Islam's Liberation of Women
At a recent Islam Awareness Week organized by the Muslim Student Association of The College of William and Mary (located in Williamsburg Virginia), Professor Tamara Sonn gave an enlightening presentation on "Women in Islam: Tradition and Change". Tamara Sonn is the College's Kenan Professor of Humanities, Religious Studies. She tackled many misconceptions about women in the Islamic faith.
Generalizations about Women in Islam
Lecture by Tamara Sonn
Sonn introduced her topic with a complaint. "Everyone is always coming up to me and saying, 'I don't really know much about Islam, but I sure don't like how they treat their women,'" she said. "People always want to hear about 'women in Islam,' so I usually turn it around and say, OK, but first, you tell me about 'women in Christianity.'"
Sonn explained that "there are very few things you can say about all Muslim women. How can you characterize one half of one fifth of the world's population?" she asked.
Women in the Quran
But then, diving into the true subject of her talk, she explained that "the Qur'an has a great deal to say about women-and it has a great deal to say that is positive about women." Sonn spent the remainder of her lecture explaining the truly progressive nature of the Qur'an in the context of the highly patriarchal society within which it developed.
She mentioned some of the practices common at the time, including female infanticide and sons inheriting their father's wives-"just imagine hearing that added bonus at the reading of the will," she said.
The Qur'an is progressive because at a time in which females were devalued, it explicitly insists on equality between the sexes. Sonn cited Chapter 3, which claims that whoever does good deeds, male or female, whoever believes, male or female, etc. will be favored in the eyes of God.
The Qur'an also gives women the right of inheritance, which was historically forbidden, and which women in Western societies did not attain until the late 19th century. It also specifies that a woman's marriage dowry was to be given to the individual woman, not to her family.
Sonn went on to explain that the Qur'an provides several examples of strong, powerful, dominant female figures. She used the prophet's wife and one of his first followers as an example. "She was a successful business woman whom he actually worked for, and who proposed to him," Sonn said. "People were not afraid to put forth women as models for believers-and not just for women believers, but for all believers."
Patriarchy and Misogyny
Muslim women have a leg-up on women in many other religions because the scripture, itself, gives them rights ..
Sonn also emphasized the difference between patriarchy, and misogyny. She explained that many of the Islamic practices that feminist complain about, such as hijab (meaning both the headscarf worn by Muslim women and the institution of separating the sexes) was introduced as a protection for women and not out of hatred toward them. She explained that hijab is introduced in the Qur'an during the prophet's wedding, when guests rudely wandered into the private quarters of the house. In response to this transgression, they were told that when they ask something of a woman, they must do so behind a curtain in order to protect the privacy and privilege of the woman.
Sonn reminded her audience that "most authorities on the Qur'an would agree that to describe it as demeaning to women would discredit its overall teaching of equality." She explained that the trouble comes not from the scripture itself but from interpretations of the Qur'an which date mainly to the medieval period.
Both Adam and Eve share the fall from heaven
"In the Qur'an's creation story, it is Adam, or Adam and his wife, who are to blame, but it wasn't just the wife's fault. Why do I stress this? Because women are always being blamed for everything! This is a common tradition, but it does not originate from the Qur'an ... . Then the medieval commentators in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries give us more details, and reveal that, 'Oh, it was all Eve's fault,'" Sonn explained. "I don't know where they got this stuff!"
Human interpretation, Quran and Shariah
Reformers today are looking back to the text of the Qur'an and are saying there is something unique about the scriptures: the absolute moral equality of men and women. The inequalities are just a matter of deviation by human beings creating legislation.
Sonn then explained the distinction between shari'ah, or Islamic law given by God, and fiqh, or the science of legislation enacted by human beings. Sonn claimed that we now have a responsibility to revisit shari'ah and develop legislation that is more in line with contemporary moral society, remembering that the basic ideology of the Qur'an treats women and men with equality. She went on to state that, "with such strong language about equality between the sexes, reformers claim it is unthinkable that the Qur'an would envision a society that marginalizes women.
