Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Muhammad’s Low Opinion of Women

Two jewels: they are deficient, and hell if full of them..

Muslim apologists have done an outstanding job convincing people that Muhammad was a champion of women’s rights. Indeed, arguments for Muhammad’s liberation of women have convinced some that "Muhammad was probably the greatest champion of women’s rights the world has ever seen." (Pierre Crabites, cited in Allama Sir Abdullah Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy, The Wisdom of Muhammad (New York: Citadel Press, 2001), p. 20). Descriptions of Muhammad’s improvements in the area of gender relations abound in Muslim writings:

So far back as the seventh century of the Christian era, Islam abolished the horrible practice of female infanticide prevalent among the pagan Arabs, gave clear directions leading to the restriction of polygamy, restrained the unlimited rights exercised by men over their wives, and gave woman both spiritual and material equality with man (Yahiya Emerick, Muhammad (Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002), p. 142.)

Arab human rights were quite backward, even for the time. Women had precious few rights. A woman became the property of a man upon marriage, and no woman could refuse a match made by her father. Spousal abuse was rampant, with no recourse to any quarter for help. Upon the death of her husband, a woman could be inherited by her son and made her son’s wife. Female infanticide in which newborn baby girls were buried alive in the sand was quite common in a society that considered surplus females a burden. Women had no divorce or well-defined inheritance rights and certainly no political vote. A man could divorce without reason and leave a woman penniless, and there was no limit to the number of wives a man could have, nor rules for how each should be treated. . . . Arabian custom had always dictated that women should take no public role in religious or political activity. The superiority of men over women in all respects was also a widely accepted notion. Muhammad changed that notion by asserting that men and women were equals before God in every sphere. . . . To examine the record of Muhammad and his mission is to gain a new respect for the improvements he made in the lives of both men and women. (Yahiya Emerick, Muhammad, pp. 8-9, 141, 142.)

The Qur’an provided women with explicit rights to inheritance, to property, the obligation to testify in a court of law, and the right to divorce. It made explicit prohibitions on the use of violence against female children and women as well as on duress in marriage and community affairs. . . . Women were equally responsible for ensuring that all religious duties of the individual and society were fulfilled, in terms of punishment for social, criminal and moral infractions. They were also offered equal opportunities to attain the ultimate boon: paradise and proximity to Allah if they strove with all their means to ‘establish what is good and forbid what is evil’. (Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, The No-Nonsense Guide to Islam (Oxford: New Internationalist Publications, 2004), pp. 121, 122)

While it is true that Muhammad raised the status of Arabian women in some respects,[*] we cannot let this fact cloud certain other issues, namely, (1) that Muhammad permitted husbands to beat their wives (he did it himself with Aisha), (2) that he repeatedly proclaimed the inferiority of women’s intellectual abilities, (3) that he taught that women’s prospects for the afterlife are extremely bleak, and (4) that, according to Muhammad, it is acceptable for men to rape their female captives. When combined with the above passages describing Muhammad’s beneficial impact on society, these four facts allow us to arrive at a more accurate and well-rounded picture of Muhammad’s view of women.

Let’s now give a look to each of this point, in order to corroborate it with some background information:

 (*) In their efforts to provide evidence for Islam, Muslims tend to exaggerate the immorality in Arabia before the rise of Islam, so much so that they sometimes conflict with their own claims. For instance, it is often claimed that female infanticide was horribly widespread in Arabia, and that Muhammad improved the situation by outlawing infanticide. Yet Muslims also maintain that there was unbridled polygamy in Arabia, in which men would sometimes marry hundreds of women; Muhammad supposedly improved the situation by limiting men to no more than four wives. The problem here is obvious. If everyone was murdering their daughters, how could there possibly have been so many women to marry? If infanticide was common, women would have been a rare commodity. But there were plenty of women to go around, so infanticide couldn’t have been very common.

