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WOMEN IN THE QURAN

By: Maha Dabbous
The Review of Religions
February 1992
Vol. LXXXVII No. 2


Islam confers on women all the political and social rights, which man enjoys. She is entitled to all the privileges bestowed upon man. Beside worldly matters, women are also equal to men in the spiritual sense. Allah says in the Quran:

Surely, men who submit themselves to GOD and women who submit themselves to HIM, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women, and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity and men who remember ALLAH much and women who remember HIM - ALLAH has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward (33:36)

This verse makes it clear that Muslim women stand on the same level with Muslim men and that they can attain to all those spiritual heights to which men can attain. At several places in the Quran, believing men and believing women are addressed in the same language and are made equally subject to the same commandments and entitled to the same rights and privileges. Only their duties are different because their spheres of activity are different.

When the Quran speaks about the souls of human beings, it does not differentiate between man and woman.

O ye people ! fear your Lord who created you from a single soul and of its kind created its mate, and from them twain spread many men and women; and fear ALLAH, in Whose name you appeal to one another, and fear him particularly respecting ties of kinship. Verily ALLAH watches over you (4:2)

The words single soul in this verse signifie man and woman taken together. They are spoken of as one because they are two things jointly performing one function. This verse affirms that women and men belong to the same kind and species and that they have the same propensities.

The chains of the physical body are broken in the spiritual sphere and man and woman are regarded as one. The equality of the status of the souls of man and woman is further emphasized when Allah also hints at the fact that man and woman complement one another.

So their Lord answered their prayers saying, I will not allow the work of any worker from among you, whether male or female, to be lost. You are from one another. Those therefore, who have emigrated, and have been driven out from their homes, and have been persecuted in My cause, and have fought and been killed, I will surely remove from them their evils and will cause them to enter gardens through which streams flow - a reward from Allah, and with Allah is the best reward. (3:196)
The Quran does not stop at this level, it continues to explain these facts by different means and from different angles. The Quran mentions the vision Hazrat Moses (peace be upon him) and as an explanation of one of the incidents in his vision we read:
And as for the youth, his parents were believers, and we feared lest he should cause them trouble through rebellion and disbelief.
Here the expression his parents means the human body and soul because the parents or the source from which springs all moral qualities is the combination of the human body and soul which is the human being himself.

Allah has created man as a free agent. He bestowed upon him great natural powers to enable him to perform the highest deeds of virtue. The human being can fulfill the great object of his life by making use of these powers which spring from a combination of his body and soul. But if these powers are not kept under proper control, they lead him to disbelief and transgression. These powers have been brought under proper control and their undue vehemence curbed by the commandments and ordinances which Allah has revealed to the world in His religion. Every human being is free to chose whether or not to follow the guidance of Allah. His freedom is of two components. The freedom of thought controlled by the mind and the freedom of feeling controlled by the heart. The feeling of the heart is a consequence of the thought of the mind. The former is subordinate to the latter. This is why the two components of the inner self of the human being can be expressed figuratively by the words his parents where the mind is likened to the father who is the head of the family and the heart is likened to the mother who is its body.

As the peace and tranquility of the children in the family depends on the relation between the father and the mother and the combined efforts of both of them, also the peace and tranquility of a person depends on the harmony between his mind and heart as they form his spiritual parents.

The morals and behaviour of any person are a result of the combination of the actions of his mind and heart. If he does not profess the religion of Allah, then this combination is, in Divine estimation, a forbidden relation which produces illegitimate fruit. The person is cast away from Allah and he lives in a ruinous hell. But when he answers the call of Allah and embraces His religion and submits to Him, his mind and heart combine together to fulfill the purpose of his existence. Then this relation becomes legal and bears legitimate blessed fruit. The person is brought to a new spiritual life and attains to the peace and harmony of his inner self and he is rewarded by the love and nearness of Allah.

Allah has hinted to this similarity when referring to women:

They are a garment to you, and you are garment to them. (2:188)

To understand this fully we need to understand the meaning of the word garment which is mentioned here. The Quran itself explains the meaning of this word:

O children of Adam, we have indeed sent down to you raiment to cover your shame, and to be an elegant dress; but the raiment of righteousness - that is the best. That is one of the signs of Allah, that they may remember. (7:27)

Here the Arabic word which was translated as raiment is libaas. A raiment is used to cover our nakedness and also to to serve as a decoration and embellishment and make us look elegant. But this verse tells us more. It continues to tell us that the apparel of piety is in fact the really fine raiment for us. Ordinary dress covers our physical nakedness, while the apparel of piety covers our spiritual and moral nakedness. So the verse reminds us that when we consider it to be necessary to have good clothing to cover our physical nakedness and use elegant dress to to look graceful, we should all the more be anxious to cover our moral and spiritual nakedness. And the best raiment for us is the apparel of righteousness and piety.

