THE ETHICS OF ISLAM SEEN FROM A CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW
Like any other religion, Islam has a definite Code of ethics. These are
based decidedly on Sunnah. What Mohammed did, is right and commendable.
What he rejected, is wrong and to be condemned. here we find irreconcilable
differences between Christian ethics and those of Islam. Without wishing
to be polemical, we should like to mention the position of women within
We are told that the status of equality of women derived from Islam, whereas
the "Christian" Westerner has exploited women and made them object of crude
sexuality. We observe, however, that the Quran permits polygamy. Although
we do not desire to give polygamy a positive or negative connotation, we
wish to state that equality would mean that women should have the same
rights as men. This is not so in a polygamous society, for a woman cannot
be married to more than one man at the same time. Some quotations from
the Hadis enlarge on privileges of men:
"When a woman spends the night away from the bed of her husband, the
angels curse her until morning," or" until she comes back." "Allah's messenger
said: 'By Him in Whose Hand is my life, when a man calls his wife to his
bed and she does not respond, the One who is in heaven is displeased
with her until he (her husband) is pleased with her." or"When a man invites
his wife to his bed and she does not come, and he (the husband) spends
the night being angry(!) with her, the angels curse her until morning."
("Sahih Muslim" II, page 732).
"The Messenger of Allah said: 'If I were to order anybody to make
prostration to anybody, I would have ordered a woman to prostrate before
her husband." ("Mishkat" I, page 210).
"O Messenger of Allah! What right has the wife of one among us got over
him? He said: 'It is that you shall give her food when you have taken
food(!), that you shall clothe her when you have clothed yourself(!),
that you shall not slap her on the face, nor revile (her), not leave (her)
alone except within the house." ("Mishkat" I, page 212).
Mohammed was asked who among women is the best. He replied:
"She who gives pleasure to him when he loves, obeys him when he bids,
and who does not oppose him regarding herself and her riches, fearing
his displeasure." (ibid. p. 216).
"Fear Allah about women, because you have taken them with the trust
of Allah and made their private parts lawful with the words of Allah.
You have got right over them that they shall not entertain anybody on
your bed which you dislike. If they do that scourge them without being
oppressive. And they have got right over you that you shall clothe them
and feed them in a just manner." ("Mishkat" III, page 588).
"Your wives are a tilth (=field) for you, so go into your tilth when
you like (Sura 2:223).
In Christian ethics, and this is reflected in the ethics of "Western World",
this is a most degrading and unacceptable concept. In the Bible we are
"Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord...Husbands, love your
wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her." (Ephesian
This is strengthened sby the interpretation of love:
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love,
I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal... Love is patient
and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all
things, believe all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love
never ends." (I Corinthians 13:1,4-8).
Marriage in Islam is a contract that, in the days of Mohammed, was engaged
rather lightly. All it required, was that a dower had to be paid, which
was often of very little value, however. It could be a garment or even a
few handfuls of dates:
"A woman came to Allah's Messenger and said: 'Messenger of Allah, I have
come to entrust myself to you.' Allah's Messenger saw her and cast a
glance at her from head to feet. Allah's Messenger then lowered his head.
When the woman saw that he had made no decision in regard to her, she
sat down. There stood a person from amongst his companions and said:
'Messenger of Allah, marry her to me if you have no need of her.' He (the
holy Prophet) said: 'Is there anything with you (which you can give as
a dower)?' He said: 'No, Messenger of Allah, I have nothing.' Thereupon
Allah's Messenger said: 'Go to your people and see if you can find something.'
He returned and said: 'I have found nothing.' "Encouraged again to look
for even an iron ring, which again he could not obtain, he declared that
his only possession was a lower garment, which he was prepared to share.
rejected by Mohammed, he was asked:" 'Do you know any of the Quran?
He said: 'I know such and such Suras.' whereupon he said. 'Can you recite
them from heart? He said, 'Yes', whereupon he (Allah's Messenger) said:
'Go, I have given her to you in marriage for the part of the Quran which
you know.'" ("Sahih Muslim" II, pages 717-718).
The value of the dower Mohammed gave for his wives amounted to approximately
If marriage was easy, so was divorce. Three "pronouncements" by the husband
(except during the time of menstruation) dissolved a marriage. (ibid. pages
769-770, 754, 759).
