Introduction | (1) Eve's Fault | (2) Eve's Legacy | (3) Shameful Daughters? | (4) Female Education | (5) Unclean Impure Women | (6) Bearing Witness | (7) Adultery | (8) Vows | (9) Wife's Property | (10) Divorce | (11) Mothers | (12) Female Inheritance | (13) Plight of Widows | (14) Polygamy | (15) The Veil | (16) Epilogue | Footnotes

Women in Islam Versus Women in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition
The Myth and The Reality

By: Sherif Abdel Azim, Ph.D.- Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada


The Old Testament in several places commands kind and considerate treatment of the parents and condemns those who dishonor them. For example, "If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death" (Lev. 20:9) and "A wise man brings joy to his father but a foolish man despises his mother" (Proverbs 15:20). Although honoring the father alone is mentioned in some places, e.g. "A wise man heeds his father's instruction" (Proverbs 13:1), the mother alone is never mentioned. Moreover, there is no special emphasis on treating the mother kindly as a sign of appreciation of her great suffering in childbearing and suckling. Besides, mothers do not inherit at all from their children while fathers do. 42

It is difficult to speak of the New Testament as a scripture that calls for honoring the mother. To the contrary, one gets the impression that the New Testament considers kind treatment of mothers as an impediment on the way to God. According to the New Testament, one cannot become a good Christian worthy of becoming a disciple of Christ unless he hates his mother. It is attributed to Jesus to have said:

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he can not be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).

Furthermore, the New Testament depicts a picture of Jesus as indifferent to, or even disrespectful of, his own mother. For example, when she had come looking for him while he was preaching to a crowd, he did not care to go out to see her:

"Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone to call him. A crowd was sitting around him and they told him, 'Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.' 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said,' Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.' " (Mark 3:31-35)

One might argue that Jesus was trying to teach his audience an important lesson that religious ties are no less important than family ties. However, he could have taught his listeners the same lesson without showing such absolute indifference to his mother. The same disrespectful attitude is depicted when he refused to endorse a statement made by a member of his audience blessing his mother's role in giving birth to him and nursing him:

"As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, 'Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.' He replied, 'Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.' " (Luke 11:27-28)

If a mother with the stature of the virgin Mary had been treated with such discourtesy, as depicted in the New Testament, by a son of the stature of Jesus Christ, then how should an average Christian mother be treated by her average Christian sons?

In Islam, the honor, respect, and esteem attached to motherhood is unparalleled. The Quran places the importance of kindness to parents as second only to worshipping God Almighty:

"Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, And that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, Say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, But address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, Lower to them the wing of humility, and say: 'My Lord! bestow on them Your Mercy as they Cherished me in childhood' " (Quran 17:23-24).

The Quran in several other places puts special emphasis on the mother's great role in giving birth and nursing:

"And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him and in two years was his weaning. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents" (Quran 31:14).

The very special place of mothers in Islam has been eloquently described by Prophet Muhammad:

"A man asked the Prophet: 'Whom should I honor most?' The Prophet replied: 'Your mother'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your mother'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your mother!'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your father'" (Bukhari and Muslim).

Among the few precepts of Islam which Muslims still faithfully observe to the present day is the considerate treatment of mothers. The honor that Muslim mothers receive from their sons and daughters is exemplary. The intensely warm relations between Muslim mothers and their children and the deep respect with which Muslim men approach their mothers usually amaze Westerners. 43