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Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Woman’s Place in Islam

Islam has always classified women as inferior creatures in every way: physically, mentally and morally. This negative view is sanctioned in the Koran, supported by the Hadiths and immortalized through the commentaries of the theologians, the guardians of Muslim dogma and Muslim ignorance.” This clear and central statement that came from the author having the pseudonym Ibn Warraq who was born in 1946 as a Moslem in Indian Rajkot and later departed from Islam, and is to be read on page 399 of his book titled “Why I Am Not a Muslim,” stands in crass contradiction with the oft presented statements of the Muslims, according to whom the woman enjoys an especially high value in Islam and Mohammed liberated the women from the pre-islamic yoke of oppression.
(By Helmut Zott)
Khomeini, for example, wrote it this way: “The woman experienced two phases of oppression, once during the pre-islamic, heathenistic time when she was a beast and oppressed more than a beast and enslaved; out of this mire, she then later found salvation through Islam. The other time in our age in which, under the description of wanting to “liberate” her, she is treated with injustice, violence and oppression, and the status of dignity, greatness and intellectual significance that she possesses is torn away from her.”
What then agrees with the truth?
“While some passages can be found in the Koran from which come favorable to loving and caring treatment of the woman as action called for by the preacher, her legal position and actual role in society developed into a comprehensive form of multiple underprivileging.” That is what Oriental Studies graduate Hans-Peter Raddatz writes in his book “From God to Allah?” on page 276. Vividly portrayed is this negative transition to “underprivileging,” which the woman’s place back in Mohammed’s time and through Mohammed himself experienced, in the depiction of Arzu Toker, a woman born in Turkey in 1952 and an author and journalist living in Cologne. She wrote the following in an article, with reference to the writings of Prof. Dr. Ilhan Arsel and Truan Dursun:
“In Yemen’s east there was once a place named Hadramut. There, a tribe lived whose women waited impatiently for a message. When the message arrived, they painted their hands with henna, decorated themselves, made music and danced. Around 20 women joined with them. This longed for message stated: Mohammed is dead. They didn’t celebrate the death of Mohammed who had called himself the prophet. They celebrated because they hoped that the time of that system was past that degraded the woman to a sexual object. For before Islam, the Arab woman possessed more rights and freedoms than the orientalists and devout ones would have us to know. They ran business; they went wherever they wanted. They wore what they liked. The chose their own life partners. Even Mohammed himself was chosen to be a husband by his first, 14-year-old wife. However, or perhaps for this very reason, he was content with putting the freedoms of the women and of equality to an end. He raised the enslavement of the woman to a divine order. The women of Hadramut had their hands and feet chopped of in criss-cross fashion and their teeth pulled out by Abu Bekr, the follower of Mohammed. Anyone who defended them found death.”
This moral neglect shown here is an expression of change that has been going on since Mohammed’s exodus (hidjra) from Mecca to Medina in the year 622. His relationship with women also underwent a serious change. “When he entered history in 610, he was around 40 years old and married to the business woman Khadidja. Until her death in 619, she was his only wife. She embodied monogamy as the result of the religious, Meccan phase, that often stood under the influence of Judeo-Christian elements.” … With a veritable flood of other women – the reports vary between 13 and 18 – Muhammad brought about the sociological change over to polygamy.” … Out of the Muhammad monogamy in Mecca emerges the Muhammad harem in Medina” (Hans-Peter Raddatz, “Allah’s Wives” – p.30/34).
In fact, the fable of the betterment of the woman through Mohammed, as well as the equality of value and quality of treatment between the sexes in Islam is just as trite as the slogan “Islam is peace,” for example, and just as wrong, too. Ultimately, the almighty and omniscient Allah decreed the legal difference of treatment between man and woman in the Koran and revealed the existential inequality. To this end, we are enlightened with the following words: “For the sake of your children, Allah has ordained the following: male heirs shall have as much as two females” (4:12 according to Ludwid Ullmann). And in other passages of the Koran we find the supposedly absolute, binding truth for all people and for all time in the following statement: “However, if two men are not in place, then decide upon one man and two women who are suitable for witnesses …” (2:283 according to Ludwig Ullman). In one hadith it is descriptively expanded by Mohammed that the lacking understanding of women is the reason for the difference of treatment, which in his opinion, is totally justified and fair.
This fact is vividly demonstrated and asserted in a hadith (Sahih al-Buhari): “Reports of Deeds and Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad”, Reclam, p.82), in which Abu Sa’id al-Hudri reports of a conversation that Mohammed held with women and in which he said:
” … ‘You women, I counsel you to give alms! For I have seen that the majority of Hell’s inhabitants are women.’ The women questioned him: ‘How does that come about, o Emissary of Allah?’ – ‘Women curse often and are often unthankful to their husbands. Also, I never saw anyone with less understanding and more inferior religiousness than some of you! And you yourselves could beguile an understanding man!’ The women questioned: ‘But why is our religiousness and our understanding lacking, o Emissary of Allah?’ He replied: ‘Is it not that a woman’s testimony comes to only half the weight of a man’s?’ – ‘Yes, of course!’ – ‘The lacking understanding of women is the reason for this! And is it not this way because a woman doesn’t pray or fast during her menstruation?’ – ‘Indeed.’ – ‘That is the lacking religiousness of women.’”
The thing clearly expressed in this dialog and which causes concern is not just Mohammed’s view that the woman is not placed in equality with the man in the legal sense, but that she is assessed in her existence as inferior, and that is with reason why women more often go to Hell.
In Islam, the narrative of Adam and Eva from the Old Testament was taken on with a few changes in the Koran, and with this came the idea of the origen of humanity from a single person. In the seventh Sura, verse 190, the following can be read according to the translation by Ludwig Ullman: “He, Allah, is the one who created you from one man and from him his wife so that he attends to her (finds refreshment).” From this and similarly worded verses in the Koran the islamic view follows and results in the fact that the woman is the secondary creature and subject to the man, created for enjoyment and for the refreshment of the man.
Under the prerequisite of this idea, the following Koran verse in the fourth Sura becomes plausible and is better understood:
“The men are over the women because Allah honored them (in nature above these) and because of the expenses they have made from their wealth (as dowry for the women?!). And the virtuous women are humbly yielded (to Allah) and pay attention to that which is hidden (to the outsiders). And if you fear that (certain) women rebel, then admonish them, avoid them in the bed and beat them! If they obey you (again as a result), then do nothing (further) against them! Allah is noble and great” (according to Rudi Paret Sura 4:34).
This Koran verse contains the much discussed and controversial statement that the woman may and shall be beaten by the husband with Allah’s approval. Muslims will customarily object that the translation is incorrect, taken out of context and can be adequately understood only from the original Arabic text. It is correct that the various translators for German use expressions that vary from each other with this important word that Paret translates with “and beat them.” Thus, in the translation by Max Henning is “and beat them,” and with Lazarus Goldschmidt “and beat them,” but Ludwig Ullmann translates it with “and chastise them,” and in the Ahmadiyya edition it reads “and punish them.”
How then does the distinguished Hanbalite school legal scholar, Koran exegete and interpreter of the tradition Ab? l-Fara? Ibn al-?auz? (1116 – 1200 n. Chr.) interpret this Koran verse? In chapter 67 of his writing “from this, the fact that the man is allowed to beat his wife,” he quotes the Koran passage and makes a striking assertion:
“If the woman rebels against the man or stands against him in something where he has a right, she shall with Allah’s permission, the strong and mighty, be disciplined by his admonition. But if she continues to resist, he shall keep her from the bed. If she still persists, he shall beat her, but not strongly, one or two snaps of the whip or a little more.”
What then, if the wife will not obey after “one or two snaps of the whip or a little more” Is a little more allowed, and where then is the limit? When unconsciousness occurs, or death? In fact, Jaya Gopal writes in “Gabriel’s Whispers” on page 274: “Since the beating of the wife is explicitly permitted, moody husbands grab for psychological as well as physical violence, where the latter can escalate to burning or the fatal beating of the wife.”
Mohammed consistently followed Allah’s will in exemplary fashion and demonstrates authoritatively in this point for all Muslims by beating his own wifes. Of course, this is vehemently denied on the side of Muslims. However, it can be read from Sahih Muslim: “He (Mohammed) beat me (Aisha) on the back, which caused me pain, and said: ‘Do you believe that Allah and his apostle (Mohammed) would treat you unjustly?’” (Sahih Muslim, Book 4, Hadith 2127). “Omar beat his wife, Zubair beat his wife, and the same went for Ali who after all married Mohammed’s daughter…. The women of Medina value their freedom greatly and ‘male chauvinism’ not at all. But due to a godly revelation, they ultimately had to accept the beatings of their husbands” (Jaya Gopal, “Gabriel’s Whispers” – p. 263).
Just as Allah has power and arbitrary freedom to punish or physically eliminate the Muslim man that dares to oppose him, the Muslim man in Allah’s hierarchical structure of “Allah-Mohammed-Man” stands above the woman and as representative of Allah has the commission and duty to watch over and rule over the woman. The difference of rank between man and woman can hardly be more clearly expressed than what Mohammed himself said in a Hadith in the following words: “If it were ordered of me to command somebody to bow before someone other than Allah, then I would certainly have commanded the women to bow to their men. (…) A woman cannot carry out her duties before Allah before she first fulfills the duty she owes to her husband” (Ibn Warraq, “Why I am not a Muslim” – p. 425).<
The wife, whom the man is allowed to look upon as his property by means of the dowry, is not only required to satisfy his sexual needs and be available unconditionally to him in any respect but also obliged to serve the godly commission that arises in the perpetuation and increase of the umma.
Thus it is completely understandable why marriage is declared by the legal scholars as duty and, according to Mohammed’s statement, and constitutes half of the faith: “If one marries, he accomplishes half of the faith; he may be able to keep the other half well,” and furthermore: “Marriage belongs to my way of life; those who don’t act according to my way of life do not belong to my fellowship. Marry! For I will boast in the Last Day through your great number” (quoted according to Moussa Afschar).
What follows from the things said is that the woman is seen as a means to an end and as an object that is to serve the man and to bear children, one whom the man can purchase according to his desire and mood and on whom he is allowed to discharge himself. “In practice, the woman under the yoke of Islam is a ‘thing,’ a being that cannot and is not allowed to live according to her own will and discretion, rather she must submit to the commands of the father, brother, husband, son or any other such custodian. In the eyes of the religious and legal scholars, she is a ‘non-person’ for life” (Jaya Gopal, “Gabriel’s Whispers” – p. 275). Moreover, the eternal salvation of the woman’s soul is dependent upon her obedience to her husband, as the prophet Allah gives us to understand: “If a wife prays five times a day, fasts in the month of fasting, protects her private parts and obeys her husband, she will enter into Paradise.” Therefore, the adherence to the guidelines and commands of the husband is not only a duty to be enforced, but a sacred act through which her way to Paradise is opened, but through which staying in Hell is also certain.
Mohammed, in the eyes of Muslims as the highest ranking of all people and the shining moral example for all Muslims, has an influence on the believers that must not be underestimated. From the beginning until the present, he is absolutely perceived and praised as the spawn of human goodness and essence.
“The oppression of the woman contradicts the teachings of Islam and is in no wise based on the teachings of the holy prophet. The humiliation and degradation of women arises through the ignoring of Allah’s laws,” the Muslims instruct us.
But how is it that we happen upon so many statements in the Koran and Hadith that express and prove the opposite? There is no reason to assume that the deeds and words of Mohammed as handed down in the Hadith are all invented. Why should Muslims who attempt to portray their prophet as exemplary invent so many stories that show him to be an unscrupulous person? “There is (as to be expected) no Hadith that stands in contradiction to the spirit of the Koran; each one only advances its leaning” (Jaya Gopal, “Gabriel’s Whispers” – p. 254).
There are way too many sayings and dealings of Mohammed handed down in the Hadiths where the contempt of women is expressed than can be ignored or explained away. “A devout woman among women is like a white raven among ravens. Hell was made for idiots; the women are the dumbest among the dumb” (Hindi; Hadith number 65) – that is in no way a flattering statement by Mohammed. According to another saying handed down by him, there are three things that invalidate prayer: “The woman, the donkey and the dog” (Hindi). A listing of unclean character is just as remarkable: “This corrupts the prayer of the Muslim: the dog, the pig, the Jew and the woman.” The prayer of the Muslim, however, remains acceptable as long as these pass by “a stone’s throw away” (Abu Dawud, salat 109; Muslim, salat 265).
The evil sayings of Alis (600-661 AD), the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet and Fourth Caliph, are known far and wide, which certainly do not stand in contradiction to the revelations of Allah and the thoughts of his emissary: “The woman is altogether an evil, and the worst of it is that she is needed! Never should a man ask advice of a woman; her counsel is worthless. Hide her so that she doesn’t have any other men before her face.” Also, Umar, the Second Caliph (581-644 AD), revealed the same demon and said regarding the call for the stultification of women: “Keep the women from learning to write! Fight their capricious way” (quoted according to Ibn Warraq, “Why I am not a Muslim” – pp.405/406). And in a similar sense, Persian philosopher al Ghazzali (1058-1111 AD) who is highly appraised in Islam stated four hundred years later when he writes in his “Revival of the Sciences of Religion” (quoted according to Ibn Warraq: “Why I am not a Muslim” – p. 406): “She (the woman) shall not go out often; she is not allowed to be too well informed. (…) Her malice is without limit; her damages pernicious; they (the women) are immoral and of petty disposition.”
