“Gunmen have wounded a 14-year-old rights activist who has campaigned for girls’ education in the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan. Malala Yousafzai was attacked on her way home from school in Mingora, the region’s main town”.BBC News (October 2012)
A few years ago in 2012, the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head for speaking out against their regime and their extremist views regarding girls not being allowed to attend school. A year before, on the 28th of March 2011, Bill O’Reilly interviewed Dr Wafa Sultan, who is a Muslim woman by faith, on his show, the O’Reilly Factor, on Fox News, in a segment called analysing Islam, in which she declared that the Qur’an condones sexual abuse of women.
These were but two examples of many, showing the way Islam is portrayed to the world today with regard to women, each one advocating that Islam is not a religion that protects the rights of women and establishes their role in society; rather, it is a religion which promotes sexism, misogyny, chauvinism, bigotry and prejudice. In the past century, Islam has been targeted by the west as a backward religion, one that gives man the right to do whatever he pleases, but at the same time, locks away the rights of his better half, leaving her to be abused and tormented by the shackles of the Islamic law.
We have seen books being written such as ‘The Satanic Verses’ by Salman Rushdie, as well as repulsive videos being made, like that ‘Submission’ by Theo Van Gogh, and the more recent ‘Innocence of Muslims’, portraying Islam as a religion that usurps the rights of women, all in the name of freedom of expression and the arts; inciting hate and malice against this religion which claims to be the guardian of human rights and social peace. However, at the same time, this very claim is juxtaposed with the actions of some of the Muslim Ummah, who have taken it upon themselves to pollute the pure teachings of Islam, and have given the world an excuse to point fingers of hate toward our beloved prophet Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him". It is indeed true that some of the Muslim worlds of today have forgotten the true teachings of Islam, and many countries that claim to be Islamic states, sanction laws that leave women with equal to no rights. However, none of this is in concordance with true Islamic teachings, which lie in the Qur’an and the practice of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him". Islam, just like all other world religions, has fallen prey to the ill effects of time, and it is incumbent on us that we are not confused by the misconstrued ideas presented by the media and the Islamic world of today.
Jahiliyyah (period of ignorance)
The period before Islam is referred to by Muslims as the Jahiliyyah or the period of ignorance because they believe that before Islam, the world was in the darkness of its own obliviousness, and after the Qur’anic revelation was revealed to Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him", they were saved from their own ignorance and shown the path that would lead them to peace in both this world and the next. This period is also known as late Antiquity or the early Middle Ages. A careful study of this time period would reveal that during this age the status of women and their role in society was beleaguered. However, there were a few exceptions, such as the women of Ancient Egypt and Rome and those belonging to aristocratic families, still, if we take a general look at women of that period, we will see that in most countries, they had virtually no legal status; they were treated as common property, confined to their houses, merely regarded as the means to a legitimate heir; their education was neglected; they had no right to an inheritance, and in some cases were buried alive.
Before the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" received his prophetic call, most of Arabia was drowned in these social illnesses. Men had the right to marry as many women as they would like, sometimes reaching the ratio of one hundred women to one man. Women were in no way seen to be equal to their male counterparts. Their guardians sold them into marriage; the husband could terminate the union at will, and they had little or no property or inheritance rights. Infanticide was also a social norm. This is something that would shock any person of today, but this was the harsh reality of the 7th century, whereas today we cannot even imagine hurting our children, let alone burying them alive.
Education was also something that was only available to women belonging to aristocratic households. Politically they had no say in the affairs of the state or the tribe. In short, they were considered as the commodity of the husband and the burden of a father, bred from childhood to give birth and please their spouses.
It is indeed true that at the time of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him", the world outside of the peninsula considered Arabia to be a land of unlettered barbarians. Moreover, this amount of illiteracy and ignorance did not just confine itself to the sands of Arabia; rather, we see that to a certain extent, the same was the case in many other nations across the globe, so much so that even the Grecian empire was not exempt from this, albeit the Athenian democracy was held in high esteem; the women of Athens like those of Arabia had no influence or true civil and social rights.
