Women In Islam versus Judaeo-Christian Tradition The Myth & The Reality


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  • Women In Islam versus Judaeo-Christian Tradition The Myth & The Reality



  • 17. Epilogue

    The one question all the non-Muslims, who had read an earlier version
    of this study, had in common was: do Muslim women in the Muslim world
    today receive this noble treatment described here? The answer,
    unfortunately, is: No. Since this question is inevitable in any
    discussion concerning the status of women in Islam, we have to
    elaborate on the answer in order to provide the reader with the
    complete picture.

    It has to be made clear first that the vast differences among Muslim
    societies make most generalisations too simplistic. There is a wide
    spectrum of attitudes towards women in the Muslim world today. These
    attitudes differ from one society to another and within each individual
    society. Nevertheless, certain general trends are discernible. Almost
    all Muslim societies have, to one degree or another, deviated from the
    ideals of Islam with respect to the status of women. These deviations
    have, for the most part, been in one of two opposite directions. The
    first direction is more conservative, restrictive, and
    traditions-oriented, while the second is more liberal and
    Western-oriented.

    The societies that have digressed in the first direction treat women
    according to the customs and traditions inherited from their forebears.
    These traditions usually deprive women of many rights granted to them
    by Islam. Besides, women are treated according to standards far
    different from those applied to men. This discrimination pervades the
    life of any female: she is received with less joy at birth than a boy;
    she is less likely to go to school; she might be deprived any share of
    her family's inheritance; she is under continuous surveillance in order
    not to behave immodestly while her brother's immodest acts are
    tolerated; she might even be killed for committing what her male family
    members usually boast of doing; she has very little say in family
    affairs or community interests; she might not have full control over
    her property and her marriage gifts; and finally as a mother she
    herself would prefer to produce boys so that she can attain a higher
    status in her community.

    On the other hand, there are Muslim societies (or certain classes
    within some societies) that have been swept over by the Western culture
    and way of life. These societies often imitate unthinkingly whatever
    they receive from the West and usually end up adopting the worst fruits
    of Western civilisation. In these societies, a typical "modern" woman's
    top priority in life is to enhance her physical beauty. Therefore, she
    is often obsessed with her body's shape, size, and weight. She tends to
    care more about her body than her mind and more about her charms than
    her intellect. Her ability to charm, attract, and excite is more valued
    in the society than her educational achievements, intellectual
    pursuits, and social work. One is not expected to find a copy of the
    Quran in her purse since it is full of cosmetics that accompany her
    wherever she goes. Her spirituality has no room in a society
    preoccupied with her attractiveness. Therefore, she would spend her
    life striving more to realise her femininity than to fulfil her
    humanity.

    Why did Muslim societies deviate from the ideals of Islam? There is no
    easy answer. A penetrating explanation of the reasons why Muslims have
    not adhered to the Quranic guidance with respect to women would be
    beyond the scope of this study. It has to be made clear, however, that
    Muslim societies have deviated from the Islamic precepts concerning so
    many aspects of their lives for so long. There is a wide gap between
    what Muslims are supposed to believe in and what they actually
    practice. This gap is not a recent phenomenon. It has been there for
    centuries and has been widening day after day. This ever widening gap
    has had disastrous consequences on the Muslim world manifested in
    almost all aspects of life: political tyranny and fragmentation,
    economic backwardness, social injustice, scientific bankruptcy,
    intellectual stagnation, etc. The non-Islamic status of women in the
    Muslim world today is merely a symptom of a deeper malady. Any reform
    in the current status of Muslim women is not expected to be fruitful if
    not accompanied with more comprehensive reforms of the Muslim
    societies' whole way of life. The Muslim world is in need for a
    renaissance that will bring it closer to the ideals of Islam and not
    further from them. To sum up, the notion that the poor status of Muslim
    women today is because of Islam is an utter misconception. The problems
    of Muslims in general are not due to too much attachment to Islam, they
    are the culmination of a long and deep detachment from it.

    It has, also, to be re-emphasised that the purpose behind this
    comparative study is not, by any means, to defame Judaism or
    Christianity. The position of women in the Judaeo-Christian tradition
    might seem frightening by our late twentieth century standards.
    Nevertheless, it has to be viewed within the proper historical context.
    In other words, any objective assessment of the position of women in
    the Judaeo-Christian tradition has to take into account the historical
    circumstances in which this tradition developed. There can be no doubt
    that the views of the Rabbis and the Church Fathers regarding women
    were influenced by the prevalent attitudes towards women in their
    societies. The Bible itself was written by different authors at
    different times. These authors could not have been impervious to the
    values and the way of life of the people around them. For example, the
    adultery laws of the Old Testament are so biased against women that
    they defy rational explanation by our mentality. However, if we
    consider the fact that the early Jewish tribes were obsessed with their
    genetic homogeneity and extremely eager to define themselves apart from
    the surrounding tribes and that only sexual misconduct by the married
    females of the tribes could threaten these cherished aspirations, we
    should then be able to understand, but not necessarily sympathise with,
    the reasons for this bias. Also, the diatribes of the Church Fathers
    against women should not be detached from the context of the misogynist
    Greco-Roman culture in which they lived. It would be unfair to evaluate
    the Judaeo-Christian legacy without giving any consideration to the
    relevant historical context.

