Is religion the main cause for gender inequality?

March 8th is the International Women’s Day, first organized back in 1909 in New York by the Socialist Party of America, but even hundred and ten years later, it seems not much has changed for millions of women around the globe. But it’s interesting to observe how this inequality of gender is accentuated in the more religious countries. Specially those practicing Islam.

Some of the most prominent advocates for feminism movement are Muslim, and this makes me wonder if, the feminist movement it has been boycotted from within by the beliefs of the same women fighting for their rights?

The world-renowned activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai might be the key to understand this phenomenon.

Shot in the face by the Taliban movement in Pakistan at age of fifteen for defend the right of women to attend to school. Malala became not only a symbol of the everyday struggle of women under Taliban regime, but when her story broke internationally, she became a forerunner of the feminist cause all around the world.

Malala not only rejected to use a burqa, but in her memoir, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban (Little, Brown and Company, 2013) she refutes the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam, and she, steadfast in her Islamic faith and love for Allah, provides her own interpretation along the book.

But, my question here: Does the Qur’an truly has space enough to harbor such confronting interpretations?

Let’s figure out.

To have a brief background. Islam is the third Abrahamic religion, and its holy scripture, The Qur’an, it’s believed to be revealed by God to Muhammad, dictated by Archangel Gabriel during multiple apparitions in a span of twenty-five years. Time of high social and political turmoil in which Muhammad had to flee from Mecca to the city of Medina. The Qur’an is composed by Suras, that can be understood as chapters, with varying length, ranging from one page to more than twenty. Some of these Suras, are labeled by particular topics, highlighting the subject which deal with, like, “Abraham”, “Battle Grains” or “Repentance”. I want to point out that this Suras, were dictated in total randomness by Archangel Gabriel (no explanation or clue on why), so a specific Sura might have been completed in the span of twenty years. This is important to understand because some of this passages circle around many subjects that were not supposed to be included by the title.

The first thing I want to highlight of the Qur’an is the fact that is the more specific manuscript from the Abrahamic religions (Christianism and Judaism) I have read (and I dare to say from all religions), delving into such details like of how inheritance or the spoils of war should be split (no wonder why they study Islamic Jurisprudence). And this is the kind of thing that makes me believe that Qur’an gives little room for interpretation.

Women has a dedicated Medinan (wrote during Muhammad exile in Medina) Sura, titled only “Women.”

The Women Sura opens expressing the dual nature of humanity:

[4:1] “People, be mindful of your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and from the same essence its mate, and from the pair of the spread countless men and women far and wide.”

But unfortunately, this sense of equality quickly vanishes when jumps in how to deal with orphan girls, it’s needed to point out that in pre-Islamic Arabia, the guardians of orphan girls married them just for the sake of take their property, so this is how Qur’an “solves” this issue:

[4:2-3] Give orphans their property, do not replace their good things with bad, and do not consume their property along with your own—a great sin. If you fear that you will not dear fairly with orphan girls, you may marry whichever other women seem to you, two, three, or four. If you fear that you cannot be equitable to them, then marry only one, or your slave(s).”

I think the first passage sets the tone for the overall treatment toward women that we can read in the following:

[4:11] “Concerning your children, God commands you that a son should have the equivalent share [inheritance] of two daughters.”

[4:34] “If you fear high-handedness (to become high, to rise) from your wives, remind them of the teachings of God, then ignore them in bed, then hit them.”

[4:15] “If any of your women commit a lewd act, call four witnesses from among you, then, if they testify to their guilt, keep the women at home until dead comes to them.”

[4:25] “If any of you does not have the means (money) to marry a believing free woman, then marry a believing slave […] if they commit adultery when they married, their punishment will be half that of a free women.”

The list goes on and on, but I think these excerpts are enough to discuss my point.

It’s evident from the narration that the Qur’an is addressed by and to men. To uphold God’s law and basically control all the aspects of daily life.

As I said, the Qur’an delves into the specifics and leaves not much room for interpretation just by contradictions generated by the same author, in the case of the slave charged with adultery, what is the half of death? (punishment for the free women) Half-dead?

Observing this conflict, can a new, more inclusive Qur’an be drafted from the old one?

I’m afraid not.  

I believe Malala is one of the bravest human beings ever walked the face of earth. Standing for her ideals against Talibans, risking her own life is no easy feat. She has accomplished so much for the Islamic women’s right to study, but on the other hand, she is steadfast in her Islamic faith and love for Allah, and by doing so, perpetuates the behavior described in the Qur’an about how to treat women. Why? Because in Islam there is no half-measures, the scriptures are sacred (punishable by death whoever tries to change them) and should be enforced.

Some might argue that within time this law might relax as happened with Christianism, but from what I have seen during its modern coexistence with Western Cultures, more Islamic groups have tended to extremism rather than relaxation.

In my humble opinion, Malala and other Muslim women fighting gender inequality could help more women giving up their hijabs, and acknowledging that Qur’an like all holy manuscripts were written by men, in a social and political background that doesn’t reflect in anyway the actual world, in which women were spoils of war and they had the right to treat them as they pleased. And rather they should look into science and reason which recognizes equal capacity and rights between men and women, and teach that to the newborn boys and girls instead of the Sharia.

I know that most of my Muslim brothers will complain about my statement implying that the scriptures were written by men, instead of the divide attribution, but in all religions God is cited as omniscient and omnipresent, and it puzzles my why all these rules explain Muslim interactions in Sixth Century (when Muhammad waged war against the disbelievers) but says nothing about the society of the future and the challenges of the religion itself.

That sounds to me more like myopic God.

And myopia is a human defect, not divine.

M. Ch. Landa

PS. Happy International Women’s Day!!!

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