The image of women in Yemeni proverbs [Archives:2007/1030/Culture]

March 5 2007

“Shawr al-mara al-sayb saba'a masayb.”

“A woman's right opinion is worth seven crises.”

There are many Yemeni proverbs about the position of women. Most give women inferior status and very few give them self-esteem. This series aims to discuss Yemeni society's projection about women's status, as well as how cultural and social factors affect mechanisms that perpetuate women's under-representation in managing and controlling power levers.

Since Yemen is an Islamic country and Islam plays a vital role in shaping its people's perspectives, it's essential to gauge to what extent Islam affects their understanding about the status of women. Most important is how Yemenis interpret the religion to justify their individual interests.

Talal Saif, a worker for hire, agrees with the above proverb and considers women the source of all problems. “Most problems in our lives are because of women. Although Islam is against this proverb, I agree with it according to the reality in which I live.”

Kiosk owner Arif Al-Shara'bi asserts, “A woman's mind is half that of a man, so she doesn't have the ability to make decisions like men.”

Housewife Maryam Saleh has experienced such discrimination and is really dissatisfied with the situation. “When stating my opinion, the men laugh at me and ignore it. When it turns out to be right, they never say it was mine; rather, they claim it was their opinion. However, being wrong means a shame upon me forever.”

Even if consulted, she adds, “They consult me on simple things, but never trust me on big issues.”

Yemenis sometimes know a lot about Islamic instruction, but they still use some Qur'anic verses to satisfy their individual interests. “Although my husband is a religious man, he doesn't follow Islamic instruction on this point. The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) used to ask his wives and take into account their opinions. For example, when his companions disobeyed him, he consulted Um Salaam and then followed her advice,” Saleh notes.

“Yemeni men actually don't take women's opinions seriously. Yes, they consult them, but in the end, they consider their opinions much better. If discovering that her opinion was better, some will admit it, but most deny it,” says Hana'a Al-Rahabi, coordinator at the Culture Center for Foreigners' Call, a center for informing foreigners about Islam.

The center's assistant director, Abdulaziz Atiq, vehemently criticizes such proverbs and those who use Islamic instructions for individual purposes. “Women have fully mature minds, which makes them responsible for their sins. They are given the intelligence to choose between the way to paradise and the way to hell. They also are given the ability to choose whoever they want to represent them if they aren't free to go to the courts. The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) gives them the responsibility to lead the house in their husband's absence. If quarrelling with their husband about an Islamic rule regarding any issue, they can implement Allah's desire, thus disobeying their husband, whom they are to obey. None of this could be fulfilled if women had immature minds,” Atiq stated.

He continued, “It really is nonsense to say that a woman's right opinion is worth seven crises. Not all women's opinions are wrong. The best example is that they hold the opinion that obeying Allah is good, so should we consider this wrong? The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) once was angry because his companions didn't urgently execute what he asked of them. His wife told him that they were stunned by the terms of Al-Hudaybiyah Pact, so she advised him to do it and then they would follow. He did so according to her opinion and they indeed followed.”

Atiq concludes, “If a woman's right opinion being worth seven crises is a traditional heritage, then we must consider that the Prophet Mohammed's order to take half of our religion from his wife Aisha is wrong. It's generalization, which is considered randomization. I could say that this statement is said by an ignorant individual, but if he's a man of knowledge, then he's an innovator. Both the ignorant and the innovator are bad attributes. No wise person would accept them. Religiously speaking, both are sins.”

Al-Rahabi agrees that there's misconception and misinterpretation of Islamic instruction. “I think misunderstanding and misinterpreting Qur'anic verses, as well as the Hadith, play a vital role in such concepts since some are used to belittle women's opinions.”

Saba Bank clerk in international management Sulaiman Al-Jarasani points out that many Yemeni men use verses of the Qur'an or the Hadith simply to belittle women and make them keep silent. However, he doesn't accept the proverb because it's illogical. “It contradicts itself. How can the consultation be right and at the same time, be considered as seven crises?”

He adds, “My mother and my elder sisters educated me until I reached this level, so they are behind my success. For me, I trust women's opinions and most importantly, their education.”

“Surely, there are stories behind such proverbs; however, the story ends and the proverb remains because it's easily circulated,” Folklore House director Arwa Othman notes. “It's known that Yemeni cultural heritage mostly belittles women's intellect. Whenever ignorance is widespread, you can observe more backwardness, as well as underdevelopment, and then women usually become the ones upon whom people hang their mistakes and their frustrations,” she adds.

“People claim that women are the cause behind every problem, but I don't know why. In our society, powerful women are the only ones who have the power to impose their opinions upon men,” notes Asrar Al-Jaradi, a student at the Science and Technology University.

Ilham Yasir from Syria criticized the Yemeni proverb, asserting that such a proverb essentially is wrong, especially in Islam. “If it's true, then why did the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) ask his companions before his death to seek answers about Islam from his wife Aisha. Why did he trust a woman, if women – as men claim – have less ability to think or criticize?” she asked.

“We can judge someone's opinion as wrong – even as a crisis – according to its contradiction of Islamic principles and rules. Additionally, not only do we consider women's opinions wrong, but also men's, if they contradict Allah's decrees,” Atiq concluded.