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IslamQA: Why men and women have different gender roles in Islam

Salam, I have question about equality between men and women. Islam acknowledges equality when it comes to spirituality, sins etc. but then in marriage wife has to obey her husband despite the fact that it's supposed to be equal companionship, not superior and inferior relationship since men and women have equal intellectual capability to think and solve problems. Also what about a one man's testimony equals two women's testimony?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Men and women, despite their spiritual equality, have very different personalities determined by genetics, so scientifically there is no surprise in men and women functioning best when they have different roles in the family.

Islam’s view is that a family functions best when the man is the head of the household. Everyone is happier in such an arrangement; the man, the woman, and the children. If such an arrangement makes everyone happier, what right do we have to break it down? If someone believes in the ideology that men and women should have exactly the same roles in the family, and if that arrangement makes everyone less happy, then forcing such an arrangement on people does not make the world a better place, it makes it worse.

Marriage in Islam is consensual. The woman herself wants to be in a relationship where the man is the head of the household. This is her choice and she has the right to make the choice. Before marriage she can speak with the man to find out whether his ideas about how she should be treated fit with her needs and wants. And if afterwards the man turns out to be an unfit husband, she has the right to divorce.

The vast majority of well-educated Muslim women I have met have no problem with the gender role that Islam gives them. They like it and they do not ask for an alternative. Women, being free humans, have the right to be taken seriously and to be respected when they choose to be in such relationships. A very small minority of Muslim women think that Islam’s traditional gender roles are unfair to them. But these are just a minority who happen to be very prominent in media and academia. They do not have the right to speak for all Muslim women, and they are free to marry men who share their views on gender equality. But when it comes to the vast majority of Muslims, men and women, they are happy with the way things are.

As for a man’s testimony being equal to two women’s, that is a very controversial issue and there are many different opinions on it. The verse of the Quran that mentions it is related to financial transactions and may not apply to all situations. This question can only be settled with scientific studies that show how men and women differ in their functioning as witnesses. If we discover that there are significant differences in the functioning of men versus women witnesses, then the interests of society as a whole are best served when these differences are taken into account. If we discover that a woman’s inheritance or marriage contract is better protected when she uses two male witnesses instead of two female witnesses, then it only makes for her to choose male witnesses in such cases. But if we discover that the sex of the witnesses does not make a difference, then we can use that to re-analyse the Quranic verse in question to find out why God asked for two female witnesses instead of one in that particular situation.

And God knows best.
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5 months ago

Great answer!