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Also available: Parts 1-2, Part 3, Part 4a, Part 4b

Please find the original article this essay refutes here.

Treatment of Women (Continued)

6. The Superiority of Men Over Women in General

“Men are superior to women in Islamic teaching. (See Suras 2:228, 4:34. Note: English translations vary considerably here. For example, in 4:34 some use the term 'superior' while others say that men are 'maintainers' or 'guardians' of women.) In Islamic law, a woman's testimony is worth half that of men because the female mind is considered deficient (Sura 2:282, Bukhari 3:826). Women are only entitled to inherit half of what men do (Sura 4:11).”

Men are superior to women according to a vast array of religious teachings. The Judaic-Christian-Islamic faiths share a long history of patriarchy, and neither the Bible nor the Torah denies a stance of men being superior to women.

Equality of the sexes in countries where the Judaic-Christian-Islamic faiths are strong only became a common concept within the last fifty years. Even now, many women within those nations are still struggling for basic rights to healthcare, education, legal representation and work opportunities. Very often, this struggle succeeded only through the reinterpretation of static religious text as it may apply to modern scenarios. We have seen earlier in this essay that this may even include the outright shunning of certain religious concepts.

This is no different in the Muslim world, where we have already seen in our earlier discussion of Surah 4:34, interpretations are subject to change as new challenges run headlong into the Islamic faith.

Regarding Surah 2:228:

Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what Allah hath created in their wombs, if they have faith in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have the rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. - Surah 2:228

This verse concerns divorce under Islam. During an Islamic divorce, a mandatory waiting period of three months is imposed before the marriage is officially dissolved. This is to ensure that the wife is not pregnant, and settling any financial or parental claims regarding any unborn offspring in the process.

The waiting period is also a timeframe for the couple to think over the implications of their divorce, allowing room to reconcile if any party changes his/her mind. Divorces are allowed but highly frowned upon under Islamic law, as the Islamic marriage puts great weight on the sanctimony of marriage. Both men and women have a right to decide on reconciliation or dissolution, but here the verse makes clear men have a greater responsibility in the matter from an economic and social standpoint within Islam. For example, Islamic law makes it mandatory for a man to pay alimony to his ex-wife. If the ex-wife is found to be pregnant within the waiting period, the amount of alimony paid would be raised to include maintenance for the new child.

7. The Superiority of Men Over Women as Witnesses

Regarding Surah 2:282 (also cited in the article) and the worth of female witnesses:

O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce to writing. Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties; let not the scribe refuse to write: as Allah has taught him, so let him write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear his Lord Allah, and not diminish aught of what he owes. If the party liable is mentally deficient, or weak, or unable himself to dictate, let his guardian dictate faithfully.

And get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her. The witnesses should not refuse when they are called on (for evidence).

Disdain not to reduce to writing your contract) for a future period, whether it be small or big: it is juster in the sight of Allah, more suitable as evidence, and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves. But if it be a transaction which ye carry out on the spot among yourselves there is no blame on you if ye reduce it not to writing. But take witnesses whenever ye make a commercial contract; and let neither scribe nor witness suffer harm. If ye do (such harm), it would be wickedness in you. So fear Allah; for it is Allah that teaches you. And Allah is well acquainted with all things.
– Surah 2:282

The context of the verse specifically regards financial transactions and the importance of putting a contract in writing. The statement on two female witnesses being equal to a single male witness here has a particular reference only to a situation involving a financial contract. It does not affect other cases where a woman may be called as a witness. An article specifically comparing Surah 2:282 against other cases in the Quran where witnesses should be summoned, and how these do not specify the gender of the witness, is available here.

Another point worth noting is the historical context of this verse. The women of Muhammad’s time were neither as educated nor as worldly as the women of our time. Conditions were also markedly more unsafe for women in general, and the stipulation for two women may have been to prevent women from being unduly influenced as witnesses as well as to allow for a sympathetic explanation, should it be required. We can interpret, “so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her,” as the way modern women’s business advocacy groups have female advisors for women: women may feel more comfortable discussing their concerns with other women, especially in a male-dominated environment, as the historical period of this verse most certainly was.

