.. e aware of its deficiencies and dangerous consequences, and make our societies and young people aware of the disaster caused by it. Protagonists of the unisex society have condemned the dual-sex human organisation as dangerous for the well-being of women. If dual sex means that one sex is superior to the other, such a situation could have arisen. But in the true Qur’anic society, toward which we all aspire to move, this is not possible. As we have seen above, the Qur’an advocates eloquently the equal status of women and men at the same time as it recognises their generally relevant differences of nature and function.
Thus while acknowledging the religious, ethical, intellectual and legal equality of males and females, the Qur’an never regards the two sexes as identical or equivalent. It justifies this stand in its assignment of variant responsibilities and its provisions regarding inheritance and maintenance which match those responsibilities. 3. INTERDEPENDENCE OF THE MEMBERS OF SOCIETY The third characteristic of the Qur’anic society which is strongly assertive of women’s position is the insistence on the interdependence of the members of society. Contrary to the contemporary trend to emphasize the rights of the individual at the expense of society, we find the Qur’an repeatedly emphasising the interdependence of the male and female as well as of all members of society. The wife and husband, for example, are described as “garments” (libas) of each other (2:187), and as mates living and dwelling in tranquillity (33:21;see also 7:189).
Men and women are directed to complement each other, not to compete with each other. They are the protectors of each other (9:71). Each is called upon to fulfil certain assigned responsibilities for the good of both and the larger group. In order to insure this interdependence which is so necessary for the physical and psychological well-being of both men and women, Allah, in the Holy Qur’an, stipulated the reciprocal or mutual duties and obligations of the various members of the family-men and women, fathers and mothers, children and elders, and relatives of all degrees (17:23-26; 4:1, 7-12; 2:177; 8:41; 16:90; etc.). The care of and concern for other members of society is equally a duty of the Muslim.
It is not righteousness that you turn faces to the east and the west; but righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and gives his wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free .. (2:177) The Qur’an thereby instils in the Muslim a sense of a place within, and responsibility to society. This is not regarded or experienced as a repression of the individual. Instead the Muslim is constantly encouraged in this interdependence by experiencing the benefits it brings. The economic, social and psychological advantages of such close relationships and concerns within the social group provide more than ample compensation for the individual to sublimate his/her individualistic aspirations. The anonymity and lack of social interdependence among its members in contemporary Western society have caused many serious problems.
Loneliness, inadequate care of the aged, the generation gap, high suicide rates, and juvenile crime can all be traced back to the ever-worsening breakdown of social interdependence and the denial of the human necessity for mutual care. 4. THE EXTENDED FAMILY Closely intertwined with interdependence is the fourth basic characteristic of the Qur’anic society which serves to improve male-female relations. This is the institution of the extended family. In addition to the members of the nucleus that constitutes the family- mother, father and their children-the Islamic family or ‘a’ilah also includes grandparents, uncles, aunts and their offspring.
Normally Muslim families are “residentially extended;” that is, their members live communally with three or more generations of relatives in a single building or compound. Even where this residential version of the extended family is not possible or adhered to, family connections reaching far beyond the nuclear unit are evident in strong psychological, social, economic and even political ties. The extended family solidarity is prescribed and strengthened by the Holy Qur’an, where we find repeated references to the rights of kin (17:23-26; 4:7-9; 8:41; 24:22; etc.) and the importance of treating them with kindness (2 :83; 16: 90; etc.). Inheritance portions, for not only the nuclear family members but those of the extended family as well, are specifically prescribed (2:180-182; 4:33,176). Dire punishment is threatened for those who ignore these measures for intra-family support (4:7-12). The extended family of Islamic culture is thus not merely a product of social conditions, it is an institution anchored in the word of God Himself and buttressed by Qur’anic advice and rules.