Jürgen Christian Meyer, in his article Women In Classical Athens In The Shadow Of North-West Europe Or In The Light From Istanbul, writes that women of Greece were isolated in a specific part of their homes called gynaikonitis and were raised specifically to give birth to a legitimate heir. Moreover, if a family had no male heir then the daughter who would essentially carry on the paternal line would be forced by her father to marry her closest relative so that the financial resources would be kept within the family. There were, however, a handful of women in Athens that managed to gain some sort of influence in society. These women were permanent mistresses or courtesan to influential male citizens, in other words, they were prostitutes who were highly trained and educated, however, they were not granted citizenship and neither were their children.
It is also quite interesting to note that the Bible, which is by some, considered the most authentic source of history, contains the teaching that women are subordinate to their husbands and that it was due to Eve that man was cast out into eternal damnation. On a personal note, I cannot consider this to be the true word of God, since the actual text is not guaranteed to be free from interpolation; however, it does give us an insight into the teaching of the Christian clerics in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages. The Bible states:
“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.”
As I have mentioned before, we cannot ignore the fact that there were nations in late Antiquity and the early middle ages that acknowledged the rights of their women and established their status in society, to some extent. However, having said that, there were so many more which completely undermined the beauty and importance of women and treated them as though they were animals on a farm.
Dawn Of A New Era
After giving a brief description of the status of women in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, I now move on to describe the change and revolution that Islam brought about with regard to women. Islam, right from the outset, established the fact that in reality women and men are one and the same; their rights in this world and before God are completely equal, deterring the commonly held belief that they were temptresses, sent to the earth as daughters of Satan, subordinate to man, and born from the rib of Adam. The Qur’an categorically states that:
اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ مِنْ نَفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً
“…Fear your Lord who created you from a single being and created therefrom its mate, and from the two spread many men and women.”The Holy Qur’an (4:2)
This verse negates the belief that men are superior to women, whilst reassuring both sexes that they are the result of a single entity, created by God. Furthermore, the Qur’an states:
إِنَّ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَالْمُسْلِمَاتِ وَالْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْقَانِتِينَ وَالْقَانِتَاتِ وَالصَّادِقِينَ وَالصَّادِقَاتِ وَالصَّابِرِينَ وَالصَّابِرَاتِ وَالْخَاشِعِينَ وَالْخَاشِعَاتِ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقِينَ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقَاتِ وَالصَّائِمِينَ وَالصَّائِمَاتِ وَالْحَافِظِينَ فُرُوجَهُمْ وَالْحَافِظَاتِ وَالذَّاكِرِينَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا وَالذَّاكِرَاتِ أَعَدَّ اللَّهُ لَهُمْ مَغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا
“Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him — Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward.”(33:36)
These verses refute the notion that men are superior to women in any way, and they should be subjugated to fulfil their needs. Similarly, it also declares that men and women are from the same source, that neither of the two begot the other, and that their work holds equal importance in the eyes of the Almighty, which shows that Islam down rightly abolished the idea that men are superior to women. Here, I feel that I should mention a verse that is commonly raised by the west to allege that women in Islam are in fact subordinate to their husbands. The verse is:
الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنْفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ
“Men are guardians over women because Allah has made some of them excel others, and because they (men) spend of their wealth…”The Holy Qur’an (4:35)
However, what the Islamic critics fail to understand is that in this verse there is no mention of rights, nor is it stated that men have more rights than women; rather, what is merely being said is: that in Islam men have been given the responsibility to provide for their wives and children, and for this reason alone, at home, constitutionally they may seem superior, but that superiority only lies in the duty that they have towards their family; for, they are held responsible for running the economic wheel at home. Islam recognises that men and women are physically different, and this is something that is apparent even in today’s society, why else is it that women do not participate in the same competitions as men do in the Olympics, or in any other sporting event for that matter? Men and women are built differently, but no one can say that this is unjust. Can anyone say that it is unjust that women give birth, so from today onwards men should do this? It is completely preposterous to think so, and it is for this reason, that it has not been made incumbent on women to be the breadwinners, instead, this noble task has been assigned to men. Having said that, this, in no way detracts anything from the rights of women; rather, it establishes their rights, for they have someone who has been made responsible for taking care of their needs, meaning, a woman has a right over the wealth of her husband, and a right to be looked after by him, but if she feels that she needs to work and earn money then she can do so, however she doesn’t need to provide for the husband; reminding us of the idiom: “what’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine”.
