HOW UNBELIEVING SOCIETIES VIEW
The Place of Women
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,
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: 58-59)
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
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,
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 morality.
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
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 faults.
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)