In a world of rapidly changing beliefs regarding the nature of gender, more and more Muslims are finding themselves in the midst of a raging debate regarding the roles of men and women within the family unit, and more broadly – society at large. The traditional gender role of women in particular has become the biggest source of confusion within many young Muslim’s marriages, largely due to the proliferation of feminist thought, and changing beliefs regarding egalitarianism between the genders. The issue has become so significant that Dr. Julie Macfarlane, a professor at the University of Windsor writes in a report about trends in Muslim marriages that “different expectations and assumptions over the role of women inside and outside the home were the single most common source of marital conﬂict described by both men and women.” Sadly, the report also claims that the divorce rate among North American Muslims has risen dramatically in the past 25 years. Since happiness is largely a function of met expectations, the epidemic spread of unhappiness in marriage and the resultant divorce says more about the genders’ widely diverging set of expectations pre-marriage rather than any inherent individual incompatibility.
Feminism has raised many questions regarding what ought to be and what ought not to be expected from the other spouse after marriage, and many thinkers have went on to critique not only the implementation but the division of labor along gender lines in its entirety. In the absence of functional differentiation, the very concept of gender has become a source of major contention. Muslims thus ask themselves openly: What does it mean to be male? What does it mean to be female? Is there a difference between the two? Can certain qualities be described as masculine or feminine? Are we supposed to grow those qualities within ourselves and strive to self-differentiate? Are there roles that we ought to fulfill in society as members of a specific gender? What does God want us to do? When Islam says that there are two genders, what does that actually mean in practice?
Gender is a fundamental part of human identity; yet, many Muslims have no clear, unequivocal guideline of what they are supposed to do as members of their own gender – a fact that really speaks to the failure of our scholarly leadership here in the West. The reality is that Islam, from the words of Allah and His Messenger themselves, have very strong things to say about the normative roles and responsibilities of each gender. As Muslims, we are beholden to these words if we truly believe in their divine origin. But for those of us who remain ignorant of them, we risk adopting the worldview of our secular elites in an attempt to over-correct the injustices we see in our parents’ generation. The result is a new population of individuals carrying within them the burden of cognitive dissonance, a hidden source of pain that can dangerously lead down the path of abandoning faith altogether. We either doubt God, or more virtuously, we doubt ourselves. Inshaa’ Allah, this article will be an aide to that goal. By describing the ideological foundations of feminism and comparing them to Islam’s own gender theory, I hope to nurture the doubt in people’s hearts toward their acceptance of the established secular liberal narrative.
1. Understanding the Feminist Project
And when it is said to them, “Do not cause corruption on the earth,” they say, “We are but reformers.”
Throughout the majority of human civilization, the notion of gender differentiation was rarely questioned. It wasn’t until the onset of the feminist movement, itself a consequence of historical events, that American and broadly Western society started down the slippery slope of redefining the meaning of gender.
Feminism was born in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a movement that sought to grant women equal standing with men in terms of property rights, marriage contract, and legal status. This ‘first wave’ feminism became primarily focused on attaining women’s suffrage, culminating in the United States with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which granted women the right to vote. Many first wave thinkers had higher aspirations regarding gender roles, but these plans had to wait until the sexual liberation of the 1960’s to be questioned in the form of the second wave of feminism. During this time, society began challenging established sexual norms and the focus shifted towards the reproductive rights of women. The specific issue of abortion went all the way to the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, with the court ruling that it was unconstitutional to institute laws preventing access to abortion services. Other laws pertaining to gender discrimination in the workforce were passed to ensure equal pay and equal hiring opportunities regardless of sex. Once legal victory was achieved, attention was turned towards changing culture at large. The 1990’s and early 2000’s saw the rise of third wave feminism which focused on awareness campaigns and dismantling the residual acceptance of gender roles. Individualism, pure freedom and total equality in all spheres became the end-game to the point where pornography and the sex industry became legitimate avenues for female empowerment. As feminism grew to encompass women of more diverse populations and minorities, the term ‘intersectionality’ was introduced to keep them all united under one banner despite competing and conflicting labels and identities.
It is no coincidence that the feminist movement was able to take foothold around the time of the first World War, when many men were sent to fight and subsequently be killed in combat, leaving women with the task of entering the workforce and becoming primary providers. As such, many of the feminists’ demands made sense in the context of this social change. However, after the end of WWII, men returned home to realize that women weren’t content returning to their previous roles. Women were now free to come and go as they please, no longer confined to the homes of their fathers or husbands. This naturally led to a massive shift in the fabric of society; increased casual mixing of genders became commonplace, and again naturally, this heightened the sexual tension within the lives of the youth. Enticed by the availability of casual intercourse, previously limited due to difficulty of access, both men and women transgressed against the sanctity of marriage. The usual consequence of fornication – unwanted pregnancy – was eliminated thanks to the advent of advanced birth control and easy access to abortion services. The mindset needed to accept this change – namely that any restriction of sexual desire is a form of oppression – meant that the project could not stop at heterosexual freedom. The next battleground had to be the liberation of homosexuality. People essentially convinced themselves that pure freedom was the road to happiness, and so it was only a matter of time before they began redefining every aspect of themselves to suit their desires. Thus, as a consequence of the feminist project which prized individualism above all else, we have found ourselves in a society pushing the notion of complete gender artificiality.
The question arises: how did advocating for women’s rights, a seemingly innocuous matter, give rise to such social degeneracy? The answer lies in the secular way that these rights were advocated for, and the assumptions that were adopted in order to attain their highly coveted political victories.
The basic premise of feminism is as such:
- The idea of inherent virtue of gender equality between men and women in all contexts, be it legal or cultural, public or private.
- The idea of inherent evil of male-centric society and privilege; also called patriarchy.
I believe this is the essence of feminism that the vast majority of feminists can come together and agree upon today in a post third wave environment. While there is variability under the label of feminism, there must remain some kind of central ideology at its heart to bring all the women and men who fall under this umbrella together. It cannot be totally subjective in the absolute sense, because then the label becomes essentially meaningless and absurd. The above two premises provide a nice fundamental ideological core that can functionally describe the majority of feminists’ shared beliefs. From this ‘feminist aqeedah’ we can then analyze the implications of its pseudo-religious claims.
When a person accepts the feminist premise, the solution to the problem that it poses becomes clear: society needs to pursue the active advancement of female empowerment. ‘Female empowerment’ here meaning a very specific thing: the achievement of social status, influence, and leadership positions amongst women to the exclusion of men. Now, we begin seeing the effect of accepting a subconscious feminist paradigm; the very use of common terminology like “empowerment” and “patriarchy” carry within them the belief in the feminist historical narrative. If women need to be empowered, then it is because we accept that there has been a particular type of systematic subjugation towards them as an entire class of people. It is not enough to pursue justice at a microcosm level for specific abusers or even specific laws; rather, the entire framework of gender roles has robbed women of what they are owed. That is the true enemy, hence why ‘empowerment,’ as defined above, is the only acceptable solution. Whenever anybody uses language that presents female empowerment as rising to the level of moral virtue in of itself, without conditional limitations, then they have necessarily adopted the premise that the world has inflicted injustice upon women by setting aside for them their own societal roles and placing them under the umbrella of “separate,” away from the public sphere and thus away from the supposed centers of power. Men are accused of monopolizing that power, systematically oppressing every woman and robbing her of her potential. For feminism, the only true way to eliminate this monopoly is through the destruction of defined gender roles, allowing women to be the ones to attain traditionally-male roles instead.
