How Unbelieving Societies View Women
The Place of Women
All of the knowledge necessary for living a life that will earn Allah's good pleasure is contained in the Qur'an: the true nature of life on Earth, why humanity was created, how to live a fulfilled life, and the most appropriate system of morality. People who believe in this truth and live their lives accordingly will find true happiness here and in the Hereafter.
Unbelieving societies, however, have no absolute truths or powers to guide their people. In fact, they do not know where most of their values came from, who discovered them, and when and why they became their society's social norms. These rules, which cannot be ascertained but are adopted by the community as a whole, were inherited from their ancestors. In fact, all of an unbelieving society's values, ideals, and social foundations are based on tradition, also known as the way of the ancestors. Every person has a fixed place based upon his or her social status, gender, beliefs, situation, and lifestyle.
The blind and the seeing are not the same. Nor are those who have believe and do right actions the same as those who do evil. What little heed they pay! (Surah Ghafir, 58)
A woman's place is determined by these fixed criteria and the dominant creeds. In some societies, women are thought to have a weaker soul than men, just because they are physically weaker. Surprisingly, many people actually believe this lie due to the mistaken and clearly illogical idea that a woman's personality, morality, and ability are limited in direct proportion to her slighter body. For instance, various activities are classified as a man's job or a woman's job. Obviously, their different physical strength and build have some impact upon what tasks they perform. But in unbelieving societies, this distinction is based on a certain bigotry that ascribes to them a weakness in both intellect and talent.
Modern women, through their abilities and achievements, have disproved such biased assertions in many. Nevertheless, some parts of society still consider women to be incompetent in some respects or believe that men, simply because they are men, can do a better job.
Many people also mistakenly believe that women have a weaker character than men. In unbelieving societies, it is taken for granted that women panic and lose control, whereas men remain cool and calm. Or, in a situation of adversity, men are said to display great strength of character, whereas women respond meekly. Girls are conditioned to conform to this prejudice from early childhood. Families, which take great care to give their boys strength of character, condition their girls with opposing character traits. In the face of trouble, boys are told that boys don't cry, behave like a man, be brave, don't be scared like a little girl, you are crying like a little girl. Girls are also told that they are different from boys and that they should behave accordingly.
In such societies, women's jobs and responsibilities are limited to certain areas. As a consequence of this bigotry, most societies still discriminate against women. This misguided view of women has revealed itself in various ways. Especially in the past, women were subjected to barbaric behavior. For example, Allah reveals that girls were considered so worthless in some societies that their fathers buried them alive as soon as they were born:
… when the baby girl buried alive is asked for what crime she was killed. (Surat at-Takwir: 8-9)
In other verses, Allah speaks of people whose faces turned angry upon learning that they had a new daughter and hid in embarrassment from their people:
When one of them is given the good news of a baby girl, his face darkens and he is furious. He hides away from people because of the evil of the good news he has been given. Should he keep her ignominiously or bury her in the ground? What an evil judgment they make! (Surat an-Nahl: 58-59)
Allah also reveals that such people considered their daughters to be pretty things who were incapable of standing up for themselves:
When any of them is given the good news of the very thing that he himself has ascribed to the All-Merciful, his face darkens and he is furious. "What! Someone brought up among pretty trinkets who cannot produce a cogent argument!" (Surat az-Zukhruf: 17-18)
Through His Prophets, Allah educated such people about the mistaken nature of this prejudiced view. By means of the Prophets and the spread of Islam among the people, this ignorant and disgraceful outlook has been greatly curbed.
We have sent down Signs making things clear. Allah guides whoever He wills to a straight path. (Surat an-Nur, 46)
Allah reminds people that whatever they have comes from Him: "The kingdom of the heavens and Earth belongs to Allah. He creates whatever He wills. He gives daughters to whoever He wills, and He gives sons to whoever He wills, or He gives them both sons and daughters. And He makes whoever He wills barren. Truly, He is All-Knowing, All-Powerful" (Surat ash-Shura: 49-50). Both girls and boys are gifts from Allah for which people must be thankful.
Throughout history, many societies have assumed such misguided attitude towards women. An important reality, however, must not be overlooked: The morality, behavior, and personality of some women help to spread and justify this ignorant tradition by proving it true.
In the coming pages, we will examine briefly the ignorance that prevents women from throwing off this destructive tradition and adopting religion's superior morality, and display the character differences between unbelieving and Muslim women.
Women's Character in Unbelieving Societies
The predominant character of women who live in unbelieving societies, irrespective of their education or other achievements, is clear for all to see. One reason for this is that unbelieving societies encourage their women, from an early age onward, to adopt this socially approved character by making it attractive to them. Surrounded on all sides by the same type of suggestions, girls usually comply without a second thought. They learn how to behave properly by observing their mothers and other women and then internalizing the ideals they see portrayed. They repeat their role models' expressions, begin to mimic their behavior, and generally try to emulate them. Consequently, in the absence of other role models, they accept what they see as the ideal woman and strive to live up to that image.
