Islamic Perspectives

Economic Empowerment of Women in the light of the Holy Qur’an

By Prof. Zafarul Islam Islahi
Dept. of Islamic Studies, A.M.U. 

Empowerment of the women is one of the much-debated issues in the present days. This is being discussed frequently in seminars, conferences and symposia. It is important to examine this issue particularly in the economic context with reference to the Qur’an. There is a general misconception that Islam gives no socio-economic rights to the women and that their condition is more deplorable in terms of economic life.

In view of the Qur’anic verses, the point is quite clear that like men women too have their rights including economic ones, as it was clearly stated in the verse 228 of Surah al Baqarah.

It is evident from the Holy Qur’an that women not only have  ownership rights but are also empowered to manage their properties and spend their income at their will under the Shariat's limitations. It is also clarified in the Holy Qur’an that whatever is earned by women, it becomes their sole property. None (even husband) is authorized to take or use them without the owmer’s permission.

It is stated in verse 32 of Surah al-Nisa that "for men is what they have earned. Likewise, for women is that what they have earned." With regard to the ownership rights of women, it may also be pointed out that the Qur’an commands the believers to  pay Zakah and Sadqah without any discrimination between men and women. The question arises that if women would not have proprietary rights how would they be required to pay Zakah or spend their money in the way of Allah (Infaq fi sabilillah). This is further supported by the fact that in the days of the Prophet (pbuh) several Sahabiyat (RA) used to adopt certain means of livelihood and spend their earning for family needs as well as in charity. In this connection the cases of Hazrat Umm Salamah (RA) and that of Zainab bint Jahsh are narrated in the Traditions.

The Qur’anic verses also bring forth the point that the right of a wife over her dower is fully established and that the husband has no right to interfere with it. It was explained by jurisprudents that if the dower was not paid at the time of marriage, the wife is entitled to demand the same from the husband any time and in case of delay or denial of the payment she is fully authorized to appeal to the qazi or to a court.

Besides, the wife also has rights in the income of her husband and she is even entitled to utilize it for her as well as for their children. Significantly enough, if the husband does not take care of their maintenance, the wife is entitled to use the income of her husband even without his knowledge or permission. She is also allowed to spend the wealth of her husband in charity or for noble causes. In fact, fulfilling the daily requirements of wife and children is obligatory on part of the husband. He cannot force his wife to spend her own income for this purpose. The economic empowerment of the women is further established by their rights of inheritance in the property of their parents and close relatives. It is proclaimed in the Holy Qur’an that for men is a share in the property of (the deceased) parents and other relatives and (in the same way) women have a share in the property of their parents and relatives (7: Al-Nisa).

It is notable that the Qur’an has not only accorded share to the women in the property of the deceased relatives, but also fixed their share as given in detail in Surah Al-Nisa and other Surahs. As a matter of fact, the inheritance right given by the Qur’an to women has much importance in a society where the women were themselves considered a part of inherited property. Moreover, according to the Qur’an, a woman is not only entitled to get her share in the property of her deceased relatives, but she is also empowered to use and manage the same without any interference from her husband or any other person.

 It is also a debatable issue among Ulama and scholars if  women are allowed to take up jobs or join any profession for earning money, or if they are entitled to utilize their faculties for building up economic resources. With reference to the Qur’anic verses and some traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) it may be observed that woman is permitted for the same in case of necessity under the Shariat's limitations. But some modern scholars are of the opinion that there is no harm for the women (even in normal conditions) to join any job or take up any profession to develop their economic status. This means that women can take part in economic activities like trade, agriculture. craft or any other professional work. But this is a controversial issue rejected by some ulama.

At the end, it may be stated that the Holy Qur’an ensures many economic rights for the women. They have proprietary rights over their valuables and belongings and are fully authorised to use them following the Shariat's guidelines. Besides, they have inheritance rights in different capacities. If the situation demands, they can earn money to meet the requirements of the family, provided no male member of the family is able to earn money. It is also needed to be emphasized that whatever income is earned by them, they are its sole owners. None is authorized to use it without their permission.

There is no doubt that the main responsibilities of women are to take care of the domestic work, to devote to the upbringing and educational development of their children and to look after the comfort of her husband and take care of his belongings. But her economic rights are fully established and these rigths cannot be denied in any condition. This is the spirit of the Qur’anic teachings and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2012 on page no. 21

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