Q: In recent years a lot of things have been said concerning the equality of men and women. What can we say about the subject from an Islamic point of view?
A: Before discussing the equality of men and women, we should first look more closely at the meaning of "equal" and "equality."
"Equal" means that there is no difference between things, that they have the same nature, quality, value and dimension. On the other hand, "equality" means that there is no discrimination between people in terms of rights.
Having established these definitions of "equal and "equality," then how are we to view women in relation to men?
a) Difference in Nature
God has created everything in the universe in pairs. It is impossible to say that one of these pairs is equal to the other in all respects. "And of everything we have created pairs that you may reflect." (Az-Zariyat, 51/49).
From atoms to plants, and from these to the male and female of animals and human beings, everything has been created in pairs and each member of the pair is in need of the other. Positives are in need of negatives, electrons are in need of protons, night is in need of day, summer is in need of winter, the surface of the earth is in need of the sky, men are in need of women and vice versa. In addition, there are probably other pairs that we may not know of yet, but we will learn about these with the development of science and technology.
Just as God has created the electron in relation to the proton, the negative in relation to the positive, and the female seed in relation to the male seed, God has created women and men, and He has formed a unity between these couples. But just as positive and negative are not equal, nor are the electron and proton equal, women are not equal to men. This is an unchanging rule of the nature of creation. Moreover, other than God, Who is One, everything else is deficient and insignificant and cannot continue its existence by itself. So, men and women, who are imcomplete by themselves, will come together to form a union, and it is this union that is the essence of the whole.
Therefore, women and men are not equal, but they complete each other. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), in one of his hadith says: "Women are (the other) half of men."
The word for "other half"-sakik-in this hadith means a piece of a whole divided into two through the middle. This means that each piece that is forming the whole is the sakik of the other. Thus, according to this hadith, women and men are equal halves as human beings. But they are never the same as the other; that is, their natural, spiritual and psychological structures are different. As a woman can never be equal to a man according to his physical and spiritual structure, a man can never be equal to a women according to the same aspects. Neither are men biologically superior, nor are women inferior to men. As human beings cannot really change the difference between the sexes, both believers and nonbelievers should give up their dreams of bein equal and should accept women and men as they are.
In addition, we cannot even claim that individuals of the same sex are totally equal to one another. Trying to verify this would be to attempt to change the rules of creation; such efforts are useless. Here we should mention that the difference in the creation of women should not lead men to feel superior. On the contrary, God states, "And Who made (things) according to a measure, then guided rightly" (Al-Ala 87/3). He is the One who creates women and men in the best pattern of creation and He is the One Who teaches them how to improve themselves. He is the One Who makes them complementary to one another and the protector and guardian for one another.
b) Differences in Duty
As is clear from the above explanations, just as women and men cannot be equal in their nature, nor can they be equal in duty. If you expect a woman to perform the same duties as a man, you will in fact be oppressing her. It is obvious that women are different from men physically, biologically and spiritually. It is therefore only normal that, arising from this difference in their natures, that there should be a difference in duties. For instance, men are stronger than women. In this respect, it is very difficult for a woman to do some of the work that a man does. This is not to be seen as an inadequacy of women. Women are generally more merciful, compassionate, intuitive and emotional when compared to men. In this respect, men cannot be compared to women in any way. Both sexes are equipped according to the necessities of their duties; this is the true justice. Therefore, instead of studying men and women as if they were on equal terms, we should evaluate women and men separately and according to their own particular natures.
Women have certain rights and duties based on the nature of their creation, and if women make use of these qualities they will then be able to obtain better results.
New generations are brought into this world by women and are brought up by them. Humanity gains good individuals through their efforts. It is a great kindness and wisdom of God that women have been equipped with such compassion when we consider that they are in charge of bringing up children. In this respect, among all the members of the family, women deserve the greatest respect. They are the educators, teachers, and the source of the family's endurance and the peace of the home. Men are reassured by them. Children grow up under their compassionate wing, and are raised with healthy emotions, compassion, and strong values. If the mother lives a chaste life, then the children will be saved from degeneration, and a community formed of these children will be saved from oppression.
When we compare all the things that humans provide women with in the name of equality with those favors that God the Almighty provides, the former will be very small in comparison. Moreover, all the rights granted to women and all the effort expended on behalf of their gaining "equal rights" is as ridiculous as if we were to give a copper medal to someone whose chest was already covered in gold medals.
God has given everyone their own nature. With the granting of this nature he did not make anyone coarse or foolish. If he had granted any superflurous duties to people, then this would have been no more than an injustice or an act of oppression.
The tasks or duties that women do should be suited to their physical, psychological and spiritual nature. Offering a woman a job that she cannot handle, or employing her in a job that is not in her nature to accomplish, has nothing to do with equality or treating a woman as an equal; this is not a humanitarian approach. On the contrary, such behavior is little more than the forceful seizure of the majority of her rights.
A hadith of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), expresses the subject in a beautiful and elegant manner: "They had put a cow to yoke. It turned and said to its master: I have not been created for such jobs." Rather, it is the ox that was created for such jobs.
In conclusion, everything has been created for a reason. For true justice to prevail, every creature should be employed according to its capabilities and according to the reason for its creation.