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“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Surah al-Hujurat, 13)
There is no day or age when an individual’s traits and lifestyle is not compared to the norms and standards set by the society. Societal expectations are commonplace in every community. A normal person, on a normal day, plays many roles being a part of a society. A woman, for example, plays the role of a daughter, a sister, a mother, a student, a teacher, a neighbor, a worker and so on. The behavior of such a person, while playing each of these roles, gets influenced by the expectations of the society.
It goes without saying that the presence of social expectations does have its advantages. There are plenty of societies around the world that stand proof to this fact. The unwritten rules and regulations set by a society assist in its smooth functioning. It paves way for a harmonious and just livelihood. The importance of being a part of such an honorable society is stated by the following Qur’anic verse:
“O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result.” (Surah an-Nisa, 59)
On the downside, there are societies and cultures, influenced by non-Muslims and orientalists, that have taken a turn for the worse. These are communities of specific parts of the world whose practices, like those concerning women, deviate them from the ones taught by the Prophet (PBUH). These practices have become so common that they have now led to molding certain societal expectations.
Here are three most common social expectations focused on young women:
1. Society: “Girls need not go for higher studies”
Contrary to stereotypical belief, Islam is responsible for taking women out of the folds of pitiless struggles that they suffered in ancient times. The first revealed verses of the Quran that speaks about the importance of education that stands true for both men and women.
“Read in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clinging form. Read! Your Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by means of the pen; taught man what he did not know.” (Surah al-Alaq, 1-5)
The significance of education was not discriminated between women of different classes. The following hadith validates this:
Narrated by Abu Musa al-Ashari
The Prophet said, “He who has a slave-girl and teaches her good manners and improves her education and then manumits and marries her, will get a double reward; and any slave who observes Allah’s right and his master’s right will get a double reward.” (Bukhari, 733)
History gives us examples of a number of pious and well-educated women who have served as paragons of their duties. They have performed wonderfully in their respective fields. One of the examples is the last wife of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – Aisha (RA). She was a woman of great knowledge and wisdom. A scholar, she is noted to have narrated more than two thousand hadiths. She had a commendable memory and a sound judgment. Many men and women benefitted from her knowledge. Arwah bin Zubair is reported to have said:
“I did not find anyone more proficient [than Aisha (r.a.)] in the knowledge of the Holy Qur’an, the Commandments of Halal (lawful) and Haram (prohibited), Ilmul-Ansab and Arabic poetry. That is why even senior companions of the Prophet used to consult Aisha (r.a.) in resolving intricate issued”. (Jala ul-Afham, 2:26)
In recent times education of girls has been discouraged stating excuses like “waste of time and money”, “should concentrate more on household work” and “no use”. The truth of the matter is that the education of women holds a high value as it equips her to raise generations. It is relevant in the present situation where individuals empowered with skills and know-how are required in various professions. For example, a female patient would feel more comfortable in being treated by a female doctor instead of a male. Education also plays a crucial role in wiping away ill practices in some societies like female infanticide and haram dowry.
2. Society: “Our daughter’s wedding should be more extravagant than the neighbor’s.”
We have arrived at an era where people compete with one another over expenditure for their family weddings. It is very surprising to know that wedding celebration in certain countries lasts for more than few days and consists of at least five different wedding functions that they call ‘rituals’. Lavish ‘dowry’ is paid to the family of the bridegroom by the bride’s family. It has become quite a norm to have mixed gatherings for weddings.
The sole purpose of marriage, the completion, and perfection of deen is compromised in wedding events. The functions not just fail to gather blessings of Allah but also attract evil eyes.
Fathima (RA), Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) beloved daughter, who he mentions is the “Queen of all ladies in Jannah” was married off to Ali (RA) in a very simple wedding.
“And He it is who causes gardens to grow, [both] trellised and untrellised, and palm trees and crops of different [kinds of] food and olives and pomegranates, similar and dissimilar. Eat of [each of] its fruit when it yields and give its due [zakah] on the day of its harvest. And be not excessive. Indeed, He does not like those who commit excess.” (Surah Anam, 141)
The simplest weddings are the most blessed ones. Engagements are not acceptable. A verbal proposal and its reply would suffice. A family, especially that of the bride, should not spend more than they can afford. The feast or valima is the responsibility of the family of the bridegroom. The excess money kept aside for weddings can be given as charity and hence could acquire blessings.
3. Society: “Take your husband’s name after marriage”
A wife adopting her husband’s name as her surname is another habitual practice adopted from the west. During the Day of Judgement, everyone is going to be called by their father’s names. Muslim women of the Prophet’s time kept their father’s names even after marriage. It defines and maintains a woman’s identity and her lineage even after marriage. It also becomes convenient for when matters of inheritance are being handled.
“Call them by [the names of] their fathers; it is more just in the sight of Allah” (Surah Ahzaab, 5)
Let’s assume for instance that a wife who has taken the name of her husband gets divorced or her husband dies. When she remarries, she will again take a different name and so on. In spite of how impractical it sounds, it is vastly followed. Often times, women take pride in having their names changed. Since there are no ties of blood between a woman and her husband, taking her husband’s name would be un-Islamic.
Even though only three societal expectations have been listed above, there are many such expectations set by the society that has taken us away from those deemed blessed by Allah and his Messenger. We have to strive to educate the people around us and coming generations of the Ummah in a way that they return to the teachings of the Prophet.