SFAIM-Roles and Responsibilities of Men and Women in Islam

Allah (SWT) said in Surah An-Nisa # 32

And wish not for things in which Allah has made some of you to excel others. For men there is reward for what they have earned, (and likewise) for women there is reward for what they have earned, Allah is Ever All-Knower of everything.

It is necessary to fully understand this verse in order to appreciate the assigned roles and responsibilities of men and women in Islam. The circumstances in which this verse was revealed are very interesting. Umm Salma (RU) the wife of Prophet Mohammad (SAS) asked the Prophet (SAS), “Since women receive half the inheritance than that of men, do we get half the reward for our good deeds as compared to the men?” She did not intend to contest the share prescribed for men but her inquiry was for the purpose of education and learning. Some other women wished that they were men and could take part in battles and in this way earn additional bounties of Allah (SWT).

Answers of all of these questions are given in this verse. Allah (SWT) is saying to Umm Salma (RU) and all the Muslims not to even wish to emulate others whom Allah (SWT) has excelled over them in certain ways. Let us try to understand this in more detail. Allah has made some people short, others taller and still others more beautiful. If Allah (SWT) had made a person more attractive, he would not have been able to conduct himself and would have become prone to committing more sins. Allah saved him from committing sins by not making him additionally attractive. Similarly, some people are relatively poor, others have lower worldly status. Allah (SWT) knew that if they were made richer or given higher wordly status, they would not have done justice to it. Similarly, Allah (SWT) chooses a certain piece of land for a Masjid in the town. This piece of land excels over all the prime land in the town and hence we pray “Tahayyat-al-masjid” every time we enter the Masjid to show respect for this place over other places in the town. We often wonder why Allah (SWT) chose the city of Makkah in a desert land for His house, which is the most respected amongst all the places in the world. Therefore, we conclude that Allah (SWT) alone knows best and there is wisdom in excelling certain things in certain ways over others, which may be beyond our comprehension. This inherent excellence of one over the other is an involuntary act and is beyond our control. Allah gives His bounties to whom He pleases. Last, but not least, Allah has excelled His prophets over one another in various ways. Allah says in Al-Baqarah # 253

These are the prophets whom we have excelled over one another.

With this detail, it should be clear that whatever Allah has given us, we should be happy with that. If a woman was given the role of man, she would not have fulfilled the role and responsibilities of a man adequately. Allah (SWT) answered Umm Salma (RU) and other women that there is no halfing of reward for women as compared to men. Men and women will be rewarded equally for the same good deed. There are many verses in the Quran to substantiate this statement. For example Allah (SWT) says in Surah Ghafir or Momin # 40

And whosoever does a righteous deed, whether male or female and is a true believer, such will enter paradise, where they will be provided therein without limit.

In fact prominent ladies like Umm Ammara Ansariah (RU) and Asma bint Umais (RU) expressed their concern to Prophet Mohammad  (SAS) as mentioned in Tirmizi. They said Allah (SWT) addresses men directly most of the time, we wonder if women have similar promises. Allah (SWT) sent detailed verse # 35 of Surah Al-Ahzab

Verily, the Muslims men and women, the believers men and women, the men and the women who are truthful, the men and the women who are patient, the men and the women who are humble, the men and the women who give Sadaqat, the men and the women who observe Saum, the men and the women who guard their chastity and the men and the women who remember Allah much with their hearts and tongues Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward.

Hence women have the same rights and rewards as men in Islam. People commit many crimes and sins when they do not follow this guidance of Allah (SWT). Some steal to become rich like others, others even try to kill someone to acquire their wealth. Allah’s guidance eliminates this sense of jealousy and criminal attitude. If people are happy and satisfied with what Allah (SWT) has given, they will not commit crimes.

We notice that some people are very rich, others are very knowledgeable and they still excel in spirituality. We are allowed to strive to acquire these through our voluntary acts and ask Allah alone to grant these to us from His bounties. He will grant us, if it is good for us, since He knows everything.

If we understand the above verse clearly, it should be very easy to appreciate the roles and responsibilities of man and woman in Islam. They are also described in An-Nisa # 34

Men are the protector and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband’s property).

This does not mean that men should become hot-headed dictators for women.

We have to put other verses of the Quran with this to understand its meaning. Allah (SWT) says in Surah An-Nisa # 19

Live with them in goodness. In other words treat your women nicely.

Allah also says in Al-Baqarah # 228

Women have rights over men just like men have rights over women.

Allah further says in Al-Baqarah # 233

Consult your wives in matters relating to home life.

Consultation is very important element of Islamic faith and practice. It must be exercised in the family unit as well.

In light of all this, men should not only consult their wives, but treat them nicely and give them equal rights. After this important drill, they must make final decisions in various matters. In fact, men bear greater responsibility. If they make wrong decision, it will fire back them in this life and the hereafter. In other words, men have more accountability with added responsibility. If a woman were a man, she might not have been able to cope with this difficult responsibility.

Hence, women should not wish to be like men and vice versa. Allah has assigned them their respective roles. A man can do his role the best and a woman can do her role the best.

