Pope Francis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Women’s Equality: Why Must Religion be Patriarchal?

The selection of the new pope was carried out by a conclave of elderly men, and the only candidates were men. The new pope is a staunch social conservative who opposes women’s ordination as priests and women’s right to control their own bodies and limit family size, key issues for women’s health and well-being. It is no wonder that the church hierarchy is so tone deaf on women’s issues, since its highest counsels are all-male.

Now comes the sharp intervention from Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood that the draft statement of 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women is incompatible with the Brotherhood’s understanding of Islamic law. Interestingly, the Vatican also voiced objections to the document, as did the Russian Orthodox Church via the government of Vladimir Putin.

The Brotherhood statement objected to the following points:

1. Women’s right to reject marital rape
2. equal inheritance rights for women
3. equality of men and women within the family
4. allowing women the choice of mate (implying that Muslim women could marry non-Muslim men), abolition of polygamy and dowry
5. Depriving men of the right of unilateral divorce and giving discretion to judges as to whether to grant a divorce; equal sharing of communal property after divorce.
6. Removal of restrictions on women’s travel and work that depend on permission of their male guardian
7. Right of a woman to marry another woman.
8. legalization of abortion and provision of free contraception
9. equal rights for illegitimate children with legitimate ones, and civil rights for adulterous wives
10. Equal rights for gays

While the religious forces in Italy, Egypt and Russia may have differed somewhat on which of the draft principles they most opposed, all three underlined that they are partriarchies and that patriarchy as a form of government is alive and well and maybe even strengthening in much of the world.

The Brotherhood’s reading of Islamic law is mindless fundamentalism and literalism, often involving an ignorance of medieval Muslim beliefs and practices (in the area of abortion, e.g., or toleration of forms of homosociality).

Like the new pope, the Brotherhood considers gay rights an abomination. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis said of Argentina’s gay marriage law, “”Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Egypt’s National Council for Women rejected the Brotherhood statement and insisted that full rights for women is, too, compatible with Islam.

21 Responses

  1. Again and again, it comes down to the politics of gender issues. The old paradigm of discouraging (to the point of executing the ‘guilty’) those genderal issues that deviate from the norm of human reproduction, that paradigm is rooted in ensuring the various forces have enough believers to overcome adversaries by sheer numbers. The Chinese and Indians have over a billion people as do the Catholics followers of Islam. The remaining non-Catholic Christians approaches a billion (and exceeds that number if the Eastern Orthodoxy is included). Parity among rivals seems to be the way to detente.
    National governments to an extent have jumped the claim that religions have had on peoples’ loyalties. Yet, the old thinking processes never wane, perhaps showing the strengths of religious devotion, something about hope never dying (ergo, the limitless breeding of future religious warriors). Of course, there are any number of international and interfaith rivalries and conflicts that disregard religious likenesses but the mind set (like concrete) remains. Regardless of the similarities between the fundamentalist Catholics, other Christians, Muslims, and others who adhere to paternalistic cultures, they can never seem to get along. There are many paths to the same goal but all seem to think about their own as being the best and best only. Should religious faith be abolished World-wide, would we see peace?
    And then there are the almost a billion atheist/agnostics who round out the remaining World population … but, who’s counting (on) the ones who find narrowness of focus unsatisfying or unsatisfactory? Do they know something that the pretenders to omniscience don’t?

  2. let’s take the easy one – equal inheritance. anyone who denies the inheritance law set out in the qur’aan has left the Islaamic faith. sons are to receive twice the amount that the daughters receive. your lack of understanding of Islaam is embarrassing.

    • “let’s take the easy one – equal inheritance. anyone who denies the inheritance law set out in the qur’aan has left the Islaamic faith. sons are to receive twice the amount that the daughters receive. your lack of understanding of Islaam is embarrassing.”

      There is no lack of understanding of Islam here. What is embarrassing is that certain elements of Islam continue to suppress women, such as their right to only half the inheritance of males. Such as a woman’s testimony is only equal to half that of a male in a Shar’ia court. That is what is embarrassing in this day and age, that a religion still holds such retrograde tenets, and that believers continue to believe and act on them.

      • Are you kidding? Of course there is lack of understanding of Islam here. In the first place, it is not a hierarchical religion, like say Roman Catholicism. Not all Muslim majority countries practice Sharia Law. Just like in Christian doctrine, interpretations can change with the time. When were women allowed to inherit in secular Europe and the US?

        Mr. Ja’far, it was my understanding that the Prophet Mohammed, in his day, allowed female inheritance, whereas the Arab tribal culture he sought to rectify did not? I may be thinking of something else. Please clarify if you can.

        • “Are you kidding? Of course there is lack of understanding of Islam here.”

