Equality for All in the Ummah?

Many Muslims claim that one of the attractive features of Islam, the reason why many embrace that religion, is the radical equality of all people in Islam. My impression is that Americans love that kind of talk. Deep down they appear to resonate sympathetically to the notion that "all men are created equal" and that there should be "liberty and justice for all." However, what they see around them is quite different. Thus the Americans I know long for the reality of equality but that longing remains unfulfilled.

Then enters a new religion on the American scene—Islam—and it claims to be the one and only way, the God-created way, to make the American ideal a living reality.

If only it were true! Unfortunately, there are the passages of inequality in the Qur’an. For example, (2:228)—And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them, and men are a degree above them." Jamal Badawi, the Muslim multimedia circuit rider, attempts to show how the superiority of men over women really means the equality of men and women. He notes that the "degree" is "quiwama" meaning maintenance and protection. Men have the responsibility (superiority) to maintain and protect women because women, "the weaker sex" are entitled "to protection." He goes on to say in his pamphlet, "The Status of Women in Islam" that legally, however, men and women are equal in Islam.

Nice try! I don't know much about American history, but my impression is that Americans might know that game. Legally the Americans have declared everyone to be equal. That is called "de jure" equality, but the reality is inequality among some people, "de facto" inequality. So, de jure in Islam men and women are equal; de facto (biologically, psychologically, and ontologically) men and women are not equal. In Islam women are held to be weak, needing protection and maintenance. So what Islam is really saying is that while men and women are not equal, before the law they will ignore that fact and treat them as equal—except when it comes to inheritance, or serving as witnesses in court, or functioning as the head of state, etc.

Now that I think about it, the reality in Islam seems to be de facto inequality of men and women, "declared" de jure equality of men and women, but an actual de jure inequality of men and women.

But let’s be fair here. Badawi goes on to say that religiously (and legally) women actually have certain advantages over men—they are superior to men in advantages. Americans like the sound of that—sounds like affirmative action to them. What does Badawi mean? He writes, "the woman is exempted from the daily prayers and from fasting during her menstrual periods and 40 days after childbirth," and Friday prayer is optional for her but mandatory for the men. Wow! Let me get this straight. The most beloved pillars of the faith, the very means for gaining entry to heaven—the purportedly beautiful means that Allah in his mercy has given to humans—those great privileges—women don’t have to do. How is it an advantage to be exempt from religious practices that are supposedly so beautiful and enjoyable to perform? Help me with that one. When I love and enjoy something, I don’t want to be exempt from it, I want to do it more. That would be kind of like if when I was a teenager and enjoyed driving around in my car, my dad and mom called me into the living room one day and said, "We know you love to drive your car so much that we are exempting you from driving it for a 40 day period." Boy, would I have been excited about that one; I would really feel equal to my friends who had the obligation to drive around in their car and enjoy themselves.

Look, Muslims, you may fool some Americans who are so disgusted with the American way of life that they will latch onto anything. But gladly, I also know enough Americans who think before they act and they will just say, "We in America have been there, done that, and don't want to go back—no matter what name it's called, including Islam."

>> Further discussion of some reactions to the above article

Series: Second Thoughts On Common Islamic Assumptions
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