Fwd: Women in Islam vs. Women in Judaeo-Christian Tradition
Women in Islam Versus Women in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition
Based on an Friday Sermon by Sherif Muhammad
Compiled and written by Wael M. R. Haddara
Four and a half years ago, I read in the Toronto Star issue of July 3, 1990 an article titled Islam Isn't Alone in Patriarchal Doctrines , by Gwynne Dyer. The article described the furious reactions by the participants of a conference on women and power held in Montreal to the comments of the famous Egyptian feminist Dr. Nawal Saadawi. Her politically incorrect statements included: "the most restrictive elements towards women can be found first in Judaism in the Old Testament, then in Christianity and then in the Qur'an"; "all religions are patriarchal because they stem from patriarchal societies" ; and "veiling of women isn't a specifically Islamic practice but an ancient cultural heritage with analogies in sister religions". The participants couldn't bear sitting around while their faiths were being equated with Islam. Thus, Dr. Saadawi received a barrage of criticism. "Dr. Saadawi's comments are unacceptable. Her answers reveal a lack of understanding about other people's faiths", declared Bernice Dubois of the World Movement of Mothers. "I must protest" , said panelist Alice Shalvi of Israel women's network, "there is no conception of the veil in Judaism". The article attributed these furious protests to the strong tendency in the West to scapegoat Islam for practices that are just as much part of the West's own cultural heritage. "Christian and Jewish feminists were not going to sit around being discussed in the same category as those wicked Muslims", wrote Gwynne Dyer.
I wasn't surprised that the conference participants had held such a negative view of Islam, especially when women's issues were involved. Islam is believed , in the West, to be the symbol of the subordination of women par excellence. In order to understand how firm this belief is, it is enough to mention that the Minister of Education in France, the land of Voltaire, has recently ordered the expulsion of all young Muslim women wearing the veil from French schools ! What intrigued me the most about the conference was one question: Were the statements made by Dr. Saadawi, or any of her critics, factual? In other words, do Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have the same conception of women? Are they different in their conceptions ? Do Judaism and Christianity , truly, offer women a better treatment than Islam does? What is the Truth?
It is not easy to search for and find answers to these difficult questions. The first difficulty is that one has to be fair and objective or, at least, that one does one's utmost to be so. This is what Islam teaches. The Qur'an has instructed us to say the truth even if those who are very close to us don't like it: "Whenever you speak, speak justly, even if a near relative is concerned" (Qur'an 6:152); "O you who believe stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor" (Qur'an 4:135).
The other great difficulty is the overwhelming breadth of the subject. Therefore, during the last few years, I have spent many hours reading the Bible, The Encyclopedia of Religion , and the Encyclopedia Judaica searching for answers. I have also read several books discussing the position of women in different religions written by scholars, apologists, and critics. Today, I am here to present some of the important findings of this humble research. I don't claim to be absolutely objective. This is beyond my limited capacity. All what I can say is that I have been trying, throughout this research, to approach the Qur'anic ideal of "speaking justly".
Before we start, I would like to emphasize that my purpose from this presentation is not to denigrate Judaism or Christianity. As Muslims, we believe in the divine origins of both. No one can be a Muslim without believing in Moses and Jesus as great Prophets of God, peace be upon them both. My goal is only to vindicate Islam and pay a tribute, long overdue in the West, to the final truthful Message from God to the human race. I would also like to emphasize that I concerned myself only with Doctrine. That is, my concern is, mainly, the position of women in the three religions as it appears in their original sources NOT as practiced by their millions of followers in the world today. 1 Therefore, most of the evidence cited comes from the Qur'an, the Bible, the Talmud , and the sayings of some of the most influential Church Fathers whose views have contributed immeasurably to defining and shaping Christianity. This interest in the sources relates to the fact that understanding a certain religion from the attitudes and the behaviour of some of its nominal followers is misleading. Many people confuse culture with religion, many others don't know what their religious books are saying, and many others don't even care.
PART 1 - EVE'S FAULT
The three religions agree on one basic fact: Both women and men are created by God the Creator of the whole universe. However, disagreement starts soon after the creation of the first man, Adam and the first woman, Eve. The Judaeo-Christian conception of the creation of Adam and Eve is narrated in detail in Genesis 2:4 through 3:24. God prohibited both of them from eating the fruits of the forbidden tree. The serpent seduced Eve to eat from it and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam for what he did, he put all the blame on Eve: "The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it." Consequently, God said to Eve: "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be fore your husband and he will rule over you." To Adam he said: "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree . . . Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life . . . ". 2
The Islamic conception of the first creation is found in several places in the Qur'an, for example 7:19-25: "O Adam dwell with your wife in the garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm. Then Satan whispered to them your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels and he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. When they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them. Their Lord called unto them did I not forbid you that tree...They said: our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your mercy, we shall certainly be lost . . . " .
