Top 10 Anti-Women Qur’an Quotes, Explained

Blog posts seem almost entirely to be comprised of editorials passed off as factual, journalistic endeavors, when they’re more likely just opinion pieces with some presumed facts scattered within — and I’m certainly no saint in that regard. In my formal journalism training, though, I was taught to offer both sides of the story without picking a side — and the vast majority of articles I’ve seen that list verses from the Qur’an in a series of subject-sorted lists, tend to be overtly anti-Islam in nature.

I had just found an interesting article about “10 Qur’an Quotes Every Woman Must See” (Jan.11, 2008; Infidels Are Cool) and looked through them. A bunch of them seemed pretty stretched and raised a dozen questions instead of answers. I’m a bit more of a researcher, and would much rather open up the Qur’an for some context than to just let the post remain as-is.

It turns out, though, that I’d missed the fact that the post was instead just a hastily-assembled summary of a different post, “Top ten rules in the Quran that oppress women” (Nov.13, 2005, American Thinker) that went into greater detail — but was still a bit peculiar in its interpretation.

In the spirit of balanced reporting, I’d like to take defense on these, as a counterargument to the one-sided battle here. It might rightly be noted that I am not Muslim, but trust my righteousness to be replaced by Christ’s. In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in the Christian New Testament, a master forgave a servant of an unpayable debt, but then that servant turned around and did not forgive a fellow servant of a tiny debt. The master learned of this, and sent the first servant away to punishment until he could pay the unpayable (presumably forever). In the spirit of that, would it not be proper to defend the accused, when I myself have been shown mercy of a rightful defense?

I try to run a family-friendly site here, so forgive me for rewording some of the more explicit descriptions to be more tactful. The bolded sentences are not quotes from the Qur’an, but are the error-filled arguments of the articles above.

10. A man sleeping with his wife is like a plow to the field, so plow it however you want. Referenced Passage – Sura 2:223. My copy of the Qur’an (see end of article) has a footnote: “It is compared to a husband’s [plow]; it is a serious affair to himl he sows the seed in order to reap the harvest. But he chooses his own time and mode of cultivation. He does not sow out of season nor cultivate in a manner which will injure or exhaust the soil. He is wise and considerate and does not run riot.”

9. Husbands are a degree above their wives. Referenced Passage – Sura 2:2228. Again, a footnote explains that the degree is more a matter of greater responsibility to assist in maintaining the wife, than she to him. They are equal under the law, but economically women are subject to special protections that men are not. The verse doesn’t imply that husbands are better per se, but that they have a more significant burden to uphold in maintaining the relationship.

8. A male gets a double share of the inheritance over that of a female. Referenced Passage – Sura 4:11 (also 4:176). I don’t really have any refutation of this, as all of the sources I can find seem to indicate this same, but at the same time don’t offer anything as to why that is — meaning that “because men are better than women” isn’t a valid conclusion to draw.

7. A woman’s testimony counts half of a man’s testimony. Referenced Passage – Sura 2:282. I don’t have any footnotes about it, but the passage could be taken one of a few ways, and the interpretation American Thinker takes isn’t what seemed to jump out at me. The context has to do with making a written agreement about something that will come to pass in the future, such as a transaction where payment would be due (instead of an immediate exchange), and having witnesses present as the contract is written — having two men as witnesses, and if there is only one man around, then the man and two women will work, “so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her.” As with #9, this seems to put more weight of responsibility upon the male, and making polite concessions to women — instead of saying that women are less trustworthy. A key aspect of the moment is that “so the other can remind her,” in that, perhaps the burden of recollection is on the two separate parties, in that a man is legally bound to recall the matter squarely upon himself individually, without assistance — and that the two-woman party is its own legal entity whereby the burden might be shared. There doesn’t seem to be any party which the male may be reminded, so the greater burden for proof is upon the male. Not necessarily that women can’t handle the burden, but they are offered greater protection from error in the matter.

