AN EXEMPLARY MUSLIM WOMAN
HOW UNBELIEVING SOCIETIES VIEW WOMEN
The Place of Women
All of the knowledge necessary for living a life
that will earn Allah's good pleasure is contained in the Qur'an:
the true nature of life on Earth, why humanity was created, how
to live a fulfilled life, and the most appropriate system of morality.
People who believe in this truth and live their lives accordingly
will find true happiness here and in the Hereafter.
Unbelieving societies, however, have no absolute
truths or powers to guide their people. In fact, they do not know
where most of their values came from, who discovered them, and when
and why they became their society's social norms. These rules, which
cannot be ascertained but are adopted by the community as a whole,
were inherited from their ancestors. In fact, all of an unbelieving
society's values, ideals, and social foundations are based on tradition,
also known as the way of the ancestors. Every person has
a fixed place based upon his or her social status, gender, beliefs,
situation, and lifestyle.
A woman's place is determined by these fixed criteria
and the dominant creeds. In some societies, women are thought to
have a weaker soul than men, just because they are physically weaker.
Surprisingly, many people actually believe this lie due to the mistaken
and clearly illogical idea that a woman's personality, morality,
and ability are limited in direct proportion to her slighter body.
For instance, various activities are classified as a man's job or
a woman's job. Obviously, their different physical strength and
build have some impact upon what tasks they perform. But in unbelieving
societies, this distinction is based on a certain bigotry that ascribes
to them a weakness in both intellect and talent.
Modern women, through their abilities and achievements,
have disproved such biased assertions in many. Nevertheless, some
parts of society still consider women to be incompetent in some
respects or believe that men, simply because they are men, can do
a better job.
Many people also mistakenly believe that women
have a weaker character than men. In unbelieving societies, it is
taken for granted that women panic and lose control, whereas men
remain cool and calm. Or, in a situation of adversity, men are said
to display great strength of character, whereas women respond meekly.
Girls are conditioned to conform to this prejudice from early childhood.
Families, which take great care to give their boys strength of character,
condition their girls with opposing character traits. In the face
of trouble, boys are told that boys don't cry, behave like a man,
be brave, don't be scared like a little girl, you are crying like
a little girl. Girls are also told that they are different from
boys and that they should behave accordingly.
In such societies, women's jobs and responsibilities
are limited to certain areas. As a consequence of this bigotry,
most societies still discriminate against women. This misguided
view of women has revealed itself in various ways. Especially in
the past, women were subjected to barbaric behavior. For example,
Allah reveals that girls were considered so worthless in some societies
that their fathers buried them alive as soon as they were born:
. when the baby girl buried alive
is asked for what crime she was killed. (Surat at-Takwir: 8-9)
In other verses, Allah speaks of people whose faces
turned angry upon learning that they had a new daughter and hid
in embarrassment from their people:
When one of them is given the
good news of a baby girl, his face darkens and he is furious.
He hides away from people because of the evil of the good news
he has been given. Should he keep her ignominiously or bury her
in the ground? What an evil judgment they make! (Surat an-Nahl:
Allah also reveals that such people considered
their daughters to be pretty things who were incapable of standing
up for themselves:
When any of them is given the
good news of the very thing that he himself has ascribed to the
All-Merciful, his face darkens and he is furious. "What! Someone
brought up among pretty trinkets who cannot produce a cogent argument!"
(Surat az-Zukhruf: 17-18)
Through His Prophets, Allah educated such people
about the mistaken nature of this prejudiced view. Thanks to the
Prophets and the spread of Islam among the people, this ignorant
and disgraceful outlook has been greatly curbed.
Allah reminds people that whatever they have comes
from Him: "The kingdom of the heavens and
Earth belongs to Allah. He creates whatever He wills. He gives daughters
to whoever He wills, and He gives sons to whoever He wills, or He
gives them both sons and daughters. And He makes whoever He wills
barren. Truly, He is All-Knowing, All-Powerful" (Surat ash-Shura:
49-50). Both girls and boys are gifts from Allah for which people
must be thankful.
Throughout history, many societies have assumed
such misguided attitude towards women. An important reality, however,
must not be overlooked: Unfortunately, the morality, behavior, and
personality of some women help to spread and justify this ignorant
tradition by proving it true.
Islam refutes this bigoted view by declaring that
all Muslims, by which it means both men and women, have sharp minds,
highly developed faculties of comprehension, a great strength of
character, and a superior sense of morality. Maryam and Pharaoh's
wife are excellent examples of this truth.
In the coming pages, we will examine briefly the
ignorance that prevents women from throwing off this destructive
tradition and adopting religion's superior morality, and display
the character differences between unbelieving and Muslim women.
Women's Character in Unbelieving
The predominant character of women who live in
unbelieving societies, irrespective of their education or other
achievements, is clear for all to see. One reason for this is that
unbelieving societies encourage their women, from an early age onward,
to adopt this socially approved character by making it attractive
to them. Surrounded on all sides by the same type of suggestions,
girls usually comply without a second thought. They learn how to
behave properly by observing their mothers and other women and then
internalizing the ideals they see portrayed. They repeat their role
models' expressions, begin to mimic their behavior, and generally
try to emulate them. Consequently, in the absence of other role
models, they accept what they see as the ideal woman and strive
to live up to that image.
