The Fate of a Woman in Pakistan
The ultimate fate of a Pakistani woman, whether raised in or outside of Pakistan, is almost always marriage; to a cousin, a distant relative, or a family friend. Granted there are some, perhaps rare, exceptions to this.
“What’s so bad about marriage?” I hear some of you ask.
Nothing is wrong with marriage. It is half our Deen and it pleases our Creator as it helps keep fitna away. However, the inexcusable and enforced cultural norms that override a woman’s right to have a say in who she marries is problematic and the overarching cultural toxicity that surrounds marriage, in the case of most family units in Pakistan, needs to be addressed.
“But, our nation is perfect! We handle everything according to Islamic beliefs,” I hear you say.
Do we really? No we don’t!
Also, no one and nothing is perfect, except Allah (SWT).
If we wish our posterity to have a positive attitude towards marriage and have healthy relationships within the family unit, we need to learn and adopt Islam’s view on women in its essence and discern the true role of men within the family according to the religion. We cannot and should not withhold the divine rights bestowed upon a woman by Our Benevolent and Merciful Creator Allah (SWT) any longer.
Culture overrides Islamic values in most Pakistani marriages
In Pakistan, it is often the case that a young girl is forcibly married to whomever her parents wish. She is either kept from having an education altogether or is married off shortly after she finishes her studies. Some are sadly married off at tender ages while others are ridiculed for still not being married by their mid-20s or 30s.
Is any of this Islamic? The answer is no and I substantiate my answer as follows.
Firstly, it is imperative to understand that Pakistani society, to this day, is imprisoned by a “borrowed culture” from pagan beliefs that, as Muslims, we should not prescribe to. Here, by borrowed culture, I mean the cultural practices that stem from our Hindu ancestry, be it a certain ritual in our weddings or simply how women are treated in our society. I find this deeply disturbing as Islam should trump any cultural practices, especially when those cultural practices are incompatible with our religion.
Regardless of who we claim our ancestors to be, the oppressive, patriarchal mindset of pre-Islamic cultures still run rampant amongst Muslim communities worldwide, including the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. We neglect to turn to Islam, which instructs us to treat our mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters with justice, compassion, and love.
What possesses us to continue misogynistic practices that ridicule and disrespect women?
Patriarchy. Power. Male superiority.
The arrogance of some men, unwilling to accept the fact that in Islam neither a man nor a woman is superior to the other except by their good deeds, is the cause. While I agree that Islam identifies certain roles a man and a woman are to lead within a household, these guidelines are put in place to ensure a happy and fulfilling life, not an oppressive one.
Liberation for Women in Islam
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, liberation is defined as, “(1) an occasion when something or someone is released or made free” and “(2) used to refer to activities connected with removing the disadvantages experienced by particular groups within society.” While some may view this word as antithetical to Islam, it is anything but. In reality, Islam liberates women; liberating women from the shackles of misogyny and patriarchy, more than 1400 years ago. The rights that women in the West attained just about 50 years ago, Muslim women attained these rights long ago during the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
During the time of jahilliyah (the period of ignorance before Islam), women had no legal status., They were sold into marriage for a price by their fathers and could be divorced by their husbands anytime without any legitimate reason. Women could neither own property nor did they have any rights of inheritance. Since these tribes were patrilineal, inheritance was passed down through male lineage. Women were considered as property to be inherited, thus were given little or no rights at all. The status of women was that of a means to an end. Their sole purpose was to bear and rear children, male offspring in particular, as most of the female babies were buried alive, in fear of becoming a liability, a weakness for the family and a threat to their honor. (LumenLearning, n.d.)
Now, when we look at some of the basic rights Islam gave women, it’s easy to understand how Islam truly liberated women:
The right to education
The right to marry by choice
The right to divorce
The right to keep her own identity; not adopt her husbands
The right to her earnings; is not compelled to share with her husband or family
The right to her husband’s income
The right to inheritance
The right to vote
The right to own or disown property independently
The right to work or have a business
The right to go to the masjid
Looking at any of these rights through a modern, 21st century, lens would be a great disservice to the magnitude of their significance. These rights were given to women at a time in history where women, throughout the world, were viewed as insignificant, unintelligent, and only a means to gratification for men. Women were meant to be seen, not heard. However, Islam holds women to a much higher esteem. Islam brought an end to the merciless female infanticide popular amongst the Pagan Arabs of Arabia. Islam views women as worthy of respect triple that of a man; we are to honor our mother, our mother, our mother, and then our father, as an example.
