Women in Islam: An exegesis, Part 1
20 Nov, 2005
Prologue: After the Islamic revolution in Iran many people became interested in Islam, which was, hitherto, a very obscure religion usually associated with the Arabs, the poor, and the Blacks. Although I was a born Muslim and was indoctrinated in the faith in a very rigid manner in my childhood, I had very little idea about the 'real Islam.' Just like most Bangladeshis, I thought Islam to be peaceful, tolerant, and very positive towards women. After the Iranian revolution, I read a lot about Islam. The advent of Internet brought me the greatest opportunity to learn about Islam in a short period of time. I scanned innumerable essays in various Islamic web sites written by Islamic scholars mostly residing in the Western countries. Their essays on women gave an impression that Islam has many goodies for them. Like an ordinary gullible Muslim, I also believed in whatever they wrote. Then I found a great discrepancy in what these Islamic scholars (read Islamists) wrote and the unspeakable barbarity and gross unfairness perpetrated on the women in the Islamic paradises like, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and certain parts of Nigeria and Malaysia. If the present trend continues, then, soon Bangladesh would be in the list of Islamic paradises. I thought about my aging mother. I thought about my working sisters. I thought about my loving wife. I was greatly distressed when I thought of what could happen to these dearest relations of my life if Bangladesh goes Islamic and Allah's laws (read Sharia) are enforced in Bangladesh. This forced me to dig deeper and deeper into Islam and especially the Sharia provision/s for women. I made a microscopic dissection of Islam from its very root. What I found was shocking. Sometimes, I just could not believe what I was reading. Thus, I completely discarded the explanations, apologies, and tafsirs from the erudite Islamic scholars and started to use my own brain, common sense, and judgment to find the truth. After I found the 'real Islam', I could not look straight into the eyes of my mother. I could not sit comfortably with my sisters. I could not be at ease with my wife. I was forced to pick up the pen (read keyboard) to tell all the mothers, sisters, and wives of Islamic faith what Sharia/Islam means for them. We must let our women folk know the truth about the treatment of Islamic women before many so called 'moderate' Muslim countries bring this Trojan Horse into their lives and become another Afghanistan, Iran, or the Northern parts of Nigeria and Malaysia. As I write, I heard the news that a Nigerian woman would be stoned to death after her newly born so called illegitimate daughter is weaned, probably after a period of two years. Please think of this barbarity. Please remember your mother, remember your sisters and your loving wife when you read this essay. Won't you?
This essay is quite lengthy. I apologize for writing such a prolix article, but I could not help it. No matter how much I tried, I could not shorten further. It had to be very lengthy, for there is so much to tell. For convenience, I have divided the essay in 7 (seven parts).
To begin with, let us start with the unfairness of Allah towards women.
Allah prefers men and you know it!
The interdependency of men and women is recognized in Islam. This is because of the importance of women as a preserver of human species. However, a thorough examination of Qur'an, ahadith and the Islamic Sharia clearly demonstrates the heavy bias of Allah towards men.
Why men are considered superior? It is because of their physical strength, financial ability to pay dower and to spend on women. The Qur'an is very clear about the superiority of men over women. Let us review a few verses from Qur'an to demonstrate this fact.
Men have a degree over women...2:228
YUSUFALI: 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 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.
This verse establishes the supremacy of men over women, although Qur'an ambiguously claims to bestow similar rights for both men and women. This verse never mentions what those rights are; neither do we find the clarification on this matter in the entire Qur'an. Therefore, a variety of interpretation can be made out of this verse. This verse can really be used to justify anything that a man can find convenient to establish his superiority over women. Of course, the Islamic apologists take this opportunity to make Qur'an look very fair and non-discriminatory to women. It could be true that Muhammad really wanted to see some improvement of status of women in Arabia during his time. However, he was reluctant to enforce a radical change for fear of a backlash from the male dominated Arab society. This verse may look a little benign for it does mention about certain rights of women although not being so specific. To see the real Islamic treatment of women we need to look elsewhere.