Is a separate, more private gender role for women inherently oppressive? We will analyze if this assessment is actually true in the sections below. But for now, we must admit that it was historically natural to believe in designed, specific roles and spaces for women in relation to men. People used to see the wisdom in such structure. This is in contrast to today where the mere concept of gender separation is ugly to the mind. Any notion that it is good to be functionally different from each other is scoffed at as anti-feminist, anti-progress, and backwards. To even insinuate that we can tolerate some kind of power disparity between genders is an even more heinous blasphemy. If there is to be any semblance of gender differentiation at all, then it must be reduced to a mere cosmetic expression; if gender begins to actually have different behavioral implications and social expectations then it is ultimately immoral, evil and tagged for destruction. This is the feminist mission, the feminist project that we have all unconsciously accepted as a collective culture.
Is it true that pure gender equality is an inherent moral virtue? Is it true that masculinity must be stripped of its privileged status in public society? Is it true that women need to be empowered to the point of rivaling their male counterparts in all aspects imaginable? Is it true that all of this leads to less oppression towards women? And is it true that this is actually what makes women happier as a whole?
For Muslims, the answer lies in our scripture. While I personally have zero authority on my own to allocate moral virtue, I do have the ability to relay the word of God. It is God who gets to tell us how equal we get to make ourselves. God gets to decide what is a woman’s right and what isn’t. God gets to decide who should be empowered and to what extent. God allocates rights; not the feminists, and not men. Before Muslims eagerly jump onto the feminist bandwagon to proclaim, “women’s rights!” we must critically ask ourselves: which women’s rights? Does feminism ultimately advocate for something that takes things too far in the opposite direction from Islam? If we turn towards society to observe the fruits of feminism – unrestricted gender mixing, immoral sexual ethics, family instability, and gender confusion – then we have no choice but to admit its ultimately corrupting nature.
Even if we were to care less about Islamic ethics, from a purely secular standpoint we see that the path that feminism has taken did not solve the alleged core problem of gender division within society. Instead, it has made things much worse with more division. People are now confused and unsure about who they actually are or supposed to be. Gender is now a politically contested matter; sexual biology is recognized, but it’s no longer seen as a mandate towards how a person chooses to self-identify or behave. If gender is an arbitrary choice, predicated on the individual’s emotions, desires, and experiences; then even the labels of male and female are themselves fluid and arbitrary collections of qualities that do not necessarily need to be gathered in one individual. Believing that gender is as such – a rigid binary – is now said to be a form of unreasonable expectation, another form of mass control and oppression by larger systems at play. Any attempt to promote gendered role play amongst children, be it telling boys to play with trucks or girls to play with dolls, is seen as a great injustice that reinforces antiquated stereotypes and is tantamount to child abuse. Who are we to tell an individual, even a child, how to express themselves?
We as Muslims must remember that the idea that an individual’s self has the right to determine their own identity without any restriction from a higher authority is the core ideology of liberalism. As I discussed in a previous blog post, this philosophical liberalism is inherently and diametrically opposed to the central beliefs and tenets of Islam. Islam places Allah, the God of the Heavens and the Earth, as King of Humanity; capable of dictating what we are allowed to do and what we are not allowed to do. In fact, our religion tells us what we are supposed to desire and hate, much less what our actions are. For us, the self cannot argue with its very Maker, no matter how much our hearts yearn for the forbidden fruits. We believe that our God has ultimate wisdom behind every action, every mandate and every choice that He actualized. As such, God chose to create people in two biologic genders for a reason. And the intelligent and thoughtful among us set aside time in our lives to think about what that actually means; why did God create us in pairs?
2. The Cosmology of Gender
We know of God as the One; the perfect unity and self-sufficient being that has no equal, no companion, and nothing to depend on to manifest His existence and majesty. God’s attributes emanate from His Will, and as part of His Will He decided to create the entirety of the creation as we know it. But, the way that He chose to manifest creation was not haphazard. In fact, in His infinite wisdom He went out of His way to encode into the very fabric of existence a principle that demonstrates our status as created and subservient entities through an all-pervasive theme and archetype: mutual inter-dependency. It is such a potent concept that it is found in the very molecules of our DNA. And I mean that literally: our DNA can only function properly if it combines with a complementary pair of itself. We as subjects of creation – humans, plants, animals, atoms, particles, stars and planets – ultimately are imperfect beings that cannot compare to Allah’s perfection. And what better way for us to be shown our own deficiencies, our own faults and weaknesses, than by being literally presented with a version of ourselves that is the metaphysical inverse of our own strengths? The proton and the electron, matter and anti-matter, the sun and the moon, the night and the day, and yes – the male and the female.
Exalted is He who created all pairs – from what the earth grows and from themselves and from that which they do not know.
And a sign for them is the night. We remove from it [the light of] day, so they are [left] in darkness.
And the sun runs [on course] toward its stopping point. That is the determination of the Exalted in Might, the Knowing.
And the moon – We have determined for it phases, until it returns [appearing] like the old date stalk.
It is not allowable for the sun to reach the moon, nor does the night overtake the day, but each, in an orbit, is swimming.
After mentioning the pairs of creation and the pairing of ourselves, i.e. our opposite genders, Allah proceeds to give the parable of the night and day, and the sun and moon. Each has its own time-frame, its own orbit, and the celestial bodies never completely overtake each other’s role entirely. The two clearly serve distinct functions, but that is acceptable. Life would not function without both performing their own complementary tasks, working together to form the ebb and flow that is the harmony of existence. In fact, in the acceptance of these roles is the perfection of their obedience to God. Choosing to accept one’s God-decreed role is the ultimate statement of acceptance and contentment with the deficiencies and strengths that He imbued within our creation.
And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.
True peace, true contentment is not found in the actualization of our desires or what we long for in the embers of our hearts. Rather, our happiness is found in the fulfillment of our intended purpose of creation. The knowledge that we serve our Creator in the way He intended for us, and the pride that we take in being able to the job He made for us, even if we do not see the personal gratification initially, is the true path towards peace. That is the meaning of submission to God, the real meaning of Islam itself.
And [by] He who created the male and female,
Indeed, your efforts are diverse.
At face value, we can observe immediate differences between the creation of men and women. Men have an external anatomy; women have an internal one. Men have greater physical strength, owed to the effects of testosterone; whereas fat tissue is more associated with estrogen. Young boys tend to enjoy games of competition and aggression; young girls tend to lean towards activities that involve collaboration and cooperation. Research into the psychological and behavioral nuances of men and women show very real differences not easily explained by socialization. Despite the decades of social engineering throughout the modern world, the distinction of gender has remained stubbornly persistent thanks to the depth of our very own biology. And this is something that ought to be celebrated, not resented with virulent hatred as the messengers of progressivism would have us believe.
