Responding to Christianity's Critics

Re: Does the Bible recognize equality between men and women?

This is a response to an article by one Ruwayda Mustafah which can be found here. Therein the author makes the argument, and does her best to support this biblically, that according to the bible, women are ontologically inferior to men. I mean this to (hopefully) be a rather quick response to her most pertinent points seeing as, lo and behold, it’s midnight and here am I with nothing better to do than to blog; once again.

In the beginning of creation according to the Old Testament, both man and woman was created (Genesis 1:27).Then we read in (Genesis 2:7)how God created man first and then created woman to be a help mate for the man (Genesis 2:18). In other words the woman was created for the sake of man. This initial stage of creation is crucial in order to form a understanding of the platform upon which man and woman is raised upon according to the bible. Genesis sets out the purpose for the creation of women, and  that is to be subservient and a helper of men. However the man is not created for the woman. And this illustrates that the bible does not sanction equality between men and women in relation to their purpose. Man was created to be a servant of God (1cor 11:9) and woman to be a servant of man (Genesis 2:18).

[emphasis in the original]

Now, the author makes a pretty bold claim. In fact, in all my years of reading the bible I have never come across such a line of thought and therefore I was really taken by surprise when reading her article. Before I go on with my response, I will have the reader note that the specifics of Genesis 2:18 are crucial to her entire argument and if the details are averse to what she has painted above, the rug would indeed be pulled from under her feet, so to speak. The point of contention in the above particular paragraph (with so great a ramification on her entire article that it would either affirm her thesis or could completely refute it) lies on the word that is sometimes translated as ‘helper’, ‘helpmate’ or ‘help meet’ depending on one’s particular translation of scripture. Ms. Mustafah makes the critical mistake of not bothering to examine which word the author of Genesis had originally used (and it’s subsequent uses in various contexts) for which our English words are merely translations and subject to the same faults and trappings that are common to all adaptations of texts from one language to another.

In actuality, the Hebrew word which we English-speaking people render as ‘helper’ etc. is the word, ‘ezer. At this time, it would prove useful for us to make note of the instances in which this Hebrew word appears within the Old Testament:

[T]he other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.” – Exodus 18:4

“And this he said about Judah: “Hear, O LORD, the cry of Judah; bring him to his people. With his own hands he defends his cause. Oh, be his help against his foes!” – Deuteronomy 33:7

O house of Israel, trust in the LORD—he is their help and shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD—he is their help and shield. You who fear him, trust in the LORD—he is their help and shield. – Psalm 115:9-11

“You are destroyed, O Israel, because you are against me, against your helper.” – Hosea 13:9

(as well as in Deuteronomy 33:26, 33:29; Psalm 20:2, 33:20, 70:5, 89:19, 121:1–2, 124:8, 146:5; Isaiah 30:5; Ezekiel 12:14; Daniel 11:34)

From the above, it becomes painfully clear that one cannot sustain the belief that ‘ezer possesses with it the quality of designating an inferior being for far too often is it used in reference to God. Indeed ‘ezer is a fundamental term for the relationship which the LORD God shares with his people and no doubt this is what the author of Genesis hoped to mirror in his use of the term.

Obviously, God’s calling Eve ‘ezer does not mean that Eve is subordinate to Adam or that women are subordinate to men. If that were so, then God’s inspiring Moses, David, and the prophets to call God ‘ezer would mean that God is subordinate to Israel! Calling Eve “helper” certainly means that Eve was Adam’s complement. She completed what was lacking in Adam. But there is no basis in the scriptures to find subordination or a principle of male leadership in this word.

[…] Clearly, a complement may be the more important or less important of the two parts of the whole under consideration. God was the complement of the Israelites, in that He won battles for them that they could not have won without Him, and yet the Israelites also had to fight. Just so, a general’s aides may be considered his complement, as those whom he needs to perform his duties. Thus, the word connotes neither superiority nor inferiority. […] Now ‘ezer does have a deeper significance. God’s declaring Eve as complement means that God gave Eve a special role in relationship to the man. She is to complete, finish, and make God’s creation of man good. – Jay Guin

From how the word is used predominantly in the Bible, we see that the ‘ezer is the life-sustainer—the one thing to hold on to when everything falls apart. The only one who can see you through those life or death situations, the one to clasp on to tightly, the one you look to for help and support, the only one for you.

