‘What does a woman want?’
“And We said: O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the garden and eat from it of our bounties wherever you wish and do not approach this tree, for then you will be of the unjust. (Q.2:35-36)
The world and all things in it are valuable; but the most valuable thing in the world is a virtuous woman- Prophet Muhammad
Once again, we are back to yesterday. Once again, the world is marking international women’s day. Women, across times and climes, have always been subject of passionate discussions and controversies. They have been subject of scholarly and less-than scholarly researches and studies. Hardly is there a divine book in which the persona of the woman has been neglected. The woman, in Islamic hermeneutics, is so important that a whole chapter of the Quran (Surah Nisah –Chapter of Women) has been dedicated to them not so much because of their biology or physiology but, more importantly, because a proper treatment of the “woman” in “us” is a precondition for a peaceful society – a society where she would be accorded her rights and privileges, a society where she would not be sexually objectified, a society where, in line with the Prophet’s philosophy, she would be treated like a golden jar/glass not as an iron, a dracular, an instrument of pleasure and terror.
When Sigmund Freud said: “Despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, I have not yet been able to answer the great question that has never been answered: What does a woman want?”, I guess Freud’s dilemma is accentuated by his refusal or inability to ask the other fundamental question: what does the man want, at least, in a woman?
In other words, Freud’s obsession with the woman subject is very much known. In fact, his less than positive view of the woman finds a compeer in Napoleon Bonarparte’s statement that ‘’nature intended women to be our slaves. They are our property”. In other words, at the onset of the modern period in Europe and North America, arguments ensued as to whether the woman really has a soul or not. She was, consequently, considered not good enough to own a property or to vote. The circumstance of women in the West during the early modern period was a throw back to the pre-Islamic period when women were seen as chattels, as things and instruments. The woman in Arabia before the emergence of Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s mercies and benedictions be on soul) was an invalid. She came to the world as a girl; girls during the period were fit only for the burial ground or as prostitutes.
During the mid-20th century, women in the modern world were given the “freedom” they so-much desired. She could now vote and be voted for; she can now own properties. She is recognized by law. The ordinary modern woman of today now considers herself not only an equal of the man but, probably, his superior. She does not consider herself a golden jar anymore. Rather she sees herself as an iron; what a man can do she can do more. Thus our women today have become tired of being women. Or rather, some women now consider it a cosmic error for them to have been created as women. This is the reason for the recent boom in transgender medicine in the West. In American, men are becoming women the same way women are becoming men. The home for the woman today has become completely unhomely.
Within Muslim societies, at least two perspectives to women issues are discernible: the positive and the negative. Men who have positive notions of the woman treat her in accordance with the Quran. He sees his wife, not in line with Napoleon’s notion but as a partner. He would give his daughters the best of education which his son would enjoy. He would facilitate spiritual progress and growth of and for his wife. Such men among Muslims work with the Quranic injunctions which says: “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him will We give a new life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward according to their actions.” (Quran 16:97; 4:124). Such men among Muslims relate to women in the Prophetic way: the mirror of her society, the soul of the nation. In her absence the man is in-complete; in her presence the world illuminated and strengthened. An anonymous writer once said: “Sure God created man before woman. But then you always make a rough draft before the final masterpiece”!
Ironically, there are some Muslim brothers who treat their wives as their personal estates. There are Muslim brothers who forbid for their women even rights and privileges granted unto them by Allah. Or how else do we explain the decision of a brother in Afghanistan or Maiduguri who says education is “haram” for his wife and daughters; how do we explain the insistence of my brother that his wife should have no financial independence even when Allah expressly says:”And covet not what Allah has endowed one not the other; unto men part of what they earn and unto women part of what they earn…(Q4:32)
Living in a postmodern society of the 21st century, a society on its constant migration, in line with Tayyib Salih, to the North, to the West, a society in which women are harassed and oppressed on a daily basis, one might be forgiven to suggest that some of the evils women are suffering today are self-inflicted ones. In other words, some women in our society nowadays have adopted such Western values as nudity, single parenthood, and excessive material pursuits as their Quran and Bible. When women give preference to their bodies not their brain, when women call attention to their bodies through immodest dressing styles, the international day of women becomes an hollow ritual, devoid of any useful essence.
It is this scenario that probably led Germaine Greer to say: “The most popular image of the female despite the exigencies of the clothing trade is all boobs and buttocks, a hallucinating sequence of parabolae and bulges”. While describing the dressing of a woman in New York, Woody Allen says: “She wore a short skirt and a tight sweater and her figure described a set of parabolas that could cause cardiac arrest in a yak”.
Prophet Muhammad envisioned a holistic personality for the woman. He, therefore, emphasized the Quranic ordinances on the above. He forbade Muslim women from immodesty in speech and conduct and instituted the culture of hijab. He taught that when women call attention to their bodies they invariably veil off the more important endowment granted unto them by Allah: their intellectuality and self-dignity.
But I am humbled by the reality that women who focus on their bodies are probably responding to the force of demand and supply. Somebody once said: “The average woman would rather have beauty than brains, because the average man can see better than he can think”!
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