Islam was revealed at a time when a lot of people denied the humanity of the woman; some were skeptical about it; and still others admitted it, yet considered the woman a thing created for the humble service of the man.
With the advent of Islam, circumstances improved for the woman. The woman's dignity and humanity were restored. Islam confirmed her capacity to carry out Allah's commands, her responsibilities and observation of the commands that lead to heaven.
Islam considered the woman as a worthy human being, with a share in humanity equal to that of the man. Their single origin, their general human traits, their responsibility for the observation of religious duties with the consequent reward or punishment, and the unity of their destiny all bear witness to their equality from the Islamic point of view. This fact is established in the Noble Qur'an.
" O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam) and from him (Adam) He created his wife (Eve), and from them both He created many men and women and fear Allah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allah is Ever an All-Watcher over you." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 4, Verse 1
As is stated in another verse:
" It is He Who has created you from a single person (Adam), and (then) He has created from him his wife (Eve), in order that he might enjoy the pleasure of living with her." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 7,Verse 189
The Qur'an, on its part, treats this issue of equality among men and women from more than one perspective.
On the purely religious level
"Verily, the Muslims (those who submit to Allah in Islam) men and women,the believers men and women (who believe in Islamic Monotheism),the men and the women who are obedient (to Allah), the men and women who are truthful (in their speech and deeds), the men and the women who are patient (in performing all the duties which Allah has ordered and in abstaining from all that Allah has forbidden), the men and the women who are humble (before their Lord Allah),the men and the women who give Sadaqat, (i.e. Zakat, and alms, etc.),the men and the women who fast (the obligatory fasting during the month of Ramadan and the optional Nawafil fasting),the men and women who guard their chastity (from illegal sexual acts) and the men and women who remember Allah much with their hearts and tongues (while sitting, standing, lying, etc.) Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward (i.e. Paradise)." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 33, Verse 35
On the basic social and religious responsibilities
The Qur'an establishes equality by maintaining
"The believers, men and women, are "Awliy," (helpers, supporters, friends, protectors) of one another, they enjoin (on the people) Al-Ma`ruf (i.e. Islamic Monotheism and all that Islam orders one to do);and forbid (people) from Al-Munkar (i.e. polytheism and disbelief of all kinds, and all that Islam has forbidden); they offer their prayers perfectly (lqamat-as-Salat), and give the Zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah will have mercy on them." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 9, Verse 71
In Adam's story, Divine Orders were made to him and his wife, both and equally:
"O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the Paradise and eat both of you freely with pleasure and delight of things therein as wherever you will, but come not near this tree or you both will be of the Zalim'n (wrongdoers)." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 2, Verse 35
What is new, however, about this story as given by the Qur'an is that the temptation is blamed not on Eve but on Satan.
"Then the Satan made them slip there from (the Paradise), and got them out from that in which they were." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 236
The reverse of The Old Testament versions. Thus Eve was neither the sole eater from the tree, nor the one who initiated the act. Rather, the mistake was theirs both, and both of them repented and asked for forgiveness:
"They said, "Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall be losers." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 7, Verse 23
Further still, some verses ascribe the trespass to Adam:
"And indeed We made a covenant with Adam before, but he forgot, and We found on his part no firm will-power". Then Satan whispered to him saying, "O Adam! Shall I lead you to the Tree of Eternity and to a kingdom that will never waste away?" Thus did Adam disobey his Lord, so he went astray." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 20, Verse 115, 120 and 121
Equality of punishment and reward and eligibility for Paradise
The Almighty says: "That was a nation who has passed away. They shall receive the reward of what they earned and you of what you earn. And you will not be asked of what they used to do." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 2, Verse 134 and 141.
Concerning the equality of men and women in receiving rewards and the entry of paradise, God says:
"So their Lord accepted of them (their supplication and answered them), "Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 3, Verse 195
"And Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while he (or she) is a true believer (of Islamic Monotheism) verily, to him We will give a good life (in this world with respect, contentment and lawful provision), and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do (i.e. Paradise in the Hereafter)." The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 16, Verse 97
The rule of Islam abolished the conventions prevalent among many nations which deprived the woman of the right of ownership, inheritance, and those which created obstacles against her exercise of free and full control of her holdings. As a rule, Islam acknowledges the woman's rights to all kinds of ownership, spending and channeling of her money. It gives her the rights of inheritance, selling, buying, renting, donating, lending, allocating property for religious and charitable purposes, giving alms, legal transfer and mortgage, as well as many other forms of contracts and actions.
Right to seek education
The woman's right to seek education or learning is basic and is also guaranteed by Islamic teachings. Islam actually makes it incumbent on the woman to seek knowledge; the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) says, `seeking knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim," where "every Muslim" obviously involves men and women on an equal footing as a rule formalised by all authorities of jurisprudence.
Right to perform religious ordinances
The woman is also required to perform religious ordinances and forms of worship the way the man is. Praying, fasting, Zakat (the alms sanctifying tax), pilgrimage and all the other fundamental practices in Islam are required of Muslims in their capacity, both men and women, as responsible humans. Again the woman's actions are recompensed by Allah the way the man's actions are.
The woman is not excluded from the area of social activity; Allah says:
"The believers, men and women, are "Awliy," (helpers, supporters, friends, protectors) of one another, they enjoin (on the people) Al-Ma`ruf (i.e. Islamic Monotheism and all that Islam orders one to do); and forbid (people) from Al-Munkar (i.e. polytheism and disbelief of all kinds, and all that Islam has forbidden)." The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 9, Verse 71.
For instance, she can give refuge for those who seek it. If she hosts a refugee, her action is to be respected and observed. This rule relates back to Um Hanibint Abi Talib's giving relief to a father in-law on the day of the Conquest of Mecca by Muslims. When her brother wanted to kill him because he was an infidel, she complained to Allah's Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him) saying, "Allah's Messenger, my mother's son insists on killing my refugee, Ibn Hubayra. "The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) replied, "We confer asylum on him that you give refuge to, Um Hani". [Mutafaq aley (agreed upon) on the authority of Um Hani, The Pearl and the Coral (Al-Lu'lu' wal-Marjan) (193)]
Excerpted from the article "The Status of Women in Islam" by Sh. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi