Women in Islam: Are they subservient to men?

The following is based on the work of Mufti Taqi Usmani and taken from his book ‘اسلام اور دور ا حاضر کے شبھات و مغالطے’ – Islam and doubts and misconceptions of the modern age. These have not been translated exactly and have been stated in my own words. The target audience are the Muslims but non-Muslims may also benefit from these.

Allah Almighty says in the Qur’an:

الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ

Men are in charge (qawwām) of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other.[1]

Today, we find immense propaganda pertaining to feminism and the idea of men and women being equal. In such an environment, the Muslims feel shy to state that men are the leaders and women are the subjects because there is a propaganda that men have taken the upper hand and women have been subjugated and disgraced and considered low. However, the reality is such that a man and woman are like two wheels of a ride called life. Both have to spend the life together and now to spend the journey together, it is a must that one be made responsible for the journey. The Prophet (ﷺ) said:

عَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ الْخُدْرِيِّ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ إِذَا خَرَجَ ثَلاَثَةٌ فِي سَفَرٍ فَلْيُؤَمِّرُوا أَحَدَهُمْ ‏”

Narrated Abu Sa’id al-Khudri: The Prophet (ﷺ) said: When three are on a journey, they should appoint one of them as their commander.[2]

If a leader is not appointed, then mismanagement would take place. The instruction of the Prophet (ﷺ) is not only for a long journey but also for short ones. Therefore, if even a short journey requires one to appoint a leader, why wouldn’t the journey of life require a leader as well?

Now there are two ways to it; either give the lead to the man or give it to the woman, there is no third workable option. Man has qualities, nature, abilities, strength, and if we also think logically we would see that man is given those strengths and abilities to perform big tasks, which have not been provided to women. Therefore, the rightful one for this responsibility is only man. The Creator of both man and woman, who sent both on this journey, knows better as to who to be made the leader. If you obey the order of the Almighty who created you and knows you more than you know yourself, you would succeed and if you do not obey Him, then the journey is not going to proceed smoothly.

Now coming to the word used for men to lead, Allah Almighty has not used words like ‘king’, ‘ruler’, ‘owner’ or ‘lord’. He has used the word ‘Qawwaam’ (قوام) which refers to that person who is responsible for some task which does not at all mean that he owns the woman in any way possible. In Islam, the ruler is not one who sits on the throne and rules but a ruler is as defined by the Prophet (ﷺ):

سيد القوم خادمهم.

The leader of the nation is their servant.[3]

In today’s time when we hear the word ‘ruler’, we get the image of a king or a big leader who do not even like to speak to their subjects and not consider speaking to them worthy of their honor but the leader as per Qur’an and Hadith is one who serves and not the one who merely issues orders and seeks to enforce them.

Men who desire to misuse this relation between man and woman must keep these words of Allah Almighty in mind:

ومن اياته ان خلق لكم من انفسكم ازواجا لتسكنوا اليها وجعل بينكم مودة ورحمة

And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy.[4]

If man is a leader, and that too the Islamic definition of a leader, there is also a relation of a friend. In terms of management, man is the leader but in terms of relation with each other, he is to be like a friend. The relation is like the example of two friends on a journey where one makes the other a leader.

It is important to note here that Qur’an 4:34 does not say, ‘Allah made men excel over women’ rather it says, ‘Allah has made one of them excel the other.’ The different is evident and significant. The expression used has an indication that man and woman are from each other and if one of them is given a degree over the other it is not to the discredit or the detriment of the other.[5] In doing so Qur’an actually strikes at the roots of the Western view of gender relationship which is practically that of mutual rivalry and puts it as that of complementary nature. The Prophet (ﷺ) said; “Women are indeed the twin-halves of men.”[6]

Indeed, Allah knows the best.


[1] Qur’an 4:34

[2] Sunan Abi Dawud, book 14, Hadith 2602

[3] Kanz ul-A’maal, Hadith no. 17517

[4] Qur’an 30:21

[5] Shafi’, Muhammad, Ma’arif al-Qur’an, Translated by Muhammad Shamim (Karachi: Maktaba-e-Darul Uloom, n.d.) Vol.2, 419-420

[6] as-Sajistani, Abu Dawud, as-Sunan, Hadith 236, Classified as hasan by al-Albani.


7 thoughts on “Women in Islam: Are they subservient to men?

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