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Women and the Koran

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Women and What It Means To Be Civilized

The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilization. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between rationality and barbarity. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on one hand and the violation of these rights on the other. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings.

Wafa Sultan, outspoken Syrian-American woman during a debate broadcast on Al-jazeera.

Women of Islam

If women are being treated less than equitably in societies and households around the world by those who live by what is written in a book in Paradise—the contents of which were revealed by a man who claimed to be an intimate of the Author—then which of the two sexes is most responsible for women being treated like beasts? It is those treated like beasts, with women like Wafa Sultan being the exception in a crowd of opposition from her own gender, that have made forward-looking Muslim women's struggle for equality so difficult.

This opposition takes two forms. In the West, it is the believing women who traverse public spaces in attire that is a testament to an ingrained loathing for their gender, not excessive piety, and who seek, by whatever means at their disposal, to shield both the message and the messenger from any criticism.

In households dominated by the Koran, it is the mothers who keep faith. As explained by Bernard Lewis in his book What Went Wrong, published just after the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York: “It is these downtrodden, mainly illiterate mothers that are entrusted with the crucial early years of the upbringing of the other half.”

It is mothers tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that daughters are accepting of their inferior, near slave-like status as being the natural order of things as prescribed in the Koran. Like other neat little god-made constructs of Islam, this is to be admired if only for the ingenuous way it maneuvers believing women into becoming an enemy of their sex.

 There is a very common ceremony practiced throughout most of the Muslim world called Khatmi-Qur’an. It is the ceremony to recognize and celebrate a child’s first full reading of the Koranic text in Arabic under the not always benevolent tutelage of their mother. 

Life in jail for son's murder over Koran studies

A mother who beat her seven-year-old son to death when he failed to memorise passages from the Koran has been jailed for life, for a minimum of 17 years. The judge said she had beaten him for three months leading up to his death, adding: "The cause of the beating was your unreasonable view that he wasn't learning passages quickly enough."

BBC January 7, 2013

Most children complete the first full reading of the Koran between the age of four and seven.

While the poor, “downtrodden, mainly illiterate mothers” found in societies where the Koran rules may be excused for their role in ensuring that their daughters will always be inferior to men, what is the excuse of Muslim women in the West who know better, or who should know better?

Whether they do so out of conviction or have been pressed into service by their father, husband or brother, it is Western women in general, and in Canada in particular, who have become the voice and face of so-called moderate, modern Islam. This view still maintains that the Koran is the literal Word of God, and that Allah’s and His Messenger’s questionable decrees, from counselling husbands to beat their wives to murdering those who would leave the faith, are not subject to discussion.

33:36 It is not up to any believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have passed a judgement, to have any choice in their affairs. Whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger have gone astray in a manifest manner.

An early manifestation of this bizarre phenomenon in Canada of women defending a religion that displays contempt for their own sex occurred during the so-called “cartoon protest.” Traditionally dressed Muslim women, complete with hijab, acted as spokespersons for the Canadian Islamic community, appearing on television with stern Muslim men looking on demanding that those who dared to publish mostly innocent caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad be prosecuted.

It is women such as these who perpetuate the myth of Muhammad as the personification of the perfect human being, a man whose every saying represents God-inspired wisdom and whose every action, for those who believe in his example, are to be emulated as closely as possible so that they, too, may come as close to being perfect as the personification of perfection itself.

This newfound public role for believing women in the West is in sharp contrast to the other public affirmation of Koranic values: the now regular television broadcast. You will not find many women here; only in extraordinary circumstances are women allowed to preach to the faithful, for example, when the audience is exclusively female and a male cannot be found.

Muslim women in the West who simply parrot Allah’s and Muhammad's male-centered, misogynist point of view have abrogated their responsibility to elevate the debate in favour of gender equality. They are selling out their sisters in Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, and on, promoting—from their stance in a society that considers them equal—a prejudiced view of women which, if widely accepted, would reduce their status to that of their sisters living in obscurity in male-dominated societies where the Koran reigns supreme.

It is also believing women who are largely responsible not only for the intellectual but the physical mutilation of their daughters. The intellectual mutilation begins with the force-feeding by mothers of the Koran and Allah's prejudiced opinion that males are inherently superior and more valuable. This cerebral mutilation is done mainly to please their God; the physical mutilation comes out of fear of displeasing the men in their family, clan or tribe, who, like Allah and His Messenger, are obsessed with virgins.

