Friday, 22 May 2009

Universal Gender Equality?

The Government’s recent counter terrorism strategy, Contest 2, has not only clearly set forward what constitutes as terrorism when it comes to Muslims, but also what values we should hold. What ‘extremism’ is, is no longer a sketchy phrase twisted by whoever uses it – It now has a clear definition of a Muslim who carries ideas that do not fit in with the liberal secular views of the West, and includes objection to homosexuality and belief in Shariah law. This agenda therefore in moulding the Muslim, is very much upon the values more than anything. And for Muslim women, there is nothing more dangerous than their call to abandon the values of the Islamic social laws and take upon the Western values of gender equality. The former Home Secretary, John Reid, told a Muslim audience in September 2006:

Our fight is with those who do not share our values and who use terror to try and force us to accept theirs. When I say values, I mean those values based on our shared humanity on our shared understanding of the rights to life, equality, justice and opportunity, the principles of devotion to family and to society, and to faith, to good works, to good deeds, to charity.

‘Equality’ here is assumed to be a value the whole of humanity undoubtedly take on, and a value as he goes onto say is synonymous with good families, society and general goodness. That is an absolution sweeping assumption, that most do not question - But what I want to pledge today, is that, please, women, do question.
Tessa Jowell, the then Culture Secreatary, commented on the veil fiasco ignited by Jack Straw by saying that veiled women were failing to take a full place in society and that ‘equality for women’ was something integral which ‘We fought generations for’. The Government have therefore been trying to lure Muslim women out of their shells, into the world of gender equality with a whole host of measures. The Muslim Women’s Advisory Group, set up by the Home Office, has been active since the July bombings, providing the Home Office with insight into the world of Muslim women and the community. This advisory group most recently launched a massive programme called, ‘Play your part – Make your mark’, to try and get more Muslim women active in British public life, from becoming school Governors to actual politicians.

Behind the mask of being active in your community, the Government is attempting to entice Muslim women to leave their unique social standing given by Islam, and adopt a value which the West have ‘fought generations for’. By using Muslim women themselves to take this call out to the community, through seemingly innocuous calls such as help your community, the Government has been able to pressure and lure Muslim women to take on roles just like men – As of course, women are drawn as when packaged like this, we all want to fulfil our potential and give our due to our communities and our children. As it is not about being involved in the community, the problem I have with the whole agenda is the sweeping assumtion that somehow the lifestyles of specifically Muslim women, needs altering, and it is the values of therefore Muslim women that need changing. Cmon we all know that a lack of political participation and activism in society is absolutely shameful within the cruxes of mainstream British societies.

Therefore we need to understand in its entirety what this ‘gender equality’ is actually about and not fall for the rosy picture painted for us all. As Tessa Jowell very nicely pointed out, the idea of ‘gender equality’ arose actually out of the hostile battle women had to undergo in the West to simply attain certain rights for themselves in this society. Women in the West were faced with the inability to vote, leave a violent husband, own property and had poor rights in education and employment. Women were seen as lesser to men, having lesser mental capacity to be active in public life. It was therefore brave women who took it upon themselves to fight these oppressive circumstances and battle against the establishment and men, attempting to grab everything men had and were entitled to. It is this battle which has evolved to today, where women still feel on the defensive, fighting to have everything and be everything men are despite the consequences; and whether this is even the right thing to actually do.

The battle for equality has meant, that women in society have lost value for who they are as women, but are constantly trying to live upto the roles of men and thus contribute to the economy – as this is set as the measure of achievement. It means that women feel in order to be valued and feel successful, they must work – Whether this be delaying a family until an age when they regret not being able to conceive, or after having children assigning their care to other than themselves in the name of trying to still feel successful. Therefore how can this idea of equality lead to the successful building of the family and therefore society, when family incessantly becomes a second class priority?

