During the early times in Muslim society, women enjoyed an elevated position due to the influence of the prophet Mohammad. In the present generation, Muslim communities are dominated by males, and women are under male oppression. The social institutions, personal behavior, and legal structures are, in most cases, highly discriminative. There are extreme cases of severe control, injustice, brutality, and exclusion towards women in myriad ways. In most Muslim societies, there exists acute gender inequality, and the lives of women are under the strict guidance of the laws, customs, and traditions (Khan, 2001). In Mohammad's time, different levels of power were drawn from the religious beliefs of that time, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
There is little information about the kind of life Muslim women had during the prophet Mohammed's time. In an era before the eleventh century, most of the historical accounts are restricted to the women of the elite class, and also legal sources do not provide any reliable information about the experiences of the non-elite women of that time. The process of historical reconstruction of the experiences is a complex task that is extremely involving. It is more complicated since the experiences are varied and would not be appropriate to generalize (Khan, 2001). Nonetheless, there is some information that provides historical scholars with insights into what the experiences might have been at that time.
The lives of women were influenced by religion as well as by the political environment around them and their socioeconomic status within society. Male scholars did most of the historical accounts, and they were primarily moralistic in nature (Munjin & Kamaludin, 2019). They were aimed at offering instructions and moral perception in a variety of issues in the daily lives of the Muslims.
Islam came as a revolutionary force that lifted the status of the poor and the individuals who are underprivileged in society at that time. In those days in Mecca, there were prevalent cases of infanticide which Islam put an end to. The influence of Islam through Prophet Mohammed created an environment where both genders in stature and worship. These claims may not appear remarkable in the present time. However, they created a transformation of conscience in the lives of the Arabs during Mohammad's time (Munjin & Kamaludin, 2019). There are several women who were healthy and dignified in the early Islam community whose names have evolved over the years into household names, and they are role models to women even in the present generation. The women in the life and family of the prophet have not faded into obscurity. The wife of the prophet, for example, was a successful businesswoman of her time and was the first convert to Islam.
The right of women for equality begins immediately in the creation story of the Quran. The holy book of Islam, just like the other sacred books like the Torah or the bible has several occasions where they share stories involving similar prophets like Moses and Abraham. Islam brands itself as being among the top three most popular religions of the world, which were set up by Abraham, a Judeo-Islamic-Christianity monotheistic tradition. They both believe in laws that were handed over to Moses by Allah. The rules are referred to as Sharia, which were developed through the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.
When Prophet Mohammad came with the Islamic teachings, he instantly began to uplift the lives of women. The royal women did not always visit public spaces. However, they contributed to political alliances and even hired their administrative staff. They were able to enjoy significant power and use their wealth as per their wish, and they also exerted their influence in the courts. The elite women were most often educated as per the standards of the time. However, they did not participate in the official legal bodies of Islam (Brown, 2017). They had their own educational institutions as per the requirement of the prophet, where they were taught religion and other life skills that they needed during the period. During that time, there were Sufi convents that were built for the women to live in and to worship. One such member was Rabia of Basra, who was a well-known piety whose image has lived on ever since.
Through the influence of the prophet, women of higher socioeconomic classes had the privilege to enjoy a substantial amount of financial and legal independence, an aspect that was entirely uncommon in other cultures at that time. He suggested that women were supposed to enjoy the independence to manage their wealth and investments, engage in trade as well as initiate divorce, among others (Munjin & Kamaludin, 2019). However, the women did not have an equal share in the inheritance as compared to their male counterparts. Muhammad taught about the importance and significance of all individuals in the eyes of Allah, something that had never been done before. He brought to light the names of women such as that of his wife Khadija bint Khuwalid and others such as Aminah bint Khalaf, Fukaihah bint Yasar, and Fatima bint al-Mujallil among others (Munjin & Kamaludin, 2019).
Impact on Leadership
The movements to promote Muslim women to take up positions of leadership in society have spread widely and rapidly, especially in the twenty-first century. More and more women have turned out to seek political seats in their respective countries (Buang & Suryandari, 2017). Some of the most prominent Muslim female leaders include the retired prime minister of Pakistan Bhutto and the 2001 president of Indonesia and the former prime minister of Senegal, who was appointed in 2001 (Buang & Suryandari, 2017). There are several verses in the Quran that was advocated for by the prophet Mohammad that support the role of women in leadership and politics. One such verse is the mention of the queen of Sheba, who acted as a representative of one of the leaders and represented her people. The hadith also provides several instances of the leadership positions that women had before, such as the one that was taken by the wife of the prophet, Khadija, who also acted as his chief advisor and supporter.
