Women are equal to the men in the pursuit of education and knowledge. When Islam enjoins the seeking of knowledge upon Muslims, it makes no distinction between men and women. Almost fourteen centuries ago, Muhammad declared that the pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim male and female. This declaration was very clear and was implemented by Muslims throughout history.
Women are entitled to freedom of expression as much as men are. Her sound opinions are taken into consideration and cannot be disregarded just because she happen to belong to the female sex. It is reported in the Qur’an and history that women not only expressed their opinion freely but also argued and participated in serious discussions with the Prophet himself as well as with other Muslim leaders. Besides there were occasions when Muslim women expressed their views on legislative matters of public interest, and stood in opposition to the Caliphs, who then accepted the sound arguments of these women. A specific example took place during the Califate of Umar Ibn al-Khattab.
Historical records show that women participated in public life with the early Muslims, especially in times of emergencies. Women used to accompany the Muslim armies engaged in battles to nurse the wounded, prepare supplies, serve the warriors, and so on. They were not shut behind iron bars or considered worthless creatures and deprived of souls. Islam grants women equal rights to contract, to enterprise, to earn and possess independently. Her life, her property, her honor are as sacred as those of men. If she commits any offense, her penalty is no less or more than of men’s in a similar case. If she is wronged or harmed, she gets due compensations equal to what a man in her position would get. Islam does not state these rights in a statistical form and then relax.
It has taken all measures to safeguard them and put them into practice as integral articles of Faith. It never tolerates those who are inclined to prejudice against women or discrimination between men and women. Time and again, the Qur’an reproaches those who used to believe women to be inferior to men. Apart from recognition of women as an independent human being acknowledged as equally essential for the survival of humanity, Islam has given her a share of inheritance. Before Islam, she was not only deprived of that share but was herself considered as property to be inherited by man. Out of that transferable property Islam made an heir, acknowledging the inherent human qualities in women. Whether she is a wife or mother, a sister or daughter, she receives a certain share of the deceased kin’s property, a share which depends on her degree of relationship to the deceased and the number of heirs.
This share is hers, and no one can take it away or disinherit her. Even if the deceased wishes to deprive her by making a will to other relations or in favor of any other cause, the Law will not allow him to do so. Any proprietor is permitted to make his will within the limit of one-third of his property, so he may not affect the rights of his heirs, men and women. In the case of inheritance, the question of quality and sameness is fully applicable. In principle, both men and women are equally entitled to inherit the property of the deceased relations but the portions they get may vary. In some instances men receive two shares whereas women get one only. This is no sign of giving preference or supremacy to men over women. The reasons why men get more in these particular instances may be classified as follows:
First, a man is the person solely responsible for the complete maintenance of his wife, his family and any other needy relations. It is his duty by Law to assume all financial responsibilities and maintain his dependents adequately. It is also his duty to contribute financially to all good causes in his society. All financial burdens are borne by him alone.
Secondly, in contrast, women have no financial responsibilities whatsoever except very little of her personal expenses, the high luxurious things that they like to have. She is financially secure and provided for. If she is a wife, her husband is the provider; if she is a mother, it is the son; if she is a daughter, it is the father; if she is a sister; it is the brother, and so on. If she has no relations on whom she can depend, then there is no question of inheritance because there is nothing to inherit and there is no one to bequeath anything to her. However, she will not be left to starve, maintenance of such a women is the responsibility of the society as a whole, the state. She may be given aid or a job to earn her living, and whatever money she makes will be hers. She is not responsible for the maintenance of anybody else besides herself. If there is a man in her position, he would still be responsible for his family and possibly any of his relations who need his help. So, in the hardest situation her financial responsibility is limited, while his is unlimited.
Thirdly, when a woman gets less than a man does, she is not actually deprived of anything that she has worked for. The property inherited is not the result of her earning or her endeavors. It is something coming to them from a neutral source, something additional or extra. It is something that neither men or women struggled for. It is a sort of aid, and any aid has to be distributed according to the urgent needs and responsibilities especially when the distribution is regulated by the Law of God.
Now, we have a male heir, on one side, burdened with all kinds of financial responsibilities and liabilities. We have, on the other side, a female heir with no financial responsibilities at all or at most with very little of it. In between we have some property and aid to redistribute by way of inheritance. If we deprive the female completely, it would be unjust to her because she is related to the deceased. Likewise, if we always give her a share equal to the man’s, it would be unjust to him. So, instead of doing injustice to either side, Islam gives the men a larger portion of the inherited property to help him to meet his family needs and social responsibilities. At the same time, Islam has not forgotten her altogether, but has given her a portion to satisfy her very personal needs. In fact, Islam in this respect is being more kind to her than to him. Here we can say that when taken as a whole the rights of women are equal to those of men although not necessarily identical.
In some instances of bearing witness to certain civil contracts, two men are required or one man and two women. Again, this is no indication of the women being inferior to men. It is a measure of securing the rights of the contracting parties, because women as a rule, are not as experienced in practical life as men. This lack of experience may cause a loss to any party in a given contract. So the Law requires that at least two women should bear witness with one man. If a woman of the witness forgets something, the other one would remind her. On the other hand, if she makes an error, due to lack of experience, the other would help to correct her.