It is argued by some people that men are superior to women. They present the following verses in support of their view:
الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِم ا(34:4)
Men are the guardians of women, because God has given the one more preference over the other, and because they support them. (4:34)
وَ لِلِّرجَالِ عَلَيْهِنَّ دَرَجَه(228:2)
And the husbands hold a degree of superiority over them. (2:228)
It needs to be appreciated that as per the Qur’ān (see, for example: 3:195 and 4:1), men and women as human beings are equal and deserve equal respect. However, they have been entrusted with different responsibilities in a family set-up which make them superior to one another in various respects. According to the Qur’ān(4:34), as far as a husband is concerned, one sphere of his superiority is his status as the head of the family alluded to in 2:228 with the words “husbands are one degree superior to their wives”. There are certain spheres in which women by nature – physical, physiological as well as psychological – are superior to men and much more suitable to do certain tasks. Thus 4:34 speaks of the relative superiority of a husband to his wife – that too in responsibility and status – in just one sphere and cannot be generalized] .
Two reasons have been given in 4:34 for granting husbands this status: Firstly, because they are, generally, physically and temperamentally more suited to this task and secondly, because they have been entrusted with the responsibility of earning for the family. It also needs to be appreciated in this regard that Islam does not forbid women to earn a living. It has only relieved them of the responsibility of earning, which lies upon their husbands. It also needs to be understood that the verse does not say that the one among the husband or wife who supports the family should become the head; husbands, whether their wives earn or not, are liable for this responsibility. A woman may earn if she likes or if some need arises, but since she has not been entrusted with this duty, she has not been given the governing position in the family.
Here it would be appropriate to analyze another concept which has also contributed to the notion that men are superior to women. As per a Hadīth, a woman is created from the rib of man referring to the fact that Eve was created from Adam’s rib and thus was a secondary being. The text of the Hadīth is:
عن أبي هُرَيْرَةَ رضي الله عنه قال قال رسول اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم اسْتَوْصُوا بِالنِّسَاءِ فإن الْمَرْأَةَ خُلِقَتْ من ضِلَعٍ وَإِنَّ أَعْوَجَ شَيْءٍ في الضِّلَعِ أَعْلَاهُ فَإِنْ ذَهَبْتَ تُقِيمُهُ كَسَرْتَهُ وَإِنْ تَرَكْتَهُ لم يَزَلْ أَعْوَجَ فَاسْتَوْصُوا بِالنِّسَاءِ
Abū Hurayrah reports that Allah’s Prophet said: “Treat women well for a woman is created from a rib, and the most curved portion of the rib is its upper portion; so, if you should try to straighten it, it will break, but if you leave it as it is, it will remain crooked. So treat women well.”
It needs to be appreciated that ,according to the Qur’ān, Eve was not created from Adam’s rib. The first verse of Sūah Nisā’ explicitly states that the first man and woman (Adam and Eve) were created directly by the Almighty:
يَاأَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمْ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ مِنْ نَفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءَلُونَ بِهِ وَالْأَرْحَامَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا(1:4)
O Mankind! Fear your Lord, Who created you from a single person and created, of like species his mate, and from these two scattered countless men and women [in this world], and fear Allah through whom you seek mutual help and fear breaking blood relationships. Indeed God is watching over you. (4:1)
Some people translate this verse as: “It is He Who has created you from a single person (Adam) and then He created from him his wife (Eve).” They explain this verse by saying that Eve was created from the rib of Adam. This misleading translation has probably arisen because of a literal translation of the Arabic words: “وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَاviz. and created from it [–the initial soul–] his wife.” Actually, the word مِنْهَا(from the soul) does not imply that “Eve was made from Adam”; it rather implies that Eve was made from the same species as Adam. A similar verse points to this interpretation:
وَاللّهُ جَعَلَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا (72:16)
It is God who has made from your species your mates. (16:72)
A literal translation of the words جَعَلَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًاof the above quoted verse (which are similar to وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا) would mean “it is God Who has created your mates from you,” implying that every wife is made from her husband as Eve was. This of course is incorrect; the word anfus (plural of nafs) in this verse means “genre”, “species” and not “physical being”.
As far as the actual H~adīth quoted above is concerned, it needs to be appreciated that in Arabic the words “created from” do not necessarily refer to the substance of creation; they can also refer to the nature of something. For example, the Qur’ān says: “Man has been created from hastiness,” (21:37). This does not of course mean that man’s substance is hastiness; it only refers to his nature.
Secondly, if all the textual variants of this Hadīth are collected and analyzed, it becomes evident that the Prophet (sws) has compared the nature of a woman with a rib. The comparison subtly alludes to the fact that a woman’s nature is very delicate and tender as well as a bit adamant. The Prophet (sws) has advised men to treat them tactfully keeping in view this nature. Instead of forcing them to accept a particular point of view, men should try to convince and persuade them.