Tag Archives: Arapgir

The Qur’an: the uncorrupted word of God/Allah (two)?

Below is an article from “The New York Times” that patiently questions some of the certainties offered by the Muslim world about the origins of the Qur’an. But before we examine the article itself, I must point out that for a long time (from the 19th century in particular) scholars in the West have questioned much of the conventional wisdom that Muslims possess about the Qur’an’s origins (the Hadith has been subjected to similar scholarly questioning for a comparable length of time). Some such scholars writing in the past include M. Jan de Goeje, J. Wellhausen, T. Noldeke, I. Goldziher, H. Lemmens and A. Jeffrey. A few of the scholars just listed took a “source critical” approach to the Qur’an (just as they did to the Hadith) to sort specific texts into those that could be accepted as historically true and those that had to be discarded as polemic or pious fiction.

Islamic calligraphy

Islamic calligraphy

Scholars are quietly offering new theories of the Koran (“The New York Times”, 2.3.2012).

To Muslims the Koran is the very word of God, who spoke through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad. “This book is not to be doubted,” the Koran declares unequivocally at its beginning. Scholars and writers in Islamic countries who have ignored that warning have sometimes found themselves the target of death threats and violence, sending a chill through universities around the world. Yet, despite the fear, a handful of experts have been quietly investigating the origins of the Koran, offering radically new theories about the text’s meaning and the rise of Islam.

Christoph Luxenberg, a scholar of ancient Semitic languages in Germany, argues that the Koran has been misread and mistranslated for centuries. His work, based on the earliest copies of the Koran, maintains that parts of Islam’s holy book are derived from pre-existing Christian Aramaic texts that were misinterpreted by later Islamic scholars who prepared the editions of the Koran commonly read today. So, for example, the virgins who are supposedly awaiting good Islamic martyrs as their reward in paradise are in reality “white raisins” of crystal clarity rather than fair maidens.

Christoph Luxenberg, however, is a pseudonym, and his scholarly tome, “The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran”, had trouble finding a publisher, although it is considered a major new work by several leading scholars in the field. Verlag Das Arabische Buch in Berlin eventually published the book.

The caution is not surprising. Salman Rushdie’s ”The Satanic Verses” received a fatwa because it appeared to mock Muhammad. The Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed because one of his books was thought to be irreligious. And when the Arab scholar Suliman Bashear argued that Islam developed as a religion gradually rather than emerging fully formed from the mouth of the Prophet, he was injured after being thrown from a second storey window by his students at the University of Nablus in the West Bank. Even many broad-minded liberal Muslims become upset when the historical veracity and authenticity of the Koran is questioned.

The reverberations have affected non-Muslim scholars in Western countries. “Between fear and political correctness, it’s not possible to say anything other than sugary nonsense about Islam,” said one scholar at an American university who asked not to be named, referring to the threatened violence as well as the widespread reluctance on United States college campuses to criticise other cultures.

While scriptural interpretation may seem like a remote and innocuous activity, close textual study of Jewish and Christian scripture played no small role in loosening the Church’s domination on the intellectual and cultural life of Europe, and paved the way for unfettered secular thought. “Muslims have the benefit of hindsight of the European experience, and they know very well that once you start questioning the holy scriptures, you don’t know where it will stop,” the scholar explained.

Islamic calligraphy

Islamic calligraphy

The touchiness about questioning the Koran predates the latest rise of Islamic militancy. As long ago as 1977, John Wansbrough of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London wrote that subjecting the Koran to “analysis by the instruments and techniques of biblical criticism is virtually unknown.”

Mr. Wansbrough insisted that the text of the Koran appeared to be a composite of different voices or texts compiled over dozens if not hundreds of years. After all, scholars agree that there is no evidence of the Koran until 691, 59 years after Muhammad’s death, when the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem was built carrying several koranic inscriptions.

These inscriptions differ to some degree from the version of the Koran that has been handed down through the centuries, suggesting, scholars say, that the Koran may have still been evolving in the last decade of the seventh century. Moreover, much of what we know as Islam – the lives and sayings of the Prophet – is based on texts from between 130 and 300 years after Muhammad’s death.

In 1977, two other scholars from the School for Oriental and African Studies at London University, Patricia Crone (a professor of history at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton) and Michael Cook (a professor of Near Eastern History at Princeton University), suggested a radically new approach in their book “Hagarism: the making of the Islamic world”.

Since there are no Arabic chronicles from the first century of Islam, the two looked at several non-Muslim, seventh-century accounts that suggested Muhammad was perceived not as the founder of a new religion but as a preacher in the Old Testament tradition hailing the coming of a Messiah. Many of the early documents refer to the followers of Muhammad as “hagarenes” and the “tribe of Ishmael,” in other words, as descendants of Hagar, the servant girl that the Jewish patriarch Abraham used to father his son Ishmael. In its earliest form, Ms. Crone and Mr. Cook argued, the followers of Muhammad may have seen themselves as retaking their place in the Holy Land alongside their Jewish cousins (and many Jews appear to have welcomed the Arabs as liberators when they entered Jerusalem in 638).

The idea that Jewish messianism animated the early followers of the Prophet is not widely accepted in the field, but “Hagarism: the making of the Islamic world” is credited with opening up the field. “Crone and Cook came up with some very interesting revisionist ideas,” says Fred M. Donner of the University of Chicago and author of the recent book “Narratives of Islamic Origins: the beginnings of Islamic historical writing”. “I think in trying to reconstruct what happened they went off the deep end, but they were asking the right questions.”

The revisionist school of early Islam has quietly picked up momentum in the last few years as historians began to apply rational standards of proof to this material.

Ms. Crone and Mr. Cook have revised some of their early hypotheses while sticking to others. “We were certainly wrong about quite a lot of things,” Ms. Crone said. “But I stick to the basic point we made: that Islamic history did not arise as the classic tradition says it does.”

Ms. Crone insists that the Koran and the Islamic tradition present a fundamental paradox. The Koran is a text soaked in monotheistic thinking, filled with stories and references to Abraham, Isaac, Joseph and Jesus, and yet the official history insists that Muhammad, an illiterate camel merchant, received the revelation in Mecca, a remote, sparsely populated part of Arabia, far from the centres of monotheistic thought in an environment of idol-worshipping Arab Bedouins. Unless one accepts the idea of the angel Gabriel, Ms. Crone says, historians must somehow explain how all these monotheistic stories and ideas found their way into the Koran.

“There are only two possibilities,” Ms. Crone said. “Either there had to be substantial numbers of Jews and Christians in Mecca or the Koran had to have been composed somewhere else.”

The qur'anic class concludes with refreshments, Arapgir, Turkey. Note the difference in headwear

The qur’anic class concludes with refreshments, Arapgir, Turkey. Note the difference in headwear

Indeed, many scholars who are not revisionists agree that Islam must be placed back into the wider historical context of the religions of the Middle East rather than seeing it as the spontaneous product of the pristine Arabian desert. “I think there is increasing acceptance, even on the part of many Muslims, that Islam emerged out of the wider monotheistic soup of the Middle East,” says Roy Mottahedeh, a professor of Islamic history at Harvard University.

Scholars like Mr. Luxenberg and Gerd-R. Puin, who teaches at Saarland University in Germany, have returned to the earliest known copies of the Koran in order to grasp what they say about the document’s origins and composition. Mr. Luxenberg explains these copies are written without vowels and diacritical dots that modern Arabic uses to make it clear what letter is intended. In the eighth and ninth centuries, more than a century after the death of Muhammad, Islamic commentators added diacritical marks to clear up the ambiguities of the text, giving precise meanings to passages based on what they considered to be their proper context. Mr. Luxenberg’s radical theory is that many of the text’s difficulties can be clarified when it is seen as closely related to Aramaic, the language group of most Middle Eastern Jews and Christians at the time.

For example, the famous passage about the virgins is based on the word “hur,” which is an adjective in the feminine plural meaning simply “white.” Islamic tradition insists the term “hur” stands for “houri,” which means “virgin,” but Mr. Luxenberg insists that this is a forced misreading of the text. In both ancient Aramaic and in at least one respected dictionary of early Arabic, “hur” means “white raisin.”

Mr. Luxenberg has traced the passages dealing with paradise to a Christian text called “Hymns of Paradise” by a fourth-century author. Mr. Luxenberg said the word “paradise” was derived from the Aramaic word for “garden” and all the descriptions of paradise describe it as a garden of flowing waters, abundant fruits and white raisins, a prized delicacy in the ancient Near East. In this context, white raisins, mentioned often as “hur,” Mr. Luxenberg said, makes more sense than a reward of sexual favours.

