Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has said that women, under sharia law, must be subservient. In a response, Qasim Rashid of Salon writes:
For example, far from Dr. Carson’s claim that in Islam women are subservient, Islam gave women equal rights in 610 that our own United States haven’t given even in 2015. To this day America has not passed the Equal Rights Amendment. Meanwhile the Quran 33:36 emphatically declares the equality of men and women:
“Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him … God has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward.”Carson’s parents divorced when he was 8—a right American women didn’t have until the 19th century. Meanwhile, Islam was the first religion to give women the right to choose to marry or to divorce, the right to own property, to become secular or religious scholars, the right to inherit, or to run a business—all in the 7th century.
This is a brilliant example of how easily the debate over Islam goes wrong. Both are right, and both are wrong. The interpretation of sharia practised by some radical branches of contemporary Islam—most notably those of the Islamic State, the ayatollahs of Iran, and the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia—is very much like the oppression Carlson fear. One the other hand, Rashid is right when he says that Islam haven’t always been this way and that it mustn’t be so now. The truth of the matter is that Islam, like most religions, is very flexible and that it appears in many shapes and forms. What people should fear is not religion in itself but the preaching that use it to legitimize oppression.
When it comes to the treatment of women, the Christian Bible contains sexist passages to those in the Koran. Compare this:
“I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3)
“Men are in charge over women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded.” (The Koran 4:34)*
Both these verses can be and have been used to legitimize oppression of women, but as most modern people know, they are not interpreted that way by most. In all matters related to religious texts, their meaning is open for an ongoing debate. How a text is understood is a matter of choice made by the reader. There are verses in both the Bible and the Koran that clearly state equality between men and women, and there are those that can be read as a defence of patriarchy. In the end, it’s people who are responsible for their interpretation and for what segment of religious scripture they decide to make into practice.
*Translated into English by Muhammad Pickthall.