22
May
07

Koran and the Liberation of Women

    “O Humankind! We have created you male and female and have divided you into nations and tribes that you recognize each other. The best of you in the sight of God is the one most socially aware (taqwa– literally – “extremely careful”).” Koran 49:13

The Liberated Woman:

We see some common characteristics in modern urban culture concerning what is required of men and women: Open chest shirts for the female, a necktie for the male. Belly exposed shirts for the female, tucked-in shirts for the male. Men’s dress patronizes opaque clothing where as feminine clothes are transparent. Modern society labels a man as improperly dressed when not in full suit but women are celebrated if they keep their legs uncovered, even on a cold winter night.

The society that condemns the exhibition of male physical curves and labels them as “perversion” provides “artificial aides” to under developed areas of the female. Everyone has heard the term, ‘unwed mother’ but you hardly ever hear about the ‘unwed father’. The fashion world usually controlled by males, aims to create instability in the female mind. She is taught that “wearing the least” is something that builds “status” and taking it all off is “liberation”.

She is taught to hate her own body. The form of her eyelashes and brows, the style of her walking and speech, the color of her lips, nails and cheek are all given an artificial look. She also hates the natural trend of her hair. In such a society, “hair fashion designers” and cosmetic manufacturers make big money.

Whereas men balance themselves on a three-inch base heel of the shoes, the woman is expected to balance herself on a half a centimeter heel. This creates an abnormality called Lordosis in medical terminology. Males make big money, displaying female nakedness through their respectable trades like cabarets, strip bars, fashion shows, and especially commercial advertising (Do I want the Mustang or the sexy blonde in the advertisement?), nude paintings and magazines and now Internet web pages.

The modern urban culture does not only show the above but it also shows: Alarming statistics with manifold percentage increase through time of single parents, children with no fathers, broken families, sex crimes, divorce, suicide and drug use among teens, asylums for unclaimed children, homes for unwanted parents, clinics for delinquent youth and neurotic adults.

Recent estimates suggest that up to 80% of US society displays some form of psychological symptoms, and that up to 22% have psychological problems serious enough to interfere with their day to day living which are diagnosable (Chicago Tribune 12/1999).

Data in the United States also shows that 25 to 35 percent of girls are sexually abused, usually by men well known to them (Kilbourne 1999:253). A high percentage of women so assaulted suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (the same disorder that a large number of Vietnam veterans suffer from) which leads to addiction and substance abuse and eventually to poverty and homelessness. Thus women in America live in a “war zone” in thier own homes. If they survive childhood, their boyfriends or husbands eventually get them!

In such societies “liberation” of women has been reduced to a slogan to sell products. Such sellers of “liberation”, mostly men, offer women “liberation” via smoking, alcohol, food and their natural longing for stable relationships [which have dwindled in such a society]. This commercial “liberation” comes at a great cost to women and serves to isolate them through addiction. As addicts make great consumers, the sellers of such “liberation” want to keep it that way (Kilbourne 1999).

When such sellers of “liberation” are faced with true demands for gender equality, like the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment in the United States], they reject them outright and a government funded and controlled by them makes it fail [ERA failed to pass in 1982]. Such powers that be in these societies not only attack any genuine efforts towards liberation of women in their own society [as they are commercially disadvantageous to them], but also attack all other ideas presented as truly liberating to women, by other societies [to which they export their commercial culture] by labeling them, “harsh, barbaric, primitive”. They do this through their control of the media, which in most cases is not only owned by them but depends on them, through their advertising dollars, for its very survival .

This paper is an attempt to rewrite the History of Women’s Rights, taking note of things that have been widely ignored in popular presentation of the subject. The paper also serves to clarify the position of a book, the Koran that has been distorted and misrepresented through the ages, by those having vested interests.

WOMEN IN WESTERN RELIGION:

Christianity, the major religion that shaped western thought, presents women as subordinate to men. Men according to the Bible are the owners of women, just like an animal is owned. Exodus 20:17 which states the famous tenth commandment, lumps a wife together with his servants, animals and house. A man could sell his daughter as a slave (Exodus 21:7-11) or give her in marriage to whomsoever he chose.

This subordination of women to men in the Bible, which shaped western thought on the issue, is made clear in Leviticus 12:1-8: After the birth of a male child, a woman is ritually impure for seven days, however after the birth of a female child she is ritually impure for fourteen days according to the law of the Bible.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 of the New Testament of the Bible states:

“As in all Churches of the saints, the woman should be subordinate as even the law says…for it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

1 Timothy 2:11 states:

    “Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men. She is to keep silent, for Adam was formed first then Eve, and Adam was not deceived but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

1 Corinthians 11:6 says:

    ” For if a woman will not veil herself then she should cut off her hair, but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil…for man was not created from woman but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman but woman for man.”

Jesus’ track record, based on the New Testament isn’t much better in his treatment of women, even his own mother. According to the Gospel of John, he is openly rude to his mother. Having become famous among the people, according to John or whoever wrote the Gospel of John, he addresses his mother in this rude manner:

“Woman! What have I to do with you. My time is not yet (John 2:4).”

Imagine, if you’re a woman [I am a man so correct me if I’m wrong] and your son or daughter said, “Woman! What have I to do with you” [and to top it off, it was said in public and not private], how you would feel? Considering a mother’s sacrifice and discomfort in bearing and delivering a child, such behavior is unacceptable. Hardly an exemplary character that Christian evangelists depict the “Prince of peace” had. The Koran states:

“Be careful of God and be careful of the wombs that bore you (Koran 4:1).

“We have enjoined on humankind, kindness to their parents. In discomfort did his/her mother bear them and in discomfort did she give them birth (Koran 46:15)”

The Koran disputes the authenticity of the Gospels as being a genuine account of the words of Jesus, as does the Jesus Seminar, based on modern findings. Contrary to what the Gospels present Jesus as saying to his mother, the Koran quotes him as saying:

“And God has made me [Jesus] kind and dutiful towards my mother and not arrogant or overbearing (Koran 19:32).”

Helen Ellerbe, in her book, The Dark Side of Christian History (1995) elaborates on the Church’s[both Catholic and Protestant] treatment of women:

    The second century St. Clement of Alexandria wrote: “Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.” The Church father Tertullian explained why women deserve their status as despised and inferior human beings:
  •  
      You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of the tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert-that is, death- even the Son of God had to die [Joan Smith, Misogynies: Reflections on Myths and Malice (N.Y Fawcett Columbine, 1989:66)].
    Others expressed the view more bluntly. The sixth century Christian philosopher, Boethius, wrote in The Consolation of Philosophy, “Woman is a temple built upon a sewer.” Bishops in the sixth century council of Macon voted as to whether women had souls. In the tenth century, Odo of Cluny declared, ” To embrace a woman is to embrace a sack of manure.”The thirteenth century St. Thomas Aquinas suggested that God had made a mistake in creating woman: “Nothing deficient [or defective] should have been produced in the first establishment of things; so women ought not to have been produced then.” And Lutherans at Wittenberg debated whether women were really human beings at all. Orthodox Christians held women responsible for all sin. As the [Roman Catholic] Bible Apocrypha states, “Of woman came the beginning of sin/ And thanks to her we all must die (Ecclesiasticus 25:13-26).” As 1 Corinthians 7:1 states, “It is a good thing for man to have nothing to do with a woman.”

The 1500s marked the beginning of “witchcraft persecutions.” By the 1700s over 100,000 people, 80-90 percent of them women, had been put to death in Europe usually by burning at the stake (Chicago Tribune Dec 29, 1999- A profile of women’s history). This amounted to be a self-fulfilling prophecy as the religious King James I estimated that the ratio of women to men who “succumbed” to witchcraft was twenty to one (Ellerby 1995:116).

Witch persecution has its roots in the Bible as well:

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Whoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death. He that sacrificeth unto any god, save to the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.” (Exodus 22:18-20)

Keeping a woman silent according to what St. Paul had said was widely practiced in Europe and the Christian world. In 1833 when the first coeducational college in The U.S, Oberlin College was established, women were not allowed to speak in many classes. In 1623 in England, a woman sentenced by a court to be “too frank” was publicly displayed in a “scold bridle”, i.e. a metal cage around her head with a spiked plate which cut her tongue if she dared speak.

Contrary to this God, in the Koran, not only encourages women to speak, but says that they are listened to and admonishes men to be fair and just with them.

Consider this statement in the Koran and compare it to what the Bible said:

“God hears the saying of her who argues with you concerning her husband, and complains to God. God hears your mutual complaints(Koran 57:1)”

HINDUISM AND WOMEN:

In Hindu religious literature by far, the most effective weapon used by the Gods to corrupt virtuous mortals is a woman. Usually a seductive celestial nymph but sometimes, just woman, the root of all evil in the ascetic oriented view of the orthodox Hindu (Baldick, Radice, and Jones :36).

The Mahabharata states, ” I will tell you my son, how Brahma created wanton women and for what purpose, for there is nothing more evil than women… The Lord Grandfather, learning what was in the hearts of the Gods, created wanton women by a magic ritual in order to delude mankind..” (13.40.3-10)

The complete subservience of wives to their husbands in Hindu custom shows up in the practice of Sati, where the wife burns herself alive on her dead husbands pyre. In 1780 when the Raja of Marwar died in India, his 64 wives burned themselves alive on his funeral pyre. Even though the secular government of India made this practice illegal it still continues to be practiced because of religion.

CHINESE RELIGIOUS CONCEPTS AND WOMEN:

The Yin and the Yang is a concept quite familiar even in the west especially in merchandise. In their mythical theory of how the universe operates, Chinese philosophers invented the concept of the Yin and Yang. The universe they concluded is understood to be a balance of the Yin (evil or negative) and the Yang (good or positive).
When asked to further describe Yin (evil), the explanation comes:

    ” The Yin is the negative force in nature. It is seen in darkness, coolness, FEMALENESS, dampness, the earth, moon and the shadows. The Yang (good) is the positive force in nature. It is seen in lightness, warmness, MALENESS, dryness and the sun (Hopfe :207).”

Max Weber, the German sociologist, recognized as the leading person in the entire field of sociology and known for his work on the Sociology of Religion, writes in his work on Confusianism and Taoism:

The doctrine held in common by ALL schools of philosophy [in Chinese Religion] summarised the “good” spirits as the [heavenly and masculine] Yang principle, the “evil” ones as the [earthly and feminine] Yin principle, explaining the origin of the world from their fusion ( Ed. Gerth 1951:29)

Until 1901, the Chinese practiced “foot binding” for girls which deformed girl’s feet. It had been practiced for around a thousand years, based on tradition, till it was banned in 1901. Even after being banned, it was widely practiced until 1949. Marie Vento (1998), in her paper, One Thousand Years of Chinese Footbinding: Its Origins, Popularity and Demise, writes:

    In its most extreme form, footbinding was the act of wrapping a three- to five-year old girl’s feet with binding so as to bend the toes under, break the bones and force the back of the foot together. Its purpose was to produce a tiny foot, the “golden lotus”, which was three inches long and thought to be both lovely and alluring…
    One notable personality who aided in the spread of footbinding was the famed writer and scholar Zhu Xi (1130-1200 A.D), whose commentaries on the Confucian classics would form the canon of Neo-Confucianism that would dominate Chinese intellectual and philosophical life for six subsequent centuries. An ardent advocate of footbinding, he introduced the practice into southern Fuijan in order to spread Chinese culture and teach proper relations between men and women, greatly influencing other writers who mention the practice as if it were normal…

For men footbinding is troubling because it suggests not only that men are capable of perceiving a gruesomely crippled foot as an object of seductive pleasure, but that they are further capable of using their superior social position to coerce women to conform to a standard of beauty that is both deformed and grotesque. For women, footbinding is unsettling because it reveals a willingness to cripple their own daughters to meet an aesthetic and criterion of social behavior defined by men (retreived from the internet 01/15/’00)

FEMALE INFANTICIDE AND HINDU AND CHINESE TRADITION:

Not only did the Koran outlaw female infanticide, which was widely practiced in Arabia at the time of the prophet Muhammed, it made it an issue to be especially addressed on Judgment Day:

“And when the girl-child buried alive is asked for what sin she was killed(Koran 81:8-9)”

The Koran places extreme importance on every human life, be it male or female, of whatever color or nationality. The statement of the Koran reproduced below on the dignity of even one individual life is unsurpassed in world literature. The Koran states, without differentiating between male and female:

“Whosoever kills even one human being, other than for man slaughter or tyranny on earth, it would be as if they had killed all of humanity. And whosoever saves even one human life, it will be as if they have saved all of humankind (Koran 5:32)”

Not only is female infanticide widely practiced in India based on the traditional Hindu preference for male children compared to females [resulting in over 10,000 confirmed cases every year- non reported cases are many more], modern technology is being used to abort female fetuses (Naft & Levine 1997:304-307).

Naft and Levine (1997) write in their International Report on the Status of Women:

    Yet since the mid 1970s, when parents found that modern medical techniques could determine the sex of a fetus and enable them to identify and abort female fetuses, the practice has become commonplaceGovernment officials even suspect that the disproportionate abortion of female fetuses may be a major underlying cause of the recent decline in the nation’s sex ratio (Naft & Levine 1997:304-305)

There is a strong preference among traditional Chinese for boys instead of girls. Until 1992 there was no law in China that outlawed female infanticide. Give the “one child law” and the traditional preference for male children, female infanticide was commonly practiced and resulted in the famous “missing girl” problem (Naft & Levine 1997).

THE KORAN AND WOMEN:

    “And among God’s signs is this: He created for you mates from amongst yourselves (males as mates for females and vice versa) that you might find tranquillity and peace in them. And he has put love and kindness among you. Herein surely are signs for those who reflect (Koran 30:21).”

Surprisingly egalitarian in its approach, the Koran doesn’t agree with the Bible’s claim of men being owners of women, neither does it agree with women being created for or from men [as the Bible claims], nor does it say that women cannot teach nor have authority over men. The Koran also dispels the common myth among other religions in general that; a woman is evil by nature and has been created to deceive mankind. The purpose, says that Koran, of mates is that tranquillity and peace emerges through the natural instinct of love and kindness among mates.

People who analyze the Koran however sometimes feel different about many of its verses, which to them suggest that the Koran is in some way putting down women. These verses are a handful and given the nature of this paper we can go in detail with them.

The verse in the Koran that causes trouble to most liberals and is misused by evangelical Christians is:

“Men are the protectors (Qawamoon) of women, because God has given preference to some over others. And because men spend of their property on women. So good women are obedient, guarding even unnoticed that what Allah (God) has asked them to guard. As for those from whom you fear rebellion in this (i.e. guarding their chastity in your absence), i) talk to them, ii) leave them alone in their beds, iii) strike them. If they then obey you, look not for any way against them.. (Koran 4:34).”

The verse in question is quite clear if we don’t jump to hasty conclusions. Men have been given the duty to protect and support women. God has given preference to one gender over another in certain duties. Men have been given preference in being the providers of women and women are given preference in caring for a child. Even if divorce separates a man from his wife, he has to seek her help in caring for the child or another female if the mother agrees (Koran 2:233). Men are told to spend of their property on women and not ask the woman for anything even if she happens to be rich.

Now to the controversial part: The verse asks women to guard even when unnoticed, that which God has asked them to guard. If we have read the Koran carefully, we won’t have trouble in determining that God specifically asks women and men to “guard” their chastity (Koran 24:30-31). To the women who cheat on their husbands, the Koran gives a three step, braking mechanism to hasty divorce or worse still capital punishment for adultery.

Step one, the husband should talk to the wife and try to resolve it. Usually, given men’s image in popular culture, step one would normally be shouting and cursing and maybe even hitting. Around four million women in the US are severally battered each year. Two to four thousand of them die. Rather unfortunate and avoidable if a braking mechanism exists for people exercising their emotions. Contrary to this, the Koran suggests that talk be the first option.

Step two, the Koran recommends that marital relations be temporarily stopped between the couple, if cheating persists even after a talk. This would give the woman further opportunity to consider if she’d rather separate from the man and provide for herself after divorce or if she’d rather stay in the current marriage. If however the couple want to separate, which most people would if there was cheating going on, the Koran states in the next verse:

“And if you fear a breach between the two (husband and wife), appoint an arbiter from his family and an arbiter from her family. If they(husband and wife) desire amendment, God will make them of one mind. For God is Knowing and is Aware (Koran4:35).”

If however, the woman wants to stay with the man but doesn’t quit cheating, i.e. break up the extra marital relationship then the Koran says resort to Step three, which is implicitly for the woman’s own benefit especially in an economically harsh environment. In step three, the Koran says strike them. The word used signifies a single symbolic strike. The word strike in the verse does not represent beating up in any way. It is not supposed to injure the woman but is meant to be symbolic. Thus the same word Darab,is used in the Koran to “strike or hit” someone with an example, Darab al imsal (Koran 66:11). If it injures the woman than the woman according to law can have the authorities retaliate against the man as he would have broken the law, as for injury there is equal retribution according to the Koran [Koran 5:45].

Here is the situation that warrants step three: the woman doesn’t want to end the current marriage and also doesn’t want to put an end to her cheating episodes, the Koran suggests that the husband strike her, for her own benefit. This is very liberal. The woman on her own would be under financial hardship and so she wants to use the current marriage relationship. However she also doesn’t want to quit cheating on her husband. People, men or women normally aren’t so forgiving as to keep the marriage and accept that the other party remains cheating. Something has to be done to make the relationship compatible, after both talking and temporarily halting marital relationship hasn’t worked. However, in all sincerity, I can state confidently that step 3 will never arise since both the man and the woman are free to end the relationship during the course of step 1 and step 2.

The Koran by making the symbolic strike step 3 is actually controlling human tendency of hitting,given popular culture, which usually come before talking and reasoning. It makes it virtually impossible that a man going through 1 and 2 will resort to 3 also and not break the marriage before. Where there are difficulties that need to be settled, the Koran provides a very modern and just arbitration system (see above Koran 4:35). The Koran is concerned to the utmost about women’s rights. Human society has usually not given equal opportunity to women, even today in the west. The Koran wants to protect women in a harsh society and at the same time change men’s “control-oriented” minds to one that is more reasonable. The method the Koran uses is more result oriented than dogmatic, where both parties are dealt with equitably and with justice.

By making the strike step 3 the Koran effectively controls the anger emotion that is often spontaneous in such situations. Good reasoning and communication, arbitration to settle differences and short suspension of marital relations should effectively do away with any tendency to hit. The Koran is thus not just putting a count of ten between a man and his anger but days and weeks between it. It thus gives anger and mistrusts a long time and a systematic procedure to get reasonable resolved.

Contrary to being discriminatory towards women, this law can be seen as discriminating against men [if everything else were equal, ceteris paribus] as it asks them to hold on to women that cheat in marriage with them, in order to protect the woman. However since it compensates for the “advantage” that men initially have in society, it is very egalitarian and not discriminatory towards either side.

