Women and men are not equal in that their inherent differences determines their natures, relationship status towards each other and behaviors, but both are equal in value according to Allah, their Creator. Surah 32:9 states that humans were first created from clay, then the descendants were made from seminal fluid, the fetus was molded, and then Allah breathed His Spirit into them and they were blessed with hearing, sight and minds.

Allah’s Spirit does not differentiate between women and men as His Spirit has equal value within both, and both are created in Allah’s image. Whether male or female, pious behavior will be rewarded equally by Allah, “Anyone who acts rightly, male or female, being a believer, We will give them a good life and will recompense them according to the best of what they did” (Surat an-Nahl: 97). And in Surat al-Ahzab: 35, “For men and women who are devoted to God — believing men and women, obedient men and women, truthful men and women, steadfast men and women, humble men and women, charitable men and women, fasting men and women, chaste men and women, men and women who remember God often — God has prepared forgiveness and a rich reward.”

Verse 35 in a succinct manner describes the piety in which both women and men should exemplify: believing, obedient, truthful,steadfast, humble, charitable, fasting, chaste, and most importantly, remembering Allah often. To remember Allah often means to constantly filter our thoughts and behaviors through the Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) teachings in the Qur’an. To praise Allah even when not praying Salah, to pray for direction and help, to pray for others, to constantly have Allah on our minds such that any sinful thought has no way of entering our lives and overtaking our submission to Allah.

Equal but not the same

Being equal does not necessarily relate to equality within opposite sex gender relationships. From an anthropological viewpoint, men are dominant due to their physical strength and testosterone induced behavior which produces more aggression. Alternatively, women are more passive due to estrogen and significantly less levels of testosterone than men. This doesn’t entail women’s subservience, but acknowledgment and respect of the power men have over women. A wise woman will understand the dynamic of dominance and submission and behave accordingly towards men. However, a spiritually wise man will not abuse his power over women, and treat women with respect.

Recently while in a grocery store, I almost bumped into an older woman in the store aisle. She glanced at my hijab and I could tell by her non-verbals that she was pleased and deferential even though she wasn’t wearing a hijab. Just then a Muslim man came around the corner and I intuited this was her grown son. He made eye contact with me and smiled, and as we were going in the same direction through the aisles he continued to show interest by smiling and making eye contact. However, when I was leaving the store he was in the check-out lane with his mother and appeared dejected with hunched shoulders. When I arrived at my vehicle in the parking lot, I observed a strange juxtaposition of him walking out with his strong, confident mother still looking dejected and cowed, and walking into the store at the same time was a strong, confident Muslim man with two women walking behind him. Allah revealed to me that his mother had successfully dominated his normal male interest in a woman, and then Allah at the same time showed me a dominate Muslim male. Allah also revealed that the first woman a young man must learn to dominate is his mother to successfully transition into healthy manhood. What occurs when a man is dominated by his mother and other women is a decrease in testosterone, and inversely when a man successfully dominates women his testosterone increases.

However, men need to fully understand the necessary respect they are to give women based on the equal value Allah places upon women. The problem is that Islam is not only structured upon the Qur’an, but has a significant cultural influence derived from a patriarchal Middle Eastern tribal culture. For example, many later hadiths and even contemporary Islamic scholars characterize a pronounced view of women as being inferior in intellect and in other ways, which contradicts the teachings in the Qur’an. Abu Said Al-Khudri reported the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) stated, “Isn’t the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?’ The women said, ‘yes.’ He said, ‘This is because of the deficiency of a woman’s mind.” However, this hadith does not correspond with other verses in the Qur’an, nor with the Prophet Muhammad’s behavior towards women, and the Prophet Muhammad’s implementation of balanced laws to protect a woman’s status which were non-existent in pre-Islamic tribal culture. On the historical basis of cultural contradictions to the Qur’an:

