Chapter 15 Women in
Christianity and Islam
Whenever the topic of Islam is
brought up among Westerners, it has been my experience that
the first objection that immediately springs into their
minds is: "But women are so extremely oppressed in Islam."
And, "But women are second class citizens in Islam." For
example, they see that Muslim women usually observe modest
standards in their clothing and they automatically equate
their modesty with oppression. They appear to feel that
freedom is in some way directly proportional to how little
clothing one wears, and that oppression is directly
proportional to the degree of modesty one exhibits in their
clothing. Although this topic does not directly relate to
the main topic of this book, still it seems inevitable to
touch on this subject even if only very briefly due to it's
The problem is twofold: First of all, those people who
make such objections usually only have a very superficial
knowledge of what the true teachings of Islam, and secondly,
they do not realize what The Bible requires of all believing
I was once passing through Canada with my parent's in law
and their family. As we walked down the street a Canadian
Christian girl (in her late teens to early twenties) passed
by us with a group of her friends. She looked at my mother
in law who was dressed in modest clothing and had a large
scarf wrapped around her head such that only her face was
showing. She then stopped my mother in law and said words to
the effect of: "Why do you allow your men to oppress you?.
Why do you wear these clothes?."
Now, my mother in law is a university graduate, a
straight A student, highly respected by her peers, and
gainfully employed as an inspector of the public educational
system back in my home country. My mother in law has also
distinguished herself in her study of the English language
and it's grammatical structure. However, she did not have an
extensive working knowledge of American and Canadian
pronunciation and slang, and thus, she missed the tone with
which this question was delivered to her.
I decided to move a reasonable distance away and let her
handle this situation herself. My mother in law was very
happy to answer this girl's question and went on to explain
to her about our religion and customs and how we prefer to
dress modestly, and that Allah Almighty requires us to do
this. However, this was not the answer this girl was looking
for so she retorted: "Thanks for sharing!," then spun
around and stormed off.
Now, in my home country, our elders are quite used to
being highly respected by those who are younger than them
and being served by them. For this reason, it did not even
occur to my mother in law that this question could have been
anything more than a young girl respectfully asking an
innocent question of a trusted elder, and I hated to tell
her otherwise. I would have hated for her to leave Canada
thinking that all Canadians or all Christians speak this way
to their elders since I know that this is not the true case.
However, this episode did indeed sadden me.
Many non-Muslims feel sorry for any Muslim women they see
adorned in their modest clothing. They feel that they are
deprived the freedom to roam around in more scant and
revealing clothing. Anyone who lives in a manner other that
which they have become accustomed to is seen by them to be
oppressed and forced to live in this manner. There are
certain tribes in the Amazon jungle, in Australia, and in
Africa which have become accustomed to walking around in a
simple g-string around their waist. What would the people of
the West say if these people were to condemn the Western
habit of "forcing" their women to wear "excessive amounts of
clothing" and to demand that all women in the west
immediately stop wearing anything but the simplest g-string
around their waist? What if they were to say that the
Western society should immediately stop unjustly persecuting
their women and preventing them from freely roaming the
streets wearing only a pair of socks? They would say that
the people making these demands have no morals or shame.
Philosophers would have a field day with such a
What if someone were to claim that it was immoral,
discriminatory, and unjust to separate men and women in
different public bathrooms just as it is not just to do so
with blacks and whites. What if this person were to then
call (in the interest of equality, fairness, and
constitutional freedom of course) for a merging of men and
women's bathrooms into one "unisex" or "equal-opportunity"
bathrooms for both men and women? Once again, the
philosophers would have a field day. Anyone who follows the
news will see that this may indeed be where the USA is now
headed. In the New York Post (31 Aug. 1994 or a
little before) it was reported that women have now won the
right to appear topless in the New York subway system. Where
will the USA be a few years from now? That is anyone's
Who has the power to determine what is decent and modest
clothing? Who is to determine what is decent and modest
behavior? Muslims assign this right to God alone. This is
the essence of "Islam." "Islam" means "The submission to the
will of God." What God commands, a Muslim does. They do not
demand that God justify his commands before they accept
them. Once they have verified that a command is indeed from
God then they abide by it without hesitation.
