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Myth 9 Women Are Respected and Equal in Islam

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When Americans and other Westerners think of Islam and the Middle East, perhaps one of the first images that comes to mind is that of Muslim women, swaddled in thick robes, their faces covered. Islam is generally associated with disrespect for the rights, and even the personhood, of women. Women in the Western world, and also in many non-Western countries such as India, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere, have seen their lot in life improved and their rights as human beings recognized. This sort of liberalization is not usually associated with the Muslim world, however. Is this a fair perception? Is there any basis for saying that Islam degrades women, that this disrespect is not just an aberration, but is ingrained within the Islamic religion? The answer to these questions, as ought to be seen by any clear-minded observer, is yes.
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  Myth #9   Women are Respected and Equal in Islam   “The man that lays his hand on a woman,  Save in the way of kindness, is a wretch, Whom „twere gross flattery to name a coward.”  - John Tobin, The Honeymoon      Muslim Women in the West - The Whitewash     A Woman's Legal Status in Islam     A Woman's Social Status in Islam     Honor Killing and Other Atrocities     Women as Objects of Carnality When Americans and other Westerners think of Islam and the Middle East, perhaps one of the first images that comes to mind is that of Muslim women, swaddled in thick robes, their faces covered. Islam is generally associated with disrespect for the rights, and even the personhood, of women. Women in the Western world, and also in many non-Western countries such as India, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere, have seen their lot in life improved and their rights as human beings recognized. This sort of liberalization is not usually associated with the Muslim world, however. Is this a fair perception? Is there any basis for saying that Islam degrades women, that this disrespect is not just an aberration, but is ingrained within the Islamic religion? The answer to these questions, as ought to be seen by any clear-minded observer, is yes . Muslim Women in the West - The Whitewash  Muslim women in the United States and other Western nations often will allow themselves to be used to whitewash Islam's image as it is presented to the public at-large. Typically, these women living here in the West operate under the banner of reaffirming the rights that women have traditionally enjoyed in Islam. Much is made of the (technically true) fact that women in  Islam are granted the rights to own property and receive inheritance, primarily. Indeed, in the light of the way in which women were treated in pre-Islamic Arabia, the granting of the rights to own property and to inherit from a dead relative is  a step forward, considering women were denied even these in the pre-Islamic tribal system. However, it should be noted that the Muslim women who seek to promote Islam as a tolerant and progressive force for women‟s rights often draw less than honest conclusions from the simple quranic affirmation of property rights. Typically, they attempt to draw their readers or listeners into jumping from this technically   correct statement about women's rights in Islam to a false association of Islam with Western-style assertions of the personhood and legal rights of women. On a number of occasions, I have seen or heard Muslim women say that they are Muslim, and that they have the same rights and respect as a man, that Islam respects them and allows them the same freedom as men enjoy. Of course, what we need to remember is that these women are saying this while they are in the United States, or some other Western nation . Of course their rights are respected and they are not oppressed! They are living in a society where the sort of behavior which many Muslim men display towards women in Muslim countries is not generally tolerated. In the West, both law and popular opinion greatly discourage activities such as wife-beating and marriage to underage girls. Society would frown upon a man who made his wife wear a veil and stay inside the house unless he was with her. It would be neither understood nor accepted that women should have an inferior legal and moral status to men, as is held by a plain reading of the Qur'an and the ahadith . In the West, Islam has no choice but to respect the rights and dignity of women, lest it raise the ire of the general populace. However, one wonders what these Muslim women would say or think if they tried to take the same attitude in, say, Pakistan or Iran or Egypt. Clearly, the apologies for Islam made by Muslim women on the basis of some supposedly enlightened view of women's rights is nothing more than a cloak that is woven so as to try and cover the ugly truth about Islam's attitudes toward women. This has not, of course, impeded the proliferation of websites, pamphlets, and other venues purporting to show that women are equal with men in Islam, and that Islam elevates the fairer sex. Designed to appeal to the Western mind which operates under the paradigm of equal rights for