Woman In Qur'an
Woman in Qur'an
Now we propose to answer the question whether Islam regards woman equal to man as a human being, or regards her inferior to him.
The Special Philosophy of Islam in
Respect of Family Rights
With regard to the rights of man and woman, Islam has a special philosophy of its own which differs from what happened 1400 years ago and what is happening now. It does not believe that in all cases man and woman have the same rights and obligations. In certain cases their rights and obligations are different, with the result that in certain cases their position in this respect is similar, and in certain others dissimilar.
This is not because Islam, like some other schools of thought, looks at woman contemptuously or considers her to belong to an inferior sex. Islam differentiates between the two sexes for some other valid reasons.
You might have heard that the followers of the Western systems refer to the Islamic rules of dower, maintenance, divorce, polygamy and the like in a way, as if they were insulting to woman and derogatory to her position. They mislead the people into the belief that these rules are unreasonable and clearly in favour of man.
They say that during the entire period of history, prior to the 20th century, all laws and rules in the world were based on the presumption that man belonged to a superior sex and that woman was created for his benefit and enjoyment. The rights accorded by Islam also revolve round man's interests, and are no exception to the general rule.
They assert that Islam is the religion of the male sex. It does not recognise woman to be a full human being. That is why it has not accorded her equal rights. Had it recognised her as a full human being, it would not have allowed polygamy; it would not have given man the right of divorce; it would not have considered the evidence of two females equal to that of one male; it would not have fixed the share in inheritance of a female as half of the share of a male; it would not have ordered the naming of a price for woman under the name of dower, and would not have made woman dependent on man for maintenance, instead of making her economically and socially independent. The Islamic teachings in all these cases show that Islam looks at woman contemptuously. Islam claims to be a religion of equality but, at least in the case of family relations, no equality has been observed by it.
They maintain that in the matter of rights, Islam gives a clear preference to man, and that is why it has given all these concessions to him.
If we like we can put their argument into a logical form thus: Had Islam considered woman to be a full human being, it would have accorded her rights similar and equal to those of man; but as it has not done so, it does not consider her to be a full human being.
Equality or Similarity?
This argument is based on the ground that human dignity being common to man and woman, they both must enjoy the same rights. In this connection, the point worth considering is whether on the basis of human dignity they both should have equal rights without any discrimination, or should have the same rights irrespective of their different roles in life. No doubt, human dignity being common to them, they both should have equal rights. But how about the similarity of their rights?
If, instead of blindly following the Western ideas, we allow ourselves some independent thinking, the first question which comes to mind is whether equality of rights does really mean their similarity also. In fact, they are two different beings. Equality means a condition of being equal in degree and value, whereas similarity means uniformity. It is possible that a father may distribute his wealth among his three children equally, but not uniformly. Suppose his wealth consists of several items such as a commercial store, some agricultural land and some property, which has been leased out. He, taking into consideration their respective tastes and aptitudes, gives the store to one, the agricultural land to another and the leased property to the third. He takes care that what he gives to each of them should be of fair value, and at the same time should suit their aptitude. Thus he distributes his wealth equally, but not uniformly.
Quantity is different from quality, and equality is different from uniformity. Islam does not believe in uniformity between man and woman. But at the same time it does not give preferential treatment to men, in the matter of rights. It has observed the principle of equality between man and woman, but it is opposed to the uniformity of their rights.
Equality is a charming word, for it implies a sense of indiscrimination. A particular sanctity is attached to it. It evokes respect, especially when it is associated with rights.
What a beautiful and sacred construction 'equality of rights' is! Any conscientious person is bound to succumb to its charm.
But we cannot understand how things have got to this extent that others who have once been the standard bearers of science and philosophy want to impose their ideas about the similarity of rights between men and women on us.
This is exactly as if a person sells boiled beets and gives to them the name of pears.
No doubt, Islam has not in all cases accorded similar rights to man and woman. But it has not also prescribed similar duties and similar punishments for the two sexes. Anyway, the total value of the rights accorded to woman is not less than that of the rights accorded to man. We propose to prove this point.
Here the question arises as to what is the reason that in certain cases dissimilar rights have been accorded to man and woman. Would it not have been better, had their rights been similar, as well as equal in all cases? To give full consideration to this point, we propose to discuss it under three headings:
(i) The Islamic view of the position of woman from the angle of her nature.
(ii) The effect of the physical disparity between man and woman. Does it make them dissimilar in the matter of rights also?
(iii) What is the philosophy behind the Islamic rules, which are in some cases different in respect of man and woman? is this philosophy still valid?
The Position of Woman in the Islamic Scheme
The Qur'an is not merely a collection of laws. It is not a body of dry rules and laws with no explanation of their ultimate aims. it contains laws, as well as history, religious exhortations, an explanation of the meaning of Creation, and thousands of other things. At certain places it sets forth a course of action in legal form, and at others it explains the meaning of existence. It unravels the mysteries of the earth, the heavens, the plants, the animals and the human beings. It gives out the secrets of life and death, honour and disgrace, rise and fall, wealth and poverty.
The Qur'an is not a book of philosophy, but it has expounded, in very definite terms, its views on the three basic subjects of philosophy: the world, man and society. It does not teach its followers law alone, and does not indulge in mere exhortation and admonition, but, also by its interpretation of Creation, gives its followers a special outlook and a peculiar way of thinking. The basis of the Islamic regulations regarding social matters like ownership, government, family rights etc. are its very interpretation of Creation and various things.
One of the subjects explained in the Qur'an is that of the creation of man and woman. The Qur'an has not observed silence in this respect. It has left no opportunity to the philosophical meddlers to invent their own philosophy for the rules concerning man and woman, and to describe them as being based on Islam's contemptuous attitude towards the fair sex. Islam has itself given its views regarding woman.
To know the views of Islam on woman, we should see what the Qur'an says about her innate character. Other religions also have referred to this question, but it is the Qur'an alone which in a number of verses expressly says that woman has been created of the species of man, and both man and woman have the same innate character. While referring to Adam it says: He (Allah) made all of you from one being, and from that being He made its mate. (Surah an-Nisa, 4 : 1)
With regard to mankind in general, it says: He made your mate from among you. (Surah an-Nisa, Surah Ali Imran and Surah Rum).
Unlike some other religious books, there is no mention in the Qur'an that woman has been created of some inferior material, or that she has any parasitic and leftist aspect. Islam does not support the notion of the people who suppose that the spouse of Adam was created of his left ribs. Islam has no contemptuous view of woman in regard to her nature and innate character.
There is another contemptuous theory which was current in the past, and has left some undesirable traces in the world literature. According to it, woman is the cause of all sins. Her very existence stimulates evil. Woman is a little devil. It is said that woman has had a hand in every sin and every offence committed by man. Men themselves are free from sin; it is the women who drag them to it. It is also said that the Devil cannot have direct access to men. It is through women that he lures them. He prompts woman with wicked suggestions, and woman in turn prompts man. Adam was thrown out of Paradise because of a woman. The Devil misled Eve, and it was Eve who misled Adam.
The Qur'an has narrated the story of Paradise, but it says nowhere that the Devil or the Serpent misled Eve and Eve misled Adam. It neither blames Eve nor exonerates her.
The Qur'an says: We said to Adam: 'Take residence in Paradise.' both you and your Spouse, and eat the fruits thereof, freely wherever you wish and go not near that tree else you become wrongdoers. (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:35). It puts the pro. nouns in the dual form. It also says: Then the Satan made a suggestion to them (both). Then he led them (both) on with guile. He swore to them (both): I am a sincere adviser to you (both). Surah al-A'raf, (7 : 20 - 21)
Thus the Qur'an vehemently opposed the false notion which was current after the time of its revelation, and the echoes of which still resound in various parts of the world, It absolved woman from the charge that she was the prompter of sin, and herself a little devil.
Another contemptuous theory which has existed concerns woman's spiritual position. It was asserted that woman could not enter Paradise. She could not cover the spiritual and divine stages. She could not reach such a stage of proximity to God as man could. But the Qur'an, in a number of passages, has expressly said that the reward of the Hereafter and the proximity to Allah are not linked with sex. They depend on faith and deeds, and there is no difference between man and woman in this respect. In the Qur'an, side by side with every great and saintly man, a great and saintly woman has been mentioned. It has glorified the wives of Adam and Abraham and the mothers of Moses and Jesus. If it has mentioned the wives of Noah and Lot as unworthy of their husbands, it has not ignored the wife of the Pharaoh, and has mentioned her as a great woman who was in the hands of a wicked man. The Qur'an in its stories has maintained a sort of balance. Its heroes are both men and women.
While referring to the mother of Moses, the Qur'an says:
We made Our Will known to Musa's mother saying.' Put him in a box and throw it into the river. The waves shall cast him on to the bank ... (Surah Taha, 20 : 39).
