Equity vs Equality in Islam

Assalamualaikoum wa Rahmatullaah wa Barakaatuh,

[NOTE: I haven’t been as active as I would like to be due to other commitments. Insha’Allah everyone is well ūüôā I would usually update many blog posts simultaneously when I’m free but publish them at later dates, so I do apologize if it seems like I’m active in the blogsphere but did not reply to your comments :)]

Has anyone heard of this – equity vs equality – in Islam? I’m sure most of us would have heard the misconception that Islam is a ‘gender-biased’ religion which favours the males over the female counterparts. But, we hardly hear about why Islam is for equity and not always equality. That’s not to say that Islam isn’t a fair religion – it is in fact very fair with regards to its treatment to both genders but our perceptions has been shaped by the media so much so that ‘equality always means fairness’.

You may ask, what is the difference between equity and equality? To answer the question, I would give an example of two person: a 30 year old man and a 3 year old child. Equality would mean giving both of them equal amount of food but in our minds, we would think that it would be too much for the child to consume that amount of food. Equity on the other hand, means giving both of them according to their needs depending on their ages.

During class yesterday, my professor- masha’Allah a very wise man – shared with us an interesting case which depicts this equity vs equality in Islam. I was trying to find the case but it seems that either it’s not available in English (the case was in Arabic) or that it had happened more than half a century ago thus perhaps you can only find them in books but not online. Allahu Alam. Insha’Allah, I’ll narrate it the best that I can.

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The incident took place at an American hospital in the 1950s. Two babies were born at the same time – a boy and a girl – and both of them were taken together by the nurse to be weighed. When she returned the babies to the mothers, both claimed that their child was a boy. This immediately became a problem because in those days, DNA testing was not yet available so doctors needed to find another way to solve this dilemma. They tried to compare the blood types of the babies with the mothers but they had similar blood types. Since science had failed them, they turned to the Church for help. The priest said that it was beyond his ability to solve something like this and he was not able to help them too. An Egyptian doctor who heard about the case told the American doctors that he might know of someone who is able to solve this conundrum but he is in Egypt. This person the doctor was referring to is a well known Sheikh of his time.

Both American doctors travelled to Egypt to meet this Sheikh and using a translator, they described to him the situation and asked him for advice. The Sheikh replied saying that yes, the solution is in the Qur’an and he then quoted from the Suraah which mentions about the law of inheritance .

“Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females.” [4:11]

The American doctors were confused with the Sheikh’s reply and told him that they were not asking about the Islamic law of inheritance. The Sheikh then told them that this too can be applied to the babies. His advice was to measure the concentration of breast milk of both mothers. If the mother had given birth to a boy, the concentration in her milk would be twice of the mother who had given birth to a girl.

Both doctors became Muslims afterwards because to them, it was puzzling that how Prophet sallallahu alayhi salam would be able to have such knowledge when he was only a dessert Arab and unlettered. The knowledge would have to come from God.

(I need to re-check the name of the Sheikh thus explains why I didn’t mention his name. According to my professor, whenever he passes through Egpyt, he would stop at the masjid to listen to his lectures. The whole masjid would be filled up with people before noon subhan’Allah. The Sheikh has already passed away – may Allah have mercy on him)

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Subhan’Allah! Allahu Akbar! I couldn’t help but teared up in class yesterday. There is so much wisdom in the Qur’an that have yet to unravel but still, there are ignorant people who would just pick an ayaat and then make an assumption about Islam without studying it in depth. And even more unfortunate is when you have Muslims questioning on the ‘fairness’ of Islam.

My Professor mentioned that a few years ago, a French Islamic scholar by the name of Garodi (not sure if I spelt his name correctly), came to my university to give a lecture. He quoted this ayaat about the law of inheritance and said that he would turn the laws around (instead of females receiving one share, he proposed that they receive two) in cases whereby she has many children under her care. The scholar said that it is only fair she receives more because of the burden of raising children compared to a man. During the Q&A, someone asked him whether by doing so, he was changing the laws of Allah.

My Prof did not mention what his reply was, but said that the laws of Allah is based on justice and equity although in the ‘dunya terms’, we deem it as unfair. We need to place our trust in Allah that whatever laws that was commanded was for our own good – and that He knows what is best for us. We tend to come across a lot of issues that have sprung up over the last decade, i.e. the difference in covering for men and women, Muslim man allowed to have 4 wives etc. but we should not be¬†embarrassed¬†when it comes to explaining to others about these issues. The Qur’an came as a guide book to mankind thus, it is without a doubt that its instructions are for us to live and function well in this Dunya. Without proper guidance, our lives become meaningless ¬†and without direction.

It is ¬†always a boost to my eemaan whenever I hear stories like this. I think there are so many things we can reflect on the Greatness of Allah and we can simply do so by observing our surroundings. It is only those who think are able to appreciate this. As mentioned several times in Suraah Ar-Rahman, “So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?”

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