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Do Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History?

Questioner

Anonymous

Reply Date

Apr 12, 2019

Question

Assalamu alaikum my question is related with women's status . What does Islam says about the notion "well behaved women seldom make history. "? Does it make any sense whereas Islamic history witnesses many good women who contribute greatly in different fields of life like religion, society, knowledge, civilisations? Has it any basis?

Consultant

Answer


Well-Behaved

Short Answer: Firstly I want to discuss the notions of “good” and “well-behaved.” You are absolutely correct that throughout Islamic (and non-Islamic!) history, many “good” women have become well-known figures. By “good” what do we mean? “Good” can mean pious, it can mean morally upright, it can mean intelligent, it can mean innovative. Aisha (ra) and Khadijah (ra) and all the mothers of the believers and many female rulers, scientists, scholars, poets, etc. throughout Islamic history have been “good” women. But is “good” the same thing as “well-behaved”? Evaluating whether a person is well-behaved is a measure of the way they act in comparison with the standards of society. Khadijah (ra) shunned polytheism and the popularity she and the Prophet (saw) had had before the revelation of Islam. That was morally “good” of her, but not “well-behaved.” She was throwing away the standards of her society.

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Alaykum salaam wa rahmatullah, sister

Thank you for your question – it is a very interesting one.

What Does “Good” Mean?

Firstly I want to discuss the notions of “good” and “well-behaved.” You are absolutely correct that throughout Islamic (and non-Islamic!) history, many “good” women have become well-known figures. By “good” what do we mean? “Good” can mean pious, it can mean morally upright, it can mean intelligent, it can mean innovative. Aisha (ra) and Khadijah (ra) and all the mothers of the believers and many female rulers, scientists, scholars, poets, etc. throughout Islamic history have been “good” women.

But is “good” the same thing as “well-behaved”?

Evaluating whether a person is well-behaved is a measure of the way they act in comparison with the standards of society. Khadijah (ra) shunned polytheism and the popularity she and the Prophet (saw) had had before the revelation of Islam. That was morally “good” of her, but not “well-behaved.” She was throwing away the standards of her society.

This concept goes beyond the limits of Islamic history, as well. Taking a look at the history of my own country, the USA, take for one example: Rosa Parks. For a quick background for those who are not American, she was a black woman who refused to give her seat on the bus up to a white man during the time when many aspects of life were segregated and black Americans were blatantly oppressed. Her refusal to give her seat up prompted an uprising which – to give an extremely abbreviated summary of the history – led to the desegregation of public spaces in our society.

That was a “good” and morally upright thing to do. But again – it was not “well-behaved.” She rebelled against the standard and was in fact arrested for it.

The Context of the Quote

Secondly, we should look at the actual meaning of the quote you cited. Though it has been attributed to many people from Eleanor Roosevelt to Kim Kardashian, the earliest documented version of the quote appeared in an academic paper by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in 1976.

In her paper, Ms. Ulrich explains that by this quote she means that women who keep to themselves don’t make it to the history book. It was a lamentation of the invisible work of women. For millennia, women have been the caretakers of society. Women have – across many cultures – been in charge of keeping the home. Historically, where there has been a need in society, women have filled it. But who is a world famous stay-at-home mother? Who is a well-known seamstress? How many midwives throughout history can you name?

Ms. Ulrich’s commentary was not, in fact, in regards to the actual behavior of women. Rather, it was noting how women have been the maintainers of society throughout human history, but we receive very little credit.

As you can see from my examples in the first section, however, either way you interpret the quote, it does ring true. It has nothing to do with the “goodness” of women, and everything to do with the work we do – well-behaved or otherwise.

And Allah knows best.

I hope this helps.

Salam and please keep in touch.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Out Of Context – Women’s Rights In The Qur’an

Muslim Women: “Stay In Your Houses”?

Muslim Women & Knowledge: Facing the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’

 




About Leah Mallery

Leah is a Muslim convert of almost a decade. She has two kids, an intercultural marriage, and half of a French degree in her back pocket, looking to switch gears to science and medicine. She has lived abroad for over a decade, having just recently become reacquainted with her roots in America. She currently lives in Michigan near her family and – masha’Allah – a sizeable Muslim community.

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