Islam and the status of women is always a controversial topic, with many people believing that women hold an inferior status, or that they are not truly free when practising Islam. But this belief is wrong. His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba), worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, explains the real status of women in Islam: as free, courageous examples for all of us to follow, at this address delivered at the national Ijtema, or annual gathering, of Lajna Imaillah UK, the women’s auxiliary organisation of the Ahmadiyya Women’s Community.
After reciting Tashhahud, Ta’awwuz, and Surah Al-Fatihah, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaba said:
‘As a result of understanding Islam’s true teachings, the members of the Jama’at [the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community], with the Grace of Allah, appreciate the very high status of women according to Islam, and it is a status that most non-Ahmadi Muslims, and the wider non-Muslim population, are not aware of and do not comprehend. Today, your Ijtema [annual conference where members gather from all across the country], which is purely for Ahmadi women and girls, is concluding and during the event, many activities and events have taken place in order to increase the religious knowledge, morality and spirituality of the participants. Furthermore, from an administrative perspective, this Ijtema has been organised and run by women from start to end, and they will have made a programme that is attuned to the needs and preferences of our ladies and girls. Hence, this Ijtema is a collective and practical demonstration of the great status bestowed upon women by Islam.
One allegation often levelled against our religion is that it discriminates against women or considers them to be less than men. However, this is in complete contrast to Islam’s true teachings. In chapter 4, verse 2 of the Holy Qur’an, the creation of the human race is mentioned and it states that Allah created humankind from a “single soul”. Immediately after this, the Holy Qur’an states خَلَقَ مِنۡہَا زَوۡجَہَا which means “created therefrom its mate”. In the Bible, where the creation of man and woman is discussed, the concept of a “mate” is also mentioned, however it goes on to say that a woman was created from the rib of Adam(as). This is contrary to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, which clarifies that women were not created out of the body of a man or from his rib. Rather, the Qur’an testifies to the fact that men and women were created from a single soul and are of the same kind and species. Thus, where the Qur’an says “created therefrom its mate” it signifies that Allah Ta’alah [God the Exalted] has made men and women in the same way and it cannot be said that one is dominant over the other.
Furthermore, when Allah the Almighty has said خَلَقَ مِنۡہَا زَوۡجَہَا that He has created a woman in the same way that he created man, it becomes clear that Allah has made the hearts and minds of women in the same way that He has created the hearts and minds of men. There is no mention of a woman being created from a man’s rib, rather similarities and likeness are mentioned. Despite this, throughout history, there have been occasions where men have sought to prevent women from fulfilling their potential and responsibilities, whilst at other times, women have sought to stop men from fulfilling their duties and responsibilities. Whether due to a superiority complex or an inferiority complex, at times, men have considered themselves to be intrinsically different to women or women have considered themselves inherently different to men. However, the Holy Qur’an has categorically refuted this concept by saying that men and women are of the same kind. It has clarified that men and women have the same feelings and emotions, similarly as each man will be accountable before Allah for his deeds, so will each woman also be held accountable for her acts before God.
Nevertheless, it is true that Islam has given differing responsibilities and prescribed a division of labour between the sexes. Both men and women have been given differing roles, however, this should not be misunderstood to mean that women are incapable of understanding the responsibilities placed upon men. This idea of differing responsibilities is entirely normal and according to nature. Even amongst men, there are differences that exist, whereby people have differing skill-sets and abilities. For instance, some men are trained as doctors, others become engineers, teachers, scientists or a range of other professions and jobs. Yet, no matter how skilled a doctor is, he is not superior to the other professions and in other fields as well and vice versa.
In the same way, to maintain a sense of balance within the world, Allah the Almighty, out of His infinite wisdom, has given different roles to men and women and they will both be held accountable before Allah with regards to the fulfilment of their respective responsibilities. Indeed, the Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa)said that just as it is the duty of a shepherd to protect his sheep, similarly it is the duty of every man and woman to fulfil their prescribed duties. Thus, if Allah Ta’alah has placed upon a woman the responsibility to ensure the moral and religious training of her children and to ensure that she protects the home and property of her husband, she must pay heed, because she alone will be held accountable for these matters. Similarly, if a man has been tasked with providing financially for his family, to care for them and fulfil their needs, he will be held accountable for this.
