Women and the Koran
A Divine Bias
Allah’s description of the pain unbelievers can expect, as you may already be aware, is both graphic and crude. Not so with the pleasure that loyal believers can anticipate, both in the here-and-now and when they join Allah in Paradise.
Sex – When Resistance is Futile
When it comes to pleasure, Allah’s description of what pleasures believers, mainly men, can expect is more subdued and circumspect. His description of the pleasures believing men can expect in heaven is filled with the pornographic undertones of a Harlequin novel, with the exception that in Allah’s seduction scenarios it is the men whose repressed sexual yearnings are satisfied with the eventual conquest of the objects of their affection (if not their contempt).
In Allah’s uncomplicated Paradise, women are simply the Koranic God’s means of rewarding Muslim men for believing in Him, for their loyalty. In heaven, as it is on earth, women exist to serve men. For them, serving men is its own reward.
When Allah talks about sex, whether it is about sex between husband and wife or extra-marital sex (a form of sex that is only available to the male partner) it is almost exclusively about sex as being a man’s reward for being faithful to Allah.
When you find women and sex mentioned in the same verse you will usually find Allah explaining how women are naturally drawn to men, that wanting to have sex with men is what they yearn for. This irrepressible longing to want to touch and be touched is why they must be restrained from their natural tendencies to want to seduce every man in sight and bring chaos to the orderly world of the Koran.
Narrated Abdullah bin Umar:
Allah's Apostle said, "Evil omen is in the women, the house and the horse.'
Narrated Usama bin Zaid:
The Prophet said, "After me I have not left any affliction more harmful to men than women."
In the Koran, it is the females (married and unmarried, maid-servants, slaves-girls, post and pre-pubescent girls) who lust after the naked male body who are almost always the sexual aggressors.
A female can also be expected to lie about a sexual assault, for example, falsely accusing a man of attempted rape when in reality, she was the aggressor. From the story of Joseph in Egypt whose benefactor’s wife would have him sleep with her, by force, if necessary:
12:25 They raced to the door, and she ripped his shirt from behind. When they met her husband at the door, she said: “What is the penalty of one who intended evil for your wife except imprisonment or severe punishment?”
Exceptionally, Allah, when recounting this encounter, acknowledges that men can, on rare occasions, be the aggressors and how you can tell.
12:26 He (Joseph) said: “She sought to seduce me.” And a member of her household bore witness: “If his shirt was torn from the front, then she is telling the truth and he is a liar.
12:27 “But if his shirt is torn from behind, then she lies and he is one of the truthful.”
While admitting that men can, on occasion, be forceful in the pursuit of intimacy, Allah makes another generalization about women, that they are skilled in the art of deception. Notice the plural form of woman, “you women“, in verse 12:28.
12:28 When he (the husband) saw that his shirt was torn from behind, he said: “This is part of your guile, you women. Your guile is indeed very great."
It is less clear in verse 12:29 whether Allah considers women, in general, as being sinners. The tone of the husband in admonishing his wife and the fact that he doesn’t refer to her by name or her relationship to him e.g. “you, my wife”, but as a member of a group would suggest a certain contempt for her sex; a contempt that a sinner might elicit from a god.
12:29 “Joseph, overlook this matter; and you, woman, ask forgiveness for your sin. You are indeed one of the sinners.”
Women, like men, have been endowed by their creator with freewill, so how does a god ensure that men will get all the sex they desire in this world without taking away a woman’s right to choose?
The concept of freewill or freedom to make your own choices is very narrowly defined in Islam. In practical terms, for believers, it means surrendering yourself to God or rejecting him. Once you have surrendered your “will” to God, your freewill is effectively extinguished.
A verse to that effect:
31:22 Whoever surrenders his will to Allah, while doing the right, has surely grasped the firmest handle. Unto Allah is the ultimate issue of all affairs.
What God giveth God can take away and Allah, in a god-like way, leaves instructions with His Messenger when it comes to women and sex that make it difficult, if not impossible for women to deny men their sexual favours.
Why would God have to do this if, as I claim, Allah believed women want to have sex all the time? Could Allah have been wrong in His assessment of women and instead of admitting that women were more complicated than He first imagined, piled on a whole, complicated set of rules that would ensure that His creation behaved the way He intended.
