Humanity before Gender by Hadia Saad
Posted by peacedevelopmentnetwork on March 14, 2010
Humanity before Gender
In the name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful
Having just recently returned from the 54th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations (UN), I can say that although women have made many strides in society, we seem to have lost sight of what it is we really want. Sitting through one high plenary meeting after the other and listening to different NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) talking about what women still want, I found myself thinking that not only do we want it all but we really don’t know what that means. Do we want to be the same as men or be treated as equal human beings in society? Do we want to be mothers and wives or just career women? Whatever it is that we want, we need to realise that we need to do the work ourselves and not rely on governments and organisations to do it for us.
I look to the women of the suffragette movement. They wanted to be treated as equal human beings and they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They had justice on their side and when we take that out of the equation we lose! Women want justice. That may not mean being the same as men. I am certainly not like my husband; my Creator made me differently. I have a different role to play in society which is not to say that my role is any less important than my husband’s role. On the contrary my role complements his as his complements mine. We are Ying and Yang.
In every society women are under immense pressure either from culture and tradition or from the constraints that rules and regulations put on them. For a long time, women have unfortunately accepted the situation in their own community or have not used the right method to fight for their rights. Instead of facing and taking a stance against tradition and correcting the culture they live in and working towards enriching their position, we see women turn to foreign societies for solutions. They seem to run away from what is happening in their own communities only to adopt others values, not realising that those communities have their own set of problems. So instead of freedom, we see women adopt a new form of oppression from a foreign society.
For example, where tradition and culture take a religious form, we see women being oppressed and subjugated all in the name of religion. So at the first opportunity the woman in that society decides to break free and runs away from – let’s be honest here – an Arab pseudo Muslim society to a Western society where she thinks she will get the equality she rightly deserves. Instead she finds herself judged on her outward appearance and sexuality. Thus she has run away from one form of oppression only to fall into another form. Before running away, women need to understand the society they live in and try to understand the rules which govern it. They need to educate themselves on their rights as humans and not as women!
Women need to realise that they are human beings before they belong to a gender or a certain class in society. By nature, human beings need equilibrium which is based on the concept of justice for all members of society regardless of race, gender or social status. We need balance between work and family, superficial appearance and spiritual development, life and social life and practicality and emotionality. Without that equilibrium or balance, there will always be obstacles to the full realisation of a woman’s ability, which in turn leads to an imbalance in society stopping it from being just and complete. Only a woman is able to pass on the spirit of hope, love and compassion to children; a task that she will be unable to do unless there is balance in all aspects of her life.
A mother is a precious gem. She lives in the heart of every human being. Whenever you remember the word mother, images of love and compassion fill the mind and heart. We find this embedded in the hearts of those who experienced that and they in turn give it to their own children. That is how we reach a world filled with peace and justice. Until women learn not to choose one society over the other but rather work to fix theirs, we cannot have peace and tranquillity.
I cannot stand before you today and not mention something about the status of women in Islam. The Qur’an is often thought of as an archaic book which talked to a society 14 centuries ago. However, it can be a creative force for human beings today. According to the Qur’an, the soul of a man and woman are no different to each other. It says: ‘O people! Be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind)…’ (4:1)
This shows that in creation men and women have an equal origin. They are also expected to have the same moral responsibilities. Already the Qur’an is addressing men and women as equal contributors to society. Misconceptions result when culture replaces these universal principles.
Every accusation directed at Islam as a religion which oppresses women is in truth an accusation aimed at traditions and practices by Muslims in the name of Islam. The Qur’an was revealed to ensure human dignity and equality amongst mankind. We see this clearly in the Qur’an. It states: “We have honoured the children of Adam and We carry them in the land and the sea, and We have given them of the good things, and We have made them to excel by an appropriate excellence over most of those whom We have created” (17:70). The verse shows humanity has been honoured with a special intellectual and moral status. Furthermore, this status applies to both men and women in terms of their rights, duties and responsibilities. God states, “Indeed, God prepared forgiveness and a great recompense for Muslim men and women, believing men and women, obedient men and women, truthful men and women, patient men and women, fasting men and women, men and women who safeguard their chastity, men and women who remember God much” (33:35). This shows that truth and patience and modesty and worship are all responsibilities that men and women must practise.
Another example of how revelation and tradition can inspire us today comes from Zayn Al-‘Abidin (the 4th Shi’a Imam and great grandson of Prophet Muhammad). He has written a work called, Risalat Al-Huquq (Treatise of Rights). This 7th century work is perhaps one of the earliest human rights charters. About the mother’s rights, he states, “The right of your mother is that you know that she carried you where no one carries anyone, she gave to you of the fruit of her heart that which no one gives to anyone, and she protected you with all her organs. She did not care if she went hungry as long as you ate, if she was thirsty as long as you drank, if she was naked as long as you were clothed, if she was in the sun as long as you were in the shade. She gave up sleep for your sake; she protected you from heat and cold, all in order that you might belong to her. You will not be able to show her gratitude, unless through God’s help and giving success” 
Zayn Al-‘Abidin’s (AS) analysis is insightful because he elevates the status of women in a way that transcends legal and monetary relationships. The issue is not just about equal opportunities and employment. Islamic history already acknowledges this through Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Lady Khadijah, who was a rich businesswoman and the Prophet’s employer. The question is what kind of roles and rights are meaningful to the very heart of a man and woman.
We have many female role models in Islam. We have the Virgin Mary, Hagar the wife of the prophet Abraham (AS), Asiyah wife of Pharoah, Lady Fatima (AS) daughter of the prophet Muhammad (SAWA), Zainab (AS) daughter of Lady Fatima to name but a few. All these women affected the society they lived in by standing up for justice. These women were the first suffragettes before women’s rights were heard of. They fought for justice and human rights. These are the women we need to take as role models.
In the words of James Brown: This is a man’s world but nothing without a woman!
Coordinator of Women’s Programs
Alulbayt Foundation, London
 Chittick, W. Al-Saheefa Al-Sajjadiyyah (The Psalms of Islam), Ansariyan Publications. P284