The fact that Islam has allocated different duties to men and women does not mean that women do not have the ability to do the work of men or are inferior in any way. As I said at the beginning, this Ijtema is being organised by Lajna [members of Lajna Imaillah, an auxiliary organisation of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community comprising women over the age of 15] members and is a great example of the excellent capabilities and organisational skills of our Ahmadi women. In fact, this Ijtema is actually a product and manifestation of the continued work and progress of Lajna Imaillah. Thus, any man who thinks that women should not take an active part in religious affairs, or make sacrifices for their faith, and should stay away from religion and just remain a “decoration” for their husbands to enjoy, is guilty of extreme ignorance. Similarly, if any woman thinks that due to her domestic responsibilities she does not need to partake in religious matters, or make sacrifices for her faith and nation, she too is mistaken and is guilty of undermining the status of women.
It was for the very sake of making our Ahmadi women understand their responsibilities, and to remove any doubt about the need for women to be involved in religious matters and other activities, that Hazrat Musleh Mau’ud(ra) [Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-din Mahmud Ahmad, the second successor and worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from 1914-1965] established Lajna Imaillah so that every Ahmadi lady could become an active member of the Jama’at. Very beautifully, Hazrat Musleh Mau’ud(ra)said that for a man the best name is “Abdullah”, and in the same way the best name for a woman is “Amtullah” – because any man should desire, above all, to be a man of God and His servant, whilst any woman should desire to be a woman of God and His servant. Indeed, in the Holy Qur’an, of all the qualities of the Holy Prophet(sa) one mentioned by Allah the Almighty is of his being “Abdullah” – a true man of God and His servant. Therefore, to be a sincere servant of Allah, should be the greatest desire for any Muslim lady and this is the reason your auxiliary organisation has been named Lajna Imaillah.
Accordingly, every Ahmadi woman should sincerely strive to be a servant of God so that they may become an heir to His rewards, rather than inheritors of His Wrath and Anger. In worldly terms, a person who has fulfilled his duties in the best way is presented before the monarch in order to receive an honour or reward, whilst a criminal is presented before the authorities for sanction and punishment. Whilst covetous glances are cast in the direction of the person who receives honours, criminals are looked upon with disgust and pity. Thus, every lady should seek to ensure that she understands her duties and strives to be amongst those who attain the rewards of Allah the Almighty.
In terms of your duties to the Jama’at and faith, you should remember that in the eyes of Allah, the responsibilities and duties placed upon men and women are the same and both must be ready to fulfil their pledges and make sacrifices for the sake of Islam. Speaking about the great sacrifices made by women in bygone eras, Hazrat Musleh Mau’ud(ra) gave the example of the time of the Prophet Jesus(as). He said that amongst the most sincere and loyal disciples of Jesus(as) were women, who would tirelessly spend their days and nights spreading his message and their sacrifices have been recorded in Christian history as a source of pride.
Indeed, when Jesus(as) was taken down from the cross and emerged from the coffin in which he was subsequently placed, it was women who were the first to greet and help him. Whilst his male disciples had run away in fear of the rulers, it is recorded that Mary Magdalene and two other women disregarded any fears for their own safety and reached Jesus(as) in the very early hours of the morning. In this way, they displayed immense bravery and exhibited a firm faith that exceeded the standards of the men.
This was the example of the time of Jesus(as) but of all the prophets, without doubt, it is the life of the Holy Prophet(sa) that has been documented and preserved in greatest detail and unquestionably during his blessed era the sacrifices made by the Muslim women reached a pinnacle and were of standards that have never been witnessed at any other juncture of history. Indeed, when you read about the sacrifices made for the sake of their faith, you can only be overcome with emotion. During that early period of Islam, the Holy Prophet(sa) and his followers were subjected to ferocious levels of persecution and unspeakable cruelties were inflicted upon them. Whilst all the early Muslims had to face persecution, nonetheless, the treatment of Muslim slaves was even more inhumane and brutal.
