Advancing Gender Equality & Women's Agency

Are men and women equal in Islam?

The Qur’an defines gender equality as an intrinsic part of the Islamic faith: it states that both men and women are created as vice regents of God and as such, are equally responsible and accountable to their actions. The Prophet significantly increased the level of women’s agency and autonomy during his time by affording women the rights to own property, to divorce, to an inheritance, and to socially participate. In subsequent years, women served as judges, scholars, teachers, and religious and political leaders,  enabling them to participate in the public affairs of the community.

Quranic Support

“Their Lord responded to them: “I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female – you are equal to one another.” (Qur’an, 3:195)

“The Believers, men and women, are awliya (protectors) of one another.” (Qur’an 9:71)

Then whoever argues with you about it after [this] knowledge has come to you – say, “Come, let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves, then supplicate earnestly [together] and invoke the curse of Allah upon the liars [among us].” (3:61)

The Prophet’s Saying

“Verily, women are the twin halves of men.” (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi)

“All people are equal, as the teeth of the comb. There is no claim of merit of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a white over a black person, or male over a female. Only Allah-fearing people merit a preference with Allah.

Unfortunately, patriarchal interpretations of Islamic texts have been used to legitimize various legal and social restrictions which justify female subordination to men. Examples of such stipulations include forcing Muslim women to unconditionally obey their husbands or requiring women to be accompanied by a male mahram – a close male relative, such as their brother, uncle, or father. 

Moreover, in some societies the concept of qiwamah, which signifies “maintenance” or “protection,” has been mistakenly used as a justification for masculine superiority and feminine weakness, as it has been generally interpreted to mean that men hold authority over women both intellectually and physically. These are not Islamic practices and violate the tradition of gender equality as stated in the Qur’an.

Though unjust interpretations of Islam have tried to maintain patriarchal societies and economies, several Muslim countries have already passed legislation to promote women’s freedom. For example, Morocco passed a family law that describes marriage as an “equal partnership.” Similar rulings can also be found in Tunisia and Turkey. Moreover, Muslim women have served as prime ministers, judges, and religious leaders in many Muslim majority countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Senegal, and other nations. Even in the United States, Muslim women are judges, senators, state representatives, doctors, CEOs, and much more.

WISE Position

At WISE, we embrace our collective and individual responsibility to assert that Muslim women are worthy of respect and dignity, that as a legal individual, social person, responsible agent, she holds fundamentally equal rights to exercise her abilities and talents in all areas of human activity.

WISE Women Active on the Issue

Nursuna Memecan. Faeeza Vaid, Hubbie Hussein al-Haji, Wajeha al-Huwaider

Related Articles

Larsen, Lena, and Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Christian Moe, and Kari Vogt, ed. Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law: Justice and Ethics in the Islamic Family Tradition. I.B. Taurus & Co Ltd: New York, 2013. Print. Lila Abu-Lughod. “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?” Ethnicities. Vol. 15, 5, 2014, pp 759-777.