The structure of Islam arises out of a hierarchy of power and a temporal line of development. Allah the almighty stands majestic over everything, under him in the human realm is his emissary Mohammed, followed by the islamic man who rules over and leads the low-ranking woman. The non-Muslims who are collectively called infidels are divided into the higher-valued possessors of books with counterfeited truth, that is, Jews and Christians, and into the rest of the infidels who have no justification for existence on earth. In this hierarchical structure and the interface of man and woman is where islamic matrimony is to be arranged. In the structural order of development with a view to the goal of the future of culminating and ending in the umma of humanity with a caliph as representative of Allah on earth, the woman has the unconditional duty of service to the higher and of the requisite multiplication of the Muslims.
Hardly an area in the private life of the woman is regulated so extensively by Islam as marriage. The Arab word for marriage means ‘intercourse’ as well. It isn’t a sacrament like one in the Catholic church, rather a means for reproduction and coitus. Moussa Afschar depicts it thus in any case in his book “The Woman’s Place in Islam – License for Oppression in the Name of Allah,” and Ibn Warraq writes the following regarding these important issues: In the words of a Muslim jurist, marriage for a male Muslim is ‘a commission in which he procures a woman’s reproductive organ, for the express purpose of common use.’ The opposite, of course, does not apply. The reproductive organ of the man is not reserved for the woman (Ibn Warraq, “Why I am not a Muslim,” – p. 409)
Even if Jaya Gopal uses other words, he falls into surprising agreement with the content, regarding the basically same statement, when he writes the following:
For a Muslima, “matrimony” is “concretely the contractual expression of her sexuality. During the course of the contract, she is to satisfy the needs of her husband and comply with his whims. In the slightest disobedience, she runs the danger of inciting the wrath of her husband who has the right to beat, whip or violate her.” With this portrayal on page 250 of his book “Gabriel’s Whispers,” Jaya Gopal likewise touches upon the central and neuralgic point in islamic understanding of matrimony. And in the same sense, however with a more drastic way of expression, Ram Swarup writes: “When we look at the commentaries of the Hidaya (islamic legal commentary) with respect to the so-called dowry, we find here concepts from a merchant: fee or salary, purchase or sale. It means presenting the woman’s body or – in the blunt language of jurists – their sexual organs (bo’oz) as ‘return service for the bridal money’ or as a ‘component of the marriage contract.’ With the matrimony, the woman has the right to her ‘dowry.’ With the consummation of the marriage (that is the sex act), the action of the woman, that is, the availability of her body, namely her sexual organs as rendered, is considered as purchased, and for this she has the right for the payment of compensation, of the bridal money” (quoted according to Jaya Gopal: “Gabriel’s Whispers” – p. 272).
What is irritating and offensive for a generally human feeling is the fact that islamic marriage, according to these statements, is portrayed in principle as an institutionalized contractual prostitution. Whether or not one still prays to Allah or invokes his blessing is insignificant. The purchase agreement made by the custodian and the legal incapacitation of the woman are the true scandal since the right of the Muslim put a legal signature on the contract is as much refused as the freedom to choose her future husband on her own. And in the worst case and likely against her will, she must also share the partner forced upon her with three other wives.
A self-determined marriage is, in perverse fashion, evaluated and condemned as “fornication” in Islam: “A fornicator is that woman who herself marries” (according to Gopal: Mishkat-ul-Masabih 27:42). Aisha reported that the prophet said: ‘A woman who herself marries without the permission of her custodian, her marriage is null and void, null and void, null and void’ (according to Gopal: Mishkat-ul-Masabih 27:40).
These last sayings from Mohammed are also pieces in the mosaic that, on observation, render for us the woman’s place in Islam. However, this image is the direct opposite of that which the Muslims present to us with apparently solid conviction. When the above cited verbal statements from the Muslim side are turned around, they agree with that which reveals itself to us as findings and truth: “The oppression of the woman complies with the teaching of Islam and is based in visible fashion on the teachings of the holy prophet. The humiliation and disenfranchising of women arise from the adherence to Allah’s laws.”
Guest Article on PI / Translation: Anders Denken