And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.
Narrated Ibn `Abbas: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) cursed those men who are in the similitude (assume the manners) of women and those women who are in the similitude (assume the manners) of men.
Sahih Bukhari 5885
Islam acknowledges the diversity of humanity, but it nevertheless attaches a moral value to the concept of gender differentiation itself. It is not a ‘good thing’ for a woman to behave and dress like a man, nor it is ‘good’ for a man to behave and dress like a woman. Why is this the case, if the intention was not to preserve the sanctity of gender differentiation, gender dimorphism and gender separation? Do we fail to see the wisdom in the creation of Allah, who purposefully chose to make us biologically different? Why should we turn our backs on our biology, a natural extension of Allah’s decree? Allow me to present an analogy: does it make sense for the sun to be jealous of the moon? Does it make sense for the DNA+ strand to wish it was a DNA- strand? It sounds preposterous doesn’t it? But the analogy stands; would we not ultimately achieve more happiness, more peace and contentment from submitting our hopes and dreams towards the goals that Allah has biologically set for us, instead of inverting the fitrah and chasing after a solution to the problem of “being different?” A problem that ultimately that doesn’t exist?
Men have a God-decreed role in Islam. Women have a God-decreed role as well. Is there flexibility in those roles? Of course, God is All-merciful and cognizant of people’s different circumstances and dispositions. However, too often do we fall into the trap of idolizing the mere concept gender equality and looking down upon any gender specialization, due to our secular programming. In reality, it should be the inverse: we ought to be valorizing the accomplishment of gender roles as something worthy of achievement. We already find it easy to value men for being masculine and succeeding at being providers; why shouldn’t we do the same for our women and their unique feminine roles? Both roles are opposite sides of the same coin and work together to give us something understandable regarding our identities as men and women. They give us something to look up to, and something to strive for. They also align with our subconscious biological strengths that we may not even perceive. And in the end, by us trusting in Allah’s roles for us, our society will absolutely thrive regardless of any secular metrics that may be thrown at Muslim societies. So what if they label our religion as backwards and patriarchal? We should take that label with pride, announcing to the world that yes, indeed: we do believe that God has decreed comprehensible roles for us that allow our societies to be strong and resistant to ideological threats, and it is the other groups that have no clue what to do with themselves and their invented identities!
3. Islam is indeed Patriarchal
Patriarchy, as discussed above, is the ultimate enemy of equality within the ideological framework of feminism. It is broadly defined as the concept of privileging men with any kind of special authority or status over women; doing so is simply de facto oppression. So, let us evaluate some of Islam’s rulings that distinguish men from women using this litmus test of patriarchy – does Islam endorse egalitarianism, or does it reinforce a worldview that perpetuates male privilege?
Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females. (…)
In the ayah above and others in Surat an-Nisaa’, Allah defines the shares of inheritance to the closest of kin of an individual. The ayah also describes the inheritance of the parents, the siblings, and so forth; certain circumstances such as siblings to the deceased, in the absence of other inheritors, receive equal share regardless of gender. However, in some cases male relatives are given pretty explicit privilege: sons are given twice the share of daughters.
As we are all intuitively aware, money and wealth lead to purchasing power and influence. And yet, God has decreed explicit inequality amongst children with regards to their entitlement to the power that is left behind by their parents. Why did Allah decree this? What is the wisdom behind such a ruling? Why does the man get more than his sister? What entitles him to a greater portion of the wealth of his parents? What does a male need the extra money for?
Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. (…)
(…) Upon the father is the mothers’ provision and their clothing according to what is acceptable. (…)
Allah decreed a responsibility upon men that He did not decree on women; husbands are required to financially maintain their wives and children. It thus makes sense that a man needs a greater share of his parent’s wealth, because his “role” as a man is a provider; he provides for his dependents and that goal takes precedence over individual enrichment. Here we see from the outset that Islam heavily implies defined gender roles by the very laws that God has defined. Men are obligated to be the providers.
What happens when the inheritance runs out? Well, the man still has to provide for his family. From the male perspective, this arrangement seems unfair. Why should he be the one responsible while his wife gets to enjoy her financial freedom and has the right to be provided for? The inequality is exacerbated further when we consider the marriage contract itself. The man is required to give a bridal gift – the mahr – which subsequently becomes the property of the wife which becomes hers to do with as she pleases:
And give the women [upon marriage] their [bridal] gifts graciously. But if they give up willingly to you anything of it, then take it in satisfaction and ease.
One answer to this is the right to divorce: the man has the sole right to enact divorce without restriction, a right that the wife does not have, but on the condition that he is no longer entitled to the mahr that he gave:
Divorce is twice. Then, either keep [her] in an acceptable manner or release [her] with good treatment. And it is not lawful for you to take anything of what you have given them unless both fear that they will not be able to keep [within] the limits of Allah. (…)
But in absence of divorce, the arrangement still seems unfair over the course of a literal lifetime. Why go through all this marriage stuff? Why willingly saddle oneself with the debt and all of these responsibilities and burdens of others? Isn’t there the potential to be taken advantage of by a maliciously inclined partner?
The brutally frank answer is that there is a counter-balance to extra responsibility: the ability to command some level of extra authority.
Narrated `Abdullah bin `Umar: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Surely! Everyone of you is a guardian and is responsible for his charges: The Imam (ruler) of the people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects; a man is the guardian of his family (household) and is responsible for his subjects; a woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and of his children and is responsible for them; and the slave of a man is a guardian of his master’s property and is responsible for it. Surely, everyone of you is a guardian and responsible for his charges.”
Sahih Bukhari 7138
The position of a man among his family is described as that of the guardian or shepherd of a flock, compared directly to that of a ruler and his people. The woman is said to be the guardian of her husband’s home and children; notice how she is not the guardian of her husband in a reciprocal manner. This implies that the Prophet ﷺ intended distinct levels of authority between husband and wife.
(…) And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable. But the men have a degree over them [in responsibility and authority]. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.
The Qur’an confirms this interpretation. Men “have a degree over them,” certain rights that women do not reciprocally have.
Abu Hurairah narrated that The Prophet said: “If I were to order anyone to prostrate to anyone, then I would order the wife to prostrate to her husband.”
Jami at Tirmidhi 1159, graded Hasan
What is the symbolism of prostration? It is the symbol of submission and obedience, the willingness to restrain one’s will and place it secondary to the will of the object of prostration. The Prophet ﷺ wasn’t allowed to decree prostration to created beings, but if he were, it would have been the wife towards the husband. Very strong words indeed. Can they be honestly described as anything but patriarchal?
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “If a husband calls his wife to his bed (i.e. to have sexual relation) and she refuses and causes him to sleep in anger, the angels will curse her till morning.”
