Reading Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s Aurat: Maemaar-e-Insanniyat

By Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray

The book highlights the dignified status of women in Islam, exhibits the positive role women have played (and have to play) in the society and in building humanity, and criticises women liberation/ gender equality on rational grounds

IN the present times, ‘Women in Islam’ is one of one of the fiercely debated issues. Like other scholars across the globe, Muslim scholars of India have also contributed, and are contributing, to this discourse (for more details, see my column, “Defying ‘Misconceptions’ and Defining ‘Real Status’ of Women in Islam”, Kashmir Observer, 24th September 2021). Maulana Wahiddudin Khan (d. 2021)—an Indian Muslim (spiritual) scholar, a Qur’an commentator, an ardent advocate of peace, interfaith dialogue, social harmony, and gender justice, and author of over 200 books on Islam and its diverse aspects—is a significant contributor to this discourse.  His significant works on this theme are: Women between Islam and Western Society (1995; republished in 2014 and available in Arabic and Urdu versions as well); Woman in Islamic Shari‘ah (2020; originally published in 1995); and Aurat: Maemaar-e-Insaniyat/ Woman: The Builder of Humankind (2018; originally published in 2004). Here I intend to present a summary of the main contents and themes discussed in 2018 edition of his last mentioned book.

Title: Aurat: Maemaar-e-Insaniyat [Woman: The Builder of Humankind]
Author: Maulana Wahiduddin Khan,
Publication Details: New Delhi/ Noida: Goodword Books, 2018 
Pages: 208; ISBN: 9788178984476; paperback; Price: Rs. 80/-

First published in 2004 and republished in 2018, Woman: The Builder of Humankind attempts to highlight the positive role played by women in the society through historical instances, rational analysis as well as by presenting the accounts of some ideal models and historically prominent women figures as well as in the light of his experiences. The book consists of fourteen (14) chapters, excluding a brief Conclusion, and spans over 208 pages, it also highlights some theoretical discussions on women issues, both past and present.

In its opening two chapters, the book highlights the “System of Nature”/ Fitrat ka Nizam (pp. 7-12) and the ‘Principle of Pairs”/ Zawjain ka Usul (pp. 13-18), respectively, arguing that the “basic principle for the advancement of life is that being compatible with nature is success and opposition to natural system results in failure” (p. 7).He also states that “in the modern times, the advocates of women’s liberation movement have preached the principle of gender equality, which is totally an unnatural principle, as it has resulted in creating anarchy in the family system” (p. 9). He, thus, rejects the term “gender equality” (pp. 9, 13) which holds “men and women to be equals” (p. 13) and labels it with the term “Gender Complementality”, which he defines as “men and women as part of one another” or “to be lifelong partners of each other”, but not the “equals” (p. 14).

The next two chapters (3 and 4) discuss the women’s position and place, respect and regard, in the light of the Qur’anic verses (pp. 19-53) addressed to her directly and thus “brings to the fore the real picture a woman has in the Islamic system of life” (pp. 19, 20), and selected Ahadith (pp. 54-70), which “reveal what place and position woman possesses in the human society” (p. 54). This is followed by a chapter on “Guiding Principles of the Marital Life” (5th chapter, pp. 71-89) gleaned from the Qur’anic principle (as mentioned in Q. 90: 4: “We have created man for toil and trial”)—a natural principle which, in Khan’s understanding, applies to men and women equally.

In the 6th chapter, Khan focuses on “Test Design”/ Naqsha-e-Imtihan (pp. 90-93) in the light of the principle that “this worldly life is a temporary phase and thus a testing place for humans and its results are to be borne by each in the Hereafter according to one’s deeds and performance done in this life” (pp. 90-91).

The next two chapters (7 and 8) describe the life, upbringing and intellectual contribution of “Aishah Siddiqua” (pp. 94-115), especially her contribution in hadith narration in the light of authentic narrations from the Hadith collections and other Islamic sources and in the next chapter the “Issue of Age at the time of her Marriage” (pp. 116-125) is discussed and he provides rational explanation and justification for her marriage at an early age. Based on the Qur’anic verses like Q. 3: 195 and 9: 71 and mostly on the discussions and evidences garnered from 8th chapter, Khan discusses “Woman as an intellectual Partner” in the 11th chapter (pp. 159-170), wherein he argues that husband and wife are not just companions, but are actually “intellectual partners” and a woman, who is generally expected to be an expert in the “domestic science or professional education”, must learn and be an expert in the “art of intellectual partnership” as well through the smooth “intellectual exchange” between them (pp. 160-68).

