'Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly), but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all).' (H.Q. 4:34)
'Divorced women shall wait concerning for three monthly periods. And it is not lawful for them to hide what Allah hath created in their wombs, if they have faith in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree over them and Allah is Exalted in Power.' (H.Q. 2:228)
These have been the verses quoted by those who accuse the Qur'an of being influenced by male chauvinism. It is claimed that these verses make it clear that the Qur'an has been a product of the male-chauvinistic tendencies of the Arabs. What, then, is the reality?
In the first verse quoted above, the Qur'an says that man is Qawwam over woman. In Arabic the word Qawwam or Qayyim refers to the one who looks after the affairs of a person or an enterprize and supervises over their necessary requirements. Indeed, it implies more of a responsibility than an obligation. The said verse then summarises that the control over the institution of the family which includes, the affairs of woman and children or the responsibility for their well-being dwells upon man.
The family is an institution. It is a noble institution that grants peace and tranquility to both halves of the soul. In fact, it is the family that forms the most important of all social institutions. It will by acknowledged by all that any institution will require an able head for its growth, development and the resolution of its various problems. To any versed even in the most basic lessons of management, it is common knowledge that any firm, no matter howsoever good its credentials, is bound to wither away in the absence of a controlling head of affairs. Then is there not the necessity of a head for the family wherein the very foundation of all morality in society is being formulated? It is indeed, vital that there must be an overseer for properly carrying out all the incumbent responsibilities that arise while maintaining a family right from bringing up childrenand giving them all the guidance required for making them responsible members of the society. Otherwise, total anarchy and chaos will be the result.
It is clear, therefore, that there must be a person to assume the leadership of the family. It would be more correct to search for the one who is really more capable for this than to ask the question as to who is more deserving. It should either be that both assume the leadership jointly or that the woman assume the leadership of the family herself. Let us approach the problem from the unprejudiced, basic premise that the man is to be entrusted with that responsibility only if both these options are impracticable.
It is more dangerous for an institution to have two leaders than for it to be without any. It is commonplace for the very institution themselves to fall apart in all the cases wherein the enterprise, previously handled by the father before his death, is not justly approportioned off or is not passed on to any one of his children for its proper functioning. In institutions where there exists more than one leader, the institution is wrecked by the power tussle and other problems related to leadership. Even if it does not fall apart, the 'products' that come forth will be defective in some way. So is the case with the family. If both are made the leaders, there will be a dichotomy of views concerning their approaches to the resolution of problems. This will result in a jostling for power and leadership. This will then, in turn, result in a disturbance family atmosphere. Children brought up in such a family atmosphere will become subject to mental tensions and imbalances. This will then be the cause of the moral laxity of the next generation.
Can a woman really assume control of the family? Or is that responsibility to be entrusted to man? The answer to this question lies in the counter question. 'Is it intellect or emotion that is necessary to control the family?' If it is intellect, then the control of the family is to be entrusted to man, if emotions, then to woman.
The physical make- up as well as the mind set of both man and woman are so constituted that they are enabled in carrying out the function that they have been assigned. By physical make-up is not meant just the external differences. Indeed, it is not just the skeletal frame but even the muscular system is so constituted that they allow for each sex to carry out properly the role that has been assigned to them by nature. It is a fact that the famous statement of Hawlock Ellis, the renowned sexologist, that, 'The man is a male to the very tips of his fingers and the woman a female to the very tips of her toes' is one hundred percent correct.
While the frame of man are well suited for hard labour, those of woman are suited for the conditions of pregnancy. While the muscles in man are fit for the demands of hard labour, the woman's body is made up of fat that provides it with its distinctive softness. The hands of man that are so suited for labour and toil! The hands of woman that are so suited to the purposes of fondling and petting! So goes the differences in physical constitution.
In conferring upon woman a body suited for motherhood and upon man with one suited for labour they surely must have been provided with qualities of the mind compatible with their respective functions as well. Compassion, consideration and a host of emotions form the specialities of the female mind. It is, indeed, one that is dominated by emotions. Studies have revealed that the intellectual abilities which girls display during childhood are dimmed with the onset of adolescence. This means that the mind, too, undergoes a change with the preparation for motherhood. What is the image that presents itself before us whenever we seek to describe the woman's mind? A tender heart, a delicate mind, a highly sensitive nature, a continuous gurgling well spring of love, an upturned sense of emotionality .... each one of these makes it clear that woman's nature is, indeed, an emotional one. But what of the man's mind? Thoughtful response, masculine conduct, pragmatic disposition, action based on thought. These constitute the typical male mind. These are bound to contemplation and thought. In short, therefore, the man's mind has been so constituted that it supplements earning and responsible work.
(This is a general appraisal. Are there not women who can rule, judge cases, lead wars and exert themselves for a living? Are there not men who can cook, look after children with care and involve themselves in governing the affairs of the family? The definite answer is 'yes'. But they are but exceptions. Indeed, they belong to their own sex only by virtue of their physical Qualities. As far as their behaviour, their methods and their roles are concerned they tend to be closer to the opposite sex.)
It is his ability to undertake action that is in conformance to thought which makes the man fit to assume the guardianship of the family. Indeed, that is but the very fulfillment of the role which his physical endowment has thrust upon him. He must work for a living; must earn money to feed the family - it is in his hands that all control of the affairs of the family has been placed. Indeed, this responsibility makes it an incumbent duty for him to determine and chart out the appropriate means of living for that institution and of all the members within it and to supervise all financial matters that relate to the process. It is for this reason that the Qur'an, while stating that 'men have control over the affairs of women', has also emphasized that the reason for this is that 'Allah has granted more strength to one above the other and because they spend out of their wealth on them.' (Qur'an 4:34). This is the reason why it is said that the Qur'an, by placing the affairs of the family upon the man, has conferred a great responsibility upon him.
By granting man the control over the affairs of woman and over family it does not mean that he may become a virtual dictator over them. Indeed, leadership itself becomes ennobling and enlivening only in the context of cooperation and mutual consultation. A truly satisfying family life becomes possible only when the man, who is entrusted with the leadership of the family, accepts the Qur'anic recommendation of 'treating the women with kindness' as well as the advice of the Prophet to the effect that 'he is the best amongst you who treat best the members of his household.'
It is again on this basis that the Qur'an stated that, 'men are a degree above the women' (2:228). This is a status that is achieved by way of accepting the financial burden of the family. Indeed, that status is the veritable guardianship of the family itself.
It may be supposed that a woman with a high salary is entrusted with the leadership of the family. Here, it is possible that the protection of the family will not be felt to be a difficult task in the early period of the marriage. However, with the onset of pregnancy and motherhood it becomes impossible for her to carry on the burden of leadership. In short, therefore, the Qur'an, by entrusting the leadership of the family upon the man, has actually sheltered the woman from the same. No one who is versed in the nature of womanhood will take a stand against the Qur'an in this issue.