Something that is interesting to note is that in the creation narrative found within the Holy Bible, the LORD God finishes each act of creation by declaring it to be good, yet it is only on the sixth day—when he had created mankind—that he declares his act to be very good (Genesis 1:31). Further study into this subject will reveal that Adam being alone in the garden of Eden without Eve was deemed as completely unacceptable by God (Genesis 2:18) and so he set out to create woman in order to complement man. What should not escape the reader is that before the creation of woman, the state of affairs concerning God’s creative work were unsatisfactory and it was only after her creation that things had been righted and thus declared to be “very good” by the LORD God.

The author ends her paragraph with the claim that while man is the servant of God, woman is the servant of man and she cites 1 Corinthians 11:9 and Genesis 2:18 to prove this opinion of hers. Her use of the book of Genesis to support the ontological inferiority of the woman to the man has already been shown to be quite faulty and so further talk on this matter is unneeded yet I would like to respond to her citation of the first book of Corinthians.

neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. – 1 Corinthians 11:9 NIV

Ms. Ruwayda Mustafah (The Wonderful) would have us believe that the above statement explicates the ontological inferiority of the woman in relation to man (which is supposedly substantiated by the text in Genesis) yet all that the above text contains is a description of the order of creation. Interestingly enough, if one were to read just a bit further down they would be met with the following verses:

In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.12>For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. – 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 NIV

Now if 1 Corinthians 11:9 were truly a text concerning the inferiority of the woman (and not the order of creation) then wouldn’t the verses succeeding it be wholly unintelligible? Seeing as these subsequent verses are so close to her citation that one couldn’t help but notice them, I am left to wonder whether the author—by some impossibility—failed to see them or whether it may have been pertinent to her entire thesis to casually miss them from her reading of the text?

So far it has been shown that not only is the woman ontologically equal to man but her appearance was and still is absolutely crucial to the balance and well-being of creation as a whole. If I could just draw the reader back to Ms. Mustafah’s quoted paragraph, wherein she uses the order of creation as further proof that, according to the bible, the woman is ontologically inferior to the man. What is striking about this line of reasoning is that her own Qur’an would fall prey to the very same implications of such a thought (while, as we have seen, the bible clearly does not).

The Qur’an is unequivocal in affirming, along with the Old & New Testament, the fact that Adam was created first, followed by Eve (Surat An-Nisā’ 4:1) yet it does not, unlike the Bible, take it upon itself to preemptively rebut any ideology of ontological inferiority of the woman by way of the order of creation. Therefore by the author’s own reasoning, the Qur’an advocates the inferiority of the woman. If this weren’t bad enough in itself, the Qur’an goes further in affirming this position by the following Surat:

Your wives are a tilth for you, so go to your tilth (have sexual relations with your wives in any manner as long as it is in the vagina and not in the anus), when or how you will, and send (good deeds, or ask Allah to bestow upon you pious offspring) before you for your ownselves. And fear Allah, and know that you are to meet Him (in the Hereafter), and give good tidings to the believers (O Muhammad SAW). – Surat Al-Baqarah 2:223 Muhsin Khan

Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) so go to your tilth as ye will, and send (good deeds) before you for your souls, and fear Allah, and know that ye will (one day) meet Him. Give glad tidings to believers, (O Muhammad). – Surat Al-Baqarah 2:223 Pickthall

Notice that the verbatim word of Allah calls women tilth; nothing more than grass or one’s soil to be plowed. Furthermore, as a man can work on his field at any time of his choosing in just the same manner does Allah give unto the men the sovereign ability to decide when and where they are to have sexual relations with their wives (as long as some minor rules on penetration and menstruation are followed). To the question of whether a man can force his wife or slave girl (yes, slave girl) to have intercourse with him, it has been replied:

Praise be to Allaah.

The woman does not have the right to refuse her husband, rather she must respond to his request every time he calls her, so long as that will not harm her or keep her from doing an obligatory duty.

Al-Bukhaari (3237) and Muslim (1436) narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him)  said: “If a man calls his wife to his bed and she refuses, and he spends the night angry with her, the angels curse her until morning.”

[…] So the wife should be admonished first, and warned against defiance (nushooz) and of the anger of Allaah and the curse of the angels. If she does not respond, then the husband should forsake her in her bed, and if she does not respond to that, then he may hit her in a manner that does not cause injury.

