Chapter Eighteen

The Problem of Women and Society

Since the days of old, women have been the target of a lot of attention in the lives of societies.  In old Greek, Roman, and Indian societies, the status of women was poor.  They did not enjoy the same legal rights as men.  They were outcast and looked at with contempt.  The famous Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru says in his book The Discovery of India:

The legal status of women in the Laws of Manu was poor and doubtful.

In Medieval times the humanness and constitution of women was subject of doubt; it was questionable whether they had souls like men or not? Or whether theirs were like animal souls.  Some philosophers of Rome went even further and declared that women had no souls and will not be resurrected in the Hereafter with men.

As for Arabs before Islam, their attitude was something else; they thought of women as a potential source of disgrace.  A man hated to beget a female.  Some men even went so far as to get rid of a newly born female by burying her alive at birth.

The French Revolution, considered by many world thinkers as a positive historical turning point in the stream of human life and seen as a cultural lighthouse in contemporary history, gave freedom to men, but not to women.  Article 1 of its Declaration of Human Rights says, “Men are born and remain free.”  Thus, it is quite clear that a woman had no place in the world of freedom.  When some French intellectuals tried to rectify this serious flaw, the majority reacted with contempt and scorn.  When a French lady called Docourge submitted to the French national assembly a draft resolution that holds women equal to men, her proposal was rejected and she was tried and beheaded, according to Dr. George Jabour in his book Al 'Arab wa Huqooq Al-Insaan (Arabs and Human Rights).

French scholar Gustave Le Bon declares in his book the Spirit of Sociality in response to advocates of equality between men and women:

" Women were equal to men only in times of decadence "

The U.N. Charter, which was meant to correct the injustice and contempt towards women committed by the French Revolution, certainly represented a turning point in human history and a bright dawn in the horizon, giving hope to successive generations in human communities.  Yet, the share of women in that charter was scant and did not meet their ambitions or fit their status.  It did not accord women the same degree of attention and honor that it gave to men.  It makes no more than two references to women, both casual, and in subordinate clauses which display no special concern for women and their status.

The first reference is in the Charter’s preamble, which expresses the determination of the peoples of the United Nations “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”  The second reference is in paragraph c of Article 76, which says that “the basic objectives of the trusteeship system … shall be … to encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

Later, explanatory bylaws of the Charter emptied even these modest statements of their content as regards the dignity and social status of women, and turned them into a source of misery and harm for women, reducing their rights and dignity.  These bylaws

1.     declare equality between man and woman in rights and duties, without consideration of any distinction or of the distinctive characteristics of the latter;

2.     burden women with heavy and numerous tasks that are incompatible with feminine nature and contrary to the great human mission of women;

3.     adopt disgraceful concepts of the family, the values of family ties, and the responsibilities of family performance, which weakens the role of women in the family structure and cancel their noble mission in the stable social structure;

4.     endorse the principle of multiple family types and cancel the values and controls of joint man and woman responsibility in building a stable interactive family, thus creating chaos and disorder in the family with consequent, uncountable social problems, one of the most serious of which is the creation of a generation with no sense of belonging or responsibility, with a resulting increase in the rates of crime and serious diseases, which threaten the security and civilized future of human communities;

5.     Permits all types of sexual relations, which amounts to a repulsive aggression against the dignity of women, contempt of their femininity and humanness, and a stark and audacious ravishment of their rights.

This, in short, is the tragic and horrifying position of women in the standards of ancient and contemporary cultures and civilizations.  Unfortunately, women are still abused and marginalized in most human societies, although divine religions, particularly Islam, emphasize women’s dignity and basic role in the walks of life.

Islam in particular has laid firm foundations for the dignity and social status of women within the context of its view of the universe, mankind, and life.  Islam’s profound view of the relationship of the three worlds – the universe, mankind, and life – is based on a belief that the wisdom of God, the Most Sublime, dictates that the whole universe be structured in accordance with the principle of the mating of pairs, each of which is complementary rather than identical.

Exalted is He who created all pairs from what the earth grows, from themselves, and from what you do not know (Yaseen XXXVI: 36).

God, the Most Exalted, made the trait of immortal singleness that has no need to be complemented by any thing else an exclusive quality of His.

Say: “He is God, the One and only, God, the Eternal; He begets none, nor is He begotten, and there is nothing that could be compared to Him (Al-Ikhlas CXII: 1 – 4).

He, the Most Exalted, has no need for a partner, whether equal or inferior to Him.  He, the Most Glorious, is Self-Sufficient and Most-Exalted and has no one that is similar or equal to Him,

God: there is no deity but Him, the Ever-Living, the Eternal Master of all. (Al-Baqarah II: 255).

There is nothing like Him, and He hears all and sees all (Al-Shoora XLII: 11).

When I speak of complementarity rather than similarity in reference to the principle of mating, I should point out that God’s wisdom dictates this complementarity and scientific laws, and applications support and confirm it.  There is no mating of identical things; they rather stand in opposition and repulsion of each other.  This can be seen in the smallest structured unit in the universe, which is the atom.  Recent scientific discoveries indicate that even a neutron, a particle within an atom, is made of two opposite, disparate poles, which confirms the inimitability of the Creation, which is based on the mating of complementary, rather than identical, elements.  Full similarity is a cause of opposition and repulsion.

