Before discussing the concept of equality and how it
relates to men and women in Islam, we need to make an important distinction. Many
people who speak about equality presume that this should be reflected in
treating two groups exactly the same. However, this is manifestly not always
the proper thing to do. People’s needs, strengths, abilities and disabilities
need to be accommodated and considered as opposed to subjecting all to a single
standard that may only be suitable for a few.
Thus we need to make a distinction between the
superficial procedural equality and the substantive equality, which is justice.
Most societies recognize that the important thing is not to focus on
superficial procedural equality but to provide substantive equality for all its
citizens, which treats them justly according to their needs and circumstances.
Human beings favor substantive equality over procedural equality on a daily
basis because we recognize that the former allows for justice. We accommodate
in our workplaces, schools, and commercial areas, those with disabilities. We
recognize the need for social services to take care of the impoverished in the
society, while the wealthy are subject to taxes. We give extra attention and
consideration to those experiencing emotional, psychological, or physical
difficulties in their lives. All of this is substantive equality, equity and
Men and Women
When it comes to men and women, everyone recognizes that
there are inherent indisputable differences between men and women. They are
not identical; men and women are naturally different in many ways. As a
result, it does not follow logically to neglect those differences and advocate
a single standard in matters where they are not the same. That may be
procedural equality, but it is not substantive equality. For example, it would
be unjust for a husband to suggest that his wife work equally as hard as he
does when she is pregnant. Justice is served by recognizing the burden of
pregnancy and the need for the husband to adjust accordingly. There are
obvious biological differences - men experience neither menstrual periods nor
childbirth while women generally live longer and have less health problems at
an elderly age. The AARP Bulletin published
an article on 8 health differences between men and women:
When it comes to health, differences between men and
women extend well beyond their attitude toward getting annual checkups and
needed treatment. In case men need a few reasons to make a doctor’s
appointment, they should consider the following:
The life expectancy for men in the United States, 74.4, is a little more than five years shorter than for women, 79.8.
Cancer kills men at a higher rate than it kills
Of those killed by heart disease before age 65, 70
percent are men.
Sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder that
causes breathing to stop and start repeatedly during sleep, is more common in
men than women.
Four times as many men die by suicide, the number-eight
cause of death among men.
Men are 50 percent more likely than women to
develop coronary heart disease after age 40.
Men have fewer infection-fighting T-cells than
By the age of 100, women outnumber men eight to
In the Olympics, men and women compete separately
because of physiological differences. At the age of 18 years, the average male
is 70.2 inches tall and weighs 144.8 pounds, while the average female is 64.4
inches tall and weighs 126.6 pounds. On the basis of weight, men have 50%
greater total muscle mass than women. The average woman’s heart is 25% smaller
than that of the average man. Women carry about ten percentage points more fat
In academics, women generally score higher than men in
subjects such as languages and humanities while the opposite is true for
mathematics and sciences. Both genders have unique strengths and capabilities.
Concerning the psychological differences between men and women, an article
entitled Men and Women Really Do Think Differently quotes a recent neurological
professor Richard Haier of the University of California, Irvine led the
research along with colleagues from the University of New Mexico. Their
findings show that in general, men have nearly 6.5 times the amount of gray
matter related to general intelligence compared with women, whereas women have
nearly 10 times the amount of white matter related to intelligence compared to
men. [...]In human brains, gray matter represents information processing
centers, whereas white matter works to network these processing centers.
from this study may help explain why men and women excel at different types of
tasks, said co-author and neuropsychologist Rex Jung of the University of New Mexico. For example, men tend to do better with tasks requiring more
localized processing, such as mathematics, Jung said, while women are better at
integrating and assimilating information from distributed gray-matter regions
of the brain, which aids language skills.
Another article published in Psychology Today
describes the differences between men and women as ‘inescapable’:
When it comes
to speaking and making hand movements that contribute to motor skill, the brain
seems to be very focally organized in women compared with men. This may relate
to the fact that girls generally speak earlier, articulate better and also have
better fine motor control of the hands. Also, a larger proportion of women
than men are right-handed, and unequivocally so. But when it comes to certain,
more-abstract tasks, such as defining words, women’s brains are more diffusely
organized than men’s, although men and women don’t differ in overall vocabulary
Marian Diamond of the University of California at Berkeley, comparing cortical
thickness in male and female rats, did find that the right cortex is thicker in
males at most ages, while the left cortex is thicker in females but only at
some ages (see “A Love Affair with the brain,” Psychology Today,
November 1984). [...]The fact seems inescapable that men and women do differ
genetically, physiologically and in many important ways psychologically.
Modern psychological research continues to unveil
differences in men and women from the most obvious in behavioral patterns to
those as trivial as picking out an angry face in a crowd. In light of such
manifest differences between the two genders, it is unsuitable for men and
women to assume identical roles. As mentioned in a New York Times article
on Women’s health:
to the feminist premise that women can do anything men can do, science is
demonstrating that women can do some things better, that they have many
biological and cognitive advantages over men. Then again, there are some things
that women don’t do as well.
God created us with different but complementary
strengths and capabilities. A man does not need to become a woman nor vice
versa in order to be successful.