What Did Jesus Really Say ? - Women in Christianity and Islam
Chapter 15 Women in Christianity and Islam
Whenever the topic of Islam is
brought up among Westerners, it has been my experience that the
first objection that immediately springs into their minds is:
"But women are so extremely oppressed in Islam." And,
"But women are second class citizens in Islam." For
example, they see that Muslim women usually observe modest standards
in their clothing and they automatically equate their modesty
with oppression. They appear to feel that freedom is in some way
directly proportional to how little clothing one wears, and that
oppression is directly proportional to the degree of modesty one
exhibits in their clothing. Although this topic does not directly
relate to the main topic of this book, still it seems inevitable
to touch on this subject even if only very briefly due to it's
The problem is twofold: First of all, those people
who make such objections usually only have a very superficial
knowledge of what the true teachings of Islam, and secondly, they
do not realize what The Bible requires of all believing women.
I was once passing through Canada with my parent's
in law and their family. As we walked down the street a Canadian
Christian girl (in her late teens to early twenties) passed by
us with a group of her friends. She looked at my mother in law
who was dressed in modest clothing and had a large scarf wrapped
around her head such that only her face was showing. She then
stopped my mother in law and said words to the effect of: "Why
do you allow your men to oppress you?. Why do you wear these clothes?."
Now, my mother in law is a university graduate, a
straight A student, highly respected by her peers, and gainfully
employed as an inspector of the public educational system back
in my home country. My mother in law has also distinguished herself
in her study of the English language and it's grammatical structure.
However, she did not have an extensive working knowledge of American
and Canadian pronunciation and slang, and thus, she missed the
tone with which this question was delivered to her.
I decided to move a reasonable distance away and
let her handle this situation herself. My mother in law was very
happy to answer this girl's question and went on to explain to
her about our religion and customs and how we prefer to dress
modestly, and that Allah Almighty requires us to do this. However,
this was not the answer this girl was looking for so she retorted:
"Thanks for sharing!," then spun around and stormed
Now, in my home country, our elders are quite used
to being highly respected by those who are younger than them and
being served by them. For this reason, it did not even occur to
my mother in law that this question could have been anything more
than a young girl respectfully asking an innocent question of
a trusted elder, and I hated to tell her otherwise. I would have
hated for her to leave Canada thinking that all Canadians or all
Christians speak this way to their elders since I know that this
is not the true case. However, this episode did indeed sadden
Many non-Muslims feel sorry for any Muslim women
they see adorned in their modest clothing. They feel that they
are deprived the freedom to roam around in more scant and revealing
clothing. Anyone who lives in a manner other that which they have
become accustomed to is seen by them to be oppressed and forced
to live in this manner. There are certain tribes in the Amazon
jungle, in Australia, and in Africa which have become accustomed
to walking around in a simple g-string around their waist. What
would the people of the West say if these people were to condemn
the Western habit of "forcing" their women to wear "excessive
amounts of clothing" and to demand that all women in the
west immediately stop wearing anything but the simplest g-string
around their waist? What if they were to say that the Western
society should immediately stop unjustly persecuting their women
and preventing them from freely roaming the streets wearing only
a pair of socks? They would say that the people making these demands
have no morals or shame. Philosophers would have a field day with
such a question.
What if someone were to claim that it was immoral,
discriminatory, and unjust to separate men and women in different
public bathrooms just as it is not just to do so with blacks and
whites. What if this person were to then call (in the interest
of equality, fairness, and constitutional freedom of course) for
a merging of men and women's bathrooms into one "unisex"
or "equal-opportunity" bathrooms for both men and women?
Once again, the philosophers would have a field day. Anyone who
follows the news will see that this may indeed be where the USA
is now headed. In the New York Post (31 Aug. 1994 or a
little before) it was reported that women have now won the right
to appear topless in the New York subway system. Where will the
USA be a few years from now? That is anyone's guess.
Who has the power to determine what is decent and
modest clothing? Who is to determine what is decent and modest
behavior? Muslims assign this right to God alone. This is the
essence of "Islam." "Islam" means "The
submission to the will of God." What God commands, a Muslim
does. They do not demand that God justify his commands before
they accept them. Once they have verified that a command is indeed
from God then they abide by it without hesitation.
