Female in Islam II
The impact of negative Social values upon Females
a) Social perspective
The social movement in any society is an inevitable and essential process which represents the collective desire, of society members, to coexist, and relate to each other and to its heritage and cultural values. In this process the various elements of history and many of the ancestral practices and values are the main dynamic forces to shape up and model the future of society. So society tends to intricately make and develop its destiny through a collective effort and common aspirations and goals. However, many factors play a major role in determining the outcome of its future. Moral values, universal human values, and man’s desire to ascend the ladder of human perfection, are the essential fundamentals to offer a prosperous future. Failures to pursue those fundamentals will certainly threaten the peace and prosperity of any society. The nature and excellence of social values and norms of any society is formed and embraced through society pursuant and adherent of those fundamentals. Man by virtue of his sophisticated nature, his strong relationship to the various elements of his environment, his desires and aspirations, and his mundane needs often influence and compromise his commitment in upholding those universal fundamentals which are detrimental to the progress of his society. This reality unfortunately will have many negative consequences on all dimensions of life and it will affect all members of society and particularly the weak ones. In this short essay I will only focus on the effect of these negative consequences upon the females of society, who are the main element of this discussion.
b) Quranic perspective.
Now let’s go together to the wonders of the holy Quran and find out how God has addressed this imposed social problem and the harsh reality in relation to females. The Holy Quran alludes to this issue in many places but I will only refer to one particular case where I believe it summarizes for us the harsh social reality which faces females. This Quranic reference is in the case of the mother of Mary. In this particular incident the Quran describes to us the psyche of female in respect to these negative social values and how female’s thinking is influence to cope with such negative values which are imposed by the males of her society. The Quran tells us how Mary’s mother was very much intimidated by the negative social values of her people which had influenced the mode of her supplications and requests towards God. This negative reality had made her prefer the male gender over female when asking God to grant her a child, which was an attempt to go with the flow of her people. She was very much aware that having a male child in such society is more acceptable and a better received news. The Quran states this fact in verse 3:35:
3:35 Behold! a woman of ‘Imran said: “O my Lord! I do dedicate unto Thee what is in my womb for Thy special service: So accept this of me: For Thou hearest and knowest all things.”
إِذْ قَالَتِ امْرَأَةُ عِمْرَانَ رَبِّ إِنِّي نَذَرْتُ لَكَ مَا فِي بَطْنِي مُحَرَّرًا فَتَقَبَّلْ مِنِّي إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ (3:35
According to this verse the gender of the requested child may not be clear explicitly but most Quran commentators deduce this fact from the Arabic term “muharrarran- for Thy special service” which is in the masculine form and only denote for a male gender, because serving God was only exclusive to males at that time. In other words the Quran tells us that prior to conception she had made a vow to the service of God and as a result she had committed this child to serve God at the temple. The Quran vividly describes her mental state when she gave birth. It alludes to her psychological state upon realizing the gender of her new born child. She was distressed for not having a boy and the reason for this stress was due to the prevalent social norms, which was imposed upon all females including the mother of Mary. And being a female herself and aware of the negative treatment of females by her people so she preferred to be granted a male child. But when she realised that she had been granted a female child then the verse seems to relay to us in precise details that she had panicked because she could project the difficulties which lies ahead in bringing up a female child in her society. And she was aware of the fact that females are not allowed in the holy places at that time then she was confused as to how she could keep her vow to the service of God which she could only perceive it to be possible through having a male child. Then, she thought, how is it possible to commit this female child to serve God in the holy temple, when such places and services are exclusive to males only. Thus she became bewildered and stressed out and she sincerely pleaded to the Lord of the universe and said: ” O my Sustainer! Behold, I have given birth to a female(1), 3:36″
In this short statement which was uttered by her we can actually feel the pain and mental stress which she was experiencing when she learned the gender of her new child, for the reasons mentioned above.
Now knowing the honourable status of Mary’s mother and her love and devotion to God then we can only understand the reasons for uttering such statement. Her question was not as a form of protest in respect to her wish of having male child, which is to condone or conform to the common negative social norm in preference towards male child for worldly reasons and gains-mainly for economical and for false social reasons such as that they attach honour, strength and boasting to the males, among tribe members. But her interjected question, in regard to the new female child, was not for any of those worldly reasons rather was for attaining the pleasure of Allah in serving Him through her anticipated male child. And the social realities which are imposed upon her have made her ponder on the fact that in order for her to worship God and offer her service to Him is only through having a male child.
