Gender equality before God
By Dr Riffat Hassan
THE equality of man and woman in the sight of God is unequivocally affirmed by the Quran, which has assigned the duty of “enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong” to both men and women.
That piety, righteousness and good deeds of both men and women will be equally recognised and rewarded by God is stated in many passages, including the following: “And thus does their (the believers’) Sustainer answer their prayer: ‘I shall not lose sight of the labour of any of you who labours (in My way), be it man or woman: each of you is an issue of the other’.” (Surah 3:195)“Anyone – be it man or woman – who does (whatever he can) of good deeds and is a believer withal, shall enter paradise, and shall not be wronged by as much as (would fill) the groove of a date-stone.”
(Surah 4: 124) “And (as for) the believers, both men and women – they are close unto one another (awliya): they (all) enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and are constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues, and pay heed unto God and His Apostle. It is they upon whom God will bestow His grace: verily, God is Almighty, Wise!”
“God has promised the believers, both men and women, gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide, and goodly dwellings in gardens of perpetual bliss: but God’s goodly acceptance is the greatest (bliss of all) – for this, this is the triumph supreme!” (Surah 9: 71-72)
“As for anyone – be it man or woman – who does righteous deeds, and is a believer withal – him shall We most certainly cause to live a good life; and most certainly shall We grant unto such as these their reward in accordance with the best that they ever did.” (Surah 16: 97)
“Verily, for all men and women who have surrendered themselves unto God, and all believing men and believing women, and all truly devout men and truly devout women, and all men and women who are patient in adversity, and all men and women who humble themselves (before God), and all men and women who give in charity, and all self-denying men and self-denying women, and all men and women who are mindful of their chastity, and all men and women who remember God unceasingly: for (all of) them has God readied forgiveness of sins and a mighty reward…. Now whenever God and His Apostle have decided a matter, it is not for a believing man or a believing woman to claim freedom of choice insofar as they themselves are concerned.” (Surah 33: 35-36)
With reference to the word ‘awliya’, Dr Fathi Osman has stated that this word, “used in the Quran (Surah 9: 71) to show the mutual rights and obligations of men and women in society underlines both the ‘responsibility’ and the ‘authority’ that men and women should equally share as inseparable members of … society as a whole.”
In the case of punishment for wrongdoing, as in the case of reward for good deeds, man and woman are treated equally, as stated in Surah 24: 2: “As for the adulteress and the adulterer – flog each of them with a hundred stripes, and let not compassion with them keep you from (carrying out) this law of God, if you (truly) believe in God and the Last Day”.
It is noteworthy that while the Quran prescribes identical punishments for a man or a woman who is proved guilty of fornication or adultery (zina), it differentiates between different classes of women. For the same crime, a slave woman would receive half, and a consort of the Prophet (PBUH) double the punishment given to a free Muslim woman. The reason for this differentiation in punishment awarded to three different classes of women was that they were not equally placed in society.
Thus, while upholding the principle that men and women should receive the same punishment for the same crime, the Quran recognises a slave woman’s vulnerability, and the normative, social significance of the actions of the wives of the Holy Prophet. Therefore, it shows compassion in the case of the former, and holds up a higher ethical standard in the case of the latter. n
The writer is a scholar of Islam and Iqbal teaching at the University of Louisville, US.