6. A wife may remarry her ex-husband if and only if she marries another man, they sleep together, and then this second man divorces her. Referenced Passage – Sura 2:230. There’s a footnote that indicates that the particular variety of divorce described here is the third “irrevocable” kind. Earlier in 2:229, “A divorce is permissible only twice: after that, the husbands should retain their wives together on equitable terms, or let them go with kindness.” The footnote remarks that 2:230 refers to a third divorce — after the two have split up twice and have reunited again, than the third one is not permitted to occur until she has married someone else first, been divorced again (a fourth time total, for her). “In that case, there is no blame on either of them if they reunite..” The issue seems to center specifically on permission to reunite again after the third divorce, rather than an implied inequality that the man unfairly will not also have to remarry to a different woman and be divorced in order to marry her again. This might have to do with legal permission for males to have more than one wife. I don’t see any reference, at all, to the suggestion that the woman must sleep with the different husband first. The footnotes very thoroughly indicate that the marriage separation is not a light matter, that the consequences are very important, and the man should not so hastily issue a divorce over slight matters of temper — placing the burden of the fault moreso on the male for its failure.

5. Slave-girls are property for their male owners, in a lusty sense. Referenced Passage – Sura 4:24. At this point the list seems to take a drastic turn for stretching interpretation, without even bothering to examine much of the context at all. American Thinker goes specifically to an interpretation of rape (citing [a]4:3; [b]23:5—6; [c]33:50; and [d]70:22—30) but the phrase, “provided ye seek them in marriage … desiring chastity, not lust,” in 4:24 flies directly in the face of that. It also says the male needs to pay the dowry and such as necessary. The other passages cited as reference: [a] refers specifically to marriage, not lustful pursuits; [b] refers specifically to marriage, as an exception to a list item of “believers who eventually win through,” “..who abstain from sex; [c] a footnote in my copy states that a condition about paying a dowry for a slave is is a moot issue since slavery has been disbanded by international agreement; [d] a footnote restates that there is now no sense of “captives of war” because the practice has been made obsolete. Previously a wife who had been such a captive had lesser status as a wife within a multi-wife scenario until she was made free (by bearing a child of the male).

4. A man may be polygamous with up to four wives. Referenced Passage – Sura 4:3. The conditions for this particular passage refer specifically to the care of orphans, in that basically (paraphrased), “if you’re not sure you’ll be able to manage the orphan and his/her property rightfully and appropriately, you may take additional wives.” This is moreso an effort to relieve the burden of properly and respectfully caring for orphans over which the male finds himself guardian (through a relative’s death, etc), emphasizing that the matter is not about lustful endeavors of having more ladies to party with, but that the orphan would be genuinely taken care of, in an honest way.

3. A husband may simply get rid of one of his undesirable wives. Referenced Passage: Sura 4:129. American Thinker states, flat-out, opposite of what this passage indicates. It says it’s not humanly possible to be identically fair between all of your wives (if more than one) but to never favor one over another and share your affections equally as best you can, with earnest attempts at doing so, and not to leave the other in limbo. I’m not sure how that could possibly be taken any differently.

2. Husbands may hit their wives even if the husbands merely fear highhandedness in their wives. Referenced Passage: Sura 4:34. This passage actually gave me a bit of a chuckle because of the English translation offered — “As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them first, next, refuse to share their beds, and last, spank them lightly; but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means of annoyance.” A footnote states, “…if this is not sufficient, some slight physical correction may be administered; but Imam Shafii considers this inadvisable, though permissible, and all authorities are unanimous in deprecating any sort of cruelty, even of the nagging kind…”

1. Mature men are allowed to marry prepubescent girls. Referenced Passage – Sura 65:1,4. The passage is talking about divorces, and that a divorce shouldn’t be considered final until certain “prescribed periods” have completed (meaning, sections of time reserved for something, like fasting, in consideration of the divorce ahead — not periods in the sense of menstruation). In that context, treat both varieties of women — who have their “monthly courses” (menstrual cycles) and who don’t — as to having a prescribed period of 3 months. The passage does not suggest that pre-menstrual females are what it means, but immediately following indicates that women who are with child have that prescribed period extended until after the child is born, since pregnant women do not menstruate. The reason for the 3-month period is to ascertain as to whether there is a pregnancy or not (such as if there is doubt as to whether a pregnancy exists) by which time a pregnancy should be obvious if there was one. The context indicates that the lack of “monthly courses” would be indicative of an existing pregnancy, not from “not yet having” monthly courses after what American Thinker obscenely leaps.

