Female in Islam III
The impact of negative social norms on females
Prestige and posterity of family are inclusive to Males!
The ancient social norm of males as sign of strength and continuation of family lineage is still very prevalent today throughout the world. In the Muslim world, however, this belief is quiet different than it is in the western world. Males are seen as the only way for keeping the name, prestige and strength of family throughout generations. This practice has taken a more negative twist in many parts of the Muslim Arab world that is they tend to address the fathers by their male children names preceded by the term “abu” and refuse to use the name of their females in the same way. They call themselves after the oldest male’s name. In fact in some parts of the Arab world today it is still considered a shameful practice to call someone by his female child’s name, even if she happens to be the oldest of children. And this practice get even worse in the case of a father who has female children only, and to avoid such shame, he is forced and obliged, by his tribal or community rules to introduce a fictitious name of male so that he could be addressed, by his community and refuses to be addressed by his oldest female child.
This is certainly represents a despicable act and degrading for females. In fact recently I have experienced this situation in our community with someone I know. I had always known him by his “kunya- by his son’s name” that is to call him as father of (the son’s name) or as in the traditional Arabic “abu (followed by his son’s first name” for example; if the son’s first name was Adam then the father is called “abu Adam” and so on. So one day I learnt by a third party that this friend has no sons at all rather he has six girls and yet he let people call him after a fictitious male name. Then I was very upset and asked him why he would resort to such a thing then he said I really would like to be called after my oldest daughter’s name but my community would not be happy with it and I am not prepared to go against the social norms of my community. Then I told him you shouldn’t be intimidated by anyone on the account of your children’s respect, dignity and humanity. He was very surprised with my stand and he told me that “this is the first time I have a desire and feel the sense of honour to be called after my oldest daughter’s first name”. So I told him from now on I will be the first to call you after your oldest daughter’s name and he was very happy about it.
Now the point I am trying to make here is that Muslim females are still psychologically oppressed through these inherited bad social values which are designed to denigrate female and place them as second class humans and further strengthen the notion of male domination in the world. And unfortunately Muslim women today seem to have learned to cope with such negative practice because no one listens anyway or perhaps she would face an desirable consequences. And in most cases, where it is practiced at least, this practice had settled deep inside the subconscious of females to the point it has become a normal practice and females no longer protest it nor is able to see its negative consequences upon the status of women. In other words they have surrendered to this reality. Perhaps I would not be surprised to know some females may not agree with me regarding these facts, because, from a psychological stand point, they could be in denial of such facts due to the long term subjugation to this negative practice.
Female’s change of identity upon marriage!
On the other hand this negative social norm is also very much alive and embraced among the western society members in respect to marriages. Usually western females and as well many Muslims females, change their family names to their new husband’s family names. This practice seems to have been imposed and practiced upon females for centuries which have become part of their psyche and appear to be acceptable among western females and many Muslim females as well, without realizing its implications upon their dignity and their status in respect to man. I believe that females in doing so make them complicit in the male domination concept in the world. Why is it that a female is born and raised for so many years by her parent then suddenly there comes a man, a complete stranger and wed their daughter and takes her away from her family and deprive her (or she voluntarily changes her name) of the only thing that represents her family who gave her existence? Although in recent years some westerners began abandoning this chauvinistic practice in keeping their family names after marriage.
One thing I would like to clarify here is that there is nothing wrong when society decide to adopt a specific social system to facilitate their daily transactions and social laws, such as having children assuming their father names and not mothers. If this is a common and desired agreement among society members then let it be and the Quran dose not denounce such way, but society should not attribute any preference or superiority to males as a reason for their embracing such social norms so that it would have a psychological consequences upon females and further substantiate male’s status over females.
This negative social behaviour was very prevalent and common in Arabia during the Prophet Muhammad’s time and he himself was subjected to it. The holy Quran addresses such issue in the most powerful way in Surat alkawthar 108:1-3;108:1 BEHOLD, We have bestowed upon thee good in abundance: 108:2 hence, pray unto thy Sustainer, and raise your hands to your neck (in’har) (5). 108:3 Lo! It is thy insulter (and not thou) who is cut off (without posterity).
This divine declaration is the shortest Surah in the Quran of which God have mesmerized the Arabs with its profound eloquence and multifaceted meanings despite its being very short Surah which made the elite of the Arabs speechless (3)”.
