Tuesday, April 26, 2011

VBV - Ch. 4 Pt. 1

This is a long chapter, so I'm going to break it up a little. We'll just see how long this takes. The chapter is titled The Qur'an, the Hadith, and Women.

The first subsection in this chapter is titled The Doctrine of Creation. The author starts with the angels arguing with Allah over his plan to create mankind to populate the earth. Here's something I never quite got, so maybe someone knows. If angels in Islamic theology have no free will, how are they questioning Allah's plan? Anyway. The reference is surah al-Baqarah 2:30. Oh! For the record, I use Qur'an.com for online Qur'an referencing, since it has a couple of different translations available for comparison and Tafsir.com to look up the tafsir on verses. I'm not sure that this verse really needs looking into, at the moment though. The key factor, I believe, is mentioned by the author. "Allah was creating man that he might have a relationship with him; relationship being the context within which love is given and received." No, Muslims don't refer to Allah as their father or have the same sort of interactions that Christians are used to. But here's a question for you. Why did God (or Allah) create people at all? Does He *need* our worship? Does He derive power from it somehow? No. So God (under whatever name) must have created humanity from either some sadistic impulse to watch us screw everything up, or out of love.

Allah then proceeds to create human beings. It is my understanding of the creation story in Islam that man and woman were created around the same time, but separately. Unlike the Biblical creation story where Adam is created and then God takes a rib out and makes Eve, making her merely an extension of man. What, no, I don't have a problem when people take that story literally, why do you ask? Anyway...according to the Qur'an (Surah Al-Hijr 15:28-29) man was made out of clay which Allah dried and then breathed life into. *waggles hands* No more odd than any other creation story, and I assume we all know that man was not *actually* formed out of clay. Perhaps we can look at it to say that Allah took raw materials (the ancestor that we had in common with the apes) and tweaked it a bit. Whatever. I actually find the details unimportant, but that's just me.

The author quotes *part* of Surah Al-A'raf 7:189 in regards to the creation of women. The entire surah actually runs: It is He Who created you from a single person, and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love). When they are united, she bears a light burden and carries it about (unnoticed). When she grows heavy, they both pray to Allah their Lord, (saying): "If Thou givest us a goodly child, we vow we shall (ever) be grateful." The author only quotes the first sentence. Anyway. Man (Adam) is made in the 'image' of God, and Woman (Eve/Hawa) is made in the image of man. Making her, also, a reflection of God. I like that she is not created merely as a part of man, but that she is created similarly to him, but separate from him. The author does quote a hadith (7.62.114) saying that woman was created from the rib of man, but that's hadith, not Qur'an and so...*shrug*. It's not officially Allah's word, right? If it contradicts the story in the Qur'an, I assume that it is incorrect. I mean, it is from Sahih Bukhari, and I guess, if I tried I could mesh the two stories, since the Qur'an leaves out details because the stories are already supposed to be well known, but as I was taught the creation story of Islam, woman was created separate but equal with man. Which means that she has the same moral and religious rights and duties as a man.

The author argues that in Christianity there are two camps as to the relationship between men and women. In one camp are the Egalitarians - those who see no distinction in gender roles. The other camp are the Complementarians - those who view the genders as equal in value, but distinct in role and authority structure. Interpreted, this means that the egalitarians believe that men and women are equal. Women can do anything that a man can do in the church structure, including being pastors, elders, leading the church, etc. Complementarians believe that, in the eyes of God each person, man and woman is of equal value to God. However, there are some roles that are given to men and some that are given to women. It will surprise no one that the roles of authority are all reserved for the men. The author claims that in Islam, the relationship is that if 'Islamic disciplinarianism'. The man takes a protective stance over the woman and...the author doesn't explain anything else. I actually view Islam's genders roles as rather complementary. Men have their roles and women have theirs. They complement each other, at least, they're meant to. Again, keep in mind that no situation is perfect and there will always be people (sometimes a lot of them) who abuse whatever system they're in.

She moves on to the old stand-bys to prove that women are 'less' in Islam.

Surah al-Baqarah 2:228 - And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree [of advantage] over them.

*Again*, the author only quotes *part* of the verse. The whole verse (from the same translation used in the book, which is Yusuf Ali) is: Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what Allah Hath created in their wombs, if they have faith in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.

So this is all about the proper behavior in a *divorce*. There is supposed to be a waiting period ('Iddah) of three months before the divorced wife can marry again. The main practical purpose of this would be for tracking whose child is whose. Assuming that the couple were having normal marital relations (there are different rules of divorce when the marriage hasn't been consumated), then there remains the possibility that the woman is pregnant with her ex-husbands child.

