by Damir Rafi
It was 1400 years ago, in the deserts of Arabia, that the levels of injustice against women were at their fiercest. It was a barbaric society ruled by men, a culture in which it was common place for a husband to have total power over his wife, one in which a mother often had no rights over her own children. It was a civilization in which it was considered acceptable for females to be beaten, oppressed and driven out of their homes, condemned to wonder aimlessly under the heat of the blazing Arabian sun. In that particularly age of history, it was a modest, illiterate orphaned man who liberated these women, and in turn transformed a cruel society into one of peace and harmony and freedom.
Today there is an echo.
It is an echo reverberating through time, a reflection today of the oppression of the past, a sad recurrence of the barbarism of history. For in those very lands at present we see the same problems, the same tyranny, the same male brutality that was recorded all those years ago.
In 2004, a female Saudi television presenter, Rania al-Baz, printed horrific images of the mistreatment she had suffered at the hands of her husband. In 2010, Eman Al Nafjan spoke out against the repressive guardianship system that prevents women in Saudi Arabia from enjoying any sort of independence or public space. In 2011, Manal al-Sharif dared to drive in a land which forbids females from doing so. There are countless other examples of shocking oppression, and numerous examples of both men and women who have spoken out against it. Many onlookers view these horrific activities as if they were a reflection of the religion of the society – Islam. However, we almost never hear of these repressed women desiring to break free from Islam itself, we only hear of them wanting to liberate themselves from the perverse and distorted manner in which the religion is practised.
Furthermore, the way in which women are treated by Muslim men varies markedly from one place to another and from one Islamic sect to another. For example, it was said about the marriage of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him), founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community:
‘In their 24 years of marriage everyone close to them (including their children), commented that there was never a raised voice let alone an argument between husband and wife. So harmonious was their household that it was like a heavenly earth, fulfilling the revelation that the Promised Messiah (as) and his wife would live in an earthly “heaven” together.’ (Hadrat Amman Jan)
There is no logical reason why critics of the religion should only deem the most abhorrent and misogynistic of acts as being Islamic, ignoring examples such as those of the Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him), where in the name of Islam, men show exceptional kindness towards women. To analyse any religion truly requires more than a merely cursory glance at the scriptures from which it is based.
Those who claim that the oppression of women is somehow justified within Islam often cite a particular Qura’nic verse (Q. 4:35) which begins ”Men are guardians over women…”. In context, with a full understanding of the whole verse, it is evident that this guardianship being referred to is not the same repressive guardianship which is being practiced in Saudi Arabia and other countries. It simply infers that men are a means of protection for their wives, and that they should treat them with respect and love. As the verse continues, it makes clear the fact that just as a husband should protect his wife, the wife should also, in many respects, protect the husband. Islam not only emphasises the equality of both sexes, it also stresses the importance of men and women working together and complementing one another to obtain success in all facets of life. It is stated in the Qur’an, ”So their Lord answered their prayers, saying ‘I will not allow the work of any worker from among you, whether male or female, to be lost. You are from one another’’ (Q. 3:196). With this proclamation of ”You are from one another,” the point is made that men and women are equal in their ability to achieve success and that their relationship in a household and a society should never be one of unfairness or tyranny.
There are examples in the Holy Qur’an of the different roles of men and women for the purposes of establishing a cohesive and balanced society. However in order to properly establish which gender the religion of Islam considers to be superior, it is necessary to examine and analyse the spiritual status of both sexes. The claim that males have a higher rank than females in Islam would only make logical sense if it were clear from Islamic sources that they also received a greater reward, a greater share of the benefits of the Hereafter and a closer relationship with God. Just as humans, above the animal kingdom, are afforded in Islam a loftier spiritual position as they are viewed as being the pinnacle of creation, in the same way it would be expected that the superior gender of humans would receive a greater spiritual station over the other. In the Qur’an, however, no such differentiation is present:
”Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him — Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward.” (Q. 33:36)
This is an emphatic declaration that though the duties of men and women may differ in some instances, they each have the equal opportunity to attain exactly the same levels in spiritual and social spheres – that goodly acts and righteousness form the only basis of their human measure and reward before their Lord. The verse leaves no doubt that God views both genders as equally deserving of forgiveness, equally worthy of reward, and equally eligible to live a life free from tyranny and oppression.
Fourteen hundred years ago it was the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) who saved his society. It was he who brought the teachings of Islam, teachings which liberated women from the clutches of their oppressors. It was he who declared the complete equality of males and females, he who taught that women could own property in the same way as men, could divorce in the same way as men, and could have equal independence to that of a man. As history is largely forgotten, in the Arab world today, and in the most ironic of ironies, heinous crimes are committed routinely against women in the name of Islam, the religion which proclaimed their freedom to begin with.