The Role of Women in Islam

By Steven Masood on 01/29/2019
women in Islam

Islam and Gender Equality:

  • God will reward both men and women (Sura 16:97; 33:35; 43:70).
  • Men and women were created from a single soul (Sura 4:1).
  • Wives are the garments of the husband and the husband is the garment of his wives (Sura 2:187).  

The word garment in Arabic also means honor. The understanding however tends to be one-sided.

In the Islamic world, the girl is the one who is to be on guard not to “ruin” her family’s honor.

Islam and Gender Inequality:

  • Men are superior:a step above women” (Sura 2:228; 4:34).
  • Women are deficient: "Allah's Apostle once said to a group of women: 'I have not seen any one more deficient in intelligence and religion than you…’ ” (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 1, Hadith No. 301; vol. 3, Hadith No. 826).
  • Muhammad said: "Women are ungrateful to their husbands and are ungrateful for the favors and the good (charitable) deeds done to them. If you have always been good (benevolent) to one of them and then she sees something in you (not of her liking), she will say, 'I have never received any good from you.’ " (Sahih Bukhari, vol.1, Hadith No. 28).
  • The testimonies of 2 women are equal to the testimony of one man. In other words, women according to Islam are deficient in value and in wisdom, as one woman’s word is worth only half of a man’s word. For witnesses, “if there are not two men, then a man and two women” are ok. Two women testify, “so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her” (quotes from Sura 2:282, Yusuf Ali).
  • Daughters inherit half of what sons inherit: “Allah (thus) directs you as regards your Children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females…” (Sura 4:11,Yusuf Ali). Daughters are married off, cared for by husbands.

Marriage & Family:

  • Paradise is under the mother’s feet (Ibn Majah, Sunan, Hadith no. 2771). In Islam, the Muslim mother has control over her children until they are married. The married daughter is under the control of her husband and his family. A son may become independent as an adult, yet married sons still have to listen to their parents and accept their likes and dislikes. For example, if a man does not like his daughter-in-law and tells his son to divorce her, the son is expected to obey.
  • God has given men wives, sons and grandsons… (Sura 30:21; 16:72). It is God who has blessed people with families. Children are to be brought up as Muslims.  
  • Muslim men can be married to more than one woman, with the limit of 4 at a time (Sura 4:3).
  • The word often used for marriage in the Qur’an is nikah, which literally means the act of sexual intercourse.  Islamic law defines nikah as a civil contract whose main function is to render sexual relations between a man and woman.
  • Adultery and fornication are forbidden and punished (Sura 17:32; 24:2 ff). However, Muslim men are permitted to marry women their “right hands possess” - captured as spoils of war, booty (Sura 4:3; 4:24-25).  This is basically a form of slavery.

The Shia sect practices Nikah Al-Mut’a (temporary marriage). Although the Sunni sect rejects it, there are Sunnis who practice it. Nikah al-Mut’a consists of a man saying to a woman: “I wish to marry you for a day or so, on condition that you will observe no ‘idda (Sura 65:1). There will be no mutual rights of inheritance, no divorce procedure and no witness.” (Nahhas, Kitab al-Naskh, p.99). In Islam, the term ‘idda refers to the waiting period so to ascertain whether the woman is pregnant or not. During the idda period, the wife is not allowed to remarry. Even when her husband dies, a Muslim wife is obliged to wait through the period of idda before she can remarry. In that case, the waiting period is four months and 10 days.

  • In the Qur’an, men are told: “Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will…” (Sura 2:223, Yusuf Ali). In other words, a wife is like a farmer’s field. The expression in the Qur’an suggests that the wife has no right to tell her husband what she wants or does not want.  Rape is not mentioned in the Qur’an.
  •  Allah's Apostle said, ‘If a husband calls his wife to his bed (i.e. to have sexual relation) and she refuses and causes him to sleep in anger, the angels will curse her till morning.’” (Sahih Bukhari, v. 4, Book 54, No. 260). [Some moderate Muslims do not accept this hadith.]
  • A man may beat his wife: "Righteous women are therefore obedient ... And those you fear may be rebellious (nushuz) admonish; banish them to beds apart, and beat them.” (Sura 4:34). Yusuf Ali in his English translation adds the word "lightly" in parentheses. The word "lightly" isn't in the Arabic of this verse. According to Islam, the Qur'an is perfect and clear. Isn't it interesting that Muslim translators believe that they can improve the Qur'an by watering down its teachings?
  • A Muslim man can marry a Jewish or Christian woman (Sura 5:5).  Muslim scholars advise that children from such a marriage be brought up as Muslims. Some Muslims however consider Christians to “ascribe divinity to aught beside God” and thus not marriageable (Sura 2:221; 9:30 Asad). Muslim men are not to marry unbelievers or pagans.
  • According to the Qur’an, Muslim women are only allowed to marry Muslim men  (Sura 2:221).

Provisions for Muhammad:

  • The Qur’an gives Muhammad special marriage privileges (Sura 33:50-52).
  • Muhammad is said to have had sexual relations with all of his wives in one night. At that time he had nine wives. (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 7, Hadith No. 142; vol. 1, Hadith No. 268).
  • The Qur’an admonishes Muhammad’s consorts/wives to obey him (Sura 33:28-34).
  • Muhammad married Aisha, his friend Abu Bakr’s daughter, when she was 6 years old and consummated the marriage when she was 9 years old.  (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 5, Book 58, No. 234).
  • Muhammad married his adopted son’s former wife, with the Qur’an specifically telling him to do so (Sura 33:36-40).  His adopted son Zaid divorced his wife so Muhammad could marry her.
  • Muhammad had 3 captive women: Rayhana, Juwayriya, and Safiyya. While Juwayriya and Safiyya converted to Islam and married their captor, Rayhana may have stayed a slave. 
  • Maria, a Coptic slave girl, gave birth to Muhammad’s son Ibrahim.  Muhammad’s relationship with her caused friction with his wives. He broke his oath to them, hence “O Prophet! Why holdest thou to be forbidden that which Allah has made lawful to thee? Thou seekest to please thy consorts. But Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Sura 66:1 Y. Ali) Sura 65:1-6 and Sura 66:1-10 deal with Muhammad’s thought to divorce his wives. He didn’t end up divorcing them but he did separate from his wives for a month. (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 3, Book 43, No. 648).
  • Islam allows widows to remarry. Muhammad’s first wife (Khadija) was widowed twice, i.e. Muhammad was Khadija’s 3rd husband. Many of his other wives were also widows (usually after Muslims killed their husband). Although Muhammad allowed marrying widows, he banned his own wives from marrying after his death. He married widows but won’t allow his widows to marry claiming the injunction came from God (Sura 33:53). The reason for it is also given that Muhammad’s wives are the mothers of believers (Sura 33:6).


  • "The most detestable of lawful things near Allah is divorce." (Mishkat al-Masabih, Book II, Divorce, No. 137).
  • A "man may say to his brother (in Islam), 'Have a look at either of my wives (and if you wish), I will divorce her for you.'" (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. VII, pp. 6&7, see Hadith No. 10).
  • Divorce can even take place against the will of the husband and wife concerned (Mishkat al-Masabih, Book 1, Duties of parents, Hadith No. 15).
  • A husband says 3 times “I divorce you” and the Muslim divorce is finalized. If a woman wants to divorce her husband, she has to go to Shari’a court or to the elders.
  • A divorced woman cannot marry her ex again until after she marries, sleeps with and divorces another man.

Spiritual Standing of Women

  • The Qur’an does suggest that there will be paradise as reward for both men and women. However when it comes to the explanation of those rewards in paradise, it is more likely for men: "Amongst the inmates in Paradise the women would be in the minority." (Sahih Muslim, Hadith No. 6600.)
  • The Qur’an is silent about specific rewards for women in Paradise. Some scholars believe they will have a husband in Paradise. A common belief is that the lady will be with her husband in paradise. Her husband will have houris (heavenly virgins) as well as his earthly wife/wives. This opens an other discussion to what about unmarried Muslim women. The silence of the Qur'an has persuaded some Muslims to get their daughters married  as soon as possible.
  • To attain paradise, a woman should be obedient to her parents, her husband, perform prayers, raise children the Islamic way, and so on.
  • Muhammad is reported to have said, “Had it not been for women, God would have truly, truly been worshipped.” (Kanz-el-‘Ummal, Vol. 21, H. 825).

20th century prominent Muslim scholars

  • Mawdudi (d. 1979): “Some nations have given women the position of governor over men. But no instance is found of a nation that raised its womanhood to such a status and then attained any high position on the ladder of progress and civilization. History does not present the record of any nation which made the woman ruler of its affairs, and won honor and glory or performed a work of distinction.” (Purdah and the State of Women in Islam, p. 111).
  • Khomeini (d. 1989): “A permanent wife must submit (taslim) herself for whatever pleasure her (husband)  wants … if she does not obey him, she is a sinner (gunahgar) and has no right.” (Shahla Haeri, ‘Obedience versus Autonomy: Women and Fundamentalism in Iran and Pakistan’, Fundamentalism and Society, eds. Marty and Appleby, p. 186).


Muslim women need our prayers. They need people to truly love them and tell them about Jesus!