Equity, not Equality
"You are the best of peoples evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah." [Al-i-'Imran 3:110]
Muslims have been given the task to be the witnesses to Truth for the entire mankind and to stand up for what is right. This is a logical consequence of one's belief and one's love for humanity. If you know that there is a right path that will lead to eternal success and that all others will lead to the exact opposite, it is natural to let others know about it. But it is also needed for one's own protection. For we live in a world where each other's thoughts and acts influence others; when a people stop calling others to the right path, they themselves become the target of their calls to the other paths.
The results of our collective dereliction of responsibility in this matter are all around us to see today. The campaign launched internationally in the name of women's rights and gender equality, which has recently gained lot of momentum, is one example of this.
Equality is a slick and catchy slogan. But what does equality actually mean? In mathematics if two variables are equal, one can be substituted for the other without changing the result in any way at all. If men and women are equal in this sense, then a woman can do anything a man can do and vice versa. You can substitute one for the other everywhere. Thus a woman can be a truck driver, a coal miner, a prison guard, or what have you. Similarly a man can become Mr. Mom, replacing the mother in taking care of the children.
That such mathematical equality is absurd is manifest to anyone who knows the biological and psychological differences between men and women. Yet this is precisely the direction that the so called gender equality campaign has blindly taken. It aims at replacing the complementary relationship between men and women with a competitive one. The result can only be a social upheaval of unprecedented scale.
Some people in the societies that for centuries refused to consider women as human beings or to give them any rights have gone to one extreme from the other. Islam has nothing to do with such nonsense. When women had no rights in the world, it declared: "And women shall have rights, similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable." [Al-Baqarah 2:228]. That remains its Command today and forever. Similar rights, not same rights. Equity, not a blind equality. Both men and women are equal in their humanity, in their accountability before Allah, in their responsibility to perform their assigned tasks and be judged based on their performance. But their assigned tasks are not the same. They have been given different capabilities by their Creator and the tasks based on those capabilities. This differentiation is not an error that needs to be corrected. It is the only basis for building a healthy and prosperous society. Islam liberates a woman from the modern tyranny of having to become a man in order to get a sense of self worth and achievement.
If Muslims had done their job, they would be asking for universal rights for women as given by Islam and generally ignored in the world today. Based on our dismal performance, and the current discourse on the subject, that would be quite a revolutionary --- and liberating ---act. Islam's universal declaration of women's rights would include the following:
1. Men and women have been given dignity by their Creator, but forces of immorality and darkness attack it in many ways. A prevalent form of this attack on women is pornography. Pornography is an affront to the respect and honor of women and produces an atmosphere where other crimes against them become possible. In many countries it has become an "industry" and they are exporting this filth to all parts of the world. Newer technologies, especially the Internet have also become mediums of choice for the purveyors of filth, posing a serious threat to morality everywhere. Pornography must be condemned and all trade in porn banned universally in the same way that dangerous drugs are banned.
2. Prostitution must be recognized as a despicable act of exploitation of women. No one who condones it can be taken seriously in their claims to respect women's rights.
3. It is the responsibility of the husband to provide for the family. Islam has freed the women from this responsibility so she can take care of the home. All efforts to snatch this freedom and economic security from the women and forcing them out of the home into the labor force must be resisted.
4. Homemaking is a very honorable job and a serious responsibility; it is the foundation on which healthy societies can be built. The societies that disrespect homemaking lose the homemakers and result in broken homes as can easily be witnessed in many parts of the world. It should be recognized that the trend to belittle the task of homemaking is anti-family and anti-society and must be curbed.
5. It is a Muslim woman's right to dress modestly, wear hijab, and refuse to be put on display. This right must be accepted universally and any effort to restrict this right must be recognized for what it is: Religious discrimination and/or persecution.
6. There is only one legitimate form of the family, that created by the union between a man and woman as provided in all revealed religions. Any other form is not only immoral, it poses a serious threat to the humanity.
7. Families should be protected from outside intrusion, especially intrusion by governments as much as possible. This also includes intrusion in the name of help. For resolution of family disputes, Islam suggests a three phase procedure.
A) Resolve the conflict within the home.
B) Resolve it within the family be involving elders from the families of husband and wife.
C) As a last resort resolve it through courts of law.
There is great wisdom in this approach. Sayyidna Umar, Radi-Allahu unhu, said in a directive to the qadis: "Refer the family disputes to the families (so they can resolve them within the family with the help of elders), for the judge's verdicts create hatred and malice." Ignoring this scheme can only hurt the families that this new plan purports to help.