Soft and Strong

Farida Khanam | The Speaking Tree, March 03, 2019

Compassionate, selfless, gentle and peace-loving, women are by nature pacifists, who work to reduce stress and strife, writes FARIDA KHANUM

Research carried out by various credible groups over the years shows that women have been specially gifted by nature with qualities which fit them for the role of bringing about peace and harmony in society, in times of conflict. These qualities are gentleness, selflessness, compassion, mildness and above all, a spiritual approach to life. Historically, women have always played this role, even if mostly on the home front.

Women have always contributed greatly to normalising conditions at home by relieving tensions and resolving conflicts. The softness of their approach to problems and their marked capacity for pacifying are clearly attributes that will help eliminate stress.

When we look at Islamic history, the first instance we find of such positive feminine influence is that of Khadija, wife of the Prophet. When Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation from the angel in the cave of Hira, it was a totally new experience for him, and he trembled in fear of what he had seen and heard.

He immediately set off for his home after the disappearance of the angel. When he had regained his composure, he related the incident to Khadija. She did her best to assure him that no harm would come to him as he always spoke the truth, helped the poor and those in distress, and invariably treated others with respect. With these reassuring words, she successfully calmed him down, employing all her natural gifts of gentleness, sympathy, understanding, and, above all, selfless love.

After the Prophet of Islam left this world, great differences arose among Muslims in many matters. During his lifetime, all such issues had been referred to him for a solution. But after the demise of the Prophet, it was now left to his wife Aisha, who had been under his training for many years, to play the very positive role of guide and mentor. Having become fully imbued with the spirit of Islam, she used to give guidance to both male and female companions of the Prophet. In this way, she successfully resolved many differences.

However, in those days, there was no platform from which her example could benefit the general public, nor was there the media — such as we have nowadays — to cover such roles and place them on record. In most cultures in ancient and medieval societies, women remained indoors and played their role within the confines of their own homes. That is why we know so little about the contribution of women in this arena.

The most prominent name of a woman within the Sufi tradition is that of Rabia Basri. She was born in 713 CE into a poor family in Basra ,Iraq. She devoted her life to remembering and serving God and others. She lived a life of asceticism, and a large number of disciples gathered around her. Her mystical sayings have become proverbial.

The spiritual role of women has never been properly realised because of the failure to institutionalise their role in society.

In Rabia Basri’s times ,Muslim society was rent with great religious differences. But her strong spiritual personality exerted such a powerful influence that people eventually forgot their doctrinal differences and rallied around her. She laid emphasis on pure, divine love, which alone could minimise all these differences.

The Prophet of Islam said:“ Men and women are two equal halves of a single unit.”

Teachings to this effect in the Quran and Hadith ushered in a new age of gender equality. With this newfound freedom, women were able to play a great role in society, particularly women who belonged to royal families. They were highly educated by the standards of their times, and, in royal circles, with greater social exposure, they had better opportunities to exert their influence.

One such woman was Maryam Makani, the mother of Akbar, the Mughal emperor of India. Once,Mullah Abdun Nabi, Akbar’s teacher, insulted the emperor before the entire court. Akbar was enraged and wanted to punish him. This could have meant even the death sentence for the offender. But Akbar’s mother intervened and successfully managed to calm him down. She told him that his pardon would go down in history; that history would remember that ‘an emperor, having all the power at his disposal, forgave an offender’.

Such incidents abound in history, but because the central figures were usually either a mother, like Maryam Makani, or daughter or wife of an emperor — women who were already famous because of their royal kinship — people failed to perceive how their roles could go beyond this framework and become applicable to general situations in society. Both biological and historical studies show that women have been specially gifted with qualities required for the establishment of social harmony. In the Muslim context, this potential of women has never been properly realised because of the failure to institutionalise their role in Muslim society. Had Muslim women been trained to perform this task, they would have been able to play this role far more effectively, and on a far greater scale. The need of the hour today, is to institutionalise this role and give proper training to women so that this capability with which women have been so abundantly endowed by nature, may be fully harnessed.

Once this feminine potential has been realised, the world will definitely be a better place for all to live in.