Had there been deities in them [heaven or on earth] other than God, they would have fallen into ruin!  Exalted is God, Lord of the Throne, above what they attribute to Him!  (Al-Anbiya XXI: 22).

God said, “Do not take [for worship] two deities, for He is but one God. Hence, of Me alone stand in awe” (Al-Nahl XVI: 51).

I believe that the issue of complementarity and identicalness and the difference between them is an essential turning point in understanding the spirit of man/woman relationship.  It is also an objective and equitable approach to understand the complementarity of their responsibilities in the fields of life.

Moreover, the principle of complementarity explains and clarifies the question of differentiation between woman and man.  Each of them has superior points and inferior points, and neither of them is definitely superior to the other.  Each is superior in what God prefers him or her over the other.

Men are guardians of women, because of the advantage He has given some of them over the others and because of what they spend of their wealth (Al-Nisaa IV: 34).

Do not covet the things by which God has favored some of you over others.  Men are entitled to a share of what they earn, and women are similarly entitled.  Therefore, ask God to give you out of His bounty. God is a witness of everything (Ibid: 32).

The question guardianship, which some use as an excuse to abuse the dignity of women and reduce their humanness and their status, is, the way I understand it, by no means an advantage for men and cannot be included in the standards of definite superiority.  It is merely an administrative, conditional arrangement.  Each of the two, the woman and the man, is superior to the other by what God, the Most Sublime, has favored him or her over the other and by the abilities God has given him or her and not the other.  Each of the two is a guardian within the framework of his specialization and responsibilities, within the context of the general approach of Islam and the context of the values, rules, and controls of Islamic Law.  I can say here that there are two types of guardianship, a particular type and a general one.  Each of the two, man and woman, has a guardianship within the advantage and abilities that God, the Most Sublime, has favored him or her with.  As for general guardianship, it has to go to one of the two in order for their relationship and cooperation to be smooth.  “Had there been deities in them other than God, they would have fallen into ruin!”  The noble Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, commands: “If you are three, choose one of you as a leader.”  All this falls within the framework of the general divine principle of mutual support between them, which is expressed in the words of God, the Most Sublime:

Male and female believers are supporters of each other; they enjoin what is good and forbid what is wrong.  They perform prayers, give out zakat, and obey God and His Messenger.  Those are the ones who will receive God’s mercy.  God is Almighty and Wise (Al-Tawbah IX: 71).

Ibn Omar, may God be pleased with him and his father says:

I have heard God’s Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, say, “Indeed each of you is a shepherd, and each is responsible for his flock.  The ruler of people is a shepherd, responsible for his flock.  A man in his house is a shepherd, responsible for his flock.  A woman in her husband’s house is a shepherd, responsible for her flock.  A servant in his/her master’s house is a shepherd, responsible for his/her flock.   Indeed each of you is a shepherd, and each is responsible for his flock.[1] 

I find that these two quotations, the verse from the Noble Qur'an and the Prophet’s tradition, amount, combined, to a clear view of the complementarity of man and woman, each to the extent of his/her abilities and responsibilities.  There is no trace of and no reference to any sense of moral differentiation between them.  Each of them supports the other with the qualifications, qualities, and skills God has given him/her or he/she has acquired.

God will raise in position those of you who believe and are given knowledge.  God knows what you do (Al-Mujaadilah LVIII: 11).

Say, “Are they equal, those who know and those who do not?”  It is only those with understanding that remember (Al-Zumar XXXIX, 9).

All this has to be in accordance with the rules, values, and controls legislated by God, the Most Sublime, and His Messenger.  These rules, values, and controls govern the man-woman relationship and manage it in accordance with God’s Will and His pleasure, blessed are His names.

In the year 2000, we, at the Islamic World Conference in Jeddah, received a delegation of U.S. women, headed by Mrs. Gina Abercrombie-Win Stanley, who was then an advisor of President Clinton, a member of the U.S. Security Council, and Head of the Office of Asian and Southeast Asian Affairs at the State Department.  Later she became the U.S. General Consul in Jeddah.  The delegation was interested in two subjects, (1) women and (2) democracy.

Our discussion of the woman question, which is related to the subject of this chapter, began with a question made by Mrs. Abercrombie-Win Stanley, who said, “We tried to find out by ourselves the position of women in Islam, but were not able to.  We sought assistance from Arab and Muslim friends, but the information was contradictory.  Therefore, we decided to visit Muslim lands and hear directly Muslim’s views of this question.  You at the Islamic World Conference and Dr. Hamid in particular, have been recommended to us, for a dialogue concerning this matter.  So what do you have to say, Sir?”

After expressions of welcome, gratitude, and appreciation, I said, “I have one word, or rather one sentence, to say.  If it meets what you want, we will thus have a short cut.  Otherwise, we will open the relevant files for further details and elaboration.”

She said, “What is that word?”

