Gender Equity in Islam
By Jamal Badawi

CHAPTER ONE: THE SPIRITUAL ASPECT

FOUNDATIONS OF SPIRITUAL
AND HUMAN EQUITY

1. According to the Quran, men and women have the same human spiritual nature.

O mankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord,
Who created you from a single person
(nafsin-waahidah), created, of like nature, his
mate, and from them two scattered (like
seeds) countless men and women; reverence
Allah through Whom you demand your
mutual (rights) and (reverence) the wombs
(that bore you): for Allah ever watches over you…
(Quran 4:1)

It is He Who created you from a single
person and made his mate of like nature, in
order that he might dwell with her (in love).
When they are united, she bears a light burden
and carries it about (unnoticed). When
she grows heavy, they both pray to Allah,
their Lord (saying) "If You give us a goodly
child, we vow we shall (ever) be grateful."
(Quran 7:189)

(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth:
He has made for you pairs from among yourselves
and pairs among cattle: by this means does
He multiply you! There is nothing whatever like
unto Him, and He is the one that hears and
sees (all things). (Quran 42:11)

2. Both men and women alike are recipients of the "divine breath," because they are created with the same human spiritual nature. Indeed, as the Quran states, Allah originated them both from a single person or "one soul" (nafsin waahidah).

Reflecting the magnitude of this universal divine gift, the Quran states:

But He fashioned him (the human, or insan) in due
proportion and breathed into him something of His spirit.
And He gave you (the faculties of) hearing and sight and
understanding: Little thanks do you give!3 (Quran 32:9)

Referring to Adam, the father of both men and women, the Quran relates that Allah commanded the angels to bow down (in respect) to him:

So if I have fashioned him (in due proportion) and
breathed into him of My spirit, fall down in
obeisance unto him. (Quran 15:29)

3. Allah has invested both genders with inherent dignity and has made men and women, collectively, the trustees of Allah on earth.

We have honored the children of Adam,
provided them with transport on land and
sea, given them for sustenance things good
and pure, and conferred on them special
favors above a great part of Our Creation.
(Quran 17:70)

Behold, your Lord said to the angels: "I
will create a vicegerent on earth." They said
"Will you place therein one who will make
mischief therein and shed blood? While we
celebrate Your praises and glorify Your holy
(name)?" He said: "I know what you know
not." (Quran 2:30)?

4. The Quran does not blame woman for the "fall of man," nor does it view pregnancy and childbirth as punishments for "eating from the forbidden tree." On the contrary, the Quran depicts Adam and Eve as equally responsible for their sin in the Garden, never singling out Eve for blame. It also esteems pregnancy and childbirth as sufficient reasons for the love and respect due to mothers from their children.

0 Adam! You and your wife dwell in the
garden and enjoy (its good things) as you
(both) wish: but approach not this tree or you
(both) run into harm and transgression.

Then Satan began to whisper suggestions
to them, bringing openly before their minds
all their shame that was hidden from them (before):
he said, "Your Lord only forbade you this tree
lest you (both) should become angels or such beings
as live forever.

"And he swore to them both that he was
their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought
about their fall. When they tasted of the tree, their
shame became manifest to them and they
began to sew together the leaves of the garden over
their bodies. And their Lord called unto them:
"Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan
was an avowed enemy unto you?"

They said: "Our Lord! we have wronged our own souls:
If You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your
mercy, we shall certainly be lost.

(Allah) said: "Get you (both) down with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling place and your means of livelihood for a time." He said: "Therein shall you (both) live and therein shall you (both) die; and from it shall you (both) be taken out (at last)..."

0 you children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you in
the same manner as he got your parents out of the garden,
stripping them of their raiment to expose their shame:
for he and his tribe watch you from a position where
you cannot see them: We made the evil ones friends
(only) to those without faith.4 (Quran 7:19-27)

Regarding pregnancy and childbirth, the Quran states:

And We have enjoined on (every) person
(to be good) to his/her parents: in travail
upon travail did his/her mother bear him/her
and in years twain was his/her weaning:
(hear the command) show gratitude to Me
and to your parents: to Me is (your final)
Goal." (Quran 31:14)

We have enjoined on (every) person kindness
to his/her parents: in pain did his/her
mother bear him/her and in pain did she give
him/her birth. The carrying of the (child) to
his/her weaning is (a period of) thirty months.
At length, when he/she reaches the age of full
strength and attains forty years, he/she says
"O my Lord! grant that I may be grateful for
Your favor which You have bestowed upon
me and upon both my parents and that I may
work righteousness such as You may approve;
and be gracious to me in my issue. Truly have
I turned to You and truly do I bow (to You) in
Islam (submission)." (Quran 46:15)5

