The Role of Women in Hinduism and Islam
Gender is one of the many issues that are tackled in almost all aspects of life. Throughout history, the issues on gender have helped in distinguishing a society from the other. For instance, among the great cities in Athens, it is in Greece where women have not been given the any rights, not even on making decisions for themselves. On the other hand, the brave warriors of Sparta consider women as an integral part of their society because of their capability to produce more warriors in order to protect the city-state (Duby et.
In religion, gender is also an important concern. Each religion is known to have a distinctive perception of each gender.
The perception of gender for each religion is mostly affected by the teachings that the religion is propagating to every man. Subsequently, this same perception, founded from the handed out teachings, affects the roles and traditions of each gender.
In two of the most famous religions in the world, both men and women play a big role in life that needs to be fulfilled. More specifically, women and not only men are considered as the one who has a purpose to live by. In Hinduism, women are perceived as the daughters of Mahadevi, the goddess consort of the mighty god Shiva; she is the active potential, a source. She is also viewed as the power, and the enabling energy of men. As women are her daughters, they are perceived as ones who inherited Mahadevi’s traits. As such, women within themselves have power, an active potentiality, and the source of energy (Mitter, 1991). From this perception and belief, many traditions are derived that are still being followed by Hindu women. More importantly, from this perception the specific role of women in life has also been obtained.
While women are the source of power in the Hindu religion, the Islamic religion promotes women men’s life partners. In this, women’s role is to compliment the existence of man. Although they are not necessarily the source of power of men, women are expected to support all actions of her husband and to always honor him. In order to do this, women should be respectable in the eyes of society. They are expected to maintain chastity until the proper time and to be modest and meek (Esposito et. al., 1998). With this perception, the religion has specified the traditions that women are supposed to comply to. Also, with this view, the role that is to be assumed by all Islamic women has been set.
Women and Hinduism
Hinduism is a religion famed for its many gods and goddesses. One of these deities is believed to be the mother of all women. She is an important goddess as she stands by the side of one of the three most important gods in Hinduism. The goddess Mahadevi, the consort and queen of the great god of destruction, Shiva, is believed to mother all women under the Hindu religion. She is the representation of women in the Hindu religion. As such, the Hindu perception of women includes them being in possession of all the qualities of their divine mother (Mitter, 1991).
There are numerous qualities of Mahadevi that are also expected from women. As she is believed to be the other half of Shiva, Mahadevi possesses characteristics that are not present in the great god. Shiva is mostly passive potential, while Mahadevi is the active potential or the enabling energy. She is powerful and strong and she possesses prowess in all aspects and commands respect on her own (Mitter, 1991).
As they are symbolized in the religion as a deity of great prowess, it may well be expected that the role set by religion is one which is apt to the level of the characteristics of their religious symbol. The high regard extended upon them may be considered of well worth given that women play a great role in society. As much as Mahadevi plays a significant role in the existence of Shiva, women carry a huge responsibility as the complimentary half of men.
As any other religion dictates, women are expected to bear children. Also, as in any other society, they are supposed to procreate, and be the source of new members of society. They are supposed to be symbols of fertility as they are believed to have the potential of bearing children. They are the potentiality to bring forth life, especially of male life or heirs for the Brahmins. However, their procreation duties do not stop in giving birth. Rather, upon the arrival of a child in the home, the women are supposed to take care of them and nurture them. They are to raise them with the teachings that are imparted in the great books of Hinduism (Patton, 2002).
Another role of women in the Hindu religion is to be responsible with the household upon marriage. They are considered master of the household; and as masters of the household, women are obliged to manage and control the family’s wealth or finances. They are also expected to become the representatives of the family and the entire household (Patton, 2002).
In other branches of the religion, the women as the master of finances also have the right to have her own property, and to share whatever they have to whom they want to share it with. However, in another branch of the Hinduism, it claims that even as the representatives of the household, women do not possess the right to share or give (Patton, 2002).
Women-related traditions in Hinduism
Alongside the numerous gods and goddesses that are held as deities of Hindu religion, there are also various rules and teachings that guide Hindus in their practices and traditions. These rituals and traditions should be followed as stated and required by the sect’s religious book. However, not all rituals may be done as desired. There are rituals and traditions that require affirmed entitlement before it is allowed to be performed (Patton, 2002).