If we turn to the Koranic story of the creation of the first couple, the first man actually, Eve is barely mentioned, and not by name. In fact, when it comes to women and girls, the only female that Allah mentions by name in the entire Koran is Mary, mother of the significant but lesser Prophet Jesus, and then mainly to emphasize that she was not the mother of a god.
God admits to putting some thought into Adam’s creation, a creation He is extremely proud of and rightly so. Eve, however, appears to be an afterthought. She sort of appears out of the blue. Adam gets most of the attention anywhere the couple is mentioned in the Koran including the following verses where we first meet the first couple. In these revelations, the proud Creator does not ask Satan to prostrate himself before the happy twosome, only before Adam. The only reference to Eve is in the second verse and even then Allah does not mention her by name, just as the wife of Adam.
2:34 And when We said to the angels: “Prostrate yourselves before Adam”, they all prostrated themselves except Iblis (Satan), who refused, out of pride and was one of the disbelievers.
2:35 Then we said: “O Adam, dwell in Paradise, you and your wife, and eat from it as much as you wish and wherever you wish, but do not approach this tree (meaning to not eat from it) or you will both be unjust.
Allah not only cast the first couple out of Paradise but on at least two occasions admits to having made them enemies of one another.
2:36 But Satan caused them to fall down from it and be turned out of the bliss they had been in. And We said: “Go down (from Paradise to earth) being enemies one to the other. And you will have in the earth an abode and sustenance for a while.”
20:123 He (Allah) said: “Go down from it both of you, as enemies of one another; but should guidance from Me come to you, he who follows My Guidance will not go astray or suffer.
It is also not clear if Allah ever forgave Eve for eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. If He did not, this would explain a great deal.
20:120 But the Devil whispered to him, saying “O Adam, shall I show you the Tree of Immortality and a kingdom which will never perish?”
20:121 And so they both (Adam and Eve) ate from it; whereupon their shameful parts were revealed to them and they started fastening upon themselves leaves of Paradise. Adam thus disobeyed his Lord and so went astray.
20:122 Then, his Lord favoured him, and so he relented towards him, and guided him.
2:37 Then Adam received words from his Lord, Who forgave him. He is indeed the All-Forgiving, the Merciful.
Could a male god who shuns female companionship and is obviously enamored with the male half of humankind be expected to know anything significant about the other half?
Some Islamic scholars have argued that Allah is a sexless being and has no gender. The use of the pronoun ”He” when referring to Allah in the third person being mandated by the fact that Arabic, the language chosen by God to deliver His final message, has no word for “it”.
Would any woman feel comfortable with such a god telling her what to do, what to wear, what men expect of her? Would most women fear that such a god would harbour the same prejudices and insecurities as normal men when it comes to dealing with her sex? Would a god that understood women leave instructions that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for any believing woman to deny her husband her body under almost any circumstances? Would a god that understood women leave the impression that they crave sex all the time, and will have sex with any man, anywhere, any time?
If women are just one big, yearning sexual machine, then Allah is indeed All-Knowing. If they are more than that, then Allah is all wet and the God of the Koran doesn’t know women at all and His advice to women is suspect. Being preoccupied with sex and knowing anything about sex are two different things. Just ask the Pope.
When it comes to men and sex, Allah doesn’t give them much credit either. For Allah, the sight of a single strand of a woman’s hair can cause a man to experience a Pavlovian-like reaction, an uncontrollable urge to hump the owner of the stray hair then and there.
Sex, as mentioned previously, is a means to an end. It is Allah's way of gaining and rewarding the loyalty of men. Having come to the conclusion that men aspire to no higher ideals than to fornicate to their hearts content, He promises them sex in spades in this world and even more in the next if they will worship Him and only Him. Women’s loyalty, on the other hand, will be assured by making men their overlords and in the process provide loyal, believing men with plenty of earth-bound sex while awaiting even more abundant sex in heaven.
Maid-servants, Slave-girls and Pre-pubescent Females
Men, no matter what their marital status, must resist the advances of maid-servants, slaves and pre-pubescent girls (girls who have yet to begin menstruating, what most us would call children) at least three times.
