Gender Issue: An Islamic Approach
Md. Mahmudul Hasan
The status and dignity of woman as it is present in the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah is completely revolutionary in comparison on her position in any periods of history before the advent of Islam. The Islamic position of woman is free of any extremity or negligence. In the pre-Islamic Arab women were treated as men's property to be possessed or dispossessed at men's pleasure. In marriage they were subject to polygamous practices and the female children to infanticide. Women were deprived of the right to select their husband and they had no financial security before and after marriage. At the very beginning of his prophetic mission, Muhammad (SAWS) addressed these dark aspects of woman-folk. Islam has interdicted infanticide and grown a sense of abomination about it in the heart of people and restored the position of women from the chattel to the dignified position of human being as conferred by Allah (Al-Qur'an: 17:70). Islam ensured her economic right including her right to receive the dower directly (not through the intermediacy of her father or any other relative) and her right to retain her property and right of
maintenance from the part of husband.
Keeping this general tone of Islamic approach to women in mind, I intend to explain the position of women in Islam in detail Insha'allah. My concept of the topic is based on some fundamental matters and principles of Islam that are independent of any time or environment factors and transcend the limitations of time and space. These are:
The first point is that Allah (SWT), the Creator of men and women and the whole universe, is not male or female and hence no question of bias is to be raised as far as the position of men and women in Islam is concerned.
The second point is that the message of Islam is based on justice and equity. Allah says, " Say: My Lord enjoins justice ." (7:29). "And for every nation there is a messenger. So when their messenger comes, the matter is decided between them with justice, and they are not wronged."(10:47). "Certainly We sent out Our messengers with clear arguments, and sent down with them the Book and the Balance (of Right & Wrong), that people may stand forth in justice ."(57:25). The justice mentioned in the verses above and in so many other verses in the Holy Qur'an signifies "justice" in its broadest sense. So the Islamic treatment of the gender issue is essentially equitable and justifiable.
The third important point is that the whole universe is the family of Allah and mankind (men and women) comprises one family, Adam and Eve being their parents. Allah says, " O people, keep your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single being and created its mate from the same (kind), and spread from these two many men and women ."(4:1).
The essence of every human being is Ruh, which is independent of sex. The word "nafs" that is mentioned in the verse 4:1 bears two meanings. According to one use, it implies soul and according to another use, the significance of "nafs" is the whole of being and its essence. Based on this consideration, we find three fundamental areas where we both men and women are the same.
All the souls of men and women are created by Allah at a time: "And when thy Lord brought from the children of Adam, from their loins, their descendants, and made them bear witness about themselves; Am I not your Lord? ."(7:172).
In the physical mould both men and women have excellent feature "Certainly, We have created Mankind in the best of make." (95:4)
C. Our family is one family. (4:1).
The fifth point is that the discrepancy in sex makes no difference in the matter of dignity of both men and women and in their high standing as human being. "And surely We have honored the children of Adam, and We carry them in the land and the sea, and We provide them with good things, and We have made them excel highly most of those whom we have created." (17:70).
The relation between men and women is one of cooperation and friendship and not of rivalry. As human being both are equal in dignity and as the servant of Allah. But the western concept of equality as it is expressed in the ratification of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) is in manifest conflict with the concept of equality in Islam. Allah has made man and woman as two distinct sexes and their duties and responsibilities are also in accordance with their capabilities and limitations to a considerable extent. In some cases Islam gives men more duties and in some other variant cases women have to perform more. In some respects men enjoy more privilege and vice-versa. It is true that both men and women have limitations and both are not competent for every job and duty. So if we take the word 'equality' in its literal sense, it will make both the sexes fall into rivalry. And any concept of rivalry will not bring any good to any sex. The ultimate result of such freakish attitude to the gender issue surely is the disruption of society and the disintegration of the family mosaic. So both the sexes should be friendly and help each other to make a better world. So the term 'equity' is more appropriate than 'equality' as far as the Islamic treatment of the gender issue is concerned.
The seventh most important thing that we should take into consideration when dealing with gender issue is that, there, very regretfully, remains a gulf of difference between the status of women as it is present in the normative teachings of the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah and the diverse practices and treatments of women in many Muslim societies. Dr. Jamal A Badawi, a prominent Islamic scholar of the present world, rightly says in this regard, "In some Muslim communities women are treated in a manner which is not Islamic because of ignorance and non-application of Qur'anic teachings of Islam, however, an objective analysis of the teachings of Islam, the Qur'an, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS), and its law, all show that in the spiritual, human, economic and social spheres, Islam's position on the status of women stands up to any test." (Islamic Teachings Course Vol. 3 , G-14)
All the misunderstandings created around the women issue within and without the Muslim societies are because of the misinterpretation of Islam. The so-called feminists and women rights workers are judging the position of women in Islam by their observations of the Muslim societies where women are still neglected in many respects. On the other hand, there remains a discrepancy between the vocal pronouncements of the women rights organizations in the West and the real condition of women there. In fact, women have become a carnal object and are degraded to the position of chattel and commodity in the guise of so-called 'gender equality'.
Now we can proceed to explain the position of women in Islam keeping the above-mentioned standards and criteria in mind. The Islamic position of women would be more transparent if I can present a considerable account of the dark aspect of the existence of women in the remote past, recent past and the current history. It is true that human race, which began with Adam and Eve, was in a sound position in its inception and then there remained a perfect harmony in every spheres of life. Allah says, "All mankind was once one single community; (then they began to differ) whereupon Allah raised up the prophets as heralds of glad tidings and warners ." (2: 213). This verse indicates that mankind are all descended from the same parents (49: 13); still again that they are as it were dwellers of one home, having the same earth as a resting place and the same heaven as a canopy (2: 22). It then lays down the principle of the oneness of the humanity in the clearest words. The verse 2:213 indicates that mankind ceased to be 'one single community' as regards their outlook on life and their moral valuations and it was at this stage that divine guidance became necessary. Along with all other outlooks of life, attitude to women also underwent a radical change and distortion by the passage of time. Women ceased to be treated by men the way Adam treated Eve.
In some periods of history women were judged according to her physical capacities in contrast to men and not according to her capacity as the member of human family. It is true that Allah has made women physically weak in comparison to men; but He has not made it a criterion to ascertain superiority or inferiority. It is the dark facet of history that the distinction in the physical capability of men and women has later become the touchstone in discriminating between their status.
There was a time when Greece and Rome reached the culmination of civilization. Nevertheless, their notion about women was very disgusting. Both Athenian and Roman women were regarded minors incapable of acting independently and on the ground of this false notion women's consent was not asked in marriage and as a result women got from their parents 'her husband and her lord'. Women were deprived of any economic right; and her property passed from her father to her husband even if she had any. Women were thought incapable of making financial transaction or will.
In the Eastern civilization, particularly in China and India, the position of women was the same as it was in the Western civilization. The Chinese attitude towards women is reflected in the statement of the 3rd BC century Chinese poet Hu Suan who said, "how sad it is to be a woman, nothing on earth is so cheap."
In Buddhist culture women were regarded as a dreadful creature which is the source of all sin and delusion. In Hindu cultures in India, woman was under total subjugation of man and she has no business with the religious book and no right to re-marry rather, sometimes, had to die with her husband in the funeral pyre.
In the recent past, in other words, prior to the rise of the feminist movement, there prevailed a deplorable condition of women all over the western countries. In the Encyclopaedia Americana (pub.1969; vol. 19; p.p. 108), it is said that in English common law all the real property held by a woman at the time of her marriage became the property of her husband. It was as late as 1870s when women achieved the right to enter contracts and hold property. In France it was recognized much more lately i.e. in 1938. And the enfranchisement of women was recognized in England only in 1918.
Now we can take a notice of what is the real status of women in west in the current history. In fact, women are considered in the West simply as a carnal object and a means of sexual gratification. According to the Newsweek October 25, 1993, average women in American society undergo "eight rapes by strangers (including one on a college campus), two sexual assaults (one Central Park, one Prospect Park), one abduction (woman walking down street forced into car full of man), one date rape involving Mickey Finn, which resulted in pregnancy and abortion, and two stalking (one ex-lover, one deranged fan); plus one brutal beating by a boyfriend, three incidents of childhood incest (none involving therapist-aided "recovered memories), and one bizarre incident in which a friend went to a man's apartment after meeting him at a party and was forced by him to spend the night under the shower, naked, while he debated whether to kill her, rape her, or let her go."
According to the report the No. 1 group to be sexually assaulted in this country (America) are 16-year olds. The second largest group hit is the 20-to-24-year-old age bracket. Women are four times more likely to face assault during these years than any other time in their lives. Forty percent of all the rapists arrested are under 25. And as for the most conservative, yet trustworthy, numbers: according to the National Victim Center survey in 1992-a survey that did not include intoxication-13 percent of adult women are victims of forcible rape. That is one in seven. But the frequency of rape cases in Europe and America at the present time is much more harrowing.
In the context of the present western society, it is ironic that every movement created to encourage woman to stand up and fight their own battles has taken a strange detour, and instead is making them feel vulnerable and in need of protection. From the grade school to the workplace, women are asking that everything be codified: How to eat; what to say; who to date; when to mate. They are huddling in packs, insisting on a plethora of rules on which to rely, and turning to authority with complain when anything goes wrong. At present the western society is not one of Angry Young Women; rather these are Scared Little Girls.
What is happening in the university campuses in the west is scary, because it is polarizing men and women. Rather than to encourage them to work together, to trust one another, it is intensifying suspicion. If women are so profoundly distrustful of men, how will they raise boys? And if men are so defensive about women, how will they raise the girls? So the family disintegration in the west is the inevitable outcome of this unnatural relationship between men and women in the name of gender equality.
The present feminist movement in the west is motivated by a freakish idea of abolishing all the distinctiveness between men and women. Here women celebrities pose with cigars, or win medals for war heroism, muscular men dress as brides or-the ultimate-get pregnant. The dismal aspect of western feminist movement is that, here, one of the most basic distinctions in human experience-that between men and women-is getting blurrier and blurrier. In such circumstances it comes as no surprise to find the New York Times reporting is September 1996 on the rise of the 'transgender' movement, embracing 'transsexual, cross-dressers interested people ' womanish men and mannish women. In fact, these are the darkest aspects of women's condition in the remote past, recent past and in our contemporary societies. Now a considerable picture of the position of women in Islam as it is present n the Qur'an and Sunnah will prove the truth that Islamic attitude to gender issue is totally justified. And it will surely be manifested that Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) did not determine the position and status of woman in society, rather it was Allah Who decided the matter and He acts according to 'right and justice', totally independent of any particular social environments.
The advent of the prophet of Islam, in part at least, as it seems to me, was the upshot of all that was happening to women at that time in Arabia. Prior to Islam, the chief criterion of eligibility was the ability to contribute to the strength of the individual tribe through effective participation in the popular sport of tribal warfare. This resulted, among other things, in the exclusion from inheritance of women, minor of both sexes, and invalids, as well as in the preference of the paternal to the maternal lives. So the existence of women or to be the parents of female child was a matter of great disgust and dishonor. The Qur'an says, "When news is brought to one of them of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief" (16:58). Thus to keep the female infant as an object of perpetual contempt or to bury her alive was frequently done by the Pagan Arabs. The Qur'an further says, "And when one of them is given news of that which he sets up a likeness for the Beneficent, his face becomes black and he is full of rage." Omar (R) says, "By Allah we did not give women any respect in the Jahilia (days of ignorance). And finally Allah sent principles regarding them and established their rights and dues."
Thus before the advent of Islam, a large number of Arabic fathers buried their newly born daughters alive. A man related his own action during the days of ignorance to the Holy Prophet: " I had a little daughter who loved me very much. Whenever I called her, she came running happily towards me. One day I called her, and she came running as usual and followed me. I took her to a nearly well and pushed her in. At that moment she cried, "Father, father." The Prophet (SAWS) was shocked to hear it and his eyes were filled with tears." (Sunan Darimi). In another tradition it is said that the above-mentioned father buried his daughter. And it is also said that while the man was digging in order to bury her, his daughter was cleaning the earth from the body of the father.
Moreover, in the pre-Islamic Arab, to speak the truth, even in our society at present time (in the context of Bangladesh) women and female children are thought to be an object of bad omen. In the traditional Bangladeshi family (where the light of Islam is not present in true sense), it is seen that if the husband of a woman can earn his livelihood well and if everything goes well in the family, then the wife is considered a good one and no contempt is made. But if it happens that the husband fails to be successful in his business or to get promotion in his job, then everyone blames the hard circumstances on the defenseless wife, who, in fact, has nothing to do in the success or failure of husband in this case, and finally she is said to be a bad omen and it causes her an untold mental torment. Islam teaches us not to believe in any omen let alone woman. Our beloved Prophet (SAWS) says, "There is neither infectious disease and nor bad omen, but I like good augury. The Companions asked him (SAWS) "What is a good augury?" He answered "A good word". (Bukhari and Muslim; Riadussaleheen, Hadeeth No.1674)
It is the strong belief of every Muslim that everything good or evil comes from Allah (SWT) and no human being is liable for any undeserved misfortune and nor any human intervention can change the course of any good or misfortune. We can only pray, "Oh Allah! From Thee alone comes good and Thou alone canst repel evil. There is no strength to resist evil nor power to do good except through Thee." (Abu Dawud; Riadussaleheen Hadeeth No.1676). Allah says, " If Allah toucheth thee with affliction, none can remove it but He; if He toucheth thee with happiness, He has power over all things."(6:17). So it is tantamount to blasphemy to blame women or men for any bad luck or ill fortune.
It should be made clear that, according to Islam, the matter of childbirth is absolutely in the Will of Allah (SWT) and no human
intervention can change the gender of any issue. Neither the husband nor the wife has anything to do in choosing the sex of the would-be child. Allah says, "To Allah belongs the domain of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills (and plans). He bestows (children) male or female according to his will (and plan). He bestows both males and females and He leaves barren whom He wills for He is full of knowledge and power." (42:49-50).
Islam teaches us all that every parent should be ready to welcome the arrival of the newborn baby. Son should not be preferred as a human being to daughter. Prophet (SAWS) said, "A man who has a daughter, and he neither despises her nor buries her alive nor prefers son to daughter, Allah will admit him in Heaven." (Abu Dawud). Abu Sayeed (RAA) relates that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) said, "Whoever brought up three daughters and treated them well, the heaven is for him." (Abu Dawud-Tirmizi).
