Banish Them to Their Beds and Beat Them! Muhammad's Low Opinion of Women
Banish Them to Their Beds and Beat Them! Muhammad's Low Opinion of Women
Banish Them to Their Beds and Beat Them!
Muhammad’s Low Opinion of Women
By David Wood
Muslim apologists have done an outstanding job convincing people that Muhammad was a champion of women’s rights. Indeed, arguments for Muhammad’s liberation of women have convinced some that “Muhammad was probably the greatest champion of women’s rights the world has ever seen.” Descriptions of Muhammad’s improvements in the area of gender relations abound in Muslim writings:
So far back as the seventh century of the Christian era, Islam abolished the horrible practice of female infanticide prevalent among the pagan Arabs, gave clear directions leading to the restriction of polygamy, restrained the unlimited rights exercised by men over their wives, and gave woman both spiritual and material equality with man.
While it is true that Muhammad raised the status of women in Arabia, we cannot let this fact cloud certain other issues, namely, that Muhammad permitted husbands to beat their wives, that he repeatedly proclaimed the inferiority of women’s intellectual abilities, that he taught that women’s prospects for the afterlife are extremely bleak, and that, according to Muhammad, it is acceptable for men to rape their female captives.
The Qur’an on Spousal Abuse
The Qur’an allows (or, perhaps, commands) men to beat their wives into subservience. Consider two translations of the following verse:
Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.
Men are the protectors And maintainers of women, Because Allah has given The one more (strength) Than the other, and because They support them From their means. Therefore the righteous women Are devoutly obedient, and guard In (the husband’s) absence What Allah would have them guard. As to those women On whose part ye fear Disloyalty and ill-conduct, Admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); But if they return to obedience, Seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, Great (above you all).
Muslim translators have struggled with this passage and have sought ways to water down the clear meaning. For instance, Ali adds the word “lightly” to his translation, which doesn’t exist in the Arabic. However, even if we allow Ali to tone down the parts of the Qur’an he finds offensive, the verse still allows husbands to beat their wives. Hence, according to God’s last and greatest prophet, spousal abuse is permissible, and perhaps even required.
The Deficiency of a Woman’s Mind
Muhammad held women’s minds to be deficient and lacking in common sense:
[Muhammad said]: O womenfolk, you should give charity and ask much forgiveness for I saw you in bulk amongst the dwellers of Hell. A wise lady among them said: Why is it, Messenger of Allah, that our folk is in bulk in Hell? Upon this the Holy Prophet observed: You curse too much and are ungrateful to your spouses. I have seen none lacking in common sense and failing in religion but (at the same time) robbing the wisdom of the wise, besides you. Upon this the woman remarked: What is wrong with our common sense and with religion? He (the Holy Prophet) observed: Your lack of common sense (can be well judged from the fact) that the evidence of two women is equal to one man, that is a proof of the lack of common sense.
The Prophet (the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Isn’t the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?” The women said: “Yes.” He said: “This is because of the deficiency of her mind.”
Notice here that, in the first passage, Muhammad justifies his claim that women lack common sense by stating that their testimony is worth half that of a man. Yet, in the second passage, Muhammad justifies his claim that the testimony of women is half as good as men’s testimony by stating that women have deficient minds. This is a classic example of circular reasoning. We can imagine a conversation between Muhammad and a more critical questioner:
Questioner: “O Muhammad! Why is Hell full of women?”
Muhammad: “Because they lack common sense!”
Questioner: “How do you know they lack common sense?”
Muhammad: “Their lack of common sense can be seen in the fact that their testimony is only half as good as a man’s testimony.”
Questioner: “But why is their testimony half as good as a man’s?”
Muhammad: “Because of the deficiency of their minds!”
Questioner: “How do you know that their minds are deficient?”
Muhammad: “The deficiency of their minds can be seen in the fact that their testimony is worth half the testimony of a man.”
Questioner: “Again, why is their testimony half as good?”
Muhammad: “Because their minds are deficient!”
Questioner: “Maybe the only thing deficient here is your argument.”
Notice also that Muhammad’s claims here are falsifiable. That is, they can be tested and, in theory, disproved. We could easily set up an experiment to see whether Muhammad’s statements about the inferiority of a woman’s intellect is correct. We could also set up an experiment in which a group of men and a group of women both witness the same accident. If the testimonies gathered from the male group are twice as accurate as the testimonies taken from the female group, Muhammad’s statements will have been vindicated. On the other hand, if the reports from the two groups are similar, we can dismiss Muhammad’s ideas as the sexist comments of a man affected by societal views.
