Inequality, Women, Rape and Slavery in the Qur’an

Qur’an Establishes Inequality

It is He who made you successors on the earth, and raised some of you in ranks over others, in order to test you through what He has given you. – Qur’an 6:165

The Qur’an establishes clearly that there are ranks among humans. Anyone who claims that the Qur’an teaches equality is either lying or unfamiliar with the Qur’an. Before we get to the subject of how women are treated in the Qur’an, one thing that jumped at me while reading it was a peculiar inequality that is created in it between believers and nonbelievers. In 4:92 we see that even the life of a believing slave is worth more than the life of a non-believing slave. Among the believers, a soldier or someone who “fights for God” enjoys a higher rank (4:95), which is not too different from the Hindu system of castes, except with the added dimension of belief in and fighting for a particular religion.

Women in the Qur’an

In some translations, Qur’an 2:228 says that women and men are equal, while others translate this as “women have rights similar to their obligations“. Either way, this is only a disclaimer prior to clarifying that men have “responsibility” over women, and verse 223 in this same surah says that husbands may “approach your wives as you please”–meaning that women are not allowed to deny sex to their husbands. In 4:34, we learn that men are caretakers of women, who must obey them, and that husbands can beat them if they disobey them.

In chapter 4, Muhammad says a man may have up to four wives (4:3), while women may only have one husband, although in that same chapter (which is titled “Women”) Muhammad admits that it is impossible for a man to treat all his wives fairly and equally and that one can’t be fair in polygamy (4:129). The mathematics of women’s inequality are detailed further in 2:275-282–where the witness of a woman in a contract is worth half of a man’s–and in 4:12, where wives are to receive half of what husbands receive in inheritance. It seems, then, that a woman’s worth is half that of a man’s.

Concerning modesty, Qur’an 33:59 tells women to don “cloaks over their bodies” to avoid being harassed, and this verse would seem to imply that men have permission to harass women who are uncovered. But that is the vulgar (and common) interpretation of this verse. We know that a culture of rape and of blaming the victim is in evidence in the Muslim world, and that in recent years it has been imported to European countries, and even to Canada. When I looked for a Quranic verse inviting men to restrain their libido, I found that in 24:30, men must also “lower their gaze and guard their chastity”. And so the verdict when they don’t do this and engage in the culture of rape: it’s in spite of the Qur’an, not because of it.

Rape and adultery are very private matters, and proving that someone was raped is difficult. People 1,400 years ago did not know about DNA evidence. For this reason, sharí’a law is very rudimentary when it comes to adultery, requiring “four witnesses” (24:4, 4:15) and setting the punishment for adultery at 100 lashes in public (24:2). If a witness lies, he or she gets 80 lashes.

Of note, considering the power that Muhammad enjoyed by being the lawgiver of Islam, is that in Qur’an 33:37 Muhammad “revealed” a controversial verse saying that it was ok to marry Zainab, his adopted son’s beautiful wife (the Mormon “prophet” Joseph Smith also was in the custom of marrying the wives of his own followers). Later, in 33:50 it was “revealed” that only Muhammad could take any woman that offered herself to him. All other men were limited to four wives.

Slavery and Rape

These two subjects are interrelated to the extent that they must be treated together. Female captives ok for sex (4:24, 33:50, 33:52, 23:6, 70:29-30), and forcing slaves into prostitution is only wrong if done against their consent (24:33). Ergo, the solution to over-eager libido in Islam is to take slaves, and in fact slavery is still mainstream in places like Mauritania. Sadly, the verdict here is that the imagery of ISIS sex slaves is a tradition rooted in Muhammad and in the Qur’an–it’s not merely rooted in falsely attributed hadith like some apologists claim.

Further Reading:

On the Hedonic Pig and Cultural Hypocrisy

 As Slavery Evolves in Mauritania, Silent Victims Prove Harder to Find

 Slavery’s Last Stronghold

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014), 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and Epicurus of Samos – His Philosophy and Life: All the principal Classical texts Compiled and Introduced by Hiram Crespo (Ukemi Audiobooks, 2020). He's the founder of, and has written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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