Monday, November 18, 2013

Mohammed enslaves Women III, then John of Damascus weighs in

We seem to share with our canine friends an unfortunate instinct to grovel before bullies. 
That is the only explanation I can find for the tendency of some non-Muslim women to depict Mohammed as enlightened or anything but ruthless in his treatment of women. 

On reading it through for the first time, I find the Quran even worse than expected. It seems little more than a vehicle by which Mohammed asserted power over others, and demanded that everyone submit utterly to him.  There is one great law to which all people must bow at all times, to gain paradise with rivers of honey and water and wine and milk, and in which one lounges on couches and eats fruit and it entertained by virgin beauties, and avoids a hell of boiling water or copper that burst one's innards and has to consume hellish devil fruit to intensify agony forever.  And that law is absolute, unquestioning obedience to the "prophet's" every whim. 

Also try to avoid annoying him, because the man wants peace.  He has wars of conquest to plan, after all.  And without fear of hell, dozens of beautiful women in one palace with their no-doubt emasculated guards are likely to raise a ruckus, for instance when The Prophet brings home a beautiful wife he steals from an adopted son.  Mohammed's wives and slave girls had best stay inside, and put on body armor whenever they see a non-relative, so lonely men outside the compound won't be tempted by them, or vice versa.  And everybody who "cheats" on the prophet has to go to the aforementioned hell, after being whipped half to death in this one, to receive twice the usual punishment.  (But if they meekly obey, they get double bling in heaven.)

Thus the constant Quranic refrains, "submit" and "God and His Messenger."  How does one submit to God?  To be sure, alms help.  There is a lot about kindness to the poor and to strangers in the Quran.  You should be kind to others in the community, and once or twice, Mohammed even hints that if non-Muslims are kind to you, you may reciprocate. 

But God is invisible, His Messenger is not.  So submission primarily means obeying the Messenger.  It means fighting when he says fight, and not being a coward or hypocrite, or befriending Mohammed's enemies. It means all the loot from the wars he starts, goes to him first.  And then because God is compassionate, he'll pass some of that on to the poor.  (After his wives fight over the best stuff, it seems.)  It means he can see into believers' hearts, and recognize the hypocrites.  And all violence, in this world and the next, is permitted the Prophet, no questions asked. 

"Crass" is, perhaps, the best word for my general impression. 

Since Mohammed had a taste for the ladies, several long passages are directed specifically to keeping them in line.  There are no passages of light-hearted banter, still less tender affection, such as Karen Armstrong's gloss would lead us to expect.  We analyzed most of the Quran in Part I and Part II. We observed the manipulative nature of Mohammed's patriarchy, and how it sowed seeds for a rich crop of gender oppression in the Muslim world today.  Mohammed himself, no one else, encouraged polygamy, by word and example, the making and sexual abuse of  female slaves, covering wives, teaching that men should rule women and that their testimony in court should be worth more, and purdah, the effective house imprisonment of half the human race. 

But am I being anachronistic?  Maybe things were universally that bad or worse for women, and in the context of his times, Mohammed actually lightened the load of women?

Not so.  Following the Judeo-Christian tradition, Mohammed did, it is true, ban female infanticide.  In "The Darkening"(LXXXI), Judgment Day is described as a time "when the buried infant shall ask for what sin she was slain."  Mohammed also affirmed the spiritual nature of women (he needed them in heaven, for one thing!). 

But Christians early on already found Mohammed's stipulations about women self-serving and "obscene."  After finishing our survey of the Quran, I'll conclude with some comments by St. John of Damascus, which demonstrate Mohammed was already recognized, by at least one Christian with access to the facts, as an oppressor of women. 

Quran on Women, Part III

I'll start with the minor stuff.  Let me begin by summarizing relatively unimportant references to women, and some slightly more important references that fit patterns we have already described. 

God created male and female. ("Apartments," XLIX, 12; "The Star," LIII, 46; "The Night," XCII, 3) God knows when females bear young.  ("The Angels," XXXV, "Distinguished," XLI).   God Himself does not have daughters. ("The Mount," LII, 39; "The Star," 20, 28; "Ornaments" [XLIII. 15-18]).)  Both men and women may go to paradise. ("Ya Sin" XXXVI; "Ornaments," XLIII.70; "Victory" XLVIII. 5-8; "Iron," LVII, 13; "He Frowned" LXXX, 35).  God will have mercy on the righteous "and their wives" ("The Believers," XL, 8 and 43, "Mohammed," XLVII. 22).  However, sinful and unbelieving women will also be judged, including Mohammed's unbelieving and hostile uncle and aunt: "he shall roast as a flaming fire, and his wife, the carrier of the firewood, upon her neck a rope of palm fibre." ("Perish," CXI.)  God gives females and males to one another as He likes. (XLII. 48-49)  A man should be kind to his mother, who suffered to give birth to him and raise him. ("The Sand Dunes," XLVI, 13-17)  Pharaoh spared Jewish women. ("Believers")  Women should not scoff at their female betters.  ("Apartments," XLIX, 12)  The story of Sarah laughing when she is told she will bare a son is repeated. ("The Scatterers," LI, 29).  "Victory" seems to suggest that male and female Muslims kept the slaughter in the conquest of Mecca being worse than it was. (26)

So Mohammed again affirms the basic humanity of women, which means their capacity for both good and evil, that God created them, and that they will live forever, either in Paradise or Gehenna.  And he also claims to know which will be which, those opposing his message adhering to the latter resort. 

