So I finished reading Khan’s book that I have been talking about for a week. Strange as it may sound, I agree with him on many points. But there are also areas in his book where he completely disappointed me.
He is an old man, and a South Asian Muslim which means his views are highly predictable. But I was looking for some change. Never mind!
Where I agree him is that women and men are physiologically different (no rocket science there!) and that this difference can also affect their emotions. Men are aggressive, women are calmer; men are physically stronger than women; women can bear more trauma and have higher pain threshold; men can’t take mental stress as well as women can who are biologically programmed to give birth and look after the young with little food and sleep. Men are generally better at Mathematics whereas women are linguistically superior (just a thought – if women are linguistically superior, shouldn’t it be us interpreting what God tries to say?).
But I wish Khan had pointed out all this. He keeps on harping that men are stronger and women are weaker; and that women “fall prey to emotion” and so “must be aware of her natural shortcomings.” Page after page, Khan asks women (who are “liable to err because they are more emotional by nature” – p. 130) to “stay at home” which is their domain but where the husband is the “leader” and trains women to behave properly.
Another revelation that I suddenly had by reading Khan is that I have finally figured out the disparity between the common but contradictory Muslim phrases: “Men and women are equal in Islam” but that “men are more equal than women.”
According to Islam men and women are equal in religion, but not in the sociological, economic and political spheres. This calls for lengthy future discussions on every aspect and I like to come to my own conclusions through Quran, hadith and sunnah.
Inshallah I hope to discuss every aspect in detail together with you but here I want to point out very briefly what I mean in the above paragraph. From a single verse in the Quran, it is clear that Muslim men and women are completely equal in religion:
For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and 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. (Yusuf Ali’s translation of 33:35).
All these edicts relate to religion. Sociological, economic and political areas include:
- Marriage, divorce and remarriage
- Leadership in religion and politics
- Witness in a court of law
- Travel, business and work
- Dress and clothing
In these areas, Shariah gives men greater rights and choice than it gives to women. However, this is not always supported by Quran and hadith and if God wills it, I will talk about these issues at some point. From my study of Islam (which has taken me longer than I expected!) so far (I am open to change of mind), I gather from the practical application of Quran and hadith that the rights Muslim men and women were given by Islam were standard so, in some cases they were greater than those enjoyed by some heathen Arab tribes and in other cases they were lesser than the ones enjoyed by some other tribes. Before Islam, laws, traditions and practices varied from one tribe to the other, but after Islam every Muslim tribe had to follow the same laws and rules. This may be a reason why not every heathen woman was willing to accept Islam because in the case of powerful Arab women the rights offered by Islam were lesser than they were already enjoying in their tribe.
Good news is that we are equal in religion, which is the non-negotiable and unchanging part of any faith! The other areas are not static and change, or should change with time (they have little bearing on one’s faith and didn’t arise out of religion to begin with), so we can at least negotiate rights and choices in those areas without feeling afraid of entering disbelief. That is the area cut out for Muslim feminists.
What do you think?