Between the Islamic Concept of Equality and the Western Concept of Equality
having done even a brief study on the topic of social and collective system of
Islam cannot deny the fact that Islam upholds the concept of equality between
man and woman, but this concept of equality presented by Islam is totally
different from the one that the followers of Lenin and Jhon Stewart Mill
are champions of a concept of equality which nurtures the idea, that nature has
bestowed women with the same kind of talents and energies with which it has
blessed men; and whatever a man can do, a woman can inevitably do the same.
Therefore, in the social set-up, the jurisdiction of a man and a woman should be
the same, with an equality in their rights and responsibilities.
this theory, Islam propagates a concept of equality between man and woman which
speaks of the fact that Allah has created both man and woman from the same
matter. Just like man is an integral part of this system so is a woman and both
have been created by Allah for their own specific purposes. Both have a right to
be respected and honoured. Just like he possesses certain talents, so does a
woman and as she possesses certain emotions, trends and natural inclinations, so
does a man.
So a man and a
woman should, according to their natural inclinations and aptitudes, move in
their respective orbits like sun and the moon in order to carry out the divine
will. Neither the sun nor the moon should have the liberty to trespass each
In a society
both man and woman should have responsibilities according to their talents and
they should have all the rights according to their responsibilities. Each one
should work in his/her own territory freely, to fulfil the purpose for which
he/she has been created.
concepts of equality are polls apart in their basics and impacts. If one belongs
to the western school of thought then one should abandon Islam in this regard,
but if someone believes in the Islamic concept of equality then one should
forsake the other notion.
structures that are erected on the foundations of these two conflicting concepts
are so different in their architecture and habitat that a patchwork of one on
the other is impossible, and any advances in this direction will result in the
form of chaos in our social and collective set-up.
western concept of equality seems simple and attractive. It, however, reveals
its flaws, once the structure of social life is constructed on its foundations.
Even a person of ordinary prudence feels that a system based on this concept is
tantamount to a castle built with sand. The important point to be kept in mind
about the Islamic concept of equality is that despite considering a man and a
woman equal, Islam places them in different spheres of social set-up, according
to their biological and natural capabilities, so that they work in their
separate spheres and benefit the society accordingly. Contrary to this notion
when the western concept of equality once admits that man and woman are born
equal then it refuses to accept any difference between the two on the basis of
their natural and biological aptitudes and capabilities. It tends to use both of
them in the same capacity. This results in the fact that when a woman or a man
tries to utilise her/his energies and natural inclinations in areas not meant
for each of them; then not only the society suffers but both man and woman have
negative effect on their personalities because of this misuse.
This is a fact
and is neither degrading to man nor to woman. We know that a woman can conceive
but a man cannot. It is neither shameful for a woman to conceive nor for a man
not to do so. The very existence of human race depends on the fact that each one
of them should proceed with what God has made them capable of.
people do not understand that a man can reveal his bravery in the battlefield,
but is not fit to become a houseman and take care of household chores. Similarly
a woman can be a perfect housewife but is not fit to become an army general and
wage war. If, instead of remaining in their respective jurisdiction they intrude
upon each other’s territories, they will end up not fulfilling their own duties
properly and create disorder in the society.
assigned, to man and woman, by nature have their own importance individually.
One cannot argue that to take care of a household is not important compared to
running an office, or to raise children is degrading compared to trade or
learning war techniques. All the roles played by men and women for the survival
of collective and social system are equally important.
has created this universe on the principle that each one of its elements
supplements and completes the other. In supplementing each other, these elements
fill their respective voids. Day and night, heaven and earth, spring and fall
all are manifestations of this principle. Still the universe is the perfect
example of harmony which reflects in each of its functions. If this harmony
disappears due to different elements intruding into each others orbits, universe
will come to an end. On this very principle man and woman are equal but
different with separate working capacities and the edifice of the society rests
on this principle.
is Acceptable to Islam
Now let’s find
out how Islam proves equal the status of men and women but defines different
spheres of life for them and their rights and duties.
speaks of equality of man and woman in the following verses:
O People! keep
your duty to your Lord, who created you from a single being and created its mate
of the same (kind), and spread from these two many men and women. And keep your
duty to Allah by Whom you demand one of another (your rights), and (to) the ties
of relationship. Surely Allah is ever a watcher over you.
negate all the wrong concepts about woman found in ancient religions and
cultures. Islam announces that a woman is not an inferior being. Neither she is
void of wisdom nor a disciple of Satan, but created equal to man and is an
important member of the society just like a man is. The existence of society
does not depend wholly on any one of them and that all the importance should be
given to one sex, but both are equal in this regard, although they possess
different talents and characteristics. But on the basis of this difference it is
not advisable for any of the two to feel superior or inferior to the other. They
should neither envy nor mimic each other. Infact, both of them should cherish
their own talents and devote their energies for the betterment of society, with
a feeling of gratitude and submission, keeping in mind the fact that God’s
justice is not blind and He will weigh the contribution of woman on the same
scale on which the contribution of man will be weighed.
this fact in the following verses:
And do not
covet that wherewith Allah has excelled one of you above another. To men shall
be the portion of what they earn and to women shall be the portion of what they
earn. And ask Allah for some of His grace. Verily Allah is all knowing.
clearly show that both man and woman equally share attributes that enable each
of them to excel over the other. Secondly, it becomes evident that a man or a
woman should not envy each other for their attributes, but thank Allah for
whatever blessings He has bestowed upon them, in order to succeed.
Nature is not
stingy in blessing man and woman. If man is blessed with the element of
invention and innovation, woman is blessed with the ability to take care of the
results of this creativity.
If man has the
aptitude for certain fields of study, woman also has aptitude for some others.
possesses chivalry, steadfastness and courage, woman possesses beauty, frailty
and grace. In this piece of art created by nature all sorts of colours have
their own value and importance.
It disgraces a
man when he tries to be a she man and it disgraces a woman when she acts like a
he woman. Man and woman who try to do the same infact make a mockery of the
division made by Almighty, and are cursed by Him. Following are some of the
narrations of Holy Prophet (sws) in this regard.
Holy Prophet (sws)
has cursed the women who try to make their appearance similar to that of men.
Hurraira (ra) narrates that Holy Prophet (sws) has cursed men who dress up like
women and women who dress up like men.
(ra) narrates that Holy Prophet (sws) has cursed he women.
All of the
above mentioned narrations throw light on the fact that it is not permissible
for both men and women to try and intrude into each other’s biological and
natural divisions. Infact they should perform their duties in their respective
fields and hope for equal reward from the Almighty.
A much greater
evidence is provided by an incident that took place in Holy Prophet’s time (sws).
Bint-i-Hazid (ra) once came to the Prophet (sws) and said, ‘A group of women has
sent me as their representative and they all have the same opinion, including
me, about which I wanted to enquire. Allah has sent you as a Rasūl for both men
and women, therefore we believed you and followed your foot steps. But we are
women who remain behind the veil and inside our homes. Men fulfil their desires
with us and we take care of their off-springs. Men have excelled in prayers and
Jihād, and every other act of piety. Will we be rewarded with them too?’
listening to her speech, Holy Prophet (sws) asked his companions, ‘Have you ever
listened to such a fine speech by a woman before who had enquired about
religion?’ All the companions answered in the negative. Then the Holy Prophet (sws)
said to Asma (ra), ‘O Asma help me in conveying my message to the women who have
made you their representative, that their taking care of the household and
keeping their husbands happy is equivalent to all those deeds of men you have
just mentioned.’ After hearing this Hazrat Asma (ra) returned happily thanking
incident Hazrat Asma (ra) not only represented women of her times but also women
of our times to a certain extent.
belonging to the feminist movement consider all these duties degrading which
nature wants them to perform and hold the responsibilities imposed on men in
high esteem. That is why they argue that it is against justice that all we do
throughout our lives is taking care of children and household while men write
the destinies of nations. Then they demand equal opportunities to work shoulder
to shoulder with men in every walk of life. What they fail to understand is that
a man fighting in the battlefield can only do so if there is a warrior like
woman taking care of his house and children. This Jihād of a man is just a
dimension of the devotion and dedication of a woman. In the eyes of God Almighty
both kinds of Jihād are equal and deserve the same reward.
The Concept of
Equality which is not Acceptable to Islam
Islam does not
approve the concept of equality which is either based on the notion that man and
woman are born equal, so they should have equal share in the administration of
the country; or based on the concept that whatever a man can do woman can also
do the same, and so their fields of activity, duties and rights should also be
the same. If the social and collective system of Islam is interpreted in the
light of above mentioned concept of equality, it will not only turn out to be a
failure but the person trying to do so will be disappointed. If men and women
are trained on the basis of this supposition then the whole society will be
caste in a mould and it will become impossible for the society to accept the
legitimate Islamic system in the future.