Thus when the whole world condemned women, Islam honored her. The Holy Prophet (SAWS) raised her status from the nadir of negligence to the perfect human being and assigned her respectable place in human society. The Prophet himself was very much careful about the causes of women and was compassionate to them. His behavior and treatment with his wives and daughters especially Fatima (RAA) reflects his general attitude towards women. Once the Holy wives were travelling on camels, the Prophet said to the camel driver, " Carry these glasses very carefully." About Fatima (RAA), his daughter, he (SAWS) said, "My daughter is my flesh, any trouble to her will cause pain to me." (Bukhari & Muslim). On another occasion somebody asked the Holy Prophet, "Who is your most beloved person?" He replied "Ayesha (RAA)." Hazrat Ayesha (RAA) relates, " I was with the Holy Prophet during a battle. I was very thin and lean in those days. The Prophet asked his Companions to go ahead. After that he told me to have a race. I won in the race and the Prophet (SAWS) kept quiet. After a long time when I have already forgotten all about this event and became fat, I accompanied him on a journey. Now he (SAWS)
asked his Companions to go ahead and called me to have a race. This time he won the race and said smilingly, "It is my victory this time." Once Umme Zara (RAA) said, "I have no words to praise my husband. He has covered my ears with ornaments, and me so well that my lean and thin arms have become plump. In short, he has provided me with everything to keep me happy and I am happy. I am very lucky ." Hearing this the Prophet (SAWS) said to Ayesha , " I am like Abu Zara (the husband of Umme Zara) for you." Thus he loved his wife Ayesha and Fatima most. And the Qur'anic verses and the prophetic traditions bear the clear proof of this glaring truth. So when dealing with the Islamic perspective of gender issue, one should not be misguided by the regretfully deplorable condition of women in the so-called Muslim society; rather one should make a honest study of the normative teachings of Islam and Prophet's (SAWS) behavior with his wives and other women.
As human being Islam does not make any distinction between man and woman. As I mentioned previously that the RUH (soul) of both man and woman is same. According to the verse 30:30, another basic similarity between man and woman is manifested. Allah says, "And so set thy face steadfastly towards the (one ever-true) faith, turning away from all that is false, in accordance with the FITRAH (NATURAL DISPOSITION) which Allah has instilled into mankind, (for) not to allow any change to corrupt what Allah has created-this is the (purpose of the one) ever-true faith; but most people know it not."(30:30). The term FITRAH in the verse mankind's (both man and woman) inborn potential and intuitive ability to discern between right and wrong, true and false, and thus, to sense Allah's existence and oneness. There is also a prophetic tradition about this basic similarity between man and woman: "Every child is born in this natural disposition ." (Bukhari & Muslim). Fitrah also denotes our instinctive cognition of Allah and surrender to Him. According to the above-mentioned verse and the Hadeeth, there remains no discrepancy between the inherent potential and intellectual faculty of man and woman.
The essence of the Qur'anic approach to gender issue is that Allah (SWT) abhors any idea of discrimination between man and woman as far as their fundamental characteristics are concerned. Allah (SWT) denigrates the notion of the disbeliever regarding man and woman as the Qur'an states, " And they say: ' What is in the wombs of such and such cattle is specially reserved (for food) for our men, and forbidden to our women .'"(6:139). Here Allah criticizes this pagan notion of difference
between male and female.
In the matter of dignity and honor, both are equal in the sight of Allah and both have the sense of self-respect. In fact, the sum total of the teachings of Islam is to raise the dignity and honor of mankind and to disabuse it from any malignity or disgrace. It is to uphold and sustain this superiority of mankind over all other creatures, Islam directs the whole humanity to prostrate before none but Allah. Allah says, "Verily We have honored the children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea, and have made provision of good things for them, and We have preferred them above many of those We created with preferment."(17:70).
"When thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo: I am about to create a mortal out of mire. When I have fashioned him (in due proportion) and breathed into him of My spirit, fall you down in obeisance unto him. So the angels prostrated themselves all of them together." (38:71-3).
On the other hand, together with ensuring the honor of mankind, Allah (SWT) prescribes the degree of punishment for those who malign, or insult, or annoy Muslim man and those who do such to Muslim woman. The Qur'an states, " And as for those who malign believing men and believing women without their having done any wrong-they surely burden themselves with the guilt of calumny, and thus with the flagrant sin."(33:58)
In Islam the dignity does not depend upon being male or female or any other consideration but on being righteous. Allah says, " O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (Not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored among you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)." (49:13)
Thus it has become crystal clear that according to the Holy Qur'an, piety and virtue constitute the only criterion for the achievement of honor and success in this life as well as Hereafter. The Qur'an repeatedly states, "Whosoever doeth right whether male or female, and is a believer, him verily We shall quicken with good life and We shall pay them recompense in proportion of the best of what they used to do."(16:97)
"Lo! Men who surrender unto Allah, and women who surrender, and men who believe and women who believe, men who obey and women who obey, men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth Allah hath prepared for them forgiveness and vast reward."(33:35). The verses 3:195 and 9:71 also support the idea that honor and dignity or status has nothing to do with male or female but with good deeds. Small differences in rights and duties do not in any way affect the basic equality of all human beings.
