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February 25, 2010

Women in the Bible and the Qur'an

Scott Stockdale

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A Christian and a Muslim scholar found a lot to disagree on during a debate, at the North American Muslim Foundation (NAMF) Islamic Center in Toronto recently.

Mary Jo Sharp, who holds a Masters in Christian Apologetics from Biola University and is the first woman to become a Certified Apologetics Instructor through the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, debated Dr. Tabasum Hussain, of The Muslim Debate Initiative, about how women are portrayed in the Bible and the Qur’an.

Dr. Hussain, who has a PhD in Psychological Medicine (Neuroscience) from Monash University, Victoria, Australia, has recently joined the Muslim Debate Initiative to become more involved in debates and dialogues focusing on women's issues in the Bible and the Qur’an.

The audience of some 300 people for the nearly three hour debate was comprised of Muslims, Christians and Atheists, for the most part.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Sharp declared that the Christian view of women is superior to the view of women portrayed in the Qur’an. She said the Book of Genesis says that men and women were created equal; women and men can be rulers; women and men are one flesh; women are wise teachers of kindness to others; and a woman can be a leader, prophet, teacher and an evangelist.

In her opening presentation, Dr. Hussain said there is no reference in the Qur’an to men having superiority over women.

“In the Qur’an there is no unconditional complete surrender of a woman to her husband.”

She said that in the Qur’an's version of original sin Satan whispered to Adam; both Adam and Eve ate fruit from the tree of knowledge, and the error is Adam's.

“In the Qur’an, both Adam and Eve are expelled from paradise and then granted mercy by God.”

In her rebuttal Ms. Sharp said that in the Book of Genesis, Eve is not solely blamed for Original Sin.

“Adam is punished equally for Original Sin. She doesn't tempt him. He ate (the forbidden fruit) of his own accord.”

Moreover, she said that in the Qur’an women aren't equal to men, even in the afterlife.

“Women are not as numerous in paradise. Muhammed said hell is mostly women because of Eve's sin in the garden. Their punishment was they were made stupid and given a menstrual cycle. In paradise women are left out of rewards. In paradise they are still married and still belong to a man.”

Subsequently, Dr. Hussain disputed Ms. Sharp's position that the Bible says women can be teachers and they can rule over men. She said the Book of Timothy says there are restrictions on a woman being allowed to teach, and on her authority over a man.

“The New Testament says a woman can't have authority over or teach a man. Woman was deceived by Satan so she can't be trusted as a teacher. The Qur’an has no restrictions for women teaching or having authority over a man. They conduct affairs equally.”

Ms. Sharp said Ester saves her people in the book of Ester; Deborah was a prophetess in the Book of Judges, and women pray with the disciples in the Book of Acts.

The interrelated issues of marriage and sexual relations were also vigorously debated by Ms. Sharp and Ms. Hussain. 

Ms. Hussain said a woman can retaliate under the Sharia for mistreatment and she can divorce or annul the marriage. Meanwhile, she said the Bible says they must turn the other cheek and pray for those who mistreat them; and they can only divorce for adultery.

Ms. Sharp said the Qur’an gives a list of does and don't for how men should treat women, which indicates a definite hierarchy. She said that the Qur’an says if  a woman doesn't satisfy her husband (sexually) she will be cursed by angels all night long.

In her rebuttal, Dr. Hussain said the Book of Timothy says childbearing pain, faith, love and holiness for propriety are paths to salvation for a woman. 

“Compare cursing a woman for one night or a life a childbearing pain.”

In her opening address, Ms. Sharp said the Qur’an allows one man for a woman, but many women for a man and asks: “How does this make you feel about marital intimacy?”

In her rebuttal, Dr. Hussain said: “God did not fault anyone for polygamy. David was faulted for murder and adultery, but not polygamy.”

She said the Bible says Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and Abraham had two wives.

In his opening address before the debate, NAMF director Farooq Khan said the debate was to promote understanding between two religions of people from different views and faiths.

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