Any step in
this direction will definitely clash with Islam and this clash will not only be
with Islam but directly with Qur’ān and Sunnah. A few examples are presented
here in order to have a clear understanding of this conflict.
before this concept of equality upholds the notion of complete equality between
man and women in social and collective circles. To the contrary Qur’ān though
declares rights and responsibility of women; it also announces a certain degree
of precedence of man over woman in the social set-up and considers it necessary
for the balance of the society, because the burden of earning livelihood for the
family is borne by man, and because of his capabilities he is suitable to carry
out this task, that is why it is necessary that he should have rights according
to this heavy responsibility.
And women have
rights similar to those against them in a just manner, and men are a degree
precedence is explained further that since the responsibility of earning
livelihood for the family is given to man, it is he who should be the maintainer
Men are the
maintainers of women, with what Allah has made some of them to excel others and
with what they spend out of their wealth. So the good women are obedient,
guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded.
outcome of western concept of equality is that women should have equal share in
inheritance; but as Islam has put the responsibility of earning livelihood on
man so it has granted man a share equal to the share of two women in
you concerning your children, for the male is the equal of the portion of two
western concept demands equal right to divorce for women. Although Islam has
announced safety clauses for women but in order to keep the unit of family
intact, it has given the right to divorce only to man, to whom he has declared
to be the maintainer.
Or he foregoes
in whose hand is the marriage tie. And it is nearer to dutifulness that you
forgo. And don’t forget that one excels the other.
As far as
ordinary human obligations are concerned Islam has made a distinction between
man and woman and kept woman aside from responsibilities; and even if it has put
some pressure on her due to extraordinary circumstances, it has done so keeping
in view the natural and physical constraints of a woman.
And call to
witness two witnesses of your men and if the two be not men, then a man and two
women upon whom you agree upon as witnesses so that if one of the two errs then
the other will remind her.
concept of equality advocates equal share in the political and social rights and
responsibilities for man and woman. In all the collective activities women
should have all the freedom to take part with men. She should have full
representation in civil and military jobs. There should be no restriction on any
other political activities. Contrary to this, Islam wants to preserve the
energies of women for other more important and vital services of society, and
deems it unhealthy if women indulge in other activities and forsake the ones
which can only be carried out by women. A few examples are as follows.
the Islamic law a woman cannot lead men in prayers and she can only offer
prayers behind a man after the fulfilment of certain conditions. The reason for
this law is not that men are privileged and women are inferior, but because this
is based entirely on the moral law of Islam. The natural and physical
characteristics of a woman and the sexual inclination of a man can defeat the
spirit and essence of prayer.
the Islamic law a woman cannot become a judge or a magistrate. If some of the
jurists have approved it, it is done with a lot of conditions. The basis of this
law is again not the inferiority of women; but because of other duties and
responsibilities that women are supposed to take care of.
A narration of
Holy Prophet (sws) regarding the leadership of women narrated by Hazrat Abu
Bakra (ra) is as follows.
A nation that
hands over its leadership to a woman cannot prosper.
This was said
in the backdrop of the Persian Empire, where the people of Persia elevated the
daughter of Emperor to the throne.
As far as the
armed forces are concerned some incidents are found in Muslim history when women
took part in Jihād with their husbands and other relatives, it does not mean
that they did so because it was obligatory for them to take part in Jihād just
like men. In Islam Jihād is actually an obligatory act for men, that is why the
Holy Prophet (sws) never encouraged women to directly take part in Jihād, and
even if some women did so they were given the responsibility to take care of the
wounded, to cook food etc. and they were given something out of the spoils of
war as a gift and not as a share. But never in that early period of Islam did
women take part in Jihād without their relatives. Neither they were encouraged
to directly take part in war nor were they given anything out of the spoils of
war as a shareholder.
Some of the
narrations of Holy Prophet (sws) in this regard are as follows:
(ra) once asked Holy Prophet (sws), ‘O Prophet of God, we consider Jihād as the
ultimate act of virtue. So shouldn’t we take part in it.’ The Holy Prophet (sws)
replied, ‘No, but for you the highest act of virtue is Haj.’
is narrated that Ume Warqa Bint-i-Nofil requested Holy Prophet (sws) to grant
her permission to take part in Badar, but Holy Prophet (sws) declined. She was a
scholar of Qur’ān. She then requested for permission to hold congregation of
women at her place, for teaching of Qur’ān and prayer. Holy Prophet (sws) gave
her this permission and then she used to lead women in prayers at her own home.
