By Nikhat Sattar
May 09, 2015
A notice on the door of a travel agency office in Doha, Qatar said: “Women are not allowed entry.” Seeing this, I was reminded of the bygone times when, in the subcontinent, boards asking “dogs and Indians” to keep out of European establishments were reportedly put up.
Women in Pakistan, too, are often considered beings that are not to be seen, heard or spoken to. They often face discrimination at many stages of their lives, and must either grin and bear it, or give in, adopting the stereotyped roles that men (as well as a large number of women) decide are best for them. They are deemed to be inferior beings who can be patronised or ignored at best, but more often repressed, at home and in public. Instead of building strength of character and reinforcing mutual respect between genders, society tends to blame women.
Religious sermons focusing on the “desirable” behaviour of women are common in homes, on TV and in gatherings. “Maulanas” despair over the independence “they” have given to women, deriding efforts to grant them equal rights.
Social media abounds in sayings, many related to women and what they should, or should not, do. Claims are made that women shall go to hell in larger numbers than men. One of the most commonly practised behaviours in our society is of the closing of mosques to women, or banishing them to unlit, small spaces where they can hardly fit. The gender apartheid, taken to extremes in the Arab world, has reached alarming levels. In short, a woman’s personal, intellectual and collective space is obstructed through demands that have little to do with the morality that Islam has ingrained in us.
A look at the Quran and an analysis of some related Ahadith would explain how Muslims have, in practice, distorted the teachings of this religion. In the words of the scholar Tariq Ramadan: “It is not Islam that has a problem with women. However, it is true that many Muslim men have problems with women”.
Men and women are born from the same spirit, contrary to the commonly held belief that Eve was created from the rib of Adam. The Holy Quran says: “O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.”
Each must respond to the same requirement from God, to reflect, learn and ponder, and do good deeds. People forget that while both are different in the way each perceives the world, both have the same needs, aspirations, responsibility for self and society. Both need physical and intellectual space to grow as individuals and as groups. Each is an individual, with freedom of choice and accountability to God.
The Quran also says: “...Never will I allow to be lost the work of (any) worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another.” Only those beings, be they men or women, would be higher in status who are better in piety and goodness. There is nothing in the Quran which implies that a woman is less intelligent or less moral than a man.
The instances when women have been instrumental in creating chaos on earth (fasad fil ard) are few. The reported Hadith quoted about the large number of women in hell, relates to an occasion when the Holy Prophet was advising some women who were in the habit of frequent cursing in those days.
The Quran does not forbid women from going to the mosque. It has not said so, and it was never a practice during the days of the Prophet and the caliphs, for women not to attend “mixed” gatherings. It is not a religious requirement for women to wear the Hijab, or to cover their heads. Women can perform Haj or Umrah without male relatives, if the environment is safe.
The Quran asks for observing decency and modesty in dress and interactions, never crossing the boundaries that are laid out. This must be observed by both genders. Islam is a universal faith, at the individual and collective levels. It has given broad guidelines to people to reflect on, and develop into systems and practices, according to the changing norms of society. Just as democracy would be the best form of Islamic governance, respecting and garnering the immense potential of women as equal citizens would be the mark of a true Islamic society.
Nikhat Sattar is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion