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Don Stewart :: What Is the Role of Women in Islam?

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What Is the Role of Women in Islam?

Islam – Question 19

The role of women is Islam is spelled out in the Quran, the Hadith and in Islamic law. It will be clear from examining these sources that Islam does not see the sexes as equal. We can summarize their position in society in the following categories.

1. Women Have an Inferior Legal Status in Islam

In Islamic law, women are not considered equal to men. For example, in an Islamic court, the testimony of two female witnesses carries the same weight as only one male witness. If a male and a female sustain the exact same injury the woman receives only half the compensation. In addition, the daughter usually only receives about one half of the inheritance that a son would receive.

This inferior status is seen in a statement in the Quran where the mother of Mary is disappointed that she had a daughter and not a son.

Lord, I have given birth to her, a female—(And God knew very well what she had given birth to; the male is not as the female). (Sura 3:36)

Inequality between the sexes is a theme found throughout Islam.

2. Islamic Women Must Wear Certain Clothing

There are rules for Islamic women as to what they are to wear. They are supposed to dress modestly. The woman must be covered from the neck to the wrist and ankle. In addition, there is a covering for her hair. Some parts of the Islamic world take these restrictions further by insisting the feet, hands, and face are to be covered.

3. There Are Spiritual Duties for Women

There are specific spiritual duties that women must perform. Like men, they are to practice the five pillars of Islam: confession of faith, prayer, giving of money, fasting at Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. When praying publicly, they are separated from the men.

Women are promised a heavenly reward. The Quran says,

Whoever does good whether male or female and he is a believer, We will most certainly make him live a happy life, and we will most certainly give them their reward for the best of what they did. (Surah 16:97)

However, the rewards in heaven are not as enticing for women as they are for men. They are promised a paradise that is filled with beautiful virgins. The Quran says,

Thus (shall it be), and We will wed them with...pure, beautiful ones. (Surah 44:54)

To make matters worse, there are certain traditions in Islam that say only one in a hundred women go to heaven while most men will go there! Because of the difficult situation in which Muslim women find themselves, they often turn to superstitious practices.

4. Islamic Women Are Protected by Muslim Men

In Islam, men are the protector of women. The Quran says,

Men are the managers of women for that God has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property. (Surah 4:34)

Women are always protected by a male relative whether it be father, brother, husband, uncle, or son. The restrictions placed upon women are to preserve her honor. It is important for Islamic women to be virgins when they are married.

5. Marriage

The normal condition for a Muslim is marriage. The Quran says the following concerning this institution.

And whoever among you has not within his power ampleness of means to marry free believing women, then (he may marry) of those whom your right hands possess from among your believing maidens; and Allah knows best your faith: you are (sprung) the one from the other; so marry them with the permission of their masters, and give them their dowries justly, they being chaste, not fornicating, nor receiving paramours; and when they are taken in marriage, then if they are guilty of indecency, they shall suffer half the punishment which is (inflicted) upon free women. This is for him among you who fears falling into evil; and that you abstain is better for you, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Surah 4:25)

Marriage keeps people from falling into sin. Thus, singleness is frowned upon. However, celibacy for religious reasons may meet with approval.

In Islam, marriage is seen as a gift from Allah. We also read in the Quran,

And Allah has made wives for you from among yourselves, and has given you sons and grandchildren from your wives, and has given you of the good things; is it then in the falsehood that they believe while it is in the favor of Allah that they disbelieve? (Surah 16:72)

The idea of marriage in Islam is more of the joining of families rather than individuals. Thus, marriages are almost always arranged. This may mean there is no actual discussion with the bride and groom as to whom they will marry. Once arranged, it is difficult for either party to reject the decision of the family.

Interestingly, a Muslim male may marry a Jewish or Christian woman. In that case, the woman will be considered a Muslim. However, the reverse is not true. A Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a Jewish or Christian man.

6. The Place of Women in the Family

In Islam, the place of women is in the home. They have a specific role to fulfill within the family structure. She is to do the housework, raise the children, prepare the meals, and produce sons for her husband. If the family is in financial need, the woman may have a job outside of the home. However, even if she has a fulltime job, the responsibilities of housework are still hers. Rarely, will the husband help her in this regard.

7. Divorce

Like marriage, divorce in Islam favors the man, not the woman. A Muslim man may divorce his wife by simply saying, “I divorce you” three times in front of witnesses. That is all that it takes. However, it is very difficult for a Muslim woman to divorce her Muslim husband.

There is something else. The children from any Muslim divorce belong to the man and his family, not the woman. This means if the Muslim woman is widowed the children, over the age of two, they do not stay with her but rather with the family of the man.

8. Polygamy

After the wife of Muhammad died, he married again. In fact, Allah gave “the prophet” permission to have “twelve” wives. In doing so, Allah sanctioned polygamy. However, the reverse is not true. It is not permitted for a Muslim woman to have more than one husband. Again, the rules favor the man.

This gives us a picture of how women are to act according to the Islamic faith. As can be observed the situation for them is not nearly as beneficial as it is to the man.

The Biblical View of Women

As with every other doctrine, the view of Islam toward women is in direct contrast to what the Bible has to say. We can summarize the view of the New Testament toward women as follows.

1. There Is Equality in Jesus Christ

The Bible says that there is equality among males and females in Jesus Christ. When Paul wrote to the Galatians he stressed that unity.

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28 NRSV)

The New Living Translation puts it this way.

And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have been made like him. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians—you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28 NLT)

The distinction between men and women, as far as their standing before God, has been taken away in Christ Jesus. Indeed, we are “one” in Christ.

2. Men and Women Have Different Roles

According to Scripture, there are different roles that God has assigned to men and women. There is a division of the work that they are to do. The Apostle Paul wrote the following to the believers in Corinth.

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. (1 Corinthians 11:3-12 ESV)

There is a definite chain of command. Women have a submissive role to men. However, the analogy given is with God the Father and God the Son. God the Son willingly submitted to God the Father but was never considered inferior in character. The same holds true for men and women. While the woman is to submit to the man this says nothing about who is inferior or superior. Indeed, we are equals when it comes to our character or our worth.

3. Christians Are Not to Practice Polygamy

While polygamy was practiced in the ancient world by some of the biblical characters, this has never been God’s ideal. The New Testament speaks out against the idea that a man can have more than one wife. When Paul wrote to Timothy he listed the qualities of an elder or overseer. One of them was to be the husband of one wife.

An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher. (1 Timothy 3:2 HCSB)

Polygamy was not allowed to be practiced among believers in Christ. A man was to marry only one woman and to remain faithful to her during the entire marriage.

4. There Is No Commandment That Men Are to Keep the Children in a Divorce

Contrary to Islam, there is nothing in the Bible that orders the children to stay with the father rather than the mother. There is no presumption in favor of the man over the woman. The Bible actually does not speak to this issue of where the children should go. However, it certainly does not teach that men have all the rights as does Islam.

Conclusion: Islam and Christianity Have Completely Different Views of Women

The conclusion is that Christianity and Islam have completely different views of women. The Bible treats with women with the proper respect while Islam sees them as inferior to men. The contrasts could not be greater.

Summary – Question 19
What Is the Role of Women in Islam?

From an examination of the authoritative sources, we find that Islam views women as being inferior to men. This can be seen in a number of ways.

Their legal standing is about half that of the male. In a court of the law the presumption is always in favor of the man. There are restrictions as to how women must dress while the men are not so restricted. There are penalties for not following these restrictions.

While Islamic women must perform similar spiritual duties as men, their hope of heaven is severely restricted. Indeed, men are given a much better chance of entering heaven than women.

Marriage favors the man. Indeed, marriage is arranged for them. Once married, their duty is to make their husband happy. In divorce or the death of the husband, all children over the age of two go to the husband’s family. Furthermore, polygamy is sanctioned for the husband, based upon the example of Muhammad but not for the female. Obviously Islam is a religion that favors the male in everything.

In contrast, Christianity has a view of women that acknowledges them as equal before God. There is no idea that males are superior to females or that the main purpose of females is to serve males. The Bible does say that there is a chain of command, or an order, that God has sovereignly placed.

However, this has nothing to do with the worth of one over the other. All are equal in the sight of God. Indeed, the example or pattern of the woman submitting to the man is Jesus Christ, God the Son, submitting to God the Father. We know that the Son was not inferior in character to the Father.

Therefore, His submission to Him had nothing to do with One being greater in nature or character than the other. Consequently, the wife submitting to the husband does not mean that she should be considered inferior in any way. She is not.

There is also the fact that males are not allowed to have more than one wife. Polygamy was not allowed in the New Testament. The marriage laws did not favor the husband like what we find in Islam. Finally, there is no command, as is found in the Shariah, which children of divorced couples must stay with the father rather than the mother. Women are treated as equals to men.

The conclusion is obvious. Women are treated as inferiors in the Islamic system while the Bible gives them equal protection.

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