Quran commentators have given a wide range of different meanings to the term “alkawthar– good in abundance (1) however despite those many offered meanings and certainly are to be beautiful and valid and they represent an esoteric or abstract stand point but we also must look into another legitimate meaning which is determined by the subject matter, and it is conveyed by the last verse of this Surah, which states that; “Lo! It is thy insulter who is cut off”. In other words in order for the third verse to be meaningful and relevant the subject matter and cause of revelation of this Surah should be related to the notion of offspring of the prophet in general-almizan Quran commentary (4). Although this opinion is very reasonable, but I believe we could be more specific that is to narrow it down, because the notion of offspring in general-as suggested by almizan commentary, is not necessarily inclusive to Prophet Muhammad for all men share this aspect. Therefore I believe that it is not so much related to the offspring notion in general; that is to include both genders. Rather it is something else related to the main exoteric message of this verse, in respect to this world, that is the notion of one type of gender of children or offspring. This notion is precisely in reference to females and not necessarily in reference to all offspring that is males and females. Because we can see from verse 108:3 that the insulter must have possessed male children, otherwise he would not direct such insult upon the Prophet had he not have a male child , from his perspective at least. Hence it is the female gender to be the main theme of this Surah, from an exoteric stand point, and a comparison is laid out between the two genders in respect to society’s perception of the main sources of its good and prosperity.
In other word the verse alludes to the incident where the prophet was insulted because God did not grant him male children and it is a known fact that the prophet was granted females only. So there appear to be a comparison being made here between males and females genders and how they are perceived in respect to the notion of lineage and posterity of family and society. The Arabs attribute good and posterity to having males alone but not to females. And this fact was brought out against the prophet of Islam, and then God revealed this Surat to strongly condemn this negative social norm. And God has introduced a remarkable new social notion which was not understood then and now, that is it is not necessarily accurate to attribute prestige, good and continuation of lineage to males of society alone and negate the role of female in this equation. As if God is telling us that the common notion that such attributes are attained through having males is not valid for the Prophet has no males rather he was granted females only and yet those attributes are attained. Then God SW declared:
108:1 BEHOLD, We have bestowed upon thee good in abundance:
Inna a’ataynak a alkawthar a إِنَّا أَعْطَيْنَاكَ الْكَوْثَرَ 108:1
In addition to the various esoteric meanings of al-kawthar as stated by “Razi’ where he states that “al-kawthar obviously relates to the abundant bestowal on the Prophet of all that is good in an abstract, spiritual sense, like revelation, knowledge, wisdom, the doing of good works, and dignity in this world and in the hereafter” However we can see clearly that in this declaration, in respect to the subject matter of this Surah, God has defined females to be a source of abundant good, love, compassion which never cease, as the term “al-kawthar” implies. Furthermore, according to traditions, the term “al-kawthar (1)” means “river in paradise” this means that , on a higher level of understanding, one of the various aspects of this divine fountain in paradise is a representation of the higher reality of the righteous females, in the hereafter.
The Almighty, the most Wise, have decreed that no male child have survived to our beloved Prophet Muhammad. Certainly we can see some aspect of the divine wisdom in this decree which was manifested to mankind in favour of females and one of the many lessons to learn from this reality-the prophet not having males children, is to give mankind a precedent to restore the dignity of females and to redefine the notion of prestige and posterity of society which is not necessarily exclusive to males, if not to females alone. This divine reality which was decreed by God was seen by the Arabs as a shameful thing and as reason of someone’s termination of lineage and goodness in society. So as a result the prophet was ridiculed for not having male children and he was addressed by a negative title which is often employed when someone do not have male children to signify his inability to continue his prestige, reputation and good. And this title is “al-abtar” which Literally means “it is he that is cut off (2)”.
Furthermore, God considers having females is good and blessed news for He had commanded his messenger to celebrate this event in offering prayer:
108:2 hence, pray unto thy Sustainer, and raise your hands (in supplication) (5).