"Recent years have brought some amelioration of the hard lot of women in
Muslim countries in the matters of divorce. Under the Hanafi law--and
this, be it remembered, obtains in the greater part of the Muslim world--a
husband may divorce his wife for any reason or for no reason at all...The
husband can divorce his wife by simply saying so three times. On the other
hand, a woman can never divorce her husband on any ground whatever, unless
she has his permission to do so. Nor can she get a judicial dissolution
of marriage for neglect, ill-treatment, or positive cruelty...A feature
of the Hanafi system is that a divorce uttered in jest (for fun) and not
meant seriously is just as binding as a deliberate utterance. But this
is not all. Even a divorce spoken when a man is drunk is valid if he was
culpably drunk, and so, too, is a divorce uttered under compulsion." ("Islam"
by Alfred Guillaume p. 172).
Again Jesus shows us a different concept:
"And Pharisees came up to Him and tested Him by asking, 'Is it lawful to
divorce one's wife for any cause? 'He answered, 'Have you not read that
He who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said,
'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined
to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer
two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man
put asunder.' They said to Him, 'Why then did Moses command one to give
a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?' He said to them, 'For
your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from
the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife,
except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery." (Matthew
At the turn of this century 99% of Muslims women were illiterate. There
were no state schools for girls, because Islamic leaders opposed them.
The Westerner who visits Islamic countries is at once aware of the absence
of women in public life everywhere. Whether it be in the cafes, shops,
restaurants or cinemas, one sees men only. Again this is not a criticism
of cultural concept, but rather of the Islamic concept of equality.
According to Sura 4:35 :
"Men are the managers of the affairs of women for that God has preferred
in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of
their property. Righteous women are therefore obedient, guarding the
secret for God's guarding. And those you fear may be rebellious, admonish;
banish them off their couches and beat them. If then, they obey you,
look not for any way against them; God is all high, all great."
It sounds almost ironic that a Muslim lady (Olive Toto) wrote a poem that
was published in an Islamic paper sometime back, part of which reads as
"Islam lifts women to a high degree;
Gives them their full rights legally.
By Islam's Law a woman's property
(Whether single or married she be)
Is still her own right lawfully".
Without suggesting that this is typical, we ought to mention the "flexibility"
one may have regarding the Shariat (Law). Ibn-Saud of Arabia admitted to
having had over 200 wives, but maintained that since he had never had more
than four at one time, he had never sinned.
According to the laws of inheritance, daughters inherit only half of the
portion of the sons and in court it takes the evidence of two women to
equal the evidence of one man.
On the other hand we see a very strong emphasis on the care of orphans
and widows and the poor, as well as people in distress. Mohammed himself
set a shining example in this field. The hospitality of a Muslim home in
Christians find many of the Islamic concepts of ethics strange, to say
the least. One sample may be presented at random:
"The Prophet was asked: 'Which of the actions is best? He said: 'Prolonged
standing (in prayer)'...'Which prayer is best?' He said: 'Prolonged
prostration' " ("Mishkat" IV, page 357).
A Christian will at once recall what Jesus had to say about prayer:
"And when you pray, you must not be like the hyprocrites; for they love
to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they
may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your
Father who is in secret;
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for
they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like
them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil."
We realize that the exhibitionist aspect of prayer is a temptation to
Muslims and Christians alike, and don't we all become painfully aware of
it time and time again? But the Christian is challenged to forget about
form of any sort--the outward, visible, checkable, measurable--be it in
posture, quantity, timing or pattern; and have communion with the Father;
love Him, appreciate Him, adore Him, follow Him, obey Him and be devoted
to Him alone!
In my mind's eye I see our Muslim friends protesting and saying that we
misunderstand them, for as Muslims they also pray in the above way. Perhaps
some do, but that is not what Islam demands. Besides, as we have, already
observed, many a Christian concept has been absorbed by Islam, but such
tendencies do not represent the "Spirit of Islam."
QUESTION: Do Muslims as a rule approve of such ethics relating to women
by practicing them, or have they preferred to accept the "Western" style
of partnership? Would any Muslim lady like to be regarded and treated as
outlined above, particularly when knowing of true partnership and equality?
Is there a young wife who does not mind to share her husband with another
We now venture to discuss a highly delicate subject. We do not need to
apologize for this, for it is in reply to a challenge.
Measured by Christian, i.e. Biblical standards--and that is legitimate
for Muslims also, for the Torah and the Gospel are accepted as revealed
by God--how do certain sayings and actions of Mohammed stand up to scrutiny?
How can they be related to his prophethood and the Islamic rejection of