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Monday, July 27, 2009

Women In Islam Versus Women In The Judaeo-Christian Tradition (part 1)

In the name of Allah, the Most-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.

"May the Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon You"

Bismillah Walhamdulillah Was Salaatu Was Salaam 'ala Rasulillah
As-Salaam Alaikum Wa-Rahmatullahi Wa-Barakatuhu.

Women in Islam versus Judeo-Christian Tradition.
The Myth & The Reality - by Dr. Sherif Mohammad

1. EVES FAULT

The three religions agree on one basic fact:
Both women and men are created by God, The Creator of the whole universe. However, disagreement starts soon after the creation of the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve.

The Judaeo-Christian conception of the creation of Adam and Eve is narrated in detail in Genesis 2:4-3:24.
God prohibited both of them from eating the fruits of the forbidden tree. The serpent seduced Eve to eat from it and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam for what he did, he put all the blame on Eve, "The woman you put here with me --she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it."

Consequently, God said to Eve:
"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you."

To Adam He said:
"Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree .... Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life..."

The Islamic conception of the first creation is found in several places in the Quran, for example:
"O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm and transgression.

Then Satan whispered to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them and he said: 'Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever.' And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies.

And their Lord called unto them: 'Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?'

They said: 'Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost' " (7:19:23).

A careful look into the two accounts of the story of the Creation reveals some essential differences.
The Quran, contrary to the Bible, places equal blame on both Adam and Eve for their mistake. Nowhere in the Quran can one find even the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree or even that she had eaten before him. Eve in the Quran is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. Moreover, Eve is not to be blamed for the pains of childbearing. God, according to the Quran, punishes no one for anothers faults.

Both Adam and Eve committed a sin and then asked God for forgiveness and He forgave them both.

2. EVES LEGACY

The image of Eve as temptress in the Bible has resulted in an extremely negative impact on women throughout the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

All women were believed to have inherited from their mother, the Biblical Eve, both her guilt and her guile. Consequently, they were all untrustworthy, morally inferior, and wicked.

Menstruation, pregnancy, and childbearing were considered the just punishment for the eternal guilt of the cursed female sex.

In order to appreciate how negative the impact of the Biblical Eve was on all her female descendants we have to look at the writings of some of the most important Jews and Christians of all time.

Let us start with the Old Testament and look at excerpts from what is called the Wisdom Literature in which we find:

"I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare....while I was still searching but not finding, I found one upright man among a thousand but not one upright woman among them all" (Ecclesiastes 7:26-28).

In another part of the Hebrew literature which is found in the Catholic Bible we read:
"No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman.....Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die" (Ecclesiasticus 25:19,24).

Jewish Rabbis listed nine curses inflicted on women as a result of the Fall:

"To the woman He gave nine curses and death: the burden of the blood of menstruation and the blood of virginity; the burden of pregnancy; the burden of childbirth; the burden of bringing up the children; her head is covered as one in mourning; she pierces her ear like a permanent slave or slave girl who serves her master; she is not to be believed as a witness; and after everything--death." 2

To the present day, orthodox Jewish men in their daily morning prayer recite
"Blessed be God King of the universe that Thou has not made me a woman."
The women, on the other hand, thank God every morning for "making me according to Thy will." 3

Another prayer found in many Jewish prayer books: "Praised be God that he has not created me a gentile. Praised be God that he has not created me a woman. Praised be God that he has not created me an ignoramus." 4

The Biblical Eve has played a far bigger role in Christianity than in Judaism. Her sin has been pivotal to the whole Christian faith because the Christian conception of the reason for the mission of Jesus Christ on Earth stems from Eves disobedience to God. She had sinned and then seduced Adam to follow her suit. Consequently, God expelled both of them from Heaven to Earth, which had been cursed because of them. They bequeathed their sin, which had not been forgiven by God, to all their descendants and, thus, all humans are born in sin. In order to purify human beings from their original sin, God had to sacrifice Jesus, who is considered to be the Son of God, on the cross.

Therefore, Eve is responsible for her own mistake, her husbands sin, the original sin of all humanity, and the death of the Son of God. In other words, one woman acting on her own caused the fall of humanity. 5

What about her daughters? They are sinners like her and have to be treated as such. Listen to the severe tone of St. Paul in the New Testament:

"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I dont permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner" (I Timothy 2:11-14).

St. Tertullian was even more blunt than St. Paul, while he was talking to his 'best beloved sisters' in the faith, he said: 6

"Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil's gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily Gods image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die."