In many cases, the differences can be quite significant. Mr. Puin points out that in the early archaic copies of the Koran it is impossible to distinguish between the words “to fight” and “to kill.” In many cases, he said, Islamic exegetes added diacritical marks that yielded the harsher meaning, perhaps reflecting a period in which the Islamic Empire was often at war.

A return to the earliest Koran, Mr. Puin and others suggest, might lead to a more tolerant brand of Islam, as well as one that is more conscious of its close ties to both Judaism and Christianity.

“It is serious and exciting work,” Ms. Crone said of Mr. Luxenberg’s work. Jane McAuliffe, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, has asked Mr. Luxenberg to contribute an essay to the “Encyclopedia of the Koran”, which she is editing.

Mr. Puin would love to see a “critical edition” of the Koran produced, one based on recent philological work, but, he says, “The word critical is misunderstood in the Islamic world: it is seen as criticising or attacking the text.”

Some Muslim authors have begun to publish skeptical, revisionist work on the Koran as well. Several new volumes of revisionist scholarship, including “The Origins of the Koran” and “The Quest for the Historical Muhammad”, have been edited by a former Muslim who writes under the name of Ibn Warraq. Mr. Warraq, who heads a group called the Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society, makes no bones about having a political agenda. “Biblical scholarship has made people less dogmatic, more open,” he said, “and I hope that happens to Muslim society as well.”

Annual "Discover Islam Exhibition", University of Newcastle

Annual “Discover Islam Exhibition”, University of Newcastle

But many Muslims find the tone and claims of revisionism offensive. “I think the broader implications of some of the revisionist scholarship is to say that the Koran is not an authentic book, that it was fabricated 150 years later,” says Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of religious studies at Duke University, as well as a Muslim cleric whose liberal theological leanings earned him the animosity of fundamentalists in South Africa, which he left after his house was firebombed.

Andrew Rippin, an Islamicist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, says that freedom of speech in the Islamic world is more likely to evolve from within the Islamic interpretative tradition than from outside attacks on it. Approaches to the Koran that are now branded as heretical – interpreting the text metaphorically rather than literally – were widely practiced in mainstream Islam a thousand years ago.

“When I teach the history of the interpretation (of the Koran) it is eye-opening to students the amount of independent thought and diversity of interpretation that existed in the early centuries of Islam,” Mr. Rippin says. “It was only in more recent centuries that there was a need for limiting interpretation.”


A new mosque to open in Bradford run by women for women?

If this project were to get off the ground, a Bradford mosque run by women for women would confound, to some degree at least, the perception that extremists are far too numerous within certain Muslim communities, and the suspicion that many young Sunni Muslims are too easily radicalised. I wish Gora Bana and all those supporting her every success and, once the mosque opens, I will be one of the first non-Muslims to pop along to show solidarity with the initiative.

Here is an article that appeared in the Bradford “Telegraph and Argos” newspaper in May 2015:

Bradford will be home to the UK’s first mosque run by women for women, it was revealed today.

Bana Gora, chief executive of the Muslim Women’s Council, made the announcement on the first day of the Daughters of Eve Conference, which involved women from across the country coming together to discuss issues including sharia law and the portrayal of Muslims in the media.

Ms. Gora said for the past year the Council has been looking at facilities in the city’s existing mosques and this led to the Bradford Mosque Project.

She said, “The aim of the Bradford Mosque Project is to build a mosque for women, and run by women. It would be the first of its kind in the UK. Over the last year we have carried out a detailed audit of local mosques and found that the services offered by mosques are not always adequate for women. Rather than just complain, we decided to do something about it. We hope that this is something we can start in the next couple of months.”

She said the idea had already created some debate, such as whether women would be able to lead prayers in the new mosque.

Annual "Discover Islam Exhibition", University of Newcastle

Annual “Discover Islam Exhibition”, University of Newcastle

This is a follow-up article that appeared a few days later in the same newspaper:

Plans to create the country’s first mosque run by women, for women, in Bradford have been revealed at the start of a month-long consultation process. Bana Gora, chief executive of the Muslim Women’s Council, made the announcement at this weekend’s Daughters of Eve Conference.

She said that for the past year the group had been looking at facilities in the city’s existing mosques, which led to the Bradford Mosque Project. She said, “The aim of the Bradford Mosque Project is to build a mosque for women and run by women. It would be the first of its kind in the UK. Over the last year we have carried out a detailed audit of local mosques and found that the services offered by mosques are not always adequate for women. Rather than just complain, we decided to do something about it. We hope that this is something we can start in the next couple of months.”

She said the idea had already created some debate, such as whether women would be able to lead prayers in the new mosque, which would be developed along the model mosque as it was constructed in the days of the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh.

Ms. Gora said the consultation would be respectful of everyone’s religious sensitivities and its key goals were to be all inclusive and fully accessible to all communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, and all schools of thought; a safe space for all women and a centre for learning and promoting shared values and social and political engagement.

Ms. Bana said, “In the Prophet’s time the mosque was the centre of community life and learning and we hope to replicate that model including women-led congregational prayers for women. Through the consultation process we intend to work with diverse groups, opinions and organisations, including the Council for Mosques, to create the ethos and spirit of the mosques during the Prophet’s time.”

In February, America’s first women’s mosque opened in Los Angeles and its founders said the aim was not to compete with other mosques, but to “inspire and empower” Muslim women.

Bradford Council for Mosques declined to comment on the idea of a woman-only mosque, pending discussions.

President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association for Bradford North, Dr Mohammed Iqbal, said as far as his religious group were concerned there was a tradition for women to lead prayers in their own groups. “The mosque is a mixed community and involves the whole community, men, women and children. It is for bringing people together,” he said.

The idea has proven controversial to some people commenting on the “Telegraph & Argus” Facebook page.

Iram Ayaz-Kirkire said, “For those of you saying ‘equal rights’ and women should share the mosques that already exist. You need to understand that the mosques in Bradford are for males and females. Never has a woman been turned away from a mosque.”

The qur'anic class concludes with refreshments, Arapgir, Turkey. Note the difference in headwear

The qur’anic class concludes with refreshments, Arapgir, Turkey. Note the difference in headwear

This appeared in “The Guardian” newspaper, also in May. Predicated on the exciting news about the planned mosque, it provides international and historical perspectives of considerable interest:

A Muslim group seeking to establish Britain’s first female-led mosque is to consult on its plans for a prayer space “managed by women primarily for women”.

The Muslim Women’s Council (MWC), which was founded after a series of informal conversations with women in Bradford, believes that women have traditionally been marginalised in places of worship.

During the initial consultation, the aim is for various options for the women’s mosque to be discussed with both locals and international Islamic scholars. MWC says the facility would be open to Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Early plans include facilities specifically tailored for Muslim women to cater for their religious beliefs including services for divorce, bereavement, legal advice, parenting and feeding the homeless.

The organisation seeks to also promote Islamic education and scholarship for British Muslim women in order to tackle social issues such as radicalisation and lack of social cohesion and says, “In the current context the role of British Muslim women has never been more important”.

Bana Gora, the founding member and chief executive of MWC, said access was the biggest problem that female worshippers face, according to a local audit of mosques her organisation had carried out.

Gora said the findings highlighted that many of the local mosques followed a “patriarchal model” and that “women’s representation on governance structures was non-existent on committees and boards”.

She added that gender segregated spaces, which are traditionally how many UK mosques are structured, were “dated and unwelcoming”.

She said, “The alienation that women feel has profound consequences for younger generations who are taught that Islam treats both men and women as spiritual equals, yet the practice within mosques contradicts the principles.”

Gora went on to say that the MWC wanted to provide a safe space for young women to question, learn and grow, have an opportunity to make informed choices and to appreciate their heritage at a time when “many young people feel that their faith is no longer relevant, or are going to extremes”.

Children in Cengilli, near Kagizman, eastern Turkey

Children in Cengilli, near Kagizman, eastern Turkey

The focus is initially on Bradford, where there are 110 mosques and where a quarter of the population say they are Muslim.

The MWC has previously organised meetings with party political leaders, challenged volunteers to climb Mount Snowdon for charity and hosted events to celebrate the lives of women in the community.

Congregations in mosques are led by imams who are traditionally male, yet women can lead other women in prayer, according to some Islamic schools of thought.

There are female imams and women’s mosques, or nusi, in China, with Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque of Kaifeng, which dates back to 1820, being the oldest surviving one.

Dr. Amina Wadud, a 62-year-old African-American professor, made headlines when she led Friday prayers to a mixed congregation of men and women ten years ago.

Diyarbakir, Turkey

Diyarbakir, Turkey

Religion: does it facilitate or inhibit gender equality?

Shiva and Parvati, manifestations of the divine in male and female forms. Gender equality in Hinduism?

Shiva and Parvati, manifestations of the divine in male and female forms. Gender equality in Hinduism?

