Mother Pelican
A Journal of Sustainable Human Development

Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2011
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Gender Equity in Islam
Part 2: The Economic Aspect

Jamal Badawi
Professor Emeritus of Religious (Islamic) Studies
Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada

Originally published in
Islam Online - 30 March 2011

When writing or speaking about the Islamic position on any issue, one ought to clearly differentiate between the normative teachings of Islam and the diversity of cultural practices prevalent among its adherents that may or may not be consistent with those teachings. Dr. Jamal Badawi in this paper discusses the normative teachings of Islam with regard to the standing and role of women in society as the criteria by which to judge the practice of Muslims and to evaluate their compliance with Islam.

There is no decree in Islam that forbids women from seeking employment.
To read Part I, click here

Part 2 - The Economic Aspect

One aspect of the world-view of Islam is that everything in heaven and on earth belongs to God as stated in the Quran:

{To Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth. . .} (Al-Baqarah 2: 284)

As such, all wealth and resources are ultimately "owned" by God. However, out of God's mercy He created mankind to be, collectively, His trustees on earth. In order to help mankind fulfill this trusteeship, He made the universe serviceable to mankind:

{And He (Allah) has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold, in that are signs indeed for those who reflect.} (45: 13)

It is the human family that is addressed in the above, and in other verses of the Quran. And since that family includes both genders, it follows that the basic right to personal possession of property (as God's trustees) applies equally to males and females.

More specifically: The Shariah (Islamic Law) recognizes the full property rights of women before and after marriage. They may buy, sell or lease any or all of their properties at will. For this reason, Muslim women may keep (and in fact they have traditionally kept) their maiden names after marriage, an indication of their independent property rights as legal entities.

A Muslim woman is guaranteed support in all stages of her life, as a daughter, wife, mother or sister.

Financial Security and Inheritance Laws

Financial security is assured for women. They are entitled to receive marital gifts without limit and to keep present and future properties and income for their own security, even after marriage. No married woman is required to spend any amount at all from her property and income on the household. In special circumstances, however, such as when her husband is ill, disabled or jobless, she may find it necessary to spend from her earnings or savings to provide the necessities for her family. While this is not a legal obligation, it is consistent with the mutuality of care, love and cooperation among family members.

The woman is entitled also to full financial support during marriage and during iddah (the waiting period which is usually three months in case of divorce, or 130 days in case of widowhood). Some jurists require, in addition, one year's support for divorce and widowhood (or until they remarry, if remarriage takes place before the year is over).

A woman who bears a child in marriage is entitled to child support from the child's father. Generally, a Muslim woman is guaranteed support in all stages of her life, as a daughter, wife, mother or sister. The financial advantages accorded to women and not to men in marriage and in family have a social counterpart in the provisions that the Quran lays down in the laws of inheritance, which afford the male, in most cases, twice the inheritance of a female.

Males inherit more but ultimately they are financially responsible for their female relatives: their wives, daughters, mothers and sisters. Females inherit less but retain their share for investment and financial security, without any legal obligation to spend any part of it, even for their own sustenance food, clothing, housing, medication ... etc.).

It should be noted that in pre-Islamic society, women themselves were sometimes objects of inheritance and the Quran comes to forbid it:  

{O you who believe, it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will; neither debar them, so that you may go off with part of what you have given them}  (An-Nisa' 4: 19).

In some Western countries, even after the advent of Islam, the whole estate of the deceased was given to his/her eldest son. The Quran, however, made it clear that both men and women are entitled to a specified share of the estate of their deceased parents or close relations:

{From what is left by parents and those nearest related, there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large—a determinate share} (An-Nisa' 4: 7)

There is no restriction on benefiting from women's talent in any field.


With regard to the woman's right to seek employment, it should be stated first that Islam regards her role in society as a mother and a wife as her most sacred and essential one. Neither maids nor baby sitters can possibly take the mother's place as the educator of an upright, complex-free, and carefully reared child. Such a noble and vital role, which largely shapes the future of nations, cannot be regarded as "idleness." This may explain why a married woman must secure her husband's consent if she wishes to work, unless her right to work was mutually agreed to as a condition at the time of marriage.

However, there is no decree in Islam that forbids women from seeking employment whenever there is a necessity for it, especially in positions which fit her nature best and in which society needs her most. Examples of these professions are: nursing, teaching, medicine, and social and charitable work. Moreover, there is no restriction on benefiting from women's talent in any field. Some early jurists, such as Abu Hanifah and Al-Tabari, uphold that a qualified Muslim woman may be appointed to the position of a judge. Other jurists hold different opinions. Yet, no jurist is able to point to an explicit text in the Quran or Sunnah that categorically excludes women from any lawful type of employment except for the headship of the state, which is discussed in the following chapter.

Omar, the second Caliph after the Prophet Muhammad, appointed a woman (Um Al-Shifaa' bint Abdullah) as the marketplace supervisor, a position that is equivalent in our world to "director of the consumer protection department." In countries where Muslims are a numerical minority, some Muslim women, while recognizing the importance of their role as mothers, may be forced to seek employment in order to survive. This is especially true in the case of divorcees and widows and in the absence of the Islamic financial security measures outlined above.

Next, we'll see the equality between man and woman in society.

About the Author: Dr. Jamal Badawi was Professor of both Management and Religious Studies at St. Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now retired, he is still associated with the university as "Professor Emeritus" and continues to teach courses on Islam on a part time basis. He completed his undergraduate studies in Cairo, Egypt, and his Masters and Ph.D. degrees at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Dr. Badawi is the author of several works on Islam, including books, chapters in books and articles. In addition to his participation in lectures, seminars and interfaith dialogues in North America, Dr. Badawi has been frequently invited as guest speaker on Islam in nearly 40 other countries. He is a member of the Islamic Juridical [Fiqh] Council of North America, The European Council of Fatwa and Research and the International Union of Islamic Scholars. He has been serving as a volunteer Imam of the local Muslim community in Halifax, Canada since 1970.

The article above is based on his book, Gender Equity in Islam, American Trust Publications, 1 July 1995. This is Part 2 in a series of four articles:

Part 1 was reprinted in the June issue. Parts 3 and 4 will be reprinted in the August and September issues. Readers who want to read the entire series now can click on the above links to Islam Online.

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