THE WOMAN IN ISLAM
Translated Speech of
His Eminence Ameer Muhammad Akram Awan
Shaikh Silsilah Naqshbandiah Owaisiah
He found there a whole tribe of men watering. And he found apart from them two women restraining their flock. He said, “What ails you?” The two said, “We cannot give our flock to drink unless the shepherds return from the water, and our father is a very old man.” So he watered their flock for them. Then he returned aside into the shade and said, “My Lord! I am needy of whatever good Thou send down for me.” - 28:22-24
The holy Quran narrates numerous events including stories of the nations of past. It gives the accounts of Allah's Prophets and Messengers and also mentions both groups of men, those who disbelieved and denied the Prophets and those who believed and obeyed Allah's Message. The Quran relates all these events in context to the purpose of its revelation, that is, to invite mankind towards Allah, to define the path of worship and obedience, and to warn about the way leading to Divine Wrath. Historic events are mentioned only as examples for mankind to draw conclusions and to learn desired lessons. For that reason, it narrates the conditions of various nations at the time when Prophets were sent to them. It recounts the hardships endured by Prophets during their efforts to steer their nations from darkness to the Light, and also highlights the difference between the fate of the rejecters of Faith and of the believers. The Quran recounts all this to enable the reader to reflect and decide the best course for himself. Although the Quranic narration of history is the most perfect and the absolute truth, yet the mere narration of history has never been the subject of Quran. Thus it does not tell the whole story at one place, but refers to its different events at appropriate places, so as to highlight the desired lessons.
The holy verses mention the tyranny of Pharaoh, the events of Prophet Musa’s-as flight to Madyan and his meeting with Prophet Sho’aib-as. In addition to the grand sacrifices and steadfastness of Prophet Musa-as and the piety and greatness of Prophet Sho’aib-as, these verses mention an extraordinary event which is full of tremendous wisdom and lessons for human civilisation. As Prophet Musa-as approached Madyan, he came upon a well on the outskirts of the city where people brought their cattle to drink. A large crowd of herdsmen with their cattle had gathered at the well. Amongst these herdsmen, he found two young girls holding their flock to one side. He was genuinely surprised to find these young girls there and inquired about their odd presence in an all-male business.
They replied that they had also brought their flock for water and were waiting for the others to leave the site before they could take their turn. They added that their father was old and could not do this job himself. In this small sentence, Allah has laid down the conditions and norms for women to participate in various spheres of human activity outside the four walls of their homes. A woman is permitted to step out of her house if there is none else to work outside. Those women who have a man such as father, brother, husband or son to work for them, are not required to go out of their homes. But, if the male member(s) of the family are sick or old or can't work for some reason, then women are permitted to go out and work - under compulsion. They must not starve to death within their homes, nor should they beg or steal, but should adopt a respectable means to earn their living. However, such women should not mix freely with the working men and must always keep their proper distance. This point has been highlighted in the referred verses. The two young girls had come out of their home under compulsion, but they waited aside for the male shepherds to leave the site before they took their turn.
Here, two conditions have been laid down when women may come out of their homes to work; first, when there is no male member of the family to undertake this obligation, second, when they don't have any source of livelihood, and are required to earn their bread by themselves.
Our society is infested with strange customs which have actually been borrowed from the Hindus and injected into this Muslim culture. The notion that women are inferior or worthless is a myth of Hindu cult, which assigns no significance to them - whatsoever. When the husband dies, the wife must be cremated with him; otherwise, she would have to spend her remaining life as an untouchable and detested creature. Even her near ones won't speak to her and she would be sentenced to solitary confinement, living a dog's life, performing menial jobs. We have imported this concept from Hinduism. We too, highlight her weaknesses emphatically and present her as a worthless and loathsome member of the human race - this attitude is certainly wrong. Islam is the message of love for all of humanity; a woman is as good a member of the human family as is a man. Islam has assigned different responsibilities and duties to both, keeping in view their physical, mental and psychological potentials and capacities. Both shall appear before the same Lord, at the same place and account for their deeds. A disbelieving man shall be sentenced to the same hell as a disbelieving woman, and a blessed woman would undoubtedly enjoy the same Divine Bliss in Paradise as a man would. As human beings, both follow the same pattern in life. They are born alike, exist alike, taste the same death, would be raised in the same manner and would likewise face the consequences of their deeds. They have been created with different physical, mental and psychological capabilities. Their requirements and responsibilities, therefore, are also different. However, both of them are of equal importance as members of the human race.
