Contribution of women to the rise and development of Islamic civilization
From the history of Islamic civilization, many people were given credits by their great contributions for the Islamic governments. Men and women apart played important roles in the Islamic civilization and their contributions have always been the topic of discussions even until today. According to the historians, especially most of the Western scholars viewed that women in the Islamic civilization were usually concealed, oppressed and often considered inferior to men. Women were considered not having any right to get involved in politics and their job was only to take care on their husbands and children. However, the truth appeared to be different from the accusations. In fact, women in the past have contributed in the matter of rise and development of the Islamic civilization.
Although men usually the ones inclined towards the political field rather than women, but still, women at that time also proved they did have some knowledge in political field. Their job were not only circulated around full submission towards their family, but they also learnt administration and managements, being medical supporters, involved in wars, and some of them proved their intellectual knowledge were not to be underestimate. These women who have contributed in those fields have represented that Islamic civilization did not left women behind or to acknowledge women’s contribution, but to picture their important roles as a part of this world.
Rights of women in Islam
Women in the ancient civilization were considered as the object of despised and they their presents were often pictured as unwanted. As from the history, they were treated with lack of humanity and equality. They were humiliated and concealed for being born as a girl. Sadly, most of women in the ancient civilization were just taken as objects of entertainment and often used in prostitution serving their rulers. However, when Islam came, women’s standard of living was lifted into a better level. They were now saved from the previous tortures and humiliation, and they could enjoy their freedom and rights bestowed upon them. Women in Islamic civilization could participate in many ways for the good of the civilization by preaching Islam and their knowledge to the people.
Men and Women’s right according to Shari’ah
According to Shari’ah, men and women alike were given rights to preserve these five basic qualities:-
· i. Faith,
· ii. Life,
· iii. Properties,
· iv. Education, and
· v. Family.
In Islam, all women were given rights to live their lives alongside with men. They must be treated with justice, and they were free to choose their path, as long as it does not opposite to Shari’ah. They should be given opportunity to serve in the administration with required knowledge and skills, not by judging them based on their gender. Besides, it was wrong to only let men learnt and equipped themselves with proper knowledge. Women are also important to be educated as women are soon to be mothers, and they could use their knowledge to educate their children.
Women’s special rights
To indicate that Islam really stress on the preservation of the women’s rights and life standard, women were also be granted with some special rights based on their nature as being a woman. These special rights were only being granted upon women, not on men because of the opposite nature among the two genders.
Among the special rights for women are:-
· Rights being a mother,
· A sister,
· A daughter,
· A wife,
· A widow, and
· A woman neighbor.
Women in the Time of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w and Khulafa’ al-Rashidun
During the time of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w, Islam sparked its expansion in the Arab world. When it was the time before Islam, women were living in such a secluded life and were given a little right for themselves. Even small girls would be buried alive because their birth was considered as a disgrace towards the family. After Islam came, this practice was ended and the people were taught that men and women alike should be treated with justice. Women were given the rights to inherit properties, in marriage and also in social matters. And they was also Quranic verse that has been revealed stated, “…And live with them in kindness...” (Surah Al-Nisa’:19). The Prophet s.a.w mentioned that one of the signs that a man of perfect believer is that he treats his woman or wife in a good way. The way he treats his wife would be reflection to his character, which in turn to be reflection to his iman.
Women after the time of Khulafa’ al-Rashidun
After the time of Khulafa’ al-Rashidun, Muslim world was facing the period of expansion. Islam was spread widely throughout the world reaching the non-Arabs countries like Persia and even reached the European countries. The life of the society started to change over this expansion because the people were now meeting various traditions and customs practiced by the people across the wide land. Therefore, the women’s standard was also varied from one country to another. Thus, when Islam came, it somehow lifted the condition of women’s living standard into a better level and slowly eroded from the local customs. Women were started to be treated more humanly and harsh treatments towards them were disabled.
During the time of Umayyad Caliphate in 661 century and onwards, women were given opportunities to contribute in wide range of areas, including politics, religious belief, intellectual field and others. Women could freely engaged themselves in learning and acquire knowledge; thus many women living in this period were learned women and they have a great knowledge on the important fields like law and jurisprudence, theology, medicine, literature, religious studies, and others. They also continued to write poetries, a tradition that has been started even long before the pre-Islamic era.
In the Abbasid Caliphate, women were treated with more dignity. Women’s appearances were guarded to make sure they always appear to be modest and proper. This is all to preserve the women’s safety and well-being. Besides, a law has also been enacted in this era especially to guide all people that were living in the Caliphate, and to follow proper Islamic lifestyle adapted to the new surroundings. During Caliph al-Mansur time, he even ordered a separate bridge to be constructed over the Euphrates River especially for women. This act was actually to prevent harm towards women by making the separation between men and women.
