The basis of the freedom enjoyed by women in the western world is the Christian vision. As such, is not the outlook of the Christian religion more suited to women than the Qur'anic outlook ?

MM AKBAR
      

In actual fact the unrestricted freedom experienced by women in the western world has only served to lead that society into a state of chaos and disruption. Indeed, the scenes now being enacted there are in protest against the anarchic situation created by Christian doctrine itself. Even the most fanatical of Christian missionaries would hardly endorse the statement that the freedom enjoyed by them owes itself to Christian doctrine. Christian intellectuals are now engaged in thinking out ways and means to extricate western civilization from the confines of immorality. They have now recognized the fact that salvation through the death on the cross can hardly be employed to practically cleanse people of their sins. This would then mean that they themselves have admitted that the freedom of western women cannot be the product of Christian dogma. In truth, therefore, the people of the west began to move away from established values in protest, and as a response, to the world renunciation of Christian ascetism.



The Christian religion had but followed the Jewish principles. No new belief, no ritual or code of morality can be seen to have been taught by Christ. Christ had only claimed that he was a prophet sent unto the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Mathew 15:25). He had said that he was sent only to fulfill the code of the Old Testament (Mathew 5:17). This meant that he was a prophet appointed to guide the Israelites along the path of God. He had advised the people to follow the laws revealed to Moses. Indeed, in the first centuries (after the departure of Christ) the church had no rites or rituals, whatsoever, which differed from those of the Jews in any manner; nor was there any such law either.

It is the Jewish belief that the woman is the cause of sin entering amongst mankind. The woman was, after all, the one who ate of the forbidden fruit herself and then persuaded her mate to eat  it too (Genesis 3:12). She was the sinner who not only disobeyed God herself but caused another to disobey as well. With the Christian adaptation of this idea, she became, through her opening the door for sin, doomed to carry the burden of guilt for having become the immediate cause of the gruesome ordeal of the son of God which led to his death on the cross.

The Hebrew term Baal means owner. The Old Testament of the Bible refers to man as Baal. We see that according to the commandments of the Old Testament,  man is portrayed as one who has total authority over woman. Indeed, the Bible has given man the permission to even sell of his women - even if they were to be his own daughters (Genesis 21:7). Among the Jews there was even the tradition of selling off their own daughters at the slave market in order to repay their debts (Nehemiah 5:5). Even in the matter of religious practice, the Jews never granted women the freedom to act freely. The Book of Numbers ruled that  man had the authority to nullify the vows taken up by his daughter or wife (30:12). That the wife was mentioned together with slaves and domestic animals in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17, Deuteronomy 5:21) is an indication of the position of woman amongst the Jews.

The Jews had looked upon the birth of a female child with contempt. It was the law that if the mother gave birth to a female child, she would be in a state of impurity for a period of time that would be twice as long as the case if the child born was male (Leviticus 12:15). The ruling of the Old Testament was that  woman had only half the value of  man (Leviticus 27:3-7).

Polygamy was universally practiced during the age of the Old Testament. The Law commanded no restriction, whatsoever, in its practice. Indeed, Solomon is said to have had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines! (I King 11:3). Moreover, according to the Old Testament, only man had the right to divorce. A man could divorce his wife at the slightest pretext. Here, he had only to see to it that he provided her with the written document of divorce. However, there is no statement, whatsoever, anywhere in the Bible which would enable  woman to free herself from the clutches of even the most cruel husband (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

The position of woman in Jewish society at the time of the advent of Jesus was, indeed, a pathetic one. Women, children and slaves were not permitted to recite Shema, the morning prayer. In fact, there was even a Jewish ritual daily prayer that said 'I praise God in that He created me not as  woman.' Woman were not permitted to study the Torah. The Jewish Rabbi, Eliyasar, who lived around 90 C.E. had even opined that it was better to throw women  to flames than to teach them the Torah.

It can be seen that Christ had sincerely striven to bring about a change in this situation. He gave positions to women amongst his disciples. Even though there are no women amongst the apostles, we see that  many women  attended his sermons. Mary Magdalene, Yohanna, Susanna ... so goes their list. He had preached the gospel to all irrespective of the fact whether they were men or women (John 4:1-24). In a Jewish society where it was ordained that there was nothing for the woman in matter of religion, these steps were all revolutionary in themselves. Through these steps Christ sought to teach that both woman as well as  man were equal before God.