We can indeed find this lesson in the story of Adam.
In the Islamic version of the story of Adam (slightly different
than that of Judaism/Christianity), Adam and Eve were
created by God, educated, clothed, and then allowed to inhabit
heaven. They were told by God that they could have anything their
hearts desired except they must not eat from the tree. Out of
envy, the devil encouraged them to eat from the tree and told
them that it's fruit would make them angles or immortal. They
ate from the tree and immediately, their bodies were revealed
to one another, so they took to scooping up the leaves off the
trees in order to cover themselves. This is when Allah sent them
down to earth. What mankind learned from this lesson is that just
because a person does not know the wisdom behind a command of
God, and others tell him to disobey it, then if they do not abide
by it, by the time the reason for the command is made apparent
to them it may be too late.
Fig. 15 Example of dress worn by a Christian
Compare it with how Muslim women dress
Well then, what is the Biblical view on these matters?
Actually, even in this day and age there still remains traces
in Christianity of the common ancestry with Islam with regard
to the accepted norms of modest dress for Christian women as ordained
by her Creator. In the above figure we have an example of the
sort of dress codes observed by Christian nuns. We are strangely
amazed to find that it is almost the striking similarity it bears
to the sort of outfit which most Muslim women wear. Why is that?
Well, although there are quite a number of very pronounced differences
between Biblical and Qur'anic laws in this regard, let us start
with the Biblical view:
What the New Testament has to say:1 Timothy 2:11-14 "Let the woman learn in
silence with all subjection. But I
suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp
authority over the man, but to be in
silence. For Adam was first
formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the
woman being deceived was in the transgression."
1 Corinthians 14:34 "Let your women keep
silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to
speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith
the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their
husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the
1 Corinthians 11:5-10: "But every woman that
prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered
dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were
shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn:
but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her
be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch
as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory
of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of
the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman
for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her
head because of the angels."
1 Corinthians 11:13: "Judge in yourselves:
is it comely that a woman pray unto God (with her head) uncovered?"
What the Old Testament has to say:Genesis 3:12-16 "And the man (Adam)
said, The woman (Eve) whom thou gavest to be with me,
she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said
unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman
said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the LORD God
said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed
above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy
belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy
life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between
thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt
bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply
thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth
children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall
rule over thee."
Leviticus 12:2-5 "Speak unto the children
of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a
MALE child: then she shall be unclean SEVEN DAYS; according to
the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.
And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying THIRTY
THREE days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the
sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled. But if
she bear a FEMALE child, then she
shall be unclean TWO WEEKS, as in her separation: and she shall
continue in the blood of her purifying SIXTY SIX days."
Ecclesiastics 7:26-28 "And I find more bitter
than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and
whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her,
but the sinner she will ensnare....while I was still searching
but not finding, I found one upright man among a thousand but
not one upright woman among them all".
Leviticus 15:19-30 "And if a woman have an
issue (her period/menses), [and] her issue in her flesh be blood,
she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her
shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth
upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that
she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her
bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe [himself] in water, and
be unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth any thing that
she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe [himself] in water,
and be unclean until the even. And if it [be] on [her] bed, or
on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall
be unclean until the even. And if any man lie with her at all,
and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and
all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean. And if a woman
have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation,
or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of
the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation:
she [shall be] unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days
of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and
whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness
of her separation. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be
unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe [himself] in water,
and be unclean until the even. But if she be cleansed of her issue,
then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she
shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her
two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest,
to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And the priest
shall offer the one [for] a sin offering, and the other [for]
a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her
before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness."
In other words, the Bible teaches us that:
Women should learn in silence and subjugation.
Women should not teach.
Women should not have authority over men but
should remain silent.
Adam and Eve were not equal
in sin. Adam was not deceived but Eve was.
Women are commanded to be under obedience to
men. God ordained that men shall for all time rule over women
Women must keep silent in Churches. It is shameful
for them to open their mouths therein. If they have a question
they should ask their husbands before going to church and then
their husbands will ask for them in the church.
A woman should neither pray nor profess with
her head uncovered.
If a woman prays with her head uncovered
then she might as well shave her head.