The Prophet (PBUH) frequently highlighted the respectable status of women in Islam. He said, “Among you the most respectable is the one who respects women and the most disrespected is the one who disrespects women.” Describing the honor of pleasantly raising a female offspring, he remarked, "Anyone who up-brings two daughters with love and affection, and also did not favor his sons over daughters, he shall enter into Jannah.” On the position of wives, he asserted that “among the Muslims, the most perfect, as regards to his faith, is the one whose character is excellent, and the best among you are those who treat their wives well”. And “a Muslim must not hate his wife, and if he be displeased with one bad quality in her, let him be pleased with one that is good." Finally, in his final khutba on the Mount of Mercy at Arafat, the Prophet (PBUH) ordered Muslim men to be respectful and kind towards women. He said, "Fear Allah regarding women. Certainly, you have married them with the trust of Allah, and made their bodies lawful with the word of Allah. You have got (rights) over them, and they have got (rights) over you in respect of their food and clothing according to your means." (Prof. Abdur Rehman, n.d.)
The aforementioned statements of the Prophet (PBUH) are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the rights and respect women are given in Islam. However, if we dissect our community, it becomes clear that most of the Islamic values and practices are not in place. Hence, I was driven to highlight the Islamic perspective on women. I want to drill this point through that the issues concerning women in the Pakistani society are not due to Islam, but a “borrowed culture”.
Marriage against will: Islamic or Cultural?
It’s rather common to hear in our society that women are simply paraded in front of men, looking to get married. A woman, sadly to this day, is often viewed as a means to an end. Either her choice is not considered by her family or potential in-laws are only interested in how much money she can inject into their families. Both scenarios are deeply set against women’s rights in Islam. A woman has the right to refuse a proposal if she is not comfortable with the potential union, however that often vilifies the woman as being too picky or ungrateful.
According to an authentic hadith in Sahih Bukhari (Vol. 7, Book of Nikaah, Ch 43, Hadith 5138), a woman approached Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and informed him that she was married to a man against her wish. The Prophet (PBUH) nullified her marriage then and there. In another similar case narrated in Sunan Ibn Maajah (Vol. 3, Book of Nikaah, Hadith 1875), the woman was given a choice to either nullify the marriage or stay if she wished. (Naik, 2019)
Moreover, the recent trend of men seeking women to solely support the family is absolutely preposterous. Of course, if there are extenuating circumstances later down the line, where the husband faces medical or other issues which keep him from working, is a completely different story. But, to put the pressure on the woman from day one, for the entire family, revokes her privileges as a Muslim woman. This leads us to the topic of equality in Islam.
Are men and women equal in Islam?
The concept of equality in Islam is often questioned and debated as the involvement of cultural practices have polluted the true Islamic perception of women in Islam. So, while we are speaking about how women should be treated in a family or in a marriage, it is important to understand further the privileges Islam bestows upon her. A woman holds just as many rights and responsibilities as a man, however they are not identical. This is because men and women are different, both physiologically and psychologically.
Dr. Zakir Naik explains in his lecture that in Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 228, we are told that men and women are equal, except that men have a degree of advantage. This particular verse is often misinterpreted to mean that men are superior to women; this is completely false. Important here is to consider verse 34 from Surah An-Nisa, which tells us that men are the qawam of the women. The term qawam stems from the word iqama, which means “to stand up for”. So, in this instance, Allah is informing us that men have an extra responsibility for their wives and families, which is why they are given an advantage, one of the most obvious advantages being physical strength. (Naik, 2019)
In Islam, a man is obliged to support and sustain his wife and family, financially and emotionally. A woman, on the other hand is not obliged to do so as she is not required to earn for the family. But if she does earn, that money is her own and she is not compelled to share her earnings. Therefore, it is clear that Islam does not consider men to be superior to women. (Naik, 2019) Men seeking marriages simply to sponge off their wives and divorcing them if they lose their jobs is unequivocally against Islam. We again see aspects of “borrowed culture” slipping in these unions, where a woman is still being viewed as a means to an end and not a legitimate life partner.
In my view, instead of debating on the question of “equality of genders” in Islam, we should rather try to comprehend that Islam encourages “gender equity”. According to the Oxford Dictionary, equity is described as “the quality of being fair and impartial.” Verse 19 of Surah An-Nisa instructs men to treat their wives with equity and kindness, even if they come to dislike them. A woman is not her husband’s slave in marriage, rather she is an equal partner to him. Men are given special instructions by Allah (SWT) to be good and kind towards their wives, whether they feel love for them or not. This is owing to the fact that a woman, being the bearer of children, goes through so much trial and tribulation in building and extending a family. A woman is not seen merely as a housewife in Islam. Rather, a woman is viewed as a homemaker; she crafts and builds a home, both through bearing and rearing children and by providing a beautiful living environment. But, to reiterate, she alone is not responsible for her family; it must be a joint effort by the husband and the wife. A woman is not only bound by the role of a homemaker though, she also has the right to acquiring an education, earn a living, and own property.
