Wednesday, May 18, 2011


The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
by Karen Armstrong
Muhammad died unexpectedly after
a short illness in June 632.  After his death, some of the Bedouin tried to break away from the ummah, but the political unity of Arabia held firm.
[From Wikipedia -  Ummah (Arabic: أمة‎) is an Arabic word meaning "community" or "nation". It is commonly used to mean either the collective nation of states, or (in the context of pan-Arabism) the whole Arab world. In the context of Islam, the word ummah is used to mean the diaspora or Commonwealth of the Believers (ummat al-mu'minin), and thus the whole Muslim world.]
Eventually the recalcitrant tribes also
 accepted the religion of the one God:
 Muhammad's astonishing success had shown
 the Arabs that the paganism which had served them
well for centuries no longer worked in the modern world.
The religion of al-Lah introduced the compassionate ethos
which was the hallmark of the more advanced religions:
brotherhood and social justice were its crucial virtues.
A strong egalitarianism would continue to characterize
the Islamic ideal.
During Muhammad's lifetime, this had included
the equality of the sexes.  Today it is common in the West
to depict Islam as an inherently misogynistic religion, but,
like Christianity, the religion of al-Lah was originally positive
for women.  During the jahiliyyah, the pre-Islamic period,
Arabia had preserved the attitudes toward women which
had prevailed before the Axial Age.  Polygamy, for example,
was common, and wives remained in their father's households.
Elite women enjoyed considerable power and prestige -
Muhammad's first wife, Khadija, for example, was a
successful merchant - but the majority were on a par with
slaves; they had no political or human rights, and female
infanticide was common.
Women had been among Muhammad's earliest converts,
and their emancipation was a project that was dear to his heart.
The Koran strictly forbade the killing of female children and
rebuked the Arabs for their dismay when a girl was born.
It also gave women legal rights of inheritance and divorce:
most Western women had nothing comparable until the
nineteenth century.  Muhammad encouraged women to
play an active roll in the affairs of the ummah, and they
expressed their views forthrightly, confident that they
would be heard.  On one occasion, for example, the women
of Medina had complained to the Prophet that the men
were outstripping them in the study of the Koran and
asked him to help them catch up.  This Muhammad did.
One of their most important questions was why the Koran
addressed men only when women had also made their surrender to God. 
 The result was a revelation that
addressed women as well as men and emphasized the
absolute moral and spiritual equality of the sexes.
Thereafter the Koran quite frequently addressed
women explicity, something that rarely happens in
either the Jewish or Christian scriptures.
Unfortunately, as in Christianity, the religion was later
hijacked by the men, who interpreted texts in a way that was
negative for Muslim women.  The Koran does not prescribe
the veil for all women but only for Muhammad's wives,
as a mark of their status.  Once Islam had taken its place
in the civilized world, however, Muslims adopted those
customs of the Oikumene which relegated women to
second-class status. 
 They adopated the customs of veiling women
 and secluding them in harems from
 Persia and Christian Byzantium,
 where women had long been marginalized in this way. 
 By the time of the Abbasid caliphate (750-1258),
 the position of Muslim women was as bad as that
 of their sisters in Jewish and Christian society.
  Today, Muslim feminists urge their menfolk to return
to the original spirit of the Koran.

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