By Martel Lull


In 1995 Dr. Sherif Abdel Azeem wrote an essay entitled Women in Islam versus Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: The Myth & The Reality (see, e.g., http://www.islam101.com/religions/women3.html). Posted on many Islamic websites, it one of the most popular pro-Islamic works on the subject of women. It is an example of the typical Muslim apologetic against Christianity, in that he overstates, misrepresents or otherwise asserts positions that are simply not true. He begins by claiming that the narrative about Eve puts women in a bad light, one they do not recover from until the advent of Islam. From there, he naturally concludes that daughters are seen as evil in Scripture and Biblical legislation does not give any rights to women whatsoever. With such a view of Christianity (and Judaism), it is little wonder that he sees Islam as the real liberator of women. But it is a straw man that he has built, one that collapses on further scrutiny. For example, contrary to his claim, Eve is not presented in the Bible as the sole reason for the introduction of sin. It is rather the man, Adam, who is frequently referred to as the human agent allowing sin to enter the world.

The central point that most Muslim apologists bring to the fore about women is property rights. Abdel Azeem follows suit. The claim that is so often made is that while women in the West had to wait until the late 19th century to secure certain rights to property, Muslim women were enjoying those rights in the seventh century. However, what is so often neglected is, first, a history of women’s rights in the West and, second, what limitations were placed upon women’s rights to property in Islam. Like most of his points, there is an element of truth, but that truth so often is drowned in a sea of hyperbole. Throughout history, the West certainly has oppressed women (as well as poor men and children), although Islam is not innocent in this regard either. At the same, however, the birth of the woman’s liberation movement in the West did not occur in a vacuum, for it existed, to varying degrees, in the early Christian church.

He also addresses issues such as adultery and polygamy, so one might expect to find a section on marriage. There is none. He does not attempt to compare the Christian (and, to an extent, Jewish) view of marriage with that of Islam. This, in and of itself, is a serious flaw in his essay. It does reveal, however, a crucial difference between the two religions. Upon examination of the attitude each faith presents of marriage, it is clear that Christianity views the union of a man and woman as just that: a union. It is an institution created by God not only for the propagation of the species, but also as a practical expression of co-operation and co-existence. Islam has no such notion. Marriage is simply accepted as a divine institution, but no divine reason for it exists.

Many other arguments are offered by Abdel Azeem to persuade the reader to see the "real" Christianity, which is corrupted, and the "real" Islam, which is egalitarian. I encourage those who are interested in reading this essay to follow Abdel Azeem’s essay at the same time. I have responded to each of his sections in the same order he has them in his essay, so it should be rather easy to follow. Another reason to keep his essay at hand is that I do not quote in length from him, so to better understand my response it might be appropriate to read his work at that time. Keep in mind, also, that I am not a scholar on either Christianity or Islam, although I have had some formal training in Christianity at an undergraduate level. Because of my lack of familiarity with much of Judaism, I mostly avoid responding to points he makes about that faith. It is not my place to do so. I am simply a person who has an interest in both faiths and hope that this effort of mine contributes to the dialogue between Christians, Muslims and anyone else interested in the topic.

Eve’s Fault?

A very important thing to bear in mind while reading the Bible is that descriptions of an event do not necessarily imply endorsement of the actions. Abdel Azeem makes the assumption that since Adam blamed Eve for the Fall, it was, in fact, the fault of Eve. But reading the text leads to another conclusion: Adam was simply passing the buck, as was Eve when she blamed the snake. His view of the Biblical account of the Fall, then, is only half right. Certainly Eve is at fault, but not singularly. Both the serpent and Adam share in the responsibility, the latter apparently taking the bulk of it. He also fails to point out that the Biblical description of creation states that "God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen. 1:27, NKJV, see also Gen. 5:1,2). Both men and women were created in God’s image, an utterly significant statement that cannot be underestimated. Whether one agrees with the phrase "created in God’s image" or not, the point is abundantly clear: despite their physical differences, men and women are made from the same physical, mental, emotional and spiritual stuff and both possess the life-giving ‘breath of God’ (cf. Gen. 2:7).

Eve’s Legacy

In his quotation of Ecclesiastes 7:26, 28, his intent may be to get his readers to notice the association between "more bitter than death" and "woman." He seems to miss, however, the qualifier immediately following the word "woman." It certainly does not mean "all women." It is "a particular kind of woman" (Eaton 116). Contrast this, however, to a nearby verse, which reads "The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live" (9:3). It seems to me that the second verse is a much more universal statement, and one in which the condemnation is not directed against women, but the whole of humanity (taken to an absurd literalism, it does mention only "men"). Furthermore, to find "one" man among a thousand is not a flattering statement, even when no women among a thousand are likewise to be found (this would equate to men being only 0.1% better than women! (Eaton 116)). As Michael Eaton states, "any accusation of misogyny misses the Preacher’s point" (116). The point being that men do not have a better chance at achieving holiness (however slim that may be), the point, as restated in the very next verse, is, "God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes" (7:29).

He further claims that Eve plays a "pivotal role" in Christianity since because of her Jesus Christ had to come and die to restore humanity to God. There are, however, only two verses in the entire New Testament that mention Eve (2 Corinthians 11:2 and 1 Timothy 2:13,14). It is the latter verse, beginning at verse eleven, which Abdel Azeem quotes in his article. An honest reading of the text, however, does not support his thesis that Eve’s sin is the "reason for the mission of Jesus Christ." The context of the verse is concerned with the practice of women teaching at the church at Ephesus, which Paul was forbidding. Although there is a debate within Christianity as to whether this directive is universal or specifically addressed to the situation in Ephesus, Gordon D. Fee argues persuasively for the latter (72-77). Whether one agrees with Fee (and others) or not, the point that Abdel Azeem is trying to make does not match the text. Again, there is no reference to the purpose of Christ’s mission anywhere in the context of the verses he quotes. What we do find, however, are direct associations between Adam (as representative of all humanity) and Christ elsewhere in the New Testament. The clearest causal connection between the two is found in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.

A word about the Christian view of the Atonement would be appropriate at this point, since there seems to be much misunderstanding of it in Abdel Azeem’s essay. As a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, sin and death enter into the world. Adam was warned about the penalties for transgression, which included death. Although physical death was not immediate for either Adam or Eve, there was a spiritual death. They knew something was different when they realized they were naked, and scrambled to find covering for themselves (Gen. 3:7). Interestingly, God then made "garments of skins" to cover them (Gen. 3:21 -- the Hebrew word for "to cover" is often translated as "atonement," "redemption" or "propitiation"), thus establishing the sacrificial system. Sacrifice then became the modus operandi for expiation of sin. Yet, as Boice points out, this system lacks the rehabilitative power that only God can provide (289). God needs to intervene, to pay the price a human is completely unable to pay. The reason Christ is called the ‘second Adam’ is because Christ brings us back to God. His sacrifice, his crucifixion, is the ultimate covering for human sin.

Finally, the tone of Abdel Azeem’s polemic seems to sink further and further into invective. For example, his statement "What about her [Eve’s] daughters? They are sinners like her and have to be treated as such." This would seem to give the impression that men are not sinners, because they do not need to "be treated as such." The Bible clearly puts all of us, male and female, into the same bucket. We are all sinners. Whether one agrees with that has no bearing on the fact that the Bible presents it that way.

Abdel Azeem also seems to imply that the Prophet of Islam never spoke about Eve in a demeaning fashion. But, for example, Muhammad is recorded as saying "Had it not been for Eve, woman would have never acted unfaithfully towards her husband" (Sahih Muslim, Book 008, Number 3471).

Out of his collection of quotations from the ancient Church Fathers, perhaps Tertullian is really the only example of a consistent misogynistic attitude. In spite of this, however, it should be pointed out that his was reflective of the cultural milieu in which he arose and it is surprising that most of the other early Christian writers did not reflect a similar attitude. He might be considered the exception that proves the rule, although that does not in any way excuse him. The remaining writers quoted by Abdel Azeem, however, when their isolated comments are put into the greater context of their theology, prove less misogynistic – if at all.

For example, he quotes from, but does not cite, a personal letter of Augustine (apparently Letter 243, line 10). Whatever the Church and Christians were expected to learn from Augustine would obviously be found in his theological works, not necessarily personal letters, from the simple design and intent of the respective materials. Whether Augustine himself was a misogynist can be gleaned from the entire corpus of his writings, including his various letters. But whether he actually taught misogyny is quite another issue. For example, he has also written "the image of God may remain on that side of the mind of man on which it cleaves to the beholding or the consulting of the eternal reasons of things; and this, it is clear, not men only, but also women have" (http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-03/npnf1-03-18.htm).

Other early Church Fathers had made positive statements about women, though hardly given credit today. For example, Tatian the Assyrian (A.D. 110-172), in addressing the pagan Greeks wrote, "you will not believe that among us there are wise women!" (http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-02/anf02-37.htm). Clement of Alexandria (d. A.D. 215) stated "both bond and free must equally philosophize, whether male or female in sex" (http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-02/anf02-63.htm). Finally, Aquinas wrote

It was right for the woman to be made from a rib of man. First, to signify the social union of man and woman, for the woman should neither use authority over man, and so she was not made from his head; nor was it right for her to be subject to man’s contempt as his slave, and so she was not made from his feet (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.FP.Q92.A3.html).

Even as contradictory as Christianity has been toward women, many Christian writers were themselves microcosms of that enigma – at one time expressing the "evils" of women and at the next extolling them. The first conjecture, an inheritance from the civilization in which Christianity emerged, should have been eradicated simultaneously with the ascendancy of the Church.

Shameful Daughters?

As far as his assertion that a mother is ritually impure twice as long when a daughter was born, it was not the birth of a daughter (nor of a son) that caused the mother to become unclean. It was the "flow of her blood" (verse seven) that she needed to be cleansed from. This was, obviously, an occurrence during the birth of both sons and daughters. Hence, the ‘sin offering’ and ‘burnt offering’ were equal in both cases – meaning one was not more ‘sinful’ than the other. Birth, in itself, was not sinful. It was the discharge of bodily fluid that was (cf. Lev. 15, which covers regulations concerning discharges from both a man and a woman; it is interesting to note that both the sin and burnt offerings are exactly the same for the man as it is for the woman).

Abdel Azeem quotes only the latter half of Ecclesiasticus 22:3. The Oxford Study Edition footnote to the verse reads, "The daughter meant loss because she could not carry on the family name." Just as there is "shame" with a "spoilt son" (The NRSV reads "undisciplined son"), there is "loss [of the family name]" with a daughter. In other words, a father has a very difficult task ahead of him: to honorably carry on the family name, he needs to carefully raise his son(s). He cannot spoil, or refrain from disciplining, his son(s). His failure to adequately prepare them for success in life will inevitably bring him shame. A daughter, by contrast, brings her father a sense of finality to the family name: nothing more. According to the Hebrew poetic device of parallelism (common throughout the Wisdom genre), one might expect a synonym of "shame" in the second half of the verse. The absence of such a term, then, could mean that a daughter-as-daughter does not bring her father shame. The next verse, akin to this thought, is "A sensible daughter wins a husband, but an immodest one is a grief to her father. A brazen daughter disgraces both father and husband and is despised by both" (much as 'a spoilt son' does to his father). Notice here, too, that a daughter, in and of herself, is neither a "grief" nor a "disgrace." Only when accompanied by the epithets "immodest" or "brazen" is the father negatively affected.

Female Education?

He then quotes from 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 to demonstrate that women are to remain silent while being instructed. First of all, the passage may actually begin after the end of verse 33, "as in all the churches of the saints" (NASB). The Jerusalem Bible, considers the phrase as introducing verse 34, "Let the women keep silent," whereas the NASB assigns the phrase as concluding verse 33, "For God is not a God of confusion but of peace." There are some differences of opinion among the various English translations as to how to divide the verse.

Even Karen Armstrong, whom Abdel Azeem is relying on, admits that Paul’s statement is not to be taken as a universal:

These rather bad-tempered remarks constitute the whole of Paul’s misogyny and are not characteristic of his usual egalitarianism. They are characteristic of this particular epistle, however, and must be seen in the context of Paul’s relationship with the whole of the Church of Corinth (18).

Leon Morris points out "Christianity from the very first assumed that women would learn as freely as men (cf. Lk. 10:39-42)." He adds "Paul is here concerned with the way women should learn. He does not argue for this; he takes it for granted." He concludes that women should ask questions at home only because "that would outrage propriety; it would be disgraceful (the same as in 11:6), which Bultmann understands as ‘"that which is disgraceful" in the judgment of men’ (TDNT, I, p. 190) (198).

When Abdel Azeem asks his series of questions ("How can a woman learn if she is not allowed to speak? How can a woman grow intellectually if she is obliged to be in a state of full submission? How can she broaden her horizons if her one and only source of information is her husband at home?") one has to be skeptical of his rhetorical questioning. It has been demonstrated that, while there certainly are verses which, on the surface, seem to prohibit female learning, a closer look at the examples Abdel Azeem uses become, at best, neutral on the issue. His point, then, seems much, much more illusory than real. Even while he asks the question "to be fair," the answer has to be that he has been anything but fair to Christianity.

To conclude the section on female education, he relates the story of Khawla and Muhammad. The woman, Khawla, complains to the prophet about her husband using the ancient practice of "Zihar," to which Muhammad then limits (58:1-4). The first prohibition is that no husband may use the term "you are to me as the back of my mother" (verse 2). Secondly, if the husband "does divorce their wives by Zihar" (verse 3), but then changes his mind, he should "free a slave" (apparently according to Islamic Jurisprudence, however, it is only applicable to "a believing slave," i.e. a Muslim; http://www.islamonline.org/livefatwa/english/Browse.asp?hGuestID=Yq7p4z). When Abdel Azeem states that "the divine verdict abolished this iniquitous custom," I am only assuming that he is referring to the prohibitions placed upon Zihar, especially against using the phrase equating the wife to the mother’s "back." The practice of Zihar, the validation of a divorce simply based upon the husband’s statement to the effect (while the woman has no such right), is still apparently considered legitimate under Islamic Jurisprudence.

Unclean, Impure Women

Abdel Azeem quotes from Leviticus 15:19-23 and attempts to prove that women are singularly considered unclean. Before an analysis of this passage can be adequately performed, an overall view of the context is necessary. According to R.K. Harrison, the "literary structure of this chapter balances two types of discharge, chronic and intermittent, against both sexes, making for four specific cases" (Leviticus 159). He explains that "chronic" male discharges (verses 2-12) precede "occasional ejaculation of semen" (16-18), while the reverse order is found for the females (Leviticus 159). Comparing the verses concerning females with those concerning males, it is clear that most verses dealing with both sexes are nearly identical in wording, while the remaining verses have only minimal differences.

