“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. (Qur’an 49:13)
First of all I would like to say straight away that there is no such thing in Islam as people being equal before Allah. In fact Islam does not teach equality at all.
I don’t know why this is a problem for Muslims. I also do not know why Muslims embarrassingly rush forth to defend egalitarianism. It is time that we as Muslims argue from our own world view and not the try and make Islam fit into the worldview of others.
Each and every time we do that we will end up contradicting ourselves, looking dishonest, and not representing the holistic vision that Islam presents.
I have not found a single verse in the entirety of the Qur’an that even remotely suggests that human beings are equal. In fact, the verse that I opened this article with does not even suggest that. It clearly states that some people are nobler than others in the presence of Allah. That some people are more righteous than others in the presence of Allah.
So Muslims are claiming that Islam teaches egalitarianism. Rubbish.
A quick search on the meaning of egalitarian.
egalitarian/ɪˌɡalɪˈtɛːrɪən/ Learn to pronounce adjective
- believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.”a fairer, more egalitarian society”
- a person who advocates or supports the principle of equality for all people.”he was a social and political egalitarian”
Egalitarianism =equality=identical treatment.
Now the intention behind egalitarianism is noble and good. The idea that we treat all people exactly the same way in every situation. The idea behind doing this is that it will some how establish justice.
However, the Islamic challenge to egalitarianism is that to treat people identically in every situation actually leads to injustice.
Now before I continue it is important to understand that some people may think that because Islam does not advocate egalitarianism this must mean that Islam advocates elitism.
We have refuted, debunked, and absolutely decimated the idea that Islam advocates elitism in this blog on numerous occasions.
This is because elitism often is a vociferous lie couched in the idea that some person or group of people are better than other people simply because of their family lineage, the pigmentation of their skin colour, and or their gender.
In fact the opening verse quoted above does well to establish that it is one’s inner qualities of righteousness that causes one to be considered ‘most noble‘ in the presence of Allah.
“Among the believers, those who stay at home without a good reason are not equal to those who strive for the cause of Allah in person or with their property. To those who strive for His cause in person or with their property, Allah has granted a higher rank than those who stay at home. Allah has promised that everyone will receive his proper share of the reward but He will grant a much greater reward to those striving for His cause than to those who stay home.” (Qur’an 4:95)
- Those who strive in the cause of Allah and those who stay back without reason are not equal.
- Allah has granted higher rank to some over others.
- Everyone receives proper share, not equal share.
“Shall We treat those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, the same as those who do mischief on earth? Shall We treat those who guard against evil, the same as those who turn aside from the right?” (Qur’an 38:28)
This verse makes it crystal clear that the righteous and those who guard against evil will not be treated the same as those who leave the right way or do mischief on the earth.
So Islam makes it clear that to treat all people identically in every context and situation itself leads to injustice.
In the above image we have an example of Equality versus Justice. Islam makes it clear that to treat all people identically in every context and situation itself leads to injustice.
In the above image we have another example of Equality versus Justice. Islam makes it clear that to treat all people identically in every context and situation itself leads to injustice.
Now the above image is interesting because the test recognizes the strength of the Monkey but it does not appreciate the unique qualities that the other creatures have as individuals.
The bird, penguin, elephant, goldfish, sea-lion and dog all have their unique qualities that make them suitable to certain situations and context more so than the other.
The example above shows the class system is still very much alive when one takes an airplane. How many of you travel first class or business class in deference to economy?
Is the airline industry promoting class warfare? Or, is it sensible to say that those people who paid more for their seat deserve to have more space and services catered to them?
Indeed many are the world’s spiritual gurus from all religious traditions that take first class and business class. Some even have their own private planes!!
So where the above maybe sensible the problem with today’s predatory capitalism is that it is a system based on injustice.
In the game ‘Monopoly‘ all players start off with 1500.00 in cash. However, the economic situation today is such that we have players who start off with 0 cash. So the question is how do you make any moves?
Certainly, there are people in this world who are entrepreneurs and have become ‘self-made‘. Yet, to deny that some people become ultra-wealthy through lying, cheating, stealing wealth, would be to deny reality.
Some people are wealthy simply because their land sits on a resource that is in high demand from other nations. Some people are wealthy because their wealth was bequeathed to them from their family.
To claim that such people are ‘elite‘ and some how more pious, more noble, more altruistic, more brave, more loving, more intelligent or have better genetics is most certainly false.
