Vexen Crabtree 2015


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Sociology, Theology, Anti-Religion and Exploration: Forcing Humanity Forwards

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Vexen Crabtree 2015

Islam and Women

"Islam and Women" by Vexen Crabtree (2011)

There is more to add to this yet so watch out for updates, as always. The summary reads:

Islam has oppressed women more than any other force in history. Although Christianity was once the greater oppressor where women were forbidden to preach and learn, and were subject to their husbands' rule, the restrictions under Islam are much worse and enforced much more strictly. There are many barbaric practices associated with Islam such as female segregation, female genital mutilation (FGM: which removes the clitoris in order to prevent women wanting to cheat), multiple wives, male ownership and domination of women, restrictions on work and education of women. Some of those, such as FGM, are nothing to do with Islam and occur in only some Islamic countries and predate Islam. Although in its day Islam granted some rights to women that they did not otherwise have, the unfortunate side-effect is that women's rights have been frozen at a partial state in Islamic countries. Almost half of all women in Muslim lands are illiterate. No matter to what extent misogynistic and patriarchal brutality have been cultural rather than Islamic, in Muslim lands women's rights have remained severely restricted because the religion does not promote women's rights apart from a few specifics. Even in places like New York City, far removed from Arabic culture, Mosques refuse to let a woman speak an address.</p>

Much of the negative doctrine about women comes from the Qur'an and the canonical hadiths which record his sayings. Suras 24:30-31 and 33:59, and hadiths 4092 and 4092 of Abu-Dawud, instruct that women must dress modestly, completely covered, with only hands and face showing. Sura 4:34 states clearly that men have authority over women, and can beat disobedient women. Recorded hadiths confirm that men can beat their women, and that the women who complain about it are reprehensible (Abu-Dawud 2141,2142); rates of wifebeating are very high in Muslim countries, according to Pakistan's own medical institute the rate there is 90%. The hadiths have Muhammad preach that women are inferior intellectually and religiously (Sahih al-Bukhari 6:301, Sahih Muslim 1:142). Sahih al-Bukhari 59:709 states that a nation ruled by a woman will not be successful. Muhammad's most beloved wife Aisha says that men have such rights over women, that if women understood, they would happily wipe the dust from their husband's feet with their faces. Women's testimony is worth less than a man's, and women inherit less. The Qur'an is addressed to males and the text assumes that males are reading it, males are enforcing the rules, and women are subordinate (i.e. Sura 4:15-6). Wives are given permission to do things by their men; never the other way round. Hadiths 3367 and 3368 in Sahih Muslim record that God is only happy with a woman if her husband is happy with her, and, if he calls her to bed for sex, she should comply. The language in the Qur'an is objectifying and talks of women in terms of ownership. Sura 2:225 says that "women are fields: go, then, into your fields whence you please". The influence of the Qur'an and the Hadiths, and the entire religion of Islam and all of the countries where it is dominant, have in total formed a system of thorough male dominance and the systematic abuse of womankind. It is rooted in the core of the religion. Like the Christians, Muslims must learn to ignore and overlook the misogynistic verses in their holy text. Until they do that, Islam will remain an enemy of women.

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An essay based on book experience not life experience.

I am a english chap, grew up in a muslim country Brunei and have lived half my life in the East and half in the West.
It is widely understood that unlike Christian churches which in general, depending on the denomination, have a strong inter relationship or centralised hierarchy eg: roman catholic. Muslim mosques and communities are largely dependent on there own local. they have their own culture, interpretations and beliefs. this can be characterised by the distinct differences in the three main traditions of islam. Not to mention that pakistani and asian islam is profoundly different to islam in the arabic world.
I think that you should first invest in an updated translation of the Quran, as the penguin one is 1956 and is not really a viable copy having had an arabic friend of mine point out certain flaws in the paragraphs you have quoted. also realise that the quran is not just a book to be followed and revered, it is also a historical text which represents and tells of arabic history. there are great acts of cruelty and war in the quran but that doesn't mean all muslims believe this is how they should behave.
as for the oppression of women. How about looking in to the history of the mongols or ancient greece or rome, sparta or even in Japan today, what about american capitalist corperations how many women are CEO's?
And if you really want to get nasty the amount of sex trafficked women in the US alone is thought to be in the two hundred thousand mark and in the Uk its fifty thousand... and these are first world democratic countries... but its illegal i hear you say... ? Well in every islamic country female mutilation is too, but that doesn't stop it happening...
These are statistics from the U.N i'd say the U.S has a bigger problem with female oppression in the form of illegal trafficking than the islamic world does with female mutilations...
i would seriously suggest a more measured approach to your essays and certainly more perspective. As for the quran text being misogynistic, its a historical text, it over a thousand years old.. when it was written roman slavery still existed.. it was a different era and the rule that society put in place to protect its self were somewhat harsher than the rules of todays established nations... when the quran was written much of arabia was still tribal... the moral inclinations of a modern christian derived country do not compute in to tribal society. The more babies you have the stronger the tribe, chiefs and strong warriors have more wives, equals stronger babies, equal stronger tribe, equals more chance of survival. The quran was written by arabs, a people decendant of great tribes... the logic follows...
Contextualise your essays, narrow there scope... take one issue and explore it... instead of laying out the whole islamic people with one brush...