Man was created in the image and glory of God,
and Woman was created in the glory of Man, thus Man must have
power over her.
Any woman who delivers a male baby shall be unclean
for one week. But any woman who delivers a female baby shall be
unclean for TWO weeks. Thus, females make their mothers DOUBLY
unclean as compared to males.
While it is possible to find one upright man
in every thousand, it is impossible to find even one single upright
woman in every thousand
Woman is a snare, her heart is a trap, and her
hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but
she will ensnare the sinner.
If a woman had her period and touches a chair
or a bed or anything else then that item immediately becomes unclean.
Anyone who then touches those things shall also become unclean.
They must then bathe themselves and wash their clothes because
they have touched an item that a menstruous woman has touched.
What the canonized saints of Christianity said about
women:"Woman is a daughter of falsehood, a sentinel
of Hell, the enemy of peace; through her Adam lost
paradise" (St. John Demascene)
"Woman is the instrument which the devil uses
to gain possession of our souls" (St. Cyprian)
"Woman is the fountain of the arm of the devil,
her voice is the hissing of the serpent" (St. Anthony)
"Woman has the poison of an asp, the malice
of a dragon" (St. Gregory)
St. Tertullian, while he
was talking to his 'best beloved sisters' in the faith, he said,
"Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The
sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt
must of necessity live too. You are the Devil's gateway: You are
the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter
of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil
wasn't valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's
image, man." Once again, St. Augustine
wrote to a friend, "What is the difference whether it is
in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must
beware of in any woman." Centuries later, St. Thomas Aquinas
still considered women as defective, "As regards the individual
nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force
in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect
likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes
from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition,
or even from some external influence." (all these quotations
can be found in Karen Armstrong's book, The Gospel According
to Woman, London: Elm Tree Books, 1986, pp. 52-62. See also
Nancy van Vuuren, The Subversion of Women as Practiced by Churches,
Witch-Hunters, and Other Sexists Philadelphia: Westminster Press
Orthodox Jewish men in their daily morning prayer
recite "Blessed be God King of the universe
that Thou has not made me a woman." The women, on the other
hand, thank God every morning for "making me according to
Thy will" (Thena Kendath, "Memories of an Orthodox youth"
in Susannah Heschel, ed. On being a Jewish Feminist, New York:
Schocken Books, 1983, pp. 96-97)
According to the Jewish Talmud, "women
are exempt from the study of the Torah." In the first century
C.E., Rabbi Eliezer said: "If any man teaches his daughter
Torah it is as though he taught her lechery" (Leonard J.
Swidler, Women in Judaism: the Status of Women in Formative Judaism,
Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press, 1976, pp. 83-93)
According to Rabbi Dr. Menachem M. Brayer (Professor
of Biblical Literature at Yeshiva University) in his book 'The
Jewish woman in Rabbinic literature', it was the custom of Jewish
women to go out in public with a head covering which, sometimes,
even covered the whole face leaving one eye free (Psychosocial
Perspective, Hoboken, N.J: Ktav Publishing House, 1986, p. 239).
He quotes some famous ancient Rabbis saying, "It is not like
the daughters of Israel to walk out with heads uncovered"
and "Cursed be the man who lets the hair of his wife be seen....a
woman who exposes her hair for self-adornment brings poverty."
Rabbinic law forbids the recitation of blessings or prayers in
the presence of a bareheaded married woman since uncovering the
woman's hair is considered "nudity" (Ibid., pp. 316-317.
Also see Swidler, op. cit., pp. 121-123). Dr. Brayer also mentions
that "During the Tannaitic period the Jewish woman's failure
to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty. When
her head was uncovered she might be fined four hundred zuzim for
this offense." Dr. Brayer also explains that veil of the
Jewish woman wasn't always considered a sign of modesty. Sometimes,
the veil symbolized a state of distinction and luxury rather than
modesty. The veil personified the dignity and superiority of noble
women. It, also, represented a woman's inaccessibility as a sanctified
possession of her husband (24. Ibid., p. 139). It is clear in
the Old Testament that uncovering a woman's head was a great disgrace
and that's why the priest had to uncover the suspected adulteress
in her trial by ordeal (Numbers 5:16-18).
