Of Being a Woman: Gentleness, Sidelined, and Segregated


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. 

Need examples? 

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.)

[9:71]

And for such equality mentioned in the Quran, there is no way I am gonna wash your plates and cups  and cook everytime. 

On Segregation

segregation

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.

Tasbih kaffarah.

 

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15 comments

  1. Kak,

    agree with most of what you said. I take it you’ve read the short story? I guess that’s why I’m giving up on men because there’s no way a man, no matter how much he respects a woman, could change his atypical mindset about how women should behave.

    I like your point about men doing the dishes. That is exactly what I have in mind but let extend it even further to taking turns preparing meals for the family (for married couples). If both the husband and the wife are working, why does it become her responsibility alone to cook dinner after a whole day working while he could lounge lazily watching the TV? Because women are typically associated with kitchen, and hence cooking? Don’t get me started on whose turn it is to get up and pick up the baby for feeding in the wee hours…

    Gosh I’m such a freaking feminist. But as I ponder about this over and over again, I came to conclusion that Islam is submission to God, not submission to men. Islam liberates, instead of restricting women. And the notion that Islam in oppressing to women is so not true because oppression is not associated with religion. It’s universal. And men need to forgo their ego, because we women have pride too.

  2. Kak,

    aku tak baca lagi..huhu..sorry beb

    sometimes I feel like I am too liberal.

    *sigh*

  3. You’re just speaking your mind. When is that is considered too liberal? Cuba kalau lelaki, trust me, soal liberal tak berbangkit langsung.

    I’m not a man-hater, I just want to see justice is served.

  4. salam wbt

    nice artikel kak afni
    rasanya perlu juga dilibatkan bab budaya/adat sesuatu kaum atau sesuatu tempat
    kadangkala hukum berubah mengikut adat/budaya setempat

    cantik untuk direnung mengenai persoalan yang dibawa
    bab pinggan mankuk, prize giving, setuju

    yang lain tu agak keberatan
    sebab tidak nampak penjelasan ulamak lain lagi
    ~kelemahan diri sendiri ilmu cetek

    gaya penulisan macam ala2 feminist

    Jzk

  5. Nice post.

    My own post: http://al-azel.blogspot.com/2009/02/usrah-on-usrah.html

    As for barriers, lectures by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Imam Sayid Shakir, and other scholars over here sometimes have barrier and sometimes they don’t have barrier. Even if they do, they always put such that the woman will be able to see the lecturer: http://www.messageislam.co.za/images/hamza7.jpg

    The organization that I lead, me and my male colleagues cook nasi lemak, rendang, etc for our event! Macam rewang kenduri la, lelaki masak ok.

    But then again, I am charged to have a 73% Female, 27% Male brain =S Although I think I am perfectly male in all aspects =p
    http://al-azel.blogspot.com/2009/02/incredulous.html

    Keep standing up!
    Barakallahu fik.

  6. As for penjelasan ulama’, here it is.

    Mufti Muhammad Taqi Uthmani has a nice advice: “It is not a legal (Shar’i) obligation upon a wife to cook the meals or clean the house. If a woman chooses not to do this, her husband cannot compel her to do so. However, apart from the legal injunctions Islam has given some moral instructions to both the husband and wife. They should realise that they are life companions who should not restrict themselves to the legal requirements alone, but should join hands to make mutual life as comfortable and harmonious as possible.”

    So it is a misconception that it is ‘Islamic’ to force a wife to do all these. Plus, Aisyah r.a. related that the Prophet s.a.w. used to milk the goats, wash and sew his clothes.

    “From Al-Aswad he reported: Aisyah r.a. was asked on the Prophet’s family life and what he did at home. She replied: The Prophet s.a.w always assisted his family members in doing household chores. When prayer time approaches, he will leave for prayer” (Sahih Bukhari).

    “Nushuz is grouse disobedience; it’s not just about not making dinner. As mentioned earliar, it is not wajibat to make dinner, a qadi can’t impose it on women. Mukrah, is out of compulsion. Ta’a is desire and yearning. So it is to serve by desire, not compulsion. Khidmah is part of nature of woman.” (Summary of part of Shaikh Hamza Yusuf’s lecture)

    Wallahu’alam

  7. Salam Arif,

    I know it’s not Islamic, it’s cultural. But have people who are well educated in religious matters been doing about it? Do they try (very hard) to enlighten the masses about it? Or do they keep mum about it (and encouraging it by not opposing it)?

