Various references and facts having been compiled below showing the true capabilities and position of women as taught by Islam.
1. Women cited as examples for believers.
The Holy Quran says:
"And Allah sets forth an example for those who believe -- the wife of Pharaoh, when she said: My Lord, build for me a house with Thee in the Garden and deliver me from Pharaoh and his work, and deliver me from the unjust people,
"And Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into him [i.e. the believer for whom Mary is an example] of Our inspiration ..." (66:11-12)
Here two women are presented as examples for all Muslim believers (men and women). Pharaoh's wife typifies the believer who is not yet free from the bondage of sin (just as Pharaoh's wife was subject to the evil Pharaoh), but prays to be delivered from it. Mary typifies the highest grade of believer, who guards himself or herself against all low desires, and therefore receives inspiration from God.
So the Quran has cited two women as the highest examples for Muslim men and women to follow.
2. Women receiving revelation.
Examples of righteous women receiving revelation from God are given in the Quran:
"And We revealed to the mother of Moses, saying: give him [the baby Moses] suck, then when you fear for him, cast him into the river and fear not, nor grieve ..." (28:7)
Similarly, God's revelation to Mary is mentioned in 19:24-26 and 3:42-43.
Note that the kind of revelation mentioned in these passages comes only to those who reach the highest rank of closeness to God.
3. A woman mentioned like prophets.
In ch. 19, just as we have the words "and mention Abraham in the Book" (v. 41), "and mention Moses in the Book" (v. 51) etc. to introduce the accounts of various prophets, we also have: "And mention Mary in the Book" in exactly the same words. Similarly, ch. 21 gives examples of various prophets (verses 51 to 90), and then refers to Mary in the same way in verse 91, and then says in the next verse referring to the whole group:
"Surely this your community is one community, and I am your Lord, so serve Me".
4. A woman's complaint heard by Allah.
Ch. 58 begins as follows:
"Allah indeed has heard the plea of her who pleads with you (Prophet Muhammad) about her husband and complains to Allah".
So Allah heard a woman's complaint against her husband and sent revelation to the Holy Prophet to redress her grievance.
5. A woman ruler in Quran.
The Quran gives the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Solomon had a well-developed intelligence service. His intelligence officer brought him information about a neighbouring country as follows. (Note: This was not a bird, as commonly believed, but a man whose name was Hudhud.)
"I found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given of everything and she has a mighty throne. I found her and her people adoring the sun instead of Allah ... and they go not aright" (27:23-24)
What the Quran objects to here is not that a woman is ruling the country, but that she and her subjects worship the sun and do not follow the right path. The Quran then tells us how she rules the country:
"She said: O chiefs, advise me respecting my affair, I never decide an affair until you are in my presence. They said: We [i.e. the nation] are possessors of strength and mighty prowess. And the command is thine, so consider what you will do." (27:32-33)
So she rules with the counsel of her advisors, but "the command is thine". The power of the ultimate decision lies with her. The Quran, while relating this, raises no objection to this.
In the subsequent account, Solomon's efforts are directed at rescuing her from idolatrous beliefs, and when she becomes convinced by his arguments, she says:
"My Lord, surely I have wronged myself, and I submit with Solomon to Allah, the Lord of the worlds." (27:44)
She does not submit to Solomon as her lord and master, rather she submits to Allah along with Solomon, as an equal.
6. Prophet's wives as teacher of religion.
After the Holy Prophet's death, his wives acted as teachers of religious knowledge to Muslims. Large numbers of people came to them with questions on various matters. A very large number of hadith are reported from them, particularly from Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her). They did not merely recount to people the events of the Holy Prophet's life, but used their judgment to draw conclusions and give decisions about religious issues.
It is estimated that about two-thirds of the hadith reports relating to matters of the Shariah have been related by Aishah. When the compilers of Hadith collected the reports of the sayings and actions of the Holy Prophet, and checked the suitability of the narrators, they made no distinction between a narrator being a man or a woman. The evidence of a woman reporter, that she had heard a certain saying from a certain source, was treated on the same basis as that of a male reporter, by the collectors of Hadith.
A verse of the Quran which is often discussed is the following:
"O wives of the Prophet, you are not like any other women. If you would keep your duty, then be not soft in speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease yearn; and speak a word of goodness. And stay in your houses and display not your beauty like the displaying of the ignorance of yore" (33:32-33)
This verse is in reference to the public duties of the Holy Prophet's wives as teachers of the Muslims. The teaching function is given in the words, "Speak a word of goodness". They were public figures holding a delicate position, and not private individuals, and therefore they had to avoid doing things which could be misrepresented and bring them under the slightest shadow of suspicion. At the same time, they had to fulfil their duty of giving instruction, which meant that they had to come into contact with a large number of people of all kinds. Hence the precautions mentioned above, including that of not talking informally with men.
7. Women correct men in matters of religion.
There are instances in which women corrected the views of a man of the stature and position of Hazrat Umar. It is recorded in Bukhari that, on his death bed, Umar asserted that the Holy Prophet had said that the "weeping and wailing of the relatives of a deceased person increases the punishment of that person in the after-life". Aishah, on being informed of this, said that Umar was wrong, and that the Holy Prophet had not said this because it contradicts the teaching of the Quran that a person cannot be punished for what others do.
Once Umar, when he was Khalifa, announced that he would introduce a certain restriction to do with mahr (gift given to wife by husband at time of the wedding). An ordinary woman rose up from among the audience and read a verse of the Quran opposed to this idea. Umar immediately withdrew his proposal, and said:
"The women of this city have more understanding than Umar."
(Can you imagine any modern Islamic rulers doing this?)
8. Holy Prophet appoints woman as imam in her house.
There is a hadith in Sunan Abu Dawud as well as Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal that the Holy Prophet Muhammad commanded a woman by the name of Umm Waraqah that "she should act as imam of the people of her house", and she had a mu'azzin (caller of prayer) in her house who was a man. So men of the house prayed behind her.
9. Position of Women saints
Tazkirat al-Auliya is a famous compilation of the lives of Muslim saints, written nearly 800 years ago by Farid-ud-Din Attar. It also includes the life of a woman saint, the famous Rabia of Basra. Attar writes at the start of the section dealing with her life:
"If anyone says, `Why have you included Rabia in the rank of men', my answer is that the Prophet himself said: `God does not regard your outward forms'. The root of the matter is not form, but intention, as the Prophet said: `Mankind will be raised up according to their intentions'. Moreover, if it is proper to derive two-thirds of our religion from Aishah (Holy Prophet's wife), surely it is permissible to take religious instruction from a handmaid of Aishah. When a woman becomes a `man' in the path of God, she is a man and one cannot any more call her a woman."
This was written nearly 800 years ago!
The above references illustrate the positions which, according to Islam, women can not only attain but did actually reach. We close with the following excerpts from the Holy Quran:
"And the believers, men and women, are friends one of another. They enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the Zakat, and obey Allah and His Messenger. As for these, Allah will have mercy on them. ... Allah has promised to the believing men and the believing women, gardens wherein flow rivers, to abide therein ... that is the grand achievement." (9:71-72)
"On that day, you will see the believing men and the believing women, their light gleaming before them and on their right hand. Good news for you this day! - gardens wherein rivers flow, to abide therein." (57:12)