Gender Equity in Islam|
By Jamal Badawi
CHAPTER ONE: THE SPIRITUAL ASPECT
FOUNDATIONS OF SPIRITUAL
1. According to the Quran, men and women have the same human spiritual nature.
O mankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord,
It is He Who created you from a single
(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth:
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
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
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,
Behold, your Lord said to the angels: "I
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
Then Satan began to whisper suggestions
"And he swore to them both that he was
They said: "Our Lord! we have wronged our own souls:
(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
Regarding pregnancy and childbirth, the Quran states:
And We have enjoined on (every) person
We have enjoined on (every) person kindness
5. Men and women have the same religious and moral duties and responsibilities.
Each human being shall face the consequences of his or
If any do deeds of righteousness, be they male or female,
For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women,
One Day you shall see the believing men and the believing
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
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.
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