A female Muslim student recently emailed me in my capacity as the organizer for a campus atheist student group, following up on a rather heated exchange about the status of women under Islam. Her letter is so full of fail, I will take it apart here, almost line by line. To counter some of her attempts to poison the well, I will stipulate from the outset that my position that women were inferior to men in Islam is not at all the same as saying all Muslim women are oppressed merely by dint of their religious beliefs. It’s a commentary on what the damn book says, not a psychic intuition about the circumstances of actual human beings, who often do not live under sharia in the same way that most Christians are not legally bound by Deuteronomy.
One of the formative experiences leading to my current opinion on Islam was when I attended a funeral at a mosque in Turkey. The funeral was for a woman who had died young – I believe at 53 – after a protracted battle with Breast Cancer. I met her daughters and her sister. Islamic custom is that men are before women physically as well as spiritually and legally, so these women who had just lost their daughter were forbidden and prevented from attending the funeral close to the casket. Instead, all of the men stood in a group by the caskets, hearing the eulogy and praying for the soul of the departed. The women had to stand a hundred yards away, down the stairs and out of earshot. The cruelty of it all filled my heart with horror and extreme contempt for the men who would perpetuate such a practice at this of all times. Even in prayer, women must stand behind men, and menstruating women must stand furthest away of all.
With that out of the way, I will post my first letter, her response letter, and then my responses:
My first letter is as follows:
I hope this email finds you well. We spoke I think on Friday about the issue of the Koran’s treatment of women. If you recall my position was that the Koran treats women as being inferior to men, and that this is a main reason I am against Islam. You thought this was Eurocentric and that I was simply failing to understand a different gender paradigm. I really wanted to address that in this email, because I think I got a little too hot under the collar when we were talking in person (sorry about that).
Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this. I really appreciate that.
I do not think my position is ‘Eurocentric’ because, well first of all, I am not living in Europe, so it’s difficult to imagine how I am privileging a European perspective. I have to say that sounds an awful lot like a fancy way of just calling me white, and I don’t think my perceived ethnic heritage affects the validity of what I say. If you’re really curious, a recent genetic test I had actually showed I have Lebanese ancestry based on mitochondrial DNA. [A subsequent genetic test also showed probable Pakistani/Afghani ancestry -Yakamoz]
The major religion in Europe – Christianity (inc. Catholicism) – is *just as bad* as Islam in its treatment of women, and women have suffered much. The difference is that Christianity, perhaps because it is older than Islam, or perhaps because of simple geography, has lost much of its power and influence in countries where it predominates (America is a HUGE exception. Unfortunately an American born and bred verison of Christianity – Mormonism – is still a huge force against basic women’s rights such as comprehensive medical care, the equal rights amendment and the right to marry the person of my choice.
I object to any religion or ‘gender paradigm’ that puts women below men, full-stop. I don’t care what continent it came from or what language it was written in. It is wrong and it is a violation of human rights.
Anyway, you had asked me to send you verses from the Koran that I thought made less of women, so here they are. For the sake of brevity I will type out the most egregious and give you some links at the bottom for more information.
Women’s testimony is worth 1/2 that of a man:
2:282 […] And call two witness from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not at hand, then a man and two women, of such as ye approve as witnesses, so that if one erreth (though forgetfulness) the other will remember.[…]
Here, the Koran specifically says women are less than men in rights:
2:228: And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them. Allah is Mighty, Wise.
Men inherit twice that of women:
4:11 Allah chargeth you concerning (the provision for) your children: to the male the equivalent of the portion of two females,[…]
More information on the treatment of women by the Koran and Hadith, including how Muhammad acquired his many wives, and how he had many more ‘concubines’ (read: sex slaves) who were captured and raped by Muhammad and his friends after they plundered their farms and murdered their husbands. Maybe you can see now why this is not a gender paradigm I agree with.
http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/women/long.html <–Skeptic's Annotated Koran: women
http://www.islam-watch.org/Larry/Islam-hatred-of-women.htm <–In Islam's Own Writings: Allah and His Messenger's Extreme Hatred of Women
http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/010-women-worth-less.htm <–Does Islam Teach that Women are Less than Men? (Short answer: yes)
http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Muhammad/myths-mu-rape.htm <–Myth: Muhammad Would Never Approve of Rape
http://kafirgirl.wordpress.com/2008/08/03/wives-part-1/ <–Mohammad and His Wives and Concubines (Part 1)
Another issue that came up was the issue of hell. It was my position that the idea of hell itself is morally indefensible, and that any being – even 'god' – who maintained such a place and sent sentient beings to it, is a being that should be opposed, not worshiped. I remember you were very reluctant to say that I was going to go to hell because I am atheist, but over and over again, that is what the Koran says. The bible also says that, lest you think I'm being Eurocentric again! But the idea that someone should be tortured for all eternity simply because of their beliefs is morally abhorrent. If anyone else did that, you would oppose it. But you make an exception for god. Why?
Lastly we talked about the satanic verses. If I remember right, you weren't familiar with them. You or one of the other people there said I shouldn't rely on Wikipedia, but the wikipedia article is quite good for this issue and has several references. I had to find out about these verses because we were getting Turkish language books on the subject, so I can tell you for sure there are resources in the library about this issue beyond wikipedia. But since the article is well cited, I'll link you to it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanic_Verses
President, Specific Atheist Student Group