For example, amongst the companions, were a husband and wife, both of whom were slaves of a non-Muslim and their owner inflicted such merciless and terrifying cruelties upon them that merely reading about their treatment leaves a person shaken to the core. They would be forced to lie on scorching hot sands and beaten relentlessly on their chests and bodies. They would be left to burn to the point that their eyes would become completely red and swollen beyond all limits, yet their master showed no remorse or mercy. On one occasion, upon seeing how they were being tortured and made to lie upon the burning sands, the Holy Prophet(sa) became overwhelmed with emotion. He was grief-stricken like a father witnessing his children being beaten before his very eyes. He observed how the slave-master sought to compel them to reject the Holy Prophet(sa) and to accept his belief that there were many other gods apart from Allah the Almighty. Overcome with sorrow, the Holy Prophet(sa) turned towards Allah and remained engaged in prayer for some time. Thereafter, with great emotion, the Holy Prophet(sa) addressed the Muslim husband and wife and said: Be patient! Be patient! Surely, Allah will remove you from these pains very soon and in return, He has made a home for you in Paradise.
As a result of the continued torture, it was not long before the husband breathed his last. Thereafter, the owner brutally attacked the Muslim lady by piercing her stomach with a spear and so she also joined the ranks of the martyrs. These slaves were not of any worldly rank or status, yet due to their acceptance of the Holy Prophet(sa) and their impeccable standards of faith they scaled the highest spiritual mountains and have been recorded in history forevermore. They were the people who gave every possible sacrifice and bore every form of torture for the sake of their belief in the One God. The persecution of the Muslims in Makkah continued unabated and finally, when it went beyond all limits, as the enemies of Islam continued to increase their evil plots, the Holy Prophet(sa) instructed his companions to migrate to Ethiopia.
Upon this, the companions protested and asked how could it be that they migrate to live in peace, whilst their beloved spiritual master, the Holy Prophet(sa), remained in danger and continued to face the most horrific cruelties. In response, the Holy Prophet(sa) said that Allah had not yet commanded him to migrate and if that day came he would as well, but for the time being his followers should go without him. Amongst those who decided to migrate was a Muslim lady, who in the early hours of one morning, collected her belongings and placed them on a camel ready to depart. By chance, Hazrat Umar(ra), who had not yet accepted Islam, walked by and after observing this lady being forced out of her hometown in the early hours, he felt a sense of sorrow and guilt. Addressing the lady with his voice trembling with emotion, Hazrat Umar(ra) said, it seems you are getting ready for a journey?
In response, the Muslim lady said: We can no longer tolerate the cruelties and pain inflicted upon us and so we have been left with no choice but to leave. In the end, what did we do to you that meant you treated us so inhumanely and punished us with such cruelty? All we say is that Allah is One but you cannot tolerate it and so now we have to leave.
This desperate and emotional response of the Muslim lady caused Hazrat Umar(ra), who was still a formidable opponent of Islam and a person who had shown no mercy in his opposition to Muslims, to be overcome with emotion. As tears rolled down his cheeks, he could only bring himself to meekly say, goodbye and all the best before turning away.
Similarly, there is a famous incident pertaining to the sister of Hazrat Umar(ra). On one occasion, when he remained a raging opponent of Islam, Hazrat Umar(ra) set out with a sword in his hand, with the intention of killing the Holy Prophet(sa) and bringing an end to Islam once and for all. On the way, a man asked him where he was going, and when he told him his purpose, the man said that he should first enquire after his own family, as one of his sisters had accepted Islam. Thus, Hazrat Umar(ra) went straight to the home of his sister and knocked forcefully at the door. His sister and her husband were reciting the Qur’an and upon realising that Hazrat Umar(ra) had come, they hid their Muslim teacher, as well as the pages of the Qur’an. However, Hazrat Umar(ra) had heard them, and so upon entering, he immediately asked what they had been reciting. His sister replied: We were reciting the Holy Qur’an.
Hazrat Umar(ra) said that he heard that she and her husband had become “Saabi” meaning that they had accepted a belief that was not accepted by the people of Makkah. In a fit of rage, Hazrat Umar(ra) lunged forward in an attempt to strike his brother-in-law, but with great defiance and courage, his sister stepped forward to shield her husband and said, Yes, we are Muslims and if you want to kill us then go ahead!Hazrat Umar(ra) was unable to withdraw his hand in time and so he struck his sister accidentally or unintentionally in the face with such heavy force that she was wounded and blood gushed forth from her nose. Upon witnessing how his sister had sacrificed herself to protect her husband, Hazrat Umar(ra) was left astonished.
