Roles Within The Family
The social roles assigned by the Shariah to man and woman within the family emanate from one simple but profound reality: the two are biologically and sexually different; only the woman can bear children. Other important psychological, physical and social differences follow from this. But even if, for the sake of argument, these other genuine difference are dismissed as having been ‘socially caused’, the reality of this biological and sexual difference is impossible to deny.
Obviously the role of bearing children is one that the woman can neither shirk nor transfer, unless the ear of test-tube babies is ushered in or mankind decides to extinguish itself. Sex difference, reproduction, role of differentiation, sexual morality, survival of the family, healthy child development and the health and strength of society are closely inter-linked and mutually dependent phenomena, in which sex-based role differentiation is the key to the stability of the entire system. If it is abandoned, the whole chain will snap: sexual morality will collapse, personality disorder will be rampant, anarchy and chaos will the order of the day. In short, the family will vanish.
There is no convincing case however for saying that role differentiation is socially caused; on the contrary, the cumulative weight of all evidence, whether from pre-history or history, indicates unmistakably that every society has chosen to do things the same way, even the contemporary West, which is so vociferous in professing ‘equality of the sexes’. No society is on record which has ever progressed without placing woman in full charge of the home.
Different But Not Inferior
Hence the principle in the Shari'ah, the woman's place is in the home. However, it is very important to note that to be different is not to be inferior. Islam attaches no stigma to being a woman; there is no inferior nature, no myth of fall and no responsibility for original sin. To bear and rear children is no disgrace either. To rule over and manage the kingdom of home - that heaven of human happiness and progress - is no mean achievement. Home and children can be degrading and a burden only in a society which chooses to make them so. In Islam, domesticity is not a devalued sphere of human life, nor is home in any way inferior to public life. Indeed, the very epithet 'confined to the four walls of the home' is absurd to a Muslim, as the home in Islam, far from being a place to be looked down upon with contempt, is more important and sacred than even a parliament building or a university, and certainly more prestigious, creative and rewarding than the shop floor or secretarial desk, where two thirds of 'emancipated' women finally end up working.
Equality, Not Similarity
Equality is one of those human yearnings which usually elude definitions. Its translation into roles, rules and norms has always been subjective. Unfortunately, it is being used by modern feminists as a slogan in their campaign to erase all role differentiation. It is being used, too, as a smokescreen from behind which to direct the barrage of attacks against the Shari'ah for its various provisions regarding women.
That equality is a profound human urge and a genuine human ideal is beyond doubt. What is equally true and obvious is that equality of role does not necessarily mean similarity of role. Once equality is confused with similarity, the only possible conclusion is: 'A truly equal two-sexed society is unimaginable'. Ending role differentiation is bound to have catastrophic consequences as already noted, for the interlinked phenomena of sexual morality, the family, reproduction, child-rearing, personality development and society, as is already evident in the West. Even such an apparently relatively minor phenomenon as the spread of contraceptive techniques has been profoundly instrumental in promoting extra-marital sex, changing sex values, upsetting and confusing roles, disrupting the family and devaluing child-rearing and home life. Population control may have been achieved but a glaring questing mark over the final destiny of the human race has appeared.
Islam recognizes the obvious differences between man and woman and shapes their social roles accordingly, but it lays no less emphasis on the similarity of their essential natures as human beings and on their right to equality of opportunity to find fulfillment through their roles in this world and, finally and more importantly, in the eyes of their God in the life hereafter. According to the Shari'ah, man and woman are equal as human beings and have an equal number of mutual obligations and rights. The family unit has the man as its head, for no institution can survive without a head,; but this is no way makes the woman unequal to man. She is not obligated even to take her husband's name and lose her identity. Her share in inheritance is one-half of the male share, but she is under no obligation to make any financial contribution to the maintenance of the family.
Many specific provisions of the Shari'ah regarding the rights and obligations of women, their conduct and behaviour, their dress and segregation, marriage and divorce laws and work outside the home can be better understood in this light. But, what is equally important to bear in mind is that some of the prevalent practices in the Muslim societies today, that have come into vogue as a result of centuries of decadence and stagnation as well as un-Islamic influences, should not be used to understand and judge Islam.
Please write: COMMENT in this box to verify that you are human