Note: I temporarily removed this writeup because I didn't feel safe posting it and my mailing address on e2. But it's back now, and nothing has been changed.
Warning: This was true according to my sources, and my research concentrated on Saudi Arabia and only Saudi Arabia. I'm not saying that every muslim woman lives this way or that every muslim man has four 12 year old wives. This essay pertains to a small part of the globe.
“If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, take the evidence from four witnesses amongst you against them; and if they testify Confine them the guilty women to houses until Death do claim them (Koran 4:15).”
While studying abroad in London, Sameera, a young Saudi Arabian woman, fell in love with an American. Knowing that her family would object to their union, Sameera left London with her lover at the end of the term and they went together to his home in California. Once the newness of their relationship wore off, he quickly grew weary of Sameera and refused to marry her.
Fearful of her male relatives’ reactions but penniless, Sameera turned to her family, who promised to treat her kindly if she returned. Wary of their promises but with no one else to go to, she returned home to Saudi Arabia. Her uncle, the head of her family, arranged a marriage for her against her consent upon her return. Within one month she became the third wife of a man in his mid-fifties. On their wedding night she fought him off so fiercely that he could not tell whose blood it was in their bed, and he didn’t question her virginity. However, in the following months he grew tired of his new bride. When she taunted him about his sexual performance and bragged that she had known the love of a “real man,” he immediately divorced her and left her in her uncle’s care.
Infuriated, Sameera’s uncle consulted the Koran to find a suitable punishment. Sameera was sentenced to death—without the four testimonies required by the Koran—for lewdness. An insulated, padded cell with a trap door that opened from the ceiling to deliver food, an open hole in the floor for bodily wastes, and concrete blocks placed over the windows was built into the top floor of her uncle’s palace. Sameera was locked into her cell and never saw the light of day again. (Sassoon, 183-193)
Sameera was a beautiful and brilliant 22 year old woman who committed a “crime” not uncommon among young people in our country today—a religious crime that cost Sameera and thousands of other young Saudi Arabian women their lives.
“And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women. (Koran, 2:226).”
This may be true, yet women are forced to cover all of their bodies, except for hands and face, with the veil and abaaya, while men are allowed to wear almost anything they would like (Koran 24:31). According to the Institute of Islamic Information and Education, this actually aids women by preventing them from becoming sex objects. The Institute states that women “…will then be evaluated for intelligence and skills instead of looks and sexuality (III&E Brochure Series)." It seems that the opposite is occurring, however. According to
Princess Sultana, a member of the Saudi royal family, “Arab men barely glance at a child as she enters the (women’s clothing) store, but once she dons the veil and abaaya, discreet glances come her way. Men attempt to catch a glimpse of a forbidden, suddenly erotic ankle. With the veil, women become overwhelmingly tantalizing and desirable to Arab men (Sassoon, 59).” These glances seem no different than the ones women in western dress get on the street every day. If the veil and abaaya have the opposite effect than the one intended, should they still be used?
If and men have similar rights, why may men take up to four wives (Koran, 3:3) when women are allowed only one husband, who is usually shared with up to three other women? The Koran later states that the only acceptable reason to practice polygamy is to provide fathers for the children of widows (Koran 4:3). However, in Saudi Arabia, the traditional number of wives is four, and in almost all cases the brides are virgins. The Koran states a man should take only as many wives as he can afford to support equally (Koran, 3:3). Royalty and the rich can afford to keep numerous wives and children and can pay for them all to live in equal splendor. Most other Saudi Arabians are nomadic tent-dwellers. They rationalize polygamy by saying that they will live in poverty no matter how many wives and children they have (Sassoon 87). It is true that the Koran allows polygamy, but its intended use has been ignored.
If women’s rights are anywhere near similar to men’s rights, why do fathers sell their pubescent daughters to men three times the child’s age? There can be no love in such a marriage, and one might argue that love can not exist at all when a man can go to another wife if his first wife displeases him.
If women’s rights are similar to men’s rights, why is a son’s inheritance twice that of a daughter’s inheritance by religious law? The Koran states that, “God directs you as regards to you children: The male shall receive a portion equal to that of two females (Koran 4:11).” Is this to say that men and women have similar rights—but men have twice as many rights or are entitled to twice as many benefits from their rights?
If men and women have similar rights, why are the laws of the Koran that would limit freedom of choice used only against women, while men are allowed to ignore them? Concerning marriage of Muslims to nonbelievers, the Koran states, “Do not marry women who do not believe until they believe. A slave woman who believes is better than one who does not believe. Do not marry your daughters to unbelievers until they believe. A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever (Koran, 2:221).” However, Princess Sultana reveals that many Muslim Saudi Arabian men marry Christians, but Saudi women are strictly forbidden from marrying non-Muslims (Sassoon, 243). This was why Sameera ran away to be with her lover. If men and women have similar rights, why aren't the rules that are plainly spelled out in the Koran followed by both sexes?
In my research I found many, many conflicting essays and accounts concerning the treatment of Muslim women. One essay contrasted especially sharply with other sources. The picture it painted was so cheery that it would have been hard to believe even without comparison with the other sources.
During the course of my research, I found many conflicting passages in the Koran and modern essays that strongly clashed with traditional doctrine. One essay says that, “Unlike other religions, which regarded women as being possessed of inherent sin and wickedness and men as being possessed of inherent virtue and nobility, Islam regards men and women as being of the same essence created from a single soul (Doi, 1).” Hadith, preferred over the Koran by traditional Muslims, states that, “Women are naturally, morally, and religiously defective (Bukhary).” Hadithists should remember that while they call women “morally defective,” the majority of individuals jailed for murder, rape, child molestation, etc. are men (Doi, 2).
The Women’s Liberation Through Islam brochure states that a woman has the freedom to choose her husband. However, Princess Sultana reveals that she and her sisters were forced by their father to marry their husbands. When they protested, their pleas were ignored. One of her sisters resisted so strongly that she was drugged for three days before her wedding and during the ceremony (Sassoon, 30-32).
The same brochure stated that a Muslim woman’s testimony is valid in legal disputes. However, women’s testimony is not valid in Saudi courts. This is justified because:
1. Women are much more emotional than men and will, as a result of their emotions, distort their testimony.
2. Women do not participate in public life, so they will not be capable of understanding what they observe.
3. Women are dominated completely by men, who by the grace of God are deemed superior; therefore, women will give testimony according to what the last man told them.
4. Women are forgetful and their testimony cannot be considered reliable (Sassoon, 257).
In conclusion, I believe that at its beginning, Islam had good intentions. Most of the Koran’s teachings are honorable, even if they do seem a little backwards fourteen centuries later. I believe that Islam was perverted by a very patriarchal society. As other societies progress, Muslim society regresses even further because of their fear. I do not doubt that women are repressed because Muslim men know that women are strong—and that in many situations women are stronger than men.
1. Doi, Prof. Abdur Rahman I. Women in the Quran and the Sunna. Internet.
2. Hijab. III&E Brochure Series, Institute if Islamic Information and Education. Internet.
3. Princess. Sassoon, Jean P. Avon Books, New York, NY. 1992.
This essay was bought to you by the Node Your Homework Society.