Question: Recently, a friend
of mine raised some questions in my mind about a woman’s role in the society.
I would like to ask you about the role a woman is required to play in the
society in the eyes of Islam. Though understood that responsibility of
earning livelihood lies with men, but does this mean that women have to
keep homes and are not supposed to work. The real confusion in my mind
emerges because women are seen to be simply wasting themselves in a typical
eastern society. They have nothing to do save indulging in meaningless
household/family problems. The majority have virtually killed their intellectual
prowess. When we talk of boys, we discuss their careers; but in case of
girls, we talk about their marriage.
role of women in the society is an age old issue, as far as Islamic literature
is concerned. It has attracted much debate and controversy over the years.
Personally, I have the following observations to make in this regard:
1. The Shari‘ah revealed by
the Almighty is very brief and succinct. The thesis is that human intellect
can itself discover the way out in most affairs. It is only at the crossroads
where it is bound to falter that Islam interferes to guide it. In the sphere
of gender and social interaction -- the sphere which one comes across so
often -- too only certain guiding points have been given. In this regard,
as far as the Shari‘ah is concerned, broadly speaking, Islam has
given principle guidelines in matters such as the formation and dissolution
of a family; its organization under a head and the dress code and behavioral
conduct in social contact.
2. Besides this Shari‘ah, there
is another general directive which the Qur’an gives in this issue
in its lofty style, the brevity of which touches sublimity. It says:
Women have rights just as they have responsibilities
according to the good conventions [of a society]. (2:228)
This divine directive -- a mere few words
-- covers a world of wisdom and sagacity in it. In my opinion, it puts
to an end once and for all the debate regarding the role of women. What
is implied is very clear: it is the sound conventions and traditions of
a society which govern the responsibilities and rights of women. In other
words, it is the collective conscience of a society that determines them.
Also, since the conventions and customs of different societies can be different,
these rights and responsibilities can be different in different societies.
Who should raise and look after children, who should cook the food, who
should clean the house are all matters in which we must look towards traditions
and customs of a society. If they do not contradict the Shari‘ah and
are also not against the universal norms of sense and reason, they should
be adhered to.
3. Consequently, women have before
them a whole arena of activities. They can do everything which is not against
the healthy conventions of their society. They should educate themselves
as far as they can and contribute positively in the society through their
intellect, talent and ability. Earning for themselves is certainly not
prohibited. They can pursue careers just as men can. However, as pointed
out, they should always give due respect to the precepts of the Shari‘ah.
In case you want to know the details
of these precepts, let me know – for most of these have already been discussed
in detail in the various issues of this journal.