Recently, I came across a purported formal opinion (Tabari IX:113) by a medieval Persian Islamic scholar explaining that the faith’s holy book, the Quran, relegates women to the social status of livestock.
It shows once again the frustrating difficulty inherent in all ancient scripture when trying to interpret its meaning.
Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī’s tafsir — the Arabic word for a scholarly explanation, especially of scripture — also opined in IX:113 that the Quran authorizes husbands to beat their wives. The text of Tabari’s opinion is below:
“Allah permits you to shut them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not severely. If they abstain, they have the right to food and clothing. Treat women well for they are like domestic animals and they possess nothing themselves. Allah has made the enjoyment of their bodies lawful in his Qur’an.”
This text is clear, but other believers protest that the Quran says no such thing. A person named Tabassum Pasha, responding to a post about IX:113 on the website Quora, rails against anti-Islam laity misquoting the holy book:
“This verse is NOT in the Quran, and has been produced to promote Islamaphobia. I suggest you stop looking at Anti Islamic websites to get your “facts” and start looking at the actual scripture if you genuinely want to learn about the rights that Islam gave and continues to give women. Your efforts to spread your Anti Islamic sentiments will not be successful.”
Try finding a verse
However, trying to find the actual relevant verse online seems pointless; doing a keyword search using “Quran” and “Tabari IX:133” just turns up various references to first passage noted above and no link or direction to a Quran site to double-check what specific scriptural passage(s) Tabari sourced.
So, unlike the Bible, every chapter and verse of which is endlessly available online for reference, the Quran, for English speakers, is like a black hole. Which is not to say that Christian scripture isn’t likewise problematic to interpret, even if you have the passage in front of you. As always, apologists can muddy the waters by claiming passages untenable in the modern age are simply metaphorical rather than divine command to be taken literally.
We skeptics are thus left with the awful choice of ignoring, or not, that for most of the Bible’s history, and the Quran’s, scripture was universally viewed as the inerrant Word of god transferred directly to man.
Yet, both the Bible and the Quran assign women a permanent secondary status to men among humanity. Fundamentalist Christians believe Eve’s betrayal of Adam in the Garden of Eden assured human “original sin” and makes women eternally suspect creatures, and devout Muslims simply believe God created women inferior to men.
On the same Quora page that IX:13 was rejected by a respondent, another post appeared, by a woman named Nadeem Admani, who quoted Chapter 4 (An Nisa), verse 34, in the Quran to explain Islam’s view of women. Quoting the passage, she notes, “Allah says”:
“Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.”
Scripture: women are lesser
So, the main take-away for me here is that Christian and Islamic scripture dismiss women as secondary to men and divinely bound to obey them. And, at least in Islam, that God authorizes men to “lightly” beat their wives if they are “arrogant” in any way, especially when it comes to the marriage bed.
This kind of patriarchal sexism is one of the main drivers of the Christian Right and present-day Repblicanism in the United States. (View the 2016 videos of a Pakistani Islamic immam and of Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias embedded in this post to get a flavor of the dismissive arguments women face worldwide regarding scripture.)
It’s no wonder that when one U.S. state’s legislature recently voted to make it illegal for women to have abortions after six weeks gestation, not one single female legislator voted for it.
“The past is never dead,” as American novelist William Faulkner once wrote. “It’s not even past.”