According to the Islamic principle, all human beings, both men and women, are equal. Equality is one important principle of Islam. But it is also a fact that every man is Mr. Different and every woman is Ms. Different. In such a situation, Islam gives a very practical formula—people are equal as regards respect, but they are different in the roles they play in life. In every society, there are a few people who are born to play a primary role, while others are destined to play a secondary role. This is the law of nature. There is no escape from this natural law.
The Qur’anic chapter Al-A‘raf (The Heights) refers to an instance of what happened when this law was flouted. The translation of the relevant verses is as follows: Recite to them the tale of the man to whom We gave Our signs, but who then cast them to one side and Satan overtook him. And he became one of those who went astray—if it had been Our will, We could have used these signs to exalt him, but instead, he clung to the earth and followed his own desires. (7:175 – 176)
In every society there is a person who plays the primary role, then there are other persons who play supporting roles. These Qur’anic verses refer to a well-known personality of Arabia, a contemporary of the Prophet of Islam. His name was Umayya ibn al-Salt. He was known as an intelligent person and enjoyed a great reputation in the Arab society of that time. When he came to know that Muhammad ibn Abdullah claimed to be the Prophet of God, he became angry, because he thought that he, not Muhammad, should have been appointed as the Prophet. From this point onwards, he became hostile towards the Prophet of Islam and remained so up to the last moment of his life.
Citing this example, the Qur’an stresses the necessity for everyone to accept that in every society there are two different roles: the primary and the secondary. According to the law of nature, only a few people can play the former role. Others must willingly accept the latter. A society can be run smoothly only when its members are ready to follow this formula of nature. In every society there is a person who plays the primary role, then there are other persons who play supporting roles. Both roles are equally important. Without following this principle, no society can have the status of a healthy society. This principle is a universal principle. It is applicable everywhere—in the family, in society, as well as in the government.