Islam also removed the notorious belief that Eve was to blame for the mistake of Adam; a reason for which women were looked down upon for centuries. The Qur’an states:
فَأَزَلَّهُمَا الشَّيْطَانُ عَنْهَا فَأَخْرَجَهُمَا مِمَّا كَانَا فِيهِ وَقُلْنَا اهْبِطُوا بَعْضُكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ عَدُوٌّ وَلَكُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ مُسْتَقَرٌّ وَمَتَاعٌ إِلَى حِين
“But Satan caused them both [Adam and Eve] to slip by means of it and drove them out of the state in which they were…”The Holy Qur’an (2:37)
Islam was also the first religion to give women the right of inheritance; a virtue that was only given to the women of today a little more than a hundred years ago or in 1882 in England to be more precise due to them not being considered a separate legal being from their husbands. Islam categorically declared that just as men have a right to inherit so do women, and not just that, but Islam also laid emphasis on the fact that men cannot, in any shape or form, unfairly usurp the inheritance of their wives. The Qur’an states:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا يَحِلُّ لَكُمْ أَنْ تَرِثُوا النِّسَاءَ كَرْهًا وَلَا تَعْضُلُوهُنَّ لِتَذْهَبُوا بِبَعْضِ مَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ إِلَّا أَنْ يَأْتِينَ بِفَاحِشَةٍ مُبَيِّنَةٍ وَعَاشِرُوهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ فَإِنْ كَرِهْتُمُوهُنَّ فَعَسَى أَنْ تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَيَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا
“O ye who believe! It is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will; nor should you detain them wrongfully that you may take away part of that which you have given them, except that they be guilty of a flagrant evil; and consort with them in kindness; and if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing wherein Allah has placed much good.”The Holy Qur’an (4:20)
There are many examples of men who treat their wives unjustly, but do not divorce them in fear of losing their inheritance; nevertheless, this verse completely forbids and condemns this act.
Apart from giving women the right to an inheritance (which before Islam, was unheard of in some countries), Islam also gave women the right to divorce their husbands as well as get remarried to whomsoever they wishThe Holy Qur’an (2:235) , a right, which the biblical scripture till this date fails to give women. Furthermore, Islam also gave women a right to a set dowry that they would retain as a gift, whereas in pre-Islamic Arabia, instead of the dowry, a bride price was paid to the parents of the bride.
The idea of educating women was also quite novel and farfetched in many nations before the advent of Islam. But, we see that Islam also catered to this aspect of women’s rights; a right, without which establishing one’s role in society is close to impossible. The Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" is reported to have said:
“The seeking of knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim man and woman.”(Bukhari)
The Holy Prophet’s beloved wife Aisha raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them", may God be pleased with her, is one of the best examples of a woman empowered in Islam. Not only was she a religious scholar, who narrated countless traditions of Hadith, but the Holy Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) is also reported to have said that learn half of your faith from Aisha raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them". History also tells us that many schools were established for the education of women, under the Muslim Caliphate. Furthermore, women were also able to attain academic degrees. Another example is that of Fatima al-Fihri, a very highly educated Muslim woman, who founded the University of al-Karaouin in Morocco; a university that is now recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records, as the oldest continuously operating institution of higher learning in the world.
All these different rights given to women in Islam may seem ordinary to the women of today, but in the early Middle Ages, this was a Godsend, something which shook the whole Arabian community right to the core. They treated women like they were their property, totally neglecting their importance in this world, only looking to them for pleasure and providing legitimate offspring.
Before I conclude I must mention the most heinous of all crimes perpetrated against women, which snatched away their rights long before they even had a fair chance at life: the act of infanticide, something which was in vogue in pre-Islamic Arabia. The Qur’an however, outrightly condemned and forbade this act and said:
يَتَوَارَى مِنَ الْقَوْمِ مِنْ سُوءِ مَا بُشِّرَ بِهِ أَيُمْسِكُهُ عَلَى هُونٍ أَمْ يَدُسُّهُ فِي التُّرَابِ أَلَا سَاءَ مَا يَحْكُمُونَ
“He hides himself from the people because of the bad news he has had. Shall he keep it in spite of disgrace or shall he bury it in the dust? Verily, evil is that which they judge.”The Holy Qur’an (16: 60)
But, Islam did not just stop at that, the Holy Prophet of Islam saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" is reported to have said:
“One who is given daughters and treats them well will find that they will become one’s shield from the Fire.”(Bukhari and Muslim)
These quotations stress the importance of looking after one’s daughter, and at the same time what a great blessing she is for a father; thus, creating a feeling of importance and esteem in the hearts of all parents concerning their daughters.
