The unfortunate remarks made by the Archbishop of Canterbury recently were fairly widely condemned, and rightly so. However, there were some individuals who sought to defend his comments. Even a few Christians have sought to put a good spin on his controversial proposals.
One Christian leader here in Australia has come out strongly defending the Archbishop, and has sought to argue that Islam isn’t all that bad a religion. He even suggested that women are treated very well in Islam. While one can beg to differ with this leader about his other remarks, this final comment really needs to be addressed.
Is it in fact the case that Muslim women fare quite well? This leader certainly thought so, and to cement his point, he featured a quote from two Muslim leaders telling us how good Muslim women have it. With all due respect, that is about as sensible as quoting a Nazi to say how good Jews had it in the Third Reich. One will have to do a better job than that to make the case for how women fare under Islam.
So what are the facts? We can look at several areas here: the life and example of the Prophet Muhammad, the teachings of the Koran, and the sayings of the hadiths (the collected accounts of the words and deeds of the Prophet), and the situation today. Consider the example of Muhammad and what Islam teaches about his life. He started out fairly strict in terms of sexual morality. And he was faithful to his first wife for 25 years. But after she died, he became polygamous, and had as many as 13 wives. He left nine living widows when he died.
One wife was the six-year-old daughter offered to him by an admirer. He did not consummate this marriage however till she was nine years old. What Muslims call marriage others might call paedophilia. Another of his wives was already married at the time, and her husband was Muhammad’s adopted son. Islamic law forbids a man from marrying his son’s wives.
Never mind. It seems that Muhammad did a number of things which he forbade his followers from doing. He had numerous special privileges accorded to him and sanctioned by the Koran, including being able to have more than four wives.
Polygamy of course is enjoined in the Koran, with Sura 4:3 speaking about men being able to take up to four wives. That practice continues to this day, both in Muslim countries, and countries with Muslim minorities.
Then there is the matter of sex slaves. In addition to his many wives, Muhammad had no problems with even more sexual encounters. Women who had been taken prisoner were used as sex objects to satisfy his cravings. Surah 33:50-52 offers justification for taking sex slaves. And Muhammad did not have to marry them to enjoy fulfilling his lusts.
Other Muslim men could also have sex slaves. If Muhammad had given a man a sex slave, and he wanted her to become his wife, then there were stipulations for that in the Koran as well (Sura 4:25).
The Koran and hadiths
There is plenty of documentation from these two sources to show how poorly women are considered in Islam. Take just a few of many examples. Men are regarded as superior to women and this hierarchy must be maintained (Sura 2:228; 4:34; 2:223, etc.).
Women are likened to a field, to be used by the man in any way he likes (Sura 2:223). Sur 2:282 makes it clear that the testimony of a man is worth that of two women. Muhammad taught that the reason for this was because of the “deficiency of the woman’s mind”.
Muhammad said that in hell the majority of the population would be female. A number of times the hadiths make this claim. He also made it clear that the husband was superior to the wife (consider Sura 4:34, eg.). Men were allowed to punish their wives if so desired.
In Islam, a man can divorce his wife for any reason. He can do so simply by saying three times, “I divorce you”. A woman on the other hand usually cannot initiate a divorce, and cannot refuse a husband if he wants to divorce her. And in matters of inheritance rights, male children receive double the share that female children receive.
The hadiths make it clear that men can beat their wives for simply complaining. Domestic servitude is the main lot of the Muslim wife. A Muslim wife is meant to please her husband in all things, stay at home, and obey him implicitly. Plenty of hadiths can be cited here. Take just one as an example: “Better for a man to be splashed by a pig than for him to brush against the elbow of a woman not permitted him”.
The wearing of the veil is another practice which keeps women in a state of second-class citizenship. It is a symbol of servitude. Coupled with the injunctions to stay at home and to walk behind her husband in public, the command for Muslim women to be covered – and usually totally covered – is part of the Islamic subjugation of women.
Muslim women are forbidden to be a judge, an imam, a head of state, a guardian, to wear makeup or perfume outside the home, to travel alone, to shake a man’s hand, and numerous other things.
And the female rape victim is treated horribly under Islam. Her own testimony is inadmissible, and four male witnesses are required. Most rape victims will not even report the crime, because their testimony will be considered an admission of adultery or fornication.
Finally, men look forward to paradise where women will be their sexual objects. Beautiful nymphets have been created by Allah for the pleasure of faithful Muslim men. Paradise seems to be one long orgy for the men, involving dark-eyed virgins ever ready to please them. No wonder Muhammad could say that there will be no bachelors in Paradise.
Muslim women today
Some might argue that this is all a thing of the past. Not so. Women are still treated abominably in Muslim countries today, and even in Muslim sections of non-Muslim nations. Muslim women have clearly suffered in such places as Saudi Arabia, Iran and the former Taliban-led Afghanistan.
But they are also suffering in many European countries where Muslim populations dwell. There are numerous shelters around Europe packed with Muslim women and children. They are there to escape the beatings and violence of Muslim men. And European prisons are increasingly being filled with these violent Muslim men.
Consider just one figure: Although Muslims account for around six per cent of the Dutch population, Muslim women make up 60 per cent of those in battered women’s shelters. This is a huge problem and getting worse by the day.
“Honour killings” are also a major problem, with many hundreds of Muslim women being killed. This can be for many reasons, including as a “prosecution of adultery”. Family members will often kill their own daughters or wives if suspected of such things. And the male killers usually go unpunished for their murders.
Honour-related violence is also widespread, with one Muslim woman, for example, having hot oil poured into her ears. And suicide rates of young Muslim women in many European countries are much higher than for non-Muslim women.
Think about how women fare under sharia law today. Women who are raped are often seen as the culprit, and made to pay severely. Consider the recent case of a Muslim woman who was the victim of a gang rape. Instead of punishing the rapists, she was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months prison in Saudi Arabia. After an international outcry the punishment was reduced to 100 lashes!
Sadly, there are women in prisons all around the Muslim world who are rape victims, not the culprits. In Pakistan, for example, as many as 75 per cent of the women prisoners are there for the crime of being raped.
Other problems can be mentioned, such as forced marriages, child marriage, and female genital mutilation. The situation is simply not very good for Muslim women. The truth is, sharia law is discriminatory to women and their rights. And yet the Archbishop wanted sharia law to prevail over Muslim marriage and divorce cases, the very area where Muslim women often suffer the most!
One simply has to read a book like Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel to see how women are really treated in Islam. Or consider the book by Phyllis Chesler, The Death of Feminism. Chesler is a Western feminist castigating fellow lefties for not speaking out on the plight of women in Islam.
All this is not to suggest that only Islam mistreats women, or that a Muslim male always will mistreat women. Are there Muslim men who treat their wives kindly, decently and with respect? Of course. There are many – hopefully most. But that is not the issue here. What we are concerned about here is how women are viewed and treated in Islam. Many Muslims may not follow their faith fully in this regard, and that is a good thing. Inconsistent Muslims may treat women well. Consistent Muslims probably do not.
It is the religion itself which is not women-friendly. The mistreatment of Muslim women is not accidental or incidental to Islam; it is not an aberration of Islam; it seems to be part and parcel of the religion. Dedicated Muslims are much more likely to enslave women than liberate them. The problem lies directly with Islam. As a former Muslim puts it, “Islam is the fundamental cause of the repression of Muslim women and remains the major obstacle to the evolution of their position”.