Sahih Bukhari 3237
If men did not receive anything extra from marriage – if women had the ability to demand a mahr and upkeep, withhold sexual interaction at will, and then enact a unilateral divorce – then the logical consequence is that more and more men will simply choose to forgo marriage altogether. Many will be increasingly tempted to commit fornication or adultery. This effect is already being witnessed among non-Muslims who feel free to find sexual satisfaction elsewhere (See here). If we were to actually ponder for a second, one could legitimately argue that the reason why Allah placed inside of men extra sexual energy and vigor towards women is precisely so that they will be motivated to take on the role and burdens of a primary provider within the legally protected confines of a marriage agreement.
Beautified for people is the love of that which they desire – of women (…)
Allah Himself takes credit for instilling inside of men a particular desire for the beauty of women. At the same time, He has also unequivocally decreed that women are not allowed to use their beauty as a public means of influence over men:
And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands (…)
Of course, men are still required to do their part in averting their gaze from women, remaining modest, and treating them fairly with justice. But women are nonetheless expected to do more from a clothing standpoint and literally cover up their bodies to a larger extent. That is an obvious inequality that continues to be a sticking point; it’s “technically unfair” to have different requirements for each gender’s dress code under egalitarian assumptions. Truthfully, women are simply in complete ignorance towards the actual lived experiences of men and the temptations that they uniquely have to deal with. How much blame rests on women to cloth themselves in order to avert temptation? That is for God to decide but we can certainly say that hijab undercuts a woman’s ability to objectify her body for the sake of utilizing the temptation of men for personal gain. If women feel resentment or dissatisfaction with the laws of God for taking that leverage tool away from them, then they can be sure that they are the ones who have transgressed.
Men, according to Allah, are allowed to marry more than one wife and to take concubines:
And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice].
Men are also allowed to marry Christian or Jewish women, as long as they are chaste:
(…) And [lawful in marriage are] chaste women from among the believers and chaste women from among those who were given the Scripture before you (…)
Women do not have such privileges. To a feminist, these discrepancies are inherently patriarchal in nature: a man has more latitude with choosing his partner(s) whereas a woman does not. However, if we look at it through the lens of the masculine gender role we can understand how a Muslim man can functionally ensure the provision for multiple women and use his male authority to instill Islam in his households despite having a non-Muslim wife. The reverse situation is much messier: can a woman bear the children of multiple husbands at once? Is she supposed to supersede the authority of her husband to maintain her Islam? Rather, it would seem that Islam argues that in order to have a stable and peaceful household, one partner must be designated as the leader, the head of the household who casts the final judgment in times of disagreement, while the other is expected to display qualities of obedience with threat of negative spiritual consequence:
(…) So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.
Nowhere does Islam place a positive moral value on the reverse: a husband blindly obeying his wife. Rather, husbands are taught that they should take the authority they have been given and exercise hikmah and kindness. Women are not robbed of rights entirely; they do have rights that serve to counterbalance the authority of husbands:
O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the Mahr you have given them, unless they commit open illegal sexual intercourse. And live with them honourably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good.
Narrated Mu’awiyah al-Qushayri: I went to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and asked him: What do you say (command) about our wives? He replied: Give them food what you have for yourself, and clothe them by which you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them.
Sunan Abi Dawud 2144, graded Sahih
Ja’far b Muhammad reported on the authority of his father: “(…) Fear Allaah with regard to women, for you have taken them as a trust from Allaah and intimacy with them has become permissible to you by the words of Allaah. Your right over them is that they should not allow anyone to sit on your furniture whom you dislike; if they do that then hit them but not in a harsh manner. And their right over you is that you should provide for them and clothe them on a reasonable basis. (…)”
Sahih Muslim 1218 a
Notice how the existence of these counter-rights does not negate male authority, nor does it represent a perfect egalitarian model favored by the feminist narrative. Allah very plainly states that men are qawaamuna over women, protectors placed in charge of their maintenance and safety:
Men are in charge (qawaamuna) of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. (…)
The ayah’s language implies that this is an authoritative privilege granted to men for two reasons: the spending that men do for women, and an arbitrary favoring (tafdil) by God’s choice. Although one could re-engineer the balance of spending in their own lives by mutual agreement, Allah still makes it clear that He granted a level of authority to men by virtue of their masculinity that He did not grant to women. Indeed, the more that we read about the status of leadership within Islam, the more we conclude that high-powered leadership itself seems to be a masculine quality.
Narrated Abu Bakra: During the battle of Al-Jamal, Allah benefited me with a Word (I heard from the Prophet). When the Prophet heard the news that the people of the Persia had made the daughter of Khosrau their Queen (ruler), he said, “Never will succeed such a nation as makes a woman their ruler.”
Sahih Bukhari 7099
One need to look no further than the fact that every prophet and messenger that Allah deemed worthy of mention has been male. In fact, the entire enterprise of prophethood appears exclusive to men. If men were so untrustworthy with being tasked as the inheritors of leadership and authority over others, why did Allah choose them exclusively to be His prophets, unarguably the most authoritative human beings to walk the Earth? Why did He not even choose one female prophetess to give us an example of female social and political religious leadership?
And We sent not before you [as messengers] except men to whom We revealed from among the people of cities. (…)
Even if we were to write off the masculinity of prophethood as a historical quirk, we cannot escape the multitude of texts that promote the male as the inheritor of household authority. Clearly, God has appointed men as leaders of their households and has instructed women to willingly display qualities of obedience towards their husbands. To put it bluntly, Islam endorses patriarchy in its basic, most granular essence. Flexibility certainly exists in how dynamics actually play out in a marriage, and a negotiation of responsibilities can occur given that all parties agree to it. But at a fundamental level, men will always be expected to “be men” and women to “be women.” It is not healthy for society nor for individuals to completely and totally undergo an inversion of gender at the most essential level, doing so can be described as nothing more than a complete rejection of the intent behind the creation of Allah:
Narrated Ibn `Abbas: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) cursed those men who are in the similitude (assume the manners) of women and those women who are in the similitude (assume the manners) of men.
Sahih Bukhari 5885
God certainly warns men to be wary of abusing their authority, as they will definitely be accountable themselves on the Day of Judgment. In fact, they will be judged more severely due to having been given that privilege. But the mere fact that authority has the potential to be abused, does not negate, invalidate, or provide an argument for the complete removal of said authority. All it does is represent a failure of the individual, not a systematic fault in the organization of power. Do we throw out a company hierarchy when the boss is found to be abusing his power? Do we throw out democracy if a president is found to be corrupt? Do we throw out schools if a teacher is found to have abused a student?
One of feminism’s greatest conceits is the belief that men are inherently incompetent at being fair in their leadership. That is why much of feminism is focused on the installation of women into seats of power; men supposedly cannot do the job of representing the interests of women. But in reality, there is no inherent problem with one individual being represented by a member of another group; leadership is always a type of trust that you place into the hands of someone else. Even feminists must accept this point because they want women to be able to lead men without issue. If we accept that, why is that if a man is fair and just, he can’t do the same? There is no real technical problem with a man leading woman just because he himself is a man. If needed, he can consult women about matters that concern them without the physical relinquishment of power itself. It is a spiritual sickness to prejudice men with a shadow of suspicion on their character by virtue of their gender, and the unfortunate reality is that feminism and its thesis of patriarchy has led to exactly that.