Women in Hell and Heaven
Women’s prospects for the afterlife are far from promising. According to Muhammad, most of the inhabitants of hell are women:
The Prophet said: “I saw paradise and stretched my hands towards a bunch (of its fruits) and had I taken it, you would have eaten from it as long as the world remains. I also saw the Hell-fire and I had never seen such a horrible sight. I saw that most of the inhabitants were women.” The people asked: “O Allah’s Apostle! Why is it so?” The Prophet (the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Because of their ungratefulness.” It was asked whether they are ungrateful to Allah. The Prophet (the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “They are ungrateful to their companions of life (husbands) and ungrateful to good deeds.”
[Muhammad said], “O women! Give to charity, for I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-Fire were women.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is the reason for it?” He said: “O women! You curse frequently, and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. O women, some of you can lead a cautious man astray.”
However, even if women stop cursing and start respecting their husbands, their prospects in the afterlife leave much to be desired. Muslim women can look forward to an eternity of standing in corners, waiting for the men to come and enjoy them:
Allah’s Apostle (The blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “In Paradise there is a pavilion made of a single hollow pearl sixty miles wide, in each corner of which there are wives who will not see those in the other corners; and the believers will visit and enjoy them.”
Sex With Female Captives
The Qur’an permits Muslims to have sex with their female captives and slaves (i.e. those “whom their right hands possess”):
The Believers must (Eventually) win through—Those who humble themselves In their prayers; Who avoid vain talk; Who are active in deeds Of charity; Who abstain from sex, Except with those joined To them in the marriage bond, Or (the captives) whom Their right hands possess—For (in their case) they are Free from blame.
Not so those devoted To Prayer—Those who remain steadfast To their prayer; And those in whose wealth Is a recognized right For the (needy) who asks And him who is prevented (For some reason from asking); And those who hold To the truth of the Day Of Judgement; And those who fear The displeasure of their Lord—For their Lord’s displeasure Is the opposite of Peace And Tranquility—And those who guard Their chastity, Exept with their wives And the (captives) whom Their right hands possess—For (then) they are not To be blamed.
The practice of having sex with captured women is reported often in the Hadith:
Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) sent an army to Autas and encountered the enemy and fought with them. Having overcome them and taken them captives, the Companions of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) seemed to refrain from having intercourse with captive women because of their husbands being polytheists. Then Allah, Most High, sent down regarding that: “And women already married, except those whom your right hands possess (4:24)” (i.e. they were lawful for them when their Idda period came to an end).
We went out with Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) on the expedition to the Bi’l-Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them, for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them. So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing azl (withdrawing the male sexual organ before emission of semen to avoid conception). But we said: We are doing an act whereas Allah’s Messenger is amongst us; why not ask him? So we asked Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), and he said: It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born.
We went out with Allah’s Apostle (The blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) for the invasion of Bun Al-Mustaliq and we received captives from among the Arab captives and we desired women and celibacy became hard on us and we loved to do coitus interruptus. So when we intended to do coitus interruptus, we said: “How can we do coitus interruptus before asking Allah’s Apostle (The blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) who is present among us? We asked (him) about it and he said: “It is better for you not to do so, for if any soul till the Day of Resurrection is predestined to exist, it will exist.”
Jabir bin Abdullah (Allah be pleased with them) reported that a person asked Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) saying: I have a slave-girl and I practice azl with her, whereupon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: This cannot prevent that which Allah has decreed. The person then came (after some time) and said: Messenger of Allah, the slave-girl whom I talked to you has conceived, whereupon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: I am the servant of Allah and His Messenger.
The Muslims had originally refrained from having sex with their captives because they were the wives of polytheists; nevertheless, God sent a message saying that they were free to have sex with the women. Many Muslims would like to believe that this sexual intercourse would only happen after marriage, but such is clearly not the case. The Muslims said that they wanted to have sex with the women but that they still wanted to sell them. They asked Muhammad about performing coitus interruptus, and Muhammad answered that it doesn’t really matter. All children who are destined to be born will be born, so it doesn’t matter if a man practices coitus interruptus or not.
Thus, the Qur’an permits men to have sex with their female captives, and the Hadith provide examples of when this was practiced. The Muslims decided to have sex with their captives, whom they were later going to sell. These captives were women whose husbands and families had been killed by the Muslims. Would these women gladly consent to sexual intercourse with the men who had killed their families? Probably not. But since the Qur’an and Muhammad authorized sex with these captives, it is highly probable that Muhammad allowed Muslims to rape their captives.
Muhammad certainly improved the lives of women in Arabia. However, Muslims sometimes use this as an argument for the validity of Islam. Such an argument is absurd. All that is implied by the improvement in women’s lives is that Islam wasn’t as bad as the culture before it, which says more about the pagans than it does about the Muslims. For, as we have seen, Muhammad permitted spousal abuse, stated repeatedly that women have inferior minds, claimed that most of the people in hell are women, and allowed his men to have sex with their captives. This was still probably a better situation than women were in prior to the rise of Islam; nevertheless, Muhammad was far from being “the greatest champion of women’s rights the world has ever seen.”