Does the Quran promote male superiority?
By: A. Muhammad

One claim that has been circulated by the anti-Islam lobby is the claim of male superiority in the Quran. The claim is that the Quran places men above women in rights and status. The most circulated claims are four and they are listed below. The aim of this article is to analyse these claims in the light of the Quran.

Claim 1
Women treated unfairly by being given half the inheritance of men

Indeed, the Quranic rules of inheritance stipulate that the son is to receive double the share of the daughter. On first impression, this indeed would seem discriminative in favour of men. In order to analyse this rule and determine whether it is in fact discriminative or there is more to it, it is necessary to read the following two verses:

God instructs you regarding your children; the male gets the share of two females. 4:11

Men are responsible for the financial maintenance of women by means of what God has favoured some over the others and through what they spend of their money. 4:34

The underlined words in
4:34 give us an insight as to why God apportioned to the man double the share of the woman (4:11).
As per 4:34, God decreed that "men are responsible for the financial maintenance of the women" by means of "what God has favoured some over the others."

After reading
4:34 it becomes clear that God did not grant men double the share of women in inheritance because God favours men, but because God placed on men the responsibility to support their wives financially. The financial duty placed on men to support their women (4:34) justifies the inheritance rule (4:11). In contrast, women receive half the share of men in inheritance but are fully supported by their men and with no financial duty placed on them. Not a bad deal for women, is it?

What about the situation where both husband and wife are working and supporting the family on equal basis, as is the case with many families these days? Equally, what about the situation where a woman is the sole bread earner of the family due to being a divorced woman with children, or due to the terminal illness, or death of her husband? Surely in such cases the justification in
4:34 for the male to receive double the female would not be applicable, so why in such cases would a woman inherit half the share of the man?

God always considers all situations and for that, God has devised a solution so that no one is wronged. The solution that God devised to maintain fairness in all situations, is in commanding all people, when they feel death near, to write an equitable will in which they have the freedom to apportion to the beneficiaries in accordance to their needs:

It is decreed upon you that if any of you feels death approaching, should he leave anything of value, that a will should be written equitably for the parents and the close ones. This is a decreed obligation on the reverent. 2:180

1- The command in this verse is not only to write a will when death is near, but to make sure that the will is written equitably. This very important word "equitably" is a further instruction for the testator to bequeath his estate in accordance to the needs of each beneficiary. By doing so, God is allowing the testator to overrule the inheritance rules given in the Quran.

2- God did not set any upper limit for what a testator may bequeath in his will, and so in principle, the testator can bequeath all his estate in the will.

3- In addition, when we read the verses of inheritance, such as 4:11 and 4:12 we note that God granted the will priority in payment. Upon the death of any person, the will and the debts of the testator are to be paid before any other payments. If any money should remain after these are paid, then, and only then are the rules of inheritance in the Quran to be followed.

It follows that if a parent has a son and a daughter where the daughter is struggling financially, while the son is well off, the parent can bequeath to the daughter an equal or greater share in his estate than the share of the son. The will is the tool given by God to all believers to fine tune the inheritance allocated to every family member in accordance to the specific needs of each member.

Claim 2
The witness of one man is worth that of two women

........You shall call to witness two witnesses from among your men, and if not two men, then a man and two women whom you accept as witnesses. Thus, if one of them errs, one can remind the other.

The opening words in 2:282 speak specifically about the transaction of loans:

O you who believe, if yo
u transact a loan for a specified term ...... 2:282

The words that follow in the same verse list the requirements that must be fulfilled when transacting a loan, which are the writing down of the loan and witnessing it.
We also read the following words near the end of the verse:

However, with regards to on the spot trade transactions that you execute among yourselves, there is no blame upon you if you do not write them down. And let there be witnesses when you trade.

Once again the subject is specifically business transactions and loans and not any other matter. It follows that the rule of having two women in place of one man applies only to witnessing business transactions and loans and not for any other type of witnesses.

1- Business transactions and loans, in a family arrangement where the man is given the responsibility of supporting his wife and the family (4:34), are normally contracted by men rather than women. It is thus more likely for women to forget the details of transaction since they had nothing to do with the setting up of the transaction/loan. This seems to be the significance of the words, "Thus, if one of them errs, one can remind the other."

The ruling of two women in place of one man would also offset the case when there is one man and one woman who are a couple or have some kind of relationship whereby they may seek to profit from the "loan" if they gave a certain testimony, or even change their testimony. Having two women and not one woman would eliminate cases of collusion.

