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The Concept of Equality Between Man and Woman
Social Issues
Amin Ahsan Islahi
(Tr. by:Amar Ellahi Lone)


The Difference Between the Islamic Concept of Equality and the Western Concept of Equality

Any person 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 support.

These people 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.

Contrary to 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 other’s orbits.

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.

These two 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.

The social 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.

Primarily, the 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.

Surprisingly, 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.

The duties 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.

The Creator 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.

Equality that 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.

The Qur’ān 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.

These verses 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.

Qur’ān reveals 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.

These verses 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.

If man 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.

Hazrat Abu Hurraira (ra) narrates that Holy Prophet (sws) has cursed men who dress up like women and women who dress up like men.

Hazrat Ayesha (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).

Hazrat Asma 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?’

After 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 Almighty.

In this incident Hazrat Asma (ra) not only represented women of her times but also women of our times to a certain extent.

Today women 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.

As mentioned 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 above them.

This 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 of woman.

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.

An obvious 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 inheritance.

Allah enjoins you concerning your children, for the male is the equal of the portion of two females.

Similarly the 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.

Western 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.

According to 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.

According to 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:

Hazrat Ayesha (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.’

Similarly it 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.

Hashraj Bin 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.

Hazrat 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.

These few 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.

So the 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 way.

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)



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