Gender Equity: The Ideal and the Reality (Conclusion)


This work focuses on the normative, or ideal, relating to gender equity in Islam. This ideal may serve as a yardstick against which the reality of present-day Muslims should be evaluated. It serves also as the objective toward which any Islamic reformation and renewal should be directed, reformation of wrong practices and renewal of adherence to the Islamic ideal.

When assessing the realities of Muslims, two extremes should be avoided:

1. Justifying injustices done to most Muslim women by religiously flavored cultural arguments

Most problematic in that extreme is the subtle assumption of the "correctness" of traditional cultural practices and attitudes, followed by a selective search for endorsement in the primary sources of Islam.

2. Failing to see numerous positive aspects in Muslim societies, such as family stability and cohesiveness, the respect and adoration of mothers, and the sense of self-fulfillment of women who are not frequently seen in public; in the meantime, painting a stereotypical picture of Muslim women as ignorant, submissive, oppressed and almost totally enslaved by women-hating chauvinist men.

The focus on injustices and on magnifying them is sometimes partly based on questionable interpretations of outsiders' observations. For example, the smaller percentage of career women in many Muslim societies is interpreted in a Western framework and is seen as an indication of Muslims' oppressing women and depriving them of job opportunities. Little attention, if any, is given to the personal choices of Muslim women and their concepts of family happiness, which may or may not be the same choices or concepts of their non-Muslim sisters.


Once an objective and fair assessment of Muslim practices is made, it should be compared with the normative teachings of Islam. There are enough indications to show that a gap does exist between the ideal and the real. Given the existence of such a gap, a wide gap at times, it follows that Muslim reformers and other international bodies and movements share at least one thing in common: an awareness of the need to close or at least narrow that gap. The problem arises, however, as to the most effective frame of reference and to the particulars of implementation.

International bodies and women's rights organizations tend to consider documents and resolutions passed in conferences as the ultimate basis and standard expected of all diverse peoples, cultures and religions. Committed Muslims, however, both men and women, believe in the ultimate supremacy of what they accept as God's Divine revelation (the Quran and authentic hadith). To tell Muslims that one's religious convictions should be subservient to "superior" man-made (or woman-made) standards or to secular humanism, is neither acceptable nor practical. Even if pressures, economic and otherwise, are used to bring about compliance with such resolutions or documents, the resulting changes are not likely to be deep-rooted and lasting. For Muslims, divine injunctions and guidance are not subject to a "voting" procedure or to human election, editing, or whimsical modifications. They constitute, rather, a complete way of living within Islam's spiritual, moral, social, political and legal parameters. Imposed cultural imperialism is not the solution.


On the other hand, reformation from within requires the following:

1. Social scientists, legislators and rulers should avoid using the argument of cultural particularity to justify anti-Islamic and non-Islamic practices and to continue oppressing men and women alike.

2. Scholars should not continue to quote and repeat some of the long-standing juristic interpretations as if they were equal in authority and finality to the two primary sources of Islam. Nor should they engage in a fragmentary and selective approach in seeking justification of the erroneous status quo. They should realize that even the greatest of jurists are fallible humans, whose interpretations have been affected by the culture and circumstances under which they have lived. With the host of pressing and significant contemporary issues, a fresh ijtihad (interpretation) is needed.

One of the main obstacles in the way of such a reexamination of some of the traditional views is worry on the part of some scholars about the reaction of other scholars or of the public to their conclusions. Yet, it is not the duty of the scholar to speak for what others want or expect. A qualified scholar is duty-bound to give practical answers to contemporary issues and problems without losing sight of the boundaries of proper interpretation. In the final analysis, it is Muslims' practices and understanding that need revision, not the revelatory sources, if properly understood, and more important, implemented.

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