This is a misconception concerning Islamic history. According to historians, there have been thousands of female Muslim scholars throughout Islamic history, many of whom were teachers of renowned male scholars. Some notable examples include:

  • Rabi’ah Bint Mu’awwad, a great scholar of fiqh (jurisprudence), who taught scholars of Medina.
  • A’isha bint Sa’d bint ibn Abi Waqqas, whose pupils included Imam Malik.
  • Sayyida Nafisa, the granddaughter of Hasan, whose pupils included Imam Shafi’i.
  • A’isha bint Abu Bakr, wife of the Prophet and narrator of over 2,000 hadith (prophetic sayings).

There are also many active female Muslim scholars today, including but not limited to:

  • Dr. Kecia Ali, professor of Religious Studies at Boston University.
  • Dr. Asifa Quraishi, professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, who in 2010 was part of a public delegation accompanying Hillary Clinton to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
  • Dr. Amina Wadud, author of the books Qur’an and Woman and Inside the Gender Jihad and cofounder of the organization Sisters in Islam.
  • Dr. Zainab Alwani, professor of Islamic Studies at Howard University, Vice President of the Fiqh Council of North America.
  • Dr. Intisar Rabb, professor of Law at Harvard Law School and a director of its Islamic Legal Studies Program.
  • Dr. Hafez Barazangi, research fellow at the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Cornell University.
  • Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar, noted author and translator, famous for her translation of the Quran into English.
  • Dr. Aminah McCloud, professor of Religious Studies and Director of Islamic World Studies Program at DePaul University.
  • Dr. Ingrid Mattson, professor of Islamic Studies and the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada.
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In recent decades women have been heads of state in several Muslim-majority nations:

  • Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, 1996-2001 and 2009-present.
  • Khaleda Zia, prime minister of Bangladesh, 1991-1996 and 2001-2006.
  • Benazir Bhutto, prime minister of Pakistan, 1998-1990 and 1993-1996.
  • Tansu Çiller, prime minister of Turkey, 1993-1996.
  • Megawati Sukarnoputri, president of Indonesia, 2001-2004.

Muslim women have also exercised leadership in many other areas:

  • Tawakul Karman, a leader of the Arab Spring in Yemen, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
  • Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, famous for her defense of women’s right to education, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
  • Dr. Ingrid Mattson of the U.S. served two terms as the president of the largest Muslim membership organization in the country, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
  • Maha Elgenaidi, founder and CEO of Islamic Networks Group (ING).
  • Azizah al-Hibri, founder and president of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights.
  • Tayyibah Taylor, late founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief of Azizah magazine.

While most rulers in Muslim history have been male, as in most societies, there have been a few female Muslim rulers in past centuries and in modern times. They include Al-Audr al-Kareema of Yemen, Shajarat Ad-Durr of Egypt, and several female rulers in India.

Muslims who support women’s authority and leadership often appeal to the Qur’an’s depiction of the Queen of Sheba as a righteous, just, and powerful ruler, citing her example as evidence of women’s right to rule.

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Domestic violence and spousal abuse violate the Islamic principle of respect for human dignity; if severe enough, they may even violate the principle of respect for life. According to classical Islamic law, spousal abuse is grounds for a Muslim woman to initiate divorce. The extant biographies of Muhammad record him as never having hit a woman or even a child and as condemning those who did.

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This depends on the family’s culture and circumstances; it is not necessarily based on religion. According to the scholars we rely on, nothing in the Qur’an or hadith (prophetic saying) prohibits women from working. In fact, in most Muslim communities, Muslim women work outside the home. Increasing numbers of Muslim women throughout the world are employed in various highlevel professions, including those that are male dominated, such as medicine and engineering. This is true even in countries known to have a conservative understanding of Islam, such as Saudi Arabia.

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There are 50 Muslim-majority countries in the world. They differ widely on women’s rights, depending on a variety of factors, including political development, social and economic circumstances, and cultural views and practices; even within a single country, there may be considerable differences because of region (urban or rural), education, and even family circumstances. Religion may or may not play a significant role in the rights women have.

So, for example, in many Muslim-majority countries women are involved at the highest levels of education, employment, and politics, with many female physicians, engineers, lawyers, and other professionals. Muslim women have been heads of state in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey, Kosovo, and Pakistan.

In other countries, women’s freedoms are seriously inhibited due to oppressive patriarchal attitudes and practices.

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Yes, there are many verses and sayings that speak to the issue of women’s rights. They include the following:

Equal responsibilities and reward: “For the men who acquiesce to the will of God, and the women who acquiesce, the men who believe and the women who believe, the men who are devout and the women who are devout, the men who are truthful and the women who are truthful, the men who are constant and the women who are constant, the men who are humble and the women who are humble, the men who give charity and the women who give charity, the men who fast and the women who fast, the men who are chaste and the women who are chaste, and the men and women who remember God a lot, God has arranged forgiveness for them, and a magnificent reward.” (Qur’an, 33:35)

“And their Lord answered them, ‘I am never unmindful of the work of a worker among you, male or female. You are from each other.’” (Qur’an, 3:195)

“Whoever does right, male or female, and is a believer, We will revivify with a good life; and We will pay them their due according to the best of what they have done.” (Qur’an, 16:97)

Right to earn money: “. . . to men is allotted what they earn and to women what they earn.” (Qur’an, 4: 32)

Right to inherit: “For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much – an obligatory share.” (Qur’an, 4:7)

Rights of a daughter: “Whosoever has a daughter and does . . . not insult her, and does not favor his son over her, God will make him enter into paradise.” (Hadith/Prophetic saying)

“Whoever has three daughters and treats them kindly, they will be a protection for him against the Fire.” (Hadith/Prophetic saying)

“Parents cannot force daughters into a marriage.” (Hadith/Prophetic saying)

Rights of a wife: “The best of you is the best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family.” (Hadith/Prophetic saying)

Rights of a mother: “Paradise lies under the feet of mothers.” (Hadith/Prophetic saying)

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What the Qur’an is understood to say about women’s rights depends on the interpretation of the Qur’an in specific communities and cultures.

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Many Muslims, in America and elsewhere, advocate and demand complete equality between men and women. Women hold and have held many positions of authority and leadership in the American Muslim community. In Muslim-majority countries women today work as physicians, businesswomen, engineers, and lawyers and have served as heads of state.

In other Muslim communities, depending on social, historical, and cultural conditions, the position of women is very different and is not equal either in theory or practice.

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