The extended family is an institution which can provide tremendous benefits for both women and men when it exists in conjunction with the other basic characteristics of a Qur’anic society. 1) It guards against the selfishness or eccentricity of any one party, since the individual faces not a single spouse but a whole family of peers, elders and children if he or she goes “off course.” 2) It allows for careers for women without detriment to themselves, spouse, children or elders, since there are always other adults in the home to assist the working wife or mother. Career women in an Islamic extended family suffer neither the physical and emotional burden of overwork nor the feeling of guilt for neglecting maternal, marital or familial responsibilities. In fact, without this sort of family institution, it is impossible to imagine any feasible solution for the problems now facing Western society. As more and more women enter the work force, the nuclear family is unable to sustain the needs of its members.
The difficulties in the single parent family are of course magnified a hundred-fold. The strain that such family systems put on the working woman are devastating to the individual as well as to the marriage and family bonds. The dissolutions of families which result and psychological and social ramifications of the high divorce rate in America and other Western nations are the growing concern of doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists and sociologists as well as, of course, of the unfortunate victims of these phenomena. 3) The extended family insures the adequate socialisation of children. A mother’s or father’s advice in a nuclear or single parent family may be difficult to be followed by an unruly or obstinate child, but the combined pressure of the members of a strong extended family is an effective counter to non-conformance or disobedience.
4) The extended family provides for psychological and social diversity in companionship for adults as well as children. Since there is less dependence on the one-to-one relationship, there are less emotional demands on each member of the family. A disagreement or clash between adults, children or between persons of different generations does not reach the damaging proportions it may in the nuclear family. There are always alternative family members on hand to ease the pain and provide therapeutic counselling and companionship. Even the marriage bond is not put to the enormous strains that it suffers in the nuclear family. 5) The extended family or a’ilah guards against the development of the generation gap.
This social problem arises when each age group becomes so isolated from other generations that it finds difficulty in achieving successful and meaningful interaction with people of a different age level. In the ‘a’ilah, three or more generations live together and constantly interact with one another. This situation provides beneficial learning and socialisation experiences for children and the necessary sense of security and usefulness for the older generation. 6) The ‘a’ilah eliminates the problems of loneliness which plague the isolated and anonymous dwellers in the urban centres of many contemporary societies. The unmarried woman, or the divorced or widowed woman in an Islamic extended family will never suffer the problems that face such women in contemporary American society, for example. In a Qur’anic society, there is no need for the commercial computer dating establishments, the singles’ clubs and bars, or the isolation of senior citizens in retirement villages or old people’s homes. The social and psychological needs of the individual, whether male or female, are cared for in the extended family.
As marriage-bonds grow more and more fragile in Western society, women tend to be the chief victims of the change. They are less able to re-establish marriage or other bonds than men, and they are more psychologically damaged by these losses. 7) The extended family provides a more feasible and humane sharing of the care of the elderly. In the nuclear family unit, the care of the elderly parent or parents of one spouse may fall entirely on one individual, usually the mother of the family. She must provide for the extra physical care as well as for the emotional well-being of the elderly.
This is a tremendous burden on a woman who probably has children’s and husband’s needs to attend to as well. If she is a working mother, the burden can be unmanageable; and the elderly are put in an old peoples’ home to await death. With the shared responsibilities and duties that the extended family provides, the burden is significantly lightened . 5. A PATRIARCHAL FAMILY ORGANIZATION The fifth basic characteristic of a Qur’anic society is that it is patriarchal.
Contrary to the goals of the Women’s Liberation movement, the Qur’an calls for a society which assigns the ultimate leadership and decision-making role in the family to men. Any society is made up of smaller organisations of humans, governments, political parties, religious organisations, commercial enterprises, extended families, etc. Each of these organs needs to be stable, cohesive and manoeuvrable if it is to be beneficial to its constituents. In order to acquire these characteristics, the organisation must assign ultimate responsibility to some individual or some group within its ranks. Therefore, the citizens may vote, parliament may legislate, and the police may enforce the law; but it is ultimately the head of state that carries the burden of making the crucial decisions for the nation, as well as the onus or approval, i.e., the responsibility, for those decisions. In like manner, the work of a factory is conducted by many individuals, but all of them are not equally capable of making the ultimate decisions for the company.