Even as the church went astray in matters of belief after Jesus, so did lapses begin to occur in the matter of the position accorded to woman. The Christians, too, began to follow the prevalent laws of the Old Jewish Community on matter dealing with woman. With the assumption of Church authority by Paul, things became even worse. Furthermore, with the influx of people from among the Greeks into Christianity, the Christian community now became saturated with the decadent conceptions on woman prevalent both in the Jewish as well as the Greek traditions. Sophocles, the Greek philosopher, had said that 'silence is the token of greatness as regards to woman' The Greeks were never prepared to grant any right, whatsoever, to  woman. That  woman was the very personification of the devil was the very theme popular in those days. At home,  woman was not even entitled to a place at the dining table. She was to ever remain confined to the living quarters that was specially laid out for her. She was exploited wholesale in the name of religion. The Greeks too were used to the habit of 'donating' women to the temples. Those who were so 'donated' would then be doomed to a life of prostitution and menial jobs that were associated with the temples. There are records to show that, like the Devadasis of India, there were around a thousand of such 'maid-servants of the divine' in the service of the temple of the god, Aphrodite, in Corinth. It was natural, therefore, that the Christian church, which adopted religious laws from the Greeks and the Jews, sought to enact laws that would violate the sanctity of womanhood.

It is, however, in the epistles of Paul that we see the Christian seeds of all anti-woman policies often attributed to the Christianity. This animosity towards woman that pervades the epistles of Paul was but a natural outcome of his having accepted Greek philosophy as the very foundation for all his own ideas as well. It is the influence of the Greek thought that 'the woman is the very image of the Devil' that is evident in the writings of Paul which state to the effect that 'it is good for a man not to marry.' (Corinthians 7:1). It is again the ideas of Sophacles who said that 'silence is the token of greatness as regards the women.' that is reflected in the words of Paul who said that 'the women must observe silence at the church.' (I Corinthians 14:34-3)

Woman is, indeed, one who demands protection. She is, by her very nature, so constituted. Womanhood reaches its greatest heights with pregnancy and child-birth. It is through marriage that  woman is enabled to fulfill all her natural propensities. By teaching that 'it is good for a man not to marry', Paul has propagated a notion that is wholly antagonistic towards woman: 'Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.' (I Corinthians 7:27)

'Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.' (I Corinthians 7:8)

'So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry  does even better.' (I Corinthians 7:38)

If all men in the world where to obey Paul and perform the 'good' act of not having anything to do with woman, the entire human race would cease to exist within the span of a single century. It is for this reason that this Christian notion is said to be antagonistic towards humanity itself.

It was on the basis of these statements of Paul that Christian ascetism developed. We are unable, however, to see in the sayings of Christ anything that would discourage marriage. Nevertheless, we see that within the span of a few centuries after Christ, ascetism came to be greatly encouraged and to be accepted as the very foundation of all Christian virtue during the unfolding of the history of Christianity. The Devadasi system that prevailed amongst the Greeks, too, must have had its influence upon the development of Christian ascetism. Ascetism would have a greater adverse effect on woman than on man. For, after all, it was through  wedlock that womanhood found its highest fulfillment and perfection.

It is the reflection of the influence of the doctrines of Paul that were antagonistic towards woman which we witness in the activities of the medieval church. Indeed,  The foremost subject of heated discussions of the church in those times was whether  woman had a soul or not. The cruelty that was perpetrated in the name of ascetism went beyond all limits. All this madness was supposedly committed in order that one may approach the divine through the infliction of torture upon one's own self.

It may have been in response to this attitude of the church against woman as well as against the fulfillment of the sexual instincts that set the stage for the moral laxity of the western world. As for the Qur'an, it presents the sexual impulse as a sign of God in itself. Its fulfillment is but the natural yearning of the human species. Indeed, the Prophet (e) had taught that the fulfillment of the sexual urge, through the legal provisions of the divine commandments, was, in itself, an act of righteousness. As far as  man was concerned,  woman was then a partner in this righteous act. But according to the Christian notion that sexuality is in itself a sin, it is only natural that the woman is seen as the sinner. The Qur'an, on the other hand, introduces woman as mate and support.