About the mother of Jesus, it says that she had attained such a high spiritual position that the angels used to talk to her while she was worshipping in the Sanctuary. She used to receive eatables from supernatural sources. Her sublime spiritual position caused bewilderment even to Zachariah, the Prophet of that period.
There have been many eminent and saintly women in the history of Islam. Few men can attain the high position of Khadija, the beloved wife of the Holy Prophet, and no man, except the Holy Prophet and Ali (P) can match with Zahra, the beloved daughter of the Holy Prophet. She holds a position superior to that of even her sons, who are Imams, and to that of the Prophets, other than the last one. Islam does not discriminate between man and woman in the matter of the 'journey towards Allah', but it regards man more suitable for shouldering the responsibility of Prophethood, which can be described as a 'return journey from Allah' to the people.
Another contemptuous theory that exists about woman is related to renunciation and celibacy. Certain religions regard sexual relations as a dirty thing. According to the belief of their followers, only those can attain higher levels of spiritual life who pass their whole life in celibacy. A well-known world religious leader says: "Cut down the tree of marriage with the axe of virginity." Such religious leaders tolerate marriage only as a lesser evil. In other words, they maintain that as most of the people are unable to lead a life of celibacy, and there is an apprehension that they will be unable to control themselves, and so will become involved in illicit relations with a number of women, it is better that they marry so that they do not come into contact with more than one woman. These gentlemen advocate renunciation and celibacy because they look upon the fair sex with suspicion. They consider love for woman to be a great moral evil.
Islam is severely opposed to this absurdity. It reckons marriage as sacred and celibacy as dirty. To like woman has been described by Islam as a part of a prophetic character. The Holy Prophet has said: "I am interested in three things: perfume, woman and prayer".
Bertrand Russell says: "All religions other than Islam look at sexual relations with a pinch of suspicion. Islam, with an eye to social interest, has regulated and restricted them, but has not regarded them as dirty"
Another contemptuous theory with regard to woman, which has existed, is that woman has been created for the benefit of man.
Islam does not say any such thing. It has stated the purpose of Creation in clear terms. It expressly says that the earth, the heavens, the air, the clouds, the plants and the animals, all have been created for the sake of mankind. It does not say that woman has been created for the sake of man. According to it, both man and woman have been created for the sake of each other. The Qur'an says: They (women) are raiment (comfort, embellishment and protection) for you, and you (men) are raiment for them. (Surah al-Baqarah: 2 : 187).
Had the Qur'an stated that woman was a mere appendage of man, and was created for his sake, that view would certainly have been reflecte6 in the Islamic laws, but the Qur'an has expressed no such view. It does not explain Creation that way. It does not consider woman a mere appendage to man. That is why this view is not reflected in Islamic laws.
Another contemptuous theory about woman, which previously existed, is that woman is an inescapable evil. In the olden days, many people held her in great contempt and looked upon her as a source of misfortune and all sorts of trouble. In contrast, the Qur'an has emphasised that woman is a blessing for man and a source of his comfort and relief.
According to another contemptuous theory, little significance was attached to the role of woman in childbearing. Pre- Islamic Arabs and some other communities regarded woman just as a receptacle for keeping and developing the seed of man. The Qur'an in several of its passages has said, We have created you from a man and a woman. The same idea has been deduced from some other verses by the commentators of the Qur'an. Thus Islam has put an end to that wrong way of thinking.
It is clear from the above that Islam holds no contemptuous view of woman.
Now the time has come to see why there is a dissimilarity between the rights of man and woman.
Similarity, No and Equality, Yes
We have already said that in respect of the family relations and the rights of man and woman, Islam has a special philosophy of its own which is quite different from what was the practice, 1,400 years ago as well as what is practised today.
We have also said that it is not a debatable point whether man and woman are equal or not, as human beings, and whether their family rights should or should not be of equal value. From the Islamic point of view they are both human beings and, as such, enjoy equal rights.
The point which is worth considering is that man and woman, because of the sex difference, are dissimilar in many respects. Their very nature does not want them to be similar. This position demands that they should not be similar in respect of many rights, obligations, duties and retributions. In the West an attempt is being made at present to make their rights and obligations uniform, and to ignore their natural and innate differences. There lies the difference between the Islamic view and the Western system. In our country, the point at issue between the supporters of Islamic rights and the supporters of the Western system, is the question of uniformity and similarity of rights and not that of equality of rights between man and woman. Equality of rights is only a label which has been wrongly attached to this Western gift.