Not even the souls are equal in what they can take.
“Allah does not place upon a soul a burden beyond its scope. For it is only that which it has earned and against it only that which it has deserved. Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget, or miss the mark! Our Lord! Lay not on us such a burden as you did lay on those before us! Our Lord! Impose not on us that which we have not the strength to bear! Pardon us, absolve us and have mercy on us, You, our Protector, and give us victory over the ungrateful people.” (Qur’an 2:286)
Now, though the souls are not equal in their capacity to deal with various scenarios this does not mean that one soul is more valuable to Allah swt than another.
Islam does not have a teaching of ‘elite‘ souls. The following verse makes this abundantly clear:
“Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption done in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.” (Qur’an 5:32)
There is no distinction made between a soul-Muslim or not, Prophet or not, family lineage or not, male or female.
“And how is it with you that you do not expend in the way of Allah, and to Allah belongs the inheritance of the heavens and the earth? Not equal is he among you who spent even before the Conquest and fought; those are more magnificent in degree than they who spent even after (that) and fought; and to each Allah has promised the fairest reward, and Allah is Ever-Cognizant of whatever you do.” (Qur’an 57:10)
- Not equal are those who spend and fought before than those who did after.
- More magnificent in degree.
- Allah promises the fairest reward-not equal, but just.
Notice in this verse that a woman who spent before the conquest has a higher degree, a higher standing before Allah than a man who spent after the conquest.
There is no dispute among Muslims on this point.
“Is one who is devoutly obedient during periods of the night, prostrating and standing, fearing the Hereafter and hoping for the mercy of his Lord, like the one who does not? Say, “Are those who know equal to those who do not know?” Only they will remember who are people of understanding.” (Qur’an 39:9)
Here Allah swt ask a rhetorical question and we know the answer to it. That is that those who know are not equal to those who do not know.
This is important because knowing also means cognizant and responsible which equates to culpability.
This is why Muslims believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that if children die they are not culpable before Allah swt.
Muslims also believe the same thing about what a person does when they are dreaming, or person in a state of insanity until they return to sanity, and/or a person who may have intellectual handicaps.
Also, it is worth noting that in the United States penal code a crime of passion can carry less of a sentence than premeditated murder. They understand that a person’s emotions may get the best of them in a certain contexts. Whereas premeditated murder, is well thought out, methodical, cold, calculated.
In Islam one can plead ignorance of the law.
“Whoever is guided is only guided for his own soul. And whoever errs only errs against it. And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another. And never would We punish until We sent a messenger.” (Qur’an 17:15)
Allah swt has favored some human beings over others with provisions.
“Look how We have favoured in provision some of them over others. But the Hereafter is greater in degrees of difference and greater in distinction.” (Qur’an 17:21)
Yet, Allah swt also reminds us that everything we have is a test. The more we have the more we have to be accountable for.
“And know that your possessions and your children are a test and that with Allah is an immense reward.” (Qur’an 8:28)
The above verse is a beautiful and powerful reminder. That no matter what we see distributed among the earth, rather we think it’s fair or just, our focus should always be on the real prize, paradise.
“Let it be known that We will turn all things on earth into dust.” (Qur’an 18:18)
So all these things that people on the earth wrangle over, fight over, become jealous over, squabble over, or become conceited and vainglorious about, all of it will become dust.
In Islam, we understand that to treat people equally often leads to injustice. Treating people and individuals by context and circumstance is more sensible and strikes closer to justice.
I’ll give some very modern examples of this:
The idea to have allocated hours for the senior citizens to do their shopping is more in line with Islamic principles of justice. Now to have a special time for seniors and give them preference over others is not equal treatment: however; it certainly can be argued that it is just treatment.
The elderly often move slower, some use mobile vehicles to get around. They are said to be more susceptible to covid19 infections.
Now it is interesting that there is still outrage over this. I too find this outrageous and I see it more and more common than I did when I was younger.
As equality coupled with feminism become more pervasive it seems there is less deference given to women in society. Chivalry is demonized. So equality says, ‘Hey I worked hard 8 to 10 hours and I was here first, I have a long commute on this train and I am going to sit down.’
That is egalitarianism in its glorious manifestation. Where was the Islamic idea of justice here would tell me: ‘This is a pregnant woman, it must be hard for her to carry the weight of her child, perhaps I should yield my seat to comfort her and the unborn child she is carrying.’