Let us examine the following verse up close:
Men are protectors and maintainers of women; women must be devoutly obedient, if not then beat them...4:34
YUSUFALI: Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).
The above verse is quite clear about the superiority of men over women. The verse is lucid in telling the reason for the superiority of men. It is because of their physical strength and their ability to support women financially. Islamists often use this divine decree to justify the subjugation of women in Islam. But their logic falls flat if we recognize today's reality that physical size and strength does not mean a thing. Many animals are much stronger physically than men. How about an elephant? An elephant is hugely stronger than a man is but that does not make it superior to a human. Similarly, a woman may be weaker in physical strength (with proper training a woman can be as strong as any man, if not more) but her physical weakness, in no way make her inferior to men. Financial dependence? This could be true for some ancient societies; but surely not true any more. We have many examples of single women leading a financially independent happy life. There are plenty of single mums (either widowed, divorced or unmarried) who steadfastly support her family without the help of any man.
This verse also prescribes physical punishment for disobedient women. I shall write more on Islamic wife beating later. Why does God have to prescribe this torture on wives? Isn't it because men make women dependent on them? Imagine what would happen to a man if he were completely dependent on a woman for his financial support? Will he dare to raise his hand against her?
Please note the comment (lightly) inserted by the translator Yusuf Ali. He deliberately did this keeping in mind that beating is a gross indecency and a criminal offence in western societies. His purpose of translation of Qur'an was primarily aimed at the western people and the non-Muslims. That is why he softens Qur'an from its extremely harsh statements. The original Qur'an and the translation by other authors do not contain the comment (slightly) insert. Here is the translation of Pickthal and Shakir. While Pickthal translates to whip women, Shakir translates as plain beating without specifying the method.
PICKTHAL: Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.
SHAKIR: Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.
When Qur'an treats women in such a disgraceful manner, one may wonder why almighty Allah created women after all. Was it not better to have no woman at all? Actually, Qur'an does not really know the reason for creation of women because Qur'an is not really from God. Muhammad himself with the help of a few of his scribes wrote it. Therefore, in Qur'an we simply find the mention of what people believed in those days regarding the creation of human albeit in a new format.
Here is the verse that tells the reason for the creation of women
God created us from a single person and made mate of like nature; pregnancy is a light burden to women...7:189
YUSUFALI: It is He Who created you from a single person, and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love). When they are united, she bears a light burden and carries it about (unnoticed). When she grows heavy, they both pray to Allah their Lord, (saying): "If Thou givest us a goodly child, we vow we shall (ever) be grateful."
The verse is rather very ambiguous. It says that God created a single person first. What was the sex of that single person? Islamists often use this verse to portray the sexual equality of Islam and how Islam differs from the Christianity and Judaism. In the Bible God says that He created Adam first then He created Eve from Adam's rib. Do not be fooled by this simple-minded interpretation of the Islamists. The key word in this verse is 'you'. Who is this 'you' that God seems to be talking to. Is it a man or a woman? Remember, whom did God reveal the Qur'an? It was not a woman but a man. Moreover, elsewhere in the Hadith we read that women were created from a rib that is why they are crooked (See Shahih Muslim 8.3467). Therefore, the meaning of this verse is no different from the verse in the Bible. In this verse, the Qur'an says that women were created to give companion and pleasure to men. Please take a moment to read and think about the meaning of this verse once again. We do not really need exegesis/mullahs/Islamists to tell us the "Real" Tafsir of this verse. Simple common sense tells us that God created women to give men companionship and pleasure and to bear children. God did not create women as his primary reason. One may conclude that God made women on second thought to alleviate the loneliness and the dullness for men. Women were merely created for men's sensuous pleasure. Pure and simple. This is obvious from the following verse.
God created mate for tranquil living and put love and mercy among sexes-30:21
YUSUFALI: And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye 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.