On the plea that there has not been a female Prophet, some consider women as inferior. However, the advocates of this argument tend to forget that, although Allah created a Prophet without father, there is no evidence of a motherless Prophet in the entire human race. Except for the first human being and a Prophet, whom Allah created without a father or a mother, there is no other instance of a Prophet being born without a mother. Without exception, every Prophet was born and brought up in the warm, loving lap of his mother. If she was such a detestable creature, then why was every Prophet and Messenger born and brought up in her lap? Yes, she is not a Prophet but isn't she the mother of a Prophet? Isn't she his loving daughter? Doesn't she share his life as his wife? In Paradise, the residence of the holy Prophet-saw will be located at the most blessed and sublime station. There would be no other house or person in the vicinity, except his-saw holy wives who will also be living with him-saw in his house. So how is a woman bad or inferior? In fact, we have borrowed this false notion from the Hindus of the Indian subcontinent.
The natural division of duties and responsibilities of men and women can be illustrated by the following example. Suppose a person wants to grow a beautiful orchard, for which he requires two workers. The first should be physically strong to undertake hard work such as tilling the earth, planting trees, digging water channels, etc. He should be strong enough to protect the garden and work outside at his own. The second worker, required to look after the plants, may not be as strong, but should be more caring and loving than the first one. This worker, by natural instinct, must understand and care for the requirements and needs of each budding plant and blossoming flower. This worker's love should so distribute the food and nourishment that plants should neither die of shortage nor of excess. The relatively frail body of the second worker must possess a strong but sensitive and tender heart, because the job is not to protect the garden but nurture the plants fondly and tenderly. In my opinion, this task is more delicate and subtle. Allah has entrusted this delicate and sensitive responsibility of raising and educating the human race to a woman, whilst the job of a man is to earn and protect it; this is the natural division of their responsibilities. Both are equally responsible, and I think the job of a woman is more important.
But a more important question which requires our attention is, ‘Does a woman, who has been entrusted with such a delicate and sensitive task, require any education or training herself?’ I think she requires it more than the outside worker, but we practically give no attention to this important issue. The parents try to give her the best of secular education, but do not impart upon her any religious knowledge. Her brothers feel obliged to protect her and comfort her, but fail to realise their obligation to teach her about religion. Similarly, the husband would leave no stone unturned to keep her happy and comfortable; he would give her abounding love and every good thing in the world - except religion. Finally, when she becomes a mother, her children would respect and serve her affectionately, but they too would not speak of religion with her. This attitude actually stems from a notion, deeply embedded in our subconscious, that she is an inferior being … by creation.
When the mother of holy Mary vowed to devote her child to the service of God, she was, in fact, expecting to deliver a son. Such a practice was allowed in their religion. However, when against her expectation, she gave birth to a daughter; she was extremely worried about the fulfilment of her oath. The Quran refers to her anxiety by saying that she did not know that her daughter was far superior to many sons and had a high status with Allah. Her life was an explicit illustration of Divine greatness and power, and a source of guidance for mankind. According to the Quran, anyone (be it man or woman) who fulfils their assigned duty is better than the one who doesn't - in the sight of Allah.
About three quarters of human life relates to personal and private affairs and is usually spent within the four walls of one's home. If the chapter relating to specific feminine concerns is also added, it assumes an even greater portion of the religion. As such, the greater part of religion was narrated by the blessed wives of the holy Prophet-saw. He-saw married eleven times and when he-saw passed away, nine of his-saw wives were still alive. Those who feel embarrassed at the criticism about his-saw marriages have really not studied his-saw life. Had he-saw married for the sake of marriage, he-saw would have married during his prime, his youth. But he-saw passed his entire youth with Hadhrat Khadijah-rau who was much elder to him-saw. After her death, when he remarried, he was over fifty years of age. Hadhrat ‘Aishah-rau was the only virgin, his-saws remaining wives were either widows, divorced or freed captives. Some had brought their children from previous husbands and they were also looked after by him-saw. His-saw holy wives were the only source to convey a major portion of the religion to us. In their absence, the private life of the holy Prophet-saw would have remained obscure and concealed forever.
We refer back to the incident of Prophet Musa-as in which he had asked the young girls the reason for their presence in the crowd of herdsmen, they had replied that their father was old, and since there was no one else to do this job, they had come themselves and were waiting for the men to leave the site. This verse lays down the parameters for a woman to work outside her house. If there is nobody else to earn a living, it is better for her to work than to starve or beg. She may do business, seek employment or undertake physical labour. However, she should come out of her house only under compulsion and work in such environments that protect her honour and chastity and prohibit male-female intermixing. When Prophet Musa-as heard their reply, he took their flock and made his way through the crowd and watered their cattle. Then he retired to the shade of a tree and prayed: “My Lord, I am needy of whatever good Thou send down for me.” In a single sentence of supplication he summed up his poor condition: ‘O Allah! Of all the people present, I am the neediest and certainly deserve Your favours the most. Each one has his family, home, cattle and business, but here I am, all alone, without anything except Your Name. I have no family, home or wealth, and I am a stranger in an alien land. My Lord, I am needy of whatever good You send down for me. You are the Lord of Grace and Mercy. Grant me a favour, something good which suffices all my needs and turns a destitute stranger into a happy resident.’ The Divine response granted all the supplications of His dear and exalted Messenger by bestowing a single favour in the form of a wife. All of his needs were adequately taken care of; he received a home, relatives, property and all of the good of this life through that single Divine Favour. The lone traveller became a part of the society like a diamond in a ring. Nothing but good came to him when a woman walked into his life. The Quran calls that lady as total good because of her modesty; it means that modesty is the hallmark of feminine attributes, without which, a woman doesn't remain a real woman. A western thinker has rightly observed, “A woman can indeed do everything outside of her home that a man can do, but she remains a woman no more.” She loses her positive feminine attributes such as modesty, love, affection and delicacy, she actually loses her femininity and transforms into a different creature. If you see those women who have adopted this style, you will find that they have neither become men, nor remained women but have turned into something else. They have a separate style, manners and attitude towards life, it is quite difficult to understand such women.
Islam has neither allowed the use of a woman as a model for advertisement (as in the West) nor has it allowed for her to be treated as a worthless captive slave (as in Hinduism or the Far East). On the other hand, Islam considers a woman to be a human being worthy of every honour and respect. Both men and women are equally good creatures of Allah, duly responsible and accountable for their actions, although both have different capabilities and duties. The Islamic concept of human equality is that a man should do his duty and a woman should shoulder her responsibility. Both should do their duty and enjoy their rights and privileges. If she is compelled to exceed the charter of her duties, this is not equality but cruelty and injustice - such is the Islamic teaching. However, in the sight of Islam, all feminine excellence, honour and greatness depend upon only one virtue - purity! The Quran mentioned and praised the shy manner of the young girl when she approached Prophet Musa-as.
During the present time, there is considerable hue and cry about women’s rights and equality; all the while the press and media are playing a vital role in setting this issue ablaze. Accordingly, the advocates of the feminine cause engage in violent processions. But the standard of this equality has already been defined by the Divine Book and illustrated by the holy Prophet-saw during his life. We should look towards Allah and His holy Prophet-saw and not towards the West or the East for the best solution to this issue.
There is a visible paradox in our approach towards women. On the one hand, we have allowed them to participate in every worldly activity. They may visit clubs for entertainment, play all sorts of games, watch movies in theatres and go to the market for shopping where they may talk and bargain with men during all of these activities. We tolerate and accept this normal routine of life. On the other hand, if they go out to learn about religion, we are infuriated beyond control. I have yet to see any religious verdict prohibiting women from roaming the markets without Hijab, bareheaded, even though each one of these acts is prohibited in the Shari‘ah. Nobody is bothered where they go or what they do. But if you guide one of them from a movie theatre to a mosque, there is an immediate reaction against it, everybody starts objecting to their religious activity. In our country, a woman can do anything and everything she likes; she can contest elections and rule the country. Many renowned religious scholars have gathered around our present female Prime Minister, and none has decreed that she cannot participate in politics. But, if the same lady starts remembering her God, there would be an instant uproar from the religious quarters that she is doing wrong.
The Book and the Sunnah have not imprisoned a woman in her home. During the time of the holy Prophet-saw, women participated even in battles, such as in the battles of Badar and Uhad. They supplied water to the wounded, dressed their wounds and took care of them; they even fought battles with the sword. But during the whole activity, they kept themselves separate and did not mix with the men. The point to ponder is, ‘Did they learn to ride and use the sword from some instructor or were they born with these qualities?’ During that blessed era, they received their education and training separately and performed their duties separately from the men - that is the rule even today. They should remain within their Pardah and achieve every bit of excellence that men can attain to. They have a greater need to learn the basic essentials of the Religion. “And the men who remember Allah much and the women who remember Allah much, Allah has promised them forgiveness and immense reward.” Allah has equated them with men in the frequent performance of Zikr; but, how would they do it, if they don't learn it? This is the standard laid down by the Divine Book. She is neither a caged bird nor a showbiz model, there is a middle way for her. She should know and realise her responsibilities and acquire the ability to fulfil her requirements honourably. She should neither become a dependent beggar nor a free-lancer to rub shoulders with men.
May Allah grant us the capacity to understand properly and act accordingly! Ameen!