I believe that it becomes increasingly important for Muslims to distance themselves from egalitarianism and claims that Islam teaches egalitarianism.
If we do not this is what ends up happening. You will end up being asked why men can have up to four wives and women cannot have up to four husbands. So you, the Muslim will have to give your reasons and rationale why this is the case.
None of the reasons that you give will have anything to do with equality or egalitarianism. So why do we not present our worldview rather than trying to adopt another worldview?
Especially one that is completely alien to our own?
What is interesting about polygyny is that not only are their questions about it from outside of Islam but there are Muslims who try and reinterpret Islam-again why?
Anyway, they try and reinterpret Islam to say that Muslim men cannot have more than one wife even though the Qur’an does not say that anywhere.
Interestingly the verse that implicitly mentions that a man has more than one wife rebukes the very claim used against polygyny!
Look what the verse says:
“And you will never be able to be equal between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]. So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging. And if you amend [your affairs] and fear Allah – then indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful. (Qur’an 4:129)
The verse in the above states very clearly that Allah swt states that man cannot practice egalitarianism -absolute equality with more than one wife. However, Allah swt is guiding men that they should be tactful and just.
Also Allah swt does not discourage a man from trying to give equal treatment to his wives , ‘even if you should strive to do so‘.
“And whoever among you cannot the means to marry free, believing women, then from those whom your right hands possess of believing slave girls. And Allah is most knowing about your faith. You, believers, are of one another. So marry them with the permission of their people and give them their due compensation according to what is acceptable. They should be chaste, neither of those who commit unlawful intercourse nor those who take secret lovers. But once they are sheltered in marriage, if they should commit adultery, then for them is half the punishment for free women. This allowance is for him among you who fears sin, but to be patient is better for you. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Qur’an 4:25)
Certainly, the punishment for slave woman who commits adultery is half that of the free woman. Why doesn’t anyone ever ponder this?
Why would a slave who has less social standing get less punishment?
Why would a free woman who has more social standing get more punishment?
Perhaps, the understanding here is there is a benefit of the doubt given to the slave because she may be in a more compromising situation than a free woman.
Certainly, that is not equal punishment. In this case, the free woman has more punishment. Not egalitarian but just.
I’ve found it interesting that in Islamic theology the Arabic word that is used of the very being or the very essence of Allah is ‘dhat‘ -which is a feminine word in Arabic.
This brings us to the issue of inheritance in Islamic Law.
First, it should be pointed out that in the entirety of the Bible as long as there is a son to inherit it means a woman inherits……jack. Which means she gets nothing.
The only situation where it was conceivable that a woman could inherit anything is in the following verse:
“Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!” (Numbers 27:4)
However, we can see that was short lived.
They said, “When the Lord commanded my lord to give the land as an inheritance to the Israelites by lot, he ordered you to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. Now suppose they marry men from other Israelite tribes; then their inheritance will be taken from our ancestral inheritance and added to that of the tribe they marry into. And so part of the inheritance allotted to us will be taken away. When the Year of Jubilee for the Israelites comes, their inheritance will be added to that of the tribe into which they marry, and their property will be taken from the tribal inheritance of our ancestors.”
“Then at the Lord’s command, Moses gave this order to the Israelites: “What the tribe of the descendants of Joseph is saying is right. This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad’s daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within their father’s tribal clan. No inheritance in Israel is to pass from one tribe to another, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal inheritance of their ancestors. Every daughter who inherits land in any Israelite tribe must marry someone in her father’s tribal clan so that every Israelite will possess the inheritance of their ancestors. No inheritance may pass from one tribe to another, for each Israelite tribe is to keep the land it inherits.”
“So Zelophehad’s daughters did as the Lord commanded Moses. Zelophehad’s daughters—Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milkah and Noah—married their cousins on their father’s side.” (Numbers 36:2-11)
I think it is not hard to guess who controlled the assets in the above scenario.
So let us look at another verse that the proponents of egalitarianism take issue with.
“Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females…..” (Qur’an 4:11)
So that certainly isn’t equal. However, as Muslims it shouldn’t concern us if the treatment is equal=identical; rather what concerns us is rather or not it is just.
First, it is nice to know in contradistinction to the Bible that even when there are sons, as long as there are daughters, the females will get a share of the inheritance.
Now the above verse is one instance of inheritance law in Islamic jurisprudence.