A careful look into the two accounts of the story of the Creation reveals some essential differences. The Qur'an, contrary to the Bible, places equal blame on both Adam and Eve for their mistake. Nowhere in the Qur'an can one find even the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree or even that she had eaten before him. In the Qur'anic account, the only one guilty of temptation is Satan. Eve in the Qur'an is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. Moreover, Eve isn't to be blamed for the pains of childbearing. . 3 Almighty God, according to the Qur'an, punish no one for another's faults. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin and then asked God for forgiveness and He forgave them both.
PART 2 - EVE'S LEGACY
The image of Eve as temptress in the Bible has resulted in an extremely negative impact on women throughout the Judaeo-Christian tradition. In order to understand how negative the impact on women was we have to look at the writings of some of the most important Jews and Christians of all time. Let us start with the Old Testament and listen to excerpts from what is called the Wisdom Literature in which we find: "I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare....while I was still searching but not finding, I found one upright man among a thousand but not one upright woman among them all." (Ecclesiasticus 7:26-28). One has to ask what is the wisdom in denying the existence of even one upright woman on earth? In another part of the Hebrew literature, which is found in the Roman Catholic version of the Bible, we read, "No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman . . . Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die". (Ecclesiasticus 25:19,24) Orthodox Jewish men in their daily morning prayer recite: "Blessed be God King of the universe that Thou has not made me a woman." The women, on the other hand, thank God every morning for "making me according to Thy will". . 4
The same severe tone is found also in the New Testament. Listen to (St.) Paul: "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don't permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam wasn't the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner, but women will be saved through childbearing . . . " . (I Timothy 2:11-15). (St.) Tertullian was even more blunt than (St.) Paul, while he was talking to his 'best beloved sisters' in the faith, he said: "Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil's gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the Divine Law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil wasn't valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image - man." (St.) Augustine was faithful to the legacy of his predecessors, he wrote to a friend: "What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman." Centuries later, (St.) Thomas Aquinas still considered women as defective: "As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence." Finally, the renowned reformer Martin Luther couldn't see any benefit from a woman but bringing into the world as many children as possible regardless of the possible side effects: "If they become tired or even die, that doesn't matter. Let them die in childbirth, that's why they are there" . Again and again all women are denigrated because of the image of Eve the temptress, thanks to the Genesis account. . 5
If we now turn our attention to what the Qur'an has to say about women, we will soon realize that the Islamic conception of women is radically different from that of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Let the Qur'an speak for itself:
"For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God's praise For them all has God prepared forgiveness and great reward." (Qur'an 33:35)
"Whoever works evil will not be requited but by the like thereof, and whoever works a righteous deed whether man or woman and is a believer- such will enter the Garden of bliss." (Qur'an 40:40)
"Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him/her we will give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions." (Qur'an 16:97)
It is clear that the Qur'anic view of women is no different than that of a man. They both are God's creatures whose sublime goal on earth is to worship their Lord, do good deeds, and avoid evil and they, both, will be assessed accordingly. The Qur'an never mentions that the woman is the devil's gateway or that she is a deceiver by nature. The Qur'an, also, never mentions that man is created in God's image, all men and all women are his creatures - that's all. According to the Qur'an, a woman's role on earth isn't limited only to childbirth. She is required to do as many good deeds as any other man is required to do. The Qur'an never said that no upright women had ever existed. To the contrary, the Qur'an has instructed all the believers, women as well as men, to follow the example of those ideal women such as the Virgin Mary 6 and the wife of Pharoah's (See Qur'an 66:11-13).
PART 3 - SHAMEFUL DAUGHTERS?
