In the era, when equality of genders is loudly praised and celebrated in the West, sometimes we tend to follow the flow without much thinking. Let’s step away for a moment to see, what Islam has to say on the matter of differences between men and women.
Allah (swt) says in the Quran: “O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you (all) from a single Nafs (soul or person [Adam]), and from it (Nafs [Adam]) He created his wife (Hawwa [Eve]), and from them both He created many men and women…” (An-Nisa 4:1)
Indeed, Allah (swt) declares that He created all the mankind from a single Nafs (soul or person, prophet Adam as). The term Nafs has been translated by some commentators as ‘soul’, while others render it as ‘person’. Regardless of its meaning, the term clearly indicates that Allah (swt) created both man and woman from the same Nafs – both are not from different species but from one and the same. Right at this very point of creation, Allah (swt) establishes His own terms for defining equality between genders – as His creations, the man and the woman stand equal before Allah (swt).
Likewise, Allah (swt) states in the Quran that men and women are equal in whatever deeds they do. (An-Nahl 16:97, Al-Ahzab 33:35) There is no distinction between a male believer and a female believer, except in the degree of piety and righteousness (Al-Hujurat 49:13).
There are, however, differences between men and women in their nature and roles assigned to them by Allah (swt). It is important to understand these distinctions that Islam makes between genders.
According to Abu Hurairah (rta), the Prophet (sa) said: “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (trouble) his neighbour. And I advise you to take care of the women, for they are created from a rib and the most crooked portion of the rib is its upper part; if you try to straighten it, it will break, and if you leave it, it will remain crooked, so I urge you to take care of the women.” (Bukhari)
This Hadeeth guides men regarding the fact that women are created from a rib. The parable implies that just as the rib has a natural crookedness in its form, so is the nature of a woman distinct and different from that of a man. Just as the rib would break, if one tried to straighten its crookedness, so should a woman be accepted, appreciated and honoured with her distinct nature; for if one tries to change or distort the nature a woman was created with, she too would break.
The Hadeeth does not specify that a woman was created from the rib of a man. According to commentators and scholars, this Hadeeth is a parable for guiding men to recognize, identify and appreciate the distinct differences in the nature of women.
Allah (swt) has also assigned different roles for men and women in this world. If the man is the breadwinner for the family, then the woman is the home-maker and the caretaker of family affairs. Although the tasks both carry out are not identical, they are equally important in front of Allah (swt).
Equality between men and women is desirable, just and fair, while sameness is not. If woman would be identical to man, she would have simply been a duplicate of him, which she is not. Islam acknowledges the equality of both genders, yet takes in due consideration also their distinct differences in nature and roles assigned by Allah (swt).