Social System of Islam- Position of Women in Ancient Civilization

Summary of 7.10 “Place of Family in Islam”

Basically, we said that since we are dealing with the social system in Islam, the corner stone of society is the family.’ We started off by indicating that from a Muslim point of view a family can be a number of persons who are related by blood or by marriage.’ In this condition Islam accommodates what people call nuclear family (father, mother and children) and the extended family as it need not necessarily be one or the other.’ It was also indicated that the family is partly based on lineal identity and that Islam pays close attention to this as we found in chapter thirty-three in the Quran where a person is forbidden from being given false identity.’ For example if a child is adopted he should not be given the name of the family adopting him but should keep the name of his natural parents.’ Islam is not against adopting or fostering which is to take a child who is lost or orphaned and to look after his or her needs.’ Within this meaning it is allowed and even the Prophet himself adopted.’ The other thing that we discussed was the meaning, place and objectives of the family in Islam.’ We said that the family is a divinely inspired institution which is very important.’ Family is a social institution with some of the main objectives which include procreation, protection of morals in society, providing stability, providing value orientation for the child, providing security at a psychological and emotional level for members to do their best for the good of the family and society at large.

7.11′ Position of Women in Ancient Civilization

Host:’ What is the relevance of examining the position of women in ancient history and what are some of the historical aspects relating to women in society?

Jamal Badawi:

I think that with the start of any important subject it is important to start with some background.’ We are not saying that this was the position of women before Islam and that its purpose was completed at the arrival of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the seventh century.’ We are not saying that because if we say that then it may imply that Islam introduced some improvement or some reforms which are good for that time but that may not be adequate for this society.’ This is not what was intended and we will see as we go on that Islam was at least 1400 years ahead of its time.’ When we talk about divine revelations and injunctions which are well preserved in the form of scripture then we are admitting the divine source from a Muslim point of view that we are accepting God’s eternal knowledge of the past, present and future.

Host:’ What are some of the ways by which women were viewed by some of these earlier civilizations?’ Lets start with some of the eastern civilizations first?

Jamal Badawi:

An interesting reference by David and Vera Mace published in New York in 1960 with the title of Marriage East and West.’ There are three quotes that represent the typical treatment of women in ancient civilization.’ It will be obvious from these quotes that the women were not highly regarded at all.’ The book quotes an ancient Chinese poet by the name of Fu Hsuan who wrote in the third century BC ‘How sad it is to be a woman, nothing on earth is held so cheap.” Furthermore we find that according to the teachings of Confucius that ‘The main function of a woman is to obey: in childhood and early youth she obeys her father, when she is married she obeys her husband, in widowhood she obeys her son, the quality of her obedience is to be unquestioning and absolute.” Some people may say that there is nothing wrong with a daughter obeying her father or a wife obeying her husband within reasonable requests, but the problem here is that even in widowhood a woman should obey her son and that this obedience has to be unquestioning and absolute!’ We will find that this is not true as the only unquestioned obedience is to God and not to any human being.’ Some used to believe that when a son was born he was a god who fell from the heavens and that a girl was not a celebrated event.

The second reference is to the culture of Buddhism.’ In one quotation ‘Women are full of sin, nothing is to be dreaded so much as a woman.” The book also refers to the Law of Manu from Hindu ancient civilization ‘A woman whose mind, speech and body are kept in subjection acquires high renowned in this world and in the next.” The author of the book added that women had no business with the text of the Vida (Hindu Scripture) having therefore no evidence of law and no knowledge of expository texts.’ Women were not allowed to remarry after the death of their husbands.’ Most often they acted as servants in the household of their relatives of the deceased husband.’ In some cases a woman would have to burn herself when her husband dies.’ Despite the prohibition of this practice currently some believe that until now in isolated cases this practice continues (there is no clear documentation of this).’ According to Encyclopedia Britannica in the eleventh addition it indicates that in the Law of Manu women were excluded from inheritance.’ In other words inheritance was to pass only to the male side of the family.’ In page (74) of the same book Marriage East and West the authors conclude that the picture is all too clear in China, India and in Japan had the same story.’ The thought in great eastern cultures about the nature of women shows little variations.

Host:’ Let us turn our attention to the ancient civilizations of Europe?

Jamal Badawi:

We will look at the Greek and Roman civilizations.’ In a book called History of Civilization by E.A. Allen in Volume 3 he says ‘Athenian women were always minors subject to some males: father, brother or to some of their male kin.” He also indicates that the consent of the girl for marriage was not required and ‘that she simply received from her parents her husband and her lord.” The Roman women as reported in the same reference in page 550 ‘A Roman woman was regarded as a babe, a minor, a ward and a person incapable doing anything according to her own individual taste, a person continually under the tutelage and guardianship of her husband.” In Encyclopedia Britannica it was also indicated that according to Roman Law if a woman gets married her property automatically passes on to her husband and she would not be allowed to dispose of it as she pleased or without his permission.’ The woman was not allowed to have a will or negotiate a contract even on her own property.’ There are aspects of this treatment that persisted even after Christianity spread. ‘The West and the East were united on the issue of the subjugation of women.