[…] Similarly a slave woman does not have the right to refuse her master’s requests unless she has a valid excuse. If she does that she is being disobedient and he has the right to discipline her in whatever manner he thinks is appropriate and is allowed in sharee’ah. – Shaykh Muhammad S Al-Munajjid

According to Allah and his prophet, a woman has no right to refuse the desire of her husband if he so wishes to have intercourse with her. Nevermind the fact that she may not particularly feel like being intimate at that specific moment or something of the sort—in any case, Allah will have his angels curse her for not being ready at all times to satisfy his every whim. If being cursed by the angels weren’t enough, Allah also encourages the beating and the ceasing of providing care for the wife. Clearly, Islam goes to great lengths to cement the ontological inferiority of the woman so before I move on to discuss Ms. Ruwayda’s next point, here are a few more choice quotes:

1. Reported by Ibn Hibban, al-Bazzaar, Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal, at-Tabarani and al-Baani. The Prophet sallaallaahu alayhi wa sallaam said: “If a woman dies while her husband was pleased with her, she will enter Paradise.

2. Reported by at-Tirmidhi, an-Nasa’i’ and al-Bayhaqi. A woman approached the Prophet sallaallaahu alayhi wa sallaam informing him that she intends to marry her cousin , and asked what the rights of her husband would be over her, to which he replied, “Were you to lick the snot off of his nose, even then you would not have given him his full rights he has over you.” At which the woman replied, “In that case, I do not wish to get married!”

3. Reported by Ahmad, Al-Bazaar and Silsilat As-Saheeha. Anas (radiya Allahu ‘anh), that the Messenger of Allah (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:

It is not permissible for a human being to prostrate to another human being. Were it permissible for a human being to prostrate to another human being, I would have commanded the woman to prostrate to her husband because of his great right upon her. By the One in Whose hand is my soul, if he (the husband) had, from his feet to the top of his head, an ulcer oozing blood and pus, and she came to lick it off for him, she would not have fulfilled his right.

[Recorded in Ahmad and al-Nasa’i, verified as authentic by al-Albani in Sahih al-Jami’ no.7725]

4. There is another similar narration on Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (radiya Allahu ‘anh), that the Messenger of Allah (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:

A husband’s right upon his wife is such that if he had an ulcer and she licked it for him, she would not fulfil his right by that.

[Recorded in al-Hakim and Ibn Hibban, verified as authentic by al-Albani in Sahih al-Jami’ no. 3148] The hadith is authentic according to shaykh al Albani rahimahullah. dailyreminders.org

[emphasis in the original]

Notice the manner in which the woman is absolutely belittled and degraded by Allah and his “holy” prophet. The manner in which she is described as nothing more than a field of grass, or how she is likened to the dogs that used to lick the ulcers of sick men and women in order to give them some respite but perhaps what is most concerning is the fact that her entire salvation rests on whether or not her husband was pleased with her at the time of her death. No matter how strong her heart burned for her God, or how dutifully she read his word and with what passion she would recite it to herself—all these are secondary, for if her husband should be displeased with her at the time of her death, none of these will help her to merit paradise.

Interestingly enough, this last thought leads us to one of Ms. Mustafah’s points concerning the fact that according to the Holy Bible, obeying one’s husband is tantamount to obeying God. In some respect she is indeed correct seeing as obeying any authority (as long as they do not go against the word of God) translates to obeying God (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 2:13-17) yet this does not at all mean that the wife should revere her husband as she would do God (on this note, I must make note of the hypocrisy in her making of this claim seeing as in Islam it is taught that a woman’s very salvation hinges on how well her husband is satisfied with her and that he possesses absolute authority over her—if this is not the elevation of the husband to the status of God then I don’t know what is). As Christianity is concerned, it is indeed true that while men and women are ontologically equal, they are given different roles to play. One such role which God has deemed fit to give to the husband is that of the chief decision-maker (in some areas of life) and yet by making the man’s very example Christ himself, he has expressly insured that if God’s decree were to be followed in full, there could be no abuse nor injustice felt on the part of the woman.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. – John 13:12-17 NIV

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:24-28 NIV

The above is the example of Christ that every Christian is called to follow. It goes without saying that this would indeed be even more enforced in the relationship between a husband and wife. The message and life of the Lord Jesus Christ has consistently been about overturning the values that the world holds dear. He emphasized that the more authority one has, the more he should think not of himself but rather to esteem others as better than himself. He called those with power to become servants. As the servant thinks nothing of himself, Jesus explained that this should be the relationship that a Christian should have for the other, and that the husband and wife should mutually possess for one another.

