The concept of equality needs to be properly explained, because the current meaning of equality has been imposed by the Western World. According to that meaning, equality becomes a strange phenomenon for it advocates free intermingling of men & women, free sex, even freedom of dress itself, free and uniform working conditions for both men and women regardless of their natural differences of physical structures and capacities. This wrong conception of equality upholds the notion that women can achieve equality with men only by constantly labouring to please them by running their lives in men’s style, by behaving according to male’s standards with all the liberty and so-called equality that a modern women has acquired (in theory of course, not in practice) her actual condition emerges as a very sorry condition.
For instance, as recently as the year 1988, some American states still enforced laws, which kept wives subservient to their husbands. Under these laws, a wife was not allowed economic independence. So to open a checking account or buy or sell property she had to obtain her husband’s permission and signature. The right to vote was also slow in coming . Women had only been filling voting forms for the past 75 years.
According to Susan Faduli, 80% of (American) females are still stuck in dead-end jobs that are almost always relegated to females, i.e. clerks, secretaries, receptionists or sales-positions and nearly 75% of full-time employed women were earning under $20,000.00 annually. Not only this, women have to do better than the men they work with. Thus they are overworked and overstressed but still earn less than the man they work with. According to Karen Nussboum, Director of Labour department’s Women’s Bureau (of the U.S.) woman typically earn 71 cents for every Dollar earned by a man. This shows how American women are still living under much oppression and face numerous injustices largely due to their unequal working power in comparison with men. But still they must work for if they does not, even for the fact that they want to stay at home and raise children they will be insecure because the whole system does not uphold or even recognize their role as wives or mothers. This is what women activists Attorney Frances Leonard says, while addressing women:
Place your hopes and dreams in the long future of your marriage; but recognize that the state won’t back you in the gamble. When you forego your own career opportunities in the expectation of joint future returns, you place yourself at serious risk; and no amount of bitterness and recrimination will finance you if things don’t work out in the end.
That is why in case of divorce, which frequently happens, majority of American women cannot assert their legal rights of alimony or child’s maintainence against the husband and the father of the child, because they cannot afford attorney (i.e legal) fees which ranges somewhat near $50,000.00. Jennifer Gordon, head of the San Francisco Bar Association’s Family Law division says:
If you are making $40,000, $50,000 even $60,000 a year, I don’t see how you can afford a family lawyer at $200.00 an hour.”
Beside the fact that annual earning of nearly 75% of American women is, according to Susan Faduli, less than $20,000, there are some automatic deductions from the earning; the first one is the whopping portion of taxes. Then, car payment on an average of not less than $200 per month. Day care expenses, where a women has a child under school age, total at least $80 per week. Gas, car maintenance and insurance are included as well. Expenses for food, rent, phone and electricity must also be included where she does not have a husband who is ready to pay for these. And to start a modest wardrobe for a working woman is not cheap.
The sex discrimination faced by women in the American society adds fuel to the fire. The startling findings show that everything from haircut, dry-cleaning, clothing costs to car repairs and purchases are areas where women pay more than men simply because they are female. Another example is that women pay more for medical services in comparison to men. She not only makes more doctor visits, but a woman who sees a doctor forbthe same illness a man does, is often given more tests and more medications. On top of that a woman is often requested to for a follow-up visit, while such request is seldom given to a male patient. The American Medical Association says the reasons for this “are not clear.”
In order for a woman to be successful in a modern society like the American society, she must forget about her womanhood, motherhood or even marriage and behave and live like men. In Terri Apter’s comprehensive study of successful women in America, she says:
They did not believe that they could have it all: they believed that they could have what they wanted by giving up what other woman had. They were modern in deliberately counting the cost of marriage – which women are far more likely to do today…”
Apter found that women who are financially successful were single or atleast childless. Women who never married explained that they saw marriage at odds with their career commitments. Those who were divorced or separated said that their career commitments had been an important factor in the breakdown of the marriage. In addition to this, Apter concludes:
For these women, the task was to keep guard on thenselves and to change, to learn in more and more details how to think like man: that was their path to success.”
