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There has been much disagreement over whether the Koran sub-standardizes the status of women, therefore causing inferiority to men. Most of those who follow this school of thought belong to other religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity. However, by Muslims, it is contended that the Koran actually creates equality among men and women and establishes more respect for women than Judaism and Christianity. This essay will examine mainly Christianity’s negative view of women through Eve, her legacy, the birth of daughters, and female education and compare those views to the more positive views of the Koran.
All three religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, agree on one basic fact, with regards to men and women: both were created by God. However, after that fact, disagreement begins soon after the creation of Adam and Eve.
The Judeo-Christian idea of the creation of the first man and woman is recounted in detail in Genesis 2:4-3:24. It states that God prohibited both Adam and Eve from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The serpent seduces Eve to eat the fruit and Eve in turn seduces Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. In Genesis is says that when God rebuked Adam for eating the fruit, Adam placed the cause of his disobedience on Eve saying, “It was the woman you gave to be with me who gave me fruit from the tree and I ate it” (Gen.3:12). As a result of Adam’s statement God says to Eve, “I shall give you great labor in childbearing; with labor you will bear children.
You will desire your husband, but he will be your master” (Gen.3:16). God then goes on to agree with Adam’s assertion of Eve’s seduction being the cause of his downfall, stating, “Because you have listened to your wife and have eaten from the tree which I forbade you, …”(Gen.3:17) and renders his punishment of Adam.
The Islamic conception of the creation is found in different places in the Koran, for example:
To Adam he said: “Dwell with your wife in Paradise, and eat of any fruit you please; but never approach this tree or you both shall become transgressors.”
But Satan tempted them, so that he might reveal to them their shameful parts, which they had never seen before. He said: “Your Lord has forbidden you to approach this tree only to prevent you from becoming angels or immortals.” Then he swore to them that he would give them friendly counsel.
Thus did he cunningly seduce them. And when they had eaten of the tree, their shame became visible to them, and they both covered themselves with the leaves of the Garden.
Their Lord called out to them, saying: “Did I not forbid you to approach that tree, and did I not say to you that Satan was your inveterate foe?”
They replied: “Lord, we have wronged our souls. Pardon us and have mercy on us, or we shall be among the lost.”(7:19:-23)
Carefully looking at these two accounts of the same story of the Creation, reveals the first of many differences in how women are viewed. The Koran, unlike the Bible, never places sole responsibility for the fall of man on just Eve, rather it places equal blame on both Adam and Eve. Nowhere in the Koran can one find the slightest hint that Adam was tempted to eat the forbidden fruit by Eve. Nor can the idea be found that Eve ate the fruit before Adam did. There is no idea of the temptress, no seduction nor deception. Furthermore, Eve is not blamed for the pains of childbirth. According to the Koran, God does not punish one for other’s mistakes; therefore, Adam had to have been guilty of the same error as Eve, for he was punished as well.
The image of Eve as a temptress in the Bible has caused an extremely negative view and impact on women, especially throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition. All women are believed to have inherited their ways from their mother, the Biblical Eve. They are to have inherited her guilt and cunningness. As a result, woman are viewed, in this tradition, to be untrustworthy, morally inferior, and wicked. Childbirth and menstruation is often considered their punishment for the guilt of their eternally cursed sex.
The negative impact of the Bible’s Eve is seen in many of the most important written works of Jews and Christians. In the Old Testament, one finds:
I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is a net to catch and whose hands are fetters. He who is pleasing to God may escape her, but the sinner she will entrap…I have found one man in a thousand worthy to be called upright, but I have not found one woman among them all.(Ecc. 7:26-28)
One then reads in the Apocrypha, “There is nothing so bad as a wife; may the fate of the wicked overtake her… Sin began with a woman, and because of her we all die”(Ecclesiasticus 25:19,24).
The Biblical Eve’s sin has caused Christians to believe that Jesus Christ’s mission on Earth resulted from Eve’s disobedience, which brought mankind into sin. Therefore, it is the belief that Eve is responsible for Adam’s sin, the “original sin” of all of humanity, and the death of the Son of God. In short, one woman caused the fall of humanity. If it is believed that all woman have inherited Eve’s guilt and guile, then how are they to be viewed? The answer: like sinners.