“On this cultural level, women have not been treated as men’s equals. Such inequality has evolved largely as an artifact of the preferences and actions of patriarchal authorities after the Prophet’s death, including a number of rulers and administrators, most jurists, and some intellectuals. In many instances, their patriarchal “readings” of the Qurʿānic text were driven by the cultural contexts supplied by the expansion of Muslim rule over former Byzantine and Sassanid territories, where patriarchy was already a well-established form of social organization. Such authorities justified this system of inequality by drawing upon commentaries on certain verses of the Qurʿān and traditions of the Prophet, along with local practices, which were then inscribed into Islamic law. For instance, one of the earliest Qurʿānic commentators, al-Ṭabarī (d. 923 c.e.) imported the biblical account found in Gen 2:20–22 in which the woman was created from Adam’s rib, hence making the creation of the female secondary and in service to the male in contrast to the Qurʿān’s more egalitarian assertion. He also draws upon traditions that blame the woman for Adam’s downfall, despite lack of evidence for the woman’s responsibility in the Qurʿān, and thereby conceptualized women as less rational and more morally reprehensible than men. Such essentialized sexual differentiation then became the basis for personal laws developed by the legal schools. Thus, a number of nineteenth- and twentieth-century political leaders, government bureaucrats, intellectuals, leaders of women’s movements, and a minority of ʿulamāʿ (religious scholars), believe that the Qurʿān itself does not support later categorical claims that justify women’s inequality in Islam.” http://bridgingcultures.neh.gov/muslimjourneys/items/show/213

However, there is still much bias from Muslim men even in today’s world regarding a woman’s intellect being inferior because they believe women don’t have the capacity to reason like a man. These same men have used their perceptions to state this is why women have not been Prophets (which is not the case based upon the Old Testament). And yet, the Qur’an teaches the pursuit of knowledge as an expectation for both women and men:

“Are those who have knowledge and those who have no knowledge alike? Only [those] of understanding are mindful.” (Quran, 39:9)

“And whoso brings the truth and believes therein such are the dutiful.” (Quran, 39:33)

“My Lord! Enrich me with knowledge..” (Quran, 20:114)

Are women less intelligent than men? Are they capable of learning and gaining knowledge? Are they capable of logic and reason? My initial intent was to provide research on the differences between women and men’s brains to show that women are not less intelligent than men, but when first checking my twitter feed I came across Mohammad Ghilan’s informative podcast, On Brain Studies Of Men and Women, http://andalusonline.org/podcast/podcast-2/ (Masha’Allah -for perfect timing). So, according to Ghilan’s reporting of research, women have some differences than men in specific areas of the brain, but this does not limit women from having the same intelligence levels as men, nor does it limit them from effectively gaining knowledge. Furthermore, Ghilan states any statistical variability of brain differences related to intelligence are on a bell curve, so stereotyped statements regarding women’s intelligence also needs to take into account the female individuals who are on the right side of the bell curve who could utilize logic and reasoning significantly better than a man whose intelligence is at the peak of the curve or to the left of the curve.

I.Q. comparisons between women and men study by James Flynn (Cambridge Philosopher and I.Q. Researcher):

Flynn studied IQ scores from ages 14–18 and found 5 modern countries where he could obtain standardization samples with at least 500 people of each gender (Australia, New Zealand, White South Africa, Estonia, and Argentina). Flynn analyzed those 5 datasets and exempting all older studies before 1982, compared men and women on the Raven’s Progressive Matrices test (a test of abstract, logical reasoning) and found by setting the male score at 100, women scored the lowest in Australia (99.5), but in the remaining 4 nations women’s scores varied from 100.5 to 101.5. His conclusions:

“I suspect that is a characterological trait. They are also more focused in the testing room just as they are more focused in the classroom. So my conclusion is the sexes on the Raven’s is probably dead equal for cognitive factors and there is a very slight female advantage for characterological traits. This is mere extrapolation from what happens at secondary school. You would expect a little female advantage because of temperamental differences.”

Obviously, some Muslim men’s perceptions that women aren’t as intelligent or can’t reason like men affects the way women are treated. These perceptions produce oppression of women, and create a rigid patriarchal Muslim community that does not see to the needs of its women. It is important to take into account contemporary scientific research that supports the truth, and not primitive culturally based ignorance. I have read a Sheikh’s conclusion that Saudi women should not be allowed to drive because it will cause their ovaries to shake around, and another Sheikh’s reasoning is that the vibration while driving would cause sexual stimulation (their comments are somewhat indicative of a lack of logic and reasoning ability). It might be wiser to provide scientific evidence before making such ignorant pronouncements.

Misinterpretation of verses used to oppress women

Q. 33:33 “…stay at home, and do not flaunt your finery as they used to in the pagan past.”

A recent twitter response from a Muslim man on the above verse: “Women should only leave the house in an emergency, or to go grocery shopping.” This is blatantly taking a verse out of context in an attempt to control women. First, I will properly exegete this passage, and then provide scientific evidence for the detrimental effects of women being forced to stay within their homes for extended periods of time.

