Debunking The Golden Age Of Islam #5: Mariam al-Asturlabi And The Role Of Women In Medieval Muslim Society
The fourth inventor to appear in 1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets is Mariam al-Asturlabi, who seems an even stranger choice than some of the others. Even Paul Vallely cannot be bothered including the invention of the Astrolabe in his How Islamic inventors changed the world article so WikiIslam have no need to refute any exaggerated claims. Even more strange is that the information on her Wikipedia page is so basic that it’s virtually useless.
In the video, Ben Kingsley’s Al-Jazari character describes Mariam al-Asturlabi as “one of the many brilliant women of her time” saying that “she made sophisticated astrolabes” which he describes as “showing the sky and the stars on a small flat plate you can hold in your hand” and that we should “think of them as ancient calculating or timekeeping devices.” He goes on to explain that today we have watches, compasses and satellite navigation helping people and explorers navigate the world.
Given her total obscurity even in comparison to the other Muslim inventors in the video, the inclusion of Mariam al-Asturlabi must have some ulterior motive and this is to support the odd alliance that Islam has with Feminism and the Regressive Left, which promotes a view that Islam is a is a tolerant religion that promotes gender equality despite all evidence to the contrary.
In fact, there’s an article on the 1001 Inventions website entitled Extraordinary Women From The Golden Age Of Muslim Civilisation, which lists Mariam al-Asturlabi as the second most extraordinary women from the Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation after Fatima al-Fihri, who was born into a rich family and her extraordinary achievement was building a mosque. This is what the introduction has to say:
“For thousands of years women left their mark on their societies, changing the course of history at times, and influencing significant spheres of life at others. In Muslim Civilisation, extraordinary women from different faiths and backgrounds worked alongside men to advance their communities. Their inspiring stories, charismatic personalities and determination to contribute to the development of their environment make them beacons that guide young women and men today.
Women at the time participated in all fields of life. There were women who championed educational and cultural efforts like Fatima al-Fihri, others who excelled in mathematics such as Sutayta al-Mahamili, the medical field, administration and management, philosophy and the arts. Others played key political roles and ruled important territories in the Muslim Civilisation, some of those included Labana of Cordoba of 10th century (Spain), Sitt al-Mulk of 11th century (Egypt), Melike Mama Hatun of 12th century (Turkey), Razia (or Raziyya) Sultana of Delhi of 13th century (India) and many more…
In celebration of International Women’s Day we pay tribute to some of these extraordinary women and highlight their contributions, hoping that new research into unedited manuscripts archived around the world would shed light on more women achievers from that period.”
Now what’s interesting about this list of extraordinary women is that it has only seven names on it. I don’t know about you but only seven women in a period that lasted five centuries doesn’t suggest we’re talking about a particularly enlightened era. The Wikipedia category Christian female saints of the Middle Ages contains over 200 names, including Joan of Arc and Teresa of Avila, and a list of Medieval Queens, Empresses, and Women Rulers, includes names like Eleanor of Aquitaine or Isabella of Castile. Similarly, a search for Medieval Women Physicians also shows an impressive list.
In comparison, the 1001 Inventions list of Extraordinary Women From The Golden Age Of Muslim Civilisation is a little disappointing. The first is 9th century Fatima al-Fihri, who built a mosque in Fez, the second is 10th century Mariam al-Asturlabi, who made astrolabes in the court at Aleppo, the third is 10th century Sutayta Al-Mahamali, who was a mathematician, the fourth is 12th century Zaynab Al Shahda, who was a calligrapher, and the fifth is 13th century Gevher Nesibe Sultan, who was a princess. For the last two names on the list the 1001 Inventions writers really seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel. The sixth extraordinary woman is Queen Amina of Zaria, who was apparently a brilliant military strategist from the end of 16th century, which makes her a bit late for the Islamic Golden Age, and the last person is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who is an 18th century English gentlewoman who wrote letters from Turkey so is hardly appropriate on any level.
