Women as in the Qur’an and Sunnah

The Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (pbuh), indicate equity and parity between men and women although their functions in marriage, family and society are not identical. 

The Qur’an emphasises that God in His perfect wisdom has created all species in pairs, and so men and women have been created of the same species; as it is stated that: 

“He created you from a single being; then of the same kind made its mate”

(al- Zumar 39:6).  

In the  chapter of al-Nisā‘, Allah Almighty also said that: 

“O mankind! Fear Allah Who created you from a single person [Adam], and from him [Adam] Allah created his  wife [Hawwa], and then from both of them, He created many men and women spread [all over the world]. And fear Allah through Whom you make claims [of your mutual rights]. And do not cut-off the relations with your blood relatives. Indeed, Allah is All-Watching over you”

(al-Nisā ́ 4:1). 

According  to  Islamic  view,  men  and  women  complement  each  other  and  are a means of mutual fulfilment. 

The  passages  from  the  Noble  Qur’an  confirm  that  woman  is  completely equated with man in the sight of God in terms of her rights and responsibilities. It is clearly stated that: 

“Every soul will be (held) in pledge for its deeds”  

(al-Muddathir 74:38).

In another occasion, the Qur’an articulates that: 

“Whoso does good, whether male or female, and is a believer, these will enter the Garden; they will be provided therein without measure”

(al-Mu’min 40:40).

Accordingly, men  and  women  are  spiritually  akin  one  to  another,  and  are equally the recipients of God’s favours and bounties in this life and they will be equally rewarded in the hereafter. 

Family life

Family life is not based on formal hierarchy of  rights  and  responsibilities,  but  the  basis  for  husband-wife  relationship  in  Islam are: 

  • sakīnah  (peace, restfulness, honour), 
  • mawaddah (affection), 
  • raḥmah (forgiveness, grace, mercy, compassion), and 
  • rufq (gentleness).  

In his Last Sermon, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: 

O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard  to  your women,  but  they  also  have  rights  over  you.  Remember that you   have  taken  them  as  your  wives  only  under  Allah’s  trust  and  with  His  permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind  to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your  right that they do not make friends with any one of whom you do not approve, as well never to be unchaste

(Suzanne  McIntire, 2009).

Economic participation

On the economic aspect, Islam dictated the right of woman to independent ownership, which she had been completely deprived before the rise of Islam and even after in many societies up to the early twentieth century. 

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A woman’s right to her money, real estate and other properties, whether she is married or single, is fully acknowledged in Islamic law. She maintains her full rights to buy, sell, mortgage or lease any of her properties. 

Also, there is no ruling in Islam, which forbids woman from seeking employment although Islam regards her role in society as a mother and a wife as the most sacred and essential ones. 

Moreover, there is no restriction on benefitting from woman’s skill and knowledge in any field (Jamal Badawi, 2014).

Social participation and public service

There  is  no  textual  ruling  in  the  Qur’an  and  in  the  Sunnah  of  the  Prophet (pbuh)  and  in  the  consensus  of  scholars  (ijmā),  to  deprive  women  of  public and political rights as well (ʿAbd al-Ḥakīm Ḥasan, 1983).

According to Mohammad Hashim Kamali (2002), during  the time of the Prophet (pbuh) and the early years of Islam, women were not excluded from public life, and any restrictions that were subsequently imposed on them were partly due to circumstantial developments that did not command normative  and  undisputed  validity  in  the  Shari’ah.

There  was  a  long  line  of  women scholars and activists who attained high positions and were renowned for  their  excellence  as  scholars,  social  workers,  public  figures,  educators during  the  time  of  the  Prophet  (pbuh)  and  during  the  next  generations,  when  Islamic civilisation was flourishing. Let me bring only a few examples on this occasion.

During  the  lifetime  of  the  Prophet  Muammad  (pbuh),  along  with  the men,  women  were  assigned  to  the  principal  administrative  posts.  The  Prophet  appointed  a  woman,  called  Samra’  binti  Nuhaik  Al-Asadiyyah,  as  a  muhtasib (market inspector), to regulate commercial activity and guard public interest; and she was kept at her position during the rule of the first two caliphs (Athar Murtuza,2004).

Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab appointed to a position of market inspector and manager another woman,  Al-Shif (Lailah)  binti Abdullah,  who  was  well-known  and  highly respected in the community for her knowledge, piety and morality. 

Educational advancement

Aisha  bint  Ab  Bakr,  the  beloved  wife  of  the  Prophet  (pbuh), played a key role in the growth, development, and understanding of Islam. She transmitted a great amount of knowledge learned from Muammad (pbuh) and is  considered  as  the  best  scholar  on  the  role  of  women  in  Islam.  Being  a  role model to a significant amount of others added to her attributions as a consultant regarding Muhammad’s (pbuh) prayer and practices, soon she introduced herself into a world of politics. In the Battle of the Camel in 656 CE, for instance, Aisha participated by giving speeches and led an army on the back of her camel (Wilferd  Madelung, 1997).

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The  next  example  of  scholarly  excellence  at  the  generation  of  the tabi’in (‘followers’) is ‘Amrah bint Abd al-Rahman, the pupil and secretary of Aisha bint  Abu  Bakr.  With  her  extensive  knowledge,  ‘Amrah  was  considered  an authoritative voice of hadith and overrode many other male scholars during that period. 