Four Facts

FACT #1: The Qur’an commands men to beat their wives into subservience.
If a wife doesn’t listen to her husband, the husband should admonish her. If that doesn’t work, he is to make her sleep in a separate bed. However, if the wife still doesn’t respect her husband’s authority, even after she has been banished to another bed, the husband is told to physically punish her. Consider three translations of the following verse:

As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them
. Qur’an 4:34, Mohammed Pickthall Translation.

As to those women On whose part ye fear Disloyalty and ill-conduct, Admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly)
; Qur’an 4:34, Abdullah Yusuf Ali Translation.

 Muslim translators have struggled with this passage and have sought ways to water down its clear meaning. For instance, Ali adds the word "lightly" to his translation, which doesn’t occur in the original Arabic. However, even if we allow Ali to tone down the parts of the Qur’an he finds offensive, the verse still allows husbands to beat their wives. Hence, according to God’s last and greatest prophet, spousal abuse is permissible, and perhaps even required. Modern nations that have established laws against spousal abuse are therefore in direct violation of Allah’s command in the Qur’an.

FACT #2: According to Muhammad, women lack common sense because their minds are deficient.
Of course, this declaration didn’t go unchallenged. To his credit, Muhammad allowed women to question him about their intellectual deficiencies. His response to these questions was illuminating:

…Upon this the woman remarked: What is wrong with our common sense and with religion? He (the Holy Prophet) observed: Your lack of common sense (can be well judged from the fact) that the evidence of two women is equal to one man, that is a proof of the lack of common sense. Sahih Muslim, Abdul Hamid Siddiqi, tr., Number 142.

The Prophet (the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) said: "Isn’t the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?" The women said: "Yes." He said: "This is because of the deficiency of her mind. Sahih Al-Bukhari, Dr. Muhammad Matraji, tr. (New Delhi: Islamic Book Service, 2002), Number 2658.

Notice here that, in the first passage, Muhammad justifies his claim that women lack common sense by stating that their testimony is worth half that of a man. Yet, in the second passage, Muhammad justifies his claim that the testimony of women is half as good as men’s testimony by stating that women have deficient minds. This is a classic example of circular reasoning. We can imagine a conversation between Muhammad and a more critical questioner:

"O Muhammad! Why is Hell full of women?" Muhammad: "Because they lack common sense!" Questioner: "How do you know they lack common sense?" Muhammad: "Their lack of common sense can be seen from the fact that their testimony is only half as good as a man’s testimony." Questioner: "But why is their testimony half as good as a man’s?" Muhammad: "Because of the deficiency of their minds!" Questioner: "How do you know that their minds are deficient?" Muhammad: "The deficiency of their minds can be seen from the fact that their testimony is worth half the testimony of a man." Questioner: "Again, why is their testimony half as good?" Muhammad: "Because their minds are deficient!" Questioner: "Maybe the only thing deficient here is your argument."

Notice also that Muhammad’s claims here are falsifiable. That is, they can be tested and, in theory, disproved. We could easily set up an experiment to see whether Muhammad’s statements about the inferiority of a woman’s intellect are correct. We could also set up an experiment in which a group of men and a group of women each witness the same accident. If the testimonies gathered from the male group are twice as accurate as the testimonies taken from the female group, Muhammad’s statements will have been vindicated. On the other hand, if the reports from the two groups are similar, we can dismiss Muhammad’s ideas as the sexist comments of a man affected by cultural biases.

FACT #3: Muhammad offered women little hope for the afterlife.
Indeed, he clearly states that most of the inhabitants of hell are women who were ungrateful to their husbands (though he never suggests that ungrateful husbands will receive similar punishment.

This raises an important question: Were Muslim women more ungrateful to their husbands than husbands were to their wives? This doesn’t seem likely. According to Muslim apologists, women’s rights were almost nonexistent in Arabia before Islam. Would Muslim men have had a great deal of gratitude towards their wives? Probably not. The attitude would most likely have been, "You women had better thank us for treating you so well." As it turns out, this is exactly the attitude we see in Muhammad, who tells ungrateful women that their ingratitude will earn them a place in hell.

This means that, after being admonished, banished to a separate bed, and beaten by her husband, a willful woman can look forward to an eternity in hell:

The Prophet … saw the Hell-fire and I had never seen such a horrible sight. I saw that most of the inhabitants were women." The people asked: "O Allah’s Apostle! Why is it so?" The Prophet (the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) said: "Because of their ungratefulness." It was asked whether they are ungrateful to Allah. The Prophet (the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) said: "They are ungrateful to their companions of life (husbands) and ungrateful to good deeds." Bukhari, Number 1052
 [Muhammad said], "O women! Give to charity, for I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-Fire were women." The women asked, "O Allah’s Apostle! What is the reason for it?" He said: "O women! You curse frequently, and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. O women, some of you can lead a cautious man astray." Ibid., Number 1462

However, even if these women were to stop cursing and to start thanking their husbands, their prospects for the afterlife would still leave much to be desired. According to Muhammad, Muslim women can look forward to an eternity of standing in corners, waiting for men to come and have sex with them:

Allah’s Apostle (The blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) said: "In Paradise there is a pavilion made of a single hollow pearl sixty miles wide, in each corner of which there are wives who will not see those in the other corners; and the believers will visit and enjoy them." Ibid., Number 4879.

Hence, good Muslim women who respect their husbands in this life will have the opportunity to continue their sexual service to their husbands in "Paradise." Apparently, Muhammad considered this to be an appropriate view of Paradise; many women would rightly disagree.

FACT #4: The Qur’an permits Muslims to have sex with their female captives and slaves (i.e. those "whom their right hands possess").
As the Muslim armies raided town after town, they captured many women, who would often be sold or traded. Yet, since the Muslim men were a long way from their wives, they needed wisdom from God to guide them in their treatment of their female captives:

The Believers must (Eventually) win through—Those who humble themselves In their prayers; Who avoid vain talk; Who are active in deeds Of charity; Who abstain from sex, Except with those joined To them in the marriage bond, Or (the captives) whom Their right hands possess—For (in their case) they are Free from blame. Qur’an 23:1-6, Abdullah Yusuf Ali

Not so those devoted To Prayer—Those who remain steadfast To their prayer; And those in whose wealth Is a recognized right For the (needy) who asks And him who is prevented (For some reason from asking); And those who hold To the truth of the Day Of Judgement; And those who fear The displeasure of their Lord—For their Lord’s displeasure Is the opposite of Peace And Tranquility—And those who guard Their chastity, Except with their wives And the (captives) whom Their right hands possess—For (then) they are not To be blamed. Qur’an 70:22-30.

The Muslim practice of having sex with captured women is reported often in the Hadith, where we find Muslims perplexed about what to do with their captives. It wasn’t long before Allah sent a revelation allowing the confused soldiers to sleep with the women:

Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) sent an army to Autas and encountered the enemy and fought with them. Having overcome them and taken them captives, the Companions of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) seemed to refrain from having intercourse with captive women because of their husbands being polytheists. Then Allah, Most High, sent down regarding that: "And women already married, except those whom your right hands possess (4:24)" (i.e. they were lawful for them when their Idda period came to an end). Sahih Muslim, Number 3432

We went out with Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) on the expedition to the Bi’l-Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them, for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them. So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing azl (withdrawing the male sexual organ before emission of semen to avoid conception). But we said: We are doing an act whereas Allah’s Messenger is amongst us; why not ask him? So we asked Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), and he said: It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born. Ibid., Number 3371.

