“But it is only a woman” – Islam and Women

Women have historically suffered discrimination and ill-treatment to some degree and that is an unfortunate fact. But modern civilised societies in the developed world have safeguards to protect them and laws to treat them as equals.

When it comes to categorically victimising and degrading women, however, there is no system more effective than Islam. While countries vary in their extremes, the treatment of women in certain Islamic societies, by and large, is highly objectionable and deeply concerning.

Wife-beating, polygamy, child marriage, sex slavery and honour killings – these are all permissible in Islam. It seems incredible but all these social evils are based on the teachings of the Koran and the acts of Mohammed, whom Muslims believe is the “exalted standard of character” (Koran 68:4) and an “excellent example” (Koran 33:21) whom they must imitate.


A man can beat his wife if she disobeys him and if verbal abuse does not convince her to behave herself. “Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.” (Koran 4:34) Mohammed is recorded as beating his favourite wife and so Muslim men can too.

I recently watched a short video of two Muslim women calmly discussing the steps leading to the point where the man can hit his wife. They were describing it as if it was perfectly logical and justifiable.


A Muslim man can have up to four wives. Mohammed had up to eleven wives at one time. In the UK there are Muslim men with several wives and numerous children who are getting welfare payments for all of them. There are an estimated 20,000 polygamous families there. Ireland does not allow for polygamous marriage but there has been a call (in June 2017) from Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (and Chair of the political lobby group the Irish Muslim Board) for “a debate” on the issue here.

Child Marriage

In Islam there is no restriction on the age of marriage and little girls as young as nine can be married. Again this is following Mohammed’s example. According to Islamic texts he married his favourite wife Aisha when she was six and the marriage was “consummated” when she was nine and Mohammed was fifty three.

Sex Slavery

In addition to a man being permitted to marry up to four wives he can also have sex slaves. “O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those (slaves) whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee” (Koran 33:50). Again Mohammed had many concubines and enslaved many women who were captured in war. Slavery was suppressed in many Islamic countries in the early 20th century, through pressure from countries like Britain and France, but it still occurs in some countries including Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Mali and Sudan.

So-called infidel women can be enslaved and this practice led to the appalling treatment of Yazidi and Christian women under the jihadists of the Islamic State. Closer to home, thousands of young, vulnerable, mainly British girls were trafficked and abused over many years by Muslim men in a notorious scandal for British policing and child protection authorities and, despite some convictions, it is said to be still going on. In many European countries women have been victims of assaults by migrants, mostly from Muslim countries, leading to growing fear and anxiety.

Honour Killings

Muslim women are sometimes not allowed to associate freely and are often forced to adopt strict dress codes, as the Koran teaches they must cover themselves in order to avoid being provocative to men. “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies. That will be better, that they should be known so as not to be annoyed.” (Koran 33:59) In some cases Muslim women have railed against this and actually been killed by their own families for being in male company or simply for not wearing the hijab (head scarf). About two dozen honour killings occur in the United States each year.  In 91% of the cases, the victim is perceived as being “too Westernised.” (In Pakistan acid attacks are a frequent punishment for women who transgress.) Even little girls can sometimes be draped in hijabs. I witnessed this in Ireland one day when I encountered a mother pushing her little daughter in a stroller outside my house. The child, no more than three, was in a hijab.

Mohammed stated that it was revealed to him that hell is populated mostly by women, apparently because they are so “ungrateful” to their husbands! Of course, women are intellectually inferior to men, according to the Koran, and this is why in court, the testimony of a man is equal to the testimony of two women. Though not just an Islamic custom the horrific and barbaric practice of female genital mutilation is carried out in many Muslim countries (principally in Northern Africa, Asia and the Middle East) and cases occur among Muslim communities in the West also. With increasing immigration to Ireland estimates indicated in 2016 that approximately 5,790 women and girls living here had been subjected to the excruciating procedure.

The outright extreme nature of fundamentalist Islam does not dominate the attitudes of every single Muslim towards women. Nevertheless, it sadly explains how asylum-seeker Hussein Khavari from Afghanistan, who in 2016 raped and murdered nineteen year old German student Maria Ladenburger, could comment coolly during police interrogation – “But it is only a woman.”