Does this verse seem to be contradicting the previous verse (7:189)? Of course, it does. This verse seems to suggest that God created women for men and vice versa. That is to say, God created two persons, and not one as was suggested in the previous (7:189) verse. Doesn't it? Who was created first? Man or the woman? Surely, God did not create men to give pleasure and tranquillity to women. It was the woman who was created for men. Thus, from the very beginning of creation of human we see the unfairness of God. Not only that God created woman as a second thought but also he burdened her with the task of child bearing. One may legitimately ask, 'Why? Why God has to put women in such a burdensome position?' The answer, if we go by the Islamic rule, is a simple one. Only God knows the answer. And that's all. But it is not that difficult to ponder on the real reason. All religious books are written by men (religionists say that they are the messages sent by God through His postman like Gabriel). It is, then a simple matter to realize that these prophets of God could never displease men by giving them a secondary position (like women) in the process of creation. Therefore, the women must accept without question the superiority of men. After all, pregnancy and giving birth are dirty/painful jobs that fit only slaves. Doesn't it make sense to realize that when these 'messengers of God' wrote their holy scriptures they viewed women as nothing more than sexual pleasures and slaves to carry the burden of sex (pregnancy)? Read the ancient history of Arabia that will confirm of what I have written.
Can you then guess what would have been the story of creation of Adam and Eve if God's messengers were women?
Another reason given by Qur'an as to why God prefers men is simply laughable. Have a look at the following verse.
Men love to purify themselves-9:108
YUSUFALI: Never stand thou forth therein. There is a mosque whose foundation was laid from the first day on piety; it is more worthy of the standing forth (for prayer) therein. In it are men who love to be purified; and Allah loveth those who make themselves pure.
In this verse, the Qur'an says that God prefers men because they (the men) love to purify themselves. Are we then to assume that the women does not know how to purify/cleanse themselves? In other words, are women unclean? Of course, the apologists will say that the meaning of purify means spiritual/mystical, sublime etc. Nowhere in the verse, it says what is the meaning of purification. It could be both spiritual as well as physical (meaning ablution before prayer). Let us take examples from the real world. Are there differences in cleanliness/purification between men and women? The answer is 'No.' Then, why should Qur'an use such inane argument to justify the divine superiority of men? Some may say that the verse did not say that the women do not know how to purify; it simply says that God loves those men who go to the mosque and purify themselves. This argument is simply not unacceptable. Are not women allowed in the mosque? If it is so, then the unfairness of God becomes more inexcusable. Why does God blatantly show his preference for men when both sexes are equally praying in the mosque? Isn't it a kind of religious apartheid?
This kind of Islamic bias for men is again demonstrated in the following verse.
Men are true to their covenant-33:23
YUSUFALI: Among the Believers are men who have been true to their covenant with Allah: of them some have completed their vow (to the extreme), and some (still) wait: but they have never changed (their determination) in the least:
How about the believing women? Are they not true to their faith and are they not ready to die for it? We shall, later in this article, see that women are equally commanded by God to go for Jihad and lay down their lives, if required. Why then God has a clear bias for men? Does not God trust women believers regarding their truthfulness and fealty in faith?
Only men receive revelation from God
The Qur'an and God are absolutely adamant that only men are capable of handling revelations from God. God always sends revelations to men. Thus, we have all the prophets to be men. God has never selected a woman as a prophet and in future also, he will not do so. Here are two verses that demonstrate amply this unreasonable desire of God. Have you ever wondered what would have God decided if women were financially strong in the Arabian Desert? What would have God chosen? Do you remember many extant tribal societies where the women ruled supreme? I wonder why God overlooked them.
For more unfairness of God, look at the following verses.
Revelations are sent to men only-12:109
YUSUFALI: Nor did We send before thee (as messengers) any but men, whom we did inspire,- (men) living in human habitations. Do they not travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those before them? But the home of the hereafter is best, for those who do right. Will ye not then understand?
