Shariah and the Issues of Gender
Islam emphasizes that the differences between men and women are for purposes of creating a harmonious society with division of responsibility to ensure complementality
Men and women have many similar religious, ethical, civil, and legal duties & responsibilities
The exceptions are few and are explained by their different natures and responsibilities
Islam teaches equal worth / status of the two genders
Men and women are from the same creation. Islam does not blame the woman for the original sin
Religious education and religious obligations are the same for men and women
Islam assures moral and legal equality of the two genders
The woman’s participation in public leadership comes secondary to her role as a mother
The sexes are not identical or equivalent. There are biological and psychological differences between them. Women get equal reward for equal work. The woman however should not be forced to do exactly what a man does. She can get equal reward for alternative work
Islam assures economic independence of women and their economic freedom if that will not interfere with their family duties. Women and men are equally challenged in some activities. There are areas in which the challenge is to men just there are other areas in which the challenge is for women
Both men and women are required to be modest but in different ways Islam establishes interdependency and not individualism. Men and women need one another
The woman is an individual and not an appendage of man. Islam ushered in a major social revolution by giving a woman her status as a person and not a mere appendage to the man
The Qur’an addresses women directly not through the agency of men. A woman must as an individual accept the Islamic creed to be a Muslim. Worship by a woman is her personal responsibility. She has a direct devotion to God without having any man intercede on her behalf. The woman is accountable for her work on earth and in the hereafter as an individual
  • Stereotyping makes it difficult to discuss gender issues logically
  • Gender identity is established very early in life. This is reinforced by gender socialization
  • Women are different from men biologically, psychologically, and emotionally. These differences are part of Allah’s plan to create a balanced society
  • Differences do not confer consistent advantage or superiority to one gender to the disadvantage of the other. Women have certain biological and psychological advantages over men and vice versa. It is un-Islamic to look at these differences as justification for one gender dominating the other. They should instead be seen as a tool to reinforce complementation between the two.
  • The following are well established gender differences.
    • Men are superior to women in visual-spatial abilities, quantitative ability, and aggression
    • Women are superior in verbal ability
    • Communication styles of men and women differ
    • The other apparent differences are not so well established and are influenced by circumstances
  • Women and men are equal in their religious, ethical, civil rights, duties and responsibilities (Quran – 16:97).
  • Exceptions are very few and arise because of different responsibilities (Quran – 4:34) or differences in basic nature.
  • The Qur’an assures religious equality (Quran – 3:175, 9:71-72, 16:97), ethical equality (Quran – 3:195, 9:71-72, 16:97), and civil equality (Quran – 60:12, 5:38, 24:2, 4:32).
  • Different does not automatically mean unequal. One of the greatest fallacies advocated by the feminist movement (new and old) is that the woman will have to behave like a man, work like him in order to achieve equality. What is needed is equity and not similarity. The apparent differences are mutually compensated for. For example the woman has the burden of child-bearing while the man has the financial burden. Each gender should accept its identity and not try to compete with or emulate the other (Qur’an – 4:32)
  • The rules of Sharia and acts of worship in Islam apply equally to men and women. There are only a few differences in the details due to different natures of men and women and role prioritization. Women are excused from family maintenance because of their greater domestic duties but they can undertake them if men fail to fulfill their duty. If men’s performance is not adequate then women have to complement.
  • Women are similar to men in the testimony of the faith and Charity.
  • Women are excused from congregational prayer in the Masjid because of their greater domestic responsibilities.
  • They are excused from fasting when they are physiologically weakened by pregnancy or menstruation. Women can participate fully in all political endeavors with the sole exception of being head of state.
  • During the time of the prophet women participated openly in all public activities. They attended Isha prayers in the prophet’s mosque. They could express their views on public affairs. There were women engaged in business.  Islamic law gives the women full competence to own and dispose of property.
  • Working outside the home is associated with the following problems.
    • The need for modesty and avoiding mixing with men limits employment choices
    • Neglect of the children could result into many social problems later
    • There are however conditions of necessity when the woman must work outside her house
    • In such a case she must have the permission of her guardian and must follow the Islamic etiquettes when in public places
    • Islamic law forbids forced marriage of women
    • Sharia allows a woman to propose marriage. She can accept or reject any suitor
    • A woman can legally obtain a divorce from an unwilling husband. Men have special leadership roles in a conjugal relationship
    • It must however be remembered that the relationship started with free consent of the woman
    • The Qur’an actually places very few restrictions on women. Most verses are restrictions on men to prevent their transgression against the rights and modesty of women
    • Women are not allowed to travel alone for fear of violence and violation of her rights
    • Jobs that interfere with the maternal role are not allowed
    • The law allows a woman to go out of her house to fulfill her needs.