The article also cites Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 3, Book 48, Number 826 as clarification on the point regarding two female witnesses:

Narrated by Abu Said Al-Khudri: The Prophet said, "Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?" The women said, "Yes." He said,"This is because of the deficiency of a woman's mind." – Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 3, Book 48, Number 826

Some Islamic scholars justify this stance (of women being mentally deficient when compared to men) by citing the frequent hormonal changes in a woman’s body, as seen during menstruation or pregnancy. They claim these changes to her body directly affect her emotional state, which directly affects her judgment, thus rendering her unreliable as a witness.

This same idea, that women are inherently more emotional than men and thus less rational, is a patriarchal legacy that went largely unchallenged only until women’s advocacy became widespread about fifty years ago. This part of the proverbial “glass ceiling” is still a factor that directly challenges women in an array of countries from an array of religious beliefs. It is not an Islamic invention, and the same scholars who would justify a woman’s lack of rationality by her hormones frequently use non-Islamically-derived medical data to support their claims.

It is not medically unsound to say that hormonal changes in a woman’s body may affect her emotional state. It is medically unsound to assume that only women have hormonal changes that might affect their emotional states.

More than that, if a woman’s emotions are the result of a chemical reaction, then why is being emotional as a male witness only a fallacy of the male witness’s character?

Sexism does not exist in Islam alone. No religion, no culture, no ethnic group, can yet truthfully claim to treat the sexes equally. While in many undeveloped cultures it is men perpetuating a cultural assumption that women aren't capable of participating in public culture and leadership roles, in many developed countries it is women perpetuating the stereotypes of feminine instability by using hormones and gender as an excuse for bad behavior.

This proves again that such sexism is not religious but cultural, with religion used as a justification.

8. The Superiority of Men Over Women as Heirs

The article also points out that Muslim inheritance laws accord a woman half of what a man inherits. It cites Surah 4:11:

Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her share is a half.

For parents, a sixth share of the inheritance to each, if the deceased left children; if no children, and the parents are the (only) heirs, the mother has a third; if the deceased left brothers (or sisters) the mother has a sixth. (The distribution in all cases is) after the payments of legacies and debts. Ye know not whether your parents or your children are nearest to you in benefit. These are settled portions ordained by Allah; and Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.
- Surah 4:11

Islam has very specific allotments with regards to inheritances for every close relative of the deceased. The portion for daughters being half of a son’s is related to the idea that men are obligated to contribute economically to the wellbeing of women, and are in that way a degree higher than women. A son would be obligated to care for the economic wellbeing of his sisters in his father’s absence. A husband is obligated to care for his wife’s and her children’s economic wellbeing. A woman is not obligated to spend of whatever earnings or savings she has on her husband, or her family. A daughter is also not obligated to spend her inheritance on anyone else.

This may not seem very equal by the modern definitions, but equality by differences between the genders had a place in ancient societies where women were not commonly the breadwinners in the family.

9. Prostitution

“Prostitution is common in some Muslim countries, especially Africa. Some Muslims justify prostitution by marrying the woman for the night, which seems to be okay as long as they stay within the limit of four wives at one time. Prostitution may be partly a result of the attitude in Muslim societies that men can do whatever they want, while women have limited rights.”

Prostitution is often called the oldest occupation in the world. It predates Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and is present in virtually every civilization across the board.

The article is careful about stating “prostitution is common in some Muslim countries,” because prostitution is simply not a legal, mainstream occupation in a majority of countries anywhere. The article proves that prostitution as a practice, because it is justified using the Islamic religion in certain states, is a case of a cultural practice being justified with religion.

Prostitution is not necessarily just caused by a lack of other economic and political opportunities or female oppression. Prostitution is a demand and supply business. Until and unless there are no longer any customers seeking prostitutes, prostitution will not stop.