  8. Thanks for all your comments.

    Shahnom,

    Adat/cultural aspects are OK, as long as it brings some positive to the society – but if all of these other things that you do not agree, actually bring more harm, why not change the culture?

    Have you ever count how many of the mosques in the UK that do not have women area? That’s one of the manifestation of segregation too.

    Though I am opposed to segregation, I am in no way gonna support free mixing. And about gentleness, it is about stressing it on the same level to both males and females – without saying something like: ‘because you are a woman you have to be gentler’. Nature is nature (though making a generalisation that all women have tendency towards gentleness is probably wrong) – but as the hadeeth says: ‘Gentleness adorns whoever that has it’ – does it mention any specific gender?

    If by feminist it means that I am trying to restore the real value set by Allah, by all means, I am proud of it.

    Arif,

    Luckily too, when it comes to large occasions, these men cook! But why is it in their personal life they still have that kind of notion? Strange indeed.

    Thanks for the quote from the scholars. I have known the fact that women are not obliged to cook and do house chores (since the sole duty of a woman is to please and satisfy her husband, in other ways ) since I was in my secondary school- but if I were to stress on this, surely I will be labeled as feminist again. Yes, I agree that the nature of a woman is khidmah, if she loves someone she might (I say might, because it may not be true for all) have the tendency to sacrifice, but as the scholar said, it must be out of love and affection.

    Making it obligatory is a total non-sense.

    Thanks.

    Ihdina as-siraat al-mustaqim ~ Show us the straight way, O Allah.

  9. Good Entry….I wonder, is it really you are feminist?(“,)

    This is not the first entry about women against men that you have assigned. So many disputations and objections that you voiced out before.

    Please let me give my opinion on your statement above.

    Be a gentle,

    You stated women are under more pressure to do this manner.
    This is nature of woman, such like a man is proudest with his brave, strong, manly, etc…
    Woman should be proud with shyness and gentle. But this doesn’t mean woman can’t be brave, strong or etc..but that’s not a nature of woman..

    Have you ever heard about Aisyah quote; “‘A’isha radi Allahu anha used to praise women of the Ansar in the following words, “How good were the women of the Ansar that they did not shy away from learning and understanding religious matters.” (Muslim, kitab al hayd)

    This word told us about women of Ansar that not to be shy rather than muhajirr women in order to ask about religious matters. That’s mean shy is fitrah.I am just to be realistic and not to double standardize this situation because of Al-Quran also has mentioned about this matter.

    I give an example;

    You who believe, do not let one [set of] people make fun of another set; perhaps they are better than they are. Nor let any women [mistreat other] women; perhaps they are even better than they are themselves. Nor should you criticize one another, nor insult one another by using nicknames; it is bad to use a dirty name instead of one you can believe in. Those who do not turn away from it are wrongdoers (al-Hujurat, 49:11)

    In this verse, why Allah stated women twice, one in the group(including men and women) and another state obviously as a woman. This is because of woman is tend to talk unwisely ;‘ghibah’ instead of talking the good side. This bad habit not only exist in this century but could be exist since pharaoh period. This is nature…Al-Quran confessing it.

    What’s your opinion?

    Roda Impian,

    Women in this show are exploited as an exotic model just to make this show more attractive and interesting instead of making this show as a knowledge-oriented show. Perhaps if someone else(not pretty) or ‘mak cik kiah’ could be substituted with the pretty women, than I agree that’s a sidelined.

    I also argue when women usually appointed as a prize giving ceremony assistant. In my program, seminar or etc that I have conducted before, the prize giving ceremony assistants are done by men.

    Segregation,

    I’m not sure about this. But, I’m curious that Masjid Nabawi in Madinah practice segregation?

    Sorry for the limitation language. I confess that I am not good in English…

  10. Salam.

    “But have people who are well educated in religious matters been doing about it? Do they try (very hard) to enlighten the masses about it? Or do they keep mum about it (and encouraging it by not opposing it)?”

    Certainly Shaykh Hamza & co. are vocal about it at North America, right? But of course, these voices are still a minority at the moment. Yeah, there is a problem, but social revolution doesn’t come in a day, right? Of course we need to empower our women, if muslims are to be respected again. Those who are enlightened, keep standing up gently.

