Rereading “Status of Woman in Islam” (III)


“In the midst of the darkness that engulfed the world, the divine revelation echoed in the wide desert of Arabia with a fresh, noble, and universal message to humanity:

‘O Mankind, keep your duty of your Lord who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate (of same kind) and from them twain has spread a multitude of men and women’ (Qur’an 4:1).”

A footnote states that “from it” means “from the same kind,” and that “there is no trace in the Qur’an to a parallel of the Biblical concept that Eve was created from one of Adam’s ribs.”

The author approvingly quotes a Muslim writer who praises Q 4:1 as a beautiful affirmation of the humanity of women. Then, he quotes several other quranic verses (7:189, 42:11 and 16:72) that speak of the creation of human beings.


Early ’80’s ghost: That story of Eve being created from Adam’s rib never really sat well with me. And it isn’t in the Qur’an?! You mean, I don’t have to believe in that story any more? Maybe I don’t.

Commentator: “In the midst of the darkness….” What an attempt to frame the reader’s judgment.

While the footnote for Q 4:1 is technically correct—the Qur’an does not directly state that Adam’s wife was created from his rib—it is also misleading. Most Qur’an commentators who wrote before the late 19th century actually do interpret this verse as a reference to the rib story (see for example the Tafsir al-Jalalayn). There are also some well-known hadiths that refer to women as having been created from a rib.

Now, we begin to see why the author states in the introduction that he defines Islamic teaching as what is in the Qur’an and the Hadith. That way, he can ignore centuries of Qur’an commentary when it suits his purpose. But this does not adequately prepare readers for the kinds of ideas that they will likely encounter if they begin to read more widely—or to mix with conservative Muslims.

Super-commentator: It seems that the concern here is point-scoring for Islam over Judaism and Christianity. Sigh. Meanwhile, the author doesn’t seem to think that there might be a contradiction in the statement that this “universal” message addressed to “humanity” begins with “O mankind.” This is an instance of poor (or unreflective) translation: “ya ayyuha n-nas” can quite well be translated as “O people.”


The booklet goes on to discuss “the spiritual aspect”:

“The Qur’an provides clear-cut evidence that woman is completely equated with man in the sight of God in terms of her rights and responsibilities. The Qur’an says: ‘Every soul will be (held) in pledge for its deeds.’ (74:38).'”

Q 3:195 and 16:97 are also quoted, and it is stated that women are not blamed in the Qur’an for “Adam’s first mistake.”

“Both were jointly wrong in their disobedience to God, both repented, and both were forgiven.”


Early ’80’s ghost: This sounds wonderful. So, according to the Qur’an, men and women are equal? And women are no more sinful than men are? This sounds way, way better than what the Church Fathers had to say.

Commentator: Read on. Things aren’t so simple. This author is not arguing that men and women are equal in their legal rights and responsibilities—just that both women and men are equally responsible before God to obey Him. But the way this section is phrased, it is rather confusing for the average reader.

And here again, the author is quoting the Qur’an as if there have never been any debates among Muslims about its meanings, and as if the Muslims have never thought that these verses require any sort of interpretation. This is misleading. And even more misleading is that this section makes no mention at all of the hadiths that speak of women in general as a temptation to men, and state that the majority of women will enter hell. Again, the reader is not being prepared for what they will encounter if they read a bit more widely—or even if they listen to some typical sermons on the “signs of the Day of Judgment.”

Super-commentator: There is a double standard in this booklet. Troubling aspects of other religions, such as some of the statements of the Church Fathers, are presented as if they are an immutable part of Christianity. But something as central to Islam (as the author himself defines it, even) as the Hadith—even hadiths from Bukhari and Muslim, which Sunnis generally believe are the most authentic—are simply ignored when it helps the author make his argument. And it’s not as if the hadiths about women being created from a rib, or about how women tempt men to sin or will be the majority of the dwellers of hell are just old texts that few Muslims read or hear any more. These are well known, and pretty commonly quoted in admonitory books aimed at women for instance.

Perhaps the author thinks that these hadiths are not authentic—or more likely, he thinks that they have been wrongly interpreted. In that case, it would be more fair to the reader to acknowledge their existence, and explain why he thinks this. And also, to extend the same courtesy to other faiths, by pointing out that their adherents also have their own ways of dealing with misogyny in their texts.

Early ’80’s ghost: But the verses from the Qur’an that are quoted here are so beautiful. This is a god who actually addresses women, and speaks to them as human beings. That cancels out whatever some hadiths might say.

Commentator: Short answer here—no, it doesn’t usually work that way in reality. As you will find out, if you get involved in a conservative Muslim community. Or read almost anything deeper than dawah booklets.