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. – 1 Corinthians 7:3-7 NIV

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. – Ephesians 5:28-33 NIV

The bible stresses that the husband should love his wife as he loves his own self and no less. In the manner in which he feeds himself, clothes himself, respects his needs and goes about to have them fulfilled—so should he do likewise for his wife. Contrary from what Islam mandates, the husband has no right to demand intercourse from his wife and refuse to take care of her nor beat her if she should object to his command. No, Christianity maintains that a husband marries a person (who deserves respect, love, care) and not simply a means of satisfying one’s sexual urges. Christianity maintains that intercourse (or the lack thereof) should be reached through mutual consent wherein each party is to think about the wants of the other before their own. That is equality, that is love, that is Christianity. Only the most biased individual could observe this stern contrast between Christianity and Islam and deem the latter to hold more respect for women.

While I had hoped to systematically dismantle each and everyone of her arguments, this reply took far longer than I had wished and I am somewhat drained at the moment. So I will just mention one last thing before I set the proverbial pen down.

In the article, “Does the Bible recognize equality between men and women?”, Ruwayda Mustafah uses 1 Peter 3:7 to justify her belief that women are inherently inferior to men. Before refuting this thought, I must say that I was somewhat surprised by the word she chose to illustrate this thought. I speak of the word, ‘deficient’ seeing as I so often hear the following quoted by Muslim men, “Women are deficient in intellect and religion” and so I am lead to believe that this is her own Islamic viewpoint being pandered into the discussion as the words of Peter. Now, as far as her citation of the first letter of Peter is concerned, and the matter of the woman being called the “weaker vessel”, here is a review of this subject:

Sumner looks up “weak” in a Webster’s Dictionary, sees that it means “inferiority of physical, mental, or moral strength.” Then she concludes that, if we use English dictionaries, we could conclude that being the “weaker” vessel means “inferior” to men. But, she immediately observes that we don’t do word studies by examining what English words mean, but have to examine the language and word of the original — so that means examining what [the Greek word] asthenes means.

She observes that 1 Cor 1:25 (“the weakness of God is stronger than men”) shows that God is “weak” (relatively speaking); 2 Cor 13:4 uses the same term of Christ (“crucified because of weakness”) — therefore, she concludes (my terms), women are in good company. Overall, she concludes that “weaker” cannot mean “inferior.” She argues that the word is best translated “more vulnerable.” In fact, she makes a big point at this point: men are not said to be “strong” vs. women being “weak” but the text implies that men are “weak” and women “weaker.”

In the next [chapter] Sumner argues that “vulnerable” is particularly sexual in orientation — women are more vulnerable physically than men. It is about the design of the body.

Here are some important other NT references to “weaker”: physical weakness (Mar 6:56; 2 Cor 12:7-10); humans are by nature weak (Heb 5:2); some parts of the body are weaker than others (1 Cor 12:22); spiritual weakness and neediness (Rom 5:6); weakness of the flesh (Rom 8:26); economic weakness (1 Cor 1:27).

It was conventional to speak of women as the weaker gender in the ancient world. […] The vulnerability of women in the ancient world, and still in many ways in our world, required on the part of Christian men to be mindful and sensitive of their wives (or of women in general). That is Peter’s point. If they aren’t, Peter says, they will be spiritually stunted — their prayers will not catch the ear of God. – Dr. Scot McKnight (Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University)

That aside, Islam does teach the inherent deficiency of the woman by way of the following narrations:

273. Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Treat women well. Woman was created from a rib. The most crooked part of the rib is the top part. If you try to straighten it, you will break it. If you leave it, it remains crooked. So treat women well.”

In a variant in Muslim, “Woman was created from a rib, and you will never find any means to straighten her. If you wish to benefit from her, you can benefit from her in spite of her crookedness. If you try to straighten her, you will break her, and breaking her means divorcing her.”

As the rib is inherently crooked so is the woman, and just as you cannot straighten the rib and make it right, so can one never make a woman right. As such all that one can do is try their most to benefit from her in spite of her inherent crookedness (which is all thanks to the loving-mercies of Allah by the way). In light of the above, and as much as I like Ms. Ruwayda (there is something about her writing that I enjoy very much), I would ask that she not pontificate on the Bible seeing as she has yet to make a correct statement and that her Qur’an—when observed under the light of her arguments—is revealed to be the very misogynistic text she claimed the Holy Bible to have been.

3 responses

  1. clint

    Well done. Excellent understanding of the scriptures.

    February 21, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    • Thanks for taking the time to read the article and commenting. It really does mean a lot and God bless.

      February 21, 2011 at 5:21 PM

  2. stanley

    thanq for this knowledgable article about equality of man and woman as per bible.it helped me a lot

    April 18, 2014 at 1:03 AM

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