During the question and answer portion of the lecture, one student asked about the logic of women inheriting only half as much as men. Sonn reminded her audience of the context of the verse. "We have to understand that the right to inheritance of any level was an enormous improvement for women at that time ... But yes, there's pre-Islam patriarchy, and the residuals of this seeped into the legislative derivation." Sonn explained that there is certainly some human engineering involved in many contemporary laws, such as women not being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. But she joked, "I think I'd prefer a chauffeur. I'm not necessarily a fan of equality in that case."
Sonn concluded by asserting her belief that as education increases, and people learn their rights, there will be a greater equality for women throughout the Muslim world. "And Muslim women have a leg-up on women in many other religions because the scripture, itself, gives them rights," she said.
Topics: Islam, Women
Dear Romesh, thank you for proposing those books for my reading. Some of those books are not alien to me.At least I know where you based your opinion from. That's the right approach in academic and even in advocacy, one must have his or her basis and grounds before forming an opinion. Or asserting a stand.
I'll write more if time permits.
the Islamic and Muslim matters despite you being critical.
Definitely it shows your interest in religion(Islam). I am sure you
do read and write your comments with open mind. May God
guide you right direction.
I must thank the writer of the article for presenting his view very
nicely and may Allah help you to write more and more on Islam
and encourage people from other religion into health dialogue
to clear any misunderstanding about Islam as whole.
Regarding Monroe Doctine, read the books Richard J Barnet "Revolution and Intervention", JW Fulbright "ARROGANCE OF POWER" and William Appleman Willimas "Tragedy of American Diplomacy", and various other books by Prof Williams.
These are over 40 year old books, and deal over all with the US foreign policy for at least 150 years, especially since 1890.
I will only debate with those with academic credentials or Muslims who have sound knowledge about Islam. I have had dialogues with non Muslims before but none one of this sort. he keeps on changing issues, and he based his opinions with no factual grounds. And I had replied all those that he wrote in his post in " American marmalukes ( slaves ). I do not know why the editorial hasn't publish those 3 replies from me to Romesh yet. So again i ask that all Muslims who read his post to ignore them and all his antics. What does he knows about Islam any way to qualify him to give opinions. We have heard enough of his antics from the grumpy old man.
Dear Muslim Brothers and Sisters, please read this. I wanted all Muslims especially our sisters to know and appreciate this.
Annie Besant, a western woman writer and a non Muslim authored the book " The life and Teachings of Muhammad " ( 1932 ). This is one excerpts from her book -
...." I often think that woman is more free in Islam than in Christianity. Women is more protected by Islam than by the faith which practices monogamy. In Al Quran the law about woman is more just and liberal. It is only in the last tywenty years that Christian England has recognised the right of woman to property, while Islam has allowed this right from all times. It is slander to say that Islam preaches that women have no souls...."
So sisters, be proud and grateful that you are Muslimah. Whether a born Muslim or someone that ALLAH has granted hidayah or consciousness of the faith along the way in this life. May ALLAH Bless all of you, in this world and the here after. I'll write more excerpts from other famous writers and even jurists again, Insya ALLAH. Wassalam.
You write "Romesh Chander, since you are an old Indian army pandit, retired I presumed, i propose that you save your views for your grand children. For their bed time stories. May be they'll listen to you.".
I thought you were educated in the West and your speciality is law. Looks like you did not learn anything in the west, and I wonder what kind of law you practice which does not allow any kind of Reasoning from the others; may be Taliban style law.
By the way, I have never been in the army; I hate military expeditions and unnecessary death and destruction. No, I am not a Pandit. Yes, I was born a Hindu; however, currently, I am a hard-line athiest and secular humanist; I separate politics from religion.
Dear Brother A.R., just forget about replying to Romesh misguided views. He knew next to nothing about Islam. He rebelled against everything. Please refer to my replies to him in " American marmalukes ( slaves ) ".