If you’d like a copy of an English-translation Qur’an for yourself (or another language you specify), for free with no shipping charge, pop on over to (a) (American Muslim Association of North America) and request one, as well as any of the many topical pamphlets also offered; or (b) Explore The Qur’an, sponsored by CAIR (Council for American-Islamic Relations) which is where I got my copy for free, no shipping charge. I’ve had mine for a few years now, and it’s a terrific, hardback (ISBN 1-59008-025-4) edition with parallel English and Arabic, with extensive footnotes. I think you’ll really be surprised about how non-controversial it is. What strikes me most about it is that it is truly filled with reminders at every turn, “do not twist this into your own benefit, because Allah knows what you’re thinking” (paraphrased) very very very frequently. I have not read all of it, but most of the passages are perfectly reasonable.

Addendum (added Monday, Dec.7, 2009) – I corrected a misplaced modifier unto which it seemed as if the master forgave a “fellow servant”, rather than the first servant who was forgiven — for clarity. Also, I’ve received mail from a rather disagreeable gent who writes for an Islam hate site to which I shall not link, attempting to refute my post by suggesting that my knowledge of Arabic is deficient.. something I will freely admit. However, to consult a hate site about the proper translation of Arabic would be peculiar reasoning, at best. To add more clarity (despite giving the ISBN), the version of the Qur’an I used was the 2004 version (11th edition) of Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s English translation. I have avoided (to my knowledge) using any hadith to assist in interpretation, other than this specific text. I do however, find the concept of hadith to be rather clever and a well-planned, forward-thinking idea ^_^

25 thoughts on “Top 10 Anti-Women Qur’an Quotes, Explained

  1. Stumbled upon this whilst ‘googling’ for a quran quote on being fair, and I must say this is the first article I have read by a non-Muslim about islam that isnt full of hate! You’re open minded brain has saved me a heartache.

    Each of these points made have been thoroughly explained by scholars/lecturers/preachers of Islam, one of which I do adore- Hamza Yusuf, as well as studying Women in Islam in college which was sooooo awesome! Islam gives all the specific and needed rights/responsibilites to each gender so perfectly……if only Muslims followed it properly….and IF ONLY the media/Orientalists wouldnt fill my tv screen with Islamophobia. *sighs*

    Hence these teachers of Islam have needed to explain them. Dont you find it ironic how it is only recently, lets say these past 5/10 years people have started to question why Islam is not fair to women when actually its very VERY fair and just for both genders and that women in the ‘West’ have only been ‘liberated’ from men in the past 100 years, when Islam erradicated sexism 1400 years ago….

  2. I have been searching for this kind of site. Now I’ve got it. Shall say in the future what I feel about religions, especially about Islam? I have many more reservations.

  3. Your apologist tactics are condescending to women by trying to employ some sort of pseudo-chivalric interpretation to these verses from the Qur’an.

    The injunction that it takes 2 women to provide a testimony is not in the woman’s favor. You make it seem as though the additional woman acts as legal counsel or that in having two heads together, surely they have an advantage over the individual man who must recall on his own the events in question.

    Even if it were advantageous to women, it would only be so if it were optional and not a REQUIREMENT that there be two women saying the same thing. This passage prevents women from being heard with a voice as loud as their male keepers.

    Women should be on equal grounds as men in all regards and it is patronizing and parochial to cheapen possible contributions by them with interpretations such as yours.

    On another note,

    “A footnote in my copy states that a condition about paying a dowry for a slave is is a moot issue since slavery has been disbanded by international agreement”

    I find it insulting to my intelligence that because something has been forcibly disbanded from outside forces that it is a moot point no longer subject to criticism. The fact that slavery has been eradicated from Western Civilization doesn’t mean that you can disregard what the Qur’an says about it. Let it never be said that the ancient holy books are off the hook in regards to slavery. It is revolting to say that slavery is permissible in any form and yet these books each permit the keeping of humans as property.

    Any reasonable person must conclude that these are the literal words of a just god. They are man-made and they are far overdue for being discarded from practical use.

    • Since you don’t actually offer any genuine insight into Islam and instead just offer bits of speculation, your “insult my intelligence” merely indicates your intelligence is easily insulted. If there’s any way I can further assist in insulting your intelligence, I’ll do what I can.

      You being insulted that slavery it is at all permissible in any form that you can personally imagine, just indicates you haven’t really even bothered to imagine any other kinds than perhaps the early American version. It was not uncommon in Biblical times to sell yourself into slavery, on purpose, as a technique to earn a wage.

