A woman's economic rights are taken for granted today. However, such rights are fairly new in much of the world.
Women in Arabia before the time of Muhammad (PBUH) were considered chattel. Infant girls were often buried alive to spare the family's honor, and widows were inherited along with other items of property. Indeed, this was the common lot of women around the world.
In Persia, women were under the complete authority of men, and could be bought and sold; in India, a faithful wife was one who served her husband as if he were a god, addressing him as "lord," eating his leftovers, and upon his death being burned alive atop his corpse; and even in Rome, whose law was regarded as more civilized, a woman was forced to remain financially dependent all her life, with no separate or independent right.
The beginning of the Islamic era ushered in a revolutionary change in the status of women. Islam decreed a right of which woman was deprived, not only in the pre-Islamic era, but up until quite recently even in the West: the right of independent ownership.
According to Islamic law, a woman has full rights in her money, real estate, and other assets. These rights undergo no change when she gets married, and she retains her full rights in buying, selling, and mortgage, as well as in the signing of contracts for rent, enterprise, etc.
Islam regards the married woman's role as wife and mother as the most essential one, and a woman is entitled to financial maintenance by her husband. However, a woman may also work and earn an income if there is an economic need. Since there is nothing in Islamic law that forbids a woman to work, she may do so when there is a necessity for it. This is especially so in the case of occupations needed most by society, such as teaching and medicine, although there is no restriction on benefitting from a woman's scarce talents in any field. Indeed, although a woman's occupying the position of judge has been seen by many people as unsuited to a woman's nature, we see some early Muslim jurists finding nothing wrong with it.
In addition, whereas prior to the institution of Shariah (Islamic law) a woman could be inherited, Shariah forbade this practice and gave her instead the right to inheritance. Her share is completely hers, and no one, including her husband, can take it away from her.
"Unto the men (of the family) belongs a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, and unto women a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether it be little or much - a legal share." (Qur'an 4:7)
The Islamic Bulletin
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