The equality of sexes debate.

22 07 2007

There is a great debate going on about equality of sexes in Islam. The question being raised is whether Islam gives women an inferior position or a position which would allow them to excel equally in society?

What I find interesting though, is that the critical investigation is based around study of interpretation of law which is reality specific or certain text viewed in isolation. Furthermore, the premise of measuring this equality is the late twentieth century Western phenomenon of ‘have-it-all-woman’. This woman is the very embodiment of success, happiness and tranquillity. She has managed to excel in her career, satisfied every whim and desire of her husband whilst bringing up balanced well mannered and well educated offspring. However, behind the powerful figure of an Armani suited women with Gucci briefcase on one arm and a baby tucked under the other, often lies a tale of the oppression of another woman. Domestic servitude has only been escaped by passing it down to another group of oppressed women. Hundreds of low-paid women, in America most of them foreign, have taken up the domestic duties along with the dirty washing, discarded by professional women who have fled the home for the workplace. Liberation for female high-fliers is only possible because battalions of unseen, unheard women care for their children, clean their homes and cook their meals.

I have started reading a very interesting book, “Global Women: nannies maids and sex workers in the new economy” by Ehrenreich and Hochschild, which outlines several case studies of household workers. The Western Capitalism which they hearkin to, has exploited every last drop of blood of the poor and weak. Now even a mother’s love is subject to free market forces. A climate has been created of a long-hours culture in which women cannot compete and still be mothers. So in the post feminism period it is acceptable for some other woman to be exploited. The modern liberated ‘have-it-all’ has it all at the expense of another. ‘The Politics of Prostitution: Women’s Movements, Democratic States and the Globalisation of Sex Commerce’ by Joyce Outshoorn, is another eye opener and a good survey of the current feminists lexicon and their dilemmas.

The correct method of ‘Islam and Equality’ investigation should entail a deep study of reality of the subject (nature of men and women) followed by exertion of Islamic text to conclude whether Islam addresses these natrual tendencies.

Islam has addressed people, men and women alike, in their quality as human beings; Allah (swt) says:

“Say O you people I verily am the Messenger of Allah sent to you all.” [7:158].

Allah (swt) also says:
“Fasting has been prescribed upon you.” [2:182]

And Allah (swt) also says:
“And do establish prayer and perform Zakat.” [2:182]

These verses represent general addresses, and this indicates that the Islamic Shari’ah has been revealed to the human being, man and woman alike, this generality remains in effect as long as there are no evidences to specify it. There are however some Shari’ah rules which specifically address women such as the exemption from prayer during menstruation (Haydh) and parturition (Nifas), and not having to complete the abandoned prayers once the cycle ends; and also such as stating that the testimony of one single woman would be sufficient in matters where only women can have access to, for instance the attestation of virginity and breast feeding. Some rules have also addressed men exclusively, such as the obligation of the Friday prayer upon them, and its desirability (Mandub) for women. Allah (swt) says:

“And of everything We have created pairs. That you may receive instruction.” [51:49]

These differences in the rules and duties between the man and the woman do not necessarily mean that one party is favoured at the expense of the other, they are opposite parties, each one of them has been gifted with a mind, instincts and organic needs, each one of them has the ability to affect and be affected, to teach and to be taught, culture and to be cultured, Allah (swt) says:

“He has taught him speech (and intelligence)” [55:4]

Allah (swt) has created each one in a particular shape and with a particular organic function; the man is different from the woman in his shape, form and some organs. This difference necessitates that each one should have a different role in life from the opposite sex in certain areas. This is why Allah (swt) has decreed certain Shari’ah rules designed specifically for each one of them, placing the woman in her natural role which would mean that she is a mother, or a sister, an aunt, a daughter, or a wife, in each being an honour that should be protected. He (swt) also placed the man in his natural role which would mean that he could be a husband, a father, a brother, a son or a cousin etc..

It is worth mentioning that the way Islam views men and women is purely human i.e. it views them in their quality as human beings addressed by Shari’ah, and this is contrary to the degrading manner in which the West views them, i.e. as being a male and a female who need to satisfy their sexual desires without any system designed by the One Who created this human being in the first instance. If this Creator were not taken into consideration it would lead to the suffering of the human being.

It is also worth noting that the word Insan (meaning human) in the Arabic language is completely independent from the words man or woman, by contrast in English the word is always connected to man, so is the case with the words male and female; despite this the West arrogantly accuses Islam of denying the woman her rights, whereas in fact it violates the rights of the human beings both men and women alike.

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6 responses

22 07 2007
Sumera

Surely the success of one woman doesnt necessarily mean oppression of another? Its too simplistic a link to make. Sometimes it just how things are – you either have wealth and so are able to hire help, or you need it, so become a maid. There are people of various “levels” in a society, and there is a need for this variety. One cannot function without the other (e.g. people take Dr’s and lawyers in high esteem, yet if their pipes burst they wouldnt be much help – unless they were DIY fanatics – a plumber (who are seen as menial labourers) would be required)

Supply and demand.