The other problem with this argument is that the idea of the Extraordinary Women list is to promote the revisionist idea that the Golden Age of Islam was not only a period not only of religious tolerance, which Dario Fernandez-Morera has recently debunked in his book The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, but also of gender equality. The latter is also clearly false. Both my examples of outstanding European women and the 1001 Inventions list of Muslim women are not representative of women in Muslim society as a whole as they all came from privileged backgrounds.
We’re all familiar with the way women are treated in many Muslim countries today and this article from the Religion of Peace entitled What Does Islam Teach About… A Woman’s Worth discusses the issue as well as giving quotations from the Quran and various hadiths to back up the argument.
“The move to paint Islam as a pioneering force in women’s rights is a recent one, corresponding with the efforts of Muslim apologists (not otherwise known for their feminist leanings) and some Western academics prone to interpreting history according to personal preference. In truth, the Islamic religious community has never exhibited an interest in expanding opportunities for women beyond the family role.
The fourth Caliph, who was Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, said just a few years after the prophet’s death that “The entire woman is an evil. And what is worse is that it is a necessary evil.”
A traditional Islamic saying is that, “A woman’s heaven is beneath her husband’s feet.” One of the world’s most respected Quran commentaries explains that, “Women are like cows, horses, and camels, for all are ridden.” (Tafsir al-Qurtubi)
The revered Islamic scholar, al-Ghazali, who has been called ‘the greatest Muslim after Muhammad,’ writes that the role of a Muslim woman is to “stay at home and get on with her sewing. She should not go out often, she must not be well-informed, nor must she be communicative with her neighbors and only visit them when absolutely necessary; she should take care of her husband… and seek to satisfy him in everything… Her sole worry should be her virtue… She should be clean and ready to satisfy her husband’s sexual needs at any moment.” [Ibn Warraq]
A Yemeni cleric recently explained in a television broadcast what makes women inferior and unable, say, to serve as good witnesses: “Women are subject to menstruation, when their endurance and mental capacity for concentration are diminished. When a woman witnesses a killing or an accident, she becomes frightened, moves away, and sometimes even faints, and she cannot even watch the incident.”
During a 2012 talk show on an Egyptian television channel, a cleric slammed Christianity – in part for teaching gender equality: “the Christian religion does not differentiate between women and men, but it confirms their perfect equality: it gives them an equal share in inheritance, it bans divorce, and it bans polygamy.”
In 2014, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphasized that men and women are not equal: “Our religion has defined a position for women (in society): motherhood.”
Linda Sarsour, a hijab-clad Sharia proponent who also bills herself as a ‘feminist’ said of a real feminist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that she should have her vagina removed for opposing Islam. The remarks were particularly hateful given that Hirsi Ali is a survivor of female genital mutilation.
The many opportunities denied women under Islamic law, from equal testimony in court to the simple right to exclude other wives from their marital bed, is very clear proof that women are of lesser value then men in Islam. Muslim women are not even free to marry outside the faith – and some pay with their lives for doing so.
Islamic law also specifies that when a woman is murdered by a man, her family is owed only half as much “blood money” (diya) as they would be if she had been a man. (The life of a non-Muslim is generally assessed at one-third).
Although a man retains custody of his children in the event of his wife’s death, a non-Muslim woman will automatically lose custody of her children in the event of her husband’s death unless she converts to Islam or marries a male relative within his family.
Contemporary Muslims like to counter that Arabs treated women as camels prior to Muhammad. This is somewhat questionable, given that Muhammad’s first wife was a wealthy woman who owned property and ran a successful business prior to ever meeting him. She was even his boss… (although that may have changed after the marriage). Still, it is somewhat telling that Islam’s treatment of women can only be defended by contrasting it to an extremely primitive environment in which women were said to be non-entities.
Homa Darabi was a talented physician who took her own life by setting herself on fire in a public protest against the oppression of women in Islamic Iran. She did this after a 16-year-old girl was shot to death for wearing lipstick. In the book, Why We Left Islam, her sister includes a direct quote from one of the country’s leading clerics:
“The specific task of women in this society is to marry and bear children. They will be discouraged from entering legislative, judicial, or whatever careers which may require decision-making, as women lack the intellectual ability and discerning judgment required for these careers.”
