EQUAL BUT DIFFERENT

BACKGROUND

Ever since the renaissance or the beginning of the enlightenment era in Europe and its consequent influence on the rest of the world, equality of genders or otherwise has been the most sensitive and debated topic. Medieval thoughts of many cultures and religions advocated superiority of men over women. The subjugation of women by men, mostly done in the name of religion, gave rise to reactionary feminist movements in the early 19th century. The zealots of these movements, instead of asking for the legitimate rights of women in society, demanded their uncompromising equality with men. These zealot feminists could never agree to any position for women in society which apparently seemed lower than men, even if it resulted in any hardship for women. Small wonder if one day they start criticizing God for not making men pregnant and bearing children with equal pain which women have to suffer to carry children in their womb and give birth.

WOMEN IN ISLAM

The critics of Islamic law allege that Islam discriminates between men and women and does not consider men and women as equal. Quite contrary to these baseless and unfounded allegations Islam does not discriminate on the basis of gender. Islam laid the foundation for freedom of women from the clutches of oppressive cultural and religious dogmas. In a society where women were considered as mere commodity and were tortured and killed mercilessly without the fear of any reprisal, the Holy Qur’an foretold that a time would come when these crimes against women shall be questioned and punished (81: 9, 10). As a matter of fact Islam is the first religion which recognized women as equal partners with men in society. Islam raised the status of women from a mere commodity to a living being sharing this world equally with men, doing good deeds and reaping their rewards of hereafter and the pleasure of God in the same way as men do, as made apparent from the following verses of the Holy Qur’an.

“Allah has promised to believers, men and women, gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide, and delightful dwelling places in Gardens of Eternity. And the pleasure of Allah is the greatest of all. That is the supreme triumph.” (9:72)

“Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble, and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him—Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward.” (33:36)

“So their Lord answered their prayers, saying, ‘I will allow not the work of any worker from among you, whether male or female, to be lost. You are from one another…” (3:196)

In some verses, often highlighted and criticized by the Western scholars, men are declared superior to women in certain aspects of social life. However in certain other verses, never acknowledged by the critics of Islam, female superiority over men is also mentioned. For example, in verse (3:37), wherein Mary’s mother expressed her dismay over the birth of a girl (Mary), Allah consoled her by declaring that this baby girl shall have higher status than many men:

But when she was delivered of it, she said, My Lord, I am delivered of a female,- and Allah knew best of what she was delivered and the male she desired to have was not like the female she was delivered of – and I have named her Mary, and I commit her and her offspring to Thy protection from Satan, the rejected. (3:37)

In verses (66:12, 13) the examples of believing men have been given like the wife of Pharaoh and Mary, mother of Jesus. In fact, Muslim men are encouraged to follow the path of these blessed women:

And Allah holds forth as an example, for those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh when she said, ‘My Lord! build for me a house with Thee in the Garden; and deliver me from Pharaoh and his work, and deliver me from the wrongdoing people; and sets forth as an example Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity – so We breathed into him of Our Spirit -and she fulfilled the prophecy conveyed to her in the words of her Lord contained in His Books and she was one of the obedient. (66:12-13)

In verse (39:7) humans are declared to be created from a single being and the Arabic word used for that ‘single being’ is feminine (NAFSIN-WAHIDA).

He created you from a single being; then from that He made its mate.  (39:7)

In a famous hadith, the status of a mother is mentioned as three times greater than that of a father. Ironically, no one raises the question of gender discrimination here.

A renowned Islamic scholar, Muhammad Fathi Osman, while dealing with the issue of legal rights of women in Islam, writes:

The legal rights of women have long been a source of misunderstanding which may have contributed to the belief, held by some, that women have a God given inferiority to men. While looking at the legal rights of women, a basic understanding of Islamic law is necessary. Understanding the difference between divine law and laws developed through human reasoning (the former law being permanent and mandatory, the latter law being subject to reformulation as circumstances require) is necessary to determine which rules are binding on us today and which were developed by jurists to address certain situations and can therefore be re-examined if circumstances warrant. Sharia is the law of God and it is incumbent upon Muslims to observe it. (Sharia in Contemporary Society – P.18)

Explaining the Islamic concept of equality between men and women, Mr. Osman Fathi has stated a very interesting point:

