Women and the Quran

  • The Quran is not an inherently patriarchal text. Because Muslim societies have historically been highly misogynist, patriarchy has been read into the Quran. The Quran has been interpreted with prejudices against women since the those interpretations focus on the male as norm without substantial support or evidence. The Quran needs to be constantly reinterpreted depending on the context it is being applied in, so that it can maintain universality. The overall message of the Quran emphasises justice and egalitarianism.
  • According to the Quran, men and women are created equal, but have different functions and roles in society. This is because the Quran recognizes differences in gender; however, it does not advocate essentialist roles. Furthermore, the Quran recognizes the cultural differences between men and women’s work, but does place any judgements on them.
  • Creation:
    1. The creation of humans is not expressed in terms of gender. The Quran does not state that Adam was created first; the language is generic. Similarly it does not state that Eve was the second person since the Arabic equivalent is ‘spouse.’ Therefore, it could be male or female.
    2. Humans were created as caretakers for Earth, not heaven.
    3. Unlike the Biblical account of creation, Eve is not blamed for disobeying Allah.
    4. At creation, male and female were not defined. The only thing that is stated is that women bear children due to biology. Men and women are seen as equal partners.
  • Paradise:
    1. Descriptions of Paradise were meant to appeal to the patriarchs of Arabia in order to encourage them to join the religion. The early verses (Makkah) do indeed promise huris, who are beautiful virgins, as rewards in heaven.
    2. However the later verses (after migration to Madina) switch to the generic and state that everyone will be rewarded with companionship.
    3. The real and true purposes of paradise are peace, transcendence from Earth, and most importantly, Allah’s company. This is possible for both genders.
  • Veiling:
    1. Veiling is not prescribed for all women in the Quran. It was advocated for Prophet Muhammad’s wives.
    2. Modesty is urged for both men and women.
  • Inheritance:
    1. The Quran ensures women inherit equitably and gives women the right to property.
    2. The ‘one third the share of the males for the females’ formula is a suggestion, not a prescription.
  • Divorce:
    1. Men have the right to vocally divorce women. Women can not initiate divorce without an arbitrator.
    2. Emphasis is on equitable reconciliation or separation.
    3. A couple can only divorce each other twice (thus limiting constant remarriage).
  • The Quran banned practices that have severe ramifications for women such as female infanticide, the sexual abuse of female slaves, denying women property and inheritance. It also restricted others such as polygamy.
  • The Quranic verse on polygamy restricts the number of wives a man can have to four. However, one condition for polygamy is equal treatment, and many argue that since this is not possible, polygamy is not realistically possible.
  • While women’s responsibility is child bearing, men’s responsibility is to provide economic stability. Although women are identified as child bearers, nurturing is not assumed to be essentialist to mothers.
  • The Quran does not emphasise men as more ‘natural’ or ‘capable’ rulers. Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba, is the only ruler who is talked about favourably.
  • Although no women are identified as prophets in the Quran (again, in terms of context, it would have been almost impossible for a female to succeed in highly patriarchal societies), many are talked about. Additionally, some are identified as having received wahy or divine revelation, such as Mary and Moses’ mother.
Most of the information used for this presentation came from two main sources:
  1. Amina Wadud. Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective
  2. Asma Barlas. “Believing Women” in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an