Despite his hatred for Islam, Hazrat Umar(ra) was good at heart, and so after seeing the blood on his sister’s face, he felt shame and regret, for he knew that rather than protect his sister, as was his duty, he had been a means of grievously injuring her. Feeling restless and wracked with guilt, his aggressive tone suddenly changed, and he timidly asked his sister if she would bring the pages of the Qur’an for him to read. Upon this, the supreme faith of his sister roared into action, and having already been beaten by her brother, she no longer remained a defenceless woman but was transformed into a courageous lioness.
Without any fear, she declared, you cannot touch the Qur’an as you are not pure or clean. I cannot place the Qur’an anywhere near you whilst you are in this state. Having realised what he had done, Hazrat Umar(ra) felt ashamed, and so softly asked his sister how he could purify himself so that she would permit him to read the Qur’an. In reply, his sister said that he must first go and bathe and clean himself and only then would she permit him to touch the Holy Qur’an. As instructed, Hazrat Umar(ra) went and bathed before returning and then his sister placed the Qur’an before him. After reading just a few verses, Hazrat Umar’s(ra) heart melted at the beauty of what he was reading and tears flowed from his eyes. Instantly, he felt abhorrence and shame for his past disbelief of Islam. Instantly, he viewed his past life with nothing but disdain and disgust.
Thereupon, he stood up in an emotional state and asked where the Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa) lived. Hearing this, his sister felt a surge of love for her brother and prayed sincerely that he would accept Islam, but at the same time she knew that she could never forgive herself if her brother was the cause of any harm to the Holy Prophet(sa). Thus, she grabbed hold of the collar of Hazrat Umar(ra) and with great emotion, that only could be stirred by true faith and love for the Holy Prophet(sa) she said, first, swear that you will not approach Muhammad(sa) with any ill intention. With true humility, Hazrat Umar(ra) replied, my only intention is to become a Muslim. Upon this, his sister rejoiced and informed her brother where the Holy Prophet(sa) was. Hazrat Umar(ra) duly approached the Holy Prophet(sa) and accepted Islam in a state of total submission. Hence, this was the great sacrifice made by a woman, who melted the heart of her brother, and as a result, the Muslims celebrated and raised slogans in praise of Allah, “Allaho Akbar” [God is Great].
Another astonishing example of faith pertains to the Battle of Uhud. During that war, the blessed teeth of the Holy Prophet(sa) were broken and word spread that he had been martyred. When this news reached Madinah, Muslim women came out of their homes and ran towards the battlefield to find out the truth about their master. On the way, an elderly Muslim woman frantically asked a companion if the Holy Prophet(sa) was alive. In response, the companion said, I regret to tell you that your husband has been killed in the battle. Upon this the lady said, I am not asking about my husband, I am asking about the Holy Prophet(sa). The companion then said, I regret to tell you that your brother has also been killed.Hearing this, the lady said, I am not asking about my brother, I ask only about the Holy Prophet(sa). The companion then said, I am sorry but your son has also been killed. Upon this, the lady desperately remarked, I do not ask about my son, I am asking if the Holy Prophet(sa) is alive.
Finally, the companion informed [her] that the rumours regarding the Holy Prophet(sa) had been false and he was alive. In a state of utter relief, the lady said, I do not feel any loss or pain or grief over whoever in my family has died because my beloved master, the Holy Prophet(sa) remains alive. This was the pure love and devotion professed by the Muslim women of that time towards the Holy Prophet(sa). These were the women who were ready for every sacrifice for the sake of Islam and their names have been recorded in history as examples for the rest of time.
Recently, I was told about an Ahmadi lady living in another country, who said that when she comes to Lajna meetings and takes the pledge, she repeats the words that, “for the sake of her faith and nation she will be ready to sacrifice her life, wealth and time.” However, when it comes to the part about being ready to sacrifice her “children” she remains silent because her children are the one thing she can never sacrifice. This is an example of a weakness in faith, and ultimately, such a person will become weaker in faith and, in reality, will neither be able to sacrifice their own lives, wealth or time for the sake of Islam. Remember, when we pledge in our Bai’at [pledge to join the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and live by its tenets] to give precedence to our religion and faith over all worldly matters it means that our love for Allah, for the Holy Prophet of Islam(sa) and for our religion should be greater than for anything or anyone else.
