Men & Women: Confusion over superiority of men

Q380 :Could you please explain the meaning of Verse 34 of the fourth surah entitled "Women". Some people state that the Qur'an endorses the notion of man's superiority to woman. I am rather confused. Please comment in detail.

A380 : The Qur'anic verse to which you have referred may be rendered in translation as follows: "Men shall take full care of women with the bounties with which Allah has favored some of them in greater measure than others, and with what they may spend of their own wealth. The righteous women are devout, guarding the secret which Allah has willed to be guarded." [4;34] Although the verse goes on to point out certain rulings in matrimonial relations, the part to which you have referred is the one I have quoted. As it is translated above, the verse gives no suggestion of superiority. Indeed, it relates to the way the family is organized in Islamic society. To explain its meaning and what is really involved in assigning responsibilities to man and woman within the family, there is little that I can do better than quote you at length from the commentary written by the late Sayyid Qutb in his priceless work "In the Shade of the Qur'an". "The family is the first institution in human life, in the sense that its effect is felt in every stage of human life. It is within the family that man, the most noble of all creatures, according to the Islamic concept of life, is brought up. The running and administration of much inferior institutions, such as those engaged in financial, industrial and commercial affairs, is normally assigned to those who are most qualified for the job by their education, training and natural abilities. It is only logical that the same rule be applied to the family, the institution which looks after the upbringing of the most noble creature in the universe, namely, man. "The divine code of living takes him and his nature in consideration, as well as the natural abilities given to both man and woman to enable them to discharge the duties assigned to each of them. It maintains justice in the distribution of duties, giving to each of them only the type of duties to which they are suited. It is needless to say that both man and woman are the creation of Allah who does not wish to do injustice to anyone He has created. Indeed He gives each of His creations the abilities and talents which befit the duties assigned to him or her. "Allah has created human beings as males and females, following the "dual" role which is central to the system of creation. He has given the woman the great tasks of child-bearing, breast-feeding and looking after her children. These are not tasks of the type which may be fulfilled without careful preparation, physically, psychologically and mentally. It is only just, therefore, that the other part, i.e. man, should be assigned the task of providing the essential needs and the protection required for the woman to fulfill her highly important duties. She could not be given all those tasks and be still required to work in order to earn her living and to look after her children at the same time. It is only fair as well that man should be given the physical, mental and psychological qualities which enable him to fulfill his duties in the same way as the woman is given the abilities to help her fulfill her duties. All this is part of the reality of human life, because Allah maintains absolute justice among all. "Among the qualities the woman has been given are tenderness, good reaction and instinctive response to the needs of childhood without waiting for much deliberation and reflection. The essential human needs even of a single individual are not left for leisurely reflection and planning. Response to them is made instinctively so that they may be met more or less involuntarily. There is no external compulsion in this. It is an impulsive reaction which the woman enjoys, despite the fact that it requires sacrifice from her. This is part of Allah's work which is always perfect. "These are not superficial qualities. Indeed, they are implanted in the woman's physical, mental and psychological constitution. Some leading scientists believe that they are present in each cell in the woman's constitution because they are rooted in the first cell which multiplies to form the fetus and the child. "On the other hand, among the qualities the man is given are toughness, slow reaction and response as well as proper thought and reflection before action. All these functions, ever since he lived on hunting in the early stages, to fighting for the protection of his wife and children, to earning his living in any way, require some deliberation and consideration before taking any decision and implementing it. These qualities are also deeply rooted in the constitution of man. "It is man's qualities which make him more able and better equipped to take charge of the family. Similarly, his duty of supporting his family as part of the distribution of duties, makes him more suitable to be in charge. That is because earning the living of his family and all its members is part of being in charge. Moreover, looking after the finances of the family is closer to his family duties. "There are two elements which the Qur'an highlights as it states that in Islamic society, men are required to look after woman. It is an assignment of duties on the basis of natural abilities and fair distribution of responsibilities. Each party is assigned the duties to which he or she is most suited by nature. "That man is better equipped to be in charge is part of human nature. He has the proper natural abilities for that role which is essential for the proper progress of human life. It is a simple fact that one party is equipped for this role and assigned the duty to play it while the other is not. Hence, it is totally unfair that the latter should be required in any situation to take up these responsibilities in addition to her own natural duties. If this latter party is given the necessary practical and scientific training to fulfill these duties, her ability to play the other role, i.e. that of motherhood, is undermined. That is a role which requires certain abilities of the type we have mentioned, such as good reaction and immediate response along with the natural physical and mental abilities. "These are very serious questions which may not be left to human beings to decide at will. Whenever they have been left to human beings to decide, whether in the past or in recent times, the very existence of mankind was threatened and the essential human qualities which distinguish men from other creatures was in danger of extinction. "There is plenty of evidence which points out that the rules of human nature force themselves on man even when people deny them altogether. One aspect of that is the decline in the quality of human life and the serious danger to which it has been exposed whenever this rule which gives man the task and the authority to look after the family has been violated. Such violation leads to serious repercussions. Another indication is that the woman prefers that man assumes his role of being in charge of the family. Many women experience feelings of worry, dissatisfaction and unhappiness when they live with men who relinquish their role of being in charge for any reason. This is readily admitted by women who try to challenge man's role. "Another example of the social repercussion of this unnatural family situation, where the father does not play his role either because of his weak character which allows the mother to overshadow or control him, or because of his early death or in one-parent families, is that very often the children suffer instability which may lead to mental perversion and behavioral deviation. "These are only a few examples through which nature indicates its presence and the need to organize human life according to its laws. It must be finally stated that the way Islam distributes family responsibilities does not by any means lead to the negation of the woman's character or role in the home and in society at large. Neither does it mean the cancellation of her civil status. It simply defines her role within the family and how it is run. For the family is a very important institution which must be protected and maintained. In any institution, the observance of certain values does not mean the abrogation of the character or the rights of the partners or the workers. Islam defines the role of the man and what his being in charge means as well as his duties as one who takes care of his family, protects it and earns its living." I trust this lengthy quotation from Sayyid Qutb amply explains the meaning of the verse to which you have referred and in which there is no suggestion of any superiority given to men.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )