If ever a topic in Islam gets people's attention, it's this: The relation between men and women. At some moment, it's unavoidable. But where to start... and where to finish. It's tempting to enter worn out, overly treaded routes, too, and resort too much to other commentators, which is not always helpful in today's much changing world. It's best to start with the most obvious topics,
How, firstly, are we described in the Qur'an, as men and women?
'O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah in Whom ye claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bare you). Lo! Allah hath been a watcher over you'. Qur'an 4:1
'O mankind! if ye are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, then lo! We have created you from dust, then from a drop of seed, then from a clot, then from a little lump of flesh shapely and shapeless, that We may make (it) clear for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterward We bring you forth as infants, then (give you growth) that ye attain your full strength. And among you there is he who dieth (young), and among you there is he who is brought back to the most abject time of life, so that, after knowledge, he knoweth naught. And thou (Muhammad) seest the earth barren, but when We send down water thereon, it doth thrill and swell and put forth every lovely kind (of growth).' Qur'an 22:5
Lo! men who surrender unto Allah, and women who surrender, and men who believe and women who believe, and men who obey and women who obey, and men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth, and men who persevere (in righteousness) and women who persevere, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their modesty and women who guard (their modesty), and men who remember Allah much and women who remember - Allah hath prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward. Qur'an 33:35
'He created you from one being, then from that (being) He made its mate; and He hath provided for you of cattle eight kinds. He created you in the wombs of your mothers, creation after creation, in a threefold gloom. Such is Allah, your Lord. His is the Sovereignty. There is no Allah save Him. How then are ye turned away?' Qur'an 39:6
'And all things We have created by pairs, that haply ye may reflect.' Qur'an 51:49
'Was he not a drop of fluid which gushed forth?
Then he became a clot; then (Allah) shaped and fashioned
And made of him a pair, the male and female.' Qur'an 75:37-39
These verses could describe the very first human beings. They also describe us as individuals, who receive in the human growing process qualities that make us man or woman, and ready to be the partner of another woman or man. Many commentators, among who Harun Yahya and Maurice Bucaille, wrote extensive works emphasizing how these verses comply with today's scientific knowledge about the human pregnancy and procreation. The verses themselves, however, give little detail and no hierarchy between men and women. The Qur'an does mention the first humans, too:
'And when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a viceroy in the earth, they said: Wilt thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, we hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee? He said: Surely I know that which ye know not. And He taught Adam all the names, then showed them to the angels, saying: Inform Me of the names of these, if ye are truthful. They said: Be glorified! We have no knowledge saving that which Thou hast taught us. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Knower, the Wise. He said: O Adam! Inform them of their names, and when he had informed them of their names, He said: Did I not tell you that I know the secret of the heavens and the earth? And I know that which ye disclose and which ye hide. And when We said unto the angels: Prostrate yourselves before Adam, they fell prostrate, all save Iblis (Lucifer, Satan). He demurred through pride, and so became a disbeliever. And We said: O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden, and eat ye freely (of the fruits) thereof where ye will; but come not nigh this tree lest ye become wrong-doers. But Satan caused them to deflect therefrom and expelled them from the (happy) state in which they were; and We said: Fall down, one of you a foe unto the other! There shall be for you on earth a habitation and provision for a time. Then Adam received from his Lord words (of revelation), and He relented toward him. Lo! He is the relenting, the Merciful We said: Go down, all of you, from hence; but verily there cometh unto you from Me a guidance; and whoso followeth My guidance, there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve. But they who disbelieve, and deny Our revelations, such are rightful Peoples of the Fire. They will abide therein.' Qur'an 2:30-39
What do these verses tell us? Firstly, Qur'an mentions in several verses the polarity in nature, 'everything was created in pairs'. Some of these verses deal with gender--not only in humanity--and some deal with other kinds of polarity in nature. Secondly, man and woman were created equally, without hierarchy, and each person is personally responsible for his, or her, relationship with Allah, God. And Adam, most likely, was the first human and scholars also see him as the first prophet. Several Qur'anic verses refer to mankind as 'Adam's Children', too:
'O Children of Adam! We have revealed unto you raiment to conceal your shame, and splendid vesture, but the raiment of restraint from evil, that is best. This is of the revelations of Allah, that they may remember. O Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you as he caused your (first) parents to go forth from the Garden and tore off from them their robe (of innocence) that he might manifest their shame to them. Lo! he seeth you, he and his tribe, from whence ye see him not. Lo! We have made the devils protecting friends for those who believe not. Qur'an 7:30,31.
True, hadiths mention creation of woman from 'a rib'. Nothing of its provenance is said. It could be anything; the X-chromosome, or even a metaphore:
Volume 7, Book 62, Number 114:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (trouble) his neighbor. And I advise you to take care of the women, for they are created from a rib and the most crooked portion of the rib is its upper part; if you try to straighten it, it will break, and if you leave it, it will remain crooked, so I urge you to take care of the women."
If you're a non-Muslim and would like to know more about Islam, it's helpful to also read the scriptures of your own creed--if you have one. If you live in a predominantly Christian environment, you may compare these Qur'anic verses with applicable Biblical verses. (There's nothing wrong in doing this anyway, considering the similarities between both, and their intertwined history.) Bible Book Genesis, Chapter 2 and 3 describes the creation of man and woman, and their expulsion from the garden. The first man was created first from the soil. He was allowed to live in the garden of Eden. Then the animals were created to help and accompany him. Adam was the one to give the species their names. Finally, for the same purpose, the first woman was created from the man's rib. Chapter 3 describes how the woman was seduced to eat from the tree, which led to the downfall of humanity from the garden. Their life would from now on consist of hard work, worry, and man would rule over woman.
Now you may say 'what does it matter' what those books say. I think it matters, even if only indirectly. The image men and women have of their own status in the bigger picture, has been determined by religious scriptures. These have had their impact on legislation, and on general ideas of male and female capabilities and roles. The Bible primarily blames woman for the original sin, and her entire posterity will be tainted ever since, especially her female posterity. Islam doesn't share this thought. It's true, that we don't know which is right. This may be a reason to avoid the temptation to turn this into a contest. All we can say here is, that Islam gives no details about the creation of man and woman. And Islam does give details about human pregnancy and growth that fairly well approach real life. Islam has an advantage here. Let's at least admit that much.
The reason I took up writing these articles, is my hope to show where Islam reaches out to people of all creeds. People travel more today, the world has become a global village. Many people, me included, have friends and family members with different religions. Islam deserves to be seen as s free, happy religion that promotes love. Especially gender is a topic that left too many people in a situation of limitation, where it isn't needed. I'm convinced of that. Read the scriptures, think about them. It gave me new perspectives on this topic.
University of Southern California USC-MSA Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement (Compendium of Muslim Texts) http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje
The Official King James Bible Online http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/