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Women’s Rights from Islamic and Judaism Perspectives

Introduction

According to the United Nations, women’s rights are fundamental human rights that require all women to be treated equally and fairly in society. Yet most women are still denied equal opportunities as men due to their femininity. For decades, rights groups have made significant efforts in the fight against inequality to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. These include rights to education, equal opportunity in the workplace, political participation, and the freedom to make independent personal choices in their lives. Despite the enormous progress made concerning gender equality, women still experience harmful, discriminatory practices and other institutional barriers to equal participation in society. These inequalities underpin various problems that disproportionately affect women, such as lower pay, inadequate healthcare, and sexual and domestic exploitation. These challenges have also contributed to the growth of new campaigns, such as the #MeToo movement that aims to address the prevalence of sexual abuse and other issues that women face. The Islamic and Judaism perspective on women’s rights is often used as a tool to deny women equal rights and perpetuate gender discrimination.

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The View of Islam on Women’s Rights

Some predominantly Muslim nations (in Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East) are still opposed to the idea of granting equal opportunities for both women and men. This is despite Prophet Muhammed’s teachings which state that there is no difference between males and females regarding their rights, virtues, duties, merits, or as far as their relationship to Allah is concerned (Quran 2: 228). In addition, all people are promised the same penalty for evil conduct and the same reward for good behavior (Izadi, 2020). This explains why at the onset of Islam, Muhammed granted women property, inheritance, and other social rights, particularly the freedom to accept or reject the terms of marriage (“Legacy of a Prophet,” n.d). This was seen as progress to grant women equal opportunities, especially when they had few rights. Therefore, this shows that women in the East could own, manage, and dispose of property centuries before their West counterparts had the same rights (Bishin & Cherif, 2017). In this context, Islam abolished discrimination towards women and issued a complete code of conduct for all individuals.

In the countries that practice Islam, legal and social reforms aimed at improving women’s status tend to fail due to influential and powerful opponents who perceive them as undermining the religion. Scholars have adopted divergent views regarding Muhammed’s teachings and the Quran throughout the centuries. The strictest of these religious outfits is the Hanbali jurisprudence that forms the basis of hard-line modern Islamic perspectives, including the Salafist movement and ultra-conservative Wahhabism. Some of their stern beliefs are derived from the Quran (4:34), which states that men are women’s protectors since Allah has created them with one more (strength) than their counterparts; therefore, men should support women by all means. The verse has made some scholars argue that it has been misinterpreted by religious establishments and believe that males should act as female guardians. Some of these beliefs have continued to isolate women in the eyes of the legal system in countries where Islamic law is practiced. Regulations underpinned by religious convictions contribute to the deterioration of women’s rights.

The Islamic teachings that follow the Hanbali and Shafi schools of thought dictate women’s education, dress, and social life, as well as restrict the times they interact with men outside their family as much as possible. This is why many parks, means of transportation, and public buildings are segregated by sex. Failure to observe some of these prescribed guidelines is often met with rejection, including lashing, amputation, and stoning (Samadi, 2021). Girls and women are usually confined in their homes unless a male family member accompanies them.

The guardianship system imposed on women infringes on their rights and freedoms. This is because they cannot freely make significant decisions regarding their own lives since they need to get permission from their male companions (Patoari, 2019). For instance, in Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, females are required to have the consent of their male guardians, such as brothers, uncles, fathers, and husbands. They have to get their guardian’s approval before they get married, travel, divorce or seek medical assistance. Religious practice usually denies them access to employment opportunities or even the ability to engage in different hobbies. The practice does not change even if the women’s guardians are abusive. As a result, this contributes to gender violence because it is difficult for the victims to file complaints on their own without the consent of the guardians, who may be the perpetrators. This has also contributed to forced and child marriages because such decisions are made by the family, rarely involving the individuals in question (Anishchenkova, 2020). Thus, in most Islamic nations, the decision of the father or guardian is final, even when the women do not support it.

The View of Judaism on Women’s Rights

Since its inception, Judaism has had a patriarchal religious tradition where women had a lower status compared to men. The traditional Jewish law limited a woman’s role to that of a wife and mother. Women were expected to raise and care for their families and were scarcely involved in prayer life or education (Cohn-Sherbok, 2021). In addition, the male rabbis were responsible for making all laws that directed all spheres of Jewish life, while women were never consulted. For example, although it was the woman’s duty to prepare food, the male rabbis regulated the dietary laws (Kashrut). Nevertheless, the Jewish teachings emphasize equality for both men and women. The Talmud also highlights the significance of social equality among all Jewish people (Cohn-Sherbok, 2021). Despite the patriarchal system in Judaism, the women’s movements in the mid-20th century influenced some Jewish denominations to achieve greater equality for women. Different Judaism sects have diverse perspectives on women’s rights.

In Reformed Judaism, women have almost equal rights to men in worship and other spheres of life. This denomination allows women to be ordained as rabbis, form minyan, and sit together with men in the synagogues. Reform Judaism also permits women to pursue higher education and careers while raising a family (Youssef, 2019). However, despite the Reformed Jewish teachings about the equality of women and men, women continue facing challenges in exercising their rights. Jewish women have almost no opinion over their reproductive choices. Judaism views all life as sacred but women are expected to adequately care for their well-being. Even though unborn children are considered valuable, Reformed Judaism perceives a mother’s health as paramount. For example, Mishnah Ohaloth 7:6 prohibits a woman from sacrificing herself to save a fetus, and if the mother’s life is threatened, abortion is allowed (“Jewish Views on Women’s Rights,” n.d). Due to the Jewish value of the sanctity of life, Judaism condones and mandates abortions. Therefore, although Reformed Judaism has allowed women to exercise some freedoms, these rights are limited in some circumstances.