          Apparently there is a lack of understanding of Islam, on your part RBTL. The disparity between men and women in inheritance and testimony in Shar’ia court is a part of Shar’ia law. If you don’t understand that about Islam, then surely there is a lack of understanding of Islam on your part.

    • But at the time when the Koran was written men were the bread winners and women mainly depended on their fathers or husbands. Consequently, the idea of giving the sons twice the inheritance of daughters made some sense, but to insist on the same teachings 1400 years later when the circumstances are completely different is insane. This would mean a fundamentalist or literalist view of Islam, and this is what Professor Cole is saying.

      • Farang, you mention Professor Cole’s comment about fundamentalist or literalist view of Islaam. how else can one understand Chapter Nisaa’, verse 11 and 12? Is the command to give female children half of what the male chidren get not to be taken literally? what is the alternative understanding of these words?

        And by what authority can humans decide that divine revelation has a shelf life? To be a Muslim means accepting the Quraan and the way of the Prophet Muhammad as the final divine revelation until the day of resurrection and judgement.

        I understand that non-Muslims do not accept these premises but to expect Muslims to disbelieve them is to ask them to leave Islaam. This basis misunderstanding by Professor Cole was the reason for my original post.

        thank you for your thoughtful and polite comment. I am very impressed by the lack of “flaming” in this thread.

  3. Some of the items on the list would be happily endorsed and voted into law by a bunch of crazies in the US Congress. It’s getting harder for women everywhere.

  4. [Why Must Religion be Patriarchal?]

    Pretty much for the same reason it must be non-proletarian :) Up to about mid-19c nobody knew what proletariat is and now this notion is out of fashion, but Religion is still here. Same thing with Feminism and gay rights. There was no such thing as gay rights in mid-20c and, hopefully, they will be forgotten in a few decades.

  5. “anyone who denies the inheritance law set out in the qur’aan has left the Islaamic faith.”

    Thanks for being the judge of every Muslim’s level of faith, Ja’far.

    Yes it is clear in the Qur’an and yes, it is a time- and context-specific patriarchal law. The Qur’an also allows for slavery, but you don’t see modern scholars arguing that it is permissible today, do you?

    • Mona, where is your proof that inheritance law revealed in the Quraan is time-specific? by what authority can one supercede divine revelation about the permissiblily of taking prisoners of war and their families as slaves? Please name an Islaamic scholar who has said otherwise.

  6. look: it’s indifferent whether you wear a turban, or a yamulke, or a mitre or a john deere cap. religious fundamentalism is the same everywhere: women are chattel. period.

  7. I grew up in a household with no religion but the same patriarchy and gender discrimination existed and was confirmed by community and societal norms. Fundamentalism is a curse in all it’s forms and religious leaders bear great responsibility for the perpetuation of archaic practices which deny justice, limit freedom and cause so much harm. However most of the violence and abuse of women is carried out far away from the temple or moderating effect of religion.

  8. So you take on The brotherhood stance on the draft because its not your version of Islamic understanding?

    Qur’an is very clear in defining individual responsibilities in family and societies. if you have problem with that, accept it but why having these veiled attacks on Islam under the opposition of MB? Ahan, the sufis, your favorite don’t have any government. So its about power struggle, which sufis envy fire cry and cry for you give more air to? Amazing.

    What is your problem in accepting that most of these objections are really Islamic teachings. The article, even though included names of big churches only has venom against MB. I have never met MB nor associate with it, but now understand your kind of journalism.

    • Because the same oppressive teachings are creeping back into Christian churches on the same grounds that you’re spouting, and many Christians reject the idea that they must obey these teachings to be good Christians. Same for Judaism. If every religion is held hostage by its reactionary bigots, how long do you think it will be before we have a holy world war?

  9. Patriarchy is at its dead end. The reason is that it has become absolutely incapable of any further cultural evolution. Any change is only an attempt in going exactly backward in time. The reason for this is as Juan mentioned that elderly men are ruling. Those layers of genetic materials that make us like humans are not as well preserved as our animal genes. Old age like alcohol reverses million years of evolution and leaves us with strong animal instincts and devoid of human impulses. The only hope for a man to stay human in old age is if he practices his sense of humanity in his youth (this is also what the book of Solomon in the Bible teaches.) Our priests and mullahs in their youth do nothing but try to promote themselves by dominating each other using their base instincts. At old age nothing must expected from them but brutality and lust.

  10. Simply a stark reminded that laws that were written back in the 6-7th century are hardly applicable today. I sure wouldn’t want to have to live by those laws that existed in 6-7th century Britain, keeping in mind that Muslims at that time were more civilized than my Anglo ancestors.

    Even Baha’i Sharia laws that were written 150 years ago are no longer applicable today. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as documents such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are far more enlightened charters for human social harmony and progress than any existing religious book of laws, thems the facts.

Comments are closed.