The word raiment is further explained in another verse of the Quran:

And Allah has made for you, of that which He has created,things affording shade, and He has made for you in the mountains, places of shelter and He has made for you garments which protect you from heat and coats of mail which protect you in your wars. Thus does He complete His favours on you that you may submit to Him. (16:82)

The verse show that garments are used for protection form heat and also for protection in battles. But again the verse tells us more. The verse ends with the phrase Thus does He complete His favours on you, that you may submit to Him. This draws our attention to the fact that the real purpose of this favour from Allah is to enable us to submit to Him. Hence we start to think about this verse in the spiritual sense. The heat from which our garments are protecting us can be understood as the ruinous hell within the inner self of a person who is disobedient to his Creator. He creates this hell himself out of his own choice and he has the ability to protect himself from it through following the guidance of Allah.

Also, the protection in wars can be taken as protection in spiritual battles. Islamic Jihad (striving for the cause of Allah) does not only involve killing and being killed but in striving hard to win the pleasure of Allah. This can best be done by serving the cause of truth with all one's might under the command and guidance of a Divinely appointed reformer. This is Jihad in the truest sense of the word. It can take the form of preaching and dissemination of the teachings of Islam by peaceful means or of defending it by the sword from being destroyed by its enemies. But the Great Jihad as termed by the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is the Jihad against one's baser self. i.e., against one's evil desires and propensities or against Satan.

So when we protect ourselves against our enemies in this spiritual battle, we can attain to victory in the form of true submission to Allah.

If we now combine the meaning of this verse with the meaning in the previously mentioned verse, we understand that Allah has bestowed upon us the ability to be righteous and pious so that we can protect ourselves from all evil which prevents our souls from surrendering to Allah.

We can also see that the word garment is used to signify the raiment of piety which us the means of the protection of the soul against all evil and hence, it is the means of attaining to true submission to Allah.

With this understanding of the word garment, we can now return to the original quotation:

They are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them. (2:188)

In the light of the above, we can now see that this expression can be applied to the two components of the human inner self. Exactly as the husband and wife complement one another and protect one another against the enemies who threaten the peace of their family, the two components of the inner self of the human being complement one another and protect one another from all evil in their Great Jihad. Righteousness will prevent a person from thinking wickedly and hence it will protect from his heart from inclining towards evil and at the same time righteousness will prevent him from evil desires which can poison his mind with evil.

Thus, righteousness protects a person from the ruinous hell which can be created by him through his disobedience to his Creator.

The two components of his inner self protect each other and adorn one another with the raiment of piety and this will lead him to complete submission to Allah.

After attaining to true submission to Allah and after following His guidance, a person naturally awaits some results and gains. This is again similar to the case of a husband and wife who, after establishing their marriage, desire to have children. In this connection Allah says:

Your wives are a tilth for you, so approach your tilth when and how you like, and send ahead some good for yourselves and fear Allah and know that you shall meet Him, and bear good tidings to those who obey. (2:224)

The word tilth means a piece of land ploughed for sowing or actually sown with some crop or even under crop. It also means crop or produce of a land. It is also used to signify gain, acquisition or earning and also reward and recompense. The wife is likened to a tilth here because she is like a tilth in which the seed of progeny is sown to bear crop in the form of children.

A wise husbandman selects the best soil, prepares the best tilth, secures the best seed and chooses the best time and manner of sowing it. Similarly, a man should select a wife who is best suited as a tilth, i.e., pious and well qualified and of loving nature for the benefit of his children. He should love her and treat her well and look after her so that her life will be happy and contented and she may become best disposed to bring up the children well. Lastly, he should keep himself in a state of good physical and moral health so that his seed for his tilth may also be healthy in every respect. Then he will ensure that he will reap a good harvest in the form of pious and righteous children.

Considering this verse in the spiritual sense, we see that it is giving advice for attaining to true and complete submission to Allah. It tells a person to be careful about his ideas and opinions because whatever good or evil he conceals in his mind will serve like a seed for his inclinations and actions and it will bear good or evil fruit for himself. So the words send ahead some good for yourselves means plant a seed in your tilth for the good of your own selves. The means of sending this good is found in the words fear Allah which shows that if a person wants to reap a good harvest for his actions, he should prevent evil from its very roots through being righteous.

The phrase and know that you shall meet Him can be taken as a continuation for the words fear Allah which means that you should fear Allah because one day you shall meet Him, on the Day of Judgment.

The phrase can also be taken as glad tidings, for those who will be righteous will have the honour of meeting Allah in this life, which is the aim of every true and sincere servant of Allah. This is followed by the words and bear glad tidings to those who obey, which means that this glad tiding is for the true believers. So this means that those who believe sincerely and follow this injunction and become righteous will secure for themselves the best results and gains. They will reap good fruit and they will enjoy the love and nearness of Allah and the true relationship with Him. The will be brought to a new life like a newborn child and they will enjoy a life of peace and tranquility, and inner paradise.

When a person gains good fruit out of following the guidance of Allah, he becomes encouraged and he tries to strive more in this path so that he can achieve more results and increase the good he gained out of it. His inner self reaches the phase of parenthood. His will and behaviour combine together to look after his faith and protect it. Exactly like the parents who combine their efforts to look after their children and protect them. His will submits completely to his Creator and he becomes devoted to Allah's religion and protects and nourishes it like the mother who nourishes her young children with love and care.

