August 22, 2017

Gender justice stereotypes and Islam

Meenaz Bhanu

The present world is entrenched with the portrayal of various kinds of gender justice stereotypes. Injustice hurts everyone, but I feel the stereotypes which are popular in the society in the name of gender justice are themselves the reason for most of the gender injustice in the world. Stereotypes can be both negative and positive. For example, “women are weak” and “women are nurturing.” The stereotypes which crash the social system are the negative stereotypes. The stereotypes regarding both genders start working right from the pregnancy when the child is in the womb.  Such myths concerning both the genders are so deeply enshrined in the minds of the people that even the strongest advocates of gender justice step back unconsciously and pay tribute to the stereotypical thinking.

When we hear about gender justice, the first thing which comes to one’s mind is Islam i.e. in Islam; there is no equality between men and women. Because there are such distorted stereotypes prevalent in the world like “Islam is an enemy of woman”, for it degrades her and lowers her status holding her intellectually deficient, and assigning her a position very much akin to that of animals, she is reduced to no more than a mere means of sexual gratification for man and a machine for the propagation of human species, she has no rights in any aspects of life, she is oppressed because of dominant male culture, which is sufficient to show how subservient to man she is in the sight of Islam.

But we need to deliberate from where such stereotypes originated and promoted. Before ascribing such notions to Islam, we need to understand that there were various shades of feminist movements that originated in the West decades ago. Did we ever think about the reasons which led to such movements? Why did women come out on the streets asking and demanding for equality and rights? Before refuting the misconceptions regarding gender justice in Islam, we need to study the history which made non-Muslim women fight for equality and their rights. That is we need to look at the history of the movement for women’s emancipation in Europe, for it is this very source of mischief whence all the defecting trends in the modern east flow.

The women in the Europe and all over the world were looked upon as a mere non-entity. They were no more than means of diversion and entertainment for the impious rich who applauded their appearance in public out of sheer vanity and poor conceit. This position of women continued for many decades. When the industrial revolution took place in Europe, it brought in the worst possible sufferings for women yet experienced by them throughout the history of mankind. The industrial revolution made her status lower than a domestic animal. They expected her to “look like a woman, behave like a lady, think like a man and work like a dog.”

The women who were the queens of the house, who were the foundations of the family and future generations were enslaved with the concepts like “career woman,” modern women, free women and liberal women wherein they demanded equality with men regardless of their own difficulties in all spheres of life. They even started entering late night-shift jobs at MNC’S and BPO’s. Such stereotypes like “women are treated lower than man” regarding woman were spread by the capitalists because they needed a huge number of workers at lower wages. When women started opting for such careers, it declined the importance of family and social life. It came up with new concepts of life such as “live-in relationships,” “casual sex,” etc. The motive behind spreading such stereotypes was to make all time availability of women workers having no family responsibilities. The reality was being hidden to such an extinct that even women started ignoring reluctantly the negativities which were affecting them mentally, physically and socially.

Another kind of stereotype which made women not less than a commodity was why a woman does not have the freedom to wear any size of clothes like men? Such stereotyping framed by capitalistic imperialism made her a market product. In this filthy trend, its biggest helper turned out to be media. We could see the impact of this movement everywhere. In newspapers, magazines, social media, posters, advertisements, films, the internet, everywhere women are presented as attractive toys to be enjoyed. Such stereotypes made the body of a woman a mere toy and made her as much naked as possible. Comments like “sexy,” “bimbos,” “hotties” are tagged for such liberated girls. Though the woman has made herself naked in the name of liberalism, we see men wearing full clothes compared to women in today’s world. While men enjoy wearing full clothes, women are ready to be naked in the name of equality.

The worst impact of such stereotypes has women entered even the field of pornography. Many countries like the US and Korea earn millions of dollars annually just from the pornographic industry. The blind minded activists who fought in the name of gender justice never bothered about what made woman enter into such a cheap state. Fortunately, now even the extreme liberals are accepting that pornography gives birth to rape cases. In the name of liberation, few women even entered the space of prostitution. Prostitution existed in the early times too, but it was never honored. But today’s open-minded civilization has made it a legal trade. Prostitution is made legal mostly in those countries which are prominent in providing gender justice. Now the point is clear that the stereotypes are the trickery of the capitalists who wanted low-wage workers. Though Islam is seen as most targeted religion for gender justice stereotypes, women of other religions suffer more of such negative stereotypes which in a disguised form are ruining her in all the aspects of life.

Muslim women are the victims of all kinds of stereotyping regarding justice and equality. Women in Islam are thought to be subjugated, degraded, oppressed – but are they so? Islam is a religion that treats women fairly. The Muslim woman was given a role, duties, and rights 1400 years ago that most women do not enjoy even today in the West. These rights are from God and are designed to maintain a balance in society; what may seem “unjust” or “missing” in one place is compensated for or explained in another place.

 Let us evaluate the stereotypes regarding gender justice in Islam.

In Islam, girl child has no right to live

Islam is a religion that holds women in high regard. Long ago, when baby boys were born, they brought great joy to the family. The birth of a girl was greeted with considerably less joy and enthusiasm. Sometimes, girls were hated so much that they were buried alive. Islam has always been against this irrational discrimination against girls and female infanticide. 

The Qur`an, which is the divine word of the Creator, strongly condemns the pre-Islamic practice of burying the girl child alive. Islam upholds the “right to live” for the girl child right from the beginning of the life in mother’s womb. Qur’an says, on the Day of Judgement the perpetrator would be asked: “For what sin was she killed?” (Takveer: 9).

In Islam, women is subservient to men

Islam is the only religion which accords not only equal dignity but also equal rights to women in the most unambiguous way. It declares in Surah Baqarah, verse 228: “And women have the same rights against their men as men have against them.” All commentators agree that this is a declaration of equality of rights for men and women. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in his commentary on this verse in his Tarjuman al-Qur`an says that (this verse) is a clear declaration of equality of sexes more than 1400 years ago.

 It is well known that in Islam marriage is a contract and no nikah can be valid without specific consent of the woman. The Qur`an itself describes marriage as ‘mithaqan ghalizan’ i.e. strong covenant. A contract cannot be unilateral. Both parties have to agree to it. Thus in Islam, for a nikah to be valid, two adults have to bear witness that such and such woman has agreed to marry so and so.

The second right of a wife is maintenance. Despite any wealth she may have, her husband is obligated to provide her with food, shelter, and clothing. He is not forced, however, to spend beyond his capability and his wife is not entitled to make unreasonable demands.

Not only that, the woman has every right to stipulate conditions under which she wants to marry, and if the man does not agree to these conditions, marriage cannot be valid. Also, according to the Hanafi school to which a large number of Muslims adhere, a woman can also insist on what is called ‘tafwid-e-talaq’ i.e. delegation of the right to her to divorce her husband on his behalf. Has this any parallel in any religious law in the world?

Also, since marriage is a contract, if a woman is married off in childhood by her wali, she has the right to reject the marriage on achieving puberty. It is called in Shari`ah terms ‘hear al-bulugh’ i.e. option at puberty. Thus for a girl child, if she is married off during her childhood, she has the option to accept it or reject the match on achieving adulthood.

Thus, in Islam, the right of a woman to marry a man of her own choice is quite absolute, given by God, and not even her father can take it away from her. There is no way she can be married off without her specific consent in most unambiguous words. No school of Shari`ah law allows a man to marry a woman without her consent. This rule is firm like a rock.

Also, if a man has hidden certain facts from his bride at the time of nikah (i.e. if he is impotent or HIV-positive, for instance), she is entitled to dissolution of her marriage as a matter of right. However, if a man discloses such facts before contracting nikah and she marries him knowing it fully well, she will not be entitled to dissolution of marriage on those particular grounds.

Islam has also given the woman the right to liberate herself from a marital bond (khula`) and this right of hers is also absolute. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) allowed a woman called Jamila to obtain khula` from her husband though he loved her and gave her a maintenance allowance as per her wishes. But because she did not like him, she said to the Prophet (PBUH), `I am afraid if I remain with him I may not be able to observe Allah`s limits.’ What an empowerment of women by Islam!

Presently, there is a wave of rumors against Islam in our country that “triple talaq” implicates injustice to woman. But the funny fact is that few cases of triple talaq practiced by an insignificant number is not Islamic at all and is misused. The people who are forming such stereotypes regarding “triple talaq” have some other hidden agendas to implement by defaming Islam.

Women are forced to wear hijab which oppresses her

In Surah Al-Ahzaab (chapter 33), verse 59, Allah The Exalted Almighty Says: “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the woman of the believers to bring down over themselves (part) of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known (as free respectable women) and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.”  This verse shows that Islam makes wearing a Hijab necessary. Hijab is the word used for covering, not only the headscarves (as some people may think) but also wearing loose clothes that are not too bright.

Sometimes, people see covered Muslim women, and they think of this as oppression. This is wrong. A Muslim woman is not oppressed. In fact, she is liberated. This is because she is no longer valued for something material, such as her good looks or the shape of her body. She compels others to judge her for her intelligence, kindness, honesty and personality. Therefore, people judge her for who she is.

When Muslim women cover their hair and wear loose clothes, they are obeying the orders of their Lord to be modest, not cultural or social mores. In fact, Christian nuns cover their hair out of modesty, yet no one considers them “oppressed.”  By following the command of Allah, Muslim women are doing the same thing. 

Muslim Women have no right to Education

In Islam, a woman has the right to be educated, contrary to what the contemporary world might think. The responsibility is that of the person who is raising her. 
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every Muslim (male and female).” Men and women both have the capacity for learning and understanding. Since it is also their obligation to promote good behavior and condemn bad behavior in all spheres of life. Muslim women must acquire the appropriate education to perform this duty in accordance with their natural talents and interests.

Muslim woman has no right to earn and has no economical rights

For the first time in history, women were granted economic independence in Islam. The money they bring in to marriage is theirs as well as the money they earn. 

The mahr is a compulsory part of an Islamic marriage contract. It is the obligatory marriage gift from husband to his wife during marriage. Allah commanded in Surah An-nisa, verse 4: “Give women their faridah (obligation) as a free gift.” It is a gift of money, possessions or property made by the husband to the wife, which becomes her exclusive property. It is an admission of her independence, for she becomes the owner of the money or property immediately, even though she may have owned nothing before.

On the other hand, maintenance of their homes, providing support to the husband and bearing, raising and teaching children are among the first and very highly regarded roles for a woman. If she has the skills to work outside the home for the good of the community, she may do so. However, this is allowed only as long as her family obligations are met because women are the best homemakers. Concerning motherhood, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Heaven lies under the feet of mothers.” This implies that the success of a society can be traced to the mothers who raised it. The first and greatest influence on a person comes from the sense of security, affection, and training received from the mother. Therefore, a woman having children must be educated and conscientious to be a skillful parent.
Polygamy allowed in Islam is injustice towards woman

Islam allows limited polygamy, i.e. four wives at a time. This was allowed as during the numerous wars during the Prophet’s time in Arabia; many Muslim men lost their lives. Thus, the women outnumbered the men. The war-widows and orphans became destitute as they had no standing in the society and lead miserable lives. To prevent injustice, Quran allows limited polygamy through the following verse: “marry the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four, if you fear that you cannot do justice to so many, then one.” (surah An-Nisa :verse 3)

Justice refers to equal love and affection as well as boarding and lodging. The Quran has another verse stating: “you will not be able to deal equally between your wives however much you wish to do so” (Surah An-Nisa:verse 129). Thus, it can be safely inferred that though Islam permits four wives at a time, it is actually in favor of monogamy. Though polygamy is allowed in Islam, most of the Muslims follow monogamy strictly. 

Woman has lower status in Islam

Men and women worship Allah in the same way, meaning they worship the same God (Allah), perform the same acts of worship, follow the same scripture, and hold the same beliefs. Allah (the Arabic word for the One true God of all creation) judges all human beings fairly and equitably. Allah emphasizes the just treatment and reward to both men and women in many verses of the Qur’an:

“Allah has promised to the believers, men, and women, gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein, and beautiful mansions in gardens of everlasting bliss.” (Qur’an 9:72)

“Never will I allow the loss of the work of any worker amongst you, male or female; you are of one another.” (Qur’an 3:195)

These verses show that reward is dependent upon one’s actions and not one’s gender. Gender does not play any part in how a person is rewarded and judged.

If we compare Islam to other religions, we see that it offers justice between the sexes. For example, Islam dismisses the idea that Eve is more to blame than Adam for eating from the forbidden tree. According to Islam, Adam and Eve both sinned, they both repented, and God forgave them both.

No stereotypes can be effective on a person unless he blindly accepts the myths without deliberating upon them. Hilarious fact is that due to such negative stereotyping where women have got more rights, more movements and more days dedicated to them like “Mothers’ Day”, “Women’s Day” etc., men too have started fighting for their rights questioning why there is only “Women’s Day”,  why not “Men’s Day”? Why more reservation for women, why not for men? etc. Now the people who initiated negative stereotypes regarding women are unable to answer men who are demanding their rights. No man made laws or policies can ever be able to compete with the laws and system provided by the Creator of universe in providing justice to both the genders.

The lives of the people who responded to the Quran have changed drastically. It had a tremendous impact on so many people, especially women, since this was the first time that the souls of men and women were declared equal — with the same obligations as well as the same rewards and balance and justice was provided in every aspect of life. 

Islam recognizes and fosters the natural differences between men and women despite their equality. Some types of work are more suitable for men and other types for women. This differentiation in no way diminishes the effort or benefit of one gender over the other. God will reward both genders equally for the value of their work, though it may not necessarily be within the same sphere of activity.

 

 

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