This was her reason for wishing from Allah to be granted a male child in preference to a female child. Mary’s mother was aware of this difficult challenge which lies ahead, hence she asked God to help her through these new circumstances and challenges. She was a true believer in God and she acknowledged her limitations and inability to take up such challenge. Now under these circumstances God is Hearing and seeing the plight of Mary’s mother. Her plight was intensely expressed by her statement in 3:36 which were for God’s pleasure, and God the most Merciful promises that He will come to the aide of His true servants at time of need. God the most knowledgeable is aware of the real challenge which faces His true servant, Mary’s mother, and that is a powerful negative social norm which was imposed upon her and all the females of the world. Then the ultimate Social Reformer, God had immediately shunned these cruel social norms, which are in favour of males, for unjust reasons, and He SW introduced a new social norm in respect to serving the Lord in the holy place that is no longer exclusive to males only, as it is believed, but rather to females as well.
So God wanted to assure His servant, Mary’s mother, that what she wished for was not necessarily in accordance to His divine will (mashee’a) and wisdom (‘hikmah). Allah the almighty is the Most wise executes His will in accordance to His encompassing knowledge of all of the affairs of the various planes of existence. Every command is in perfect harmony with every part of His creation which is under His absolute dominion. It is worth mentioning here that to introduce a new social norm may require a bigger influential entity to confront the prevailing influence of the main stream thinking. Mary’s mother has recognized her weakness and inability to do it alone so she asked God to assist her in this difficult situation. Hence God has declared from above the seven domains of the cosmos His everlasting statement which has struck the heart of His servant, Mary’s mother, and still resonate throughout the consciousness of the cosmos, and it is a clear testimony that females possess a special station in the sight of God, when He SW said His divine declaration:
“and the male is not like the female; 3:36″وَلَيْسَ الذَّكَرُ كَالأُنثَى
The beauty of this statement that God is telling her why worry for not having a male child but behold I have given you a female instead, this follows that in order for God to convince her for not getting what she hoped for, male, then the replacement aught to possess something special for it to be comprehended by her. In other words, for example, if a child asks his parents to get him a specific gift, for example-a teddy bear, but they decide to bring him something else, such as a rabbit, they must have thought of something special in the rabbit for them to change the desired request by their child, keeping in mind the parents wants to please their child and not to antagonize him or her. So when the child would protest to his parents and say; I asked you to get me a teddy bear but you brought me a Rabbit. Then the parents would reply; but the Rabbit is not like the Teddy bear. So in the same token we see that God is referring to something special about females in comparison to males.
Some Quran commentators(1) suggest that this special thing lies in the status of Mary and what she become later on in respect to her given birth to Jesus (as). But this meaning is only one aspect of the many hidden meanings, and I believe that this Quranic statement is not inclusive to Mary (AS) rather it is in the absolute sense or it should include all males and females, for the two terms of ” males” and “females” are preceded by the definite article “al or the ” as in “the male is not like the female” which should include all females and males in the absolute sense. If it was however specific to Mary, as suggested, then the verse should have been very specific in regard to Mary AS. In other words the verse could have been something like this “but the male whom you requested is not like the female whom I have granted you” or something along these lines which refer to this specific situation regarding to Mary’s birth only. And if there is nothing special about females, which this verse is alluding to, and it was only God’s will that He grants whatever He wishes, then the verse could have been something like this “this is God’s will” as He states in similar statements in many places of the Quran in respect to His will. But that is not what we see in this particular part of the verse, nothing stated along those lines rather we see a universal statement has been stated that is “the male is not like the female” hence God, in this part of the verse 3:36 has absolutely referred to something special and honorable about females, and man ought to recognize this divine fact. Man has to remember very important fact that all the prophets of God are born to females. And all males and great men of history are nurtured and brought up in the laps of females. And does’nt this fact alone make females special beings; just for you to ponder about.
