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Every possible effort should be exerted to highlight the true teachings of Islam regarding women rights and they must take precedence over the misogynist customs, patriarchal dominations and widely-spread bias against women.

By Varsha Sharma

The Qur’an (4:1) states:
O mankind! Fear your Lord, who created you from a single soul. He created its mate from it and from the two of them spread countless men and women [throughout the earth]. Fear God, in whose name you appeal to one another, and be mindful of your obligations in respect of ties of kinship. God is always watching over you.
From this verse we learn that men and women are equal to each other. Women’s position is no less than that of men. Their relationship with each other and duties towards the Creator go hand in hand.
It cannot be denied that before the advent of Islam, in much of the world women were treated as valueless objects. It took long decades for womenfolk to acquire status equal to men. Nevertheless, the age-old struggle for gender equality and women’s empowerment is yet to be accomplished in its true sense. Unfortunately, many people engaged in this struggle wrongly perceive Islam as a roadblock in the achievement of women empowerment. Yet, when we look into the verses of the Quran regarding women, we find the reality just the opposite.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, people were accustomed to bury their girl babies alive, because they believed that giving birth to a girl child was a stigma. The holy Quran strongly condemned this pernicious feeling of shame deeply embedded among the Arabs. It gave warning to those who indulged in this evil practice. Regrettably, some of us still have this obnoxious feeling of shame and stigma attached to giving birth to a girl child. Today, when we have successfully stepped into a brighter world of scientific progress, social development, education and enlightenment, it is a matter of massive humiliation to observe this pre-Islamic Arabian stigma in many parts of the Muslim world, particularly in South Asia. In our societies where men often take care of the entire family, the birth of a son is often seen as greater cause for pride and honour as compared to daughters.
No doubt, today efforts are being exerted to safeguard the rights of women by providing them better education and employment opportunities. But we need to do more concerted efforts to establish the broader Qur’anic notion of gender equality in Muslim societies. It is a wholly untrue and baseless misconception that Islam endorses misogynist and vile social customs like forced marriage, honour killing, women’s confinement to the home and other vicious customs and abhorrent norms that pose great threat to the entire existence of womenfolk today. It is about time the intelligentsia, political leaders, ulema and other Muslim religious leaders came forward to uproot the evil of misogyny from the Muslim societies by pointing out the clear violations of the Qur’anic views of women’s status and rights. They should work to reform the traditionally conservative Muslim societies, where women rights are violated. Every possible effort should be exerted to highlight the true teachings of Islam regarding women rights and they must take precedence over the misogynist customs, patriarchal dominations and widely-spread bias against women. It is, indeed, a massive irony that women’s constructive role is being undermined today and their basic rights are violated in many Muslim societies in the name of the very religion that has granted women great rights.
Islam granted rights of inheritance to women twelve centuries before they were granted to women even in European societies. The fact is that Islam was revealed in a society in which women themselves had been inherited as property. Islam denounced this anti-women custom and brought a revolution for women to have their own inheritance rights recognised.
In order to honour the rights and duties of women and appreciate their pivotal roles in the building of a humane society, Muslims need to educate themselves. Islam laid great emphasis on acquiring education and made the pursuit of knowledge mandatory for both men and women. Islam believes that only education can propel people from being beast-like and uncivilized tribe to become a progressive and enlightened society. The Quran, therefore, poses a question to all humankind: “Are those who know equal to those who do not know?” (Quran- 39:9).
(Varsha Sharma is a Delhi-based writer and student of comparative religion at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi).