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


In fact, the difference between the Biblical and the Quranic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born. For example, the Bible states that the period of the mother's ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than if a boy is (Lev. 12:2-5). The Catholic Bible states explicitly that: " The birth of a daughter is a loss" (Ecclesiasticus 22:3). In contrast to this shocking statement, boys receive special praise: "A man who educates his son will be the envy of his enemy." (Ecclesiasticus 30:3)

Jewish Rabbis made it an obligation on Jewish men to produce offspring in order to propagate the race. At the same time, they did not hide their clear preference for male children : "It is well for those whose children are male but ill for those whose are female", "At the birth of a boy, all are the birth of a girl all are sorrowful", and "When a boy comes into the world, peace comes into the world... When a girl comes, nothing comes." 7

A daughter is considered a painful burden, a potential source of shame to her father:"Your daughter is headstrong? Keep a sharp look-out that she does not make you the laughing stock of your enemies, the talk of the town, the object of common gossip, and put you to public shame" (Ecclesiasticus 42:11), "Keep a headstrong daughter under firm control, or she will abuse any indulgence she receives. Keep a strict watch on her shameless eye, do not be surprised if she disgraces you" (Ecclesiasticus 26:10-11).

It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide. The Quran severely condemned this heinous practice: "When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil they decide on?" (Quran 16:59).

It has to be mentioned that this sinister crime would have never stopped in Arabia were it not for the power of the scathing terms the Quran used to condemn this practice (Quran 16:59, 43:17, 81:8-9). The Quran, moreover, makes no distinction between boys and girls. In contrast to the Bible, the Quran considers the birth of a female as a gift and a blessing from God, the same as the birth of a male. The Quran even mentions the gift of the female birth first: " To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills" (Quran 42:49).

In order to wipe out all the traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, Prophet Muhammad promised those who were blessed with daughters of a great reward if they would bring them up kindly: "He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire" (Bukhari and Muslim), "Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers" (Muslim).