Talk about a minefield nowadays. We are told that established truths are only cultural relative constructions, and the motto is “what is a woman?”. Curiously, much less emphasis on the question “What is a man?”.
This leads us to a fundamental idea. All solutions brought forth by islam are not arbitrary constraints impressed upon mankind. Rather Islam gives us the optimal solutions, in all areas of life. Imagine if we were told we could try out every solution possible, over thousands of years, in order to get the best solution. We would conclude the ones that bear the most fruit are the ones that God proposes to us. God is not constraining us, He is freeing us from experimenting with the bitter fruits of mistakes. That is because any solution we may think of is based on incomplete information: we are not the All Knowing, as God is. Since we do not know, why not listen and accept what the All-Knowing is advising us to do so that we would be successful in this life and in the afterlife?
It would be a mistake to view the Islamic revelation, that sums up and completes all previous revelations, as a top-down mandate that does not allow us to understand. All its prescriptions are, fundamentally, answers that are just waiting for the right questions to pop up in your life, as they do. And when they do, you resort to God’s prescriptions to answer the most difficult of your questions. That is the only true Source that you can trust. And the more we understand what God is telling us, the more those answers make sense. You may be astonished at how precisely and powerfully God’s help can address the challenges of our earthly conditions.
If we address the case of the relationship between men and women, how can we address it without first knowing what those two words mean? Just like we can wonder how someone can call himself ‘spiritual’ without having any idea of what the Spirit is…
In this world, male and female are like 2 polarities of a peculiar quality. Similar to the example of ‘up’ and ‘down’ as 2 polarities in the quality of ‘elevation’. There is no need to deeply understand what ‘male’ and ‘female’ mean, just that they are ‘degrees’ of something that is relevant to the existence of some of the living beings here on earth.
In order to even start to think about the relationship between a man and a woman, we need to consider the information that in revelation. Because these bits of information allow us to make sense of the answers we are provided, and accept them with eagerness and gratitude.
Our Creator asks us to contemplate and think, in order to understand. Ultimately understanding the grandeur of His Creation, will prove that we have a poor reflection of His own Grandeur. The crucial piece of information we need to take into account is given to us in the Quran, when our Creator narrates that He manifested all of Adam’s descendants, and asked each individual “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” (Quran 7:172). Note that at that point, on this plane of logical deployment of the Creation, there is no mention of any difference between male and female.
The first mention of the creation of the Human is found in Quran 2:30: “Your Lord said to the angels: ‘I am placing on the earth a caliph”. This is Adam, as representative of Humanity as a whole. Then Adam is being “taught the names, all of them”, and it is that very knowledge that makes it legitimate for the Angels to bow to him (Quran 2:31-34). As Adam inhabits the earth, the polarization into male/female appears, within the manifestation of all possibilities of humanity: “Consciously revere your Lord, the One Who created you from a single soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women” (Quran 4:1).
So what we understand is that we are souls, immaterial beings that are assigned a body in the material world, to experience this life. We also understand that each of us is born as a man or a woman depending on the will of our Creator, as a way to manifest those qualities of male or female, to various degrees.
This is an assignment that is the best possible one for each of us, because it has been determined by the All-Knowing. Within all human possibilities within the scale of masculine/feminine, all of us have a spot, and our Creator assigns us in a feminine or masculine body generally in order to match this spot.
Sometimes, it may be a challenge in itself: it can be a challenge for some to accept, but not more than the challenge of having physical, mental, or personal setbacks,. Those are the cards we have been dealt, we will be judged according to the way we play them. Of course, there are an unknown (to us) number of parameters that determine our birthplace or lineage, physical and intellectual gifts. Each of us is a possibility of the Human Soul, as we have been expressed in harmony.
Now that we have gathered this information, we have the tools to understand objectively the question of the relationship between men and women. There is this idea of the comforting partnership: “And of His signs is that He created for you mates from your own selves that you may take comfort in them, and He ordained affection and mercy between you. There are indeed signs in that for a people who reflect.” (Quran 31:21).
