Gender discrimination and Islam
I was born and raised in the West. I grew up in a place where the laws and society see women as equals. Like men, women here are independent, in charge of their own lives, and are expected to make their own decisions. However, I have come to realize that the matter is different under traditional Islam. Women are not equal to men and are kept under the control of their fathers, brothers, and husbands. Their male guardians must approve of their work, clothing, relationships, and everything they do. I see this as being incompatible with our present age and that Islam discriminates between the two genders. Is my point valid?
It is important to differentiate between equality and equivalency. In this context, equivalency means disregarding the biological and physiological differences between males and females; basic logic rejects this. Equality, as established in the Shari’ah, means giving each their rights while taking into account the biological and physiological differences between the two genders without any decrease or discrimination.
What you have mentioned in the question does not mean giving preference to one gender over the other. The fact is that God Almighty has regulated gender roles based on what is suitable to each and He prohibits us from seeking absolute equality without considering the consequences.
Reflecting upon the primary texts, one will realize that the majority of Quranic verses and Prophetic traditions address both males and females in equal measure. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Women are the sister-halves of men” (Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi).
In other verses, men and women are addressed separately in a way that suits the particular role for which each has been created. God Almighty says, “Does He Who created not know, while He is the Subtle, the Acquainted?” (Quran 67:14). The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Everyone is facilitated in that for which they have been created” (Bukhari and Muslim). In Islam, a woman is financially independent and is free to dispose of her own property in the manner she likes. God Almighty says, “For men is a share of what they have earned, and for women is a share of what they have earned” (Quran 4:32). In another verse, God addresses husbands saying, “And give the women [upon marriage] their [bridal] gifts graciously. But if they give up willingly to you anything of it, then take it in satisfaction and ease” (Quran 4:4).
In the case of divorce, Islam prohibits men from taking any property from their women without right, “Divorce is twice. Then, either keep [her] in an acceptable manner or release [her] with good treatment. And it is not lawful for you to take anything of what you have given them unless both fear that they will not be able to keep [within] the limits of God” (Quran 2:229).
Islam respects women’s freedom to choose and decide to do what they see fit for themselves as long as they abide by the etiquette and teachings of the Shari’ah. God Almighty says, “Then there is no blame upon you for what they do with themselves in an acceptable way. And God is Exalted in Might and Wise” (Quran 2: 240). None of the scholars from among the predecessors or successors has maintained that men are entitled to oppress women; God Almighty says, “There is no compulsion in the religion” (Quran 2:256). The calls to freedom and independence that are not harnessed by the Shari’ah such as propagation of nudity, forbidden mingling of the sexes, moral transgressions, etc, have nothing to do with the religion.
And God Almighty knows best.