A woman is usually described as a Man’s Better Half. Is she the better half or is she the only half that matters? Is she a Half at all? A man is usually measured by the success he achieves in life by his material possessions and how “high” he has climbed the social ladder. Part of this self-proclaimed success in this “men’s world” is a nice car, nice house, nice business, nice children, nice wife, nice friends, nice holidays, nice toys etc (note that the “wife” is listed under “possessions”). Very rarely is the wife acknowledged or given credit for the men’s success. What is the reason for this malady? Why do some men treat women in total fairness and give them the respect that they deserve, while other men treat their wife as a mere possession? Islam very firmly and clearly gave all women the God-given right of equality & fair treatment. Before this era, women were treated as inferior citizens. In Europe, the theory was that women were a sub-species between ape & human, and others propagated the notion that women do not have a soul. A female child was treated with total disdain and was even buried alive to hide the “humiliation” of the parents. Islam raised the status of women to give them full recognition and to destroy these ill-conceived, myths devised and propagated by men. However, in today’s era, we tend to regard ourselves as living in the “modern-age”; there have been various feminist campaigns and woman’s rights organizations, who feel that it is necessary to proclaim the independence of women. Why is this necessary? Is there a need for such organizations? Are women treated equally in our society? Are women treated with respect in our society? Are women being abused? This essay deals with a few of these topics, albeit on a superficial level. This discussion is not meant to be critical of anyone, but simply to present my individual viewpoint, which is subject to correction.
THE MODERN-DAY WOMAN
Many women today are independent, successful, educated, professional and self-sufficient. These are the standards whereby we measure “success” and these are what we regard as an “intelligent” person as opposed to an “uneducated” person. However, careful analysis reveals that the women of the house fulfil the following roles :
- she has to be a wife to her husband
- she has to be a mother to her children
- she is a teacher, teaching her children between right & wrong
- she is a tutor: assists in the homework
- she is a psychologist: intellectuals battles with husband and children
- she is a counsellor: counselling the children when the bully hits him
- she is a financier: budgeting the household expenses
- she is a chef: preparing the meals
- she is a baker: baking on special occasions
- she is a tailor: mending & repairing clothes
- she is a driver: ferrying the kids to and back from school
- she is a buyer & store clerk: ensuring that all basic necessities are in the house
- she is a switchboard operator: answering the constantly ringing phone
- she is a receptionist: answering the door & receiving guests & visitors
- she is a waitress: feeds everyone at mealtime before she feeds herself
Considering the above multi-faceted roles of our wives/mothers/sisters in society, it really surprises me when a woman is asked what job she has and her typical reply is: “Oh, I don’t work. I just sit at home-I’m a housewife.” Housewife indeed! This “housewife” is actually the CEO, the General Manager of your house. She is the Senior Executive and fully-fledged Board Member of the fraternity that you call “HOME”. She ensures that everything (most of the time) runs smoothly with military precision. (Sadly, however, some women fritter their life away by sleeping, shopping and gossiping.)
On a few occasions when things do not go as expected, men tend to let the wives know in no uncertain terms that they are dissatisfied (either verbal abuse, or sometimes even physical abuse). But how often have we informed this same woman about the times when things do go well? How often do we give compliments? Do we counsel gently and encourage wisely or do we assume that “there is no point talking to her….after all she is just a woman.’
The Prophet Mohamed (S.A.W. - Peace, Salutations, Mercy and Blessings of Allah SWT be upon him & his family & companions) counselled us to take care of our women and treat them gently. A woman has been described as being akin to a rib – the natural shape of a rib is bent. If you try to straighten it, it will break. Similarly, if you try to “straighten” a woman too much and in the wrong way, she will break.
However, because of our cultural influences pertaining to our forefathers who lived in the Indo-Pak Continent, we sometimes forget that women are not second class citizens. Women, all over the world have been discriminated at some or other stage in history in virtually every society. The Holy Quran established the God-Given rights of equality to women in no uncertain terms as early as the 7th Century. Women were given their liberation and given their rightful status in Society- this status is ordained by Allah (Sub'ha'na'hu Wa-Ta'ala). As late as the 19th Century, women in Europe (“West”) were still regarded as an inferior species and the very first Charter in Europe was being formulated to give women certain (but not all) rights. Today, with the rapid advance of the New Millennium, women all over the world are still being discriminated against. Women have rebelled against this discrimination for a fight for “equal rights” and the “Liberation Movement,” which rights were already given to Muslim Women 1400 years ago! Unfortunately, the women of the West have developed a misguided concept of “liberation” to their own detriment i.e. a “liberated” woman is someone who can do anything that a man does. This definition, in fact, enslaves women rather than freeing them. Why must women strive to be like men?
Why do men set the standards towards which everyone seeks to aspire? A woman who strives to be more like a man, is she really more of a “woman”? Is Femininity achieved by being more Masculine? Some examples of this strive towards masculinity is found in the following examples :
- Women are taking up professions that were previously “male” dominated e.g. : Mining, mechanics, electricians, plumbers etc
- Women are taking up the Gay Liberation in the notion “who needs a man?”
- Women are delaying motherhood because they first want to follow their “career” and “enjoy life”
- Some women are paying surrogate mothers to bear their children because they do not have the time to have their own children
- Women are opting for sperm banks to impregnate them in the notion that they do not need a man in their life
- Women are smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs to give them “freedom” and make them more like “men
- Women are tattooing themselves to look like fearsome male pirates or gang members
What are the reasons why women feel this need to be more like a man? What is so good about men that women try and copy them? More men than women are responsible for wars, crime, violence and mayhem! The quandary appears to be due to a lack of self – esteem among women. They have come to believe (through male-dominated ideas) that women are not equal to men, and they, therefore, feel this urge to prove the men “wrong.” Unfortunately for Muslim women, our Muslim sisters read about this dilemma facing the Western women and accept this erroneous idea that they too need to be liberated. However, what our Muslim sisters fail to recognize is that they have already been given their liberation by Allah (Sub'ha'na'hu Wa-Ta'ala). Now it is simply a matter of implementation of this God-Given right. However, if our Muslim sisters emulate the western sisters with their dilemma, our Muslim Sisters will find themselves in a state of confusion which will shackle them forever. This state of confusion is currently facing the western women who are currently faced with the following problems in their search for “equality” :
- Women are now the bread-winners. The impact of this is that they hold down 9-5 jobs, come home late and still have to cook, look after the children etc. Unfortunately, in today’s economic climate, both parents have to work to earn living
- women who are career orientated, delay getting married or having children; this leads to a situation that more women are getting married in their late 20’s and 30’s
- Children do not have a mother figure to look up to because both parents are working – no role models. Children, therefore, seek role models from their peers or the TV. In fact, in many homes, the TV is the babysitter. Can you imagine what kind of a future adult is being produced by having the TV as a guide?
- Nuclear families are in vogue: an extended family is regarded as outdated; the children lose out because their grandparents are now strangers, and the parents lose out because they perceive themselves as being a “burden”
- In all the above scenarios, the children (future society) are the victims.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO THE ABOVE DEBATE
- Women should be encouraged to educate themselves, whatever the age. If you have a grandparent that is illiterate, take the time to teach them to read and to write. The importance of literacy is vividly displayed from the Sunnah of the Prophet Mohamed (S.A.W. - Peace, Salutations, Mercy and Blessings of Allah SWT be upon him & his family & companions), wherein he was prepared to pardon captives of war, in exchange for their willingness to teach the Muslims how to read and to write. Education is the only way of breaking the shackles of ignorance and empowering our Muslim mothers, sisters and daughters
- Muslim women must be proud to be Mother’s of the Nation. Children must be taught to have the utmost respect, care, kindness and love for their mother.
- Muslim women must educate their children about morals and ethics and encourage their children to strive to do their best in every endeavour, and that success is born out of sacrifice. Furthermore, it is the duty of parents to instil Islamic values in the future generation of Muslim= innocent children of today. The children will mould themselves according to their foundation – will they emulate the Prophet Mohamed (SAW) as the role model, or will they use the drug addict and rock star as the role model?
- Fathers must encourage their daughters to seek an education to empower themselves – the best gift that a parent can give to his/her child is the gift of education
- Women must strive to be the best in any field of endeavour (education, sport, sciences etc) and uncover their true potential – but the intention must be clear
- Fathers must love, respect and treat their daughters equally as they treat their sons. If there is inequality in the treatment, then the sons will grow up thinking that they should treat their future wife with the same inequality.
- A Muslim woman must be proud of her status, her dressing, her Religion, her culture, her lifestyle and her strong Islamic values and principles. Never, ever be apologetic about your Religion to anyone.
- Women must empower themselves in their husbands business and understand the nature of that business. This example is vividly made clear from Hazrat Khadija (Radi-Allah-hu An’haa) who was a very astute & successful business-women and equivalent to the “Oppenheimer” & “Rockefellers” of today. Therefore, as a Muslim woman, it is advisable for women to understand the details about their husbands business, even if it means going for a basic financial course and learning computers. If your husband dies tomorrow, who will run the business? Who will feed the kids? Will a potentially lucrative business close down because the woman was never empowered to understand the business? Furthermore, give your wife a fair salary in your business or make her a full partner and let her share in the rewards.
- A Muslim widow, who is running a business, should be empowered by the rest of the community by their support and purchase of her products. She is trying her best to survive by honest means – please support her.
- Finally, the Muslims have a vital role to play to show to the rest of the World that Islam was the first Religion to grant women their rightful high status in the community. Let us not taint our religious obligation by our cultural prejudices. It is time for action.
Paradise lies at the feet of your Mother