Re: An essay based on book experience not life experience.

Thanks for the reasonabnle comments.

1. The 1956 edition was completely revised in 1989. And, I compare translations of verses to Mohsin Kahn's.

2. Feel free to point out specific translation concerns to me here and I'll look into them, pending normal time constraints.

3. Gender equality is featured in various watchdog and UN reports; on I rank 120-some conutries by results; the USA does not feature in the top-15 countries I ranked by results.

The wholesale oppression of women in countries like Saudi Arabia is a completely different scale of abuse than that which occurs anywhere in the West. Although such patriarchal domination is not due solely to the Qur'an, it is clear that after the long period Islam has had in authority, it has certainly not emancipated women in any way in the last 500 years.

3. You also say "Well in every islamic country female mutilation is [illegal] too, but that doesn't stop it happening...": This is not true, FGM is illegal in Egypt, but not many other (if any) Muslim countries have outlawed it AFAIK.

4. I understand the cultural source of the Qur'an and the era in which it was written. This is of course, one of the biggest problems when modern-day civilisations base their stance towards women on it.

5. I will happily add more detail on specific countries and cultures when it comes to Islam and Women, but, my notes are not complete. I only have respectable/academic texts on Saudi Arabia, Egypt and some on Pakistan. European-wide publications such as the EUMC's reports on Women's Rights support the unfortunate correlation between barbaric practices towards women and Islam, as documented on my page. So although there are some cultural exceptions, the main push of my page is still accurate.


It is important that constructive critcism be levelled at unjust practices so that they can be improved or eliminated. But criticism can be most helpful if it is informed---otherwise the recipients can dismiss/ignore it on the grounds that it does not apply.

Thus, within Islam, women's conditions can be improved by informed "Islamic" arguments --not ones that promote a "secular western" view---however favourable it may be. This is what many Muslim women are doing. They are looking at the Quran and forming strong, informed arguments FOR women's rights---(a position that the Quran actually supports.---contrary to popular western opinion )

Some mysogynist laws in "Islamic" countries also come from the "West" through colonialization. As Dr Al-Hibri notes---Islamic jurisprudence was more egalitarian during its early years but became more partiarchial over time. (Jurisprudence---or Fiqh aspect of Sharia---can change and adapt to circumstances) Therefore, uncovering and exposing such patriarchial misunderstanding can do much to restore the egalitarian spirit of the Quran, thereby eliminating unjust practices. Semantics is another area that also helps. As everyone is aware, the Quran is in Arabic. Understanding the Arabic and putting it into context of the verses preceding and following, often eliminates misunderstandings.---such as the infamous "wife-beating" verse (4:34)---which makes more sense in context if understood as "separation" than "beat" (both meanings are applicable to the Arabic word)---particularly in light of the fact that the Prophet(pbuh) himself never understood the verse to advocate "beat".

However, it is also important that the Quranic concepts be understood in light of modern circumstances and practices---because Muslims live in the 21st century---not the 7th. Tariq Ramadan and others are advocating for a new vision ---one that restores the Quranic concepts of Liberty, Equality and Justice but within the socio-economic constructs of today. In order for Islam and Muslims to adapt, this is an important vision.

Basically---the battle will be much more easily won if "westerners" promote Islamic/Quranic ideals that already match those of "western humanism". This may be an unpalatable solution to those who dislike promoting anything "Islamic" even if it is good. Nevertheless---it is a fact that Liberty, Equality, and Justice are Islamic/Quranic ideals that most Muslims want---but not at the expense of doing away with Islam (spirituality). Advocating that Muslims ignore or do away with the Quran/Islam---will simply be an uphill battle on the losing side.....

