Throughout the Muslim world, women are treated as second-class citizens who are inferior to men in terms of intelligence, morals, and faith. This arrangement derives from the Qur'an itself, which states unambiguously: “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other” (Qur'an 4:34).
The Qur'an likens a woman to a field (tilth), to be used by a man as he wills: “Your women are a tilth for you [to cultivate], so go to your tilth as ye will” (2:223). Such a view is consistent with the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, who emphasized that women were little more than possessions of, and objects of sexual pleasure for, their husbands: “The husband is only obliged to support his wife when she gives herself to him or offers to, meaning she allows him full enjoyment of her person and does not refuse him sex at any time of the night or day.”
The Qur'an instructs husbands to beat their disobedient wives: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property [for the support of women]. So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them” (4:34).
The Qur'an allows men to marry up to four wives; women, by contrast, may have only one husband.
A Muslim man can divorce his wife easily, but a Muslim woman faces great obstacles should she want a divorce from her husband.
Shi'ite Islam, the dominant form of Islam in Iran, allows for men to take “temporary wives”; i.e., short-term sexual companions who typically contract for a relationship that will last for three days, at which point it can be extended if the man desires.
Fundamentalist Islam permits men to have sex with slave girls also: “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly [with them], then only one, or [a captive] that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice” (4:3).
The Islamic court system relegates women to a most lowly status. According to the Qur'an, a woman’s testimony is worth only half that of a man. In cases of rape, no conviction can occur in an Islamic court unless four male eyewitnesses testify to having seen the act occur. This is in keeping with a 7th-century edict issued by Muhammad.
The Muslim world also features the widespread practice of accusing rape victims of having engaged in illicit sexual relations (zina), an offense which carries punishments ranging from imprisonment and flogging to death by stoning.
The property and inheritance rights of Muslim women are meager in comparison to those of men. Islamic law mandates, for instance, that a son’s inheritance should be twice the size of that of a daughter: “Allah [thus] directs you as regards your children’s [inheritance]: to the male, a portion equal to that of two females” (4:11).
In some Muslim countries, the law stipulates that “the husband may forbid his wife to leave the home,” and that “a woman may not leave the city without her husband or a member of her unmarriageable kin accompanying her, unless the journey is obligatory, like the hajj.” Gender segregation in public is also imposed or encouraged in parts of the Muslim world.
Female genital mutilation is widespread among some Muslim communities, especially in Egypt, East Africa, Yemen, and Indonesia. Many Muslim leaders see the practice as essential for preserving women’s chastity on which the all-important family honor largely depends.
Veiling is another common practice in Muslim culture. The Hanafi and Maliki schools of Islamic law permit a woman's face and hands to be revealed in public, thus there is no need for a veil over the face. Among Hanbalis there are two opinions, some permitting the exposure of face and hands, others forbidding it. The Shafi'is demand that a woman’s face and hands be covered in public, thus demanding some kind of veil over her face.
In several Muslim countries, child marriages -- where young girls marry much older men -- are legal. This tradition derives from the fact that the prophet Muhammad married his favorite wife Aisha when she was six years old and consummated the marriage when the girl was nine. This is why, following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iran’s new rulers lowered the minimum age of marriage for girls to nine.
Adapted from "Covering up the Plight of Muslim Women" (Robert Spencer, April 21, 2008); The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades (Robert Spencer, 2005, pp. 65-77); and "What Is Shari'a?" (published by the Barnabas Fund, January-February 2007).