In recent times, women rights activists have brought the Muslim world under the spotlight in the East as well as in the West. The East is more dominated by Muslims as opposed to the West, which leads a secular and democratic way of life. More often than not, the western values are weighed against the teachings of Islam with regards to the rights of women. The ‘secular’ world has unleashed a war of words and arguments against the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).
In the 6th century, God raised a Prophet in the middle of the desert in a town called Makkah, who was to change the role of women in society for a long time to come. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the greatest of all the prophets, was the liberator of women who were held in bondage by barbaric and savage men. Islam gave rights to women in a time when women were nothing more than slaves to men of dark ages who ruled the Earth. The iron curtain of ignorance was lifted with the arrival of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet (pbuh). The Quranic text did not distinguish men from women but regarded them as equals in the sight of God (39:7 and 4:33). It was a brutal custom of Arabs to commit infanticide of baby girls out of a twisted fear of poverty and shame. Male heirs were the undisputed owners of wealth and women were held as property in its entirety. It was at this time of need that a savior, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was vouchsafed with a message from God that infanticide was declared forbidden and men and women were granted an equal status in Islam (Quran 39:7).
In the modern world, acquiring knowledge has become a pinnacle of strength and valor for a strong nation and a driving force for industrial innovation. The roots of such teachings can be found in a very popular saying of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), which relates "It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge." This saying alone has been the driving force behind Muslim women to become pioneers of knowledge and reasoning in a time, which was known as the Dark Ages of Europe. From the early age of Islam, women played a very critical role in the reformation of society. The earliest example is that of Ayesha bint Abu Bakar , the wife of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), was an excellent administrator. She became a scholar in Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad), jurisprudence, an educator and orator. So much so that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has said “Take half of your religious knowledge from Ayesha.” Throughout history, Muslim women have contributed to the field of sciences long before women in the West were even allowed to step into universities. As professor Salim Al Hassani states in his book “…throughout Islamic history, the search for scientific knowledge was considered as an act of worship”4. And of course women rivalled men when it came to seeking knowledge. For example the making of astrolabes a branch of applied science, was done by a woman, Al-Ijliyah bint Al-Ijli Al-Asturlabi (967 AD) in Aleppo (modern day Syria). Labana of Cordoba (10th century Spain) was a distinguished female, recognised for her works in the field of mathematics. She could solve the most complex geometrical and algebraic problems known in her time. Similarly, during the Ottoman rule (Modern day Turkey) in the 15th century, many texts presented women as nurses and physicians who worked shoulder to shoulder with men. Illustrations showing female surgeons were found in the book written in Turkish by Serefeddin Sabuncuoglu in the 15th century.
In conclusion, Islam liberated women long before any secular government decided to expand the boundaries of liberty beyond the realm of male dominance. Islam in its early period not only taught about the freedom of women’s rights but also practised it without prejudice. Hence, I implore the readers and people of understanding that we must rise up to the occasion and refute the vile attacks carried out against the beautiful and timeless teachings of Islam.