I was always considered lower than my brother in the family. My father treats my brother like gold while I was always second to him. Why are women considered lower than men?
~ Dina from Egypt
The basic answer is that Muslim culture considers women less than men. Muslim culture considers women less trustworthy, cognitively less competent than men and their spiritual purpose is to submit to men. This does not mean that all Muslims think this way, but since “Muslim Majority Countries” are permeated with Islamic culture in every sphere, no one can get away from being influenced and driven by it. If you are a woman in those countries, you will be viewed as a second-grade citizen.
How did this idea come to be? Well, let’s talk religion now. Women being second to men comes from the Quran and the oral traditions, the hadith. Let me point out a few references for you.
O you who have believed, when you contract a debt for a specified term, write it down. And let a scribe write [it] between you in justice. Let no scribe refuse to write as Allah has taught him. So let him write and let the one who has the obligation dictate. And let him fear Allah, his Lord, and not leave anything out of it. But if the one who has the obligation is of limited understanding or weak or unable to dictate himself, then let his guardian dictate in justice. And bring to witness two witnesses from among your men. And if there are not two men [available], then a man and two women from those whom you accept as witnesses – so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her. And let not the witnesses refuse when they are called upon. And do not be [too] weary to write it, whether it is small or large, for its [specified] term. That is more just in the sight of Allah and stronger as evidence and more likely to prevent doubt between you, except when it is an immediate transaction which you conduct among yourselves. For [then] there is no blame upon you if you do not write it. And take witnesses when you conclude a contract. Let no scribe be harmed or any witness. For if you do so, indeed, it is [grave] disobedience in you. And fear Allah . And Allah teaches you. And Allah is Knowing of all things.
Notice that a woman’s testimony is only half of that of a man. Let’s look at some of the hadith writings and see if it correlates.
Sahih al-Bukhari 2658
Narrated Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri: The Prophet said, “Isn’t the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?” The women said, “Yes.” He said, “This is because of the deficiency of a woman’s mind.”
Muhammad thought that women have a deficiency, which reduced a woman’s moral judgment. He did not think you can trust a woman like you would a man. This reference also feeds the idea that women have poorer cognitive abilities from men. Poorer cognition does not mean a woman can’t be smarter than a man but that she is not endowed with the same level of ability. We know that Muhammad trusted some women because they were brighter than others, but in general, he viewed women lower order creatures.
Your wives are a “place of sowing of seed” for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves. And fear Allah and know that you will meet Him. And give good tidings to the believers.
This verse uses sexual intercourse to point out the authority of a man. A spiritual state of a woman should be in submission to a man. Let’s add a few hadith references into this discussion. A man is to receive whatever he wants and whenever he wants from a woman. A woman is a property of a man.
Sunan Abu Dawud 2159
Ibn Abbas said: Ibn Umar misunderstood (the Quranic verse, “so come to your tilth however you will”)—may Allah forgive him. The fact is that this clan of the Ansar who were idolaters lived in the company of the Jews who were the people of the Book. They (the Ansar) accepted their superiority over themselves in respect of knowledge, and they followed most of their actions. The people of the Book (i.e. the Jews) used to have intercourse with their women on one side alone (i.e. lying on their backs). This was the most concealing for (the vagina of) women. This clan of the Ansar adopted this practice from them. But this tribe of the Quraish used to uncover their women intensely, and seek pleasure with them from in front and behind and laying them on their backs. When the Muhajirun (the Immigrants) came to Medina, a man married a woman of the Ansar. He began to do the same kind of action with her, but she disliked it, and said to him: We were approached on one side (i.e. lying on back); do it so, otherwise keep away from me. This matter of theirs spread widely, and it reached the Apostle of Allah. So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Quranic verse: “Your wives are a tilth to you, so come to your tilth however you will,” i.e. from in front, from behind or lying on the back. By this the verse meant the place of the delivery of the child, i.e. vagina.
Sunan Ibn Majah 1853
It was narrated that Abdullah bin Abu Awfa said: “When Mu’adh bin Jabal came from Sham, he prostrated to the Prophet, who said: “What is this, O Mu’adh?’ He said: ‘I went to Sham and saw them prostrating to their bishops and patricians (i.e. aristocrats), and I wanted to do that for you.’ The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Do not do that. If I were to command anyone to prostrate to anyone other than Allah, I would have commanded women to prostrate to their husbands. By the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad! No woman can fulfill her duty towards Allah until she fulfills her duty towards her husband. If he asks her (for intimacy) even if she is on her camel saddle, she should not refuse.’”