St. Tertullian in his famous
treatise 'On The Veiling Of Virgins' wrote, "Young women,
you wear your veils out on the streets, so you should wear them
in the church, you wear them when you are among strangers, then
wear them among your brothers..." Among the Canon laws of
the Catholic church today, there is a law that require women to
cover their heads in church (Clara M. Henning, " Cannon Law
and the Battle of the Sexes" in Rosemary R. Ruether, ed.,
Religion and Sexism: Images of Woman in the Jewish and Christian
Traditions, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974, p. 272.).
Some Christian denominations, such as the Amish and
the Mennonites for example, keep their women veiled to the present
day. The reason for the veil, as offered by their Church leaders,
is "The head covering is a symbol of woman's subjection to
the man and to God" : The same logic introduced by St. Paul
in the New Testament (Donald B. Kraybill, The riddle of the Amish
Culture, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, p. 56.)
Russian Orthodox women are expected to wear a head
covering when in the church. Most don't outside of it in America,
but many in Russia and many other eastern Orthodox women all over
eastern Europe, Greece, and the middle east do wear scarves on
their heads all the time when in public
These are only a small sampling. For many more similar
quotations please obtain a copy of the 70 page book "Women
in Islam Versus Women in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition: The Myth
& The Reality," By Dr. Sherif Abdel Azeem, World Assembly
of Muslim Youth.
Continuing, according to the Old Testament, a childless
widow must marry her husband's brother, even if he is already
married and regardless of her consent, so that she might bear
a child from him (Genesis 38).
Further, according to the Bible:
"If a man happens to meet a virgin who is
not pledged to be married and rapes her
and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty
shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated
her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives" Deuteronomy 22:28-30
One must ask a simple question here, who is really
punished, the man who raped the woman or the woman who was raped?
What is to prevent someone from finding the best looking woman
in town, raping her, telling everyone about it, and then having
the courts force her to be his wife for the rest of her life?
According to Numbers 27:1-11, widows and sisters
don't inherit at all. Daughters can inherit only if their deceased
father had no sons.
So what is the standpoint of the Qur'an with regard
to women? Women are indeed commanded by Allah to cover their heads
and wear modest clothing, however, in Islam this is not a sign
of denigration or subjugation to men, rather, it is a sign of
chastity, modesty, and the fear of God. It also designates this
woman to all men who might deal with her that she is to be dealt
with respect. This could be compared to the situation in the West
when one meets a nun or priest, how the nun's habit and the priest's
robes signal those who meet them that this person does not condone
vulgarity of speech or evil actions. This is made apparent in
the Qur'an in Al-Ahzab:
"… that is closer to their being recognized
so that they shall not be abused, and Allah is ever Forgiving,
Merciful" Al-Ahzab(33):59 (also see Noor(24):31)
What about the rights of women in Islam? Are they
indeed, as the popular propaganda would have us believe, "second
class citizens"? Let us read the Qur'an:
"And they (women) have rights similar to
those of men over them in a just manner"The noble Qur'an, Al-Baqarah(2):228
"And their Lord has heard them (and He says):
Verily! I suffer not the work of any worker, male or female, to
be lost. You proceed one from another. So those who fled and were
driven forth from their homes and suffered damage for My cause,
and fought and were slain, verily I shall remit their evil deeds
from them and verily I shall bring them into Gardens underneath
which rivers flow. A reward from Allah. And with Allah is the
fairest of rewards."The noble Qur'an, A'al-Umran(3):195.
"And covet not the thing in which Allah has
made some of you excel others. Unto men a fortune from that which
they have earned, and unto women a fortune from that which they
have earned. (Envy not one another) but ask Allah of His bounty.
Verily! Allah is Knower of all things." The noble Qur'an, Al-Nissa(4):32.
"Unto the men (of a family) belongs a share
of that which parents and near kindred leave, and unto the women
a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether
it be little or much, a legal share." The noble Qur'an, Al-Nissa(4):77.
"And whoso does good works, whether of male
or female, and he (or she) is a believer, such will enter paradise
and they will not be wronged the dint in a date stone."The noble Qur'an, Al-Nissa(4):124.
