As I traversed my late teens and early twenties, passing out of high school and enrolling into university, I struggled to successfully meander my way in a co-educational environment without doing anything I’d regret later on in life. In particular, by nature, I found it difficult to associate my sense of self-worth with a male’s appreciative gaze or attention. This was not the case with all the other girls, however.
As they neared the age of twenty, some of them were openly encouraged by their parents, if not outright given an ultimatum, to be open and welcoming of any “prospects” that could lead to marriage. This meant that they actively desired being in romantic relationships that would hopefully culminate in marriage. Few of them had any other aims in life.
In the East, particularly in India and Pakistan, a daughter is often perceived as a financial burden, especially by the lower class. As more educated young women enter the workforce, that perception is slowly changing, but in most families, the reason why daughters’ weddings are hurried along is primarily because the parents want to transfer the cost of maintaining them to someone else.
For this reason, girls are dictated and directed very early on during adolescence to associate their sense of self-worth with the combined ability of their looks and personality to attract the affections of a male who will propose marriage to them. The sooner this happens, for most families, the better.
As I have mentioned before in the past two articles in this series, Islamic beliefs usually have nothing to do with the cultural prevalence of this disparity in gender perception. Many of the people in my geographical region are unaware of the status that Islam has afforded to women. Hence, while they do practise Islam outwardly, they borrow their attitude towards women from cultural beliefs and an ethos handed down over generations, primarily and rather dichotomously, by the hands that rock the cradles.
Despite trying to, I could not make myself succumb to the rampant cultural dictate of conforming to male superiority. To me, Allah (SWT) was the most superior, and all men were just His creation. I found myself confused when all my female friends were either in a relationship, recovering from one or dying to be in one.
“It is a man’s world,” we’d be told. Unless she had a man to support her, a woman was not going anywhere in life. I couldn’t identify with this kind of self-deprecating belief! On the other end, I knew some girls who went to the other extreme: disgusted by the Eastern subjugation of women, they decided to borrow feministic ideals from Western culture. Since they erroneously thought that Islam was the cause of this cultural debasement of women, becoming feminists meant relinquishing religion, including all its morals related to modesty and chastity, and jumping ahead gung-ho into the rat race of “we-can-do-whatever-men-can-do-and-better” ! Today, they are single and fiercely independent, living and working alone in the West, shunning not just the country of their origin and its cultural belief set, but allowing its traditions to make them spurn religion, the companionship of a husband and blissful matrimony, and hence, also their chances of starting a family. In order to prove themselves as worthy individuals, they ended up ignoring their biological, natural femininity by striving to become just like men.
The optimum “Middle” Way – Islam
At the threshold of graduation from university, the formal study of the Qur’an under a scholar enabled me to finally accept and come to love my gender. I was able to fathom and appreciate the important role females play in the bigger scheme of things, especially in the way they bring into the world, nurture and rear life itself.
Any production is actually the result of carefully managed stages: brainstorming, idea generation, planning, design, preparation of props and equipment, the foundation-laying activities in which the facade is prepared and put together, followed by meticulously managed execution of objectives, and lastly, quality control. Be it a smoothly running organisation, a theatrical production, a building under construction, complex organ surgery or any other process or created entity, the silent unsung heroes who lay the groundwork “backstage” truly deserve credit for the project’s ultimate success and fruition. Unbeknownst to the world, they toil along day and night, working hard for weeks, months or even years before the finished product, production, enterprise or project meets the world’s appreciative eyes and ears.
The same honour has been bestowed upon the female human being. Allah (SWT) wants her to stay hidden from the world’s eyes, shunning public leadership positions and shying away from the gaze of men. Yet, He takes from her the foundation-laying groundwork of creation, nurturing and basic moral character-building of each forthcoming generation.
And by this, I do not mean that all any woman is good for is child rearing. All females, even those who are unmarried, play a critical role in influencing not just the thinking of their immediate family members (including the men, who go out into the world every day and influence other men), but also in deciding and guiding the direction her family takes in life.
As a daughter, sister, wife and mother, a female plays a crucial role in giving advice, counsel and emotional support to the members of her family. Females bring light-heartedness, chirpy chatter, joy and merriment into every home.
Females embody the light of the Qur’an that is kept burning inside the hearts of families residing in the homes that collectively come together to form societies. Outwardly, yes, these societies are run by men in leadership positions of imams, judges, khalifahs, battalion commanders and governors. But that is just the apparent facade. Allah (SWT) Himself is hidden, yet His creation and ‘handiwork’ is out there for everyone to see and marvel at. He has bestowed the same honour upon the human female!
I ponder a lot upon how Allah (SWT) has created the female physically weaker than the male, yet given her a much higher tolerance for physical pain, by making her endure its throes through her reproductive system. Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an, “The male is not like the female,” (Al-‘Imran: 36), referring to her reproductive nature. Therein lies the crux of female strength.
Instead of looking at the outward, female physical vulnerability as a weakness, we should rise above associating our sense of self-worth and self-esteem with the opinions that Allah’s creation harbours about us and just concern ourselves with His opinion of us.
Everything we do or not do should be dependent upon what He wants from us, as females. If He has placed a male in a leadership position over us, be it a father, husband, imam or amir of the jama’ah, we should obey him only for the pleasure of Allah (SWT), not out of fear of retribution from a physically stronger man who is “in charge”. For he, as a mere creation of Allah (SWT), has his own limitations and shortcomings.
As young women, let us stop limiting our worth to whether we can snag an eligible bachelor for marriage. Beyond that, let us stop desiring a son just because the world tells us that we need one to take care of and provide for us when we get old. Let us stop allowing men to decide how good we feel about ourselves as women. We will neither shed our clothes to get them to notice us because of our bodies, nor will we layer them on out of fear of their disapproval. We will look only towards Allah (SWT) to feel good about ourselves.
Allah (SWT) is our sole provider. He provides His female slaves with food, shelter, care and love through one of His male creations, or some other means. He doesn’t need for us to have a mahram to make our provision reach us.
Sadaf Farooqi believes now, with all her heart, that truly, there is no power to harm nor ability to bring benefit, except with Allah (SWT).