all, these venues seek to redefine terms commonly used by Western thinkers, and often resort to blatant misrepresentations so as to present a grossly  one-sided and decontextualized view of Islam's attitudes toward women (an application of the taqiyya  principle discussed in the previous chapter). Islam supports women's rights , it is said, but the rights that are supported are the basic ideas presented in the body of Islamic scripture and jurisprudence, such as freedom to divorce, freedom for a virgin or widow to choose her spouse, and the freedom to own property. There are, of course, other loopholes in the body of Islamic law that allow for the  practical  deprivation of these granted privileges, often amounting simply to a contradicting passage in the Qur'an or in a hadith . Further, many Muslim apologists will themselves use out-of-context statements from the Qur'an or the ahadith  to justify their claims - something which they often accuse their opponents of doing, even when the detractors are doing nothing more than repeating longstanding Islamic legal tradition. An example is the hadith  (the collection of which is usually attributed to al-Bukhari, but sometimes to the 10th century Christian  philosopher Yahya Ibn 'Adi) which says The search for knowledge is a duty of every Muslim, male and female. This is quoted to prove that women have every right in Islam to get any sort of education, just like a man. Of course, the context of this passage and this concept is that the knowledge is religious, that every Muslim has the obligation to learn Allah's law, not some secular or technical education. Indeed, this is clearly seen from the traditions, Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-'As: The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Knowledge has three categories; anything else is extra; a precise verse, or an established sunnah (practice), or a firm obligatory duty. 1  In other words, knowledge as defined in the Islamic context is knowledge of the Qur'an, the sunnat , or other religious obligations - anything else is extra , and presumably not comparatively important. That even this  sort of knowledge is not necessary for women is shown elsewhere, Narrated Tariq ibn Shihab: The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: The Friday prayer in congregation is a necessary duty for every Muslim, with four exceptions; a slave, a woman, a boy, and a sick person. 2    As such, it is not really   necessary for women to attend the gathering at mosque, where Friday prayers accompanied by a sermon (presumably for learning about and from the Qur'an) will be performed. As we will see below, orthodox Islam considers women to be deficient in religion and less able to contribute to the religious life of the ummah . This example, as well as the whole attempt by Muslim apologists to sugar-coat Islam's treatment of women, are further illustrations of the taqiyya , the lying for the advancement of Islam which was mentioned above. It is a grave misunderstanding of the facts to believe that women's rights in an Islamic context would mean anything similar to how Westerners understand the term, which would generally include the rights to a secular education, to hold any job, to hold and use property apart from her husband's direction, the right to custody of children, etc. On the contrary, these would be explicitly denied to a woman in any Islamic system which institutes the traditional Islamic shari'a  rooted in the Qur'an and the ahadith . Often, Christians will be confronted by Muslim polemicists who preach that Islam upholds the rights of women, and who will simultaneous charge that the Bible degrades women. Muslims often point to the position of women in the Bible, which does not allow for women pastors or allow women to exercise  positional  authority over men within the family or the church. Of course, the polemicists conveniently ignore passages such as Galatians 3:28 that affirm the spiritual equality of women with men before God. Muslims generally fail to comprehend the Biblical teaching on spiritual equality combined with positional subordination (which causes them likewise to misapprehend the doctrine of the deity of Christ, as well). Men and women are spiritually equal, both can receive the same salvation and the same eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ. However, in the earthly realm, God has also established men as the temporal spiritual authority in the family and the churches. This does not, however, mean that men are spiritually superior to women, anymore than a general in the Army is more of a citizen of the United States than a colonel - both are equal citizens, yet one is placed in a higher rank of authority within a specific context and situation . Nor does this teaching mean that women are to enjoy fewer legal or social rights - in other words, the Bible does not place women in a position of absolute or ontological inferiority. Indeed, the Bible teaches this concept in I Corinthians 11:3, where the relationship between men and women is shown in parallel with the relationship between God (i.e. the Father) and Christ. Christ and the Father are the same in essence , yet Christ, as the second person of the Trinity and the One who voluntarily
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