Fasalli lirabbika wainhar فَصَلِّ لِرَبِّكَ وَانْحَرْ
It is worth noting here that the majority, if not all, Quran commentators have rendered the meaning of the Arabic term “in’har” as “to sacrifice” which is found in all Quran translations. But in this situation I have presented a different meaning that is to be as “raise your hands” and this meaning is based on one of the listed possible meanings of the opinions offered by the two most renown Muslim Quran scholars who are belong to both major Muslim school of thoughts, and these are; “tafseer al Razi, Sunni scholar” and “almizan, Shi’a scholar” and both have reported such possible meaning, that is “raise your hands to your neck” which was based on traditions, along with other meanings such as “to sacrifice”. Hence I have chosen such possible meaning, above. Such meaning I believe is more reasonable than the other common meaning; that is “to sacrifice” because we see that the verse mentions two commands that is “to pray and to in’har” if we were to take the most common meaning for the term “in’har” that is “to sacrifice” then this follows that God is commanding the prophet of two commands; the first one is to offer prayer and second one is to offer sacrifice. Then this follows that we know offering prayers was limited to five times per day and this follows that sacrifice also should be accompanying the act of prayer or we must offer sacrifice as many times as prayers which should be equal to five sacrifices. This scenario is clearly not part of our Islamic religious obligations nor it is a Quranic command. Furthermore, there was no mention of the object to be sacrificed after the command “to sacrifice” In other words, such common meaning, the verse could have been worded something like this; “and sacrifice a sheep or cattle” or something along those lines. Hence according to those mentioned commentators, I believe that this suggested meaning which is rendered above for “in’har“, that is to be as “raise your hands”, is to represent a divine directive in respect to the method of praying, that is to teach the believers how to perform the prayers, rather it is to be taken as a command to “sacrifice”
The holy Quran records this incident, stated in Surah 108, in a beautiful and unprecedented way which does not conform to the common social norms of the Arabs at the time, and God SW has categorically rejected such notion which considers not having males is a sign of being cut off from society’s prestige and good. God has expressed His rejection in the most powerful way that is to return back the allegations, which is considered insult and ridicule, at the person who would evoke and sanction such horrible notion against females;
108:3 Lo! It is thy insulter (and not thou) who is cut off (without posterity.
Inna shaniaka huwa alabtaru إِنَّ شَانِئَكَ هُوَ الْأَبْتَرُ 108:3
Who is the “abtar” or “cut off” in the true sense?
Here God is stating very important fact that is in reality society have got it backward in considering someone who do not have male children as being cut off or “abtar” rather it is the way around. If there is any prestige and good in society is because of the female direct contribution and influence upon the character of males who are born and nurtured in the laps of females. So in order for securing the proper and moral character of males they ought to be brought up by righteous females to insure the prosperity of society. Hence God was very swift and precise in condemning such notion and that God did not necessarily return such allegation upon the insulter for the sake of returning an insult. This is not how He, the Most high, defends His messengers and He does not resort to a typical human method of returning insults back at the insulter. Rather God is stating a beautiful fact that in reality the continuation of good in society emanates from females and not males. Females are the source of giving love, compassion and moral values to their children, males and females, which are fundamental to the good, posterity, honor, prestige to be claimed by males. So men must look at this issue in the proper order that is to acknowledge that whatever good, honor, prestige, morality, honorable lineage is perceived to be attained or claimed, by males, is initially nurtured through mothers and then it becomes man’s moral obligations to uphold these teachings which are entrusted with them by their mothers.
Someone may think that I am suggesting here that those men who do not have female children are not blessed-this concern may present itself based on the analysis given above in respect to the term “al-kawthar” which is to be in favor to females. Does it mean that those who do not have female children are to be labeled “abtar” or “cut off” as the verse 3 implies? Well the answer to this is absolutely NO. What I am suggesting here is that God referring to the perverted notion of attributing all good and its continuation in society, to males. God clearly refuted such perception and instead He reminded us of the actual reality of such notion, as explained. So if a man has no female children, but only males, then he must acknowledge that any good or prestige to be passed on to his male children is nurtured and overflowing from the mother of his children. However if such men fail to acknowledge such fundamental element then they earn the title of “abtar-cut off” , not for the lack of having female gender rather for such perverted perception which negate the true source of goodness, morality and prestige. Certainly this kind of twisted perception will have negative consequences upon the psyche of mothers and consequently will profoundly influence the child mother relationship. It will definitely produce negative consequences upon the environment which is essential for the moral character and well being of the child upbringing. Hence such reality will be passed on to the children, males in this case, then there will be not much good or posterity, in the true sense, for the family to claim and to boast about. Hence such men will surely be cut off from this anticipated “abundant good” in the true sense and he will earn the title “abtar” even though he does not have female children.
