They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them

Are Women Inferior to Men in Islam

Men and women are equal in Islam by default, in terms of spirituality, morality, and value. They are only different in so far as there are natural differences between genders, and even these natural differences, while generally true, always have exceptions. Men and women all descended from a single person – the Prophet Adam (peace be upon him). Islam does not accept for either of them anything but justice and kind treatment. Allah says:

سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْأَزْوَاجَ كُلَّهَا مِمَّا تُنبِتُ الْأَرْضُ وَمِنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَمِمَّا لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

“Glory to He who created all pairs, from what the earth grows and from themselves and from that which they do not know.” (Surah Yasin 36:36)

One gender is not inherently ‘superior’ or ‘better’ or ‘smarter than another. Rather, both genders complement each other for their respective strengths and weaknesses; only by their harmonious union can new life begin. As a universal truth, the only quality that makes one individual better than another is mindfulness of Allah and righteousness (al-taqwa). Allah says:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ

“O people, We have created you male and female and made you into tribes and nations that you might know one another. Verily, the most honoured of you to Allah is the most righteous of you.” (Surah Al-Hujurat 49:13)

In this respect, men and women are spiritually and morally equal, as their good deeds are rewarded in the same measure. Men are partners with women and their equals in jurisprudence by default, except in the few cases where they are different. When Allah addresses people with the male grammatical form, it is always a general address to both men and women unless there is an indication otherwise.

The woman is recognized by Islam as a full and equal partner of man in the procreation of humankind:

  1. A woman is recognized by Islam as an equal partner
  2. A woman has the right to opinions and beliefs
  3. A woman has the right to choose a spouse
  4. A woman has the right to seek knowledge
  5. A woman has all necessary for social life 
  6. A woman has the right to raise children
  7. A woman has the right to live and exist
  8. A woman has the right to employment
  9. A woman has the right to health care 
  10. A woman has the right to freedom
  11. A woman has the right to security
  12. A woman utilize natural resources
  13. All humanity, rights are absolutely equal
  14. A woman has the right to have a property
  15. A woman role is not less vital than a man
  16. A woman right to participate and associate 
  17. A woman has an equal share in every aspect
  18. A woman right to live in the presence of laws
  19. A woman has the right to continue their lives
  20. A female worker might work as a male worker

Equal Reward & Equal Accountability

Men and women worship Allah in the same way, meaning they worship the same God (Allah), perform the same acts of worship, follow the same scripture, and hold the same beliefs. Allah (the Arabic word for the One true God of all creation), judges all human beings fairly and equitably. While men and women have equal rights as a general principle, the specific rights and responsibilities granted to them are not identical. Men and women have complementary rights and responsibilities. Allah says:

وَعَدَ اللَّهُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا وَمَسَاكِنَ طَيِّبَةً فِي جَنَّاتِ عَدْنٍ وَرِضْوَانٌ مِّنَ اللَّهِ أَكْبَرُ ذَٰلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ

“Allah has promised to the believers, men, and women, gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein, and beautiful mansions in gardens of everlasting bliss.” (Surah At-Taubah 9:72)

  1. Equal Right to Knowledge
  2. Equal Right to Choose a Spouse
  3. Love & Mercy in Spousal Relations
  4. Lofty Positions of Mothers & Daughters

If we compare Islam to other religions, we see that it offers justice between the sexes. For example, Islam dismisses the idea that Eve is more to blame than Adam for eating from the forbidden tree. According to Islam, Adam and Eve both sinned, they both repented and God forgave them both. Given that Allah does not favour one gender over the other in His attention to us (and it helps to remember that Allah is neither male nor female), we can now address the differences between the genders in Islam. First, men and women are not the same as we know. Allah says:

فَلَمَّا وَضَعَتْهَا قَالَتْ رَبِّ إِنِّي وَضَعْتُهَا أُنثَىٰ وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا وَضَعَتْ وَلَيْسَ الذَّكَرُ كَالْأُنثَىٰ وَإِنِّي سَمَّيْتُهَا مَرْيَمَ وَإِنِّي أُعِيذُهَا بِكَ وَذُرِّيَّتَهَا مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ

“And the male is not like the female.” (Quran 3:36)

Men and women are different in their composition, and in their responsibilities under Islam. However, both are bound by obligations to one another, especially the following important one which must be understood in any discussion on men and women.  Allah says:

الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ

“Then when she delivered her, she said, “My Lord, indeed I [I] (have) delivered [her] a female.” And Allah knows better [of] what she delivered, and is not the male like the female. “And that I [I] (have) named her Maryam and that I [I] seek refuge for her in You and her offspring from the Shaitaan the rejected.” (Surah Al-Imran 3:36)

A problematic discourse among Muslim men is the claim that men are by nature ‘better’ than women as a universal metaphysical truth, which leads them to devalue women and disrespect their autonomy. Although women did not fight on the frontlines per se, their contribution was critical to the community’s victory. It is further claimed that men are ‘better than women because men have been given a ‘degree’ over them. Allah says:

وَاللَّهُ خَلَقَكُم مِّن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ جَعَلَكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا

“Allah created you from dust, then from a drop, then He made you into mates.” (Surah Al-Fatir 35:11)

They are called ‘pairs’ because they are in need of each other; one could not exist without the other. It would be nonsensical to say that positive electric charges are ‘better’ than negative electric charges while both are needed to produce electricity. Similarly, it is nonsensical to say men are ‘better’ than women while they both require each other. A man inherits more only because he is responsible for more. Allah says:

أَفَلَا يَرَوْنَ أَنَّا نَأْتِي الْأَرْضَ نَنقُصُهَا مِنْ أَطْرَافِهَا

“Then do they not see that We set upon the land, reducing it from its borders?” (Surah Al-Anbiya 21:44)

By default, men and women are equal to each other in terms of honesty and piety, but because women in this context were afraid that they might forget some details of the contract, they were told to include another woman to help one another remember. In fact, the testimony of two women outweighs the testimony of one. Allah says:

أَوَلَمْ يَرَوْا أَنَّا نَأْتِي الْأَرْضَ نَنقُصُهَا مِنْ أَطْرَافِهَا

“Have they not seen that We set upon the land, reducing it from its borders?” (Surah Al-Rad 13:41)

Given that husbands are obligated to provide for wives, and that marriage is a highly recommended goal of Islam, it is easy to see why women’s inheritance share is half that of men. We note also that men are obligated to provide a suitable dowry to women on marriage. In fact, it is preferable at this point to speak in terms of husbands and wives instead of men and women.

Allah emphasizes the just treatment and reward due to both men and women in many verses of the Quran:

  • “They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them.” (Quran 2:187)
  • “And for women are rights over men, similar to those of men over women.” (Quran 2:228)
  • “Does not the One who created, know? And He is the Most Kind, the All-Aware.” (Quran 67:14)
  • “If any do deeds of righteousness – be they male or female – and have faith, they will enter Paradise, and not the least injustice will be done to them.” (Quran 4:124)
  • “And among His signs is that He created or you wives amongst yourselves that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts). Surely in this are Signs for people who reflect.” (Quran 30:21)
  • “Never will I allow the loss of the work of any worker amongst you, male or female; you are of one another.” (Quran 3:195)

While men are allowed to marry up to four wives, they are also commanded to meet the preconditions of being able to financially support them. They must also deal with each wife justly and fairly with respect to marital and economic obligations. Thus, absolute equality between men and women in all matters is neither possible nor reasonable.  But this does not mean bias in favour of men to the detriment of women.  While some rulings may be seen to favour men, many others favour women. Allah says:

وَوَصَّيْنَا الْإِنسَانَ بِوَالِدَيْهِ إِحْسَانًا ۖ حَمَلَتْهُ أُمُّهُ كُرْهًا وَوَضَعَتْهُ كُرْهًا

“We have enjoined upon humanity good treatment to his parents. His mother carried him with hardship and gave birth to him with hardship.” (Surah Al-Ahqaf 46:15)

Men and women are two equally important component parts of humanity, and the rights and responsibilities of both sexes in Islam are equitable and balanced in their totality.  Although their obligations might differ in certain areas of life in accordance with basic physical and psychological differences, each one is equally accountable for his or her particular responsibilities.