One of the most succinct and significant messages of Islam came on the 9th of Dhul Hijjah, 10 years after the Hijrah of our beloved Messenger (SAW). This was of course, during the ‘Farewell Sermon’ delivered on Mount Arafat. This address was given not only to the people present, but the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) said “…Listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.”
He spoke with great wisdom about the issues that he knew would impact Muslims until the last days, and warned them of their duties to Allah (SWT). One of the most advanced concepts which he addressed, in an era of great oppression was the value of women in society.
“O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you.” Here we can see that he is raising the issue of inequality towards women. He directly refers to the rights that both sexes have to each other, so that no one can claim the upper hand. He continued: “Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”
The word ‘partners’ further underlines the equality of women in Islam- they are referred to as peers, supporters and equals. It implies that without them, men would not be able to achieve success. This idea was trail-blazing, at a time in history when girls were frequently buried alive at birth, women were not eligible to inherit from their family members and men treated their womenfolk as commodities- marrying and divorcing as many of them as they pleased.
Islam came with a new framework; insisting that a woman’s wealth is entirely her own, and she has no responsibility to share that with her spouse or family members. She was to be gifted a ‘Mahr’, set by herself at the time of her marriage, and she could seek a divorce through the Islamic system if necessary.
Her status was raised as a wife and a mother, and the Beloved Prophet (SAW) told his people:
“Paradise lies at the feet of your mother” [Tirmidhi].
In addition, a chapter in the Holy Quran was dedicated to women, ‘Surah An Nisa- The women’. Alongside this a Surah is named after the greatest woman in all of humanity- Maryam, mother of Isa (AS). The first person to embrace Islam, was the Mother of the Believers Khadijah (RA) and the first person to be honoured with martyrdom was female: Summayah (RA).
Women have been afforded their own rights to education, independence, marriage, dignity and inheritance in Islam and alongside this, have been protected by the responsibility of male guardianship. Allah emphasises in the Holy Quran that males and females have an equal standing, and are only to be judged by their deeds.
“And whoever does righteous good deeds — male or female — and is a true believer in the Oneness of Allah, such will enter Paradise and not the least injustice, even to the size of a Naqira (speck on the back of a date-stone), will be done to them” [Qur’an, 4:124].