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Women In Islam versus Judaeo-Christian Tradition The Myth & The Reality PART 9- Vows

Women In Islam versus Judaeo-Christian Tradition The Myth & The Reality

By

Sherif Abdel Azeem

9. Vows

According to the Bible, a man must fulfil any vows he might make to
God. He must not break his word. On the other hand, a woman’s vow is
not necessarily binding on her. It has to be approved by her father, if
she is living in his house, or by her husband, if she is married. If a
father/husband does not endorse his daughter’s/wife’s vows, all pledges
made by her become null and void: “But if her father forbids her when
he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she
obligated herself will stand ….Her husband may confirm or nullify any
vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself” (Num. 30:2-15). Why
is it that a woman’s word is not binding per se ? The answer is simple:
because she is owned by her father, before marriage, or by her husband
after marriage. The father’s control over his daughter was absolute to
the extent that, should he wish, he could sell her! It is indicated in
the writings of the Rabbis that: “The man may sell his daughter, but
the woman may not sell her daughter; the man may betroth his daughter,
but the woman may not betroth her daughter.” 17 The Rabbinic literature
also indicates that marriage represents the transfer of control from
the father to the husband: “betrothal, making a woman the sacrosanct
possession–the inviolable property– of the husband…” Obviously, if
the woman is considered to be the property of someone else, she cannot
make any pledges that her owner does not approve of.

It is of interest to note that this Biblical instruction concerning
women’s vows has had negative repercussions on Judaeo-Christian women
till early in this century. A married woman in the Western world had no
legal status. No act of hers was of any legal value. Her husband could
repudiate any contract, bargain, or deal she had made. Women in the
West (the largest heir of the Judaeo-Christian legacy) were held unable
to make a binding contract because they were practically owned by
someone else. Western women had suffered for almost two thousand years
because of the Biblical attitude towards women’s position
vis-à-vis their fathers and husbands.  

In Islam, the vow of every Muslim, male or female, is binding on
him/her. No one has the power to repudiate the pledges of anyone else.
Failure to keep a solemn oath, made by a man or a woman, has to be
expiated as indicated in the Quran: “He [God] will call you to account
for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on
a scale of the average for the food of your families; Or clothe them;
or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for
three days. That is the expiation for the oaths you have sworn. But
keep your oaths” (5:89). Companions of the Prophet Mohammed, men and
women, used to present their oath of allegiance to him personally.
Women, as well as men, would independently come to him and pledge their
oaths: “O Prophet, When believing women come to you to make a covenant
with you that they will not associate in worship anything with God, nor
steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their own children, nor slander anyone,
nor disobey you in any just matter, then make a covenant with them and
pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Indeed God is Forgiving
and most Merciful” (60:12). A man could not swear the oath on behalf of
his daughter or his wife. Nor could a man repudiate the oath made by
any of his female relatives.

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