Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Islam and the suffering of women

By Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D

There are many things that go on in Islam regarding women that are barbaric. Untold suffering has been heaped upon women due to these practices.   There seems to be no one in the world of Islam that is willing to speak out and bring an end to these practices.  Imams are silent, the women’s movements of the world are silent, particularly women’s studies in the universities,   and reform seems impossible given the secondary position of women in the Qur’an and the hadiths.

There are many practices that demean women and subject them to barbaric and evil conditions.

1.  Female Genital Mutilations

Consider the following news story:

TUZ KHURMATU, Iraq - Sheelan Anwar Omer, a shy 7-year-old Kurdish girl, bounded into her neighbor's house with an ear-to-ear smile, looking for the party her mother had promised.

There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind Sheelan, who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. Sheelan began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. "I do this in the name of Allah!" she intoned.

As the midwife sliced off part of Sheelan's genitals, the girl let out a high-pitched wail heard throughout the neighborhood. As she carried the sobbing child back home, Sheelan's mother smiled with pride.

"This is the practice of the Kurdish people for as long as anyone can remember," said the mother, Aisha Hameed, 30, a housewife in this ethnically mixed town about 100 miles north of Baghdad. "We don't know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it."

More than 60 percent of women in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have been circumcised, according to a study conducted this year. In at least one Kurdish territory, 95 percent of women have undergone the practice, which human rights groups call female genital mutilation.

("For Kurdish Girls, a Painful Ancient Ritual," by Amit R. Paley for the Washington Post, December 29, 2008)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in her book, INFIDEL, describes her experience as a young female.

“In Somalia, like many countries across Africa and the Middle East, little girls are made “pure” by having their genitals cut out.  There is no other way to describe this procedure, which typically occurs around the age of five.  After the child’s clitoris and labia are carved out, scraped off, or, in more compassionate areas, merely cut or pricked, the whole area is often sewn up, so that a thick band of tissue forms a chastity belt made of the girl’s own scarred flesh.  A small hole is carefully situated to permit a thin flow of pee.  Only great force can tear the scar tissue wider, for sex.

“Female genital mutilation predates Islam.  Not all Muslims do this, and a few of the peoples who do are not Islamic. But in Somalia, where virtually every girl is excised, the practice is always justified in the name of Islam.  Uncircumcised girls may be possessed by devils, fall into vice and perdition, and becomes whores.  Imams never discourage the practice: it keeps girls pure.

“Many girls die during or after their excision, from infections, Other complications cause enormous, more or less lifelong pain.” (New York: Free Press, 2007, p. 31)

There are testimonies of Muslim girls who are frightened to death of their wedding night when they are forced to have sex under these conditions.  Not only is sex a problem, but delivering a child through these conditions is abnormal.  One would think that Muslim men would rise up and condemn the practice for there are men who married women and could not enter the woman on their wedding night. This reflects poorly on a man’s image of himself.

I consulted a friend who is an ob-gyn doctor and asked his views on the implication of this mutilation.  He wrote:

“I looked up Frank Netter's drawings of the procedure (Netter is a well honored MD/medical artist who is famous for his drawings of anatomical and surgical subjects). Netter shows various degrees of mutilation involved with female "circumcision". It may involve "only" a partial removal of the anterior labia minora and clitoral hood, to the total removal of the labia minora, partial removal of the labia majora and extirpation of the total clitoris. This is the same as we do for cancer of the vulva (called a simple vulvectomy). In both cases with "circumcision", the labia are the sutured TOGETHER! (with vulvectomy we attempt to resuture residual anatomy to appropriate residual anatomy). The net results leaves a nearly impenetrable vulva...or what I would think an actually impenetrable vulva. The following are some possible/probable side effects:

            1) Physical obstruction of the introitus may lead to a condition of hematocolpos and hematometria...the accumulation of menstrual blood in the vagina and endometrial cavity of the uterus which would cause(likely) sterility as well as endometriosis (a condition of small implants of endometrium in the lower abdominal cavity that causes pockets of blood in the abdomen and severe pain in the abdomen...and even potential death should the enlarging blood cysts rupture)

            2) A misdirection of the urinary stream--the labia minora fundamentally direct or point the flow of urine. This side effect is worse than it may cause the smell of urine on the person so effected.

            3) Severe scarring of the vulva which would lead to a predisposition to severe tearing during childbirth. This (tearing) could lead to severe hemorrhage and the formation of huge hematomas of the vulva...I've seen them the size of a football and require several units of blood transfusion. As a corollary of this, scarring could cause dystocia (an increased disability, or even inability, to deliver.)

            4) Infection at the time of the procedure or shortly thereafter...infection with attempted intercourse or any trauma that might lacerate the scar tissue.

            5) Massive dyspareunia (pain with intercourse) due to the scar tissue. This would probably be a lifetime problem unless obviated by surgery. Normal sexual function would likely be impossible.

