The Defamatory Idea that Women Are Second-Class Citizens and that God Has Left Women Backward
John William Godward's oil painting “The Belvedere,” 1913
Since God has left women backward, you must leave them backward, too. (al-Tabarani)
If I were to command anyone to prostrate anyone else, I would command women to prostrate their husbands, for God has invested the latter with rights in respect to the former. (Nahj al-Fasahah, p. 119)
The hatred of women that has persisted for hundreds of years in the fanatic mentality has brought a great mass of people to slander God and our Prophet (pbuh). Notice that there is no reference in these false hadiths to women enjoying equal rights with men according to the Qur’an, superiority lying not in gender, but in mind and conscience and in fear of God; neither is there any mention of the existence of Qur’anic verses in which the rights enjoyed by women are protected.
These commandments and accounts are deliberately avoided, and there is never any mention of women being entities who are glorified in the Qur’an. Therefore, these words that have deceived Muslims for hundreds of years, and alleged to be the words of our Prophet (pbuh) himself, have led to a perverse mentality becoming ascribed to Islam. In this way they have defamed Islam and our Prophet (pbuh) for hundreds of years.
Yet the idea of women being left backward by God, may He forbid, appears in not one single verse of the Qur’an. On the contrary, God reveals in the Qur’an, through words such as “believers, those who believe, anyone who acts rightly, male or female, being a believer...” that all believers, male and female, have the same responsibilities, with no allowances made for gender. In verse 95 of Surat an-Nisa’, God says;
Those believers who stay behind – other than those forced to by necessity – are not the same as those who struggle in the Way of God, sacrificing their wealth and themselves. God has given those who struggle with their wealth and themselves a higher rank than those who stay behind. God has promised the Best to both, but God has preferred those who struggle over those who stay behind by an immense reward. (Qur'an, 4:95)
As we have seen, the verse speaks of believers having a responsibility to wage an intellectual struggle on God’s path throughout the course of their lives. However, that responsibility is imposed equally on men and women. By addressing all “believers,” God holds all Muslims, men and women, responsible for discharging that religious obligation. If a Muslim woman performs that obligation better than men, then that woman will be superior to all men in the Sight of God. If a Muslim man does it, then he will be superior in the Sight of God because of his piety; there is no differentiation between the genders here. On the contrary, superiority lies in conscience, intelligence and sincerity.
Therefore, just like all the others, these false hadiths too are at total variance with the pronouncements found in the Qur’an and the value attached to women in the Qur’an. First of all, Muslims prostrate themselves to none but God. The only powers to which a Muslim will bow his head and obey are God and His Prophet.
For a Muslim woman, her husband is a helpless servant whom she loves for God’s sake and for whom she feels respect and compassion to the extent compatible with being a Muslim. Her love and respect are directionally proportional to her husband’s sincere devotion to God, the strength of his faith and his zeal and determination on His path. There is no question of her feeling respect for her husband simply because he is a man, as there is in the rotten mentality of the fanatics. For a Muslim man and woman, marriage is also a vow that applies to the hereafter. A Muslim woman can, therefore, only feel love, respect and affection for a husband who is virtuous, a student of the Qur’an and someone she hopes that God will be pleased with in the hereafter. She would never feel that love and affection if the opposite applied. Even thinking of such a love or using it in a sentence for comparative purposes is absurd for a Muslim. In contrast to what the fanatics think and the model they seek to impose, a Muslim woman is exceedingly aware, lucid, intelligent and worthy of respect, she has adopted the spirit of the Qur’an and lives her whole life by that spirit.