Why does respecting religion mean taking away rights from women? Religion should protect the dignity of everyone and aim to create equality and justice amongst everyone through the spreading of love and tolerance.
However, gender inequality is a common theme within religious communities. Looking closely at religious texts, misogyny can be found throughout the three different monotheist beliefs. Orthodox Jewish women for example, are not allowed to read from the Torah, even though this rule does not exist in the Torah itself. Christian women are asked to be submissive to their husbands according to the New Testament. Women are considered deficient in mind and religion by the Islamic oral tradition.
The makers of such rules have been men. Women have been excluded from making religious laws throughout history. As a result, there are many misconceptions about the status of women. As a Muslim woman, I have taken a few examples from the Quran that might have been interpreted differently if women were involved in interpreting them.
Muslim men have been allowed to marry up to four women whether the wives accept it or not. This rule allowing polygamy was interpreted from the following verse in the Quran:
4:3 If you fear you cannot act fairly towards the orphans-then marry the women you like-two, or three, or four. But if you fear you will not be fair, then one, or what you already have. That makes it more likely that you avoid bias.
As mentioned at the beginning of this verse and also as stated in the previous one (4:2), the context in the Quran of this supposed polygamy is about orphans’ funds management. Even if this is clearly readable, the polygamy has been concluded and then allowed to Muslims men outside of its original context.
Right hands possession
In the Quran, the ‘right hand’ means a promise or a commitment that should be observed and respected. When the word possession is added to the ‘right hand’, then the exegeses completely changes the meaning from being a promise or a commitment to meaning a female slave or captive. This interpretation puts women in danger because it gives permission to men to capture women in war and to rape them.
However, the expression of “right hands possession” is mentioned in the Quran for both men and women. It should be interpreted as possessing a promise or commitment. The meaning of female slave is inappropriate, and the verses mentioning the “right hands possession” serve as a reminder to respect engagements especially in social contexts such as marriage or orphans’ care.
4:11 Allah commands you, with respect to your children, that the male shall inherit the equivalent of the share of two females. If there be more than two females, then they should receive two-thirds of what he’” leaves; but if there is only one female, she is entitled to one-half…
“… the male shall inherit the equivalent of the share of two females ….” This famous extract is mostly interpreted as meaning that women should get the half of their brothers’ parts. However, this extract of the verse is mentioned in the case where there are two female inheritors and not as a general rule as per the exegeses. The following text in the same verse continues with, ‘if there are women more than two females,’ and then ‘but if there is only one female’. This verse explains the different options of sharing inheritance depending on the difference of how many women are in the family.
In the Quran, it asks women to be dressed decently. The way of clothing changes from one country to another depending on the local traditions and values in that place. What could be acceptable as a decent dress in one place could be unacceptable in another place. Respecting the local values of different countries is the way to avoid problems over appearance.
However, some Muslims believe that the more a woman is covered, the more spiritual value she has. The veil has become the symbol of the Muslim woman’s ‘righteousness and piousness.’ However, the word veil (Hijab) as mentioned in the Quran has a completely different meaning which doesn’t make reference to the woman’s clothing or hair covering but to a kind of a barrier or obstacle. This judgment based on the appearance has generated a systematic identification of Muslim women by some oriental dresses like Khimar, Chador, Niqab and Burka.
These are just some of the examples amongst many that degrade the status of women in the name of religion. From this perspective, critics against religious interference in women’s rights are justifiable. It is essential to review and reform Islamic law in accordance with the original message of the Quran.
In order to ensure that the religion is correctly being interpreted, it is essential that women are involved with religious interpretations. It is much more likely that a more balanced and equal interpretation of the Quran will be made if both men and women are involved. Women’s contribution in religious jurisprudence is not a query but a condition to avoid unfair male dominance and to protect women’s rights.
Believers, both men and women, are supposed to act in accordance with the Religion of God, not with a religion made by men.