Host:’ What about the treatment of women in the Middle East?

Jamal Badawi:

The Middle East was the birth place of many of the worlds major world religions and the situation was not much better than it was in the East or West.’ We can refer to the Hebrew tradition which extended over hundreds of years and the Arabian women which will both help us understand the reforms that Islam brought.’ We will discuss the Hebrew tradition in the next program when we get into the comparison of the Bible and the Quran regarding the attitude towards women.’ We will touch briefly on the aspect of Arabian women.’ As I said earlier the situation was not any better than the East or West.’ Some examples would be that if a person received news of the birth of a girl his face darkened and they got sad and very upset about it unlike when given the news of a the birth of a son.’ The other practice that was very inhuman, which totally disappeared after Islam, was the female infanticide.’ Some people used to burry their daughters alive.’ Some of the reasons were fear of shame that the girl may bring to the family.’ Of course this was not universal or the race would have disappeared but the very fact that such inhuman type of attitude existed is quite revealing.’ It was not uncommon in Arabia (before Islam) after the death of the husband that the woman herself becomes an object of inheritance as part of the husband’s estate.

Host:’ Were there any exceptions to this negative attitude towards women?

Jamal Badawi:

It is reasonable to say that the view was generally negative towards women.’ It is very difficult to talk about a civilizations that continued for hundreds of years and to say that there were no incidents where women were treated with respect.’ There are some acceptations which however were sometimes restricted to nobility.’ Usually in a rich or ruling family women got better treatment than in other cases.’ Throughout history there have been many women who had talent, personality and determination could still make their presence felt despite the overall conditions.’ It is noteworthy that recent discoveries that the image of god was a female.’ Some of the cave temples discovered in the Soviet, Ukraine, Southern Span and southern France some estimate to be between 30,000-2,000 BC that the superior deity that was worshipped at the time was a female.’ The concept of goddess was not limited to one place but is found in different parts of the world.’ In Egypt for example the supreme being as believed by the ancient Egyptians (before Islam) was Isis.’ In Babylon the goddess was Tiamat, in Ancient Sumeria Ishtar, in Ancient Greece it was Demeter and in Rome it was Maitre.’ They might have different names, but basically they all had the same concept of glorifying the female image of god.

Some authors dismiss these as relating to the fertility cults but others see more relevance to that than just cults.’ In some of the ancient writing they seem to refer to the mother goddess as the creator, the law giver, the judge and the queen of the heavens.’ An interesting thing that was written in Egypt that dates back 1400 B.C. it says ‘In the beginning there was Isis, the oldest of the old the goddess from whom all becoming arose mistress of heaven, mistress of the house of life, mistress of the word of god.” Another very interesting myth is that of the Sacred Sun and Lover.’ The myth goes that through the union of the Sacred Sun and the goddess all existence is granted continuity.’ He was usually known as the dying and resurrecting god (this was the believe a long time before Christ), as the fields of earth die each year only to be born in the spring.’ This myth about the Sacred Sun was referred to by different names such Baal, Osiris, Tammuz and Hates which all relate to the mother goddess.’ This kind of archeological evidence shows that in civilizations preceding what we found in China, Japan or India was not always negative.’ There were times when women were regarded as goddesses and it was reported in some references some women were the priestess

Host:’ Would it be useful to look at the position of women in both the Bible and the Quran?

Jamal Badawi:

Yes, it would be useful in a number of ways.’ We have been talking about women in history and of course an important part of this history is that which has been influenced by the three major religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam.’ The closest reveled religions to Islam would be Judaism and Christianity.’ There are many basic similarities between these three faiths that have to do with the belief in God, Prophethood and the life here after.’ There may be variations in the way they are interpreted, but the comparison of these three faiths would help us better understand the subject.

The other point that is of great significance is that often many statements about women and their position in Islam that are erroneous are made in speeches, newspapers, articles, books by scholars in the West who are Jews or Christians.’ Many times those statements are not supported with any evidence from scripture.’ Recently, I was giving a lecture in Montreal and a sister brought to my attention article in which the writer says that in accordance to Islamic Law (he did not say that this was the practice of some) the consent of the girl is not required in marriage.’ This is a statement that is totally apposed to what the Quran says and what the teachings of Prophet Muhammad(PBUH).’ There are many statements that are erroneous and are based on myth and misinformation which have been circulating for quite some time, that has caused an erroneous stereotype in regard to the views of Islam towards women (and many other issues).’ Another similar incident took place in Kansas city where someone brought to my attention an article where the author said that in Islam the woman is only allowed to have a bath once and that is on the night when she is wedded.’ This is something that is so absolutely ridiculous that even a person who does not know about Islam would know that this is totally out of line.’ Sometimes references take parts of quotations from the Quran and use it out of context, thus it is important to bring forth the scriptures of Judaeo-Christian traditions, mainly the Bible, and to compare it to the Quran and Hadith (Prophetic Tradition).

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