The Woman’s Role in an Islamic Society

For the establishment of a peaceful society, it is imperative that there is division of labour between man and woman according to their physical, intellectual, emotional abilities and aptitudes, writes DR. ROKHIYA JAFERI



God has said in the Holy Qur’an that men and jinn have been created only for worshipping (Him). In Islam, the apparent meaning of ‘worship’ is Salah, Fasting, Zakah (i.e. a religious tax on wealth) and pilgrimage. These acts of worship provide a base for keeping human relationships and dealing on an even keel. If these acts of worship fail to achieve these objectives of setting right the relation and dealings, then those prayers we offer are not given acceptance by God. For instance, God says that Prayer positively prevents the worshipper from vices and obscenity. It is conveyed, by implication, that if our Salah did not prevent us from indulging in obscenity and evil deeds, it is not Salah at all in its real sense.

Now let us probe what these obscene acts are. All those acts based on immodesty and particularly those pertaining to the relationship between man and woman, if not based on a moderate system – where they are given an appropriate place and position, enjoining equal rights which should be also be in conformity with their respective physical build up and temperaments and where duties have been assigned taking into consideration their relative merits and demerits – are included in the realm of obscenity.

In Islam, the position of women has been placed on a higher pedestal on two occasions. In the position of a mother, it has been said to her children that the heaven is underneath her feet. By this it means that her children can reach heaven and attain salvation only by being obedient to her and by not arousing her anger. As a mother her rights have been accepted to such an extent that if both father and mother were to command the presence of children simultaneously, it is the mother who shall have precedence in compliance over the command of their father. She has been accorded a dignified status in society as a daughter.

A father cannot contract the marriage of his daughter without her consent. On bringing up a daughter and on giving her a sound education and training, a father will not only be rewarded but also his sins would be forgiven; and he would be entitled to a very exalted position in heaven. Apart form these two positions, a woman has a third position which is her position as wife. In this position of a wife she has been given the right to demand her maintenance to meet her basic needs of life. If her husband refuses, she has been given the right to approach a court and seek divorce which, in Islamic parlance, is called Khula. She has been given the right to demand a portion of her husband’s income towards the educational needs of their children. She is entitled to regard her husband’s house as her own and run and manage it according to her will and wisdom. Collateral to this position is also the obedience to husband that has been made incumbent on her part.

For the establishment of a peaceful society, it is imperative that there is division of labour between man and woman according to their physical, intellectual, emotional abilities and aptitudes. God has so created the physical frame of the woman, that they become physically and mentally weak for a few days every month. Medical science bears testimony to this fact that a majority of decisions taken by women during this period are erroneous. Even the most intelligent woman who, in normal times, is capable of better judgment than man, lacks the same confidence in her decisions during these periods of menstruation. No woman can seek riddance from this natural weakness associated with her sex.

The second important duty a woman performs – that of child-bearing and attainment of motherhood – is one which no man can equal even after a thousand years of service. The traumatic experience, both physical and mental, through which a woman passes to became a mother, and the kind of mental strain she undergoes is beyond even the imagination of man. Later on, at the time of giving birth, there are moments of life and death through which the woman passes. It is in view of this that, in Islam, the mother is not recompensed for a moment of the torture she underwent even if her children were to physically carry her on their shoulders in visiting the Ka’bah at Makkah on foot.

Nature has subjected a woman to such a tough test that to expect her to extend help in managing the other worldly affairs of man’s life and to lighten men’s burden, when man has not been of any help to her in her strenuous task of childbearing and delivery, will be an act of callousness to the extreme. The matter does not end here. Even after giving birth, there is the emotional satisfaction the mother provides, and the way the mother sacrifices all her conveniences and comforts of her life for nourishing the baby: all this cannot be borne by any man even to the extent of a fraction. After she performs all these duties, it would be unjust to expect her to extend her helping hand in the discharge of man’s duties and would be doubly callous to drag her in the economic field to help man. Is it not the selfishness of man that he never helps in the discharge of our feminine duties and he drags us in the economic field to help him in the discharge of his duties?

As a matter of principle, the responsibilities of man in the economic sphere of life is immense in their requirements, and, therefore, he has been given complete independence from the responsibilities at home, so that keeping himself free, he can arrive at correct judgment and implement his decisions in the various walks of life. If, on the other hand, a man were to drag his wife into the fiercely competitive world outside, she may not be able to discharge her duties at home in a befitting manner. Consequently it will lead to skirmishes, sexual anarchy, improper training of children and other catastrophes as a natural corollary to the unnatural division of labour.

If society were to restore her position as ordained by God and if she were to discharge her duties in her domain for which nature has destined her, and if she were given her pre-eminent position in her home which is her due, then she will be the greatest source of happiness to her husband and the husband will be able to arrive at better judgment and decisions. Thus, her existence will be a source of peace and happiness in society.

By nature women are more modest, in comparison to men. Hence, they abhor all obscenity and immodesty and shun their exhibits. In contrast, man, to satisfy his sensual desires and quench his sexual thirst, wants to make her nude under false pretexts and under the cover of attractive titles of art, fashion, women’s liberation or equality of rights for sexes, man has been constantly fooling her and reducing the honour and dignity of women to shreds. The matter does not end here. He drags her in his field by saying she is equal to man in all respects and, as such, can discharge his duties too: the paradox is that the woman forgets that she was never inferior to man even without helping him in his task.

Can man discharge any part of her duties and, if he cannot, why should we not say that man is inferior to woman? If man cannot take part in her courageous duties, he is decidedly far inferior to woman. But, in principle, both of these statements are wrong.

No one is either superior or inferior to each other. The division of duties have been assigned according to their physical and mental abilities. If men were to shoulder women’s responsibilities and women men’s, will there be any order in society?

It is true that in some difficult situations, men are called upon to discharge responsibilities at home. In the same way, the women, by force of circumstances, have to struggle hard in the economic field. But this can’t be a rule: it can be called an exception. It is the responsibility of society to safeguard such men and women from those situations and to assign them to their respective fields.

The kinds of arts and culture clubs the sex-hungry men have created and as a consequence the kind of society that has come into existence, the currency that obscene literature has acquired, the nude posters of women that have been mocking the position of women in society, and the way she is projected in films and dramas, all this, cannot by standards, be called as a part of an ideal society.

History bears witness that a good many battles are fought for the sake of women. If we make an analysis of the reason behind this, it will be clear that whenever woman has been removed from her natural assignment, there has always been anarchy and chaos in one form or the other. Whenever women undertook the responsibilities of men, and given a go-by to her duties towards her children, these children have fallen prey to the hired affection of house maids and governesses and consequently the whole generation has been spoiled: this has spelled disaster for many a nation.

From this, I conclude that woman can best serve the cause of humanity by holding steadfast to her duties in her domain and thus make the world a planet of peace and happiness. Whenever her potentialities are misdirected, it has served as a potential source of destruction and devastation.

[Dr. Rokhiya Jaferi Siddique is a physician and is the President of the International Seerah Academy, Bangalore. 

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