As per the report released by the Delhi Commission for Women their 24-hour toll-free number 181 which seeks to provide immediate assistance to women in distress received as many as 38,000 complaints of domestic violence, over 5,800 complaints of rape and sexual harassment, 3,647 complaints under POCSO, 4,229 cases of kidnapping, 3,558 cases of Cyber Crime, 1,552 missing complaints and so on. If this is the case with the capital state, we can imagine the plight of women across the nation.
In the real sense of the term, the scale to assess a civilized society is the safety and dignity of its women. But this has become the greatest concern in many parts of the world today, especially in India. Ironically speaking, mankind all over the world and rulers of countries boast about democracy and equality as well as the claim that there is progress in education, science, technology and so on. But if you analyse only the last few months’ happenings around us, we can easily conclude that all these advancements are being utilised adversely against women. The safety and security of women is still a distant dream. We have different types of bullying in social media, atrocities against female students and staff in even premium educational institutions, female journalists in media houses, female members in parliaments, female police officers and so on.
Abuses, sexual harassment, rapes, acid attacks, dowry deaths, abduction, violence, the brutal murder of women… all have lost their news value as they have almost become normal and day-to-day events. Even strong, educated and independent women are not spared from such abuses. If you have hatred towards any community, you are encouraged to abuse, rape or kill their women. This has been advocated by many ‘acharyas’ in their writings and speeches. When the girls and women of Manipur were being stripped and paraded accompanied by such malice and dirty acts of violence followed by rapes, we saw the silence of the mainstream media in India. It was not at all shocking news for many. It did not leave a haunting impact on the nation’s conscience and disturb the sleep of the rulers. This kind of selected silence adds fuel to the fire and the same media leaves no stone unturned in spreading hatred and instigating such evil thoughts among the youth towards the women of marginalized communities and sections.
The current stats
The recent report compiled by National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB) says that from 2019 to 2021, a staggering number of girls and women, surpassing 13.13 lakhs, went missing in the country. (https://ncrb.gov.in/sites/default/files/nrcb_news/Missingpage-merged-3.pdf).
The reasons cited by observers include murder, suicide, human trafficking etc. NCRB states that “It is a regular occurrence for any police organization to deal with a report of a missing person. Some persons would have gone missing to avoid abuse or violence. Others may be missing due to an accident. A percentage of the total number of people who go missing will have been the victims of serious crime.” This highlights the plights of women and girls in India. The NCRB gives the data of recorded cases.
But the number could double or triple in actuality if we consider the difficulty in approaching law enforcement agencies for the marginalized people in the country. It is not because the country lacks proper rules but due to failure in implementation, judicial delay, difficult procedures, corruption and so on. A woman who is raped once has to relive the torture again and again through investigation procedures and media prosecution. They also need to pour money like water and go from pillar to post to get justice.
So, many don’t dare to register cases. The result is, they continue to lead a life of shame & fear. The social conscience of the country is so desensitized that people just ignore such news if at all they come out. The disappearance of millions of female fetuses is also a matter of great concern but no one is bothered. The statement of the former president of the country K R Narayanan two decades ago still proves the same or even worse: “No place is safe for them, not even their mother’s wombs. They are put to death even before they are born. The experience of Draupadi in the court of Kauravas has become symbolic of the ill-treatment of women in our country.” (President’s Address on the eve of Republic Day, January 25, 2002).
As per the report released by the Delhi Commission for Women their 24-hour toll-free number 181 which seeks to provide immediate assistance to women in distress received as many as 38,000 complaints of domestic violence, over 5,800 complaints of rape & sexual harassment, 3,647 complaints under POCSO, 4,229 cases of kidnapping, 3,558 cases of Cyber Crime, 1,552 missing complaints and so on. If this is the case with the capital state, we can imagine the plight of women across the nation.
The greatest of men
Keeping this context in view, let me introduce the great man whose day and night concern was women’s safety and dignity. It was not just verbal rhetoric but he practically brought changes in the lives of women by changing the mindset of the entire society towards women. He addressed the real reasons why women are being treated as not dignified creations of God and took measures to abolish them one by one. It was none other than Prophet Mohammed PBUH who was born in Arabia in 570 CE. When the whole world was in darkness and the Europeans called it the dark ages, he brought such a sea change into a society that used to bury their girl children alive due to being ashamed of giving birth to a girl who would bring nothing but troubles to the entire family in those days. Women and girls were treated even worse than animals. They were inherited and sold like commodities. A man can have any number of wives with no obligation to fulfill any rights of theirs. Within 23 years of his Prophethood, he was able to bring such a sea change in society that we find a chapter like Al Mujadila which means ‘she who debates’ (Qur’an: 58). This chapter talks about a woman called Khawla who became courageous enough and conscious of her rights to argue with the Prophet regarding her husband’s behaviour and the Qur’anic verse was revealed in favour of her. He raised the status of women and involved them positively in all constructive activities in society so much that during the Madinah period i.e. the second phase of his prophethood we could see women in every sphere of social, economic and political engagement. This they did, not by ignoring families or abandoning children. The believing men were trained in such a way by the prophet that women and girls enjoyed the comfort of a protected, safe and encouraging environment everywhere, be it at home, in the masjid, market place or even on the battlefield so that they could focus confidently on their activities without any fear or shyness.
