In this ground breaking address, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba, expounds how, more than a millennium before the secular world, Islam first definitively established and safeguarded the rights of women 1400 years ago, whilst acknowledging and celebrating the different strengths of men and women.
*The photos used in this article were not used in the original address but have been added here to help illustrate the subject matter. The Review of Religions takes full responsibility for any errors in depiction.*
Translated from Urdu by Amer Safir
After reciting Tashahhud, Taawwuz and Surah Al-Fatihah, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba, Fifth Successor to the Promised Messiahas, Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said:
“Today there is much debate in the world concerning the rights of men and women. Whereas people are hugely expressive regarding these rights, the fact is overlooked by the world that there should be certain boundaries assigned to them. There is a need to classify where the distinction lies between men and women as humans in their physical and innate capabilities and faculties. Where should there be uniformity in the rights of men and women, and where should variances in their rights be made due to their different constitutions? And why differentiate between the rights of men and women in that case? Is it to establish the superiority of men? Is it to make women feel that they are the weaker species? Is it to take an unjust advantage of women? If the rights of men and women are established on such a basis, then that would most certainly be an injustice and cruelty against women.
Secular people have only today in the current times, raised a voice supporting the rights of women, whereas Islam raised its voice 1400 years ago against the cruelty and injustices against women. In my address to the ladies at the Annual Convention UK (Jalsa Salana), I gave some explanation on this in light of the verses of the Holy Qur’an. However, as I have mentioned, there is now a great deal of discussion on these rights including here in Germany as well. Sometimes our [Ahmadi] women and girls become influenced by the discourses and outpouring of sentiments on women’s rights. They believe that perhaps it is only those people who today have raised these issues concerning the rights of women, who are truly championing and standing up for them. Thus, they think that perhaps they should be supported as the standard bearers of women’s rights and deserve praise for their efforts. Certainly, such people are perhaps praiseworthy for giving rights to those women deserving of them, who were deprived of them; such women who never attained their rights through either religion, government or the law of the land. However, a Muslim woman can never say that women’s rights organisations have played any role in aiding her liberation, her freedom and her rights. In the Holy Qur’an, Allah the Almighty has given Muslims certain teachings and has established the rights of every classification and grouping of people in minute detail. Nobody can match these teachings, neither any law, government nor any law-maker. Neither has any constitution nor anyone else ever perceived this issue in the manner that the Holy Qur’an and Islam have.
Certainly, critics of Islam may indeed object that they do not find the Muslim countries of today implementing these rights fully or they are failing to implement the majority of them. However, the allegation of denying women’s rights cannot be pinpointed on the teachings of Islam. Nobody can allege that Islamic Laws usurp the rights of women. Nobody can justifiably raise the objection that the Law-Bearing Book [the Holy Qur’an] that Muslims take pride in and that covers every aspect of law and gives the best solutions on every aspect of life for Muslims, eliminates the rights of women. If anyone raises this objection, it is completely wrong and unjust. It is entirely correct that there is a difference between secular and Islamic philosophy in distributing the rights between men and women. Islam is a religion based on human nature that assigns rights according to the intrinsic disposition of man and woman, according to their respective capabilities. We can explain this in the following way, that just as Allah Almighty has divided humankind into two categories, of men and women, He has similarly divided their responsibilities into two categories. Therefore, the establishment of rights in Islam is naturally done with consideration of these differences.
As I went into great detail at the UK Annual Convention Address to the ladies, undoubtedly the rights of men and women are absolutely equal where mutual similarities exist between men and women, such as in terms of the rewards for their actions and numerous other matters. Where there are variances in the rights of men and women, the necessary reasons and factors that formed the basis of these differences in rights have been explained. For example take food and water, which we need to sustain our lives and are essential items. Just as men eat food and drink water, similarly women also need to consume food and water to survive. However, in certain circumstances, such as when a woman is passing through pregnancy for example, she requires the best and a specific type of food and nutrients. This is something acknowledged throughout the world, by doctors and others. During her pregnancy a woman requires certain food and provisions, which is also necessary for the child she carries. Islam has gone into very minute detail and has covered all such delicate issues. For example, when a child is being breastfed, Islam considers the care of a woman’s health. If a husband divorces his wife during the wife’s breastfeeding period, then Allah the Almighty says that the responsibility of all expenditure of food rests with the husband. Allah the Almighty states
وَعَلَى الْمَوْلُودِ لَهُ رِزْقُهُنَّ وَكِسْوَتُهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ
“And the man to whom the child belongs shall be responsible for their (the mothers’) food and clothing according to usage.”
