Friday, April 27, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law - part 5

Letter to Charlene Law continued.....

The place of women is significantly different in Islam and Christianity. At first glance comparing Muhammad and Jesus, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in their treatment of women. Both Jesus and Muhammad had significant dealings with women. Jesus had women followers who provided for his needs and Muhammad was greatly influenced, as I’ve mentioned by his first wife Khadijah who convinced him that his revelations were heavenly and not demonic. His third wife, the child bride Aisha, was called his most beloved wife and seems to have had great authority after Muhammad’s death, but it seems that after the initial period of Islam, it becomes an absolutely male religion. Whereas women, though not ordained, are as important as men in the theology and leadership of the Church.

The Sahih al-Bukhari is one of the six canonical hadith collections of Sunni Islam. In it we read of a conversation between Muhammad and some women: “Once Allah's Apostle went out to offer the prayer... He passed by the women and said, ‘O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you women.’ They asked, ‘Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?’ He replied, ‘You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.’ The women asked, ‘O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?’ He said, ‘Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?’ They replied in the affirmative. He said, ‘This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?’ The women replied in the affirmative. He said, ‘This is the deficiency in her religion.’ ”

One might counter that Christianity, at least traditional forms, regards women as deficient in religion because women are not ordained to the priesthood. In fact the monastic orders elevate women to positions of great prominence. Women as well as men have positions of great influence in the Church. Popes and bishops on occasion are reprimanded by women. Take for example St. Catherine of Sienna and in our times, Mother Angelica and Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Not that she reprimanded, but she most certainly advised and did so quite strongly). It is incontrovertible that Muhammad veiled women and counted them as less than men. (Koran 4:11 regarding inheritance) “The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females.” (Koran 2:282, regarding court testimony) “And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not found then a man and two women.”  (Koran 2:228) “and the men are a degree above them [women]”

(Koran 2:223 regarding the relationship between men and women)  “Your wives are as a tilth (fertile farm field) unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will..” and (Koran 4:3) “Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four...” And very interestingly, (Koran53:27) regarding the gender of angels: “Those who believe not in the Hereafter, name the angels with female names.”  In Islam, angels are male. The very concept of heaven is one of a garden of male pleasure. Muslim apologists try to refute this by saying that the pleasures of heaven will apply to women too, because they will desire no one but their husbands.  Men are promised as many beautiful women as they may want, as well as boys to serve them (Koran 76:19) “There will circulate among them young boys made eternal. When you see them, you would think them scattered pearls.”  The meaning of the eternal boys is unclear. The case can be made that they are only servants. Homosexuality in Islamic Law is usually punished by death, though imprisonment and whipping is prescribed under certain circumstances. The same is true for adultery. Under certain circumstances the punishment is flogging and house arrest for life, in others it is death by stoning.

In this world, a man is permitted as many as four wives, and certain Islamic sects allow for something called temporary marriage, allowing what  Christians would call “an affair.” Muhammad, in view of his unique role in Islam was given a special privilege. He was allowed more than four wives and is thought to have married 12 women, by some counts more. By a special dispensation from Allah, Muhammad was allowed to take his adopted son’s wife for himself. These concessions were uniquely for Muhammad, and not applicable to other Muslims. As all Muslim men, he was allowed slave-concubines of whom he had six.

Women are generally thought to be under the protection, and thus under the control of men in Islamic society. A woman generally may not marry without the consent of her guardian. Imam Malik, one of the four great Imams of the Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence, interprets Koran 2:232 to mean that the choice of partner by a Muslim woman is subject to the over-ruling power (“ijbar”) of her father or her guardian in the interests of the woman herself, and the legal guardian of a woman may annul the marriage of a woman made without her permission. The need for the marital interests of a woman to be supervised and protected by a male guardian is made clear in the two different forms of divorce which is allowed in Islam, though not encouraged. A man may divorce his wife by repudiating her three times. This is called “talaq.”  A woman may also divorce her husband, but in order to do so she must request the divorce, called “khula,” from her husband. If he refuses to allow her to divorce, she must obtain a judgment of divorce from an Islamic judge, called a “qadi,” who is, of course, a man

For traditional Christians divorce is absolutely forbidden, though in certain cases a marriage may be recognized as invalid. In Christian thought marriage is indissoluble because it has a symbolic meaning. It symbolizes the union of the Messiah and the Church for eternity. Unlike Islam, the ecstatic union of husband and wife is a foreshadowing of the perfect spiritual union of heaven. There will, however, be no carnal desire in heaven.  Jesus, who never seems to have married while in this world, taught rather that “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matt.22:30) 

Marriage is an important symbol for the Christian heaven, describing the relationship of the Messiah and his Church. In Islam male sexual relationships seem to be part of the substance of heaven. For Christians there is ultimately no distinction between men and women. St. Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) 

Eternal life and the role of gender couldn’t be more different in the founding texts of the two religions, and in the lives of their respective founders.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Father Know-it-all: I wonder about a choice of wording here: "...s subject to the over-ruling power (“ijbar”) of her father or her guardian in the interests of the woman herself, and the legal guardian of a woman may annul the marriage of a woman made without her permission. The need for..." Is it without HER permission, or without HIS? Is the legal guardian female or male?