Gold and Glitter

By Khalid Baig


"And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them and He has put love and mercy between your hearts: verily in that are signs for those who reflect."[Al-Rum, 30:21]

 "Blessed be God King of the Universe that Thou has not made me a woman." [Jewish Man's Prayer]

"What is the difference whether it is in a wife or mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must be aware of in any woman." [St. Augustine]

Not too long ago, the media spotlight was on the "plight" of women in Saudi Arabia. Here was yet another glaring example of suppression of women's rights in Islam: women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Embarrassed, Muslims rushed to point out the fact that in the rest of the Muslim world women can indeed drive.

Everyone missed the central issue. Is driving a right or a privilege? Rights are inalienable. They can be demanded. Not privileges. Now one does not need to search beyond his driving license to realize that throughout the world driving is considered a privilege, to be granted or revoked by a state agency at its discretion. In the U.S., for example, one's driving license can be revoked, for no fault of his own, if someone else hits him and he did not carry insurance when hit. The rule cannot be challenged because driving is not a right. Case dismissed.

The incident highlighted the difficulty of objectively discussing the issue of status of women in today's highly charged atmosphere. On probably no other issue is the evangelism of Western civilization more self-assured. The gold standard for women's status in the society has been developed by the West. And everyone must now comply. The history of women's struggle and eventual victory in the West has to be the guiding light for the entire humanity.

It is true that there has been a lot in the history of the West for the women to revolt against. In the 1860s, a married Englishwoman did not exist as a legal person. Upon marriage she entered a condition called "converture", effectively making her a possession of her husband. Her name was changed to indicate the new ownership, a practice that continues to date. She could not own property, make a contract or will, or get custody rights for her own children. The 1632 English law declared: "That which the husband hath is his own. That which the wife hath is the husband's." Worse, she had no rights to get out of a miserable marriage. Until 1857, divorce was obtainable through the passage of an Act of Parliament.

Her second-class status was widely believed. :"[man] is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man" [I Cor. 11:7]. So we see no respectable leader in the West in the 15th through the 18th centuries challenging these ideas. Here, for example, is the great reformer Martin Luther: "If they become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that's why they are there."

The works of Mary Wollstonecroft (1792) and John Staurt Mill (1869) are presented as the first voices of revolt. But these were controversial people who were rejected and ignored by their contemporaries. Both would be re-discovered in the second half of the 20th century because they provided a justification for the later developments.

The scene begins to change in the 19th century, not under the force of any moral argument, but because of pressures generated by the industrial revolution. The juggernaut of industrial revolution destroyed the old handicraft based economy and forced the workers to move to the sweat shops in big cities. They demanded, in vain, "family wages" so a man could support his family on his income. The capitalists would rather have the family also come to his service if it wanted to eat. There was no option but to send the women (and children) to the factory to make ends meet.

Later, the opening of clerical jobs needed millions of other women to come out of their homes and become sales girls, typists, secretaries, waitresses. Cheap labor. The process was given a moral purpose by the language of the feminist movement. It measured their "progress" by how many had been driven out of their homes. It labeled the social upheavals caused by the industrial revolution as women's emancipation. According to its convoluted logic if a woman serves food to her husband and children, it is slavery. If she provides the same service to total strangers in a restaurant or aircraft, risking their never ending advances, that is emancipation!

The ancient Greek philosophers argued whether or not woman had a soul. But the civilized West has settled the question once for all. The woman is nothing but body. That is why we see her semi-clad and nude pictures on every square inch of available space at a time when the West is busy congratulating itself for the remarkable progress of its women.

A recent L.A. Times report on pornography on the internet highlights the moral abyss this value system creates. The nudity may be degrading, it says, but the positive side is that "the Web has allowed some of these women to become entrepreneurs by marketing their own physical assets." Is it any wonder that despite the fact that he had been accused and generally believed to have performed indecent acts against women, the President of the U.S. received more votes from the women? Probably nobody cares as sexual harassment in all segments of society has become everyday news.

The destruction of the home is a direct result of this progress. In 1994, 1.2 million divorces took place in the U.S. And experts predicted that half of all new marriages would end in divorce.

An unjust system has only changed the forms of exploitation. They could not improve things at home. So they "freed" the woman from it.

Islam, on the other hand, gives her her God-given rights without forcing her out of the home. She has rights of property ownership, and inheritance, She has rights in her marriage similar to the rights of the husband. Far from the non-adult she is depicted to be, she is responsible for effective management of the home and the upbringing of the children, a most challenging job.

The paradise of her children lies at her feet; the righteousness of her husband is to be judged by his kind treatment to her; to bring her up in a loving caring manner, assures her father protection from hell fire. While the feminist model depends on friction, here the relationship is one of love and respect, leading to peace and harmony.

This is real gold. Why should any body trade it for glitter?