Whoever does an evil act will only be repaid with its equivalent.But whoever acts rightly, male or female, being a believer, will enter the Garden (an be) provided for in it without any reckoning. (Surah Ghafir, 40)
Obviously there are exceptions, for some women recognize this misguided tradition for what it is and refuse to adopt it. But this recognition alone cannot free them from it. For example, they may escape some of the behavioral faults but continue to live a conflicting and self-contradictory existence because their characters are not defined by the Qur'an's morality. Therefore, the differences between their character and that of their society's women in general remain limited to their refusal to conform to society's expectations. All women who do not emulate the Muslim woman's character defined in the Qur'an will still have to contend with their own character type, which will remain inconsistent and erroneous.
When we examine the general features of women living in unbelieving societies, we see that all of them have a common character type to such an extent that society perceives them as all being the same. One of the most common views is that women do not have the same strong and persistent personality as men. Most women, as well as men, concede this fact and therefore never consider themselves capable of protecting or defending anyone. Since they consider themselves inferior or less capable than men, they usually look for someone to take care of them, whether financially or otherwise, in order to protect themselves from bullying or other dangers. They expect their husbands to take care of them and then, when they are widowed, their sons.
This weak character leads to such behavioral problems as emotional instability, crying, jealousy, hysteria, being easily upset about things or with people. Unbelieving societies consider these characteristics to be part of woman's nature, as well as their being more sensitive to negative events. Therefore, it is perfectly all right for them to cry in such cases. Men, on the other hand, are supposed to be brave and strong, because only women are believed to be easily upset and highly emotional. Another widespread observation is that some unbelieving women quickly surrender to hopelessness, worry and complaining, or become argumentative when faced with adversity. Such reactions are contrary to the Qur'an's morality.
All of these character traits have one thing in common: They only bring grief and unhappiness to everyone. As a result, such women go through life being tense, unhappy, and troubled. In other words, their decision, whether conscious or not, to adhere to this misguided tradition's view of the ideal woman makes them miserable, because they are following the wrong ideals, purpose in life, and worldview.
But as for those who have believe and do right actions, We will not let the wage of good-doers go to waste. (Surat al-Kahf, 30)
Just like all unbelievers, women chase the temporary life of this world and its illusory attractions. Their foremost ideals are to enjoy this life's pleasures as much as possible, raise their living standards continuously, have a good name and status in the community, and win their society's compliments and admiration.
They are saddened by things that they cannot control, such as worrying about what the future may bring and fearing for their lives and property. As their society suggests, they seek to be only good housewives, mothers, or wives. Or, the other thing expected of them is that they acquire a good job and pursue a career that will enable them to become financially independent.
It goes without saying that there is nothing wrong with pursuing such goals, for these are things people can rightfully desire in life. However, what is wrong is to encourage women to spend their lives within these boundaries and thereby limit their ideals. All human beings will be either rewarded or punished on the Day of Judgment according to their efforts, or lack thereof, to win Allah's good pleasure.
Unbelieving women have one fundamental character flaw: their desire to enjoy only the pleasures of this world and to live accordingly, because everything they have (e.g., prestige, status, friends, family, or children) are all destined to disappear. The only thing that remains forever is Allah. Therefore, people should choose their personality, morals, lifestyle, ideals, and everything else in order to win His good pleasure. Otherwise, people will find themselves imprisoned in their own little lives and in their own little worlds, and then meet with eternal suffering and regret in the Hereafter.
No doubt, many women are dissatisfied with their place in society and thus continue to question and escape the ideal woman tradition. They often achieve visible success in their chosen fields and point out the wrongness of their soceity's stereotypical views of women. But because they continue to live by their unbelieving society's values and do not adopt the character that would win them Allah's good pleasure, they fail to get what they truly seek: true respect and their society's trust. Even if they seem to have realized their goals, they remain unhappy and discontented because they know that they have not truly and permanently achieved them.
People who blindly adopt their society's stereotypes have some excuses for their behavior. First of all, they believe that these social creeds prevent women from discarding the character type envisaged for them. They fear that society will criticize or accuse them, or even make them outcasts. Therefore, they prefer to live according to their unbelieving society's ideal character types rather than risking any possible negative repercussions.
Another reason why some women hesitate to discard the socially acceptable female role model is the pressure they fear from those people of influence and authority over them in their immediate environment. This attitude prevents them from moving away from this character type, even though they clearly recognize its faults.
But the main reason why these women cannot escape this misguided character type is that they do not know how to find the ideal character that would enable them to force society to accept them once they had broken with this tradition. Since they lack this knowledge, they continue to look for a solution in the wrong places. For instance, a housewife thinks that she will find a better place in society, as well as more respect and love from those around her, by becoming a businesswoman or another type of professional. Likewise, a businesswoman believes that she will find the same things by climbing the corporate ladder or moving to a better, more respectable job.
In reality, all such ways of thinking are flawed. There is only one way of life, one character, and one morality that will make them honorable and superior in both worlds: living according to the Qur'an, which endows all people with the strongest character and the highest morals, and earn them Allah's good pleasure as well as the people's love and respect.
Therefore, every person must not adopt the ideal personality thought fit for them, but rather seek out and find the truth. Allah has revealed the truest character traits and the best personality for all people, and the way to acquire them is the easiest and most perfect. Allah says:
But as for him who believes and acts rightly, he will receive the best of rewards, and We will issue a command, making things easy for him. (Surat al-Kahf: 88)