There's no academic value in his views. He's just a frustated old man, trying to have his little voice heard. Or a circus clown for that matter. He will shift his arguments once cornered. He will claim this and that without making reference to any source.
So, Brother A.R. just ignore Romesh known antics. Wassalam.
Are these reasons/explanations given in the Koran/sunnah/fiqh or you just made them up yourself?. Now who you are trying to fool?
Um..isn't that simply logical? Suppose the Koran states "if your cutting a branch off a tree make sure your not sitting on that very same branch" now does it have to explain the why part? isn't it our responsibility to use logic as our guide and come to the conclusion that the Koran states such a suggestion BECAUSE if one were to cut the same branch he's sitting on..he will fall down and die? Now what is most logical to you Mr. Shiva? So why does the Holy Koran allow for greater inheritance for men then women? Now if we use all the other verses of the Quran as our guide which are very explicit in their claim of equality for men and women, we can be sure its NOT because God loves these great macho men more then women..so what are we left with? jeez I am shocked that a hindu would even show his face at any debate...let alone be so brazen. Misguided fools.
We are all given the SAME Qur'an, what differs is WHO is reading it. Some men and women born to Muslim families are NOT familiar with the content of the Qur'an and they are the target of missionaries. They targeted even my family and many other. Thay knock on our doors, give leaflets at bus stops. Come with "food and clothings" when a tsunami hits. Islam forbids preaching to the hungry because that is "COERSION" and the mind is muddled/confused with hunger pangs and grief when family is lost due to war. Islam lets the woman keep her earnings. A psychologically stable Muslim man trusts his wife (if he trust Allah SWT) and then the woman on top of it, again ON TOP OF HER OWN MONEY AND HER MOTHERS, gets MORE, yes, MORE from her fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands money. Now, if it is followed as Allah SWT has ordained (without western and jewish interest and financial interference) then the MOST financially STABLE woman on this earth will be the Muslim woman and consequently a stable mother and then STABLE CHILDREN from a stable and happy mother. The Sri Lankan muslims have worked it out. The husband goes to live in his wife's house (if he cannot afford to buy one because still a young man) and he provides daily food, clothing and Qur'an education to the family. All worked out fine till the recent invasion of the Western money market and NUCLEAR FAMILY and ISOLATION contrary to Islamic teaching.
Funny, in my post, I was talking about the plight of muslim women, not about Islam. I am sure you know the difference between muslims and islam; the former are people who practice (or pretend to practice) islam; the latter is a religious concept.
It is terrible to say, you live in England where Reason predominates; unfortunately, you seem not to like Reason; you seem not to have learnt anything there.
The examples you gave are not regading Hinduism; they are regarding Hindus. And there is lot of difference between concepts and practice.
Mr. Chander you have shown enough foolishness of yours with the kind of knowledge you have about Islam. Do not utter a word about Islam of that you have no knowledge. It is not your kind of idol worshipper mythology. You watch the dirt of your undercover idol worshipping where still innocent children are being sacrificed to your black mother goddess and you got no shame for it but attacking Islam. You are trying to make your face not different to the western world. Watch your own face if you dare.
Firstly women inherits from both sides her father's side and then her husband's side.
Secondly please list one religion (not secular government's), which gives Muslim women such rights and to live with honor and dignity.
Thirdly, men has an obligation of providing sustenance for the family in Islam and women is not bound to any such obligation.
Even today women have become a showpiece in the west, which is interpreted or dubbed as 'women rights.' The best statement for women over here is that she is hot and etc etc..that's not honor trust me.