While women inherit less than men in four situations, they inherit more than men in 16 situations, and equal to men in 10 situations.
Source: [Salah Soltan, Woman’s Inheritance in Islam: Discrimination or Justice? trans. Gihan ElGindy (Hilliard: Sultan Publisher, 2004), p. 39.]
So let us look at how inheritance is viewed in Islam and give different scenarios.
This is based upon three things.
- The degree of kinship to the deceased.
- The generation to which the heir belongs.
- Financial responsibility.
Example A] Degree of kinship to deceased:
Example: A deceased woman who only leaves a daughter behind the daughter is entitled to 1/2 the inheritance while the husband only receives 1/4.
Example B] The generation to which the heir belongs:
Example: A deceased woman leaves behind a daughter and a mother. The granddaughter will inherit more than the grandmother. This is the case even if she has a living brother who inherits as well.
Example C] Financial Responsibility: The wisdom behind this is that a male is responsible for the upkeep of his wife and children. Whereas the sister’s financial upkeep is the responsibility of other than herself, her father or husband.
It is reasonable to see this situation favours the woman because the wealth she inherits is not applicable to the household expenses. It is hers to dispense as she likes.
So in this case the Qur’an 4:11 mentions example C.
In the case of C, we can propose a scenario where the father leaves behind 150,000.
The son would get 100,000 and the daughter 50,000.
Now let us propose the son buys an engagement ring and gives dowry for a total of 25,000 to his future wife.
He is now down to 75,000. Where as the sister receives dowry and an engagement ring for the amount of roughly 25,000 dollars. She is now up to 75,000.
The result is that they now both start a married life with the 75,000. In addition the son is now responsible financially for his wife and children and other females in the family.
Where as the daughter is not financially responsible. In fact any money that a woman contributes to the family is considered to be sadaqa-charity…
Another scenario in Islamic inheritance law. A man dies and is survived by a father, mother, a wife a daughter and a grand daughter who is an orphan.
Their estate consist of 600 acres. The division in this scenario is as follows:
Grand daughter 1/6
Father gets 88 acres
Mother gets 88 acres
Wife gets 66 acres
Daughter gets 270 acres
Grand Daughter 88 acres
In the above scenario two women, the Grand Daughter and Grand Mother get equal to the Grand Father.
The Wife, a woman got less than a man, the Grand Father.
And the Daughter, a woman gets 3 times the amount of a man, the Grand Father.
In the above scenario if you replace the Grand Daughter with the Grand Son he becomes in this case a residual heir. In this scenario of 600 acres the break down is like this:
Father gets 100 acres
Mother gets 100 acres
Wife gets 75 acres
Daughter gets 300 acres
Grand Son gets 25 acres
So in Islam we can see that Allah swt is not concerned with equality and egalitarianism. Allah swt deals with the creation on the principle of what is fair and what is just treatment.
On Earth Allah swt has created many types of social orders.
He has created female centered and female dominated monarchies among bees and ants.
In the case of the Bee hive it is a female dominated hierarchy.
The male drone has one purpose in his life: to mate with the Queen.
There are 100 female workers for every male drone bee. Drones are incapable of feeding themselves, or foraging for food. They lack stingers and they die immediately after mating. If times are difficult, the female worker bees force drones outside of the hive leaving them to starve.
I am sure Bees and Ants could have a King and Queen like Termites but this is simply not how Allah decreed it to be.
Allah swt has made a variety of living things on Earth. They all have different social orders that best suit their survival.
We as Muslims to not have to follow people who’s concepts of truth are constantly in a state of flux. Once, there were the feminist fighting against the patriarchy, and than came the transgender community arguing that gender is fluid and social construct.
Now we see the feminist pushing back and fighting with the transgender community. They are not comfortable with a man who identifies as a woman joining boxing and bashing women up.
The point being is that as Muslims we have our guidance. We don’t have to make Islam conform to alien worldviews.
Islam does not teach us about feigned concepts of equality and egalitarianism. No. Islam teaches us to recognize and respect, the individual, the situation, the context.
Islam teaches us that this is how we best arrive at justice.
I leave you dear reader with the words of Allah.
“Does He not know best, He who created? And He is the Knower of all subtleties, the All-Aware” (Qur’an 67:14)
“Surely Allah does not do any injustice to men, but men are unjust to themselves.” (Qur’an 10:44)