The final portions of the Quran also add four points that are new but seem relatively minor.  Let us deal briefly with those, before we get to major innovations.

(1) "The Star" points out that there are no female angels:

"Those who do not believe in the world to come name the angels with the names of females."

Presumably this is a dig at animism with its female deities.  Some scholars think having female divinities makes a society kinder to women, but I can't say I've seen much evidence for this.  So I don't think this point matters much. 

(2) Mohammed offers God's rules for spouses who break up and then get back together in "The Disputer" (LVIII, 1-6).  If you disown your wife by saying, "Be as my mother's back," that's dishonorable, and you need to avoid touching one another until you do one of three things: (a) get some counseling -- no, just kidding, though that would make sense; (a) set a slave free; (b) fast for two months, presumably during the daytime; or (c) feed sixty poor people.  

This doesn't seem like a terrible idea, though obviously the goal here is mainly to keep oneself from saying such a thing to begin with by attaching a significant penalty to the act, not primarily to set slaves free, which one could do any time, if one wished.  The irony is, Mohammed seems to have enslaved many of his enemies, but he also recognized that it was meritorious to set slaves free.   

(3) Another practical rule is given in "The Woman Tested" (LX).  The gist is, if a Muslim woman arrives in the Muslim community having walked away from an unbelieving husband, check to make sure she is a real Muslim, then let her stay and remarry.  But explain the rules to her: no adultery, no stealing, no slaying of children.  Also, if an unbelieving wife wants to leave, let her go, though you might want to "retaliate." 

(4) Several suras later, God tells Mohammed, "O Prophet, when you divorce women, divorce them when they have reached their period . . . Do not expel them from their houses, nor let them go forth, except when they commit a flagrant indecency.  Those are God's bounds . . . "  But wait three months, to make sure they're not pregnant.  Then if it turns out they are pregnant, provide for them until they are no longer nursing. ("Divorce," 1-2) 

These rules seem a mixed bag: Mohammed is being theological in the first, and at his most practical, as CEO of Medina or Mecca, in the other three.  He lays down the Mosaic Law, or universal Tao if you like C. S. Lewis' term for the moral truths discovered by Natural Theology.  Some of this might represent progress, certainly the ban on infanticide -- though one assumes he got that idea from Jews and Christians.

But his juices are not really flowing, the theocratic spin doctor in his head has not really woken up, here: this is abstract and practical, not  (for him) existential and personal. 

Mohammed is more innovative in several other suras which revolve around two issues: the delights his troops will experience if they die in the struggle, having obeyed him to the letter (which he makes clear is a prerequisite of attaining paradise), and his own personal struggle to keep the lid on the equally expanding empire at home. 

Sex in Paradise 

What about the notion that Islamic martyrs will enjoy 72 nubile virgins in heaven?  Is there any support for that in the Quran? 

Paradise is described relentlessly and with impressive internal consistency in the Quran.  Its chief features are: (1) rivers of potable liquid, including water, wine, milk, and honey; (2) gardens; (3) fruit and other edibles; (4) the saved will lounge on couches, facing one another, presumably for conversation; (5) while demur but passionate beings of some apparently female sort attend them, in some way.  It is this last feature we will concentrate on, which is mentioned in seven or so sutras. 

"The Rangers" (XXXVII) is one of those sutras.  God's "sincere servants" can look forward to Gardens of Bliss, reclining on couches with a cup from a spring passed around, full of some delightful white liquid which makes no one sick or drunk . . .

"And with them wide-eyed maidens restraining their glances, as if they were hidden pearls."

Then those in paradise look down into hell, where the Tree of Ez-Zakkoum grows, with its fruit shaped like "heads of satans," which the damned have to eat along with drinking boiling water. 

"Sad" (XXXVIII) also mentions maidens "restraining their glances," adding that they are "of equal age." (53) "The Tiding" (LXXVII) describes them as "maidens with swelling breasts, of equal age."  "Smoke" (XLIV)  speaks of giving the god-fearing, who enjoy their gardens and fountains while molten copper bubbles in the belly of the unbelievers, "wide-eyed houris" as an additional delight.  (Also "The Mount," LII, 20).  These creatures seem to be one and the same with the aforementioned maidens. 

"The All-Merciful" (LV) adds more details.  Mohammed is challenging men and jinn to deny his revelation, with a refrain "O which of your Lord's bounties will you and you deny?"  Among those bounties are named:

"maidens restraining their glances, untouched before them by any man or jinn -- lovely as rubies, beautiful as coral . . . maidens good and comely . . . houris, closed in cool pavilions . . . untouched before them by any man or jinn . . . reclining upon green cushions and lovely druggets . . . "

We have seen that even in this world, Mohammed saw women as a form of, well, booty.  He captured and stockpiled ladies, and made every provision, physical and psychological, to keep them at his beck and call, without however bothering him with their concerns.  And given his physical understanding of eternity, it does not seem shocking that Mohammed would likewise see women as part of the goods of heaven, to be lavished on faithful followers.  (Almost always assumed, in his rhetoric, to be male.)  Where exactly they come from, or where all that food and other substances go after they digest or perform other earthly acts in paradise (houri do not partake of unpleasant bodily functions, just pleasant ones), does not seem to have concerned him. This is a desert fantasy, and all bills are covered by "God can do anything," without the need to be consistent or rational.   

We are not surprised, then, to find in "The Terror" (LVI) that "wide-eyed houris" like "hidden pearls" are a "recompense for that they labored." (20+)  "God" explains:

"Perfectly we formed them, perfect, and We made them spotless virgins, chastely amorous, like of age for the Companions of the Right."

Companions of the right are faithful believers, who hold their books of judgment in right hands. 

Of course Mohamed's own predilection was for women of much less than his age.  (Or rather more, in the case of his first wife.)  But perhaps such small differences do not matter much, in light of eternity. 

The hadith further explain these references.  According to various hadith, every Muslim man gets two (more authentic) or at least 72 (later hadith) wives in heaven, along perhaps with an army of servants:

"The smallest reward for the people of Heaven is an abode where there are eighty thousand servants and seventy two wives, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine and ruby, as wide as the distance from [Damascus] to San'a." Al-Tirmidhi

These ladies are pure, reconstructed virgins (or maybe jinn?) with lustrous eyes, translucent bodies, and passion for their husbands.  They appear demur and obedient as good Muslim women.

One almost feels that Mohammed and his interpreters are buying goods in bulk at Cosco -- "Should I take a two pack of comely houris?  Oh, what the heck, let's get 72!  They will need to last an eternity, after all!" 

That is a late hadith.  Mohammed himself did not take things that far, but he did get the ball rolling, with velocity, in that general direction. 

Just Slip Out the Back, Aliah

But in this vale of tears, women are, sad to say, not always demur, wide-eyed, and inoffensive.  Therefore, we must also pay close attention to Sura 66, "The Forbidding," or "The Prohibition."  Here Mohammed has some real, and incompletely subdued, women on his hands. 

The last passage that offers important new insights on the status of women in Islam, and in Mohammed's life, is Sura 66.  This is another revelation given by God to help Mohammed track the always elusive "straight path" to marital harmony in a harem filled with lively and perhaps bored young women.  Again I will make use of the translation by Al-Hilali and Khan, which includes some explanatory notes, and more precise numbering of verses.  I find that in this case, I cannot restrain myself from reading (and writing) between the lines (Mohammed's soul often seems an open book, as he says his signs are): 

1. O Prophet! Why do you ban (for yourself) that which Allah has made lawful to you, seeking to please your wives? And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Further translation: Get those women off your back and do what it is you like and they don't.  Are they objecting to another woman in the harem?  Hey, if God says it's OK, don't listen to them! 

2. Allah has already ordained for you (O men), the dissolution of your oaths. And Allah is your Maula (Lord, or Master, or Protector, etc.) and He is the All-Knower, the All-Wise.

So when a guy say his girl has to go, she has to go -- because that's how God has set things up.  Are we taking notes? 

3. And (remember) when the Prophet disclosed a matter in confidence to one of his wives (Hafsah), so when she told it (to another i.e. 'Aishah), and Allah made it known to him, he informed part thereof and left a part. Then when he told her (Hafsah) thereof, she said: "Who told you this?" He said: "The All-Knower, the All-Aware (Allah) has told me".

So Mohammed guessed partly right, and partly wrong.  (Or a little bird spoke into his ear.)   The part he got right, proved Allah was speaking to him.

4. If you two (wives of the Prophet , namely 'Aishah and Hafsah) turn in repentance to Allah, (it will be better for you), your hearts are indeed so inclined (to oppose what the Prophet likes), but if you help one another against him (Muhammad), then verily, Allah is his Maula (Lord, or Master, or Protector, etc.), and Jibrael (Gabriel), and the righteous among the believers, and furthermore, the angels are his helpers.

Note carefully, and plan accordingly.  If you go against your husband, you'll not only have the dictator of Mecca against you.  You'll also have all your neighbors against you, AND the angels, AND God.  Your prospects are poor. 

5. It may be if he divorced you (all) that his Lord will give him instead of you, wives better than you, Muslims (who submit to Allah), believers, obedient to Allah, turning to Allah in repentance, worshipping Allah sincerely, fasting or emigrants (for Allah's sake), previously married and virgins.

"So hit the road if you like, ladies -- though where you'll go, before you arrive in hell for that double punishment I talked about, that's another question.  I'll make out OK."

Does the reader find it as hard for you as for me, to picture a warm and loving relationship between this man and the wives he seems so eager to cast out into the cold?   

6. O you who believe! Ward off from yourselves and your families a Fire (Hell) whose fuel is men and stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who disobey not, (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do that which they are commanded.

"And God has bouncers with superpowers to keep people who disobey me burning in hell." 

9. O Prophet (Muhammad)! Strive hard against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and be severe against them, their abode will be Hell, and worst indeed is that destination.

10. Allah sets forth an example for those who disbelieve, the wife of Nuh (Noah) and the wife of Lout (Lot). They were under two of our righteous slaves, but they both betrayed their (husbands by rejecting their doctrine) so they [Nuh (Noah) and Lout (Lot)] benefited them (their respective wives) not, against Allah, and it was said: "Enter the Fire along with those who enter!"

11. And Allah has set forth an example for those who believe, the wife of Fir'aun (Pharaoh), when she said: "My Lord! Build for me a home with You in Paradise, and save me from Fir'aun (Pharaoh) and his work, and save me from the people who are Zalimun (polytheists, wrong-doers and disbelievers in Allah).

12. And Maryam (Mary), the daughter of 'Imran who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into (the sleeve of her shirt or her garment) through Our Ruh [i.e. Jibrael (Gabriel)], and she testified to the truth of the Words of her Lord [i.e. believed in the Words of Allah: "Be!" and he was; that is 'Iesa (Jesus) - son of Maryam (Mary); as a Messenger of Allah], and (also believed in) His Scriptures, and she was of the Qanitin (i.e. obedient to Allah).

Mohammed uses Bible stories this way constantly.  He doesn't want people to think his dictatorial leadership style is unique, so he rewrites the stories of Old Testament prophets to show that they had to deal with women too, and some of those women were a pain in the neck, too, and got judged for their sins. 

To be clear: women, like men, can obey or disobey, go to heaven or go to hell.  The former determine the latter.  And by "obey" we mean God, the Creator of all things. But He's invisible, so practically that means obey the prophet.  Who, by the way, happens to be your husband.  (And women should obey husbands in general, as mentioned in other suras.)  Also, don't aggravate the Messenger of God.  He has an expanding slave empire to run, booty to take, keep, and distribute, enemies to torture, plots to foil, and lots of messages from God to dictate. 

So that's how you keep women in line.  Mohammed being the "seal of the prophets" and the most perfect man, it is only right to expect his followers to pay close attention to his example -- which to give them credit, many of the worst of them have done, down to the present day. 

John of Damascus' viewpoint

All in all, from a "modern" perspective (whatever that means), the Quran paints an ugly picture of the status of women in Islam.  The book is written for men, not women.  True, woman are spiritual beings who can go to heaven through works of righteousness.  But the one work of righteousness that far outstrips all others is slavish obedience to a cruel, ruthless, libidinous, and shamelessly manipulative dictator.  One who dangles them on the edge of hell if they complain when he cheats on them all or squabble over the wealth his armies bring in.  One who steals women, marries little girls, or has female poets assassinated for criticizing him (but these latter two are in other sources).  Men are to be in charge, up to and including beating their wives, or running them out of the tent with suitable compensation whenever they like.  (But it's best to treat multiple wives equally --heck, the Prophet abused them all!)  Furthermore, women are not to leave the house, or interact with men who have not been neutered or are close relatives, without full-body armor, and that in the Arab heat.  The Saudi law against women driving seems to follow. 

But, you might say, this is just my modern, anachronistic perspective.  No ancient civilization treated women as full citizens.  Maybe Mohammed actually made things better, considering their position before he was born.  He did, at any rate, ban female as well as male infanticide -- following his Jewish and Christian neighbors. 

This is a little hard to swallow, considering the fact that Mohammed's first wife was a successful businesswomen, who must surely have left the house from time to time. 

But let's get an ancient perspective. 

Mar Saba
St. John of Damascus (d. 749), a musician and philosopher who may have worked for the Caliph of Damascus, had a ring-side seat on the early Muslim empire.  John was priest at the (male-only) Mar Saba monastery near Jerusalem.  Here is how John saw the matter:

As has been related, this Mohammed wrote many ridiculous books, to each one of which he set a title. For example, there is the book On Woman, in which he plainly makes legal provision for taking four wives and, if it be possible, a thousand concubines—as many as one can maintain, besides the four wives.   He also made it legal to put away whichever wife one might wish, and, should one so wish, to take to oneself another in the same way.

Mohammed had a friend named Zeid. This man had a beautiful wife with whom Mohammed fell in love. Once, when they were sitting together, Mohammed said: ‘Oh, by the way, God has commanded me to take your wife.’  The other answered: ‘You are an apostle.   Do as God has told you and take my wife.’  Rather—to tell the story over from the beginning—he said to him:  ‘God has given me the command that you put away your wife.’  And he put her away.  Then several days later: ‘Now,’ he said, ‘God has commanded me to take her.’  Then, after he had taken her and committed adultery with her, he made this law: ‘Let him who will put away his wife.  And if, after having put her away, he should return to her, let another marry her.  For it is not lawful to take her unless she have been married by another.  Furthermore, if a brother puts away his wife, let his brother marry her, should he so wish.’  In the same book he gives such precepts as this: ‘Work the land which God hath given thee and beautify it. And do this, and do it in such a manner” —not to repeat all the obscene things that he did.

I'm not sure why John added that bit about landscaping towards the end of this passage.  Normally this is not considered one of your more risqué businesses. 

But having sorted through the story of Zaid, which John properly calls "obscene," and other scenes from Mohammed's sordid career on the make, this seems an entirely just judgment. John had been reading the gospels, which preceded the Quran, and set an example that Mohammed apparently chose not to follow


Brian Barrington said...

I can’t help noticing how superior the Muslim Koran is in its attitude to women when compared to the Christian Bible. In fact, the Bible makes Muhammad look like a veritable feminist and a model of progressive, liberal attitudes.

For example, the Christian God says that rape victims should be stoned to death:

"If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbours wife. Deuteronomy 22:23-24

Charming guy this Christian God! Christians and Jews must be very proud to have that in their sacred scripture.

According to the Christian God priests should burn their daughters alive if they don’t behave well: "And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire." (Leviticus 21:9)

Elsewhere the Christian God commands that women who are raped should be forced to marry the men who rape them: "If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her." (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

According to the Christian God husbands should chop of their wive’s hands if the wife tries to protect her husband and in the process of doing so accidentally touches that attacker’s genitalia “When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her." (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)

Any wife who tries to protect her husband could be forgiven afterwards for wondering why she bothered, as she wanders around the place with no hand.

According to the Christian Bible women shouldn’t speak but should shut up and obey men: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." (I Corinthians 14:34-35)

Another part of the Christian Bible instructs women to keep quiet because men come first and women are the root of all evil: "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." (I Timothy 2:11-14)

No wonder organised Christianity so frequently treats women as second class citizens.

However, I did find one passage in the Christian Bible which shows the Christian God arguably treating women better than men."When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you." (Deuteronomy 20:10-14).

So the men get killed but the women are kept alive so that the men can rape them. Nice one Christian God! Finally we find him doing something humane and decent for women.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: I figured you'd eventually snap, with this series. Can't blame you: it is a bit much for someone of your sensibilities to take.

As you know, I'm not an inerracist. I'm perfectly willing to evaluate the Old Testament as a whole, or any particular book of it, as fairly as I have the Quran, here.

And I have already analyzed the gospels and Acts that way -- reading every passage, in context.

What I've done so far is compare two people (Jesus and Mohammed) and two sets of texts (the gospels and Acts, and the Quran). In future, I'll also cover the writings of Paul, whom you mention, and also some of the main Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist texts. Maybe I'll get to some secularist texts, eventually.

And again, my purpose will be not to "build a case," but to honestly analyze as much of the record as I can, in the time available. (I may be leaving the country soon.) That's why I've tried not to leave a single relevant text out.

Let me know when you recover your equanimity, and want to talk about this seriously.

Richard said...

Its not clear why Brian refers continually to the ``Christian Bible`` when he cites Deuteronomy and Leviticus which should be correctly called the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps Brian thinks it wouldn`t be as politically correct to disparage the ``Jewish Bible``.

Brian Barrington said...

All the texts I quoted are part of the Christian Bible, so these texts are holy Christian scripture - they are sacred Christian scripture. Many of the texts are also, of course, sacred Jewish scripture. So if we objectively compare what the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have to say about women, Islamic scripture is by far the least horrific of the three.

David B Marshall said...

Balderdash. You have done no such thing, don't pretend you have.

I've just gone through every single passage in the Quran related to women.

Earlier, I went through every single passage in the gospels and Acts on the same subject. There is not one single passage in the Quran that contains any such liberating dialogues and actions as we find there. Nor is there one single passage in the NT in which any Christian manipulates and exploits women in the manner of the "Prophet" Mohammed, as demonstrated above.

A Christian need not be as attached to the book of Deuteronomy as you assume, above, or as Muslims are to the Quran. The focus of our faith is on Jesus Christ. But even Deuteronomy, you are cherry-picking. Your conclusion is just nonsense.

Brian Barrington said...

Well, you just have to read the few passages from the Christian Bible and Christian Scripture that I have quoted above (and there are plenty more where they came from) in order to see that when it comes to saying horrific things about women there are simply no parrallels anywhere in the Islamic scripture of the Koran. The same applies to some other important issues – for example, there is no advocacy of genocide in Islamic scripture, but Christian scripture advocates outright genocide. So in terms of inhumane and barbaric statements, Islamic scripture is a clear improvement over Christian and Jewish scripture.

But I agree that Jews, Christians and Muslims can interpret their scripture in various ways - focusing on this bit, downplaying that bit, putting this bit in context, elaborating what that bit really means and so on and so forth. So I would definitely applaud efforts to emphasize the humane and decent bits and to downplay and humanely interpret the awful bits.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: I'm trying to suggest the possibility of studying a text systematically and as a whole, and coming to empirical conclusions that make use of all the evidence. You seem to be resisting that method, and just want to cherry-pick on a feminist basis.

But I'm not interested in forcing texts to a given conclusion. I'm interested in what they actually say, and what effect they have on people who read them to find out what they say and put it into action. If it turns out Deuteronomy is bad for women, OK, let's face that fact. Truth is the goal here, not spin.

Marc said...

Dear David,

as Christians we ought to constantly keep this in mind:

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

As Randal Rauser made it clear, we can find lots of heinous stuff in the Bible too, like God ordering soldiers to kill babies and pregnant women alike.
Mohamed did not.

Lovely greetings in Christ.

David B Marshall said...

Lothar: Please read my response to Brian's concerns. I'm looking in both "eyes," and I'm being equally "clinical" in both cases. These are serious issues, and we are called first of all to be HONEST about what we find. Honesty does not mean we must skew results to find an artificial equality. If there are vile texts in the Bible, let us be honest about that, too. If you find my analysis of the gospels and Acts wrong in some detail, please point to those errors.

David B Marshall said...

Did either of you read my three-part series of which this is the concluding episode? Is anything I said there in error? Come on, gentlemen, let's not let the politically-correct tale wag the exegetical and historical dog.

Marc said...

I certainly agree that Jesus had a revolutionary ethic in His treatment of women.

Yet I believe that your are being unfair to the Muslim prophet.

Like Martin Luther (as I explained at length here Visit W3Schools I believe that a man can have genuine experiences with God which are then DISTORTED by sin.
I think that Mahomed was not that different from Luther.

Shalom and salam.

David B Marshall said...

Lothar: I always appreciate your perspective. I would grant that some Muslims probably do have such an experience, and that their awareness of God is often valid. But I am very leery of talking about "being fair" to a man who did, after all, mass murder, torture, enslave, and keep so many women under lock and key, and the fear of a garishly described hell (do you really think he believed even when he received revelations specifically designed to pascify righteously angry, two-dozen-timed women?), for his personal pleasure.

What about being fair to his many victims? Why should the tyrant's good name always count so much more than that of his harshly-slandered victims?

No, I'm afraid I can't find my way to agreeing with you on this one. Chalk it up to my visceral dislike of bullies, that goes back to Middle School, and was intensified by reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Marc said...

Hey Dave.

I think we ought to abide by the Golden rule of apologetics.

We ought to evaluate the morality of a historical figure against the background of the culture BACK THEN.
For example, was Mohamed a more evil man than the average arab at that time and place?

We certainly don't like it when militant atheists judge Biblical people as utterly evil because they fail to measure up to our more advanced moral knowledge.

I give an example of such an approach here.

If you have time, I would really love to learn your perspective on what I've written.
You could perhaps comment there or perhaps privately:

P.S: I'm looking forward to reading your own posts on Biblical atrocities!

P.S2: I agree there is ugly stuff in the Koran!

David B Marshall said...

Lothar: I think your article gives a pretty fair analysis.

What is the "Golden Rule" of apologetics? "Do to others as you would have them do unto you?"

Well, what I would like "others" do to the Bible is indeed just what I've done to the Quran -- analyze it honestly.

And that fits with Jesus' other great relevant advice:

"By its fruit you will know it."

And that seems like good advice, which you are following in that post. Otherwise, should we pretend as if Jim Jones was a good man? Or Pol Pot? I'd rather not.

Yes, I think Mohammed was far nastier than the average Arab of his time. And reading the Quran through has made me more confident of that. Some of the evidence lies in plain sight, in these past three posts. Again, I included every single passage having to do with treating women, good, bad, and ugly. I am being fair with Mohammed.

I have no objection whatsoever to Andy, or any other atheist, evaluating the work of Joshua in the same manner. I only ask that he take the WHOLE text, good and bad, into account, before judging.

As for excusing Mohammed because he lived in the 6th Century, no thanks. St. Paul gets accused of all sorts of evil for perhaps telling women to keep quiet in church. That was 500+ years before Mohammed. There is something very out of balance, here.

Brian Barrington said...

One objection commonly levelled at Muhammad is that, in addition to being a spiritual leader, he was a political leader who engaged in some of the same behaviours that many Christian and Jewish prophets of God did who were also political leaders – such as Moses, Joshua, Saul, David, Solomon etc. Their behaviour was no different and in many cases worse. And yet there is far less focus or outrage from many Christians about their own prophets than there is about Muhammad – these pseudo-critics are simply biased. It makes no sense to compare Muhammad to Jesus on this front because Jesus (whom Muslims regard as the Messiah) was not a political leader. It would make at least some sense to compare Moses (the chief prophet of Judaism) with Muhammad. But what would actually make a lot more sense would be to observe Jesus’s wise and great instruction to “take out the log in your own eye”, as Lother tries to do, thus demonstrating that he is a true follower of Jesus, unlike those Christians-in-Name-Only who pretend to follow Jesus while ignoring what he actually taught.

Now, when Jim Jones or Pol Pot found a religion and a great civilisation that lasts for over a thousand years and which provides meaning and the basis for a way of life for one in every four or five human beings on the planet then it might be legitimate to speak about them in the same breath as Muhammad. But cults and tyrannies either only appeal to small numbers of people or else they do not endure through the generations and the centuries. They burn out or destroy themselves due to their barbarity and inhumanity. In contrast, Islamic civilisation is one of the few truly great civilisations of human history and Muhammad is both its spiritual founder and its political founder.

Anti-Muslim prejudice and bigotry just reflects poorly on those who indulge in it, just as anti-Semitism reflected poorly on those Westerners who used to indulge in it when it was fashionable about 100 years ago. In fact, in the West anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Arab racism are the new anti-Semitism, and the last acceptable forms of bigotry and racism. These are so pervasive that Westerners do not even realise they are doing it – they casually make statements about Muslims that, if they were made about any other group of people, such as Jews, blacks or homosexuals, would cause total outrage. The kind of people in the West who would have been anti-Semites in the last century are the same kind of people who are now anti-Muslim in our own century – I would say this reflects poorly on them both as Christians and as human beings.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: I am troubled by your eagerness, and the eagerness of Lothar, to make excuses for a tyrant who abused people as Mohammed did. King David is not the issue. Nor, if I were to analyze David's writings -- some of the Psalms, presumably -- do I think I would find anything like the same pattern.

David sinned by committing adultery, and having the husband killed. The Prophet Nathan confronted him for his sin. He repented, cried his eyes out, but their son died. Later, another son raped a half-sister. David failed to deal with the crisis adequately, which led to a civil war, ultimately.

I respect Nathan for boldly calling David on his sin. (Which is what Mohammed's wives apparently tried to do with him, but he quoted God on them, and threatened them with hell if they complained.) That's what real prophets do, and sometimes they lose their lives for doing so, when the king doesn't want to repent, or even wants to use God to justify his crimes.

You seem to think we should avert our eyes from the facts because the sect Mohammed began was and is successful. How is it successful, in relation to women? Oh, yeah, almost all the countries with the lowest status of women in the world are either Muslim or Hindu. And the problems in some of those countries -- keeping women indoors, polygamy, child marriage -- were modeled by The Prophet himself.

But you think it is moral to avert our eyes and not blame the tyrant who modeled that behavior, because after all, Solomon had lots of wives. Pardon my heat, but this is not the "Golden Rule." This sounds like "Kiss up to tyrants, because they are successful, and ignore their victims." That is not what Jesus taught, and it is not just.

If Peoples' Temple were just bigger, would we then have to give Jim Jones a free pass?

Nor are problems solved by ignoring their source. Strangely, I seem to find myself agreeing with the New Atheists on this one: just because an organization prospers, doesn't mean we should give its founder a free pass.

Maybe it would help to remember, is that in evaluating Mohammed and the Quran in relation to women, I am not denying value to Islamic civilization as a whole. I often say that conservatives and liberals argue past one another, because they define religion differently: (a) by the character, teaching and example of the founder; (b) by sacred Scriptures; (c) by developed tradition. That seems to be happening here, too.

Brian Barrington said...

What you are doing is not like Nathan boldly confronting David, one of his own people and a contemporary. It would be more like David trying to distract attention from his own flaws by ranting pointlessly about a long-dead leader in a faraway land, and even if anyone in the faraway land could hear David, none of them would listen to him, because his bias against them would be all too evident to them.

Or it would be a bit like, say, an anti-Jewish Chinese person quoting every passage in the Bible he can find about Moses referring to genocide and rape. The Chinaman would claim that he is just "bravely quoting the facts" about the leading Jewish prophet but basically he would be just indulging in moral posturing so that he can try to feel better about himself and put down Jews.

There are an infinite number of facts, so the handful that a person chooses to focus on reveals much about them. Like someone who says, “It is factually the case that if I see a black man walking towards me on the street he is much more likely to murder and rob me than if I see a white man walking towards me. I’m just stating a fact here. Do you want me to ignore the facts? Are you denying the facts?”. Well, even supposing this is factually true, who says it and the context in which they say it really matters a lot - in the absence of any serious effort to explain why this state of affairs is the case, it’s likely that the person who chooses to say it like this is a racist.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: I'm not trying to distract attention from my many flaws. I'm an open book. You find 'em, tell me to my face. You find cruelty in the Bible, go ahead, describe it in detail -- but fairly, looking at the whole text, as I have just done with the Quran, and pointing to facts on BOTH sides.

Nor am I "ranting pointlessly." As I've explained several times now, what I am doing is systematically reading through primary texts of great religious traditions, and analyzing how they treat women. The next text will be the Rig Veda. Then after that, more recent Hindu texts, and then probably some Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian texts, if I have time. I've already done the gospels and Acts; Paul is coming up, too.

There are not an "infinite number" of such passages in the Quran. In fact, while I may have overlooked one or two, I'm pretty sure I got all the major ones, anyway, and almost all the minor ones.

I begin to get the feeling that in your pique, you haven't yet read the posts that we're talking about. Neither of you seems to have so much as mentioned anything I said in any of these three posts, yet. If I am wrong about something, it would be a courtesy for you to point that out.

Brian Barrington said...

Well, I’ve already pointed out that the Christian and Jewish Bible says much worse things about women than the Koran, so I look forward to your “fair and balanced” study confirming this.

The primary moral obligation of everyone is, as Jesus says, to take the logs out of their own eyes. But even when criticizing an outgroup there is a world of difference between (a) someone outside your group who is biased against you criticizing you so that he can do you down and attacking your tradition so that he can do it down while feeling good about himself, and (b) someone who respects your tradition and who wishes you well giving you constructive advice. People can smell the difference between these two things a mile away. They will pay no attention whatsoever to the first person, they just might listen to the second person – although even that is doubtful. If and when real change comes it generally comes from within, by people criticizing their own group from the inside – taking the logs out of their own eyes, as Jesus says – that is how progress occurs. Self-righteous moral denunciations of out-groups can even be counter-productive to progress.

You’re also missing the point about facts. There ARE an infinite amount of facts and the handful that a person focuses on reveals much about them. Think again of the person who says, “It is factually the case that if I see a black man walking towards me on the street he is much more likely to murder and rob me than if I see a white man walking towards me”. He then goes on to say, “Also, a Chinese person and an Indian person is less likely to murder me than a black person. See, I am not racist. I am being fair to all the races”. And then he says “I challenge you to point out anything factually incorrect that I have said. I am only interested in telling the truth”. Well, probably not – what he’s actually interested in doing is attacking black people rather than trying to genuinely solve a problem, or suggest ways of solving a problem, assuming there is one.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: I'm a scholar of world religions. Islam is not my field, and I wanted to know more about it. So I read the Quran, marking every passage that relates to women, and analyzing the results.

This is called "research." It's a little crude, because I wanted to focus on primary literature.

I'm not a preacher, and I'm not mainly an evangelist. I'm someone who cares passionately about truth. That's why I looked at every single passage, good and bad, and neglected none of them. You have NOT done that with Deuteronomy, so let's not make that comparison.

And let's not compare ideologies to races, that's illegitimate. One believes or rejects ideologies based on their truth, morality, and life value. One is born with skin color. Therefore, it is rational to criticize false or harmful beliefs. It is irrational and unfair to criticize people for physical characteristics they were born with.

And I am not generalizing about "Muslims," I am analyzing the writings of Mohammed. Do please keep such distinctions clear.

If I ever write a book trying to convert Muslims, I will of course try to be tactful. When I put on a seminar on Islam and Christianity, I invited a Muslim speaker, an evangelical convert from Islam who was very negative about Islam, and two Christian scholars who are very conciliatory. All of them had good things to say. We can learn from one another, but we have to begin with honesty.

I think many Muslims will understand that better than some Western liberals, frankly. I saw this, even during the Cold War: liberals were afraid to criticize the nastiest communist tyrants, while Russians themselves seemed to appreciate frankness.

Unknown said...

I feel like I must make an answer to some of the verses that Barrington brings up.

Deut 22:23-24--This is not about rape. The woman is willing, as in indicated by fact that she did not cry out in the city.

Lev 21:9. This penalty, admittedly harsh, is not because the girl didn't "behave well", but because she became a prostitute, an ultimate attack on purity and
sanctity, which to the ancients was a very serious offense, as it was things like these that held their society together.

Deut 22:28-29. The point here is it would be more difficult for a non-virgin to find a husband. The penalty is on the man. He is forced to marry the girl if she and here father decide he must, and he must pay money and cannot divorce her. She is not required to marry him.

Deut 25:11-12. Copan (Is God a Moral Monster? 121-122.) argues in detail that there is a mistranslation here. What was to be done was a public humiliation, not chopping off a hand. I don't know Hebrew and can't say, but the issue may be more complex than Barrington thinks.

One last point: Christians, apart from Theonomists, who are few, think that the Old Testament civil law is no longer in effect. Muslims think that everything in the Qu'ran, and the examples of Muhamnmed, are the final word of God to mankind, and therefore permanently binding.

Unknown said...

I should add that in Deut 22:28-29 the man is better considered a seducer rather than a rapist.

David B Marshall said...

Good points, all. I suppose I should do an analysis of the Old Testament, too, but it's would be a lot of work, and I'm not sure it's necessary for this project.

De Tinker said...

Brian says : "Well, I’ve already pointed out that the Christian and Jewish Bible says much worse things about women than the Koran, so I look forward to your “fair and balanced” study confirming this."

Here are some nice verses concerning the intelligence of women in Islam. I bet you don't find these in the bible. But I can be wrong.

Qur'an 2:282

"And get two witnesses out of your own men. And if there are not two men (available), then a man and two women, such as you agree for witnesses, so that if one of them (one of the two women) errs, the other can remind her.

Sahih al-Bukhari 2658: The Prophet 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 a woman’s mind.”

You were saying Brian.