The purpose of this study is to answer the questions: Do Judaism, Christianity and Islam have the same conception of women? Are they different in their conceptions? Do Judaism and Christianity really offer women better treatment than Islam? What is the truth? It should be emphasized that the purpose for this study is not to denigrate Judaism or Christianity. All Muslims believe in the divine origins of both. No one can be a Muslim without believing in Moises and Jesus as great Prophets of God. The main goal of the article is to vindicate Islam and pay a tribute, long overdue in the West, to the final Message from God to humanity.
According to the Judeo-Christian conception of Adam and Eve’s creation , it was Eve’s fault that led to her and Adam’s exile away from Heaven. The Qu’ran, contrary to the Bible, places equal blame on Adam and Eve . In other words, the Qu’ran states that Eve is not a temptress, a seducer, or a deceiver. Moreover, she is not to be blamed for the pains of childbearing as the punishment for her fault. God, according to the Qu’ran, punishes no one for another’s faults. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin and then asked for and received God’s forgiveness.
The Biblical image of Eve as a temptress has had an extremely negative impact on women throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition. Women were believed to have inherited from their mother, the Biblical Eve, both guilt and guile. Consequently they were untrustworthy, morally inferior, and wicked. Menstruation, pregnancy, and childbearing were considered the just punishment for the eternal guilt of the cursed female sex.
The Biblical Eve has played a far larger role in Christianity than in Judaism. Her sin has been pivotal to the whole Christian faith, because the Christian conception of the reason for Jesus Christ’s mission on Earth stems from Eve’s disobedience to God. She had sinned and then seduced Adam to follow her in her sin. Consequently, God expelled both of them from Heaven to Earth, which then became cursed because of them. They bequeathed their sin, which had not been forgiven by God, to all of their descendants and, thus, all humans are born in sin. In order to purify human beings from their «original sin», God had to sacrifice Jesus, who is considered to be the son of God, on the cross. Therefore, Eve is responsible for her own mistake, her husband’s sin, the sin into which all people are born (Original Sin), and the son of God’s death. In other words, one woman acting on her own caused the fall of humanity .
The Islamic conception of women is radically different from the Judeo-Christian one. The Qu’ran views the women in the same way as it does men: Both genders are God’s creatures whose sublime goal on Earth is to worship their Lord, do righteous deeds and avoid Evil, and then be judged accordingly. The Qu’ran never mentions that woman is the devil’s gateway or a deceiver by nature, or that man is God’s image, for it proclaims that all men and women are his creatures. According to the Qu’ran, a woman’s role is not limited only to childbirth, for she is required to do as many good deeds as a man is required to do.
In Judeo- Christian tradition a daughter is considered a painful burden, a potential source of shame to her father. For example, the Catholic Bible states explicitly: The birth of a daughter is a loss . In contrast, boys receive special praise: A man who educates his son will be the envy of his enemy . This same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame led pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide. The Qu’ran condemned this heinous practice. Moreover, the Qu’ran makes no distinction between boys and girls, for it considers the birth of a girl, as well as the birth of a boy, to be a gift and a blessing from God. In order to wipe out all traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, Prophet Muhammad promised those who were blessed with daughters a great reward if they would bring them up kindly: «He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and directs benevolent treatment toward them, they will be a protection for him against Hell-Fire (Bukhari and Muslim), and: ”Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers» (Muslim).
Polygamy, a very ancient practice, is found in many human societies. The Bible does not condemn it; rather, The Old Testament and Rabbinic writings frequently attest to its legality. King Solomon and King David are said to have had many wives and concubines .What about the New Testament? According to Father Eugene Hillman in his insightful Polygamy Reconsidered: «Nowhere in the New testament is there any explicit commandment that marriage should be monogamous or any explicit commandment forbidding polygamy» . Moreover, Jesus did not speak against polygamy although it was practiced by the Jews of his society - Father Hillman stresses the fact that the Church in Rome banned polygamy in order to conform to the Greco-Roman culture (which prescribed only one legal wife, while tolerating concubinage and prostitution). He cited St.Augustine: «Now indeed in our time, and in keeping with Roman custom, it is no longer allowed to take another wife» . The Qu’ran also allows polygamy, but with certain restrictions: If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four. But if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one . The Qu’ran limits the number of wives to four under the strict condition that each wife be treated equally and justly. Thus it is not exhorting the believers to practice polygamy or representing it as an ideal, but only tolerates or allows it. In most human societies, women outnumber men. In the U.S., there are at least 8 million more women than men. In Guinea, there are 122 women for every 100 men. In Tanzania, there are 95.1 men for every 100 women . What can a society with such unbalanced sex ratios do? There are various solutions: celibacy, female infanticide (which still happens in some societies), or tolerance of sexual permissiveness (e.g. prostitution, extramarital sex, and homosexuality). For other societies, like most African societies today, the most honorable outlet is to allow polygamy as a culturally accepted and socially respected institution. People in the West often do not understand that women in other countries do not necessarily consider polygamy to be a sign of women’s degradation. For example, many young African brides, whether Christians or Muslims or otherwise, would prefer to marry a married man who has proven himself to be a responsible husband. Many African wives urge their husbands to get a second wife so that they do not feel lonely . In Islam, polygamy is a matter of mutual consent. No one can force a woman to marry a married man. Moreover, a wife has the right to stipulate that her husband cannot take a second wife . On the other hand, the Bible sometimes resorts to forcible polygamy. For example, a childless widow must marry her husband’s brother, even if he is already married. Billy Graham, the eminent Christian evangelist, has recognized the following fact: «Christianity cannot compromise on the question of polygamy. If present-day Christianity cannot do so, it is to its own detriment. Islam has permitted polygamy as a solution to social ills and has allowed a certain degree of latitude to human nature but only within the strictly defined framework of the law. Christian countries make a great show of monogamy, but actually they practice polygamy. No one is unaware of the part mistresses play in Western society. In this respect Islam is a fundamentally honest religion, and permits a Muslim to marry a second wife if he must, but strictly forbids all clandestine amatory associations in order to safeguard the moral probity of the community» . Many Muslim and non-Muslim countries have outlawed polygamy. Taking a second wife, even with the first wife’s consent, is a violation of law. But cheating on the wife, without her knowledge or consent, is perfectly legitimate as far as the law is concerned! What is the legal wisdom behind such a contradiction? Is the law designed to reward deception and punish honesty? This is one of the unfathomable paradoxes of our modern «Civilized» world.