The present writer, in his writings and speeches, has always refrained from using this false label and has never condescended to give the name of equality to what is actually the theory of similarity of rights. The pre-2Oth century Europe is a clear example of injustice to woman. Till the beginning of the 20th century the woman of Europe was deprived of human rights, both practically and legally. She had rights neither equal to, nor similar to, those of man. It is during the past decades that, as the result of a hasty movement, more or less similar rights have been granted to her, but she has not yet been able to secure equal rights in conformity with her natural position and physical and spiritual needs. If woman wants equality of rights and domestic happiness, she must discard the idea of similarity of rights. That is the only way of establishing cordiality between man and woman. In that case, man will not only accept her equality of rights, but will also be willing to give her, in some cases, more rights without any question of deceiving her.
Similarly, we do not claim that in a Muslim society woman actually enjoys rights equal to those of man. We have often said that it is essential that the position of woman should be reviewed, and the abundant rights which Islam has granted her and which throughout history have been denied to her, should be restored to her. Anyhow, we must not blindly imitate the Western way of life, which has produced catastrophic results in the West itself. What we claim is that non-similarity of rights between man and woman, within such limits as are required by the disparity between their natures, is more in keeping with justice. It meets the requirement of natural rights better, ensures domestic happiness better and pushes society forward on the path of progress better.
It may be remembered that we claim that natural justice demands that, in certain cases, there should be a dissimilarity between the rights of man and those of woman. Being related to the philosophy of rights, this question has a hundred percent philosophical aspect. It is also connected with the principle of justice and equity, a cardinal principle of Islamic law and Islamic scholasticism. It is the principle of equity that has brought into existence the doctrine of conformity between reason and Divine law. According to the Islamic or at least the Shiah jurisprudence, if it is proved that equity demands that in a certain case the law should have a particular form, that very form will be the legal form irrespective of any other argument to the contrary, for according to the basic teachings of Islam the law must, in no case, infringe natural justice and basic rights. The Muslim scholars, by expounding the principle of equity, laid the foundation of the philosophy of rights, though following some unhappy historical events they could not continue the good work started by them. It was the Muslims who, for the first time, paid attention to the question of human rights and the principle of equity, and set them forth as original and self-existing principles unaffected by any contractual law. The Muslims were the pioneers in the field of the inherent natural rights.
But it was so destined that they could not continue their work and ultimately, after eight centuries, it was further developed by European intellectuals and philosophers, who appropriated the credit for it. The Europeans brought social, political and economic philosophies into existence, and acquainted the individuals, societies and nations with the value of life and human rights.
In our opinion, apart from historical reasons, there was a psychological and regional reason too, which prevented the Muslim-East from pursuing the question of inherent rights.
It is one of the differences between the spirit of the East and that of the West. The East is enamoured of morals and the West of rights. The man of the East is more sentimental and believes that he should be forgiving, chivalrous and philanthropic. But the man of the West thinks that as a human being he should know and defend his rights and must not allow others to violate them.
Humanity needs morals as well as rights. Humanism is concerned with both rights and morals. Neither of them alone is the criterion of high human qualities.
Islam has had and still has the big distinction of simultaneously paying attention to both the morals and the rights. In Islam sincerity, forgiveness and virtue are sacred moral qualities. At the same time consciousness of one's rights and the preparedness to defend them, are also equally sacred and human.
Nevertheless, the Eastern spirit has been dominant with the Muslims, and consequently, though in the beginning both morals and rights engaged their attention, gradually the field of their activity became confined to morals.
Anyhow, at present we are concerned with the question of rights which may also be a philosophical question and needs to be dealt with at length. It is more closely related to the real meaning of justice and the true nature of rights - justice and rights which existed even when there was still no law in the world, and whose meanings cannot be changed by any law.
Montesquieu says: "Before laws were made by man, just human relations were possible on the basis of the laws which governed the relations among all existing things. It was the existence of these relations which led to the framing of laws. To say that prior to the framing of laws by man no just or unjust order existed to regulate human relations is tantamount to saying that before a circle is actually drawn its radii are not equal".
Herbert Spencer says: "Justice is interwoven with something other than feelings, namely the natural rights of human beings. We must respect the natural rights so that justice may have a practical existence".
Most of the European intellectuals are of the view that all declarations of human rights have been derived from natural rights. In other words, the theory of natural rights has assumed the form of the declarations of rights.
As we know, Montesquieu, Spencer etc. have said the same thing about justice as the scholastic philosophers of Islam have said about the rational basis of good and evil and the principle of equity. Among the Muslims there have been scholars who have denied the existence of inherent rights and maintained that justice was contractual. Similarly, among the Europeans also this belief has existed. The English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes denied justice as a reality.
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