In English, the verb form “to husband” denotes the mastery and management of the house, and “husbandry” may mean the control of resources and careful management of the production of plants and animals. The word “groom” used in bridegroom is related to feeding. This may merely reflect a societal tradition that has existed throughout history. The Arabic language, however, differently uses the same word “zawj” meaning mate or companion of the other, for both husband and wife. Some may add the feminine suffix “h” to “zawj” to indicate that the word in a particular context means wife, but this is not the linguistic rule or obligation, and the Qur’an uses the word “zawj” and its plural “azwaj” to mean wife and wives respectively [e.g. 2:35, 102, 232, 234, 240, 4:12, 20, 6:139, 7:19, 13:38, 20:117, 21:90, 23:6, 24:6,, 26:166, 33:4, 6, 28, 37, 25, 50, 53, 59, 60:11, 66:1, 3, 5, 70:31, as well as for husband and its plural [e.g. 2:230, 232, 58:1].

Ref: Excerpts From: Contemporary Issues: An Islamic Perspective—Family and Women, www.fathiosman.com/p5.htm

WOMEN ISSUE—A TABOO IN THE WEST

With the growth of the feminist organizations and spread of their influence particularly in the western world, it became a taboo or almost a crime to discuss male and female differences. If any feminist ever acknowledged that differences in sexes are real, to talk about them was proclaimed non-essential. Society at large, public and private organizations and above all, the Governments, took extreme care not to utter a word, issue a statement or pass any law or bylaw which, in any sense of the term, suggests that men and women are not equal and that one is superior to the other in any respect. Of course we see so many unavoidable discrepancies to this principle of equality of genders in normal daily routine, separate public wash rooms for men and women for example, but they are simply ignored and not discussed at all.

Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Cambridge University has mentioned in his book “The Essential Difference” that even a decade ago no one had the courage to discuss gender difference. Confirming the idea that men and women are anatomically as well as psychologically different from each other, Simon Baron-Cohen has stated why this difference was not brought to the surface. He writes:

“In earlier decades the very idea of psychological sex differences would have triggered a public outcry. The 1960s and 70s saw an ideology that dismissed psychological sex differences as either mythical, or if real, non-essential—that is not a reflection of any deep differences between the sexes per se, but a reflection of different cultural forces acting on the sexes… Discussing sex differences of course drops you straight into the heart of the political correctness debate. Some people say that even looking for sex differences reveals a sexist mind that is looking for ways to perpetuate the historical inequities women have suffered.

I have spent more than five years writing this book. This is because topic was too politically sensitive to complete in the 1990s. I postponed finishing this book because I was unaware whether a discussion of psychological sex differences could proceed dispassionately. Fortunately there are growing numbers of people, feminists included, who recognize that asking such questions need not lead to the perpetuation of sexual inequalities. In fact, the opposite can be true. It is by acquiring and using knowledge responsibly that sexism can be eliminated…At the dawn of this new millennium, the picture I saw in the 1990s has changed substantially. Whereas old style feminists used to assert that there was nothing men could do that a woman could not do equally well, today many feminists have become rather proud that there are things that most women can do that most men cannot do as well.” (The Essential Difference by Simon Baron-Cohen P-10, 11, 12)
 

MALE & FEMALE BRAINS ARE DIFFERENT

It is a matter of common observation that this universe, of which our world is a tiny part, is diverse in nature and composed of things different but compatible with each other. It is like a jigsaw puzzle of which each part is different from the other, but when placed beside each other in order, creates a complete picture. Likewise machines, from ordinary to most complex ones, consist of several parts, each different but indispensable for each other. When these parts are joined with each other in a certain order, a harmony is created and the machines work properly. Each part helps the other to move yet no part can be declared superior to any other.

Similarly men and women are parts of our social structure, equal but different from each other. They are equal in rights but have different roles to play in society and different responsibilities to fulfill. Each has its own sphere of action in this material world, non-transferable from one gender to the other. Modern medical and psychological researchers have now proved that men and women are not only physically but mentally and psychologically different from each other. Male and female brains are different from one another. The experts and researchers of this field suggest that this difference requires men and women to be raised, trained and treated differently from each other. A few of such researches are presented below:

THE ESSENTIAL DIFFERENCE

Simon Baron-Cohen in his above mentioned book, “The Essential Difference” has used two terms, empathizing and systemizing, to represent the female and male brain respectively. The gist of his theory of differences in the sexes is presented in these two sentences:

(1) The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy.

