Gender roles in Islam

This article is about gender roles, in families and relationships between men and women, in Islam. For other related topics, including Islamic women’s clothing and other differences in Islamic law between the sexes, see Women and Islam.

In Islam, the sexes are considered equal before God in the complementarian sense. Verse 13 of chapter 49 in the Qu’ran reads: “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allâh is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa. Verily, Allâh is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” At the same time, Islamic law and practice recognize differences between sexes, resulting in different rights and obligations.

The Qur’an instructs believers not to treat women as commodities which can be inherited and used at will. In pre-Islamic times, the wives of a person could be transferred to his heirs along with his wealth, property, and livestock.

In many Islamic societies, a woman’s space is considered to be the private sphere of the home, and a man’s space is the public sphere.Th primary female responsibility in Islam is usually interpreted as fulfilling the role of wife and mother, whereas the male role is to work and be able to financially support a wife and family. However, neither the Qu’ran nor the Hadith specifically dictate gender roles for women.

According to scholar Sayyid Qutb’s analysis, the Quran “gives the man the right of ‘guardianship’ or ‘superiority’ over the family structure in order to prevent dissension and friction between the spouses. The equity of this system lies in the fact that God both favoured the man with the necessary qualities and skills for the ‘guardianship’ and also charged him with the duty to provide for the structure’s upkeep.


Further information: Rights and obligations of spouses in Islam

The Qu’ran states that unless a wife is guilty of open sexual transgression, a believer should not subject his wife to harsh treatment, even if he dislikes her. If a believer behaves in a good manner to his wife even though he doesn’t like her, the Qur’an uses the word Asā (‘عَسَى’), which implies in this context a promise from God of a great reward.

Modern scholars say that the Qur’an instructs husbands to deal with their wives according to the conventions and traditions of society, and emphasizes the importance of mutual agreement in family decisions.

Similarly, the following quotations are attributed to Muhammad:

  • “Fear Allah in respect of women.”
  • “The best of you are they who behave best to their wives.”
  • “A Muslim must not hate his wife, and if he be displeased with one bad quality in her, let him be pleased with one that is good.”
  • “The more civil and kind a Muslim is to his wife, the more perfect in faith he is.”

Gender roles in prayer and worship

Further information: Sex segregation and Islam

On Fridays many Muslims pray in congregation, and men, women, and children are segregated into separate groups for this activity. Every other day the family prays together in the home. The man leads the prayers, as he is considered the head of the household. His wife and children must stand behind him as they pray.

Gender roles within marriage

Muhammad described the high status of mothers in both of the major hadith Collections (Bukhari and Muslim). One famous account tells of his high regard for mothers thus:

“A man asked the Prophet: ‘Whom should I honor most?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother.’ ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother.’ ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother!’ ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your father.'”

In Islam, motherhood is considered the greatest achievement of women. However, while a wife or mother is considered to be of great importance to her family, she is not the head of the household and must submit to her husband. Being honoured and respected by her husband is considered to be her reward for bringing up his children.