An Honourable Position for Men and Women
In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Beneficent
Do not covet the favours by which Allah has raised some of you above others. Men shall have a portion of what they earn and women shall have a portion of what they earn. Pray Allah for His grace. Allah has knowledge of all things. (Women- An-Nisaa: 4:32).
We have first a general prohibition of coveting the gifts with which Allah has favoured some believers. This is a general statement which applies to all sorts of favours and privileges which may include functions, positions, abilities, talents, wealth and other luxuries. A believer should appeal to Allah and pray to Him to grant him of His grace, instead of wasting time feeling sorry for himself. Such an attitude generates a feeling of being deprived or unjustly treated. This may give rise to thinking ill of Allah and His fair distribution. To harbour such a feeling is disastrous because it causes worry and misery, instead of contentment and self-confidence. It wastes one’s energy in entertaining evil thoughts. To turn to Allah directly and to pray to Him for His grace, is to turn to the sources of all grace which can never be exhausted and does not ever repel anyone. Moreover, it is in Allah that all hopes are placed and to Him alone one should turn as one goes about, seeking share of Allah’s grace. This is a general directive. The fact that it comes at this point in the surah, as well as a number of reports which speak of the occasion when it was revealed may indicate that this verse deals with a certain type of favour, namely the difference in shares of inheritance between men and women. This is an extremely important aspect of the relationship between the two sexes which needs to be established on a solid foundation of mutual acceptance and complementarity, so that contentment prevails in the family and the Muslim society at large. Despite the importance of this aspect, it does not limit the generality of the statement. Authoritative commentaries on the Quran speak of both aspects, giving reports which support both. Umm Salamah, a wife of the Prophet (Pbuh) once said to him: Messenger of Allah, men fight, when we do not, and we receive half a share of inheritance. Allah subsequently revealed: Do not covet the favours by which Allah has raised some of you above others.
Another report quotes Umm Salamah as saying to the Prophet: Messenger of Allah, we do not fight so that we may be martyrs, and we do not have an equal share of inheritance. This verse was then revealed. Later, Allah revealed the verse in which He says: I do not waste the works of anyone of you, male or female.
As-Sadiy, an early commentator on the Quran mentions that some men said: “We want to have twice the reward of women, in the same way as we have two shares of inheritance.” Some women said: “ We want to have rewards similar to that of the martyrs. We cannot fight. Had we been required to fight, we would have done so.” Allah has turned down all that and said to them: Pray for My grace. A similar view is attributed to another commentator, named Qatadah.
Other commentators stress the generality of the verse. Ibn Abbas is quoted as saying: “No one should say: I wish I had as much money or as many children as this or that person has. Allah has prohibited all that. He should pray to Allah to grant him of His grace.” Similar views have been expressed by Al Hassan, Muhammad ibn Sirine, Attaa and others.
The above three reports show that traces of ignorant concepts of the relationship between men and women were still present. There is also an air of competition between men and women, which is probably the result of the new freedom and right given by Islam to women, in accordance with its overall concept which honours the human race and treats both sexes with fairness. Islam, however wants its complete system to be implemented as a whole, not for the benefit of men at the expense of women, nor for the benefit of women at the expense of men. It wants its system to be implemented for the benefit of humanity as a whole and for the benefit of Muslim society, as it establishes the values of propriety, morality, goodness and absolute justice.
In its division of functions and shares of inheritance between men and women, Islam observes human nature which has made man different from woman and given each of them his or her distinctive characteristics to enable them to discharge their respective duties, not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of human life which can only achieve proper fulfillment and realise its ultimate objectives through the multiplicity of characteristics, functions and duties between the two sexes. Because characteristics and functions of man and woman are different, their positions and shares vary. The ultimate beneficiary is that great institution which we call human life.
When we consider the Islamic system as a whole and then that particular aspect which organises relationships between the two parts of the single soul from which both men and women have been created, we find no room for such ancient arguments of the type mentioned in the reports quoted above. Nor can we find any room for modern arguments advanced by shallow –minded people belonging to both sexes.
It is useless and futile to try to depict matters as if a raging battle is going on between the two sexes in which points and victories are scored. The attempt by some serious writers to discredit women and to attribute all sorts of vices to them is equally futile, whether it is made in the name of Islam or under disguise of scholarly analysis. There is no question of a battle whatsoever. There are simply differences of characteristics and potentials, proper distribution of tasks and specialities which achieve both complementarity and absolute justice as can be expected from the divine method.
There may be a battle of this sort in ignorant societies which initiate their own systems according to their will and to serve their immediate interests, or more probably, to serve the interests of certain classes, families or individuals. Such societies may deprive women of certain rights due to their defective understanding of man as a whole and the function of each of the two sexes. On the other hand, they may deprive women of some of their rights for economic reasons, such as giving a woman a lesser wage than a man who does the same job receives, or giving her a smaller share of inheritance or depriving her of the right to manage her own property, as it is the case in some modern ignorant societies.
There can be no room whatsoever for such a battle under Islam. There is no point in competing for worldly benefits or for an attack on either man or woman in order to undermine their positions and magnify their weaknesses. Given an Islamic outlook, no one can imagine that the fact that men and women are different in their characteristics and physical constitutions does not necessitate a difference in their tasks as well as positions. To imagine that, is to betray a total misunderstanding of the Islamic system and the nature of both sexes and their respective functions.