The Darkness of Enlightenment
After this long discourse regarding the age before and during Islam, I now move on to the modern era; an era defined by the renaissance and enlightenment of the western world. This age boasts of a time when men and women can freely exercise their rights, without the fear of any polity usurping their due rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has played such an active role in the advancement of freedom of consciousness and understanding that the social practices of the past now seem pathetic and irrational before this great bastion of justice. However, is this really the reality that we live in? Do the women of the 21st century really enjoy the rights that they deserve? In a world where most nations have legislated laws, which do not allow the unfair discrimination of women, has male chauvinism and sexism been done away with or, has this form of prejudice just acquired a new form only to be concealed in a facade of superficial liberty and justice? These are very pertinent questions that all men and women of today need to ask themselves, if left unanswered they will haunt our societies for many years to come.
In this article I have highlighted some principle teachings of Islam with regards to women; from men and women being declared equal, to women being given a right to an inheritance and a separate economy; the right to divorce their husbands; and a right to an education. These were fundamental rights that were granted by Islam 1400 years ago, some 1300 years before the world of today even recognised these due rights of women. In the modern world today, married women were only granted a separate economy as late as 1753 in Russia. France gave women the right to an inheritance in 1791 and, later legalised divorce for both sexes in 1792; however, both of these rights were abolished in 1804. Furthermore, the right of women to education only started being acknowledged by the modern world as late as the 19th century with Newington Academy for girls in north London being one of the first educational institutes of its kind which was established in 1824. It was only by 1848 that colleges in Britain started considering women for enrolment into their institutes. The first higher educational institution for women was Girton College, Cambridge was founded in 1873, and started off with only five students, followed by Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford in 1879. Finally, it was only in 1948 that the first international agreement was made and written in the Charter of the United Nations to proclaim the equal rights of men and women as part of fundamental human rights. Moreover, in 1979 a distinct convention was included to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and establish gender equality. The convention described discrimination against women in the following words:
“Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”
After reading these dates and comparing them with the era in which the Islamic teachings were introduced by the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" a time some 1300 years prior, one is shocked by how there is such a great time span between the two eras. Why is it that the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" harboured such revolutionary thoughts in a time when the world surrounding him was full of barbarians and illiterates? Why is it that the rest of the world took 1300 years to catch up with this great Prophet of God? These are questions that need to be answered to truly understand the greatness of the Islamic teachings regarding women. However one question still remains unanswered, that is after all the reforms of the modern world, are the women of today truly living in peace as promised by these changes? Have the societies that we live in today reached a stage where we can say that due to both sexes having equal rights, we now live in a wholesome and healthy world? Or are the results quite contrary? If so what does Islam propose?
If we look at the world today with an unbiased approach, then we are forced to admit that women have far more opportunities today than they ever had in the past. The contemporary world has learnt from its past mistakes and, left the Islamic world behind. It is truly unfortunate that the Muslim world of today, in some cases, has forgotten the great teachings once given to them so many years before. Even still in this time of liberty and tolerance the people of the world today require the beautiful teachings of Islam even more than before. This is not merely an unsubstantiated claim rather the state of the world today testifies to the fact that even in this age of educational enlightenment, the world is rapidly moving towards a state of indecency, immorality and decadence.