The practical steps to sea change
Let us analyse one by one the areas of intervention by Prophet Mohammed PBUH which brought this type of sea change and consider how the same method and strategy can be adopted in the present world also to enable women and children to lead a life of dignity without fear.
Right to life: Prophet PBUH made the people believe that it is a great sin to deny the right of a girl child to live. He taught them the Qur’anic Verse which strongly speaks about those who bury their daughters alive. “And when baby girls, buried alive, are asked for what crime they were put to death…” (Qur’an 81:8-9). This situation described by the Qur’an not even looking at the person who committed the crime but directly addressing the girl child is the worst kind of situation a believer could imagine. Narrations describe the Prophet PBUH crying while listening to the stories of girls being buried alive by the people before becoming the followers of the Prophet PBUH. He created in the minds of his followers the fear of Allah in committing such crimes against daughters as well as the wish to have more and more daughters by telling them that it is a gateway to Heaven. Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abbas (R), the Prophet PBUH said: “If anyone has a female child and does not bury her alive, or slight her, or prefer his male children to her, Allah will bring him into Paradise”.
Jabir Ibn Abdullah (R) reported that the Prophet PBUH said: “Whoever has three daughters and he accommodates them, shows mercy toward them and supports them, Paradise is definitely guaranteed for him”. Then someone asked the Prophet, what if they are two daughters only? He replied: “He gets that reward even if they are only two”. Some of those present there felt that had the Prophet PBUH been asked about only one daughter, he would have answered that the reward applied to them too.
Uqbah Ibn Aamir (R) narrated, I heard the Messenger of Allah PBUH say: “Whoever has three daughters and is patient towards them, and feeds them, gives them to drink and clothes them from his wealth, they will be a shield from the fire on the Day of Resurrection.”
Anas (R) reported: The Prophet PBUH said, “Whoever supports two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the day of Resurrection like this.” The Messenger of Allah joined his fingers to illustrate closeness.
The impact created by all these repeated sayings and many more was very intense. A believer’s greatest wish and dream is to enter Paradise and enjoy the eternal blessings there and escape from the Hellfire which is doom forever. They are ready to sacrifice anything for that, even their lives. The offer of paradise in return for good treatment towards girls marked the beginning of a civilization that wanted and wished for girl children and treated them carefully so that their Lord would be pleased with them. This reminder of the Creator and belief in the Hereafter is required in the present world also to make people realise that they can escape the punishments in this world for their evil acts but they will surely have to meet their Lord who will not do injustice to anyone.
Right to education: Education is the gateway to empowerment and building confidence in anyone to lead a life with dignity. The first verse revealed to the Prophet was “Read in the name of your Lord” (Qur’an 96: 1-5). The Arabic word ‘Iqra’ actually means all forms of learning. Following that the prophet PBUH stressed the importance of education for both girls and boys, men and women. He took measures and ensured that gender, age, social status or even economic condition shouldn’t be a hindrance to acquiring useful knowledge and skills. He said that “Searching for knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim male and Muslim female.” (Ibn Majah) He praised the Ansar women who used to ask questions saying they are not shy in acquiring knowledge.
Education according to the practical example of the prophet PBUH was not limited to religious themes for both men and women. Learned women enjoyed a high public standing and authority during his time. Women were present in the public assemblies that came to learn from the prophet PBUH and he held classes especially for women apart from involving his wives and other educated women to do the same. Women in his household and among his followers received education not only in Islamic sciences but in other fields like medicine, poetry, mathematics, astrology and so on. No wonder, many women became instrumental in understanding and practising the life and message of the prophet after his death. Dr Mohammed Akram Nadvi, in his work Al Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam, identifies over 8000 women scholars of Hadith throughout Islamic history. These women scholars attained high rank in all spheres of religious knowledge and taught both men and women. Education was used as a method by the Prophet PBUH to abolish the slavery of girls in his society. Abu Musa Al-Ashari reported that the Prophet PBUH said “He who has a slave girl and teaches her good manners and improves her education and then releases her and marries her, will get a double reward.” (Ibn Majah, 1952). It was something unthinkable for the Arab society at that time which boasted in status and ranks to marry a slave girl.
