Understanding Islam – Part 5 (Women and Islam-1)

“Islam has deserved its reputation around the world for stifling and even enslaving women.”  That is quite the statement made by Ergun and Emil Caner in their book, Unveiling Islam (2009, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI).  I use it as the introduction to this Blog only because the evidence seems to suggest what is said is the truth according to anything that makes sense as to the treatment of another person, especially if freedom is considered a right of all humans.

Qur’an – Sura 2:228 states in part, “Women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable, but men have a degree over them.”

Hadith – 3.826 – inferred a woman’s mind is deficient to a man’s.   The witness of a woman is worth ½ that of a man’s.

Hadith – a quote of Muhammad – “I was shown the Hell-fire and that the majority of the dwellers are women.”

Qur’an – Sura 4:11 – as to the apportionment of an inheritance a man should receive double that of a woman ‘ “a portion equal to two females.”

Qur’an – Sura 2.282 – it takes two women as witnesses in a court of law to equal the witness of one male.

Qur’an – Sura 4:3 –  Men can have up to 4 wives if they can take care of them; the women in the matter having no say.   (Muhammad conveniently had approval from Allah to marry as many woman as he wished raising the question was he not bound to the same book of standards that he received?)).  Age may not have been a problem either as Muhammad married a girl of six (6), but no sex until she was nine (9) – Aishah.    Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter was given in marriage at the age of 12 to his cousin Ali bin Abu Taleb (the same Ali that became the 4nd Caliph-Sunni, 1st Imam-Shiite)

Qur’an – Sura 3:14 – women are considered possessions:  “Fair in the eyes of men is the love of things they covet: women and sons, heaped-up hoards of gold and silver.”

Qur’an – Sura 66:5 – makes divorce easy for men and places the onus on women to satisfy their man.  Woman cannot divorce under any circumstances.

Qur’an – Sura 2.223 – “Your wives are a tilth (land under the plow) unto you, so approach your tilth when and how you will.” Thus saying ‘do as you will with your wife.’

Qur’an – Sura 4:34 – Allows marital punishment of women.  “As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them, refuse to share their beds, beat them.”

Hadith – 7.62.77 – Muhammad notes “(Men) should feed her if he eats, clothe her when he dresses, avoid disfiguring her or beating her excessively or abandoning her except at home.”

(iii: 285). – The reward for both sexes for their good acts is also similar:

According to Ergun Caner (pg. 140), “The Qur’an is so clear that those who regularly abuse their wives are more faithful to their sacred text than those who would rationalize away its teachings.  If a woman is honored and respected in an Islamic home, it is in spite of the teachings of Muhammad, rather than because of them.

“Islamic jurists have traditionally held that Muslim women may only enter into marriage with Muslim men, although some contemporary jurists question the basis of this restriction. This is pursuant to the principle that Muslims may not place themselves in a position inferior to that of the followers of other religions. On the other hand, the Qur’an explicitly allows Muslim men to marry chaste women of the ‘People of the Book’, which includes Jews and Christians.  However, ‘fiqh’ (Islamic law), has held that it is ‘makruh’ (reprehensible, though not outright forbidden) for a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman in a non-Muslim country.” (excerpted from Wikipedia.com)

I did some searching and found the website: http://www.ediscoverislam.com.  There was a subset on this site discussing Women in Islam, the author Muhammad Kutub (I could not find any definitive background information as there appear to be many of the same name).  Much of what follows is a summary and review of Kutub’s discussion on this topic.  He is quoted often and I have tried not to vary from the essence of his presentation.  Where I may question or find his position awkward in today’s society I make mention and express my view or concern.  [1]

Arguments today allege “that Islam has in all respects maintained perfect equality between the sexes, while others, thanks to their ignorance of Islam or negligence thereof, claim that Islam is an enemy of women, for it degrades her and lowers her status holding her intellectually deficient and assigning her a position very much akin to that of animals. She is reduced to no more than a mere means of sensual gratification for man and a machine for the propagation of the human species which is sufficient to show how subservient to man she is in the sight of Islam with the result that man dominates her and enjoys an all-round superiority over her.”