Only men are chosen by God to be His messengers-16:43
YUSUFALI: And before thee also the messengers We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration: if ye realise this not, ask of those who possess the Message.
God chooses messengers from men and angels-22:75
YUSUFALI: Allah chooses messengers from angels and from men for Allah is He Who hears and sees (all things).
Let us briefly review those three verses. In 12.109 God says that he had never sent any messenger before Muhammad who was not a man. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last prophet and messenger from God. Therefore, the natural conclusion is that there will never ever be woman messenger from God. In verse 16:43, God confirms his commitment of selecting only men as his messenger before Muhammad was selected to be his Prophet and messenger. This is to say that God had never selected a woman in the past to be his messenger. In 22:75, God confuses us. This time he says that he sometimes chooses men and sometimes chooses angels as his messengers. We have heard the name of a few messengers of God including Muhammad. Who were the angels sent as messengers? Was it Gabriel, Michael, Azazil, Azrael, Malik, Harut or Marut? Or does God mean that men and angels are at the same level in the eyes of God as far as the reception of his messages are concerned? Why were women excluded from the list of angels? This, too, is answered in the following verse.
Men are superior in the worshipping of God -24:37
YUSUFALI: By men whom neither traffic nor merchandise can divert from the Remembrance of Allah, nor from regular Prayer, nor from the practice of regular Charity: Their (only) fear is for the Day when hearts and eyes will be transformed (in a world wholly new),-
Well, the above verse tells it all. Men are simply miles ahead in the worshipping of God than the women folks. Need no further explanation.
Here is a hadith that tells us that there never were perfect women although there were many perfect men. Since God is the only authority who reserves the right to bestow perfection to whomever he pleases, we must, therefore, conclude that only men are given perfection and not women no matter how much they (the women) may try. Perfection by women is simply out of question.
There are many perfect men but there are no perfect women except Mary, Asiya (Pharaoh's wife) and Aisha (Muhammad's wife)- (Shahih Muslim 31.5966)
Book 031, Number 5966:
Abu Musa reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: There are many persons amongst men who are quite perfect but there are not perfect amongst women except Mary, daughter of 'Imran, Asiya wife of Pharaoh, and the excellence of 'A'isha as compared to women is that of Tharid over all other foods.
Having established the indisputable
superiority of men, God now elevates a man to the position of a kind
of smaller god in the eyes of women. Here is what Islam thinks a
woman should do for a man.
A man is next to God for a woman
This concept of absolute superiority of men in Islam is very similar to the Hindu practice. In Hinduism, women are asked to worship their husbands as Devota (demi God). Islam is no different on this. A woman's single purpose in life is to please her husband. Nothing is holier than this. In fact, if a woman were required to worship any one other than God it would be her husband. In hadith we read:
If a woman is to prostrate to another person (besides Allah) it will be her husband.
.(Sunaan Abu Dawud 11.2135)
Narrated Qays ibn Sa'd:
I went to al-Hirah and saw them (the people) prostrating themselves before a satrap of theirs, so I said: The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) has most right to have prostration made before him. When I came to the Prophet (peace be upon him), I said: I went to al-Hirah and saw them prostrating themselves before a satrap of theirs, but you have most right, Apostle of Allah, to have (people) prostrating themselves before you. He said: Tell me , if you were to pass my grave, would you prostrate yourself before it? I said: No. He then said: Do not do so. If I were to command anyone to make prostration before another I would command women to prostrate themselves before their husbands, because of the special right over them given to husbands by Allah.
Abul Kasem is an Bengali ex-Muslim and academic. He has contributed in Leaving Islam - Apostates Speak Out and Beyond Jihad - Critical Voices from Inside and Why We Left Islam.. He has also written extensively on Islam in various websites and is the author of five e-Books: A Complete Guide to Allah, Root of Terrorism ala Islamic Style, Sex and Sexuality in Islam, Who Authored the Quran? and Women in Islam. Mr. Kasem leaves in Sydney, Australia. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.