Respect for Our Daughters

By Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

A person's need to feel import is something perfectly natural, something instilled in human nature. It may well be that this feeling is behind many of humanity's greatest inventions, achievements, and noble acts.

This is why Allah mentions to us that Abraham (peace be upon him) said: “And ordain for me a goodly mention among posterity.” [ Sûrah al-Shu`arā' : 84]

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If a son of Adam dies, his good works come to an end except for three: charity that keeps providing benefit, knowledge that people still benefit from, and a pious child who supplicates for him.”

This is an indication that people like to feel that they are important, and feel that they will be valued and that their works will endure even after they die. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) guided us to continuous charity, enduring beneficial knowledge, and a pious son or daughter who prays on our behalf.

Those who belittle and deride others, and who defame their characters, do not profit themselves anything but pain and bitterness. It makes no difference whether they are officials, educators, parents, or anyone else.

Our society is in need of programs to teach people this basic truth. All too many people have inherited from their cultures – and this is a fact for many societies throughout the world of which some are Islamic societies – contempt for women, looking upon the woman her as if she is a creation of a lesser degree, a second class citizen – and in some cases it seems that they treat her more as if the phrase “tenth class” would be more appropriate.

Up to today, some of us are prisoners to this base mindset, as if they had never heard the guidance of the Prophet (peace be upon him) or benefited from the revelation sent down to us by Allah. Such people are still toiling under the legacy of the pre-Islamic times of ignorance, in spite of the fact that in our present age, many banners are being raised, like those of human rights, women's rights, social justice, and equality. It is so bad that some of us look upon these terms and concepts with bewilderment and suspicion.

This is in spite of the fact that the guarantee of human rights that is at the core of our faith is loftier and nobler than anything set down in any declaration of human rights anywhere in the world. This is as true today as it has been in the past.

The problem here with respect to the issue of women – and to that of the young woman in particular – is the result of the coming together with the ideas of the new ignorance with those of the days of ignorance of old.

First of all, people come with all sorts of biases against women, like the notion that women are inherently treacherous. Then you have the fact that in some cultures, the birth of a daughter is received with ignominy and considered a bad omen.

Thirdly, women are still viewed in some circles as not being entitled to have their own opinions or to make their own decisions. There is a saying: “Consult with them but do not heed what they say.” Some people might even have gotten the notion in their heads that this blatant lie is a saying of our Prophet (peace be upon him)!

Then there is the idea that a woman's place is in the kitchen. Here we have another dubious saying: “Were a woman to reach Mars, she would still wind up in the kitchen.”

These concepts, though prevalent, are from the pagan Arab culture of the times of ignorance. These notions are alien to Islam. They are not from the teachings of our Prophet (peace be upon him).

Allah says: “So their Lord accepted their prayer: That I will not waste the work of a worker among you, whether male or female, the one of you being from the other.” [ Sûrah Âl `Imrân : 195]

Allah also says: “Lo! men who surrender unto Allah, and women who surrender, and men who believe and women who believe, and men who obey and women who obey, and men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth, and men who persevere (in righteousness) and women who persevere, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their modesty and women who guard (their modesty), and men who remember Allah much and women who remember - Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward.” [ Sûrah al-Ahzâb : 35]

We can see in these verses how Allah mentions women alongside men, on parity with one another.

Many of our daughters feel cheated and resentful on account of the unequal treatment given to them in comparison with their brothers. When a girl's brother brings home passing marks from school, everyone gets happy he is congratulated, and rewarded with gifts, even if his grades were not all that good. When she comes home with her diploma after having attained the highest academic distinctions, she is told: “That is not important…what good is it to you?” Things like this are commonplace.

Because of such things, the climate becomes conducive to the call of westernization, which is seen by many young women as a source of salvation from the oppression of the societies in which they live. I listened to a speech given in Egypt by an activist for women's liberation. She spoke of such things. Her stance was a reaction to customs and circumstances that exist in her society which have nothing to do with Islam, but which were really the legacy of the former times of ignorance.

