Gender Identification, Equal Rights, and Female Sexuality: The Bible vs. The Qur’an

In congruence with the recent terrorist attacks associated with [or attributed to] the Islamic extremist group(s) in the last two decades[1], prejudice toward Muslims and those adhering to Islamic doctrines has tangibly increased. With the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack or the November 2015 shootings at the Bataclan in Paris, Islamophobia continues to rise globally. Despite multiple global leaders defending the faith’s doctrines of peace and philanthropy, a vocal portion of the U.S. population has denounced the entirety of Islam as barbaric, violent, and misogynistic, citing the use of jilbabs, hijabs, and burkas as primary evidence for the restriction of women’s rights and sexuality. In fact, many are quick to quote directly from the Qur’an, the holy book detailing the Islamic doctrines and history, as further substantiation of a religion based on power, ferocity, and antiquated behavior, especially the subjugation and sexualization of women. But are the Muslim doctrines for gender identity and sexuality really that different from Christianity? Or, in fact, are the Christian (and Judeo-Christian) doctrines for female identification more limiting, and, if taken literally as the word of God, potentially more condemning than those of the Qur’an? I argue that both the Qur’an and the Judeo-Christian Bible are sexist and misanthropic to females, likely attributed to the anthropological environment at the time of their construction, but that the Bible proves to be substantially more deprecating to women and female sexuality and, if adhered to in present times, would appear significantly more restrictive than Islamic customs and allowance of human rights. When objectively comparing literal translation to literal translation, the Qur’an will appear far more proto-feminist and open-minded than the Judeo-Christian Bible, and the foundation of the Christian faith system will prove far more sexist and misogynistic than the pillars of Islam.

Looking at the Qur’an first, the second Sura, aptly named “The Cow,” speaks the most to women’s rights and their gender roles in subservience to God. First and foremost, menstruation is considered a “painful condition,” an uncleanness that must be avoided (II.222). Men are instructed to avoid their wives until “they are cleansed,” and that God loves those who have a care for cleanliness (II.222). Before this can be turned as a point for the Judeo-Christian faith, it must be noted that the Bible takes it’s negative view of menstruation a step further, declaring not just the woman unclean, but also every item she touches during her feminine cycle:

When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. Everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening. Whoever touches anything upon which she sits shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening; whether it is the bed or anything upon which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. If any man lies with her, and her impurity falls on him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean (Leviticus 15: 19-24).

 

Further, if the man does lie with her knowingly while the woman is “unclean,” they could both be cut off from their people (Leviticus 20: 18) or be considered lawbreakers and unjust (Ezekiel 18:5-6). However, the Bible doesn’t stop there: the “menstruous cloth” later becomes an insult, synonymous to a dirty and unworthy person or thing:

You will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like menstruous cloths[2] (Isaiah 30:22).

In fact, some translations of the book of Lamentations refer to the entire city of Jerusalem as a “menstruous woman,”[3] and that the Lord believes Jacob should make enemies out of his neighbors because of their filth (Lamentations 1:17).

Moving past basic biological functioning of the female body, the Qur’an addresses the sexuality of women and their societal role. To the modern-day feminist, the identification of the woman’s body is somewhat disconcerting:

Your women are [like] your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like, and send [something good] ahead for yourselves (II.223).
Not only are women property, they are also compared to fertile (and, notably, inanimate) land, available to be sowed any way a man deems necessary. The Bible takes a similar stand with the delivery of the Ten Commandments:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:17).

 

Some theologians would argue that the listing of “male or female slave” negates the identification of gender roles, however, from an anthropological perspective, a male slave had no legal rights and was viewed as property equally among the livestock (Crossan, 2009). Thus, the wife is categorized alongside the husband’s other properties, and given consideration no greater than the cattle, the house, or the slaves who served the home. Again, the Bible takes the woman’s sexuality a step further, degrading her physicality to an immoral and seductive tool: a woman’s “whoredom” can be identified in her “haughty looks and eyelids”[4] and she’s bound to lie down with the neighbor at every given opportunity:

She will open her mouth, as a thirsty traveller when he hath found a fountains, and drink of every water near her: by every hedge will she sit down, and open her quiver against every arrow (Ecclesiasticus, 26:12).

In addition, the female body is so devalued by the Bible that a nominal fee of fifty shekels and an arranged marriage corrects the rape of a virgin daughter with her assailant in the book of Deuteronomy (22:28-29), whereas a raped female in the Qur’an is considered a victim, and four witnesses must be produced to evidence her willful participation in the adultery if her truthfulness is doubted (IV.15). The Qur’an and the Bible show drastic differences in their view of female sexuality and womens’ rights to their bodies, as the Bible mandates stoning to women who’s virginity cannot be proven on their wedding night[5], or the kidnapping of virgins as the spoils of war (Deuteronomy 22:20-21, Numbers 31:17-18).

While both the Qur’an and the Bible speak to the importance of fidelity and chastity of marriage, advising both male and female to remain pure and faithful to their spouse, the Qur’an actually admonishes the man who tries to force female slaves into prostitution, and says that God will only be forgiving and merciful to them [the victims], not the perpetrator [the man] who forced them to be unchaste (XXIV.33). Islamic slave owners are required to offer marriages to those slaves[6] who wish to pursue their faith, and permit chastity to those who do not (XXIV.31-32). A rape in the Bible is forgiven for a fee and a marriage, but the Qur’an identifies it as a heinous crime, even against a slave woman, and promises a God who “sees all” should this protection be forgotten or overlooked (XXIV.33-34).