Thank you for your wise response; I plan on adding some of the arguments and points you've made.

1. Religion (a far as I can tell) is a creation of human beings.
2. Human beings (as far as I can tell) are a product of evolution.
3. These thoughts lead me to two questions:
a. Are human beings still evolving?
b. Is our creation (religion), evolving?
Of course, it should be noted that there is no "purpose" to evolution. (There is a technical term--which I forget at the moment, for the fallacy of assigning "purpose or intent" to something which is most likely the product of an accident. For that matter, the universe, and our existence, and our consciousness and self-awareness, are probably all just accidents. (What kind of God could let that happen?)

I will also add, in my ADD/HD way, that most of my friends are quite religious. They are, by my illogical reasoning, fine people. For me to pester them with my disdain for religious belief, would probably not improve their lives. Nevertheless, I need to jibe sarcastically about religious belief. Therefore, I appreciate your web site as a place where I can vent my spleen fairly secure that anyone reading this who is experiencing pain and disillusionment, pretty much asked for it, and will probably soon mosey or scuttle back to their preferred "house of worship." Or whatever.

Back to basics...


Are you qualfied to interpret the Qur'an and the Hadith? You're clearly demonstrating a profound misunderstandig of the verses of the Qur'an and the Hadith you are quoting. But you're not alone as this prevalent accross the net. May I suggest you read the following (about half way down) for the requirements before you think you can interpret for yourself: This is from Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad, Shaykh Zayed Lecturer of Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University. Here's a snippet:

"For various reasons, including their great length, no more than ten of the basic hadith collections have been translated into English. There remain well over three hundred others, including such seminal works as the Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shayba, the Sahih of Ibn Khuzayma, the Mustadrak of al-Hakim, and many other multi-volume collections, which contain large numbers of sound hadiths which cannot be found in Bukhari, Muslim, and the other works that have so far been translated. Even if we assume that the existing translations are entirely accurate, it is obvious that a policy of trying to derive the Shariah directly from the Book and the Sunnah cannot be attempted by those who have no access to the Arabic. To attempt to discern the Shariah merely on the basis of the hadiths which have been translated will be to ignore and amputate much of the Sunnah, hence leading to serious distortions."

Shaykh Dr Mohammad Akram Nadwi (a 'Muhaddith' - expert on Hadith - former research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, University of Oxford) stated that Muslim women scholars are responsible for around 25% of Sharia Law. He's got some 57 volumes of research, accumulated over a 15 year period (he had to stop in order to publish), on the biographies of some 8,500+ Muslim women scholars that go right the way back to the wifes of the Prophet (peace be upon him). And those that know something of Islam, will know that Ayesha (may God Almighty be pleased with her) is one of Islam's greatest ever scholars from the 7th century - she was the one that men consulted at the time to get a deeper understanding on Islam. She is the second highest narrator of Hadith and revered by Muslim men and women accross the world for, amongst other things, her intellect. This research (Shaykh Nadwi's) was only released a couple of years ago. Do you have anything equivalent to what Shaykh Nadwi produced compared with any other religion or culture in the last 2000 years? In order to formulate the Law, you have to be educated to the highest level. Surely, women are not allowed to be educated in Islam?

There are plenty of problems in present day Muslim communities across the globe - we're not blind to it. Some of the abuses are shocking. This isn't because of the implementation of Islam but rather the lack of it. There are efforts being made to re-educate Muslims. You're taking your observations of current Muslim behaviour (and I'm not denying what you're seeing) with snippets from the Qur'an and Hadith to try in vain to argue what you see is sanctioned in Islam. Islam is a big, big subject which is why we have subjects such as 'Principles of Hadith Sciences', 'Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence', 'Principles of Quranic Exegesis' and so on. I suggest you enrol on one of Shaykh Nadwi's seminars which are held each month at Cambridge University and bring along your various quotes and ask him to explain them (although, some recognised commentary on the Qur'an would explain some of the verses you quoted) or go and find those that are qualified.

Re: Back to basics...

Thank you for the serious feedback. Because what I *can* read of the Qur'an and the Hadiths mesh quite well with what international human rights bodies and the statistics show, it would require *quite* a serious number of misunderstandings for me to doubt the general style of the analysis I've written so far.

This doesn't mean that I disagree with your feedback though - this type of thing is best done by critical scholars who can read and write Arabic of course.

It would be particularly productive if perhaps you could pick one or two verses I've mentioned, and, provide some alternative analysis of them in the context of scriptural Islam and women?

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