From the website,

As to women and education – “…Credit Islam as the first religion that acknow­ledged a separate and independent human status of women and  impressed upon her that she could not achieve perfection without knowledge: Acquisition of knowledge was as great a duty of woman as of man, for Islam wanted the women folk to develop their rational faculties along with their physical ones and thus ascend to higher planes of spiritual existence…. This would certainly bring into question the education system and freedom women in Muslim countries have to attend school and learn what they wish.

Differences –  “Islam does, however, differentiate between man and woman with regard to their special functions in life, a step that has given rise to a great hue and cry by some women organizations supported by certain writers, “reformers” and young men.”  Indeed.  The argument might begin stating or asking, “Are men and women different?”  Obvious answer –leading question.  What about their function in life – are they the same or different?  This would relate to child-bearing and raising and beg the answer – “Yes.”  Herein lies the basic premise for Islam’s treatment of woman, as stated by Mr. Kutub, and I quote, “As a consequence of this fundamental difference in their functions and objectives we find that man and woman have so come to differ from each other in disposition as well as in constitution that each is equipped with what it can suitably accomplish its respective primary functions. It is for this reason that I am at a loss to understand how all this empty talk about an absolute equality between man and woman can ever bring it to pass. The demand for equality between man and Woman as human beings is a natural and reasonable demand. Man and woman are two equally important component parts of a whole humanity, proceeding from the one and the same progenitor. But so far as the demand for treating them as equals in their functions in life and the modes of their actual performance is concerned, can that ever be feasible? That is simply impossible even if all the women around the world should wish it…. (Nothing) can alter the characters of men and women, nor can they in any way transform their functions making men share those of women in conception, birth and suckling and vice versa.”

In today’s world, America especially, but Europe too, such a statement by Kutub would simply fall on deaf ears.  The discussion would flow that even though differences between men and women exist (all agree) and we agree on spiritual equality, then all legal, family matters (at the discretion of the patriarchs of the family and not as law), educational opportunities, job selections, status and compensation (for equal performance) should be equal.  His view of a woman is from her capacity as a mother, “this tenderness of feelings, intuitional impressibility, and highly susceptible disposition with which a woman is endowed show that basically she possesses an emotional character rather than an intellectual one.”  Is he suggesting inequality or simply men do not have an “emotional character” or women are not on an “intellectual” par with men?

The website suggests Kutub is clarifying (possibly justifying) Islam’s regard for women.

The role of men follows – Man “has to discharge a quite different duty for which he is equipped aptly but differently from woman. He has to engage in the struggle of life going on in the outside world, be it in the form of subduing wild beasts in jungles, or contending against the forces of nature on earth and heavens, or forming of a government, or legislating about national economy. He has to tackle all these problems to scratch a living, and safeguard his person, his wife as well as his children against oppression. Man as such does not need the vehement emotional nature for the performance of his functions in life. Emotions prove harmful rather than helpful in pursuance of his duties, for they are characterized with a fickleness that causes them change rapidly and into mutually quite contradictory states of mind….It is his intellectual disposition that proves helpful to a practical life where he has to contend against so many adverse forces.”

Would men and women being equal, equal in status and treatment, in spite of obvious differences, simple be too politically correct?  Is there justification for placing an emotional being (women) able to bear children on a lower plane vs. a worker bee (man) engaged in production and administration.  Is that what is being suggested by Kutub and the Muslim’s Islamic Law, dictated by the Qur’an?

According to Kutub –  “man is well-adjusted only when he is engaged in his true manly pursuits and objectives in life.”  Ah yes, for me that is indeed the case.  Golf, college football, but then too – for me, my wife, my preferred companion in life.   I may already disqualify as a Muslim.  A woman engaged in the activities of man is quite ready to leave them (the activities of man) to become a homemaker – it is in their nature, by Kutub’s account.

Here comes some understanding of Islam.  The “umma” – the Community, the conditions from society that are considered in the Qur’an, or Hadith, or other works of reference constituting Sharia are born out of the Five Pillars of Islam (a later Blog will discuss) which are non-negotiable.  So defend them a Muslim must.  “The attitude adopted by Islam about the problem of man and woman too is quite in line with the human nature, ” per Kutub.

About inheritance Islam says: “To the male the equivalent of the portion of two females,” which is quire natural and justified, fur it is man alone who is charged with shouldering all the financial obligations. The woman is under no such obligation as to spend money on anyone but her own person and toilet….”

Islam maintains a similar proportion in the distribution of a bequest. The law followed here is one of the fairest ones yet known to mankind: “For every person according to his need,” the standard to determine the need being the social burdens that one has to bear. But so far as their earnings are concerned, there is no difference between man and woman; n or in their wages for a work, nor in the profit gained in trade, nor in revenues from land etc., for, in these matters Islam follows another law, the law treating on a perfectly equal footing man and woman with regard to their labors and the wages thereof. No injustice is to be done to either of them.

That the evidence of two women is in Islam equivalent to that of one man also does not prove that woman is not better than a half man. It is rather a wise step to secure and preserve the genuine character of legal evidence in courts through all possible means and against all possible perversities irrespective of the fact whether the evidence is for or against the accused. The woman is by her very nature vehemently emotional, impressionable and liable to digress from the real facts of the case in hand. Therefore it is wise to have another woman along with her “so if the one erreth the other will remember…”

As to the head of the family – The problem is resolved the moment we realize that it is the man, equipped as he is with rational qualities and a strong physical body, who is more entitled to head than woman who is by her very nature emotional, susceptible to external influences and thus ill-equipped for the struggle of life as well as the headship of the family. Even woman herself does not respect a man who is a weakling and can easily be conquered by her. She despises him; nor can ever bring herself to trust him. This behavior of woman may be the vestigial remnant of the attitude of mind she imbibed over the centuries and through the training she received in the past…. Woman may seek leadership in family life only so long as she has no children and has no worry to educate and train them. After having children she can ill afford to shoulder extra responsibilities, for her functions as a mother are already far too great a burden upon her.

As to marriage – The common law must, however, take note and frame rules for married life, for no system of life can claim comprehension if it does not provide for a law governing this delicate aspect of man’s life. A law setting the general and inviolable, limits at least must be there, with the man and woman to work out the details of it in the prescribed limits…. Woman has three most important obligations towards her husband: (1) she should obey him whenever he should want her to go to bed with him; (2) should not allow anyone to defile the bed of her husband whose presence is resented by him, and (3) should be faithful to him in his absence.  As to the first of these, a little explanation is, necessary to appre­ciate it properly. Its wisdom is obvious. Man’s physical con­stitution is such as impels him to sexual gratification more often so as to relieve himself of its oppression and so that he may be able to perform his duties in practical life more smoothly and efficiently.

The courts are not to be used to decide on marital differences, and according to Kutub, “the interference of the court may by airing them (marital differences) aggravate the situation.”  So then, “it is only reasonable that the court should not busy itself with the trifles of conjugal life.”  For the Muslim it is to be left up to local authority and, by Kutub’s Islamic standards, “It is this very local authority that is exercised by man as he is the real and ultimate head of his family.”  Banishment of the uncooperative woman, to another bedroom possibly, is thus OK, thus hiding her charms, her coquettishness, her beauty so as not to temp the man, this done to have the woman return to her senses.  Woman are viewed as positioned to take abuse, expecting it – “Women rather than men are more generally the victim of this psychological malady. They derive pleasure from humiliation and sufferings. (Men are, on the other hand, commonly afflicted with sadism which is marked with a morbid love for cruelty). The wife belonging under this class of women, clearly her correction can be effected through chastisement alone so that she might have her desired beating and then come to herself again. Strange though it may appear, it is a fact that sometimes a man suffering from sadism marries a masochistic woman and they live in perfect love and harmony notwithstanding the abnormal basis on which their union rests.”  What is Kutub attempting to justify in his commentary?  He says, “The beating restores the balance of mind of the masochistic husband and so they live on in love and harmony.”  Can any Religion, other than Islam, accept such masochistic concepts and regard them as Law?