St. Paul said in the New Testament that women should learn to be quite and submissive. He said that he did not permit a woman to teach or have authority over man, for silence is what suits her best. St. Thomas Aquinas said that women were defective and even the reformer, Martin Luther, said that women had no other benefit to the world than child bearing. Again and again, one sees the degeneration of women because of the image of the temptress, which is owed to the account of Genesis. In short, the Judeo-Christian concept of women has been tainted by the sinful nature of the Biblical Eve.
Now, if one looks at what the Koran says about women, one sees the different concept of women from the Judeo-Christian concept:
Those who submit to God and accept the true faith; who are devout, sincere, patient, humble, charitable, and chaste; who fast and ever mindful of God-on these, both men and women, God will bestow forgiveness and a rich recompense.(33:35)
The true believers, both men and women, are friends to one another. They enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil; they attend regular prayers, and render alms levy and obey God and his apostle. (9:71)
Their Lord answers them, saying: “I will deny no man or woman among you the reward of their labors. You are the offspring of one another.”(3:195)
Here, one sees the Koran establishes equality between men and women. They are both creatures of God, who have been placed here to worship God, to do righteous acts, and avoid evil. In addition, both will be assessed by God accordingly. The Koran never makes the woman out to be a deceiver by nature nor the devil’s access to man. The Koran never makes man the image of God, for all men and women are his creatures. A woman, according to the Koran, is not limited to her worth just being childbirth and she is required to do the same amount of good acts as any man. In addition, the Koran never says that no upright women ever existed.
The difference between the Biblical and Koranic attitudes towards the female sex actually begins when a female is born. The Bible in Leviticus says that the period of the childbearing mother’s impurity is twice as long for the birth of a girl than a boy. The Apocrypha says the birth of a girl is a loss and is a painful burden, for a girl is a potential source of shame for her father. However, it then goes on to praise the birth of boys, saying, “He who educates his son makes his enemy envious”(Ecclesiasticus 30:3).
The Koran greatly disagrees with the shame of having a girl for child. In earlier times, Arabs were so shamed to have daughters that at birth they practiced infanticide, the killing of infants. The Koran specifically addresses this on three occasions and as a result the practice stopped. The Koran says:
They foist daughters upon God(glory be to Him!), but for themselves they choose what they desire. When the birth of a girl is announced to any of them, his countenance darkens and he is filled with gloom. On account of the bad news he hides himself from men: should he put up with the shame or bury her in the earth? How ill they judge!(16:57)
There is never a distinction made between a good birth or bad birth, for boys and girls are equal in Islam. The birth of a female is even considered a gift and a blessing from God, the same as the birth of males and it goes on to mention the gift of the female birth before that of the male, “God has sovereignty over the heavens and the earth. He creates what he will. He gives daughters to whom he will and sons to whom he pleases. To some he gives both sons and daughters…”(42:49).
The difference between the Biblical and Koranic conception of women is also seen in the attitudes towards the education of women. In first Corinthians, St. Paul states:
As in all congregations of God’s people, women should keep silent at the meeting. They have no permission to talk, but should keep their place as the law directs. If there is something they want to know, they can ask their husbands at home. It is a shocking thing for a woman to talk at the meeting. (Cor.14:34,35)
How can a woman learn if she is not to speak? How can she grow intellectually if she is obligated to be in a state of full submission? And how can she learn if her only source of information is her husband?
The Koran contrast greatly with the aforementioned passage, for in the Koran one sees a woman even arguing with the Prophet Muhammad. A woman named Khawlah went to the Prophet about a statement that confused her marriage, for the statement could be taken as that of a divorce statement, yet it did not free her from her husband. She went to Muhammad to plead her case; however, he felt that she should be patient, so she kept arguing with him to save her marriage.
Khawlah’s plea was accepted and a chapter of the Koran speaks of this incident, “God has heard her who pleaded with you against her husband and her plaint to God. God has heard what you two said to each other. God hears and observes all”(58:1). Therefore, a woman in Islam has the right to even argue with the high leaders like the prophet himself. No one can instruct her to be silent and she is under no obligation to consider her husband the only source of information on matters of law and religion.
By comparing the Koran to Judeo-Christian ideas about women, it is clear that the Koran does not belittle nor make women inferior, rather it speaks of the equality of man and woman. Aside from the four issues discussed, the Koran sets provisions for the proper treatment of women in affairs like finances. The guidelines given there further attest to the idea of non-inferiority, as it grants woman equal rights to contract, enterprise, independent earnings and possession, and shares in inheritances. Her life, property, and honor are as sacred as a man’s. The Koran’s purpose with regards to women was never to belittle them, rather the reproach of those who believe women are inferior to men.
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