Women and Islam


34 POSITION OF WOMEN (Wahab Bin A dam ) Talking of the equality of man, one is reminded of the place of woman in society. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, not to usurp authority over the man but to be in silence. (1st Timothy. 2:11) “For Adam was first formed then Eve. And Adam was not deceived but the woman being deceived was in transgression.” (1st Timothy. 2:14) Mark the words, “woman”, “subjection”, “silence”, “deceived”, “transgression” and anyone who has been brainwashed to believe that Islam teaches that women should be kept in subjection will mistake the passages for Quranic verses! But they come from the Bible. The truth is, the story in the Bible of Eve’s dealings with the serpent is the most devastating thing ever written against women to prove conclusively that they are responsible for the evils of the world. In the story of creation, as told in the Bible, woman is a fatal after-thought. Light was created by a simple device, and man by the loving hand of God, but woman was created by a stratagem! It was due to these Biblical stories that the ancient saints like St. Bernard, St. Jerome and St. John Chrysostum, to mention but a few, spoke so disparagingly about women. For instance, St. Barnard had declared: “Woman is the organ of the devil”. St. Jerome adds: “Woman is the gate of the devil, the road to uniquity, the sting of the scorpion.” St. John Chrysostum has equally strong words to say about women: “Of all the wild beasts the most dangerous is woman. If she is young she was a trap set by the devil and if she was old and POSITION OF WOMEN 35 withered she was likely to be a witch.” It is with wonder that we read in the Times of July 22, 1797 the following shocking news item: “The increasing value of the fair sex is regarded by many writers as the certain index of growing civilization … In the market the price of the fair sex was again raised from one half to three and one-half guineas.” In 1856, Emerson informs us in English Traits: “The right of the husband to sell his wife has been retained down to our time.” As oppos~d to these outrageous opinions about and the treatment of women, the Holy Quran declares that both man and woman have been created from a single soul. (4:2) The Holy Quran goes further to accord women the same rights as are due men: “For men is a share of that which parents and near relations leave; and for women is a share of that which parents and near relations leave, whether it be little or much a determined share.” (4:8) The Holy Quran then declares in no uncertain terms that every virtue that is attainable by man is equally attainable by woman. (33:36) The Holy Quran even goes further to cite a woman as an example of virtue worthy of emulation by all the men of her time. (21:92) After defining the position of woman in Islam it appears rational to examine critically the Islamic teachings about polygamy. At the Conference of Archbishops, Metropolitans and other dignitaries of the Anglican Communion held in London in 1958 and presided by the Archbishop of Canterbury, one of the most baffling problems that was considered was what was to be done in case a person, having more than one· wife, wanted to accept Christianity! That was a vexed question, a big headache that faced the conference which has come to be known in history as the Lambeth Conference. But was it necessary? 36 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS As far back as 1650, well-meaning Christians are said to have seen the need to “advocate polygamy with fervour.”. It is recorded in the History of Human Marriage by Westermarck that: “In 1650, soon after the Peace of Westphalia, when the population had been greatly reduced by the Thirty Year War, the Frankish Kriestag at Nuremberg passed the resolution that henceforth every man should be allowed to marry two women. Certain Christian sects had even advocated polygamy with such fervour”. (Vo!. III pg. 51) Then Amram Scheinfeld, an American sociologist, says in an article published in the 1964 issue of the Collier’s magazine and condensed by the Reader’s Digest under the caption Shortage of Husbands: “Following World War I, as a result of war casualties and other factors, the surplus of women in Europe was enormous. The excess of women in Poland was 38 percent, in Russia, 32 percent, in France, Germany and Italy 21 to 22 percent. The situation was so bad that population experts tell us, ‘that there was serious discussion of giving polygamy legal status. Actually it went beyond the discussion stage.” Bernard Shaw sums it all up when he says: “Monogamy is imposed by the economy of nature which more or less equalizes the birth-rate of the two sexes. If war upsets it, you would have polygamy in ten minutes.” These opinions of some of the world’s best known thinkers need no comment from me. Then there is the problem of a wife falling prey to some serious malady and in consequence being unable to attend to household affairs. For such a contingency, no less a person than Pope Gregory in the year 726 issued this edict: “If a wife be attacked with a malady which renders her unfit for conjugal relations, the husband may marry another but in that case he must allow his sick wife all necessary support and assistance. ” POSITION OF WOMEN 37 Another consideration would be an issueless marriage. In such cases considerate wives themselves permit their husbands to take a second wife. The more one reflects upon this matter, the clearer becomes the wisdom underlying it. Allan Field says in an article published in Digest Review of 1946 on the proposal made in the house of Commons to legalise polygamy: “The proposal made in British House of Commons to the effect that polygamy be legalised has served to draw public attention to a question which has been of much concern to leading sociologists in all civilized countries. Although under public ban and branded as immoral by official public opinion, nevertheless there is indisputable evidence that polygamy is now practised by thousands of people throughout Europe …… ” “In plain fact, the situation is that many women prefer to share a husband with one or more women, than do without a husband at all. ” There is no doubt that illegal polygamy that has gained ground in the West lowers the status of women, deprive them of their legitimate rights and become a source of untold misery to them and their children. Islam claims to have given to the world a perfect and flawless law. Could the law be described as perfect and flawless if it had failed to provide a solution to problems of surplus women as happened after the war? Islam permitted polygamy where and when necessary and imposed restrictions upon it at a time when there was no limit to the number of wives any man might marry. These restrictions are designed to give dignity to woman, protect her legitimate rights and raise the moral standard of the society. Having considered plurality of wives, the natural sequence seems to be the consideration of celibacy or monasticism. The Holy Quran says of monasticism that it was not prescribed by Allah but was self-imposed by the Christians. 38 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS “And monasticism they invented. We did not prescribe it for them.” (57:28) Islam condemns celibacy with the same intensity with which it condemns promiscuity whereas the ideal Christian is the one who leads a life of an eunuch! ( Matthew 19:12) . “And there are some eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of heaven’s sake.” ( Matthew 19:12) Quite apart from the fact that if all of us were to lead the life of an eunuch there would be no procreation and the world would come to an end, insistence on celibacy would willy-nilly drive people to promiscuity. The fact that a great percentage of those who claim to practise celibacy are dying of AIDS (Acquired Immune Defficiency Syndrome) is one evidence! In the final analysis, they would confess that what they are required by the Church to practise is celibacy and not chastity! Those who wish to study the subject in some detail may turn to the pages of the 23rd February 1987 issue of NEWSWEEK. An article titled “Gays in the Clergy” gives you an insight into the fact that celibacy and promiscuity are indentical twins who move together! LOVE FOR ALL Look kindly on all and especially on enemies and persecutors; smile upon them and greet them with pleasant words, healing all bitterness within thee and quenching the heat of anger by sweetness of holy Charity. Be ready to help and comfort all. Show compassion for those who are afflicted and for those who sin. Rejoice at the virtues of others, as if they were thine own. Be careful to despise no one. Cast out rash judgements and evil suspicions from thy heart with all diligence. Be accustomed to think well of all. Esteem all others in thine own mind as better than thyself. (Ludovicus Blosius)