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He found there a whole tribe of men watering. And he found apart
from them two women restraining their flock. He said, “What ails
you?” The two said, “We cannot give our flock to drink unless the
shepherds return from the water, and our father is a very old man.”
So he watered their flock for them. Then he returned aside into the
shade and said, “My Lord! I am needy of whatever good Thou send
down for me.” (Surah 28: Verse 22-24)
The Holy Quran narrates numerous events including stories of the nations
of past. It gives the accounts of Allah's Prophets and Messengers and
also mentions both groups of men, those who disbelieved and denied the
Prophets and those who believed and obeyed Allah's Message. The Quran
relates all these events in context to the purpose of its revelation,
that is, to invite mankind towards Allah, to define the path of worship
and obedience, and to warn about the way leading to Divine Wrath.
Historic events are mentioned only as examples for mankind to draw
conclusions and to learn desired lessons. For that reason, it narrates
the conditions of various nations at the time when Prophets were sent to
them. It recounts the hardships endured by Prophets during their efforts
to steer their nations from darkness to the Light, and also highlights
the difference between the fate of the rejecters of Faith and of the
believers. The Quran recounts all this to enable the reader to reflect
and decide the best course for himself. Although the Quranic narration of
history is the most perfect and the absolute truth, yet the mere
narration of history has never been the subject of Quran. Thus it does
not tell the whole story at one place, but refers to its different events
at appropriate places, so as to highlight the desired lessons.
The holy verses mention the tyranny of Pharaoh, the events of Prophet
Musa’s flight to Madyan and his meeting with Prophet Shoaib. In addition
to the grand sacrifices and steadfastness of Prophet Musa and the piety
and greatness of Prophet Sho’aib-as, these verses mention an
extraordinary event which is full of tremendous wisdom and lessons for
human civilisation. As Prophet Musa-as approached Madyan, he came upon a
well on the outskirts of the city where people brought their cattle to
drink. A large crowd of herdsmen with their cattle had gathered at the
well. Amongst these herdsmen, he found two young girls holding their
flock to one side. He was genuinely surprised to find these young girls
there and inquired about their odd presence in an all-male business.
conditions and norms
They replied that they had also brought their flock for water and were
waiting for the others to leave the site before they could take their
turn. They added that their father was old and could not do this job
himself. In this small sentence, Allah has laid down the conditions and
norms for women to participate in various spheres of human activity
outside the four walls of their homes.
A woman is permitted to step out of her house if there is none else to
work outside. Those women who have a man such as father, brother, husband
or son to work for them, are not required to go out of their homes. But,
if the male member(s) of the family are sick or old or can't work for
some reason, then women are permitted to go out and work - under
They must not starve to death within their homes, nor should they beg or
steal, but should adopt a respectable means to earn their living.
However, such women should not mix freely with the working men and must
always keep their proper distance. This point has been highlighted in the
referred verses. The two young girls had come out of their home under
compulsion, but they waited aside for the male shepherds to leave the
site before they took their turn.
Here, two conditions have been laid down when women may come out of their
homes to work;
first, when there is no male member of the family to undertake this
second, when they don't have any source of livelihood, and are
required to earn their bread by themselves.
Our society is infested with strange customs which have actually been
borrowed from the Hindus and injected into this Muslim culture. The
notion that women are inferior or worthless is a myth of Hindu cult,
which assigns no significance to them - whatsoever. When the husband
dies, the wife must be cremated with him; otherwise, she would have to
spend her remaining life as an untouchable and detested creature. Even
her near ones won't speak to her and she would be sentenced to solitary
confinement, living a dog's life, performing menial jobs.
We have imported this concept from Hinduism. We too, highlight her
weaknesses emphatically and present her as a worthless and loathsome
member of the human race - this attitude is certainly wrong.
Message of Islam
Islam is the message of love for all of humanity; a woman is as good a
member of the human family as is a man. Islam has assigned different
responsibilities and duties to both, keeping in view their physical,
mental and psychological potentials and capacities. Both shall appear
before the same Lord, at the same place and account for their deeds. A
disbelieving man shall be sentenced to the same hell as a disbelieving
woman, and a blessed woman would undoubtedly enjoy the same Divine Bliss
in Paradise as a man would.