Continuing on the path of protection of the female body from oppression and/or sexual assault, I examine the understanding and valuation of harmonious marriage, and the rights for a female to divorce her husband under both religious affiliations. In Sura two of the Qur’an, several pages are dedicated to the explanation and rules regarding divorce, citing the right for either the woman or the man to request a divorce:

[Divorced] women have [rights] similar to their obligations, according to what is fair, and [ex-]husbands have a degree of right over them: [both should remember that] God is almighty and wise (II.228).

 

In addition, the Qur’an only suggests a three month wait before granting a divorce to make sure the woman is not with-child, as it would not be fair to the new husband to acquire the responsibility of raising another man’s child unwittingly due to the quickness of a remarriage (II.230-233). The Qur’an frequently states that the woman should be cared for in kindness and that there is no sin for either the man or woman if they find they are unable to live together under the limits imposed by God. When it comes to divorce, the Qur’an views male and female equally in their rights and desire to pursue marital happiness. In the Bible, however, the rules are less equal when viewing the woman’s role:

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Luke, 16:8).
This notion is paralleled in other canonical Gospels, but is taken a step further in the book of Romans:

For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man (7:2-3).

 

By this standard, a woman may only remarry should her husband die, regardless of how he treats her or what decisions he makes after he casts her out. In Deuteronomy, a man has only to offer a “certificate of divorce” before sending her out of his home, and if she remarries a new man, she is defiled before the eyes of God and her first husband (Deuteronomy, 24:1-4). While the Qur’an’s intent is for both parties to reconcile or split amicably should their marriage be irreparable, the Bible views marriage as irrevocable for women, but merely an option for men.

While both texts have been subject to alteration as a result of translation bias, book order, and the misappropriation of certain historical events or environments due to human error, entire books have been removed from the New Standard Revised Version of the Bible in order to omit egregious attacks on the female gender. For example, this excerpt from chapter twenty-five of Ecclesiasticus in the King James Version:

Give me any plague, but the plague of the heart: and any wickedness, but the wickedness of a woman (25:13).

 

Continuing further in the text:

I had rather dwell with a lion and a dragon, than to keep house with a wicked woman. The wickedness of a woman changeth her face, and darkeneth her countenance like sackcloth (Ecclesiasticus, 25:16-17).

While both the Qur’an and the Bible point to the original sin occurring between the serpent and Eve, this particular book puts the greatest sin not in an act, but rather in the being; that is, being the female gender:

All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman: let the portion of a sinner fall upon her (Ecclesiasticus, 25:19).
And, if the reader is not thoroughly convinced that the Judeo-Christian God hates the female gender, the author puts the proverbial final nail into the cross[7] with verse twenty-four:

Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die (Ecclesiasticus, 25:24).

The argument made in defense of the exclusion of this book (and those like it) as well as the modification of the language used in the NSRV compared to the KJV, is ultimately to suit a modern audience. But if the Bible (considered the Word of God passed down to mankind through prophets, disciples, apostles, and an earthly son) can be modified, mistranslated, reorganized, and, in some cases, have entire elements omitted entirely at the discretion of editors, how can this or any religious text hold any moral baring or verisimilitude for the multitude of devout followers worldwide? If the Word of God is malleable, how can it be binding?

Though it is widely accepted that both scriptures began from the same source and foundation –the God of Abraham– one text, Islam, has managed to be understood as an excessively violent and restrictive religion; while the other, the Bible, is understood as encompassing a God who preaches love, acceptance, and tranquility. How did this understanding evolve, especially given the literally translations of the texts often support a message directly in contradiction to these interpretations? Proponents and extremists for either side interpret their holy books literally or metaphorically when it benefits them, modifying interpretations as it best suits their argument and needs. However, when the two texts are placed side-by-side, and their literal meanings and translations are juxtaposed empirically, it is clearly seen that the Judeo-Christian Bible proves to be the more misogynistic, objectifying, anti-feministic of the two holy books, with the Qur’an demonstrating more gender neutrality, equality, and equanimity than acknowledged by its critics.

Long story short:

If any religious sect wishes to judge another by its holy scripture, it must first ensure its own texts are without bias, prejudice, or chicanery lest it be labeled hypocritical and obtuse.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] An FBI report compiling terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1980 and 2005 cited only 6% of the attacks could be linked to Islamic Extremists, only slightly beating out Communist attacks at 5%. In fact, more Jewish Extremist attacks (7%) were committed on U.S. soil between 1980 and 2005 than Al-Qaeda or associated groups.

[2] Also referenced as “filthy rags,” depending on the translation.

[3] Again, other translations (such as the NSRV) translate this as “filthy thing.”

[4] From Chapter 26 of Ecclesiasticus, commonly left out of the NSRV Bible, but found within the New King James and other variations of the Catholic Bible.

[5] Unfortunately, women had to learn ways to feign this virginal proof, as ruptured or injured hymens were not uncommon for young girls, and one out of a thousand females are just born without them.

[6] Male and female slaves are both given this right.

[7] Horribly inappropriate pun intended.

__________________________________

Thanks for reading!

Advertisements

Got more to say to the Optimist?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s