Sunday, February 6, 2011

Islam, Democracy and Dictatorships: The Plight of Women IV

“No free communities ever existed without morals; and as I observed in the former part of this work, morals are the work of women…”

Tocqueville, Democracy in America

What was true in the Old Testament is also true in Islam. Before Christ, the full force of masculinity was unleashed and untempered. It could not strike the balance that it was created for because it was deprived of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, as stated previously, it did not benefit from the strengths of womanhood mostly because women were suppressed in one way or another. As James Cardinal Gibbons said, “In Ancient Greece, women were in an unending tutelage, slavery, instrument of man’s passion.” In ancient Judaism, women fared a little better but even there women took a back seat to men. A passage from Sirach seems to represent the attitude of Jewish men towards women: “In woman was sin's beginning, and because of her we all die.” (25:23) Of course, he was referring to Eve.

Yes, Eve did initiate the rupture with God but there is a reason why she was targeted by the Serpent; it was due to her moral superiority as a woman. Despite conventional wisdom, the proposition that “morals are the work of women” is a truth of human nature, statistically demonstrated, biblically confirmed and it was taken for granted by our ancestors. For this reason, fair or unfair, she is held to a higher standard.

Satan, as an angel of pride, targets only the best. He knew that if he took down Eve, Adam would fall without a fight. And yet, that is exactly what happened. Because Eve was an instrument of the Serpent in bringing down Adam, God saw to it that her punishment involved Adam. The Lord said, “...and he shall be your master.” With these words, Eve and her female descendants were knocked down a couple of pegs. She was originally given the name of “Woman;” a name signifying her individuality and one who was to be an equal companion with Adam. But that was before her sin. Afterwards, Adam renamed her Eve, that is, "mother of the living."

The companion of Adam went from being identified as an individual to being identified by her role; which is a kind of curse. Indeed, it was the worst plight for a woman up to the time of Christ to be barren; incapable of fulfilling the role as a mother. For instance, when St. Elizabeth finally was able to conceive St. John the Baptist, she proclaimed, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.” (Luke 1:25) Before her Sarah, Rebbecca, Rachael and Hannah, once barren themselves, all felt that same disgrace.

Symbolic of this malediction was the prescription given by God in Leviticus 12. For in the purification rite, when a mother gave birth to a daughter, she was ritually unclean for fourteen days; whereas if she were to have a son, it would only be seven days. The purification rite would also be twice as long for a mother who gave birth to a daughter, in contrast to a son. Now, certainly this is not indicative of God loving male infants more than female infants; rather, it is symbolic of the dark shadow Eve would cast over all women to come. To be sure, ancient pagan civilization and even Judaism reflected this by the low status they assigned to women. It cannot be denied, therefore, that Eve’s punishment weighed heavily on women.

With the coming of Christ, however, things would change. The dignity of women was restored; restored in a special way through Mary, his mother. After all, she was the first woman (and person for that matter) to be conceived outside of Satan’s dominion and Eve’s shadow. Beginning with her Immaculate Conception (which was the first effect of Christ’s saving grave), God redeemed the human race in general and women in particular. Indeed, as “Blessed among women,” Mary would be God’s instrument is restoring the female sex to its proper place.

This New Covenant grace began to have its social effect during our Lord’s public ministry. The inclusion and honoring of women by Jesus was in stark contrast to the social norms of his day. In the centuries that followed, as Rodney Starks demonstrated in The Rise of Christianity, “Christian women did indeed enjoy considerably greater status than did pagan women.” Unlike the unbaptized world, widows, virgins and infertile women received special care and were also venerated (cf. I Timothy 5:3). The veneration of women continues to this day in the Catholic Church by giving the Blessed Virgin the highest honor among human beings; and throughout the year, the Church celebrates the lives of many saintly women. They are known as feast days.

Although a woman’s social dignity was no longer was exclusively linked with childbearing, St. Paul reminds us that women “will be saved through motherhood;” (I Timothy 2:15)that is, for those women who are called to that vocation. In any case, whether it be a virgin, mother or widow, a woman would enjoy equal status with men in Christ. The same Apostle also said, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:27-28)

The elevated station of women, through sanctifying grace, had a beneficial effect on men too. The Christian mandate that "husbands should love their wives as their own bodies" not only made men better husbands but better fathers. And fatherhood is a vocation through which authority is exercised in love. As the Angel Gabriel said to St. Zachariah about his son John: “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children…" (Luke 1:16) Turning “the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 3:23) would have a profound political effect in Christian civilization. It tempered the power of the State and gave its authority a fatherly dimension. Indeed, civil authority went from assuming the posture of a master to that of a servant; a servant of the people who sacrificed himself for the common good.

Suffice it to say that Muslims, as an unbaptized people, did not benefit from this work of restoration by Jesus Christ; a work of bringing balance to the human race. Men, women, rulers and subjects in Islamic civilization suffered and continue to suffer from similar limitations we find in the Old Testament.

Next blog: The second characteristic of Islam as differentiated from Christianity: Understanding God and his rule over the human race.