It is confusing sometimes to be a woman. With different interpretations of what women should act and be available in Islam, and modern,western definition of what a woman should be, it is sometimes (and even, most of the times) difficult to find what exactly a woman should be.
These are some of my ramblings on this matter.
On Being Gentle
I am truly convinced that I am a choleric, and originally a choleric, not forced to wear the mask by the environment. As this researcher said, one of the way you can find either you are originally of that trait/personality or not, look back on your childhood, and that was your real self. My parents must have agreed that I was born choleric – I threw tantrums every other day, very stubborn and headstrong. More often than not you will see me being too outspoken to handle. But as I grew up, I have come to believe that I should act in a more gentle way, due to the fact that I am a female.
But now I am questioning – why is it that when it comes to gentleness and such soft characteristics, women are under more pressure to behave that way? I could not find, not yet, any hadeeth , let alone Quranic verses specifically demanding women to be more gentle. There are, of course, discussion on the necessity of Muslims being soft and gentle – but it is directed for both male and female! There is indeed a double standard when it comes to how a woman should act. Where the heck does that notion come from? If we both are to look at Rasulullah s.a.w as an example, than obviously there should not be any distinction between how a man should act and how woman should carry herself (in term of this), unless specified.
I guess it is what we called gender-conditioning: blue is for boys, and pink is for the girls. Men should act macho, and women are to be equipped with tenderness – and for God’s sake: shyness. If I were to be shy (a more acceptable term would be ‘modest’), the same importance should be forced on my male counterparts, for Rasulullah s.a.w himself is a shy person – even more than a virgin. Well, if we are to claim that we are his follower, then everyone is subjected to the same level of shyness.
On being sidelined
Regardless of the fact that most of the men I am working with are supposed to be those who understand Islam more than anyone else, I found that they still have this mindset that women, or their female co-workers should be more of an assistant rather than an equal player or contributor – and by assistant, it means that they should be busy doing works in the background, behind the curtain.
Let us see, what happened on stage during NEXT 2009 (Sheffield Nasheed Extravaganza 2009), during the prize-giving ceremony. Why must it be that the one who accompanied the VIP to the stage must be the president, each time? I am sure that the female vice president does equal amount of tasks if not more (as usual) than him, but it is him that gets the spotlight. And worse, why must it be a female who handed over the prizes, held the trays and all these unimportant jobs? And why, oh why, most of the time this lady must wear something extra-attractive? It is as downgrading as having to have a pretty lady to man the scoreboard (or whatever it is called), dressed to kill, in a Roda Impian gameshow. And for the fact that they don’t even need a person to flip open the thing (as it is actually automated) make things worse.
This is both an issue of exploiting women, and the subconscious belief that the higher position should be held by a man – hence he should do all the speeches and prize-giving etc. for example, as a manifestation of the higher standard, despite in most of the cases they never did anything better or more than their supposedly ‘assistants’.
And of course, they are even worse at time-keeping and more often than not, mumble when they speak.
OK, it is true that even during my term as a vice-president of an organisation, I didn’t stress much on this. It was an internal problem – where if I were to do such things – like pressing for more of equality – somebody’s ego (and not just one person) would be severely hurt. Severely. And I have been appreciated enough not to make any of the males I was working with feel less motivated and needed (Yes, I read Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus for the purpose of understanding men in their way of working).
And oh, I really hate meetings where the ladies are expected to not just prepare for the papers and the house, but also the food. In my presence, if they are anyone who jokes and implicitly asks ‘where’s the food’, I usually ask that person to go and buy it himself. And here’s a rule in my house: Those who eat, wash. That includes those guys coming to my house for meetings. We are not your maids.
And guess what, this is what the Quran said:
(The believers, men and women, are helpers, supporters, friends and protectors of one another, they enjoin all that is good, and forbid all that is evil, they offer their prayers perfectly, and give Zakah (Obligatory Charity) and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah will bestow Mercy on them. Surely Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.)
And for such equality mentioned in the Quran, there is no way I am gonna wash your plates and cups and cook everytime.
Generally, I have nothing to complain, except for the last time I attended an event organised by a community I previously led (or co-led) – where there was a messily-constructed segregator. I said, rather not-so-loudly; what is this all about?
I do believe, and fully understand the requirement for every chastise men and women to lower their gazes, but I have never agree with any segregation between men and women, especially when it comes to education.
Here are a few reasons I have in mind:
1. The barrier was rather messy and was not at all a good sight. If you were really, desperately (as you can’t control your own eyes) in need of such barriers, find a proper one.
2. I found that in the case of the presence of such segregation, both the guys and the girls are going to sit (in the case of a class/knowledge-seeking seating) rather more inappropriately and more relaxed, in a bad way that is. So you are shy to do such things when there are the opposite sex, but where is your respect for the knowledge, and ultimately the teacher?
And if we can’t control our desire to look at the opposite sex in a mosque , I wonder how bad we have trained ourselves. It must be even worse when we are outside in a lecture hall, on a bus, and walking down the street- with half-naked men and women everywhere…with the summer approaching.
3. After all, during Hajj men and women pray even in the same line, and while performing such an important ritual it is deemed permissible, why is after that you have to have segregation?
Here’s a Q&A on this matter, from IslamOnline:
Respected scholars, as-salamu `alaykum. Why do we see men and women at Hajj time, praying in the same line; some men even physically touch women while praying in the same line. How can this be acceptable during Hajj and not after? Jazakum Allahu Khayran.
Wa `alaykum as-salamu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Dear questioner, we would like to thank you for the great confidence you place in us, and we implore Allah Almighty to help us serve His cause and render our work for His Sake.
While performing Hajj, men and women are allowed to pray together in the same line. The gathering in Hajj resembles the gathering on the Day of Judgment even if there is a great difference. We know that the rites of Hajj seek to link pilgrims to the Hereafter and the Resurrection. Therefore, men and women are permitted to do so, based on Almighty Allah’s Wisdom and Will to gather together in the Sacred place to perform the rituals of Hajj.
In his response to your question, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada , states:
There are two issues we must always distinguish well:
First, Islam does not prescribe complete segregation of the sexes as is practiced in many Muslim communities today. Complete segregation was a later innovation, because during the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) men and women were active participants in all aspects of life, without being segregated.
Second, while interacting in society they were observing the Islamic ethics of interaction.
Therefore, what is happening during Hajj is permissible; but having said that, if there is some unavoidable touching of one another in a crowd, we cannot say that this is a general rule that can be applied in all circumstances.
However, the most important point concerning men and women praying without a partition or physical barrier in Al-Haram of Makkah should be the ideal for us to follow. For in that way, we allow full participation of women in all walks of life. That was indeed the way they interacted during the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). By restoring this state of affairs, we would be changing the image of Islam, for a picture is worth more than a thousand words.
4. I am personally not comfortable with the segregation because I NEED to see the face of the person teaching – especially if it is a syeikh or a teacher. It is blessing, and you just can’t rob it away from me by putting this segregation.
I have a few more issues to address on being a woman, but I’ll stop here.