Women and the Koran

An Androcentric Universe

A Prophet and a Prude

Women and the KoranA Western reader of the Koran and the sayings of the Prophet may be struck by the male-centric universe that Allah and His Messenger expound and praise, and the low esteem in which both hold females, especially Muhammad.

Narrated Aisha:

The things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me. They said, "Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people)Ö"

Bukhari 9.490

Aisha said [to Muhammad]: "You have made us equal to the dogs and the asses."

Sahih Muslim 4:1039

Treat women well, for they are like domestic animals (awan) with you and do not possess anything for themselves.

Tabari vol.9 p.113

Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:

The Prophet said, "Isnít the witness of a woman equal half that of a man?"

The women said, "Yes."

He said: "This is because of the deficiency of the womanís mind."

Bukhari 48.286

Narrated Ibn Abbas:

The Prophet said: "I was shown the Hell-fire and that the majority of its dwellers were women who were ungrateful."

It was asked, "Do they disbelieve in Allah?" (or are they ungrateful to Allah?)

He replied, "They are ungrateful to their husbands and are ungrateful for the favors and the good (charitable deeds) done to them.

Bukhari 2.28

Narrated Abdullah bin Abbas:

The people say, "O Allah's Apostle! We saw you taking something from your place and then we saw you retreating."

The Prophet replied, "I saw Paradise and stretched my hands towards a bunch (of its fruits) and had I taken it, you would have eaten from it as long as the world remains. I also saw the Hell-fire and I had never seen such a horrible sight. I saw that most of the inhabitants were women."

The people asked, "O Allah's Apostle! Why is it so?"

The Prophet replied, "Because of their ungratefulness."

Bukhari 62.125

Another reason why so few females will enter Paradise is that, should their husband be one of the few males whom Allah sentences to an eternity on fire[22], they will join him in Hell by default.

37:22 Gather together those who were wrongdoers, their spouses and what they used to worship;

37:23 Apart from Allah, and lead them to the path of Hell.

The most pathetic example of a double standard is the wife of Abu Lahab, who, tethered like a dog, feeds the fire that is burning her husband.

In the Name of Allah,

the Compassionate, the Merciful

111:1 Perish the hands of Abu Lahab, and may he perish too;

111:2 Neither his wealth nor what he has earned will avail him anything.

111:3 He will roast in a flaming fire,

111:4 And his wife will be a carrier of fire-wood,

111:5 She shall have a rope of fibre around her neck.

Allah has very much a sadistís understanding of empathy, i.e., feeling someone elseís pain: that it can be used to add to the suffering you wish to inflict, and that will be particularly true for the wives of the men to whom He refuses Paradise. Many a wifeís suffering will be greater than that of her husband, for she will agree with God: if her husband is burning in Hell, itís all her fault.

This paucity of females in Paradise made the manufacturing of female facsimiles, the infamous houris, a necessity if God was to keep His promise of rewarding the loyalty of His favourite gender with an overabundance of sex.

56:15 Upon beds interwoven with gold;

56:16 Reclining upon them, facing each other. 56:17 While immortal youths go around them, 56:18 With goblets, pitchers and a cup of limpid drink.

56:19 Their heads do not ache from it and they do not become intoxicated.

56:20 And with such fruit as they care to choose;

56:21 And such flesh of fowl as they desire;

56:22 And wide-eyed houris,

56:23 Like hidden pearls;

56:24 As a reward for what they used to do.

A Prophet and a Prude

Muhammad's young wives in particular were a handful for the old man and may be the cause of much of the invectiveness against women, particularly when it came to a lack of gratitude. Godís Messenger was a prudish man, his lust for young women notwithstanding. Prudish men are known to be both attracted and repelled by the sex act, a trait often shared with misogynous males. For both stereotypes, a woman is both an object of desire and of contempt. That contempt is clearly evident in the hadiths.

Could this prudish, middle-aged manís struggle between contempt and desire for the dozens of mostly young females he secluded within his household be responsible for the double standards in Islamic law and the disdain for females evident in many of Allah's revelations concerning the fair sex? Did contempt win out, relegating believing women to a class by themselves, the lowest class?

According to Islamic law and tradition, there were three groups of people who did not benefit from the general Muslim principals of legal and religious equality Ė unbelievers, slaves and women. The woman was obviously in one significant respect the worst-placed of the three. The slave could be freed by his master; the unbeliever could at any time become a believer by his own choice, and thus end his inferiority. Only the woman was doomed forever to remain what she was.

Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong, Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response

The Cult of Masculinity

Misogyny (a hatred of or hostility toward women) is perhaps too strong a term, yet a prejudicial view of women is perhaps not strong enough when describing Allahís attitude toward women, one largely shared by His Messenger.

The vehemence that God demonstrates towards women may just be an extreme manifestation of the cult of masculinity. The ultimate expression of this male adoration cult was everywhere evident in pagan Arabia, where sons were cherished and daughters barely tolerated until a male heir was produced. The whole Arab patronymic naming nomenclature (whereby a part of a personal name is based on the name of one's father) rests on a fatherís ability to trace his ancestry through his fatherís name (it is expressly forbidden to do so using a mother or daughterís name). That is why today, as it was then, Arab names often contain the conjunctions ibn/ben meaning son of, or Abu meaning father of.

Allahís extreme reaction to being associated with females may also have had something to do with His Messenger not fathering any sons that survived beyond infancy[23]. For this failure the Prophet was often taunted and ridiculed by his enemies, who would openly wonder why God had not favoured His greatest Messenger with sons.

Both the Prophet and his Benefactor may have seen this inability to father healthy sons as just another of womenís many failings, and both may not have wished to associate themselves too closely with such obviously flawed creatures.

[22] 4:56 Those who have disbelieved Our Signs, We shall surely cast them into the Fire; every time their skins are burnt, We will replace them by other skins, so that they might taste the punishment. Allah indeed is Mighty and Wise!

[23] In the surah Abundance, Allah makes an indirect reference to His Messengerís son who died in infancy.

108:1 We have surely given you abundance;

108: 2 So pray to your Lord and offer in sacrifice.

108:3 Indeed, your chief hater is the real childless (the reference is to Al-ĎAas Ibn Waíil who chided Muhammad upon the death of his son).