The entirety of chapter fifteen treats the discharges of male and females equally, especially seen in the fact that the offerings at the end of the respective waiting periods (which varied) are exactly the same. As Harrison notes,

It is quite clear that hygienic considerations are prominent in these laws, and that there is distinct provision biologically for the woman as a female. She is to be given due consideration as such, and thus honoured by the members of her household instead of being exploited at times of indisposition (165).

The last paragraph of Abdel Azeem’s section on unclean women makes the point that a woman in Islam "practices her normal life with only one restriction: A married couple are not allowed to have sexual intercourse during the period of menstruation. Any other physical contact between them is permissible." Properly understood, the Levitical code is not dissimilar. Although there are minutiae involved in the Biblical case, the substance, as demonstrated, is not to be a burden, but both a ceremonial and biological protection for the community. The New Testament, however, does not regard menstruation, or any other natural bodily function, as causing ceremonial uncleanness. For example, Christian couples are not prohibited sexual relations during the wife’s menstrual period.

Bearing Witness

Although he does not give a specific reference (especially when one would be expected), Abdel Azeem claims that the Qur’an "accepts the testimony of a woman as equal to that of a man." He prefaces that remark by admitting that the Qur’an does, however, mandate that the testimony of two females equals that of one man! What is more, however, is that he fails to indicate the purpose of the disparity as stated in the Qur’an (Sura 2:282, which he cites). There is a blatant absence of assumption that men can "err" during a testimony. No other reason is given except that one of the women can be negligent with the facts, implying it is a common trait among all females. Men, on the other hand, must not be prone to such mental foibles.

That he next quotes from 24:6-11 is also problematic for his position. He states that a "woman’s testimony can even invalidate the man’s." He follows that by adding if "a man accuses his wife of ‘unchastity’ he must swear an oath five times. In order to prove her innocence, the woman must then provide an equal rejoinder, whereby she will be cleared." The way in which Abdel Azeem frames this religious code offers solid proof that Islamic women have equal testimonial weight with Islamic men (even to the point of usurping a man’s testimony). That would be the case were it not for the fact that a woman apparently cannot charge her own husband similarly. A woman apparently can only defend herself against charges brought against her. She cannot play the equal role of the man as accuser.

Next, Abdel Azeem quotes from Deuteronomy 22:13-21 and introduces the passage by noting "if a man takes a woman as a wife and then accuses her of not being a virgin, her own testimony will not count." The passage, which Abdel Azeem quotes in full, basically invites the newlywed wife’s parents to intervene and prove their daughter’s chastity. The parents are to provide some kind of "evidence" (v. 15) drawn from their possession: a "garment" (v. 17). What that garment was is uncertain, although it may have been bedclothes (Meyers 230). The city’s elders then base their decision of guilt or innocence on the parent’s ability to prove their daughter’s virginity. If the woman is indeed found guilty, she is to be executed. The husband, however, if found to be lying about his wife’s virginity, will be fined "a hundred shekels of silver," which is to be given to the wife’s father (v. 19). This is not to imply that there is unequal punishment for men and women, but to show the severity of each crime (i.e., the woman’s adultery and the man’s slander). Those guilty of adultery, whether man or woman, are consistently condemned to death (Lev. 20:10). According to Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., the husband suffers a burden of paying "a fine twice as heavy as that for rape or seduction" (Toward 229). Furthermore, he notes, "This was a princely sum of money when one remembers that the annual poll tax was only a half shekel in Moses’ day (Exod. 30:15) and one-third of a shekel in Nehemiah’s day (Neh. 10:32)" (Toward 229).

Abdel Azeem’s point from the Deuteronomy passage is a wife cannot legally defend herself against her husband because she needs her parents to intervene. Perhaps this is so because the wife may still be considered as belonging to her father and mother. It was only after the first night of their marriage when the husband accused her of not being a virgin. In such a rare case, it might be deemed appropriate that the father and mother come to her defense. The woman certainly has not established a behavioral pattern observable by the husband. Who better to defend her than those who do know her character? This seems to actually be to the woman’s benefit. Her parents would most likely not want to see her executed, so they would do all within their power to exonerate their daughter. Besides, this scenario is applicable in only one, extremely limited case. It is certainly not a universal guidance for the intervention of parental defense for married daughters.

The Bible contains accounts of women as witnesses, a point Abdel Azeem ignores. For example, Anna the prophetess, as recorded in Luke 2:36-38, while serving in the temple, "continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (v. 38). The text makes it abundantly clear that she was a valid witness; someone worthy of proclaiming the coming of the "redemption of Jerusalem." Similarly, the first witnesses of the resurrection, the watershed moment of Christianity, were women, attested by all four Gospels (Mt. 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-8; John 20:1-2). Clearly, these cases were not matters of civil or religious legalities, but there is certainly precedence for accepting the value of a woman’s witness in the Bible.


Before delving into the Biblical conception of adultery, it is first necessary to examine what adultery is a departure from, and a crime against: namely, marriage. It is interesting to note that within the pages of Abdel Azeem’s essay, he does not include a separate section on marriage. Although he touches on various aspects of marriage in a religious context throughout, there is no individual treatment or comparison specifically of marriage between Islam, Judaism or Christianity. In lieu of such an absence, the following is a cursory analysis.

It will first be noticed that the Qur’an does not seem to offer a theological basis for marriage, whereas the Bible is abundantly clear. God created humans in His image (Gen. 1:27). This provides humans a dignity well above that of any other creature. Furthermore, the first woman was created from the first man, taken from his rib (Gen. 2:22). Adam is recorded as saying that Eve is "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gen. 2:23), to which there follows an elaboration. "For this reason," the author of Genesis records, "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). The phrase "for this reason" is lacking in either resemblance or meaning in the Qur’an, whereas, as just demonstrated, the reason for marriage, according to the Bible, is delineated from the creative activity of God. The closest the Qur’an comes to expressing a similar view is found in Surah 30:21: God "created for you mates (Pickthall translates this word as "helpmeets") from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility (Pickthall translates this word as "rest") with them" (Ali). But even in that, despite its poetic aesthetics, it speaks of "tranquility" and, while being something to strive for, is not emblematic of divine design referred to in the Bible. Perhaps marriage is seen as a religiously, morally and socially acceptable form of male and female union in the Qur’an, but the raison d’être is absent.

The Biblical principle of monogamy is apparent from the many citations that deal with marriage as the intended modus operandi of humanity (Gen. 1:27, 28; 2:18-24; Prov. 5:15-19; Matt 19:5, 6; Eph. 5:21-33; 1 Tim. 5:14; Heb. 13:4). The issue of polygamy will be addressed in more detail in a later section, but suffice it to say that the Bible nowhere condones, nor commands, the practice. At best, the Biblical attitude is one simply of recognition and perhaps even of accommodation, but it is certainly not one of approval. The Qur’an, on the other hand, gives full consent to a man’s ability to marry more than one wife (Q 4:3). Men are also given the unreciprocated right of marrying outside Islam (Q 5:6). According to Cyril Glassé, "In religious law it is legal for a Muslim man to marry a Christian woman, or a woman of any of the Divinely revealed religions. It is not legal however, for a Muslim woman to marry outside her religion" ("Marriage" 259). As with polygamy, women do not have a similar luxury. Muslim men are also endowed with the divine sanction of marrying the current wife of another man [Q 4:24 -- the relevant portion of the verse is "Also (prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess." A. Yusuf Ali explains the expression "whom your right hands possess" as "captives in a Jihad, or war under the orders of the righteous Imam against those who persecute Faith. In such cases formal hostility dissolves civil ties” (note 537 to 4:24). The fact remains, however, that the women in question are "already married," as the Qur’an itself describes them]. Finally, men are referred to as the "protectors and maintainers of women" and, as a result, men are also commanded, when they suspect "disloyalty and ill-conduct" in their wives, to first "admonish them," and secondly to "refuse to share their beds" (Q 4:34). If those first two methods do not produce obedient wives, husbands are given approval to "beat them." A. Yusuf Ali adds the parenthetical "lightly" to his translation, as well as defines the ‘beating’ as "some slight physical correction" (note 547 to 4:34). Nevertheless, the wife is never authorized to correct her husband. Such injunctions are conspicuously missing from the Bible.

Many of the sayings and acts of Muhammad follow and expand upon the Qur’an. Ideas such as the majority in hell are women (Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 125), the need for sexual intercourse as the primary reason for marriage (Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 81), validity of sex with female minors (Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64), wife beating (Abu Dawud, Book 11, Number 2142), temporary marriages for the husband (Muslim, Book 008, Number 3252), as well as women are to be "plowed" sexually (Muslim, Book 008, Number 3363), and the validity of sexual intercourse with female slaves without being married to them (Muslim, Book 008, Number 3325) are all contained in the traditions (full text of the collections of Sahih Al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abu-Dawud (partial) and Malik's Muwatta are available online (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/).

Furthermore, Islamic jurisprudence is equally favorable to the role of the husband. One of the most widely recognized works on Islamic law is The Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law according to Shafi'i School, by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (A.D. 1386) (edited and translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller. This work is the first English translation of a legal manual endorsed by the renowned Al Azhar University in Cairo. Following the Qur’an and the traditions, this particular work makes no mention of the establishment of marriage as a divine conception. It also assumes the primary importance of marriage as a vehicle for sexual release (see section m.1.1). "The purposes of marriage," concurs Kenneth Cragg in his book The Call of the Minaret, "are generally defined [in Islam] as procreation, unification of families, mutual cherishing, and purity of life" (154).

Because the presentation of a dowry (or "mahr") is obligatory in Islam (m8.0), the offer of a proposal and its acceptance are treated as a business transaction, following all the rules appropriate to it. The woman’s ‘bride price’ is based on, among other standards, her beauty (m8.8). A non-Arab man is unsuitable for an Arab woman "because ... ‘Allah has chosen the Arabs above others’" (m4.2.1). It also forbids "a man of a lowly profession [from marrying] the daughter of someone with a higher profession ... though an Islamic scholar is a suitable match for any level whatever" (m4.2.2). Fathers (and grandfathers) are given carte-blanche and absolute rights for deciding who will be married to their daughters, even if the daughters disagree with the choice (m4.4). The husband is to be immediately granted sexual intercourse with the wife when "he asks her" and at any place he is currently residing (m5.1), while no equivalent rights are granted to the wife. The husband can order his wife to ceremonially bathe herself after her monthly period or any kind of "major ritual impurity" so he can enjoy her sexually (m5.6). In addition, the husband has the right of permitting or forbidding his wife to leave the house (m10.3,4), while the "husband is entitled to leave home during the day to fulfill his needs and obligations" (m10.10). The husband is also "not obliged (N: but rather is recommended) to pay for his wife's cosmetics, doctor's fees, the purchase of medicine for her, and similar expenses (A: though he must pay for expenditures connected with childbirth)" (m11.4). Furthermore, obligatory support by the husband can cease if the wife is "rebellious ... she does not obey him ... even if for a moment;" if she leaves without his permission; if she leaves for her own needs; if she prepares to go on a pilgrimage; or if she "performs a voluntary fast without her husband’s permission" (m11.9).

Although there are similarities to the Islamic concepts previously discussed, it is interesting to note that the only word in the Bible used for marriage prior to the Fall is the word translated either as "wife" or simply "woman." In the pristine Garden of Eden, and even stretching through to the antediluvian era (however debased it had become), the woman was a completely autonomous entity, existing apart from and independent of a man. The complementarity of man and woman in marriage was a true uniting of equals, neither one "owning" nor "possessing" the other. This definition of marriage, then, is "a divine institution designed to form a permanent union between man and woman that they might be helpful to one another (Gen. 2:18)" (Unger "Marriage" 817). In fact, the first mention of a husband as "ba’al" ("lord" or "master") occurs in Genesis 20:3, where Abimelech realizes that Sarah is Abraham’s wife. Nowhere, however, is the term actually used by Abraham of Sarah, or vice-versa. Even by that time, Sarah was simply "‘ishshâh," a woman. The ascent of Moses, the Decalogue and the rest of the Law can be seen to be a restraint on, but not necessarily an annihilation of, the growing extremes of abuse against what was considered "good" at creation (Unger 817).

Some Old Testament passages dealing with marriage include, firstly, a husband and wife are to be "fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28, Jer. 29:6). They are also to be chaste, faithful, and find enjoyment and sexual satisfaction in each other (Prov. 5:15-20). Mutual attraction is not disregarded (Gen. 29:10). A husband is not to treat his wife treacherously (Mal. 2:13-15) and is forbidden from divorcing a wife he has falsely accused (Deut. 22:13-19), legislation meant to protect the wife from slander from her own husband. A wife is referred to as "helper" (Gen. 2:18), a "crown" (Prov. 12:4), a "good thing" (Prov. 18:22) and a "companion" (Mal. 2:14).

Because the New Testament is not a legislative code similar to either the Torah or the Qur’an, explicit laws concerning marriage are absent. What we find, however, is the spirit (or moral force) behind the law. For example, Christ viewed marriage as the institution originally designed by God, not what it had been corrupted into (see Matthew 19:3-6). Christ also spoke of the remarriage of divorcées as acts of adultery (Mt. 5:31, 32), but it is unclear whether this represents an actual prohibition, for it seems that the point Christ is stressing is the causal connection when a man divorces his wife and she later remarries, that the first husband has caused her to commit adultery (Mounce 47).

That marriage is an indissoluble bond is also evident from the writings of the apostles. Mutual love, respect, submission and service are the hallmarks of a godly couple (1 Cor. 7:3,4; Eph. 5:21-33). Marriage is honorable and the bed is to be undefiled (Heb. 13:4). It is a way to keep from opportunities for reproach (1 Tim. 5:14). It is only dissolved upon the death of either husband or wife (Rom. 7:2, 3). It is also seen as an acceptable form for someone to avoid sexual impurity [1 Cor. 7:2, 9 -- F.F. Bruce, however, states "This is said for the sake of the ad hominem argument; it does not mean that Paul could see no higher motive for marriage than the avoidance of fornication" (Paul 267). Leon Morris likewise sees this as warning for those who, against their own natural inclinations, seek to practice life-long celibacy (105). What Paul seems to be saying, then, is that for those who cannot control their sexual urges, it is wrong for them to remain celibate; it is better for them to marry than to let their lusts get the better of them]. Finally, marriage is seen as an analogy for the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:23-32), just as the Old Testament described God’s union with Israel (Is. 54:5). Although the Old Testament encourages marriage to the point where it becomes, as in Islam, obligatory (e.g. Gen. 1:28), the New Testament offers the option (or "gift") of singleness (primarily seen in the celibacy of Jesus Christ himself; see also Matt. 19:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7:7-9).

