Women’s Equality in Quranic Society
A DUAL SEX RATHER THAN UNISEX SOCIETY
Now let us consider the second basic characteristic of the Quranic society which affects the position of women. This is found in the directives for a dual sex rather than a unisex society. While maintaining the validity of the equal worth of men and women, the Qur’an does not judge this equality to mean equivalence or identity of the sexes.
Probably all of you are familiar with the contemporary move toward unisex clothes and shoes, unisex jewellery and hair styles, unisex actions and entertainments. In fact, it is often difficult in America to decide whether one is looking at a boy or a girl. This results from the current notion in Western society that there is little if any difference between the two sexes in physical, intellectual and emotional endowment; and that, therefore, there should be no difference in their functions and roles in society. The dress and the actions are but superficial evidence of this deeper conviction. Accompanied by a downgrading of the qualities and roles traditionally associated with the female sex, this current idea has generated a unisex society in which only the male role is respected and pursued. Although meant to bring a larger measure of equality for women, the idea that men and women are not only equal, but equivalent and identical, has actually pushed women into imitating men and even despising their womanhood. Thus it is generating a new type of male chauvinism. Tremendous social pressures have resulted in stripping women of their role-responsibilities formerly performed by them, and they are forced to live a life devoid of personality and individuality.
The society based on the Qur’an is, in contrast, a dual-sex society in which both sexes are assigned their special responsibilities. This assures the healthy functioning of the society for the benefit of all its members. This division of labour imposes on men more economic responsibilities (2:233, 240-241; 4:34), while women are expected to play their role in childbearing and rearing (2:233; 7:189). The Qur’an, recognising the importance of this complementary sexual assignment of roles and responsibilities, alleviates the greater economic demands made on male members of the population by allotting them a larger share than women in inheritance. At the same time it grants women the right to maintenance in exchange for her contribution to the physical and emotional well being of the family and to the care she provides in the rearing of children. The unisex ideology generates a competitive relationship between the sexes which we find in America and which is disastrous for all members of society: the young; the old; the children; the parents; the single and the married; the male and the female. The dual-sex society, by contrast, is a more natural answer to the question of sexual relationships, a plan encouraging co-operation rather than competition between the sexes. It is a plan which has been found suitable in countless societies through history. Only in very recent times did the idea of sexual non-differentiation or identity achieve prominence, and then primarily in the Western society. Even the medical evidence for mental or emotional difference between the sexes is suppressed in Western research, for it threatens the prevailing trends of thought. How long this socially disastrous movement will continue before it is rejected as bankrupt is not known. But certainly we as Muslims should be aware of its deficiencies and dangerous consequences, and make our societies and young people aware of the disaster caused by it.
Protagonists of the unisex society have condemned the dual-sex human organization as dangerous for the well-being of women. If dual sex means that one sex is superior to the other, such a situation could have arisen. But in the true Quranic society, toward which we all aspire to move, this is not possible. As we have seen above, the Qur’an advocates eloquently the equal status of women and men at the same time as it recognizes their generally relevant differences of nature and function. Thus while acknowledging the religious, ethical, intellectual and legal equality of males and females; the Qur’an never regards the two sexes as identical or equivalent. It justifies this stand in its assignment of variant responsibilities and its provisions regarding inheritance and maintenance which match those responsibilities.
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