Feeding and clothing here in fact infers general expenditure and not just providing food and clothes for the wife as one may provide to a servant. A woman is not a servant or a slave, rather she is the mother of his child and so man has also been made responsible for taking care of her financially during this period. [The word] “maroof” here in this verse means according to the capacity of the man. A rich person will provide according to his capacity and a poor person according to his. This is mentioned in relation to the husband divorcing the woman and it has been ordained in very clear terms that this does not refer to someone who generally helps breastfeed the child, as it was a tradition in some cultures and tribes in olden times to use wet nurses to help feed children. Here, the expenditure and support does not refer to such nurses, but rather it relates to the support, financial help, care and food etc., for the mother of the child. Where it is the duty of the mother to breastfeed the child for the appointed period according to the commandment of Allah the Almighty, which is for the most two years, there it is also the responsibility of the husband to bear all her expenditure. He should not treat the mother like an ordinary servant, but rather the husband has been enjoined to fully provide for the mother financially, according to his capacity and resources. It should not be the case that whilst she was his wife he spent more on her, but after divorcing her, he starts treating her differently. As long as the child is being suckled by its mother, the husband after divorcing is obliged to treat the mother exactly the same as he would when she was his wife, and thus completely support her financially. Allah the Almighty says this is no favour or act of kindness by the husband, rather this is a right given by Allah the Almighty to women which a husband has a duty to fulfil. By establishing this right, women have been saved from disgrace and humiliation. So this is how Islam, in even the most delicate of matters, gives women their rights and makes men realise their responsibilities and the rights they have to give to women. Islam safeguards the rights of women in every single respect. When a husband has been instructed to care so much for a wife after divorce, then he needs to take care of her even more so as a wife.
Although Islam says there is a difference in the physical makeup of men and women and also in their responsibilities; in terms of intellect, just as man has been given intelligence, woman too have been given intelligence. Just as men has been commanded to acquire education, women have also been commanded to educate themselves. As such, Allah the Almighty has granted equal capabilities and means for both men and women to progress and advance. He has granted them both intellect, so that they utilise their wisdom and activate their mental faculties and strive to excel one another. Men cannot claim that they have exclusively been granted intelligence and only they can utilise it to advance. Nor can a woman profess that only she has been given intellect and she alone can progress with it. Allah the Almighty has given a mind, brain, wisdom and knowledge to both men and women to procure knowledge and insight. No man can say that a woman’s intellect has reached a peak beyond which she cannot progress and that only men can develop their intellect beyond a certain degree. Similarly, language and the ability to speak have been given to both men and women. If men can become great orators and have the potential to demonstrate such abilities, then women too can become just as good orators – and they are!
It was precisely this exalted example of spiritual and secular knowledge and of progress which led to the companions of the Holy Prophetsa listening to the lectures of Hazrat Ayeshara [the wife of the Holy Prophetsa], to increase their knowledge. Thus, 1400 years ago Islam paved the way for both women and men to increase their knowledge and use their intellect. Guidance was also given on how to utilise this knowledge appropriately and a completely free license was not granted. The chastity of women has also been exhorted and she has been allowed to carry out all of this within the boundaries of modesty and purdah.
We similarly see that Allah the Almighty has given some body parts equally to men and women such as hands and limbs. Yet nobody can deny that Allah the Almighty has made the strength and power of the limbs and nerves of men and women different. In other words, men have been given more strength and women less. For example, in terms of stress, men have a greater endurance to bear stress as compared with women. There was a survey in the United Kingdom which discovered that as a result of travelling to and from work, women suffered from four times more mental and emotional stress compared to men. Thus, when Allah the Almighty says men are stronger than women, it means they have stronger nerves and the ability to endure and bear stress. Thus, domestically in resolving major issues and solving problems that may arise, men should show greater endurance and patience. Although this differentiation in the ability to bear stress and in nerves exists, women’s rights have still been preserved. Men have been told that as they are stronger, they have greater responsibilities to control their emotions, as they can take a greater burden. As man is more physically powerful than woman, he can lift greater loads. For example, if a man says to a woman ‘You should lift and carry the same load as me because God has given you hands as well,’ this would be cruelty to a woman and trampling her rights. However, in women fulfilling their responsibilities given by Allah the Almighty, they have been bestowed the required strength of nerves to fulfil them. On the one hand, women commuting to work face four times greater stress as compared to men. On the other, when required, women have been given great emotional and mental fortitude, firm resolve and the ability to bear stress. In the case where women are required to fulfil certain responsibilities, her ability to bear stress and tolerance is far greater than a man’s and in certain situations a woman’s patience and tolerance is far superior to his. A general example of this is in the upbringing of children where women bear the child crying at night and will wake up several times to breastfeed the infant. No man can compete with a woman in this respect. Some men are so cruel that they start hitting a child when it cries for even a short while. Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra [Hazrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, Second Caliph and Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community] was once discoursing on this topic of the differences in nature and disposition of men and women. He gave the example of a mother enduring the wailing of her child and said that in this sense, Allah the Almighty has made the heart of a woman as firm and strong as a mountain. He said that there are great philosophers who have immense endurance and ability to bear stress. However, if such people were to be handed a child to take care of, they would almost become insane by the evening trying to tolerate the child’s crying. Yet, incredibly, women are able to bear this. Allah the Almighty has given them special faculties and strength and it is amazing to see a woman demonstrating this. However, by contrast, men in war demonstrate greater ability and strength. No matter how patient and adept a woman may be, she may become more anxious and apprehensive in the face of battle. Whereas when faced with caring for a child, even the most primitive of women prove to be far more accomplished and intelligent than even the wisest of men. This is because Allah the Almighty has instilled this patience in the very nature of women according to her responsibilities. There may be some exceptions to this among men who may display this patience in certain circumstances. However, generally speaking, men do not have nearly as much patience as women. There are some men who are able to take care of children. The day before yesterday I was going for the Fajr (predawn) prayer and I noticed a man with a two-year-old child in his lap sleeping in the hall. God knows better what his circumstances were, but this man was very patiently looking after the child and keeping him quiet. Thus, there are men such as him, but this is only an exception amongst men. In contrast, every single woman has been given the innate ability by Allah the Almighty of patience. On one occasion Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra said regarding the patience of women, that alongside acquiring education, preparing food and carrying out all their responsibilities, they show no anxiety at all whilst bringing up their children and tolerating their crying and demands. If the mother does become apprehensive and express any irritation, she may very lightly slap her child, but immediately after she will embrace the child. This is inherent in the nature of women.
Hence, Allah the Almighty has differentiated the nature of man and woman and has divided their responsibilities accordingly. So, it is complete ignorance to claim that in every single task men and women should be equivalent, or that their roles should be reversed. Considering the demands that are now being raised on a daily basis, it is not unlikely some will start to say that their roles should be reversed and men should be doing the role of women and vice versa. In fact people have already started making such demands.
The former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has given approval for women to be allowed to fight in the ranks of the army involved in war fighting on the front line. This, according to him, is a requirement of equality between men and women, to grant them this equal right to fight. Retrospectively, their own generals have said that this is wrong and foolish. In fact, former soldiers and army personnel have openly said that this is a means of weakening the army.
When Allah Almighty has differentiated between the faculties and strengths of men and women, then nothing else will be achieved by this except for causing loss and harm. Male soldiers also said that if women fight on the front line, then they will be more focused on protecting the female soldiers instead of focussing their attention on the enemy.
Recently, on a TV programme in Britain, an analysis was being made on a newspaper report that stated that the Russian Army was superior over the British Army in certain respects. The presenter of the programme jokingly remarked that this was perhaps because women would now be fighting in the British Army.
Hence, people themselves realise that there is a difference between men and women. They understand that in general circumstances men and women have been given different responsibilities in accordance with their different faculties and strengths. We should understand these differences. Islam is such a beautiful teaching that it keeps this differentiation in view and makes both men and women understand their respective responsibilities accordingly.
Generally, in the world women have been treated cruelly by men and men have tried to establish their superiority over them in all matters. Now, in reaction to the injustices perpetrated against them, women have demanded to be treated equally to men in every single matter. This has been an incorrect approach by both genders, which needs to be reformed. We Ahmadis, who act upon the true teachings of Islam, must rectify this mistaken approach.
