`All men are equal'. There is no doubt whatever about that. But I am sorry I must change this one slightly before those nice ladies from APWA sue me for discriminating women. So let's begin again: `All human beings are equal'. Logic, you see, is a very effective tool for drawing conclusions, especially when it is used by someone who does not know how to use it or knows too much about its use. All men are human beings, women are too. So if men can fly aeroplanes, women can fly them too; if men can be soldiers, women can be soldiers too; If men can play soccer, women can play soccer too; if men can `father' children... (be logical, fill in the gaps); if men can grow moustaches...
No, no, don't laugh. This is not Tom and Jerry's show; this is Pakistani culture under licence from manufacturers in the USA. Besides, when something gets popular it ceases to be silly even if it had been. No wonder when Madame Popularity with all her dark charms asks some `Baa Baa Black Sheep' for any foolery it may have, there is always someone more than willing to say `Yes, three bags full'. Such `Baa Baa Black Sheep' , most Pakistanis should know (though they don't), are called scholars and intellectuals in our society.
So what happens when `the latest, latest' on the Mount Olympus in Islamabad is that Muslim (Pakistani) women participate in international games? Elementary, my dear Watson! A `Baa Baa Black Sheep', say a professor from a local college, writes an article -- a very logical one -- displaying how easily logic can be `used' and how nicely can it serve its master.
My friend likes smoking. I don't. He says to me `You know Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan?' I say `Yes'. `You know' my friend continues `he was a great man?' I utter a `yes' again. `You know he made great sacrifices for our country?' Again I say `Yes'. `He smoked cigars' concludes my friend. There's a technical knockout! What can I do? Nothing but accept my defeat. I like Jinnah. I think he was a great man, but to say anything about smoking now would impair my reputation as a patriot. Bear witness, logic is powerful!
Every `intellectual', I think, knows how to `use' logic even if he is not logical. People like Lord Russell for example do not say: `Extramarital relations are quite desirable, just use contraceptives. Enjoy yourself; eat, drink and be merry. That is life. Don't worry even if you get a girl pregnant. God doesn't probably even exist; nobody's responsible to anybody. Enjoy your life, enjoy! So what do they do? They get hold of somebody `big'... and `use' logic:* Here's a great scientist. He serves humanity, contributes to the welfare of society, works eighteen hours a day, and late at night enjoys himself for eighteen minutes with his neighbour's wife. And there's this man, a bum; does nothing, creates nothing. He is married. Which of the two is better? In appreciating the scientist's contribution, one finds oneself approving adultery; and in condemning the bum; one ends up condemning the very concept of marriage, though, I believe, in this country at least, nobody would like to find out that his mama had contributed to the society by being the scientist's neighbour even if daddy was a bum.
But all this is nothing, `Baa Baa Black Sheep' -- I mean Professor Sahib -- does even better. To glorify Islam, he talks about the Prophet (sws). Once, the Prophet (sws) raced with his wife,`aa'isha (raa). To this fact Professor Sahib `adds' a context not known to any other Muslim scholar in fourteen hundred years. He believes that the event was held in public and the Companions of the Prophet witnessed it. His inference: racing with his wives was the Prophet's (sws) way of encouraging women to participate in sports.
What is the result? Professor Sahib gets his popularity, and Pakistani women show more of themselves than their performance in games. However, the desire for popularity is not always ill-intentioned. In our society, popularity is sometimes indispensable even to express an honest opinion. Besides, sincerity of intentions is something which nobody except God can judge. So a `Baa Baa Black Sheep' is not necessarily someone whose sincerity is doubtful, but one who has more `baa baa' (that is power of speech) than a solid basis for his or her point of view.* Nevertheless, it may be absolutely useless to inform Professor Sahib that in suurah ahzaab the wives (raa) of the Prophet (sws) were specifically told to stay in their houses much and the Companions were instructed not to ask anything of them unless from behind a curtain and that, according to the same suurah, preferable demeanour for Muslim women going out of their homes is that they wrap themselves up with large cloaks (called jilbaab). Even if you try, you'll be branded a downright fanatic and an extremist and categorized as simply narrow-minded. Some `Baa Baa Black Sheep' will ask you sternly `You don't believe in the equality of men and women?' If you say no, you'll never be able to prove yourself broad-minded thenceforth. (Don't worry, you really don't have to; the way I see it, a broad-minded person is one who has nothing but `broads' on his mind). If you say yes, you lose. Hallelujah! Our `Baa Baa Black Sheep' not only use popular personalities but also popular (and often misleading) concepts. Equality of men and women, for example, is one, democracy, another.