24 07 2007
Tia

Spot on Sumera.

My thoughts were in reference to the changing gender roles in the west, where the woman is liberated from her natural role as a mother, wife, sister etc, in contrast with Islam where they are fixed. For example, an extract from the above book:

Mrs Bautista is part of a chain of oppressed women. She left her own children in the care of her mother five years ago when her youngest was only three: she could find no work to provide for them. The children’s grandmother is herself so hard-pressed that she works as a teacher from 7am to 9pm each day. So another local woman is hired to cook, clean and care for the family in her long absence, paid for using US dollars sent back by Rowena. Then the hired cook, in turn leaves her own child in the care of a very elderly grandmother. Rowena calls the American child she tends ”my baby”. She says: ”I give Noa what I can’t give my own children.” Last time she saw her own son, he turned away from her, asking resentfully: ”Why did you come back?”

Mrs Bautista is only one of 800,000 of such foreign workers in Washington DC. These cases epitomize an underworld of globally exploited women. The traditional roles of women are now being rejected by western women. So who is fulfilling those jobs that they used to perform?

In terms of success, the yardstick of measuring it has blurred a great deal. The view of successful women in the west is the one who has achieved a successful career, who is financially independent, and who owns her own house and car. A house-wife or full time mother doesn’t seem to fit in this success criteria, its almost quiet embarrassing and looked down upon.

Islam on the other hand, allows men and women to maximize their potential, being utilised. unlike the west, Islam doesn’t view success of an individuals on the basis of how much they can contribute to the economy of the state. It evaluates an individual male or female based upon their level of taqwa. Of course, she can have a career but she will not define her identity, success, self-worth nor measure her status by her career. In addition, she will not seek employment due to the pressure of the negative stigma in society associated with women who are mothers and do not have a career.

Stark reality is that, how can equality of roles be applied to the man and woman who are physiologically and anatomically different in their nature.When roles and duties in life are set in a manner that does not take into consideration the differing nature of the man and woman then this would cause oppression and misery and their will be victims- other women and not to mention children.

24 07 2007
Sumera

I personally think its unfair to leave your children with your mother, or any other woman for that matter simply because you want to work. Need is different. When there is a “need” (and not need as in just wanting to bulk up your CV!) then one doesnt have a choice.

Perhaps its just me, but I simply wouldnt trust anyone else with my kids (and I dont have any yet!). And mothers..sure they are probably the best people to leave your kids with, but as they age they dont have that same tolerance anymore, the same energy and i think its quite an “oppression” to dump your kids on them.

Sometimes though, women who do go back to work and have children do so for the intellectual stimulation, and they label that as their “need”. That I can understand, being around babbling kids day in,day out can drive anyone potty. Which is why having extra support in terms of childcare and having time for yourself (to work, or to study or whatever else floats their boat) is good for those who need it.

I dont think most mothers go into work or have a career do so inorder to completely break away from their “mothering” role. So I wouldnt say its liberation from that, but more about “enhancing” themselves in order to be better people, better mothers, wives, and even daughters etc. You get some mothers who stay home all day with their kids, yet have little interaction with them. They plonk them infront of the TV. Or yap on the phone all day. So its not always about quantity of time spent or invested.

But one obviously can’t pursue work, studies etc at the expense of another, or other things and people, so you have to make sure that your work isn’t impinging on things

Balance is vital.

25 07 2007
Tia

Good points sis Sumera.

My mother did her bar at law at the same time as raising all 7 of us, she did find it very difficult to start off with because the idea of ‘maternity leave’ is very unattractive to potential employers. Now, she has gone back to her profession.

Though, there is still a huge debate about chances of young married women getting a job in comparison with unmarried. Last week, there was a radio debate on the very issue, where corporate employers were admitting to not employing women starting a family. There are investigations, reports, stats to prove this. All of this shows that women are discouraged from starting family in order to pursue a career or neglect her natural responsibilities as mother, wife etc. So the western concept of ‘have-it-all’ Woman, which seems to be one of the premise of this discussion is not as sound as it sounds.

25 07 2007
Sumera

Then the culture of career and commitment to the career in replacement of family is that which has been created by those who employ, and not the employee’s. And it may indeed deter some women from having a family if it means their work achievements derail or, even worse, are “demoted” back a few years.

I dont know if you had a read a report that was out a few years ago, that being a young married woman made it harder to gain employment (depending on field of work), but if you were an Asian woman then it was near impossible not to have your personal life prodded into (cue stereotypes here of meek Asian women)!

I agree, not everything is as glorious as its made out to be. But one thing is for sure we living in the West certainly dont have it bad as some women in other countries.

25 07 2007
TIa

I think I know the report you are referring to. There was the famous case of BDO employee who was sacked after returning from her arranged marriage in Pakistan. Their justification was that she may settle in Pakistan or opt into being a housewife after a few years, therefore she is not worth investing in.

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