Sadly, even amongst some Ahmadis, there are men who consider women inferior. There are several and not just a few women, who say to me verbally and in letters, that after marriage their husbands wish for them to cut off all ties with their families. As wives they have to listen to everything their husbands say and no longer keep in contact with their own relatives, to the extent that their husbands prevent them from even meeting their own parents. They tell them to only communicate with the husband’s relatives. Some husbands transgress to a degree that, as I have said, they not only stop their wives meeting their own relatives and parents, but rather they even insult their wives’ families and inflict mental torture and emotional pain on their wives. They fail to understand that women have feelings also and possess hearts. In parts of our culture and country there is still ignorance and sometimes those who come to the West continue with their ignorant ways. They completely neglect the feelings of women.
I will say that at times the mothers-in-law are the cause of this injustice. They forget their own time when they were treated badly by their husbands. If they were mistreated by their own husband who, spurred on by his mother, denied them their basic rights and kept bad relations with her relatives, then this should have led them to treating their own daughters-in-law kindly and compassionately. However, as I have said, ignorance rears its ugly head and mothers-in-law conversely show a bad reaction by initiating quarrels.
After the UK Annual Convention when I spoke about good treatment and kindness towards parents, someone from the USA met me and said, “You should also say something about justice between mothers-in law and daughters-in-law.”
Islam requires justice and fairness in every matter and it gives all people their rights. Although I had briefly discussed this at my address to the ladies at the UK Annual Convention (Jalsa Salana), it seems that in some matters, especially the eastern mind-set, culture and traditions greatly dominate over what religion actually teaches. Religious teaching is pushed behind and they give their own cultural thinking precedence. Thus, your mentality should be in line with the teachings of Islam and you must fulfil the rights of one another. A husband should fulfil the rights of his wife, and the mother-in-law should fulfil the rights of her daughter-in-law. A daughter-in-law should fulfil the right of her mother-in-law and also the husband. If all are fulfilling the rights of one another, nobody will ever be able to raise an allegation against the teachings of Islam of usurping the rights of others.
What was the exemplary model of the Holy Prophetsa in taking care of his wife’s relations? Once, the Holy Prophetsa returned home and he saw that his wife, Hazrat Umme Habeeba’sra brother, was resting on Hazrat Umme Habeeba’sra legs. Hazrat Umme Habeebara was playing with her brother’s hair. The Holy Prophetsa said, “Umme Habeeba do you love Mu’awiyah a lot?”. [She was the daughter of Abu Sufyanra and her brother’s name was Mu’awiyah. The Prophetsa asked, “Is he very beloved to you?” She replied, “Yes.” The Holy Prophetsa said, “He is also very dear and beloved to me.” That is, hesa meant because of her [he also was attached to her brother]. So, this is [an example of] having regard for the feelings of women.
Similarly, when men take care of the rights of women, then they should also be mindful not to make unjust demands of men. If men understand their distinct responsibilities and act upon them, then there will never be a question of women raising unnecessary and undue demands. There are some women who act unfairly. However, when a woman’s rights are being completely fulfilled, then I do not think that any woman would ever act unjustly.
Sometimes, worldly people ask me, “What should be done to establish peace in the world and how can we make this society a completely peaceful one?”
I often give them the following reply, which is generally appreciated by them. I say that in order to establish peace, every single person must understand their individual responsibilities and strive to fulfil them. Instead of demanding your own rights from others, you should give greater attention to fulfilling the rights of others. Give more heed to giving rights to other people. When every single person strives to fulfil the rights of other people in this way, then nobody’s rights will be usurped. This indeed is the teaching of Islam.
When a person’s rights are not being usurped, then unless they are insane, they will not unnecessarily persist in demanding things. A woman should look at her responsibilities and how she can best fulfil them, including mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law and daughters. Men should also be mindful of their responsibilities, how to discharge them and how they can best fulfil these rights. Once this happens, quarrels and fights in the home will dissipate.
If women are granted their due rights then they will cease demanding to be given their rights. If women consider that the upbringing of their children is a primary responsibility that Islam has given them and their foremost duty is to raise their child, then instead of unessentially working, or spending time unnecessarily with friends, they will give greater attention to the upbringing of their child. Not only will they be bringing up their child, but rather by bringing up a child of the country, they will in fact be developing the child into an active and beneficial member of the nation. The good upbringing of a child for the sake of his country and for the [Ahmadiyya] Community would make that child into an excellent and useful individual.
