How Religious Dogma Restricts and Oppresses Women: Suhail Hokhar

By Suhail Khokhar


Suhail Khokhar

This is the final “honorable mention” 2005 essay to be reprinted. Suhail received $100 from FFRF.

Little did Mohammad al-Zulfa anticipate that his proposal to allow some, not all, women to drive would create such an uproar. However, al-Zulfa’s proposal has ignited a firestorm in the highly conservative Islamic nation of Saudi Arabia on the freedom of women. Though the Koran obviously does not ban women from driving, religious fatwas, or orders from Islamic scholars, have limited the movement of women by not allowing women to drive. Similarly, Asra Nomani, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, has done the unthinkable in the Islamic world. Nomani regularly prays in the main prayer hall and has promoted the role of women in Islam by encouraging women to lead prayers.

Islam is not the only religion that has suppressed the role of women in society. In Christianity, as well as Judaism, it has been taboo for women to be religious leaders. In Catholicism, women cannot be promoted to a position higher than a nun.

Throughout history, religion has dictated roles for women that are often subservient to the roles prescribed for men. Religious dogma, as well as holy books, have restricted the freedom of women by treating them as second-class citizens who are incapable of finding their own morality. Many religions promote the idea that women are the mere extension of men and exist for the pleasure of men. The role of women, described in the Torah, Bible, and Koran, is that of raising children and being obedient to men. Women have been barred from achieving political equality because of religious dogma.

In almost every religion, women are created by a divine figure through men. In the Bible, Adam’s rib is used to make Eve. The holy scriptures make a point in saying that women were created by god for the use of men. A woman has no individual rights and is condemned as being the source of evil. Adam was corrupted by Eve and consequently ate an apple. In Islam, women are sexual purveyors and are to put on loose clothing. A veil, hijab, is used to cover the head of women and a burqa is worn in many Islamic countries by women. The highest esteem accorded to a women is to be celibate and dedicate her whole life to God. God’s grace is given to those women who are devoted to God and are obedient to men. The irony in this devotion to God is that women cannot advance to higher echelons of the clergy. For example, in Catholicism, women cannot become priests and in Islam, women cannot be imams. Similarly, depending on the sect of Judaism, women cannot become rabbis. In all three religions, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, a society that grants women religious authority cannot have God’s salvation since women are believed to be the very source of sin and temptation.

Every religion promotes an image of a family where the woman is the primary caretaker and is blindly obedient to the man of the house. This obedience carried a sexual connotation as well. In Islamic countries, women are not allowed a choice in selecting a husband and are unable to divorce. Also, men are allowed up to four wives and as many temporary wives as they want. A woman also does not retain property rights when she marries and is under the complete ownership of the man.

In Islam, inheritance laws dictate that a woman is to receive half of what male family members get. Similarly, Hinduism dictates that women are to receive no inheritance. In Saudi Arabia, a particularly conservative Islamic nation, a woman must obtain written permission from a guardian or spouse before she can obtain an education or leave her house for any activity. A woman also needs permission from her guardian or spouse to work and can only file for divorce if she is severely abused by the male partner. Also, if a divorce is granted, usually spearheaded by the husband, the father has complete custody of the children. Women are barred from driving in Saudi Arabia and are not permitted to talk to men other than their relatives. Adultery is punishable by death and Saudi Arabia remains a country where human rights are not respected and religion is used as justification for the subjugation of women.

Though modernization has brought about significant improvements in the plight of women, religion still remains an obstacle in protecting the rights of women. This is especially true in underdeveloped countries where religion remains a powerful force. Perhaps the most publicized use of religion as an instrument in persecuting women is honor killings. For families that are highly orthodox in ascribing to a religion, a female is a symbol of honor and chastity. This chastity is to be guarded by the family. The worst form of dishonor would be premarital sex or rape. A woman’s behavior also reflects on the family honor. If the woman ever tarnishes the family honor, then a family court decides the fate of the woman

In Middle Eastern countries, women are routinely murdered by their brothers or husbands for violating family honor. The family justifies their action by claiming the woman has forsaken god’s name.

An obvious form of discrimination against women is the segregating of men and women in houses of worship. In Islam, women pray in separate halls, which are frequently lower in quality than the men’s prayer hall. Also, there is stigma that surrounds women politicians. Religious texts proclaim that women must never be allowed any authority over men and this evocation is used by societies everywhere in curtailing the political equality of women. Women were not allowed to vote until the twentieth century in most of the Western world because of a perceived moral lapse in judgment inherent in women. Hinduism promotes the practice of sati, whereby widows throw their body into the flames of their husband’s burning funeral pyre. Sometimes, if the widow did not do this, they were thrown in. Husbands also throw acid or burning kerosene on their wives for displaying any act of individualism and these acts of violence go overlooked by the government.

Holy books and dogma restrict the rights of women by condemning them to second-class status. Women exist at the whim of men and are to remain obedient to males. Religion describes women as the source of temptation and women cannot progress into high offices of the ecclesiastical order.

Suhail writes: “I am attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a major in political science. My hobbies include basketball, fencing, playing the guitar, taking part in community service initiatives, such as garbage collection, and listening to folk music.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation