Disproportionate- Not Disrespectful: The Quran’s Gender Orientation
In contemporary society the debate over whether women are the physical equals of men continues to increase the controversiality of the military draft, and yet America as a society still looks down its nose at other cultures for questioning women’s roles in other areas. It is true that the Quran recommends limits, restraints, and harsher punishments against women; the Quran also advocates a respect for women.
The Quran regards men as stronger than women and bares no malice toward women because of it. Since women are assigned a place in the home, men are commanded to support, guard, and respect women. Both come with a price; men are responsible for the treatment of lewdness, dereliction of duty, and “to those of weak understanding make not over your property… but clothe them therewith…” Women and children are not the weak that should be regarded with caution- but instead merely “have no means in their power”. Although strongly discouraged, a man was permitted to take a slave or servant as a wife against her will; presumably this was a support mechanism for women and not an indictment against their rights. There is a strong emphasis on the caretaking of those who do not have the position to care for themselves; this is evidenced by the very specific commands regarding the treatment of women, children, and orphans. If a man believes a woman is out-of-line, then he should chide her, refuse her sexual intercourse, and half-heartedly beat her as a mother spanks a child. Once again, utter disrespect is not the intention of the Quran’s instructions; the Quran simply tries to recommend “a place for everything and everything in its place,” as the old adage goes.
The Quran says that a faithful believer will fight for Allah, for women, for children, and for orphans and that such service is an honored distinction. While they are fighting, the women are instructed to take up the roles that the men left behind, while still observing the explicit rules pertaining to women. It is very clear that the Quran does not intend for women to fight, so they will never have the opportunity to protect the weak of body and mind or to gain the level of respect due to such a returning hero.
In the Quran there are many such disparities between the treatment of men and women with regards to chances. The only opportunity for women to financially benefit more than men is through marriage. In an ideal world the new husbands would follow the Quran’s command to give the women the money or other property gained as dowry. In an ideal world, the inheritances would be split according to divine sanction- with each man receiving “a portion equal to that of two women”. Furthermore, a man who is discovered to be guilty of social sexual misconduct, i.e. lewdness or promiscuity, he should be punished and released unless he becomes a repeat offender. On the other hand, if it is a woman that is accused of being lewd, four witnesses must testify. That being said, the punishment is much worse: entrapment within a house for the rest of their lives. The Quran has a lot to say about what it terms as “lewdness”, even placing special emphasis on waiting until after marriage to consummate the bond.
Though relaxed in its application to men, the commands are clear when it comes to sex and marriage. Although a man is not allowed to marry a taken woman, he is permitted to take multiple wives and is instructed on the proper treatment afforded to them. The Quran gives precise instructions for men to stay out of the fights between wives, because the husband should not take sides. There are instructions to attempt to “deal equally” with them, which is concluded by a quirky reminder that “Allah is merciful”. (It is unclear whether the divine mercy was meant in reference to a man having that many women in a small area or in reference to reconciliation between the quarreling women.) Furthermore, if a man chooses a wife and doesn’t like her he may choose another, as long as he does not harm her, send her away, or leave her “in suspense”. If he chooses to trade her, the dowry is to be returned. In essence, the money belonged to his wife and his wife’s family, so all relevant property should be returned with the wife.
Despite its support of polygamy the Quran does not condone disrespect toward women. Quite the opposite, they revere women as caretakers and givers of earthly life. Solemnly it is declared that men should be certain to fulfill their duties to “the wombs that bore you”. Duty and honor are the focal points of the Quran’s suggested moral compass.
Contrary to media depiction, the Quran followers do not form some cult of murderous, misogynistic tyrants. They fear fire if they do not obey their religious texts and hope to enter the afterlife’s “Gardens underneath which rivers flow”. It was only one hundred years ago that men in the “civilized” Christian countries held similar beliefs; the extent of the protection of women was limited by British to the “rule of thumb” when finding a stick to beat your wife with. but the Quran said that men should speak to the weak with “words of kindness and justice”. The Quran’s instructions and traditions are more firmly-rooted in their society than in ours; the differences that separate are perceptual. “Unto all [believers] hath Allah promised good”.
CMJE, . “An-Nisa (Women).” Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. University of Southern California, 2009. Web. 15 May 2010. <http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/engagement/resources/texts/muslim/quran/004. qmt.html>.