“We have certainly created man in the best of stature.” (Qur’an 95:4)
God acknowledges that the human being is the best of His creation. Thus, to desire the best is intrinsic to human nature. It is this very urge to achieve excellence that drives all men and women and enables them to traverse the vicissitudes of life. In the past few centuries, this very instinct has led the female half of humanity to strive and distinguish its role from that of the male.
The new feminism, a form of difference feminism, asserts that men and women have different strengths, perspectives and roles, while advocating for the equal worth and dignity of both sexes. It emphasizes belief in an integral complementarity of men and women.
In 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, Hilary Clinton emphasized the responsibility of women in developing the family and, ultimately, the nation. In an article in the July 2012 issue of The Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter confessed how hard it can be for a woman with children to keep the work-family balance. Her article went instantly viral, raising new debates amongst feminists.
Research titled ‘Opting out among women with elite education’ by Joni Hersch was published by Vanderbilt Law School in June 2013. Hersch claims that “[e]ven though elite graduates are more likely to earn advanced degrees, marry at later ages and have higher expected earnings, they are still opting out of full-time work at much higher rates than other graduates, especially if they have children.”
Dr Ubaid Ullah Fahad Falahi of Peace TV fame sheds light on the Qur’anic stance on a woman’s role in society. In an article for the magazine Tarjuman Ul Quran, Dr. Falahi writes that an in-depth study of the Qur’an reveals that both men and women are on the same footing regarding their worth and dignity as human beings. Women have complete freedom to thrive economically as well as socially outside of the home. He goes on to elaborate that “there is no rivalry or confrontation amongst the two genders in Islam, an Islamic society should ideally remain free from conflict over material gains thus leaving no room for pointing fingers.”
“And do not wish for that by which Allah has made some of you exceed others. For men is a share of what they have earned, and for women is a share of what they have earned. And ask Allah of his bounty. Indeed Allah is ever, of all things, Knowing.”(4:32)
This perspective leaves no room for comparison or competition and gives space to both the genders to excel as human beings. The verse quoted above discourages men and women both from craving for the things, talents or blessings that others have. Rather, it encourages them to focus on what they have been given and develop those gifts, as both men and women will ultimately get their share in this world and the hereafter in return for how they have striven.
Dr Jamal A Badawi uses the term ‘equity’ rather than ‘equality’ in his research titled ‘Gender Equity in Islam’ for the very same reasons. According to him:
“Equity is used here to mean justice and overall equality of the totality of rights and responsibilities of both genders. It does allow for the possibility of variations in specific items within the overall balance and equality. It is analogous to two persons possessing diverse currencies amounting, for each person, to the equivalence of US$1000. While each of the two persons may possess more of one currency than the other, the total value still comes to US$1000 in each case. It should be added that from an Islamic perspective, the roles of men and women are complementary and cooperative rather than competitive.”
Another verse of the Qur’an states this truth in a beautiful manner:
“By the night when it covers and [by] the day when it appears and [by] He who created the male and female, indeed, your efforts are diverse.” (92:1-4)
The diversity between the two genders is inevitable and essential like the day and night. Both are vital but different and both complement one another. Their efforts to achieve excellence are also diverse, and for God, the sole criterion of judgment for both men and women is the same: they will be judged according to their level of goodness as Allah subhana wa ta`ala (exalted is He) tells us in the Quran:
“Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.”(33:35)
Another beautiful verse of the Holy Qur’an reveals the incredibly unique nature of this universe:
“Exalted is He who created all pairs – from what the earth grows and from themselves and from that which they do not know.” (36:36)
This verse clearly states that Allah (swt) has created every single thing and being in pairs. Pairs symbolize sharing, unity, togetherness, complementarity and completion. This verse has amazing significance scientifically, socially and otherwise. The nature of this universe thrives on the complementarity of pairs and this starts from the atomic level.
“They are as a garment to you and you are as a garment to them.” (Qur’an 2:187)
This verse celebrates the interdependent nature of both genders. It implies that not only do they beautify one another, but they hide one another’s weaknesses from the world as well. Thus, only by working together can they complete the task assigned to them by their Creator.