    If anyone haven’t listened to Dr. Umar Faruq Abd Allah’s lecture, Famous Women in islam, then pray do. This one is not just another feminist discourse: http://www.astrolabe.com/product/1464/Famous_Women_In_Islam.html

  11. Salam wbt

    Setuju dengan Rizal, malu dan kelembutan adalah fitrah wanita
    Pada masa yang sama tidak semestinya wanita tidak boleh menjadi berani dan kelihatan gagah, boleh cumanya berani dan gagah ini lebih kepada sifat seorang lelaki

    Wanita perlu berbangga dengan kelembutan dan rasa malu yang dikurniakan
    Dengan kelembutan dan sikap pemalu inilah akan lahir anak-anak yang lembut , taat perintah agama, baik budi pekerti
    Dengan malu dan kelembutan inilah lelaki akan lebih tertarik kepada wanita yang kelihatan lebih mempunyai sifat yang sedemikian

    “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. ”

    Sudah dengar daripada kawan-kawan, ada perubahan pada diri Kak Afni, yup..Kak Afni cakap dan buat
    Bahagian ini saya kena belajar daripada Kak Afni, bagaimana untuk cakap dan buat

    Penting untuk menyedarkan kaum lelaki bahawa wujud suatu salah faham mengenai konsep wanita didalam Islam
    Pada masa yang sama laras bahasa perlu dikawal agar tidaklah penyuara isu dianggap sebagai terlalu ‘feminist’

    Yang mana akan menyebabkan lelaki gerun untuk mendekati

    Jzk

  12. McBatistuta,

    `Wanita perlu berbangga dengan kelembutan dan rasa malu yang dikurniakan
    Dengan kelembutan dan sikap pemalu inilah akan lahir anak-anak yang lembut , taat perintah agama, baik budi pekerti’.

    Setuju.

    `Dengan malu dan kelembutan inilah lelaki akan lebih tertarik kepada wanita yang kelihatan lebih mempunyai sifat yang sedemikian’.

    Apakah??

    Wanita itu memang ada sifat lembut, memang ada sifat pemalu, tetapi dia tidak perlu menjadi (lebih ) lembut atau pemalu hanya semata-mata lelaki, in general menyukai perempuan yang lembut.

    Kalaulah perempuan itu menjadi lemah lembut, adalah kerana perempuan itu mematuhi agamanya dan ingin mencontohi Rasul-Nya, & perkara ini imply untuk kedua-dua lelaki dan perempuan.

    Maaf kalau saya salah McBatistuta, tetapi statement itu seolah-olah merendahkan sifat lembut dan pemalu seorang perempuan, kami tidak perlu menarik lelaki dengan cara itu.

    Juga,

    `Pada masa yang sama laras bahasa perlu dikawal agar tidaklah penyuara isu dianggap sebagai terlalu ‘feminist’

    Yang mana akan menyebabkan lelaki gerun untuk mendekati ‘

    Soalan saya : Apa salahnya menjadi feminist?

    Tengok definisi Wikipedia :

    `Feminism is the belief that women should have equal political, social, sexual, intellectual and economic rights to men.’

    Ia bukan sekadar kepercayaan, ia memang sesuatu yang dibawa oleh Islam sejak seribu tahun lebih dulu – kesamarataan antara jantina.

    Tapi feminism yang ditegakkan dalam Islam bukanlah sebagaimana yang diperjuangkan oleh golongan feminist sekarang.

    Kesamarataan dalam Islam akan ditegakkan apabila kedua-dua pihak menunaikan hak masing-masing.

    Tetapi apabila lelaki tidak menunaikan hak itu, maka wujudlah sekumpulan wanita yang merasakan mereka perlu menegakkan hak mereka dengan cara yang tidak `tradisional’ mungkin.

    Apabila lelaki tidak menjadi ketua suatu organisasi dengan baik, salahkah perempuan mengambil alihnya dan mengadopt sedikit sifat lelaki dalam dirinya untuk menjalankan tugas dengan baik?

    Apabila lelaki tidak berani berjuang untuk menegakkan hak, atau menjadi sedikit radikal, maka salahkah seorang wanita mengambi alih peranan itu, dan untuk menjalankan peranan itu, menjadi lebih tegas, garang, dan digeruni mungkin?

    Kalaulah seorang perempuan itu menjadi `over’ garang, over tegas, over memimpin, over radikal, atau over kelelakian, salah satu sebabnya ialah ketidakpuasan terhadap lelaki yang sepatutnya mengoptimumkan ciri-ciri lelaki yang dikurniakan ke atas mereka.

