Equality is a very misunderstood topic in the modern age. As far as men and women are concerned, there is no inequality whatsoever. Allah says in the Holy Quran:
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 (33:36).
Here, the Quran is clear in stating that men and women are both absolutely and unequivocally equal in their status in front of God, and in expectation of the reward that they are to receive from Him. The length of the verse, with a specific mention of 10 different qualities, only goes to show how gravely important this subject is in the Holy Quran. Had Islam considered men and women unequal, such a verse would not have existed.
Critics of Islam or those doubting Islam usually tend to point to issues related to inheritance, testimony of women, or the ahadith where it is stated that women are “deficient” or they are told to “obey” their husbands. However, all of this evidence is presented with a laser focus on certain phrases or statements, without looking at the bigger picture that Islamic teachings present to the world. In fact, if we want to be fair, and place this kind of laser focus with a completely different intention, it may be declared that Islamic teachings favour women too much and Islam may be accused of misandry. For instance, at one point, a man asked the Holy Prophet(sa), who is most deserving of best treatment from him? The Prophet(sa) said, “Your mother”. He asked the question two more times and got the same response, and only when he asked the question the fourth time did he receive the response, “Your father”.[i]
A critical mind may look at this hadith and another hadith where it says, “Paradise lies under the feet of the mother,”[ii] and declare Islam a misandrist faith. However, that would be a gross misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the faith of Islam. Where the role of women is being discussed, light is shed on female responsibilities, and where the role of men is being discussed, light is shed on male responsibilities. To the men, Islam says, treat your wives in the best manner (Holy Quran, 4:20), and to the women, Islam teaches obedience and kind treatment of their husbands. The Prophet(sa) sums it up beautifully when he says, “You have rights over your wives, and they have rights over you”.[iii]
Every statement that appears to be siding with one gender needs to be understood within its own context. If women are called “deficient,” it is not a generalization nor a broad-brush representation of women in every aspect. It is only an indication of some of the challenges that they face while fulfilling the requirements of the law of Islam, and some of the concessions they are given due to menstrual cycles or to fulfill their responsibilities as mothers. In fact, there is much laxation in Islamic rules for women due to their role as mothers—a role Islam considers very sacred as they are preparing the leaders of tomorrow.
Comparatively, men have the role of being the breadwinners and providing for their wives and children. Such separation of roles is intended in Islam to lead to a harmonious family life that brings pleasure and comfort for the whole family and ultimately contributes to societal peace. As Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(rh) explains, if the woman of the household is fulfilling the requirements of her gender role and is providing and maintaining the best care for her children, she has the option to work and earn her living, and “the husband doesn’t stop her, but will not have any share in whatever earning the lady makes”.[iv]
[i]. Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Book of Parents, Chapter: Dutifulness to One’s Father
[ii]. Sunan An-Nasa’i, The Book of Jihad, Chapter: Concession Allowing One Who Has A Mother To Stay Behind: http:// sunnah.com/nasai/25/20
[iii]. Riyadhus Saliheen, The Book of Miscellany, hadith 276
[iv]. Question Answer session, March 3, 1986