Many scholars, Muslim and non-Muslim, have debated as to whether or not their are “inherent” or innate psychological and/or emotional dispositions for males and females. It is often cited that women are inherently more emotional and men are more practical/rational by their nature. This is very significant because it has implications, which can lead one to infer that women and men are limited in certain respective capacities of emotion or reason and hence challenges the nature of our free will. For example, it is commonly acknowledged that emotion, while not a bad thing in and of itself, can inhibit or obstruct one’s religious path because it can interfere with the use of one’s faculty of reason, which as I understand should be what we use to make moral considerations. If being “emotional” is something, which is regarded as inherent in the female (even if not exclusive to her), this has serious implications upon a woman’s capability to carry out her faith with the same “ease” as a man.
This same issue can also translate into the creation and legitimization of “gender roles” which the community or society will accept based on the authority of its tradition and the strength of its acceptance through time. Hence, the idea that a man is necessarily the financial caretaker and protector of the household while the wife is more related to the domestic aspects of raising a family. This is just one example, but the wider implications limit the roles, which are societally and culturally acceptable for men and women to perform, and these norms are most often taken for granted as “natural”.
I recently read the work of one female scholar who points out that the Qur’an very clearly does not support the claim that men and women are created with different natures or roles. Although it is obvious that much of these circumstances are created by cultural norms, it is not obvious that they are necessarily “un-Islamic”. I am just not clear how we can have roles for men and women without explaining it in terms of the “nature” of man and woman, and hence having to confront the limitations involved in definition.
Any insights or guidance you can provide is greatly appreciated insha’Allah.
Jazak Allah Khair
The idea that a woman is more emotional than a man is not based on the Qur’an. What the Qur’an has stipulated on the topic may be summarized as follows:
Both men as well as women are adequately endowed with all the qualities required for understanding the basic realities and directives of God, which are necessary for success in the hereafter.
Both men as well as women are going to be separately and individually answerable for their deeds on the Day of Judgment; they shall get the reward and shall be punished only for their own deeds;
Both men as well as women are adequately endowed with all the qualities required for success in the hereafter; and
From a purely social perspective, both men and women complement each other from various – psychological, physical, emotional, social and mental – aspects.
This should adequately clarify that the Qur’an has not stated whether men or women are more emotional or intelligent or sharp or sensitive, it has only stated that seen from a particular aspect, men and women are two separate parts of a pair and, thus, from this perspective, they complement each other. It is, in fact, in this particular sphere of life that the Qur’an wants each of them to take up and carry out the responsibilities, which are most suited to their particular dispositions and natural inclinations.
The separate roles of men and women have generally remained the same in all cultures over-time. It seems quite unlikely that these cultural roles have been a result of any planned implementation of a particular philosophical point of view, by those who shaped these cultures. On the contrary, it seems that these roles are only a materialization of the natural balance of the inclinations, interests and qualities of the male and the female species. These inclinations, interests and qualities of the male and the female species are precisely what most people have termed as their ‘natural’ or ‘inherent’ dispositions or qualities.
The question as to what exactly are these separate natural or inherent dispositions and qualities, can only be more precisely answered by psychologists and other experts on the basis of empirical data. Islam has not named or categorized these differences, it has only mentioned the fact that these differences do, in fact, not only exist but also provide the strongest of bases for the institution of family and society.
I hope this helps.
January 28, 2001