The ‘I can do what I want’ mentality and, the ever lenient approach to our individual rights have now set the world on a path of moral decline. The civilisations that were once established after many years of evolution have now hit reverse gear as though to turn back the hands of time. The humans that once took pride in being well dressed in a stable family unit and in civilised moral behaviour are now gradually being replaced by those who are open, shameless and immodest, all in the name of personal liberty and freedom. By giving men and women equal rights and not being mindful of their individual roles and responsibilities in society, both men and women of today have started to adopt a much-lazed attitude towards what the overall society requires of them. Men and women today may be in a far better position than their predecessors but, this permissiveness, which has been a direct result of the freedoms that have been granted to them without any regulation based on religious and moral principles on the part of the state, is having a toll on our societies at large. This is where religion steps in and works with the state to govern and guide our societies to an overall wholesome environment for the advancement of a healthy and moral society. Regarding this very point the fourth Khalifa of the Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad rhabbreviation for "May Allah have mercy on him/her/them" writes in his book, Islam’s response to contemporary issues:
“It will be oversimplifying the matter if one conceives that there is no meeting point or common ground which religion and state share with each other. They do indeed overlap but in a spirit of cooperation with each other. There is no intent to monopolise.”
“According to Islam, the state machinery alone is inadequate to suppress, discourage or minimise crime. Once criminal tendencies are permitted to grow and flourish in homes and societies in general, the best a government can do is to wipe out the symptoms from time to time. The root cause of evil is far too deep for the long arm of the law to reach. It is the primary job of families, religious and other leaders of public opinion in every society to eradicate evil.”
To fully understand this we must first look into the current situation of the world. Even after so many years of evolution, our societies are being impacted by the ill effects of irresponsibility and uncontrolled freedom. It is true that women now have more rights than before but, the fact of the matter is that the world is still as dominated by men as it was before. The only difference is that men have been relieved of the duties that were once given to them by a religion or a social code; men are no longer enslaved by the responsibility of taking care of their wives rather men and women have freed themselves from the expectations of a religious, moral or social code. Women now make up a much larger percentage of the world’s workforce; however, men still hold 80% of the world’s political power, in The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics it is stated that only 7 of 150 elected Heads of State in the world are women, and only 11 of 192 Heads of Government. This clearly shows that even though women are establishing themselves in the public sector, the world is still predominantly under the control of men. The reason for this is that the natural state of a man is to be authoritative and in control, whereas women care more about the relationships around them. This is quite elegantly put in the world-famous book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus in which John Gray the author states:
“A man’s sense of self is defined through his ability to achieve results. He is preoccupied with things that can help express power.”
“Instead of being goal orientated women are relationship orientated they pride themselves with being considerate to the needs and feelings of others.”
There is a reason why men and women are naturally like the way they are something which Islam highlights when imposing its teachings. The reason for mentioning the above statistics is to show that though the definition of what a woman is capable of doing now has changed, the way the world naturally functions has still remained the same; only this time without the regulation of a religious or moral code. For this very reason, women are now victims of a new form of oppression; something which is far more dangerous than those in the past. In this fast progressing world most of our thoughts, ideas and social customs are controlled by the media, and as women come out of the security of their homes in search of the freedom which is now promised to them, they are being targeted and victimised by these media giants which ironically so are predominantly controlled by men. Recent statistics show that 90% of America’s media which has a heavy effect on the rest of the world is controlled by six corporations, namely: Time Warner, Walt Disney, Comcast, Viacom, News Corporation and CBS17–all headed by men. Women today are sexualised in every form of media, be it the television, radio, newspapers, social media or the film industry. The popular term “sex sells” is a technique that is utilised by all these media outlets to increase their revenue. The reason it works so well is that as humans we respond to certain primal urges: food being one and sex being another–the latter being a far stronger urge.
However, the improper stimulation of these urges is now having detrimental effects on our societies as a whole. Research shows that sexualisation has been linked to mental health problems like depression and eating disorders in women; it also results in a lack of self-confidence creating a negative body image and feelings of shame, anxiety and low self-esteem. More recently self-sexualisation is taking root in society, this is when women treat themselves as sexual objects, one such example is the posting of semi-nude pictures on the internet. Research also shows that when women are more preoccupied with how they look, their ability to focus on mental tasks and concentration is negatively affected. The media today has set a superficial standard of what beauty is, and unfortunately, so women of today are allowing themselves to be affected by this hardwiring so much so that some feminists of today are fighting for the right to flaunt their bodies. One of the most recent examples is a nude protest carried out by students in Hungary against the ban on the mini skirt.
The sexualisation of women is not only limited to the sphere of women rather it is also having a very negative effect on men and young boys. Owing to sexualisation men have a much-distorted picture of how women should look. This is wreaking havoc in the lives of married couples due to men considering their wives as sexual objects, and not being able to relate to them in any other way.
Another outcome of sexualisation is pornography; a multi-billion dollar business that thrives on the exposure of men and women. It may not be used in the media in its traditional sense but, as the years pass by and as our societies are becoming more permissive, women and men are becoming less sensitive to this and, the media outlets are slowly exposing it more and more. This is also in turn changing the morals of our societies. Men and women are becoming more promiscuous and, wanton sexual behaviour has become a social norm, with the media making this ever more desirable. As a result, our societies are now paying the price. The number of rape incidents and teenage pregnancies is on the rise resulting in unstable single-parent families and, the bad upbringing of children. The book Aggression and Coercive Actions: A Social-Interactionist Perspective by Richard Felson and James Tedeschi states that sexual fulfilment is the primary motive of rapists. The high estimate of women being raped every year is 1.3 million with 54% not even being reported and, according to UN data the United States of America had the highest reports of rape from 2004 to 2010 with 80,000 cases. Surely just one incident of rape is a disgrace to humankind, let alone 80,000; likewise, according to the department of health figures in the UK, a woman is raped every ten minutes. Indeed these statistics are horrifying for any man or woman who has the slightest bit of morality and concern for the rest of humankind. Recent statistics show that in the U.S each year almost 750,000 U.S. women aged 15–19 become pregnant with 82% of teenage pregnancies being unplanned. 58% of young females report that they would be very upset with 47% of males reporting the same.
This form of irresponsibility has lasting negative effects on both parent and child. The teenage parent outside the safety of marriage suffers from extreme stress resulting in the mother dropping out of school early and, not attaining sufficient education for the upbringing of her child. This is increasingly more important when the fathers, who in most cases do not take responsibility for the child, do not support the women they have impregnated due to not being bound by the dictates of marriage. These broken families severely affect the children within them. “Studies show that children who do not have both parents are more at risk for developmental delays, poverty, abuse, and neglect. They tend to do poorer in school and, are at a disadvantage in many aspects of life,” whereas the presence of a father improves academic performance and reduces disciplinary problems among children.
The recent London riots are a prime example of poor parenting as a direct result of broken families. Modern research clearly shows that children living in fatherless families are more likely to commit crimes, smoke, drink alcohol, take drugs and either be excluded from school or leave at the age of 16. Unfortunately, this is a non-ending cycle, for these very reasons children are then more likely to turn to other vices. It is quite evident from this discourse that even after years of evolution we humans have still not managed to get the balance quite right. A few hundred years back women were not given the fundamental rights that they deserved whereas now after their rights have been acknowledged, the world has entered a new extreme.
Women of today have been made victims of their own newfound freedom. The media has distorted the image of how a woman should behave and promiscuity is ever prevailing in our so-called modern communities. The results are quite clear; immodesty is prevailing in our streets and, the stable family unit is slowly vanishing. So, the question still remains are women today truly enjoying the peace they deserve?
Women of Islam
Previously in this article, I made reference to a quotation from Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues, in which the fourth Khalifa of the Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" states that
“the root cause of evil is far too deep for the long arm of the law to reach. It is the primary job of families, religious and other leaders of public opinion in every society to eradicate evil.”