Neither is each employee equally charged with the responsibility for the organisation’s success or failure. The family also has need for someone to carry the burden of ultimate responsibility for the whole. The Qur’an has assigned this role to the most senior male member of the family. It is this patriarchal assignment of power and responsibility which is meant by such expressions as “wa lil rijali ‘alathinna darajatun ” (2.228; see supra, pp. 40, 41), and “al-rijalu qawwdmuna ‘ala al-nisa’i…
” (4:34). Contrary to misrepresentations by the Qur’an’s enemies, these passages do not mean the subjugation of women to men in a gender-based dictatorship. Such an interpretation shows a blatant disregard of the Qur’an’s repeated calls for the equality of the sexes and for its command to show respect and kindness to women. The passages in question point instead to a means for avoiding internal dissension and indecision for the benefit of all family members. They advocate for a patriarchal society.
In addition, we would draw attention to the use of the word qawwamun in the statement, al-rijalu qawwamuna ‘ala al-nisa’i .. (4:34). Certainly the verb qawwama, from which the verbal noun qawwamun is derived, does not imply despotic overlordship. Instead, the term refers to the one who stands up (from qama, “to stand”) for another in a protective and benevolent way. If an autocratic or domineering role for the male half of the society had been meant, there are many other verbal derivatives which would have been more applicable, for example, musaytirun and muhayminun Other instances of the Qur’anic use of the term qawwamun confirm this supportive rather than authoritarian or tyrannical meaning of the term (see 4:127-135; 5:9). Ascription of a different significance to the passage in question is, therefore, ideologically inconsistent as well as linguistically unsupportable.
Why should the Qur’an specify male leadership for the ‘a’ilah, i.e., a patriarchal family, rather than a matriarchal organisation? The Qur’an answers that question in the following manner: Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women)…(4:34) Physical and economic contributions and responsibility are, therefore, the Qur’anic reasons for proposing a patriarchal rather than a matriarchal society. Some Westerners, confronted by the problems of contemporary society, are beginning to ask such questions as: Where can we turn for help? What can we do in the face of the present social disintegration? It is a time of despair and searching as Western society reels under the blows of steadily increasing personal disorientation and societal dissolution. What can we do as Muslims to help? First of all, we must build true Qur’anic societies throughout the Muslim World. Without these, we cannot establish equitable and viable accommodation for the interaction of men and women in society. In addition, we cannot hope to establish in the coming generations a respect for and loyalty to our societies and their accompanying institutions if pseudo-Islamic societies are the only ones we are capable of producing and maintaining.
Pseudo-Islamic measures or institutions are actually anti-Islamic; for they posit a model which cannot be respected, and attach to it the label of “islam” in the minds of many Muslims as well as non-Muslim. this results in a wrongful transfer of the onus of the faulty institution to the religion of Islam itself. We must educate our fellow Muslims-and especially the youth for they are the leaders of tomorrow-with regard to the importance and viability of their (Qur’anic traditions concerning women, the family and society. Despite the failure of alternative contemporary Western social patterns, some Muslims seem to hanker after the Western brand of sexual equality, its unisex ideas and modes of behaviour, overemphasis on individualism or personal freedom from responsibility, and the nuclear family system. We must awake to the dangers which accompany such social ideas and practices.
If the consequences of these ideas and practices are not pointed out and combated, we are doomed to an unfortunate future as such social experiments are to fail ultimately. But even this is not an adequate response for us as Muslims. As vicegerents of Allah on earth (2:30), it is our duty to be concerned about the whole world and about all of God’s creatures. In the light of the command to propagate the will of Allah in every corner of the earth, we should not neglect to suggest or offer the good that we know to others. It is time for Islam and the Muslims to present their solutions of the problems of contemporary society, not only to the Muslim audience, but to the non-Muslim audience as well. This can and should be done through the living example of true Qur’anic societies in which the problems of men and women are resolved.
It should also be done through informative writings and discussions by our scholars which could be made available to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. There is no better way to serve the will of Allah and the whole of mankind. There is no better da’wah than such offering of a helping hand to the struggling victims of contemporary society.