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Islam’s Attitude towards Men and Women: Supplementing Halves

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh 

Legal situation of men and women in Islam is different in various respects. To find the reason, we must pay attention to criteria used to pass a law to know why that law has been enforced.

Taking this logical conclusion for granted (that is, different laws for different cases and similar laws for similar cases) we would try to give a convincing answer to this question.

1-    Similarity of men and women in creation

Unlike what had been said in ancient histories and cultures, both Eastern and Western, Islam considers men and women to be similar in many respects including:

1.1.    Similarity in human nature and its requirements
1.2.    Similarity in perfection and getting close to God
1.3.    Similarity in the right to choose between good and evil
1.4.    Similarity with regard to most responsibilities and obligations
1.5.    Similarity in terms of social, political, and ideological independence and right of participation in social affairs

1.6.    Economic independence for women (while Western countries did not recognize ownership by women until a few decades ago)

1.7.    Enjoyment of family rights by mothers like fathers; the rights of women even surpass those of men due to their responsibilities in families.

2-    Structural differences between men and women
While being similar in humanity, men and women are different in some respects. This issue dates back to 2,400 years ago. Plato accepted that women were inferior to men in terms of physical power and due to their emotional disposition, but believed that the differences were qualitative and both sexes had similar potentials. He noted that women could shoulder the same responsibilities as men. His disciple, Aristotle, however maintained that men and women had different potentials. He argued that duties of men and women were different due to their creation and, therefore, their rights should also be different.

Famous American psychologist, Professor Rick, has noted that the world of men is quite different from the world of women. If women are not able to act or think like men it is because they are physically different. In addition, they differ emotionally and their reactions to accidents and mishaps are different. They can, however, understand each other and supplement each other, but they will never become the same. It is for this reason that men and women can live together and fall in love with each other.

Dr. Alexis Carol has noted that due to inattention to a major point, feminists maintain that both sexes should be raised in a similar manner and accept similar jobs and responsibilities. However, he argues, women should use their potentials in their own special ways without imitating men. They shoulder a much heavier responsibility as to raising humankind compared to men and they should not forget that responsibility.

3-    Criteria for legal differences

Differences between men and women in creation are not rooted in cultural teachings. So, why those differences are taken as basis for some legal and social differences? If the legislature intended to pay attention to all differences, passing laws would have been impossible and ignoring those differences would not be in the benefit of the society because legislation should be based on advantages and disadvantages of laws.

Therefore, those differences in creation which can give rise to differences in advantages and disadvantages should be taken as basis for differences in laws and obligations. This is because if social laws and obligations are proportionate to realities, they will assure welfare of the person and society. Therefore, laws and obligations should have a relationship with social exigencies and disadvantages. Differences that cause disparities in terms of exigencies and disadvantages are as follows:

3.1.    Differences should be general and affect a large population of people. It should be noted that laws are passed for the majority of people and not for the minority. Lawmaking is basically impossible in an individual manner. Of course, laws should be enforced according to individual characteristics of people. Perhaps some physical and physiological differences are not common among men and women, but generally speaking women are more emotionally disposed.

3.2.    Differences should have an impact on the quality and quantity of social participation which is needed to meet one’s social needs. For example, skin color does not affect output of the work done by an individual and if wages are to be determined according to the output, then blacks should be paid equal to whites. However, if the main prerequisite for being a leader and manager is to be more rationally disposed or if the requisite for custody of children is to be financially well-off, then they are more suitable for men and this responsibility has been delegated to men by Islam. For example, girls need more affection when they are still children; therefore, their custody has been given to mothers. However, when they get older and their economic needs increase likewise, their custody has been given to fathers.

On the other hand, most differences recognized between men and women on the basis of their physiology or anatomy are rational. For example, if Islam has required women to cover their bodies it is because the threshold for pain and touch is lower in women than men. That is, women are more sensitive to pain. On the other side, men have a better sight.

On the whole, Islam maintains that the rights of men and women are not similar. However, Islam has never considered any advantage for men over women and has observed the principle of equality between men and women. In fact, Islam is not against equality between men and women, but is against identical rights for them.

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