(2) The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.

He has defined empathizing and systemizing as follows:

The Female Brain: Empathizing

Empathizing is the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to them with an appropriate emotion. Empathizing occurs when we feel an appropriate emotional reaction, an emotion triggered by the other person’s emotion, and it is done in order to understand another person, to predict their behaviour, and to connect or resonate with them emotionally. If we see someone in pain and feel concern, wince and feel a desire to run across and help alleviate his / her pain, we are empathizing. Empathy arises out of a natural desire to care about others. On average females spontaneously empathize to a greater degree than do males.

The Male Brain: Systemizing

Systemizing is the drive to analyze, explore and construct a system. The systemizer intuitively figures out how things work, or extracts the underlying rules that govern the behaviour of a system. This is done in order to understand and predict a system, or to invent a new one. On average, males spontaneously systemize to a greater degree than females.

FEMALE & FORGETFUL

Elisa Lottor, Ph.D., N.D., and Nancy P. Bruning have written a book with the title, “Female and Forgetful”. In the introductory chapter of this book it is written:

“All across America, women are misplacing keys and cars, losing their train of thought, and walking into rooms only to discover they haven’t a clue as to why they entered them. Company presidents and sales managers are missing their appointments, speaking in fractured sentences, and groping for the next word. Mothers are forgetting the names of their children, cultural mavens are forgetting the names of their favourite actors and authors, and everyone is forgetting the names of people they were just introduced to five seconds ago.” (P-xiv)

“Of course, as men age, they too experience problems with forgetfulness. Women, however, experience memory loss differently, both physiologically and psychologically…. Science is starting to understand and pay attention to the physiological differences between the sexes and how they influence health. Factors specific to women in memory loss are (Introduction)

Elisa Lottor, Ph.D., N.D., has also reached the same conclusion in her book that the male and female brains are different from each other on the basis of the following factors:

“ANATOMY

Women’s brains are not the same anatomically as men’s and perhaps this is why studies show that men and women experience memory loss in very different ways.” (P-xvii)

“ESTROGEN

Estrogen has many far-reaching effects beyond those related to sex and reproduction. This powerful hormone affects every organ of the body, including the brain. Women have five times as much estrogen as men do, and experience dramatic swings in hormones at key points in their lives; thus skills are noticeably affected during those times. Many of my patients complain of decreased memory and brain function after pregnancy and during menopause, points at which their hormone balance changes.” (P-xvii-xviii)

“STRESS

Both sexes suffer from stress, but female stress is of a different quality and plays a larger role as a cause of memory loss. Chronic stress affects all the body organs, including the brain, in part by affecting estrogen metabolism. Is it any wonder women are forgetting where they left their briefcases and their children?

Stress is particularly taxing on a midlife woman who may be at the peak of her career, juggling a myriad of relationships and responsibilities, taking care of a spouse, young children and teenagers, and perhaps elderly parents. The sheer mental and emotional overload of daily life is an immense burden on today’s too-busy, overloaded women. There is just too much going on, too much information to assimilate, and too many tasks to keep track of.” (P-xix)

“NUTRITION

When you look at nationwide nutrition surveys, women fare worse than men in many categories. Many women are simply not getting a sufficient supply of the nutrients needed by the brain to create and use neurotransmitters (chemical messengers of the brain) or to repair and maintain nerve cells. In their need to rush to the next task, these women grab fast food. Women, much more than men, are chronic dieters, starving themselves or following fad diets that completely eliminate an entire food group. This type of eating deprives the brain of adequate amounts of protein or carbohydrate, needed to maintain brain function.” (P-xx)

“OTHER FACTORS

Twice as many women as men suffer from depression, and depression impairs memory, attention, concentration, and speed of thinking. More women than men suffer from brain-fogging conditions such as chronic fatigue, low blood sugar, and thyroid imbalances. Poor circulation due to atherosclerosis is another contributing factor that is largely ignored, especially in women. Poor circulation deprives the brain of blood and, therefore, of the oxygen and nutrients it needs.” (P-xx)

