Women’s rights in Islam
To see the real differences between the western woman rights and those of a Muslim woman, let us see how the western woman achieved her rights. In history books, encyclopedias, we can find out about the legal status of women, here are examples from The Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed., Vol. 28, p. 782:
"In Roman law a woman was even in historic times completely dependent. If married she and her property passed into the power of her husband… The wife was the purchased property of her husband, and like a slave acquired only for his benefit. A woman could not exercise any civil or public office. She could not be a witness, surety, tutor, or curator she could not adopt or be adopted, or make will or contract".
These Roman customs were probably the reason why in Europe, and then later in the west, a woman had to take her husband's last name upon marriage, since every thing she owns, becomes the husband's property.
According to the English Common Law: "All real property which a wife held at the time of a marriage became a possession of her husband. He was entitled to the rent from the land and to any profit, which might be made from operating the estate during the joint life of the spouses".
Only by the late nineteenth century did the situation start to improve. "By a series of acts starting with the Married women's Property Act in 1870, amended in 1882 and 1887, married women achieved the right to own property and to enter contracts on a par with spinsters, widows, and divorcees."
The French woman was not even in as much luck as her English neighbor: "It was not until 1938 that the French Law was amended so as to recognize the eligibility of women to contract. A married women, however, was still required to secure her husband's permission before she could dispense with her private property".
The American women have been struggling in a long history of women rights activists for their rights, they were shoulder to shoulder with the European woman in acquiring their rights which they did not have before the 19th century.
Only after the advent of the Industrial age in the western world, and much later when there was a great demand for every one in the community, both men and women, to build in each area. Women started to wonder; if they are to work like men, why not be paid the same? Why not have the same rights of contracting, owning properties and selling them?
After a very rich and long history of women rights activists battling, protesting and getting organized in woman opposition groups, without the help of any religion, they were able to acquire such rights.
· As you can see, that around the 7th century, no women in the world could have had any better rights than that of the woman under the "civilized" Roman law.
At that time when the status of women was nothing but poor, the Message of Islam came to reintroduce the proper structure and the natural order. The basic injunctions of Islam concerning the subject of women evolve around their rights not their restrictions. You may find this hard to believe, maybe due to the fact that Islam has always been introduced to the west through Non-Islamic sources, whose women had poor status even as late as the 19th century.
Islam decreed a right which woman was deprived in the entire Non-Islamic world, which is the right of independent ownership. According to "Shari'a" (Islamic Law), woman's right to her money, real estate, or other properties is fully acknowledged. This right undergoes no change whether she is single or married. She retains her full rights to buy, sell, mortgage or lease any or all her properties. It is also noteworthy that such right applies to her properties before marriage as well as to what she acquires thereafter. No where is it suggested in "Shari'a" it is suggested that a woman is a minor simply because she is a female.
In "Shari'a" (meaning according to the Islamic Law) upon marriage, a Muslim woman does not take her husband's last name, she keeps her own last name further stressing her independent personality.
According to the Islamic teachings, when paying a person hired to perform a job, one should pay as soon as they are finished, whether the worker is a man or a woman, both are the same.
An important right for women is education, Muhammad (pbuh) encouraged gaining knowledge, not only knowledge about religious affairs, but also to all aspects of life. He taught that it is a must for every "soul", men and women. He also appointed a time and a place specifically to teach women their religious affairs.
It is only recently that Inheritance was another gain for the western women. However, it is a fact that they had to fight for a share, because many of their religions did not teach anything regarding inheritance, contributing even more to the loss of women’s right to inherit. Other religions did not allow mothers, widows or sisters of the deceased to inherit anything at all, and made it very tough for daughters to inherit.
While only in Islam, every family member (both men and women) gets a share (see 4:11-12 and 176).
Islam already gave these rights to women more than 1400 years ago, not because of the threat or the pressure of women and their organizations, but rather because of its truthfulness. If this indicates anything, it would demonstrate the divine origin of the Quran and the truthfulness of the message of Islam, which, unlike human philosophies and ideologies, was far from proceeding from its human environment. A Message that established such humane principles could neither grow obsolete during the course of time and after these many centuries, nor become obsolete in the future. After all, this is the Message of the All-Wise and All-Knowing God whose wisdom and knowledge are far beyond the ultimate in human thought and progress.
Islam does not in any way oppress women. On the contrary, women under "Shari'a", the Islamic Law, were given rights that women elsewhere have acquired only recently after they ‘fought’ for them on their own, against many religions.