            6) The psychological effects would be massive. It seems to certainly have the grotesque psychological side effects as childhood rape has, which often leads to a number of problems, such as drug and alcohol addiction (high correlation), antisocial behavioral disorders (moderate correlation) and remarkably promiscuous behavior, including prostitution (high correlation)

            7) It has been my observation that many women who are self-described lesbians have had traumatic incidents analogous to this that are associated, in the victim's opinion, with men.”

One has to ask about this practice in the minds of people.  Did the Creator make a mistake in making females the way they are? Do Muslims feel the need to improve on what He did?  Is this not an insult to the Creator?   What does this do for the female in terms of sexual pleasure?  It is not commanded in the Qur’an, so why not reject the practice? Why do imams not condemn the practice?

The story of Genesis 1-2 is that God created man and woman.  No improvements were necessary.   No barbaric operations were ordered.  In fact the Hebrews were forbidden to cut the body.    "You are the sons of the LORD your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead. (Dt. 14:1)    In the New Testament we read:   “And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. “  (I Thess. 5:23 ASV)   The body, both male and female, is to be kept in its created state.

The lone exception is male circumcision which was the sign of Yahweh’s Covenant with Abraham.  As such the foreskin was cut, but the organ was not mutilated. Nor does it impose a hardship on the man.  This was commanded for the Jewish people only.  The Qur’an does not command female cutting.   If one attempted to justify the practice from the hadiths it must be remembered they are not “revelation.”  Moreover, there are so many fraudulent hadiths that one cannot be sure about using them to justify an evil practice on women.

It is a horrible sin to mutilate little girls in the name of custom, Allah, religion, or tradition.

2.  Wearing the burqa.

This is the most extreme form of covering for females.  One of the most barbaric examples of this was in March 2002 in Mecca when fifteen girls were killed in a fire at their school.  The Saudi Religious police would not allow the girls out of the building without the proper dress.  They battled the police and the firemen who were trying to open the schools’s doors.  Is this not an evil practice that required the girls to die rather than being seen without the burqa? What kind of value system is this? (Source)

Can you imagine as a man wearing a tent to cover your whole body and not exposing any part of your body to be viewed by others?  Not only is it demeaning to women, it is also unhealthy.

“Muslim women who wear the burqa in Ireland are at increased risk of pelvic fractures during childbirth because of vitamin D deficiency due to a lack of sunlight, a consultant warns.

Babies born to women with vitamin D deficiency are also more prone to seizures in their first week of life, according to Dr Miriam Casey, of the Osteoporosis Unit in St James’s hospital in Dublin.

Casey said she was aware of cases involving pelvic fractures, and warned that these could become more frequent as Ireland’s Muslim population increased. “Ireland’s temperate climate doesn’t have the intense sunlight that keeps burqa-clad women from becoming vitamin D-deficient in their own countries,” she said.

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium and is crucial for making bones strong. The greatest source is sunlight.

Casey said the fractures occur at sites of particular weakness which develop in under-mineralised pelvic bones. In these women's babies, low calcium can cause “serious complications such as seizures, growth retardation, muscle weakness and fractures”.

“As a toddler, carrying the weight of the torso can force the development of a bow-legged appearance and a waddling gait,” she said. “Later, there can be rickets, which is caused by vitamin D deficiency, with swollen wrists and bones that fail to fuse in adolescence.”

Darker skins can produce as little as 1% of the vitamin D that fair skins produce. Moreover, studies have found that the rate of many diseases rises the further north one moves, leading researchers to suspect that vitamin D may play a greater role in health than previously thought. ("Ireland too grey for the burqa," by Colin Gleeson for the Times Online, December 28, 2008)

It seems that the Creator made us to be exposed to the sun for our health’s sake, but many Muslim cultures require a female to be covered and that is more important to Islam than health.  It is irrational to think that only men will be excited by viewing women.  Why do not the men cover themselves as required of the women?  Women are not without passion.  How would a man feel wearing a black tent that covers his entire body and his face covered so no one would recognize him? For more on this, go here and here.

3.  Honor killings

No one knows the number of “honor killings” that occur each year. The estimates run into the thousands.  Frequently the police do not investigate and bring charges against the murderer in Muslim cultures.   Honor killings are primarily related to the females who may be suspected of having sex before marriage, flirting with someone, talking to a stranger, failing to serve a meal on time, rape by a relative, cousin, uncle, or brother.  There is no limit to the reasons given for honor killings.   One of the more notorious honor killings occurred in the Dallas, Texas area where two sisters were killed by their father because they were being too influenced by western culture and music. In many places records are not kept on these murders and that is one of the reasons statistics are not well documented. (*)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali pressed for an experiment in Holland where figures were not kept.  In a time period between Oct. 2004 and May 2005 eleven Muslim girls were killed by their families in just two regions of the country.  There are 25 such regions in Holland.

Shawbo Ali Rauf was a 19 year old Iraqi girl who was murdered by her own in-laws. Her crime was to have an unknown number on her mobile phone. Her "honour killing" is just one in a grotesque series emerging from Iraq, where activists speak of a "genocide" against women in the name of religion. (*)

In the latest such case, it was reported yesterday that a 17-year-old girl, Rand Abdel-Qader, was stabbed to death last month by her father for becoming infatuated with a British soldier serving in southern Iraq. In Basra alone, police acknowledge that 15 women a month are murdered for breaching Islamic dress codes. Campaigners insist it is a conservative figure. Violence against women is rampant, rising every day with the power of the militias. Beheadings, rapes, beatings, suicides through self-immolation, genital mutilation, trafficking and child abuse masquerading as marriage of girls as young as nine are all on the increase. (*)

A sixteen-year-old Palestinian girl became pregnant after being raped by her younger brother. Once her condition became known, her family encouraged her older brother to kill her to remove the blemish from their honor. Her brothers, the rapist and the murderer, were exonerated. The girl was blamed. "She made a mistake," said one of her male cousins. "She had to pay for it.

Even more horrifically, a four-year-old Palestinian girl, raped by a man in his mid-twenties, was left by her family to bleed to death. They did this because they felt her misfortune would sully their honor. (*)

“European police report that Islamic honor killings are on the rise. In 2005, for instance, a review by British police of 22 domestic homicides led to 18 of the cases being reclassified as “murder in the name of so-called ‘honor.’” Polls routinely find that a disturbingly large percentage of Muslims – one in 10 according to a 2006 BBC poll – would condone the murder of someone seen to have disrespected their families honor.” (Frontpagemag, Jan.1, 2009)

The claim is that the female has brought shame to the family. The greater shame is that they have no shame for what they do to the women.

The Christian response to the issue of shame is that my identity is in Christ, not in my family.  Jesus said, “God will bless you when others hate you and won't have anything to do with you. God will bless you when people insult you and say cruel things about you, all because you are a follower of the Son of Man.” (Luke 6:22 CEV)    Revenge is not something a follower of Christ can allow.  Christians are told:    “Dear friends, don't try to get even. Let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says, "I am the one to take revenge and pay them back."  (Rom. 12:19)   Moreover, “Don't let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21)

The Apostle Peter wrote to the Christians concerning Jesus, “Although he was abused, he never tried to get even. And when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he had faith in God, who judges fairly. Christ carried the burden of our sins. He was nailed to the cross, so that we would stop sinning and start living right. By his cuts and bruises you are healed. You had wandered away like sheep. Now you have returned to the one who is your shepherd and protector. (1 Peter 2:23-25)

As long as the “shame culture” exists there will be lots of innocent victims put to death. Medical examinations have revealed that innocent girls accused of immorality were still virgins, and the real evil was in the minds of the fathers, or brothers, or relatives.  The principle of  “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t seem to operate in the minds of these people.

4.  Wife beating

The practice of beating a wife is not new in many societies.  It may come about because of jealousy, laziness, indifference, or distrust.  There are lots of irrational excuses for this in many cultures.   Even among Christians there are those who beat their wives.

There are no religious verses commanding a Christian to beat his wife.  Most non-Muslims who beat their wives do not have any religious justification for it. There are Muslim men who do not beat their wives, however, the Muslim context is different.  There is a religious directive for it.  The Qur’an says, “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God 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 God 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 God is Most High, great (above you all).” (Surah 4:34 Yusuf Ali’s trans.)

Pickthall uses the word “scourge them.”   Six other translations of the Qur’an use the word “beat them.”

Obviously this is a command that gets a lot of attention both in and out of Islam.  Inside are the defenders saying that it is such a mild beating as with a “toothbrush.”   Those outside of Islam have seen the results of the beating of neighbors who have been bruised, battered, thrown against the walls of their apartments.  Often nothing happens when the police arrive because the wives will not file charges.  So it goes on and on.

Statistics are hard to come by for obvious reasons.   “The Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences has determined that over ninety percent of Pakistani wives have been struck, beaten, or abused sexually — for offenses on the order of cooking an unsatisfactory meal. Others were punished for failing to give birth to a male child. In Spring 2005, when the East African nation of Chad tried to institute a new family law that would outlaw wife beating, Muslim clerics led resistance to the measure as un-Islamic.”

Muslim leaders do affirm the view of the Qur’an and teach the idea of beating a disobedient wife. 

On October 5, 2004, France expelled Algerian-born Imam Abdel Qader Bouziane for telling a French magazine that Muslim husbands may beat their wives. This follows the sentencing on January 14 of the Egyptian-born Sheik Muhammad Kamal Mustafa, the imam of the mosque of the Spanish city of Fuengirola, Costa del Sol, for publishing a book that explains that wife-beating is in accordance with Shariah law.

Sheik Yousuf Qaradhawi, one of the most influential clerics in Sunni Islam and head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research and the International Council of Muslim Clerics, has also advocated wife-beating on multiple occasions in his 1984 book "The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam," and on his weekly Al Jazeera program, which is popular among the surging number of European Muslims who increasingly look to religious leaders from the Middle East for religious guidance. This is particularly true with the growth of viewers watching Arab TV stations, available on satellite TV in Europe, which frequently airs shows dedicated to teaching a husband how to beat his wife. The following examples on this subject can be viewed at (MEMRI | Friday, November 05, 2004)

For an extensive treatment on the issue of wife beating go here.

There are probably many explanations why men do beat their wives.  One may be that many marriages are arranged and neither person knows the other.  If the marriage has a large age gap as in a 10 year old girl and a 40 year old man the marriage is doomed to have lots of problems.  A recent story from Saudi Arabic tells of a girl who was 5 who appeared to be tested for marriage.  The doctor denied the test and she could not get married.  What companionship is there between two such spans of ages? What is the basis of love in an arranged marriage?   

The lack of education for females is also a source of problems. The Taliban has been burning down schools, threatening people who send their girls to schools, and the end result is an enforced ignorance of the females.  Can there be any preparation for marriage in ignorance?

There will be no change in this situation since the word from Allah and Mohammed is to beat the disobedient wives.

5.  Rape

In a number of western countries, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Australia,  there have been a large increase in the rape of non-Muslim women some as young as a 13 year old Swedish girl gang raped by 5 Kurds.   The victims in Australia were called “sluts” or “Aussie pigs.”   A Lebanese Sheik Faiz Mohammed blamed the women themselves for wearing skimpy clothing which invites men to rape them.  In Copenhagen, Islamic mufti Shahid Mehdi declared that women who did not wear a head scarf were asking to be raped. 

What is the psychology behind all these rapes?  (Someone has written that most of the men who rape had the name of Mohammed.) The answer lies in the example of Mohammed.  Rape was permitted and encouraged by Mohammed. Rape is a part of jihad.  It is a part of war.  The women captured in battle were raped and the husbands humiliated.

Mohammed participated in this horror.  After the battle of Khaybar the spoils were given out.  One warrior, Dihya bin Khalifa requested of Mohammed that he be given a slave girl from the captives.  He chose a woman name Safiyya bint Huyayy.    Her husband had been captured, tortured and killed by the Muslims.  Later when Mohammed saw her he told Dihya to take another girl from the captives.  Mohammed freed her and married her upon her agreement to convert to Islam.    That night she was dressed in a wedding dress and Mohammed consummated the marriage.  What was it like to see your husband tortured, killed, and then forced into a marriage on the same day?

One of the problems discussing rape is that Muslims do not consider raping a non-Muslim as a sin or a problem.  It is justified because Mohammed did it.

Rape is not only bad in the western countries where there can be punishment for the offenders when caught and tried,   but in Muslim countries there is a different problem.  If a woman makes charges at the police station that she has been raped, she must produce 4 male witnesses to justify her accusations.   If she cannot produce these four witnesses, she is often charged with adultery or fornication and may be imprisoned herself.  In Pakistan 75 percent or more of the women in prison are victims of rape.  To report a rape may mean nothing more than a confession of guilt.   Little is done to investigate the charges.  Can you imagine the chagrin of a women who reports a rape at a police station to seek justice and to her dismay finds that she is put in jail for committing fornication or adultery? 

For more information on the issue of rape in Islam, go here and here and here.

These are a few problems for women in the Muslim culture.  Unfortunately, there will be little change for improvement of the lives of half a billion women.  Conditions vary from country to country, some worse than others, but none with real freedom and position.

When women cannot be allowed a real education there will be problems borne of ignorance whether in growing up, marriage, raising a family, being a wife, being a real companion, or whatever.   Ignorance is not bliss.     Women can make a phenomenal contribution to the rising of culture if they are allowed this freedom.   Only when one can escape the influence of a seventh century culture does this happen.

Jesus told the people who had faith in him, "If you keep on obeying what I have said, you truly are my disciples.   You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)  

“Christ has set us free!   This means we are really free. Now hold on to your freedom and don't ever become slaves of the Law again.”  (Gal. 5:1)  One could very well say, don’t ever become slaves of sharia again.   

This is easy to say to a person who becomes a believer in Jesus who lives in a Muslim culture whose life may be threatened by his confession.  There will not be any great relief until the culture is changed and becomes Christian where there is freedom to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. For this reason among others there are people praying that great changes will take place in the Muslim culture that people will be free to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Join in that prayer for the Glory of God.