Women and the Koran

Women and What It Means To Be Civilized

Women of Sumer

Women and the KoranThe Epic of Gilgamesh pre-dates the Hebrew Bible by at least two-thousand years; the Koran by an additional one-thousand-five-hundred years – more or less. It was carved into clay tablets at the dawn of Western written history in ancient Sumeria (Sumer). In it you will find a story about the great flood and the Garden of Eden.

How would Islam, which contains variations of the same stories as can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh and later in the Bible reconcile the two?

The Koran contains references to twenty five prophets who came before the Prophet Muhammad, and it is clear that there are many more. In one Tradition of the Prophet, more than 124,000 prophets were sent by Allah before He got fed up with His Message being badly transmitted or misunderstood and decided to send His last and greatest Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad.

Scholars would maintain that the author of Gilgamesh was probably a prophet who was misquoted or who misunderstood Allah’s Message. How else could one explain the aberration that it was a woman, as described in the following excerpt (from a translation by Stephanie Dalley), from that heroic poem, to whom we are indebted for the wisdom with which she endowed man and which allowed civilization to blossom:

Shambat loosened her undergarments, opened her legs and he took in her attractions.

She did not pull away. She took wind of him.

Spread open her garments and he lay upon her.

She did for him, the primitive man, as women do.

His love-making he lavished upon her.

For six days and seven nights Enkidu was aroused and poured himself into Shambat.

When he was sated with her charms,

He set his face towards the open country of his cattle.

The gazelles saw Enkidu and scattered.

The cattle of open country kept away from his body.

For Enkidu had become smooth; his body was too clean.

His legs, which used to keep pace with his cattle, were at a standstill.

Enkidu had been diminished, he could not run as before.

Yet he had acquired judgement, had become wiser.

Or that it was a goddess, not a god, who created the first man. For the Sumerians it was the goddess Aruru, the mother goddess, who created Enkidu from clay. The Bible and the Koran would give that role to a man. For the Sumerians, women were a civilizing influence. For the illiterate desert tribesmen who would usurp her role in the creation accounts, she became the seductress, the harlot who caused mankind to be expelled from Paradise.

For the men and women of Sumer, their cities were Paradise. For the people of Sumer it was also women as life givers, homemakers and lovers who made this sedentary, civilized lifestyle possible, desirable and enjoyable. For the tribesmen of the desert, trapped and fighting for survival beneath a monotonous, unchanging blue sky and a blaring scorching sun on a sea of dust and sand, the cities of Sumer were what they imagined Paradise would be like.

Allah’s description of Paradise, as an oasis with buildings and women as pleasure providers, almost fits the description of Sumerian cities and their female inhabitants, with the exception that in Sumer, free women were no one's property.

Why would desert tribesmen, who would adapt, if not pervert many of the events described in the Epic of Gilgamesh, including the story of the meeting between Shambat and Enkidu blame women for mankind’s exile from Paradise?

The seduction of Enkidu by Shambat was seen as a good thing by the people of Sumer; a wild, roving man is civilized by being intimate with a woman. For the people of Sumer being “civilized” meant acquiring wisdom; becoming capable of exercising judgement, of assessing situations or circumstances shrewdly and logically and drawing your own reasonable conclusions.

For the illiterate, fatalistic tribesmen of the deserts of the Middle East whose very existence was constantly being tested by elements over which they had no control, which they believed was God’s way of trying their faith, this had to appear like blasphemy. Paradise was to be denied mankind because a woman was foolish enough to endow a man with god-like qualities. For their jealous, vengeful god this had to be unacceptable.

The Koran with its meticulous instructions as to what a believer may or may not do; what a believer may think or say was perhaps the primitive tribesman’s way of using the invention of writing to establish eternal, unchanging limits on mankind’s imagination and freewill in the hope of convincing God to let men back into Sumer, back into Paradise.

Writing as Allah revealed in surah 96, The Clot made man arrogant, thinking himself self-sufficient. That is not why He taught man how to write. He taught man how to write so that there would exist on earth duplicates of the Koran in Paradise with its meticulous instructions on how to live a god-fearing life. Instructions which He expected to be followed to the literal letter or man will have to answer to Him to Whom all of mankind must eventually return.

96:3 Read by your Most Generous Lord,

96:4 Who taught by the pen.

96:5 He thought man what he did not know.

96:6 Yet, man will, indeed, wax arrogant;

96:7 For he thinks himself self-sufficient.

96:8 Surely, unto your Lord is the ultimate return.

It was the Sumerians who five millennia or so ago, first carved the written word on clay tablets. According to Thomas Cahill, the period before the invention of writing saw an “explosion of technological creativity on a scale that would not be matched until the nineteenth and twentieth century of our era.”

Writing may have been a result of mankind’s need to record this leap which memory could no longer be counted on to chronicle or manage. Civilization could not progress any further without the means of recording civilization’s accomplishments for future generations to build on.

The society that invented writing worshipped many goddesses. The greatest goddess of all, Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, was worshipped by the people of the city of Uruk, perhaps the earliest settlement to deserve the name of city. It was in this ancient Mesopotamian city, on the shore of the Euphrates River that the first words written on clay tablets were found.

If it was not a woman who imagined those first words, then it was her civilizing influence which allowed the written word to be imagined in the first place.

Civilization in the Balance