The Quran has given us a practical example of this advanced stage of human spiritual ascent in the person of Mary, the mother of Jesus (peace be upon him):

And remember when the angels said: O Mary, Allah has chosen thee and purified thee and chosen thee above the women of all peoples. (3:43)

Mary is the example of a righteous believer and a sincere follower of the guidance of Allah. Again we read about Mary:

Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said 'O Mary thou hast done a strange thing.
O sister of Aaron, thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother an unchaste woman'.
Then she pointed to him. They said, 'How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?'
He said, 'I am a servant of Allah. He has given me the book and made me a Prophet;
And He has made me blessed wheresoever I may be and has enjoined upon me Prayer and almsgiving so long as I live.
And He has made me dutiful towards my mother and He has not made me haughty and unblessed.
(19:28-33)

These verses tell us the story of Mary when she went to her people carrying Jesus (peace be upon him). The word for carrying him means that Mary believed in Jesus (peace be upon him) and helped him in his mission. When her people told her that she has done a strange thing, she silently pointed to Jesus (peace be upon him) who started introducing his religion to them.

In the spiritual sense, Mary signifies a true believer and a sincere follower of a prophet of Allah, who is acting upon the guidance furnished by this prophet and who is preaching his religion to others.

The words carrying him means that she has embraced his religion and reflected it in her person. When she declared this to her people and preached her religion to them, they rejected it because it was strange and unknown to them. So she silently started introducing her faith.

She pointed to the truth by her behaviour and conduct, by her complete submission to Allah and her true devotion to His service.

She became a manifestation of the Unity of Allah.

The disbelievers could see the spiritual station to which she had attained. The fruits she achieved and gained proved the truth of her beliefs and the prophet she followed. She taught the people to follow the guidance of Allah through her actions which were in full compliance with the commandments and ordinances of her religion.

The verses explain to us the perfect way of preaching a religion. Mary signifies every sincere and true follower of a prophet of Allah whether this follower is a man or a woman. A female example is used because she is representing a person who reached this spiritual level through sincerely following the example of a prophet of Allah and though being a reflection of the prophet. Mary is also introduced as a mother to indicate that she represents the true believer who who has already attained to true submission to Allah and who has already gained his fruit. He was granted a new spiritual life and has established a strong relationship with Allah. He has now reached the stage of looking after his faith and protecting it and nourishing it. So he has spiritually reached the stage of motherhood of his religion.

This fact has been explained in the Quran:

Allah sets forth for those who disbelieve the example of the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. They were under two righteous servants of Ours, but they acted unfaithfully towards them. So they availed them naught against Allah, and it was said to them, `Enter the Fire, ye twain, along with those who enter.'
And Allah sets forth for those who believe the example of the wife of the wife of Pharaoh when she said, `My Lord! build for me a house with Thee in the Garden, and deliver me from Pharaoh and his work, and deliver me from the wrongdoing people;
And the example of Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity - so We breathed there in of Our Spirit -and she fulfilled in her person the words of her Lord contained in His books and was one of the obedient.
(66:11-13)

In these verse we can see three examples of three different states of the inner self of a human being. The wives of Noah (peace be upon him) and Lot (peace be upon him) represent the disbelievers who reject the truth and do not benefit from the companionship of a righteous man or a prophet of Allah. Their inner self is in a state which incites the soul to evil. The wife of Pharoah stands for those believers who, vthough passionately desiring and praying to get rid of sin, yet cannot fully dissociate themselves from evil influences, represented by Pharoah, and having arrived at the stage of the self-accusing soul, sometimes fail and falter. Mary represents those righteous servants of Allah, who have closed all avenues of sin and have made peace with Allah and as a result, they are blessed with Divine inspiration. They have reached the stage of the soul at rest.

Mary here represents those who attained to the true submission to Allah. Her example can be followed by both men and women. The human race was created for one purpose, the worship of Allah. Every person whether a man or a woman is responsible to fulfill the purpose of his existence. Starting with himself, he should combine the efforts of his inner self together to attain to true submission to Allah. When he reaches the state of peace and tranquility of his own self, he can bring this paradise to his own home and family. This can be achieved by the combined efforts of the members of the family, who should all, individually and together as one unit, submit truly to Allah. Once this is achieved, the sphere of their effort can be increased to include other members of the society who should in the same manner combine their efforts together to bring more people to the true submission to Allah. Hence, the whole world can be brought to true submission to Allah and peace and tranquility can spread in the earth thus bringing paradise to earth.

This is the essence of Khilafat which springs from the inner depths of the human self. Khilafat combines together the efforts of the true servants of Allah under one leadership to bring the whole world to the true submission of Allah.

We who live in this age are very fortunate. We have witnessed the rebirth of Islam, the true religion of Allah, which was brought to the world by the best Prophet of mankind (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The Promised Messiah (peace be upon him) revived this religion by following in the steps of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and he planted the seed of Khilafat which is growing into a blessed tree by the efforts of his sincere followers under the leadership of his true successors. This tree needs the combined efforts of both men and women to keep it growing. May Allah enable us all to nourish this tree and to be of the fortunate ones who will bring the whole world to the true submission to Allah and spread His unity throughout the universe. Amen.



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