Again and again all women are denigrated because of the image of Eve the temptress, thanks to the Genesis account. To sum up, the Judaeo-Christian conception of women has been poisoned by the belief in the sinful nature of Eve and her female offspring.
If we now turn our attention to what the Quran has to say about women, we will soon realize that the Islamic conception of women is radically different from the Judaeo-Christian one.

Let the Quran speak for itself:

"For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allahs praise-- For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward" (33:35).

"The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil, they observe regular prayers, practise regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise" (9:71).

"And their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you a male or female, you are members one of another" (3:195).

"Whoever works evil will not be requited but by the like thereof, and whoever works a righteous deed -whether man or woman- and is a believer- such will enter the Garden of bliss" (40:40).

It is clear that the Quranic view of women is no different than that of men. They, both, are Gods creatures whose sublime goal on earth is to worship their Lord, do righteous deeds, and avoid evil and they, both, will be assessed accordingly.

The Quran never mentions that the woman is the devils gateway or that she is a deceiver by nature. The Quran, also, never mentions that man is Gods image; all men and all women are his creatures, that is all.

According to the Quran, a womans role on earth is not limited only to childbirth. She is required to do as many good deeds as any other man is required to do. The Quran never says that no upright women have ever existed. To the contrary, the Quran has instructed all the believers, women as well as men, to follow the example of those ideal women such as the Virgin Mary and the Pharoahs wife:

"And Allah sets forth, As an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: 'O my lord build for me, in nearness to you, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings and save me from those who do wrong.' And Mary the daughter of Imran who guarded her chastity and We breathed into her body of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His revelations and was one of the devout" (66:11-13).


3. SHAMEFUL DAUGHTERS ?

In fact, the difference between the Biblical and the Quranic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born.

For example, the Bible states that the period of the mothers ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than if a boy is (Lev. 12:2-5).

The Catholic Bible states explicitly that:
"The birth of a daughter is a loss" (Ecclesiasticus 22:3).

In contrast to this shocking statement, boys receive special praise:
"A man who educates his son will be the envy of his enemy." (Ecclesiasticus 30:3)
Jewish Rabbis made it an obligation on Jewish men to produce offspring in order to propagate the race.

At the same time, they did not hide their clear preference for male children : "It is well for those whose children are male but ill for those whose are female",
"At the birth of a boy, all are joyful...at the birth of a girl all are sorrowful", and
"When a boy comes into the world, peace comes into the world... When a girl comes, nothing comes."7

A daughter is considered a painful burden, a potential source of shame to her father:
"Your daughter is headstrong? Keep a sharp look-out that she does not make you the laughing stock of your enemies, the talk of the town, the object of common gossip, and put you to public shame" (Ecclesiasticus 42:11).

"Keep a headstrong daughter under firm control, or she will abuse any indulgence she receives. Keep a strict watch on her shameless eye, do not be surprised if she disgraces you" (Ecclesiasticus 26:10-11).

It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide.

The Quran severely condemned this heinous practice:
"When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil they decide on?" (16:59).

It has to be mentioned that this sinister crime would have never stopped in Arabia were it not for the power of the scathing terms the Quran used to condemn this practice (16:59, 43:17, 81:8-9).

The Quran, moreover, makes no distinction between boys and girls. In contrast to the Bible, the Quran considers the birth of a female as a gift and a blessing from God, the same as the birth of a male.

The Quran even mentions the gift of the female birth first:
" To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills" (42:49).

In order to wipe out all the traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, Prophet Muhammad promised those who were blessed with daughters of a great reward if they would bring them up kindly:
"He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire" (Bukhari and Muslim).

"Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers" (Muslim).

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NOTES
1. The Globe and Mail, Oct. 4,1994.
2. Leonard J. Swidler, Women in Judaism: the Status of Women in Formative Judaism (Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press, 1976) p. 115.
3. Thena Kendath, "Memories of an Orthodox youth" in Susannah Heschel, ed. On being a Jewish Feminist (New York: Schocken Books, 1983), pp. 96-97.
4. Swidler, op. cit., pp. 80-81.
5. Rosemary R. Ruether, "Christianity", in Arvind Sharma, ed., Women in World Religions (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987) p. 209.
6. For all the sayings of the prominent Saints, see Karen Armstrong, The Gospel According to Woman (London: Elm Tree Books, 1986) pp. 52-62. See also Nancy van Vuuren, The Subversion of Women as Practiced by Churches, Witch-Hunters, and Other Sexists (Philadelphia: Westminister Press) pp. 28-30.
7. Swidler, op. cit., p. 140.
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