We can indeed find this lesson in the story of Adam. In
the Islamic version of the story of Adam (slightly different
than that of Judaism/Christianity), Adam and Eve were
created by God, educated, clothed, and then allowed to
inhabit heaven. They were told by God that they could have
anything their hearts desired except they must not eat from
the tree. Out of envy, the devil encouraged them to eat from
the tree and told them that it's fruit would make them
angles or immortal. They ate from the tree and immediately,
their bodies were revealed to one another, so they took to
scooping up the leaves off the trees in order to cover
themselves. This is when Allah sent them down to earth. What
mankind learned from this lesson is that just because a
person does not know the wisdom behind a command of God, and
others tell him to disobey it, then if they do not abide by
it, by the time the reason for the command is made apparent
to them it may be too late.
Fig. 15 Example of dress worn by a Christian nun.
Compare it with how Muslim women dress today
Well then, what is the Biblical view on these matters?
Actually, even in this day and age there still remains
traces in Christianity of the common ancestry with Islam
with regard to the accepted norms of modest dress for
Christian women as ordained by her Creator. In the above
figure we have an example of the sort of dress codes
observed by Christian nuns. We are strangely amazed to find
that it is almost the striking similarity it bears to the
sort of outfit which most Muslim women wear. Why is that?
Well, although there are quite a number of very pronounced
differences between Biblical and Qur'anic laws in this
regard, let us start with the Biblical view:
What the New Testament has to say:
1 Timothy 2:11-14 "Let the woman learn in silence with
all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to
usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam
was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but
the woman being deceived was in the transgression."
1 Corinthians 14:34 "Let your women keep silence in
the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak;
but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith
the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask
their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak
in the church."
1 Corinthians 11:5-10: "But every woman that prayeth
or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her
head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if
the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it
be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be
covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head,
forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman
is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman:
but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for
the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought
the woman to have power on her head because of the angels."
1 Corinthians 11:13: "Judge in yourselves: is it
comely that a woman pray unto God (with her head)
What the Old Testament has to say:
Genesis 3:12-16 "And the man (Adam) said, The woman
(Eve) whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the
tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman,
What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The
serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the LORD God said
unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art
cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field;
upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all
the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and
the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall
bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the
woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy
conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and
thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over
Leviticus 12:2-5 "Speak unto the children of Israel,
saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a MALE
child: then she shall be unclean SEVEN DAYS; according to
the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be
unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin
shall be circumcised. And she shall then continue in the
blood of her purifying THIRTY THREE days; she shall touch no
hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days
of her purifying be fulfilled. But if she bear a FEMALE
child, then she shall be unclean TWO WEEKS, as in her
separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her
purifying SIXTY SIX days."
Ecclesiastics 7:26-28 "And I find more bitter than
death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and
whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape
her, but the sinner she will ensnare...while I was still
searching but not finding, I found one upright man among a
thousand but not one upright woman among them all".
Leviticus 15:19-30 "And if a woman have an issue (her
period/menses), [and] her issue in her flesh be
blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever
toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every
thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be
unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be
unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his
clothes, and bathe [himself] in water, and be
unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth any thing
that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe
[himself] in water, and be unclean until the even.
And if it [be] on [her] bed, or on any thing
whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be
unclean until the even. And if any man lie with her at all,
and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days;
and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean. And if a
woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time
of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her
separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness
shall be as the days of her separation: she [shall
be] unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of
her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation:
and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the
uncleanness of her separation. And whosoever toucheth those
things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and
bathe [himself] in water, and be unclean until the
even. But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall
number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be
clean. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two
turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the
priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
And the priest shall offer the one [for] a sin
offering, and the other [for] a burnt offering; and
the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD
for the issue of her uncleanness."
In other words, the Bible teaches us that:
- Women should learn in silence and subjugation.
- Women should not teach.
- Women should not have authority over men but should
- Adam and Eve were not equal in sin. Adam was not
deceived but Eve was.
- Women are commanded to be under obedience to men. God
ordained that men shall for all time rule over women
- Women must keep silent in Churches. It is shameful
for them to open their mouths therein. If they have a
question they should ask their husbands before going to
church and then their husbands will ask for them in the
- A woman should neither pray nor profess with her head
- If a woman prays with her head uncovered then she
might as well shave her head.