One of the critical rituals of the Hindu religion that requires affirmed entitlement is the ritual of sacrifice. In this ritual, an individual may ask the great gods and goddesses for a desire that they must fulfill. In return, the individual must sacrifice something as a sign of sincerity (Patton, 2002).
To be eligible to exercise this ritual a Hindu who desires to do it must possess all four requirements. The first requirement is that the person must be a married member of one of the three “varnas” or castes. That person may be a married “brahmana”, “ksatriya”, or “vaisya”; Second, the person must have enough time, materials, and means for the sacrifice. Third, the person must also be of sound mind and body. And lastly, the desiring party must have the eagerness for the fruits or results of the ritual (Patton, 2002).
Among the four, two are considered of great importance. First is the eagerness for the fruit of the ritual; as this is the drive that may push for the success of the ritual. The second is the means for the sacrifice. This pertains to the wealth that is necessary to perform the religious rites. It is through this requirement that a problem arises (Patton, 2002).
Most men have no conflicts with the requirements of the ritual, except perhaps those who may not have the means to do it. This may be considered as minor because it only concerns material issues and may be acquired in due time. The major problem lies in the place of women in this ritual (Patton, 2002).
As mentioned, there are branches of the religion which believes that women are allowed to have their own property, while other groups claim that a woman may not be entitled to any kind of property. With the latter, a woman becomes unqualified to do the ritual action even with the other three requirements. On the other hand, with the former, a woman may be allowed to do the action since she is allowed to have property or the means to acquire it (Patton, 2002).
The solution for this conflict is through the means of thorough interpretation of the rules set by the Vedas. Through careful analysis, it has been found that women should be entitled to do the ritual. Women must not be denied to those rituals except for those who do not belong in the three major castes. However, the Vedas did not mention that women should not be permitted to do the ritual action. As of the question with women’s properties, there are pieces of evidence that point that women actually have properties of their own. As such, no matter how much others contest it; women may do the ritual of sacrifice. Thus rendering any form of prohibition as gender discrimination.
Another important Hindu ritual that poses conflict with regards to gender is the Vedic ritual of Varuna and Indra. Like in the ritual of sacrifice, there are also arguments involving the role of women in the exercise of the ritual. However, through careful analysis it has been found that women play a big role in the said ritual. As the compliment of men, women serve as the representative of Indra in the ritual act (Leslie, 1992).
According to the Vedic texts, the ritual is symbolic to the purposes of both man and woman in marriage. In a certain part of the ritual, the woman is bound with a rope on the waist by the man signifying that upon marriage, she becomes bound to her husband. The rope also signifies Varuna’s noose, which keeps the world united in a properly conceived cosmic order. In another part, the woman makes offerings to all the wives of the gods. This symbolizes the way the woman will manage in the presence of a man. This may pertain to the woman becoming the master of the household upon marriage. A third rite within the Vedic rituals is the untying of the rope. This points the exit of the woman from the ritual. In the context of marriage, this may mean that wives should not meddle with affairs that are socially and culturally confined to men (Leslie, 1992).
Hindu Women and Societal Conflicts
From the given information it may be found that there is an existing issue or problem with regard to gender in the Hindu society. It is apparent that the religion is patriarchal in nature; and women are mostly treated as subordinate to man or of a status lower than that of men. Their participation in ritual rites is questioned as well as in the issue of property ownership (Patton, 2002).
Despite the changing times women are still the responsible mothers, the household keepers and the submissive wife. However this does not mean that they are abused. As they are faithful to the teachings, they fulfill their roles as indicated therein even if it would mean that they are to be treated as the subordinate of man (Patton, 2002).
Women and the Islamic Religion
Women and the Islamic religion has been a matter most discussed in the history of Islam. As the other half that compliments man, there are arguments which point that women should be treated as a man’s equal. However, there are also beliefs which point that women’s roles, according to what the Quran indicates, that they are to become man’s subordinate (Hussain, 1984).
There had been a time when women in the Islamic religion are said to be represented by one of Muhammad’s wives, Khadija, the wealthy merchant employer of Muhammad whom he married. However, unlike what may be seen among the Islamic women, Khadija symbolizes strength and prowess as Mahadevi does in the Hindu religion. She embodies the traits of Muslim women who seem to have gradually been dissolved into what may be seen in this generation, as creatures of meekness and submissiveness (Hussain, 1984).
