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Differences in male and female responsibility for adultery in Islam

Why does Allah frown upon woman with consensual sex more than men?

It seems like you are asking why God blames men more than women in cases of adultery and fornication. Islamic law punishes men and women equally for such sins and does not hold one of them more accountable than the other. Even if a woman has greater responsibility (as some women believe, see below), this greater responsibility is not so much greater to justify a harsher treatment. Their responsibility is similar enough to justify the same legal treatment.

Most cultures around the world consider women to have more maturity and self-control than men in sexual matters. Even Western women blame “the other woman” more than their husbands in cases of cheating, as a Cardiff Metropolitan University study showed.1 These women believe that other women “should know better” because women are more mature and have better self-control in sexual matters than men. One could argue that it is because of deeply ingrained misogyny that women hold other women to higher standards than they hold men, but this argument is in itself highly misogynistic, by what right do we deny these women the right to have their opinions on this matter taken seriously? I personally support treating men and women exactly the same when it comes to the issues of adultery and fornication (as the Quran commands us), but ignoring the opinions of these women who have been cheated on just because we do not like what they say is just as discriminatory as ignoring women’s opinions on any other topic. Either we take women’s opinions seriously or we do not, we cannot hold them to double standards, as some feminists do, so that we only accept those female opinions that we like or that fit our ideology and dismiss those that we do not like. Feminists have attacked and demonized female scholars like Camille Paglia and Christina Hoff Sommers for speaking their minds too freely and daring to go against their ideology. A true feminist should be a humanist who does not demonize and belittle other women but respects their opinions regardless of where those opinions might lead.

At any rate, Christian societies until recently put almost the entirety of the blame on women in cases of out-of-wedlock births. It seems to have been common for Christians to cast out women who became pregnant outside of marriage, although perhaps Victorian works of fiction exaggerate how common this was. Casting out such women is expressly forbidden by Islam; her male relatives are forced by Islamic law to continue to shelter and feed her even if they do not want to.

Of course, after pregnancy, it appears that, at least in Islam’s early days, the rule was to follow the Jewish law of stoning adulterous men and women to death. One of the foremost scholars of Islamic law in the 20th century, Sheikh Muhammad Abu Zahra, argued that this punishment was abrogated by the Quran’s 24th chapter (see this article about him). If his view becomes the norm, then stoning would be relegated to history as many Muslims wish. Not even one out of a million Muslims has witnessed a stoning in his or her lifetime, since the extremely high requirements for evidence (four witnesses to the act of copulation) makes it close to impossible to prove, and since Islamic judges have always done everything in their power to avoid carrying out the punishment. But if Sheikh Abu Zahra’s views become the norm, then this issue will finally be settled and we can forget about it. It should also be mentioned that Islamic law is not meant to be forced on people; it is how the Muslim community organizes its own business. In a modern, cosmopolitan society, there would be a constitution that applies to Muslims and non-Muslims, while Islamic law would only apply to Muslims. And since people have the right to abandon Islam (as is the opinion of modern scholars such as Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s Grand Mufti from 2003 to 2013), people who have a problem with Islamic law can do that so that Islamic law would not apply to them any longer. We have no interest in forcing Islamic law on others. Islam is beautiful and meaningful enough to continue to attract great numbers of people who would voluntarily follow its laws.

The Quran provides only a small hint toward women being more responsible than men in cases of adultery, when it says:

The adulteress and the adulterer... (Verse 24:2)

It mentions “adulteress” first, while in the case of robbery it mentions the male robber first. Mentioning the adulteress before the adulterer is the only thing in the Quran that can be construed as putting more blame on women than men. But this apparent extra female responsibility is not used to justify unbalanced laws. The laws treat the man and the woman equally, which shows us that the extra female responsibility is not so great as to justify letting the man get a milder treatment than the woman.

Muslim cultures, however, like all cultures, are harder on women than men in these cases. It is very unfair to let men do whatever they like while putting all the blame and responsibility on women, as past Christian societies used to do and some Muslim societies today as well. The right thing to do is to treat them equally as the Quran commands. But we cannot wipe out human nature, so it will likely forever remain the case that people, including women, will hold women more responsible than men for their sexuality. This means that all Muslim societies, due to being human societies, will invariably edge toward putting more blame on women than men no matter how hard they try to resist this. The more pious these societies are, the fairer they will be toward women, because if they try to follow the Quran as much as possible, then they will try to have its attitude toward adultery and fornication, which is that the man and the woman are to be treated equally.

Footnotes

  1. Archived link to article at The Independent.
And God knows best.

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