Gender equality does not appreciate, in the workplace or in the home, the innate differences of the sexes rather ignores them leaving women to suffer. As when working women do bring home an income just like their partner, they find that the equality attitude does not stretch that far when it comes to the home. The majority of the housework still needs to be fitted in by them. An Oxford University study in 2001 showed that whether a woman works or not, this has little impact on the predominant amount of housework a woman does.The fact that better flexible working conditions for mothers and better maternity rights has also been a more recent ongoing battle shows how gender neutral laws and policies have done little to actually cater for the woman. And therefore women have been forced to betray equality in its essence in calling for such policies, just in order to survive in the workplace.

Thus the reality is real gender equality does not actually exist in society. This can be shown moreso in the fact that the gender pay gap between men and women still exists despite the lengthy equality battle so far - A study by the Office for National Statistics last year, claimed that this gap had widened to 17.1%. A report by the Equal Opportunities Commission in 2004 showed that women still faced a ‘glass ceiling’ when it came to progressing to senior positions in a variety of sectors. Finally equality in no way, has guaranteed the honour of women in society – A recent Home Office report found that there were over 650,000 reported cases of domestic violence in the last year, three times more than the previous year. Clearly the current viewpoint towards women in society is not working and it is time we look towards a viewpoint and solution which will guarantee women peace and tranquility and maintain their honour.

Islam views men and women in a totally different light to the West. In the eyes of Allah SWT, the Creator of mankind; all Muslims, men or women are equal in their intellect and in their ability to accrue good deeds:
Indeed the Muslim men and Muslim women, and the believing men and the believing women, and the men who obey and the women who obey, and the truthful men and the truthful women, and the patient men and the patient women, and the humble men and the humble women, and charitable men and the charitable women, and the fasting men and the fasting women, and the men who guard their chastity and the women who guard their chastity, and the men who profusely remember Allah and the women who profusely remember Allah – for all of them, Allah has kept prepared forgiveness and an immense reward.’ Surah Ahzab 35

However when it comes to men and women, Islam looks at the overall needs of society as well as individuals. Both men and women have the right to vote, have a political voice, have access to justice and are punished in the same way, as these are things are gender irrelevant. However when it comes to the family unit, the centrepoint of society and the role of men and women within this, Islam takes a unique view which places the good of the community and society before greedy desires of individuals and establishments.

Allah SWT designated different roles for men and women, according to their different needs and abilities. Women have therefore been given the primary role of looking after the home and family, whilst the father is given the role of the breadwinner and the guardian of the family. The Prophet SAW said:
‘Each of you is a guardian and each is resonsible for those under his care. A ruler is a guardian, a man is a guardian of his family, a woman is the guardian of her husband’s house and children. For each of you is a guardian and each of you is responsible for those under his care. ‘ (Bukhari and Muslim)

Neither role is better or lesser than the other, but each plays a vital role in society to build it prosperously and each role is valued for its contribution. Under the Islamic Khilafah rather, being a wife and a mother is not a cause for ridicule or failure, rather is looked at with great admiration by society as the Prophet SAW said, ‘Paradise lies at the feet of the mother’ and He SAW said of a virtuous wife, ‘The world and all things in it are precious, but the most precious of all is a virtuous wife’. Women would therefore not be pressured to juggle a career, home and family, just in order to feel successful; rather the Khilafah would deem a woman’s contributions to her family the best contribution she can make to society and value this. Muslim women therefore would not measure their contributions and successes against men, but by what Allah, their Creator, has prescribed for them.

Islam never set the status quo for women at a lower position than men, rather from the onset Islam enshrined the honour and value of women in an Islamic society as wives and mothers. Therefore there is no room under the Khilafah for derogatory attitudes towards women, treating them as commodities as is seen in the West. As the Prophet SAW warned the believers in his Last Sermon:
‘Fear Allah regarding women, they are a trust in your hands’
Therefore my dear sisters in Islam! Understand that this call for gender equality in the West may appear as giving you many rights and liberation, but in actual fact it will enslave you to the oppressive law of man and subjugate you. It is only the Deen of Allah SWT which can guarantee you value for who you are and the beautiful things you can contribute to the society around you.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

I am free to do what I want

In this society, many of us really believe we are free to do what we want with our lives. And being a teenager or young adult, brings with it a whole different perspective. Soon as we enter into the world of being a young person in this society, we are tempted to take on a whole outlook on the way we live life. Whether its going out to clubs and pubs, looking for no-strings-attached romance or being typically rebellious with family and authority; the attitude of just living by whatever takes ones fancy or gives one pleasure is a common one for teenagers.