It is mainly the mother’s responsibility to ensure that her daughters remain virgins until her husband can arrange an advantageous marriage to a cousin or another close relative. For a daughter to lose her virginity before marriage is to bring disgrace and dishonour to the entire family, reducing her net worth to next to nothing. The fear of disgracing their families drives many mothers in traditional Islamic societies, mainly in Africa where the practice originated, to have their daughters undergo a procedure called female circumcision. Unlike male circumcision, female circumcision is much more brutal and without the hygienic consideration as it is for males. As explained by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose grand-mother arranged for her to suffer the procedure:

Islam demands that you enter marriage as a virgin. The virgin dogma is safeguarded by locking girls up in their homes and sewing their outer labia together. Female circumcision serves two purposes: the clitoris is removed in order to reduce the woman’s sexuality, and the labia are sewn up in order to guarantee her virginity.

Hirsi Ali, The Caged Virgin, p.76.

Women of Sumer

The Epic of Gilgamesh predates the Hebrew Bible by at least 2000 years, the Koran by an additional 1500 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 God 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.

Believers would maintain that the author of Gilgamesh was probably a prophet who was misquoted or who misunderstood Allah’s Message. For instance, how could someone possibly write that it was a woman who gave birth to humanity, not a man; or that it is a woman, as described in the following excerpt (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.

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 would also have been seen as Paradise. 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, women were not second-class citizens.

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 seem 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 free will in the hope of convincing God to let man back into Sumer, back into Paradise.

 Writing as Allah revealed in verses from Surah 96, The Clot made man arrogant, thinking himself self-sufficient. This was not why He taught man how to write. He taught man how to write not to make him more self-sufficient, but less, by having man write down His unchanging instructions as to how He expected man to behave and how He was to be worshipped. Instructions which He then expected to be followed to the literal letter or man would have to answer to Him 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, more than five millennia 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 of knowledge, upon which memory could no longer be counted to chronicle or manage. Civilization could not progress any further without the means of recording civilization’s accomplishments for future generations to build upon.

The society that invented writing worshipped many goddesses. The greatest goddess of all, Ishtar, 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 five thousand years ago 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

Women have been deciding the fate of civilizations since the dawn of written history and probably long before that, and they will continue to be largely responsible for the fate of humanity. The women of Sumer rocked the cradle of Western Civilization and nurtured it through its formative years until the Greeks and Romans of antiquity came along and put into words and deeds what it meant to be a Western civilization.

For the Greeks of antiquity, in particular, to be civilized meant subscribing to democratic ideals; appreciating that liberty is humanity’s most precious possession; accepting that ethics and morality can come from within and that the search for the truth is a never-ending quest and a noble calling in and of itself.

Following in the footsteps of the Greeks and Romans came the philosophical movement of the 18th century, The Enlightenment, which emphasized the use of reason to question accepted doctrines and traditions; and before that, The Renaissance which marked the end of the Catholic Church’s dominance in Europe, allowing for a flowering of the arts and sciences. Today, competing with these ideas of what it means to be civilized is a child-like view of the world that begins and ends with the Koran.

The Koran is not so much a philosophy as a set of rules formulated by a child-like mind, rules that embody a child’s certainty in having absolute knowledge of the world around him and a child’s intolerance of others who won’t play the game by his rules. To accept this child-like perception of the world is to deny Western civilization and all its accomplishments. This child-like undeveloped understanding of the world around it saw writing as a way of limiting what people could imagine.

This child-like view now competes with the grown-up view of the people of Sumer who invented writing as a means to expand the capabilities of the human mind, not to restrict them; who invented writing so as to allow future generations to build upon, to progress beyond, to question the limits of what their ancestors had ever imagined.

The women of Sumer gave birth to Western civilization. The women of Islam, a child’s first acquaintance with the Koran and the narrow limits it places on the imagination, may bring it to an end. The Koran, taken literally, kills the imagination allowing insanity to settle in. Will these mainly “illiterate and downtrodden mothers” entrusted with the crucial early years of a child’s upbringing—invisible to the outside world courtesy of a prudish, insecure, misogynistic God—even be aware of what they have done?