Prophet Muhammad declared that women have rights, that they were to be treated well, as partners, and that a husband should care for his wife with kindness and gentleness.

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Today, millions of Muslims from around the world are gathering in Mecca for the start of the pilgrimage known as Hajj.

It was on the ninth day of Hajj in the year 632 that Prophet Muhammad gave his farewell sermon shortly before his death, most notably for the rights of women.

It was delivered on a Friday in the Uranah valley of Mount Arafat as the faithful listened attentively. Afterward, he proclaimed that his 23-year-long message of Islam was now complete, and the faithful should go forward and explain it to all mankind.

His sermon was a declaration of human rights that highlighted the Qur’an’s emphasis on justice for all, equality, sanctity of life, honor and property and the rights of women.

Before Islam, in Arabia — and, for that matter, in much of the world — women had no rights. Their sole purpose was to serve men. They could be taken as wives through capture, purchase or inheritance, and female infanticide was practiced.

In his sermon, Prophet Muhammad declared that women have rights, that they were to be treated well, as partners, and that a husband should care for his wife with kindness and gentleness. Islam divinely sanctioned the right of women to inherit and own property, to reject a marriage proposal and even to initiate a divorce.

Nowadays, the horribly misguided actions of a few are giving Islam a bad name.

Cultural and tribal actions against women and girls that are not a true representation of Islamic values are hurting Islam and Muslims.

Take the tragic example of Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old Muslim girl who was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban on Oct. 9 for supporting girls’ education in Pakistan.

A darling of the West, she began speaking up for the rights of girls’ education three years ago in a blog for the BBC, telling the world how tribal militants had burned girls schools in her city of Swat.

Malala is a Muslim heroine, one who espouses neither Western values nor the ideology of the militants who have opposed her right to education. She merely wants an education, which is her right as a Muslim.

Unknown to many, Islamic teachings promote the education of women without restriction. Islamic teachings reversed and abolished those kinds of repressive practices.

Shortly after the prophet’s death, Muslim women became scholars, politicians, businesswomen, jurists and doctors. One woman, Al-Shifa bint Abdullah, was a nurse and medical practitioner, teacher and public administrator. There are countless others.

Prophet Muhammad worked to ensure the dignity of women and reemphasized the importance of that in a farewell message that transformed his society and eventually spread around the world.

I am thankful that Islamic countries have condemned the attack on Malala. The rights of Muslim women must be respected and honored according to Islam, and not dictated by tribal practices.

Aziz Junejo is host of “Focus on Islam,” a weekly cable-television show, and a frequent speaker on Islam. Readers may send feedback to faithcolumns@seattletimes.com.