Women's rights and religion are under the spotlight this Women’s Day as scholars and female religious leaders contemplate whether they are able to co-exist. File picture: Reuters
Women's rights and religion are under the spotlight this Women’s Day as scholars and female religious leaders contemplate whether they are able to co-exist. File picture: Reuters

Women's rights through the lens of Islam, Christianity takes centre stage

By Kauthar Gool and Madelyn Winchester Time of article published Aug 8, 2019

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Cape Town - Women's rights and religion are under the spotlight this Women’s Day as scholars and female religious leaders contemplate whether they are able to co-exist.

Professor Nuraan Davids, associate professor of philosophy in the department of education policy studies at Stellenbosch University, said many Western societies try to depict Islam as a religion that oppresses women, when the opposite is true.

“When the Qur’an was first introduced to Prophet Muhammad, one of the big issues it sought to address was the rights of women,” she said.

“In chapter An-Nisa, which translates to ‘The Women’ in Arabic, equality of women is clearly highlighted, with ladies being allowed to own properties and choose their own partners; the Qur’an also states that women will be judged equally to men.”

She said the Qur’an addressed the social ills of the time and the poor way women were treated.

“The Qur’an propagates the rights of women and one can even go as far as to call it a feminist text.”

She said Islam gave special esteem to women, the mother in the family given three times the status of the father and the Qur’an stating that Jannah (the Arabic word for heaven) lies beneath the feet of one’s mother.

“Despite some people calling for modernisation of the religion, the Qur’an is a text that does not need to be reformed,” said Davids.

Conversely, the Open Mosque in Wynberg is set on rethinking the traditions of Islam. According to its mission statement, its leaders believe traditional Muslim practices are exclusionary and chauvinist.

“In contrast with existing mosques, women will have parity in its governance and there will be no separate female entrances or women’s screens in the prayer hall,” it states.

Christian scholars face similar dilemmas reconciling feminism and the patriarchy of the Christian faith.

Dr Juliana Claassens, professor of gender and religious studies at Stellenbosch University said in 1991 when she began studying at the university, she was one of the few female students looking to be a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church.

“To view the Bible through a feminist lens, you have to read against the grains, traditions and cultures of the religion,” she said.

In 2016, aged 80, Dr Ann Ralston became the second woman ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in South Africa. The structure of the Roman Catholic church does not allow women to become priests, but she was validly ordained by a bishop.

Her advice to other women is to find confidence in the gift of just being who you are.

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