An hour after the train departed, the two friends, Yousef and Michael, were once again ready to begin a discussion to pass the time while they were travelling.
Michael: We have discussed two issues that are related to women's rights: monogamy and hijab…What do you say that we continue discussing the rest of the issues that I have in mind regarding this subject?
Yousef: That's fine with me, so maybe after that we could close this file.
Michael: The first thing that comes to mind is the role of women. Why do Muslims insist that women do not join men in all walks of life?
Yousef: When we say, my friend, that there is in a human being a materialistic and a animal side, that does not mean that he is similar in his characteristics, aims and results to that of animals. There is a major difference: We find that sexual inclination in humans is much stronger than in animals, while the strength of sexual intercourse is much less than that inclination, unlike in animals.
If we take into consideration what was created innately in women – besides lust and sexual attractiveness – of bashfulness, modesty, refrainment and resistance, we shall conclude from that, and what was said previously, that what is meant by the existence of sexual attractiveness in humans is to achieve a permanent connection between the two human sexes, and not that every sexual impulse in the relationship ultimately becomes a sexual function. This is something that the Qur'an expresses at one place with the word (Sakan), which means repose, and at another place with (Mawada wa rahma), which means affection and mercy. This is concerning the psychological side of the matter…clear?!
Michael: Almost clear!
Yousef: As for the biological side of the matter, researches have proven that women are different from men in everything: from the external appearance to the internal organs and their bodies’ molecules and cells, as women's cells are imprinted with female qualities. A woman's skeleton and muscular system is different to that of a man. The entire system of her body is structurally equipped in such a way that prepares her to give birth and rear her children, that is, it is suitable for her role as a mother. As a woman reaches puberty she gets her menstrual period that affects the functions of all her organs and limbs, not only that but her mood and state of mind are also affected while she is menstruating, let alone what she experiences during the pregnancy period, and after that the postpartum period and then breastfeeding.
In fact, a woman's hormones and psychology are vastly different from that of a man's, as on the other side of man's boldness and toughness, we find woman's bashfulness and vulnerability.
From another aspect: a human child – unlike other animals – needs to be taken care of and brought up by his parents for several years, since that child takes a while until he becomes fit in strength and ability to depend upon himself. This is another desired aim, i.e. the man-woman relationship is not limited to the sexual bond between them, but this bond urges them to cooperate and deal with each other. That is another reason why humans are created to be more caring and loving towards their children than any other animal.
Yousef: All that certainly indicates that a family is the natural form of human life, and we can clearly see the role of each member and his or her function in this structure or unit. This is a role that is suitable for the aims of that unit and its nature (repose, affection and mercy), and is also suitable for the capabilities of each member in that structure or unit.
Michael: I get your meaning. Then the role of a woman is to spread the spirit of affection and attain repose in the family, as well as care for her spouse and her children…
Yousef: Exactly! And man's role is to provide the family with the means of living, including showing traits which are needed in times of trials and tribulations
Michael: But this view leads to the loss of half of the production capacity of the society.
Yousef: On the contrary, this view leads us to profit an entire society, since each member of that society will be in his or her natural place. When women struggled with their own innate inclinations and went out to compete with men in the workplace, they reaped sorrow and brought unhappiness to their families and their husbands as well. The result is an entire unhappy and dissolute society. Women tried again to find a compromise between their work, their home duties and bringing up their children, but to no avail. Women want to be calm wives, loving mothers and active workers simultaneously, how can that be? Naturally, the result was that other parties interfered to occupy the vacuum women left. Those other parties were not faithful nor were they fit to carry out these roles. Moreover, women's competing with men in work outside of the homes led to women being exposed to intermingling with men, which in turn led to harassments, rape and other crimes against women, not to mention the humiliation and abuse women encounter in their jobs and professions which they occupy.
Michael: If we are discussing the role of women in life as a family role, this will lead us to discuss another issue, which I consider as being a form of discrimination against women. This is the issue of men's guardianship over women.
Yousef: This guardianship is not an unfair favoring of men over women, rather it is a way to organize the family. In any institute there must be a definite description of roles, tasks and functions of each member, bearing in mind his qualifications and abilities. A manager is not higher in his rank as a human than, say, an accountant or a worker, merely because that manager has more authority.
