All the great religions which affected the European culture are at least tactless towards woman. At least that is the way we perceive it from our point of view on the threshold of 21st century. Our modern practice to cite Koran in any case of intolerance towards women and to refer to Islam and its traditions is unfair and shows evidence of our inability to set our house in order.
On the contrary the Catholic Church still considers, even in the time of John Paul Il. and Benedict XVI., the observance of traditional regulations relating to gender for “Maginot line of Christian morality. “La sexualité constitue un bastion de résistance au monde moderne, une ligne Maginot de la morale chrétienne, voire du sacré.” (Perrot)
Virginity is according Christianity the high value of woman. Virgin Mary stands in opposition to Mary Magdelene. “She conceived without committing a sin”, as proclaimed the Pope Pius IX. in 1854. “She conceived without a man with the help of The Holy Ghost.” According the morality the woman’s virginity belongs to a man who will marry her. Till the end of 17th century was the ritual of the first night even in Europe public matter. By then the newly-weds were obliged to tolerate the assistance of their relatives. At least right before the act. Later on the rule of adducing the evidence of bride’s honorability to the relatives and neighbors has been applied. The bed sheet was hung up and father-in-law together with mother-in-law were gently leaving as the participants of Alcove Ceremony. So far the habit to hang up the bed sheet as the evidence of bride’s honorability is being preserved in another religion, Islam, in Northern Africa, Maghreb region and among other things shows that the religions in many areas are not that different, as imagining themselves various radicals.
Even though the Christian medieval times did not incline towards granting any civil rights to a woman and acknowledged the right of a man to rule in his own house over all dependants with tight hand, neither him was able to be unconcerned with the women who reached for the achievement in some way. Women did not get any education, but that wasn’t the strong point of men either. The court gave a woman the role of inspiration and courtesy became trendy in high society Though the men of lordly or royal kind very often imprisoned their wives to towers or dungeons. Well known is the story of the king Henry II. who has kept releasing his wife from Tower only for the Christmas time. In general England delivered a lot of examples of insensitive behavior of Kings towards their noble wives. Perhaps we won’t even remind Henry VIII., even though he had a weakness for music beside the executions of his wives.
Also the Czech history knows the examples of rough treatment of women by the men. John of Luxembourg kept in prison his wife Elizabeth and his son Charles IV. and was refusing to let in castle Karlštejn his wife. But if we take a look from the positive point of view, then we can see a progress towards the softening of the methods already within two generations.
If we perceive the Islam culture as an area where the rights of women are not respected we are committing a certain incorrectness arising from our point of view and may be certain inability to put ourselves in thinking of different culture and traditions. Such intercultural misunderstandings are the source of various tragedies including wars. Let’s try to interpret more precisely how women and their position in society are being perceived by criticized Islam. And in particular don’t forget our own Christian and antique heritage. Let’s keep in mind St. Francis of Assisi who was considered a wacko since he suspected not only women but also animals to have a soul. To doubt the fact that woman has the soul managed only Christianity.
So what about Islam?
The approach of Koran and first Muslims proves that a woman is at least of the same importance as a man, she is not worse than a man and neither belongs to lower animal kind. If there was no influence of foreign cults Islam would have never to deal with such a problem. Analysis shows that there is necessary to distinguish between equality and identity. Woman and man can be equal but they are not identical and it is necessary to realize that fact. While studying Islam in its original shape this terminology dualism is obvious for the first sight. As opposed to Christian authors such as Thomas Aquinius, Islam has never called woman a devil’s figment neither consider a man as master of woman. Never in the history of Islam was any doubt if woman has or has not a soul. We know this dispute only from Christian sources. Islam didn’t charge Eve with primary sin either Koran quite clearly says, both of them, Adam and Eve, were tempted.
It is quite interesting that Islam solves equally even the practical issues such as right of a woman to inherit or right to conclude contracts. At the very beginning of Islam women even took part in public life. Islam obliges men with many duties towards a woman. So far in a lot of Muslim states man is obliged to prove the ability to take care of the number of women he has got In his house. Woman is financially provided for but bears no responsibility for financial matters except for her own expenses. There was always a man in duty to take care of her. Either her husband, brother or son.
Woman in Islam has even some privileges which man is deprived of. For example woman is excused from some religious duties.
From our point of view we consider the traditions restricting woman’s behavior in public as discriminating. Such as veil. Woman according Koran should beautify herself by veil of honorability and refrain from all acts and gestures which might kindle the passion of other men except for her husband. Woman is urged not to show her physical felicity and charm to foreigners. Veil protects her soul from weakness, her mind from conceit and her personality from demoralization. Islam we can say gives woman that much attention that is for woman restricting and from our point of view discriminating. On the other hand our western European culture gives woman such a little attention that is neither protecting nor restricting. That is the way Islam perceives our habits.
Disadvantage of woman in Islam is indeed given by leaving her individuality in trust with a man. Woman is not perceived as an individual of lower rank but as a being to be provided for and protected. Man’s privileges in Islam are the result of his duty and responsibility towards woman. Woman lives in man’s house and fully utilizes his protection. So it is only natural that she is devoted and remains in his shade.
Well that’s the way Koran is. But what is the reality like? Recently the case from Malaysia held public interest. Western world considers Malaysia as one of the most progressive Islam countries. Muslim woman Aida Meliky Tan Abdullah attempted to get divorced in vain since her husband, who got married for the second time in secret, denied to do so. This woman launched her own study of Islam to attain divorce. In the end she won the trial by the court. Well what shows this case? A lot. For example that the Islamic world is getting stricter in dogmas in reaction to globalization and paradoxically breaks his own dogmas.
When Aida achieved her divorce in Malaysia, she said:
“We have to modernize our system. Local Islamic Family Law does not guarantee justice for women and their children, even if it is a Koran principle.”
Islam permits Muslim to get married up to four wives and gives him automatically the right to divorce. If a woman wants to get divorced and a man is against she has to go to the court. The idea why Islam grants men the right to polygamy is quite interesting. The roots of the habit date back to battle times of the original nomad tribes which adopted Islam. Frequent wars decreased the number of men. Whereas woman must have been under protection of some man, polygamy was certain solution. Common Law kept itself up even though in many Islamic countries a man is in duty to prove the ability to ensure the same standard for all wives in his house. That means he is at least able to earn their living.
I won’t judge the Islamic Family Law and position of woman in Islamic family because I have to admit it is very difficult for a member of different culture to pass judgment on habits of the others. But the fact is that EU in the process of enlargement has already reached borders of Islam. Among the candidate countries are for example Bulgaria and Romania. These countries stand on orthodoxy culture that means Christian, nevertheless strongly affected by Islam in the past. The main problem from this point of view is also the potential integration of Turkey which is predominantly Islamic country. Samuel Huntington deems Turkey finds itself on the horns of dilemma whether to join the EU as a complete outsider or assume the role of moderate power of the Islamic world and struggle for its re-unification as it used to be in time of Ottoman Empire.
I remind only the fact that Islam understands the position of woman in another way than does our culture based on Antique, Jewish and Christian traditions. In another way means in another way and doesn’t contain any evaluative aspect. As far as Turkey wants to join the EU it would be necessary to solve some problems related to Islamic traditions. The European Union will have to learn multi-culture and not only to rely on fact that all the countries adapt themselves to their western base. On the other hand we can’t expect the western base to adapt itself to newcomers coming from orthodox or even Islamic regions.