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Women in Islam – Are Women Inferior to Men? Part III: The Standard

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The following piece is by Yasmeen Mogahed:

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A Woman’s Reflection on Leading Prayer

On March 18, 2005, Amina Wadud led the first female-led jum`ah (Friday) prayer. On that day, women took a huge step towards being more like men. But did we come closer to actualizing our God-given liberation?

I don’t think so.

What we so often forget is that God has honored the woman by giving her value in relation to God—not in relation to men. But as Western feminism erases God from the scene, there is no standard left—except men. As a result, the Western feminist is forced to find her value in relation to a man. And in so doing, she has accepted a faulty assumption. She has accepted that man is the standard, and thus a woman can never be a full human being until she becomes just like a man.

When a man cut his hair short, she wanted to cut her hair short. When a man joined the army, she wanted to join the army. She wanted these things for no other reason than because the “standard” had it.

What she didn’t recognize was that God dignifies both men and women in their distinctiveness – not their sameness. And on March 18, Muslim women made the very same mistake.

For 1400 years there has been a consensus of the scholars that men are to lead prayer. As a Muslim woman, why does this matter? The one who leads prayer is not spiritually superior in any way. Something is not better just because a man does it. And leading prayer is not better, just because it’s leading. Had it been the role of women or had it been more divine, why wouldn’t the Prophet ﷺ have asked Ayesha or Khadija, or Fatima—the greatest women of all time—to lead? These women were promised heaven—and yet they never led prayer.

But now, for the first time in 1400 years, we look at a man leading prayer and we think, “That’s not fair.” We think so although God has given no special privilege to the one who leads. The imam is no higher in the eyes of God than the one who prays behind.

On the other hand, only a woman can be a mother. And God has given special privilege to a mother. The Prophet ﷺ taught us that heaven lies at the feet of mothers. But no matter what a man does he can never be a mother. So why is that not unfair?

When asked, “Who is most deserving of our kind treatment?” the Prophet ﷺ replied, “Your mother” three times before saying “your father” only once. Is that sexist? No matter what a man does he will never be able to have the status of a mother.
And yet, even when God honors us with something uniquely feminine, we are too busy trying to find our worth in reference to men to value it—or even notice. We, too, have accepted men as the standard; so anything uniquely feminine is, by definition, inferior. Being sensitive is an insult, becoming a mother—a degradation. In the battle between stoic rationality (considered masculine) and selfless compassion (considered feminine), rationality reigns supreme.

As soon as we accept that everything a man has and does is better, all that follows is a knee-jerk reaction: if men have it, we want it too. If men pray in the front rows, we assume this is better, so we want to pray in the front rows too. If men lead prayer, we assume the imam is closer to God, so we want to lead prayer too. Somewhere along the line we’ve accepted the notion that having a position of worldly leadership is some indication of one’s position with God.

A Muslim woman does not need to degrade herself in this way. She has God as a standard. She has God to give her value; she doesn’t need a man.

In fact, in our crusade to follow men, we as women never even stopped to examine the possibility that what we have is better for us. In some cases we even gave up what was higher only to be like men.

Fifty years ago, society told us that men were superior because they left the home to work in factories. We were mothers. And yet, we were told that it was women’s liberation to abandon the raising of another human being in order to work on a machine. We accepted that working in a factory was superior to raising the foundation of society—just because a man did it.

Then, after working, we were expected to be superhuman—the perfect mother, the perfect wife, the perfect homemaker—and have the perfect career. And while there is nothing wrong, by definition, with a woman having a career, we soon came to realize what we had sacrificed by blindly mimicking men. We watched as our children became strangers and soon recognized the privilege we’d given up.

And so only now—given the choice—women in the West are choosing to stay home to raise their children. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, only 31 percent of mothers with babies, and 18 percent of mothers with two or more children, are working full-time. And of those working mothers, a survey conducted by Parenting Magazine in 2000, found that 93% of them say they would rather be at home with their kids, but are compelled to work due to ‘financial obligations.’ These ‘obligations’ are imposed on women by the gender sameness of the modern West, and removed from women by the gender distinctiveness of Islam.