Later, the status of women further developed in the time of Osmanli Caliphate. In this period, women were even managed to establish the Sultanate of Women. In fact, the women entitled haseki sultan (Sultan’s favourite concubine) and valide sultan (the queen or the Sultan’s mother) were known as women with the top ranks and have greater influence in the government. Although the establishment of this women sultanate somehow raised doubts into the Western historical thoughts whether their contributions gave negative or positive impacts to the Caliphate, however, it expressed that women really did contribute in the political administration. Harem at that time was not just the place of polygamy and women slaves. But, it became the place of where women have the opportunity to gain their power and influence. Most noble women that were living in the sultan’s harem managed to engage themselves with the affairs of the Caliphate. They often influenced the sultan’s advisor in decision making, diplomacy, charity, architecture and others.
Some important Muslim women in history:
i. Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid
Khadijah was the wife of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. Even before he married to the Prophet s.a.w, she was already a well known figure as a merchant in Makkah. With a background coming from an elite ruling family, she had the opportunity to get involved in the trade activities in the Arab society at that time. In fact, the Prophet s.a.w himself was the one of her helper in this trade activity before their marriage. Impressed by the Prophet s.a.w’s honesty and characters, Khadijah had made her decision to marry the Prophet s.a.w. After their blessed marriage, when the Prophet s.a.w started to received revelations and preaching Islam, Khadijah supported and became one of the people who were first accepted Islam. Besides, he even helped to propagate Islam eventhough the Makkah society rejected to follow the teaching of the Prophet s.a.w.
ii. Nusaibah Bint Ka’ad Al-Ansariyah
Nusaibah Bint Ka’ab was also known as Ummu ‘Ammarah. She was the mother of Abdullah and Habib Ibn Zaid al-Ansari. In Islamic history, her named was engraved as a female warrior bravely fighting for Islam. First, she was one of the 70 people who did the bai’ah to the Prophet s.a.w in the second Bai’ah Aqabah. In the Battle of Uhud (625 CE), Nusaibah alongside with the other women went to the battle field as nurses and to help in managing logistics, while her husband , Zaid her two sons fought with the other men. However, when the Muslim soldiers started to disobey the Prophet s.a.w’s order to not leaving the hill, and defeat became clearly resided to Muslims, Nusaibah grabbed a sword and a shield and ran into the battle field. She went to protect Prophet Muhammad s.a.w bravely and wounded severely. But she did not care of her wounded body and kept on protecting the Prophet s.a.w. After the Battle of Uhud, she also contributed in other important events like in Hudaibiyah, Battle of Khaibar, Hunain and Yamamah.
iii. Samra Bint Nuhaik
After the time of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w, the government of Madinah was taken over by the four great Caliphs that usually known as the period of Khulafa’ al-Rashidun. In the time of Caliph Umar al-Khattab, he established several new departments of the government. Referring from the time of the Prophet s.a.w, Caliph Umar made the role of muhtasib as an official position in the government of Madinah. Among all the muhtasib, there were also women who have been appointed to the position by the Caliph because of their character and knowledge. One of them is Samra Bint Nuhaik. She was appointed as a muhtasib or the public inspector for markets in Madinah. Her job was to supervise any kind of executive and judicial issues in the markets and to punish traders that practiced unfair measurements in selling their goods. Besides, she was also responsible to take care of the public well-being and morality, as she involved in the maintenance of roads, the people’s healthcare, animals’ welfare, to control the trade of alcoholic drinks and the problem of indecent women.
iv. Al-Shifa Bint Abdullah
Al-Shifa Bint Abdullah was also one of the muhtasib that were appointed during Caliph Umar’s time. Her real name was Laylah, but people gave her the nickname ‘Al-Shifa’ due to her ability in medical treatments. Although women were rarely taught reading and learning in the pre-Islamic era, al-Shifa proved to be one from the rare group, as she was an intelligent woman, equipped with skills particularly in trade matters and she was also taught how to read and write. So, in the time of Caliph Umar al-Khattab, she was appointed to be the market inspector to control the smooth flow of trading activities in the markets. At the same time, she was also responsible to preach her knowledge on medical and healthcare importance according to her great ability on the field. Furthermore, from her intellect and counseling skills, she was also believed to be the supervisor for Caliph Umar as he consulted her for opinions. As she was living since the time of the Prophet s.a.w, she was a companion to the Prophet s.a.w and she narrated many hadith along preaching her knowledge and abilities in various fields.
v. Rabi’ah al-Adawiyah al-Qaysiyyah
Rabi’ah al-Adawiyah al-Qaysiyyah, also known as Rabi’ah al-Basri was born in 713 century in Basra, Iraq. She was born into a poor but religious and pious family.