Compare the Koran’s breaking mechanism for controlling anger to the fact that wife beating was not outlawed in the United States until 1871 [over 13 centuries after the Koran]. Even after being outlawed, in the absence of such procedures contained in the Koran, domestic violence affects at least a third of all women in the United States over four million annually [this figure is over 80% under represented as most cases go unreported] (Newman 1998). According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report of 1991, it is the leading cause of injury to women 15 to 44. Over a third of women who die in the United States die at the hands of husbands or boyfriends (Kilbourne 1999). I can confidently state that if such a procedure as the Koran presented was internalized and implemented, not only would women not get injured, there would be more talking and communication and little or no violence in the home, and poverty and the fall in the standard of living of a woman due to divorce would be reduced. The system prescribed by the Koran works where just saying, “Don’t do it” would not and has not.

This attitude of the Koran to protect women in an economically harsh environment is seen in many places throughout the book. For example, men married to women who then become guilty of lesbianism or bisexuality are told not to throw the women out of their homes but to keep them there till some way is found (Koran 24:3).

The Koran has given some duty preference to men over women and some to women over men. This was mentioned briefly before. However, this doesn’t mean that the Koran forbids women from earning their livelihood if they have no man to support them. Koran 4:22 for example states that for men is what they earn and for women what they earn and that both men and women should seek God’s bounty collectively.

PROPERTY LAWS:

Around two hundred years back, women had no property rights in Europe. Islam has given them such since the start. Before the 1840s women had no property rights in America. Property rights in Islam, given the nature of the various relationships that man and women fit under, are surprisingly egalitarian. When a man marries a woman, he has to give a substantial part of his property (according to his means) to the woman as a “marriage gift (Mahar),” stated as a man’s duty unto God (Koran 4:24).

A woman doesn’t have to give anything to a man even if she is rich. It is for this reason primarily that the Koran asks that out of a parents property the son get twice that of the daughter (Koran 4:11). It is expected that the daughter would marry and get a man’s property as marriage gift and not have to worry about providing for herself, as it’s the man’s duty to provide for her. The son on the other hand would Islamically be expected not only to provide for his potential wife but also give a major part of his property to her as marriage gift.

This however, is not discrimination among the genders. There are specific reasons why the son gets twice that of the daughter. When the conditions are different, the Koran suggests that both male and female get the same amount. For example out of a son’s wealth both the father (male) and the mother (female) get equal shares if the deceased had a son.

LEGAL BATTLES:

    ” O believers. When you contract a debt for a given fixed term, record it in writing…and call to witnesses from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not present then one man and two women of such as you approve as witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other admonishes her (Koran 2:82).”

Both faithful believers and attackers from all camps have abused this particular statement in the Koran. It is presented by them in a generalized form with a concluding statement that Islam considers women’s testimony to be half that of men.

The above verse does not talk about testimony in general but only presents one case basically involving financial transactions. It doesn’t state any generalization of women’s testimony being half that of men, or that two women will equal one man. If interpretation is sought, then a positive one would be that the Koran wants to protect women from being unfairly influenced or pressurized by men. As support for the woman another woman is supplemented, so that if one errs the other reminds her.

Not to put down women in any way, but statistics show that women are more difficult as witnesses in courts of law. The Koran recognizes this difference in men and women, be it social or biological and corrects for it to support the woman from being manipulated by men. The end purpose is justice, which shouldn’t offend any reasonable person. In different circumstances however, one woman’s testimony is given more weight, where it concerns herself than one man’s testimony in the Koran, as it can override it. This case would be when a man (husband) accuses a woman (his wife) of cheating in a relationship but has no witness except his own testimony, which is against her testimony (Koran 24:6-9). The Koran gives women’s testimony more weight than a man’s does!

Before the 1920s, women had no political voice in the United States and weren’t allowed to vote. Women have always had a voice based on the authority of the Koran. There is a famous story where a ordinary woman based on the authority of the Koran challenged Omar the Caliph and confronted him in an open forum. Omar acknowledged that he was wrong and the woman was correct as she acted on the authority of the Koran! This was over fourteen hundred years back. A cigarette ad says to women, “You’ve come a long way baby”. Yes, a long way indeed [in the opposite direction] from 1400 years. Women have the freedom to smoke and kill themselves but not to change and challenge laws that govern their lives!

DRESS:

We read above that the Bible recommends that women veil themselves or shave off their hair. Contrary to what Muslim practice has been for many centuries, the Koran doesn’t ask women to cover themselves from head to toe. The Koran states:

“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their chastity; that is purer for them. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity, and not to make a display of their beauty except what is apparent, and let them cast a cover over their bosoms…. And turn to Allah (God) altogether, O believers, in order that you might succeed (Koran 24: 30-31).”

