By Prof. Dr. Musdah Mulia, MA,
Translated into English by GEC, translations of the Quran by Sahih International and Yusuf Ali.
Before the Quran was revealed, there were many disempowering narratives of women. In comparison, the Quran empowers women. The Quran portrays the ideal woman as one who is active, productive, dynamic, humble and independent, yet remains rooted in her iman (faith) and akhlak (character). According to the Quran, the ideal Muslim woman should possess the following character traits:
First, a woman should have strong iman, should not engage in sinful behaviour, and should maintain her akhlak by not lying, stealing, not having extra marital affairs or neglecting her children.
O Prophet, when the believing women come to you pledging to you that they will not associate anything with Allah , nor will they steal, nor will they commit unlawful sexual intercourse, nor will they kill their children, nor will they bring forth a slander they have invented between their arms and legs, nor will they disobey you in what is right – then accept their pledge and ask forgiveness for them of Allah . Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. (Al-Mumtahanah, 60:12)
Second, a woman should be just and intelligent when making decisions. She should also possess political autonomy (al-istiqlal al-siyasah) like Queen Balqis and the Queen of the powerful Saba’ Kingdom (‘arsyun ‘azhim).
Indeed, I found [there] a woman ruling them, and she has been given of all things, and she has a great throne. (Al-Naml, 27:23)
Third, a woman should possess economic autonomy (al-istiqlal al-iqtishadi), like the woman described in the story of Prophet Musa in the Madyan region who managed livestock/cattle.
And when he came to the well of Madyan, he found there a crowd of people watering [their flocks], and he found aside from them two women driving back [their flocks]. He said, “What is your circumstance?” They said, “We do not water until the shepherds dispatch [their flocks]; and our father is an old man.” (Al-Qashash, 28:23)
Fourth, a woman should have a strong sense of integrity and autonomy to make personal decisions that she believes in (al-istiqlal al-syakshi), like the wife of Fir’aun, ‘Asiyah binti Muzahim, who valiantly fought against his tyranny/evil.
And Allah presents an example of those who believed: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, “My Lord, build for me near You a house in Paradise and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds and save me from the wrongdoing people.” (Al-Tahrim, 66:11)
Fifth, a woman should stay true to her principles and possess the courage to oppose public opinion if she believes that her opinions are true and valid, like Maryam binti Imran, the mother of Prophet Isa.
And Mary the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her honour; and We breathed into (her body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout (servants). (Al-Tahrim, 66:12)
Clearly, these verses reveal how Islam venerates women and puts them at a position equal to men. Islam grants women the freedom to express themselves in the public sphere. As such, it is of no surprise that during the period of early Islam, there were countless women with amazing capabilities and achievements in many fields such as Khadijah binti Khuwailid, a successful entrepreneur, and Aisyah binti Abu Bakar, a scholar of tafsir and hadith.
This article has been translated and adapted from the original by Prof. Dr. Musdah Mulia, MA. “Bab 5: Ciri-Ciri Perempuan Ideal dalam Al-Quran.” In Kemuliaan Perempuan Dalam Islam, 43-48. Jakarta: Megawati Institute, 2014.
published in http://reclaimculture.org/the-characteristics-of-the-ideal-woman-in-the-quran/