Allah. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.

It is alleged that this verse is oppressive to women as it allows a man to inherit more than women. However, a holistic view of Islamic teachings on household management shows there is no discrimination against women here, rather a state of equity.

4:35 - "Beat Your Wife If She Disobeys You"

Men are guardians over women because Allah has made some of them excel others, and because they (men) spend of their wealth. So virtuous women are those who are obedient, and guard the secrets of their husbands with Allah’s protection. And as for those on whose part you fear disobedience, admonish them and leave them alone in their beds, and chastise them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Surely, Allah is High, Great.

This verse perhaps has the greatest media exposure with detractors alleging that it permits a man beat his wife if she is disobedient to him. The allegations further press that the verse is the root cause of the physical abuse of women in Muslims societies. This is wholly false. Rather, the verse outlines a diligent and just process of dealing with a terrible act of subversion of the family unit.

5:7 - "Clean Yourself After Touching Women"

O ye who believe! when you stand up for Prayer, wash your faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and pass your wet hands over your heads, and wash your feet to the ankles. And if you be unclean, purify yourselves by bathing. And if you are ill or you are on a journey while unclean, or one of you comes from the privy or you have touched women, and you find not water, betake yourselves to pure dust and wipe therewith your faces and your hands. Allah desires not that He should place you in a difficulty but He desires to purify you and to complete His favor upon you, so that you may be grateful.

It is alleged that this verse implies that women are impure as it asks men to perform ablution before prayer if they have been in sexual contact with their wives. This allegation has no merit whatsoever.

53:28 - "Angels Cannot Be Females"

Those who believe not in the Hereafter name the angels with names of females.

It is alleged that this verse announces that angels cannot be female, only males. A holistic view of the concept of Angels in the Holy Qur’an reveals this is allegation is wholly false.

66:2-6 - "Wives Must Be Obedient Or Men Can Seek Other Wives"

O Prophet! why dost thou forbid thyself that which Allah has made lawful to thee, seeking the pleasure of thy wives? And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. Allah has indeed allowed to you the dissolution of your oaths, and Allah is your Friend; and He is All-Knowing, Wise. And when the Prophet confided a matter unto one of his wives and she then divulged it, and Allah informed him of it, he made known to her part thereof, and avoided mentioning part of it. And when he informed her of it, she said, ‘Who has informed thee of it?’ He said, ‘The All-Knowing, the All-Aware God has informed me.’ Now if you two turn unto Allah repentant, it will be better for you, and your hearts are already so inclined. But if you back up each other against him, surely Allah is his Helper and Gabriel and the righteous among the believers; and furthermore, all other angels too are his helpers. It may be that, if he divorce you, his Lord will give him instead wives better than you — resigned, believing, obedient, always turning to God, devout in worship, given to fasting, both widows and virgins.

It is alleged that this verse sets a warning that women should be obedient or men can seek other wives who will be obedient. This is not true. In fact, this verse has a certain context of an argument between the prophet and his wives over the suitable standard of living for a holy household responsible for serving as an example to others.

Fundamental Teachings of Islam 

The Holy Quran and Islamic fundamental teachings hold one of the greatest historical legacies advocating equality between men and women and according rights to women in an era wrought with misogyny. Although men and women have fundamentally different roles in life and society, the Holy Quran clearly emphasizes equality between men and women as is clear from the following verses:

Quran (33:36) Surely, men who submit themselves to GOD and women who submit themselves to HIM, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women, and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity and men who remember ALLAH much and women who remember HIM – ALLAH has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward.

Quran (3:196) So their Lord answered their prayers saying, I will not allow the work of any worker from among you, whether male or female, to be lost. You are from one another. Those therefore, who have emigrated, and have been driven out from their homes, and have been persecuted in My cause, and have fought and been killed, I will surely remove from them their evils and will cause them to enter gardens through which streams flow – a reward from Allah, and with Allah is the best reward.

Quran (2:188) They (your wives) are a garment to you, and you are garment to them.

Quran (4:125) But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter Heaven, and shall not be wronged even as much as the little hollow in the back of a date-stone.

Quran (57:13) And think of the day when thou wilt see the believing men and the believing women, their light running before them and on their right hands, and it will be said to them, ‘Glad tidings for you this day! Gardens through which streams flow, wherein you will abide. That is the supreme triumph.

Quran (16:98) Whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, We will surely grant him a pure life; and We will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works.

The following verse exhorts a gender not to covet that which, as an endowment and creation of God, makes one gender excel the other. For example, men having more physical strength than women. The verse exhorts that both men and women will be ultimately rewarded per their deeds and righteousness.

Quran (4:33) And covet not that whereby Allah has made some of you excel others. Men shall have a share of that which they have earned, and women a share of that which they have earned. And ask Allah of His bounty. Surely, Allah has perfect knowledge of all things.

These verses make the equality of men and women abundantly clear. Males and females are repeatedly mentioned on an equal footing in attaining spirituality, the ultimate success in the eyes of God Almighty.

This is further reinforced in Hadith literature which are the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) such as the following examples:

‘It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge’ (Ibne Majah)

‘The best among you is he who is best in his treatment towards his wife.’ (Abu Daud)

‘Paradise lies under the feet of your mother.’ (Nisai)