After the law
relating to Hijab was revealed, Holy Prophet (sws) strictly discouraged the
idea of women taking part in Jihād. Therefore, an incident related to the war of
Khyber is found in history, which is relevant here.
Ziad narrates it from his grandmother that she tried to participate in the War
of Khyber with five other women. She said that when Holy Prophet (sws) came to
know about our participation he called us. When we went to him we found him
angry. He asked, ‘With whose permission and with whom did you decide to
participate?’ We answered, ‘O Prophet of God, we just came, we can spin, and
work for the Lord, we have some bandages and we can hand over the arrows.’
He said, ‘Go
back’. When Khyber was conquered by the Grace of God; the Holy Prophet (sws)
gave us dates as share like men.
If only a
precedent is to be found in the history of Islam as far as politics and women
are concerned, that is of Hazrat Ayesha (ra). She demanded Qisās of Hazrat Usman
(ra) and as a result the Jamal War took place between Hazrat Ali (ra) and her.
In this situation we will not discuss who was right and who made a mistake of
Ijtihad, but we will focus on the fact that as a woman, was it right for Hazrat
Ayesha (ra) to get herself involved in this matter or not. In this regard a lot
of opinions can be found in the books of history, of the companions of Holy
Prophet (sws). But they are based either in favour of one party or the other.
Therefore we would only talk about the opinion of Hazrat Abdullah bin Omar (ra)
for two reasons. Firstly he remained indifferent in this whole conflict, and
secondly nobody ever dared to say a word about his knowledge and piety. The
narration explains that he clearly said that it was better for Hazrat Ayesha (ra)
if she had stayed at her home.
Hazrat Ali (ra)
who was though a party in the conflict but still his words, his deeds, his
character and knowledge, piety and ability to stand firm in difficult times and
the respect he showed to Hazrat Ayesha (ra) deserves that we should discuss his
opinion in this matter also; and see how he opposed this act of her’s. He wrote
a letter to Hazrat Ayesha (ra) in the following words.
You stood up
for the sake of Allah and his Prophet with a demand from which Allah and his
Prophet has absolved you. Women have nothing to do with war and matters
concerning men. You stood up for Qisās of Usman but God is witness that the
people who put you into this trouble have made a greater mistake then the
murderers of Usman. You became angry because people incited you. Fear God and
return to your home.
In this letter
Hazrat Ali (ra) has not touched the discussion as to who was right and who was
wrong and has not given reasons against this action of Hazrat Ayesha (ra), but
his objection is on the fact that she had directly intruded into a matter which
does not concern women, and Allah and his Prophet both have absolved her from
this responsibility. She got entangled in a big conflict which she could have
avoided had she chosen to do that.
Ayesha’s (ra) response was just that now it is no time for blaming each other.
This gives the impression that she realised the force of Hazrat Ali’s (ra)
objection and was impressed by it, but the circumstances were out of control.
Because it was not possible that at that moment she could have satisfied herself
with this brief reply and wouldn’t have challenged Hazrat Ali’s (ra) claim that
such matters do not concern women. She fought for women’s rights throughout her
life and the idea seems far fetched that she did not contradict despite
considering it wrong. Her life after this conflict provides evidence of her
impression. Because after this war a series of political conflicts started, but
Hazrat Ayesha (ra) kept all her activities to women and not only did not take
part in any political conflict but it can also be known from different sources
that she regretted this act of hers for a long time.
incidents were quoted to show that Islamic concept of equality and western
concept of equality are polls apart. If you try to construct the structure of an
Islamic System on the basis of western concept of equality you will notice the
contradiction between the two on each step. In our opinion any such action will
culminate into chaos and confusion. When people will witness difference in words
and deeds openly, it will definitely result in fearful reaction.
straight path is that you should whole heartedly devote yourself to the actual
Islam and build a social and political system on it. If not and if you really
want to succumb to base emotions then the most decent way is to let those people
work who truly believe in Islam, and have the required knowledge. And if in case
you do not accept the second alternative then you should do what Ataturk and his
companions did. Instead of being a hypocrite you must admit that we don’t need
Islam. What we need is a secular state on the pattern of western states, and
want the same status for women as guaranteed by western concept of equality and
by secular states. Ataturk and his companions never deceived the people and
never stood up in the name of Islam, or an Islamic government and society. They
openly rebelled against Islam and formed a system on the basis of laws of
different European countries and not allowed anyone to become a hurdle in this
If you want to
do it then do it in this same way and quit this double standard of difference in
your words and deeds which is definitely not going to land you in heaven.
(Translated by Amar Ellahi Lone)