The government has numerous schemes to help in the upbringing of children so that women and mothers can focus on their employment and work instead. Such schemes are perhaps also being devised here in Germany as well. They do this in an attempt to establish the rights of women. However, at a certain point they will come to finally realise that the real upbringing of a child can only be done in the lap of its mother. The love of a mother, her nurturing and the manner in which she can give care to her own child can never be replicated by any other person. It is impossible for anyone to give the same attention as the mother gives to her own offspring. Assess yourselves, how a large proportion of those children brought up in the care of social services end up straying. It is also said that the government is making policies where mothers can work and fathers be given allowances so that they can stay with the child. If a woman is required in a specialist field or for a specific purpose that is a different matter, but if this is made into a general principle, it will lead to very dangerous consequences. It is their wishful thinking to believe that this will lead to greater success and progress. There will ultimately come a time when they will realise that this was a wrong policy. Islam teaches that only the love of a mother can provide the best upbringing for a child, and the reality is that it is the best place for a child to receive training and care.
Here, I will say something to those women whose children are in the waqf-e-nau scheme and who believe that to bring them up and to take care of them is now completely the responsibility of the Ahmadiyya Community. The Community’s responsibility in training them is limited to giving them guidance for spiritual and secular education. However, to bring them up in a pious atmosphere and surrounding from childhood, to give them complete religious knowledge and moral training, to make them understand and realise the importance of religious teachings and to make them beneficial members of the Community, are all the responsibilities of the mother. The full cooperation of the husband in this is essential because he cannot cut himself off from this duty. Both the mother and father must fulfil these duties. It is a right of the woman that her husband gives her complete support and assistance. Hazrat Musleh Maudra has explained something beautifully. He said for the outer and visible health and beauty of the child a mother undergoes strenuous efforts and remains very anxious. However, when it comes to the question of the inner health of the soul, there is less attention given. If they do not care and focus on the inner beauty of the child, this would be a great injustice, that they give greater attention to worldly accomplishments instead. Therefore, Ahmadi mothers who make the pledge that they will give precedence to the faith over all worldly matters, will not be truly fulfilling this pledge unless they make their best efforts, using all their capabilities to facilitate the religious and spiritual upbringing of a child. If they do not make this effort, they will not be fulfilling their pledges.
Girls should also remember that tomorrow they will become mothers, God Willing. So, instead of only becoming materialistic mothers who demand their materialistic and worldly rights, they should become those spiritual and religious mothers who fulfil the rights of their children and whose children always pray for them. Children who are brought up in such an excellent manner, they and their progeny become those who will truly give rights to everyone in regards of the correct application of the rights of both men and women. They will become the means of dispensing these rights to others in the world and establishing them. They will produce such a society where rights are always maintained. That will be a society and environment which tells the world that if you want guidance in how to give others their rights, then seek that guidance from us.
It requires immense effort and focus to make this achievable. In terms of the variances between men and women’s rights, we need to obtain proper knowledge and understanding of this [subject]. That day when every one of our mothers and women gain knowledge of this, will be the day our children will become guides for the rest of the world. On that day, the rights of every girl will be protected. The rights of every woman will be safeguarded. And boys and sons who will brought up with this training will become men who will truly understand the rights of women. They will not be cruel to women and instead they will look to see how they can give women their rights. They will turn into fathers who will properly support and cooperate with their wives in bringing up children.
So today our girls are becoming influenced by worldly organisations who speak about giving rights to women, and only speak of the rights which are limited to one’s individual self and do not go beyond worldly aspirations. Instead, you should raise the slogan of women’s rights which should originate in the minds of boys from their early childhood upbringing; that they should promote from the outset. They should understand they have to establish the rights of their wives, daughters and mothers and grant them the highest status in society, a status that Islam has granted them. Wherever women and men have equal rights, Allah the Almighty has granted them these rights. There are the rewards for good deeds, which are equal amongst men and women. In terms of obtaining education, there are equal opportunities and there are so many other matters of necessity where men and women have been given equal rights by Allah Almighty. All such rights must be established. However, in the matter of the upbringing of children, taking care of offspring and future generations and developing the true spirit of establishing the rights of others in children, Allah the Almighty has given this duty to women. May Allah the Almighty enable everyone to act upon this. Let us join in silent prayer.”