THE ETHICS OF ISLAM SEEN FROM A CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW
Like any other religion, Islam has a definite Code of ethics. These
are based decidedly on Sunnah. What Mohammed did, is right and
commendable. What he rejected, is wrong and to be condemned. here we
find irreconcilable differences between Christian ethics and those
of Islam. Without wishing to be polemical, we should like to mention
the position of women within Islamic culture.
We are told that the status of equality of women derived from Islam,
whereas the "Christian" Westerner has exploited women and made them
object of crude sexuality. We observe, however, that the Quran permits
polygamy. Although we do not desire to give polygamy a positive or
negative connotation, we wish to state that equality would mean that
women should have the same rights as men. This is not so in a
polygamous society, for a woman cannot be married to more than one
man at the same time. Some quotations from the Hadis enlarge on
privileges of men:
"When a woman spends the night away from the bed of her husband,
the angels curse her until morning," or" until she comes back."
"Allah's messenger said: 'By Him in Whose Hand is my life, when a
man calls his wife to his bed and she does not respond, the One
who is in heaven is displeased with her until he (her husband) is
pleased with her." or"When a man invites his wife to his bed and
she does not come, and he (the husband) spends the night being
angry(!) with her, the angels curse her until morning."
("Sahih Muslim" II, page 732).
"The Messenger of Allah said: 'If I were to order anybody to make
prostration to anybody, I would have ordered a woman to prostrate
before her husband." ("Mishkat" I, page 210).
"O Messenger of Allah! What right has the wife of one among us got
over him? He said: 'It is that you shall give her food when you
have taken food(!), that you shall clothe her when you have
clothed yourself(!), that you shall not slap her on the face, nor
revile (her), not leave (her) alone except within the house."
("Mishkat" I, page 212).
Mohammed was asked who among women is the best. He replied:
"She who gives pleasure to him when he loves, obeys him when he
bids, and who does not oppose him regarding herself and her riches,
fearing his displeasure." (ibid. p. 216).
"Fear Allah about women, because you have taken them with the trust
of Allah and made their private parts lawful with the words of
Allah. You have got right over them that they shall not entertain
anybody on your bed which you dislike. If they do that scourge
them without being oppressive. And they have got right over you
that you shall clothe them and feed them in a just manner."
("Mishkat" III, page 588).
"Your wives are a tilth (=field) for you, so go into your tilth
when you like (Sura 2:223).
In Christian ethics, and this is reflected in the ethics of "Western
World", this is a most degrading and unacceptable concept. In the
Bible we are commanded:
"Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord...Husbands,
love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up
for her." (Ephesian 5:22,25).
This is strengthened sby the interpretation of love:
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have
not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal...
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is
not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is
not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but
rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believe all things,
hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends."
(I Corinthians 13:1,4-8).
Marriage in Islam is a contract that, in the days of Mohammed, was
engaged rather lightly. All it required, was that a dower had to be
paid, which was often of very little value, however. It could be a
garment or even a few handfuls of dates:
"A woman came to Allah's Messenger and said: 'Messenger of Allah,
I have come to entrust myself to you.' Allah's Messenger saw her
and cast a glance at her from head to feet. Allah's Messenger then
lowered his head. When the woman saw that he had made no decision
in regard to her, she sat down. There stood a person from amongst
his companions and said: 'Messenger of Allah, marry her to me if
you have no need of her.' He (the holy Prophet) said: 'Is there
anything with you (which you can give as a dower)?' He said: 'No,
Messenger of Allah, I have nothing.' Thereupon Allah's Messenger
said: 'Go to your people and see if you can find something.' He
returned and said: 'I have found nothing.' "Encouraged again to
look for even an iron ring, which again he could not obtain, he
declared that his only possession was a lower garment, which he
was prepared to share. This being rejected by Mohammed, he was
asked:" 'Do you know any of the Quran? He said: 'I know such and
such Suras.' whereupon he said. 'Can you recite them from heart?
He said, 'Yes', whereupon he (Allah's Messenger) said: 'Go, I have
given her to you in marriage for the part of the Quran which you
know.'" ("Sahih Muslim" II, pages 717-718).
The value of the dower Mohammed gave for his wives amounted to
approximately R50.00 (US$75.-).
If marriage was easy, so was divorce. Three "pronouncements" by the
husband (except during the time of menstruation) dissolved a marriage.
(ibid. pages 769-770, 754, 759).
