The term feminism can be used to describe a political, cultural or economic movement aimed at establishing equal rights and legal protection for women. The theory of Feminism involves political and sociological philosophies concerned with issues of gender difference, as well as ensuring women empowerment and equalization with men.
The first appearance of this ideology was in the early ninthteenth century and it gained full movement in the period between 1960s and 1970s. According to Maggie Humm and Rebecca Walker: “the history of feminism can be divided into three waves. The first feminist wave was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the second was in the 1960s and 1970s, and the third extends from the 1990s to the present. Feminist theory emerged from these feminist movements. It is manifest in a variety of disciplines such as feminist geography, feminist history and feminist literary criticism”. (See: http://www.gender.cawater-info.net)
The spiritual, biological and intellectual potentials of women were identified in the Qur’an and properly placed in their right context. Before the age that witnessed the Qur’anic revelation, the concept of female hood was a phenomena most civilizations in the world misconstrued, misplaced and mistreated. The status of women in the then civilizations such as the Greek civilization, Persian civilization, the Roman Christendom, the Indian civilizations and the Arabian jahiliyya age was one of a gloomy one, characterized with sorts of injustices towards her. In fact, in ancient times, Greece was the most civilized and urbanized of nations. Athens was the city of wisdom, philosophy, medicine and knowledge. However, the people of Athens used to buy and sell the woman as if she were a mere commodity. They considered the woman nothing but defilement from the devil’s handiwork. The woman in Judaism was in the rank of a servant. The father had the right to sell his underage daughter. She had no right to inherit if her father had no male offspring. It is stated in the Old Testament (the distorted Torah) that the woman should not inherit as long as there are males in the family; rather, she is part of the inheritance if her husband dies, and the nearest male relative to the husband would inherit her. There was widespread Christian belief that the woman had no soul. In 586 AD — before the emergence of Islam— the Council of Macon was held to decide whether the woman was a body that had a base soul or she did not have a 'saved' soul. They made an exception to Maryam (Mary), may Allah exalt her mention, because she is the mother of ‘Eesa (Jesus), May Allah exalt his mention. The concept of feminism in other civilisations such as ancient India and Persian is so appalling that words cannot even describe it. In the pre-Islamic period, the Arabs regarded the woman as a piece of property or as rubbish. When the husband died, his guardian would cover the wife of the deceased with his garment and she could not remarry until he permitted her or until she ransomed herself. They used to prevent her from remarrying until the young matrimonial guardian would grow up and then decide whether he wished to marry her or give her in marriage to anyone else and take the dowry as long as she was not his mother. If she were his mother, he would not marry her. Thus, before the revelation of the Qur’an, feminism or womanhood was nothing worth consideration, until the Qur’an came to recognize her, her capabilities and role and hence, established the right footing befitting those potentials.
The Qur’anic approach to the so-called theory of feminism explains in the introduction above is one of equality in spiritual status but not sameness in physical and emotional strengths.
In the spiritual arena, the Qur’an considers feminism as important as masculinity and equated between the two in their status before Allah; the Almighty. Women receive an equal reward for good done just as men and her reward is not decreased based on her feminist status. The Qur’an declared:
فَٱسْتَجَابَ لَهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ أَنِّى لَآ أُضِيعُ عَمَلَ عَٰمِلٍ مِّنكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَىٰ ۖ بَعْضُكُم مِّنۢ بَعْضٍ
“And so their Lord answered them: "I will not waste the work of any worker among you, whether male or female. You are one of another…(Aali-Imraan:195).
It says again:
وَمَن يَعْمَلْ مِنَ ٱلصَّٰلِحَٰتِ مِن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَىٰ وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَأُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ يَدْخُلُونَ ٱلْجَنَّةَ وَلَا يُظْلَمُونَ نَقِيرًا
“But whoever works righteousness، whether male or female, and is a believer-those will enter Paradise, and will not be wronged a whit.” (An-Nisaa:124)
The Glorious Qur’an guaranteed Happiness in this world and the hereafter for both men and women for their good deeds:
مَنْ عَمِلَ صَٰلِحًا مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَىٰ وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَلَنُحْيِيَنَّهُۥ حَيَوٰةً طَيِّبَةً ۖ وَلَنَجْزِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْرَهُم بِأَحْسَنِ مَا كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ
“Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while being a believer, We will grant him a good life-and We will reward them according to the best of what they used to do.” (An-Nahl:97)
Again it says:
يَوْمَ تَرَى ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَٱلْمُؤْمِنَٰتِ يَسْعَىٰ نُورُهُم بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَٰنِهِم بُشْرَىٰكُمُ ٱلْيَوْمَ جَنَّٰتٌ تَجْرِى مِن تَحْتِهَا ٱلْأَنْهَٰرُ خَٰلِدِينَ فِيهَا ۚ ذَٰلِكَ هُوَ ٱلْفَوْزُ ٱلْعَظِيمُ
“On the Day when you see the believing men and believing women-their light radiating ahead of them, and to their right: "Good news for you today: gardens beneath which rivers flow, dwelling therein forever. That is the great triumph." (Al-Hadid:12)
As earlier mentioned, the Qur’an note the physical and emotional strengths of women and in view of this sets out their key roles in life. The roles are therefore not a question of superiority or inferiority, but a question of natural capacity and proper functioning. This lack of sameness is the cause of the diversity of the endeavors of men and women. The Qur’an declared:
وَٱلَّيْلِ إِذَا يَغْشَىٰ
وَٱلنَّهَارِ إِذَا تَجَلَّىٰ
وَمَا خَلَقَ ٱلذَّكَرَ وَٱلْأُنثَىٰٓ
إِنَّ سَعْيَكُمْ لَشَتَّىٰ
“By the night as it covers. And the day as it reveals. And He who created the male and the female. Your endeavors are indeed diverse.” (Al-Lail:1-4).
The Qur’an assigns women a share of inheritance that befits them
The physical, emotional and psychological differences that existed between men and women therefore necessitate that every one of them is well fitted to carry out certain obligations-even spiritual-which the other cannot possibly do. All Prophets and Messengers mentioned in the Qur’an are men due to the demanding nature of that role and the same applies to all works of the same caliber. Men were tasked to maintain the women while women were made the keepers of men's honors and wealth. The Qur’an says:
ٱلرِّجَالُ قَوَّٰمُونَ عَلَى ٱلنِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَبِمَآ أَنفَقُوا۟ مِنْ أَمْوَٰلِهِمْ ۚ فَٱلصَّٰلِحَٰتُ قَٰنِتَٰتٌ حَٰفِظَٰتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ ٱللَّهُ ۚ
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, as God has given some of them an advantage over others, and because they spend out of their wealth. The good women are obedient, guarding what God would have them guard…”(AN-Nisaa:34)