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The Koran and Women

Following the advice of Alejo Orvananos, I checked the excellent website on the Koran and looked for what the Koran has to say about the treatment of women, which is a critical issue in our assessment of Islam. The section on the subject is surprisingly long. I was puzzled by the opening. Is it saying that our first duty is to take care of orphans, or, if we cannot do that, to marry?

"The Women. In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
[4.1] O people! be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread from these two, many men and women; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, by Whom you demand one of another (your rights), and (to) the ties of relationship; surely Allah ever watches over you.

[4.2] And give to the orphans their property, and do not substitute worthless (things) for (their) good (ones), and do not devour their property (as an addition) to your own property; this is surely a great crime.

[4.3] And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course".

The whole section is not light reading. Does it justify the claim that mistreatment of women is not consistent with the Koran, but is a survival of pre-Islamic behavior? What does "only one or what your right hands possess" mean?

Ronald Hilton - 09.20.03