Meaning that human legislation alone is not enough to regulate the affairs of society rather it is our moral and religious obligations that will carry our societies forward. This is becoming increasingly more important in a world where the very concept of right and wrong is being challenged. However, the results are before our eyes and as responsible citizens of this fast-moving world, it is our duty to look for a solution. The first course of action that Islam proposes is that men and women should shun all forms of indecency and, approach one another with complete modesty. The Holy Qur’an states:
قُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَيَحْفَظُوا فُرُوجَهُمْ ذَلِكَ أَزْكَى لَهُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ
وَقُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُولِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَى عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِنْ زِينَتِهِنَّ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُون
“Direct the believing men to restrain their looks and to guard their senses. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of that which they do. Direct the believing women to restrain their looks and to guard their senses, and not to disclose any part of their beauty or their adornment, save that which is perforce apparent thereof. They should draw their head-coverings across their bosoms”The Holy Qur’an (24:31-32)
This is the fundamental principle that needs to be adhered to when dealing with the opposite sex. After reading the statistics mentioned in the previous chapter, regarding the state of the world today, one is forced to admit that modesty needs to be observed today ever more than before. Surely after reading such horrific statistics the popular term “the emancipation of women” is disapproved rather the subjugation of women is proved. As bold as this statement may sound, it is still a man’s world and as our societies are becoming ever more sexualised, men are succeeding in manipulating the opposite sex whilst being relieved of their duties towards them. God Almighty knew very well what men are capable of if left unattended:
وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنْسَانَ وَنَعْلَمُ مَا تُوَسْوِسُ بِهِ نَفْسُهُ
“Assuredly, We have created man and We know well what assails his mind.”The Holy Qur’an (50:17)
This is why the Islamic teachings instruct women to respect their bodies and, not allow their beauty to be seen outside the proper limits. However, in today’s society, the Islamic dress for women is being seen as a sign of oppression. Many women today including those belonging to Islamic countries argue that the Islamic dress for women takes away their freedom due to the style of clothing i.e. the Niqab (a dress that covers the face). However, this is merely a misunderstanding on the part of these women. They have failed to truly understand the actual spirit of the veil. First of all, not all Muslim scholars include the covering of the face whilst interpreting the Qur’anic verses regarding the Islamic dress for women. The reason for this is that from the wording of the verse: “They should draw their head- coverings across their bosoms”; we can easily understand how difficult it would be for a woman to draw her head covering across her face down past her bosom. The result would be quite absurd. The reason for this is that the word head-covering is the translation of the word Khumur which was a type of headgear women of Arabia would wear in the time of the Holy Prophet. When this verse was revealed, women merely had to bring parts of that clothing that were already loosely hanging from behind their ears forward, covering their ears and over their breasts.
They would also be required to wear a loose outer garment; to cover their whole bodies leaving aside the parts of the body that would naturally be apparent i.e. hands and face. It is true that the face-covering was adopted by the wives of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" but, this was a custom that was already present amongst the aristocratic families of the empires surrounding Arabia. Therefore, it was befitting for the wives of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" to dress in such a manner that was customary for women of high rank in that era. Later on, this custom was also adopted by many other Muslim women. According to the depictions of mother Mary and the way nuns dress, even the people of the west would admit that what the Qur’an proposes i.e. the covering of the hair, bosom and not trying to attract men, other than their husbands is perfectly in line with modesty.
However, all this is in actuality secondary to the true purpose of the veil. The essence of the veil is to bring out the true character of a woman. The Qur’an is a book based on realities and hard facts, and it acknowledges the fact that the feminine charm, apart from being one of the most beautiful gifts from God, can also negatively impact society at large. The Qur’an teaches women to respect the gift of attraction given to them and not flaunt them as though it is a thing of common use. Surely if one possesses something extremely valuable, one does not put it on public display for the world to see for sure, after some time every item would be damaged or stolen. What the Qur’an wants women to understand are self-respect and modesty, it is the key to working with the opposite sex, in a wholesome atmosphere. Unfortunately a lot of women today have been so affected by the hardwiring of the media that the very concept of self-respect has been replaced by the shallowness and the need to show off one’s body to feed the ego and feel needed and loved. It is unfortunate. Therefore, many women of today do not understand this key principle given by Islam, and instead raise fingers at their Muslim sisters; only so they can follow the social norm. What they fail to understand is, that the Islamic dress code for women is not imposed, rather it is a choice. Indeed true freedom lies with having full control over your own choice rather than being brainwashed into following a social custom. The Islamic dress does not limit women in any way they are able to go about their daily activities just like other women. The only difference is that they no longer have to worry about being harassed by men, be that mentally or physically. Sharmeen Butt, in her editorial for the Review of Religions, writes:
“There is no conflict in the observance of veil and leading a fulfilled working life. As a matter of fact, incongruous as it may seem to the outside world, the veil is a liberating experience. In defusing the manifest feminine charm, it brings women on an even keel with men on an intellectual and cerebral level and opens a way for them to be judged on their merit.”