"Recent years have brought some amelioration of the hard lot of
women in Muslim countries in the matters of divorce. Under the
Hanafi law--and this, be it remembered, obtains in the greater
part of the Muslim world--a husband may divorce his wife for any
reason or for no reason at all...The husband can divorce his wife
by simply saying so three times. On the other hand, a woman can
never divorce her husband on any ground whatever, unless she has
his permission to do so. Nor can she get a judicial dissolution of
marriage for neglect, ill-treatment, or positive cruelty...A feature
of the Hanafi system is that a divorce uttered in jest (for fun)
and not meant seriously is just as binding as a deliberate utterance.
But this is not all. Even a divorce spoken when a man is drunk is
valid if he was culpably drunk, and so, too, is a divorce uttered
under compulsion." ("Islam" by Alfred Guillaume p. 172).
Again Jesus shows us a different concept:
"And Pharisees came up to Him and tested Him by asking, 'Is it
lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause? 'He answered, 'Have
you not read that He who made them from the beginning made them
male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his
father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall
become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What
therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.' They
said to Him, 'Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate
of divorce, and to put her away?' He said to them, 'For your hardness
of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the
beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife,
except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery."
At the turn of this century 99% of Muslims women were illiterate.
There were no state schools for girls, because Islamic leaders opposed
The Westerner who visits Islamic countries is at once aware of the
absence of women in public life everywhere. Whether it be in the cafes,
shops, restaurants or cinemas, one sees men only. Again this is not
a criticism of cultural concept, but rather of the Islamic concept
According to Sura 4:35 :
"Men are the managers of the affairs of women for that God has
preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they
have expended of their property. Righteous women are therefore
obedient, guarding the secret for God's guarding. And those you
fear may be rebellious, admonish; banish them off their couches
and beat them. If then, they obey you, look not for any way against
them; God is all high, all great."
It sounds almost ironic that a Muslim lady (Olive Toto) wrote a poem
that was published in an Islamic paper sometime back, part of which
reads as follows:
"Islam lifts women to a high degree;
Gives them their full rights legally.
By Islam's Law a woman's property
(Whether single or married she be)
Is still her own right lawfully".
Without suggesting that this is typical, we ought to mention the
"flexibility" one may have regarding the Shariat (Law). Ibn-Saud of
Arabia admitted to having had over 200 wives, but maintained that since
he had never had more than four at one time, he had never sinned.
According to the laws of inheritance, daughters inherit only half of
the portion of the sons and in court it takes the evidence of two women
to equal the evidence of one man.
On the other hand we see a very strong emphasis on the care of orphans
and widows and the poor, as well as people in distress. Mohammed himself
set a shining example in this field. The hospitality of a Muslim home
Christians find many of the Islamic concepts of ethics strange, to say
the least. One sample may be presented at random:
"The Prophet was asked: 'Which of the actions is best? He said:
'Prolonged standing (in prayer)'...'Which prayer is best?' He
said: 'Prolonged prostration' " ("Mishkat" IV, page 357).
A Christian will at once recall what Jesus had to say about prayer:
"And when you pray, you must not be like the hyprocrites; for they
love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners,
that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received
their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the
door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who
sees in secret will reward you.
And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do;
for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not
be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask
him. Pray then like this:
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil."
We realize that the exhibitionist aspect of prayer is a temptation to
Muslims and Christians alike, and don't we all become painfully aware
of it time and time again? But the Christian is challenged to forget
about form of any sort--the outward, visible, checkable, measurable--be
it in posture, quantity, timing or pattern; and have communion with the
Father; love Him, appreciate Him, adore Him, follow Him, obey Him and
be devoted to Him alone!
In my mind's eye I see our Muslim friends protesting and saying that
we misunderstand them, for as Muslims they also pray in the above way.
Perhaps some do, but that is not what Islam demands. Besides, as we have,
already observed, many a Christian concept has been absorbed by Islam,
but such tendencies do not represent the "Spirit of Islam."
QUESTION: Do Muslims as a rule approve of such ethics relating to
women by practicing them, or have they preferred to accept the "Western"
style of partnership? Would any Muslim lady like to be regarded and
treated as outlined above, particularly when knowing of true partnership
and equality? Is there a young wife who does not mind to share her
husband with another wife?
We now venture to discuss a highly delicate subject. We do not need to
apologize for this, for it is in reply to a challenge.
Measured by Christian, i.e. Biblical standards--and that is legitimate
for Muslims also, for the Torah and the Gospel are accepted as revealed
by God--how do certain sayings and actions of Mohammed stand up to
scrutiny? How can they be related to his prophethood and the Islamic
rejection of the Bible?
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