Quranic Reflection No 589. Āyāt 33:35 – Different but Equal

إِنَّ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَالْمُسْلِمَاتِ وَالْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْقَانِتِينَ وَالْقَانِتَاتِ وَالصَّادِقِينَ وَالصَّادِقَاتِ وَالصَّابِرِينَ وَالصَّابِرَاتِ وَالْخَاشِعِينَ وَالْخَاشِعَاتِ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقِينَ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقَاتِ وَالصَّائِمِينَ وَالصَّائِمَاتِ وَالْحَافِظِينَ فُرُوجَهُمْ وَالْحَافِظَاتِ وَالذَّاكِرِينَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا وَالذَّاكِرَاتِ أَعَدَّ اللَّهُ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا

Innal-muslimīna wal-muslimāt wal-mu’minīna wal-mu’mināt wal-qānitīna wal-qānitāt was-sādiqīna was-sādiqāt was-sābirīna was-sābirāt wal-khāshi‘īna wal-khāshi‘āt wal-mutasaddiqīna wal-mutasaddiqāt was-sā’imīna was-sā’imāt wal-hāfizīna furūjahum wal-hāfizāt wadh-dhākirīnallāha kathīran wadh-dhākirāt a‘addallāhu lahum maghfiratan wa-ajran ‘azīmā.

Indeed the Muslim men and the Muslim women, the faithful men and the faithful women, the obedient men and the obedient women, the truthful men and the truthful women, the patient men and the patient women, the humble men and the humble women, the charitable men and the charitable women, the men who fast and the women who fast, the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard, the men who remember Allah greatly and the women who remember [Allah greatly]—Allah holds in store for them forgiveness and a great reward.

(Sūrat al-Ahzāb, No 33, Āyat 35)

With regards to the revelation of the above blessed verse, the following tradition has been narrated. Asmāʾ bint ‘Umays was one of the Muslims who migrated to Ethiopia along with her husband Ja‘far ibn Abī Tālib. Upon her return from Ethiopia, she asked the wives of the Prophet, “Has any verse of the Quran been revealed about us [women]?” They said, “No.” She then went to the Prophet and said to him, “Women are in a loss.” The Prophet asked, “For what reason?” She said, “Because they are not mentioned with goodness as the men are mentioned.” (Al- Huwayzī, Tafsīr Nūr al-Thaqalayn, v 4, p 277, h 113).  It was at that time the above verse was revealed.

From this narration as well as from other verses and narrations, we can see that men and women will be rewarded equally for their obedience to Allah ‘azza wajall. Individuals from both genders that espouse the qualities mentioned in this verse will attain the same forgiveness and great reward promised at the end of the verse. In another verse of the Quran, after talking about how human beings are created from a man and a woman, Allah says in Q 49:13: إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ
Indeed, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most God conscious among you.

Undoubtedly, gender is not the criteria for proximity to Allah, rather it is taqwā or God consciousness that is the sole criteria. It is with this understanding that we must look at the differences in the holy sharī‘ah that exist between men and women. In terms of their social and familial responsibilities, there are clear differences in the laws of Islam between men and women. For example, certain responsibilities such as providing for the financial needs of the family have been assigned to men. Such differences are not intended to belittle the status of a woman. Rather, Allah in His infinite wisdom, created men and women with differences that entail different rights and responsibilities. These differences apply in the life of this world. But men and women alike have the honor of being the vicegerent (khalīfah) of Allah, manifesting Allah’s perfection and attaining high levels of spirituality and Divine proximity.

In the holy Quran examples of outstanding women are presented as a role model for all believers (refer to verses 11 and 12 of surah 66, al-Tahrīm). Similarly in the tragedy of Karbalā, the unparalleled role of Zaynab ‘alayhas-salām serves as an example for all. At a time when eminent companions and scholars in the Muslim ummah did not have the wisdom, bravery, and insight to accompany Imam al-Husayn (a), Zaynab did. She not only left her husband to support her Imam, but she brought his two sons along with her to be sacrificed in the cause of Islam.

We pray to Allah the Exalted that we are blessed with the opportunity to deeply understand the teachings of Islam and implement them in our lives. We implore Him to allow us to emulate the lofty personalities in history who were beacons in the path of His servitude such as Maryam, Āsiyah, Fātima and Zaynab (peace be upon them all).

Sources: Āyatullāh Muhmmad Bāqir Tahrīrī, Insān va gustaray-i huqūq-i bandegī (A Commentary on the Risālat al-hqūq).