Early ’80’s ghost: But isn’t how God sees me really all that matters?? After all, it is God alone who will judge me in the end.

Super-commentator: “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.” Unfortunately.

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  1. #1 by Jenny Jones on January 26, 2013 - 8:10 pm

    very interesting. I think I understand your point. At first I wanted to say…but this is the author’s interpretation, and it may be sincere (probably because this is how I interpret it). But then I read your paragraph:

    Perhaps the author thinks that these hadiths are not authentic—or more likely, he thinks that they have been wrongly interpreted. In that case, it would be more fair to the reader to acknowledge their existence, and explain why he thinks this. And also, to extend the same courtesy to other faiths, by pointing out that their adherents also have their own ways of dealing with misogyny in their texts.

    I see. (btw, this rib story is still mainstream at least in my experience (facebook converts) still quote the bent rib crap (JOYFULLY!) and it makes me BOIL when it comes from the mouths of WOMEN. ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! 🙂 thanks for this.

  2. #2 by xcwn on January 26, 2013 - 9:34 pm

    Jenny—You mean the claim that the hadiths saying that women are created from a bent rib “really just mean” that women are different than men and rather fragile too, so men need to be extra careful to treat women kindly? Like you know, he should consider ordering out when his wife is PMS-ing instead of lecturing her about how his mother cooks better??

    That sort of “explanation” is just apologetic bafflegab. It’s a pretty transparent faith-saving device intended to short-circuit critical reflection.

    I am not sure why the author decides to give it a miss at this point in the pamphlet. Maybe he realizes that this would not be a winning strategy—to expose non-Muslim readers to a hadith that they probably wouldn’t have encountered before (in pre-internet days…) and then provide a rather forced “explanation” that this does not actually denigrate women… although he began the booklet by saying that the Qur’an and the Hadith, “properly and unbiasedly understood” are the sources we should look to in order to understand Islam. Much easier not to deal with such hadiths at all, so he doesn’t.

    He doesn’t ever explain what he means by a proper and unbiased reading—which then gives him endless wiggle-room to read them any way that suits the arguments he wants to make.

  3. #3 by Hani on January 26, 2013 - 10:03 pm

    I am utterly blown away by the intelligence and thought you’ve put into this blog. It is so refreshing to read something a bit more critical and not so heavily involved in rhetoric for once. I am an apostate but growing up in an Islamic society, the Maldives, Islam is extremely hard to leave behind; especially when one is loved by people who have found their own version yet ostracised, threatened and berated by people who think they know the absolute truth. I am uncomfortable in completely condemning Islam because of the few that are aware of the differences and practice it quite beautifully in their own personal way. Even more confusing are the people who are quite keen dismiss any and all criticisms on the basis that the criticiser should perhaps “go read some books and learn about real Islam” whatever that is. That sort of denialism on behalf of moderates is what has led the extremist Salafists to gain a foothold, in my country at least. We have gone from a nation with its own culture of relaxed folk Islam to a nation that doesn’t even remember that most of its women didn’t even wear the Hijab 30 years ago. Thank you so much for voicing your opinions and letting the world know that everything is not so black and white; especially in this atmosphere of fear where everyone is so afraid to even discuss these issues. You are a true heroine.

    • #4 by charmedshiva on January 28, 2013 - 2:51 am

      Hani, I feel you! I feel you, man. I’m in a similar boat.

  4. #5 by luckyfatima on January 27, 2013 - 1:56 am

    Brilliant series.

    Very eery for me because I remember reading this rib thingy here in Badawi’s book and then later finding out about the rib ahadith.

    I wonder what Commenter and Super-Commenter would have to say on Badawi’s words on women’s equity vs. notions of equality based on the supposed Western goal of gender sameness. That could be a fun one.

  5. #6 by (;_;) on January 27, 2013 - 2:42 am

    I remember pleading that I was a bent rib so that my (ex)husband would not to break me.

    The logic is unassailable: 1. Women need governance because we are delicate bent ribs. 2. Because we are bent we rebel. 3. The governors must govern our behavior. 4. So we plead with our governors to remember we are bent ribs and beg them not to break us. And back again.

    • #7 by xcwn on January 28, 2013 - 1:35 am

      (;_;)—Your ex was brutal. I got off much more lightly. But still, your comment is really triggering.

      I can’t believe that we thought this was ok. but we did. In our marriages, and often too in community dynamics.

  6. #8 by Jenny Jones on January 27, 2013 - 9:06 pm

    Um, excuse me…waiting for a new post. I have a cup of coffee and everything…imagine what a halaqa discussion we could have! Now THAT would get me back into a masjid!

    • #9 by (^_^) on January 29, 2013 - 1:56 pm

      Yes, maybe one day we make that kind of halaqa happen!

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