The veil, or the head covering, is now considered in the West as the greatest symbol of women’s oppression and servitude. But is it true that there is no such thing as the veil in the Judeo-Christian tradition? According to Rabbi Dr. Menachem M. Brayer, author of The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature, it was the custom of Jewish women to go out in public with a head covering that sometimes left only one eye free . Uncovering the woman’s hair was considered to be nudity. Dr. Bayer also explains that a Jewish woman’s veil was not always considered a sign of modesty. Sometimes, it symbolized a state of distinction and luxury, for it personified the dignity and superiority of noble women. It also represented a woman’s inaccessibility as a sanctified possession of her husband . What about the Christian tradition? Catholic nuns have been covering their heads for hundreds of years. St.Paul explained the reason for veiling women: the veil is a sign of the authority of man, who is the image and glory of God, over woman, who was created from and for man . Among the canon laws of the Catholic Church today is a law that requires women to cover their heads in church . Some Christian denominations, such as the Amish and the Mennonites, still retain a head covering for their women today. From all the above evidence, it is obvious that Islam did not invent, but rather endorses, the head covering. The Qu’ran urges believing men and women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty, and urges believing women to cover their neck and bosom . The Qu’ran is quite clear that such covering is essential for the importance of modesty: O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their bodies (when abroad) so that they should be known and not molested (The Holy Qu’ran, 33:59). Modesty is prescribed to protect women from molestation or simply, modesty is protection. Unlike its status in other traditions, such covering is not a sign of man’s authority over woman, of woman’s subjection to man, or of luxury and the distinction of some noble married women. It is no more than a sign of modesty designed to protect women, all women. The Islamic philosophy is that it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Some people, especially in the West, tend to ridicule the whole argument of modesty for protection. Their argument is the spread of education, civilized behavior, and self-restraint. We say «Fine, but that is not enough». If civilization is enough protection, then why do women in Russia as well as in many other countries dare not walk down a park street alone or even across an empty parking lot? If education is the solution, then why do many respected universities have a walk-home service mainly for female students on campus? If self-restraint is the answer, then why are cases of sexual harassment in the workplace reported on the news media every day?
Something is fundamentally wrong in the society in which we live. A radical change in the society’s life style and culture is absolutely necessary. A culture of modesty is badly needed- modesty in the dress, speech, and manners of both men and women. Otherwise, the grim statistics will grow worse and worse day after day and, unfortunately, women alone will be paying the price.
1. Genesis 2:4-3:24
2. The Holy Qu'ran, 7:19-23
3. Rosemary R. Ruether, «Christianity» in Arvind Sharma, ed., Women in World religions (Albany: SUNY press, 1987), 209
4. Ecclesiactus 22:3
5. Eccleactus 30:3
6. 1 King 11:3 and 2 Samuel 5:13
7. Eugene Hillman, Polygamy Reconsidered: African Plural Marriage and the Christian Churches (New York: Orbis Books, 1975), 140.
8. Ibid, 17
9. The Holy Qu’ran 4:3
10. Eugene Hillman, Polygamy Reconsidered: African Plural Marriage and the Christian Churches (New York: Orbis Books, 1975), 88-93.
12. Sabiq, Fiqh al-Sunnah, 187-188
13. Addul Rahman Doi, Woman in Shari'ah (London: Ta-Ha Publishers, 1994), 76
14. Menachem M. Brayer, The Jewish woman in rabbinic literature: A Psychosocial Perspective (Hoboken, N.J: Ktav Publishing House, 1986), 239
16. I Corinthians11:3-10
17. 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), 272
18. The Holy Qu’ran, 24:30-31