The Church Fathers and theologians continued to view marriage as an honorable institution as well. For example, Tertullian wrote that "if there is to be no marriage, there is no sanctity" (http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-03/anf03-28.htm#P4247_1384744) and Augustine gave it "a just commendation" (http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-05/npnf1-05-28.htm#P4088_1543101). The Protestant Reformers, while not finding sufficient reason to categorize marriage as a sacrament, nevertheless spoke highly of it. Martin Luther, the impetus for the Reformation, wrote that "God has done marriage the honor of putting it into the Fourth Commandment, immediately after the honor due to Him" and "if God had given utterance to nothing more than this Fourth Commandment with reference to married life, men ought to have learned quite well from this Commandment that in God’s sight there is no higher office, estate, condition and work (next to the Gospel which concerns God Himself) than the estate of marriage" (Kerr 194).

When, therefore, Abdel Azeem writes "the Quranic definition of adultery is very different from the Biblical definition" it is almost to be expected, based on the differences between the Islamic and the Jewish/Christian understanding of marriage. That is, as God designed it, marriage was seen as the unity of the husband and wife. Disturbing that unity was, and is, an affront to God’s purpose. In its ideal, or the "fundamental law" addressed above, a man and a woman, regardless of marital status, who commits adultery tramples God’s law underfoot. However, it is the case that a man, whether married or not, and having sexual relations with an unmarried woman, is not in violation of any specific regulations. It is nonetheless true that sexual activity outside the realm of marriage by either gender is clearly condemned in the Old Testament (Ex. 22:16, 17; Lev. 19:29; Deut. 23:18; Job 31:1; Prov. 6:23-27; Prov. 29:3).

Any sexual activity outside of marriage, on either the part of the male or female, was considered a violation of the divine plan. When Israel as a nation strayed from observing the Law and worshipping its Author, analogies were drawn which compared the unfaithfulness of a spouse to Jerusalem, Israel or Judah (2 Chr. 21:11; Isa. 23:17; Jer. 3:8, 9; Eze. 16:26, 29). These allegorical descriptions, although not legally binding, are indicative of the severity of straying from marriage and how it is an affront to God’s decreed moral precepts.

While the Old Testament does differentiate between the sexes in the administration of justice for adultery, the New Testament certainly does not, contrary to Abdel Azeem’s claim. As already mentioned, Christ claimed that adultery could be committed even within the confines of a person’s private thoughts. The height of the law is seen as a judge of the mind (1 Chrn. 28:9; Heb 4:12, 13); its secondary purpose is providing guidance for deeds. Even assuming that the popular understanding of adultery had devolved solely into a sexual act with a married woman, Christ could be understood as stating something to the effect, "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not have sexual intercourse with a wife’; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on any woman, married or not, to lust for her has had sexual intercourse with her already in his heart" (my paraphrase of Mt. 5:27, 28). The Greek word translated woman is gune, which is variously translated as woman or wife throughout the New Testament; hence, it could very well refer to any woman no matter her marital status.

Robert H. Mounce, however, writes "The woman in question is probably to be taken as a married woman (‘your neighbor’s wife,’ Exod. 20:17)" (46). Yet many English translations (KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, NAB, NEB, LB, TEV) use "woman." It should also be pointed out that just a few verses later, in 5:31, the exact form of the word gune is translated "wife," as a result of the context. Finally, Christ was quoting directly from Exodus 20:14, wherein is no indication of a married woman being the sole condition of adultery; although other verses do indicate such. Christ was not referring explicitly, albeit it may be possible implicitly, to Exodus 20:17, which Mounce indicates without a great deal of assertion (e.g., "probably").

It is interesting that Abdel Azeem offers no Qur’anic references in support of his assertion about the differences in definition of adultery among Muslims, Jews and Christians. To develop a better understanding of the Islamic conception, consider Surah 4:15-16. Although A. Yusuf Ali argues that "lewdness" here does not mean adultery or fornication (see note 523 to 4:15), whatever the crime was, guilty women are to be confined to their houses until they die. Men, however, after suffering an undefined punishment, may simply repent and find themselves freed (4:16). According to Ali, in his comments on Surah 24:2, the Arabic word zina "applies both to adultery ... and to fornication." The Qur’an, therefore, does not contain a technical word for adultery. Hebrew, as well as Greek, however, differentiate illicit sexual activity among single men and women and that of married men and women. The Hebrew word nâ’aph (and its derivative forms) is exclusively used for adultery when the context makes it necessary, otherwise it could also be translated as "apostatize" (Strong’s #5003). In addition, the Hebrew zânâh is primarily defined as adultery, but "less often of simple fornication" (Strong’s #2181). The Greek word moichos (and its derivative forms) is defined simply as "adultery" (Strong’s #3432) and is also contrasted to pornos, which means "fornicator" (Strong’s #4205 – it is also from that word the English word "pornography" has come).

According to Sahih Muslim, 'Abdullah reported that Muhammad claimed that the "gravest sin" is to "associate a partner with Allah"; the next gravest sin is killing one’s child "out of fear that he shall join you in food." Finally, "(the next gravest sin) is that you commit adultery with the wife of your neighbour" (Book 001, Number 0156). Interestingly, adultery is considered the third gravest sin, but only when adultery is defined much in the same way as the Old Testament punished it: only when it involves a married woman. Also, according to Muslim and reported by 'Ubada b. as-Samit, Muhammad stated that a single man and single woman guilty of "adultery" shall be sentenced to "one hundred lashes and banishment for one year," but a married man and married woman guilty of the same crime similarly receive 100 lashes, but are also "stoned to death" (Book 017, Number 4191). Furthermore, 'Abdullah b. 'Abbas reports that Muhammad claimed "Stoning is a duty laid down in Allah's Book" for adultery (Book 017, Number 4194).

Again, according to Muslim, as reported by Imran b. Husain, a woman admitted to Muhammad that she committed adultery and was subsequently pregnant as a result (Book 017, Number 4207). She was allowed to carry the baby to birth and, in another account reported by 'Abdullah b. Buraida, was also allowed to wean the child (Book 017, Number 4206). She was then sentenced to death by stoning, which was immediately carried out. In 'Abdullah b. Buraida’s report, the child was holding a piece of bread and given over to a Muslim in their company, and, therefore, might have been a witness to his own mother’s death.

In contradistinction, Christ was asked what to do by some scribes and Pharisees who had brought to him an adulteress caught "in the very act" (John 8:4; see also Mt 6:14; 9:2; 26:28; Mk 2:5; 3:28 and Lk 5:20; 24:47 for stunning contrasts to Muhammad on this point). His reply was a question to her accusers, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (v. 7). After the last of the accusers had left, perhaps because of their shared responsibility in the crime, Christ turned to the woman and asked, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" (v. 10). She looked around and declared "No one, Lord." He then comforted her with the words "Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more" (v. 11). If he had followed the advice of her accusers, he would have demanded her death by stoning, as required by law. Even though she was probably a pawn in the Pharisees’ game, the woman is not recorded as having denied the charge, further compounding her guilt. Christ, however, was in the process of reinstating the law of grace and mercy in the new trans-national kingdom of God.


The notion expressed by Abdel Azeem that a woman’s word is not binding "because she is owned by her father, before marriage, or by her husband after marriage" is addressed in the following passage by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.:

The right of a husband or father to annul a vow made by his wife or daughter must not be viewed as another evidence of women being nonpersons or inferior to a male dominated society in the Old Testament, but as a lack of any collateral to back the vow. Those women who had absolute control over their property, such as widows or divorced women, could vow it away as they wished (Num. 30:9). Only those who had no property under their own control would need their husband or father’s backing (or refusal to stand behind the vow). But this in no wise obligated the woman to consult her husband or father before making the vow. Neither did it compel her to depend on the male intelligence for the formulation of these vows. As Katherine Bushnell observed, ‘The real object, then, of these statutes, is to provide a proper time with the one who controlled the family property might show reason why he objected to relinquishing that control to the extent that the daughter or wife might make a suitable offering’ (Ethics 286; emphasis original).

In addition, there are a number of passages in the Old Testament that show the participation of women in the making of oaths or vows. One of the highest forms of Jewish religious vows was that of taking the "Nazarite" vow, which was open to both men and women (Num. 6:1-21). As discussed earlier, a woman’s vow against the accusation of adultery was considered a valid legal defense (Num. 30). Many verses also include phrases similar to "the people vowed" (Ex. 24:7; Num. 21:2; Jos 24:24; 2 Ki 23:3; 23:16; Ezra 10:5), some explicitly referring to "women," "daughters" and/or "wives" (2 Chron. 15:9-15; Neh. 5:12; 10:29).

The two greatest events in the New Testament, and, in turn, the two most commemorated periods of the Christian year, are the birth of Jesus Christ (Christmas), and his resurrection (Easter). Both events were first announced to women. It was revealed to Mary that her son was the Promised One. It is interesting to contrast the accounts of Zacharias of Mary. Zacharias, after hearing the prophecy of the conception of his son, questioned the angel Gabriel by saying "How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years" (Luke 1:18). His doubts echoed Sarah’s when Abraham was promised a son, although they both were well past child-bearing years (Gen. 18:11, 12). For his doubts he was stricken mute (Luke 1:20). Mary, similarly questioning her biological capability after being foretold of her son, asked Gabriel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34). She, however, was given an explanation. Perhaps Zacharias, as a priest and as a man of years, was expected to know the capabilities of God better than others; or perhaps it was the spirit of the question that revealed the respective attitudes (one of real doubt, the other of curiosity)? The point, of course, for the purposes here, is that the man was afflicted, even though both a man and a woman questioned the working of God.

Mary received the revelation about her Son from the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:31) probably no less than four months before Joseph received a similar message (Matt. 1:20-23; see Thomas and Gundry 27, note k). The significance of this account is that its source undoubtedly originated with Mary herself, related directly or indirectly to Luke as he prepared to write his narrative about Jesus (cf. Luke 1:1-4). The same could be said about the first witnesses of the empty tomb, attested in all four Gospels. Mary Magdalene (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 20:1), Mary, the mother of James (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10), Salome (Mark 16:1) and Joanna (Luke 24:10) and perhaps "other women" not named (Luke 24:10) are recorded as having seen the empty tomb. The women were told that Jesus "has risen" and were commanded to report it to the disciples (Matt. 28:6-8; Mark 16:6-7; Luke 24:6). It is significant that the angel told the women to tell the men about the empty tomb. The first to proclaim the message of the resurrection, the crux of Christianity, then, were women. Because the socio-cultural setting of the time did not accept the testimony of a woman in court (Daniel-Rops 128), this is a watershed moment in the acceptance of the validity of a woman’s word. Even if the narratives of the resurrection are not believed, it cannot be disputed that women are recorded as being the witnesses.

Consider the following quote from the article Women’s History in America, on the website of the Women’s International Center (http://www.wic.org/misc/history.htm). After discussing the dismal history of women’s rights, and the role of religion in perpetuating it, the author(s) states,

Nevertheless, when they were allowed personal and intellectual freedom, women made significant achievements. During the Middle Ages nuns played a key role in the religious life of Europe. Aristocratic women enjoyed power and prestige. Whole eras were influenced by women rulers for instance, Queen Elizabeth of England in the 16th century, Catherine the Great of Russia in the 18th century, and Queen Victoria of England in the 19th century.

Looking at the Qur’an, however, it expressly commands husbands who take an "oath of abstention" to wait four months before returning to their wives (2:226). There is no such oath available for the wife; it is solely and entirely the prerogative of the husband to break off, and to restore, sexual relations. A similar theme appears in the traditions. According to Bukhari, and narrated by Masruq bin Al-Aida, "... Aisha sat up and said [to Muhammad], "By Allah, if I took an oath (that I am innocent), you would not believe me, and if I said (that I am not innocent), you would not excuse me ..." (Volume 5, Book 59, Number 464). So even Muhammad’s wives were not immune from the notion of the weakness of a woman’s testimony. In addition, if a husband vows that he has not divorced his wife, the divorce is not finalized (see Malik’s Muwatta, 36.4.7). Finally, the prophet himself was averse to shaking hands with women. Again according to Malik’s Muwatta, he stated, "I do not shake hands with women. My word to a hundred women is like my word to one woman" (Book 44, Number 55.1.2).

Wife’s Property

In stark contrast to other sections, there are absolutely no Biblical references included in Abdel Azeem’s discussion on "Wife’s Property?". This, in and of itself, is enough of a response to demonstrate the inadequacy of his position in this section. There are references to property in the Old Testament that include women as being owned and that only in the case of slavery. It is important to notice, however, that wives are not included in the concept of ownership. So, too, it is obvious from other passages. Numbers 36:8 makes it clear that women do have the right of ownership, at least in the case of inheritance. Second Kings 8:4-6 records the incident of a woman appealing the king for the restoration of her property, which was immediately granted, even including the appointment of a king’s officer to ensure it. Naomi, the widow of Elimelech, was entrusted with the selling of her late husband’s land (Ruth 4:3-12). The daughters of Job were given "inheritance among their brothers" (Job 42:15). Furthermore, priests were forbidden from owning anything, for God was "their possession" (Ezek. 44:28); yet, it is also the case that they were required to be married (Lev. 21:13, 14). If, then, they are to be married, yet also prohibited from owning anything, their wives cannot be considered property!

One of the most interesting accounts, however, is again from the book of Numbers. The daughters of Zelophehad, who are individually named, "stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the leaders and all the congregation" appealing for the recognition of their father’s lineage as being through them, for he died without having any sons (27:1-5). When Moses sought guidance, God agreed with the daughters, calling their case "right" (vv. 6-7). The validity of daughters having a rightful claim to inheritance was then established. It then became divine law that, if a father had no sons, the daughters were to be given the inheritance. Even more, except for sons, daughters were given higher priority over, in order, brothers, uncles, and, finally, other relatives. Women were hardly neglected in the issue of ownership.

The voluntary redistribution of goods according to need among Christians, including the wealth of women going to aid the less fortunate, is recorded in Acts chapter 2:45 (also 4:32-36). Also, the New Testament describes the covenant of marriage as a co-ownership of each other’s body (1 Cor. 7:4). Finally, the only other references to possession of a female, other than a slave in the Old Testament, are to "possessing" wisdom, for wisdom is personified in the Bible as a woman (Prov. 3:13, 14; 8:11; 9:1ff; Wisd. 7:7ff; Sirach 1:4-10; Matt. 11:19)!