Now, let us have a look at the major premise. Even though I may be branded a fanatic, the exercise, I think, will be worthwhile. `All human beings are equal', are they? So why don't we let an ordinary peon do the work of a managing director and ask the chartered accountant in our firm to be the gatekeeper and let a mason teach nuclear physics? If we don't, does it mean we don't think all human beings to be equal? Certainly not. The answer is obvious: all human beings are equal, and a peon as a human being deserves the same respect as a managing director does, but we don't let the chartered accountant be the gatekeeper because his services can be utilized more effectively in the accounting department. Division of labour, to take help from another popular (but not misleading) term, is not only natural but also indispensable to any society. So, all human beings are equal. There is no doubt about that. But all human beings are not the same. God Almighty says:
We have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of the world and [have apportioned it in such a manner that We have] raised some of them above others in rank that some of them may take labour from others; and the mercy of they Lord is better than that which thy amass. (43:32).
If all human beings are not the same, then men and women too are not the same. (Boy! isn't this syllogism wonderful?). Just as men by their very nature are not good 'mothers', women are not in a position to 'father' children. An article in Fortune (July 30 1990) discussed reasons why women still don't make it to the top in business. The reason (as this writer perceived it) is only one: in most cases they can be either of the two -- chief executives or (normal) women. IsIam tells us that a woman deserves respect just as a man does even when she is not jumping from roofs or flying aeroplanes. She deserves all the respect just doing what she as a woman can do best. That is why as a mother she may have to be respected by her son three times more than he respects his father, but, as a wife, she has to obey her husband within certain limits. Nobody is deprived of the reward he or she deserves; a poor man giving ten rupees as charity may deserve as much reward as a rich man spending hundred rupees deserves depending on the sincerity of each, which is something only God can judge. A Mother doing her duty properly may be no less in the eyes of God than the head of a state doing his part well. The Quran says:
And in no way covet those things in which Allah has bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than on others; to men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn; but ask Allah of His bounty, for Allah has knowledge of all things. (4:32)
The verse points out the fact that if a peon does his job well, he may be rewarded by God as much as He may reward an honest and hardworking managing director. A woman -- a mother-- who rears up amujaahid may have as much chance of entering the Kingdom of Heaven as the mujaahid who has been sent to the front to risk his life for the nation. A woman's role as a daughter, a sister, a wife, or a mother is no less important than the role of any man. In the words of a Muslim scholar:'You give me Muslim mothers, and I'II give you a Muslim nation'.
It is obvious from the same verse that men are inherently better than women in some spheres of life, just as women are better than them in others. For example, a woman's role as a mother is one for which she is most suitable by her nature. Unfortunately, modern society is haunted by an unfounded disdain for this role. `Women are not just machines to produce babies' we often hear nice, young ladies crying out. `Not just machines to produce babies'. That's some language. `To produce babies' -- the collocation is hideously anomalous. Babies are human beings. I'm sure if babies too could speak out and form an APBA (All Pakistan Babies Association), they would point out that they are not `units produced'. In the world of high fashion, where smiles are affected and love is made of plastic, genuine respect for life is becoming dangerously demode. Life is too sacred to be considered as homologous with product of a machine. A man who saves one life in his lifetime does almost enough to justify his own in this world. A man, even if he is the greatest tycoon around, is not worthy of his life if he takes just one. To give birth to life -- that is sublime. To perpetuate life -- that is almost divine.
A woman does it. She gives birth. She perpetuates life. She becomes the instrument of God's benevolence as the Creator. Her existence would truly be noble even if her role were confined to just that. See the hive. The queen is doubtlessly the most important member. It seems as if the whole activity of the colony revolves round her. Her job: to perpetuate the life cycle of the colony. See how the Quran refers to this role of a woman:
And we commanded man about his parents: -- his mother carried him [in her womb] in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning was in two years -- that [you O man] be grateful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the return. (31:14)
This `weakness' of a woman which the Quran mentions is her strength, for to this frailty does every man owe his life and to it must he show solemn gratitude. Therefore, in this `weakness' is a cause for pride, not shame.
