She is Distinguished By her Islamic Character and True Religion

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No doubt the true Muslim woman is distinguished by her Islamic character, and she is proud of the high status which Islam gave her at a very early stage, before women in other nations attained anything like it. Fifteen centuries ago, Islam proclaimed the full rights of women for the first time in history, and Muslim women enjoyed human rights centuries before the world had ever heard of human rights organizations or witnessed any "Declaration of Human Rights."

At that early stage, Islam declared that women were the twin halves of men, as stated in the hadith narrated by Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, al-Darimi and Ahmad. At a time when the Christian world doubted the humanity of woman and the nature of her soul, the Qur'an declared:

(And their Lord has accepted of them, and answered them: `Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: you are members, one of another') (Qur'an 3:195)

The Prophet (PBUH) accepted women's oath of Islam and obedience, just as he accepted that of men. The women's bay`ah was independent of and separate from that of their menfolk, and was not done as an act of blind obedience. This is a confirmation of the independence of the Muslim woman's identity, and of their competence to bear the responsibility of giving the oath of allegiance and making the commitment to obey Allah (SWT) and be loyal to Him and His Messenger. All of this happened centuries before the modern world recognized woman's right to freedom of expression and the right to vote independently. This is in addition to other important rights, such as her independent right to own wealth and her freedom from the responsibility to spend on others, even if she is rich, and her equality with men in human worth, education, and general religious and legal duties. A full discussion of the rights which Islam has given to women, and the respect which it has bestowed upon them, is not possible here.

The level of respect, rights and competence attained by the Muslim woman is astonishing for Western women. I remember the comment of an American woman at a lecture given in the U.S. by the Syrian scholar Shaykh Bahjat al-Bitar on the rights of women in Islam. This lady was amazed at the rights which the Muslim woman had gained fifteen hundred years ago; she stood up and asked, "Is what you say about the Muslim woman and her rights true or is it just propagan? If it is true then take me to live with you for a while, then let me die!"

Many other Western women have also expressed their  stonishment at the status and respect given to women in Islam.

The modern Muslim woman, if she understands all this, is also filled with admiration for her true religion; her faith deepens and her conviction of the greatness and perfection of this divine program for human happiness, the well-being of men and women alike - grows ever stronger. It is sufficient for her to know that fifteen hundred years ago Islam achieved more for women in one blow than any other nation has achieved in the twentieth century.

It is sufficient to know that the French Revolution of the late eighteenth century produced a human-rights document entitled "Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens" The first clause of this document states: "Men are born free and equal under the laws." There was an attempt to add the words "and woman," but this was rejected, and the statement remained confined to men only:

"Man is born free, and he should not be enslaved." A century later, the great French scholar Gustave le Bon, in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, stated in his book "The Psychology of Peoples" that woman had never been equal to man except in periods of decline; this comment came in his refutation of demands that women should be made equal with men by giving them the same right to vote.

This is how the situation remained until the advent of the League of Nations, following the First World War, and the United Nations Organization following the Second World War.

Women's-rights advocates succeeded in stating the equality of women with men only after a great deal of hard work, because they were faced with the obstacle of quasi-religious traditions and customs; they did not have access to any text of national or international law that treated women with any measure of justice, which they could have used to overturn these obstacles and free women from the oppressive legacy of the past. Meanwhile, fifteen hundred years ago, Islam had definitively shown, in the Qur'an and Sunnah, that men and women were equal in terms of reward, punishment, responsibility, worship, human worth and human rights.

When Islam made men and women equal in terms of human rights, it also made them equal in terms of human duties, as they were both charged with the role of khalifah (vicegerent) on earth and were commanded to populate and cultivate it, and to worship Allah (SWT) therein. Islam gave each of them his or her unique role to play in establishing a righteous human society; these roles are complementary, not opposite, and they apply to every man and woman. Each sex must play the role for which it is better suited and qualified, in order to build solid individuals, families and societies and achieve solidarity, mutual assistance and co-operation between the two sexes, without preventing anyone from doing any permitted deed which he or she wishes to do. Men and women are equally governed by whatever is in the interests of humanity, and both will be rewarded in accordance with their deeds in this life, as Allah (SWT) says:

(Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has Faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life, and life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions.) (Qur'an 16:97)

Both men and women are regarded as "shepherds" who are responsible for their "flocks," as is stated in the well-known hadith of the Prophet (PBUH).

The Muslim woman who understands the high status which Islam gave her fifteen centuries ago knows full well that the position of women in every nation governed by ancient laws was appalling, especially in India and Rome, in the Middle Ages in Europe, and in Arabia prior to the advent of Islam. So her pride in her Islamic identity, true religion and high human status increases.