As regards the dignity and status of man and woman in Islam, there is a misunderstanding, which is caused by the misinterpretation of the verse 4:34 of the Holy Qur'an. The verse reads that " Men are the 'protectors and maintainers' of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard (in the husband's absence) what Allah would have them guard ." (4:34)
Quoting this particular verse some people want to establish the superiority of men over women as if men are 'boss' and women are 'subordinate'. The key word that is contentious here is 'Qawwamuna'. In fact, this word does not bear any sense of superiority of men or inferiority of women. The proponents of this freakish idea of 'superiority and inferiority' translate the word as '(men are) superiors and leaders of (women)'. But this is not the correct translation and to make my point, herein, I am quoting the meaning of the word from different Tafseers:
Abdullah Yousuf Ali translates it as "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women." In the footnote he says, "Qawwam: one who stands firm in another's business, protects his interests and looks after his affairs; or it may be standing firm in his own business, managing affairs, with a steady purpose. (Cf. 4:135)." Muhammad Asad in his Tafseer "The Message of The Qur'an" translates it "Men shall take full care of women ." Moulana Muhammad Ali, in his Tafseer "The Holy Qur'an", translates the word "(men are) the maintainers (of women)." Sayyid Abul A`la Moududi, in his Tafseer "Tafhimul-Qur'an"(English version; The Islamic Foundation, London), translates "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women." In the footnote he writes, "A Qawwam or Qawwim is a person responsible for administering and supervising the affairs of either individual or an organization, for protecting or safeguarding them and taking care of their needs."
Thus it is seen that no one among the above-mentioned Mufassireen (interpreters of the Holy Qur'an) connotes or infers any idea of superiority of men over women within the capacity of this verse. Hammudah Abd al-`Ati, in his "The Family Structure in Islam" deals with the matter in details and he quotes the verse 2:228 along with the verse 4:34 to make his point. The verse 2:228 reads " But men have a degree (of advantage) over them (women) ." In this regard, Al-`Ati says, "This degree is usually interpreted by Muslims in conjunction with another passage which states, among other things, that men are protectors of women and managers of their affairs because Allah has made some excel others and because men spend of their means. The righteous women are therefore devoutly obedient and conscientiously guard what Allah would have them guard. (4:34). This degree may be likened to that sociological parlance calls 'instrumental leadership' or authority in the household due to role differentiation on the basis of sex."
Commenting on both the verses Abdullah Yousuf Ali says, "The difference in economic position between the sexes makes the man's rights and liabilities a little greater than woman's. 4:34 refers to the duty of the man to maintain the woman, and to a certain difference in nature between the sexes. Subject to this, the sexes are on terms of equality in law, and in certain matters the weaker sex is entitled to special protection."
The fact is that the husband must be more influential in some decisions, the wife would be in others. In family matters, the husband enjoys the "instrumental leadership", which deals with the " external system" whereas the wife has the "expressive leadership", which deals with the "internal system." About the degree mentioned in the verse 2:228, some writers say that "it means woman is worth half a man in certain cases of inheritance and in the bearing of witness to some legal transactions. In other words, the degree is 'operationalized' as the man's role of guardianship, a role that is based on the differential capacities of men and women. It is this role differentiation, together with differential capacities, that may provide a satisfactory explanation of the 'degree'." (The Family Structure in Islam). Another noteworthy fact is that the Qur'an does not state categorically that men are superior to women or that Allah has made men excel women. The verse (4:34) is unequivocal in specifying the financial role of men as a factor in their designation as guardian of women. But the verse speaks of excellence, it does not allocate it to any particular sex. Much less it does associate excellence with men exclusively. So in this case, excellence is attributed to some generalized men and women. This would be on the basis of Arabic grammatical rule of 'Taghleeb'. Then it
would indicate that some of them, men and women, are endowed with what others, men and women, lack. In matters of guardianship and exercise of authority, men are generally more qualified than women and can better deal with the external problems of the family and social system. Hence they are entrusted with the instrumental authority of the household. This does not exclude the capacity or eligibility of women to excel in some other areas e.g. "expressive authority". If the two types of authority are differentiated and held to be equally essential to the family operation, then the question of superiority of one sex to the other is actually irrelevant and hardly arises.
Commenting on this aspect, Dr. Jamal A. Badawi writes in his treatise entitled "Gender Equity in Islam", "Nowhere does the Qur'an state that one gender is superior to the other. Some mistakenly translate 'Qiwamah' or responsibility for the family as superiority. The Qur'an makes it clear that the sole basis of superiority of any person over another is piety and righteousness not gender, color or nationality." So the question of superiority or inferiority on the basis of gender is inconceivable.
Another matter to be mentioned in this respect is that the fundamental responsibility of both man and woman is same; both must affirm the testimony of faith, perform the five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, give Zakat, and perform Hajj if they can afford to do so. However, there are certain exemptions and concessions that apply to women because of their bodily functions and these exemptions and concessions do not affect their reward. Allah says, "Verily We did offer the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains: But they refuse to undertake it, being afraid thereof: But human being undertook it up-for, verily, he has always been prone to be most wicked, most foolish. (And so it is) that Allah imposes suffering on the hypocrites, both men and women, as well as on the men and women who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him. And (so, too, it is) that Allah turns in His mercy unto the believing men and women; for Allah is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace."(33:72-3).