The renowned Umayyad caliph Umar Ibn Abd al-Aziz  (r.717-720 CE),a  great  scholar  in  his  own  right,  said  that  no  one  remains  alive,  who  is  more learned in the hadith of Aisha than ‘Amrah. Later in her life, she was classified as a judge.

Another Aisha, the  daughter  of  an  eminent  sahaba Sa’ad ibn Abd Waqqas,  was  well  learned  in  Islamic  sciences  to  the  point  that  a  number  of  famous  jurists  and  scholars on hadith,  including Imam Malik,  Hakim  ibn ‘Utaybah and Ayyub al- Sakhtiyani, were her pupils (Elmira Akhmetova, 2015). 

Imam Shafie’  also studied ilm al-hadith  in Egypt with a woman from the descendent of the Prophet (pbuh), Sayyida Nefisa bint Al-Hassan ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib, one of the leading scholars of that time (Elmira Akhmetova, 2015). 

Political participation

Respect towards all human beings, regardless of their gender and social status, is the primary rule in Islam. As citizens of Islamic governance, men and women are  afforded with equal protection and security. Any fair examination of the teachings  of Islam into the sources of the syariah  and history of Islamic civilisation will  definitely find clear evidences of women’s equality with man on political sphere  too, what we call today ‘political’ or ‘citizenship rights.’ 

Along with male citizens,  women enjoy at least six basic rights under the Islamic government (Mohammad Hashim Kamali, 2013): 

  • the right to vote; 
  • the right to nomination for political office; 
  • the right of consultation in the affairs of the government; 
  • the right to express an opinion on political matters; 
  • the citizen’s right not to obey a deviant ruler; and, 
  • the right to health, welfare, occupation and education.     

Every citizen of an Islamic polity is entitled to participate in the election of  the  ruler  and  other  representative  government  bodies.  The  Prophet  (pbuh)  received the pledge of alliance (bay’ah) from both men and women on at least  two or three occasions, the first two of which are known as the First Aqabah  and the Second  Aqabah , and the third as Bay’at al-RiÌwan (Mohammad Hashim Kamali, 2002).

In addition, the citizen of an Islamic polity enjoys the right to criticise and  to express his or her opinion on the conduct of government as well as political matters. 

This right is manifested in the prominent Quranic principle of hisbah which means promotion of good and prevention of evil (amr bi’l-ma’ruf wa-nahy an al-munkar). 

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Under hisbah , no individual in the state, regardless of his or her gender, religious belief or social strata, can be prohibited from promoting a good cause or putting a stop to an evil one (Elmira  Akhmetova, 2014).

In the Qur’an and Sunnah as well as in the early Islamic history we may find various examples of women who had participated in serious discussions and argued even with the  Prophet  (pbuh)  himself ( al-Mujādilah 58:1-4;  al-Mumtaḥanah 60:10-12).    

The  same  equal  treatment  of  both  men  and women  in  regard  to  the  essence  of  human  dignity,  accountability,  and  matters  pertaining to property, educational, public and social rights and responsibilities was maintained in the early years of Islamic history. 

During the time of the second caliph, ‘Umar  ibn  al-Khattab,  for  example,  a woman  argued  with  him  in  the  mosque, proved her point and caused him to declare in the presence of people:  “A woman is right and ‘Umar is wrong.” 

To sum up, women were actively engaged in public, political, economic and educational spheres of the early Islamic society. Appointments to the influential posts were based on qualifications and skills of the individual, and not on his or her gender. 

This article is written by Dr Amriah Buang, Editor for Youthsetter, The Good Tidings and The Best Fikrah.  Dr Amriah is also the President of Interactive Muslimah Association (IMAN), Malaysia.


ʿAbd al-Ḥakīm Ḥasan  (1983), al-ʿĪlī, al-Ḥurriyāt al-ʿAmmah (Cairo: Dār al-Fikr, 1983), 296.

Athar Murtuza (2004), “Muhtasib’s Role: Safeguarding the Public Interest During the Islamic Middle Ages,” American Accounting Association  2004  Mid-Atlantic Region Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=488882

Elmira  Akhmetova (2014),  “The Arab Spring, Good Governance and Citizens’ Rights ,” Islam and Civilisational Renewal, vol.5, no.3 (2014), 342.

Elmira Akhmetova (2015), Women’s Rights: The Quranic Ideals and Contemporary Realities, Islam and Civilisational Renewal, ICR Journal, Vol 6, No 1.Jamal Badawi, 2014

Mohammad Hashim Kamali (2002), Freedom, Equality and Justice in Islam (Malaysia: Ilmiah Publishers, 72.

Mohammad Hashim Kamali (2013),  Citizenship and Accountability of Government:  An Islamic Perspective  (Kuala Lumpur: IAIS & Ilmiah Publishers, 2013), 147.

Suzanne  McIntire (2009),  Speeches  in  World  History,The  United  States  of  America: 

Facts on File Inc., 79.

Wilferd  Madelung (1997), The Succession  to  Muhammad:  A  Study  of  the  Early Caliphate, Great  Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 147 and 157-176


equity : the quality of being fair and impartial. “equity of treatment”

Similar: fairness, fair-mindedness, justness, justice, equitableness

parity : the state or condition of being equal, especially as regards status or pay.

                “parity of incomes between rural workers and those in industrial occupations”

                Similar: equality, equivalence, uniformity, sameness, consistency

Amriah Buang

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