Defining the term women – pt-B
Since we cannot know the answer to these questions, such interpretation must be immediately discarded.
What is indeed correct to say is that God has given to some men and women more (strength) than to other men and women. This view is supported by the following verse: See how We have bestowed more on some than on others; but verily the Hereafter is more in rank and gradation and more in excellence. (Isra”:21)
Having dismissed the notion that Allah puts men in charge of women, we are now able to provide an ungendered explanation of Allah’s preference. Since rijal refers to both men and women, we believe that high competence, moral strength, determination, education, and strong cultural awareness will always put some men and women in charge of others who do not excel in these things at the same level.
People are very different in this respect; some men and women will always outperform others in their activities; some women are stronger than other women and other men; some men are stronger than other women and (other) men because ‘God has given to some more than others’. The same applies to financial and economic power. Some people will always have more than others. This is what line 3 says: ‘because they [the qawwamun] support them [the others] from their means’.
Financial power is not, however, always coupled with cultural competence. Rich tycoons who own several companies, for example, are often incapable of running their business without the help of more competent and better-qualified people. And yet, because of their financial prowess they will remain in charge (qiwama) and dictate the overall strategies of their companies.
Financial and economic power can be found in every level of society, in families, small businesses, political parties, sports clubs, international companies, and so on, and is exercised in most cases heedless of cultural competence.
The point we want to stress is that qawwama is not, as traditional exegesis suggests, only located within the realm of family and between husband and wife. Guardianship is found everywhere where cultural competence and financial power are necessary: in schools, universities, farms, factories, football clubs, ministries, hospitals, nurseries, banks, insurance companies, and estate agencies, that is, basically in all aspects of society.
The universal aspect of our notion of guardianship lies in the fact that we find examples of cultural and financial strength everywhere in history, be it in ancient Rome, Palmyra, or Russia, and also everywhere on the planet, be it in Egypt, Syria, England, Turkey, India, Pakistan, or Indonesia.
This proves how absurd it is to identify guardianship solely with the male sex and conclude from this an essential (and everlasting) superiority of men over women. Some exegetes have tried to justify their misogynist views by referring to verse 36 of Surat al Imran which, in their opinion, reiterates Allah’s preference of boys to girls.
In the past, life was characterized by hard work and physical labor. This meant that, at least in terms of public presence, men had an advantage over women. Because of such physical superiority and public dominance, al-rijal and qiwama were naturally associated with men.
However, things have changed and technological progress has wiped out the advantage that physical labor once had over what used to be considered ‘soft’ work: education, administration, service, and intellectual and creative activities. Women are now not only active in almost all branches of industry, commerce, and agriculture, they have also taken up leading positions in politics and in the city’s boardrooms.
Moreover, data from medical and educational research show that we can once and for all discard the myth that women are biologically and intellectually disadvantaged: women live longer than men, suffer less often from heart diseases, and girls do better in almost all school and university exams.
As for guardianship on the level of the family, research has shown that children are happier if both parents do the housework together, if they show kindness and respect to each other, and if at least one parent is willing to put in the hard work, to show a high degree of family commitment, and to provide strong leadership. And yet, not everyone is willing or able to take on the same amount of responsibility because some are naturally better than others in organizing family life. In some families there are strong husbands who provide the necessary leadership, in others it will be the wife who takes up this role.
And if both have strong personalities and high social and emotional competence, they will, following the principle of equivalence, make their decisions together. We therefore interpret ‘guardians’ as follows: Those who have strength, competence, and power (male or female) who will provide leadership to ‘those who follow them’ or ‘those who come after them’ (al-nisa”) in terms of ability and competence (male or female). God gave more to those who possess qawwama (male or female) than others.
The gist of our argument is that rather than defining ‘guardianship’ as a characteristic of men, we believe that women can acquire it as well.
Righteous women are not those who are obedient or who pray, fast, and give alms, as many exegetes have it, but those who possess qiwama (this is the theme of the verse after all), that is, those who do competent work and provide leadership. The crucial term is salihat, which many, too hastily, have understood as ‘devout and pious women who pray and fast’.
The word salihat tells us what righteous women do who possess qiwama, that is, those to whom God has given special skills and the power of leadership: they ‘guard what God would have them guard’, what God has given to them in terms of special gifts and talents. And if they keep and use their talents for the benefit of all, they are ‘righteous women’ (salihat).
What happens, however, if a woman does not possess these qualities and skills? What if she once had all that characterizes good guardianship but lost it by wasting her skills and talents? In this case, a woman becomes what the Book calls a nashiza, a woman who, because of her negative behavior, is unfaithful to her talents and who rebels against her good nature. Having addressed righteous women, verse (4:34) continues by saying, ‘if you fear high-handedness (nushuz) from your wives [sic]’. It basically says that nushuz women squander God’s special gifts and do not ‘guard what God would have them guard’. The rest of the verse explains the procedure of dealing with the problem of nushuz:
…admonish them (first). (Next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) [idribuhunna]; but if they return […], seek not against them means (of annoyance)—for God is most high, great (above you all). (Nisa”:34)
By exclusively attaching this verse to the realm of marital relationship, some exegetes thought that nushuz meant a wife’s refusal to obey her husband’s orders However, marital disobedience is not at all the theme of the verse, which in fact focuses on a description of general leadership and guardianship. Also, nushuz connotes a much wider meaning of disapproval and discord than just marital disobedience, which is evident in the following verse:
O you who believe! When you are told to make room in the assemblies, (spread out and) make room: (ample) room will God provide for you. And when you are told to rise up [unshuzu], rise up [unshuzu]. … (Mujadila:11)
This is evidence enough to suggest that nushuz cannot be rendered as the state of a wife’s recalcitrance or, as some traditionalists suggest, as her refusal to pray, fast, and pay zakah.
It is closer to the truth, and to the spirit of the whole verse, to say that nushuz means the lack of qiwama in a woman. If she has lost her temper and has turned into an unkind, impatient, and pretentious person, she has lost her qiwama. If she has become self-opinionated and high-handed in everything she does, and takes all her decisions autocratically, she has also lost qiwama.
This may be paralleled by the loss of qunut, as explained in previously, that is, of ‘what God asked her to preserve’, for example, if a wife gossips and reveals marital secrets to other people. The important point to
stress is that all women can become guilty of nushuz (whether they are married or not), be they sisters who are rude to their brothers, mothers who are mean to their children, or grandmothers who treat their children and grandchildren with disdain and disrespect.
The verse indicates what needs to be done in these circumstances:
admonition and warning advice first, then, if the woman is married, a refusal to share her bed. Finally, if these things fail, she should be punished by the withdrawal of her right of guardianship. These three steps of solving the crisis only make sense if we accept that women actually, possess qiwama, because if they did not, if qiwama, the provision of strong leadership and financial power, was the sole prerogative of men, the suggested solutions to the problem of nushuz would be entirely pointless.