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Women and Religion

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Islam and its followers are known today largely in a disparaging light given it by the mass media. This perverse persona is indeed a misleading one with which the emerging image of Islam is populated by terrorists that subordinate "their" women. The focus of this piece will be a brief view of women in Islam and how their position within is misunderstood by those unaware of the true teachings of the faith.

Many unfamiliar with Islam consider feminism and Islam equally exclusive terms. However, if one only wanders into a brief historical background, it will be clear that such is not so. In fact, there are various feminist traditions within Islam. In the West and even in many Islamic communities the common perceptions are that feminism and Islam are hostile in principle. However, the root of the feminist voice within Islam can be traced back to the initial stages of the faith.

First and foremost, the origins of Islam brought forth a process of reforms instituted by Prophet Muhammad. Before Prophet Muhammad, female children were buried alive at birth, a practice, which was not resisted upon by religions of the time. It was the revolutionary message of Islam, which did away with this custom of female infanticide.

Most importantly, the Prophet Muhammad had his progeny pass through not a male but through a female child. This was innovative, how could it be that the father of a sole female child had progeny. This small yet rather primary example clearly denotes that true Islam is indeed a religion of fairness and equality.

The Prophet brought the message of Islam, which not only prohibited female infanticide but also allowed women to possess and exercise full control over their wealth and guaranteed women, the right to inherit and bequeath property.

Notwithstanding same, in the West, Islam is believed to be the symbol of the subordination of women. However, a fair historical evaluation will lead one to follow that Islam contributed significantly toward the restoration of women's dignity and rights. In order to peruse and contemplate upon this, it will be useful to succinctly review and briefly compare how women were addressed and treated by other religions, especially those that preceded Islam.

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In the Hindu faith, many religious texts describe women as deceitful and sexually provocative by nature. The following quote from the Devi Bhagaveta is typical in most Hindu texts, "A woman is the embodiment of rashness and a mine of vices...she is an obstacle to the path of devotion, a hindrance to emancipation...she is practically a sorceress and represents vile desire." This text promotes the ideology that women are mere physical beings and are inherently evil. The demonization of women in Hinduism then allowed horrific customs such as Sati to be widely acceptable. Sati is the burning of a woman after the death of her husband. The practice of Sati was sanctioned by most sacred of Hindu texts, and was observed into the modern age. In an attempt to further alienate women, the religious texts also declared women unsuitable to study religious scriptures.

Similarly, the Christian faith identified woman with evil, temptation and sin, which then became the primary ingredient of women in the Christian tradition. One example of the victimization of women in Christianity can be seen in Corinthians 14:34-35, which states "...women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says, if they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church."

Further in Timothy 2:11-15 a similar thread runs through the passage as it states, "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men. She is to keep silent, for Adam was formed first then Eve, and Adam was not deceived but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor."

The subordination of women is clear in Christian religious texts. One other example can be found in Leviticus 12:1-8, in which it is stated that after the birth of a male child, a woman is ritually impure for seven days, however after the birth of a female child she is ritually impure for fourteen days." Interestingly, some of the greatest leaders within the Christian church seemed to foster similar thoughts and encouraged the denigration of women in the Church.

Correspondingly, in Judaism men are considered the basis of the religion. In the Jewish faith prayer is a fundamental religious ritual, and women are not included in same. Only men can make up the quorum needed for prayer and blessings. Accordingly, then, women are not permitted to complete this quorum. Hence, Judaism diminishes the role of women in practice as men are considered the center of prayer, and it is only they who are capable of properly completing it. To illustrate this point, one of the morning

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