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Master to a slave

Islamic theology helps explain the treatment of women in traditional Muslim societies

Issue: "'Infidel'," March 3, 2007

The Bible speaks of God adopting us into His family: The relationship of God to Christians is as a father to children. Allah for Muslims is more distant, and the relationship is that of master-servant or (many Muslims say) master-slave. In Christianity the church is the bride of Christ, who gave His life for her, so husbands are to love their wives enough to die for them. The marriage relationship in orthodox Islam also mirrors its theology, which means a husband is to a wife as a master is to a servant or slave.

The Quran calls husband "guardians" and notes in chapter 4, verse 34, that wives can be beaten: "admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them." Some commentators, though, say that only the lightest tap is allowed. Muslim men can be polygamous, based loosely on the model of Muhammad: After his first wife died he married at least nine other women, and one hadith-a story of Muhammad's life-claims he had intercourse with all of them on a single night.

Muslim men, however, are to have a maximum of four wives; since unlimited polygamy was an option before the Quran, Muslims say this was a notable advance, and much superior to what they see as the American custom of serial polygamy, with rich husbands sometimes dumping one wife to marry a younger, "trophy" wife. Muslims say that old wives in their cultures maintain their positions and may still rule over households after their husbands' eyes have strayed.

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In traditional Muslim societies every woman is to be under the authority of a father and then a husband; a woman is not to go out by herself and is certainly not to draw attention to her beauty by showing some skin or going without some form of head covering. At the time of Muhammad this was probably a loose scarf covering head, neck, and shoulders, but many orthodox Muslims today demand a complete covering with only eyes showing. They state that such clothing leads to greater respect for Muslim women and less incitement of men to lust.

Feminists in Muslim countries tend to have a different agenda than American feminists, who often speak of sexual liberation and precise occupational equality. Muslim feminists tend to emphasize the problems of slavery within marriage and their desire to let arms, legs, and neck get some air.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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