Women’s Empowerment: A Western Conspiracy or a Muhammaden Idea?


It is a distressing case of identity crisis that many Muslims like to believe that anybody who talks about human rights, and women rights in particular is a pawn of the West in its giant global conspiracy to impose its evil agenda of Women’s rights upon the world. Be it the Burka Avenger or Malala Yousafzai, if someone speaks up for educational equality or women’s emancipation, there must be a foreign hand behind the propagation of such subversive ideas. It is a shame that the revolutionary ideas for which Prophet Muhammad was persecuted for standing up for, are so repugnant to many Muslims of today and are renounced as ‘Western’.

We all know that Islam took the lead in introducing inheritance and property rights for women at the time when they were considered to be no more than unwanted objects by the society. This measure intended to improve the financial standing of women and make them autonomous and capable individuals. Of course, the Prophet faced the worst kinds of opposition by the people who were so set in their ignorant ways.

In her memoirs, Aisha repeatedly reports that Muhammad was not the kind of husband who wanted subdued, unopinionated wives. Rather he encouraged them to disagree and argue with him as they pleased. He not only sought their advice in times of crisis, but counted on them for their support and suggestions.

Quoting one instance among many: At Huddaibiyah, when the Muslim pilgrims were not allowed to enter Mecca by the Quraysh, most of the Muslims were incensed, got rebellious and refused to obey Muhammad when he commanded them to pray, return and come back again for pilgrimage next year. The Prophet was bewildered and confused, and waited for a revelation to descend. It did not. In despair he retreated to his tent and talked to Umm Salamah, his wife that he had brought along with him. What on earth could he do? he asked her. She judged the situation perfectly and asked Muhammad to go out, and without uttering another word, start praying, and others would melt and follow. Prophet did as she said, and stated it was exactly the right decision. Seeing their Prophet come out silently and start praying, their stubbornness thawed down, prayed behind him and went back peacefully. That’s the kind of importance Muhammad attached to the counsel and judgement of his wives. He considered them wise enough to discern solutions during troubled times.

Prophet Muhammad never forbade his wives to move freely through public spaces and debate in all current matters. The Arabs were of course very hostile to the kind of equal treatment and empowerment Muhammad guaranteed to the women. But what a lot of people are not familiar with is that even many companions of the Prophet including Umar were severely resentful of the kind of freedom Muhammad had allowed his wives and constantly nagged him to try to be restrictive towards women. Umar confronted Aisha at several occasions when he came across her walking in the street and told her that he found her confidence disdainful and that Muhammad had allowed them far too much liberty, and vowed to convince Muhammad to curb it.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) not only laid down his cloak on the floor for his daughter to sit down upon as a symbol of affection and respect, he also made sure to have no doubts when he declared that education is an obligation, not just a right, an obligation, upon both men and women.

Read the objective view of Islamic history and many of us would be pleasantly surprised to see how resolutely Muhammad stood for the rights of women, among many other things. It was his this resolution of equality that threatened the preexisting rotten social order that he came to reform, and that turned the Arabs hostile towards him.

This brings me back to the question that I posed earlier. What is this whole fuss about ‘Malala is talking about women’s education, she’s speaking the language of the West’ or ‘This or that university conducts a we-need-feminism campaign on the International Women’s day, these guys must be the agents of the West’ or ‘Burka Avenger depicts a female superhero fighting the extremists to promote women’s education, it must be funded by the West’ ?

Let us realize that Women’s Rights is as much a Mohammaden idea in origin, as much as it is considered a Western idea in the present times. Let’s try to get the history right and do not renounce the few good things about our legacy as foreign.