10. Rape

"The Quran and hadiths teach that it is morally acceptable to force women to have sex with their captors (Sura 70:29-30; also Bukhari 3: 432, 436, 5:459, 7:22, 8:600; 9:506; also Muslim Hadiths numbers 3371 and 3433). According to a reliable witness we personally know who grew up in Pakistan, rape is not prosecuted even today in the Muslim world in some circumstances, especially if the victim is a non-Muslim.”

Rape as a crime of humiliation for the victim makes it hard to prosecute even in countries with the most highly-developed legal systems for dealing with sex crimes. Because the legal process has to first start with the willingness of the victim to undergo the stress of reliving the horrific details of the rape, many rapes still go unreported, never mind getting tried in court.

Rape often involves an element of control – the rapist seeks a sense of power over his (or her) victim. Rape is therefore an ideal tool for individuals seeking to maintain control over someone else. Whether the eventual victim has a different race or religion is no excuse for rape. Tacking on racial differences or religious differences as an excuse for rape is simply that – attempting to justify a heinous crime with a false idea of moral supremacy.

To reiterate the point, rape is a universal crime. It ignores boundaries of geography, ethnicity and faith. The language of the article seems to imply that rape is a crime particularly prevalent only in Islamic countries, which is highly demeaning to the victims of rape, wherever they may be.

Regarding Surah 70:29-30, said to preach the moral acceptance of rape in Islam:

And those who guard their chastity, except with their wives and the (captives) whom their right hands possess – for (then) they are not to be blamed… - Surah 70:29-30

The Quran is clear on the subject of both forcing women into sexual relationships and the circumstances under which captives may be taken as wives. We’ve already seen that women are not allowed to be prostituted or forced into sex under Islamic law earlier in this essay, with the discussion of Surah 24:33.

It is important to note that the Quran is clear on the idea a woman has to first be wedded to enter a sexual relationship with a man. This is regardless of whether the woman is free or is a captive of war. Islamic marriage laws are also clear on the idea that the woman’s consent to the marriage is required before any sort of marriage can take place – if a woman prefers chastity, she is welcome to it. From Surah 4:25:

If any of you have not the means wherewith to wed free believing women, they may wed believing girls from among those whom your right hands possess: and Allah hath full knowledge about your Faith. Ye are one from another: wed them with the leave of their owners, and give them their dowers, according to what is reasonable: they should be chaste, not lustful, nor taking paramours: when they are taken in wedlock, if they fall in shame, their punishment is half that for free women. This (permission) is for those among you who fear sin; but it is better for you that ye practice self-restraint. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. – Surah 4:25

Captives of war were to be given their dowers in the way free women are accorded the same. The gifting of dowers is an important aspect of Islamic marriages. It formalizes the union and is seen as a form of respect for the benefit of the wife. The dower is a gift that cannot be taken away even in divorce – as in savings given to her for a rainy day. In terms of Islamic marriages, a wife is a wife regardless of her social standing.

However, captives of war were of a lower social rank than full citizens in ancient Islamic society. There was also the possibility these captives were not necessarily Muslim, and may have been unfamiliar with the customs of their Muslim captors.

Because of this, wives who were previously captives of war were given a greater leeway in terms of their marriages to Muslims, and received only half the punishment for breaking Islamic traditions.

The verses 70:29-30 and 4:25, however, both make clear that in any case, for any Muslim, chastity is the more important virtue to be preserved.

11. Divorce

"Men can divorce their wives in Islam, but the wife does not have that right (Sura 2:228). And interestingly, Islam teaches that the majority of people in hell are women (Bukhari 1:28, 1:301, and 2:161).”

Saying that wives are not allowed to divorce their husbands in Islam is a grievous error. To re-quote Surah 2:228, covered earlier in this essay:

Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what Allah hath created in their wombs, if they have faith in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have the rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. - Surah 2:228

“And women shall have the rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them,” makes clear that women have the same rights as their husbands to initiate divorce if they so choose. The advantage men have over women being referred to here was also covered much earlier in this essay – the advantage is that men are considered to have a greater economic and social responsibility in the marriage than women, and therefore, in a divorce, will also have to bear the greater responsibility of such things as alimony (women do not have to pay for their husband’s maintenance).

