Maha Muslimah just wrote an excellent post on the distinction between the headscarf and being a hijabi. She explains that observing hijab means much more than wearing the headscarf (which is also known as a hijab). It refers to an entire way of life from dressing modestly to behaving like a slave of Allah. Notice I wrote “slave of Allah.” Contrary to common belief, the Muslim woman is not a slave to any man. Only Allah can, and should, be our Master.
That does not mean that Muslim women—and men—don’t have recommended roles in Islamic society, but I don’t believe that these are hard-and-fast rules. There can be many reasons why a Muslim woman works outside of the home, for instance, or contributes to the financial support of the family. (This is especially true in the economies of many countries where one person cannot make a living wage for an entire family.)
I got a comment the other day that Islam cannot be compatible with feminism because it requires the man to support his wife and family while the woman’s money is her own. Apparently the commenter feels that feminism should stand for absolute equality; in other words, that men and women should not only be exactly alike, but should share all burdens equally. (At least I think that’s what he meant.)
But the brand of feminism that Islam subscribes to, in my view at least, is that men and women are meant to have complementary roles, not competing ones. I like this view because I think it is divisive to insist that all things be split equally. For instance, if a couple insists on keeping their finances separate or making decisions independent of one another, how is their relationship any different than that of room-mates? They may be able to get along, but in the end I think they will have sacrificed intimacy for the sake of individuality.
The Islamic ideal for marriage is that each person gives up at least some of his or her personal concerns in order to create a new organism. Husbands and wives are meant to be shaped partly by their connection to their spouses. They are both meant to change to conform to the relationship. But nowhere, in the Qur’an, or the Sunnah, that I have been able to find, does it say that women are to be obliterated as persons and completely taken over by their husbands.
Feminists have long had the saying that “Marriage is one person, and that person is the husband.” I believe that the Muslim marriage would be best described by saying that “Marriage is an entity made up of two persons who have joined their lives together in order to glorify Allah.” Their mutual goal should be to help each other to submit in peace to Allah.
Marriage is like a microcosm of society. Neither men nor women should treat one another any worse than they would treat someone outside of the marriage. Too often, abuses take place within families that would never be tolerated in any other situation. Islamic marriages should show the world the very best of human behavior.