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Christian priests went to the extreme of considering the woman as the cause of "original sin" and the source of all catastrophes from which the entire world has suffered. For this very reason, the physical relationship between man and woman has traditionally been labeled as "filthy" or "dirty" even if it were officially done and performed within a legitimate marriage contract. Saint Trotolian says:
"Woman is the Satan's pathway to a man's heart. Woman pushes man to the "Cursed Tree." Woman violates God's laws and distorts his picture (i.e. man's picture).
Wieth Knudesen, a Danish writer, illustrated the woman's status in the middle ages saying:
"According to the Catholic faith, which considered the woman as a second class citizen, very little care and attention was given to her."
In 1586 a conference was held in France to decide whether women should be considered as human beings or not. The conference came to a conclusion that:
"Woman is a human being, but she is created to serve man."
Thus, the conference approved the rights for women as human beings, a matter that was previously in doubt and undecided! Moreover, those who attended the conference did not decide on full rights for the woman, but rather; she was a follower of man and a maidservant to him with no personal rights. This decision was in effect until 1938, when, for the first time, a decree wasissued to abrogate all the laws that forbid a woman from conducting her own financial affairs directly and opening a bank account in her own name.
Europeans continued to discriminate against women and deprive them of their rights throughout the Middle-Ages. It is also surprising to know that English laws turned a blind eye to the selling of one's wife! The rift between the sexes, men and women, continued to increase, so much so that women became fully under the control of men. Women were stripped completely of all their rights and whatever they owned.
All that a woman owned belonged to her husband. For instance, until very recently women, according to the French law, were not considered capable of making their own financial decisions in their private ownership. We can read article 217 of the French law that states:
"A married woman has no right to grant, transfer, bond, own with or without payment, without her husband's participation in the sale contract, or his written consent to it, regardless of whether the marriage contract stipulated that there should be a complete separation between the husband's and wife's possessions and ownership of various items."
Despite all amendments and modifications, which occurred in these French laws, we can still see how these laws are affecting married French women. It is a form of civilized slavery.
Furthermore, a married woman loses her surname (family's name) as soon as she enters into a marriage contract. A married woman shall carry the family name of her husband. This, of course, indicates that a married woman will only be a follower of her husband and she will even lose her personal identity.
Bernard Shaw, the well-known English writer says:
"The moment a woman marries; all her personal possessions become her husband's in accordance to the English law."
Lastly, there is one more injustice that has been imposed upon the woman in the Western society which is that a marriage bond is made to last forever, in accordance with legal and religiousteachings. There is no right of divorce (according to Catholicism, at least). Husband and wife are only separated from each other physically. This separation may have contributed to all sorts of social decay and corruption, such as having affairs, mistresses, boyfriends, girlfriends, as well as possibly prostitution, and homosexual and lesbian relations. Moreover, a surviving widow is not given the chance to remarry and lead a normal married life after the death of her husband.
No doubt, what is called modern western civilization and which endeavors to dominate the globe, is indebted to the Greek and Roman traditions for its civil foundations, and to the Judaic-Christian traditions for its ideological and religious foundations. The abuses mentioned above collectively led, due to gradual and eventual effects of technological and social modernization, to the expected and natural reaction: movements demanding women's rights in the society, led by thinkers, educators, lobbyists, and human rights and women right's activists.
The pendulum was set to swing in the other direction, and they demanded absolute equal rights and liberation from male chauvinism and abuses. In many of the modern secular societies, women are indeed given numerous equal rights, but at the same time, equality has exposed them to the molestation and double standards rampant in the immoral materialistic culture that markets her as an object of sexual desire, for sale, contract or rent. The ensuing breakdown of the family unit, and the widespread sexual immorality, abortion, homosexuality, and criminal deviancy from sexual liberation, has led to some counter reactions in the society, especially from the religious conservatives, but apparently, the trends are too strong to turn the tide back.
In this global context, and from this historical legacy, we will present the salient features of women's rights in Islam and shed light on some common misconceptions in order to show the superiority of following Allah's guidance rather than men and women guiding each other by whim and desire.