Further, in this era, the Promised Messiah(as) said that, after developing a true love for Allah and for the Holy Prophet(sa), his followers must also form a bond of love with him. Thus, if we wish to remain part of the Jama’at of the Promised Messiah(as), we must manifest our love for him by fulfilling the conditions of our Bai’at and remaining obedient to his teachings. The Promised Messiah(as) said, in my Jama’at, I wish to see a spiritual transformation which distinguishes Ahmadis from all others. If we are just the same as other Muslims then what is the benefit of doing Bai’at? If we are weak and lazy in our prayers like other Muslims then what is the benefit? If we are weak and lazy in reading the Qur’an and do not follow its teachings then what is the benefit?
Thus, if according to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, you are not modest in your clothing and do not uphold the requirements of purdah what is the benefit of your Bai’at? If you do not fulfil your responsibilities within your homes, what is the benefit of your Bai’at? And if you do not practically manifest the teachings of Islam and do not seek to spread it, what is the benefit of being an Ahmadi? Thus, every Ahmadi lady should deeply reflect upon their pledge to give precedence to their faith over all material desires.
Every one of you should constantly analyse and think about whether you have the same spirit and devotion for serving your religion that the female companions of the Holy Prophet(sa) had? Ask yourselves if you have the same true and sincere love for Allah the Almighty and His noble Messenger(sa) as the companions did. Reflect upon whether you have acquired the religious knowledge and insight needed to fulfil your duties. Consider if you are a true role model for your children and if you are bringing them up in the same righteous way that the companions raised their children.
If the answer to these questions is “no” you should be very worried and concerned and it is also a cause of deep concern for the entire Jama’at. Let it be clear that you – our Ahmadi women and girls – are not living lives without purpose; rather, you all have extremely great objectives, which I hope and pray you understand and strive to fulfil.
In this era, one of the foremost objectives for our Lajna members is Tabligh [preaching and propagation] and to fulfil this responsibility you must first spiritually reform yourself. You must personally set the best example, and fulfil your duty to morally train and educate your children, and you must be their guide and attach them to the Jama’at from a young age. Only then can you fulfil your responsibilities in the field of Tabligh.
In this era, there is an urgent need for our women to portray Islam’s true teachings and to spread them far and wide. Without any fear or complex, you must propagate Islam by practicing its teachings. If anyone claims that Islam does not give women freedom or that they are oppressed by men, it is your duty to show the world that Islam has given you true freedom, true liberty and true enlightenment!
It is your duty to show the world that whatever restrictions exist are not forced upon you by men, but rather are willingly and freely adopted, having observed the magnificent teachings of Islam. If you do not wish to mingle freely with men or to sit alongside them it is your own choice, made of your own volition, in order to preserve your honour and dignity. If you do not choose to shake the hands of men, it is because your heart demands that you follow Islam’s teachings, which provide true dignity for women. Such conduct is not based on the demands of men but is the result of your freedom to make your own decisions and is a symbol of true independence.
Remember, following the crowd and bowing to the influences of society is not freedom; rather, true freedom is having the strength to follow your beliefs and to act upon your convictions. Until the voice of your hearts does not emit pure love for Allah the Almighty and His Messenger(sa), in the way of Hazrat Umar’s(ra) sister, or the elderly lady whose husband, brother and son were martyred, we cannot influence the wider world and we cannot bring about that spiritual revolution that is destined to occur.
As I said, in this era, our women must propagate Islam and especially when it comes to women’s issues, it is much more effective for women to respond than for any man to do so on their behalf. Every woman should pay careful attention to this and seek to gain knowledge of their faith so that they can refute the allegations directed at Islam and be ready for every sacrifice for the sake of their religion.
Thus, I ask all of you to understand and assume your responsibilities and to fulfil your pledge to morally train the next generation in the best way and to bring your children close to the Jama’at. I ask all of you to be ready to propagate Islam’s teachings through Tabligh, within your own circles and especially to women.
If you understand your responsibilities, I am sure that you will prove to be successful mothers, and successful Ahmadi Muslim women who are ready for every sacrifice for the sake of giving precedence to their faith over all worldly matters.
If you understand your duties, I am sure you will be successful in spreading the message of Islam Ahmadiyyat far and wide.
Only then will you have fulfilled the requirements and obligations of your Bai’at.
May Allah enable you all to do so.
May Allah continue to bless Lajna Imaillah UK and indeed our Lajna organisations throughout the world – Ameen. Now join me in silent prayer – Dua.’
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