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By Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri

Gender inequality, a hot issue, is genetically ascribed to religion whereas its causes are purely
non-religious. It originates from political, economic, social and cultural factors. As for Islam,
gender equality is part of its jurisprudence and fundamental teachings. Numerous Verses of
the Qur¶an and Prophetic Traditions enjoin gender equality which categorically proves that
gender inequality is not faith-based.

³O mankind! Fear your Lord Who (initiated) your creation from a single soul, then from it
created its mate, and from these two spread (the creation of) countless men and women.´

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This Verse clearly expounds that man or woman are created from a single entity and are
basically equal genders. As a gender, one is not superior to the other.

³And according to usage, women too have rights over men similar to the rights of men over
women.´

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This Verse denotes that rights enjoyed by men are the duties of the women and the duties of
men are the rights of women. This implies a similitude between both the genders. There is no
right conferred on man that woman may be deprived of because she is a woman.

³Men, however, have an advantage over them.´

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Here the Qur¶an refers to man¶s superiority by virtue of his responsibility of protection and
maintenance of woman and fulfillment of their rights. Nature has made him stronger, more
responsible and tolerant with reference to mundane matters of life. So man is held superior to
woman in the grade of responsibility.

Social and societal structure of Islam is based on family system which can be secure if made
subservient to natural discipline:

³Men are guardians and managers over women.´

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The Arabic word µqawwam¶ used in this Verse denotes support, protection and supervision
according to the Arabic usage. The relation between rights and duties in Islam is reciprocal
and cannot be compartmentalized. However, man has been made more responsible in
connection with the performance of social and economic obligations. Maintenance of woman
is the basic responsibility of man in the Islamic Law. At no place has this responsibility been
placed on woman. Woman has been freed of the burden of social, political and economic
responsibilities. But they have been given more freedom than men under certain rules and
regulations and the opportunities for women to capitalize on them are more than those
enjoyed by men. For example on economic matters the Qur¶an says:

³Men will have a share of what they earn, and women will have a share of what they earn.´

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For men is what they earn and for women is what they earn. But woman has not been
burdened with the financial responsibilities of family. It has squarely been placed on the
shoulders of man; he is responsible to ensure the fulfillment of the rights of woman even
though she may be earning herself. It is not her responsibility to bear the financial burden of a
family. Whatever she earns is her personal income to which man cannot stake any claim
legally. However, it will be an act of benevolence on part of a woman if both of them spend
on the wellbeing of their children out of their volition. But whether she earns or not she has
been given the guarantee of complete economic maintenance; man is responsible for that.

Men and women enjoy equal rights in all walks of life according to teachings of Islam. Islam
regards woman a complete legal personality. Like man it has given woman the right to
choose the head of the state, participate in the legislative work and vote in the performance of
state matters. Women have been heads of states in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Turkey.

We can gauge its human, social, political and civilizational significance by reviewing the
history of the recognition of this right of woman at international level. It has taken the
contemporary society centuries to acknowledge the sanctity of vote, fighting the plagues of
apartheid and racial discrimination. A brief on history of recognition of women¶s right to vote
is attached as Appendix A.

There is no discrimination between men and women in opportunities at different levels. Both
enjoy equal opportunities in all walks of life. However, it is also necessary to distinguish
between the responsibilities Islam has placed on both so that they could utilize their
capabilities accordingly in the best manner, within their respective spheres and do not have to
encounter any social disorder. So far as the assignment of various responsibilities to women
on the basis of capability is concerned, Islamic history is replete with examples. (See
Appendix B)
In the absence of gender equality a society would not only face deprivation, economic
inequality and other social evils but would also be unable to tread the path of life with a win-
win mindset. As for its relation to religion, Islam enjoins to promote gender equality in all
walks of life, be it economic, social, worldly or religious.

Islam is for the elimination of gender inequality. It provides opportunities for women,
commands to proceed ahead along with men in every walk of life. Minhaj-ul-Qur¶an
International (MQI) is busy promoting and projecting this message of Islam in the global
society through one of its dynamic forums, µMinhaj-ul-Qur¶an Women League (MWL)¶,
which has been working in different areas of life for last 15 years. It is engaged in serving the
cause of women equality in educational, social, political, economic, legal and sociological
areas.