We went out with Allah’s Apostle (The blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) for the invasion of Bun Al-Mustaliq and we received captives from among the Arab captives and we desired women and celibacy became hard on us and we loved to do coitus interruptus [same as "azl" above]. So when we intended to do coitus interruptus, we said: "How can we do coitus interruptus before asking Allah’s Apostle (The blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) who is present among us? We asked (him) about it and he said: "It is better for you not to do so, for if any soul till the Day of Resurrection is predestined to exist, it will exist." Sahih Al-Bukhari, Number 4138.

The Muslims had originally refrained from having sex with their captives because they were the wives of polytheists; nevertheless, God sent a message saying that they were free to have sex with the women. Modern Muslims believe that this sexual intercourse would only have occurred after marriage, but this view is clearly false. Muhammad’s followers said that they wanted to have sex with the women but that they still wanted to sell them. They asked Muhammad about performing coitus interruptus, but Muhammad answered that it doesn’t really matter.

Thus, the Qur’an permits men to have sex with their female captives (whose husbands were sometimes still alive), and the Hadith provides examples of when this was practiced. Yet we must follow this fact through to its logical conclusion. The Muslims decided to have sex with their captives, whom they were later going to sell. These captives were women whose husbands and families had been exterminated by the Muslims. Would these women gladly consent to sexual intercourse with the men who had killed their families? Shurely not. But since the Qur’an and Muhammad authorized sex with these captives, it is highly probable that Muhammad allowed Muslims to rape their captives.


Muhammad improved the lives of women in Arabia in some ways. In other ways, women’s rights seem to have taken a step backwards with the rise of Islam.

For example, Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, was a successful business woman, who was able to select whomever she wished as a husband. Thus, we know that women were able to have prominent positions in society and could wield a great deal of power before the rise of Islam. Under Islamic Law, however, women couldn’t so much as leave their houses without the permission of their husbands.

However, Muslims sometimes use this fact as evidence of Muhammad’s prophethood. Such an argument is absurd. All that is implied by the improvement in women’s lives is that Islam wasn’t as bad as the culture before it, which says more about the pagans than it does about the Muslims. For, as we have seen, Muhammad permitted spousal abuse, stated repeatedly that women have inferior minds, claimed that most of the people in hell are women, and allowed his men to have sex with their captives. This situation was still probably better than that of women prior to the rise of Islam; however, Muhammad was far from being "the greatest champion of women’s rights the world has ever seen."

In the West, the status of women has greatly improved over the past few centuries. We can all be thankful that people in some areas of the Muslim world are seeing the change and are trying to adopt similar policies, in spite of Muhammad’s low opinion of women. Yet many areas, intent on following Muhammad’s guidelines, are still in darkness. We can only hope that those who want to heed the Qur’an will one day pick up the Bible and read the words of the Apostle Paul:

Husbands love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Colossians 3:19,

Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into the name of Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29

Give a look as well here:  



  1. I'm a muslim.. I read thoroughly through your arguments and I really would suggest you study about Islam from a Muslim that really knows it.
    Because I am 24 and I can see that you don't really understand the things that you are quoting..
    I mean, if you really are unbiased, then you should try to understand that you can't learn about a religion through writings alone. Even we muslims don't learn about our own religion without a proper teacher.
    Al-Quran was sent down in arabic, you have to master the language's literature properly if you want to properly understand it. For instance, WE in Quran doesn't mean we as in more than one person. So, just my 2 cents.
    I am not offended by your writings, I just thought since you've given a lot of efforts in trying to prove Muhammad PBUH and the Quran wrong, you might as well get to know them better ^.^

  2. a) I'm fluent in classical Arabic
    b)That everybody needs to know Arabic to know what Islam is is pure nonsense..it implies that 85% of Muslims are not aware of their religion...it is as if all Christians should learn Hebrew or Greec to know about their religion
    c) linguistic patterns are somehow different but sometimes the same rules apply (talking about "We")

    please, if you want to add some comments, try to avoid simple propaganda or common street comments, that we are all aware of. Try to be more constructive or please think about what you write twice, and don't just repeat the same mantra