As Long As Men Take the Qur’an At Face Value, Women Will be At Risk
By Robert Spencer
The treatment of women in Islamic countries is consistently shocking to modern Westerners, although the fog of political correctness that blankets the Western world today prevents most observers of the mistreatment of Muslim women from saying anything about it publicly. Only a few (notably Pamela Geller) have the courage to prove the hollowness of that political correctness by pointing out that the institutionalized oppression of women in majority-Muslim countries is not the result of non-Islamic cultural factors (as Islamic apologists in the West often claim), but of Islam itself.
Movements in the Islamic world to restore Islamic purity virtually always tend to be bad for women. Take, for example, domestic violence: the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences has determined that over nine out of ten Pakistani wives have been struck, beaten, or abused sexually. The reason why is rooted in the Qur’an. The perpetrators of such crimes can and do support their behavior by quoting chapter and verse of the holy book of Islam: “Men have authority over women, because Allah has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because Allah has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them” (4:34).
When the infallible, perfect and eternal word of Allah sanctions wife-beating, why should anyone wonder why ninety percent of wives in Pakistan have been struck by their husbands?
Western multiculturalist apologists can adduce any argument they wish to establish that this verse should not be taken literally, but the problem they face is not convincing the secular West. Modern Americans, raised with the dogma of tolerance, are only too glad to believe the best about non-Western culture. The apologists’ most formidable challenge will be to convince the average Muslim that they should not beat their wives even though the Qur’an says they can.
Another verse asserts that “women shall with justice have rights similar to those exercised against them, although men have a status above women” (2:228). The idea that “men have a status above women” is deeply rooted in Islamic tradition. Numerous Islamic commentators on the Qur’an have taken this statement as self-evident. Only in modern times have even sporadic and half-hearted attempts begun to explain it away. Women as well as men took the superiority of men over women for granted: Aisha, Muhammad’s notorious child bride, admonished women in no uncertain terms: “O womenfolk, if you knew the rights that your husbands have over you, every one of you would wipe the dust from her husband’s feet with her face.”
Women in Islam are essentially commodities that can be acquired and discarded at will. If a polygamous Muslim man is unhappy with any of his wives, he is free to divorce them by saying the triple talaq — “I divorce you” or “you are divorced.” Recent fatwas from Islamic authorities have allowed for this pronouncement of divorce to be made via cellphone or Skype. Since men can obtain divorces so easily, they often divorce capriciously. In Islamic law, if a man says talaq to his wife three times, even jokingly or in a fit of temper, they must separate, and cannot reconcile until she marries another man, consummates that marriage, and is divorced by him. This bizarre law is also based on the Qur’an: “A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness….So if a husband divorces his wife (irrevocably), he cannot, after that, re-marry her until after she has married another husband and he has divorced her” (2:229-230).
This has given rise to the phenomenon of “temporary husbands.” After a husband has divorced his wife in a fit of pique, these men who will “marry” the hapless divorcee for one night in order to allow her to return to her husband and family.
The apparent harshness of all this seems to be mitigated by another verse from the Qur’an: “If a woman fear ill-treatment or desertion on the part of her husband, it shall be no offense for them to seek a mutual agreement, for agreement is best.” But this call for an agreement is not a call for a meeting of equals — at least as it has been interpreted in the Hadith. Muhammad’s wife Aisha has given an influential analysis of this verse: “It concerns the woman whose husband does not want to keep her with him any longer, but wants to divorce her and marry some other lady, so she says to him: ‘Keep me and do not divorce me, and then marry another woman, and you may neither spend on me, nor sleep with me.’”
As long as men read and believe the Qur’an and the teachings of Islam in general, women will be despised second-class citizens, subject to the heartbreak and dehumanization of polygamy, genital mutilation, honor killings, the threat of an easy and capricious divorce, and worse — including beatings, false accusations, and the loss of virtually all of the most basic human freedoms. These are not phenomena of a group, or a party, or anything so ephemeral: these are the consequences of regarding the Qur’an as the absolute, eternally valid and perfect word of Allah. As long as men continue to take the Qur’an at face value, women will be at risk.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, Did Muhammad Exist?, is now available.