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Celebrating Womanhood: Diversity of Women in the Quran

I’m single. So what?’

She was clearly irritated. It was the gazillionth time she had to answer the same question, and hear that judgmental tone.

What is so wrong with not getting married? Is life all about marriage and having kids? Is she incomplete just being herself?

Deep inside, she was unsure. She felt vulnerable. Everyone she met hinted at marriage. There must be something wrong with her.

In most traditional societies, a woman is generally and most commonly seen as a mother and wife. Her value, status, and reputation are often defined by marital affiliation, family ties, and motherhood.

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As the majority of men and women, to a large extent, embrace the path of marriage and raising children, being different in that sense can be rather painful.

The rule, however, does not apply to men in the same way as it does to women. Single men are more readily accepted, but single, unmarried women are constantly questioned and judged.

On the other hand, society tends to make generalized statements and oversimplify the subject, which in reality can be more complex than it superficially appears.

As a consequence, women who are unmarried or are still in search of marriage partners often feel like they are under constant scrutiny and that they owe people around them an explanation.

These result in a lot of unnecessary mental torture and embarrassment, which sometimes end up in broken friendships and damaged family ties.

Women and Diversity

Just as the human race is diverse, so are women. While it is true that many women choose to be mothers and wives, it is wrong to impose a similar expectation on all women.

Celebrating Womanhood: Diversity of Women in the Quran - About Islam

Even among mothers and wives themselves, they can be very different from each other and might play many roles other than those of a mother or a wife.

The problem arises when society and cultural norms hastily conclude that a woman is incomplete, less worthy, or abnormal until she is married.

Even marriage at times does not solve things for her, as she is expected to embrace motherhood and then to give birth to children of both genders.

Women have been mothers throughout history without doubt, for men can almost never contribute to childbirth and motherhood.

However, with modernization, women’s traditional roles as mothers and wives are increasingly being challenged. Two groups have emerged as a result, each with its own extreme ideas and beliefs.

The first group resists any kind of change; they insist that women have to remain mothers and wives or this world will be corrupted. They tend to deny the existence of other roles and functions that women can play.

The second group, on the other hand, is desperate to renounce the idea of marriage and motherhood completely, for they see these two as impediments to women’s liberty and advancement.

The Qur’anic Approach

The narratives in the Quran are the best evidence of how God himself acknowledges and celebrates the diversity of women and their roles.

Contrary to what many contemporary Muslim societies often culturally dictate, Qur’anic verses debunk those myths.

Celebrating Womanhood: Diversity of Women in the Quran - About Islam

The Quran has taken a delicately balanced approach as it narrates a number of stories in which women are not depicted as mainly mothers or wives but as free individuals whose merits are not related to the two traditional roles.

Maryam was described as a devout, obedient, and chaste person who dedicated her whole life to the worship of God.

Pharaoh’s wife was an influential figure in her husband’s administrative affairs who later challenged his authority.

Aziz’s wife was portrayed as a clever and cunning individual who knew how to plot and convince people. Hajar (Ibrahim’s wife), though not mentioned directly, was the founder of Makkah. 

The Queen of Sheba was characterized by her political capabilities, intellect, and grace. The two daughters of Shuaib were the caretakers of their father and performed duties, which at that time were dominated by men.

Khadijah’s story, though not explicitly narrated in the Qur’an, is widely known. She was a successful businesswoman and merchant. Khaulah (the Prophet’s companion) was a warrior who fought in battles.

While some female figures in the holy book and history were indeed described as wives and mothers, others were described in such a manner that gave little attention to their personal lives or domestic identities; rather, the real focus was on themselves as independent humans who act freely and are not bound by conventional gender stereotypes.

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About Raudah Mohd Yunus
Raudah Mohd Yunus is a researcher, writer and social activist based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Her research interests include aging, elder abuse, human trafficking and refugees health. She is the editor of two books; ‘Tales of Mothers: Of courage and love’ and ‘Displaced and Forgotten: Memoirs of refugees.’