I said:

The woman for us – and for the great founders of the U.S., as well as all the great and wise men of the world – is the mother of society, its source of stability, and the guardian of its security.  The family is the basic unit in a sound structure of civic society, or it is rather the central institution of a civilized, secure society.  The point where you and we part, Madam, began on the day you decided, contrary to the tradition of your forefathers and great men, to exclude the family institution from the institutions of civic society and on the day you replaced the family charter with social permissiveness, and based on this incidental cultural orientation of yours the principle of liberating women from their households, i.e. liberating them from the family culture into the no-family culture or the multi-family culture, and the related behavioral practices that are well-known to the members of this honorable delegation.  As for us, we still insist to hold to the principle that the family, which has the woman as its mainstay and which is based on legal and legitimate marriage of a man and a woman, is the basic unit and central institution among the institutions of a civilized and secure civic society.  It is even the basic unit in the structure of national security for our societies.

She asked, smiling, “Do you want me to abandon my work at my country’s national security council and go back to the family?”

I said, “No, but you and I, every man and woman, and the approach of every society, should observe a balanced relationship between the duties of every member of the family institution and those of other social institutions.  We also have to believe that the first national security institution for every nation is the family.  Other institutions and concerns that come next should be extensions of it that activate its sacred mission.  They should never exist at the expense of its existence or its noble mission in society.”

She said, “Thank you.  Your answer is sufficient, and what you have spoken about is truly a central and essential point of difference between your and our views of the family and society.  It is worthy of being respected and contemplated.  I believe what you have said is sufficient and there is no need to go into details, because they will most probably be based on this orientation, which I will faithfully report in my country.”

It is worth mentioning that about a month after this interview, Mrs. Hillary Clinton wrote in her weekly column that used to appear in the Saudi daily Arab News a sentence that said, “It is time for us in America to establish a balanced relationship between our duties in the family and in the other institutions of society.”

In conclusion, I say the controversy over women and the family in the cultural circles of our Islamic societies is promoted by many factors, among the most prominent of which are

1.     the lack of a comprehensive and clear view of the jurisprudence (Fiqh) of the family and its role in building society and meeting its responsibilities;

2.     the lack of a clearly defined methodology that organizes the man and woman responsibilities in the family and society, and the failure to strike a delicate balance between the responsibilities of each in the family and in society;

3.     the faulty overlapping between the rules, values, and principles of the mission of women and the family on the one hand, and the mechanisms, controls, and ethics of practice and performance on the other;

4.     the unfortunate fact that many male and female Muslims are influenced by the ideas put forth by the other concerning women, the family, and society, without considering our cultural identity and distinctive characteristics;

5.     the dominant influence of customs and traditions in the way we deal with the questions of women, the family, and society, at the expense of our commitment to the values, principles, and ethics of our religion and its immortal divine mission;

6.     The expansion of the tenet of precautious measures to an unreasonable extent, at the expense of the application of Islamic values, principles, and controls.

The crucial question in all this is the lack of a practical approach to introduce the family as a basic unit of the institutions of society and to allow it its official position in the structure of the state and its public institutions, so that it may enjoy its rights and perform its duties like any other institution of the state.  With such an approach, man and woman would be responsible employees of the state within their house, in accordance with a comprehensive project and a strategy drawn by the state through a special ministry for family and social affairs.  This would allow man and woman responsibilities in the family and in society to be regulated and would put into practice the great and noble divine rule:

Male and female believers are supporters of each other; they enjoin what is good and forbid what is wrong.  They perform prayers, give out zakat, and obey God and His Messenger.  Those are the ones who will receive God’s mercy.  God is Almighty and Wise (Al-Tawbah IX: 71).

 

 

Prof. Dr. Hamid bin Ahmad Al-Rifaie
President, International Islamic Forum For Dialogue
    Assistant Secretary General, Muslim World League

From His Book (Partners ... not Guardians)  Part Four / Chapter Eighteen

 

 To the Nation’s leaders -  To the Nation’s scholars and intellectuals - To leaders of the world

Islam and How It Dealt with the Security Situation at the Time

A General View of Human Security before Islam

A General View of World Security Conditions in Today’s World Introduction by the Author
The Problem of Asking for Permission to Fight

The Problem of the Quest Struggle (Jihad)

Muslim Authority or God’s Authority?

Muslims and the Obstacle of Dealing with the Contemporary Security Situation

The Problem of Allegiance and Renunciation

A Jihad with Words or a Jihad with Swords?

Partners or Guardians?

The Problem of the Claim that the Islamic State Is Absent

The Problem of  Dialogue with the Other The Problem of “the Other” as a Term Local Security and International Security

The Problem of War and Peace

The Problem of the Democracy The Problem of the Nation’s Backwardness and the Charge of Moving Away from God The Problem of the Jurisprudence (Fiqh) of Individual Religiousness and That of the State’s Religiousness The Problem of the Term “Secularism”
Conclusion The Problem of Women and Society The Problem of the Imbalance between the Cultures of Production and Consumption: From the Ant Culture to the Bee Culture The Problem of the Term Shari'a and of Implementation

All Rights Reserved For The Author Prof. Dr. Hamid Al-Rifaie