    In fact, a proper understanding of the Judaeo-Christian historical
    context is also crucial for understanding the significance of the
    contributions of Islam to world history and human civilisation. The
    Judaeo-Christian tradition had been influenced and shaped by the
    environments, conditions, and cultures in which it had existed. By the
    seventh century C.E., this influence had distorted the original divine
    message revealed to Moses and Jesus beyond recognition. The poor status
    of women in the Judaeo-Christian world by the seventh century is just
    one case in point. Therefore, there was a great need for a new divine
    message that would guide humanity back to the straight path. The Quran
    described the mission of the new Messenger as a release for Jews and
    Christians from the heavy burdens that had been upon them: "Those who
    follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned
    in their own Scriptures--In the Law and the Gospel-- For he commands
    them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as
    lawful what is good and prohibits them from what is bad; He releases
    them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them"
    (7:157).

    Therefore, Islam should not be viewed as a rival tradition to Judaism
    or Christianity. It has to be regarded as the consummation, completion,
    and perfection of the divine messages that had been revealed before it.
    At the end of this study, I would like to offer the following advice to
    the global Muslim community. So many Muslim women have been denied
    their basic Islamic rights for so long. The mistakes of the past have
    to be corrected. To do that is not a favour, it is a duty incumbent
    upon all Muslims. The world-wide Muslim community have to issue a
    charter of Muslim women's rights based on the instructions of the Quran
    and the teachings of the Prophet of Islam. This charter must give
    Muslim women all the rights endowed to them by their Creator. Then, all
    the necessary means have to be developed in order to ensure the proper
    implementation of the charter. This charter is long overdue, but it is
    better late than never. If Muslims world-wide will not guarantee the
    full Islamic rights of their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters,
    who else will ? Furthermore, we must have the courage to confront our
    past and reject outright the traditions and customs of our forefathers
    whenever they contravene the precepts of Islam. Did the Quran not
    severely criticise the pagan Arabs for blindly following the traditions
    of their ancestors? On the other hand, we have to develop a critical
    attitude towards whatever we receive from the West or from any other
    culture. Interaction with and learning from other cultures is an
    invaluable experience. The Quran has succinctly considered this
    interaction as one of the purposes of creation: " O mankind We created
    you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into
    nations and tribes, that you may know each other" (49:13). It goes
    without saying, however, that blind imitation of others is a sure sign
    of an utter lack of self-esteem.

    It is to the non-Muslim reader, Jewish, Christian, or otherwise, that
    these final words are dedicated. It is bewildering why the religion
    that had revolutionised the status of women is being singled out and
    denigrated as so repressive of women. This perception about Islam is
    one of the most widespread myths in our world today. This myth is being
    perpetuated by a ceaseless barrage of sensational books, articles,
    media images, and Hollywood movies. The inevitable outcome of these
    incessant misleading images has been total misunderstanding and fear of
    anything related to Islam. This negative portrayal of Islam in the
    world media has to end if we are to live in a world free from all
    traces of discrimination, prejudice, and misunderstanding. Non-Muslims
    ought to realise the existence of a wide gap between Muslims' beliefs
    and practices and the simple fact that the actions of Muslims do not
    necessarily represent Islam. To label the status of women in the Muslim
    world today as "Islamic" is as far from the truth as labelling the
    position of women in the West today as "Judaeo-Christian". With this
    understanding in mind, Muslims and non-Muslims should start a process
    of communication and dialogue in order to remove all misconceptions,
    suspicions, and fears. A peaceful future for the human family
    necessitates such a dialogue.

    Islam should be viewed as a religion that had immensely improved the
    status of women and had granted them many rights that the modern world
    has recognised only this century. Islam still has so much to offer
    today's woman: dignity, respect, and protection in all aspects and all
    stages of her life from birth until death in addition to the
    recognition, the balance, and means for the fulfilment of all her
    spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional needs. No wonder most
    of those who choose to become Muslims in a country like Britain are
    women. In the U.S. women converts to Islam outnumber male converts 4 to
    1. 85 Islam has so much to offer our world, which is in great need of
    moral guidance and leadership. Ambassador Herman Eilts, in a testimony
    in front of the committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of
    Representatives of the United States Congress on June 24th, 1985, said,
    "The Muslim community of the globe today is in the neighbourhood of one
    billion. That is an impressive figure. But what to me is equally
    impressive is that Islam today is the fastest growing monotheistic
    religion. This is something we have to take into account. Something is
    right about Islam. It is attracting a good many people." Yes, something
    is right about Islam and it is time to find that out. I hope this study
    is a step on this direction.

     End

     

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