It took women in the West almost a century of experimentation to realize a privilege given to Muslim women 1400 years ago.

Given my privilege as a woman, I only degrade myself by trying to be something I’m not – and in all honesty – don’t want to be: a man. As women, we will never reach true liberation until we stop trying to mimic men, and value the beauty in our own God-given distinctiveness.

If given a choice between stoic justice and compassion, I choose compassion. And if given a choice between worldly leadership and heaven at my feet—I choose heaven.

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Peace to you all.

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Women in Islam – Are Women Inferior to Men? Part I: Roles

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Are you new to Islam? Or perhaps you are just learning more about Islam? Wait, perhaps you are a Muslim but consider certain aspects of Islam as ‘extreme’ or ‘backward’ or ‘cultural’?

Whether you are Muslim or not, there are a number of misconceptions out there – some of which relate to the outward appearance of Muslims and others relate to our way of life – Shariah law, striving in the path of Allah Ta’aala, communications with others, etc. One other misconception relates to the place women hold in Islam, and hence in the community or ummah.

It could be that when you think of ‘Islam’ images of women in niqab or burqah come to mind. Perhaps you have put those thoughts/images together with others such as female genital mutilation, certain legal rulings, and family violence. Perhaps you are under the impression that Muslim women who are out-of-the-public view and covered are somehow oppressed, wronged, demeaned… crushed. Then again, perhaps you have no such thoughts or your thoughts are positive or neutral.

Whatever your current conceptions of a woman’s place in Islam may be, I hope you will receive this effort clear and pure – leaving any and all pre-conceptions and baggage out – and truly try to understand the position of Muslims who strive to live by the covenant with Allah Ta’aala for His pleasure, by following the example of the best of His creation – the beloved Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم‎ . Insha’Allah,  over the next few posts, I will share information on the issue of women in Islam taken from various sources.

So please, sit back and relax… a stiff back, eyebrows pulled together, wrinkled forehead, face jutting forward, and arms crossed are not conducive to reception… relax and try to absorb the words through a filter of positivity. Open up those channels such body tension locks out.

Okay, there… alhamdulillah, much better. Here we go then – I’ll start with a piece I wrote elsewhere and tidied up for this post:

Bismillahirrahmanirrahim (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful)

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The roles of men and women are beautifully delegated by Allah Ta’aal, in Islam. One way to look at the clear-cut differences between the roles is:

Women are truly blessed in marriages that live up to Islamic standards. Women bear children, nurse children, nurture children, care for coming generations; and care for the sick and elderly as well. Men aren’t absolved of responsibility. On the contrary, men bear the full responsibility of ensuring the proper tarbiyyah (development, upbringing, training) of their children; an overly harsh father can drive a child away, and a father who isn’t careful can be negligent in his duties. Hence the careful choice of spouse for each – man and woman – is crucial.

The relations between women and men are so intertwined with kindness, mercy, patience and forgiveness that it is truly amazing, awe inspiring. I see proper marriage as a favour from Allah (SWT) – and which of His favours will we deny? (~see Surah Rahman). Man is given an opportunity to be patient and kind towards his wife and children, to be merciful towards them and to forgive them their differences and shortcomings. Women are given the same opportunity with their husbands and children. We are human and we all have our shortcomings but marriage and marital relations is one area of struggle – striving in the path of Allah Ta’aala – where jannah (paradise) has been promised so that should tell us how important such relations are. Relations between women and men are not minor details that can be taken for granted. Relations between women and men are not child’s play. Nor is it an area to exercise oppression through.

Anyone, placing the hand on the heart, who has endured heartache after ‘play’, endured mistreatment, endured broken relations and marriages, knows the shortcomings and can clearly see where their (and the other person’s) kindness, patience, mercy and forgiveness may have been lacking. Careful planning and pure intentions are a must to protect ourselves, our families and our communities from ills that come by way of haste, infatuation, desire, impatience and so on.

And Allah Ta’aala knows best.

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Until the next post, peace to you all.