Surah Al-Ahzab emphasizes following Allah’s direction and placing complete trust in Him, and uses the event of the Battle of the Trench to show how Allah gave success to the believers who trusted in Him. This relates to the importance of following Allah’s instructions so that the believers are single minded and not display hypocrisy which will be punished (“God will punish the hypocrites and the idolaters, both men and women,…” Ayat 73).

The instructions given to the Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) wives focus on the importance of providing a good example in piety because of their exalted position as the Prophet’s wives — they must be the model for other women to follow. As stated in verse 32, “Wives of the Prophet, you are not like any other woman.”

Ayat 28–34:

“Prophet, say to your wives, ‘If your desire is for the present life and its finery, then come, I will make provision for you and release you with kindness, but if you desire God, His Messenger, and the Final Home, then remember that God has prepared great rewards for those of you who do good.’ Wives of the Prophet, if any of you does something clearly outrageous, she will be double punished — that is easy for God — ‘but if any of you is obedient to God and His Messenger and does good deeds, know that We shall give her a double reward and have prepared a generous provision for her. Wives of the Prophet, you are not like any other women. If you are truly mindful of God, do not speak too softly in case the sick at heart should lust after you, but speak in an appropriate manner; ‘stay at home, and do not flaunt your finery as they used to in the pagan past; keep up the prayer, give the prescribed alms, and obey God and His Messenger. God wishes to keep uncleanness away from you, people of the [Prophet’s] House, and to purify you thoroughly. Remember what is recited in your houses of God’s revelations and wisdom, for God is all subtle, all aware.”

Evidently as the Prophet’s status and importance in the community rose, his wives felt their attire should reflect in the improved status, so the Prophet Muhammad was told by Gabriel to tell his wives that piety is more important than “finery.” The women before the onset of Islam wore dangling jewelry that would make a sound as they walked, as well as being scantily clothed such that their breasts could be seen. These women would walk around their village showing off their clothing and jewelry, and would walk in such a way to deliberately draw the attention of men. The present day equivalent would be a Mufti’s wife wearing expensive designer clothing, furs, or provocative clothing outside the home to draw attention to her status and womanly attributes.

The message in the verse is primarily to the Prophet’s wives and the clear understanding that their actions are to be above approach because of their visibility as the Prophet’s wives in their community. Obviously, there was a cultural basis that was only relative to that particular time period, but the timeless, universal spiritual truths is that women need to dress modestly, and display pious behavior. Women should not dress to impress, or in other words, to tempt men to stare, or to raise themselves above others by an outward display of their wealth, but by their clothing and actions should display righteous behavior. The witness to the community is not an isolated, depressed woman unable to go outside of her house, but a responsible, dutiful, loving wife who her husband is proud of because of her piety. Surah Az-Zumar: Ayat 65 states, “If you committed shirk, all your deeds would be rendered vain.” When a believer’s actions don’t align with the Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) teachings, then their witness to Allah is destroyed. A hadith in al-Musnad (27742) states that it is narrated Mahmoud Ibn Labeed said: “The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, what is minor shirk?’ He said: ‘Showing off, for Allah will say on the Day when people are recompensed for their actions: ‘Go to those for whom you were showing off with your deeds in the world, and see what reward you find with them.” (Classed as sahih by al-Albaabi in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah, 951)

Science and lack of sunlight, exercise and social contact:

Our bodies produces vitamin D by exposing bare skin to sunlight in ultraviolet B (UVB). According to the Vitamin Council, large amounts of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) are produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight. A fair skin person may need only 15 minutes of skin exposure to the sun, while the darker skin tones need up to 2 hours of exposure. Obtaining the right amount of vitamin D assists with sleeping, elevates mood (as well as just being outside in sunlight), and improves memory (https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-do-i-get-the-vitamin-d-my-body-needs/).

The Mayo Clinic has determined based upon research, that an individual should exercise 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise and 75 minutes if the exercise is considered vigorous exercise. The positive health benefits are weight control, combats numerous health conditions and diseases, improves mood, boosts energy, and promotes a better sex life.

Lack of social contact creates lower levels of interleukin-6, which is an inflammation factor, which creates a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality (https://www.nia.nih.gov/about/living-long-well-21st-century-strategic-directions-research-aging/research-suggests-positive).

All of these scientific studies show that the belief that a Muslim woman should stay in the house, as well as the wearing of burqas and the niqab is not conducive to healthy physical and emotional health. Furthermore, covering the entire body including the eyes, is not commanded in the Qur’an. Many countries don’t provide female only gyms or swimming pools, and women aren’t allowed to walk outside without a male escort so their access to exercise is severely limited. Allah created our bodies, and anything that doesn’t allow for the promotion and maintenance of emotional and physical well-being is not within the will or purpose of Allah.

Oppression — “exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel or unjust manner.”

The over-control of women’s sexuality is due to the more rigid patriarchal culture Islam is enmeshed in which is based on tribal culture. On this topic in Middle East Quarterly, “Islam also reflects tribal notions of honor with regard to women. Within the Arab tribal society in which Muhammad was born, women’s reproductive capacity was necessary for lineage strength. The ability of the lineage to allocate women where needed most for strategic purposes, whether endogamously to contribute to the number of offspring or exogamously to establish or maintain an alliance, required obedience. The close attention of community members to the sexual behavior of women reflects not only a concern for fulfilling community norms but also a keen self-interest in rank competition and the way different groups may rise or fall” (The Middle East Tribal DNA, Salzman, Philip Carl, Winter 2008, p. 27).

Muslim men’s attention is primarily focused on women’s sexual/moral behavior which to the men is exemplified by covering women’s bodies, and not interacting with men outside of their household. However, in spite of verses in the Qur’an relating to the importance of moral male sexual behavior, many of the men feel it is their right and privilege to engage in sexual behavior outside of marriage.

“Let those who find not the wherewithal for marriage keep themselves chaste, until God gives them means out of His grace.” (24:33)

From www.islamawareness.net:

“The injunctions and forbiddings in Islam apply equally to men and women. The legal punishment for adultery is equal for men and women. Social hypocrisy in many societies over history had lead to a double standard when considering sin committed by men versus sin committed by women. Society tended to be more lenient and permissive towards men forgiving men for sins not forgivable when women do them. At the root of the contemporary wave of free sex for both sexes was apparently to establish equality and remove discrimination between man and woman. Instead of calling for equal cleanliness the call was for equal dirt. Not so in Islam.”

Culture of Rape

The incidence of rape is increasing all over the world, but two of the highest reporting countries are the U.S. and India. Since 2010 reported crimes against women were up 7.1% in India with a rape occurring every 20 minutes. India is the third highest country of unreported rapes, while the U.S. is first in the number of unreported rapes. In the U.S. a woman is raped every 6.2 minutes, and 1 in 4 female college students have reported being raped. Rushika Tulshyan (Author, Diversity Advantage; Founding Editor, @ESTBLISHMNT; Adjunct @UWComm) writes:

“Despite repeated attempts by the American media to disregard it, India and the U.S. have more in common than Americans would like to believe. Both are large democracies that pride themselves on a free media. But they share another, much more sinister societal problem — the systematic oppression of thousands, if not millions, of their women. In both places, powerful people are complicit in playing down an endemic rape culture. And by not acknowledging the problem, both countries have continued to let this culture fester.”

Patriarchal societies which focus on the superiority of men and the inferiority of women greatly contribute to crimes against women. There are numerous hadiths that overtly sexually objectify and denigrate women (The Place of Women in Pure Islam, www.answering-islam.org):

Eminent Muslim thinker, Hadi Sabzevari, in his commentary on Sadr al-Mote’alihin wrote:

That Sadr ad-Deen Shirazi classifies women as animals is a delicate allusion to the fact that women, due to the deficiency in their intelligence and understanding of intricacies, and due to their fondness of the adornments of the world, are truly and justly among the mute animals [al-haywanti al-sa^mita]. They have the nature of beasts [ad-dawwa^b], but they have been given the disguise of human beings so that men would not be loath to talk to them and be compelled to have sexual intercourse with them. That is why our immaculate Law [shar’ina al-mutahhar] takes men’s side and gives them superiority in most matters, including divorce, “nushuz,” etc. (Quoted in Soroush, Abdolkarim, _Farbehtar az ideoloji_, Sera^t, Tehran, 1373 A.H.S.). [A.H.S. = After the Hegira, in Solar years].

One modern writer said: The woman’s share of intellect does not reach man’s level.

Bukhari recorded the following Hadith:

‘O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).”

And Muslim recorded:

“Amongst the inmates of Paradise the women would form the minority.”

He then went on to say that “al-’Aqad, one of the most eminent Arabic writers, in his book al-Mar’ah wal-Qur’an,

“has a valuable chapter in which ‘Aqad demolished the intellectual equality of women and men.”

As a matter of fact the expression “naqisatan ‘aqlan wa dinan” (deficient in intelligence and religion) is one of the bywords and axioms of life on the lips of the masses in Arabic countries.

and Ghazali who said:

“If you relax the woman’s bridle a tiny bit, she will take you and bolt wildly. And if you lower her cheek-piece a hand span, she will pull you an arm’s length … Their deception is awesome and their wickedness is contagious; bad character and feeble mind are their predominant traits … Mohammad said[36] : ‘The likeness of a virtuous woman amongst women is like a red beaked crow among a hundred crows.”

There are numerous research reports regarding the significant correlation between referring to people as various animals, and acceptable rape and killing. David Livingston Smith (co-founder and director of the Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology at the University of New England) reports, “When people dehumanize others, they actually conceive of them as subhuman creatures. Only then can the process liberate aggression and exclude the target of aggression from the moral community.”

Rape and killing of women and children during military conflicts

“There is more than one way to commit genocide. One way is mass murder, killing individual members of a national, political, or cultural group. Another is to destroy a group’s identity by decimating cultural and social bonds. Martial rape [rape committed during war] does both. . . . If there is one set of fundamental functions of rape, civilian or martial, it is to display, communicate, and produce or maintain dominance. . . . Acts of forcible rape, like other instances of torture, communicate dominance by removing our control” (Claudia Card, Philosophy Professor).

Following World War II, the Geneva Conventions stated, “Women shall be especially protected against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.” Additionally, in 1949 the U.N. defined rape as a war crime. And yet, rapes are still occurring today in various conflicts around the world. For example, the U.N. release a report one year ago of women being raped by soldiers as payment in South Sudan, as well as women and children being killed. A report this month from South Sudan states sexual or gender-based violence rose 60% with 70% of women sheltered in U.N. camps had been raped since the conflict began.

A report released by the Refugee Rights Data Project (RRDP) in January, states women in refugee camps in Greece are exposed to rape, other gender-based violence, abuse by authorities, and sexual harassment. Unicef reported in February that women and children fleeing to Europe from Africa are “being beaten, raped and starved in ‘living hellholes’ in Libya. Also in February the U.N. reported men and women in Ukraine have been beaten, electrocuted by their genitals and raped in cases of sexual violence “which may amount to war crimes.” Another report in February from Yifat Susskind, executive director of MADRE, a non-profit women’s right organization in Syria,states, “This war and growing refugee crisis have triggered a cascade of deadly threats against Syrian women and girls, from displacement and starvation to widespread rape and forced marriage.”

These are only a few of the significant number of conflicts around the world this year that are experiencing violence against women and children. Additionally, Equality Now Organization reports 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor. Also, 2 million children globally are sexually trafficked, with all victims being 98% women and girls.

“The goal is to see the face of God that is found ‘wherever you turn’ in every creature and in one’s self, and to act accordingly.” (Ibn Arabi)

In the Islamic legal book, Fiqh-us-Sunnah, rape is defined as hiraba (terrorism of crimes of violence). In war conflicts, men with a strong spiritual center will see rape and killing of women and innocent children as morally abhorrent. Yet, in our world today, the torturing and killing of civilians has dramatically increased in all conflicts, including the murder and raping of women and children. The U.N. and the Geneva Convention are reporting war crimes that are happening against women, as has been the case for years, is not doing anything to stop the atrocities. Women and children are defenseless and according to Allah are to be protected. It is only through the moral understanding filtered through our religion that the oppression against women will be stopped.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have taught, “None of you have faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself” (Sahih Muslim). This includes the treatment of women. Women are also your neighbor, and are created in the image of Allah. Those men who liken women to animals, make derogatory statements about their intelligence, and set themselves up at the level of Allah by condemning most women to hell will find their souls are at an extreme risk of hell. Those men who oppress women, will find these humble women closer to the throne of Allah than themselves. Look into their faces and see the face of God as Ibn Arabi teaches, and you will understand that what you do unto them you are doing to God.

It is suffering that shoots streams of creativity out of my heart, and the brokenness of life that explodes my heart into its soul.