Is Christianity Really Better on Women than Islam?

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Hello Critical Thinkers!

According to WhyIslam.org and other reports, the fastest growing demographic in Islam are Hispanic women. In fact, the majority of converts to Islam overall in the West are women. With more women in positions of power and influence, the choice to convert to a religion traditionally perceived as oppressive toward them causes some to question: Is Christianity really better on women than Islam? 

In this post I will address this question from the following perspectives:

·       The treatment of women in Muslim versus Christian majority countries

·       The view of women supported by the Quran, Hadiths and the Bible

·       The examples of Mohammad and Jesus regarding treatment of women

Islam and Christianity - What’s the Difference Anyway?

Before diving in it is important to address the common error that Islam and Christianity are generally similar ways to get to the same God. 

The central claims of Christianity in the Bible – that God is a trinity [Matthew 28:19], Jesus is the second person of that trinity [Romans 10:9], and that Jesus died on the cross [Mark 15:25] – are all blasphemous in Islam. Islam teaches in the Quran that Jesus is only a prophet [Q 2:136], God is strictly unitarian [Q 2:163], and that the crucifixion happened to a man mistaken for Jesus [Q 4:158]. Also, in Islam, you will go to heaven if your good works outweigh your bad [Q 7:8-9], while salvation in Christianity is based on belief in Jesus Christ alone [Ephesians 2:8-9]. In short, the two religions are not only very different, but present opposing doctrine as true.

Worst Countries for Women

Comparing obvious differences between Muslim and Christian women like dress and a woman's place in or outside the home is not the most fruitful exercise, since they are ultimately a matter of preference (excluding abusive extremes like in Afghanistan). You can find women of both faiths that prefer to dress modestly or a lot less covered, and that prefer to work in the home or the boardroom.

Now when it comes to gender equality by country, we start to see more meaningful differences. When studies are compiled ranking worst countries for women by organizations like Global Citizen or World Economic Forum, Muslim majority countries tend to dominate the top 10. Reasons include widespread gender-based violence, gender segregation, and lack of economic and political empowerment. To be fair though, Christian nations during the time of the transatlantic slave trade would have scored poorly in their treatment of slave women, and the American church is now addressing widespread cover up of sexual abuse by men (highlighted by the #ChurchToo movement). To get a clearer picture on this subject then, let’s now shift the focus from what man does, to what God says man should do in the holy texts of each religion.

Quran, Hadiths, Bible

The most important authoritative text in Islam is the Quran, followed by the Hadiths (sayings of Muhammad), while the Bible is the sole authoritative text in Christianity. As we investigate the challenging passages in each, keep in mind that the deeply patriarchal ancient world was a harsh place for all women.

Some of the more challenging passages of the Quran include the instruction for men to beat disobedient wives [Q 4.34], the encouragement of men to forcefully have sex with their wives when they desire [Q 2.223], the assignment to a woman of half the inheritance of her brother [Q 4.11], and the consideration of the testimony of a woman as equal to half that of a man's [Q 2.282]. In volume 7 of [Hadith] Sahih al Bukhari, hell is described as being filled with mostly women [Book 62, Number 125], women are said to possess an evil omen [Book 62, Number 29], and women are said to have crooked character [Book 62, Number 113]. 

The Bible's most challenging passages for women are found in the Old Testament where we find things like polygamy tolerated [1 Kings 11:3], and the punishment for stoning of adulterous women [Deuteronomy 22: 20-21]. In the New Testament, we see the highest church leadership reserved for men [1 Timothy 3:2], the mandate for married women to submit to their husbands [Ephesians 5:22] and the restriction of divorce to adultery [Matthew 19:9] and desertion [1 Corinthians 7:15] with no exception for domestic violence.

A quick search on the popular website Islam QA of  any of the challenging passages in the Islamic texts mentioned above will reveal that the religious leaders offer no real challenge to these passages, except that the beatings mentioned in Q 4.34 should be light. The latter is not at all supported by the context of the entire verse. On the other hand, the Old Testament passages (each of which can be explained) were part of the Mosaic law, for the nation of Israel, during the time Moses was alive. Since then, Jesus has ended the law [Romans 10:4]. 

As far as the New Testament passages, husbands are required to love their wives to the point of sacrificing their lives for them [Ephesians 5:25]. Unlike in Islam where a man can divorce a woman for any reason (while women need to seek permission), divorce laws in Christianity are meant in part to protect women and children who needed caretakers. Also, women are not mandated to stay in the same household with an abusive man. And finally, the issue of male leadership at the highest levels of the church is a very contentious one, however there are examples of women leadership at other levels in the New Testament church and in the church today.

Muhammad versus Jesus

Beyond the authoritative texts, nothing tells us more about the appropriate behavior for Muslims and Christians toward women than their beloved central figures – Muhammad and Jesus respectively. While Muhammad is credited with good deeds like stopping infanticide of girl babies, honoring mothers and giving women inheritances which they didn’t have before, he unfortunately exhibited much more troubling behavior towards women. Among his most controversial acts were his view of women as deficient in intellect and faith [Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 1], his marriage at age 51 to a 6 year old child [Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 234], and his habit of keeping up to 12 wives [Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 3] (more than double the 4 allowed in Islam). Amazingly he opposed the taking of a second wife by his son in law for fear it would hurt his daughter’s feelings [Sahih A-Bukhari, Book 62, Number 113].

By contrast, in both the Bible [1 John 3:5] and the Quran [Q 19:31] Jesus is reported to be sinless. So, both Christians and Muslims share the belief that he never could have abused women. Jesus went further by breaking the cultural taboos of his time when he appeared to women first after his resurrection [John 11:25], had women disciples [Luke 10:39], and publicly engaged with women of ill repute [Luke 7:36-50, Luke 8:48].

Case Study: Tunisia and America

The model of behavior towards women demonstrated by sacred texts and religious figures has very real consequences on women in society.  In Tunisia, one of the most progressive Muslim majority countries, a battle is currently raging over the inheritance of women. In a country with limited options for the advancement of the average woman, inheritance equals wealth and wealth equals power, and women are loudly demanding access to this power. However, most men in Tunisia oppose changing unfair inheritance laws because they say it violates Islamic law... and they're right! 

Contrast this with the fight for women's right to vote in 1900's America. Many Christian leaders opposed women voting, appealing to ‘Godly’ standards like a desire to have women in the home and not in the public sphere. However, none of them could quote scripture that says women are unequal in their intellectual ability to assess candidates or should not vote.

Who’d You Rather?

The fact is there are great men in Islam and Christianity, and horrible ones in each. However, when devout Muslim men decide to completely respect and honor women as equal, they are doing so despite the instructions of their religion’s texts and model set by Muhammad. While the devout Christian man who honors and uplifts women is acting in accordance with the Bible and the example of Jesus. Potential women converts to Islam would be wise to first study the Islamic texts deeply for themselves and not rely solely on the testimony of Muslim apologists, or the appeal of superficial attributes of Islam.

If your rights are violated as a woman, would you rather appeal to the Islamic texts or the Bible, the example of Muhammad or of Jesus? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Ciao for now!

Richelle