But yes, a woman's role is not confined to just that. She does not merely perpetuate life -- which alone would be enough to justify the existence of many a being --, she also nurtures it. Her hands help in forming its character. She embellishes life. It is her strength which manifests itself as the soldier's courage on the front. It is her softness and delicateness which prevent the `de-humanisation' of the soldier otherwise trained just to kill. It is her love which channels his aggressiveness into a positive force. Indeed, there are times when God makes her the only sane thing in the jungle of his life. No man can ever dare disparage her role as a mother or a daughter or a sister or a wife. In her lap, he finds an escape from all the harshness of life. In her dependence, in her loving embrace, he finds a reason to live and hope. In her purity, he sees his honour. In her love and loyalty he revives his strength.
A woman not only gives birth to a man, she makes him strong -- and she makes him human. What can be more important than that? Making Shoes? Unfortunately, many belonging to the world of `style' think so. `What's wrong with making shoes?' they ask (especially when the lady doing it is the CEO in a large multinational). But hey! what about the underpaid woman who makes shoes in the company's factory and who would rather sit home and take care of her kids? (`Psst!' experts on etiquette remind angrily `you don't raise such issues in high society'). Yes, you don't. You do condescend to the poor and you do make expensive plans in grand parties to alleviate poverty, but, seriously honey, all this is for breakfast, not for dinner. CEO in a large multinational ... well, it's glamourous, isn't it? Certainly more fun than cooing over a wet baby, especially when everyone is cooing over you.
O tempora! O mores!
Family is the basic and the most important unit of any society. And a woman is a very important part of that unit. The vacuum created by her absence is almost impossible to be filled. She has not been forbidden to help her family financially just as the husband has not been forbidden to help his wife in her baking -- after he fulfills his responsibility* of providing for the family. Indeed, there are areas as medicine and education where her contribution to society is greatly needed. But neither the husband nor the wife can be allowed to neglect his or her basic responsibility, for whatever they contribute to society while neglecting their basic duty is bound to have greater cost than benefit (ceteris paribus). This natural `division of labour' -- this discrimination -- is not wrong. It is justice. And without it, the society stands to lose its sense of proportion.
But women are exploited -- and in our society, in the name of this very `division of responsibility'. The blame, however, must be placed on those who misuse the term for their chauvinism. The best of ideals have often been used to justify the most ignoble of deeds. Honesty has often been murdered in the name of honesty. Men and women -- have a natural ability to justify their failings. But inspite of the misuse, the ideal itself must not be cast aside, for the fault, dear Brutus, is not in the ideal, but in the bosom of the one who misuses it. If those who speak highly of honesty are dishonest, it does not mean that society should settle for corruption. The solution lies in making effort to remove obstacles in the way of honesty rather than in doing away with honesty itself.
Speaking of honesty and corruption, one is bound to think of a particular class of our countrymen -- the politicians. If equality and similarity are not synonymous terms, and if men and women are not similar despite being equal, then all politicians too are not the same. (Warning: Logic can sometimes be injurious to health!). By that contention, not every Tom, Dick and Harry ought to be elected. The helm of state should be in the hands of those who are pious, altruistic and competent. Again this discrimination would not be wrong. It would be justice. And good sense. But I am rushing in where even angels fear to tread. I must stop before I step on the tail of some politician to whom popularity is `the sole earthly judge of right and wrong'. In a country where politicians belonging to the affluent class roam about in BMWs and fifty percent of the population does not even have potable water, popularity is easy to buy if you have the dough. It's pathetic to see almost all the politicians, including the maulvis among them, literally craving for popularity. No wonder the maulvi truned politician usually has so much against the likes of Madame Nur Jehan, who can attract a larger audience with just one of her `items' than most mullahs can hope to manage in a lifetime. But as I said earlier, I must stop. One must learn to mind one's p's and q's in this dear country of ours. Freedom of speech is not so freely available, for in our society, even where everyone should be the same in the eyes of the law, there are some animals more equal than others.