The image of women in Yemeni proverbs [Archives:2007/1048/Culture]

May 7 2007

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.

The proverb: “La riji'at, ya bazi al-bint, wa tuqullaha, ya thaneena. Hin naqisat al-amayim jalibat al-masayib.”

Translation “May not you, oh who bring up girls, be saved and you thinks that she is dear. For they bring one's integrity down and cause troubles.”

By: Nisreen Shadad

Iman Al-Emad and Thikra Al-Uthmani, students at Sana'a University, Faculty of the Qur'an, describe this saying as an ignorant pre-Islamic proverb. “These thoughts and opinions about women are similar to pre-Islamic thoughts; however, when Islam came, it played a significant role to diminish them. Nowadays, many people are coming back to such beliefs about women, which basically have no place in Islam,” Al-Uthmani observes.

“There are numerous books and volumes for those who want to know the truth about women's rights in Islam, but unfortunately, Muslims have begun to neglect their rights due to ignorance and pride,” she adds.

Fellow Faculty of Qur'an student Fairouz Ali comments, “These types of proverbs are due to our traditions, which have a big influence on our lives and behavior. Islam gives both men and women their rights, but due to unjust people, we lose a lot.”

She continued, “In many Yemenis' point of view, girls are shameful or disreputable. I can say that 80 percent of society deprives women of education and compels them to marry early simply to protect – not the woman – but themselves from dishonor.

“The image of women is better in university and among the educated. However, some educated people still belittle women, particularly educated ones, and prefer to marry someone from the village,” Ali adds.

Most people affirm that while Islam places women at a high level, ignorance and traditions still control their lives. “Islam doesn't encourage such proverbs. The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) only had daughters. He loved them so much and never said such things about them,” Sana'a University mathematics student Gharam Al-Muraysi observes.

She adds, “In my point of view, when a woman is deprived, the responsibility falls upon her parents. Many families don't educate their children very well and in the end, they complain and blame them.”

Al-Muraysi doesn't believe such a proverb is widespread in Yemen and she says they have no place in Yemeni society. “As I see in our society, women are the most beloved; however, boys are the ones with more freedom.”

Sesame merchant Mansour Qasim says neither Islam nor logic agrees with this proverb. “Women are the keepers of the generation and the makers of men. They are the makers of our future, as well as the partners of our lives. If there were no women, there would be no generation, so how can we say such a proverb or agree with it?”

Qasim adds, “Islam encourages those who educate women and the reward for those who educate their daughters is very good in paradise.”

However, bookstore employee Ahmed Al-Nakhlani agrees with the proverb and considers it one of the wise sayings. “I've heard this proverb more than once. All of the old sayings are wise.”

He explains that if a woman has a relationship with a man, the man can't raise his head in front of others. “I don't think such a proverb is applied only in Yemen, but in all Arab countries.

Al-Nakhlani adds, “A man has the right to educate his children, as well as to kill a woman who brings shame upon her family. However, neglecting them to do whatever they like certainly is destroying society.”

Muslim scholars' response

“Proverbs and wise sayings express the experiences in which people live. They mostly relate stories and conditions that take place in their real lives. Proverbs are only the extract of the same people's experiences; however, they must fit with Sharia,” remarks Sheikh (a scholar in Islamic studies) Murad bin Ahmed Al-Qadasi, an employee in the Yemeni Wisdom Association's scientific administration.

“Proverbs mustn't call people to do something forbidden or blame Allah's fate and judgment. Moreover, they shouldn't create depression or grief in people's hearts. But as I see in this proverb, it's against Islamic law and rather than gain benefit from it, we commit sin,” Al-Qadasi observes.

“As I understand from this proverb, women who suckle female babies must stop since that baby doesn't deserve her mother's milk. Girls, as this proverb says, are the reason for bringing shame to men's amayim (a type of hat) [meaning to bring shame upon their heads], causing shame and bringing crises to her family and her tribe,” he describes.

“This proverb and the meaning it carries are inconsistent with Islamic law. It is a completely ignorant proverb and a pre-Islamic belief. In the pre-Islamic period, people became pessimistic when having a girl baby. Allah said in the Qur'an, 'And when news of (the birth of) a female a child is brought to any of them, his face becomes dark and he is filled with inward grief! He hides himself from the people because of the evil of that whereof he has been informed. Shall he keep her with dishonor or bury her in the earth? Certainly, evil is their decision.' (Al-Nahl 57-58)”

In another verse, Allah described those who become pessimistic when having a daughter, saying, “And if one of them is informed of the news (of the birth of the girl), that which he sets forth as a parable to the Most Gracious (Allah), his face becomes dark and he is filled with grief!”

“As the Qur'an describes, the people of that period buried the girls and killed them because they believed women brought shame and dishonor to the family and tribe. And when the female (infant) was buried alive (as pagan Arabs used to do), it was asked: For what sin is she killed?” Al-Qadasi notes.

“Islamic law praises women when suckling their children. I think when people know how much women are honored when they have mercy upon their children, as well as when suckling them, they will never become pessimistic,” he adds.

A second sheikh, Abdul Majeed al-Hitari, al-Da'awa mosque's Imam and a teacher in al-Da'awa centre, agrees with Al-Qadasi that this proverb is pre-Islamic. “Indeed, Islam encourages the raising of girls and Allah condemns those who are distressed at the birth of a girl. The messenger Mohammed (pbuh) came elevating the status of this gift from Allah.

'Whoever takes care of two girls until they reach adulthood, he and I will come together on the Day of Resurrection like this – and he interlaced his two fingers , meaning in paradise. So, can we find any greater honor given to daughters and their parents?” he asks.

According to these two sheikhs, children are a source of delight and an adornment to the world granted to their parents by Allah. They give vigor to the heart, joy to the soul and pleasure to the eye. They are the fruit from whom good is to be hoped when they frequently supplicate, “Our Lord! Bestow on them your mercy, as they did bring me up when I was small.” In every nation, they are the ones upon whom hope for the future rests and they are the youth of tomorrow upon whose shoulders the call to Islam is carried.

They say Islam has elevated the status of children and has set down manners for their treatment related to all of their affairs and each stage of their lives and from these are the manners for welcoming their arrival into this life.