    Kalaulah lelaki berasa gerun terhadap wanita-wanita yang sebegini, maka bagi saya, anda sebenarnya gerun terhadap sifat lelaki yang sepatutnya anda miliki.

    Anda x gerun dengan kami. Anda gerun dengan sifat lelaki itu sendiri.

    dan bukan salah kami.

    Wallahua’lam.

  13. assalamualikum..salam 165

    1st of all,interesting article u wrote for us..

    Quote:

    “….for Rasulullah s.a.w himself is a shy person – even more than a virgin. ”

    from this hadith, obviously in this hadith, the

    “shyness” is nature characteristic for a virgin.

    The simple analogy in day life is like “bodoh

    macam lembu”.this clearly said that the person is not lembu

    at all.hehehe.but the fool is same level as lembu. the fools is

    show the nature characteristic of lembu..

  14. Nadiah has written well what is in my mind.

    I just can’t ignore, but to further comment.

    It is important to understand that I believe that Allah has made men and women different, but essentially equal. Men and women have their own tendencies – but there’s the thing:

    (1) Soft, gentle, strong and brave are characteristics that can be associated with both gender. Yes, there is a gender that is more associated to some of this than the others, but if we go back to the teaching of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w, the stress is for both gender to have all of these characteristics. BOTH.

    Even in the hadith that I quote: ‘“….for Rasulullah s.a.w himself is a shy person – even more than a virgin. ”, if we are to interpret and act upon this it means that BOTH men and women are to have shyness – even though naturally women are more readily equipped with shyness.

    And shyness, as far as I am concern, is needed in a Muslim so that he/she would not do any sin i.e. shyness is what forbid the person from committing munkar.

    And to me personally, it means that for any other thing that is not considered a sin, I should not feel shy – just because I am a woman.

    Bravery and strong are mentioned in hadith, but it is not asked from men only, thus both gender are to have these characteristics, if they are to be a good muslims.

    Volume 7, Book 62, Number 19:
    Narrated Abu Huraira:

    The Prophet said, “The best women are the riders of the camels and the righteous among the women of Quraish. They are the kindest women to their children in their childhood and the more careful women of the property of their husbands.”

    Care to interpret what does it means by riders of the camels?

    Except for the fourth one – the other two characteristics are also mentioned universally and also stressed for both gender.

    So I don’t see how different can it be between men and women in Islam in term of their characteristics – though I fully understand that both have different rights.

    Again Shahnom,

    No one should encourage women to act better or be a better person just so that she will be married, and that men are less afraid to approach them.

    That is just ridiculous. You be good because Allah wants you so. And I am struggling to become even gentler because I want to please Allah more than anything else, and because Rasulullah himself (who should be an example for both Muslim men AND women) is gentle.

    I guess that is more than enough for motivation, no?

  15. Afni,

    Sekarang baru ada masa nak baca
    Tahniah diatas keberanian untuk mengatakan apa yang aku tak berani langsung nak tulis
    Moga Allah memberimu kekuatan selalu

    Terlalu Pendiam- Wanita harus kehadapan
    Bila kehadapan- ‘Tak cukup sifat muslimah’
    Tak buat kerja- Wanita harus turut menjadi sayap kiri didalam…
    Buat kerja- Terlalu aktif, strong, opiniated. Tak bagi peluang orang lain buat kerja. Gila Kuasa. Bukan ciri isteri solehah. Feminist.

    Sedangkan kebiasaannya, mesyuarat ke usrah ke-
    Orang perempuan- Arrange time and place, jemput semua org, susun tentatif, masak, kemas umah.
    Orang lelaki- Datang, ‘lead the meeting’ (padalah ekceli, org perempuan yang buat semuanya), makan, blah
    Orang perempuan- kemas rumah, basuh pinggan, buat laporan mesyuarat, follow up everything…

    Until? the next meeting. the same thing.

    In short, buat apa2 pun, still perempuan yang salah.
    Ah! i give up. Kadang-kadang laser gak sesiapa, tapi last-last, terima je. SEbab bukan org lelaki je ada pandangan camni, ramai je org perempuan camni gak. Selalu je aku kene sound gak.

    Rather than try to please orang lain, mungkin Pleasing Allah is enough.
    dan cukuplah Allah sebagai Wakilku
    cukuplah RasulNya sebagai Qudwah Hasanah

    gembira apabila membaca perkara kebenaran didalam blog mu ini.
    i luv u afni =)

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