The question has often been asked: does Islam give women rights or take them away? Surely, the concept of justice and equality for all are repeatedly mentioned in the Holy Quran and are fundamental to the spirit of Islam, with rights for women being an important component. Both the right to divorce and the right to an inheritance, for instance, were revolutionary when Islam bestowed these rights upon women and were not introduced in other parts of the world till much later.
The trouble is, however, that those who most often speak in the name of Islam, frequently contemplate how to take rights away from women rather than elevate their position in society.
Islam, modernity and women’s rights (Urdu)
In addition, while Islam accorded rights to women they did not previously have, the world has progressed in leaps and bounds in the last 1,400 years and unless the Islamic world can reform its laws and practices so that they are in conformity with modernity, it will be difficult to compete with the non-Muslim world or lay claim to the oft-repeated mantra that Islam confers many rights upon women.
In this context, let’s examine the recent recommendations of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). The CII has proposed that there should be no minimum age for marriage as that would be ‘un-Islamic’. The CII’s rationale is rooted in the example of Hazrat Ayesha, the Holy Prophet’s (peace be upon him) youngest wife, who is said to have been betrothed to him at the age of seven, nine, 11 or 15, depending on which scholar/historian one chooses to believe as there is no official and uncontroversial record of her age at the time. Her marriage to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was not consummated until a few years later by which time, she had, at least, attained puberty and according to at least one scholar, was as old as 18.
Nevertheless, the point is that for much of history, the age of marriage was a matter for families or tribes to decide. In recent years, however, state intervention and legislation on this subject has become commonplace.