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

  • In The Name of Allah the Compassionate
    the Most Merciful

    1. Introduction

    Five years ago, I read in the Toronto Star issue of July 3, 1990 an
    article titled "Islam is not alone in patriarchal doctrines", by Gwynne
    Dyer. The article described the furious reactions of the participants
    of a conference on women and power held in Montreal to the comments of
    the famous Egyptian feminist Dr. Nawal Saadawi. Her "politically
    incorrect" statements included: "the most restrictive elements towards
    women can be found first in Judaism in the Old Testament then in
    Christianity and then in the Quran"; "all religions are patriarchal
    because they stem from patriarchal societies"; and "veiling of women is
    not a specifically Islamic practice but an ancient cultural heritage
    with analogies in sister religions". The participants could not bear
    sitting around while their faiths were being equated with Islam. Thus,
    Dr. Saadawi received a barrage of criticism. "Dr. Saadawi's comments
    are unacceptable. Her answers reveal a lack of understanding about
    other people's faiths," declared Bernice Dubois of the World Movement
    of Mothers. "I must protest" said panellist Alice Shalvi of Israel
    women's network, "there is no conception of the veil in Judaism." The
    article attributed these furious protests to the strong tendency in the
    West to scapegoat Islam for practices that are just as much a part of
    the West's own cultural heritage. "Christian and Jewish feminists were
    not going to sit around being discussed in the same category as those
    wicked Muslims," wrote Gwynne Dyer.

    I was not surprised that the conference participants had held such a
    negative view of Islam, especially when women's issues were involved.
    In the West, Islam is believed to be the symbol of the subordination of
    women par excellence. In order to understand how firm this belief is,
    it is enough to mention that the Minister of Education in France, the
    land of Voltaire, has recently ordered the expulsion of all young
    Muslim women wearing the veil from French schools! A young Muslim
    student wearing a headscarf is denied her right of education in France,
    while a Catholic student wearing a cross or a Jewish student wearing a
    skullcap is not. The scene of French policemen preventing young Muslim
    women wearing headscarves from entering their high school is
    unforgettable. It inspires the memories of another equally disgraceful
    scene of Governor George Wallace of Alabama in 1962 standing in front
    of a school gate trying to block the entrance of black students in
    order to prevent the desegregation of Alabama's schools. The difference
    between the two scenes is that the black students had the sympathy of
    so many people in the U.S. and in the whole world. President Kennedy
    sent the U.S. National Guard to force the entry of the black students.
    The Muslim girls, on the other hand, received no help from any one.
    Their cause seems to have very little sympathy either inside or outside
    France. The reason is the widespread misunderstanding and fear of
    anything Islamic in the world today. What intrigued me the most about
    the Montreal conference was one question : Were the statements made by
    Saadawi, or any of her critics, factual ? In other words, do Judaism,
    Christianity, and Islam have the same conception of women? Are they
    different in their conceptions ? Do Judaism and Christianity, truly,
    offer women a better treatment than Islam does? What is the Truth?
    It is not easy to search for and find answers to these difficult
    questions. The first difficulty is that one has to be fair and
    objective or, at least, do one's utmost to be so. This is what Islam
    teaches. The Quran has instructed Muslims to say the truth even if
    those who are very close to them do not like it: "Whenever you speak,
    speak justly, even if a near relative is concerned" (6:152) "O you who
    believe stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as
    against yourselves, or your parents or your kin, and whether it be
    (against) rich or poor" (4:135).

    The other great difficulty is the overwhelming breadth of the subject.
    Therefore, during the last few years, I have spent many hours reading
    the Bible, The Encyclopaedia of Religion, and the Encyclopaedia Judaica
    searching for answers. I have also read several books discussing the
    position of women in different religions written by scholars,
    apologists, and critics. The material presented in the following
    chapters represents the important findings of this humble research. I
    don't claim to be absolutely objective. This is beyond my limited
    capacity. All I can say is that I have been trying, throughout this
    research, to approach the Quranic ideal of "speaking justly". I would
    like to emphasize in this introduction that my purpose for this study
    is not to denigrate Judaism or Christianity. As Muslims, we believe in
    the divine origins of both. No one can be a Muslim without believing in
    Moses and Jesus as great prophets of God. My goal is only to vindicate
    Islam and pay a tribute, long overdue in the West, to the final
    truthful Message from God to the human race. I would also like to
    emphasize that I concerned myself only with Doctrine. That is, my
    concern is, mainly, the position of women in the three religions as it
    appears in their original sources not as practised by their millions of
    followers in the world today. Therefore, most of the evidence cited
    comes from the Quran, the sayings of Prophet Mohammed, the Bible, the
    Talmud, and the sayings of some of the most influential Church Fathers
    whose views have contributed immeasurably to defining and shaping
    Christianity. This interest in the sources relates to the fact that
    understanding a certain religion from the attitudes and the behaviour
    of some of its nominal followers is misleading. Many people confuse
    culture with religion, many others do not know what their religious
    books are saying, and many others do not even care.

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