The baby was just born. She was still covered with a cake of blood and her umbilical cord was wrapped around her. Rathinam, a 22 year old woman went to the midwife and asked her to give the baby to her. Rathinam took this 10 minute old baby and fled. The infant was about to be given poisonous milk by her family members and Rathinam was able to save her from this heinous act. The crime committed by this tiny, helpless, creature of God was that she was a girl- a curse for her parents. This was one of the several cases of female infanticide reported from India in 1994. In the neighboring country of China, female infanticide has been a tradition for many centuries. A 1996 report said that 10,000 baby girls have been killed in a year. Though the practice of killing baby girls are mostly seen in rural areas, the educated and economically advanced Indians have taken to female feticide by using modern medical technology of selective abortion.
Now rewind to pre-7th century Arabia when it was a common practice of the Arabs to bury their baby girls. The reason for this heinous act was the same 1,500 years ago as found in the modern age in India and China. In both the periods, a male child was preferred as a son was thought to be an asset while a daughter was counted as being a burden on the family. A son would be the one to support the family while a daughter was going to get married and become part of another family.
While the modern day societies such as, India and China are still grappling with the issue of female feticide or female infanticide, Islam had settled the matter of killing female children in the 7th century. God revealed to Prophet Muhammad that killing of children for fear of poverty is forbidden. The Quran says, “Kill not your children for fear of poverty. It is We who provide for them and you. Surely the killing of them is a great sin.” (17:32)
With the advent of Islam, the status of women was elevated from that of a commodity to be treated like chattel to that of equality to men in many aspects of life. Prophet Muhammad taught his followers to be kind to women and to treat them with dignity. He promoted education for both men and women. The Prophet Muhammad related, “The best among you are those who behave best towards their wives.”
Today, we are celebrating and commemorating “International Women’s Day” whose theme is: “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. It is indeed a tragedy that 1,500 years after the advent of Islam the condition of women around the world in many places has reverted back to what was the situation in pre-Islamic Arabia. In a message, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “This year on International Women’s Day, we convert our outrage into action. We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women – and never allow women to be subjected to punishments for the abuses they have suffered. We renew our pledge to combat this global health menace wherever it may lurk – in homes and businesses, in war zones and placid countries, and in the minds of people who allow violence to continue.”
So let us take UN Secretary-General’s message to heart and remind each other the value of women without whom there would be no society. Let us also remember the true teachings of Prophet Muhammad who was the liberator of women.