But when she delivered her, she said, “My Lord, I have delivered a female.” And Allah was most knowing of what she delivered, “And the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of Allah ].” [3:36]
In this ayah, “and the male is not like the female’ may come off as sexist, but look at the order of the words. The Male is not like the Female. Male is mentioned first. If it’s mentioned as the female is not like the male, the effect would be different. The effect that seems to be meant here is that the male can’t do what the female can.
Disclaimer: The above is my own observation and conclusion, it’s not tafseer. Below is from my Taleem Quran notes.
In this context, that is what is meant. This ayah talks about when Hannah, the mother of Maryam a.s. delivered her baby that she had vowed to give solely for Allah’s worship, discovered that she had given birth to a baby girl. At that time, the custom was that only boys would be sent to serve in worship full time. So when she gave birth to Maryam a.s., she kkind of exclaimed “Oh my Rabb, it’s a girl!”
Of course Allah knows it’s a girl, right? But, Hannah was expecting to give this baby for Allah’s worship, and usually that is done by boys, so what is she to do with a girl? So Allah says that the male is not like the female, implying that the female has capabilities that males can never have. In this context, Maryam a.s. is to take on the role of giving birth to one of the greatest prophets without ever being touched by a man. In other words, a miraculous birth. Allah has chosen Maryam a.s. specifically for this role, due to her mother’s sincere and heart felt dua and vow to give the baby in her womb to His worship.
Below is my own observation and reflections.
Obviously there many lessons that can be derived from this, but I wish to expound on the male-female discourse that seems to be widespread today. The male is not like the female. It is that simple. However, with the feminist movement, equality between men and women have been sought. I don’t blame this movement, because it arises from oppression of women. So, there is a valid reason for it, but I think in some cases, it has gone overboard.
Without going over the various news coverage on specific incidents or feminist accomplishments or even discourses or debates on this issue, it’s a fact, whether people accept it or not, that women and men are different, in so many ways. Science have even proven it. They used to think of women as inferior versions of men, and later on scientific studies have discovered that women’s anatomy and thus biological processes are much different. They can’t be treated like inferior versions of men.
Books and studies have been written and done about the science of women, and how men and women are different. Some of the books that stick out in my mind with regard to this is The Venus Week, The Female Brain, and Girls on the Edge. Because they are different, they have their own unique and specific roles. The issue is not on whether women aren’t capable of doing what men can do(women, as a species, differ individually, and in terms of ability, they also differ, so to say that women can’t do what men can’t do is a blanket statement. History has proven again and again that there will be women who are the exception to this generalization), but the issue is, if there women have specific roles to play in the team of husband and wife, why would she want to leave that role and play a man?
Sure, a woman can be in the military if she wants to. Umm Amarah participated in the battle of Uhud, and Umm Haram participated in a battle on the Mediterranean seas and even died a martyr. But, in light of a woman’s role, and what she has been designed with (the capacity to bear and deliver and raise and nurture a child), why would she want to be like a man?
By insisting to be like the men, we are actually belittling the unique superiority of a woman. A woman is designed to bear a child, carry that child in her womb, give birth to that child, nurture and raise that child, provide that child with the most natural and nutritious food in his early life (breastmilk), and she has that superior role of producing the future generation. Why do we ignore that and put so much effort and focus of having a woman do all that a man can do just because we’re so bitter over the oppression of women and now are making a comeback at freedom ? Not that the oppression of women is justified. It’s not. It should be called to account, but success in calling the oppression to account is not in proving that women can do everything a man can and even better. It’s not supposed to be a competition, or a ‘come back’ from oppression. It’s supposed to be teamwork. And in a team, different team members have unique strengths, and every team member is supposed to contribute his and her unique strengths towards achieving a common goal.
Why is it so hard to see the unique superiority of the woman in her biological role as the hand that rocks the world? Is it because of ego that wish to be seen at the forefront where all the ‘action’ is supposed to be? Is it stemming from a desire to be in the limelight? Is it stemming from a desire to be revered and recognized? Because, after all, the traditional role of a woman basically places her behind the scenes, and she does all the dirty work, while the men get all the fame and public recognition, right? So, why does she do all this then? To be recognized, appreciated by people?
This is where having a ‘goal’ is crucial. As Muslims, our goal is to please Allah. Whatever we do, we should do it to please Him. As human beings we know that you can’t please everyone. As human beings, we also know that ego is one of our worst enemies, and we also know that the desire to be appreciated runs high on the list of ‘needs’. Yet, if we do things sincerely to please Allah, we won’t mind being behind the scenes. We won’t mind not being appreciated by people, because we believe that a day will come when we will meet Allah and what truly matters is His appreciation and approval. Of course this is easier said than done. Thus this is the daily struggle or inner jihaad that every Muslims is facing in his or her daily life – the jihaad with the self; the self that wages war on the basis of pride, arrogance, insincerity, carnal and base desires, greed, ill feelings, you name it.
Maryam a.s. was chosen above all the women in the worlds. She wasn’t in the military. She wasn’t a CEO of a big company. She wasn’t a professional. She was a daughter, and a mother, and most importantly a devout, chaste worshipper and slave of Her Creator. And oh yes, she gave birth to one of the greatest prophets whom Allah has chosen to return to this world one day and ascertain the truth.
In this era of women versus men, we have to learn to embrace the unique role of a woman in a society. It may be behind the scenes, but that only further tests our intention and sincerity in our striving. Who are we doing all this for?