The Koran suggests that both men and women dress modestly and guard their chastity. Other than this the Koran suggests that women put a covering on their chest (bosom) over the regular clothing they wear and not make a wanton display of their beauty (Koran 24:30-31). This does not fit in any way the picture of a woman wearing a chador or burka [veil] covered from head to toe. It would more closely resemble a picture of a woman wearing a shirt and pants, which do not deliberately reveal her body, with a scarf over her chest (bosom).
Tradition and not the Koran made “tradition based” Muslims bring the veil into Islam from Christian custom (see Paul’s saying on the veil). The Koran did not sanction it. The statement in the Koran that talks about dress talks about both men and women dressing modestly, guarding their chastity and lowering their gaze. It does not discriminate between the sexes except in the case of women it asks them to take a extra covering over their bosoms [chest] only.

POLYGAMY AND THE KORAN:

Two things that come to mind whenever Islam or the Koran is mentioned in the West (in relation to women) are Islamic polygamy and the restrictive Islamic dress for women (the infamous veil). A third thing also commonly crops up when talking about Islam in general and that is terrorism [Jihad or so-called holy war]. These three effectively describe the stereotype of Islam held by the West. Like most stereotypes they are based either on ignorance or describe the practice of those that base their actions on tradition more than the Koran. Instead of attacking tradition and custom, those with vested interests attack Islam and the Koran even though it is evident that these stereotypes aren’t rooted in the Koran.

There is nothing in Christianity or Judaism against polygamy (polygyny- one man taking more than one wife). Indeed the Old Testament assumes that marriages will be polygamous and laws are constructed based on that assumption. For example, Exodus 21:10 in the Bible states:

    “If he take to him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish.” (The Bible, Exodus 21:10)

There is not a word attributed to Jesus in the New Testament which disallows polygamy. Paul forbade bishops and deacons from marrying more than one wife (1 Timothy 3:2), this implicitly suggests that other were allowed polygamy (polygyny). The insistence on monogamy was an invention introduced by the Roman Catholic Church as late as AD 600 just as the invention of the celibacy of the clergy [the Church being against marriage in general and not only polygamy] (Cairncross 1974:70). The early Lutheran Church in Munster, Germany proclaimed polygamy (polygyny) the “ideal form of marriage” (Cairncross 1974:1)

Any mention of polygamy in the West today, among feminists and non-feminists alike, evokes feeling of hate. This hate is rooted in Western culture and not religion as we have seen above. The culture that hates polygamy however allows all sexual intercourse between a man and a woman in plurality [as long as it is pre or non marital]. However the same intercourse made “responsible” by marriage in the plural is outlawed and hated.

The Koran severely restricted the open practice of polygamy. The statement in the Koran that deals with polygamy is just one yet it is misused and abused by both Muslims and Non-Muslims. It states:

“And if you fear that you will not be able to deal justly with the oppressed women [Yatama- literally, the Orphans among women-see the context], then marry from among them two or three or four, but if you fear you wont be just [even then], then marry only one (Koran 4:3).”

The Koran states explicitly above that polygyny is allowed only if the women you marry:

  1. belong among oppressed (orphan) women. Men cannot pick and choose from “any” women who they want as a second wife
  2. Polygamy is to be practiced only if marriage would bring social justice to such women, justice that they are otherwise denied.
  3. If marrying more than one cannot bring such justice then polygamy is not allowed. Thus the Koran severely restricts the open practice of polygamy in society.

The Koran does not, like the early Lutheran Church, term polygamy the “ideal” form. According to the Koran, polygamy is a good option only when it brings social justice to the oppressed classes of women. According to poverty expert William Julius Wilson (1996), 31% of the continually poor in America comprise of “non-elderly” African American women. Now these are among the oppressed classes of women. If polygamy by well established men could bring social justice to them by removing their children and hence future generations from this “cycle of poverty,” it is good. It is also recognized by many sociologists and by Dr. Wilson himself that “non-marriage” and the “lack of marriage” is a viable reason in their poverty and status. “Lack or marriage” or a “broken household” is recognized universally by sociologists as contributing to such poverty. It is recognized that divorce and out of wedlock childbearing has resulted in the “feminization of poverty .” In Iraq, after the Gulf War when hundreds of thousands of women became widows, restricted polygamy by just individuals would similarly have been very functional.

In many countries where the population of women is a few million more than the population of men, some women can statistically never find husbands if everyone practiced monogamy. Such oppressed women [I say oppressed because a lack of maritally intimate relationship is to me deprivation and oppression of a sort] could be given family life and hence social justice by “restricted” Koranic polygamy.

The Koran is well aware that men misuse polygamy as they are “swayed by the greed of their hearts” and thus puts severe restrictions on the practice of polygamy to protect the rights of women and wives. As a result the only “religious” book that states explicitly, “then marry only ONE (Koran 4:3)” is the Koran. Monogamy is prescribed for society in general with “restricted” polygamy being allowed when special circumstances warrant it.