The Institution of Marriage
The next step that Islam proposes is the institution of marriage. This in itself is the basis of a society that is governed by principles and morals. This system provides a channel for the proper usage of our mental and physical faculties when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex. Unlike some religions which propose complete celibacy for acquiring a truly spiritual life, Islam. On the other hand, acknowledges the fact that as human beings we have been created with certain needs and urges, which need to be fulfilled within the proper limits. Just as we need food and drink to survive in the same manner we humans crave companionship and an outlet for our carnal desires. The Islamic teachings never negate anything that is in direct line with human nature; rather, what Islam does is propose a system by which our inner and outer faculties can be properly governed, resulting in overall social peace and comfort amongst the masses. The Holy Qur’an states:
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُمْ مِنْ أَنْفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُمْ مَوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
“And one of His Signs is this, that He has created wives for you from among yourselves that you may find peace of mind in them, and He has put love and tenderness between you. In that surely are Signs for a people who reflect.”The Holy Qur’an (30:22)
Islam teaches that through the system of marriage men and women become a support for one another and a source of security. It is through this stable partnership that they continue the seed of life and, create a secure future for humanity at large. However, having said this, it is in actuality our women who benefit the most from the Islamic teachings. Through the injunction of modesty in all affairs, they are kept safe from the ills of illicit sex, sexual harassment and male chauvinism and, are able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the opposite sex; moreover, through the institution of marriage, they are provided with a partner who is fully responsible for taking care of their needs. Regarding the treatment of wives, the Holy Qur’an states:
وَعَاشِرُوهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ فَإِنْ كَرِهْتُمُوهُنَّ فَعَسَى أَنْ تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَيَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا
“And consort with them in kindness; and if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing wherein Allah has placed much good”The Holy Qur’an (4:20)
In the same manner, it is narrated that the Holy Prophet once said:
“The best among you is he who treats his wife best, and I am the best amongst you in dealing with my wives.”
According to Islam, every woman is like a valuable jewel that should be treated with the utmost care, she is a queen in her own right, only to be seen and felt by the one who is worthy, to be served and supported by her male counterpart like a shield against the troubles of the world. However, this respect and care are not given to diminish her development or cut her wings; instead, she is able to walk on the earth in a dignified manner and still chase her dreams without any restriction. But, most of all I believe that Islam has given women this status for something far bigger and far more meaningful. it is so they can execute a responsibility that no man can, a duty which is at the centre of creation.
Motherhood the Heart of Our World
If we were to carefully analyse the multifarious duties carried out by both men and women on this earth, we will be forced to admit that the role of the mother takes centre stage. Each and every being on earth bears testimony to this fact. Even the biggest businessman and tycoon is bought to his knees before his mother. You may be the president of the United States or a common beggar on a side road but, you will hold your mother dear to your heart for all she has done for you. Indeed, the backbone of a society is the role carried out by a mother. This is why women have been given such importance in Islamic teachings. Everything that has been mentioned in this article regarding women in Islam all comes down to this- the mother. Figure if the women of the world would understand their importance as the key aspect of our societies, they would never raise fingers at the teachings of Islam, they would never again allege that Islam takes away their freedom, rather this responsibility alone would highlight their importance in this world and why they need the protection of the Islamic teachings. They would no longer see the injunctions of modesty as a hindrance to their liberty rather they would understand that they are like the queen bees of their world and, no longer feel undermined or, feel the need to compete against their male counterparts.
A mother spends at least nine months as a custodian to the seed of life; she then spends a further few years nurturing the baby, taking care of its smallest needs, waking up to every cry, never caring for her own self. She then spends the next years of the child’s life taking care of its upbringing, making him or her a responsible citizen of this earth. This child then becomes ready to take up the responsibilities that each and every one of us has in the advancement of this world. Surely there is no duty on this earth that can match that of the mother. This is why the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" stressed three times the importance of the mother before even mentioning the father and this is why he stated:
“Paradise lies under the feet of your mother.”
How unfortunate it is that many women today do not understand their own importance. They allow themselves to be undermined and subjugated by their own beauty and then shun teaching which provides a structure, through which their light can be intensified. Surely she who holds the key to life is also responsible for the hereafter.
“The world is but a provision and the best provision of the world is a good woman”Sahih Muslim