Why is it that so many expressions of religion deny girls and women the same opportunities as boys and men? Is it that God, gods, the supreme being/beings, ultimate reality and/or the divine are all too often described as if they are male? Is it that men and not women wrote all or most of the world’s scripture? Is it that men edited scripture in such a way that women’s contributions were suppressed? Is it predicated on daft ideas that the physically powerful (males) should always shape life for the physically less powerful (women)? Is it predicated on the equally daft idea, no longer sustainable of course, that males are intellectually superior to females?

Goddesses and women have played varied and significant roles in many religions throughout history, so why have they been nearly invisible in the official stories of most religions? In the contemporary world, women often make up the majority in any congregation/gathering for religious ritual purposes, but they are less well represented in leadership positions.

A woman idealised. A barrier to gender equality?

A woman idealised. A barrier to gender equality?

The qur'anic class concludes with refreshments, Arapgir, Turkey. Note the difference in headwear

The qur’anic class concludes with refreshments, Arapgir, Turkey. Note the difference in headwear

I am not convinced that religions are necessarily sexist in their beliefs, practices, predispositions or general character. By way of opening up discussion about this matter of supreme and fundamental importance about religious commitment (a religion that cannot treat males and females as equals is highly suspect and deserves condemnation of epic proportions to encourage it to mend its ways immediately), I will dwell on the case of Christianity, which, in its very earliest decades, looked as if it would present a formidable challenge to prevailing norms about gender roles. Too bad, therefore, that, in a relatively short time, males of sometimes questionable character (e.g. note in the first three or four centuries of the religion’s existence the disquiet expressed about the abuse of children, some of it of a sexual nature. Have things changed that much since?) seized the reins of authority and quickly marginalised women. In other than only a few fleeting instances thereafter, it was not until two centuries following the Reformation in the 16th century that some of the Protestant churches began to address the issue of gender equality in a holistic and serious manner (although, in fairness, some expressions of Christianity prior to the Reformation allowed women to attain positions of considerable influence, but only within monastic orders).

A general comment to begin with. To a very large degree, the Bible has been written by men for men about men (to what extent is this also the case in relation to scripture in other religious traditions?).

However, in John’s Gospel, women are active, innovative and ministers of the kingdom to come. They are affirmed in roles unusual/unacceptable in contemporary Middle Eastern society.

Books of the Bible written before John’s Gospel make it clear that women should be the bearers of their husband’s children and satisfy their husband’s sexual needs. Biology shapes women (and men of course) and determines their roles in society. In a lot of early Jewish literature, women are defined as unclean and sexual temptresses, and contact with women should therefore be avoided. Because they were “responsible” for male temptation/deviation from an ethnically sound life, women were barred from public life lest they cause men to sin. Because women were not thought to have the intelligence of men, they were discouraged from using their initiative. In fact, it was sinful for women to study the Torah. Moreover, because they lacked intellectual ability, they could not act as witnesses.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus calls women to public ministry despite male opposition to the idea. He engages in theological discussion/debate (“I am the messiah”) with a Samaritan woman (who is doubly suspect, for being a woman and for being a marginalised/distrusted Samaritan). He talks with Martha about resurrection. The news of his resurrection reaches the disciples via Mary Magdalene.

Jesus is happy to interact with a marginalised Samaritan who is also a woman, someone whom many Jewish people at the time would have regarded as unclean. But it is the unclean Samaritan woman who is persuaded that Jesus is the messiah – and she drops/abandons everything to share her knowledge with others. She is therefore a model for apostolic activity and would therefore seem to be on an equal footing with the disciples. Her role in John’s Gospel is described in the same way that John’s Gospel describes the disciples’ ministry.

The Samaritan woman is the first person in John’s Gospel to whom Jesus reveals himself as the messiah and she is the first person who acts on that recognition. She is therefore the recipient of important theological information. Jesus treats her seriously and responds to her comments patiently and thoughtfully. To a very real degree, therefore, she is a model of female discipleship. This seems to imply that women can be messengers of the kingdom.

In John’s Gospel, Marta of Bethany is introduced/described in such a way as to suggest that she is more important than Lazarus. Jesus delivers “I am” speeches to Martha and Martha’s response to them mirrors that of Simon Peter in Matthew’s Gospel. Simon Peter’s response is generally viewed as confirmation that he has a leadership role, which would therefore imply that Martha is like a leader within the Jesus sect. Jesus sees Martha as capable of perceptive and discerning faith.