DIVORCE:

The Koran by giving women a right to initiate divorce is truly revolutionary. The New Testament, in the supposed words of Jesus, makes divorce an offense similar to adultery, permissible only when the woman has cheated on the husband (Matthew 5:32). The Old Testament states that only a man can initiate divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1).
The Koran, contrary to that states:

    “…If you both fear that you wont be able to keep within the boundaries of God in marriage, there is no harm if SHE ransom herself…”

The ransom would of course be the return of the initial property that the man gave her when she got married to him (the Mahar).

It is a common misconception that Islam offers a quick divorce. If the man says: “I divorce you,” three times to the woman the marriage is nullified, according to popular rumor. This is not true. The Koran offers an elaborate braking system for divorce. A system which is so advanced for its time that it is now being suggested in England to stop careless “quick” divorce which creates a burden on both the adults and children in question.

The Koran’s method of divorce is simple yet very functional. If mind is set on divorce, a divorce statement is written and pronounced in the presence of witnesses (Koran 65:2). Then there is a three month break in which both parties stay together as husband and wife, so that time be given to reconsider (Koran 2:228). After the three-month period, if the man initiated the divorce, he can either take the wife back, if she wants to remain in the marriage, or part. If he takes her back he can initiate divorce only once more in his life with the same woman.

If he takes her back the second time, then he has lost his rights to initiate divorce in the same relationship ever again (Koran 2:229). A woman can buyout her divorce by surrendering the property that was given her by the husband whenever she thinks the marriage wont work out. All through this process, the Koran suggest that help be sought by arbitration (Koran 4:35), one person from the man’s side and one from the woman’s. Very modern concepts given the history of the Koran. Does it not surprise you that people refer to the followers of this book as barbarians? Yet, the same culture that points fingers at these “barbarians” has a divorce rate of over 50 percent. Out of every hundred new marriages in the United States over fifty [old or new] will end in divorce.

Concerning divorce, since the man has been providing for the woman, regardless of who initiated the divorce proceedings, the Koran states:

    “..And for women are rights equal to the rights against them but men have a degree over them (in the context of divorce only) in what is just (2:228).”

It is very clear that this verse is stating that there can be no absolute equal laws when conditions on both sides differ. Giving equal laws under unequal circumstances would be injustice. The Koran wants equality with justice. Thus women are allowed to divorce a man once [by surrendering the property the man gave her] and the husband can initiate the divorce twice.

Not only is the Koran the only “religious” book that explicitly states, “and for women are rights equal to the rights against them in justice (2:228)”, it is more egalitarian than modern laws. As late as 1982 in the United States for example, the Equal Rights Amendment that called for equal rights for men and women in the law, failed. The Koran truly liberated women over fourteen hundred years back declaring that for women will be rights equal to those against them in justice!

THE LIBERATION OF WOMEN:

Koran; A Defender of Women’s Rights:

“And when you men have divorced women, …then either retain them in kindness if you reconcile, or part with them in kindness. Do not retain them to harm them so that you transgress limits. He who does this has wronged himself (Koran 2:231).”

“O believers! It is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will, nor that you should put restrictions on them, that you might take what you had given them…Consort with them in kindness, for if you hate them, it might happen that you hate something in which God has put much good (Koran 4:19).”

Men and Women Together:

“Women impure for men impure. And men impure for women impure. Women of purity for men of purity, and men of purity for women of purity. These are not affected by what people say. For them is forgiveness and an honorable provision (Koran 24:26).”

“And their Lord has heard them and says: ‘I don’t let the work of any worker be lost be they male or female. You both proceed one from the other..(Koran 3:195).”

” Indeed, men who submit and women who submit, believing men and believing women, and men who obey and women who obey, and truthful men and truthful women, and men who persevere and women who persevere, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember God much and women who remember God much. God has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward (Koran 33:35).”

“And the believers men and women are friends one of the other, they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, and they establish worship and pay the poor due, and they obey God and his messenger. As for these, God will have mercy on them…(Koran 9:71).”

Women as Examples for Men and Women:

” God cites an example for those who believe: the wife of Pharaoh when she said: My Lord! Build for me a home with you in the Garden, and deliver me from Pharaoh and his work and save me from a tyrannous people. And Mary the daughter of Emran, who guarded her chastity, and we inspired in her of our spirit. She confirmed the words of her God and his books and was of the steadfast (Koran 66: 11-12).”

While reading the above statements in the Koran take note of the fact that men and women are mentioned together as “equals” in status. This concept is repeated time and again in the Koran based on the common origin of humankind (4:1). Unlike the Bible the Koran does not accept woman being created from man or for man. As a result a common notion that is repeated in the Koran is, “You (men and women) proceed one from the other (3:195 etc).”