The position of women under ancient laws may be summed up in the comment of the Indian leader Jawarharlal Nehru in his book "The Discovery of India": "The legal position of women, according to Manu, was undoubtedly very bad. They were always dependent on either a father or a husband or a son." It is known that inheritance in India always passed from male to male, and excluded females completely.

Nehru commented on this: "In any case, the position of women in ancient India was better than that in ancient Greece or Rome, or during the early Christian period."

The position of woman in ancient Roman law was based on a complete denial of her civic rights, and on requiring her to be constantly under the tutelage of a guardian, whether she was a minor or had reached the age of majority, simply because she was female. So she was always under her father's or husband's tutelage, and had no freedom whatsoever to do as she wished. In general, she could be inherited, but she had no rights of inheritance.

Under Roman law, a woman was simply one of the possessions of her husband, deprived of her own identity and freedom of conduct. The effects of this law are still visible in the twentieth century, in most of the modern states whose laws are still influenced by Roman law.

As appalling as Nehru suggests. Some religious councils shed doubts on the humanity of woman and the nature of her soul; conferences were held in Rome to debate these matters, and to discuss whether woman possessed souls like men, or were their souls like those of animals such as snakes and dogs? One of these gatherings in Rome even decided that women did not possess a soul at all, and that they would never be resurrected in the afterlife.

In the Arabian Peninsula, most tribes prior to the advent of Islam regarded women as something to be despised and abhorred. They were seen as a source of shame, which many would try to avoid by burying infant girls alive as soon as they were born.

Islam condemned this appalling situation of women in more than one place in the Qur'an. Referring to the low esteem in which women were held at the time of jahiliyyah, Allah (SWT) said:

When news is brought to one of them, of [the birth of] a female [child], his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people, because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain it on [sufferance and] contempt, or bury it in the dust? Ah! What an evil [choice] they decide on!) (Qur'an 16:58-59)

Explaining the enormity of the crime of burying alive an innocent infant who has never committed any sin, Allah (SWT) says:

(When the female [infant], buried alive, is questioned - For what crime she was killed . . .) (Qur'an 81:8-9)

Women were in the most appalling and humiliating situations, in which their very humanity was in doubt - especially in the Arab world before the advent of Islam, and in most of the civilized world at that time, in Rome, and during the early Christian period. Most of the modern nation-states are still influenced by Roman law, as is well-known to scholars of law.

The Muslim woman understands the great blessing, which Allah (SWT) bestowed upon her the day when the brilliant light of Islam shone upon the Arab world:

("This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion) (Qur'an 5:3)

The Muslim woman's soul is filled with happiness, contentment and pride, and her status and position are raised by the fact that Islam gives the mother a higher status than the father. A man came to the Prophet (PBUH) and asked him: "O Messenger of Allah, who among people is most deserving of my good company?" He said, "Your mother." The man asked, "Then who?" The Prophet (PBUH) said, "Your mother." The man asked, "Then who?" The Prophet (PBUH) said, "Your mother." The man asked, "Then who?" The Prophet (PBUH) said, "Then your father."

Because of the way she is created, the woman is unique in her ability to bear a child then breast feed and nurture him, a role that is difficult and involves much hardwork, as the Qur'an noted:

(And We have enjoined on man [to be good] to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years Twain was his weaning: [hear the command], `Show gratitude to Me and to your parents: to Me is [your final] Goal.) (Qur'an 31:14)

Just as this heavy burden is placed on women's shoulders, men are given the role of maintaining and protecting the family (qawwamun); they have the duty of earning money and spending on the family. However, many men still do not understand the status of the mother in Islam, as is reflected in the hadith quoted above, in which a man asked the Prophet (PBUH) who was most deserving of his good company.

Islam raised the status of women by placing the status of the mother above that of the father, and it has also given women the right to keep their own family names after marriage. The Muslim woman keeps her own surname and identity after marriage, and does not take her husband's name, as happens in the West where the married women is known by her husband's name as "Mrs. So-and-so," and her maiden name is cancelled from civic records. Thus Islam preserves the woman's identity after marriage: although the Muslim woman is strongly urged to be a good wife, obeying and respecting her husband, her identity is not to be swallowed up in his.

If we add to this the fact that Islam has given women the right to complete freedom in how they dispose of their own wealth, and that they are not expected to spend on anyone else's upkeep, the high status to which Islam has raised women becomes crystal-clear. Hence we can understand how much Islam wants women to be free, proud, respected, and able to fulfil their tremendous mission in life.

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