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In Orthodox Judaism, the women’s role is perceived as separate but of equal value to men. Nevertheless, this denomination follows the patriarchal religious system where women are still restricted to the role of being wives and mothers. As a result, they are discouraged from pursuing higher education or religious leadership. The Jewish law (Halakha) emphasizes that women should not be permitted to occupy leadership roles (Cohn-Sherbok, 2021). This is because of the belief that pursuing higher education or leadership roles will make women neglect their primary responsibilities of being wives and mothers (Kook & Harel-Shalev, 2020). In this case, in 2016, the ultra-orthodox Jewish rabbis from the Satmar sect issued a decree that banned women from going to universities. The rabbis argued that pursuing higher education was against the Torah (Fenton & Rickman, 2016). Also, some other ultra-Orthodox Jews have prohibited women from driving because the practice is considered immodest. Not to mention, in Orthodox Judaism, women pray separately from men. Thus, women can only enjoy the freedoms that are in line with Jewish teachings.

In Orthodox Judaism, only men have the right to initiate a divorce. As a result, some women may be trapped in marriages against their will (agunah) if their husbands refuse to provide the divorce document (a “get”). In such a case, the women cannot remarry as they are still tied to their previous marriage (Garfinkel, 2021). Therefore, it is evident that women’s rights are greatly constrained in Orthodox Judaism because they have no choice in pursuing education, leadership responsibilities, or divorce.

Solutions to the Problem as Presented from the Perspective of these Religions

Different religious viewpoints towards women have not prevented civil rights organizations and governments from trying to uplift the legal status of women in regard to Islamic and Judaism jurisprudence. To improve the perspectives of Islam and Judaism toward women’s rights, several actions should be implemented. In this case, the Islamic and Judaism religions should reaffirm that their religious practices are not used to justify the infringement of human rights. For example, domestic tranquility (Shalom bayit) is a central principle in Judaism. However, the rabbis should clarify that women should not endure domestic violence so as to maintain happy families. Muslims should also introduce legislation that criminalizes all forms of violence against women and protect them from abusive situations. In addition, there is a need for the Islamic and Judaism religions to analyze and amend their practices and laws to ensure they respect and uphold the right to equality and non-discrimination (“New UN Report,” 2020). For instance, Jewish law should also allow women to initiate divorce. The law should also implement strategies to ensure that the men provide divorce documents to avoid trapping women in unwanted marriages.

Conclusion

Some Islamic and Judaism teachings are often used as a tool to deny women equal opportunities under civil law, perpetuating violations of their rights. This contemporary issue is propelled by divergent views expressed by Hanbali, Shaffii, ultra-orthodox Judaism, and other religious sects against women. For instance, the imposition of male guardianship and divorce laws against women violates women’s rights. Therefore, to curb some of these problems, Muslims and Jews need to reaffirm that their interpretation of the scriptures is not used to justify the infringement of human rights. Giving every woman the right to choose and determine their future may ensure underlying conflicts are addressed, leading to peaceful coexistence and a more prosperous world.

References

Anishchenkova, V. (2020). Modern Saudi Arabia (understanding modern nations). ABC-CLIO.

Bishin, B. G., & Cherif, F. M. (2017). Women, property rights, and Islam. Comparative Politics, 49(4), 501–519. Web.

Cohn-Sherbok, D. (2017). Judaism: History, belief, and practice. Routledge.

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Fenton, S., & Rickman, D. (2016). Ultra-orthodox Jewish sect bans women from going to university. The Independent. Web.

Garfinkel, E. L. (2021). The JPS Jewish heritage Torah commentary. The Jewish Publication Society.

Izadi, J. (2020). Women’s nature in the Qur’an: Hermeneutical considerations on traditional and modern exegeses. Open Theology, 6(1), 342-359. Web.

Jewish views on women’s rights & reproductive choice. (n.d). Reform Judaism. Web.

Kook, B.R., & Harel-Shalev, A. (2021) Patriarchal norms, practices and changing gendered power relations – Narratives of Ultra-Orthodox women in Israel. Gender, Place & Culture, 28 (7), 975-998. Web.

Muhammad: Legacy of a prophet. Muhammad and women. (n.d). Public Broadcasting Service. Web.

New UN report on religious belief & the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community. (2020). Equality Now. Web.

Patoari, M. (2019). The rights of women in Islam and some misconceptions: An analysis from Bangladesh perspective. Beijing Law Review, 10(05), 1211-1224. Web.

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Samadi, M. (2021). Advancing the legal status of women in Islamic law. Brill.

The Qur’an. (2005). Translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, Oxford UP.

Youssef, M. (2019). Gendered paradigms in theologies of survival: Silenced to survive. Lexington Books.

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StudyCorgi. "Women’s Rights from Islamic and Judaism Perspectives." January 20, 2023. https://studycorgi.com/womens-rights-from-islamic-and-judaism-perspectives/.

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StudyCorgi. 2023. "Women’s Rights from Islamic and Judaism Perspectives." January 20, 2023. https://studycorgi.com/womens-rights-from-islamic-and-judaism-perspectives/.

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