WHY GENDER MATTERS

What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences

by Leonard Sax, MD, Ph. D

Dr. Leonard Sax PhD, MD, author of “Why Gender Matters” has promoted the idea of single sex schools. This idea is based on the above mentioned principle of difference in male and female brains. Dr. Leonard Sax chairs the governing body of NASSPE (National Association of Single Sex Public Education). NASSPE is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of single-sex public education for both girls and boys. TIME Magazine wrote about this book:

“Until recently, there have been two groups of people: those who argue sex differences are innate and should be embraced and those who insist that they are learned and should be eliminated by changing the environment. Sax is one of the few in the middle — convinced that boys and girls are innately different and that we must change the environment so differences don’t become limitations.” (TIME Magazine, cover story, March 7, 2005)

The summary of Dr. Leonard Sax’s book available online at www.whygendermatters.com is as under:

“Forget everything you think you know about gender differences in children. Forget “boys are competitive, girls are collaborative.” In recent years, scientists have discovered that differences between girls and boys are more profound than anybody guessed. Specifically:

The brain develops differently. In girls, the language areas of the brain develop before the areas used for spatial relations and for geometry. In boys, it’s the other way around. A curriculum which ignores those differences will produce boys who can’t write and girls who think they’re “dumb at math.”

The brain is wired differently. In girls, emotion is processed in the same area of the brain that processes language. So, it’s easy for most girls to talk about their emotions. In boys, the brain regions involved in talking are separate from the regions involved in feeling. The hardest question for many boys to answer is: “Tell me how you feel.”

Girls hear better. The typical teenage girl has a sense of hearing seven times more acute than a teenage boy. That’s why daughters so often complain that their fathers are shouting at them. Dad doesn’t think he’s shouting, but Dad doesn’t hear his voice the way his daughter does.

Girls and boys respond to stress differently – not just in our species, but in every mammal scientists have studied. Stress enhances learning in males. The same stress impairs learning in females.

These differences matter. Some experts now believe that the neglect of hardwired gender differences in childrearing may increase a son’s risk of becoming a reckless street racer, or a daughter’s risk of experiencing an unwanted pregnancy.

Since the mid-1970’s, educators have made a virtue of ignoring gender differences. The assumption was that by teaching girls and boys the same subjects in the same way at the same age, gender gaps in achievement would be eradicated. That approach has failed. Gender gaps in some areas have widened in the past three decades. The pro-portion of girls studying subjects such as physics and computer science has dropped in half. Boys are less likely to study subjects such as foreign languages, history, and music than they were three decades ago. The ironic result of three decades of gender blindness has been an intensifying of gender stereotypes.”

DO MEN AND WOMEN FEEL PAIN DIFFERENTLY?

By Robert Bazell – Chief science and health correspondent NBC News

Updated: 9:12 p.m. ET Oct 9, 2006

Oct. 9: NBC’s Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent

reports on new research that is showing the differences between how men and women experience pain.

Nightly News SAN FRANCISCO – When exposed to the same source of pain, do men and women feel it differently?

Researchers are asking that question with volunteers undergoing dental surgery like Shawn Homem. “I’m sure it’s going to be painful, but I’ll be all right,” Homem says.

Whereas Katorina Maksong says she’s “nervous and afraid, definitely.”

Dr. John Levine of the University of California who heads the research says men more often try to deny the pain. “Men may have actually evolved a difference that allows them to be not so affected by an injury,” Levine says. Here’s how the experiment works: The volunteers who were going to have wisdom teeth extracted anyway, get the usual anesthesia for the surgery. As the anesthesia wears off, they rate their pain by marking on a scale where zero is no pain and 100 is the worst pain imaginable. If the pain is bad enough they get more pain killers.

Among the findings of the experiments so far, some pain medications consistently lessen pain in women but can actually make it worse in men. This is a clear proof to the researchers that the sexes have different brain wiring for pain. “There are marked differences between males and females in terms of the circuits that are important for processing brain signals and for producing analgesia,” Levine says. The hope is that by understanding those circuits the scientists can learn how to better tailor pain relief for men and women.

The above researches prove that male and female are different from each other and have different spheres of action. The All-Wise and All-Knowing God has full knowledge of these innate differences between sexes. Hence He prescribed appropriate laws for males and females.  Those who criticize Islam regarding the status of women should now have another look on their prejudiced ideas against Islam in the light of new scientific research which proves the truthfulness and validity of the Qur’anic instructions.

Categories: Women Rights

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