The last writing I am going to post on the issue of Islam and women is a message that I wrote a few weeks ago in a heated discussion that occurred within a group called GoddessChristians. The analysis that I used is a basically based on what I have learned from writers Amina Wadud, Fatima Mernissi, and others.
Ok , Theo perhaps I over responded to your comments. When I responded to you I was particularly unhappy because while two of my own posts had been disapproved because they were “off subject,” posts severely negative on Islam yours being one of them had continued. To be honest I also had the image of you in mind as being some young male zealous to show how enlightened he was by asking rhetorical questions which in fact were designed to show further disrespect for Islam. You evidently are not the person that I had in my head.
As far as this issue of Islamic repression of women goes, I do not deny the fact that in almost all Moslem society women face either greater or lessor degrees of discrimination and inequality. Some of the worse oppressions are female genital mutilation practiced mainly in African countries, honor killings of young unmarried women by family members for supposed sexual misconduct, about two of these in occur in Pakistan daily, and in general laws that treat women as second class citizens.
However what I have objected to is the idea that all Moslem women are slaves, beaten by husbands, victims of pedophilia or uneducated. I also object to the idea that the Koran was developed as a text to oppress women. One of the articles which I wished to post was an article by one of the founders of the current Islamic feminist movement who believes that the Koran is a liberatory document for women. The post was not allowed.
So you may ask some good questions such as how can the Koran be liberating when it gives women lesser inheritance rights than men and commands men to beat women? I will deal with these in order. The fact of the matter is that prior to the advent of Islam in general though out the Arabian peninsula women had no inheritance rights at all. Of course a few did but it was not common. The Koran in contrast while it did not overthrow the full system legislated that on the death of parents that daughters were to receive an inheritance of at least a half of what sons received. This inheritance was for the woman to use alone. It was to be controlled by her alone. In contrast it was expected that men would use their own inheritance to support both themselves, wives, and families. When this is seen the inequality of treatment can be seen as being some what less than it appears on the surface.
Another aspect of the inheritance issue was the issue of bride prices. Traditionally in Arabia the man paid an agreed upon amount of money to the father of the bride to marry her. The Koran instead states that the bride price is to go not to the father but to the bride herself. It becomes part of her own wealth in addition to her inheritance at the death of her parents. This “dowry” as it is sometimes called is not to be under the control of her husband. Further more it must be understood in looking at all of this that in general there was little real work for women outside of the home in pre industrial Arabia. It was normally expected that men would support women out of their own wealth and substance. Thus what the women owned directly themselves was for their own use only. The historical reality is that in general the Koranic defined property rights of Islamic women was greater that those of women in Western societies until as late as the 20th century.
However while Koranic legislation definitely raised the economic status of women a substantial degree \of inequality still existed. Why? The reason was that Mohammed himself was not all powerful within the Islamic community, and even he himself may have had some biases. When the Koranic rule came down that women were to receive inheritance along with the sons most Moslem men were enraged. They felt that since they supported their wives and women did not work ( obviously they did in the home) that women should in fact receive no inheritances at all. Mohammed was the religious political leader of over 10,000 people. If he had attempted to go further than he did, if he had been more equalitarian, more forceful in favor of women than he already was he may have had a major male revolt on his hands that may have endangered the future of Islam altogether. He did what he could realistically do. One might find a parallel in American politics in which Presidents get elected with certain goals and find that the power structures are such that only limited amounts of change is possible.
Ok well what about the issue of wife beating? To deal with this issue again an understanding of the situation of Arabian society prior to Islam is necessary. One must also understand both the example of Mohammed’s own life and the Arabic language. In Arabian society no laws existed against spousal abuse at all. The family structure was patriarchal and it was very common for men to beat their wives. The second thing that one must understand is that no stories exist that suggest that Mohammed ever beat his own wives. He in fact was regarded by many Moslem men as what is derogatorily termed as “hen pecked.” On one occasion Mohammed even left home as a result of a fight with his wives and went to live with Abu Bakr his best friend for a while. One must also listen to what Mohammed said. He said “You should not beat the women servants of God.” He said “Do you beat your wife like you do a camel, for you will be beating her early in the day and taking her to bed at night.” He said “the best of you are those who are best to your family.” All of these recognized hadiths would seem to suggest that Mohammed did not believe in wife beating.
Another issue is the issue of language. The word for “beat” that is used in the famous 4.34 of the Koran is “daraba” which certainly can interpreted as “to beat or strike.” It can also have a multitude of other meaning one of them being “to leave” or “to separate from.” Apparently it can also be used metaphorically “as to go to bed with” in the sexual sense. Here is one of the translations of the famous Koran 4.34, Yusuf Ali’s translation is:
“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).”
It believed by some modern interpreters of the Koran that the interpretation of the Arabic word “daraba” instead of being “to beat” more properly should be translated as “to leave or separate. This of course gives a completely non violent meaning to the verse. However lets assume that the proper meaning of this word daraba is to beat or strike. Still the intention of this verse when looked at in the context of the whole is not oppress women but on the contrary to further positive marital relations. What the verse does is to suggest a cooling off period in which discussion and sexual distance are to be used in dealing with a problem and only if they fail can a woman be hit. Yes there are of course problems with this and also with other aspects of the verse from a modern feminist egalitarian perspective. However in the context of 7th century Arabia the verse would have had the effect of moderating male violence toward women not the reverse. A few notes. Theo, most of the translators I have read believe that the “disloyalty and ill conduct” that is feared is in fact marital infidelity and not ordinary disagreements of marriage. The phase that women are “devoutly obedient” means that they should be devoutly obedient to God not to husbands. In fact the Koran say little which can be interpreted that women must be obedient to husbands.
Theo these are just two examples from the Koran which are repeatedly utilitized in the West to show that Islam is anti woman by its nature. I think that when analyzed in context of history and culture that these types of verses in general show something completely different. Many other verses can be shown for example to demonstrate that both the honor killings of young pre married women and female genital mutilation are simply un-islamic. They are practices that to the shame of Islam have been permitted in some countries which pride themselves on their commitment to Islam. Some within these nations may even think that they are Islamic just like some Southerners prior to the civil rights movement thought that marriage between black and whites was in opposition to God. However they were wrong and those who practice the abominations of honor killings and female genital mutilations are wrong.
I will end this with your question about why we are even talking about Islam in a goddess group. Well in general this group never talks about Islam. However the issue was brought up by another and I feel very strongly that some of us must present the alternative side to the issue.