In the first century, Jesus a welcomed a woman to sit at his feet. Typically the writers of the gospels do not focus on where people are in a room. So what’s going on here? Of course, this was a reference to Jesus accepting Mary as official disciple. Essentially, she had been accepted into Jesus’ rabbinical school or seminary. This put Jesus, Mary, and Martha at significant risk as women were not allowed to speak in the public space of theology, law, and politics. Mary, Martha, and Jesus were willing to take this risk for the possibility of the benefit of women’s leadership in the world.
How far short of Jesus’ action have Christians fallen? Pretty short. Even in the Christian churches that allow the ordination of women, women still face innumerable challenges to their leadership.
In the 7th Century CE, Islam ushered in a package of women’s rights, including:
- the right to own property,
- the right to inheritance
- the right to choose who to marry
- the right to divorce
- the right to child custody
- the right to an education
I have joined many people the world over in concern for women’s rights with Taliban rule. But it is important to note that the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam almost bears no resemblance to the teachings of Islam with regard to women’s rights.
In my work to counter anti-Muslim bigotry I have found that many progressive people often make assumptions about Islam from what they hear about the policies of groups or nation states of majority Muslim countries.There are fifty majority Muslim countries. Some of these have had women rulers, democratically elected! Muslim women are often very well educated and hold important positions in leadership and scholarship.
It is important to make a distinction between nation states and the faith tradition in those lands. Most Christians would not want Jesus to be held responsible for the actions of majority Christian nations.
At our best, all traditions and all nations have followers and leaders that fall short of our founders, and the scriptures that guide our traditions. Before we take the speck out of their eye, we might want to take the log out of our own.
As former president, George W. Bush said:
“Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples – while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.
But Americans, I think, have a great advantage. To renew our unity, we only need to remember our values. We have never been held together by blood or background. We are bound by things of the spirit – by shared commitments to common ideals.
When we are on a journey to the ideal of respecting and working for Women’s rights, we may fall short. But we are invited to recognize our shortcomings and keep marching together, bound by the things of the spirit, to the common ideals that bind us together.
If you want to know more about Islam and Women’s rights, watch this animated video. https://youtu.be/Ro3KmMc95js