In her book, A History of God, Karen Armstrong doesn’t spend a lot of language on the topic of women in the Muslim tradition. I know that much has been written on this topic, however, so I can certainly check it out if I want more enlightenment…and I do. But Armstrong does address it:
“Today it is common in the West to depict Islam as inherently a misogynistic* religion, but, like Christianity, the religion of al-lah was originally positive for women.”
I note that Armstrong does what I like to do when learning about religions and cultures other than my own. I like to find common threads whether negative or positive. It deepens my understanding when I try to stand in someone else’s shoes…or rather, when I realize that we may already be sharing shoes. It also waters down any judgments I might have and fosters empathy.
“Unfortunately, as in Christianity,” she goes on, “the religion was later hijacked by the men, who interpreted texts in a way that was negative for Muslim women.”
I believe that once we step away from our texts, we tend to interpret them according to our own prejudices, even in accordance with our own egoic desires. It goes back to the idea of creating God in one’s own image. Yet people will defend to the death that their interpretation is “what it says” and not just their own interpretation. It is pointless to get into a discussion with those who take this stance.. It always ends up in a battle and no one learns much of anything.
I found this statement very interesting: “The Koran does not prescribe the veil for all women but only for Muhammad’s wives, as a mark of their status.” The veil later became a symbol of exclusion and marginalization. “Today, Muslim feminists urge their men folk to return to the original spirit of the Koran.”
This reminded me of something I learned back in my Bible studying days. Those of you who are readers of the New Testament might recall a passage in Paul’s letters (I Corinthians 11:6) where he instructed the women of the community to keep their heads covered out of respect for their husbands. I’d heard this applied as an admonishment that women are to be submissive to their husbands. The exegesis (analysis based on history, language, culture, etc) said that the loose women of Corinth would advertize their sexual availability by letting down their veils. Paul was suggesting to Christian women to wear veils rather than give a message they don’t really intend. He was suggesting modesty. Today, in our time and culture, we might say “cover your cleavage”, instead of “cover your hair”.
* Misogyny is the hatred of women.