Abdel Azeem also claims that the "dowry was the wedding gift presented to the groom under the terms of tenancy." The preceding quotes do not seem to measure up to the actual definition of a dowry in the Old Testament. The dowry is certainly a gift given by the groom, not the bride (Ex. 22:16, 17; Deut. 22: 28, 29). In only one recorded instance did a father actually offer a gift to his son-in-law (at the bequest of his new bride), but this was also a reward for a military conquest (Joshua 15:16-19). It cannot be seen, then, as a true dowry. All other instances of dowry giving are from the groom: Abraham for Rebekah (Gen. 24:22-53); Jacob for Rachel (Gen. 29:15-20); Jacob for Leah (Gen. 30:20); Shechem for Dinah (Gen. 34:12); David for Michal (1 Sam. 18:20-25). If Jewish culture had, in fact, devolved into a converse system of dowry giving, it certainly cannot be said to be rooted in Old Testament practices. It is quite clear that dowries were presented by the groom for the hand of a woman.

Aside from the aforementioned fact that he quotes no Scripture in this section in support of his points, he again references the political and social meting out of the issue – a practice he promised in his introduction he would not engage in. His claim that both "religious and civil authorities in the Christian Roman Empire (after Constantine) required a property agreement as a condition for recognizing the marriage" is unexplained. He does not define what the property agreement consists of, nor does he discuss the purpose of that agreement, other than, perhaps, attempting to juxtapose "property" and "marriage," thus implying the husband’s ownership of the wife. Furthermore, Book I, chapter 10 (entitled "Marriage") of the The Institutes of Justinian (A.D. 535) contains only prohibitions against marriage (e.g., consanguinity, etc.) but no references to property agreements (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/535institutes.html#X.%20Marriage). The Catholic Encyclopedia, however, offers some insight. In the entry "Influence of the Church on Civil Law," we find that

In the ancient law of Rome the wife was, like the rest of the family, the property of the husband, who could dispose of her at will. Christianity rescued woman from this degrading condition by attributing to her equal rights, and by making her the companion of the husband. This equality was in part recognized by imperial laws, which gave to women the right of controlling their property, and to mothers the right of guardianship (Cod. Theod., lib. II, tit. 17, lex 1; lib. III, tit. 17, lex 4) (Available online at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09066a.htm; emphasis added).

His statement that "The wife not only lost her property upon marriage, she lost her personality as well" seems to imply that women in the West had no souls -- until only relatively recently. According to Michael Nolan, in his article The Myth of Soulless Women, the rumor is that "an early council of bishops, held at Macon in Burgundy, France in a.d. 585 decreed that women do not have a soul." He continues,

Now this is wholly untrue. The acts of the Council of Macon contain no such discussion. They contain neither the word "woman" nor the word "soul." What Leyser [a 17th Century Lutheran pastor] did was to misinterpret a story told in The History of the Franks by St. Gregory of Tours. Gregory was bishop of that city in the sixth century and wrote a splendid history of the region. At one point he tells of a council that may, or may not, have been the Council of Macon. Gregory writes:

There came forward at this Council a certain bishop who maintained that woman could not be included under the term "man." However, he accepted the reasoning of the other bishops and did not press his case for the holy book of the Old Testament tells us that in the beginning, when God created man, "Male and female he created them and called their name Adam," which means earthly man; even so, he called the woman Eve, yet of both he used the word "man."

So what the bishops discussed was the meaning of a word, not the substantial issue of whether women have souls. (Available online at: http://print.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9704/opinion/nolan.html)

An interesting quote from a book that Abdel Azeem cites in this section (Women in Stuart England and America: A comparative study), is:

... the authorities who established the legal pattern in Massachusetts used Mosaic law and biblical precedents as a complementary and alternative guide. The general results of this sea-change were that legal practice tended to become simplified, more flexible and more equitable in the New World. In this general improvement, women reaped considerable advantages (Thompson 161).

It cannot be overstated: one of the main causes for the roots of women’s equality in the West is what Abdel Azeem paints as utterly and overtly misogynistic: the Bible!

Is Islam really as egalitarian in this regard as Abdel Azeem suggests? A brief examination of various texts does not bear this out. The Qur’an determines the dowry to be the method for legally engaging the wife in sex (4:21 Ali). If there has been no consummation in the marriage, but the amount of the dowry has been fixed, the wife receives only half of it after they divorce; it is even less if there had been no predetermined amount (2:236-37). Since the privilege of consummation is appropriated by dowry, the absence of consummation, it would follow, would respectively diminish any refund. According to Sahih Bukhari, Muhammad’s "dowry" for one of his wives was her freedom (she was a former slave) (1.8.367; 2.14.68). The Prophet of Islam is also recorded as saying "the Mahr (dowry) that you paid, was for having sexual relations with her [his wife] lawfully" (7.63.262). Also, according to Islamic law, a woman is not granted an absolute guarantee of owning her dowry. For example, a wife who leaves Islam "is not entitled to any of the marriage payment" (Reliance of the Traveller, m8.7).


It is interesting to note that in this, the eleventh and longest section of Abdel Azeem’s essay there are only four references to Christianity and only one citation from the New Testament. The bulk of this section is a comparison of Jewish and Islamic views, while the Christian position is hardly examined with any seriousness.

The first reference to Christianity occurs in just the second sentence. Abdel Azeem writes "Christianity abhors divorce altogether. The New Testament unequivocally advocates the indissolubility of marriage," quoting Matthew 5:32. He then states "This uncompromising ideal is, without a doubt, unrealistic. It assumes a state of moral perfection that human societies have never achieved." He concludes by adding, "No wonder the whole Christian world has been obliged to sanction divorce." This one paragraph is the only treatment of Christianity in this entire section.

As it was made clear in the section on Adultery, the Biblical view of marriage is substantially different from the Qur’anic. The Biblical view of marriage is, as Abdel Azeem keenly notes, indissoluble. But instead of inquiring into the reason and purpose for that indissolubility, he brushes aside the notion as "unrealistic" and leaves the discussion at the starting gate. The marital union is designed to be much more than a means for sexual union. It is a partnership in life. It is designed to extract an intimacy that transcends the physical, while simultaneously embracing it, and encompasses the totality of individuality: emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Abdel Azeem quotes Deuteronomy 24:1-4 to demonstrate that Judaism "allows divorce even without any cause." A closer look at the text, however, does not support such a generous conclusion. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. explores this passage in great detail and determines the main thrust of the passage does not concern itself with validating divorce; it merely accepts divorce as a social phenomenon. Kaiser adds, "it would be wrong to speak of divorce in the Old Testament as a ‘right’ (i.e., an intrinsic right or prerogative) or as something that has divine approval and legitimation" (200) and "[p]ermission and toleration may exist for something that is basically evil and wrong" (201). Whatever the reason for the husband’s lack of favor towards his wife, he nevertheless was required to write her "a certificate of divorce," something that can be brought before a court and adjudicated (cf. Davies ¶ 5). There was, then, at the very least, a "semblance of a trial" (Davies ¶ 5), or "the cognizance of legal authority" which would "tend to check the rash exercise of the right by a husband" (Unger’s "Divorce" ¶ 3). It was anything but a mere proclamation on the part of the husband that he divorced his wife. In fact, "[d]ivorce could not be done privately" (Nelson's ¶ 3). In other words, despite the Talmudic references cited by Abdel Azeem, a husband is not authorized in the Bible to divorce his wife simply on a whim. The word for divorce (Strong’s #3748) in this passage is used only four times in the Old Testament. Two of those occurrences are within this passage (verses one and three). The root of the word is mostly translated as cut off, but is also translated as make or made (as in "making a covenant," e.g. Gen. 15:18) (Strong’s #3772). The practice of circumcision is perhaps alluded to in the notion of making a covenant and cutting off – a covenant that was, by design at least, permanent and indissoluble. An allusion could also be made to cut off in tearing asunder the principle of husband and wife being "one flesh" (cf. Gen. 2:23, 24). Divorce, then, in the Bible, is seen less as a separation of two beings and more as an amputation of one.

There are two words used in the New Testament that are translated "divorce." The most common word used is variously translated "to set free," "to let go, dismiss," "to let go free, release" (Strong’s #630). When used of divorce, it is primarily rendered "put away," but only in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 1:19, 5:31, 32, 19:3, 7, 8, 9; Mk. 10:11, 12; Lk. 16:18). The other, less common, word for divorce specifically means "divorce, repudiation" or "a bill of divorce," the latter being the translation for the three occurrences of the word in the New Testament (Matt. 5:31, 19:7 and Mark 10:4). It is also closely related to the word which means "defection from truth" and "falling away, forsake," and has come to be used in English as apostasy (Strong’s #646). Hence, an apostate can be seen as one who has been divorced from God, adding to the serious weight carried by the word for divorce in the New Testament.

An extremely relevant point in the context of this discussion is the way in which Paul phrases his comments in 1 Corinthians 7:10-15. He states "the wife should not leave her husband," "let her not send her husband away" and "the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases." The significance of these statements should be apparent: the wife has the right to divorce her husband (see also Proverbs 2:17, where this is also implied, "That leaves the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God"). This is totally incompatible with the Islamic law of divorce, which stipulates that only the husband can divorce (the wife is little more than a defective commodity being discarded).

The wife, in Islam, being legally incapable of divorcing herself from her husband without his consent, can bribe her husband to dissolve the marriage (see Ali’s note (258) on verse 2:229). Any involvement by legal authorities is not even necessary, for, as Yusuf Ali points out, it "should be" arbitrated, but is not explicitly a requirement. The wealthier the wife, it seems, the more favorable the Qur’an is towards her in providing avenues for divorce.

Muhammad is recorded to have said "If any woman asks her husband for divorce without some strong reason, the odour of Paradise will be forbidden to her." (Abu Dawood 12.2218). A reciprocal warning for husbands is nowhere to be found. There are also statements from the prophet attesting to the husband’s complete control over divorce (Bukhari 7.63.213, Malik’s Muwatta 36.4.7). Muhammad himself ordered some of his followers to divorce (see Bukhari 3.48.827, 7.63.234; Muslim 9.3479; Dawood 12:2235). In one particular incident, Abdullah ibn Umar narrates "A woman was my wife and I loved her, but Umar hated her. He said to me: Divorce her, but I refused. Umar then went to the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and mentioned that to him. The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Divorce her" (Dawood 41:5119). Likewise, Abraham is said to have ordered his son Ishmael to divorce (Bukhari 4.55.583). A divorce can even be based on the husband’s displeasure with the wife’s looks (Bukhari 3.49.859). Contrary to many claims by Muslim apologists, a woman is not necessarily guaranteed support after a divorce (Muslim 9:3522; Malik’s Muwatta 29.18.51a). Finally, Muhammad is also reported to have said "There is no divorce except in what you possess" (Dawood 12.2185).

Based on both the Qur’an and the accepted traditions, Islamic jurisprudence, at least in The Reliance of the Traveller, does not deviate from the parameters defined by the larger Islamic sacred corpus concerning divorce. For example, the husband is the legally recognized source for a valid divorce (ROTT n1.1.a).

In order for a husband to "save" his marriage, Abdel Azeem points out that the Qur’an (4:34) offers the husband some advice for reigning in a disobedient wife. He immediately then assures his readers that it "has to be noted, in the light of the above verses, that beating the rebellious wife is a temporary measure that is resorted to as third in line in cases of extreme necessity in hopes that it might remedy the wrongdoing of the wife." He also adds "the Prophet of Islam has condemned any unjustifiable beating." He, of course, neglects to admit that the Bible nowhere commands, nor suggests, that one spouse beat the other, however slightly, to accomplish any purpose. He does, however, note that it "is notable that the Quran is not advising the wife to resort to the two measures of abstention from sex and beating." He explains that this is so because the "disparity might be [note the uncertainty] to protect the wife from a violent physical reaction by her already misbehaving husband." In other words, to protect herself, the wife is impotent to correct her husband. The only way a wife can tame a wild husband is through a court, if it is available where she lives, which "some Muslim scholars have suggested." "The court," he states, "first admonishes the rebellious husband, then forbids him his wife’s bed, and finally executes a symbolic beating." The "symbolic beating" is neither defined nor explained. Wife beating is obviously an absurd notion, one in which Abdel Azeem tries to wiggle out of and minimize its significance. Does justification of wife beating, of any degree, belong in a constructive discussion of women’s rights? I hardly think so.

Yet he continues to view this Qur’anic injunction more sympathetically by stating it "has to be noted that the Talmud sanctions wife beating as chastisement for the purpose of discipline." He relies on Louis M. Epstein’s book The Jewish Marriage Contract for this point. Unfortunately for him, however, he does not fully quote what Epstein wrote. He ignores Epstein’s point that the husband does not take it upon himself to beat his wife, but must get permission from the court before he does so (156). Epstein adds that "she can seek legal recourse ... the court then decides if it was an ‘assault’ or ‘chastisement’" (219). Epstein also states the "Talmud again and again sets up standards of kind, affectionate, and considerate treatment of a wife" (220).

Within the framework he has built, it is not surprising that he also makes claims such as "Jewish women living in Christian countries were not offered any similar privileges since the Roman law of divorce practiced there was no more attractive than the Jewish law." The historical context of his comment was the Seventh Century. The Catholic Encyclopedia traces the history of divorce from the dawn of the Middle Ages through the next six hundred years in the following concise paragraph, making explicit reference to the existence of "divorce by mutual consent":

In 331 Constantine the Great restricted the causes for divorce to three on the part of the man, viz., if he was a murderer, a poisoner, or a robber of graves; and three on the part of the woman, viz., if she was an adulteress, a poisoner, or a corrupter of youth. Among soldiers an absence of four years was sufficient to entitle the petitioner to a divorce. This edict was ratified by Theodosius the Great and Honorius. Under Justinian several reasons for divorce were added, and liberty of divorce by mutual consent was restored by his nephew Justin (565-78). No change was now made in the Roman law until after a lapse of 340 years, when Leo the Philosopher (886-912) made a collection of laws known as the "Libri Basilici", from which he excluded the edicts of Justin. (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05064a.htm)

It is evident, then, that at certain times the divorce laws were very restrictive, especially for women. However, the law was continually in flux, and, particularly with the advent of Justinian and his nephew, Justin, divorce was legally recognized when it was based on mutual consent. This was the situation during the period Abdel Azeem makes reference to, so it hardly follows that women in Christian countries at that time were at a disadvantage compared to their Muslim counterparts when it came to divorce.

