15. Does Islam Really Oppress Women?

There is a misconception around the world, that Islam oppresses the freedom and rights of women. But it must be made clear:

It is not God or Islam that oppress women… but people.

We will explain how, but first let’s look at how women were treated throughout history across the globe.

How were women treated throughout history?

Throughout history, women were often regarded and treated as subordinates. In India, “subjection was a cardinal principle” and “day and night, women” were “held by their protectors in a state of dependence” (The Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911 p.782).

16 History

In Greece, “Athenian women were always minors” who were “subject to some male” (Allen 1889 p.144).

Throughout the Roman Empire and into early and middle Europe, women were seen as the property of men. According to “Roman Law a woman was, even in historic times, completely dependent” and “if married, she and her property passed into the power of her husband” (The Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911 p.782).

In America, even with the established Declaration of Independence, which promoted equal opportunities and rights for all centred on the American Dream, “under contemporary American law derived from English common law, married women were considered legally united with their husbands, and all their legal rights were surrendered to their husbands” (Matsuda 1985 p.47-56).

Throughout the world and different cultures, women were seen as inferior to men, of a lower status with little legal rights, and any possessions they had were immediately passed onto their husbands upon marriage.

What is the Islamic perspective on women?

Over 1400 years ago, Islam sought to change these perceptions.

Muslims believe and worship in One God alone and believe in all the prophets including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, John (the Baptist) and Muhammad (PBUT), who worshipped this same God alone too.

God is the Creator or everything and He is the One who has established certain rights and commands for both genders in Islam.

Both genders are moral equals in God’s sight and both are expected to fulfil the same duties of worship which include the prayer, faith, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca.

However, there are instances where rights centre specifically on men and women. Below are some common questions in regards to women’s rights in Islam:

16 duty to motherWhat is the status of a mother in Islam?

The status of a mother in Islam is so high that the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said:

“Paradise lies at the feet of your mother” (i.e. in serving and obeying her).
(Ahmad, An-Nasâ’i and Ibn Mâjah)

A man once came to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and said,

16 mother

““O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship (i.e. love)?” The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Your mother.” The man said, “Then who?” The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Then your mother.” The man further asked, “Then who?” The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Then your mother.” The man asked again, “Then who?” The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Then your father.”” (Bukhari and Muslim).

A similar example of the mother’s status is highlighted in the Quran when the noble prophet Jesus (PBUH) said to his people:

“And (God has made me to be) dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant.” (Quran 19:32)

What about forced marriage in Islam?

16 no forced marriage

Forced marriage is forbidden in Islam.

Ibn Abbas (RDA) reported that a girl came to the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and explained that her father had forced her to marry without her consent.

The prophet (PBUH) gave her the choice of either accepting the marriage or annulling it…(Ibn Hanbal). It is reported that the girl said; “actually, I accept this marriage but I wanted to let women know that parents have no right (to force a husband on them).” (Ibn Majah).

But doesn’t the Quran state that men are superior to women?

The verse in the Quran many people refer to is:

“And they (women) have rights to those (of men) over them in kindness and men are a degree above them.” (Quran 2:228).

But this verse relates to men protecting, providing and caring for their wives as God states in another verse that “men are the protectors and maintainers of women” (Quran 4:34).

Yet it must be stressed that this does not mean women in Islam are not allowed to work.

So how are men encouraged to treat their wives?

16 treat women with kindness

Men are encouraged to treat their wives with kindness. God states in the Quran for men to “…live with them in kindness.” (Quran 4:19). The prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also said:

“The most perfect of believers in belief is the best of them in character; and the best of you are those who are the best to their women” (Tirmidhi).

Is there equality between men and women in Islam?

In the eyes of God it is not about gender, race, nationality or ethnicity because we were all created to recognise that there is a Creator who was there from the beginning and who sustains everything including us.

Hence, regardless of gender, race, nationality or ethnicity, it is those who recognise their Creator and try their best to be a good person and perform good actions, who will have the highest statuses in paradise.

This is why God states in the Quran:

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may recognise one another. Yet, the most noble from among you in the sight of Allah (God) is the most righteous of you.” (Quran 49:13)


“Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while they are a believer, We will surely cause them to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward (in the Hereafter) according to the best of what they used to do.” (Quran 16:97)

16 women free to cover bodyWhat about the hijab?

Muslim women observe the hijab (covering the head and body) because our Creator has asked women to do so:

“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better in order that they may be known (to be Muslims) and not be annoyed.” (Quran 33:59)

Hebah Ahmed in the 10 minute debate below on CNN explains the hijab in more detail:

What is the reason for the hijab?

The reason for the hijab is because our Creator encourages both men and women to:

  • Be modest in terms of their behaviour and dress and lower their gazes.
  • Guard their chastity by preserving themselves and their gazes for their spouses.

God refers to this in the Quran:

“Say to the believing man that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands.” (Quran 24:30-31).

The hijab gives women the opportunity to dress and behave in a modest way because their Creator has asked them to. In doing so, they submit to their Creator, instead of the social norms and conventions of society.


Throughout history women were subjected to inferior social norms and treated as commodities to within forms of trade.

Over 1400 years ago, Islam changed that and provided women with a status as an equal and respectable individual in the eyes of God and man.

Whilst the Western world has provided women with rights in the past century, in today’s age, there are groups of men who still violate the rights of women… but this is not just in Islam, but across all faiths and cultures.

In Islam, women are seen and respected as individuals, wives and mothers, and the unjust treatment of women goes against the teachings of the faith and the commands of the Creator.

In Islam, women are not objects of commodities used to enhance products and trade. Women are individuals and people who deserve respect – both in the eyes of God and men.


  • Allen, E. A. (1889) History of Civilisation, Vol 3, p.144
  • Matsuda, M. J. (1985) The West and the Legal Status of Women: Explanations of Frontier Feminism, Journal of the West 24: 47–56.
  • The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11ed. (1911) Vol 28, p.782