The above-mentioned verses along with the verses 33:36 and 9:71 clearly testifies that the basic and fundamental responsibilities of both men and women and their reward or rebuke are the same without the least of gender consideration. Verse 9:71 clearly mentions six fundamental duties that are common to men and women.
Another glaring fact is that Prophet (SAWS) took allegiance of faith from women on the same conditions on which he took allegiance from men. Ubada ibn as-Samit said, "The Messenger of Allah said to us, 'Will you give allegiance to me on the same basis that the women do? That you will not associate anything with Allah, steal, commit fornication, kill your children, nor bring a lie which you forge between your hands and feet, and that you do not disobey me in anything correct?' We said, 'Yes,
indeed, O Messenger of Allah.' So we gave allegiance to him on that basis. The Messenger of Allah said, 'Whoever commits a wrong action afterwards and is punished for it, that is his expiation. If he is not punished for it, then his affair is left to Allah. If He wishes, He will forgive him and if He wishes, He will punish him." In another long Hadeeth the Prophet (SAWS) said, "All the Muslims are equal in status and obligations."(Riadussaleheen; Vol.2; Hadeeth No.1804; International Islamic Publishing House). It is true that, in the practical life of mundane affairs, it appears that women are preferred to do the internal household work and men do the external jobs and more hazardous activities. But it does not mean that women are deprived of the right to participate in other organizational activities outside home, rather they can pursue any activities when the situation demands. Islam makes her a useful member of the society. There are certain areas where women can play more significant role than men can; such as: teaching, medicine, and nursing, to mention just a few. Again it does not necessarily mean that their activities are confined to a limited number of fields. The preference of the husband to do the pursuits outside home is for the fact that he is responsible for the maintenance of the family.
It is true that if women take care of household affairs, this will make a healthy and sound family. Every good family contributes and helps in the establishment of a conducive society. And finally a good society presents a good and well-disciplined nation. And hence Islam emphasizes that women should be more attached to family works as Allah has formed her nature more suitable for household activities. The Prophet (SAWS) says, "You (women) should be devoted to the household affairs and it is Jihad for you."
This Islamic approach to women does hint at Islam's unique attention to integrate the fabric of family. Once Hazrat Omar (RAA) criticized Sawda (RA) seeing her outside home. She reported the matter to the Prophet (SAWS). And soon afterwards, the Prophet (SAWS) felt a divine inspiration. When he (SAWS) got relieved of the stress of divine revelation, he said, "Verily, Allah has given you (women) permission to go outside home for your necessities." (Bukhari)
On another occasion, Hazrat Omar (RAA) was roaming over the market and saw a man talking to a woman. Then Omar criticized the man. When he came to know that the woman was the wife of the man, he felt ashamed. This incident proves that even both the husband and the wife can go to the market together.
The relationship between man and woman as it is defined in the holy Qur'an and the Sunnah will make the position of woman in Islam clearer. The relation between man and woman, especially between the spouses, is based on the natural feeling and attraction that keeps them united in spite of their range of action and interest being quite different. A woman nurtures the human race with her blood and looks after the affairs of her home, but she finds it difficult to work in the field and defend herself against the enemies. Her heart is the abode of love, sympathy and sacrifice; whereas man is hardy and sturdy. So it is justifiable that their relation should be based on cooperation and not on any sense of rivalry. In a family the spouses are interdependent and complementary. The Qur'an states, "They (women) are raiment for you (men) and you are raiment for them." (2:187).
Commenting on the verse 2:187, Allama Abdullah Yousuf Ali says, "They (men and women) are for mutual support, mutual comfort, and mutual protection, fitting into each other as a garment fits the body." Moulana Muhammad Ali says, "They serve as garment for each other, i.e. they are a means of protection, comfort and even embellishment for each other, and the weakness of one is made up by the strength of the other."
The relation between man and woman is not one of hatred but one of love. Man is simply helpless without woman and vice versa. They are the source of peace and happiness to each other. Allah says, "And among His signs is this, that He has created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them. And He has put love and mercy between your hearts. Verily in that are signs for those who reflect." (30:21)
In general the relation between man and woman can be summed up by the two verses: 9:67 and 9:71. Verse 9:67 reads, "The hypocrites, men and women, (have an understanding) with each other. They enjoin evil and forbid what is just, and are closed with their hands. They have forgotten Allah; so He hath forgotten them. Verily, the hypocrites are rebellions and perverse." On the contrary, the verse 9:71 states, "The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy; for Allah is exalted in power, wise." (9:71).
In fact, the relation between husband and wife in Islam is based on both emotional attachment, as it is expressed in the verse 30:21 (And He has put love and mercy between your hearts), and a solemn covenant and commitment by both sides: " You have gone in unto each other, and they have taken from you a solemn covenant " (4:21). Both husband and wife are expected to live honorably with kindness, tolerance and patience or, if such relationship is not possible to maintain, to free from each other from the marital bond. (Ref. 4:19; 2:229-32).
A specific sequence of the marital bond between husband and wife is that the husband is responsible for the maintenance and this duty is to be discharged cheerfully and without reproach or injury. The wife's right to maintenance is established by the authority of the Qur'an and the Sunnah, the unanimous agreement of the jurists, or reason or common sense without any consideration of her being a Muslim or not. The wife's obligation issued from this marital alliance is that she must contribute to the comfort and well being of her mate. She may neither offend him nor hurt his feelings. Perhaps, nothing can illustrate this point better than the Qur'anic statement which describes the righteous people as those who pray: " Our Lord! Grant unto us spouses and offspring who will be the comfort of our eyes, and give us (the grace) to lead the righteous" (25:74). In fact, to make the offspring the comfort of eyes is the primary responsibility of the wife, and as such the sound character of the future generation depends upon her to a great extent.
In case of the unsuccessful marriage and bitter relation between the spouses, Islam prescribes the procedure of divorce. And in this matter too Islam ensures the right of both the husband and the wife. The difference in the procedure of divorce of husband and wife is for some reasonable grounds. In the pre-Islamic Arabs there was no restriction on divorce, man was free to divorce his wife any time and any number of time and reunite her at his will in a whimsical manner. It is noticeable that, even at the present time, in some states of the USA it is possible to divorce, get married and then divorce again whimsically within the space of a day and it causes an untold mental and psychological suffering and harassment for the wife. (The Islamic Teaching Course; Vol. 3; By Dr. Jamal A Badawi). Some quarters of people seem to raise question about the right of wife to divorce on the ground that Islam gives husband the arbitrary right to divorce which a wife is not given. It is true that a husband may divorce at his will though he is not required to explain he has most likely reasons for divorce. And it is also true that a wife must apply to divorce by claiming maintenance, infirmity, sexual neglect, imprisonment, absence, prejudice, or immorality on the part of the husband (The Encyclopaedia of The Muslim World; Vol. 4). Unless it is a case of Khula, in which she can obtain divorce from her husband by surrendering a part of Mohr, husband can not refuse Khula. (Ref. G-45-46, Jamal Badawi; Islamic Teaching Course, Vol.3).
In the husband wife relation the financial liability is an important factor. Islam promulgates the law of maintenance of wife in detail, which is found in no other religious doctrine. Only a century ago there was no law to prevent the husband from tyrannizing his wife. The husband practiced full right over the wealth and property of his wife. In Islam the husband has no right to interfere in wife's financial matters or to make use of her personal wealth. The Qur'an states, " And in nowise covet those things in which Allah has bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than on others; to men is allotted what they earn and to women what they earn. But ask Allah of His bounty. For Allah has full knowledge off all things." (4:32)
Moreover, Islam makes it a precondition of marriage that the groom must give the bride Mohr or marital gift, otherwise the marriage is invalid. Allah says, "And give the women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, on their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and enjoy it with right good cheer." (4:4). On another context, Allah says, " (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the people of the Book, revealed before your time, when you give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, not secret intrigue ." (5:5)
In this connection it is to be mentioned here that Hazrat Shuaib (Old Man) gave one of his daughters in marriage to Hazrat Musa (Moses) on the condition that the latter would serve the former for eight years. This service was essentially in lieu of mohr (the dower). The Qur'an relates the story, "He (the Old Man) said: I intend to wed one of these my daughters to thee, on condition that you serve me for eight years; but if you complete ten years, it will be (grace) from you. But I intend not to place you under difficulty: you will find me, indeed, if Allah wishes, one of the righteous." (28:27)
As regards the financial right of women, the question of inheritance inevitably arises. It should be kept in mind that there is no difference in kind but in degree in the matter of the inheritance of men and women. " Unto the men (of the family) belongs a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, and unto the women a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether it be little or much-(it is) a legal share." (4:7). The world should happily know that it was in response to the complain of a woman (and not a man) that Allah has promulgated the rules of inheritance in detail in the Holy Qur'an. It is related that after the Battle of Uhud, the wife of Sabit bin Qais complained to the Prophet (SAWS) that her husband had been martyred and she had two daughters. But Sabit's brother had misappropriated everything. Now, how would she arrange for their (the daughters') marriage? And then the revelation came as " Allah (thus) directs you as regard your children's (inheritance): to the male a portion equal to that of two females ." (4:11-13) and also the verse (4:176).
When Islam granted women the right to inheritance, the Arabs got stunned and asked the Prophet of Islam, "O Prophet of Allah! How can a woman inherit half of the property when she cannot ride a horse nor defend herself?"
Islam makes not injustice in the ruling on inheritance; rather apparently it seems to be pro-woman. People earn undeserved wealth in two ways: one is through inheritance and the other is through marital alliance. In the first case women enjoy the half of the share of men; but in case of the marital alliance, it is the man who gives and the woman who receives even though the wife has no financial responsibility in running the family to be formed by the marital bond and even though the enjoyment and benefit ensued by marriage is mutual. It is totally reasonable that men need extra share of inheritance in view of their commitments not only to their own families and dependents, but also to other poor relatives who may be dependent on them. And any question of bias in inheritance issue or in any other case of gender issue is chimerical as Allah (SWT) is independent of any consideration of sex.