      Slavery, like money, is not bad. Money can be used to bring evil intentions to a reality, but the money itself is neutral. Slavery is also neutral — the slaveMASTER is what makes slavery good or bad. Say for instance, you lived in early America and had the ability to buy slaves. Could you not buy a slave, feed him a feast every day, dress him up, teach him to read and write, teach time ways of honest living and survival, and even write him his freedom papers? All that time, you would have been a slavemaster. Slavery itself isn’t bad. It’s the abuse of power than makes slavery bad, for the slaves who are mistreated.

      • while I agree with your assertion about slavery I do not agree with your far fetched interpretation. The reason the book has to be harshly criticized is because it convolutes the truth about how to treat others and be happy. That being said. Some of these quotes are just the words of the bible mixed around with synonym changes. I would like to emphasize some. The Quran doesn’t have the historical backings that the bible has. It also doesn’t have much fluidity of interpretation either influencing followers of its doctrines to perpetuate violence, sexual immorality, and subjugation. My suggestion to you is to defend people of whatever faith when they are in the right and not to persecute them, but to defend the teachings of their faith that are incorrect is irresponsible. I don’t think you are a bad person or unintelligent but I don’t think the course of action you are taking is productive. Also I would like to highlight that you have a very anti-American, anti-tradition Tone to your writing instead of a pro (unbiasedness) <<<don't think that is correct phraseology))) pro truth lol…..I guess….

      • @NJC — The Qu’ran actually has fairly comparable if not better historical backings, because each of the interpretations (and there are many) are documented extensively, and are traceable to previous derivative interpretations. For as legalistic of a society that the American impression of a Sharia-based system seems to be, the documentation of what is interpreted why is fairly and expectedly extensive, whereas the Judeochristian texts seem to be fairly fluid in their interpretation given their overtly non-legalistic style (living under grace vs the law). Consider researching the subject of a tafsir for more details.

  4. Thank you for this interesting post. By following your article, I managed to get a translated version for sinhala language readers in Sri Lanka. Most women are not paying attention to these ‘facts about Islam’ unfortunately…


  5. Instead of insulting a religion you should take the time to study it,
    by you go and post negative comments about a religion that is followed by millions of people, and you forget that you have offended many people way of life.
    What are you intentions in this article? and would you like it if somebody posted negative things about Christianity? because we can take many topics about that, that could be easily mocked for example.

  6. 8. A male gets a double share of the inheritance over that of a female.

    i would like to explain this to you.
    according to islam men have the duty /responsibility given by Allah to take care of the family AND HIS WIFE with his money. however a woman can spend her money the way she likes to. so if men get doble share after using it for the family, he doesnt even get to spend 1/4 of it on hiss free will, whereas women get to keep her whole share with herself and spend it the way she likes .
    So the irony here is that MEN HAVE LESSER MONEY THAN WOMEN FINALLY!!!

  7. Thank you so much for this post! I was just reading the exact blog you were talking about and was astounded by how much the meaning was taken out of context.

    By the way, the explanation for number 8 is that men are under obligation to provide for and maintain their families financially, while women have no such financial responsibility. Women are allowed to use their money however they want and on whatever they want.

  8. you will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire, so do not incline too much to one of them ( by giving her more of your time and provision ) so as to leave the other hangling( neither divorced nor married) ……. 4:129

  9. Objectively, these verses are quite sexist. You may try really hard to interpret it in a more ‘modern’ way to make sound better. Good luck. I just want to say that as an East Asian person whose country has not been influenced by any Abrahamic religion, I think that those verses are all very sexist.

    • you should also take into consideration that the Quran was written in Arabic and on top of that, is very poetic in nature. It was written this way so that it may have the power to convey more information in a book. Therefore, with symbolism, metaphors, and Arabic words with double meaning or words that are very hard to translate into English, what is read and understood in Arabic is not the same as what is read and understood in English

  10. Strongly agree with the above post. No matter how you spin it, even in an attempt to alleviate the cruelty while giving a modern “acceptable” explanation…still awfully sexist.

    Just the fact that these sexist verses are so prevalent and require decoding speaks volumes in itself. Why does one text have so many verses that need to be explained as “non-sexist”?