Let us try to understand the wisdom in giving a woman half the inheritance than that of a man. Whatever a woman receives is hers. She has the right to keep it to herself entirely and not even spend for day to day maintenance expenses of her own family. When she is a daughter, her father supports her fully. When she is a wife, her husband supports her financially, no matter how rich she may be. When she is a widow, with or without children, she can go back to her father for maintenance and support, if necessary. There is always a man in her life to support her. When a man receives twice than that of a woman in inheritance, he cannot keep it to himself. He must spend it on his wife, daughters, and other members of the family. In view of all this, the woman is at a greater advantage, even when she receives half of the inheritance as compared to that of man. This shows the superior status of women in Islam.

It may be worthwhile to review the status of woman before the advent of Islam. Arabs used to bury their daughters alive in most cases. The hair of a woman were sometimes tied with the tail of a camel and the camel used to be let loose. This was the favorite pass time of Arabs of that time. Women, during that time, could not own or inherit any tangible property. Islam not only gave equal rights to women but also allowed them to own and inherit the property.

Let us review the characteristics of a pious woman. Allah says in An-Nisa # 34

Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband’s property).

Prophet Mohammad  (SAS) said that the best wife is the one whom when you see her, you feel happy. When you ask her to do something, she obeys and she looks after herself and your wealth in your absence.

Therefore a pious woman must obey all the laws of Allah including the one commanding them to whole-heartedly accept men as their in-charge in all matters. They are also commanded to protect themselves against satan, who is a clear enemy of mankind. They are also supposed to protect the property. Hence, they are not supposed to have any dealings and visitation without the knowledge and consent of their husband. Furthermore, they must protect the most important property of the husband, i.e., children. In other words, they must educate and train children Islamically and cultivate good habits in them. These three responsibilities are, indeed very difficult. Allah promises in this verse that He will help and support them in fulfilling these responsibilities if they are sincere in their pursuit.

Islam also spells out how to deal with the misbehavior of a woman. Allah says in An-Nisa # 34

As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allah is Even Most High, Most Great.

Hence, we find that corrective steps have to be taken in various stages. First of all, personal and outside counseling should be sought. Unfortunately, Muslims all over the world ignore this important stage and keep the problems bottled-up till they become totally unmanageable. Muslims fear to be labeled as having psychological problem and, therefore, avoid seeking counseling. In fact, every person needs some counseling at some point in life. I pray that we may follow this step more professionally and responsibly as soon as a problem surfaces.

Secondly, separate them from your beds. This does not mean that women should be forced to leave the household. Women should not also voluntarily go and live with her folks during this dispute. According to some scholars, they should not even sleep in different bedrooms. They are instructed to separate themselves from each other in the same bed. The wisdom in doing so is that it is very hard to endure. This difficulty may change their minds and unite them sincerely.

Thirdly, man is allowed to tap a woman gently to admonish her. Obviously, this does not mean that she should be hit on the eyes or face or even other parts of the body. As some say, tap with a toothbrush or similar simple objects to somewhat demean her.

Prophet Mohammad  (SAS) said that, “Good men will not punish their wives by beating.”

We further notice that no prophet beat his wife, including the prophet Lot (AS).

Prophet Mohammad (SAS) also said that those who are good to their wives will be closest to me in Paradise.

Allah is advising if they start obeying you, don’t talk sarcastically to them to remind them of previous conflicts. Man is further instructed by Allah that he should not forget that Allah is the highest and the greatest. He is the one who made him in-charge over woman and man is accountable to Him for his deeds. Therefore, he must treat her fairly in all these steps.

Allah further says in An-Nisa # 35

If you fear a breach between them twain (the man and his wife), appoint (two) arbitrators, one from his family and the other from her’s; if they both wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation. Indeed Allah is Ever All-Knower, Well-Acquainted with all things.

Hence, if the conflict between husband and wife is still not resolved, we should appoint an arbitrator from either side. Here Allah is making a very beautiful promise. Allah says “If both of them desire reconciliation sincerely between themselves, Allah will bring this about. Since, He knows the sincerity of both the parties. Scholars point out that here ‘both’ refers to husband and wife as well as arbitrators from both sides. Hence if all four involved are sincere in seeking a justful solution, Allah promises to bring this about, since He is knowledgeable of our intentions.

Hence, Islam has given equal rights to men and women and has prescribed a due process in case of conflicts. It is totally absurd to say that a woman is an under-dog in Islam and is confined to the four walls of the house. Both men and women are given their specific roles which each can do the best as assigned. Women can own and inherit and keep their portion to themselves forever.

The companions of Prophet Mohammad (SAS) thought that women were given too many rights to raise their status from the pre-islamic period. They thought that some of these rights would be withdrawn later. Hence, they asked the prophet again and again about revelations concerning women’s rights. Allah says in An-Nisa # 127

They ask your legal instruction concerning women, say: Allah instructs you about them, and about what is recited unto you in the book concerning the orphan girls whom you give not the prescribed portions (as regards Mahr and inheritance) and yet whom you desire to marry, and (concerning) the children who are weak and oppressed, and that you stand firm for justice to orphans. And whatever good you do, Allah is Ever All-Aware of it.

In other words, equal rights and high status of women in Islam will remain forever.

I pray to Allah that we exercise these instructions in our family units to strengthen our Islamic communities (Ameen).

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