- Man was created in the image and glory of God, and
Woman was created in the glory of Man, thus Man must have
power over her.
- Any woman who delivers a male baby shall be unclean
for one week. But any woman who delivers a female baby
shall be unclean for TWO weeks. Thus, females make their
mothers DOUBLY unclean as compared to males.
- While it is possible to find one upright man in every
thousand, it is impossible to find even one single
upright woman in every thousand
- Woman is a snare, her heart is a trap, and her hands
are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but
she will ensnare the sinner.
- If a woman had her period and touches a chair or a
bed or anything else then that item immediately becomes
unclean. Anyone who then touches those things shall also
become unclean. They must then bathe themselves and wash
their clothes because they have touched an item that a
menstruous woman has touched.
What the canonized saints of Christianity said about
"Woman is a daughter of falsehood, a sentinel of
Hell, the enemy of peace; through her Adam lost paradise"
(St. John Demascene)
"Woman is the instrument which the devil uses to gain
possession of our souls" (St. Cyprian)
"Woman is the fountain of the arm of the devil, her
voice is the hissing of the serpent" (St. Anthony)
"Woman has the poison of an asp, the malice of a
dragon" (St. Gregory)
St. Tertullian, while he was talking to his 'best beloved
sisters' in the faith, he said, "Do you not know that you
are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours
lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You
are the Devil's gateway: You are the unsealer of the
forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine
law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil wasn't
valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's
image, man." Once again, St. Augustine wrote to a friend,
"What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother,
it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any
woman." Centuries later, St. Thomas Aquinas still considered
women as defective, "As regards the individual nature, woman
is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the
male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in
the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from
a defect in the active force or from some material
indisposition, or even from some external influence." (all
these quotations can be found in Karen Armstrong's book,
The Gospel According to Woman, London: Elm Tree
Books, 1986, pp. 52-62. See also Nancy van Vuuren, The
Subversion of Women as Practiced by Churches, Witch-Hunters,
and Other Sexists Philadelphia: Westminster Press
Orthodox Jewish men in their daily morning prayer recite
"Blessed be God King of the universe that
Thou has not made me a woman." The women, on the other hand,
thank God every morning for "making me according to Thy
will" (Thena Kendath, "Memories of an Orthodox youth" in
Susannah Heschel, ed. On being a Jewish Feminist, New York:
Schocken Books, 1983, pp. 96-97)
According to the Jewish Talmud, "women are exempt from
the study of the Torah." In the first century C.E., Rabbi
Eliezer said: "If any man teaches his daughter Torah it is
as though he taught her lechery" (Leonard J. Swidler, Women
in Judaism: the Status of Women in Formative Judaism,
Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press, 1976, pp. 83-93)
According to Rabbi Dr. Menachem M. Brayer (Professor of
Biblical Literature at Yeshiva University) in his book 'The
Jewish woman in Rabbinic literature', it was the custom of
Jewish women to go out in public with a head covering which,
sometimes, even covered the whole face leaving one eye free
(Psychosocial Perspective, Hoboken, N.J: Ktav Publishing
House, 1986, p. 239). He quotes some famous ancient Rabbis
saying, "It is not like the daughters of Israel to walk out
with heads uncovered" and "Cursed be the man who lets the
hair of his wife be seen...a woman who exposes her hair for
self-adornment brings poverty." Rabbinic law forbids the
recitation of blessings or prayers in the presence of a
bareheaded married woman since uncovering the woman's hair
is considered "nudity" (Ibid., pp. 316-317. Also see
Swidler, op. cit., pp. 121-123). Dr. Brayer also mentions
that "During the Tannaitic period the Jewish woman's failure
to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty.
