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Role of women: What do Islam and other three main religions have to say, honestly?

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

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Suddenly, because of the asatizah controversy, there is now much soul-searching in the local Muslim community on equality of the sexes. The issues are:  the position of and discrimination against women in modern society and women’s place or status in religion. 

The Office of the Mufti, the highest Islamic authority in Singapore, has declared that women need to be treated with dignity, honour and respect. A sermon, read at all mosques islandwide and posted online, implored Muslims to weed out a culture of seeing women as objects to fulfil one’s desires, adding that this culture should be prevented from claiming more victims. There is no gender differentiation in Islam, and women are not spiritually inferior to men. 

“Remember that our respect for women should be consistent both in our private and public lives,” said the sermon. “Begin with our own mothers, wives and daughters, just as we would not want actions by others in society to cause harm or disrespect to them.”

But what exactly do the major religions have to say on whether men and women are equal? I did some humble research. I will reproduce, without comment, my “findings”.  I have to caution that there may be some oversimplication because the subject is quite complex.  Also the extracts or statements reproduced may not represent 100 per cent the views of everyone in the particular religion. They come from a selected source.

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Islam

This comes from pennyappeal.org  Penny Appeal is a Britain-based Muslim charity founded by Adeem Younis, an English-Pakistani entrepreneur, philanthropis and humanitarian. He is best known as founder of digital matrimony platform.  Excerpt: 

  • The first person to embrace Islam was a woman –  Khadija
  • The greatest scholar of Islam was a woman – Aisha
  • The person who loved the Prophet the most was a woman – Fatima

“Many of the negative stereotypes around women in Islam arise not from Islamic guidance but from cultural practices, which not only denigrate the rights and experiences of women, but also stand in direct opposition to the teachings of Allah and His Prophet.

“With all the confusion between history, culture and religion, it’s important to ask ourselves the question; what do the Qur’an and the Ahadith actually teach us about the status of women in Islam?

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“The Qur’an teaches us that Adam and Eve were created from the same soul; both equally guilty, equally responsible and equally valued. As Muslims, we believe that all human beings are born in a pure state – men and women – and that we must strive to preserve this purity through faith, as well as good intentions and deeds.

“The theme of equality runs through other Islamic teachings, too. An important verse in the Qur’an reads, ‘The men believers and the women believers are responsible for each other. They enjoin the good and forbid the evil, they observe prayers and give charitable alms and obey God and his Prophet.’ (Qur’an, 9:71).

Christianity

Excerpt from Wikipedia:

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“Christian egalitarianism (derived from the French word égal, meaning equal or level), also known as biblical equality, is egalitarianism based in Christianity. In theological spheres, egalitarianism generally means equality in authority and responsibilities between genders, in contrast to complementarianism. This entails women being able to exercise spiritual authority as clergy. Christian egalitarians argue that verses cited to justify certain restrictions on women have been misunderstood, and support ‘mutual submission’ of all people to each other in relationships and human institutions as a form of respect without necessarily requiring a hierarchy in authority.

“According to Christian egalitarianism, gender equality is biblically sound in Christian church leadership (including pastors) and in Christian marriage. Its theological foundations are interpretations of the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and other New Testament principles.

“It refers to a biblically-based belief that gender, in and of itself, neither privileges nor curtails a believer’s gifting or calling to any ministry in the church or home. It does not imply that women and men are identical or undifferentiated, but affirms that God designed men and women to complement and benefit one another.

“Egalitarian beliefs are generally subscribed to by Quakers, United Methodist Churches, The Presbyterian Church (US), The Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (Europe), Northern Baptists, Church of the Nazarene, Wesleyan Church, The Evangelical Covenant Church, and some Pentecostal churches such as the Assemblies of God, The Foursquare Church, and United Church of God.

“The opposing view is complementarianism, a view which holds that differing, often non-overlapping roles between men and women, manifested in marriage, church leadership, and elsewhere, are biblically required. Complementarianism is the belief that men were created for the headship role and women were created for the support role.

Hinduism

Excerpt of article by Jayaram V, in the Hinduwebsite.com:

“Gender distinctions are superficial. They are confined to the body and to the objective reality of the mind, where names and forms still matter. Deep inside all humans are the same. Each is a combination of Purusha and Prakriti, the male and female aspects of creation. The mind and body represent Prakriti or the female deity, and the soul represents Purusha, the male deity. Deep inside, we all represent the same indivisible, indistinguishable, imperishable and eternal Brahman, who is extolled in the Vedas as the One (ekam), without a second (advitiyam).

“The essence of it is that, whether you are male or female, you are a combination of Shiva and Shakti. They exist in everyone as an inseparable reality. Your masculinity or femininity arises from Shakti only, the female energy of creation. Both men and women possess souls, and their bodies are made by Shakti only. The gender distinctions are illusory, a play of Maya, meant to ensure the continuity of life and the bondage of beings.

“Further, the gender of a person is an aspect of his or her name or form. It does not extend to the soul. For convenience we may say that the self or the soul is Purusha (male) but in reality, it is neither male nor female. Our Puranas also allude to the fact that a person’s gender is not permanent. Karma plays an important role. Due to karma, in one life a person may be born as a male and in another as a female or even as a transgender.

“Spiritually, all beings are equal. Both the genders are meant to be equal, although they may perform different functions, because both are equally important for the continuity of the world.”

“The soul does not participate in creating these distinctions. It has no gender because it is asexual. It does not take part in the creation or manifestation of anything, but its presence is necessary for Shakti to manifest the forms and functions. All the diversity and duality arise in the field of Prakriti only due to her force and her power of  Maya. Just as it is the mothers or women in the physical planes who give birth to children, in the spiritual plane it is Shakti or the Divine Mother who produces all dualities and diversity, including the duality of male and female.

“Historically, (however), irrespective of their social or religious background Indian women were subjected to many disabilities and restrictions. From the earliest times, Hindu families and communities were dominated by male members and male privilege. Hindu law books legitimised their authority and superiority in various ways, giving them the role of ownership (yajamana) and control in most matters. They endowed them with the right to own and control not only property, children and the institution of family, but also women. In doing so, they also invoked divine authority and the fear of divine retribution.

“In all fairness, we have to say that the law books also acknowledged the sanctity of womanhood and the divine nature of women as the personifications of Shakti, cautioning men not to misuse their authority, ill-treat women or subject them to cruelty and neglect. For example, Manu who was rather harsh towards women also declared that women should be fairly and justly treated because a house where women suffered was a house of great misfortune.”

Buddhism

Excerpt from Tricycle:  Buddhism for Beginners:

Buddhism for Beginners is an initiative of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, a print and digital magazine dedicated to making Buddhist teachings and practices broadly available.

“Does Buddhism support gender equality?

There’s no simple answer. The Buddha taught that everyone, regardless of gender, has the capacity for enlightenment and through the millennia, countless women have flourished on the path as lay practitioners, teachers, and monastics. Yet over the past 25 centuries, most Buddhist institutions have discriminated against women, some more severely than others.

“As recorded in the Pali canon, which comprises some of the earliest Buddhist teachings, the Buddha praised the attainments of his female disciples but refused to ordain women until his stepmother, Mahapajapati, and his attendant and cousin, Ananda, convinced him to. Still, when women were allowed to ordain, they were saddled with eight “heavy rules” (in Pali, garudhammas) that kept them subordinate to monks. Some scholars argue, however, that this account and the eight further rules are later additions.

“In the centuries since the Buddha’s death, men have dominated the hierarchies in all Buddhist traditions. In Asia, it was widely believed that a woman had to be reborn as a man before she could attain nirvana. That wasn’t a teaching from the Pali canon, however, and though some passages in later Mahayana texts can be interpreted to support the belief, others contradict it.

“Nuns’ orders that granted full ordination died out in many Buddhist countries centuries ago—and in some cases, were never established in the first place—leaving various forms of novice and lay ordination as the only option for women. But recent developments arguably are making full ordination available to women practising in traditions where it is not offered. In the countries of East Asia where Chinese Buddhism took hold, lineages of Mahayana nuns that grant full ordination are thriving, and there is a movement to ‘transplant’ this practice, with fully ordained Mahayana nuns and monks ordaining Theravada and Tibetan novices. Theravada and Tibetan monks have also held ordinations.”

The journey towards respect for women in religion or in modern society is far from over. 

 

Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The . He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

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