Part 1: How Tawhid Shapes Relationships

Quranic Concepts on Gender Relations

The essence of the Islamic paradigm is grounded on the concept of tawhid (i.e., monotheism), which refers to the belief in the oneness and uniqueness of Allah. The coherence of the central belief system in Islam is based on the relationship between the act of submission to Allah and its results in a state of peace of mind.

At the core of this relationship is the concept of tawhid, by virtue of which submission is transformed into a dynamic and ongoing action. That is the very meaning of `ibadah (i.e., devotion or worship) that has been beautifully explained by many early and contemporary Muslim scholars, such as Ibn Taymiyah, Ibn Al-Qayyim, and many others.


Purpose of Creating Humankind

Muslims believe that Allah created human beings — men and women — to worship and serve Him as khalifahs (i.e., representatives or vicegerents to Him). Allah, the Almighty, says in the Quran,

{Behold, your Lord said to the angels, “I will create a vicegerent on earth.”} (Al-Baqarah 2:30)

Besides, the only aspect by which one person is deemed better than another in the sight of Allah is piety. Allah, the Exalted, says:

{O humankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).} (Al-Hujurat 49:13)

Allah has invested humankind with His trust to be khalifahs on earth. The divine trust is the fulfillment of the ethical part of the divine will.

As a result, a Muslim, by virtue of submission to tawhid, is committed to a lifetime of striving in Allah’s way to enjoin what is good and forbid what is wrong, altogether to fulfill the purpose of creating humankind as khalifahs.

The foremost quality of mind and character that flows from this commitment is a state of constant vigilance or an awareness of the presence of Allah, the All-Knowing. Tazkiya (i.e., purification) is the important process of building this quality of consciousness of and piety to Allah, or taqwa.

Taqwa is at the heart of the traits cultivated by the five basic duties of every Muslim — the pillars of Islam that include belief in the oneness of Allah and in Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) as His Messenger, Prayer, fasting, zakah, and pilgrimage to Makkah once in a person’s lifetime on condition of affordability.


Impact of Five Pillars on Social Relations

These basic duties serve to build up the moral character of both the individual and the community.

In addition, many Quranic guidelines focus greatly on defining human relations, especially male-female relations, by clarifying their roles, rights, and responsibilities within marital relations, parent-child relations, and family care and with relatives, neighbors, and friends.

The Quran also outlines the relationship between human beings and the universe, which is described in hundreds of verses. The relationship that ties the universe to humankind is described in the Quran as taskhir (meaning that everything in the universe was made subject to humans), as Exalted Allah says

{And He has made subservient to you the sun and the moon pursuing their courses, and He has made subservient to you the night and the day.} (Ibrahim 14:33)

On the other hand, human beings are well-equipped to interact with the universe in a way that actualizes the duties of being khalifahs and establishes the feelings of closeness and harmony between human beings and the universe, which is called `imran (meaning construction and inhabitation). Allah says,

{And He has made subservient to you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, all, from Himself.}(Al-Jathiyah 45:13)

The creation of the universe should be utilized to understand the concept of tawhid and the significance of human relations.

There are laws that govern the universe to maintain its balance and well-functioning, like the food chain, for example, where lower forms of life sustain higher forms of life: Plants sustain animals, both of which sustain humans. The Quran describes this connection in the following verse,

{It is He who sends down rain from the sky: from it you drink, and out of it (grows) the vegetation on which you feed your cattle. With it He produces for you crops, olives, date-palms, grapes, and every kind of fruit.} (An-Nahl 16:10-11)

The same surah talks about the relationship between humans and animals in an earlier verse:

{And cattle He has created for you (men): from them you derive warmth and numerous benefits, and of their (meat) you eat.} (An-Nahl 16:5)

Allah has put laws and rules that govern humans’ lives, in order to maintain the universal system’s balance and proper functioning. As far as it comes to human relationships, we should follow the model of the universe. In this verse and the one following it, the Quran illustrates this with a visual rendering:

{And your Lord inspired the bee, saying, “Choose your habitations in the hills and in the trees and in that which they thatch.} (An-Nahl 16:68)

The picture that the Quran illustrates reflects a cooperation and complementary relationship among bees to fulfill their life mission. Similarly, Allah has provided a mechanism to regulate and balance human relationships by prescribing behaviors that benefit such relationships and prohibiting those that damage them.

For example, He describes spying, mockery, and backbiting as censured behaviors that can destroy relationships, while being honest, trustworthy, truthful, just, and forgiving maintains and strengthens relationships.

{O you who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed.} (Al-Hujurat 49:11)

“At the family level, there are rights and responsibilities for each person in the family to observe, which further regulate healthy relationships. Human beings are encouraged to learn how to work together in order to accomplish their goal.” (Alwani, Zainab. “The Quranic Model for Harmony in Family Relations”)

Since the Quran clearly explains the mission of humankind on earth as khalifahs to Allah, gender-based roles and relations are well defined. To establish an effective vicegerency as individuals, the Quran acknowledges taqwa as the only criterion of merit among humankind (men and women). The Quran establishes the concept of equality in this verse:

{O humankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, and created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women; and reverence Allah, through whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah ever watches over you.} (An-Nisaa’ 4:1)

To be continued.


This article was published in 2010.