The case may also be of a man who has control over one woman and may manipulate or put pressure on the woman to give a certain testimony. Having two women and one man is apt to make for more honest witnessing; for it is not likely that one man will have the capacity or skill to manipulate two women to change their testimony. The fact that this ruling applies only in the case of witnessing a loan, negates the claim that God regards one man to be worth two women, rather, that this is a rule that applies to a specific type of testimony.

Claim 3
Women are left at the mercy of their husbands in divorce matters

Before analysing this claim, it is necessary to separate between practices that take place in many Islamic countries and which are derived from culture and tradition on the one hand, and what the Quranic law stipulate on the other hand.
Indeed many Islamic countries are coloured by male dominated cultures. Many practices in such countries are totally un-Quranic and they rob women of their rights in many ways, divorce is just one of those cases.
These practices should not discredit Islam nor the Quran, they only discredit the cultures and traditions they relate to. If anything they actually violate the Quran.
In many Islamic countries, men are given the sole right to divorce their wives. This is stipulated in the marriage contract and is what referred to as the 'esmah'.

Needless to say, this control of men over women is in violation of the Quran. If this kind of abuse does happen today in such countries, it happens only because the Quranic rules are not upheld.
Indeed, male dominance in divorce matters in some Islamic countries has become so bad that a man is even able to divorce his wife in haste, simply by telling her, "you are divorced", after which the formality of the divorce paper can be sent to her in a few days!
Once again, this outrageous practice is totally un-Quranic.
God placed a number of conditions that must be met before a divorce can be executed:

The couple must wait 4 months (cooling period) before committing to divorce (2:226). For a start, this rule alone immediately deems all the instant verbal divorces to be unlawful.

The couple must seek a council from the two families and genuinely attempt to reconcile (4:35).

The wife should not be evicted from the marriage home unless she commits a clear immorality (65:1).

The man must pay the divorced wife a divorce settlement (2:241).

The man must pay for the children's alimony (2:233).

If the man divorces a wife who is nursing his child, he must pay for her food and clothes for two years (2:233).

The above conditions place heavy duties on the man which he must fulfil before he is able to divorce his wife. This is hardly the picture of men being able to freely divorce their wives as they please by uttering three words!
If this is the Quranic law, then we may ask why are women left to the mercy of their husbands to divorce them at will, yet a woman has to go to court to obtain a divorce and is usually refused by the court?

In the Quran, men do not have the authority to keep their wives against their will should the wife ask for a divorce:

When you have divorced the women and they have fulfilled their interim, then either retain them equitably or release them equitably. Do not retain them against their will in order to be vindictive. Anyone who does that has indeed wronged himself. 2:231

In effect, a wife does not need to go to court to obtain a divorce. As long as the requirements that must precede a divorce are met (see above) then a husband may not keep his wife against her will, or he would be violating God’s law.
If the wife seeks a divorce, and provided the 4 months period is fulfilled, the husband has no authority to keep her against her will. Absolutely, God does not give men power above women in the case of divorce.

In fact, there are a number of cases in the Quran where women are given more rights than men. The following are some examples:

1- A divorced woman is not to be evicted from the marriage home (65:1). The non eviction privilege is granted to divorced women only and not to men.

2- A divorced woman is entitled to a divorce settlement from her husband. Once again, this privilege is not granted to divorced men, even if the woman whom he divorced is better off than him.

3- In 2:230, there exists a case that demonstrates how God preserved the dignity of women above men:

if he divorces her after that she becomes unlawful for him unless she marries a husband other than him. If he then divorces her, they incur no blame for returning to one another if they think that they will uphold God's limits. These are God's limits; He clarifies them for people who know. 2:230

The words in 2:229 allow marriage and divorce twice. The words in 2:230 speak about the case of a third divorce. The underlined words in 2:230 indicate that this law is applicable to men only (if he divorces her).

As a result, if a wife divorces her husband 3 times, which is not something that we see happening, then she can still re-marry him without him having to take another wife first and divorce her. In contrast, a man who divorces his wife 3 times is not allowed to re-marry her unless she weds another man and is divorced from him.
We may ask why does God make this rule applicable to men only?
The reason is that God honoured women above men with regards to preserving their dignity.

1- This rule is to honour women and to stop them being treated like a play thing in the hands of men. It stops men divorcing their wives any number of times, then getting them back at will.

2- This rule is also to humiliate the man who made marriage and divorce a play thing. His pride will be tarnished when he is forced to see his divorced wife marry another man and have the marriage consummated, then only if the new marriage is dissolved that he can get her back. This rule is indeed a punishment for the man who did not honour his wife and divorced her three times.

Claim 4
Men are a degree higher than women in status

The proponents of this specific claim always base it on totally inaccurate translations of 2:228, and also on poor understanding of this verse. The verse in question says:

The divorced women shall keep themselves in waiting for three menstruations and it is not lawful for them to conceal what God has created in their wombs if they believe in God and the Last Day. Their husbands have more right to take them back if they wish to reconcile. The women have rights equitably as well as obligations, and the men have a degree over them. God is Dignified, Wise.

