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Islam, Family & Muslim Feminists

The following excerpt is perhaps one the most authentic critiques on feminism from islamic point of view from Dr Seyyed Hossein Nasr's book Ideals and Realities of Islam:

From the point of view of social structure, the teachings of the Shariah emphasize the role of the family as the unit of society - the family in the extended sense and not in its atomized, nuclear modem form. The greatest social achievement of the Prophet in Medina was precisely in breaking the existing tribal bonds and substituting religious ones which were connected on the one hand with the totality of the Muslim community and on the other hand with the family. The Muslim family is the miniature of the whole of Muslim society and its firm basis. In it, the man or father functions as the Imam in accordance with the patriarchal nature of Islam. The religious responsibility of the family rests upon his shoulders. In the family, the father upholds the tenets of the faith and his authority symbolizes that of God in the world. The man is in fact respected in the family precisely because of the sacerdotal function that he fulfils. The rebellion of Muslim women in certain quarters of Islamic society came when men themselves ceased to fulfil their religious function and lost their virile and patriarchal character. By becoming themselves effemi­nate, they caused the reaction of revolt among certain women who no longer felt the authority of religion upon themselves.
The traditional family is also the unit of stability of society and the four wives that a Muslim can marry, like the four-sided Ka’aba, symbolize this stability. Many have not understood why such a family structure is permitted in Islam and attack Islam for it as if polygamy belongs to Islam alone. Here and again Muslim modernism carries with it the prejudice of Christianity against polygamy to the extent that some have gone even so far as to call it immoral and prefer promiscuity to a social pattern which minimizes all illicit relations to the extent possible. The problem of the attitude of the Western observer is not as important as that segment of modernized Muslim society which itself cannot understand the teachings of the Shariah on this point simply because it uses as criteria categories borrowed from the modern West.
There is no doubt that in a small but significant segment of Muslim society today, there is a revolt of women against traditional Islamic society. In every civilisation a reaction always comes against an existing force or action. In Islam, the very patriarchal and masculine nature of the tradition makes the revolt of those women who have become aggressively modernised more violent and virulent than, let us say, in Hinduism, where the maternal element has always been strong. What many modernised Muslim women are doing in rebelling against the traditional Muslim family structure is to rebel against fourteen centuries of Islam itself although many may not be aware of the inner forces that drive them on. It is the patriarchal nature of Islam that makes the reaction of some modernised women today so vehement. Although very limited in number, they are, in fact, more than Muslim men, thirsting for all things Western. They seek to become modernised in their dress and habits with impetuosity, which would be difficult to understand unless one considers the deep psychological factors involved.
From the Islamic point of view, the question of the equality of men and women is meaningless. It is like discussing the equality of a rose and a jasmine. Each has its own perfume, colour, shape and beauty. Men and women are not the same. Each has particular features and characteristics. Women are not equal to men. But neither are men equal to women. Islam envisages their roles in society not as competing but as complimentary. Each has certain duties and functions in accordance with his or her nature and constitution.
Man possesses certain privileges such as social authority and mobility against which he has to perform many heavy duties. First of all, he bears all economic responsibility. It is his duty to support his family completely even if his wife is rich and despite the fact that she is economically independent. A woman in a traditional Islamic society does not have to worry about earning a living. There is always the larger family structure in which she can find a place and take refuge from social and economic pressures even if she has no husband or father. In the extended family system, a man often supports not only his wife and children but also his mother, sister, aunts, in-laws and sometimes even cousins and more distant relatives. Therefore in city life, the necessity of having to find a job at all costs and having to bear the economic pressure of life is lifted from the shoulders of women. As for the countryside, the family is itself the economic unit and the work is achieved by the larger family or tribal unit together.
Secondly, a woman does not have to find a husband for herself. Site does not have to display her charms and make the thousand and one plans through which she hopes to attract a future mate. The terrible anxiety of having to find a husband and of missing the opportunity if one does not try hard enough at the right moment is spared the Muslim woman. Being able to remain true to her nature, she can afford to sit at home and wait for her parents or guardian to choose a suitable match. This usually leads to a marriage which, being based on the sense of religious duty and enduring family and social bonds between the two sides, is more lasting arid ends much more rarely in divorce than the marriages which are based on the sentiments of the moment that often do not develop into more permanent relationships.
Thirdly the Muslim woman is spared direct military and political responsibility although in rare cases there have been women warriors. This point may appear as a deprivation to some but in the light of the real needs of feminine nature, it is easy to see that for most women, such duties weigh heavily upon them. Even in modern societies, which through the equalitarian process have tried to equate men and women as if there were no difference in the two sexes, Women are usually spared the military draft except in extreme circumstances.
In return for these privileges which the woman receives, she has also certain responsibilities of which the most important is to provide a home for her family and to bring up her children properly. In the home the woman rules as queen and a Muslim man is in a sense the guest of his wife at home. The home and the larger family structure in which she lives are for the Muslim woman her world. To be cut off from it would be like being cut off from the world or like dying. She finds the meaning of her existence in this extended family structure which is constructed so as to give her the maximum possibility of realizing her basic needs and fulfilling herself.
The Shariah therefore envisages the role of men and women according to their nature, which is complimentary. It gives the man the privilege of social and political authority and movement for which he has to pay by bearing heavy responsibilities, by protecting his family from all the forces and pressures of society, economic and otherwise. Although a master in the world at large and the head of his own family, the man acts in his home as one who recognize the rule of his wife, in this domain and respects it. Through mutual understanding and the realization of the responsibilities that God has placed on each other’s shoulders, the Muslim man and woman are able to fulfill their personalities and create a firm family unit which is the basic struc­ture of Muslim society.
Reference: Ideals and Realities of Islam,  George AIIen &; Unwin, London, 1966, pp. 110-113.


Found the piece at: http://www.islam101.com/women/jameelah.htm

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