Throughout the history of most societies, the role of women has been restricted to the home environment. The women were meant to stay at home, do house chores, and take care of the children. This kind of arrangement has been for a long time. Society created hundreds of obstacles to prevent women from taking part in leadership and politics (Munjin & Kamaludin, 2019). However, with the coming of the prophet Muhammad, there were alterations in the norms. His presence provided the women with a platform to turn things around. He brought an uncommon sense of freedom as well as power.
The wives of Muhammad provided an excellent example of how women were and are supposed to live. The first wife was a great businesswoman whose success earned her influence in other spheres of life. The other wives also played different roles (Ahmad, 2015). Hafsa bint Umar was responsible for the safekeeping of the Quran. Aisha bint Abi Bakr was a major general in the army during the battle of Camel. There were other vital positions that he allowed the women to take part in these powerful positions.
After the death of the prophet, the men took over the leadership roles, and the interpretation of the verses was based on a patriarchal society. The Quran has various interpretations that place women in different categories, which is not easy to generalize. The position of the women was thus returned and limited to the household. The leadership positions were thus left for the males, and the women were secluded. There were revolutions in the twentieth century that began in a bid to fight for the position of women, which had been taken from them after the death of the prophet.
Women have since taken to get educated and participate in senior roles in both management and leadership. From the education sector, Allah revealed Iqra to the prophet Mohammad. The Iqra revelation had broad interpretations regarding the philosophical meaning. The demand for reading is not restricted to just the spiritual text. It is also extensive and may include reading to learn other skills that are useful in life (Almaki, Almaki & Silong, 2016). The words of the prophet go that reading is not restricted to men; it is a message that is directed to all humanity. Thus, from this analogy, women have the right to engage in studies of all kinds, including higher education.
The prophet also set an example in leadership. He made a unique breakthrough that prompted a new perspective on the role of women in administration. Among the residents of Quraysh, their senior dignitary's meetings did not involve women, and only men were allowed to enter. Modern women have taken the movement which they use to propel their leadership agenda (Munjin & Kamaludin, 2019). They are following in the footsteps of the women in leadership during the time of the prophet Mohammad. In the present times, Pakistan was the first country to become a Muslim-majority state, which had a female elected as the head of the government. Other countries have followed suit such as Turkey, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kosovo, and Mauritius, among others (Buang & Suryandari, 2017). Several Muslim-majority states have enacted laws that allow for more incorporation of women in their parliament as well as political processes. One such country was Indonesia, which passed a law that prompted all parties to have at least one female in every three male members' failure to which the party was banned from taking part in the elections. Other countries have also passed similar legislation.
The legal systems where most Muslim women live are dual systems. They comprise civil law that is mostly borrowed from the Western forms of legal systems, and the second is on family or personal status law. The personal or family status built from Sharia laws poses several obstacles to the quest of women in leadership, although civil laws provide a platform where both men and women have equal rights. The women have to navigate through such profound obstacles to get to the gender equality that the prophet Mohammad believed in. The women have to impose their presence and be felt and given a chance to take up their share in building the society.
Ahmad, M. B. U. D. M. (2015). Muhammad the Liberator of Women. Islam International Publications Ltd.
Almaki, S. H., Almaki, R. H., & Silong, A. D. (2016). The Path of Leadership Experience of Muslim Women Leaders in Higher Education. International Business Management, 10(15), 2967-2972.
Brown, J. A. (2017). Hadith: Muhammad’s legacy in the medieval and modern world. Oneworld Publications.
Buang, A., & Suryandari, R. Y. (2017). Education, political empowerment, and Muslim women in the Middle East–Understanding the paradox. Geografia-Malaysian Journal of Society and Space, 7(4).
Khan, M. W. (2001). Muhammad: A Prophet for all humanity. Goodwood.
Munjin, S., & Kamaludin, I. (2019). The Role of Prophet Muhammad on Women's Emancipation in Mecca Period. Islam Realitas: Journal of Islamic & Social Studies, 5(2), 173-185.
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