If after being denied three times, the maid-servant, the slave or the pre-pubescent girl still insist on having a piece of you, Allah has decreed that resistance would be futile and permission is given for the man to have sex or indulge in sexual touching with the supplicant.
Fakhry, in a footnote, argues that “approach each other” in the following verse means that maid-servants, slaves and pre-pubescent girls are allowed “to attend to you.” Since in the case of maid-servants and slaves that is part of their function, my interpretation would be that the man is allowed to have sex with them including sex with pre-pubescent girls. Whether its full-blown intercourse, or just sexual touching is another matter. Also, this is one of the few, if not the only time, that Fakhry translates what your “right hands possess” as slaves and not slave-girls, which could be significant.
24:58 O believers, let those your right hands possess (slaves and maid-servants) and those who have not reached the age of puberty ask your leave three times: (to attend to you or approach you) before the dawn prayer, when you put off your clothes at noon and after the evening prayer. These are three occasions of nudity for you; after which you are or they are not at fault, if you approach each other. That is how Allah makes clear His signs to you. Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.
Your children who have reached the age of puberty should also ask your permission to come into your presence in the three occasions described in 24:58.
24:59 And when your children reach puberty, let them ask leave, as those who came before them asked leave. That is how Allah makes clear His Signs to you. Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.
A man could be naked in front of his slave-girls, maids or pre-pubescent girls if the cause of his nakedness was because he was getting ready for prayer.
What about around the house? Yes, if only his wives or slave-girls are present. Consider the following verses on some of the qualities found in a believer.
23:1 The believers have prospered;
23:2 Those who are submissive in their prayers,
23:3 And those who turn away from idle talk,
23:4 And those who give the alms.
23:5 And those who guard their private parts,
23:6 Except from their wives and what their right hands possess (slave-girls). [For these] they are not blameworthy.*
23:7 Whoever seeks anything beyond that – those are the transgressors.
* This verse has been interpreted as making masturbation a sin; but it is not a sin if a wife or a slave girl manipulates a male's "private parts" for the purpose of his achieving sexual release.
Why Men Are Always Right
Men will be men and gods will be gods and both will show a bias towards their sex when dealing with the opposite sex. The Greeks and Romans probably meant to reduce this divine bias by creating goddesses; Indians by creating gods that combined both male and female attributes. Even pre-Islamic Arabs worshipped goddesses, the most famous being al-Lat, al-Uzzah and Manat.
Pre-Islamic Arabs, with their gods and goddesses, accepted women as being more-or-less equal to men, and vice-versa, but with different abilities. Depending on what favour you wanted granted, you prayed to a god or a goddess.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, most men did not feel threatened by women exercising god-like powers or women as gods or women being women. For example, pre-Islamic Arabs prayed to the fertility goddess Al-Lat for obvious reasons.
Allah and His Messenger changed all that. Why? Why did they create what some would call “the men’s religion”, a religion that objectifies women and gives men ownership rights? The God of the Koran, you could say, was a “real man’s" god. A God who went out of His way to make sure believing men were sexually satisfied and for most men that is a good thing. Many believing women seem to be satisfied with this arrangement as well.
Why would what appears to be a majority of believing women be satisfied with a god giving men complete control over their sexual, home and public life, including denying them the right not to have children, or to refuse to have sex whether it be for pleasure or procreation? Is it the Stockholm Syndrome on steroids? The believing woman having been a prisoner for so long learns to cherish her captivity, her divinely appointed male guardian and to fear the words of a vengeful God who says that is the way it must be lest she spend an eternity burning in Hell.
Many questions remain. Did the Prophet Muhammad feel threatened by women? Does Allah feel threatened by women? Was the Prophet looking to God for more than help with his love life? Did God’s Messenger nurture some deep seated resentment against women? Did God or His Messenger believe that pre-Islamic women were becoming too full-of-themselves, too independent and had to be brought down a peg or two – to be put in their place?
The Prophet Muhammad owed his success as a merchant to an older woman who hired the good-looking, allegedly illiterate young man to lead her caravans and later bankrolled his operations. Did he resent the fact that it was a woman that helped him get started and who probably kept him in business and later spent her wealth in support of his ministry?
It was this same successful businesswoman, now his wife, who re-assured her husband that it was God talking to him, not Satan or some other godless creature when her husband began having visions.
Gheorghiu tells the touching story of how, when the Prophet Muhammad had a vision in his home and was unsure if it was Satan or an angel, his wife Khadijah proved to her husband that it was an angel. She told her husband to get undressed and she did the same and they embraced. Do you still see him, she asked? No, said God’s Messenger! Then it must have been an angel, she said, because an angel would not have remained to stare at a naked couple embracing (Virgil Gheorghiu, cf. Ibn Hicham, 154. La vie de Mahomet, p. 87).
According to the Prophet the devil took the form of a woman:
Jabir reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) saw a woman, and so he came to his wife, Zaynab, as she was tanning a leather and had sexual intercourse with her. He then went to his Companions and told them: The woman advances and retires in the shape of a devil, so when one of you sees a woman, he should come to his wife, for that will repel what he feels in his heart.
Why would a man who had married such a bright, successful woman as Khadijah, the woman to whose intelligence, financial and moral support he owed much of his success accept Allah’s conclusion that women were not as smart as men; that women had trouble doing simple arithmetic and had poor memories. Why did Khadijah’s husband not at least argue with God, when he received the following revelation, that, based on his experience with Khadijah, women were not dummies.
The following verse, among other things, instructs the believer as to how many people are required to witness the contracting of a debt by a mentally or physically handicapped person.
2:282 O believers, when you contract a debt for a fixed period, write it down. Let a scribe write it for you with fairness. No scribe should decline to write as Allah has taught him. So let him then write and let the debtor dictate. He should fear his Lord and not diminish the debt in the least. If the debtor is feeble-minded or week or ignorant, then let his guardian dictate with fairness. And call to witness two witnesses of your men; if not two men, then one man and two women from such witnesses you approve of, so that if one of them (the two women) fails to remember, the other will remind her. The witnesses should not decline [to testify] when they are called upon [to do so]. So do not be averse to writing down the debt, be it small or large, as well as when it is due. This is more equitable in Allah’s sight, more suitable for testimony and less likely to rouse your doubts. If it is an instant transaction among yourselves (involving no debt); then it is no offence if you do not write it down. And let there be witnesses when you sell one to another; but neither the scribe nor the witness should be harmed, because if you do that, it is an act of transgression. Fear Allah; Allah teaches you. He has knowledge of everything.
If the previous verse had been interpreted as Allah stating that women were not good at business this would have been the lesser of two evils. Unfortunately, it has been interpreted as meaning that women require more witnesses in different court proceedings that have nothing to do with commercial or financial transactions such as accusations of adultery or sexual assault.
Allah is not satisfied with just claiming that women are bad at math and can’t remember things as well as men. For Allah, men are superior to women in everything by at least one degree – whatever a degree is. He reminds the believers of this rule in a verse where He instructs women on how long they must wait after divorce before being seen in the company of men and what the divorcing couple can or cannot do during this waiting period.
2:228 Divorced women should keep away from men for three menstrual periods. And it is not lawful for them to conceal that which Allah has created in their wombs, if they truly believe in Allah and the Last Day. Their husbands have the right in the meantime to take them back, should they seek reconciliation; and women have rights equal to what is incumbent upon them according to what is just, although men are one degree above them (what is meant here is that the men have a superior authority). Allah is Mighty, Wise.
Verse 2:228 can also be interpreted as God saying that if there is any disagreement about anything I have said, the man’s point of view shall prevail, or that a man’s word is worth more than a woman’s. Islamic laws and traditions holds both interpretations to be true.
On the Road and No Bookkeeper Can Be Found
2:282 O believers, when you contract a debt for a fixed period, write it down ...
2:283 If you are travelling and cannot find a scribe, a security should be taken. But if you trust one another, then let him who is entrusted deliver the security and fear Allah his Lord. Do not withhold the testimony. He who withholds it has a sinful heart. Allah has knowledge of what you do.
2:284 To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and on the earth. And whether you reveal or conceal what is in your hearts, Allah will call you to account for it. He will then forgive whom He wills, and punish whom He wills. He is Able to do everything.