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Male, Female, and Religion

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Male, Female, and Religion

Male, Female, and Religion

It is a perforated, light blue swatch of mesh that represents the obstructed view of the world for a nation of people who were once free. Embedded in this piece of the burqa is the story of the Afghan people--the story of the tears, suffering and suppression of millions of Afghan women, the denial of human and religious rights and the history of a conflict that brewed for years. Although many international organizations and national governments attempted preventive measures to head off this violent international crisis, their efforts proved unsuccessful and, in 1996, the radical Taliban militia seized power. This new control force will prove to be the beginning of the end of the normal lives of women in Afghanistan.

One must consider all the various elements that compromise the picture of Islamic womanhood. Many of these elements are directly related to the religion of Islam itself, such as past and present legal realities, roles permitted and enforced as a result of Muslim images of women, and the variety of Islamic and hetero-Islamic rites and practices in which Islamic women have traditionally participated. The Holy Quran (sometimes transliterated as "Koran") still forms the basis of prevailing family law in most areas of the Muslim world. It has always been and still is considered to be the last in a series of divine revelations from God given in the seventh century C.E. to humanity through the vehicle of his prophet Muhammad. The Quran is therefore a literal and unmitigated word of God, collected and ordered by the young Muslim community but untainted with the thoughts and interpretations of anybody, including Muhammed himself. It is obvious, then, why the regulations formulated by the Quran in regard to women have been adhered to with strictness and respect. On the other hand, whatever the earlier realities for women in terms of marriage divorce, and inheritance of property, it is clear that the Quran did introduce very significant changes that were advantageous for women. "Contemporary Muslims are fond of pointing out, quite correctly, that Islam brought legal advantages for women quite unknown in corresponding areas of the Western Christian World."

But what does the Quran specifically say about women? The earliest message of the Quran, and the common themes that run through all the chapters, are of the realities of the oneness of God and the inevitability of the day of judgment. "All persons, man and women, are called upon to testify to those realities." So in the eyes of God, men and women are fully equal, an idea that we later see is not followed in modern society. Several verses of the Quran present instances where men are a step above women and men are the protectors of women (or are in charge of women) because God has given preference to one over the other and because men provide support for women. "Perhaps because such verses have been so troublesome for non-Muslims (especially feminists), they have been subject to an enormous amount of explanation and interpretation by contemporary Muslim apologists eager to present a defense of their religion." These writers, men and women, affirm that it is precisely because men are invested with the responsibility of taking care of women, financially and otherwise, that they are given authority over the females of their families. They also seem to lead more liberal lives in society. They are allowed by the Quran to marry multiple wives, so as long as he is able to provide for each equally. A Muslim woman, however, may marry only one husband, and he must be a Muslim. Many are quick to point out that these restrictions are for the benefit of women, ensuring that they will not be left unprotected. "In Islam, marriage is not a sacrament, but a legal contract in which the woman has clearly defined legal rights in negotiating. She can dictate the terms and can receive the dowry herself. This dowry (mahr) she is permitted to keep and maintain as a source of personal pride and comfort."

It is considered one of the great innovations of the Quran over earlier practices that women are permitted to inherit and own property. Non-Muslims have generally found great difficulty with the Quranic stipulation that a woman is allowed to inherit property but that the inheritance should be only half that of a male. "According to the Islamic understanding, however, the rationale is precisely that which applies to the verse saying that men are in charge of women." Because women are permitted to keep and maintain their own property without responsibility for taking care of their families financially, it is only reasonable that the male must spend his own earning and inheritance for the maintenance of women, should receive twice as much.

In the early Islamic community, some verses of the Quran were exaggerated and their underlying ideas elaborated and defined in ways that led fairly quickly to a seclusion of women which seems quite at odds with what the Quran intended or the Prophet wanted. In early times, women participated fully with men in all activities of worship and prayer. Soon they became segregated, however, to the point where an often-quoted hadith attributed to Muhammad has him saying that "women pray better at home than in the mosque, and best of all in their own closets." Because of this, early in the development of the community women began to find the mosque, the common place of worship, less and less accessible. In general, women's participation in all activities are different than that of male participants, for example, their prayer does not necessarily follow the pattern of the regularized five times a day. Across the Islamic world one can find women spending long periods of time at shrine tombs, relaxing in a space in which none of the demands of their regular lives are put upon them. The shrine is a place in which women can be together, or alone can be in communication with a personage considered in some senses to be able to help them with the kinds of personal problems in which the high God may seem too remote to be interested. The reasoning behind this is that some of the buried fall under a special category of person, a saint. "These saints are reported to be carrying on activities such as praying, reciting the Quran, and responding to the greetings of their visitors." They are not actually worshipped, but are considered to have a kind of special authority from God to help answer the requests of persons who come to them for assistance.

"As far as education, there are also different ideas of what subjects are deemed "appropriate" for a woman to study, particularly those geared to make her the best and most productive wife, mother, and female participant in the family structure." The prevalent view, confirmed by the Quran, is that women should be modest and should neither expose themselves to men to any certain extent. This view has obviously contributed to the difficulties of receiving a full education and of securing employment outside the house.

The modern Islamic woman is morally and religiously conservative and affirms the absolute value of the true Islamic system for human relationships. She is intolerant of the kind of Islam in which women are subjugated and relegated to roles insignificant to the full functioning of society, and she wants to take full advantage of educational and professional opportunities. She may agree, however, that certain fields of education are more appropriate for women than others, and that certain professions are more natural to males than to females. "She participates as a contributor to and decision maker for ...

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Keywords: male and female religion, male and female religious, male and female faith, are there any religions with a female god, what religion believes god is female, male vs female symbol, male vs female icon, male vs female owl

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