The masculinization of Muslim societies stems from the masculinization of Arabian societies in pre-Islamic Arabia, where culture continues as an essential part of life alongside religion.
The Koran, on the other hand, addressed the early Muslims in a manner that they would comprehend, and therefore preferred masculinity over femininity when shedding light on the position of males and females, the social relations between them and their role in society, as well as legislative aspects of their lives – such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and personal status.
As a Muslim theologian, I cannot deny the fact that the Koran acknowledges Arab societies as male-dominant societies. However, it did oppose the burying of newborn female babies:
“And when the girl [who was] buried alive is asked, for what sin she was killed. And when the pages [of deeds] are made public…” (Quran, 81:8-10).
Dr. Muhammad Shinqiti, an Islamic jurist and interpreter of the Koran who was a former member of the Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia and a teacher within the two sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina, reported:
[The second Caliph of Islam] Omar ibn Al-Khattab said, “There were two things in the pre-Islamic era, one of them makes me cry and the other one makes me laugh. The one that makes me cry; I had taken a daughter of mine to bury her alive and I was digging the hole for her while she was dusting my beard off without knowing what I am planning for her, when I remember that, I cry. And the other one is that I used to make a God of dates that I put over my head to guard me during the night, then when I woke up I would eat it, and whenever I remember that I laugh at myself” (Muhammad al-Amin al-Shinqiti, Adhwa’ul Bayan, Beirut, Lebanon, 1995, Vol. 9, p. 63).
Prominent Islamic jurists and influential scholars have also testified to this incident within their publications. They explain:
Arabs used to dig a hole under the pregnant woman whenever she experienced labor, in order that the child will be placed into it when delivered. If he was a boy they would take him out of it and if she was a girl then they would leave it and they would dump soil over her body till she dies, and that Omar Ibn Al-Khattab testified to the Prophet Mohammad, saying “O Messenger of Allah, I have committed female infanticide during the pre-Islamic era” (Al-Haythami, Majmau’ al-Zawa’id wa Manba’ al-Fawa’id, 1994, Vol. 7, p. 204, Hadith 11469; Al-Mawardi, Al-Hawi Al-Kabir [The Comprehensive Book[, 1994, Vol. 13, p. 67) .
Thus, masculinity was a social reality, and even though Muslims in general and Arab-Muslims in particular do not bury their new born females anymore, they do oppress them in different ways.
In this respect, we Muslims need to ask ourselves: By the Koran recognizing the dominant male culture, does that mean that it supports it? Or do the solutions it proposes mean that it should disappear from Muslim/Arab societies after the revelation of the aforementioned verse?
When reviewing Koranic scripture, we find that there is more equality than inequality between men and women, especially in verses of punishment and reward, as well as work and labor. One of the famous verses that can be cited in this regard is:
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted” (Quran, 49:13).
Thus, there is no superiority between male and female in this particular verse, which speaks regarding one of the purposes of creation. However, other verses which clearly state that men have authority over women are open to interpretation, as they are legislative in nature and not strictly doctrinal.
We must view verses in the Koran from a lingual, social, philosophical as well as jurisprudential lens in order to understand the divine intent behind the legislations that they carry, and not from the lens of Meccan heritage or Arabic culture that applies the laws of its backward culture onto the Torah, Bible and Koran.
When religion develops into a ‘Religion of Men,’ then the issue no longer becomes an issue of prioritizing between political or religious reforms, because either way, the outcome will result in the continued suppression and oppression of women, and their treatment as second- or even third-class citizens.
Kuwait, for example, is a highly developed country with an onward-thinking majority, yet women regained the right to vote and stand for office only in 2005. The reason for this is somewhat sophisticated for a non-Arab to completely comprehend, and it has a lot to do with the Arabic mentality and the masculinity of society that is entrenched within it, allowing it to naturally exist in social, educational, judicial, religious as well as political systems; including parliaments.
Despite our developed cities, the majority of us seem to have a Bedouin mentality when it comes to women. Therefore, it becomes safe to assume that there is no hope for political, intellectual and religious reform without cultural reform.
Culture plays a vital role in the daily lives and behaviors of all members of society. For us to realistically find a solution to how women are treated by the religious institutions, we must correct how they are treated within culture.
When addressing the matter of women, a word that immediately comes to the Muslim mind is ‘honor.’ The meaning of the word ‘honor’ then differs from one Muslim community to another. In conservative Muslim societies, the honor of a man is attached to the honor of his mother, sister, wife or female cousins. Therefore, if they exceed the boundaries of culture, and tarnish the man’s honor, the man regains his honor by setting out to kill the woman in a practice known as honor killing.
This mentality has to change, simply because such a description of honor does not exist in the Koran or in the books of Hadith. Secondly, the mindset of women having less or no honor when committing error, while a man’s actions will always be justified as honorable, must change.
Islam cannot convince developed nations that it is a universal religion when it fuels a culture that favors one gender over the other. As Muslims, we must address our challenges through modern-day practices, and not through historical experiences of past generations. The greatest challenge we face is Muslims trying to connect historic scripture with today’s reality.
To help spread my message of peace and reform, this article will also be published on my personal website and other blogs.