1- The first observation to note is that this verse speaks of one specific case. It is the case of a married couple who have just divorced. The divorced wife is in the interim period of three menstruations before being able to marry another man. The interim is a precaution in case she finds out that she is pregnant with the child of the man whom she has just been divorced from. If there was no interim to be observed, and she marries another man straightaway, then the identity of the father may not be known in the case of her being pregnant.

2- The words in the verse instructs the woman not to conceal her pregnancy from the man she was married to. The man has a right to know, and has the right to attempt reconciliation.

3- The Quran is then quick to assert that reconciliation can take place only if both man and woman wish to do so
"if they wish to reconcile". Thus cannot be enforced on the woman.

4- Following this very specific case, the words go on to say that men have a degree over women.

It is only under these very specific circumstances that men have a degree over women. The degree here does not mean a higher degree in status for the man, but only in having the full right to know if his divorcee is pregnant, and the right to seek reconciliation, for the sake of the child.

Finally, if reconciliation does not happen, the man has the right of having access to the child and other parental duties.
To claim from the words in 2:228 that men are given a degree over women, in an absolute sense, is to take the words out of context.

Claim 5
Men only mentioned as receivers of the immense rewards of Paradise

The proponents of this specific claim
quote various Quranic verses where the rewards of Paradise are mentioned. They point out how these verses consistently speak to the male believer, as the receiver of such rewards, and never to the female believer. They interpret this as being another case where God favoured men over women.
Indeed, the rewards of Paradise spoken of in the Quran are worded to be for the benefit of male believers and never for female believers. The following are some examples:
And fruits of their choice,
and meat of birds that they desire,
and maidens with beautiful eyes,
like well protected pearls;
a reward for what they used to do. 56:20-24

On the surface, this indeed appears to be a case where God favoured men over women, showering them with all the generous gifts of Paradise, when no similar rewards are ever mentioned for women.
However, if we take a closer look, it can be shown that this is not the case, and that both men and women are rewarded equally in
1- To analyse this matter, it is first necessary to read the following Quranic words:

And whoever does good deeds, male or female, and is a believer, those will enter
Paradise, and they will not be wronged by even so much as a naqeer. 4:124

A "naqeer" is a tiny speck on the stone of a date.
We can derive 2 important facts from the above words:
- The words "male or female" tell us that both believing men and believing women who lived a righteous life will enter Paradise.
- The words "they will not be wronged by even so much as a naqeer" tell us that men will not receive preferential treatment by God over women when it comes to the rewards in Paradise; both men and women will be rewarded equitably.

Those who mention verses that address men with regards to the rewards in Paradise to imply that God favoured men over women, they never speak about other verses that speak of the gruesome punishments in Hell! They never comment on the fact that such verses also speak about men only and never women! The following are such examples:

The one who seeks the fleeting life, We will hasten therein for him what We please, and to whom We please. Then We assign him to Hell wherein he will roast, disgraced and rejected.

The one who comes to his Lord as a criminal will incur Hell, wherein he will neither die nor live.

There is not one Quranic verse that speaks about the punishments of Hell where the address is to women! If a gender is used in connection to Hell, it is always related to the word 'him' and never 'her'.
Despite the above, we never hear claims that God favoured women by sparing them the punishments of Hell, and that only men will be thrown into Hell!

What the above means is that neither the rewards of
Paradise nor the punishments of Hell are exclusive to men, but that the use of the male gender in such verses is by way of representation of all mankind.

When we read the Quran we realise that all descriptions of Paradise and Hell are allegorical; they are not to be taken literally:

The 'mathal' (example) of
Paradise, that is promised to the reverent, is that beneath which rivers flow, and its food supply is everlasting as well as its shade. 13:35
The 'mathal' (example) of Paradise that is promised to the reverent is that of rivers of unpolluted water, and rivers of milk whose taste does not change, and rivers of wine that is pleasurable for the drinkers, and rivers of strained honey. They have all kinds of fruits therein. 47:15

The word
"mathal" (example/allegory) is used in these verses, to tell us that we should not take the descriptions that follow literally.
Since the rewards mentioned in the Quran for Paradise are not literal, then it matters not whether the Quran relates these rewards to men or women.
In fact, if God had mentioned some rewards (in
Paradise) specifically for men, and other rewards specifically for women, that would actually indicate that the rewards for men and women, though different, yet are literal! They are not.
Any gender used in such verses are only representative of all mankind.
For further information see:
How women are honoured by God in the Quran