One of the common misconceptions about Islam is that women seem inferior or are given lesser rights compared to men. This is a false accusation against Islam. As we will see here, Islam sees men and women as different but equal.
In Islam, both sexes are held to be equal in status and worth. The Qur'an teaches us that women and men are all creatures of Allah, of equal worth and value.
The Story of Creation
When we look at the story of creation in the Holy Qur'an, we see that it is very different from the version in the Bible. The Bible claims that Eve was created from the rib of Adam. It also accuses Eve of being the one who tempted Adam to disobey God. In contrast to this, the Qur'an teaches that both Adam and Eve were created from one soul or self.
"It is He Who has created you from a single soul...: " (Q 6:89)
While the Bible claims that Eve tempted Adam, the Qur'an, by contrast, tells us that they were both tempted together by Satan. They were both equally punished by expulsion from Paradise and then both were equally forgiven when they repented.
Another area when the Qur'an very clearly expresses equality between men and women is when it comes to religious rewards and obligations. The Qur'an states:
"Lo! Men who surrender unto Allah, and women who surrender, and men who believe and women who believe, and men who obey and women who obey, and men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth, and men who persevere (in righteousness) and women who persevere and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their modesty and women who guard (their modesty), and men who remember Allah and women who remember; Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward." (Q 33:35)
The Qur'an also states:
"And who so does good works, whether male or female, and he (or she) is a believer, such will enter Paradise" (Q 4:124)
If Islam had not deemed the two sexes of equal status and value, such explicit statements of their equality in ethical obligations and rewards would not have been made in the Qur'an.
The Holy Qur'an very frequently commands Muslims to seek knowledge, study and contemplate the world around them.
"Those who ponder the creation of the heavens and the Earth, (saying) our Lord you have not created this in vain..." (Q3: 191)
These commands are not limited to males in any place in the Qur'an. As such, they apply to both men and women. There are no Islamic teachings that forbid women from seeking an education. It is documented that the Prophet's sermons were attended by both men and women and that women often asked questions and sought further knowledge from the Prophet.
Unlike the situation in the West, where until the last century it was impossible for a married woman to hold property on her own, to contract with other persons, or to dispose of her property without the consent of her husband, the Qur'an proclaims the right of every woman to buy and sell, to contract and to earn, and to hold and manage her own money and property.
In addition to these rights, the Qur'an grants women a share in the inheritance of the family (4:7-11), warns against depriving her of that inheritance (4:19), and specifies that the dower (mahr) of her marriage should belong to her alone and never be taken by her husband (2:229; 4:19-21,25).
Female Role Models
The Qur'an introduces us to a number of female role models. These women are presented as role models for all humans, whether they be male or female. This makes it clear that Islam does not see women as inferior for otherwise they would not be presented as role models.
The greatest of these Qur'anic role models is Maryam (Mary, peace be upon her), who played such a vital role in the message of Jesus, one of the great messengers of God.
"When the angels said O Mary, Allah has chosen you and purified you..." (Q 3:42)
Another female Qur'anic role model is Asiya, the wife of Pharoah.
"And Allah has set forth an example for those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh when she said: "My Lord! Build for me a home with You in Paradise..."
Differences between Women and Men
Of course, Islam acknowledges that men and women are different in many ways. They have inherent biological, emotional and psychological differences. This means that they hold different roles and responsibilities in society, and at times different rules apply to women in comparison to men. These differences do not mean that women are inferior, just that they are different.