Right to own property and inheritance: In a society which considered women as property, allowing women to own property and use it as they wish was something far from even their wildest imagination. But the Prophet did make it possible. Marriage was made valid only by giving something valuable to the bride as Mahar. No one else, even the father or guardian of the girl, has any right on this Mahar except the bride. She can use it in whatever way she thinks is suitable. The right to inheritance has been made a religious obligation even though a woman has no obligation in any situation to spend for the family. We need to specially note that he established a system in which the position of women got changed from the objects of inheritance to subjects of inheritance. This brought a sense of safety and protection for women. Women were encouraged to do jobs, choose any profession or do business and earn for themselves or choose not to earn by the Prophet PBUH. The right not to earn is a unique kind of right given to women while ensuring their financial security through other economic measures.
Right to respect and good behaviour: The prophet PBUH stressed the importance of showing respect and good behaviour towards women repeatedly in different contexts. Once a man came to the Prophet PBUH and asked: “To whom am I indebted the most?” He answered: “To your mother.” When the question was repeated again and again three times, he gave the same reply and only on the fourth time did he say, “To your father”. Through this, the Prophet PBUH was establishing the fact that motherhood is above all positions in life, and mothers deserve the best kind of respect, conduct and care. This is one area which even feminist organisations fail to address. He taught his people that Paradise lies under the feet of one’s mother. Detailed instructions were given by the prophet PBUH on the rights and duties of spouses which uplift the status of women to the highest degree within the family. He used to remind his followers that “The best of you are those who are best to their women (Sunan Al Tirmidi 1162). The Prophet’s wife Aysha (R) has given detailed descriptions of how he used to behave with his family. He had intimate relations and never used to consider women as dirty or untouchable even during menstruation. Aysha (R) says: “While menstruating, I used to give the pot from which I drank water and the Prophet PBUH used to drink from it by pressing his lips exactly where I kept my mouth”. He was proving to the world that spirituality doesn’t mean being away from your wife and treating them as untouchables. The more spiritual you are the more romantic you should be, of course through a lawful relationship after Nikah. He showed to the world through practical examples that wives are not to be kept as servants to do all household chores. He would do all the basic chores like washing clothes etc. by himself and would support his wives in the household chores by taking up the heaviest work. Even in his last sermon, he reminded his people: “Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”
Right to dignity and honour: To ensure the dignity and honour of women strict instructions and guidelines were given by the Prophet PBUH. Spreading scandals against women was taught as a great sin. The privacy of women and families was maintained through clear-cut instructions. Men were advised to inform their wives before entering their own houses. Extra-marital relationships were strictly prohibited. Encouraged marriage as a contract through which a woman could enjoy the legal rights of getting her basic needs fulfilled with dignity and getting an inheritance from the husband’s property.
Right to choose: The Prophet taught his people the right of a woman to choose her husband. When a woman named Khansa Bint Khidam complained to the Prophet PBUH, “My father married me to his nephew, and I did not like this match, so I complained to the Messenger of Allah PBUH. He said to me ‘Accept what your father has arranged.’ I said, ‘I don’t wish to accept what my father has arranged.’ He said’ ‘Then this marriage is invalid, go and marry whomever you wish’. I said, ‘I have accepted what my father has arranged, but I wanted women to know that fathers have no right in their daughter’s matters (i.e. they have no right to force a marriage on them)” – Al Bukhari 9/194, Ibn Maja Kitabun Nikah1/602. See the freedom women enjoyed in approaching the Prophet PBUH to establish their rights. Moreover, it is the sole right of the bride to fix the Mahr to her satisfaction. This ensured that a woman’s economic identity doesn’t merge with that of her husband after marriage.
Creating a female-friendly and welcoming environment in public places: There are several sayings and actions by the Prophet to ensure public places are safe and welcoming for women also. He advised, “Do not prevent the female servants of Allah from going to the Masjid.” (Muslim, Abu Dawud). The Prophet PBUH ordered that there should be separate doors for men and women to enter and exit so that women get the privacy and freedom to move freely. It is to be noted here that women are not compelled to perform their five times prayer in the masjid as has been the case with men. This is not to be taken as a ban but rather as a special consideration and privilege for women to choose whether to pray at home or in a Masjid. By strictly reminding his men to lower their gaze the Prophet PBUH ensured that women do not get disturbed even by the look of a man around. There are instances of the Prophet himself and his followers assisting women in many aspects in public places. The entire society was so transformed that a woman could feel safe and honoured in the presence of a man at any place at any time.
In short, the Prophet PBUH practically proved to the world how important it is to safeguard the security and dignity of women. Allah says in the Qur’an: “And We have not sent you, (O! Mohammed), except as a mercy to the worlds.” He is a great example for all of us to follow in all aspects of life at all times. “Indeed, in the messenger of Allah, you have an excellent example for whoever has hope in Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah often.” (Qur’an 33:21). The followers of the Prophet PBUH have a great responsibility in spreading the details of the Prophet’s life and mission in bringing peace and justice to the people. They are practical even today in any part and the world now needs those teachings more than ever. The right way to show our love towards the Prophet PBUH during Rabiul Awwal as well as at all times in our life is to follow in his footsteps, set examples of good treatment and behaviour towards women and spread the same message through not only words but actions to all fellow human beings.