Kutub summarizes, “We have in the foregoing pages seen that:

(1) The obligations of a wife towards her husband are not enforced arbitrarily. They are meant for the general good of the society of which the wife forms but a part;

(2) Most of her obligations are balanced with similar obliga­tions which the husband has to discharge with respect to her. As to the few situations where man enjoys in one way or another a precedence over the woman rite basic consideration has been the difference between their respective dispositions. It does not at all spring from any desire to humiliate or disgrace the woman;

(3) As against this authority given to man over woman, the latter has the legal right to leave her husband if he should ill­ treat her.”  –  the options include a.) divorce, but only if at the time of the marriage such a request is made to allow the woman to initiate divorce, b.) demand a divorce on the “plea that she hates him and can no longer live with him” and repay her dowry, but this is only possibly if the local courts agree, and c.) upon demand and proof that the man has not lived up to his agreement for only going payments, sustenance allowance, to her.  These conditions are viewed as the “perfection of the balance” of the control man has over the wife.

For the man divorce is obtained via a simple proclamation.  I divorce you.

As to the allowance of multiple wives, Kutub comments, “the Islamic law in normal life favors monogamy rather than poly­gamy. But there are certain circumstances under which monogamy becomes an unjust rather than a just institution. In such extra­ordinary circumstances, Islamic law leaves the door open to polygamy, for although in it complete justice is impossible to attain, the disadvantages resulting there from are far less serious than those flowing from monogamy in such emergencies.”

Allowing woman to act out their inhibitions freely is to cause destruction to the social order and is thus not permitted.

As for working woman, Kutub reminds us, “Islam limits women to go outside their houses only when there is really a genuine need for them to do so.”  The concern for a working woman is exposure to men, “she becomes just a plaything in the hands of men and a slave to their foolish demands, giving way to unchecked luxury and license.”

Working women with children – “why can’t a woman be a worker outside as well as a mother inside home at the same time with a nurse taking care of children in her absence? This is a baseless assertion, for a nurse may give the children in the most efficient manner all possible physical, intellectual or psychological help but she cannot give them one thing-the love, the care of a mother and the mother her­ self-bur for which life can hardly flourish or good manners take roots,” is Kutub’s answer.

Men treat women badly because of the societies and backward cultures in which they live; they vent their own suppression and poverty on woman.  But is this justification?

His (Kutub’s) conclusion: “That woman is reduced to a very low plane of existence is undoubtedly true but the way to reform this situation is not that adopted by the woman in the West who was faced with peculiar circumstances and, therefore, was subject to typical aberrations of her own springing up from those circumstances.  Islam and Islam alone does provide a solution to the problem of woman no less than that of man. Let all of us, men, young and old, turn towards it, strive hard to re-establish an Islamic state and enforce Islamic law in our lives. Only then shall we be able to realize in practice our beliefs and ideals. This is the only way to achieve symmetry and harmony in our life without any resort to injustice or tyranny.”

I am troubled with this conclusion, as even in the secular world women are treated much better than is Muslim countries.  The conclusion above suggests women’s rights first require an Islamic State, established or re-established, where Islamic Law (Sharia) can be enforced on all inhabitants.  This is leap into a tyrannical ocean with fear, suppression and control their claim to freedom for woman.  This is twisted logic.

[1] http://www.ediscoverislam.com /About-Islam/Women-in-Islam/islam-and-women – Islam and Women, by Muhammed Kutub).

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