Modern day cleric Abu Ishaq al-Huwaini has called for a return of the slave markets, where Muslim men can order concubines. In this man’s ideal world, “when I want a sex-slave, I go to the market and pick whichever female I desire and buy her.”
At best, Islam “elevates” the status of a woman to somewhere between that of a camel and a man. Muhammad captured women in war and treated them as a tradable commodity. The “immutable, ever-relevant” Quran explicitly permits women to be kept as sex slaves. These are hardly things in which Muslims can take pride.”
The inevitable counter argument would be that during the Golden Age of Islam religious tolerance and gender equality magically became the norm. This more or less the argument that Sasha Brookner makes in her 2013 article on The Golden Age of Islam in The Huffington Post. She bemoans the currently misoginistic state of the Islamic, which is predictably all the fault of colonialism, and she harks back fondly to the Golden Age using the following quote from 12th century Andalusian Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd, better known as Averroes.
“Our society allows no scope for the development of women’s talent. They’re destined exclusively to childbirth and care of children and this state of servility has destroyed their capacity for larger matters. It’s thus we see no women endowed with moral virtues, they live their lives like vegetables, devoted to their husbands. From this stems the misery that pervades our cities.”
However, the quotation surely proves the contrary and that the Golden Age of Islam was anything but an auspicious time for women at any level of society.
Another person who pushes similar apologetics is the the Franco-British Muslim convert Myriam Francois-Cerrah. In many respects, she reminds me of Jim Al-Khalili and others who continually push this whiter than white image of the basics of Islamic doctrine. She often talks about how the spirituality of the Quran made her convert in 2003.
However, as ReligionOfPeace.Com clearly show, wome’s role in the Quran is far from equal. Here are a few examples.
“Quran (4:11) – (Inheritance) “The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females” (see also verse 4:176). In Islam, sexism is mathematically established.
Quran (2:282) – (Court testimony) “And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not found then a man and two women.” Muslim apologists offer creative explanations to explain why Allah felt that a man’s testimony in court should be valued twice as highly as a woman’s, but studies consistently show that women are actually less likely to tell lies than men, meaning that they make more reliable witnesses.
Quran (2:228) – “and the men are a degree above them [women]”
Quran (5:6) – “And if ye are unclean, purify yourselves. And if ye are sick or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have had contact with women, and ye find not water, then go to clean, high ground and rub your faces and your hands with some of it” Men are to rub dirt on their hands, if there is no water to purify them, following casual contact with a woman (such as shaking hands).
Quran (24:31) – Women are to lower their gaze around men, so they do not look them in the eye. (To be fair, men are told to do the same thing in the prior verse).
Quran (2:223) – “Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will…” A man has dominion over his wives’ bodies as he does his land. This verse is overtly sexual. There is some dispute as to whether it is referring to the practice of anal intercourse. If this is what Muhammad meant, then it would appear to contradict what he said in Muslim (8:3365).
Quran (4:3) – (Wife-to-husband ratio) “Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four” Inequality by numbers.
Quran (53:27) – “Those who believe not in the Hereafter, name the angels with female names.” Angels are sublime beings, and would therefore be male.
Quran (4:24) and Quran (33:50) – A man is permitted to take women as sex slaves outside of marriage. Note that the verse distinguishes wives from captives (those whom they right hand possesses).”
There seems little doubt to me that Islam is inherently discriminatory both against women and even more so against non-Muslims and there is very little that 1001 Inventions and their Leftist allies can do to convince me otherwise.
Watch on YouTube
Watch on VidMe
Mariam al-Asturlabi Wikipedia
1001 Inventions and The Library of Secrets – starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Al-Jazari
Extraordinary Women From The Golden Age Of Muslim Civilisation
Christian female saints of the Middle Ages
Medieval Queens, Empresses, and Women Rulers
How to beat women in Islam here the truth
What Does Islam Teach About… A Woman’s Worth
Bill Warner, PhD: Winning with Precise Words: A guide to understanding Islam
The Golden Age of Islam
Women in Islam: From Freedom to Oppression? with Myriam Cerrah