In Western society, the youth have created as well as have been pushed into a niche where responsibility is a far concern as seeking pleasures is the only concern. Thus being sexually active without responsibility has grave consequences – Alfie Patten, the 13 year old who became a father was a shocking example of this. This is no surprise as a survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International in 2005 revealed that in the US, 27% 13 to 16 year olds and 41% of 14 to 15 year olds are sexually active. It is therefore no surprise that teenage pregnancies are a significant problem in the West, with the US and Britain having the highest rates.

Although the attitude of doing as one pleases exists in the West, the reality is that we live in a society, not in isolation. Therefore although some of us may interprete freedom in our lives as just trying to get a good job, have a decent career and start a stable family to make ourselves happy, another person may interprete this freedom in a totally different way. So making oneself happy for a rapist has a lot more of a disasterous consequence, although they have acted upon the same idea that we ourselves hold - the freedom to please ourselves. So if we really believe we all should be allowed to exercise our own freedoms as we live quite a decent and righteous life, then we should not have a problem with a rapist existing in our society too, who also has exercised his freedom.

Are you really free?

This is the question which many of us living in Western societies assume the answer to. However if we really ask ourselves this question we will find the answer to be in the negative. We are not at all really free. Although society promotes sexual freedom to satisfy ones desires, the British law requires that you must be above the age of 16 to do so. Although we believe we are free to dress in whatever way we please, be it a sack even if we chose, the reality is if you decided to walk down the street stark naked, you would be arrested. If you asked a newspaper to report some type of abuse about the Queen you would be told that it was not allowed.

Therefore it is clear we are not at all totally free – We are just free to the extent that society and the Government allow you to be. Therefore the question then begs, that if we are not free, but all live by a set of norms and rules, then what rules should we be following? The norms of a society which human beings have decided for themselves, or the norms and rules of the Creator who created our very bodies and souls?

Freedom causes you to think only about yourself

The desire to exercise their desires before anything else, damn any responsibility naturally fuels a certain mentality within young people. The endless quest to make oneself happy, makes people put their own desires first, above anyone elses.

The idea of individualism in society causes young people to just have fun without limits, without thinking about the impact on other people or on society. Individualism gives boys the licence to do behave sexually in whatever way they please, but never intend to commit to the girl they are intimate with. Individualism means a superficial desire of always wanting a pretty size 8 girlfriend, as a woman on a BBC reality TV show about single mothers disclosed, that her partner left her whilst she was 5 months pregnant because he felt she lost her ‘looks’. Individualism means parents who prioiritised their own career success or love life over the wellbeing of their children, as reported by the 2009 Children’s Society report; which has resulted in children being more anxious and unhappy.

The panel which produced the 2009 Children’s society report stated that the current ‘excessive individualism needs to be replaced by a value system where people seek satisfaction more from helping others rather than pursuing private advantage’. [1]

Western societies breed the idea of individualism as an idea people live by in society and you are told it does not matter how your actions affect others – if you are fine that’s all the matters. However this is not at all true as everything people do in society affects others – If a man is intimate with a woman and gets her pregnant and then does a runner, he not only affects the life of the woman who has to survive and bring up a child and fend for herself alone, but he also affects the life of the baby who grows up without having a father figure. Actions by individuals affects society, and this is the idea that must be understood by Western society for it to deal with the current social breakdown that is being witnessed in society.