Allah the most Just of the judges (98:7) seems to be more careful about the matters related to women, the fair sex. When Aws bin Samit harassed his wife Khawlah bint Tha'labah by divorcing her in an old pagan custom i.e. Zihar, the immediate revelation was "Allah has indeed heard (and accepted) the statement of the woman who pleads with you concerning her husband and carries her complaints (in prayer) to Allah: and Allah always hears the arguments between both sides among you: for Allah hears and sees all things."(58:1). On the other hand, in the matter of chastity and honor, Allah (SWT) prescribes necessary measures. The Qur'an states, "Those who slander chaste women, incautious but believing, are cursed in this life and in the Hereafter: for them is a grievous penalty." (24:23). Thus the chastity and dignity of the woman-folk is more carefully guarded and ensured in Islam. On the contrary, the chastisement prescribed for the adulterer men and women as well as their status in the society is the same in an ideal Islamic society. (Ref.24: 2-3), (24:26).
The concept of the Original Sin is an important dimension that very nicely distinguishes the attitude of Islam and that of Christianity to women to a great extent. Firstly, it should be clarified that there is no room in Islam for any concept like Original Sin. In Christianity this concept propounds that the whole mankind is by born sinner as their parents (Adam and Eve) are. In Islam, no one is responsible for the misdeeds of other, nor the children for the sin of their parents and vice versa. Allah says, "Every soul will be (held) in pledge for its deeds." (74:38). " On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns ."(2:286). This fact is true even in the broader sense.
Allah states, "That was a people that have passed away. They shall reap the fruit of what they did, and you of what you do! And you will not be asked of what they did." (2:134). Moreover, the Qur'an repeatedly affirms that no one is responsible for the burden of the other. Allah says, "Every soul draws the meed of its acts on none but itself: no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another. Your good is in the end is towards Allah: He will tell you the truth of the things wherein you disputed."(6:164). The same truth has repeatedly been expressed in the verses: 17:15; 35:18; 39:7; 53:38.
Islam also negates any idea that Eve or Hawa was responsible for the first sin or she tempted Adam to commit this. The Bible says that Eve was, at first, tempted by the serpent to eat from the tree and then she tempted her husband to do so. But no where in the Islamic tradition is any mention of the serpent. Islam establishes that it was Satan (and not the serpent) who tempted Adam at the first time and Eve at the second time.
The creation of the mankind along with the sin of Adam and Eve is mentioned in detail in the verses like 2:3o-39; 7:20-25; 20:120-122 etc. And no where does Allah say that only Eve was responsible for the sin. Almost in every case, Allah uses the phrase "both of them" and hence it is not Eve alone who is to blame for the fall of mankind from the heaven. Moreover, the verse 20:120 proves that it was Adam who was whispered or tempted by Satan and the verse 20:121-122 clearly states that " Thus did Adam disobey his Lord, and allow him to be seduced. But his Lord chose him (for His Grace): He turned to him, and gave him guidance." The fact that Adam was a little bit more responsible for the sin is also supported by a prophetic tradition where the Prophet (SAWS) said that on the Day of Judgement, people will go to Adam (AS) and entreat him to intercede for them with Allah. He will refuse to do so saying, "Allah told me not to eat from the tree and I disobeyed; therefore, I am unworthy to intercede."
Bible says that women suffer in pregnancy and childbirth because of Eve's (who was a woman) sin. On the contrary, Islam deals with the matter of pregnancy and childbirth in a very sympathetic manner and it is described as a Jihad or struggle on the part of the mother for which she will gain due reward. Allah says, "And We have enjoined on men (to be good) to their parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twin was his weaning: (hear the command), ' Show gratitude to Me and to thy parents: to Me is (thy final) goal'." (31:14). The Prophet (SAWS) says, " If a woman dies in her post-natal period, her infant will drag her into Paradise."
Despite all the fact that Islam has ensured every rights of woman and dignified her position and recognized her independent personality, it is true that women in the present world, even in most Muslim societies, are deprived of their true status and position and are persecuted in many respects. Although there remains an irresistible movement for the cause of women all over the world, men's constant tyranny prevails almost everywhere. Both the so-called feminist organizations and some Muslim woman right organizations are working to better the condition of women and to restore her true position in the society. But the dark truth is that the western feminist movements are proceeding with the freakish idea of flattening all the natural differences between men and women and without recognizing the essential distinctions between men and women as two separate species. This approach to the gender issue will bring no betterment to the women.
This exacerbated plight of the women all over the world desperately invites the attention of all the Islamic organizations in particular and the whole Ummah in general to take the gender issue more seriously. We should not feel relieved criticizing the so-called feminist movements and applauding the elevated position of women in the golden age of Islam; rather we should most actively and faithfully struggle for the cause of women with might and main. And we should deem it our religious duty as Allah commands us, "And why should you not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? -Men, women, and children, whose cry is 'Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Thee one who will protect; and raise for us from Thee one who will help'." (4:75)
Md. Mahmudul Hasan
Dated: 3rd May 1998
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