When her head was uncovered she might be fined four hundred
zuzim for this offense." Dr. Brayer also explains that veil
of the Jewish woman wasn't always considered a sign of
modesty. Sometimes, the veil symbolized a state of
distinction and luxury rather than modesty. The veil
personified the dignity and superiority of noble women. It,
also, represented a woman's inaccessibility as a sanctified
possession of her husband (24. Ibid., p. 139). It is clear
in the Old Testament that uncovering a woman's head was a
great disgrace and that's why the priest had to uncover the
suspected adulteress in her trial by ordeal (Numbers
St. Tertullian in his famous treatise 'On The Veiling Of
Virgins' wrote, "Young women, you wear your veils out on the
streets, so you should wear them in the church, you wear
them when you are among strangers, then wear them among your
brothers..." Among the Canon laws of the Catholic church
today, there is a law that require women to cover their
heads in church (Clara M. Henning, " Cannon Law and the
Battle of the Sexes" in Rosemary R. Ruether, ed., Religion
and Sexism: Images of Woman in the Jewish and Christian
Traditions, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974, p.
Some Christian denominations, such as the Amish and the
Mennonites for example, keep their women veiled to the
present day. The reason for the veil, as offered by their
Church leaders, is "The head covering is a symbol of woman's
subjection to the man and to God" : The same logic
introduced by St. Paul in the New Testament (Donald B.
Kraybill, The riddle of the Amish Culture, Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1989, p. 56.)
Russian Orthodox women are expected to wear a head
covering when in the church. Most don't outside of it in
America, but many in Russia and many other eastern Orthodox
women all over eastern Europe, Greece, and the middle east
do wear scarves on their heads all the time when in
These are only a small sampling. For many more similar
quotations please obtain a copy of the 70 page book "Women
in Islam Versus Women in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition: The
Myth & The Reality," By Dr. Sherif Abdel Azeem, World
Assembly of Muslim Youth.
Continuing, according to the Old Testament, a childless
widow must marry her husband's brother, even if he is
already married and regardless of her consent, so that she
might bear a child from him (Genesis 38).
Further, according to the Bible:
"If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged
to be married and rapes her
and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father
fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has
violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives"
One must ask a simple question here, who is really
punished, the man who raped the woman or the woman who was
raped? What is to prevent someone from finding the best
looking woman in town, raping her, telling everyone about
it, and then having the courts force her to be his wife for
the rest of her life?
According to Numbers 27:1-11, widows and sisters don't
inherit at all. Daughters can inherit only if their deceased
father had no sons.
So what is the standpoint of the Qur'an with regard to
women? Women are indeed commanded by Allah to cover their
heads and wear modest clothing, however, in Islam this is
not a sign of denigration or subjugation to men, rather, it
is a sign of chastity, modesty, and the fear of God. It also
designates this woman to all men who might deal with her
that she is to be dealt with respect. This could be compared
to the situation in the West when one meets a nun or priest,
how the nun's habit and the priest's robes signal those who
meet them that this person does not condone vulgarity of
speech or evil actions. This is made apparent in the Qur'an
that is closer to their being recognized so
that they shall not be abused, and Allah is ever Forgiving,
Merciful" Al-Ahzab(33):59 (also see Noor(24):31)
What about the rights of women in Islam? Are they indeed,
as the popular propaganda would have us believe, "second
class citizens"? Let us read the Qur'an:
"And they (women) have rights similar to those of men
over them in a just manner"
The noble Qur'an, Al-Baqarah(2):228
"And their Lord has heard them (and He says): Verily!
I suffer not the work of any worker, male or female, to be
lost. You proceed one from another. So those who fled and
were driven forth from their homes and suffered damage for
My cause, and fought and were slain, verily I shall remit
their evil deeds from them and verily I shall bring them
into Gardens underneath which rivers flow. A reward from
Allah. And with Allah is the fairest of rewards."
The noble Qur'an, A'al-Umran(3):195.
"And covet not the thing in which Allah has made some
of you excel others. Unto men a fortune from that which they
have earned, and unto women a fortune from that which they
have earned. (Envy not one another) but ask Allah of His
bounty. Verily! Allah is Knower of all things."
The noble Qur'an, Al-Nissa(4):32.
"Unto the men (of a family) belongs a share of that
which parents and near kindred leave, and unto the women a
share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether
it be little or much, a legal share."
The noble Qur'an, Al-Nissa(4):77.
"And whoso does good works, whether of male or female,
and he (or she) is a believer, such will enter paradise and
they will not be wronged the dint in a date stone."
The noble Qur'an, Al-Nissa(4):124.