Jami at-Tirmidhi 1160
Talq bin Ali narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: “When a man calls his wife to fulfill his need, then let her come, even if she is at the oven.”
We already stated that Islam views women as being endowed with less cognitive abilities and are not as trustworthy. This means that a man by nature is a greater being, a more powerful being. Therefore, a woman must submit to a man’s authority. The only conflict a man runs into is another man’s woman. The references clearly point this out. Only the conflict between men is considered in these references; this shows that men are greater than women. Where does this ideology come from? You may ask. We understand that God is not held morally accountable for any of His actions towards His creation. That would be like saying we are held responsible for destroying our artwork. That artwork might be worth millions of dollars, and there is no moral guilt placed on our actions. In the same way, a man is not held responsible for his actions towards a woman. A better example might be using a pet that you own. Animals do not carry the same value in court as humans do. You will not send someone for life behind bars for killing his own dog. The same goes for women. Women are not considered as valuable as men. Let me give you a few more supporting verses and oral traditions.
Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah would hath guarded. As for those from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them.
Sahih al-Bukhari 5825
Narrated Ikrima: Rifaa divorced his wife whereupon Abdur-Rahman married her. Aisha said that the lady came wearing a green veil and complained to her (Aisha) and showed her a green spot on her skin caused by beating. It was the habit of ladies to support each other, so when Allah’s messenger came, Aisha said, “I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!” When Abdur-Rahman heard that his wife had gone to the prophet, he came with his two sons from another wife. She said, “By Allah! I have done no wrong to him, but he is impotent and is as useless to me as this,” holding and showing the fringe of her garment. Abdur-Rahman said, “By Allah, O Allah’s messenger! She has told a lie. I am very strong and can satisfy her, but she is disobedient and wants to go back to Rifaa.” Allah’s messenger said to her, “If that is your intention, then know that it is unlawful for you to remarry Rifaa unless Abdur-Rahman has had sexual intercourse with you.” The prophet saw two boys with Abdur-Rahman and asked (him), “Are these your sons?” On that Abdur-Rahman said, “Yes.” The prophet said, “You claim what you claim (that he is impotent)? But by Allah, these boys resemble him as a crow resembles a crow.”
This is the worldview of Islam. Women and men are not created equal. Since a man is higher than a woman, he is held responsible for his wife’s actions. Therefore, it is his duty to bring his wife into submission even if it takes physical violence. Many women do not understand this, but this is the order of Gods creation. This hierarchy was not defined by men but by God. If God declared it this way, then let not any human change it.
I hope this helps you understand why women are not equal to man in Islamic worldview. If this bothers you, then you need to look into other religions to find hope for yourself.
For example, Christianity declares Women and Men co-equal.
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God is a tri-personal God, and each person in a Godhead is coequal in all attributes. This means they are equal in cognitive ability, moral judgment, and power. There is the submission part like in Islam but only to create order and unity rather than value. Let’s think of a company, and let’s compare a chief engineer and a sales manager. To create order in a company each person is given a role with its associated authority to function properly. Neither one is better or higher than the other but rather each one has a role to play to make the company successful. The same is with relationships. Men and women are given a role to play with its associated authority to build a happy and working relationship. I hope this helps you understand Islam and gave you a better perspective of what others think on this topic.
Here are a few other Islamic references that deal with this topic:
And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice].
And all married women (are forbidden unto you) save those (captives) whom your right hands possess. It is a decree of Allah for you. Lawful unto you are all beyond those mentioned, so that ye seek them with your wealth in honest wedlock, not debauchery. And those of whom ye seek content (by marrying them), give unto them their portions as a duty. And there is no sin for you in what ye do by mutual agreement after the duty (hath been done). Lo! Allah is ever Knower, Wise.
Sunan Abu Dawud 2150
The Apostle of Allah sent a military expedition to Awtas on the occasion of the battle of Hunain. They met their enemy and fought with them. They defeated them and took them captives. Some of the Companions of the Apostle of Allah were reluctant to have intercourse with the female captives in the presence of their husbands who were unbelievers. So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Quranic verse: “And all married women (are forbidden) unto you save those (captives) whom your right hands possess.” That is to say, they are lawful for them when they complete their waiting period.
And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women – if you doubt, then their period is three months, and [also for] those who have not menstruated. And for those who are pregnant, their term is until they give birth. And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him of his matter ease.
And a multitude of verses from Surah 33