In chapters 9, 10 and 13, “Some Exemplary (Muslim) Women” (pp. 126-46), “Character of (Muslim) Women” (pp. 147-58), and “Examples of some (Historically Famed) Women” (pp. 179-196), respectively, Khan presents an account of some prominent Muslim women of Islamic history—before, during and after the Last Prophet’s time, and from his (own) family: in 9th chapter he presents an account of Hajrah, the wife of Prophet Ibrahim (AS); Asiya Binte Mazahim, wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh; Maryam, the mother of Prophet Isa (AS); and Khadijah bint Khuwaylid and Umm Salmah (RA), the wives of the Prophet. He argues that “all these women are ideals and role models for the whole humanity from different perspectives as all of them have passed through different situations and have faced different circumstances” (pp. 126, 146).

In 10th chapter, he refers to such prominent historical figures, like Umm ad-Dardah, Rabia Basri, Tartar women and Maryam Makani (mother of Mughal emperor Akbar) for playing an efficient and effective role in different arenas. In 13th chapter, he first refers to the examples of women of his own family, including his mother (Zaibun Nisa), for her role in his “character building” (p. 19); his wife (Sabia Khatun) for “showing enduring patience” during his ups and downs (p. 185); and his daughter (Farida Khanam—who served as professor of Islamic Studies in Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi) for her “unselfish services”, “dedication”, for being his “intellectual assistant” and much more (pp. 188-92). In the second part of this chapter he provides a brief profile of some women from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Dubai who are actively contributing through their missionary activities in their countries and the author has well acquaintance with them (p. 193). The major objective of this chapter is to reveal that “what the author [Khan] believes and expounds on the topic of women in Islam is a matter of actual fact and he has experienced it himself as well” (p. 179).

The remaining two chapters (11 and 14) throw light on two significant themes, “Woman—The Builder of Humanity” (pp. 171-78)—which is the title of this book as well—and “Women in Contemporary Times” (pp. 197-204), respectively: in the former, he discusses (in the context of Q. 2: 158) the significance of the rite of sa‘i (the act of running back and forth seven times between Safa and Marwah during the Pilgrimage). ‘What was the significance of this act by Hajar? He raises the questions and answers it as: “The significance of this act lies in the fact that it was an act of sacrificing one’s life for the sake of nurturing a new generation” (p. 172). He further remarks that it was aimed “to bring into being a live community which, free of all superstitions and all other corruptions of civilization, would play a revolutionary role led by the last Prophet [pbuh]. ... Through this Abrahamic plan it was thus demonstrated that what role a woman plays in human history—the role of preparing and guiding the future generations” (Ibid.). From this historical, but revolutionary, episode Khan validates that “Islam thus aims woman not just a builder of a family, but the builder of the whole humanity; she should not confine her naturally bestowed feminine qualities to her offspring (sons and daughters) but the whole humanity should benefit from them. Thus, God has created a woman as the builder of humanity and it would be her under-use if role is restricted for her offspring only” (p. 177).

In the last chapter, “Women in Contemporary Times” (pp. 197-204), Khan starts with the quote, “There is a woman at the beginning of all great things”, and maintains that “the greatest example in human history for its proof is of Hajra, wife of Prophet Ibrahim [AS]; her marvellous sacrifice gave rise to a new era in the human history. It was a revolutionary act whose imprints were felt by the whole world” (p. 197). Her extraordinary sacrifice was aimed “to bring into being a new generation that would be free from all kinds of polytheistic thoughts and concepts” and the fruits of this sacrifice were attained by the humanity till the modern times, “but from last two centuries, humanity is again surrounded by a maelstrom—i.e., the wave and whirl of materialism. While in the previous era humanity was facing the evil of idolatry, but in the present times world is affected by the curse of materialism, which has resulted in humanity’s destruction and most affected aspect of this destruction is (seen in) the collapse of value system” (pp. 198-99). Therefore, he suggests that “present situation demands woman like Hajar who will change the course of history by their extraordinary sacrifices, and will turn the materialistic world into the world of monotheism” (p. 199).

He further asserts that the slogans of gender equality by the women’s liberation movements have added to the miseries of social life and both men and women have neglected their original role of being “each other’s lifetime companions” as well as the principle of “division of labor”, which has “never been intended as a form of discriminatory treatment, but its main purpose has always been to preserve the distinctive characteristics of both sexes”. Therefore, what is actually required is “division of labor, not gender equality”, and it is on the basis of this principle that “a balanced system comes into existence” (p. 204). The book ends with a “Summary” (pp. 205-208) and puts forth many arguments in the light of previous discussions, which are related to the past, present and future of women and their role in the society.

Keeping in view the contents and topics addressed and discussed, Woman: The Builder of Humankind highlights the exalted status of women in Islam, discusses and demonstrates the positive role women have played in the society and in building humanity—both at social and intellectual levels—as well as reflects on the role she has to play in the present times.

  • The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC Sogam, Kupwara (J&K). Email: [email protected] 

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