The role of women in the society is an age old issue, as far as
Islamic literature is concerned. It has attracted much debate and
controversy over the years. Personally, I have the following observations to
make in this regard:
1. The Sharī‘ah revealed by the Almighty is very brief and succinct. The
thesis is that human intellect can itself discover the way out in most
affairs. It is only at the crossroads where it is bound to falter that Islam
interferes to guide it. In the sphere of gender and social interaction --
the sphere which one comes across so often -- too only certain guiding
points have been given. In this regard, as far as the Sharī‘ah is concerned,
broadly speaking, Islam has given principle guidelines in matters such as
the formation and dissolution of a family; its organization under a head and
the dress code and behavioral conduct in social contact.
2. Besides this Sharī‘ah, there is another general directive which the
Qur’ān gives in this issue in its lofty style, the brevity of which touches
sublimity. It says:
Women have rights just as they have responsibilities according to the good
conventions [of a society]. (2:228)
This divine directive -- a mere few words -- covers a world of wisdom and
sagacity in it. In my opinion, it puts to an end once and for all the debate
regarding the role of women. What is implied is very clear: it is the sound
conventions and traditions of a society which govern the responsibilities
and rights of women. In other words, it is the collective conscience of a
society that determines them. Also, since the conventions and customs of
different societies can be different, these rights and responsibilities can
be different in different societies. Who should raise and look after
children, who should cook the food, who should clean the house are all
matters in which we must look towards traditions and customs of a society.
If they do not contradict the Sharī‘ah and are also not against the
universal norms of sense and reason, they should be adhered to.
3. Consequently, women have before them a whole arena of activities. They
can do everything which is not against the healthy conventions of their
society. They should educate themselves as far as they can and contribute
positively in the society through their intellect, talent and ability.
Earning for themselves is certainly not prohibited. They can pursue careers
just as men can. However, as pointed out, they should always give due
respect to the precepts of the Sharī‘ah.
In case you want to know the details of these precepts, let me know
– for most of these have already been discussed in
detail in the various issues of this journal.