He then points out an Islamic quotation demonstrating divine animosity towards divorce, yet fails to include the simple Biblical statement that "‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel" (Malachi 2:16). He also fails to discuss the reasons for that hatred, which, it seems, could be an enlightening exercise. The clear distinction over the reason and purpose for marriage in Islam and Christianity carries over into this discussion of divorce. That a Christian marriage is designed to be a co-equal partnership, wherein the two parties are united by God, a dismantling of that relationship is tantamount to destroying an individual (for the husband and wife had been made "one flesh"). It is a seriousness, in marriage and divorce, that transcends the Islamic ideal. That is why, at least in the Bible, God hates divorce. Abdel Azeem offers no underlying reasons for the same sentiment in Islam.


Abdel Azeem begins the section on mothers with a wonderful statement about the positive attitude toward mothers in the Old Testament. He cites Leviticus 20:9 and Proverbs 15:20, although he fails to mention that honoring fathers and mothers is second only to duties toward God in the sequence of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). He then states that "honoring the father alone is mentioned in some places [he quotes Proverbs 13:1] ... the mother alone is never mentioned." He has overlooked, however, two other passages from Proverbs (29:15 and 31:1). Although the word "honor" does not appear in either verse, the notion certainly does. Discipline and shame are contrasted with each other in 29:15. These opposing lines associate child with wisdom and mother with discipline. The mother, then, can be seen as training her children either in the way of wisdom or license. In the second passage, the incomparable impact of a mother’s influence is seen: King Lemuel relayed his mother’s great wisdom. A wisdom, by the way, which was found worthy to be included in God’s Word!

He also contends that "there is no special emphasis on treating the mother kindly as a sign of appreciation of her great suffering in childbearing and suckling." Unlike the Qur’an, however, the Bible is replete with narratives involving sensitivity, especially of God, towards mothers. One of the first to be encountered should be of particular interest to Abdel Azeem. It involves the predicament of Hagar, mother of Ishmael (traditionally regarded as father of the Arabs). In Genesis 21:8-21 the account of Abraham’s shunned wife, Hagar, is comforted by God in her great distress. It is because of Hagar’s obedience to God’s call that Ishmael did become "a great nation." Other examples include Moses’ mother as a key player in protecting the life of the infant prophet, while his father is barely mentioned (Exodus 2:1ff). Bathsheba intervenes on her son’s, Solomon’s, behalf to King David to ensure that the promised, and rightful, succession of king be bestowed on her son (1 Kings 1:11-31). A widow at Zarephath supplies Elijah with food and he later restores her son to life (1 Ki. 17:7ff). Finally, a Shunammite woman provides Elisha with shelter. He prophesies that she will have a son, although she is old, and when her promised son later dies, Elisha brings him back to life (2 Kings 4:8-37). All these accounts demonstrate the high position mothers occupy in the Old Testament.

He next delves into examining mothers in the New Testament. He claims it "is difficult to speak of the New Testament as a scripture that calls for honoring the mother. To the contrary, one gets the impression that the New Testament considers kind treatment of mothers as an impediment on the way to God." One has to wonder which "New Testament" he is referring to, for the New Testament, much like the Old, contains many positive statements about mothers (Matthew 15:4; 19:19; Mark 7:10; 10:19; Luke 1:28; 7:12-15; 18:20; John 19:25-27; Ephesians 6:1, 2; Colossians 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 2:5-8; 2 Timothy 1:5). In order to substantiate his claim that the New Testament is viciously anti-mother, he quotes Luke 14:26, where the operative word, to him, is "hate." It is truly difficult to conceive of Jesus suggesting that the command "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart" (Lev. 19:17) is no longer binding, for Christ has consistently upheld the moral code at every other opportunity. What Jesus said here in Luke is really the negative form of what he said in Matthew 10:37-40 ("he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me").

Once again violating his own prohibition, he clearly and flagrantly denigrates Christianity when he says

If a mother with the stature of the virgin Mary had been treated with such discourtesy, as depicted in the New Testament, by a son of the stature of Jesus Christ, then how should an average Christian mother be treated by her average Christian son?

The deliberate belittling is obvious. The answer to his accusation is, of course, his own testimony of silence. He fails to cite one case of just such behavior in Christian homes. Usually, when making a point, he will offer examples in support. Here, he neither points to any, nor does he even assume any exists. He completely fails to justify the implication of his irresponsible statement. Do Christian sons treat their mothers with outright disregard? Certainly, there may be some, but they are also not acting in accord with the example of Jesus.

Abdel Azeem seems to leave the impression that since in the Bible "the mother alone is never mentioned" for honor, the Qur’an contains such statements. In fact, he states that "the honor, respect, and esteem attached to motherhood is unparalleled" in Islam and "The Qur’an places the importance of kindness to parents as second only to worshipping god Almighty." As has been shown, this is also the case with the Bible, specifically the Ten Commandments. The Qur’an, however, nowhere singles out the mother as deserving honor or kindness, etc.. In fact, the Qur’an contains the word "mother" or "mothers" approximately 43 times (using the USC MSA search engine at http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/reference/searchquran.html), compared to the New Testament’s usage at 96 (based on Strong’s Concordance). Being that the Qur’an is roughly 75% the size of the New Testament, one would expect, just at the very least, for the Qur’an to mention "mother/s" close to 72 times (which is almost twice what it does contain)! Of course, the mere mention of the word(s) itself does not necessarily indicate anything, the context of the occurrences is much more important.

Female Inheritance

Beginning the next section on female inheritance, Abdel Azeem states it is one "of the most important differences between the Quran and the Bible." This comment actually reveals one of the most important divides between Islam and Christianity. While Islam does reflect, to an extent, the legislative impetus of the Jewish Scriptures, it differs greatly from the explicitly Christian Scriptures. Issues such as the revelation of God’s nature, of God’s grace, of God’s working in history, of man’s condition before God, of man’s need for God, of God’s mercy reaching out to humanity through the cross and of the demonstration of God’s power through the resurrection and life of the early church are the central themes of the New Testament. Particularly, Jesus Christ is the central theme (his coming, his dwelling, his death, his resurrection and his returning). The Qur’an, except for a cursory treatment of some, is silent on those themes. This is really the most important difference between the two books. Rules of inheritance in the Old Testament, like many legal codes designed for the ancient nation of Israel, are absent and, what is more, are not applicable for the New Testament believer. The fact that Abdel Azeem could find no New Testament support for his claim validates this point.

He then asserts that the "Biblical rules of inheritance are outlined in Numbers 27:1-11." He is partly right. As mentioned in a previous section, the background of the passage from Numbers is that a group of daughters approached Moses to voice their grievances. Their father had no sons, so they were afraid their father’s inheritance would "disappear" as a result (verse 4). The law of inheritance was then stipulated as including daughters, brothers and the nearest relatives (in order of priority). In Numbers 36 the story continues. Because of the inheritance of the daughters, others became worried that if the women were to marry into other tribes, the original land given to their forefathers would be diminished into other Israelite tribes. The law was then adapted so that daughters who did receive an inheritance were required to marry within the tribe of their father, which would ensure continuity of their possession. The focus of the inheritance laws, then, is primarily keeping the land within the original tribal boundaries, for the land ultimately was an inheritance from God (Leviticus 25:23; Numbers 26:53, 54; 33:53).

That the biggest portion normally went to the eldest son (see Genesis 25:5), and only to daughters when there were no sons, is not as restrictive as it sounds to 21st Century readers when it is also considered that "the firstborn, as head of the family, had to provide food, clothing, and other necessities in his house, not only for his mother but also for his sisters until they married" (Unger "Inheritance" 618). In the context of the patriarchal structures of the era, these inheritance regulations, while clearly favoring males (particularly the eldest son), were also designed to ensure the continuity of care and support of the females in the family. While it is also clear that most daughters were not entitled to inheritance, they were certainly not considered as chattel, for these specific regulations requiring the maintenance of mothers and daughters are unique (i.e., neither slaves, animals nor land were protected in the same way under the law).

As previously mentioned, the New Testament does not contain legal codes covering the regulations of inheritance. It is clearly not the purpose of the New Testament to do so. But it does rely on Jewish, as well as Greek and Roman, notions of inheritance to convey its figurative meaning. Jesus used the word inherit quite often, making statements such as the gentle "shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5), "inherit eternal life" (Matt. 19:29) and "inherit the kingdom" (Matt. 25:34). The apostles followed suit. Peter, for example, urged the faithful "to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4). Paul, likewise, wrote to the believers in Colossae that God "has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light" (Colossians 1:12). Inheritance, then, in the New Testament, is exclusively a spiritual concept: Christians "inherit" God’s grace and ultimately "inherit" a place in God’s eternal presence. This is not too different from the Old Testament concept of Israel’s inheritance being the land promised to them by God.

Although laws of inheritance throughout the history of the Church and the West have demonstrated a lack of regard for females, it also has to be remembered that, in spite of this, there are no explicitly "Christian" laws concerning inheritance. That is, the New Testament does not legislate over this matter (as also in other cases specified in this essay). The laws are, then, fluid, unlike the Islamic laws, which are, by definition, static, eternal and unchanging because they are claimed to emanate from the very will of God. The history of these laws in the West are seen in flux, though perhaps fixed for overly long periods of time. It is not surprising to find statements such as "generally it is thus that any person is allowed to give freely in his lifetime a reasonable part of his land to whom he pleases" in documents dated 1188 A.D. which are also filled with comments relegating women to second-class status (Robert Palmer; http://vi.uh.edu/pages/bob/elhone/rules.html). This duplicity, while treacherous, actually formed the basis for its ultimate demise. Women have reached a remarkable parity with men in the West that simply cannot be duplicated under any Islamic law.

While it may be argued, as Abdel Azeem does, that the West has had to catch up with the Islamic world in this one regard, it is seldom, if ever, mentioned that Islam has reached its limit on this issue from its inception. Even though the inheritance laws in the Qur'an, the Islamic Traditions and Jurisprudence may have been revolutionary for 7th Century Arabia, they are, at best, medieval relics of male dominance for the modern world.

For example, the Qur’an bluntly states:

God directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance):
to the male, a portion equal to that of two females (4:11)

Abdel Azeem attempts to explain this disparity away by claiming "the financial obligations of men in Islam far exceed those of women" and "Muslim men, in general, have greater financial burdens than Muslim women and thus inheritance rules are meant to offset this imbalance so that the society lives free of all gender or class wars." Thus, men needed more because they had to care for the women. It is, of course, a benefit to any society for those with the means to provide for those without. The distinction, obviously, is that men have the capability for support and the women do not – and this situation cannot change, for it is based on "revelation." This is nothing more than the out-dated maxim that women should be "barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen." The laws of inheritance are no different in attitude from the laws governing witnesses: that one male witness is worth two females (2:282; see also the previous section Bearing Witness).

The Traditions of Muhammad and the early Muslims reverberate with this idea as well (see Bukhari 6.60.102). A "child of fornication" (male or female) is not entitled to any type of inheritance, even if the father does not deny paternity (Abu Dawud 12.2258). The mother of an illicit child can hope for nothing from the father, for he is not obligated to provide since the child was "of fornication," although through no fault of the child. Also, "women do not inherit anything apart from those that are named in the Qur'an" (Malik’s Muwatta 27.11.9b). While a believer cannot inherit from an unbeliever (non-Muslim) (Malik’s Muwatta 27.12.10), an unbeliever cannot inherit from a Muslim as well, and this is interesting in the sense that men are free to marry outside of Islam, thereby having Jewish or Christian wives, while women are prohibited (Q 5:6; also see the previous section Adultery). What this means, obviously, is that a Muslim husband may not inherit from his non-Muslim wife or wives, but also that a non-Muslim wife cannot inherit from her Muslim husband. Considering the era, most males would most likely not be greatly affected under such conditions, while wives can virtually be destroyed of any means of livelihood. These regulations are continued and expounded under Islamic law.

The Reliance of the Traveller opines "each male receives twice the amount of each female (A: since men are obliged to support women in Islam (dis: m11) and not vice versa" (L6.7). "Universal heirs" are those who receive whatever remains of an estate after it has been divided among legitimate heirs and, in the case that no one else inherits, receives the entire estate (L10.1, L10.5). These "universal heirs" can only be males (L10.2). Even males related through females are excluded from becoming "universal heirs" (L10.2) – this does not seem to fit the parameters that males "are obliged to support women"! Women are, however, given the honor of becoming "co-universal heirs" (L10.3), wherein they "divide the universal share so the male receives the portion of two females" (L10.3). That is, she is incapable of being a "universal heir" by herself and needs the presence of a male to attain that status. While the wife, mother and daughter are guaranteed the right to inheritance (L4.1), most of the other relatives who are female or children of related females can be eliminated based on certain criteria (L4.1d). There are also nine different categories of male relatives who can be heirs, while there are only six such categories for women (L4.4). Most of the extended family members who do not inherit are either females or related by a female (L4.5). It is also worth repeating that these laws, while in themselves may be subject to change and refinement, are based on the preceding passages from the Qur’an and Traditions, which, by definition, cannot change. While women still have the freedom to advance toward their own definitions of equality in the West, women under the control of Islam reached their pinnacle 1400 years ago, and can go no farther. They were, are and will continue to be viewed as half a man. Again, that may have been an improvement at the outset of Islam, but it certainly has become antiquated by now.

Plight of Widows

The Old Testament does recognize inheritance rights for widows, which Abdel Azeem denies in his very first sentence of this section. He also claims "widows had no way to ensure this provision was carried out, and lived on the mercy of others." While it is true that they lived "on the mercy of others," though it was a required mercy, it is not true that they had no insurance for their continued support. In recognizing the plight of Levites, aliens, orphans and widows, Deuteronomy 14:29 commands the community to look after them (see also Deut. 24:17-22 and 26:12, 13).