Some may ask that the majority if not all Muslim commentators and many traditions have a different approach and meanings (see note 1) regarding to the notion of “kawthar” and one of which is defined as “a river in paradise” And I say to this that there is no conflict between the two approaches because all of the other suggested meanings are various dimensions of it and they are all legitimate and beautiful but the approach I took is mainly influenced by the main theme of the verse as mentioned above.
Females are one aspect of “al-kawthar”
This Surah,108 presents very important fact in respect to females that is females are an essential elements of society’s posterity , honour, prestige, success, peace and all of the main fundamental principles of society’s progress, for females bring up all society members and a source of love and compassion which is fundamental to all human beings’ healthy developments. It is worth mentioning here that the term “nation” which translates into Arabic as “ummah”, is derived from the word “umm” which literally means “mother” Hence there is a fundamental relationship between “umm” and “ummah” or “mother” and “nation” respectively which truly signify the fundamental role of females or mothers in respect to society’s healthy direction.
(1) Muhammad Assad Note 1 (Quran Ref: 108:1)The term kawthar is an intensive form of the noun kathrah (Zamakhshari), which, in its turn, denotes “copiousness”, “multitude” or “abundance”; it also occurs as an adjective with the same connotation (Qamus, Lisan al-Arab, etc.). In the above context, which is the sole instance of its use in the Qur’an, al-kawthar obviously relates to the abundant bestowal on the Prophet of all that is good in an abstract, spiritual sense, like revelation, knowledge, wisdom, the doing of good works, and dignity in this world and in the hereafter (Razi); with reference to the believers in general, it evidently signifies the ability to acquire knowledge, to do good works, to be kind towards all living beings, and thus to attain to inner peace and dignity
(2) Muhammad Assad notes; Lit., “it is he that is cut off (abtar)”. The addition, between brackets, of the phrase “from all that is good” is based on an explanation forthcoming from the Qamus
(3) Abdul’al almawdoody states in his Quran commentary, that Muhammad bin Ishaq says: “Whenever the Prophet (upon whom be peace) was mentioned before As bin Wa’il as-Sehmi, the chief of Makkah, he used to say: Let him alone for he is only a childless man (abtar) with no male offspring. When he dies, there will be no one to remember him.” (Ibn Jarir) Ibn Sa’d and lbn Asakir have related that Hadrat Abdullah bin Abbas said; “The eldest son of the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) was Qasim; next to him was Zainab, next to her Hadrat Abdullah and next to him three daughters, viz. Umm Kulthum, Fatimah and Ruqayyah. Of them first Hadrat Qasim died and then Hadrat Abdullah. Thereupon As bin Wail said: “His line has come to an end: now he is abtar (i. e. cut of from root).”Some traditions add that As said “Muhammad is abtar: he has no son to succeed him. When he dies, his memory will perish and you will be rid of him.”The tradition from Ibn Abbas, which Abd bin Humaid has related, shows that Abu Jahl also had said similar words on the death of the Holy Prophet’s son, Abdullah. Ibn Abi Hatim has related on the authority of Shmir bin Atiyyah that the same kind of meanness was shown by Uqbah bin Abi Mu’ait by rejoicing at this bereavement of the Holy Prophet. Ata says that when the second son of the Holy Prophet died, his own uncle, Abu Lahab (whose house was next to his) hastened to the pagans and gave them the “good news”: Batira Muhammadun al-lail:”Muhammad has become childless this night, or he is cut off from root.”
(4) Almizan commentary by Allama tabtibai’i
(5) The Arabic term “in’har” derived from “na’hr” which denotes “frontal part of neck where the animal ‘s slaughter is performed” so according to almizan commentary who states; “Imam jafar al Sadiq states that this term “in’har” is a command to raise the two hands, and placed them close to the neck behind the ear to signify the beginning of prayer or to place them, faced up in front of the neck near the chin when preforming supplications in the middle of prayers”. In other words God commanded the prophet at the early stage of Islam the proper steps to perform prayer that is when Muslims begin their prayer they are asked to recite the “azan” and after that they raise the hands close to the neck and behind the ear which is to signify entering the sacred prayer when the statement “Allah akbar” is invoked loudly and then prayers begin. Or raising the hands together face up and putting them in front of the neck and beneath the chin. And similar opinion is rendered by Tabari, and bahrul’aloom alsamar’qandi-378 after hijra. Therefore I have taken such meaning into consideration which is reflected into the translation of 108:02 above. Although all English translations of this verse render the term”in’har ” as “sacrifice” which could be considered as another possible meaning.