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Women In Muslim Society

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The role of woman, her position and status in society, and her nature have been issues of debate and discussion informed by religion, tradition and culture, misogyny, feminism and - many times - downright ignorance and bigotry.

In discussing the role of women in contemporary society there are three main areas that can be addressed. The perceptions of woman within contemporary Muslim societies. The status, position and role of woman in the Qur'an and in early Islam

from where we derive our aspirations. Some of the challenges facing us in contemporary society - more specifically, in South Africa.

You might have heard at some time or the other that Islam teaches that women are "inferior" and "unequal" to men. Women are described as weak, inferior, inherently evil (it is the nature of woman to promote fitnah (mischief)), we have deficient intellectual capabilities and are spiritually lacking. Furthermore, these evaluations have been used to claim that women are unsuitable for performing certain tasks, or for functioning in some ways in society.

Thus women are barred from mosques and excluded from other Muslim institutions. The "intermingling of the sexes" is frowned upon on the basis that women create fitnah. The Muslim identity of a woman is restricted and limited to her dress code.

Specific functions and roles have been attributed to each sex; the function of woman is often confined to her reproductive ability. It is known that her primary function is to be mother and wife. And that she would be lacking in her Islamic duty if she in any way did not fulfil this role in accordance with how society defines it.

Since it is the responsibility of males to provide for females, women are liberated from all social, political and economic obligations. They are freed from all these burdens so they can enjoy the joys of housework and child-bearing and caring. And this is regarded as the special status that Islam has accorded woman, thus liberating her from oppression and suppression over 1400 years ago.

Some traditionalists are of the opinion that "according to strict Islamic injunctions, it is not obligatory for a woman to cook food for her husband or children or wash their clothes or even suckle the infants. A woman may refuse to do all these things without this being made ground for legal complaint against her. If she undertakes these duties it is out of sheer grace." Nevertheless, they stress that man and woman's roles are complementary and the most important role the women plays is in the family unit.

The same traditionalists also believe that her primary role is that of a mother and wife and that she needs not venture from the home and the darkest corners of her home are best for her. They also limit her freedom to exercise her will and choice.

It is ironical that all of them claim that Islam liberated women 1400 years ago. They claim that Islam gave women the right to equal education and civil and economic rights, but at the end of their analysis they come to the conclusion that a woman's place is in her husband's home and that she should be obedient to him and the male elite.

How on earth can she enjoy any liberty if she lacks knowledge, is confined to her home and has minimal control over her life.We need to ask: Are these the teachings of Islam or have they been concocted by some people in order to maintain control over a sector of society so that they alone can benefit optimally. It is our duty as Muslims to refresh people's memories and look to our Glorious Qur'an and our glorious past. Let us look at the status and position and role of women in Qur'an and early Islam.

The fundamental principle of Islam is Tauhid - the unity of the human race under the sovereignty of the One and Only, Universal Divine Allah. Islam's message of peace affirms the equality of all human beings, and rejects all discrimination on the basis of race, class and gender.

Yes, Allah is the Sovereign and we succumb to Him and put aside our preferences, prejudices, and traditions and culture which are secondary to Allah's injunctions.

The Qur'an declares the absolute moral and spiritual equality of men and women.

"For Muslim men and Muslim women, for believing men and believing women, for devout men and devout women, for true men and true 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." (Sura 33:35)

This passage makes a clear statement about the absolute equality of the human moral condition and identical spiritual and moral obligations placed on all individuals regardless of sex. Incidentally, this is one of the passages that addresses women directly. It is related that the women asked the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) about why the Qur'an addressed only men when women too accepted God and His prophet. This question occasioned the revelation of the Qur'anic verses explicitly addressing women as well as men - a response that unequivocally shows Muhammad's (pbuh) and Allah's readiness to hear women. Thereafter the Qur'an explicitly addressed women a number of times.

I would like to read Sura 3:195 to you:

"And their Lord has accepted of them, and answered them: 'Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, male or female. You are members, one of another: Those who have left their homes, or been driven out therefrom, or suffered harm in My Cause, or fought or been slain, verily, I will blot out from them their iniquities, and admit them into gardens with rivers flowing beneath. A reward from the presence of Allah, and from His presence is the best of rewards.'"

Allah clearly tells us here that we are members of one and the same human race, and therefore equal to one another.

We read in the Qur'an that taqwa (God-consciousness) is the only distinguishing factor between human beings.

"O humankind! 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 (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous (or God-conscious) of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)." (Sura 49:13)




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