In fact, the difference between the Biblical and the Qur'anic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born. For example the Bible states that the period of the mother's ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than if a boy is (Leviticus 12:2-5). The Roman Catholic Bible explicitly states that "The birth of a daughter is a loss" (Ecclesiasticus 22:3). In contrast to this shocking statement, boys receive special praise: "A man who educates his son will be the envy of his enemy". (Ecclesiasticus 30:3). A daughter is considered a painful burden, a potential source of shame to her father: "Your daughter is headstrong? Keep a sharp look-out that she doesn't make you the laughing stock of your enemies, the talk of the town, the object of common gossip, and put you to public shame". (Ecclesiasticus 42:11)
It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide. The Qur'an severely condemned this heinous practice:
"When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil they decide on?" (Qur'an 16:59)
It has to be mentioned that this sinister crime would have never stopped in Arabia if it were not to the power of the scathing terms the Qur'an used to condemn this practice (see 16:59, 43:17, 81:8-9). The Qur'an, moreover, makes no distinction between boys and girls. In contrast to the Bible, the Qur'an considers the birth of a female as a gift and a blessing from God, same as the birth of a male. The Qur'an even mentions the gift of the female birth first: "To God belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what he wills. He bestows female children to whomever he wills and bestows male children to whomever he wills". (Qur'an 42:49)
PART 4 - FEMALE EDUCATION
The difference between the Biblical and the Qur'anic conceptions of women is not limited to the newly born female, it extends far beyond that. Let's compare their attitudes towards a female trying to learn her religion. The heart of Judaism is the Torah - the Law. However, according to the Talmud, "women are exempt from the study of the Torah". In the first century C. E. 7, Rabbi Eliezer said: "If any man teaches his daughter Torah it is as though he taught her lechery". The attitude of (St.) Paul in the New Testament isn't much brighter: "As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." (I Corinthians 14:34,35). How can a woman learn if she is not allowed to speak? How can a woman grow intellectually if she is obliged to be in a state of full submission? How can she broaden her horizons if her one and only source of information is her husband at home? 8
Now, to be fair, we should ask: is the Qur'anic position any different? One short story narrated in the Qur'an sums its position up concisely. Khawlah was a Muslim woman who lived at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and give him peace. Her husband, Aws, at a moment of anger pronounced this statement: "You are to me as the back of my mother". This was held by pagan Arabs to be a statement of divorce which freed the husband from any conjugal responsibility but didn't leave the wife free to leave the husband's home or to marry another man. Having heard these words from her husband, Khawlah was in a miserable situation. She went straight to the Prophet of Islam, may God bless him and give him peace, to plead her case. The Prophet, may God bless him and give him peace, told her that she should be patient since there seemed to be no way out. Khawlah kept arguing with the Prophet, may God bless him and give him peace, in an attempt to save her suspended marriage. Shortly afterwards, God intervened and revealed some Qur'anic verses to the Prophet; so Khawlah's plea was accepted. The Divine verdict abolished this iniquitous custom. One full chapter of the Qur'an (Chapter 58) whose title is al-Mujadilah, or The Woman Who Pleads, was devoted to this incident:
"God has heard and accepted the statement of the woman who pleads with you ( i.e. the Prophet) concerning her husband and carries her complaint to God, and God hears the arguments between both of you for God hears and sees all things . . .". (Qur'an 58:1)
A woman in the Qur'anic conception has the right to argue even with the Prophet of Islam himself. No one has the right to instruct her to be silent. She is under no obligation to consider her husband the one and only reference in matters of law and religion.
PART 5 - ADULTERY
Women's position, role, rights, and duties in the Qur'an are very different from those found in the Bible. Let us take some examples. Adultery and fornication are considered sins in all religions. The Bible decrees the death sentence for both the adulterer and the adulteress (Leviticus 20:10). Islam also equally punishes both the adulterer and the adulteress (Qur'an 24:2). However, the Qur'anic definition of adultery is very different from the Biblical definition. Adultery, according to the Qur'an, is the involvement of a married man or a married woman in an extramarital affair. The Bible only considers the extramarital affair of a married woman as adultery (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22, Proverbs 6:20-7:27). The extramarital affair of a married man isn't per se a crime in the Bible. Why this dual moral standard? According to Encyclopedia Judaica, the wife was considered to be the husband's possession and adultery constituted a violation the husband's exclusive right to her; the wife as the husband's possession had no such right to him. The New Testament echoes the same attitude in Matthew 5:31-32, where it is attributed to Jesus, peace be upon him, to have said: "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery." Why didn't he label the man who divorces his wife and marries another woman as adulterer? To the present day in Israel, if a married man indulges in an extramarital affair with a woman, his children by that woman are considered legitimate. But, if a married woman has an affair with another man, her children by that man are not only illegitimate, but are forbidden to marry any other Jews except converts and other bastards. This ban is handed down to the child's descendants for ten generations until the taint of adultery is presumably weakened.
The Qur'an, on the other hand, never considers any woman to be the possession of any man. The Qur'an eloquently describes the relationship between the spouses by saying:
And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them and He has put love and mercy between your hearts: verily in that are signs for those who reflect (Qur'an 30:21)
This is Qur'anic conception of marriage: love, mercy, and tranquillity, not possession and double standards.
PART 6 - BEARING WITNESS
Another issue in which the Qur'an and the Bible disagree is the issue of whether a woman is allows to bear witness and the validity of her testimony. It is true that when dealing in financial transactions, people are required to get two male witnesses or one male and two females (Qur'an 2:282). However, it is also true that the Qur'an in other situations accepts the testimony of a woman as equal to that of a man. 9 In fact the woman's testimony can even invalidate the man's. If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, he is required by the Qur'an to solemnly swear five times as evidence of the wife's guilt. If the wife denies and swears similarly five times, she isn't considered guilty and in either case the marriage is dissolved (Qur'an 24:6-11).