Islam cares about others around you

There is a Hadith reported in Bukhari, narrated by Nu'man bin Basheer (ra) that the prophet (saw) said,
"The example of the one who stands for the Deen of Allah and the one who has left it are like the people in a boat, some of whom occupy the upper deck and some occupy the lower deck. Whenever those in the lower deck need water, they have to go to the upper deck to retrieve it. So some of them said, ‘why don't we make a hole in our deck so we do not harm the people of the upper deck?' If the people do not stop them, they will all fall and be failures, but if they stop them they will all be saved"
The Prophet SAW is here aliking the example of the situation of people needing to work together to keep a ship afloat, like people in society – If people just seek to fulfil their own needs and desires without thinking about everyone else, then eventually they will all sink. Islam therefore necessitates that we think about the community and society, as well as our own selves. Under the Islamic Khilafah, the social system of Islam necessitates that the agitation of the sexual instinct is totally removed from society, so that the society and community are protected from the ravages of unrestricted promiscuity which occur as a result of unrestricted freedom. The Prophet SAW said:
‘Oh you youngsters. Whoever amongst you who can afford to marry should marry, because it will help him more to lower his gaze and guard his modesty (i.e.chastity). And whoever is not able to marry he should fast, because it will be a protection for him’ (Bukhari and Muslim).
The stability and commitment of marriage is the place for the satisfaction of this instinct, so that it is not let loose in society.
We are slaves of Allah

The idea that we are free to do whatever we want and fulfil are desires in whatever way we want, is a total fallacy. If we have no freedom over the number of times our heart beats, how many electric impulses our brain sends and how much oxygen our lungs intake, how can we possibly believe that we are free to fulfil the needs and desires of our body in other respects, as discussed above? Clearly we have been created by Allah and are being kept alive by Allah, so how can we have the audacity to believe that when it comes to the areas of our needs where we have a choice, that Allah has no room to tell us what to do?

Rather Allah SWT has clearly told us in Surah Adh-Dhuriyat,

‘I have created jinn and man for no reason but to worship me’.

This makes clear that whether it is the involuntary or ivoluntary needs and desires, everything we do must be in line with what Allah loves, and abstaining from whatever Allah hates, as our very purpose in this world, is for Him.

The Prophet SAW narrated in a hadith, ‘Any action not based upon our affair will be rejected.’

Therefore there is no room for a Muslim to feel that he has the freedom to choose however to fulfil his desires – Every single action he does must be in line with Islam. This does not mean that a Muslim must pray and fast 24 hours a day and nothing else, but it just means that in the way we have relationships with people, how we buy and sell, how we behave with our parents, where we go in our free-time, must all be in line with the deen of Allah.

This is because as Muslims we know that death is the most definite thing and that after death the Day of Judgement will inevitably come, where we must answer for every single deed that we carried out in this world. This will be the Day when, ‘he who has done an atom's weight of good shall see it And he who has done an atom's weight of evil shall see it.’ (surah Zalzalah 7-8)

Thus knowing that Allah will account us for even the smallest error we make in arrogance defying his deen, should make us people who use our minds to always think before we act. The behaviour of doing as we please, damn consequences and whether it is right or wrong, is never for the thinking, mature Muslim.

The thinking, mature Muslim has taqwa, fear and consciousness of his Creator, which ignites within him a desire to continuously remember his Lord in everything he does, so even if she wants to freemix and join in with the other girls with their flirting and college romances, her fear and love for Allah far exceeds her small and human desires. She remembers that Allah’s promise of the great reward of the Hereafter which will satisfy ones desires beyond imagination, is the best reward to wait for:
"And whoever fears Allah, and keeps his duty to Him, He will forgive his sins from him and will enlarge his reward." [TMQ At-Talaq 65:5]
Indeed, life in this society is extremely difficult to withstand for the Muslim youth, as they are constantly forced into submitting to their lowly human desires and seek their own benefit. But a Muslim knows that this is simply the path to destruction, in this life and the Hereafter and for the community around them. With the help of their Creator, therefore they are able to seek the higher ground for actions and live purely for Allah over the base desires of human beings:
‘Those who believe and constantly guard against evil, for them are glad tidings in the life of the present and in the Hereafter, no change can there be in the words of Allah. This is indeed the supreme felicity.’ (Surah Yunus 63-4)