The MQI is engaged in spreading the awareness about the gender equality at intellectual,
scholarly and practical levels. The MWL has worked in various social, educational, political
and economic areas. It has spread public awareness about the welfare of women in society
through its broad-based programmes such as:

1.| Nursing courses for women.


2.| Training Courses to promote peace, equality, justice, moderation and tolerance in society
through weekly gatherings.
3.| Character Building Workshops in the last ten days of Ramadan. Over 10,000 women
attend the workshops every year.
4.| Periodical Conferences and Conventions for the promotion of awareness of women¶s
rights.
5.| Mother Day and Women Day Celebrations to awaken consciousness of the women role
in the education of children and fight against ignorance.
6.| Special Workshops for creating awareness of the rights of children and their upbringing.
7.| Mass educational centers have been set up to create awareness among the rural women
about their rights and responsibilities.
8.| Sayyida-e-Kainat Conferences to seek spiritual motivation for higher values of life.
9.| Meelad Festival to create among ladies awareness of true Islamic culture.

As a leader of religious organization, my message is that the issue of gender equality should
not be seen in the religious perspective; rather it should be looked at from a broader
perspective. This issue is cultural, social, sociological and economic. It is class-based instead
of faith-based. Had this issue been a religious one, Islam would not have encouraged gender
equality and five women would not have become prime ministers in various democratic
countries of the Islamic world, which is a rare example as a culture and civilization.

Contrary to this if we look at the western world, it appears that women were granted right to
vote in the last century. So far as the highest state office is concerned, no woman has so far
reached the highest office in an enlightened country like the US. The same is the case of the
majority of European countries.

Had religion been a hurdle in the achievement of gender equality, the rate of women reaching
the top positions would have been higher in the Western countries especially the US than that
in the Islamic countries. We need to analyze this issue in its true perspective in order to
enable our societies to get rid of the tendencies of terrorism, extremism and obscurantism and
to achieve real democratic and social equality. Only such societies as are built on these lines
will be the embodiment of the culture of tolerance, political and economic freedom, harmony
and peaceful co-existence and the whole world would become the hub of peace.

  

* In United Kingdom, Mr. Fawcett Millicent started the struggle for the suffrage of woman in
1897 by establishing National Union of Women¶s Suffrage. This Movement got a fillip when
Emmeline Pankhurst founded Women¶s Social and Political Union in 1903. This Union later
on came to be known as Suffragettes. The British House of Commons passed Representation
of People Act in 1918 with a majority of 385 votes against 55 by which the women above the
age of 30 years were given the right to vote. Although this was seminal point for the
acknowledgement of women¶s right of suffrage, yet they were not given the status equal to
that of men because age limit to vote for men was 21 years and for people of armed forces it
was 19 years.

* The Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 is considered to be the foundation-stone


upon which stands the edifice of modern democratic society of the US but it also does not
regard woman worthy of basic human rights. According to Richard N. Current, woman of
colonial society was deprived of right of every kind:

In colonial society a married woman had virtually no rights at all. The Revolution did little to
change this. (1)

1.| Richard N. Current et al., American History: A Survey, 7th ed. (New York: Knopf
1987), 142.
In the similar way when Mr. Jafferson used the word µThe people¶ in the Declaration of
Independence, he used it to mean only white free men. (2)

2.| Lorna C. Mason et al., History of the United States, vol. 1: Beginnings to 1877 (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1992), 188.
And even after the passage of two centuries, women are still engaged in the struggle of
equality and freedom. (3)
3.| Milton C. Cummings and David Wise, Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to
the American Political System, 7th ed. (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1993), 45

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The Declaration«.refers to µmen¶ or µhim¶ not to women. (4)

4.| James MacGregor Burns et al., Government by the People, 15th ed. (Englewood Cliffs:
Prentice Hall, 1993), 117.

In the words of John Blum:

[Early American men] would not accept them as equals. (5)

5.| John M. Blum et al., The National Experience: A History of the United States, 8th ed.
(Ft. Worth: Harcourt 1993), 266

That is why Elizabeth Cady Stanton, while writing Declaration of Sentiments for historic
New York Women¶s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in 1948, emphasized that private and
general demands of women should also be included in the Declaration of Independence. (6)

6.| Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), xii.