On the other hand, women were not allowed to bear witness in early Jewish society. Women in today's Israel are not allowed to give evidence in Rabbinical Courts because the Talmud says: "Women are temperamentally light-headed" . The Rabbis, also, justify why women can't bear witness by citing Genesis 18:9-16, where it is stated that Sarah, Abraham's, wife had lied. The Rabbis use this incident as evidence that women are unqualified to bear witness. It should be noted here that this story narrated in Genesis 18:9-16 has been mentioned more than once in the Qur'an without any hint of any lies by Sarah (see Qur'an 11:69-74 and 51:24-30).
If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, her testimony will not be considered at all according to the Bible. The accused wife has to be subjected to a trial by ordeal (Numbers 5:11-31). In this trial, the wife faces a complex and humiliating ritual which was supposed to prove her guilt or innocence. If she is found guilty after this ordeal, she will be sentenced to death. Also, if a man takes a woman as a wife and then accuses her of not being a virgin, her own testimony will not count. Her parents had to bring evidence of her virginity before the elders of the town. If the parents could not prove the innocence of their daughter, she would be stoned to death on her father's doorsteps. If the parents were able to prove her innocence, the husband will only be fined one hundred shekels of silver and he must not divorce his wife as long as he lives (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). Why should the poor woman live with the man who slandered her in public for the rest of his life?
Additionally, it should be mentioned that a very high percentage of the Islamic hadith literature was narrated by women. The hadith literature contains the sayings, actions and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad, my God bless him and give him peace, and thus constitutes the largest body of sacred literature of Islam. The hadith literature, the large majority of which consists of Divine revelation, is second only to the Qur'an in authenticity and authority. Keeping this in mind, it is interesting to note that all Muslims scholars have accepted hadiths which were narrated through women who were know to be God- fearing and pious just like they only accepted narrations through men who were God-fearing and pious. Actually, A'isha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, my God bless him and give him peace, is considered by most hadith scholars to be one of the most reliable of hadith narrators. This is because she lived in the Prophet's, my God bless him and give him peace, household for many years, and had the best opportunity to witness his daily life.
PART 7 - FEMALE INHERITANCE
One of the most important differences between the Qur'an and the Bible is their attitude towards female inheritance of the property of a deceased relative. According to Numbers 27:1-11, widows and sisters don't inherit at all. Daughters can inherit only if their deceased father had no sons. Otherwise the sons receive the entire inheritance. Among the pagan Arabs before Islam, inheritance rights were confined exclusively to the male relatives. The Qur'an abolished all these unjust customs and gave all the female relatives their just share (see Qur'an 4:7, 11, 12 and 176).
PART 8 - THE PLIGHT OF WIDOWS
Because of the fact that the Old Testament recognized no inheritance rights to them, widows were among the most vulnerable of the Jewish population. The male relatives who inherited all of her deceased husband's estate were to provide for her from that estate. However, widows had no way to ensure this provision was carried out and lived on the mercy of others. Therefore, widows were among the lowest classes in ancient Israel and widowhood was considered a symbol of great degradation (see Isaiah 54:4). But the plight of a widow in the Biblical tradition extended even beyond her exclusion from her husband's property. According to Genesis 38, a childless widow must marry her husband's brother, even if he is already married, so that he can produce offspring for his dead brother, thus ensuring his brother's name will not die out. The widow's consent to this marriage is not required. The widow is treated as part of her deceased husband's property whose main function is to ensure her husband's posterity. This Biblical law is still practiced in today's Israel. The pagan Arabs before Islam had similar practices. The widow was considered a part of her husband's property to be inherited by his male heirs and she was, usually, given in marriage to the deceased man's eldest son from another wife. The Qur'an scathingly attacked and abolished this degrading custom:
And marry not those women whom your fathers married, except what hath already happened (of that nature) in the past! 10 Lo! It was ever lewdness and abomination, and an evil way. (Qur'an 4:22)
Widows and divorced women were so looked down upon in the Biblical tradition that the High Priest must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a prostitute (Leviticus 21:13). In Israel today, a descendent of the Cohen caste (the High Priests of the days of the Temple) cannot marry a divorcee, a widow, or a prostitute. In the Jewish legislation, a woman who has been widowed three times with all the three husband's dying of natural causes is considered "fatal" and forbidden to marry again. The Qur'an, on the other hand, recognizes neither castes nor fatal persons. Widows and divorcees have the freedom to marry whomever they choose. There is no stigma attached with divorce or widowhood in the Qur'an (see 2:231, 232, 234, 240).
PART 9 - POLYGAMY
Let's now tackle the important question of polygamy. Polygamy is a very ancient practice found in many human societies. The Bible does not condemn polygamy. To the contrary, the Old Testament and Rabbinical writings frequently attest to the legality of polygamy. King Solomon is said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Also, King David is said to have had many wives and concubines (2 Samuel 5:13). The Old Testament does have some injunctions on how to distribute the property of a man among his sons from different wives (Deuteronomy 22:7). The only restriction on polygamy is a ban on taking a wife's sister as a rival wife (Leviticus 18:18). The Talmud advises a maximum of four wives. European Jews continued to practice polygamy until the sixteenth century. Oriental Jews regularly practiced polygamy until they arrived in Israel where it is forbidden under civil law. However, under religious law which overrides civil law in such cases, it is permissible.
What about the New Testament? According to Father Eugene Hillman, in his insightful book Polygamy Reconsidered: "Nowhere in the New Testament is there any explicit commandment that marriage should be monogamous or any explicit commandment forbidding polygamy." Moreover, Jesus u hasn't spoken against polygamy though it was practiced by the Jews of his society. Father Hillman stressed the fact that the Church in Rome banned polygamy in order to conform to the Greco-Roman culture (which prescribed only one legal wife while tolerating concubinage and prostitution). He cited (St.) Augustine: "Now indeed in our time, and in keeping with Roman custom, it is no longer allowed to take another wife". To this very day, African churches and African Christians often remind their European brothers that the Church's ban on polygamy is a cultural tradition and not an authentic Christian injunction. The Qur'an, too, allowed polygamy, but not without restrictions:
"If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then marry only one." (Qur'an 4:3)
The Qur'an, contrary to the Bible, limited the maximum number of wives to four under the strict condition of treating the wives equally and justly. It should not be understood that the Qur'an is exhorting the believers to practice polygamy, or that polygamy is considered as an ideal. In other words, the Qur'an has "tolerated" or "allowed" polygamy, and no more. But why? Why is polygamy permissible or allowed? The answer is simple, there are places and times in which there are compelling reasons for polygamy. Islam as a universal religion suitable for all places and all times couldn't ignore these compelling reasons.
In most human societies, females outnumber males. In the U.S. there are, at least, eight million more women than men. In a country like Guinea there are 122 females for every 100 males. In Tanzania, there are 95.1 males per 100 females. What should a society do towards such unbalanced sex ratios? There are various solutions, some might suggest celibacy, others would prefer female infanticide (which does happen in some societies in the world today !). Others would think the only outlet is that the society should tolerate all manners of moral decadence : prostitution, sex out of wedlock, homosexuality, etc., etc. Other societies, like most African societies today, would see the most honourable outlet is to allow polygamous marriage as a culturally accepted and socially respected institution. The point that is often misunderstood in the West is that women in other cultures don't necessarily look at polygamy as a sign of women's degradation. For example, many young African brides (whether Christians, Muslims or otherwise), would prefer to marry a married man who has already proved himself to be a responsible husband. Many African wives urge their husbands to get a second wife so that they don't feel lonely and to share in domestic chores. The problem of the unbalanced sex ratios becomes truly problematic at times of war. Native American Indian tribes used to suffer highly unbalanced sex ratios after wartime losses. Women in these tribes, who in fact enjoyed a fairly high status, accepted polygamy as the best protection against indulgence in indecent activities. European settlers, without offering any other alternative, condemned this Indian polygamy as uncivilized.
After the Second World War, there were 7,300,000 more women than men in Germany (3.3 million of them were widows). There were 100 men aged 20 to 30 for every 167 women in that age group. Many of these women needed a man not only as a companion but also as a provider for the household in a time of unprecedented misery and hardship. The soldiers of the victorious Allied armies exploited these women's vulnerability. Many young girls and widows had liaisons with members of the occupying forces. Many American and British soldiers paid for their pleasures in cigarettes, chocolate, and bread. Children were overjoyed at the gifts these strangers brought. A 10 year old boy on hearing of such gifts from other children wished from all his heart for an "Englishman" for his mother so that she need not go hungry any longer. We have to ask our own consciences at this point: What is more dignifying to a woman? An accepted and respected second wife as in the native Indians' approach, or a virtual prostitute as in the "civilized" Allies approach? In other words, what is more dignifying to a woman, the Qur'anic prescription or the values based on the culture of the Roman Empire?
The World today possesses more weapons of mass destruction than ever before and the European churches might, sooner or later, be obliged to accept polygamy as the only way out. Father Hillman has thoughtfully recognized this fact: "It is quite conceivable that these genocidal techniques (nuclear, biological, chemical..) could produce so drastic an imbalance among the sexes that plural marriage would become a necessary means of survival . . . Then contrary to previous custom and law, an overriding natural and moral inclination might arise in favour of polygamy. In such a situation, theologians and church leaders would quickly produce weighty reasons and Biblical texts to justify a new conception of marriage" .
It has to be added also that polygamy in Islam is a matter of mutual consent. No one can force a woman to marry a married man. The Bible, on the other hand, sometimes resorts to forcible polygamy. A childless widow must marry her husband's brother, even if he is already married, regardless of her consent (Genesis 38).
It should be noted that in many Muslim societies today the practice of polygamy is rare since the gap between the numbers of both sexes is not huge. One can, safely, say that the rate of polygamous marriages in the Muslim world is much less than the rate of extramarital affairs in the West!!! In other words, men in the Muslim world today are far more strictly monogamous than men in the Western world!
PART 10 - THE VEIL
Finally, let us shed some light on what is considered in the West as the greatest symbol of women's oppression and servitude, the veil or the head cover. Is it true that there is no such thing as the veil in the Judaeo-Christian tradition? Let's set the record straight. According to Rabbi Dr. Menachem M. Brayer (Professor of Biblical Literature at Yeshiva University) in his book The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature, it was the custom of Jewish women to go out in public with a head covering which, sometimes, even covered the whole face leaving one eye free. He quotes some famous ancient Rabbis saying: "It is not like the daughters of Israel to walk out with heads uncovered" and "Cursed be the man who lets the hair of his wife be seen . . . a woman who exposes her hair for self-adornment brings poverty" . Rabbinic Law forbids the recitation of blessings or prayers in the presence of a bareheaded married woman since uncovering the woman's hair is considered "nudity". Dr. Brayer also mentions that: "During the Tannaitic period the Jewish woman's failure to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty. When her head was uncovered she might be fined four hundred zuzim for this offense." Dr. Brayer also explains that veil of the Jewish woman wasn't always considered a sign of modesty. Sometimes, the veil symbolized a state of distinction and luxury rather than modesty. The veil personified the dignity and superiority of noble women. It also represented a woman's inaccessibility as a sanctified possession of her husband. It is clear in the Old Testament that uncovering a woman's head was a great disgrace and that's why the priest had to uncover the suspected adulteress in her trial by ordeal (Numbers 5:16-18).
What about the Christian tradition? It is well known that Catholic Nuns have been covering their heads for hundreds of years, but that's not all. 11 (St.) Paul in the New Testament made some very interesting statements about the veil:
"Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman doesn't cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man didn't come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head." (I Corinthians 11:3-10)
(St.) Paul's rationale for veiling women is that the veil represents a sign of authority of the man, who is the image and glory of God, over the woman who was created from and for the man. (St.) Tertullian in his famous treatise On The Veiling Of Virgins wrote: "Young women, you wear your veils out on the streets, so you should wear them in the church, you wear them when you are among strangers, then wear them among your brothers . . . " . Among the Canon Laws of the Roman Catholic Church today, there is a law that require women to cover their heads in church. Some Christian denominations, such as the Amish and the Mennonites for example, keep their women veiled to the present day. The reason for the veil, as offered by their Church leaders, is: "The head covering is a symbol of woman's subjection to the man and to God". The same logic introduced by (St.) Paul in the New Testament.
From all the above evidence, it is obvious that Islam didn't invent the head cover, but Islam endorsed it. The Qur'an urges the believing men and women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty and then urges the believing women to extend their head covers to cover the neck and the bosom:
"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty . . . And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms . . . " . (Qur'an 24:30,31)
The Qur'an is quite clear that the veil is an essential part of a recipe designed for the purposes of modesty, but why modesty? The Qur'an is still clear:
"O prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their bodies (when abroad) so that they should be known and not molested . (Qur'an 33:59)
This is the whole point, modesty is prescribed to protect women from molestation or simply, modesty is protection. Thus, the only purpose of the veil in Islam is protection. The Islamic veil, unlike the veil of the Christian tradition, is not a sign of man's authority over woman nor is it a sign of woman's subjection to man. The Islamic veil, unlike the veil in the Jewish tradition, is not a sign of luxury and distinction of some noble married women. The Islamic veil is only a sign of modesty with the sole purpose of protecting women, all women. The Islamic philosophy is that it is always better safe than sorry. In fact, the Qur'an is so concerned with protecting women's bodies and women's reputation that a man who dares to falsely accuse a woman of unchastity will be severely punished:
"And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations) Flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors . (Qur'an 24:4)
Compare this strict Qur'anic attitude with the extremely lax punishment for rape in the Bible: "If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives" . One must ask a simple question here, who is really punished? The man who only paid a fine for rape, or the girl who is forced to marry the man who raped her and live with him until he dies? Another question that also should be asked is this: which is more protective of women, the Qur'anic strict attitude or the Biblical lax attitude?
Some people, especially in the West, would tend to ridicule the whole argument of modesty for protection. Their argument is that the best protection is the spread of education, civilized behaviour, and self restraint. We would say: "Fine, but not enough". If the so-called "civilization" is enough protection, then why is it that women in some parts of North America dare not walk alone in a dark street or even across an empty parking lot? If education is the solution, then why is it that many respected universities the United States and Europe have "Walk Home Services" for female students on campus? If self restraint is the answer, then why are cases of sexual harassment in the workplace on the news media every day? A sample of those accused of sexual harassment, in the last few years, includes: Naval officers, managers, university professors, Senators, Supreme Court Justices and the President of the United States! I couldn't believe my eyes when I read the following statistics, written in a pamphlet issued by the Dean of Women's office at Queen's University:
* In Canada, a woman is sexually assaulted every 6 minutes;
* 1 in 3 women in Canada will be sexually assaulted at some time in their lives;
* 1 in 4 women are at the risk of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime;
* 1 in 8 women will be sexually assaulted while attending college or university; and
* A study found 60% of Canadian university-aged males said they would commit sexual assault if they were certain they wouldn't get caught!!!
Something is fundamentally wrong in the society we live in. A radical change in the society's life style and culture is absolutely necessary. A culture of modesty is badly needed, modesty in dress, in speech, and in manners of both men and women. Otherwise, the grim statistics will grow even worse day after day and , unfortunately, women alone will be paying the price. Therefore, a society like France which expels young women from schools because of their modest dress is, in the end, simply harming itself.
In the light of the evidence presented above, there is no doubt that Islam has immensely improved the status of women compared to the Judaeo-Christian tradition. The Qur'an has offered women dignity, justice, and protection which ,for long, have remained out of their reach. That's why it is no surprise to find that most converts to Islam, today, in a country like Britain are women. In the U.S. women converts to Islam outnumber men converts 4 to 1. The problem is that the majority of the population in the West do not know these facts. They easily believe the media's distorted image of Islam. Therefore, it is a must that we change our defensive attitude towards the whole issue of women in Islam. We must stop being apologetic. We have nothing to be ashamed of. What the Qur'an has given to women is unparalleled in the history of religion. Instead of always reacting to the consistent barrage of articles defaming Muslim women, we have to take the initiative. We have to act first and let others react. We should boldly initiate discussions with our friends and colleagues regarding the true status of women in Islam. Tell them how the Qur'an has ended so many injustices against women found in other scriptures. We have to talk to the media, write to the press, and invite the whole world to read the Qur'an, read other scriptures and compare for themselves. It goes without saying that the sisters' role is far more important than the brothers' in this respect.
The Qur'an is an incredibly powerful book and it is our task to spread its impressive message to the world. But, are we up to this task ?
1 - This is an important point, because the large majority of people in the world today who claim to be Jews or Christians do not subscribe to the view of women as articulated in the writings that they consider to be sacred scripture. On the contrary, many of them go so far as saying that they believe the scriptural view to be "wrong", "unjust", "out-dated", etc. So much for following what (they think) God has revealed! Whether they will admit it or not, suffice it to say that the everyday values that most people who claim to be Jews and Christians follow are the God-less values of Western humanism and liberalism that have become so widely accepted since the Renaissance. Due to this, it seems that Islam is the only religion that can be followed and practiced as revealed, and still be applicable to human beings in the Twentieth Century. Additionally, it seems as though Islam is the only religion that still has followers that are following the "Way of Abraham" and accepting their religion as it is, instead of rejecting anything that offends their likes, desires or Western sensibilities.
2 - It should also be mentioned that I Timothy 2:14 also makes it abundantly clear that the Bible, and thus the Judaeo-Christian tradition, places the blame for the "original sin" squarely on Eve. This verse reads: "And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression".
3 - It should be mentioned that the Qur'an does not portray the pains of pregnancy and childbirth as a punishment, but rather enjoins people to respect their mothers for the pain they suffered. Thus we read: "We have enjoined on man Kindness to his parents: in pain did his mother bear him and in pain did she give him birth". (Qur'an, Chapter 46 - "The Curved Sandhills", Verse 15.)