These few words “the male is not like the female; 3:36” have entered the heart of Mary’s mother which gave her inner peace and divine tranquility, and suddenly the Omnipotence of God was manifested-tajalla to her heart and consequently she no longer fears anyone nor anything in her world, so she laid all her trust in Allah SW and submitted her new female child, in seeking the full protection of God, when she said:
“And, verily, I seek Thy protection for her” وِإِنِّي أُعِيذُهَا بِكَ
Furthermore this verse states that in response to her plea, God has bestowed upon Mary, female child, divine blessings where she was accepted into God’s protection, and the process of her upbringing and development was under the direct care of God’s Mercy and in the shadow of His Majesty; as seen in the following words:
3:37 And thereupon her Sustainer accepted the girl-child with goodly acceptance, and caused her to grow up in goodly growth,
فَتَقَبَّلَهَا رَبُّهَا بِقَبُولٍ حَسَنٍ وَأَنبَتَهَا نَبَاتًا حَسَنًا
This new divine social norm was absolutely a revolution in its time and its implementation was taken by God Himself. In order for God to prepare for the implementation of His new social command and order, He SW had to manifest His wondrous plan which was revealed through the same social order and values which was adopted by people at the time and perhaps nowadays, that is through prestige and high status in society. Hence God had placed the new female child, Mary (as) in the guardianship of a powerful prestigious priest, Prophet Zachariah (as) It was through the honourable status of Zachariah among his people this new social norm, of allowing females in temples to serve the Lord, was made possible and then implemented.
“and placed her in the care of Zachariah-3:37″…..(2)
It is worth noting here that any new social norm when it is introduced often faces fierce resistance by the majority of people because it may threaten many aspects of life which is related to the old social norm, such as prestige, fame, interests, of the majority or at least by those who are directly benefiting from such distorted social norms. Thus in this case this new social norm which is declared by God requires some powerful force to guaranty its implementation with the least and ineffective resistance and rejection by the majority. Hence God has intervened to implement this new social norm, through the status of Zachariah that is to present females as worthy human beings in serving Him in the holy places. It is worth noting here to the real challenge which faces our Muslim women in the Mosques today throughout the world. These negative treatments in the places 0f worship, which faces Muslim females unfortunately still, exist and is very much prevalent particularly in the Muslim world and in many parts of the western world among Muslim communities. Muslim women are often intimidated by Muslim males in the mosques and they are made to feel unwelcomed and as second class believers, by imposing many strict rules in respect to their movements in and around the mosque and their participations in the affairs and the various religious and educational programs of the mosque. And to reiterate the main causes of such social problems, which are discussed in my previous article “Female in Islam I”
Are male and female equal or not?
Well according to verse 3:36 they are not equal. This verse clearly states that “and the male is not like the female; 3:36” that is male and female cannot be equal beings in respect to their roles in society rather they are two facets to one reality. They are interdependent upon each other and they complete each other in respect to their existence. Hence advocating equality between males and females is actually committing injustice to both parties, because the concept of equality, in this context, is only valid and can be applied only to two different and independent entities, but they are not as such. Therefore it is fairer for both parties to clearly define their proper role and purpose in this world and to sincerely identify the proper universal relationship which link them both in order to serve the human family. So calling for equality between male and female is an absurd notion and will serve neither parties nor society as a whole, and will hinder their essential role in this world. We must however call for the natural rights moral obligations of each other and towards each other, and their natural role in society. And we must call for the reunification of both genders into their human reality and to remind them of their divine connection and their unity of their soul “who created you from one soul and from it created its mate-Quran 4:1” And it is only through kind of definition both parties will appreciate each other and consequently will transform both entities as two parts of the same thing so that both parts will coordinate and cooperate to work together for a bigger purpose than both of them that is the human family…..
Please see: Female in Islam part I
Also see Female in Islam III
(1) Muhammad Assad Note 25 (Quran Ref: 3:36 ) Lit., “and the male is not [or “could not be”] like the female”. Zamakhshari reads these words as forming part of the parenthetic sentence relating to God’s knowledge, and explains them thus: “The male [child] which she had prayed for could not have been like the female which she was granted” – which implies that Mary’s excellence would go far beyond any hopes which her mother had ever entertained.(Quran Ref: 3:36 )
(2) Muhammad Assad; ( Note 26 (Quran Ref: 3:37 ) As is evident from verse 44 of this surah, the guardianship of Mary was entrusted to Zachariah – who was not only her relative but also a priest attached to the Temple – after lots had been drawn to decide which of the priests should have the responsibility for this girl who, in consequence of her mother’s vow, was to be dedicated to Temple service (Tabari).(Quran Ref: 3:37 )