Obviously there are exceptions, for some women
recognize this misguided tradition for what it is and refuse to
adopt it. But this recognition alone cannot free them from it. For
example, they may escape some of the behavioral faults but continue
to live a conflicting and self-contradictory existence because their
characters are not defined by the Qur'an's morality. Therefore,
the differences between their character and that of their society's
women in general remain limited to their refusal to conform to society's
expectations. All women who do not emulate the Muslim woman's character
defined by the Qur'an will still have to contend with their own
character type, which will remain inconsistent and erroneous.
When we examine the general features of women living
in unbelieving societies, we see that all of them have a common
character type to such an extent that society perceives them as
all being the same. One of the most common views is that women do
not have the same strong and persistant personality as men. Most
women, as well as men, concede this fact and therefore never consider
themselves capable of protecting or defending anyone. Since they
consider themselves inferior or less capable than men, they usually
look for someone to take care of them, whether financially or otherwise,
in order to protect themselves from bullying or other dangers. They
expect their husbands to take care of them and then, when they are
widowed, their sons.
This weak character leads to such behavioral problems
as emotional instability, crying, jealousy, hysteria, being
easily upset about things or with people. Unbelieving societies
consider these characteristics to be part of woman's nature, as
well as their being more sensitive to negative events. Therefore,
it is perfectly all right for them to cry in such cases. Men, on
the other hand, are supposed to be brave and strong, because only
women are believed to be easily upset and highly emotional. Another
widespread observation is that some unbelieving women quickly surrender
to hopelessness, worry and complaining, or become argumentative
when faced with adversity. Such reactions are contrary to the Qur'an's
All of these character traits have one thing
in common: They only bring grief and unhappiness to everyone. As
a result, such women go through life being tense, unhappy, and troubled.
In other words, their decision, whether conscious or not, to adhere
to this misguided tradition's view of the ideal woman makes them
miserable, because they are following the wrong ideals, purpose
in life, and worldview.
Just like all unbelievers, women chase the temporary
life of this world and its illusory attractions. Their foremost
ideals are to enjoy this life's pleasures as much as possible, raise
their living standards continuously, have a good name and status
in the community, and win their society's compliments and admiration.
They are saddened by things that they cannot control,
such as worrying about what the future may bring and fearing for
their lives and property. As their society suggests, they seek to
be only good housewives, mothers, or wives. Or, the other thing
expected of them is that they acquire a good job and pursue a career
that will enable them to become financially independent.
It goes without saying that there is nothing wrong
with pursuing such goals, for these are things people can rightfully
desire in life. However, what is wrong is to encourage women to
spend their lives within these boundaries and thereby limit their
ideals. All human beings will be either rewarded or punished on
the Day of Judgment according to their efforts, or lack thereof,
to win Allah's good pleasure.
Unbelieving women have one fundamental character
flaw: their desire to enjoy only the pleasures of this world and
to live accordingly, because everything they have (e.g., prestige,
status, friends, family, or children) are all destined to disappear.
The only thing that remains forever is Allah. Therefore, people
should choose their personality, morals, lifestyle, ideals, and
everything else in order to win His good pleasure. Otherwise, people
will find themselves imprisoned in their own little lives and in
their own little worlds, and then meet with eternal suffering and
regret in the Hereafter.
No doubt, many women are dissatisfied with their
place in society and thus continue to question and escape the ideal
woman tradition. They often achieve visible success in their chosen
fields and point out the wrongness of their soceity's stereotypical
views of women. But because they continue to live by their unbelieving
society's values and do not adopt the character that would win them
Allah's good pleasure, they fail to get what they truly seek: true
respect and their society's trust. Even if they seem to have realized
their goals, they remain unhappy and discontented because they know
that they have not truly and permanently achieved them.
People who blindly adopt their society's stereotypes
have some excuses for their behavior. First of all, they believe
that these social creeds prevent women from discarding the character
type envisaged for them. They fear that society will criticize or
accuse them, or even make them outcasts. Therefore, they prefer
to live according to their unbelieving society's ideal character
types rather than risking any possible negative repercussions.
Another reason why some women hesitate to discard
the socially acceptable female role model is the pressure they fear
from those people of influence and authority over them in their
immediate environment. This attitude prevents them from moving away
from this character type, even though they clearly recognize its
But the main reason why these women cannot escape
this misguided character type is that they do not know how to find
the ideal character that would enable them to force society to accept
them once they had broken with this tradition. Since they lack this
knowledge, they continue to look for a solution in the wrong places.
For instance, a housewife thinks that she will find a better place
in society, as well as more respect and love from those around her,
by becoming a businesswoman or another type of professional. Likewise,
a businesswoman believes that she will find the same things by climbing
the corporate ladder or moving to a better, more respectable job.
In reality, all such ways of thinking are flawed.
There is only one way of life, one character, and one morality that
will make them honorable and superior in both worlds: living according
to the Qur'an, which endows all people with the strongest character
and the highest morals, and earn them Allah's good pleasure as well
as the people's love and respect.
Therefore, every person must not adopt the ideal
personality thought fit for them, but rather seek out and find the
truth. Allah has revealed the truest character traits and the best
personality for all people, and the way to acquire them is the simplest,
easiest and most perfect. Allah says:
But as for him who believes and
acts rightly, he will receive the best of rewards, and We will
issue a command, making things easy for him. (Surat al-Kahf: 88)