"And the believers, men and women, are protecting
friends one of another; they enjoin the right and forbid the
wrong, and they establish worship and they pay the poor-due,
and they obey Allah and His messenger. As for these, Allah
will have mercy on them. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Wise."
The noble Qur'an, Al-Tauba(9):71
"Whosoever does right, whether male or female, and is
a believer, him verily We shall quicken with good life, and
We shall pay them a recompense in proportion to the best of
what they used to do."
The noble Qur'an, Al-Nahil(16):97.
"And of His signs is this: He created for you spouses
from yourselves that you might find tranquillity in them,
and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, herein
indeed are signs for folk who reflect."
The noble Qur'an, Al-Room(30):21
"Whoso does an ill deed, he will be repaid the like
thereof, while whoso does right, whether male or female, and
is a believer, (all) such will enter the Garden, where they
will be nourished without stint."
The noble Qur'an, Mumin(40):40.
In the Qur'an, both Adam and Eve share the
blame for eating from the tree. This can be seen in the
Qur'an in such verses as Al-Baqarah(2):36,
Al-A'araf(7):22-24. They were also both forgiven by God
Almighty for this sin. Actually, in one verse of the Qur'an
(Taha(20):121), Adam is specifically blamed.
Islam encourages spouses to take each other's council and
to seek mutual agreement in matters which affect them, for
example, in the Qur'an, Al-Bakarah(2):233 we read:
"Mothers shall suckle their children for two whole
years; (that is) for those who wish to complete the
suckling. The duty of feeding and clothing nursing mothers
in a seemly manner is upon the father of the child. No one
should be charged beyond their capacity. A mother should not
be made to suffer because of her child, nor should he to
whom the child is born (be made to suffer) because of his
child. And on the (father's) heir is incumbent the like of
that (which was incumbent on the father). If they desire to
wean the child by mutual consent and (after) consultation,
it is no sin for them; and if you wish to give your children
out to nurse, it is no sin for you, provided that you pay
what is due from you in kindness. Observe your duty to
Allah, and know that Allah is Seer of what you do."
Husbands are commanded to treat their wives with kindness
and respect. In Al-Nissa(4)-19 we read
"..But consort with them in kindness, for if you hate
them it may happen that you hate a thing wherein Allah has
placed much good."
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:
"The best believers are the best in conduct, and the
best of you are those who are best to their wives."
When Muhammad (pbuh) first became the prophet of Islam,
the Pagans of Arabia had inherited a similar disregard for
woman as had been passed down among their Jewish and
Christian neighbors. So disgraceful was it considered among
them to be blessed with a female child that they would go so
far as to bury this baby alive in order to avoid the
disgrace associated with female children.
Through the teachings of Islam, Muhammad (pbuh) put a
swift and resounding end to this evil practice. Not only did
he severely discourage and condemn this act but he also used
to teach them to respect and cherish their daughters and
mothers as partners and sources of salvation for the men of
AbuSa'id al-Khudri narrated:
"The Prophet (pbuh) said: If anyone cares for three
daughters, disciplines them, marries them, and does good by
them, he will enter Paradise."
(Narrated by Abu-Dawood)
Abdullah the son of Abbas narrated:
"The Prophet (pbuh) said: If anyone has a female
child, and does not bury her alive, or slight her, or prefer
his male children over her, Allah will bring him into
(Narrated by Abu-Dawood)
Muhammad (pbuh) is also sited in "Sahih Muslim" as
"Whoever maintains two girls till they attain
maturity, he and I will come on the Day of Resurrection like
this; and he joined his fingers".
In other words, if one loves the messenger of Allah and
wishes to be with him on the day of resurrection in heaven,
then they should do good by their daughters.
To learn more about the rights of women in Islam, the
issue of modest dress codes, the issue of polygamy, and many
other issues which can not be covered here, I highly
recommend the following books:
- Women in Islam Versus
Women in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition: The Myth &
The Reality, By Dr. Sherif Abdel Azeem, World
Assembly of Muslim Youth.
- "The Status of Woman
in Islam," by Dr. Jamal A. Badawi, World Assembly of
- "Women's rights in Islam," by Lea Zaitoun, World
Assembly of Muslim Youth.
- "Gender Equity in
Islam," by Dr. Jamal Badawi, World Assembly of Muslim