EQUALITY UNDER THE SHARI’AH
Man and Woman, under the Shari’ah, though differ from one another biologically, are equal in terms of human status. They have definite partnership with one another, and there is no distinction between them as regards to their respective rights. In the words of the Qur’an 3:195:
So their Lord accepted of them (their supplications and answered them. “Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female. You are (members) one of another…” [Qur’an 3:195]
But modern civilization, instead of providing women with equal status with men, it has, it fact, managed to provide them with an unequal status. This problem of inequality between man and woman created by Western civilization cannot be solved by it. This is even the view of the internationally accalimed western writer, Germaine Greer. On this, she says, “The West has no answer to the problems of inequality between sexes.”
However, under the Shari’ah, mam and woman are equal participants so far as the carrying out of the function of daily living is concerned. Furthermore, men and women have equal rights over each other, which have been balanced by equal duties, as Allah says in Qur’an:
And they (women) have rights (over their husband as regards to living exoenses) similar (to those of their husband over them as regards to obedience and respect) to what is reasonable…” [Qur’an 2:228]
This clearly shows that the relationship of men and women is not of bondage or of disparity but of oure clear camaraderei and co-operation in the path of virtue. And in camaraderei, all the members are equal. To portray and sum up the role of men and women towards each other, the term awliya has been employed by the Qur’an that is in 9:71 which provides:
The believers, men and women, are awliya (helpers, supporters, friends, protectors) of one another; they enjoin (on the people) al-Ma’ruf (i.e. Islamic monotheism and all that Islam orders one to do) and forbid (people) from al-Munkar i.e polytheism and disbeliefs of all kinds and all that Islam has forbidden). [Qur’an 9:71]
The Qur’anic verse sets forth that men and women are equally responsible for reforming the society through social, political, educational and economic mediums and that they are to oerform this job in an atmosphere of security and protection towards each other.
However, equality here, from the Islamic perspective, does not mean absolute equality of both sexes in every detail, identicality or sameness. It only means overall equality in the totality of rights and responsibilities of both sexes. This is because even through man and woman are equal in their status as human beings, they defunitelt differ; their roles, due to their natural differeces also differ. Thus man and woman are not, in the eyes of the Shari’ah, the duplicate of one another, but the complements, there being in each, quite incontrovertible, biological differences which lead to the natural separation of sphere and occupation. It is not an established biological fact that there are differences in their physiological structure and physiological arrangement which gear man to work outside the home and woman inside the home. This is even in accordance with some Qur’anic provisions specifically Surah Ta-Ha 20:117, Surah Rum 30:21, Surah Nahl 16:72. Therefore, if anybody who does not accept the differences between the sexes, even by trying to resemble the opposite sex has been cursed by the Prophet (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam).
It should be noted that, the fact that man and woman are naturally different, does not mean that one is superior to the other, as the criterion of superirity in Islam is based only on piety and God-fearing. This is in accordance with Surah Hujurat, verse 13 which orovides that:
O Mankind!, we have created you from a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has at-taqwa (i.e. he is one of the Muttaqun, the pious). Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, Well-Acquainted (with all things). [Surah Hujurat: 13]
From this ayat, it is clear that in terms of spirituality and humanness, both genders stand on equal footing before Allah. It is also clear that nowhere in the primary sources of Islam (Qur’an and Sunnah) do we find any basis of superiority of one gender over the other.
Human mis-interpretations, culturally-bound opinions or manipulations are not congruent with what Islam teaches. The full equality of all human beings before Allah is beyond doubt. The equality should not be confused, however, with role-differentiation in the spirit of co-operation and complementarity.
In identifying man’s beginning as a product of a male and female and not dust from which Aadam was made or Aadam from whom Hawwa was made (referring to the verse [49:13]), Allah also lays emphasis on the complementary roles of males and females in relation to human society. Each has a distinction and unique role and each has been endowed with physical and psychological gift suitable for fulfilling their respective roles. Hence, from an Islamic viewpoint, the Western concept of woman’s liberation and unisex are to a large degree despised because they upset the natural balance laid down by Allah. In order to stress the importance of men and women being distinct from each other, the Prophet (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) cursed men who tried to resemble women and women who tried to resemble men. Islam is not against equal pay for equal work, but it is against the trend among many advocates of women’s liberation towards hating men while trying to be like them. From an Islamic perspective, true equality of men and women lies in their equal responsibility to worship Allah as He commanded them and in their accountability for all what was entrusted to them in this life. Thus their differences are complementary and not antagonistic.