QURANIC WISDOM

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MEN ARE GUARDIANS
OF WOMEN



Hadith: Men stand caretakers of women since Allah has made some of them excel the others, and because they have spent of their wealth. (Surah Al-Nisa Verse 34)

Explanation: Verse 34 opens with an important statement, which has been translated as 'men stand caretakers of women.' Qawwam, qayyam or qayyim in Arabic denotes a person who holds the responsibility or has the duty and charge to manage a job or run a system or take care of what has to be done about something, controlling all related factors therein. The standard role of a man, with regard to women, has been mentioned in this verse through the word, 'Qawwam' which has been translated in various ways, the most common being in the sense of 'hakim' or one who rules, governs, or decides. Other alternates used are guardians, custodians, overseers and protectors. When taken in the sense of a carer, a functional head, and not in the political sense of a ruler or dictator, the 'qawwam or hakim of the Qur'an offers a base of understanding from common experience.

It is obvious that, for any group--living, big or small, or for any organized system, it is rationally and customarily necessary that the group or system have some head or chief or authority so that he can arbitrate in the event of a difference and take decisions to run affairs smoothly. That such authority is needed in the running of countries, governments and states is universally accepted and practiced. This need, as felt in modern times, was also felt in the older tribal social organizations where the chief of a tribe was taken as the authority for that tribe. Why would a family organization, a small sample of the larger organizations, would not need someone to head, maintain and run the system? Of course, the need is there and Allah Almighty, in His infinite wisdom, elected men for this responsibility because their natural capabilities are more dependable for this task than those of women and children.

This is such an open and obvious fact of human life that no sane human being, man or woman, can say no to it; and its denial does not change reality.

The message is that the rights of women are as incumbent upon men as the rights of men are upon women, and the rights of both are similar to each other, with only one exception that men have a certain precedence in functional authority, although this too is hemmed with other balancing factors. As explained in other verses of the Holy Qur'an, this mantle of authority placed on the shoulders of men is not that of a dictator and a tyrant. While exercising this authority, man is bound by the supreme law of Islam, the Shari'ah. He must act on the principle of consultation and follow good counsel. He just cannot act at the spur of his whims or his wild instincts. The command given to him is treat women well, is recognized.

This aspect of having mutual consultation appears in another verse (2:233). Here men have been instructed to act in consultation with wives in family affairs. After this clarification, the technical authority of man should not be a source of heart-burning for women. Still, in view of the probability that women may take this arrangement unhappily, Allah Almighty did not restrict the text on proclaiming the authority of man, but explained two reasons for this authority. One reason relates to the wisdom of creation which is beyond the contro1 of any human being, and the other refers to a factor which comes through one's efforts and endeavour.

The first reason has been mentioned that Allah Almighty has made some excel over the others (in some qualities) under His exclusive wisdom and consideration. This is like the sacred environs of Makkah where a particular House of Worship was declared by Allah as His House and Qiblah (the orientation), and in Jerusalem, a special honour was given to the Bayt al- Maqdis. Similar is the case with the dominance of men. This is a God-given grace. Men have done nothing to get it and there is nothing wrong with women that they do not have it. It is simply based on the wisdom of creation, an exclusive privilege of the Creator.

The second reason relates to what is achieved with effort. This reason is pointed out by the words which mean that men spend their money, pay dower and take the responsibility of meeting all needs of women. Hence, the dominance at this point, and a comment from Ibn Hibban in al-Bahr al-Muhit, is worth attention. He says, 'These two reasons in support of the authority of men also prove that the right to authority does not get to be established simply by force. Rather, this right can be deserved on the basis of one's competence and capability”.


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