CONCLUSION:

Most people may not have any idea on what Islam is or what it stands for but they are all “experts” on the oppressed woman in Islam. After reading the contents of this paper, it should be evident that:

1. Islam is the only religion that gives equal rights to everyone regardless of race or sex. There is no religious book, not even the constitution of the US, which states explicitly like the Koran, “And for women are rights equal to the rights against them in justice.”

2. The Koran does not ask women to veil themselves completely from head to toe. Such may be Muslim practice in many parts of the world, but it is not sanctioned by the Koran. The Koran merely asks both men and women to dress modestly and not to flout their nakedness. On the other hand, the Bible which many claim western civilization was based on, demands that women wear the veil (1 Corinthians11: 6) or risk having their head shaven.

3. Men and women are of equal human status in the Koran (Koran 3:195), however Christian doctrine on which the early American societies were based, had Biblical norms which hold that a woman is subordinate to a man (1 Corinthians 14:34) and are created for man (1 Timothy 2:11)

4. Islam based on the Koran, which is very different to the Islam that Muslim masses believe in, gave women the right to property ownership and a voice in legal testimony centuries before such “revolutionary” ideas were even dreamed of by Europe [the word “feminism” was coined in 1882 in France and voting rights and property ownership rights followed many years thereafter].

5. The Koran prescribes polygamy only among the oppressed classes of women IF marriage can better their status in society and is just and equitable. If marriage cannot provide justice to the woman then the Koran prescribes monogamy as the only option. The only “religious” book that explicitly states, “then marry only one (Koran 4:3)”, is the Koran.

6. Within the text of the Koran the ignorant practice of female circumcision, which many people believe is the norm in Islam, is not even mentioned. It is an innovation that entered “tradition based” Islam, not something that the Koran suggested or prescribed. It is not a part of Islam or the Koran.

7. Islam has never had a problem with women in authority. Even in modern days, Muslim lands have seen female heads of states. We have yet to see a woman president in the US.

Note: This paper does not at all validate Sunni or Shia Islam. The “Islam” believed in by the masses of Muslims [which I refer to as “tradition based” Islam], includes with the Koran other authorities in their “religion”. These authorities are Hadith [sayings falsely attributed to the prophet] and fiqh [so called Islamic jurisprudence]. These sources are not warranted by the Koran and entered Islam centuries after the death of the prophet, in the form that we have today. They were based on oral traditions unlike the Koran which was written down from day one. In these “extra-Koranic” sources we find many statements that are derogatory of women and give them a lower status compared to men. Some statements in the hadith for example compare women to monkeys and dogs and call them bad luck. They even suggest that the woman serve her husband like a “lesser-god” stopping a little short of worshipping them. Not only is this outrageous, it goes against the strict monotheism of the Koran. The Koran is the only book of authority in Islam. For more information, see my web site – http://members.aol.com/silence004

Copyright © 2000 Muhammed Asadi


The cure for Sexism and Racism:

“O Humankind! We have created you male and female and have divided you into nations and tribes that you recognize each other. The best of you in the sight of God is the one most socially aware (taqwa– literally it means “extremely careful”).” Koran 49:13

Division into sexes and nations is merely for the purpose of recognition and has nothing to do with status or one being better than the other according to the Koran.

“And of God’s signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference in your colors and languages. Indeed in this are signs for those who have knowledge.” Koran 30:22

Just like the different languages in the world, the different colors of humankind are a sign of God. They have nothing to do with status of one or the other being better based on language or color. It shows intelligent creation, which puts in variety and not random chance. 

Bibliography:

1.The Koran: translated from the Arabic.

References to the Koran, e.g. Koran 24:5 signify, chapter (Sura) 24, Statement (aya) 5.

2. The Bible. Revised Standard Version (1971) and Good News Bible.

3. Hopfe, Lewis M. Religions of the World, fifth edition. Mc Millan Publishing C 1991.

4. Jones, Baldick, Radice. Hindu Myths. The Penguin Classics 1975.

5. Wilson, William Julius. 1996. When Work Disappears. New York. Alfred A. Knopf.

6. Naomi, Neft and Levine, Ann.D. 1997. Where Women Stand: An International Report on the Status of Women in 140 Countries. New York. Random House.

7. Brotman, Barbara. 1000 Years. The Chicago Tribune. December 29, 1999 (Page 1, Section 8).

8.Cairncross, John. 1974. After Polygamy was made a sin. London. Routledge & K.Paul.

9. Ellerby, Helen. 1995. The Dark Side of Christian History. San Rafael. CA. Morningstar Books.

10. Kamal, Omar. 1989. Deep Into the Qur’an. Karachi. Pakistan

11. Kilbourne, Jean. 1999. Deadly Persuasion. New York. The Free Press.

12. Newman, David M. 1998. Sociology.Thousand Oaks California. Pine Forge Press.

13. Weber, Max. Edited by Gerth, Hans. The Religion of China: Confusianism and Taoism.1964. New York. The Free Press.


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