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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.

Adapted from the book: "Woman and Her Rights" by: "Shahid Murtaza Mutahhari"

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