    Also – you’d think, if there were multiple meanings for 1 word depending on the context, the loving prophet who shared the message would catch this and re-word. E.g. “This sounds like I am encouraging the beating of women…nah, they’ll know what I mean”.

    Kudos to the Muslims that don’t buy into the abusive/demeaning portions of the Quran…but the contradictions are such that if you don’t believe those, you don’t believe anything. And by that logic, all my Muslim friends are going to hell.

    Ahh, religion…surely the demise of our existence.

  11. So I came across this article accidentally, was googling about patriarchy in Islam. So the article above cleared ups many thing I was wondering about. This is good. However I am still unhappy with how women are represented/portrayed in Islam. I am a muslim and one can argue that I am not. it is just I don’t practice most of the things that they say muslim should do. I was born in a muslim family/country and never actually question my religion. It always felt right (it still is). I think it helps me keep myself pure in many ways. However, when I came to study in the UK, one of the challenges was to identify myself and my beliefs to other people. I wasn’t sure myself. Then I started actually reading the Holy Quran. I can only be sure of one thing: it is very confusing, challenging and most importantly I felt like the writer is talking only to the male audience. I mean, it feel like it is not addressing women (it certainly is). It is then I released that the whole concept of most religions is: woman made from/for man. It is then I realized that it actually contradicts my believes in gender equality. it’s just.. can i even be religious and feminist at the same time? Maybe I am rushing with conclusions? Well I didn’t finish reading it. I promise i will. But It is just hard to go on when from the very beginning I feel less of a human reading it. especially the 4th sura (woman, Al-Nisa). So what I am trying to say is that now my Idea of religion is very messed up. And I need some guidance. I am not as religious as I was once I started reading it. well I wasn’t religious at all, i just kind of believed . But i am still a supporter (i think religion has more good impacts then bad) I still want to find a way to keep religion (particularly islam) in my life without starting to loathe it. My best friend is an Islam fanatic (in a good way). I love her and respect her. I admit that 90% of her awesomeness probably comes from her religiousness. You know the ways she takes care of me, helps, supports and loves unconditionally. You can call it a fear of Allah or maybe dedication. I know for sure if I say how I truly feel about religion, she will not be the same person, i mean I will not be the same person for her. she would probably stop talking to me immediately ahahahah. religion is her life. I don’t want to lose her. All this time I was happily sacrificing my beliefs for the sake of friendship. well, not a sacrifice more of a pretentious hypocrisy. And now It is getting even harder to say people I am muslim when i don’t believe it myself. I just want to know is it worth even thinking about staying true to myself and loosing a friend( friendS, actually most of my friends are very religious muslims)? Also, I know this change will have a grate (bad) effect on my social status and consequently will make my life a lot more harder. It might sound like a bulshit to you people, but it is actually a very important issue right now that I can’t resolve without involving the INTERNET ahahaahahaha nowadays all the experts are out here, the thing about internet is that everyone can be very honest. So if anyone is reading it, I need your honest opinion.

    • I hope I can encourage you to read more of it with a spirit of reconciliation. Since the text very often seems to repeat that “Allah knows your heart”, would it not be true, then, that your optimism would also be observed — in trying to rightfully reconcile your worldly understandings with it, to your credit? If you approach it honestly and with hope to reconcile your differences, surely knowledge of that type of heart, that seeks to encounter with the scripture in honesty, will also be observed to your credit.

      Being on a path toward reconciliation, even if you never eventually reach it — dwelling in a spirit hopeful of eventual reconciliation, to me is a great path to be on, even if you never ultimately reach the reconciliation you desire.

      I also think that being more knowledgeable about a topic is always better than being less knowledgeable. If you’re having second guesses especially about that which you don’t yet know, read the text fully so that when you’ve completed it, you will have a better understanding of your earlier position when you did not learn all of its elements..

      • Thank you. You are right, I need to read more. I decided to read it in my native language and in English simultaneously for better understanding. The one that I am reading now is “an approximate translation of the meanings of its verses”. Thank you agin for your advice and for writing this article. 🙂

  12. Pingback: Critical Thinking: “Joys of Muslim Women” Forward Debunked Item-By-Item | the ablestmage press

  13. Hi, really loved reading this! I’m currently in Morocco and trying to gain a better understanding of women’s place in a Muslim society… This was really clear and easy to read and offered a great perspective amongst the many articles that are so biased to show how Islam oppresses women. Thanks!

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