The right of Muslim women to initiate divorce is stated more explicitly in another verse:

If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best; even though men’s souls are swayed by greed. But if ye do good and practice self-restraint, Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do. - Surah 4:128

Muslim women do possess the right to initiate divorce. Divorce in general, however, is greatly frowned upon in Islam, and measures are taken to prevent it wherever possible.

12. The Superiority of Men Over Women in Virtue

The next portion of the article refers to the Islamic tradition that Hell holds more women than men. Islamic mythos tells of how Muhammad was once taken on a journey through Heaven and Hell. He saw that the majority of Hell’s occupants were women, as mentioned in a quote from Sahih Bukhari also cited in the article:

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: The Prophet said: "I was shown the Hell-fire and that the majority of its dwellers were women who were ungrateful." It was asked, "Do they disbelieve in Allah?" (or are they ungrateful to Allah?) He replied, "They are ungrateful to their husbands and are ungrateful for the favors and the good (charitable deeds) done to them. If you have always been good (benevolent) to one of them and then she sees something in you (not of her liking), she will say, 'I have never received any good from you." - Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 2, Number 28

This is a specific reflection on the fickleness of women, deemed more pronounced than the fickleness of men in the Islamic traditions. In an earlier point
covered in this essay, we saw that Islam holds women as being more emotional than men, by virtue of hormonal changes in their bodies, and these propensities to emotional reactions are deemed to affect their thinking. We also saw that this form of sexism was not restricted to Islam, but is an almost universal tradition of a wide variety of cultures. In effect, we’ve established that this is a case of religion being used to justify culture.

The idea that Hell holds more women than men plays directly into this notion, and is further explained in the next quote the article cites from Sahih Bukhari:

Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o 'Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said,
"Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion."
- Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 6, Number 301

Here, the hormonal changes are specifically mentioned (as menstrual cycles) and given as the reason for a Muslim woman’s inability to pray or fast as much as Muslim men. Menstruation as an “unclean” period for women was not unique to Islamic history, or in fact Saudi Arabia. Like the inherent fickleness of women, this idea was also prevalent in a wide variety of cultures long before Islam, Christianity or Judaism took root. A woman’s temporary infertility has been historically used against her as a form of humiliation, degradation and even punishment.

Reclaiming a woman’s right to her body, and all her natural cycles, is a new concept, rising with women’s advocacy only within the last century. Increased education on the idea that a woman’s cycles are simply a natural occurrence rather than a shameful event has helped dispel the notion that menstruation is unnatural, but even in the most well-informed societies, we see that menstruation is still often considered an unmentionable, private matter. This is a clear case of religion being used to justify culture. So long both women and men are restricted access to balanced sexual education, so long as they are restricted from taking responsibility for their bodies, this form of sexism will continue to exist.

13. Culture vs. Religion

"In comparison, fundamentalist Christianity condones none of the above abuses of women. While Old Testament figures had multiple wives, this is seen as sinful behavior. Jesus insisted on the sanctity of marriage with one woman (Mark 10:5-12).”

Taking a moment to look at Mark 10:5-12:

"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

"When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."
– Mark 10: 5-12, NIV

Firstly, the verse specifies the sanctity of marriage in the eyes of the Christian faith-- that the bond should remain unbreakable by human laws (suggesting that the Bible does not allow divorces). Read literally, the verse from Mark does not explicitly state that participants are required to have monogamous marriages. It states that men and women who divorce each other to remarry are committing adultery.

Read this way, we may see that fundamentalist Christianity is anti-divorce, consistent with the first part of the verse on marriage being an unbreakable bond by human laws. We can also see where it’s at odds with Islamic philosophy, which does allow (but does not encourage) divorce. But the idea of polygamy does not seem to be tackled in this verse, as polygamy is a plural marriage where the participants are not required to divorce each other in order to remarry.

If the article intends that the right to divorce is also an abuse of women, then it’s worth remembering that until fifty years ago, it was still an accepted idea for rape victims to marry their rapists, for women to be forced into matrimony with life partners they had no choice over, and to be bound in wedlock to abusive husbands simply because it was shameful to leave him.

Many readers today would be horrified to consider a situation where an abused spouse is simply unable to leave his/her abuser by virtue of marriage. It is this notion, coupled with the reinterpretation (or shunning) of traditional Judaic-Christian-Islamic values, that has helped propelled the right to divorce as a generally accepted right of wives as well as husbands. As we’ve seen earlier, the same reinterpretation (or shunning) of traditional Judaic-Christian-Islamic values is also responsible for polygamy going out of fashion. In other words, we again see that religion is being used to justify culture, for religion can also be disregarded to preserve the validity of that culture.

14. Women in the Quran

"Two books of the Old Testament are named for (and are about) women. Women play a venerated and prominent role in the New Testament, especially in view of the low status afforded women in the culture in which Jesus lived (Matthew 5:32, 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 5:25-33.)”

Likewise, at least two chapters of the Quran are named for (and are about) women: Surah 4, Al Nisa (The Women) and Surah 19, Maryam (Mary). The Quran is divided with the longest chapters first, and the shorter chapters towards the end. Thus, Surah 4 would be the fourth longest chapter in the Quran. It covers a wide range of women’s rights in marriage, divorce and welfare.

The Mary referred to in Surah 19 is the same Mary who is the mother of Jesus Christ according to the Bible. The Quran, and Islam, holds Mary in very high regard, similarly establishing that she was still a virgin while carrying Jesus, and Jesus’ birth as a miracle.

The Quran further mentions women and their rights as Muslims in many other chapters, including somewhat topical chapters like Surah 65, Al Talaq (Divorce) and Surah 58, Al Mujadilah (The Woman Who Pleads).

Ultimately, however, it is not the amount of times women are mentioned in the religious text, but how they are mentioned that carries weight.

Women hold a protected role in Islam, with a broad spectrum of rights to property, marriage, divorce and welfare. Though not equal to men in responsibility on the material plane, Islam holds than both men and women are spiritually equal to each other. Whether all this adds up to true gender equality is questionable for all the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths, as all these faiths hold a somewhat protectionist stance over women. That is, these faiths do not traditionally view women as being equally capable as men, and are thus to be shielded by the “stronger” sex.

A theory of equality by differences is not restricted to the distant past of Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions either. Modern legislation in a variety of Judeo-Christian-Islamic countries is still in conflict over women’s rights to certain occupations, including or especially those of executive ranks because women are deemed physically or mentally inappropriate for these tasks.

15. Conclusion

“The history of Christianity has elevated the position of women. For example, it was largely through the efforts of Christian missionaries in India that stopped the horrible practice of women being burned on their husband's funeral pyre.”

Suttee, the Indian tradition of a widow immolating herself upon her husband’s pyre, is a tradition commonly associated with the Hindu faith. It does not appear to be related to Christianity elevating the status of women in Islamic communities, and does not appear to be relevant to this discussion.

It has been pointed out quite regularly in this essay that it is either the reinterpretation or shunning of Judaic-Christian-Islamic values for secular ideology that has helped reshape the culture around which women’s advocacy is viewed. Sexism having been an inherent trait of human society long before the advent of the Judaic-Christian-Islamic faiths, and long after the fact, it is clear that religion is more often used as a tool to justify the opinions relevant to a particular culture more than it has been used to revolutionize it. Reshaping cultures reshapes the way religions are interpreted, not the other way around.

We have also seen throughout this essay that Judaic-Christian-Islamic history has spent more of its time reducing the position of women more than it has upheld it. Judaic-Christian-Islamic philosophy may be read to state a more enlightened position on the subject, but we’ve seen that the practice of these ideas fall short because individual cultures read the religion as it is relevant to their worldview.

Therefore, using a comparison of fundamentalist Christian and Islamic philosophy as a means of judging the whole of Christianity and Islam’s treatment of women would be both imbalanced and impossible: the interpreters would have to account for every reading of their religious texts ever made to form even a close approximation of a conclusion.

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