Furthermore, the Bible repeatedly echoes God’s sentiments about widows. Many verses in the Old Testament speak of doing justice to widows (Deut. 10:18; 27:19; Ps. 68:5; Zec. 7:9-10), while others speak of God’s command against oppressing widows (Ex. 22:22; Isa. 1:17; Jer. 7:6-7; 22:3; Mal 3:5) and God himself is described as both a "judge for" (Ps. 68:5) and a "support" for widows (Ps. 146:9). The New Testament also displays honor to widows (as in the previous section, there are no citations from, or even allusions to, the New Testament. The silence is, once again, deafening). In Luke 2:36, it is pointed out that "a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel," was "a widow" and she "never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers." Jesus also spoke highly of widows. In fact, on one occasion he even contrasted a poor widow with wealthy religious people (Luke 21:1-4). The widow, as stated by Jesus, "put in more than all of them" because she "put in all that she had" while the others gave "out of their surplus." Also, when a widow in a funeral procession for her son passed by Jesus, he "felt compassion for her" (Luke 7:13), and raised her son back to life. In addition, the believer’s responsibility to care for widows is established as early as the Book of Acts (6:1). Finally, 1 Timothy 5:3 bids Christians "honor widows," and James 1:27 sums up the responsibility of the Christian "to visit orphans and widows in their distress."

"According to Genesis 38," states Abdel Azeem, "a childless widow must marry her husband’s brother, even if he is already married, so that he can produce offspring for his dead brother, thus ensuring his brother’s name will not die out." The operative word, even in Abdel Azeem’s definition, is "childless." It was not a requirement for all widows and even a childless widow could opt out of it. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., summarizes it as

Since the Old Testament law forbade the marriage of those related by blood or by marriage, marriage and sexual union by a widow or a widower to in-laws was considered incest – except in this one instance. The law (Deut. 25:5-10) did permit a widow, if her deceased husband died childless, to marry her next of kin in order to raise up a family to bear the name of the dead man (190-91).

It should also be noted that this was a law designed to safeguard the perpetuation of tribal claims to the land (which was an inheritance from God, see previous section). The phrase in Deuteronomy 25:7 that "to establish a name for his brother in Israel" should be enough of a moral injunction to compel one to comply, and signifies the purpose for the practice as well. In addition, Abdel Azeem apparently confuses the practice of the "pagan Arabs" with that of this particular form of union, called a levirate marriage. He writes that they had "similar practices" in which the widow was "usually, given in marriage to the deceased man’s eldest son from another wife." In the Bible, however, as has been seen, a widow is not "inherited" by her sons, or sons through another woman (if it was a polygamous marriage).

As regarding his quotation of 2:240 in the Qur’an, it is interesting that Islamic law allows for the support of a widow during the first year only, what becomes of her after that is uncertain. If she is not well off and does not remarry there is no legally mandated assurance for her continued care. The Old Testament legislation, if nothing else, does offer a perpetual provision for the widow as long as she lives, as pointed out previously. As it turns out, it is also questionable that 2:240 remains a legal mandate for today. Although A. Yusuf Ali mentions the differing opinions on whether this verse has been abrogated by 4:12 and confesses "I do not think it is" (96, note 273), Al-Hilali asserts unquestionably "The provision of this Verse has been abrogated by Verse (4:12)" (53, note to 2:240 and to which Bukhari agrees 7.53.256).


Having examined the divergent concepts of marriage and divorce in Islam and Christianity, it should not be surprising that the issue of polygamy presents another study in contrasts. As previously explained, the Biblical definition of marriage is one of relational partnership, where an intimate bond is to be nurtured and protected. Abdel Azeem begins his lengthy examination of polygamy with the statement "The Bible did not condemn polygamy. To the contrary, the Old Testament and Rabbinic writings frequently attest to the legality of polygamy." The subtlety of this argument assumes a Biblical mandate approving more than one wife, which there is none. An examination of the passages he cites does not establish the legitimacy of polygamy in the Old Testament.

King Solomon did, indeed, have 700 wives and 300 concubines. Does the Bible extol this as a virtuous act? Had Solomon limited himself to one wife his life would have, undoubtedly, been less problematic and troublesome. The praises lavished on David were certainly not because of his many wives, for he clearly violated the prohibition in Deuteronomy 17:17, as seen in 2 Samuel 5:13. What is more, although having multiple wives was tolerated in the Old Testament, having concubines was nowhere sanctioned under the Law. Although Deuteronomy 21:10-14 contains legislation appearing to sanction the practice of having concubines, the word consistently used in the passage is "wife" (‘ishshâh, Strong’s #802) not "concubine" (pîylegesh, Strong’s # 6370). Legally, the woman was, simply, a "wife." In fact, other than four references to concubines in Genesis, all in the context of simply acknowledging their existence, the word does not occur at all in the Pentateuch. In addition, R.K. Harrison writes that "The legislation concerning marriage with a woman captured in war (Deut. 21:10-14), which inculcated thoughtfulness and forbearance on the part of victorious Hebrew males, stood in its humanitarian concerns in entire contradistinction to the brutal and callous attitudes of contemporary pagan nations in this regard" (656-7). It is clear, then, that David violated commands regarding "multiplying" wives and possessing concubines. In spite of David’s many sins, he did not, like his son Solomon, "turn his heart away after other gods." Solomon, as Donald J. Wiseman points out, "is the first to be classified in that he did evil in the eyes of the Lord by personally following other gods" (135).

Abdel Azeem then claims that the "Old Testament does have some injunctions on how to distribute the property of a man among his sons from different wives (Deut. 22:7)." His description of the passage, however, seems to agree with Deuteronomy 21:15-17. The purpose of the passage is to keep order within a less than perfect situation. It is impossible to read in these verses any type of divine approval for polygamy. On the contrary, by the very mention of a specific problem potentially to arise in a polygamous marriage, there seems to be an implied warning against it! In addition, according to Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., the passage deals with wives in succession (monogamy), not simultaneously (polygamy) (187).

He then quotes from Leonard Swidler’s book Women in Judaism: The Status of Women in Formative Judaism. His only quote from the book is the "Talmud advises a maximum of four wives." It is interesting, however, what Swidler also wrote concerning the issue of polygamy. The following four brief quotations are examples:

‘Polygamy is the logical corollary of ba’al marriage [where the husband was the owner of his wife in the same sense as he owned his slaves and developed apart from the Scriptures], for as one may own many slaves so he may espouse many wives’ (144) [quoting Louis Epstein, Marriage Laws in the Bible and the Talmud (Cambridge, Mass., 1942), p. 4.]. That is, if a man can own more than one person as a slave, it became acceptable for a husband to "own" more than one wife. This only came about as a result of a very low view of women and developed only as a result of a similar low view of humanity.

In talmudic times there developed a certain opposition to the idea of the desirability of polygamy (146).

It should be noted that apparently the rabbis themselves were almost always monogamists (147).

The public practice of polygyny and the forbidding of polyandry is usually reflective of a severely inferior status of women in a culture. In turn, its practice, and even just its legal possibility, is bound to reinforce the sense of inferiority in women and superiority in men (148).

The narratives surrounding the lives of polygamists offer some interesting points. While positive statements are sometimes made about those who practiced polygamy, such as Abraham or King David, they are few and far between. In addition, an examination of the life of Abraham and David, and other polygamists, demonstrates the instability of their respective family life. For example, neither polygamist fathers, nor frequently their sons, ever lead the stellar lives of, say, a Joseph or a Joshua – a monogamist and a celibate, respectively. In fact, Jesus’ namesake was Joshua and it is significant that, at the Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36), it was not Abraham and David (among others) who appeared, but Moses and Elijah, again, a monogamist and a celibate, alongside Jesus (while there is some debate whether Moses was a polygamist, to dogmatically assert it goes beyond the scope of the evidence. For example, there are no offspring of Moses mentioned in the Bible other than those he had through Zipporah (Gershom (Ex. 2:22; 18:3) and Eliezer (Ex.18:4) see also 1 Chron. 23:15) and the Pentateuch is not shy about mentioning the existence of polygamy, even among the patriarchs. There is no clear indication he was).

Kaiser states "the narratives of Scripture imply that this state of affairs is the major reason for much of the misfortune that comes into the domestic lives of these polygamists" (184). While no single cause is ever elucidated (except in the case of marrying foreign women), it seems readily apparent that polygamy does create a tough row to hoe and presents to the male (in these cases) apparent hurdles or obstacles lacking in a monogamist marriage or celibate life. Although monogamists and celibates are not always included in the list of those who pleased God the entirety of their lives, it is the case that every polygamist is similarly not included. Even the Qur’an lavishes more praise on monogamists and celibates in the Bible than on polygamists. For example, an entire Surah devoted to Joseph, Yusuf (Surah 12), indicates that it is the "most beautiful of stories" (verse 3), and its references to Jesus by name are far more numerous than even Muhammad. Ahmed Deedat put it this way, "... in the Holy Quran Jesus (pbuh) is mentioned by name five times (5 x) more than the number of times the prophet of Islam is mentioned in the Book of God. To be exact – twenty fives times as against five" (Deedat 4)!

It should also be noted that, while the rulers of Israel had led dalliances into polygamy, none of the characters in the Old Testament who practiced it were priests, the holy ones set apart for serving God in His Temple. This is significant, for the central focus of the Old Testament is on the Tabernacle and the Temple, not any other seat of administrative power. In fact, all the political leaders of Israel were under the authority of God through either priests or prophets. Some of the kings humbly received praise as well as rebuke from those who carried God’s words, while others could not tolerate negative messages at all. This shows that God spoke through those who did not participate in polygamy, for none of the priests or prophets who truly devoted their lives to Yahweh were ever reported to have more than one wife. If, then, those who were devoted to secular duties could be polygamists, while those devoted to sacred duties could not be, what can be inferred about God’s view of multiple spouses? In addition, the New Testament refers to believers as "priests" (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 5:9, 10) and the natural implication would include monogamous marriages.

Polygamy, it must be noted, came after the fall of humanity into sin. The first recorded case of polygamy in the Bible is in Genesis 4:19 with Lamech, an ancestor of Cain. He was a self-confessed murderer. If polygamy had been practiced previous to Lamech (to which there is no evidence), it still must be acknowledged that he is the first associated with it and it should be asked why the association exists. The fact that he was a descendent of Cain and was himself a murderer should, at the very least, cloud any speculation that polygamy was divinely authorized. From the beginning of its practice, then, polygamy, at the very least, must be viewed as falling short of God’s intention for marriage. As discussed previously, all the polygamists in the Bible, while some were experiencing great blessings from God, also experience moral short-comings. Although the link between polygamy and moral foibles might not be clearly causal, the association between them is at least consistent circumstantial evidence against the practice. Also, "strife and jealousy" are consistent themes between the wives of one man (e.g. Sarah and Hagar; Leah and Rachel; Peninnah and Hannah). In fact, "it is not to be underemphasized that strife is a marked pragmatic disadvantage of polygamy" (Christian Polygamists).

The New Testament is silent on the issue of polygamy, and that, to some, is an argument in and of itself. If the issue were so important, the logic goes, then Christ certainly would have spoken against it. But if Christ’s silence indicates tacit approval, there awaits a Pandora’s box to be opened. As Kaiser asserts, "the silence of Scripture must not be counted as acquiescence" (184). It could very well be argued, on such grounds, that bestiality is not worthy of being condemned or, even worse, incest or pedophilia are appropriate in certain cultural settings because they are not directly addressed by Christ and must therefore not be of any universal moral significance.

From the above discussion, it should be evident that Father Eugene Hillman’s writing, used by Abdel Azeem throughout this section, is dubious, at best. According to Abdel Azeem, Hillman (although Hillman is quoting Edward Schillebeeckx) writes that "Nowhere in the New Testament is there any explicit commandment that marriage should be monogamous or any explicit commandment forbidding polygamy." Furthermore, "Jesus has not spoken against polygamy though it was practiced by Jews of his society." Daniel-Rops, however, gives a different impression. He states that, concerning polygamy, "there seem to have been two different trends in the tradition, and this becomes clearer when one looks into the Talmud" (117). One extreme attitude was that there should be no limitations as to the number of wives a man may acquire. Differing degrees of allowance were authorized by different rabbis and schools of thought, but, he adds

... a whole web of religious traditions, reaching even farther back than the Mosaic Law, held up monogamy as the ideal union that God desired and that was in accord with nature. In the account of woman’s creation the mysterious play on words ‘it shall be called isha, this thing that was taken out of ish’ was interpreted as the charter of monogamic marriage… The Book of Tobit, that family story, speaks of nothing but single marriages. In the prophetic writings we find the single marriage as a symbol of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel in Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel. The Sadoqite sect prided itself upon being strictly monogamous; and the high priest was utterly forbidden to have more than one wife, which proves that the single marriage corresponded to a high ideal. It appears that at the time of Christ monogamy predominated, partly because of this tradition and partly because of the Greek and Roman examples. Although Jesus Himself did not directly pronounce against polygamy, the elevation of His words upon marriage quite does away with any possibility of the idea of a harem. In abolishing Moses’ concessions to human frailty, He desired that the husband and wife should be united physically, morally and spiritually, their whole life long (117-8).

Next, Abdel Azeem claims "African churches and African Christians often remind their European brothers that the Church’s ban on polygamy is a cultural tradition and not an authentic Christian injunction." Upon closer inspection, however, many Africans, of various religious stripes, and, mostly women, are deeply opposed to polygamy and are struggling to abolish the practice from the continent. A review of some articles available online illustrates this point. The first article, from the New York Times, dated 10 April, 1996 by Howard W. French, entitled African Woman Leads Crusade Against Polygamy (http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/34/015.html) states "Tomam Constance Yai is on a crusade against polygamy." From Uganda, a CNN story entitled Uganda's Parliament to re-examine polygamy (http://www-cgi.cnn.com/WORLD/africa/9804/05/uganda.polygamy/), and dated April 5, 1998, deals with the legal struggles of two women widowed from the same man. The article plainly states "To make life simpler, they think polygamy should be banned." Irene Ovongi-Odida of the Uganda Law Reform Commission stated "there's been a great push for [abolishing polygamy] from various interest groups such as women in the society." Furthermore, "Polygamy is said to retard socioeconomic development, which is why Uganda, so desperate to get ahead, wants to phase it out." Also from CNN comes a report entitled For Zimbabwean father, 86 is not enough (http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/africa/9910/16/superdad/index.html), dated October 16, 1999, relates that "Although polygamy has been accepted for centuries in Africa, many in Zimbabwe feel the practice is in direct conflict with the modern-day values now practiced in much of the country." Doreen Mukwena, a women's rights activist, said "Such traditional values, particularly where a man has 11 wives, have no place in the world today." Finally, from Zambia, according to The Post (Lusaka), from the story Inonge Wina Demands Abolition of Polygamy (http://allafrica.com/stories/200203210193.html), dated March 21, 2002, Inonge Wina, M.P., declared "Polygamy should be done away with." She added, "there was no need for polygamy."