Ms Susan B. Anthony, a torch-bearer of women¶s rights in the US in 18th century, was


arrested for voting in the Presidential elections in 1872 and was fined $100 because she did
not possess the right of suffrage.

Ms Susan B. Anthony took up this viewpoint in the light of the following provisions of the
preamble of the American Constitution that woman is also a complete person constitutionally
who should enjoy all constitutional rights:

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice,
insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare,
and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this
Constitution for the United States of America.

On July 4, 1919, the American Congress adopted 19th Amendment Bill to the American
Constitution which stated:

Article IXX: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged
by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Women in the US did not have the right of suffrage till 1920 but when the 19th Amendment
to the Constitution was passed, this right was recognized.

* On February 7, 1848, the interim government of France made the recognition of following
three rights mandatory for the new Republic:

1.| Universal Suffrage


2.| Education
3.| Employment

But in spite of this, women had to wage their struggle for 100 years to get equal constitutional
status. They were finally granted the right to vote in 1944.

* Women were given the right of suffrage in 1926 at the national level. The first woman who
won elections for Australian Parliament was Edith Cowan who got elected as member of
Legislative Assembly of the Western Australia in 1921.

New Zealand was the first country, which gave women the right to vote in 1893.

Contrary to this, if we review the history of suffrage in Islam, we would be pleasantly


surprised to know that its practice started taking place since the inception of Islam. The
following examples are in order here:

1- The Caliph Umar presented a legal bill about the right to dower which was decided on the
basis of an opinion of a woman. This clearly shows that woman possessed right to vote in
Parliament during the Caliphate of right-guided caliphs and especially in the Parliament of
Caliph Umar. The words spoken by Umar are these:

A woman argued with Umar and she got better of him.

           


According to another tradition, Umar acknowledged so:

A woman said the right thing and the man committed mistake.

        !

With regard to this incident, it should be kept in mind that Caliph Umar was not discussing
the public matter at any public place like market or bazaar etc. Rather this issue was being
debated in the Parliament, which means that only the chosen people were participating in the
discussion and debate and not the masses. Therefore this can easily be derived from the event
of a woman standing up and objecting to a proposed bill that women of those days possessed
the right to participate in the state affairs, governance and offer their opinions freely on legal
matters. Moreover, the withdrawal of the bill by Caliph Umar by acknowledging his mistake
is a glaring proof of the fact that there is no space for gender discrimination in Islam and man
and woman are equal in its sight.

2- The Holy Prophet¶s (PBUH) act of consulting Umm-e-Salama on the occasion of Sulh-a-
Hudaybiya denotes the principle of holding consultation with women of sound judgment.

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3- The rightly guided Caliphs kept on following this piece of advice given by the Prophet of
Islam (pbuh). In consultation with the mother of the believers, Hazrat Hafsa (ra), Hazrat
Umar (ra) determined the period of remaining away from their families for those who were
engaged in military service.

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* The Muslim women did not merely enjoy the right to vote in Parliament. They occupied
various administrative positions too: The Caliph Umar appointed Shifa bint Abdullah as in-
charge of a bazaar, the in-charge accountability court and market administration. Shifa, a
wise and capable woman, Caliph Umar held her opinion in high esteem and preferred it to
that of others.

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* Samra Bint Naheek Asadayyia lived during the days of the Messenger (pbuh) and was very
aged. Whenever she went through the Bazar, she would command good and forbid evil. She
had a whip to hit such people as would be found doing some anti-social or destructive
activity.

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* The Caliph Usman sent Umm-e-Kulsoom bint Ali on a diplomatic mission to the court of
Empress of Rome during his Caliphate in 28 Hijra.

Umm-e-Kulsoom bint Ali ibn Abu Talib was sent to the Empress of Rome with perfumes,
drinks and the boxes for keeping women's stuff. ««.The wife of Hercules came to receive
her and she gathered the women of Rome and said: These gifts are on behalf of wife of king
of Arab and daughter of their Prophet.

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The Muslim women played a prominent role in every department of life - in art and literature
in addition to political, administrative and diplomatic roles. Many women held authority in
the narration of Traditions, poetry and literature.

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