4 - It is also interesting to note each religion's view in regards to the woman's attendance at the place of congregational worship, i.e. the synagogue, church or mosque. In Orthodox Judaism, women are not allowed to go to the synagogues at all. In Christianity, as I Corinthians 14:34-35 clearly shows, a woman is allowed to go to Church, but she is not allowed to speak. Also, according to the teachings of the New Testament, Christian women are expected to cover their heads when they attend church (as Part 10 of this article will discuss). The activities of most - if not all - Christians today stand in stark contrast to these obligations. To the best of my knowledge, all Christian denominations allow women to speak in church, and many denominations allow women to be ministers, pastors, deacons and/or priests! Not only this, but in most cases any sort of conservative dress is almost completely ignored. Even in the more conservative churches where women are encouraged to wear long dresses, many still come in the latest fashions and are still more-or-less "dressed to impress".
5 - Islam, in many ways stands as a "middle way" between the rigidness of Judaism and the "lawlessness" of Christianity. In Islam, women are allowed to perform their worship in the mosque, and while in the mosque they are allowed to talk, have discussions, read the Qur'an and even teach men - as long as proper modesty is maintained. In traditional Christianity, only men were allowed to be priests and administer the sacraments of the Church, even though this "tradition" has been brushed aside by many modern churches. Even though Islam has no priesthood, nor any "sacraments" per se, it does have rituals of worship (such as the five daily prayers) that are more-or-less "sacramental" in the sense that they are rituals which were revealed by God so that human beings can become closer to Him and receive His Grace. In Islam, a woman is allowed to lead the five formal daily prayers (Arabic: salat) if only women and children are present. So even though a woman cannot lead the salat when men are present, since one of the men would be the prayer leader (Arabic: Imam) instead, she is allowed to lead the salat under certain circumstances - where in Judaism or Christianity women are completely forbidden from leading the formal religious rituals. This is one additional proof that in Islam women are spiritual equals in the site of God, and that they are not excluded from certain religious duties because they are considered "dirty", "evil" or "corrupt". One last point - since I mentioned the "lawlessness" of Christianity above, this statement may need some clarification. (St.) Paul, as is well known, believed that Christians are not obliged to follow Old Testament Law, and went so far as to call God's revealed Law a "curse" (Galations 3:13). In spite of this, he came up with his own brand of "dos-and-don'ts", which are basically the same thing as a "law", especially if one believes that his words were inspired by God - as Christians do. However, the point in using the word "lawlessness" to describe Christianity is not only to touch on this point, but to also to bring out the fact that the overwhelming majority of Christian churches do not even follow the rulings of (St.) Paul on these matters, much less the teachings of the Old Testament.
6 - Qur'an 3:42 says that Almighty God chose Mary, the mother of Jesus, "above the women of all creation".
7 - C. E. stands for "Common Era", and corresponds to A. D. (Anno Domino). Muslims usually use C. E. in lieu of A. D., since A. D. refers to "the Year of Our Lord" - meaning Jesus. Even though Muslims revere Jesus as a great prophet and messenger of God, they do not consider him to be "Lord", since Muslims only have One Lord - Almighty God.
8 - It should also be mentioned that Muslim women are encouraged to read the Qur'an and hadiths, and to acquire as much religious knowledge as possible. Since the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, women have taught the Qur'an to men. This stands in stark contrast to Orthodox Judaism, where until this day many of its adherents believe that a woman is not allowed to read the Torah - and even that she is not allowed to touch it! According to Islam, the only time that a woman is not allowed to touch the Qur'an is when she is in a state of "ritual impurity". However, in Islam "ritual impurity" applies to both men and women, the only difference is that a woman can become "ritually impure" for more reasons than a man, i.e. due to her monthly period or childbirth. It should be noted that the reason we use the term "ritual impurity" here is because the person is only considered "impure" in the sense that they are not allowed to perform certain acts of worship - such as formal prayer (Arabic: salat) or reading the Qur'an. However, they are not considered "impure" in any other sense - spiritual, physical or otherwise. The causes of "ritual impurity" are clearly described in Islamic Law, and they apply to both men and women, as do the methods for removing the "ritual impurity". One eliminates his or her state of "ritual impurity" by a full bath (Arabic: ghusl) or by partial washing (Arabic: wudhu) - depending on the circumstances, but these have nothing to do with being male or female.
9 - According to Islamic Law, a woman's testimony is more valid than a man's when it is in regards to issues where women have more experience. This proves that the Qur'anic verse requiring two female witnesses is not based upon a belief in the inferior mental capacity of women, but on the wisdom that witnesses should be experienced with that which they testify to.
10 - Meaning before the advent of Islam and the revelation of this verse.
11 - It is also interesting to note that all of the graven images that Christians produce that are supposed to be the likeness of the Virgin Mary, may God be pleased with her, show her with a veil (Arabic: hijab) covering her head. In most Western people's minds, the "veil" is okay in regards to Nuns and the Virgin Mary, but when a Muslim woman wears it, it is seen as "oppressive" and "degrading"!
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