As Muslims, we cannot subscribe to the belief that patriarchy is inherently evil. Too much of our religious creed, law, and history is steeped in what is unequivocally male privilege, as defined by feminism. If feminists find that detestable, then that disgust is ultimately stemming from sinful jealousy; the desire to take away the privilege from their brothers in faith and to give it to themselves. But who on this Earth or in the Heavens has the authority to re-allocate rights of mankind other than God Himself? If God created men to be the leaders of the Ummah, then ultimate obedience is to Allah.
And do not wish for that by which Allah has made some of you exceed others. For men is a share of what they have earned, and for women is a share of what they have earned. And ask Allah of his bounty. Indeed Allah is ever, of all things, Knowing.
Is Allah being unjust when He gives one group of people more of one kind of blessing than another? Allow me to draw a comparison. Does Allah love rich people more than poor people? Does Allah love those who have been given physical beauty over those who are deemed ugly? Does Allah love extroverts more than introverts?
And do not extend your eyes toward that by which We have given enjoyment to [some] categories of them, [its being but] the splendor of worldly life by which We test them. And the provision of your Lord is better and more enduring.
Clearly when it comes to those blessings, we recognize that their allocation is a temporary one for the sake of the test of the dunya – worldly life. If we accept the inequality of those apparent features of humanity, and the inequity associated with people’s different circumstances, then how is that any different than an apparent inequality that God decrees between the genders? Is it not similarly a test for each side: a test for men to see if they will abuse their authority, and a test for women if they can relinquish their ego?
Umm Salamah narrated that The Messenger of Allah said: “Whichever woman dies while her husband is pleased with her, then she enters Paradise.”
Jami at Tirmidhi 1161, graded Hasan
Given the weight of such a burden, one would assume a loving wife would willingly participate in making the salvation of her husband and children easier rather than actively fighting and butting heads so that her ego is satisfied in the dunya. And yes, a loving husband would willingly work to make his wife feel like obedience to him is not as big of a fitnah. However, having the ideal spouse is not a prerequisite to do the job that is expected of us, and the absence of a perfect spouse does not lift the burden that we face before Allah to fulfill the role we have been individually decreed to fulfill. Ultimately, we will be facing Allah’s judgment alone.
O you who have believed, indeed, among your wives and your children are enemies to you, so beware of them. But if you pardon and overlook and forgive – then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
Islam wants to instill in men a sense of leadership. However, more and more, women are deciding that they no longer want that leadership. They want independence, self-aspiration, and freedom from the confines of gender roles, all as a result of the feminist assumptions that we have absorbed from our society. This has lasting implications for how men have come to view themselves – no longer do they feel the same level of responsibility as their fathers. Now, they view long-term partnership with apathy and purposelessness; qualities of strength and dependability no longer have space to grow, and we find more and more men becoming child-like in their disposition. Without the social pressure or impetus to rise to take on the mantle of household leadership, men have actually worsened in their treatment of women. This is ironic, considering that feminism’s entire purpose is to improve the lives of women vis-à-vis men. What feminism fails to realize is the symbiosis of men and women, and the delicate balance of gender dynamics that naturally create dissimilar roles for each. In their blindness, feminists have doubled down on the shaming approach in an effort to combat abusive behaviors from male perpetrators. In reality, men as a gender don’t really need to keep hearing how ‘bad’ they are; what they need is a healthy avenue of masculine expression that can only exist once femininity itself is revived. Why else does Allah decree that women are required to have mahrams and walis – male guardians – active in their lives?
Aishah narrated that: The Messenger of Allah said: “Whichever woman married without the permission of her Wali her marriage is invalid, her marriage is invalid, her marriage is invalid. If he entered into her, then the Mahr is for her in lieu of what he enjoyed from her private part. If they disagree, then the Sultan is the Wali for one who has no Wali.”
Jami at Tirmidhi 1102, graded Hasan
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said, “It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to travel for one day and night except with a Mahram.”
Sahih Bukhari 1088
Narrated Ibn `Abbas: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “A woman should not travel except with a Dhu-Mahram (her husband or a man with whom that woman cannot marry at all according to the Islamic Jurisprudence), and no man may visit her except in the presence of a Dhu-Mahram.” A man got up and said, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! I intend to go to such and such an army and my wife wants to perform Hajj.” The Prophet (ﷺ) said (to him), “Go along with her (to Hajj).”
Sahih Bukhari 1862
Rules like these are as much of a protection for men as it is for women; men need to be expected to take time from their own lives to care of the women around them and this is a test to the women and the men. Men need the burden of responsibility to feel useful and valued. Most men have no conceptual problem with dedicating their lives to their families; the problem is the lack of appreciation that one finds in spouses that do not respect the male sacrifice. The immaturity of men today is the consequence of that disrespect, combined with the lack of boundaries created by a sexually liberated society. If women don’t respect men for being men, why should they respect women in turn? Hence, some men feel no shame in abusing women verbally or even sexually because deep down, subconsciously, they don’t feel that women as a whole deserve their respect. It’s absolutely and totally inexcusable – a sin on those particular men. But given the reciprocal hatred of masculinity, the abuse phenomenon does become understandable as a large-scale social disease.
Women need to understand that they have a role to play, just like any other creation. Within that role, they can wield immense influence, and yes – power – if only they stopped using the measuring stick of male achievement and realized that Allah has already forged the ultimate safe space for them in this life.
4. Aspiration for Motherhood
But when she delivered her, she said, “My Lord, I have delivered a female.” And Allah was most knowing of what she delivered, “And the male is not like the female. (…)”
The Qur’an, as a light for all humanity to illuminate every doubt and confusion, gives women guidance just as much as it gives men. So let us ponder: who are the paragons of femininity in the Qur’an? Who are the role models of ‘female empowerment’ from the words of God Himself? What are the values that Allah wants to teach the women of the Ummah through these role models and examples?
And Allah presents an example of those who believed: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, “My Lord, build for me near You a house in Paradise and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds and save me from the wrongdoing people.”
And [the example of] Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We blew into [her garment] through Our angel, and she believed in the words of her Lord and His scriptures and was of the devoutly obedient.
The parables of the wife of Pharaoh and Mary are mentioned specifically as examples of righteous women in the absence of righteous husbands – in stark contrast to impious women married to righteous men:
Allah presents an example of those who disbelieved: the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. They were under two of Our righteous servants but betrayed them, so those prophets did not avail them from Allah at all, and it was said, “Enter the Fire with those who enter.”
These verses show us that the righteousness of women is not dependent on the status of their husbands; each will be evaluated on their own merit. In fact, women don’t need to be married to display the qualities of piety, chastity, trust or tawakkul in Allah. However, in both examples of the wife of Pharaoh and Mary we see a common theme – the exemplification of motherly mercy.
And the wife of Pharaoh said, “[He will be] a comfort of the eye for me and for you. Do not kill him; perhaps he may benefit us, or we may adopt him as a son.” And they perceived not.
