Journal Topics

Did Muhammad Believe in Women’s Rights?

If I turn on the news and watch a report on women in Islam, I might hear a Muslim woman talking about the revolutionary status Muhammad gave women through his revelations and teachings. In the United Kingdom, I might see an advertisement from the “Inspired by Muhammad” campaign proudly proclaiming that Muhammad believed in women’s rights. Yet, what would I find if I read through the basic Muslim texts: the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the Sira literature? Would the current push to reconcile the view of women in Islam with the Western ideology of women’s rights go hand-in-hand? No. The view of women established by the trilogy of Muslim texts does not provide much in common with Western ideology; specifically that which is based in Christian theology.

Muhammad was a sixth-century man, who unapologetically commanded a sixth-century view of women. Through the Qur’an, he instructed that women are provisions or possessions for men as are children, cattle, hoards of gold and silver, and well-tilled land (Surah 3:14). Men may have up to four wives with additional sexual slaves (Surah 4:3, 24; 33:50). He mandated the beating of women by men as punishment for rebellion (Surah 4:34). He also declared the woman as an intellectually inferior being (Surah 2:282) whose lack of common sense is one of the reasons women are a majority of those in Hell (Sahih Muslim #142).[1] Even in Paradise—in the afterlife—a woman is to be married to her earthly husband, serving him when called. (Sahih Bukhari #3820, 4879).

This picture of women contrasts the picture the apostle Paul and Jesus gave of women; which was counter-culture to the first century. Paul instructed that a wife should submit to her husband, but in the context of a husband loving his wife as himself; treating her as if she were his own flesh (Ephesians 5:28-31). Paul has seemingly created a paradox in that one spouse is to submit to another while equal respect is required in love. He additionally describes this love as the love Jesus Christ has for the church. How is this accomplished? Further, when Jesus is questioned concerning the resurrection and marriage, he declared that none are given in marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:30). Yet, in Islam, the woman is forever married to the man in heaven as part of his reward.

— Mary Jo Sharp

  1. Which view of women, when rooted in the texts and outworked philosophically, actually provides a foundation for the equality of the sexes in essence?
  2. Was Jesus’ view of women aligned with first-century culture like Muhammad’s view of women was aligned with sixth-century culture?
  3. Why are we seeing such a push in America by Muslims to reconcile their doctrine on women with Western philosophy?

Notes:

[1] There are at least 48 individual hadith on this one topic.

Mary Jo Sharp is the founder of Confident Christianity Apologetics Ministry and a graduate of Biola University. She participates in public, formal debates on Islam and appears on the Aramaic Broadcasting Network show, Jesus or Muhammad, engaging in live debate with callers from around the world. She will join Hank Hanegraaff on the Bible Answer Man broadcast on Oct. 11, 2011 to discuss her Christian Research Journal (Vol 34 #5) article about Islam and women on which this blog post is based. Tune in at 6PM ET at our website, www.equip.org to listen to their conversation on 10/11. To read the full article by Mary Jo, please subscribe to the Journal (6 issues for $39.50).