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Islam the Misunderstood Religion Islam and Woman

Nov 22, 2013, 9:56 AM

Let us take up the position of woman in Islam and see if there are any historical, geographical, economical, ideological and legal conditions such as should force woman to talk up arms for her rights like her counterpart in the West. Or is it merely an inferiority complex and a result of thoughtlessly imitating the West that makes there Eastern champions of her rights declaim so enthusiastically in public meetings?

As a fundamental principle of its system, Islam holds that woman is a human being; and she has a soul similar to that of man: “O people! Be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread from these too many men and women” (iv: 1). Thus men and women are quite equal to each other in their origin, their abode as well as in their place of return and are as such entitled to similar and equal rights. Islam gave her the right to life, to honour, and to property like men. She is a respectable being and it is not permissible for anyone to find fault with her or backbite her. No one is permitted to spy on her or hold her in contempt due to her functions as a woman. These are the rights that both men and women enjoy, there being no differentiation against either of them. The law laid down about these applied to men and women alike: “O ye who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better that the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, by (offensive) nicknames” (xlix: 11), “....and spy not on each other, nor speak ill of each other behind their back (xlix: 11).O you who believe! do not enter houses other than your own houses until you have asked permission and saluted their inmates” (xxiv: 27). The Holy Prophet said: “it is forbidden for a Muslim to take the life, honour and property of another Muslim”. (Bukhari and Muslim).

The reward for both sexes for their good acts is also similar:“And their Lord hath them (and He sayeth): lo! I suffer not the work of any worker, male or female, to be lost. Ye precede one from another” (iii: 285).

Men and women are also equal in their rights to realize their material needs in the world including similar rights to hold property, and dispose of it as they should wish. They are free to mortgage it, to give it in lease, or bequeath it, sell or buy it or exploit it for her or his own benefit: “Unto the men belongeth a share of that which parents and near kindred leave” (iv: 7), and unto men a fortune from that which they have earned and unto women a fortune from that which they have earned” (iv: 32).

We must pause here awhile to take note of two important points concerning woman’s right to hold property and use or exploit it at will. The legal systems of the “civilized” Europe till very recently did not give any of these rights to woman. She could exercise these rights only indirectly through a man, her husband, father or guardian. This means, in other words, that even after Islam had granted woman the rights, the woman in Europe was deprived of them for more than eleven hundred years. And when she at last secured them she did not do so easily nor could she during this hard struggle for her rights keep intact her innate character, honor and nobleness of person. She had rather to forego all of these virtues besides experiencing a gruesome chain of hard word, murders, privations and miseries in order to obtain what was no more than a mere portion of what Islam had already granted to women folk, not due to the pressure of some economic circumstances, or as a result of the inter-class conflict going on in the world. It was rather initiated by its desire to implement truth and justice, the two most cardinal facts of human life-in practice rather than in the world of dreams.

In the second place, we must also take note of the fact that communism in particular and the West in general holds that human life is synonymous to man’s economic existence. Thus they say that so long as woman did not hold any right to ownership or exploit freely what she possessed she had no independent existence at all and that she attained a human status only after she came to have an independent economic existence, that is when she at last came to possess the right to hold property directly and not through man and was free to use or enjoy it, as she through fit.

Notwithstanding the fact that we do not agree to such a narrow view of human life and its degradation to a pure economic existence we do, however, agree in principle with these people-the communists and the western thinkers-that a sound economic standing does affect human feelings and the growth if self-consciousness in human beings. Islam occupies a unique position in that it recognized an independent economic status of woman and gave her the right to own, use and enjoy it in her own right without any intermediary trustee or mediator. Not only this but in the most important problem of her life i.e, marriage was valid unless she agreed to it. The Holy Prophet says: “No widow should be married without consulting her; and no virgin is married without her assent and her assent is her silence” (Bukhai and Muslim). Even after the marriage ceremony if she declared that she did not assent so it, the marriage is dissolved.

Before Islam woman had to adopt a roundabout and crooked course to free herself of her husband who held her in a state of perfect subservience, for neither the law of the land nor the common law gave her right to leave her husband by securing separation. Islam gave her this right in clear and unequivocal terms which her could exercise whenever she has a mind to do so. Not content with this, Islam even went a step further giving her the right to propose her marriage to any man she liked to marry. The European woman obtained this right only in the eighteenth century and still it was hailed there as a very great victory for woman against the centuries-old tradition of the past!