    • She can engage in education/scholarship, politics, mosque, business, and public gatherings
    • Going out of the home should not result in a complete neglect of the home which can lead to instability of the marital relationship
    • Going out is restricted in societies that do not offer adequate protection for a woman outside the home. Some societies have sexual immorality that is encouraged when women walk out
    • Mixed gatherings of men and women are discouraged. The criterion for deciding whether women should attend mixed gatherings is that of temptation. If we are sure it will not occur, there is no reason for forbidding their attendance
    • In many societies the woman’s status is defined in terms of her economic functions. Sharia gives the woman full property rights before and after marriage
    • On marriage the woman is entitled to financial support by the husband even if she is rich. The woman has her due share of inheritance. She can spend or use it as she wishes
    • There is no evidence that women participation in the work-force has increased economic productivity.
    • With present technology women can concentrate on education of children without any damage to the economy
    • Women and education
  • Education is a right that the husband and society can not deny a woman. Ignorant mothers means ignorant youths and later ignorant citizens. The starting point for improving women status is education.
  • Co-education has many disadvantages. Parallel education institutions for women are the solution.


  • And wish not for the things in which Allah has made some of you to excel others. For men there is reward for what they have earned, (and likewise) for women there is reward for what they have earned, and ask Allah of His Bounty. Surely, Allah is Ever All-Knower of everything. (Qur’an – 4:32)
  • If any do deeds of righteousness be they male or female and have faith they will enter heaven and not the least injustice will be done to them. (Quran – 4:124)
It is He Who has created you from a single person (Adam), and (then) He has created from him his wife [Hawwa (Eve)], in order that he might enjoy the pleasure of living with her. When he had sexual relation with her, she became pregnant and she carried it about lightly. Then when it became heavy, they both invoked Allah, their Lord (saying): “If You give us a pious (good in every aspect) child, we shall indeed be among the grateful.” (Qur’an 7:189)
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands their fathers their husbands’ fathers their sons their husbands’ sons their brothers or their brothers’ sons or their sisters’ sons or their women or the slaves whom their right hands possess or male servants free of physical needs or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn you all together towards Allah that you may attain Bliss. (Qur’an 24:31)
Allah has indeed heard (and accepted) the statement of the woman who pleads with you concerning her husband and carries her complaint (in prayer) to Allah: and Allah (always) hears the arguments between both sides among you: for Allah hears and sees (all things). (Qur’an 58:1)
The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil: they observe regular charity, and obey Allah and his messenger; on them will Allah pour his mercy; for Allah is exalted in power, wise. (Qur’an 9:71)
And for those who launch a charge against their spouses and have (in support) no evidence but their own their solitary evidence (can be received) if they bear witness four times (with an oath) by Allah that they are solemnly telling the truth; And the fifth (oath) (should be) that they solemnly invoke the curse of Allah on themselves if they tell a lie. But it would avert the punishment from the wife if she bears witness four times (with an oath) by Allah that (her husband) is telling a lie; And the fifth (oath) should be that she solemnly invokes the wrath of Allah on herself if (her accuser) is telling the truth. (Qur’an 24:6-9)
Holy Prophet’s companion Ibn Abbas (RA) reported: I bear testimony to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) offering prayer before Khutba. He ( after saying prayer ) delivered the Kutba, and he found that the women could not hear it, so he came to them and exorted them and preached them and commanded them to give alms, and Billal had stretched his cloth and the women were throwing rings, earrings and other things. This hadith has been narrated on the authority of Ayyub with the same chain of transmitters”. (Muslim 2:417, Chapter 313, Hadith #1924)
Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) companion “Ibn ‘Abbas narrated (RA): Allah’s Apostle cursed those men who are in the similitude (assume the manners) of women and those women who are in the similitude (assume the manners) of men.” (Bukhari 7:513, hadith #773)
And Allah sets forth, as an example to those who believe the wife of Pharaoh behold she said: “O my Lord! Build for me, in nearness to a mansion in the garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those that do wrong. And Mary the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity: and we breathed into (her body) of our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of his one of the servants. (Qur’an – 66:11-12 )
Allah sets forth, for an example for those who disbelieve, the wife of Noah and the wife of Lut they were ( respectively ) under two of our righteous servants, but they were false to their ( husbands ) and they profited nothing before Allah on their account, but were told ” enter you the fire along with ( other ) that enter! (Qur’an – 66:10)
Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) wife Hazrat Ayesha May Allah be pleased with her says that the women of the Madina (Ansar) are the best women. Shyness didn’t prevent them from questioning regarding religion and acquire religious understanding” (Hayat – 3:250)
Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) companion Abu Said Al-Khudri (RA) narrated: Some women requested the Prophet to fix a day for them as the men were taking all his time. On that he promised them one day for religious lessons and commandments. Once during such a lesson the Prophet said, “A woman whose three children die will be shielded by them from the Hell fire.” On that a woman asked, “If only two die?” He replied, “Even two (will shield her from the Hell-fire).” (Bukhari 1: 80-81, hadith # 101)