Prophet Muhammad Was History’s First Feminist

 By Maham Abbasi, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, USA:

“Muslim women are oppressed” is a narrative that we hear all the time. But, Islam gave women their rights centuries before the West did. There is a great side to women’s rights in Islam that is often overlooked. 

One of the most impactful changes that Prophet Muhammad brought about in society was regarding women’s rights. In the pre-Islamic era, things were enveloped in absurd superstitions and philosophies. Women were not respected and treated like a commodity. They had no rights related to inheritance or marriage. Even the most basic rights were denied to women. Islam was the first religion to give women rights of inheritance. Meanwhile, women in America and Europe were denied the right to own and manage the property until the 18th century. In the pre-Islam society, unwanted female newborns were buried alive. It was a custom. Islam put an end to the barbaric practice and practically forbade it. Additionally, it condemns parents who are unhappy with the birth of female newborns, which is unfortunately still an attitude in some Muslim societies.

Muslims believe that the first verses revealed to Prophet Muhammed were the first five verses in Surat Al-Alaq, which orders people to seek knowledge. 

“Every Muslim man and woman must seek knowledge,” the prophet is quoted as saying. Seeking knowledge is thus obligatory for every Muslim, male and female.

The Quran also encourages women to work and earn money and talks about fair pay.

“…And their Lord responded to them, ‘Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another.” [Quran 3:195]

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In a society where girls were deprived not just of rights but life itself, Prophet Muhammad established not just the religion of God, but a code of life, based on love and compassion. He taught society to love, be kind, and be generous and was a true champion in securing women’s rights, advocating love and respect for them. He emphasized their importance and status as mothers, wives, and daughters. For those days, the Prophet Muhammad was a feminist. By laying down the Islamic doctrine that dictates women’s rights, the prophet was arguably the first feminist in history.

Countering the widespread exploitation of women, he ordered men to honor and respect them. Prior to Muhammad, the dowry paid by a man for his bride was given to her father as part of the contract between the two men. Women had no say in the matter. Muhammad declared that women needed to assent to the marriage and that the dowry should go to the bride, not the father; furthermore, she could keep the dowry even after marriage. The wife did not have to use the dowry for family expenses as that was the responsibility of the man.

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In one of his last commands before his death, he kept repeating, “I command you to be kind and considerate to women.” In another hadith, he said, “It is only the generous in the character who is good to women, and only the evil one who insults them.” The final Prophet and Messenger, Muhammad, was a great man who advised men to have patience with their wives and not make them feel submissive towards them. He advised men to help women in the house with chores. He strictly discouraged divorce by emphasizing the fact that while it was permitted in Islam, it was ranked as the most detestable act in the eyes of Allah. 

The Prophet uplifted the status of women from that of being the property of men to that of equal status in the society with accorded rights and dignity. He paid exceptional attention to the women in his society, who previously had been denied any rights, freedom, and space. He was patient and kind towards them and listened to their plight. He loved and respected his wives and daughters. When her daughter Fatimah entered the room, he would stand up for her, kiss her, take her hand and make her sit in his place. He empowered women and encouraged them to fulfill their best potential, and taught the world the true value of women. 

When you look at the life of Prophet Muhammad, statements like ‘women are not loved in Islam’ or that ‘women are oppressed and have no rights, seem baseless claims and one can see that these statements are far from reality. It is time for the world to liberate women fully and do so upon the example of Muhammad (pbuh).

Compiled by Humra Rizvi and Curated by Maham Abbasi.


Maham Abbasi

Maham Abbasi recently completed her Masters in Women’s Studies from, The Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, AMU, India. A feminist at heart who revels at critiquing gendered societal constructs, she has been working on women's menstrual health and hygiene through her project called The No Shame since past two years. She works as a freelance content developer and writes extensively for women’s rights and issues.

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