The Islamic Foundation welcomes International Women’s Day this year by remembering the Islamic values related to the dignity of women. The Qur’an, which Muslims believe to be divinely revealed sacred scripture, came at a time when women suffered from considerably diminished social standing. From the outset, the Prophet of Islam engaged women, and women played a particularly prominent role in the championing of Islam. From the very first revelation, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sought solace in the arms of his beloved wife Khadijah as he struggled to cope with the overwhelming burden of revelation. She comforted him, reassured him, and believed in him. She went on to become the Prophet’s most important source of support in the early years of his Prophetic mission. For this reason, we exalt and esteem our ‘mother’, Khadijah, as Islam’s very first believer.
The Qur’an, in its teachings, address women and men as equals, calling upon both genders to observe their moral and spiritual duties towards God. A famous verse from the Qur’an states:
‘Indeed, Muslim men and Muslim women, believing men and believing women, obedient men and obedient women, truthful men and truthful women, patient men and patient women, humble men and humble women, charitable men and charitable women, fasting men and fasting women, men who guard their chastity and the women who do so, and men who remember God often and the women who do so - for them God has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.’ (Qur’an 33:35)’.
Sadly, human frailty has meant that the challenge of upholding women’s rights is an ongoing one, including within Muslim communities. As Muslims, we can draw upon the Prophetic and Qur’anic examples of how to preserve the rights and respect of those who could be characterised as the more important half of our community. In a narration, the Prophet Muhammad repeats three times that one’s mother is the most worthy of respect and good treatment in a person’s life, over and above one’s father or everyone else. The Prophet further extolled the blessed nature of having daughters at a time when female infanticide was a culturally accepted norm. From the Queen of Sheba, to Mary, mother of Jesus, to Aisha, wife of the Prophet and one of the most important scholars of early Islam, Islam provides countless examples of great female Muslim leaders in religious scholarship, politics, and spirituality. The Prophet also informed men that the best among them were those of them who were the best in their treatment of their wives.
There is much work to be done in our communities if we are to actualise such Prophetic teachings regarding the high esteem that women are granted by Islam. Let us take this day as an opportunity to reflect on the ideals which emanate from our rich spiritual tradition as we work towards realizing its teachings in our personal lives and our communities. The Islamic Foundation is committed to serving this cause. Last Friday Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra delivered a sermon at the Foundation, in which he argued for the urgent need for mosques to be inclusive, allowing women equal access. The Foundation sponsored a Women’s Conference last April, led by leading female Muslim academics and attended by members of the public, which addressed issues of gender equality, domestic violence and mental health in our communities. The Foundation is committed to supporting a conference on this theme every year so that the much needed change may begin within our homes and communities.
May God guide us all and make us those who help to create a better future for generations to come, ameen.