From the day that a girl is born in an Islamic family, it is already understood that she carries the burden of her gender. As the Islamic society is mostly patriarchal, a male child is always better than a female. Even as the baby girl grows up, she is marked as inferior. Because of this, the women in the Islamic religion may be considered as divided. There are those who deliberately follow the traditional rules in being an Islamic woman, and there are also others who protest against what seems to them as a form of injustice (Hussain, 1984).
Those who deliberately follow the rules are believed to be adhering to the perception of women as set by the Quran. In the Quran, it was mentioned that women are to promote chastity among each other and must also be modest at all times. In order to do this, they are required to wear the traditional Muslim veil. No part of a woman’s body is allowed to be seen by other men, aside from her husband. Any exposure of skin is considered as an act of seduction and is punishable (Hussain, 1984).
Furthermore, the Islamic tradition also requires women to be segregated from men. They are expected not to meddle with any affairs that are considered for men alone. This is to further keep them from seducing a man and to further bring honor to herself and her future husband (Hussain, 1984).
The tradition also dictates that women are allowed to have only limited education. It is believed that their main purpose is to be cultivated and made fertile by the men. They are only to bear children and care for them while managing the household. It is believed that this kind of purpose or role does not require academic education. As such, only men are sent to school while women stayed at home to practice housekeeping and to learn to take care for their future children (Hussain, 1984).
Women-related traditions in Islam
A ritual that is related to the perception and traditional roles is a three part act which is aimed to make the delivery of a child easy and safe. Upon the exercise of this ritual, the fulfillment of an Islamic woman’s role as a mother is made easier through having seven pious men standing and reciting the verses of the Quran outside of the house of the pregnant woman. A brass container with water is then placed in middle of the reciting men. After the recitation, other men who would like to add prayers for the pregnant woman may join the seven. The second part of the ritual requires the pregnant woman to prepare all the ritual objects, all of which symbolize something that will be good for the mother and the child.
The third part of the ritual is done after the child is already born. The mother is given either cloth or money, or both (Hussain, 1984).
Islamic Women and Society
As it is with the Hindu religion, Islam is also a patriarchal religion. However, Hindu may be considered as more lenient as compared to Islam. It may be remembered that the perception on women is that they are supposed to honor their men at all times and their subordinate. However, when the teaching of Khadija is taken to account, it conflicts with the initial proposal. As such Islamic women in society are divided (Hussain, 1984).
One of the halves is women who become subordinate to man in their won free will. The other half is composed of those that are willing to fight for their freedom. These women believe that modernization has greatly changed many things in life and this may include the interpretations of the words of Muhammad. These women uphold their rights as human beings and demand that they are treated justly (Hussain, 1984).
As it is with the Hindu religion, women in the Islamic society may be considered as oppressed and abuse; and the people who are doing it to them use the teachings of Quran to mask their activities. The women are not free and most of them are struggling against it.
From the above given information it may be found that two of the biggest religions in the world, base their perception of women on the teachings that are indicated in their holy texts. From this perception, the different roles of women in the society have been derived. And from both the perception and role of women, the traditions and rituals that are followed and fulfilled are also taken from.
In the case of the Hindu women, they are considered as man’s compliment. They are the active potential, the energy and the power; while man is the passive potential which needs power, and energy. From this perception, Hindu women are then the only ones capable of bringing life. As such, their main role is to give birth and raise their children. Also, as the compliment of man, they are to assist him in certain activities like rituals or rites that may bring blessings to their lives.
On the other hand, the Muslim women are considered as man’s subordinate and also the child bearer. They are said to be like fields that should be cultivated and made fertile. As such, their role is to fulfill motherhood and bring honor to the family. In line with this, there are traditions that are devised in order for these roles to be easily fulfilled.
It may further be concluded that although both religions are similar in their perception of women, as well in the treatment of women in society, there still lies differences. The Hindu religion is more lenient. Based on the review of related literature, the Hindu women are also more respected than the Islamic women. Since the Islamic women are stricter in implementing their rules, their women are more submissive and as such more commonly abused by the society. This is may be considered as their main difference.
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