A research conducted by Pennsylvannia state university in 2013 on the brain reveals the different cognitive strengths in men and women. It states:
“‘These [cognitive] maps show us a stark difference—and complementarity—in the architecture of the human brain that helps provide a potential neural basis as to why men excel at certain tasks, and women at others,’” said Verma.
For instance, on average, men are more likely better at learning and performing a single task at hand, like cycling or navigating directions, whereas women have superior memory and social cognition skills, making them more equipped for multitasking and creating solutions that work for a group. They have a mentalistic approach, so to speak.”
Men and women together weave the intricate web of society, in which the women can become a binding force which binds and then strengthens the exquisite fabric of human relationships. Their emotional strength as compared to men and the ability to multitask makes them more flexible and thus more able for it. The family unit is the most basic unit of the society. Immediate or extended, a good family contributes greatly to the society. Married or not, all women have this opportunity, or rather this gift, to act as a binding force between people within families as well as organizations.
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women because Allah has made one of them excel over the other, and because they spend out of their possessions (to support them).” (Qur’an 4:34)
According to Dr Falahi, an in-depth study of this verse reveals that Allah (swt) has acknowledged the excellence of both genders (unlike a common misinterpretation that it discusses the superiority of men). He claims that there is a purposeful ambiguousness in this verse which suggests that both genders possess distinct qualities excellent and superior to the other’s (“bimaa fadhal Allahu ba’dhahum ala ba’dhin”: “with what Allah has given one over the other”). Rather than specifically calling men superior, Allah’s (swt) use of this phrase is not coincidental but purposeful.
Men are the maintainers in a family system because they have been given the responsibility to earn and spend, while women are free from this responsibility but can earn if they wish to. Their area of excellence and responsibility is different from that of men. Women give birth to human beings; they are given an opportunity by God to chisel the raw minds provided to them in the form of children. The opportunity to carve, shape and polish God’s best creation. God has bestowed them with a special gift, to nurture, the innate ability to discover and nurture creativity within others; the ability to recognize and nurture the good and positive side of human beings and to forgive the bad; the strength to endure and not give up on people, the spirit of altruism and the habit of preferring others over themselves. All of this and much more make up a woman.
Dr Jamal Badawi writes:
“There is sufficient historical evidence of participation by Muslim women in the choice of rulers, in public issues, in lawmaking, in administrative positions, in scholarship and teaching, and even in the battlefield. Such involvement in social and political affairs was done without losing sight of the complementary priorities of both genders and without violating Islamic guidelines of modesty and virtue.”
Thus, he assures that women have successfully taught and led generations of humankind within the guidelines of Islamic values.
Feminism, like other ‘isms’, has its rightful place in Islam, but Islam gives its divine color and direction to all ideas, and feminism is no exception. Feminism focuses on the rights of women and Islam focuses on the rights of all creation; thus, it has an all-encompassing approach based on balance, in which one person’s duty is another’s right.
Allah (swt) warns all humankind that each of them has a duty to fulfill someone else’s rights; thus, they should refrain from maltreatment or oppression of others.
“O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah , through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.” (4:1)
Whoever ignores their duty consciously is guilty of oppression, because in doing so they are denying someone their rights, and in Islam there is no place for oppressors. Oppression should be fought, but to fight anything properly, its root cause should be ascertained and the most useful strategy should be applied to ensure success. Allah (swt) stresses to the believers that:
“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And there is not for them besides Him any patron.” (Qur’an 13:11)
So, the fate of one gender is deeply linked to the fate of the other. When women decide to remain oppressed by hating and resenting their situation, but not doing anything positive to change it, their hatred and resentment gives birth to more men and women filled with hatred and resentment. Thus, the oppression never ends, as Martin Luther King once said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
It is up to the man or woman to choose his or her individual self, or sacrifice their own self for a better society. If a woman decides to show perseverance, patience, tolerance, flexibility and love for the sake of Allah (swt), her victory is destined. Women together with men can raise nations of men and women filled with love, tolerance, flexibility and a sense of duty towards others. Such positivity, sincerity and love are only inspired by faith and reliance on Allah (swt). It is actually the choices we make which decide our fate. We cannot choose our gender but we can choose the path of our striving and that, in the end, is what matters most and makes one person better than another in the eyes of Allah (swt).