From Issue: 1050 [Read full issue]


Only a few of the most arrogant Muslim men would openly express their underlying belief that men are and must remain superior to women. Instead, it is more common to contribute to the victimization of women and other men by the ambiguity of double-talk. In the end, it is also intended to impress upon the woman that if she is truly Muslim, she must remain satisfied with her rightful status - even if actually second-class. The use of the word "equal" in accordance with a definition that keeps men superior simultaneously confirms male superiority and silences analysis and opposition.

"Islam" among neo-traditionalists, neo-conservatives, extremists, and some Islamists is selective use of primary sources and the Muslim intellectual legacy for the purpose of exclusion. Islamist discussion of the vertical rhetoric of equality extensively employs the word complementarity. Each person, male or female, plays significant yet gender-specific roles. All roles are necessary and good; however, their distinctions must remain beneficial to each other only within the stasis of particular determinations of "natural complementarity." This is tantamount to saying that women's roles complement men's nature. This is not only harmonious and organic, such thinking asserts, it is divine. But such complementarity has an unequal power dimension. A woman can complement a man like a tie complements a suit. The relative value of men's roles and women's roles in this fixed system says nothing about values attributed to those roles in the larger context of gender relations in family, community, and ultimately in geo-politics. It rhetorically and actually constructs an unequal relationship which, if disrupted, destroys something inherent to "Islam." Thus complementarity discourse is a direct by-product of double-talk. While positively stressing relationships, it keeps their inequality central, by evaluating each player on a separate and unequal standard, leaving the relative power and privilege to men and male roles. It further concludes with the consequence and significance of the relationship as a whole by establishing it as fundamental to family bonds and community continuity. Particular roles played by members in the family are unevaluated, especially women's morally voluntary contributions as nurturers and caretakers. Women continue with the double burden of supporting men's autonomy as a means for honour in the patriarchal family.

As an ethical term, tawhid relates to relationships and developments within the social and political realm, emphasizing the unity of all human creatures beneath one Creator. If experienced as a reality in everyday Islamic terms, humanity would be a single global community without distinction for reasons of race, class, gender, religious tradition, national origin, sexual orientation or other arbitrary, voluntary, and involuntary aspects of human distinction. Their only distinction would be on the basis of taqwa. Taqwa is moral consciousness, not accessible to external human judgment.

Compiled From:
"Inside The Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam" - Amina Wadud, pp. 27-29