I TOTALLY AGREE WD THE PROFESSOR'S POINT OF VIEW THAT ISLAM GAVE WOMWN EQUAL RIGHTS TO THOSE OF MEN IF V R TO SPEAK RELATIVE TERMS... I SEE PROPERTRY RIGHTS GIVEN TO MEN BY ALLAH DOESNT INDICATE INEQUALITY RATHER EQUALITY. SINCE ALLAH HAS MADE MEN PRIMARILY RESPONSIBLE TO CATER FAMILY NEEDS N EARN 4 D FAMILY, DERE4 MALES R GIVEN MORE PROPERTY THAN FEMALES IN INHERITANCE...D BEAUTY IS THAT WOMEN R NOT DISCARDED BT ALSO GVEN THE PROPERTY RIGHT TO INHERIT. AGAIN IF THE WIFE EARNS...THEN IT IS UPTO HER TO SPEND HER EARNED MONEY ON THE FAMILY OR NOT FOR HER ITS NOT OBLIGATORY N COMPULSORY..ITS HER CHOICE...IS THIS INEQUALITY OR TRU N LOGICAL EQUALITY.....
Surprisingly, from the picture, the author seems to be very modern, western and equal, and talking to essentially non-muslim audience in a non-muslim country; I wonder this picture will be accepted in a muslim society. Terrible question, indeed!!
You write "the question about women inheriting only half as much as men is not answered well. the reason is because men have more responsibilty to support financially, his wife and children and sisters who are not married yet. whereas the women do not have this obligation. whatever she inherits is for hers to keep. she does not have to spend it on her family..that is the reasponsibilty of her husband if not brother.".
Are these reasons/explanations given in the Koran/sunnah/fiqh or you just made them up yourself?. Now who you are trying to fool?
The paradigm is that we believe the sexes are equal, but we are different, and therefore certain aspects of our behaviour are different.
Likewise, your grammatical errors didn't interfere with your message either. I'll start double-checking what I write before I press send. Perhaps you should do the same when you submit your thesis. Good luck!
Congratulations on being the wife of a highly successful "international businessman". Does that make you a better Muslim, or simply a person who is more important than other people? In my interpretation of Islam, we're judged by our actions and beliefs. Not that it matters (as everyone is entitled to an opinion) but I am also a practicing Muslim and mother, who works and goes to school. My husband, alas, is not a highly successful businessman, but that doesn't prevent him from praying and studying to better understand Islam.
I would have thought that a PhD. candidate would be more familiar with the idea of differing viewpoints based on experience. I have lived in both Islamic and non-Islamic societies. I have seen firsthand women mistreated by ignorant men who honestly believe that women are inherently evil and that Islam supports that idea. Who are YOU to deny their suffering? If you have never suffered hardship and you "praise God for making you the wife a Muslim man" that's your prerogative. But there are many sisters who have a different reality.
There is a difference between Islam, and the people who practice Islam. It is my duty as a Muslim to protect other Muslim women. If you cannot differentiate between an attack on the ignorance of certain Muslims, and an attack on the entire religion, perhaps you're not ready for your PhD.
Muslim women do not have a "leg up" on anyone. Until the cultural traditions that have been incorporated into Islam are challenged, we will continue to be second-class citizens. The Quran, like other scriptures, is open to interpretation. It is easy to find Islamic scholars who wax magnificent about the theoretical "rights" given to Muslim women- but how do they put those rights into practice? These same scholars force the vast majority of burdens onto women. In the event of a marriage breakdown, it is inevitably the woman who is told that divorce is Makruh, and that she will get rewards in heaven for putting up with a husband who hits her, verbally abuses her, uses pornography etc. These same women are reminded of their domestic and sexual responsibilities to their husbands.
It's lovely to say that hijab was created to protect women's dignity - but again, where is the modern relevance? Quite often it IS a tool of control that is exercised over women. In theory, both men and women are asked to be chaste and lower their eyes. In practice, we are told that men can't control their sexual desire and so women should take exaggerated precautions. In most Muslim societies hijab is a question of personal honour for the MAN of the house, it has nothing to do with the woman. This hearkens back to a time when women were seen as property - not as equals.
While I appreciate the obvious effort that Ms. Sonn made in researching early Islam, her piece is more historical information than it is an insight into modern Islamic society.
I HEAR YOU PROF. SONN THROUGH EMILY. I HOPE THE ANTAGONISTS DO HEAR YOU ALSO.