The wife of Pharaoh cared for Moses in the face of tyranny. Mary took care of Jesus as a single mother in the face of slander. The wife of Imran offered to dedicate her child to Allah. The mother of Moses trusted in Allah to let go of her baby in the river. In all cases, motherhood is tied inextricably to the perfection of femininity as a representation of mercy. And mercy is of the highest, and most emphasized attributes of God Himself:
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “The word ‘Ar-Rahm (womb) derives its name from Ar-Rahman (i.e., one of the names of Allah) and Allah said: ‘I will keep good relation with the one who will keep good relation with you, (womb i.e. Kith and Kin) and sever the relation with him who will sever the relation with you, (womb, i.e. Kith and Kin).
Sahih Bukhari 5988
Women possess something that ties them directly to Allah that no man possesses. They have an ability that no man has, and capabilities and abilities that make them literal representations of God’s attribute of all-encompassing mercy: Al-Rahman.
Umar b. Khattab reported that there were brought some prisoners to Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) amongst whom there was also a woman, who was searching (for someone) and when she found a child amongst the prisoners, she took hold of it, pressed it against her chest and provided it suck. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: Do you think this woman would ever afford to throw her child in the Fire? We said: By Allah, so far as it lies in her power, she would never throw the child in Fire. ‘ Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: Allah is more kind to His servants than this woman is to her child.
Sahih Bukhari 2754
Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Allah has appointed an angel in the womb, and the angel says, ‘O Lord! A drop of discharge (i.e. of semen), O Lord! a clot, O Lord! a piece of flesh.’ And then, if Allah wishes to complete the child’s creation, the angel will say. ‘O Lord! A male or a female? O Lord! wretched or blessed (in religion)? What will his livelihood be? What will his age be?’ The angel writes all this while the child is in the womb of its mother.”
Sahih Bukhari 3333
The womb is such a sacred place that Allah has even appointed an angel in every woman’s uterus specifically to monitor the presence of a fetus. Islam thus places a high regard for the status of motherhood, and mothers are granted rights and obligations that the father does not have:
Narrated Abu Huraira: A man came to Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) and said, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! Who is more entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me?” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Your mother.” The man said. “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man further said, “Who is next?” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Your mother.” The man asked for the fourth time, “Who is next?” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Your father. “
Sahih Bukhari 5971
And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.
And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say, “My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.”
Parents in general are given great rights in Islam and children are taught to give them nothing less than the utmost respect and love. In the ayaat above, Allah connects this right by virtue of the upbringing that parents completed for their children. Thus, it makes perfect sense that a mother, one who has invested greater proportion of her blood, sweat, and tears; is more entitled to the love and attention from her children. Islam posits that the sacrifices of motherhood are a means of elevation for women, not degradation, and certainly nothing close to oppression:
Abu Huraira reported that Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said to a woman of the Ansar: In case anyone amongst you sees the sad demise of three children of (hers) and she resigns herself to the will of God hoping to get reward, she would be admitted to Paradise. A woman from amongst them said: Allah’s Messenger, even if they (the children who die) are two. Thereupon, he (the Holy Prophet,) said: Even if they are two.
Sahih Muslim 2632c
A woman who performs her role with excellence and pride, who does not look down upon the role that Allah has blessed and sanctified for her, is one who has internalized the real meaning of Islam. Just because women are given a different family role doesn’t signify inferiority; it is only a secular understanding combined with a psychological inferiority complex that leads to this belief. Only the insecure double down and justify feeling jealous of the external, public accomplishments of men. The fact is that no man can accomplish anything without the love and nurture from a proper upbringing, and a large insurmountable debt to their mothers.
If women desire to change the world, then they simply need to realize they already hold the keys to the future within them. Through motherhood and child-rearing, women become directly responsible for the essential task of succession; a task without which Islam would cease to exist from the face of the Earth. Is there power beyond literally shaping the future of humanity? It is a great power indeed, but one that necessitates self-sacrifice. If you think about it, any male or female individual can boost themselves to material success with hard work – it is not an inherently morally virtuous to do so because it is an understandably selfish endeavor. Who wouldn’t want a high-powered career that grants them respect, high salary, and social influence? It’s not really a morally challenging dilemma. However, the real moral virtue lies in taking that personal potential, that dedication, and turning it around and investing in others. Instead of producing one individual with high social capital, you can produce several; if you raise righteous daughters who want to fulfill that same role and become mothers, then that simply makes the effect exponential. Imagine the sadaqa jaariyyah of children and children’s children who carry on the values instilled in them by one person!
Our entire Ummah of Islam, over 1.6 billion people, owes the entire religion and our civilization to one woman – Hajaar the mother of Ismaeel. Without her, we would not have the city of Makkah, the Arabs who settled there, the Quraish tribe, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the religion of Islam. There is a reason why we perform sa’i of al Safa and Marwah to this day: as a reminder of the value of maternal struggle. Women literally have ability to give birth to entire nations; just need to adjust our eyes to it.
Mothers who dedicate their lives to their children, at the expense of themselves and their careers, are the true exemplars of selflessness. That selflessness, an expression mercy where one does not expect a material return in their lifetime, is the real embodiment of Rahmah on Earth. The truth of the matter is that not only does feminism look down upon fixed gender roles, but it actively seeks to eradicate the moral value of promoting motherhood as an aspirational goal for young women. We are told it’s “not enough” to be a mother. It’s “not enough” to raise children, it’s “bad” to depend on a husband financially, and it’s a “waste” of an education and personal potential to stay at home and prioritize one’s family. “Women should have a choice” is a true claim in principle, but at the end of the day a person’s choice is only as good as the reasons behind it. Why should a believing, righteous woman leave the vast, permanent, spiritual reward of motherhood, of which there is no parallel, for the sake of temporary worldly gain? Why shouldn’t we teach our daughters to prefer the former?
Some Muslims like to bring up the example of the wife of the Prophet, Khadija (رضي الله عنها), as a business woman who was successful and thus a praiseworthy role model for young career-mined women. The problem with this claim is that our understanding of corporate America and the realities of Pre-Islamic Arabia are totally worlds apart. Not only did Khadija never directly engage in trade travel herself – the entire reason why she employed men to do the job in the first place – but after she did marry the Prophet ﷺ she clearly adopted the traditional female gender role by becoming a mother and supporting her husband at home; she is, after all, the one who gave birth to six of the Prophet’s seven children before the early years of prophethood! If Khadija was alive today, would she really be the type of person to denounce traditional gender roles in order to pursue unhindered career heights? Based on her evident life choices, the answer is probably no.
Having outlined the religious superiority of motherly ambition, I do acknowledge the freedom to have personal ambitions within our religion. Higher education, career, and social status do have a proper place to exist within the Islamic framework. The caveat is that these goals should occupy a secondary status within the minds of young Muslim women. If a woman can perform her obligatory duties towards her family first, then any extra time and effort are hers to do with as she pleases. This will necessarily disadvantage her in certain industries that prioritize unbroken, full-time commitment; however, if the ultimate goal is the pleasure of Allah, then certainly Allah can open the doors of opportunity to whomever He wills. If we choose to sacrifice for the sake of Allah, then Allah takes that as evidence for the truth of our faith. If we prioritize the dunya over the akhira, then Allah can freely humiliate us. It’s only when Muslims begin prioritizing the akhira that will we see the dunya falling into our lap in ways we never imagined.