After partially quoting one of the two verses in the Qur’an which authorizes polygamy, Abdel Azeem claims "the Quran has ‘tolerated’ or ‘allowed’ polygamy, and no more ...." In 4:3, the operative phrase, missing from his quotation, is, "or (a captive) that your right hands possess." Instead of marrying again, the husband has divine permission to indulge himself among his female slaves, most translations recognizing the plural, as opposed to Ali. At any rate, whether one or many, there is sanction for a husband to have a concubine, so as to "prevent" him "from doing injustice." Obviously, this is much more than simply tolerating or allowing polygamy – it condones it, as well as encourages the sexual use of female slaves (owned, in all practicality, as property). In a work Abdel Azeem later refers to, Dr. Nathan Hare makes the following observation:

"Moreover, the slave cannot be a slave and a full human being at the same time. To that extent, the most irreversible fact is that a female slave cannot gain complete acceptance as a woman, no matter how this may be defined, any more than a male slave can be fully admitted to the male rites of passage in the patriarchal preserve" (165).

Only in the strict definition of marriage does the Qur’an require a limitation of one wife if the husband is incapable of "justly" dealing with any others (4:129). A negative reading of the verse could be "since there is no fairness or justness in having more than one wife, treat the others with some degree of sensitivity." The Qur’an seems to admit, then, that there is a lack of "fairness" or "justice" in a polygamous marriage. Is the issue, then, really, one of meeting the criteria of treating each wife without favoritism, as most Muslim apologists suggest, or one of recognizing the inevitability of favoritism and simply working in the parameters of that recognition? It seems to be the latter, i.e. the Qur’an authorizes up to four wives, while recognizing the husband’s inevitable attachment to one (much as Muhammad did toward Aisha), and only expecting the husband to "fulfil all the outward duties," and no more. Favoritism does not seem to factor into the Qur’anic constraints for polygamy.

Certain traditions relate that there was jealousy among Muhammad’s wives (Bukhari 3.48.829; 5.57.119; 5.58.165; 6.60.438; 7.63.192, 193; 9.93.517). If even the "Final Prophet," and the best example for humanity, cannot prevent jealousy among his wives, it certainly should not be a prescriptive element. Additionally, various traditions show that Muhammad, as the standard and example, encourages the practice of polygamy through his own actions as a bigamist (Bukhari 7.62.1, 7). There are also sayings that either imply or directly state women will be acting as servants in paradise, whether as a "wet-nurse" or wives as rewards to the faithful or objects to be "enjoyed" (Bukhari 4.54.469, 476, 477; 4.55.544; 6.60.402). Finally, as discussed below, female slaves are described in no uncertain terms as sexual objects as well, with only certain limitations imposed (Malik’s Muwatta 28.8.21; 28.14.35; 28.15.37; 28.16.38a; 31.43.95; Abu Dawud 32.4102). The owner is not prohibited from having sexual relations with his female slaves. He is only prevented from having sex with a pregnant slave carrying another man’s child. He is also limited in his ability to take a slave’s sister as well. While it is also forbidden to have sexual relations with a "magian" slave, it is not forbidden for the master of Christian and Jewish slaves. The prohibition against lending female slaves is because of the likelihood that the borrower might take advantage of her. All of these quotations seem to authorize the use of concubines.

The only references in Reliance of the Traveller to polygamy include regulations for the husband upon "visiting" his wives at night and the amount of time he is obligated to attend to new wives and whether he is constrained to make-up any time to his other wives. As regards the former, "the husband is not obliged to have sexual intercourse with the wife [whom he visits that night]" (m10.5). This clearly shows that the husband, not the wife, has the unquestioned prerogative in this area. It is only "recommended" that he do so.

After he addresses the Biblical and Qur’anic texts on polygamy, Abdel Azeem focuses his attention on what he calls "compelling social and moral reasons for polygamy." His first assertion is that in "most human societies, females outnumber males." According to the United Nations Population Division (http://esa.un.org/unpp/index.asp?panel=3), however, in the year 2000, there were 101.3 males for every 100 females and by the year 2020, that number inches closer toward parity at 100.7 males for every 100 females (World Population Prospects). This is, of course, a global estimate and does not necessarily imply individual societies do not have larger female population ratios. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, for example, there were 5.63 million more females in 2000, or 96.3 males for every 100 females (U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Summary File 1, available online at: http://www.census.gov/population/cen2000/phc-t11/tab01.txt). Currently, in the U.S., there is absolute parity between those aged 14-49, although by 2020 the percentage of women in that age group drops to 44.5 (U.S. Census).

He cites information from two countries, Guinea and Tanzania, that now seem to be outdated. Guinea actually has 101.2 males per every 100 females and that ratio only widens over time. In addition, Guinea also suffers from a minority of women between the ages 15 and 49, although that percentage is nearly at parity by 2020 (World Population Prospects). Tanzania, on the other hand, does have a ratio of 97.9 males per every 100 females, but the percentage of females aged between 15 and 49 is only 45.9 (although, this ratio, too, reaches, and goes beyond, parity by 2020) (World Population Prospects).

There are actually more males than females (or a statistical parity) in many Islamic areas, where polygamy should be freely practiced. Using Abdel Azeem’s justification, however, these same areas are in no need of instituting the practice! For example, all but Egypt have a majority of males (although the percentage is almost at parity, as is the case for Northern Africa as a whole). To suggest that these areas need polygamy, at least today, to maintain a social and moral dignity does not seem necessary.

The bottom line here is how each faith views sex. Islam, as seen in the previous section on marriage, regards sexual relations somewhat cavalierly. The male, in Islam, is really the one given great leeway to exercise his libido, while the female is shackled with great restrictions. One obvious fact of this is that Islam endorses polygyny (many wives), but not polyandry (many husbands). Usually, the argument is couched in economic factors, much as Abdel Azeem has done. But certainly in the modern world there are successful women who can afford to care for more than one husband. What economic reasons exist to forbid this? What should prohibit Oprah from having four husbands simultaneously? Another factor, as has been discussed, is the legally sanctioned sexual indulgence of female slaves. In many areas of the Islamic world, contrary to public perception, slavery exists, and even thrives. Sudan is a prime example (see appendix). Northern Sudanese Arabs frequently raid villages in the south and take for themselves slaves. Those who live in the south, by the way, are Black Africans, and many are Christians.

Again, since slavery does continue, why cannot a woman who can afford to buy male slaves also have the impunity to enjoy them sexually, just as a male owner may do of his female slaves? The Christian view, as stated, is that sex is something much more than a mere animal compulsion. It is the vehicle by which unity is consummated between a husband and wife. Unity entails mutual commitment and it is impossible to maintain unity when commitment is denied mutuality. A man simply cannot be "one" with one wife while also being "one" with another. It is simply practically, and mathematically, impossible. However, if sex is viewed as something less, then it is inevitable that multiple partners are not problematic. The modern, laissez faire attitude about sex in the West is actually closer to Islam than the traditional Christian view and, in reality, is the reason for many of the problems Abdel Azeem later blames, ironically, on a high view of sex!

Although he inserts an "interesting" note about an "international youth conference held in Munich in 1948," there is absolutely nothing to substantiate this claim, which is apparently well circulated within the Islamic world. One of the most telling indications that the episode is fabricated is the source from which Abdel Azeem quotes. The work is entitled Fiqh al Sunnah, written by Elsayyed Sabiq and was published in Cairo in 1994. It was not a work published in Germany, nor any other European or Western country. In fact, there seems to be nothing by a non-Muslim that mentions the supposed Munich conference. All references found were from Islamic apologetic works. Even Western pro-polygamous websites, many going into excruciating historical detail, fail to include it (see, for example, the First International Christian Polygamist at: http://www.nccg.org/fecpp/CPM-HP-Index.html#2). If, in fact, the story was true, why is there silence from those non-Muslims in the West who support polygamy? A reasonable deduction is that the story was invented. An excellent review of the supposed historicity of the conference, entitled "A Conference of German Women Calling For Polygamy?," is also found at the Answering Islam website: http://answering-islam.org/Hoaxes/polyd.html.

Although Abdel Azeem does not appear to mean that polygamy can solve the problem of youth mortality, adult homicide, unemployment, incarceration or drug abuse, he does exercise an appetite for implication. The only real relevant point to the discussion is that "one in four black women, at age 40, has never married, as compared with one in ten white women. Moreover, many young black females become single mothers before the age of 20 and find themselves in need of providers." What he finds himself caught in is a demonstrated attitude of "interracialphobia": a fear of mixing the races. He can be given some leeway in this, however, since he relies on the book Crisis in Black Sexual Politics, a collection of essays expressing revulsion at interracial marriages. For example, the coeditor, Dr. Nathan Hare, clearly indicates his disdain by writing that from "the white man, the black woman wants respect also, but on a less intimate plane ..." (167). Drs. Joseph Scott and James Stewart refer to "the modern day analogue of the slave relationship between Black women and White men. Black women are being brought up to look to White men for sustenance and comfort" (61). Dr. Jacqueline Johnson Jackson writes of "black males who desert black females by consorting with (and even marrying) non-black women!" (100, emphasis added). Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu lumps interracial relationships with "the use of drugs, homosexuality ... extra-marital relationships and the lack of desire for children." He then refers to these societal ills as "amoral" (110). The most ironic statement, however, occurs when the discussion is centered around the issue of lighter versus darker-skinned African-Americans. Burgest and Bowers point out that, in their ideal world, "the issue of color, texture of hair and shape of the nose would not be a determining factor in one choosing a mate or a relationship with someone of the opposite sex" (83). In other words, the color of a person’s skin does not matter, as long as that person is "Black"!

Yet Islam claims to be a "universal" religion where those of all races are freely accepted (except, of course, in certain places such as the Sudan, as previously noted). If Hispanic males (who outnumber their female counterparts by over 1 million in the U.S.) married those African-American women, the female/male ratio within the African-American community would go from 90.5/100 to about 96/100, which is the national ratio (U.S. Census). In addition, there are 659,355 more males of an "other race" and 15,008 more males of "two or more races." Combining those two numbers and adding it to the group of available males, there would only be 35,685 African-American females nationwide without a partner (include the 6423 extra males who are "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander" and the number is lowered much further (U.S. Census). This would lower the male/female ratio to 99.8, or, statistical parity, compared to a 96.4 ratio among Whites (U.S. Census) (throw in the extra white males, and there are more than enough men!). This is obviously a tongue-in-cheek approach to the problem, but the seriousness of racial divisions is clearly perpetuated by Abdel Azeem’s attempt to grasp for anything giving Christianity (and even the West) a bad name.

It is also interesting that he admits polygamy was touted only as "a temporary answer ... until more comprehensive reforms in the American society at large are undertaken." This was, again, made in the context of the African-American situation. It is interesting that, within this context, Dr. Joseph W. Scott admits "My data indicate that few wives approve of polygamous arrangements of any kind – for themselves or for their husbands" (Hare 107). Furthermore, anything that is "temporary" cannot, in the long run, be healthy to maintaining a society. A person taking antibiotics to fight off an infection does not continue taking the medication for the rest of his or her life. In the same way, even admitting some short-term benefits, if, indeed there are any, polygamy cannot be seen, in this situation, as a permanent fixture. This is a far cry from the Islamic injunction that polygamy is acceptable at all times and in all places. In even accepting the notion that it is temporary, he apparently does not understand the underlying superiority of monogamy: for that is the eventual goal to be reached, the ideal.

He also includes a comment, apparently made by some at a "panel discussion" in 1993, that "polygamy should not be banned by law, particularly in a society that tolerates prostitution and mistresses." Such a suggestion does not take into account that marriage is recognized and authorized by the state. When a marriage is ended either by death or divorce, the legally binding rights of the spouse(s) are to be respected by order of the state. The state also protects the welfare of the marriage and any offspring produced. To suggest that society "tolerates" prostitution and adultery does not take into account the fact that, in the first place, prostitution is, in fact, illegal (at least in most areas) and, furthermore, adultery is a legitimate legal ground for divorce. Marriages, however, are legally protected. After all, a license is required for marriage, not for prostitution or adultery.

Philip Kilbride’s argument, as put forth by Abdel Azeem, is "plural marriage [which includes polyandry (multiple husbands), polygynandry (multiple husbands and wives) and homosexuality, as well as polygamy] may serve as a potential alternative for divorce in many cases in order to obviate the damaging impact of divorce on many children." While divorce is certainly damaging to children, it is not certain that polygamy is a viable solution to prevent the effects of divorce. For example, a recent study published in the British Medical Journal concludes

Secondary school students in Nigeria from a polygamous family structure are more likely to have engaged in sexual activity than students from a monogamous family structure (Slap; http://bmj.com/cgi/reprint/326/7379/15).

The article cites five different studies "in Nigeria, South Africa, and Israel have shown that children from polygamous families have higher rates of behavioural and school problems" (Slap). It must also be admitted that the ability for a student to achieve a "sense of connectedness" to parents is greatly diminished when the number of "parents" is increased. Granted, there was no discussion of divorce in the article, but to conclude that polygamy can curb the devastating effects of divorce is not warranted. Polygamy has its own exacerbated problems compared to monogamy. This is supported by the following excerpt from Kilbride:

Polygamy was not without its problems. For example, many first wives are known to have quietly suffered their polygamous state. Some complained of difficulties in raising children in a house filled with other wives and their children. Brigham Young’s second wife was reported to have said, ‘God will be very cruel if he does not give us poor women adequate compensation for the trials we have endured in polygamy’ (Van Wagoner, 1986, p. 101). Although stating in public that she favored plural marriage, another woman told a friend privately that she loathed polygamy, but feared saying anything negative because she was old and did not want to be turned out of her home. Still another wife stated that to be a successful polygamous wife, a woman must regard her husband indifferently, with reverence rather than love ... (79).

The Veil

The veil "is considered in the West as the greatest symbol of women's oppression and servitude," according to Abdel Azeem. As a symbol, I would certainly agree that the burkha is a symbol of oppression. Prior to the downfall of the Taliban, it is doubtful many would seriously argue that Afghan women were not oppressed, and the burkha was the prime symbol of that oppression. It certainly cannot be argued that most women forced to wear such covering are not oppressed.

He then argues that the veil was there in Judaism and Christianity before it was in Islam. His main proof-text for demonstrating the oppressive nature of the veil in Christianity is from 1 Corinthians 11:3-10. It would be important, first of all, to understand the circumstances surrounding the writing of the epistle. The city of Corinth in the first century "enjoyed a reputation for luxury and its name became proverbial for sexual laxity. It was a center of the worship of Aphrodite, whose temple crowned the Acrocorinthus" (Bruce 249). In addition, the "temple of Aphrodite was staffed by a thousand female slaves, who are said to have made the place a tourist attraction and enhanced its prosperity" (Bruce 250). Out of all the cities addressed in the New Testament, Corinth was certainly one of the most corrupt.

