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.


Anonymous said...


I like your blog, it well written mashAllah.

I am a poet and if you wish you can publish my poetry on your blog. Here is a sample of my poems.

Exam Stress Part II

It’s funny how we study
Like there’s no tomorrow
To pass our exams
And worry
Unable to sleep without tablets
If we fail
We will weep

Once we get the results
We move on and apply
For another course
Another level
More stress and pressure
Like we are addicts
For pain and punishment

What’s it all for?
Letters after our names
While those who failed feel shame
Useless and have no status
Degree, Msc, PhD, Dr, LLb
Where will it end?
What does it all mean anyway?

Once you’re done with education
Its time for a high flying job
Shoot off your gob
About the status and money
While working from 8 till 8
For a company
Who fails to see and treat you like a human being?

You’re just a machine
Earning money for the company
No time for family or anybody
It’s the rat race
And we are on the wheel
Which keeps turning
Round and around

Days turn to weeks
And weeks to months
Months to years
Promotion and fancy job titles
Fat 6 figure salary
And before you know it
You’re thirty

Young, free and single
And in demand
Only if you’re a man
For women
You missed the boat sadly

There comes a point
When you slow down
And start to think
Beyond materialism
And feel a yearning

Lost and empty
Something is missing
Its spirituality and peace of mind
And recognising the fact
That you’re weak, limited and needy

In need of Allah
Guidance and help
Peace of mind
Then its hits you
The system had you
Brainwashed from an early age
To follow the trend and what’s in vogue
Waste and sacrifice the best years
Now you’re full of regret and tears

At least you finally woke up
And want to focus
Your life, time and wealth
Working for Islam
Since you did everything else
And true happiness and success
Lies in obeying Allah
The almighty and owner of all wealth
Including us human beings

fot said...

AsSalaamoAlaykum Ukhti, Excellent article.

The flaw inherent within the "feminist" argument is found within the commonly heard statement that the "woman should be/become equal to the man".

This of course implies that the man is the standard to which the woman must rise and so is inherently inferior to.

Islam of course recognizes that the woman and the man are separate equally important members of a society, with differing roles. No role "trumps" the other.

It is a shame that todays society looks disparagingly at women's contribution to the development of societies future adults.