“Islam has catapulted women’s standing from below the earth to so high that Paradise lies at her feet.”
Perhaps out of crude ignorance, or a sheer malice towards Islam, the western academia has been spewing out a well-contrived propaganda of hatchet job; though it has largely coloured the true place women have been accorded by Islam, it has prejudicially turned a blind eye to the ignoble status women have had in most of the so-called ‘glorious civilizations’ prior to the emergence of Islam. The world is yet to be pulled out of the whirlpool of the western bias against Islam in order to revisit women’s standing in the Islamic society as envisaged in the Quran.
Women in the abyss of darkness
As per the ancient Greek mythology, a woman called Pandora used to be decried as the root of all evil – the term Pandora’s box refers to the jar this woman opened, releasing all the evils of humanity into the world. The Greek art portrayed women as sexual objects. In other strands of the Greek civilization, women were objectified as beasts of burden to gratify the lustful orgies of men. Even Aristotle – one of the greatest of the ancient Athenian philosophers – loathed femininity as a state of deformity. In Romans, one of their sports ‘Floralia’ promoted licentious, pleasure-seeking activities and even indiscriminate sex.
In the Middle Ages, the deep entrenched patriarchal structures marginalized the women a great deal. In Christianity, the place of women was no better either. Father Chrysostom said, “Woman is an unavoidable evil, a delicious calamity and an attractive trouble.” Saint Thomas Aquinas held: “A female is a misbegotten male.” The noted German idealist philosopher Nietzsche considered women to be ‘the source of folly, unreason’.
The rise of different strands of aggressive feminist movements in the modern Europe for securing women even the fundamental rights bears a testimony to the victimization women faced even in the last century.
Islam came as a great liberating force for the marginalized strata of the society. The historical accounts suggest that before the advent of Islam, women were writhing in wretchedness in the Arabian Peninsula with the female infanticide hardened into a common practice. Due to the unspeakable stigma attached to it, a feeling of despair engulfed the father over the birth of a female child. Thus, daughters were throttled to death or buried alive.
Islam came up with a propitious social system for women that emancipated them from every sort of ostracization. For the first time in the human history, women were brought on an equal footing with men; entitling them to the rights they were hitherto denied. It ventured into challenging the deep-seated stereotypes, and unfounded constructions, whilst decimating the taboos strongly upheld in the pre-Islam Arabian society. It declared equivocally that girls were never a liability to their parents; rather an asset, a blessing. A woman is the queen of the household. She wears the crown, and a house never qualifies to be a home until and unless it has a woman to add luster to it.
Not instigator of the Original Sin
Contesting the Judeo-Christian doctrine of apportioning the blame for the commission of the “Original Sin” to woman, Islam believes that both Adam and Eve went astray as a result of the Satan’s temptation. Thus, the couple equally shares the responsibility.
And We said, “O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers.” But Satan caused them to slip out of it and removed them from that [condition] in which they had been. And We said, “Go down, [all of you], as enemies to one another, and you will have upon the earth a place of settlement and provision for a time.” (Al Baqarah; 2:35-36)
Whereas the Judeo-Christian legacy depicts woman as a temptress who lured Adam into transgressing and it has cast a slur upon the reputation of women; besides being used as a pretext to debase and humiliate them.
Other half of man
The notion that women are rivals to men, and are, therefore, in a cutthroat competition with them is alien to Islam. Islam discards the concept of battle of sexes. Women complement men, and assist and solace them. A man and a woman are a source of peace, comfort and happiness for each other. Man is assigned the task of providing for his woman, sheltering her, and treating her with the utmost love, and care. A woman is supposed to run the affairs of her household, and protect her chastity in her husband’s absence.
It is He who created you from one soul and created from it its mate that he might dwell in security with her …” (Al-A’raf; 7:189)
“They [Your wives] are clothing for you and you are clothing for them …” (Al-Baqarah; 2:187)
In a hadith in Sahih Bukhari, Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) is reported to have said:
“Treat women well, for they have been created from a rib. The rib is most curved in its upper part, so that if you try to straighten it out, it will break, but if you leave it as it is, it will remain intact. Therefore, follow my advice on giving fair treatment to women.” (Kitab An-Nikah)
Rejoice the birth of a daughter
Upon its arrival, Islam criminalized the killing of daughters, something sanctioned as a social norm in the pre-Islamic Arabia. The birth of daughters, Islam vehemently advocated, heralds the start of blessings, and Allah’s favours. It’s a good omen that should be rejoiced.
“And when the girl [who was] buried alive is asked: For what sin she was killed?” (At-Takweer; 81: 8-9)
Allah condemns those moaning and groaning about the birth of daughters:
“And when one of them is informed of [the birth of] a female, his face becomes dark, and he suppresses grief. He hides himself from the people because of the ill of which he has been informed. Should he keep it in humiliation or bury it in the ground? Unquestionably, evil is what they decide.” (An-Nahl; 16:58-59)
Equal reward as well as accountability
Islam emerged as the torchbearer of equality between the sexes. It is not that it floated the idea of absolute equality; it proscribed the preferential treatment to one gender to the detriment of the other. In terms of reward and punishment, no gender differentiation is to impact upon the measure of equality.
“Allah has promised the believing men and believing women gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they abide eternally, and pleasant dwellings in gardens of perpetual residence …” (At-Tawbah; 9:72)
Equality to learn and work
The Holy Quran encourages men and women alike to seek knowledge. Further, women are within their right to pursue the line of work that pleases them, and engage themselves in activities to make the most of their potential. It is a sinister prevarication to insinuate that Islam confines women within the four walls of the house.
“And their Lord responded to them, “Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another …” (Ali ‘Imran; 3:195)
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “To acquire knowledge is the duty of every Muslim man and woman.”
One thing warrants a serious notice here. The oft-quoted verse “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend their property [for the support of women]” is deliberately misconstrued in a mischievous bid to discredit Islam as its giving men the carte blanche to exercise absolute control over women, even notwithstanding the consent of their women. The misinterpreted narrative has dangerously led to women’s exploitation, and increasing misogyny. As a matter of fact, such an authority is typical and exclusive preserve of Allah Who alone has an absolute sway over the body and soul of men, and women.
The above-quoted verse “They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them,” unmistakably dispels all the vagueness surrounding the concept of gender equality in Islam.