"And the believers, men and women, are protecting
friends one of another; they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong,
and they establish worship and they pay the poor-due, and they
obey Allah and His messenger. As for these, Allah will have mercy
on them. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Wise."The noble Qur'an, Al-Tauba(9):71
"Whosoever does right, whether male or female,
and is a believer, him verily We shall quicken with good life,
and We shall pay them a recompense in proportion to the best of
what they used to do." The noble Qur'an, Al-Nahil(16):97.
"And of His signs is this: He created for
you spouses from yourselves that you might find tranquillity in
them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, herein indeed
are signs for folk who reflect." The noble Qur'an, Al-Room(30):21
"Whoso does an ill deed, he will be repaid
the like thereof, while whoso does right, whether male or female,
and is a believer, (all) such will enter the Garden, where they
will be nourished without stint."The noble Qur'an, Mumin(40):40.
In the Qur'an, both Adam and Eve
share the blame for eating from the tree. This can
be seen in the Qur'an in such verses as Al-Baqarah(2):36, Al-A'araf(7):22-24.
They were also both forgiven by God Almighty for this sin. Actually,
in one verse of the Qur'an (Taha(20):121), Adam is specifically
Islam encourages spouses to take each other's council
and to seek mutual agreement in matters which affect them, for
example, in the Qur'an, Al-Bakarah(2):233 we read:
"Mothers shall suckle their children for
two whole years; (that is) for those who wish to complete the
suckling. The duty of feeding and clothing nursing mothers in
a seemly manner is upon the father of the child. No one should
be charged beyond their capacity. A mother should not be made
to suffer because of her child, nor should he to whom the child
is born (be made to suffer) because of his child. And on the (father's)
heir is incumbent the like of that (which was incumbent on the
father). If they desire to wean the child by mutual consent and
(after) consultation, it is no sin for them; and if you wish to
give your children out to nurse, it is no sin for you, provided
that you pay what is due from you in kindness. Observe your duty
to Allah, and know that Allah is Seer of what you do."
Husbands are commanded to treat their wives with
kindness and respect. In Al-Nissa(4)-19 we read "..But consort with them in kindness, for
if you hate them it may happen that you hate a thing wherein Allah
has placed much good."
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: "The best believers are the best in conduct,
and the best of you are those who are best to their wives."
When Muhammad (pbuh) first became the prophet of
Islam, the Pagans of Arabia had inherited a similar disregard
for woman as had been passed down among their Jewish and Christian
neighbors. So disgraceful was it considered among them to be blessed
with a female child that they would go so far as to bury this
baby alive in order to avoid the disgrace associated with female
Through the teachings of Islam, Muhammad (pbuh) put
a swift and resounding end to this evil practice. Not only did
he severely discourage and condemn this act but he also used to
teach them to respect and cherish their daughters and mothers
as partners and sources of salvation for the men of their family:
AbuSa'id al-Khudri narrated: "The Prophet (pbuh) said: If anyone cares
for three daughters, disciplines them, marries them, and does
good by them, he will enter Paradise." (Narrated by Abu-Dawood)
Abdullah the son of Abbas narrated: "The Prophet (pbuh) said: If anyone has a
female child, and does not bury her alive, or slight her, or prefer
his male children over her, Allah will bring him into Paradise."
(Narrated by Abu-Dawood)
Muhammad (pbuh) is also sited in "Sahih Muslim"
as saying: "Whoever maintains two girls till they attain
maturity, he and I will come on the Day of Resurrection like this;
and he joined his fingers".
In other words, if one loves the messenger of Allah
and wishes to be with him on the day of resurrection in heaven,
then they should do good by their daughters.
To learn more about the rights of women in Islam,
the issue of modest dress codes, the issue of polygamy, and many
other issues which can not be covered here, I highly recommend
the following books:
Women in Islam Versus Women in the Judaeo-Christian
Tradition: The Myth & The Reality, By Dr. Sherif Abdel Azeem,
World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
"The Status of Women in Islam," by
Dr. Jamal A. Badawi, World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
"Women's rights in Islam," by Lea Zaitoun,
World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
"Gender Equity in Islam," by Dr. Jamal
Badawi, World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
Last modified: Mon Nov 18 14:13:05 EST 1996