In our practical life we see that an institute or an establishment might enforce some restrictions that the employees must adhere to or abstain from for the higher purpose that the administration and the trustees of that institute or establishment see as necessary. The administration might, for instance, enforce a certain uniform or certain security regulations, or it might impose the performance of certain drills, or enforce regulations that prohibit workers from leaving work and going out of the establishment without permission or from occupying himself with anything other than his work. In fact, some contracts with some establishments may include provisions that enforce restrictions on the worker even after he leaves the company. All that is common-place and cannot be objected to. No one ever viewed such restrictions as being discriminatory or a form of coercion against the company workers, for all that is within the framework of a clear-cut system of regulations. Moreover, you will never find a successful company or an establishment which does not have a manager who has authorities that are in proportion with the responsibilities he carries on his shoulders and the accountability he might be faced with resulting from such responsibilities.
It is, therefore, necessary for the family institution to succeed in employing a system that is enforced on all its members. Such a system might contain restrictions that must be either adhered to or abstained from. Such an institute must have a leader who has authorities that are in proportion to his responsibilities. He must have the ability to be decisive when there is an absence of agreement on any point of view. He must, at the same time, apply the system and use these authorities in the light of the rule of the family life which we have already mentioned: affection and mercy that achieve the targeted repose.
Michael: If that is the case, then why must guardianship be awarded to men? Why do the women not have that responsibility? Isn't that a tendency to inequality?
Yousef: I wouldn't use the word equality here. I prefer to use justice instead. Yet I say equality or justice should be concerning rights. But what we are looking into here is distributing roles and taking social functions that are suitable to the abilities of each member and to what his or her make-up has been molded to do.
In the family institute, we said that a woman and a man are each made differently, and this make-up suits different social functions. Do not forget that just as men are given the responsibility of guardianship there are other burdens they must attend to, besides the guardianship, that aren't imposed on women. Guardianship in that light is thus an obligation rather than an honor, for it imposes certain responsibilities and liabilities that necessitate being reasonable and wise, and not being hasty in making decisions. This, however, is not belittling to a woman's personality, nor does it mean that she is denied the right of expressing herself.
Women are also not fit to take such a social role since women, as our Prophet Mohammed (mercy and blessings be upon him) said: “Women are deficient in mind and religion.”
Micheal: Deficient in mind?! This is a debasing view towards women. Women have proven that they can be superior to men in their scientific abilities and are not less than men in their intelligence.
Yousef (laughing): It's really strange, my friend, that all those to whom I mention that saying of the Prophet understand it exactly as you just did now. My dear friend, the mind meant here is not intelligence. The mind mentioned here is the ability to precisely control one's evaluation of matters and to have control over one's self and his or her emotions in a way that helps in making sound decisions in times of crisis and critical circumstances. In other words, the mind here is referring to the opposite of being emotional and whimsical. No one can deny that women are naturally more emotional and sentimental than men, this is a psychological characteristic of women and their role must be suitable for that nature. This might also indicate the wisdom in limiting woman's power to end the family unit through divorce. (?)
Michael: If we mention injustice against women and the debasing view towards them, we must mention her rights of inheritance. Why is it that in Islam a woman inherits half of what a man does?
Yousef: First of all, it is not in all cases that the share of a woman in inheritance is half of that of a man's.
The second thing is that for one to have dignity doesn't make it imperative that he must be given the same rights as the next person. Justice doesn't necessitate that everybody is equal in everything all of the time, equality is obligatory when the circumstances and conditions are the same. What I mean is that the nature of women must be taken into consideration, as well as her role in life, and a balance between her rights with her duties must be reached.
In relation to inheritance, for instance: The share that a woman gets is hers alone while the share that a man gets is shared with his wife, children, unmarried sisters and his parents, if they are alive and don't have any other way to support themselves. Aside from the fact the he is the one who presents a dowry to the woman, he is also given the responsibility of providing a house for marriage and furnishing that house. He has to carry the responsibility of spending on his household, wife and children, and he can’t force his wife to work, since he has no right to take her money nor property, for women have a totally independent financial entity. This is something that many western women do not enjoy, though the West is always bragging that it is just to them.
Would you like, my friend, that we discuss the status of women in your country?!
Michael: (overwhelmed) I think we should rest a bit.