Before discussing the concept of equality and how it relates to men and women in Islam, we need to make an important distinction. Many people who speak about equality presume that this should be reflected in treating two groups exactly the same. However, this is manifestly not always the proper thing to do. People’s needs, strengths, abilities and disabilities need to be accommodated and considered as opposed to subjecting all to a single standard that may only be suitable for a few.
Thus we need to make a distinction between the superficial procedural equality and the substantive equality, which is justice. Most societies recognize that the important thing is not to focus on superficial procedural equality but to provide substantive equality for all its citizens, which treats them justly according to their needs and circumstances. Human beings favor substantive equality over procedural equality on a daily basis because we recognize that the former allows for justice. We accommodate in our workplaces, schools, and commercial areas, those with disabilities. We recognize the need for social services to take care of the impoverished in the society, while the wealthy are subject to taxes. We give extra attention and consideration to those experiencing emotional, psychological, or physical difficulties in their lives. All of this is substantive equality, equity and justice.
“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with God is the most pious. Verily, God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (Quran 49:13)