NAWAR FAKHRY EZZI
IBN UMAR reported that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his herd. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. Each of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his herd; and will be answerable in respect of it.” The specification in the Hadith is to clarify the idea by giving examples, which were appropriate to the time and place the Prophet (pbuh) lived in; rather than assigning fixed responsibilities. Being responsible for others means caring, loving, protecting and even sacrificing for them in order to provide them with a decent life. Somehow, the meaning of this Hadith was turned into an authoritarian and sometimes even a male chauvinistic perspective, and has been used instead to justify abuse under the guise of protection. Two prominent examples are its application on the relationship between husbands and wives, and between parents and their children.
Misconceptions and biases toward women in many Muslim societies have paved the way to such misunderstandings. Dr. Haifa Ezzi argued in her research about patriarchy and domestic violence in Saudi Arabia, that some men expect women to be submissive and obedient because “they are considered a form of property” according to their interpretation of Islam, which is based on patriarchal interpretation of the sacred texts. She also found out that some of the reasons behind women’s obedience include traditional values, religious duty, or even fear of their husbands’ abuse. This research can be also applied to some Muslims in other countries since many Muslims share similar traditions and follow this interpretation of Islam. This describes literally a shepherd’s relationship to his sheep, where a woman is ‘owned’ by her husband and should obey him because she does not know any better. It is a relationship based on fear, which denigrates women and contradicts Allah’s description of the marital relationship, which is based on love and mercy: “And among His signs is this that He created for you spouses of your own kind, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy for one another: verily in that are signs for those who reflect.” Surat Al-Room (21).
Wives sometimes rebel and get a divorce when they realize that they deserve a better life. However, children could be sentenced to suffering according to sheeps’ blind obedience to their ‘shepherd’. Rightfully, children are commanded explicitly and indisputably in Islam to obey and be kind to their parents, even if they are not Muslims, except when they are asked to disobey Allah.
The problem, however, is when parents, especially mothers who are perceived to be ‘owned’ by their husbands, in turn, think that they own their children and can make them do whatever they want throughout their lives. It is either total obedience or they threaten that their anger would bring Allah’s wrath on their disobedient children. Those parents forget that it is nature, which makes parents care for their offspring, but nurture that gets their offspring to obey them and take care of them when they are old and frail.
Instilling Islamic values and teaching children their religious duties toward their parents should complement their love to their parents; not replace it.
According to these examples, fear of Allah, which is considered a requirement of being a good Muslim, seems to be used by those who abuse their power over the weak in order to insure their obedience and submissiveness. As Muslims, we are commanded to fear God, as we should, but it is not the foundation of our relationship with him or others for that matter.
If Islam has an essence, love is it. The word ‘Islam’ means surrendering to Allah and surrender does not happen unless a person is consumed with the love of another or as the only way out from a horrifying situation and God is indeed greater than to be our only way out. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “None of you truly believe until I have become more beloved to him than his father, his children and all of humankind.” He chose love because it is the foundation of any strong relationship, which makes us follow, listen, seek content of those we love.
However, if our relationships including the one we have with Allah were governed only by fear, the obligation could turn into a burden hindering the development of a healthy relationship. A beautiful prayer that the Prophet (pbuh) taught us says it all: “O’ God! I ask You for Your love, the love of those who love You, and the love of every action which would bring me closer to Your love”. Amen!