A woman, just like a man, needs to have her importance acknowledged, her grievances heard, and her aspirations fulfilled. If these needs are not met for her with her family and at school, she is going to find ways to fulfill them elsewhere. The media today is giving her all sorts of lessons in this area.

Psychology teaches us that, though you are not necessary going to convince others or change their minds by listening to them, you are going to endear them to you and make them more sympathetic. One of the most notable qualities of great and influential people is their ability to listen to others and to show them proper regard.

A delegation of Mecca 's polytheists once came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) to object to him. They spoke at length until they had nothing more to say. Only then did the Prophet (peace be upon him) spoke up and ask: “Are you done?” When they told him that they were, he began reciting to them some words from the Qur'ân.

The person who speaks to you may feel in his heart that he has been wronged or that he has been disenfranchised. He may have a point of view that he is passionate about and that he wishes to communicate to you. You have to afford him a proper outlet to air his grievances. If you do not give him a proper hearing, his grievances will transform into a deluge or bring about within him destructive psychological problems.

Experience shows us that major problems that face us as individuals, families, and nations, started off as small problems that were not properly acknowledged and addressed. They grew and until they reached critical mass and exploded. Affording due recognition is a safety valve for both the individual and society. When some problem arises that starts to exert pressure, many people forget that it is possible to contain it, and instead toss more fuel upon the fire.

Listening to others effectively demands mastery of a number of skills, which we can enumerate as follows:

The first of these skills is to be able to summarize the ideas that were brought up in the course of the conversation. After hearing what the other party had to say and speaking your own mind, you are able to summarize the matter, accurately stating the other person's point of view and discussing its implications as well as your arguments. This shows the other person that you hold what he says to be important and that you properly understood what he had to say. In this way, you assure him, that you are not putting words into his mouth or misunderstanding his ideas. He knows that you were paying attention to him.

Too often, we do not give others the chance to speak. When they do speak, we are either incapable of understanding their point of view or of convincing them that we have indeed understood them.

The second skill that we need to master is to be able to enter into the world-view of those to whom we listen and with whom we speak. When we listen to two people having a discussion, we can tell whether their relationship is strained or whether there is friendship and cordiality between them. This comes through to us in their body language, how they face each other, make eye contact, and in their hand gestures.

A mother is able to establish a good relationship with her daughter by placing herself on her daughter's level and by expressing herself with heart and with her body language so that the daughter feels safe and trusting. The mother is able to respond to her daughter's feelings, sensitivities, and appreciate her circumstances. In this way, it is possible for the daughter to become confident and overcome her shyness so that she can speak openly and frankly and divulge her concerns. This, however, will only be if she sees that what she has to say is taken seriously.

Many people do not seek a solution to their problems as much as they are seeking a sympathetic heart that feels their pain and in which they can find solace.

Imagine that you are speaking to someone and that person keeps looking at his watch or answering his cell phone or leafing through the newspaper. Or imagine that he suddenly brings up a totally unrelated topic. Would it really matter to you that for all this time he has been looking at you while you speak?

If we are to place ourselves in the world-view of our daughters, this means that we must be able to abide in our young girl's spirit, her heart, her feelings, and her sensitivities. It means for her to know that we are with her, not against her.

The third good listening skill that we need to master is to be able to guide the conversation in the direction that we want it to go. A girl may not be able to speak openly about everything that concerns her, or she may not know how to express herself about some things. She may become confused or say something by mistake. We must not hold her to her mistake or judge her on account of it. Instead, we must help her to communicate to us what she is trying to say. We need to make her feel that the atmosphere is relaxed and normal.

A mother might find it advantageous to talk about her own experiences when she was young and how she went through a lot of the same things.

The girl might need to speak about something that is troubling her but not be able to bring herself to say everything. For this reason, a mother might take the matter too lightly or accuse the girl of not being able to speak, or call her stupid or simple.

I have heard girls say things like: “No one ever understands what I say.”

She might mean that there is no one in her family who agrees with what she wants. In this, her family could well be in the right. However, she might also mean that no one pays any serious attention to what she has to say, and this is a serious problem.


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