Here the emphasis is made on the fact that companionship is the goal. Of course, we can experiment with companionship from any human being, as deep friendship, but it will not be has complete than the one that can exist between a man and a woman. Why? Because our Creator tells us so.
An abundance of human qualities have been dispersed between the masculine and the feminine. They are manifested, to a degree, separately yet they complement each other to make a whole. All qualities cannot be manifested in one single human being.
In fact, if He asks us to ‘reflect’ on this, it is because He has organized this human nature here on earth according to laws that can be studied through all branches of science, from sociology to biology and psychology. Each of those areas allows us to reflect when we find how harmoniously designed we and our society under Divine guidance can be.
When this guidance is followed, in any society, only then will we see that only our Creator has in the capacity to create the harmony necessary to help us meet the challenges of this life.
We find in our partner, a match, that possesses qualities that we do not have in the way they do. And that makes us complete. A healthy and successful marriage is characterized by mutual goodness between the husband and wife. They serve as mirrors for each other, reflecting and complementing each other’s virtues and strengths.
It’s not about being identical copies of each other, but rather, about supporting and completing each other. Furthermore, they provide emotional and physical support to each other. In matters related to their home, they value and seek each other’s opinions, and make decisions together as a team. However, when it comes to the final decision, the responsibility falls on the husband to complete and provide the means as the wife remains by his side in support of his leadership. “Men are the caretakers of women, as men have been provisioned by Allah over women and tasked with supporting them financially”. (4 :34)
This authority upon man has been decreed by our Creator. It is not unjust, it is part of the test. The soul who has been assigned a male role in this world, will be held into account for the final decision and his ability to care for his wife.
There can be no oppression or aggression in such a marriage, we have been given a formula for a successful relationship, if only we understood. Add to this the suggestion that a husband and a wife are to love each other, are considerate of each other’s feelings, and take care of their physical appearance to stay attractive for each other. These are contributing factors to a peaceful and harmonious home environment that fosters security and respect.
A marriage is a significant commitment that should be approached with careful consideration and utmost respect. And God’s formula for a successful marriage is a gift for those who have faith that this is the best possible configuration out of all the possibilities that we can consider between a man and his wife.Yes, we can choose not to follow the Divine guidance. Imagine a society without prior knowledge of any kind, where men and women relations can be attained in an endless number of ways. From free procreation without any form of ‘tracing’ of who the father is, to very tight control of the lineage. The full range of possibilities.
We all live in the realm of a civilization, that is organized according to customs, habits and laws. There is no escaping what scientists call an ‘episteme’, a comprehensive view of the world that is so ingrained that it seems self-evident. Like relations between men and women.
Our current episteme defines that this relation is centered around preserving the knowledge of the lineage. That’s the bottom line. That means that the vast majority of societies currently in existence put a focus on this very goal, with a few variations.
For instance, some societies allow a man to have a ‘childbearing’ relationship with several women. But even in this case, the father of the child is known. To further ensure this, heavy penalties are inflicted on anyone engaging in an illicit relationship. We are warned repeatedly in Islam that such relationships would lead to extreme disorder.
Indeed, it is now scientifically established that procreation between brothers and sisters, or any close relative, is impoverishing the genetic pool, and leads to physical and mental issues. And the medical industry are increasingly aware that illegitimately born children are more prone to delayed development, learning disabilities, and mental and physical challenges. But all these consequences are not immediately apparent.
Would we want this experiment to continue for generations? To only learn that the only solution that works, with optimal results in all areas, is the one that absolutely controls the lineage so that a genetic catastrophe would never occur. In other words, God’s mandate.
To continue heedlessly and in dismissal of God’s superior ways, can we afford to keep stumbling and starting again? Probably not. We would eventually end humanity in a failed experiment.
What happens when we die? We are souls that go back to an immaterial world, where this quality of male/female has no bearing, it is another system. This is why there are only souls in Paradise, not men and women.
There is no such thing as a masculine or feminine soul. Only human souls exist, inside masculine and feminine bodies. Our souls will eventually have pure companions in Paradise if we are smart enough to play by God’s rules during the short time we are in our bodies. That is a choice, that He has given you, so which way will you go?