5. Men and women have the same religious and moral duties and responsibilities.

Each human being shall face the consequences of his or
her deeds. And their Lord has accepted of them and
answered them: "Never will I suffer to be lost
the work of any of you, be he/she male or
female: you are members one of another... (Quran 3:1 95)

If any do deeds of righteousness, be they male or female,
and have faith, they will enter paradise and not the least
injustice will be done to them. (Quran 4:124)

For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women,
for devout men and women, for true men and women, for
men and women who are patient and constant, for men and
women who humble themselves, for men and women who
give in charity, for men and women who fast (and deny
themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity,
and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise
for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.
(Quran 33:35)

One Day you shall see the believing men and the believing
women, how their Light runs forward before them and by
their right hands. (Their greeting will be): "Good News for
you this Day! Gardens beneath which flow rivers! To dwell
therein forever! This is indeed the highest Achievement!"
(Quran 57:1 2)

CRITERION FOR "SUPERIORITY"

The Quran is quite clear about the issue of the claimed superiority or inferiority of any human.

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male
and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you
may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the
sight of Allah is (one who is) the most righteous of you.
And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted
(with all things).(Quran 49:13)

A few observations about this verse may be helpful in tracing the foundation of spiritual and human equality before Allah:

a. It begins by addressing not only Muslims but the whole of mankind, irrespective of their gender and their national or religious backgrounds. As such, it is a universal declaration to all made by the Creator of all.

b. It states that there is only One Creator of all mankind. As such there is no room for arguments of superiority based on one's having been created by a "superior" God, as there is only One God (Allah). Nor is there any basis for a caste system based on some having been created in a way which is "different" from others or is superior. As Prophet Muhammad (P) explained, " . . . You all belong to Adam, and Adam was created from dust." In the process of human reproduction, there is no superiority or inferiority; kings and paupers, males and females, are created from what the Quran describes as "despised fluid."

Our having been created by the One and Only Creator implies our basic equality before Him; He is just to all.

c. Being a faithful creature, servant and worshipper of the One God is at the heart of one's real spirituality and humanness. In this, the essence of gender equality finds its most profound basis.

d. The verse states that all human beings are created min thakarin wa untha, which can be translated literally as "of male and female." This means in pairs, as the Quran explicitly mentions elsewhere (e.g. 78:8). Each component of the pair is as necessary and as important as the other and hence is equal to him or her. The wording of this verse has been commonly translated also as "from a (single pair of) a male and a female," referring to Adam and Eve. This serves as a reminder to all mankind that they belong to the same family, with one common set of parents. As such they are all equal, as brothers and sisters in that broad and "very extended" family.

e. Variations in gender, languages, ethnic backgrounds and, by implication, religious claims, do not provide any basis for superiority or inferiority. The implication of "that you may know each other"(Quran 49:13) is that such variations constitute a deliberate mosaic that Allah created, which is more interesting and more beautiful than a single "color" or a "unisex. "

f. Most significant and relevant to the topic at hand is the clear categorical statement that the most honored person in the sight of Allah is the one who is most pious and righteous. This precludes any other basis for superiority, including gender.

6. Nowhere does the Quran state that one gender is superior to the other. Some interpreters of the Quran mistakenly translate the Arabic word qiwamah (responsibility for the family) with the English word "superiority." The Quran makes it clear that the sole basis for the superiority of any person over another is piety and righteousness, not gender, color or nationality.

7. The absence of women as prophets or "messengers of Allah" in prophetic history is because of the demands and physical suffering associated with the role of messengers and prophets and not because of any spiritual inferiority attributed to women.6 Societies to which prophets were sent, including the Israelites, pre-Islamic Arabs and others, were largely patriarchal societies. They probably would have been less responsive to the ministry of female messengers of God. In fact, they made things extremely difficult for male messengers.

From this chapter, it is clear that in terms of spirituality and humanness, both genders stand on equal footing before Allah. It is clear also that nowhere in the primary sources of Islam (the Quran and Sunnah) do we find any basis for the superiority of one gender over the other. Human misinterpretations, culturally-bound opinions or manipulations are not congruent with what Islam teaches. The full equality of all human beings before Allah is beyond doubt. This equality differentiation in the spirit of cooperation and complimentarity. This is why equity is a more accurate term than "equality," as explained in endnote 1 and as applied in the remaining chapters.

Next Chapter: The Economic Aspect



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