There is also mention of the fact that, during this period, the couple may be reconciled. (Assuming this is not their third divorce, in which case another set of rules kicks into effect. But we'll get to those, I'm certain.) There's a lot going on here that seems to me to be meant to give the couple chances to reconcile. I think that the line about women having rights similar to the rights against them refers to the woman's right to also want her husband back. Obviously, both parties have to agree to the reconciliation, but everyone is allowed to reconsider and to fight for what they want. On top of that, it is also a pointed reminder that the wife has rights against her husband inside of the marriage. The right to be clothed, fed and taken care of on an equal level with the husband. Not treated like a servant or a slave and abused.

An interesting tidbit from the tafsir is that a woman's word alone was to be taken in matters of pregnancy/menses. Hers was the count that mattered, which is why the warning that she was not to hide what is in their wombs. They shouldn't lie to extend the 'iddah or to shorten it.

But what about the 'degree of advantage' over women? Historically it makes sense because men were in the greater position of authority. It's traditionally interpreted to mean that men are stronger and just generally a little bit better than women. But what if it's an additional warning? A reminder that the man's responsibilities are greater because they tend to have the cultural advantage?

Surah al-Baraqarah 2:282 - Get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her.

*twitch* AGAIN, it is not the complete verse! - O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe refuse to write: as Allah Has taught him, so let him write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear His Lord Allah, and not diminish aught of what he owes. If they party liable is mentally deficient, or weak, or unable Himself to dictate, Let his guardian dictate faithfully, and get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her. The witnesses should not refuse when they are called on (For evidence). Disdain not to reduce to writing (your contract) for a future period, whether it be small or big: it is juster in the sight of Allah, More suitable as evidence, and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves but if it be a transaction which ye carry out on the spot among yourselves, there is no blame on you if ye reduce it not to writing. But take witness whenever ye make a commercial contract; and let neither scribe nor witness suffer harm. If ye do (such harm), it would be wickedness in you. So fear Allah; For it is Good that teaches you. And Allah is well acquainted with all things. If ye are on a journey, and cannot find a scribe, a pledge with possession (may serve the purpose). And if one of you deposits a thing on trust with another, let the trustee (faithfully) discharge his trust, and let him Fear his Lord conceal not evidence; for whoever conceals it, - his heart is tainted with sin. And Allah knoweth all that ye do.

*flail* It's very clearly a specific instance. A business transaction. I know this has been used to say it's for every case, but I think if you read the whole context it makes more sense as being just in this case. And that would be because it was *unusual* for women to have a lot of dealings in business in this time period in any culture. There were, of course, exceptions (Khadijah, as an example), but in the main, women didn't deal with these things all the time. Does that work in modern times? No.

There are some hadith referenced, but you know what? I'm not bothering. They're the ones about women being deficient in intelligence, yadda yadda. Go here, read this blog post: Deficiency of Women? That's how I understand it and that's all I've got to say about that.

The other part I've read was about the inheritance laws and I'm not touching that because I don't understand how that all breaks down. I know that women get less than men if following the strict Qur'anic formulae. I don't know how many people do that now daysget less than men if following the strict Qur'anic formulae. I don't know how many people do that now days, but in historic context, it makes sense since the burden was all on the men of the household to support the women. In most cultures anything that the wife owned really belonged to her husband, so (not that this was referenced in the chapter) the fact that women were permitted to keep their own money for themselves was a step up.

And this took way longer than I planned. I may need to break the chapter down into even smaller sections.


  1. Thanks for sharing all this. I enjoyed the reminder on these topics.

    Funny enough, I know this is an Islam-bashing book, but I also see Muslim women talk about these same verses/teachings and rail against them. Maybe it's because they need updating for this century as you noted: things have changed.

    I think maybe the "fault" is due to the ones who refuse to allow for new interpretation -- taking the spirit of the texts instead of making it set in stone law. I'm sure this is because they want to keep their manly power. :)

  2. Susanne,

    And it's true that Muslim men have and can use these same verses as a means of oppressing Muslim women. But you get that in every religion. Christianity is not without the same problem.

    I don't think that anyone is ever going to 'update' the text of the Qur'an, or the Bible. As you say, it's the understanding and interpretation that needs to change.

  3. I love that both Islam-bashers and Muslim who justify subjugating women claim the business transaction verse means women's testimony is always worth half a man's - while ignoring that in adultery cases it takes FOUR men to trump the woman's testimony denying adultery. So why isn't a man's testimony considered to be worth 1/4 that of a woman?

  4. Well, you can't have it both ways, can you? And clearly the one that favors men *must* be the right path to take!

  5. Actually, I think those three camps (egalitarian, equal but different, misogynistic piss) exist within BOTH Islam and Christianity.

  6. True. What I meant to say was that in its purest, uninvolved with actual people form, Islamic theology tends to complementarian. Also, I am claiming the phrase misogynistic piss! Too awesome!

  7. Haha, you can totally claim that phrase. The sad thing about mysoginistic piss is that they will generally claim that they adhere to the complementarian philosophy. Which I guess is true, if you consider slave/owner relationships complementarian.

  8. Yes. I think they've misunderstood the concept of complementarian.


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