So in this verse, we find that the social contract
between men and women, as individuals in the society, is the same, that they
both go for the highest goal of bidding or commanding that which is correct,
forbidding that which is evil, and that they share in the two major acts of
worship, which are the prayer and giving charity. They share in the beliefs
and obedience to God and obedience to the Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and
blessings of God be upon him, and likewise, they share in the reward in the end
of obtaining God’s mercy. This is a very important concept, which is in
contradiction with what the western tradition is upon today, and that is as I
said as a result of the initial extreme of the Greek philosophers that women
did not share in humanity. As the result of that extreme another extreme
occurred - at least the Muslims consider it extreme – that there is no
difference between men and women.
So therefore, the idea of having genders – this is a
term which is not used in a biological sense, as we might use the word sex in a
biological sense for male and female, but the understanding today is that the
traits that define maleness or femaleness, the social traits and so forth are
determined by upbringing, culture, and environment and that there is no
inherent difference in the way men and women think or act or what their make up
is and so forth. And that is why they use the term gender.
This extreme resulted from the initial extreme that
occurred 2000 years ago, when the Greek thought that the women did not posses
humanity. So as a result of this 2000 year processes we now come to another
extreme – at least this is what Muslims would say – this extreme now is that
men and women are the same, that there is no difference.
Islam, although confirming that men and women do share
in the same essence of humanity, also confirms that men and women are different.
But does this difference mean that men are inherently good or women are
inherently evil? No. And this is why when you look at one of the verses in
the Quran that sheds light on this aspect, God says, recounting His creation,
that He is the One Who created the night, as it envelops, as it comes – if you
look at the horizon, it comes like a sheet enveloping the horizon – and He is
the One Who created the day as it comes bursting, shining, - that is how Sun
rises and He is the One Who created male and female. And then the next verse
says, verily, what you strive for – human beings are into different ends, diverse
ends - some strive for God’s pleasure, some strive for disobedience of God,
some strive to do good to humans, some strive to do harm, different ends. But
what is the example here? God mentions night and day and then mentions male
and female. The understanding is, yes, night has a purpose, and in the Quran
you always find verse after verse, describing that night has a wisdom behind it.
And also it tells humanity that had it been only night and no day human beings
could not live on earth. And this is now shown scientifically that if it was
only night and there was no sunlight, certain hormones of body would not be
able to reproduce and human beings would die. Life as we know it on earth
would not exist. And likewise, day has its wisdoms behind it. But can one
argue and say, that night is good and day is evil? No, and no Muslim would
believe that. And can one argue and say that day is good and night is evil? No.
Likewise, male and female also have their roles to play. But can one say that
the role of men is inherently good and the role of women is inherently evil? No.
And can one say the opposite to that - the role of women is inherently good and
the role of men is inherently evil? No. But they both have a role.
This is the main contention now between western thought
and Islamic belief. Western thought has basically accepted, except for maybe
some few corners perhaps in the Vatican or so, that men and women share in
their humanity and that they are the same. Muslims have believed this for 1400
years. But the difference is that in western thought, as a reaction to the
initial thought that women did not share humanity fully, the argument is that
the roles of men and women in society are only defined by culture, environment
and upbringing, therefore there is really no true role for men and no true role
for women and that we can switch this, if we just teach the society correctly.
But in Islam there is a defined role for men and a defined role for women. Who
is the one who defines this role for men and women? It’s their creator. This
is the major, if you want to use the term philosophical, even though it is an
inaccurate term in that sense, but we can just use if for the lack of better
term, philosophical, ideological or theological difference between the two
opposing arguments. Now with that said, it is important to understand that
when Islam gave these roles to men and women alike, it put responsibilities
equal to obligations to both. I will give you an example for that: Islam
senses that women have the nature of mother not by cultural tradition or by
sociological system but inherently are better in providing and taking care of
the offspring, that there is a bond there which goes beyond tradition. A
psychological bonding, a physical bonding, something which is more than just
traditions of human beings. As a result of that it has placed greater
responsibilities upon women towards their children are then those of men.
At the same time, the obligations that children have
towards their mother in Islam is greater than they have towards their fathers,
and this is why when the prophet Muhammad was asked by a man one was his
“Who should I befriend in this world?”
Muhammad replied, “Your mother.”
And then the man
asked a second time, and the prophet replied your mother, and then a third
time, and again he replied your mother, and on the fourth time, he said,
Likewise in the Quran we find that it tells human beings
that your mother bore you from one hardship to the other hardship, talking
about the labors and difficulties of pregnancy and childhood, and then fed you
for two years, suckled you, and tells us to be kind to our parents and reminds
us of our mother first before our fathers.
The point is that even though it has defined a role for
women with the children which is different than the role of the father, at the
same time it gives women honor and respect from their children which is greater
than that received by the fathers. The fathers do receive respect and their
honor, they are not just thrown out of the picture, but it is given to them and
according to the degree of their responsibility. And likewise, because the
mother inherently, not just because of cultural tradition, has something
inherent which makes that bond greater between her and her child then the male.
She receives a greater honor and respect from the child and at the same time
she is required to give a greater obligation.
I only gave that as an example to show you that while
Islam recognizes differences between the sexes, it does not accept the concept
that gender is just an issue of upbringing or cultural traditions, for there
are inherent differences in males and females, and as a result of that the
obligations and responsibilities of each of the two sexes are together. Imported
from that is another matter that even though men and women are different, they
are not in opposition to one another, which is the basis of much of the western
thought and especially of feminist traditions. That there’s a struggle between
men and women, “There is a battle of sexes”, as it is sometimes said in the
popular sort of designation. This doesn’t exist in Islam. Men and women work
in tandem, just like day and night revolve, and you live in day time and you live
in night time. You cannot live only in night, and you cannot live only in day,
likewise, men and women are not against one another, they are not pitted
against one another but rather they share in the same aim, the same purpose of
being, the same humanity. They have different roles, but these roles
complement one another and are needed by one another in order for the success
of humanity, not in this world, but also - of course since Muslims believe in
the hereafter- in the hereafter, which is the ultimate goal for Muslims.