The fifth basic characteristic of a Qur’anic society is that it is patriarchal. Contrary to the goals of the Women’s Liberation movement, the Qur’an calls for a society which assigns the ultimate leadership and decision-making role in the family to men.
Any society is made up of smaller organisations of humans, governments, political parties, religious organisations, commercial enterprises, extended families, etc. Each of these organs needs to be stable, cohesive and manoeuvrable if it is to be beneficial to its constituents. In order to acquire these characteristics, the organisation must assign ultimate responsibility to some individual or some group within its ranks.
Therefore, the citizens may vote, parliament may legislate, and the police may enforce the law; but it is ultimately the head of state that carries the burden of making the crucial decisions for the nation, as well as the onus or approval, i.e., the responsibility, for those decisions.
In like manner, the work of a factory is conducted by many individuals, but all of them are not equally capable of making the ultimate decisions for the company. Neither is each employee equally charged with the responsibility for the organisation’s success or failure.
The family also has need for someone to carry the burden of ultimate responsibility for the whole. The Qur’an has assigned this role to the most senior male member of the family. It is this patriarchal assignment of power and responsibility which is meant by such expressions as “wa lil rijali ‘alathinna darajatun “ (2.228; see supra, pp. 40, 41), and “al-rijalu qawwdmuna ‘ala al-nisa’i…. “ (4:34).
Contrary to misrepresentations by the Qur’an’s enemies, these passages do not mean the subjugation of women to men in a gender-based dictatorship. Such an interpretation shows a blatant disregard of the Qur’an’s repeated calls for the equality of the sexes and for its command to show respect and kindness to women. The passages in question point instead to a means for avoiding internal dissension and indecision for the benefit of all family members. They advocate for a patriarchal society.
In addition, we would draw attention to the use of the word qawwamun in the statement, al-rijalu qawwamuna ‘ala al-nisa’i … (4:34). Certainly the verb qawwama, from which the verbal noun qawwamun is derived, does not imply despotic over-lordship.
Instead, the term refers to the one who stands up (from qama, “to stand”) for another in a protective and benevolent way. If an autocratic or domineering role for the male half of the society had been meant, there are many other verbal derivatives which would have been more applicable, for example, musaytirun and muhayminun.
Other instances of the Qur’anic use of the term qawwamun confirm this supportive rather than authoritarian or tyrannical meaning of the term (see 4:127-135; 5:9). Ascription of a different significance to the passage in question is, therefore, ideologically inconsistent as well as linguistically unsupportable.
Why should the Qur’an specify male leadership for the ‘a’ilah, i.e., a patriarchal family, rather than a matriarchal organisation? The Qur’an answers that question in the following manner:
Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women)….(4:34)
Physical and economic contributions and responsibility are, therefore, the Qur’anic reasons for proposing a patriarchal rather than a matriarchal society.
Some Westerners, confronted by the problems of contemporary society, are beginning to ask such questions as: Where can we turn for help? What can we do in the face of the present social disintegration? It is a time of despair and searching as Western society reels under the blows of steadily increasing personal disorientation and societal dissolution.
What can we do as Muslims to help? First of all, we must build true Qur’anic societies throughout the Muslim World. Without these, we cannot establish equitable and viable accommodation for the interaction of men and women in society.
In addition, we cannot hope to establish in the coming generations a respect for and loyalty to our societies and their accompanying institutions if pseudo-Islamic societies are the only ones we are capable of producing and maintaining.
Pseudo-Islamic measures or institutions are actually anti-Islamic; for they posit a model which cannot be respected, and attach to it the label of “islam” in the minds of many Muslims as well as non-Muslim. this results in a wrongful transfer of the onus of the faulty institution to the religion of Islam itself.
We must educate our fellow Muslims-and especially the youth for they are the leaders of tomorrow-with regard to the importance and viability of their Qur’anic traditions concerning women, the family and society.
Despite the failure of alternative contemporary Western social patterns, some Muslims seem to hanker after the Western brand of sexual equality, its unisex ideas and modes of behaviour, overemphasis on individualism or personal freedom from responsibility, and the nuclear family system.
We must awake to the dangers which accompany such social ideas and practices. If the consequences of these ideas and practices are not pointed out and combated, we are doomed to an unfortunate future as such social experiments are to fail ultimately.
But even this is not an adequate response for us as Muslims. As vicegerents of Allah on earth (2:30), it is our duty to be concerned about the whole world and about all of God’s creatures. In the light of the command to propagate the will of Allah in every corner of the earth, we should not neglect to suggest or offer the good that we know to others.
It is time for Islam and the Muslims to present their solutions of the problems of contemporary society, not only to the Muslim audience, but to the non-Muslim audience as well.
This can and should be done through the living example of true Qur’anic societies in which the problems of men and women are resolved. It should also be done through informative writings and discussions by our scholars which could be made available to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
There is no better way to serve the will of Allah and the whole of mankind. There is no better da’wah than such offering of a helping hand to the struggling victims of contemporary society.
Adapted from: “Women in a Qur’anic Society” by: “Lois Lamya ‘ al-F’aruqi”