As human beings, both follow the same pattern in life. They are born
alike, exist alike, taste the same death, would be raised in the same
manner and would likewise face the consequences of their deeds. They have
been created with different physical, mental and psychological
capabilities. Their requirements and responsibilities, therefore, are
also different. However, both of them are of equal importance as members
of the human race.
On the plea that there has not been a female Prophet, some consider women
as inferior. However, the advocates of this argument tend to forget that,
although Allah created a Prophet without father, there is no evidence of
a motherless Prophet in the entire human race. Except for the first human
being and a Prophet, whom Allah created without a father or a mother,
there is no other instance of a Prophet being born without a mother.
Without exception, every Prophet was born and brought up in the warm,
loving lap of his mother. If she was such a detestable creature, then why
was every Prophet and Messenger born and brought up in her lap? Yes, she
is not a Prophet but isn't she the mother of a Prophet? Isn't she his
loving daughter? Doesn't she share his life as his wife?
In Paradise, the residence of the holy Prophet will be located at the
most blessed and sublime station. There would be no other house or person
in the vicinity, except his holy wives who will also be living with him
in his house. So how is a woman bad or inferior? In fact, we have
borrowed this false notion from the Hindus of the Indian subcontinent.
Duties and Responsibilites
The natural division of duties and responsibilities of men and women can
be illustrated by the following example.
Suppose a person wants to grow a beautiful orchard, for which he
requires two workers. The first should be physically strong to
undertake hard work such as tilling the earth, planting trees,
digging water channels, etc. He should be strong enough to protect
the garden and work outside at his own.
The second worker, required to look after the plants, may not be as
strong, but should be more caring and loving than the first one.
This worker, by natural instinct, must understand and care for the
requirements and needs of each budding plant and blossoming flower.
This worker's love should so distribute the food and nourishment
that plants should neither die of shortage nor of excess.
The relatively frail body of the second worker must possess a
strong but sensitive and tender heart, because the job is not to
protect the garden but nurture the plants fondly and tenderly.
In my opinion, this task is more delicate and subtle. Allah has entrusted
this delicate and sensitive responsibility of raising and educating the
human race to a woman, whilst the job of a man is to earn and protect it;
this is the natural division of their responsibilities. Both are equally
responsible, and I think the job of a woman is more important.
Education for Woman
But a more important question which requires our attention is, ‘Does a
woman, who has been entrusted with such a delicate and sensitive task,
require any education or training herself?’
I think she requires it more than the outside worker, but we practically
give no attention to this important issue. The parents try to give her
the best of secular education, but do not impart upon her any religious
knowledge. Her brothers feel obliged to protect her and comfort her, but
fail to realise their obligation to teach her about religion.
Similarly, the husband would leave no stone unturned to keep her happy
and comfortable; he would give her abounding love and every good thing in
the world - except religion. Finally, when she becomes a mother, her
children would respect and serve her affectionately, but they too would
not speak of religion with her. This attitude actually stems from a
notion, deeply embedded in our subconscious, that she is an inferior
being … by creation.
When the mother of holy Mary vowed to devote her child to the service of
God, she was, in fact, expecting to deliver a son. Such a practice was
allowed in their religion. However, when against her expectation, she
gave birth to a daughter; she was extremely worried about the fulfilment
of her oath. The Quran refers to her anxiety by saying that she did not
know that her daughter was far superior to many sons and had a high
status with Allah. Her life was an explicit illustration of Divine
greatness and power, and a source of guidance for mankind. According to
the Quran, anyone (be it man or woman) who fulfils their assigned duty is
better than the one who doesn't - in the sight of Allah.
Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his wives
About three quarters of human life relates to personal and private
affairs and is usually spent within the four walls of one's home. If the
chapter relating to specific feminine concerns is also added, it assumes
an even greater portion of the religion. As such, the greater part of
religion was narrated by the blessed wives of the holy Prophet. He
married eleven times and when he passed away, nine of his wives were
Those who feel embarrassed at the criticism about his marriages have
really not studied his life. Had he married for the sake of marriage, he
would have married during his prime, his youth. But he passed his entire
youth with Hadhrat Khadijah who was much elder to him. After her death,
when he remarried, he was over fifty years of age. Hadhrat Aishah was the
only virgin, his remaining wives were either widows, divorced or freed
captives. Some had brought their children from previous husbands and they
were also looked after by him. His holy wives were the only source to
convey a major portion of the religion to us. In their absence, the
private life of the holy Prophet would have remained obscure and
Islam has neither allowed the use of a woman as a model for advertisement
(as in the West) nor has it allowed for her to be treated as a worthless
captive slave (as in Hinduism or the Far East). On the other hand, Islam
considers a woman to be a human being worthy of every honour and respect.
Both men and women are equally good creatures of Allah, duly responsible
and accountable for their actions, although both have different
capabilities and duties.
The Islamic concept of human equality is that a man should do his duty
and a woman should shoulder her responsibility. Both should do their duty
and enjoy their rights and privileges. If she is compelled to exceed the
charter of her duties, this is not equality but cruelty and injustice -
such is the Islamic teaching. However, in the sight of Islam, all
feminine excellence, honour and greatness depend upon only one virtue -
Women in Today's world
During the present time, there is considerable hue and cry about women’s
rights and equality; all the while the press and media are playing a
vital role in setting this issue ablaze. Accordingly, the advocates of
the feminine cause engage in violent processions. But the standard of
this equality has already been defined by the Holy Quran and illustrated
by the holy Prophet (PBUH) during his life. We should look towards Allah
and His holy Prophet (PBUH) and not towards the West or the East for the
best solution to this issue.
There is a visible paradox in our approach towards women.
On the one hand, we have allowed them to participate in every
worldly activity. They may visit clubs for entertainment, play all
sorts of games, watch movies in theatres and go to the market for
shopping where they may talk and bargain with men during all of
these activities. We tolerate and accept this normal routine of
On the other hand, if they go out to learn about religion, we are
infuriated beyond control.
We have yet to see any religious verdict prohibiting women from roaming
the markets without Hijab, bareheaded, even though each one of these acts
is prohibited in the Shari‘ah. Nobody is bothered where they go or what
they do. But if you guide one of them from a movie theatre to a mosque,
there is an immediate reaction against it, everybody starts objecting to
their religious activity.
In our country (Pakistan), a woman can do anything and everything she
likes; she can contest elections and rule the country. Many renowned
religious scholars have gathered around our present female Prime
Minister, and none has decreed that she cannot participate in politics.
But, if the same lady starts remembering her God, there would be an
instant uproar from the religious quarters that she is doing wrong.
The Book and the Sunnah have not imprisoned a woman in her home. During
the time of the holy Prophet-saw, women participated even in battles,
such as in the battles of Badar and Uhad. They supplied water to the
wounded, dressed their wounds and took care of them; they even fought
battles with the sword. But during the whole activity, they kept
themselves separate and did not mix with the men.
The point to ponder is, ‘Did they learn to ride and use the sword from
some instructor or were they born with these qualities?’ During that
blessed era, they received their education and training separately and
performed their duties separately from the men - that is the rule even
today. They should remain within their Pardah and achieve every bit of
excellence that men can attain to. They have a greater need to learn the
basic essentials of the Religion.
“And the men who remember Allah much and the women who remember
Allah much, Allah has promised them forgiveness and immense
Allah has equated them with men in the frequent performance of Zikr; but,
how would they do it, if they don't learn it? This is the standard laid
down by the Divine Book. She is neither a caged bird nor a showbiz model,
there is a middle way for her. She should know and realise her
responsibilities and acquire the ability to fulfil her requirements
honourably. She should neither become a dependent beggar nor a
free-lancer to rub shoulders with men.
May Allah grant us the capacity to understand properly and act