In an astonishing feat of mental legerdemain, the Huffington Post has made the claim that the prophet Muhammad—who married 13 wives and taught that women have an intellect inferior to men’s—was actually an active promotor of women’s rights, the world’s “first feminist.”
Of all the founders of the great religions, argues Banafsheh Sayyad in the Post, “Muhammad was easily the most radical and empowering in his treatment of women. Arguably he was history’s first feminist.”
Sayyad writes that the prophet Muhammad would be “appalled” by how current Islamic radicals are treating women, which “is certainly not consistent with anything we know about what Muhammad taught or how he treated women.”
Yet Muhammad married a six-year-old girl named Aisha when he was in his fifties. According to the authoritative Sahih Bukhari, the consummation of their marriage occurred three years later. “The Prophet wrote the marriage contract with her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old.”
The Qur’an also permits Muslims to have sex with their female captives and slaves, a disposition regularly exploited by fighters of the Islamic State. The Qur’an praises those men who abstain from sex “except from their wives or what their right hands possess (captives), for then they are not to be blamed.”
Undaunted, Ms. Sayyad contends that Muhammad was “fundamentally different” from the founders of Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism and Christianity, because he “explicitly taught the radical equality of women and men” and took “numerous concrete measures” to improve the status of women during his own lifetime.
In point of fact, Muhammad taught that in the absence of a male witness, two women had to be brought to testify. The witness of a woman is equal to half of that of a man, he taught, “because of the deficiency of her mind.”
He also taught that women make up the majority of the damned in Hell because of their “lack of common sense” and their “failings in religion.”
Sayyad claims that Muhammad was “sensitized to the plight of women” because he was born poor, orphaned at a very early age, and illiterate. There is little historical evidence, however, that poor, orphaned, illiterate men tend to be especially respectful of women. In fact, in many cases the contrary would seem to hold true.
To his credit, Muhammad did apparently abolish female infanticide in Arabia, which was undoubtedly a good thing. Nonetheless, this hardly establishes him as a champion of women’s rights.
Ms. Sayyad says that it “is time for Islam to liberate women fully and do so upon the example of Muhammad and the authority of the Quran.”
If that’s the kind of liberation Muslim women are looking for, heaven help them.
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