A part of the verse 187 in Surah Al-Baqarah informs us that husbands are a garment for their wives and their wives are a garment for them. From this verse, Dr. Naik explains in his talk that garments are meant to protect, conceal and beautify. Having your spouse as a garment means they will protect you, conceal your faults and beautify you. The relationship of a husband and wife is like that of a hand and glove. This is not to say that a woman is free to mistreat or ridicule her husband and the man owes the woman everything. In Islam, there must be mutual love, respect, and understanding between the husband and the wife to cultivate a happy and healthy relationship between the two.
Moreover, in our society, only women are expected to cook, clean, look after the children, and look presentable for the husband. These practices are un-Islamic. We leave no time for the wife/mother to fulfill her Islamic duties as she is so busy solely looking after the home, husband, and kids. Men seem to think that they have fulfilled their duty by fulfilling their desires and the rest is on the women. Absolutely not! Majority of Muslim scholars, including Imam Malik, al-Shafi’, and Abu Hanifa, maintain that “serving one’s husband is not compulsory on a wife. In other words, they state that a wife is under no obligation to cook, clean, wash, sew, etc. for her husband.” (Abid, 2014) If a wife categorically refuses to do the house chores, this is not an act of disobedience and her husband cannot use this against her. Rather, he should do what he can to bring someone to help her with these tasks or otherwise he should help her himself.
Helping one’s wife with household chores is a forgotten sunnah. It is not beneath a man to be a partner to his wife and lend a helping hand. How could it be when our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is known to helping his wives. According to an authentic hadith, Aisha (RA), the wife of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was asked, “What did the Prophet (ﷺ) use to do in his house?” She replied, “He used to keep himself busy serving his family (كَانَ يَكُونُ فِي مِهْنَةِ أَهْلِهِ) and when it was the time for prayer he would go for it.” (Bukhari) The mihnah (مِهْنَة), means “busy serving” in this context. It can also mean ‘work’, ‘job’, ‘profession’ in Arabic. (Abid, 2014) So, in effect, helping one’s wife is a husband’s duty, whether it is doing the dishes, cooking, cleaning, or raising the kids. Again, I reiterate, if these tasks were not beneath our Prophet (pbuh), they are not beneath the average man. We must let go of these “borrowed cultural beliefs” that do not have any basis in Islam. Only when this is achieved, can we hope for the youth of not just Pakistan, but the youth of our Ummah to look forward to marriage rather than avoiding it.
A reluctance to stray from cultural norms has held our family units hostage, generation after generation. If we wish to see genuine healthy relationships within our families, between the spouses and with in-laws, parents, and children, we must endeavor to rid our society of old, limiting cultural beliefs and strive to implement the teachings of Islam and our beloved Prophet (PBUH) in our day to day lives.
Abdur Rahman, Proff. (n.d.) Women in the Quran and Sunnah. Accessed January 4, 2021. https://www.iium.edu.my/deed/articles/woman_quran.html
Abid, Rameez. (2014). Helping Your Wife with Household Chores is a Neglected Sunnah. Accessed January 8, 2021. https://thethinkingmuslim.com/2014/11/01/helping-your-wife-with-household-chores-is-a-neglected-sunnah/
Farooq, Dr. Umer. (n.d.) Women’s Rights in Islam. Accessed January 5, 2021. http://www.msit.no/home/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/WomensRightsinIslam.pdf
LumenLearning. (n.d.) Women in Pre-Islamic Arabia. Accessed January 8, 2021. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/women-in-pre-islamic-arabia/
Naik, Dr. Zakir. (2019, October 19). Rights of a Wife in Islam. [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/tXwatho_mIE
As with any form of research, it is imperative to do more in-depth research than the information provided in any piece of writing. Similarly, in this case, I appeal to the reader to do deeper research on the Islamic sources provided. For instance, it would not be fair to assume that one Ayah from the Quran will explain an entire concept of equity between men and women. While it indicates the concept, simply reading the translation may not assist in understanding the Islamic perspective. This is why I encourage everyone to not only read the translations of verses in the Holy Quran, but also utilize the Tafsir. Always remember to read the entire Surah to further comprehend Allah’s message. And lastly, it is very easy to pinpoint where else certain topics are discussed in the Quran by a quick Google search. I’ve given you a head-start with very brief information, but don’t be afraid to dig deeper. It is our duty as Muslims to gain knowledge.
Maha Naz Jamil has been a writer and researcher on the cultural and psychological impacts on Muslim society for over 5 years. Intrigued by Comparative Religion, she has penned several essays on the Abrahamic religions. She has also authored books for Entrepreneurs and has successfully run multiple businesses. Her educational background in Psychology, Art, Design & Media, Leadership and Marketing have given her a broad base to approach many topics. As a Life Coach, she seeks to inspire and empower individuals to reclaim their true Identity and conquer their goals.