In addition to the general problem of moral laxity, the specific issue of the veil needs some historical context as well. Catherine Clark Kroeger writes the

[l]ack of appropriate headgear loomed as a problem in the Corinthian congregation. It might bespeak not only moral looseness but also marital renunciation. As such, it constituted blatant disregard for accepted social convention (660).

She adds that the "respectable woman was veiled" in that ancient Greek city (660), although "the word veil is not used in the passage" and "there is much scholarly debate as to whether this is a denunciation of a praying or prophesying woman’s unveiled head or of her unbound hair" (659). For a Jew, uncovered hair was "obligatory" ground for divorce and the "Greeks viewed [it] with the same distaste" (659). In fact, "unbound hair was a characteristic of female worshipers of Dionysos, those uncontrolled creatures called maenads, or ‘mad ones’" (659-60).

Looking specifically at the passage in question it is helpful to notice that the literary device utilized in 1 Corinthians 11:1-17 is the chiasm, where, in this case, verse correspondences are opposed to each other in a cyclic arrangement forming, as it were, a circle. Chiasm is a common technique found throughout the Old Testament (see, for example, Gen. 27 – 28:5; 33:9-11; 2 Samuel 22:5, 6. From Alter: 46, 52, 613). A point is introduced, while a counterpoint is concluded and all intervening points are subsequently contrasted. For example, Paul begins this passage with "I praise you" (verse 2) and concludes (or rather begins the next section) with "I do not praise you" (verse 17), while the middle section contrasts a woman’s shaved head (verse 5) and a male’s long hair (verse 14). Verse seven stipulates that man is the "image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of man." Taken at face value, this does seem to ooze with misogyny. But he places this verse against verse twelve, which points out that, although Eve was created from Adam, no matter how superior a male may feel over a female, he owes his very existence to a woman! Taking an even closer look at verse seven, the text contains the word "image" only once (of the man in God’s image; the woman is not in man’s image), for man and woman are both in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).

There is also a parallelism in verse three that also hints at gender equality. It refers to Christ as the head of "every man," man as the head of woman and God as the head of Christ. In this chiasm, Christ is the first reference and also the last. A strictly human relationship occurs in the middle of the structure, bounded on both sides with a divine relationship. But following the parallelism of the characters, Christ equates to the man in the second clause, and to the woman in the third. In sum, Christ is to man as man is to woman as God is to Christ. The first relationship (of Christ to man) can be understood in a universal sense, i.e. man as humankind, which would make more sense in the greater scheme of things (see Colosians 1:18). The fact that a plural modifier ("every") is used strengthens this point (all the other nouns are in the singular). In other words, Christ is the head of every believer (cf. Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Colossians 1:18) (see Morris 150). To clarify the relationship between man and woman, the paradigm of the Trinity is utilized. In the classic Christian understanding, the Trinitarian nature of God is expressed as three persons, each co-equal. In this sense, God is the head of Christ in a co-equal relationship! Whether one believes in the Trinity is immaterial to understanding the parallel here. Paul certainly knew of and endorsed the Trinity (cf. Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:18, 2:9; Philippians 2:7-9; 1 Timothy 3:16) and it seems obvious that co-equality is also implied in the relationship between a man and a woman. In other words, what Paul meant is that men and women are co-equals and that any "headship" in that relationship is actually self-sacrificial (following Christ’s example), not self-aggrandizing.

Interestingly, in verse five, Paul writes of women as "praying or prophesying." Evidently, women were free to speak in the congregation, for Paul does not condemn the practice. As previously pointed out, Paul later states that "women should remain silent in the churches" (14:34), but, as Morris states, this does not have to do with "praying or prophesying" but with "the way women should learn" (198). He similarly points out that in chapter eleven Paul does not protest a woman’s speaking in the congregation; if, in fact, he really felt that women should not speak at all, here was his golden opportunity to address the issue. The fact that he mentions it much later, in a different context, is enough to leave some room for doubt that he intended it as an absolute universal (150).

Morris also sees in verse ten a misunderstanding by most translators who see "the subjection of the woman." "What Paul says," he writes, "is something like ‘the woman ought to have authority on her head’" (152). He explains that the Greek word "exousia means ‘authority’, not ‘subjection’; when anyone is said ‘to have authority’ it does not mean that the person is set under someone" (152). He then quotes W.M. Ramsay, who "poured scorn on the idea that the term can indicate woman’s subjection," (152) and wrote that it was "a preposterous idea which a Greek scholar would laugh at anywhere except in the N.T." (152). Morris concludes that Paul "is clear that Christian women have authority" and that "their head-covering is a mark of their new authority" (152). Kroeger is in full agreement (660).

Quoting from Deuteronomy 22, Abdel Azeem labels the Bible "lax" when it comes to punishment for rape, while he claims the Qur’an is "strict" by quoting a passage dealing with punishment for slander. First of all, slander, although reprehensible, is not a crime that reaches the heights of repugnancy as does rape. Secondly, he may refer to the Bible as being "lax" on the subject, but he fails to admit that the Qur’an is utterly silent on the issue. The Traditions (those of Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and Malik) are also silent. It is not until much later, with the formulation and compilation of Islamic law, that rape begins even to be discussed! Rape was ultimately included under the umbrella term "hiraba" ("forcible taking," for example) in Islamic Law (see veiled4allah: more about hiraba, available online at: http://www.muhajabah.com/islamicblog/archives/veiled4allah/003000.php).

It is obvious that God-given feminine beauty in Islam is something that needs to be suppressed, while the same emphasis is lacking towards males. Ali makes the case, in his comment on 24:30, 31, that the female’s "outer garment" is either "a long gown covering the whole body, or a cloak covering the neck and bosom" (1126, note 3765). As in the Traditions, a veil is usually synonymous with something that covers everything but the eyes (Bukhari 8.74.257). Islamic law, not unexpectedly, does not deviate from the Qur’an or Traditions concerning the suppression of feminine beauty. For example, The Reliance of the Traveller emphasizes that the entirety of a woman’s body is to be hidden, while it is not so for a male (f5.3, f5.6). Contrary, then, to his claim that the "Islamic veil is only a sign of modesty," it appears to be what he denies it is not (and accuses Christianity of being), i.e. "a sign of man’s authority over woman" and "a sign of woman’s subjection to man."

Abdel Azeem next pours out a list of fears that women in North American have to deal with. From trepidation in roaming dark streets, to the plethora of sexual abuse, assault and rape cases, he concludes that "education, civilised behaviour, and self restraint" are not enough. He later adds "Something is fundamentally wrong in the society we live in." While his assessment is correct, his remedy is not. If sexual crimes against women were all along simply a matter of a lack of being veiled, these crimes would have been going on for centuries. In addition, Islamic countries are not immune from the epidemic of sexual assault against women. For example, in a recent United Nations document (WORLD CONFERENCE AGAINST RACISM, RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, XENOPHOBIA AND RELATED INTOLERANCE, 30 July-10 August 2001 -- available online at: http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/AllSymbols/644460B7EF7D41C9C1256AA9003453C5/$File/G0114744.doc?OpenElement), many "Islamic" countries have had their share of rape cases. Another problem is that most Islamic nations do not keep very accurate records of sexual crimes, and, in most cases, women are too fearful to report when they have been violated. For example, a Reuter’s report of May 20, 1994 entitled One Woman Raped Every Three Hours in Pakistan states that "Rape is a common offense in Pakistan, but victims are usually reluctant to bring charges because of the social stigma associated with the crime." Furthermore, the article also stated "‘A woman was raped every three hours in the year, every second one was a minor and every fourth one was gang-raped,’ said the [Human Rights Commission of Pakistan] report for 1993."


It seems as though Abdel Azeem had to, at least in his estimation, destroy any thought that would credit Christianity (and Judaism) for treating women even as humans before he would dare ask the question "do Muslim women in the Muslim world today receive this noble treatment described here? The answer, unfortunately, is: No." That is, since he has determined that the Judeo-Christian tradition has thoroughly demeaned the female, and is the impetus for such misogyny, he feels comfortable in asking why Muslim women do not live as ideally as the religion allows. Since the problem of Occidental misogyny is rooted in religion, he surmises, any form of Oriental misogyny cannot be assigned to Islam, since it elevates the female to heights never before imagined. At once it is obvious that, as he has been prone to do throughout his essay, his analysis is riddled with bias and hyperbole.

The reason he puts forth for the low status of women in the Islamic world today is "not due to too much attachment to Islam, they are the culmination of a long and deep detachment from it." Yet over and over again it is claimed that women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive because of Islam; that women and girls during the Taliban’s reign could not go to school because of Islam; that women in Jordan can be murdered by their relatives because of Islam; that a Nigerian woman can be sentenced to death for adultery because of Islam; that non-Muslim women can be sold into slavery because of Islam, and the list goes on. For a Muslim apologist in the West, it is easy to claim those activities are not sanctioned by Islam. But to those who live in the heartland of Islam, who would seem to have the closest connection to the real, authentic religion, apparently feel otherwise. As has been pointed out many times in this essay, there are Qur’anic texts and quotations from the Traditions, as well as legal rulings, that sanction abusive treatment of women. Why are those texts apparently read more honestly in Islamic countries? What is the basis for a Western Muslim critique of those ideas, and why does it seem such a critique is accepted almost exclusively by Muslims in the West?

He once again claims that his purpose is not to "defame Judaism or Christianity." Yet every paragraph in his essay is virtually drenched with defamatory accusations against Christianity! Again and again he assigns the blame of misogyny to the Bible. But, as has been shown, Islam has been, and continues to be, a vastly more monstrous entity against the progress of women. He adds that the "position of women in the Judaeo-Christian tradition might seem frightening by our late twentieth century standards." If his intent was not so serious, this would have been a remarkably humorous statement. Certainly there are many areas in which the Church has proved itself to be woefully lacking in its treatment of women; but even at its worse, it cannot duplicate the horrendous abuse of women that occurs even today in the name of Islam! And, as pointed out repeatedly here, much of that which was done in the name of Christianity against women was either based on bad exegesis or simply not found anywhere in the Bible. Repeatedly, however, many of the restrictions against women in Islamic lands can clearly be traced either to the Qur’an or the Traditions, upon which Islamic jurisprudence has been based.

After two paragraphs aimed specifically at his Muslim readers, in which he insists that "we have to develop a critical attitude towards whatever we receive from the West" (which he himself has demonstrated he excels at!), he turns to his non-Muslim audience. He bemoans the fact that Islam "is being singled out and denigrated as so repressive of women." He blames it on "a ceaseless barrage of sensational books, articles, media images, and Hollywood movies." He cannot, however, bring himself to acknowledge that any part of the problem could be in any way related to Islam. If the Qur’an, for example, condemned wife beating (instead of condoning it), there would be no books, articles, images or movies about wives being subjected to the tyrannous rule of their husbands. That women are belittled, abused and generally treated as second class in most Islamic countries is inevitably going to be fodder for mass circulation. The blame cannot lie solely with Western media. If there were no fertile fields of Islamic misogyny the barrage of information received in the West would only be a trickle.

Finally, his last line reads "something is right about Islam and it is time to find that out" but should be rewritten to capture the essence of his thesis: "something is wrong with Christianity, so accept Islam"! Unfortunately, that is the spirit of his essay. It is full of innuendo, vitriol and unsubstantiated accusation. My hope is that I have counter-balanced his enmity and provided a more honest look at how both religions have defined and delivered the female into the modern world.


According to Todd Steven Burroughs of the June 15, 2000 edition of the New York Amsterdam News, usually "enslaved girls become concubines, and ‘the boys have their throats slit when they become big enough to become a threat’ ...." The article, about a southern Sudanese man who eventually espaced his captors, also reports that "He [the Arab man who owned me] told me, ‘You have to sleep with animals, because you are abid [Black] -- you are an animal,’ he recalled." Furthermore, according to the article, two "million have died and up to 5 million have lost their farms and villages." In addition, "Reports of government-backed, mostly-Muslim Arab militias raping, enslaving and killing thousands of mostly Christian Africans have made Sudan and another African nation, Mauritania [also an Islamic nation], synonymous with images of modern-day slave trading and human rights abuses."

In a Newsweek article dated May 3, 1999 and written by Marcus Marby, one captured teenage girl will "never forget the day she was held in a cattle pen with hundreds of women, children and animals--the Arabs' booty--before being marched off on a two-week trek north. On the way, she says, she was repeatedly raped by the raiders, Islamic fighters and members of the People's Defense Force (PDF) militias. In the northern town of Kerega, she lived first in a slave camp, then in the house of her master, Mahmoud, where she fetched water, cleaned house and acted as one of his two Dinka concubines. Anei was given an Arab name, made to say Muslim prayers. Last year she was forced to undergo female circumcision. One fate escaped her: many of the other women under the shade tree are nursing half-Arab babies, living testaments to the abuse of their captors."

The article also reports that "a 50-year-old Dinka woman ... says she was raped repeatedly by members of the PDF until she fainted. When she regained consciousness, she says, she was forced to drink her own urine. According to the report, another woman had part of her left breast bitten off by militiamen who raped her." "International human-rights groups," the report maintains, "accuse the Islamic-fundamentalist regime in Khartoum of arming and financing local Arab militias that prey on blacks in the war zone. The government denies that it condones slavery. But Arab tribes on the northern side of the Kiir River, in Darfur and Kordofan provinces, have long claimed that the Koran gives them the right to make slaves out of blacks, whom they consider inferior." It adds "the Arab slave traders want nothing less than the cultural extinction of the Dinka. Their goal: to Islamicize the entire country by teaching the Dinka to say Koranic prayers and worship Allah" and "[p]erhaps as many as 100,000 southerners may be enslaved in the Arab north."

The Boston Globe, in a report by Charles Jacob dated April 23, 2001 and entitled "When Will We Act on Sudan's Slave Trade?," contains the same number. "Decades after the British stopped most Arab raids in Africa's largest country," it states, "the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Khartoum is employing slave raids in order to impose Koranic Law on all Sudanese. It is estimated that 100,000 black slaves, mostly from the Dinka tribes, now serve Arab masters in Sudan."

Finally, a report from the U.S. State Department released May 23, 2002, affirms that "[s]lavery exists in Sudan" (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2002/10435.htm). Also see the Human Rights Watch website on Sudan at: http://www.hrw.org/wr2k3/africa12.html.

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