The Muslim woman has become an elusive concept to many, shrouded by her veil and enveloped in a life of oppressive silence. Yet this is untrue on many dimensions. Let us take a look at the plane of time. In the past, present, and likely in the future, real Muslim women defied and will continue to defy these stereotypes. One way to dispel these stereotypes is to look at women mentioned in the Holy Qur’an.
The Holy Qur’an includes verses which directly address womankind. Not to mention that two women who are explicitly referred to in the Qur’an as examples of piety for all mankind—Mary mother of Jesus(as) and Asiya wife of the Pharaoh. The status given to women by these direct references along with the precedents that these two women set are indicative of the unequivocal equality and empowered status granted to Muslim women by the Holy Qur’an over 1400 years ago.
Equality in the eyes of the Creator
One of the most powerful and often cited references to the fundamental equality of men and women in the Holy Qur’an reads: (1)
“Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, 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 chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him — Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward.”
This verse establishes the spiritual equality of men and women, claiming that their actions merit the same reception from God. Women likewise enjoy political and social rights at par with those of men.
Critics who claim that Islam grants women a status inferior to men are perhaps misinterpreting the different roles assigned to men and women in the Qur’an. As the English short commentary of the Holy Qur’an edited by Malik Ghulam Farid aptly depicts, “only their spheres of activities being different, their duties are different. It is this difference which has mistakenly, or perhaps deliberately, been misunderstood by hostile critics of Islam as implying a lower status for women”.
Another potent reference to the equality of the rights of women and men found in the Holy Qur’an, says:
“Whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, We will surely grant him a pure life; and We will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works.” (2)
This verse affirms that women and men alike will receive rewards for their good works without discrimination. In the eyes of the Creator, both genders are inherently equal and capable of attaining salvation.
Mary mother of Jesus in Qur’an
Chapter 19 of the Holy Qur’an is named “Maryam” after Mary, mother of Jesus. It is one of many chapters in the Qur’an in which she is mentioned as an example of piety not only for women—but for all mankind.
Surah Al-Anbiya, Chapter 21 verse 92 says:
“And remember her who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our Word and We made her and her son a Sign for all peoples.” (3)
As a woman, Mary was subjected to an immense trial when she was pregnant with Jesus (as). Yet she was also a part of a blessed scheme as the mother of the Messiah, and her patience and faith in the will of God enabled her to realize that. The story of Mary is a sign and a reference for a righteous class of today’s believers. As outlined in the short commentary of the Holy Qur’an referenced earlier:
“Everyone of such righteous believers, so to say, is Mary, and when God breathes into him of His spirit he becomes a ‘son of Mary’, i.e., he acquires the Divine attributes possessed by Jesus”.
Surah Al-Tahrim, Chapter 66 verse 13, states:
“And sets forth as an example Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity—so We breathed into him of Our Spirit—and she fulfilled the prophecy conveyed to her in the words of her Lord contained in His books and she was one of the obedient.”(4)
This verse clarifies Mary’s exalted status as an example for all Muslims to follow, for her obedience throughout trials, and her humble strength.
The wife of Pharaoh
The wife of Pharaoh is mentioned in parallel to Mary, in verse 12 of Chapter 66 which reads, “And Allah holds forth as 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 wrongdoing people.” She is also referred to as an example for women and men alike to follow.
The actions which led to her attaining this exalted status are outlined in Surah Al-Qasas, Chapter 28 verse 10, which states, “And Pharaoh’s wife said, ‘He will be a joy of the eye for me and for thee. Slay him not. Haply he may prove to be useful for us, or we may adopt him as a son.’ And they knew not Our purpose.” She was a woman willing to stand up to her husband’s declared intentions of slaughtering the sons of the Israelites to keep them suppressed. She remained steadfast notwithstanding the tribulations of the Pharaoh. Despite being surrounded by sins and oppressive behavior, she remained steadfast, making her an example for the class of believers who may be struggling with their faith today.
Like Mary, Pharaoh’s wife was humble, yet willing to stand tall with faith of Allah in the face of trials.
Both Mary and Asiya (wife of the pharaoh) were pious yet powerful. They were never self-righteous and were accepting of the will of God. Yet they were also powerful, not backing down when they knew they were doing God’s will.
This piece was meant to provide a basic glimpse into just a few of the many references to women in the Holy Qur’an. Despite what has been referred to here, so much remains to be unpackaged from the treasure of this holy book.
The examples of two women expounded upon here along with the references to women’s equality with man in the Qur’an make it evident that Muslim women have inalienable rights which no individual or institution could ever strip them of. Muslim women are made aware that they do not need to ask for rights that they were born with. These rights are undeniably their very own.
- The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 33, Verse: 36
- The Holy Qur’an, Chapter: 16, Verse: 98
- Surah Al-Anbiya, Chapter: 21, Verse: 92
- The Holy Qur’an, Chapter: 66, Verse: 13
This article appears in the Spring 2016 issue of the Muslim Sunrise.
Last modified: April 2019