Even in stained glass windows, men invariably outnumber women. St. Vitus's Cathedral, Prague

Even in stained glass windows, men invariably outnumber women. St. Vitus’s Cathedral, Prague

If Chapter 20 of John’s Gospel is taken at face value, it would seem to provide the ultimate confirmation that Jesus is the resurrected Christ, the Son of God. Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty and tells Peter and the Beloved Disciple. Mary Magdalene is told to tell Jesus’ brothers the news of the resurrection. She is therefore entrusted with the supremely important message of Jesus’ triumph over death. It is due to this role that Mary Magdalene has been called the apostle of the apostles. A woman is informing/teaching the male disciples about the most basic tenet of the Christian faith, about the most startling mystery at the heart of the religion. One is therefore compelled to ask, “Is Mary Magdalene the equal to Peter?”

In some key respects, therefore, Jesus in John’s Gospel is revealed as distinctly radical/revolutionary in relation to the cultural norms of his age. He seems to suggest/confirm that women do not seduce men and that they should have access to public life. He seems to say that women should benefit from education. However, the Bible very soon confirms that all the disciples are male. Does this therefore confirm that Jesus is really a man of his time despite the above? Or does this merely confirm that others who came after him subverted his original intentions?

There is an indication in Chapter 12 verse 2 of John’s Gospel that Martha may have served at a table, perhaps as what became known as a deacon or, eventually, a minister in a house-church.

Although the earliest Christian texts attest to the importance of women in Jesus’ entourage and in the running of the first Christian house-church meetings, women rapidly disappear from the official history of church leadership (is this so because leaders within the church conformed with Paul’s hostility to women playing an active, public role in society/the church comparable to that of men?). However, sufficient evidence exists (historical and biblical) to confirm that, in those early days of innovation, Christianity accorded to women a role within the emerging religion that was indistinguishable from that of men. Consequently, far from the Church of England’s recent ordination of a woman as a bishop being a departure from early Christian tradition (of course, women bishops have existed for some years in the Episcopalian Church, the US version of the Church of England), Anglicans have simply brought practice within their denomination into line with the seeds sown in the decades immediately following the execution of Jesus.

Torah scrolls, Reform Synagogue, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Torah scrolls, Reform Synagogue, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. For a number of years now, the synagogue has had a female rabbi

Although the great majority of religions worldwide discriminate against women in favour of men, or withhold opportunities to women that they grant to men (can anyone come up with examples of sexism that are more blatant?), the Church of England, the Episcopalian Church, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church are among the Christian denominations that have female priests/ministers, and within Judaism all “schools” except Orthodoxy encourage women to train as rabbis. Men and women share priestly responsibilities in ISKCON and in many manifestations of what is collectively called Paganism. Women also play a key role in rituals associated with the religion known variously as Vodou, Voodoo or Vodun (e.g. female Vodou priests are called “mambos”). In some manifestations of Sufism, men and women assume an equal role in ritual practices, and monasticism for males and females exists in many forms of Christianity and some forms of Buddhism.

Where are the girls? Where are the women?

Where are the girls? Where are the women?

Can anyone identify the other religions around the world which accord women exactly the same opportunities as men to play a full/leading role within their faith? I’m not interested at this stage in those religions which say women are equal to men (this is frequently alleged by expressions of religion, but quite rarely carried through in practice); I seek instead evidence that this is so in terms of their authority within the religion. Put another way, if authority figures within a faith are men, can women fulfil exactly the same roles? And if not, why not? If they can’t fulfil such roles, don’t tell me it’s mere tradition because, if it is, tradition needs to be challenged yesterday. Slavery was traditional, but it no longer exists in most parts of the world (it is most common in India, however, where an estimated 14 million people – yes, 14 million people – suffer from different types of bondage/false imprisonment, children and women primarily). Female infanticide was traditional, but it is rarely encountered today (it appears to be most common in the People’s Republic of China). The burning of witches was traditional, but today it seems to be confined to only a few places in Africa and Melanesia. Human sacrifice was traditional, but it would appear to have died out everywhere (except in Louisiana, if “True Detective” is to be believed).

Unnecessary differentiation by dress, Venk Koyu, near Malatya, Turkey

Unnecessary differentiation by dress, Venk Koyu, near Malatya, Turkey

Who can say for certainty what form the divine assumes (if it exists at all, of course)?

Who can say for certain what form the divine assumes (if it exists at all, of course)?