Again it was Islam that at a period when the entire world was lost in ignorance and darkness stressed the importance of knowledge for mankind, not as a special privilege of a particular class but as an essential and unavoidable need for each and every man. Islam made it obligatory upon Muslims to acquire knowledge as a necessary condition to their being true believers in God and Islam. It also goes to the credit of Islam that it was the first religion that acknowledging a separate and independent human status of woman impressed upon her that she could not achieve perfection without knowledge. Acquisition of knowledge was as great a duty of woman as of man, for Islam wanted the women folk to develop their rational faculties along with their physical ones and thus ascend to higher planes of spiritual existence, whilst on the other hand Europe did not even recognize any such right for woman till very recently and did in the end grant it to her only when compelled by the pressure of economic circumstances.

What we have said above is sufficient to confute the allegation that Islam accords woman only a secondary status or that she is treated as subservient to man or that her role in life is, in the eyes of Islam, of no importance at all. For if it had been so, Islam would not have attached so great an importance to the acquisition of knowledge for woman. That it did so goes to prove that Islam acknowledges an honorable and noble status for woman in life, in the eyes of God as well as society.

But after acknowledging a perfectly equal status as human beings for both men and women, and treating them as equal, entitle to equal rights. Islam does, however, differentiate between man and woman with regard to their special functions in life, a step that has given rise to a great hue and cry by some women organizations supported by certain writers, “reformers” and young men.

Before we consider the point on which Islam differentiates between the sexes, let us first tackle the basic problem from the physiological, biological and psychological standpoints. After that we will take up the Islamic viewpoint.

Do men and women belong to one and the same sex or are they two distinct sexes? Have they got similar functions in life or are their functions separate and distinct as man and woman? This is in fact knotty point, the crux of the problem. If the women conference, their supporters, the writers, the reformers and the young men mean to say that there is no difference whatsoever in the physical and intuitional equipment of man and woman as well as in their biological functions in life, then we have nothing to say to them. But they acknowledge that a difference does exist between man and woman and their respective functions, we may yet fruitfully discuss the problem together.

The problem of equality of the two sexes, it has already dealt with at great length in a book: “Man Between Islam and materialism” it may not be amiss to reproduce some paragraphs from it here below:

“And as a consequence of this fundamental difference in their functions and objective we find that man and woman have so come to differ from each other in disposition as well as in constitution that each is equipped with what it can suitably accomplish its respective primary functions.

“It is for reason that I am at a loss to understand how all this empty talk about an absolute equality between man and woman can even bring it to pass. The demand for equality between man and woman as human beings is a natural and reasonable demand. Man and woman are two equally important component parts of a whole humanity, proceeding from the one and the same progenitor. But so far as the demand for treating them as equals in their functions in life and the modes of their actual performance is concerned, can that ever be feasible? That is simply impossible even if all the women around the world should wish it, hold conferences and pass resolutions to that effect. These conferences and their resolutions cannot alter the characters of men and women, nor can they in any way transform their function making men share those of women in conception, birth and sucking and vice versa.”

“No specific biological function can be carried out in the absence of a special type of psycho-physical disposition. This means, in other words, that the specialized functions of woman viz conceiving and sucking, call for the emotional-cum-intellectual outfit of special type such as prepared and enables her to discharge these most arduous duties.”

“Of course, motherhood with all its noble feelings, exalted acts, patience through a series of tribulations, besides a most meticulous perfection in consideration and performance, cannot exist in the absence of that physical constitution which befits a woman for her specialized functions of conceiving and sucking, and gives form to her psychological, intellectual as well as nervous organism. These intellectual, psychological, nervous and physical characteristics of well as co-coordinating and harmonizing themselves. Therefore, it must be a very rare exception that one of them should exist without a simultaneous existence of its counterparts.”

“And all this tenderness of feelings, intuitional impressibility, and highly susceptible disposition with which a woman is endowed show the basically she possesses an emotional character rather than an intellectual one. It is this very emotional character that forms the most lively and ever flowing spring of her motherly attributes, as the upbringing of a child calls for qualities not intellectual which may be passive or active and may or may not successfully meet the requirements of a child, but an overflow of vehement feelings and passions such as does not allow her to meditate coolly but impels her to answer the child’s call immediately without delay or slackness.”

This in fact is the true character of woman in life. It helps her in the performance of her real functions as well as in the realization of her creative purpose.” To be continued