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A Muslim perspective on Gender

Basma Elshayyal's picture

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The title Gender throws up limitless possibilities. Are we addressing the condition of being male or female and the implications it has on a follower of the Islamic faith? Is it their sexual identity in relation to society and culture? Or are we interested in the historical/political/anthropological baggage that has accumulated over the years?


I think an excellent place to start would be with the Qur'an:


If any do deeds of righteousness - be they male or female - and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them.


(O Mankind, Be dutiful to your Lord who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate (of same kind) and from them twain has spread a multitude of men and women.)                                                                       An-Nisa, 4:1

Two halves of the whole

These two quotations establish the basic fact that in Islam men and women are regarded as two halves of one whole (soul), equal partners. Their religious and social responsibilities are the same - both men and women are bound to observe religious and social obligations; and each will be rewarded and held accountable for what they do alone:

Every soul will be (held) in pledge for its deeds.                                                 (74:38)

... So their Lord accepted their prayers, (saying): I will not suffer to be lost the work of any of you whether male or female. You proceed one from another.             (3: 195)

Although complementary, both genders are regarded as independent individuals, with their own personalities and traits and thus will be rewarded or punished according to the acts each offer.  This is important since Islam recognises a woman as a separate entity from her husband or father or brother. Both must adhere to the same moral standards and both are equally responsible for maintaining peace and contentment within the society around them:

For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.           (33:35)



Keeping the balance

Many other passages and teachings refer to the reciprocity of roles within various relationships and the male/female dynamic in society overall (e.g. marriage, etc) - these are too many to detail here, but this is one example.

They (wives) are libas (body cover or garments) for you (husbands) are the same for them.                                                                                           (2:187)

Then Satan made them slip there from (the Paradise), and got them out from that in which they were.                                                                               (2:36)

The Qur'an does not solely blame Eve for being tempted first but lays the blame on both.  Moreover it emphasises that neither did Eve tempt Adam to eat from the tree, nor did she initiate the act herself.  Satan was held responsible for the temptation. Once they realised their mistakes, both of them repented and they were forgiven:

Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall be losers.                                                             (7:23)

In many places in the Qur'an, it is Adam who is specifically mentioned as having been responsible for the error ...

And indeed We made a covenant with Adam before, but he forgot, and We found on his part no firm will-power.                                                      (20:115)

Thus did Adam disobey his Lord, so he went astray.                              (20:121)

Equal but different

However, since the underlying principle within Islam is that women are equal but different, it takes this aspect into account regarding her duties.  Though a woman must pray daily as men must do, she is exempted from this if she is on her menstrual cycle.  It is mandatory for Muslim men to attend the Friday prayer, but for women this obligation has been relaxed and made optional for her.  She also does not have to fast during her menstrual cycle, and is also exempted from keeping the fasts during pregnancy and whilst suckling her child if she or her child is at risk.  Thus a woman is given leniency in this regard, having due regard to her femininity. 

A woman is also under the same ethical obligations as men in respect of her social duties for society.



Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him will we give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to their actions.                                                              (16:97)

In conclusion, what really matters is that all should play an active role in the community by enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong and working positively with all towards the common good for all of humanity.

The believers, men and women, are ‘Awliya' (helpers, supporters, friends, protectors) of one another, they enjoin (on the people) Al-Ma`ruf (goodness)); and forbid (people) from Al-Munkar (wrongdoing).


both make fascinating reading ... lengthy, but well worth it!

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