Every society knows all of the traditional arguments about women's ideal role and place. Their social status and importance in the family, whether or not they should work, and other social issues have been discussed seemingly forever. For Muslims, these issues were settled by the Qur'an: Men and women are equal. The facts that men and women have different physical builds and that women are generally weaker than men are irrelevant and cannot be used to reduce women's value.
What truly matters in Islamic morality is not whether someone is male or female, but whether or not he or she is a believer who fears and respects Allah. Each believer is expected to strive to live by the Qur'an's morality, for the results of this struggle are what Allah values and will measure in the Hereafter. Allah reveals the qualities that all Muslims, male or female, should have:
The men and women of the believers are friends of one another. They command what is right and forbid what is wrong, keep up prayer and give the alms [zakat], and obey Allah and His Messenger. They are the people on whom Allah will have mercy. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. (Surat at-Tawba: 71)
As Allah reveals, all Muslims, regardless of their gender, have the same responsibilities: to worship Allah, live according to the Qur'an's morality, command good and prevent evil, and abide by the Qur'an's rules. Allah promises everyone who fears and respects the limits that He has established for humanity that He will give them the ability to distinguish right from wrong:
O you who believe! If you have fear of [and respect] Allah, He will give you discrimination, erase your bad actions, and forgive you. Allah's favor is indeed immense. (Surat al-Anfal: 29)
Any man or woman who acts on the impulses of the intellect derived from belief can achieve success in many areas. This depends on their will, motivation, and persistence. Believers never rest on their laurels, for it is part of Islamic morality to always strive to be more intelligent, talented, responsible, and virtuous, as well as to seek to always improve upon their character. Allah reveals that believers pray to Him for a character that will make them role models for those around them:
Those who say: "Our Lord, give us joy in our wives and children, and make us a good example for those who guard against evil." (Surat al-Furqan: 74)
Islam states that men and women are totally equal. For both of them, it all depends on their ability to exceed what is expected of them by realizing the full potential of their character and personality, and by fulfilling their responsibilities. For this reason, believing women do not struggle for equality with men, but exert themselves in the race to do good, defined in the Qur'an as the effort to win Allah's good pleasure. For this end, they race to become the person most loved by Allah so that they may win His good pleasure and be the nearest to Him. Allah reveals that these efforts determine the Muslim's superiority over others in this life as well as in the Hereafter:
Such people are truly racing toward good things, and they are the first to reach them. (Surat al-Mu'minun: 61)
Then We made Our chosen servants inherit the Book. But some of them wrong themselves, some are ambivalent, and some outdo each other in good by Allah's permission. That is the great favor. (Surah Fatir: 32)
The equality between men and women is also seen in the fact that Allah gives them equal rights in this world:
We made everything on Earth adornment for it so that We could test them to see whose actions are the best. (Surat al-Kahf: 7)
Every soul will taste death. We test you with both good and evil as a trial. And you will be returned to Us. (Surat al-Anbiya': 35)
In the above verses, Allah reveals that He tests men and women so that they can show who is better. In another verse, He says that He will test men and women with various trials until the day they die, and that those who show patience will be rewarded with His mercy:
We will test you with a certain amount of fear and hunger, as well as loss of wealth, life, and fruits. But give good news to the steadfast. (Surat al-Baqara: 155)
Allah gave each man and woman a fixed number of years, holds them both responsible for their choices, gave them a sense of right and wrong, and made their base instincts and Satan their enemies. And whoever shows strength of character and works for good in the face of these realities here on Earth will receive the best rewards from Allah in both worlds:
I will not let the deeds of any doer among you go to waste, male or female—you are both the same in that respect. Those who have left their homes and were driven from their homes, and [who] suffered harm in My Way and fought and were killed, I will erase their bad actions and admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing under them, as a reward from Allah. The best of all rewards is with Allah. (Surah Al 'Imran: 195)
He also reminds men and women that no one will be treated unjustly as regards the rewards they are to receive on Earth as well as in the Hereafter: "Anyone who acts rightly, male or female, being a believer, We will give them a good life and will recompense them according to the best of what they did" (Surat an-Nahl: 97).
The Qur'an Addresses Men and Women in the Same Manner
Looking at the Qur'an in general, we see that men and women are addressed in the same manner. This is yet another indication that Allah is concerned only with a person's true and heart-felt belief and not his or her age or gender. In this respect, the Qur'an addresses men and women together and reminds them that they have the same responsibilities. There are many such verses, among them: "Anyone, male or female, who does right actions and believes, will enter the Garden. They will not be wronged by so much as the tiniest speck" (Surat an-Nisa: 124).
When revealing things about unbelievers, Allah also addresses them in the same manner. He reveals that unbelievers and hypocrites of both genders will be treated alike. For example:
The men and women of the hypocrites are as bad as one another. They command what is wrong and forbid what is right, and they keep their fists tightly closed. They have forgotten Allah, so He has forgotten them. The hypocrites are deviators. (Surat at-Tawba: 67)
Allah has promised the men and women of the hypocrites and unbelievers the Fire of Hell, remaining in it timelessly, forever. It will suffice them. Allah has cursed them. They will have an everlasting punishment. (Surat at-Tawba: 68)
This was so that Allah might punish hypocritical men and women as well as the associating men and women—those who think bad thoughts about Allah, and turn toward the men and women of the believers. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Surat al-Ahzab: 73)
And so that He might punish hypocritical men and women as well as associating men and women—those who think bad thoughts about Allah. They will suffer an evil turn of fate. Allah is angry with them, has cursed them, and prepared Hell for them. What an evil destination! (Surat al-Fath: 6)
As these verses make clear, men and women are equal in their trial on Earth as well as in the reward they receive in the Hereafter.