And their Lord responded to them, “Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another. (…)
5. Civilizational Jealousy
Muslims need to realize that not every vogue statement or slogan represents sincere intentions for social betterment. In reality, there are many agents out there that wish to subvert, undermine, and ultimately dissolve everything about our religion that causes us to uphold our unique values in the face of modernity. Broadly speaking, it is the naivete of Muslims that has allowed foreign powers to take advantage of us as a population – whether it is the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate or the past several U.S. elections. But the dirty little secret is that the reason why we have such a target on our backs is because all other nations see the value in what we currently have as an Ummah: our religious values and ethics.
We have unique principles that have allowed our values to persist in the face of literal colonization, principles that bond our individuals, male and female, together into a strong community with a sense of shared identity. These principles are our set of family ethics endowed by our religion; ethics that other nations happily discarded only later to feel buyer’s remorse. It is no coincidence that many of the attacks on Islam focus so much on the topic of women in Islam. Why is this the case? Is it because Islamophobes and colonialists alike care so very deeply about the well-being of our women? Hardly; the truth is that they recognize that by creating dissatisfaction among our women towards Islam’s gender theory, they can effectively remove the very heart of the family from the equation – the caring mother. They know that by weakening the role of the Muslim mother, they can eventually cause our entire civilization to crumble.
How is this the case? Consider what becomes of families and homes without the presence of a mother: the home becomes a cold, isolated place devoid of warmth, love, and sustenance. Children are left psychologically in need of love, seeking to fill that void in their hearts by chasing after attention from their non-religious peers and secular society instead. Without the present mother, children are necessarily handed off to the state and government apparatus to be indoctrinated with the dominant secular worldview of individualism and liberalism. The family disintegrates into an arbitrary collection of individuals, each with their own careers, no person really depending on the other, and thus not motivated to maintain healthy and loving relationships despite inevitable personality clashes. The workplace becomes the surrogate family instead; bosses are obeyed more than husbands, coworkers are loved more than siblings, and workspaces are made more and more home-like. Actual families are abandoned, and the elderly are institutionalized. The only entity that benefits from this whole arrangement is the state itself, gaining more and more control over the increasingly dependent masses.
Colonialism, once thought to have ended with the collapse of Imperialism, is actually more alive than ever; the nation-state continues the colonial project within its own populous, seeking to subjugate groups of people who resist the secular narrative and state-sponsored dependency. They call it “integration” but it is really conversion. The name of the game is control – strong families are difficult to control because they are so effective at maintaining their own values in the face of intense social pressure. As Muslims who are constantly having our values questioned, attacked, and threatened from all aspects of society, do we really want to hand over the keys of our own future – the family space – to a state and society that has explicitly expressed hostility towards everything we value as believers? Considering that even with traditional first-generation immigrant families many young Muslims struggle with resisting the towering edifice of liberal secularism, the last thing we need is an even more meaningless family unit!
Muslims need to become aware of this reality; the enemies of Islam within our globalized world would love nothing more than for Muslims to roll over and let their beliefs and values wither and die. They wish for this, because they harbor hidden jealousy. Consider the reality of global population changes expected to occur within the next few decades:
Figure 1: Pew Research Center Data on The Future of World Religions
As with everything for the secular, questions are considered through the lens of material gains. According to current projections, Muslims are expected to meet and eventually exceed the Christian population of the world by 2070. Considering the democratic nature of our modern world, this has strong implications for the vitality of the liberal manifest destiny. Will Islam ultimately come to dominate the world through sheer force of numbers? For many non-Muslims, this possibility spooks them right into the open arms of ultra-nationalism.
Today, many nations are dealing with problems regarding population shrinkage. Japan in particular is facing a demographic crisis, related to low birthrate. Ultimately, a nation’s economic strength is a function of the available laborers capable of entering the workforce – basically the influx of new youth into society as the elderly leave it and become state-dependent. If a nation is able to replace its population 1:1, this wouldn’t be a problem. However, since it takes two people to produce any children, each woman is thus theoretically burdened with giving birth to at least 2.1 children if a nation wishes to maintain its indigenous population while supporting its economy. Immigration can offset the effects of infertility, but for a xenophobic society like Japan’s that has virtually no large scale immigration, a prolonged dip in the national birthrate signals eventual societal collapse. In the 1950’s, Japan’s birthrate was 2.75 children per woman. It’s now at 1.4. Japan is irreversibly aging into oblivion because its youth refuse to have children.
Globally, the fertility rate was last estimated to be at 2.5 in 2015. Overall, the rate is decreasing and approaching the minimum replacement rate, hinting at a future of global population stagnation. However, it seems that some regions continue to have more babies than others:
Figure 2: UN Data on World Fertility Patterns 2015
We can see from the above figure that the blue and green countries, countries that have below replacement rate fertilities, all fall into the category of so-called developed nations. It is the nations that are less “developed” that continue to have total fertility rates above 2.1: Africa, Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America. What this means is that in the future, if the trends remain the same, then the global population will be largely comprised of people from these areas. If dying countries with low fertility rates wish to remain economically stable, they will have no choice but to accept immigrants from these areas in order to stabilize their populations and offset their own natives’ inability to reproduce. These people will thus bring their cultures, their religions, their skin colors and spread them to the rest of the world.
Figure 3: Pew Research Center Data on Total Fertility by Religion
If a civilization is judged by its lasting power, its resilience to the weathering of time and ability to last for generations upon generations, then clearly the Islamic civilization has done something right in aligning the human psyche towards reproduction. Perhaps the traditional household division of labor and gender role fulfillment lead to increased sexual passion in marriage? Regardless, Muslims seem to be willing to go through with pregnancy and have more children despite the potential economic anxiety. Why is this the case? Because Islam does indeed have something to say about this civilizational tug-of-war; we are told to have as many children as we can, by the very words of the Prophet ﷺ himself:
Narrated Ma’qil bin Yasar:
It was narrated that Ma’qil bin Yasar said: “A man came to the Messenger of Allah and said: ‘I have found a woman who is from a good family and of good status, but she does not bear children, should I marry her?’ He told him not to. Then he came to him a second time and he told him not to (marry her). Then he came to him a third time and he told him not to (marry her), then he said: ‘Marry the one who is fertile and loving, for I will boast of your great numbers.'”
Sunan An Nisaa’I 3227, graded Hasan
It was narrated from Aishah that the Messenger of Allah said: “Marriage is part of my sunnah, and whoever does not follow my sunnah has nothing to do with me. Get married, for I will boast of your great numbers before the nations. Whoever has the means, let him get married, and whoever does not, then he should fast for it will diminish his desire.”
Ibn Majah Book 9, 1919, graded Hasan
When Muslims have many children, they are engaging in a form of ibaadah and obedience to the Prophet saws, an act that itself causes great reward in the hereafter. From an Islamic point of view, choosing to have less children for the sake of convenience or comfort is not a praiseworthy quality to have. If our religion didn’t care, then perhaps we as an Ummah would have ended up like Europe or Japan today, fearing for our very existence.