She was famously known as an Islamic philosopher and she had a large number of followers and students. Rabi’ah always stressed that all her deeds and practices were related to Allah and she should be living in a zuhud way (leaving worldly matters) in her life. She taught her students to not showing off their good deeds, and to cover them up like they were covering their bad deeds. This action shows the honesty and humbleness in doing the good deeds and prevents takabbur or riak. From her deep knowledge in theology and Sufism, she believed that the concept of mahabbah or love is really important in the relationship between humans. That was why she always emphasized her students to take care of relationship between human beings besides strengthen the relationship between oneself to Allah S.W.T.
vi. Lubna of Cordoba
Lubna was born as a Spanish slave girl and was raised in the court of Sultan Abd al-Rahman III in the 10th century. By her background, she gained fame in the Andalusian court among all the elites. Lubna was very much being trusted by the Sultan, and she was given position as a secretary for the Sultan and his son, Hakam. Besides that, she was also entrusted to take care and gained access for the Sultan’s private library. She was described as a woman of intelligence, she knew how to read and write, she produced poetries, expertise in literature, mathematics and also other sciences. When she was a scribe, she did not just write and translate all the texts, but she also provides commentaries and argumentations for the translated texts.
vii. Afife Nur Banu Sultana
Nur Banu was known as a great woman in her time influencing the “Sultanate of Women” in the Osmanli period. She was the mother of Sultan Murad III. As a valide sultan, she proved that she had influence to the Sultan, by being his advisor, contributed in diplomatic matters and other important matters. In fact, she was the one responsible to make sure Murad to be enthroned in the Sultanate safely. When Sultan Selim II died, the next successor would be her son, Murad. However, Murad was not living in Istanbul, because he was appointed to be the governor of Manisa previously. So, when the news of the death of Selim II reached Murad, he immediately rushed towards the capital. But, the journey consumed time. Thus, to maintain the condition in Istanbul from any dispute and to make sure her son made it to the throne, Nur Banu made a rather awkward but brilliant idea; that was to hide Selim’s body in ice while awaiting the arrival of his son to the capital. This shows the great determination of Nur Banu and her contribution in the political field. 
viii. Raziya Sultana
Raziya was the daughter of Sultan Iltutmish of Delhi. She was enthroned into the rulership of Delhi after the killing of the previous Sultan, his brother and his mother. The killing of Ruknuddin Feroz Shah and his mother was due to the dissatisfaction of the nobles towards them. Ruknuddin was known by his overspending for entertainment and leisure abandoning the governmental affairs, while their hatred towards his mother due to her influence in the administrative office. However, after the killing of those two figures, they only have Raziya as the most capable person from the family of Sultan to be the ruler. So, she was appointed as a Sultana by her preoccupied political knowledge since she was small although it was against the local customs to make a woman as a leader. She proved to be a great leader when she installed a great affirmative system of administration. But, the nobles and the people did not like her because she was a woman and she was entitled as their ruler, dressed like a man and even led her army into the battlefield. 
To sum up, women were living in a better life standard since the arrival of Islam. Before Islam came, women were living in a backwardness and seclusion. This practice slowly eroded by the teaching of Islam. The women’s standard was lifted and they were given rights to attain knowledge, and to learn how to read and write. Women in the ancient time were prohibited from engaging in the public affairs and they were not allowed to voice out their opinions over political issues. But, it was changes with Islam. Women were given opportunities to engage themselves in various fields, they could freely contribute in the societal affairs and they could even express opinions on the rulers. Along with men, they made great contributions in various fields and educate all the people with Islamic knowledge and teachings. Although the status of women is still being argued until today, it is proved in history that women were living in a better life with Islam because many women managed to contribute in handling the Caliphate’s affairs to be compared from the previous era. Some of them were even responsible for making up the administration from the weak or poor Sultans. By using their intelligence and skills, those women in their times tried to maintain the stable Islamic caliphate and continued to preach Islam for the people.
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 Raghavan, C. & Levine, J.P., Self-determination and women’s right in Muslims societies. (Massachusetts: Brandeis University Press), 284.
 Ali, Asghar, 96.
 Kallander, A. A., Women, gender and the palace households in Ottoman Tunisia. (Texas: University of Texas Press), 175.
 Haylamaz, Resit, Khadija: The first Muslim and the wife of the Prophet Muhammad. (New Jersey: The Light), 38-39.
 KH. Husein Muhammad, Islam agama ramah perempuan. (Indonesia: Fahmina Institue), 167.
 Mohammed Ali al-Bar & Hassan Chamsi Pasha, Contemporary bioethics: Islamic perspective. (Saudi: 2015), 29.
 Ibid, 29.
 Gharib, Makmun, Rabiah al-Adawiyah. (Jakarta: Serambi Ilmu Semesta), 33.
 Fletcher, R.A., Moorish Spain. (California: University of California Press), 70-71.
 Peirce, L.P. The imperial harem: Women and sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. (New York: Oxford University Press), 189-190.
 Srivastava, G., The legend makers: Some eminent Muslim women in India. (New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company), 16-17.
By Keith Syakil, IIUM
By Keith Syakil, IIUM