Now we can understand why Westerners feel such visceral anxiety towards the presence of a niqabi with 7 kids. Under their breath they whisper “oh such poor uneducated women…” but they hide the fears that these women represent. They hide the insecurity that they themselves feel when faced with women who are proud of their gender role and excel at it. They can sense their own mediocrity in a heartbeat, and in response spin themselves a tall tale of oppression to make sense of it all. “What woman would willingly saddle herself with such a burden?” “Oh it must be her domineering husband, or that barbaric religion!” For them, the concept of being a successful wife and mother for the sake of Allah and the abundant reward of the afterlife is simply a bizarre, alien idea that doesn’t even compute in their brains. When they see a fertile Muslim woman, they feel a type of inexplicable, irrational disgust. But their disgust has nothing to do with fertility itself; rather it is to whom has been bestowed with the fertility instead. It’s the multiplication of Muslims that stings them the most.
Feminism was born out of a dissatisfaction with the status quo. Some changes brought by the movement are benign from an Islamic perspective, such as the right to equal pay and maternity leave. However, the beliefs that were adopted to attain these changes had lasting implications towards the concept of gender itself. The feminists’ proposed diagnoses – the evil of patriarchy – and the proposed solution – egalitarianism to men in all public aspects – ended up being both false and harmful to society as a whole. The fact of the matter is that ‘the male is not like the female,’ as Allah tells us. Trying to pigeon-hole women into the mold crafted for men is ultimately oppression on the women who don’t feel like they can compete with masculine traits and qualities. Instead of trying to masculinize our women, we should lionize femininity instead. This can only be done if we champion a separate, unique gender role specifically for women to the exclusion of men. Just because this role is dominant in the private sphere doesn’t make it inferior compared to the masculine public sphere. After all, it is ultimately unhealthy to prohibit oneself from having a substantial experience in both spheres. Humans weren’t designed to be completely public beings, but if one gender is to be tasked with the public role then Allah has chosen the male for that task. It’s patriarchal by secular metrics, yes, but who cares? If that’s what Allah wants, then no Muslim should feel the need to question Him.
I said ‘should’ but the fact of the matter is that Muslim-feminist thinkers have decided to put all of their eggs into the feminist basket. To them, feminist moral standards become the inviolable presuppositions, the holy creed by which Islam is then manipulated and contorted to fit inside. Amina Wadud, the writer/”female imam” who is known for having called Prophet Ibrahim a “deadbeat dad” for leaving Hajaar and Ismaeel in the desert (despite being a direct command of Allah) is on record for saying Muslim women should consider saying “no” to the Qur’anic text of ayah 4:34 itself (Inside the Gender Jihad, Oxford, Oneworld (2006), p. 200). It thus becomes a common theme among Muslim feminists that in order to maintain legitimacy in their feminism, they end up needing to find explanations around the very plain patriarchal texts of Islam. They argue that Islam and feminism are compatible, but as the anti-feminist debater Zara Faris points out, the fact that they themselves advocate for different, novel interpretations of Islam proves that the traditional Islamic understanding is simply incompatible with feminist belief.
Muslim feminism is ultimately a clashing and paradoxical label that promotes a state of cognitive dissonance. It sets up people to have feminist values, adopt feminist ideals and morals, only to later encounter verses from the Qur’an and ahadith with obvious ‘misogynistic’ words and statements that cause doubt towards Allah’s existence. On top of this, by affirming the superiority of feminist values over Islamic ones, we end up strengthening the liberal secular narrative against our own religion. My chosen alternative, the proposed solution to these doubts and conflicts, is to abandon the tenets of feminism. Not only does this allow me to feel relaxed and at ease with all of the narrations of my faith, it also corrects my misunderstanding about the world, the nature of gender, and my place in it. My love for Allah and his Messenger ﷺ has space to grow without having nagging doubts towards their validity. This peace can only be attained by the removal of cognitive dissonance, and by simply hearing the statements of Islam and admitting “we hear and we obey.”
We accept that Allah is not the architect of injustice. He well aware of the struggles we go through, whether physical or mental, and He is perfectly capable of rewarding us for our tribulations both in this world and the hereafter. It doesn’t matter if our tests are gender-specific, Allah has made a promise to us:
Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do.
The gender dynamic that Muslims should strive for is complementarity; each doing the job that best suits our inherent natures. We should not strive to compete for the same gender role, because not only does that leave certain tasks in the dust, it also causes undue competition and friction in what is supposed to be a union for the sake of peace and comfort. A man should be able to depend on his wife for maintaining his home and children, and a woman should be able to depend on her husband to provide them with financial security and protection. If a man wants to help take care of the home and children, and a woman wants to help with the finances, then there is nothing wrong with that as long as the division of labor makes sense practically. If the primary objective is compromised, and the family suffers for the sake of a spouse’s personal ambition regardless of gender, then this is against the entire point of marriage – the maintenance of a stable household. Together, men and women are shared in moral responsibility.
The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.
In the spiritual sense, Allah makes it clear men and women are on an even playing field:
Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.
Even if the outward is different and diverse, we take solace knowing the Allah is the true equalizer and judge of effort. It is He who is the recipient of our sacrifices and unmet expectations. Just like Ibrahim (عليه السلام) was asked to sacrifice his most precious gift from Allah – his son Ismaeel, our own faith can only be proven once it is tested by giving up that which is beloved to us. For what is the value of a faith that exists only in ease and comfort?
And of the people is he who worships Allah on an edge. If he is touched by good, he is reassured by it; but if he is struck by trial, he turns on his face [to the other direction]. He has lost [this] world and the Hereafter. That is what is the manifest loss.
To conclude, I will share one last hadith that summarizes my entire thesis best. May Allah guide us all on the straight path and rectify our misunderstandings.
Asmâ’ bint as-Sakan al-Ansâriyyah (rah) – aka “the spokesperson of the women” – came to the Messenger of Allah (saws) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, may my parents be ransomed for you! Allah has sent you to men and women alike, and we have all believed in you and your God. But as for us women, we are confirmed by our homes; we abide in your houses and carry your children while you men have been privileged over us with [attending] the Friday and congregational prayers, following the funeral processions, visiting the sick, and performing one Hajj after another. And greater than all that; fighting in the way of Allah. When one of you men goes out for Hajj or ‘Umrah or Jihad, we stay in your houses protecting your wealth, raising your children, and weaving your clothes. Don’t we deserve a share in what Allah granted you of goodness and reward?” The Prophet (saws) turned completely around and said, “Do you know of any woman who asks a better question about her religion than this woman?” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, we never thought a woman could present a case like her.” He (saws) said, “O Asmâ’, understand what I tell you, and inform the women you represent that a woman fulfilling her duties towards her husband, being mindful of what pleases him, and fulfilling his wishes, equals all of that.” The woman walked away while glorifying Allah, declaring His oneness, and repeating, “It equals all of that! It equals all of that!”
Narrated by Ibn ‘Abdil-Barr in [al-Istee‘âb]: 4/1788 and al-Bayhaqi in [Shu‘ab al-Eemân]: 8743. Taken from AMJA