Taken Out of Context: the Feminization of Divinity

I’ve received questions, a couple in passing and one in an email, regarding the intense opposition in the Qur’an against worshipping female deities as well as the incidental clarification that angels are not female (chapter 53) and the apparent misogyny that this suggests, particularly when men explain the occasional verses away by stating that God and the angels are neither male nor female and cannot be contained in subjective human exertions, as though the specificity of condemning the feminization of Divinity is not indicative of sexism.

Verses denouncing female deities have been casually referenced on this site when I stated that the specification was necessary because at the time of the Quran’s revelation, extremely patriarchal men were worshipping female deities. But as a woman who is utterly intolerant of male apologia and other such bullshit, I thought I’d dedicate an entry to explaining why, since the reason is far more dynamic than simply the dismissive “God is neither male nor female” answer that neglects to address the emphasis on condemning the worship of specifically female deities and the subsequent potential sexism.

Contextually, the Qur’an was revealed at a time when men were (literally and figuratively) burying their daughters alive, while simultaneously worshipping female deities, a gross hypocrisy which the Qur’an reviles:

And they assign daughters to God—glory be to God!
Yet they have their desires for sons;
And when any of them is given
the good tidings of the birth of a girl,
his face is darkened and he chokes inwardly,
as he hides from the people because of the [supposed] evil
of the good tidings that have been given unto him;
and debating within himself
whether he shall preserve her
in humiliation and contempt
or trample her in to the dust.
Ah, evil indeed is either! (Qur’an 16:58—60)

This hypocrisy is still exercised, and some Muslims still “religiously” maintain that fathers are allowed to kill their daughters, despite the Quran’s deliberate and transparent confrontation and condemnation of this pre-Islamic practice. This passage denounces not only the literal murder of girls but also the figurative murder (oppression) of them, deeming both all the same, that whether a man kills his daughter or suffocates her in his oppressive contempt–“evil indeed is either.”

While the Qur’an unambiguously characterizes the birth of a daughter as good news, the father reacts in aversion and mistakes what is good as evil, deciding that if he does not kill her he will force her to live in suffering. He holds women in low esteem, and yet he ascribes daughters to God and worships female deities. This demonstrates not only his own evil and hypocrisy, but his unfathomable avarice in taking for himself what he views as good (sons) and ascribing to God what he renders valueless (daughters) and it is because of this depraved view of women that the Qur’an demands, “What! For you the male sex, and for God the female?” (Qur’an 53:21) in reference to the pre-Islamic Arabs feminizing God. God does not deride femininity or femaleness—and indeed, it is patriarchy that has historically sought to blasphemously displace God with itself and associate itself with Divinity, which the Qur’an makes considerably clearer—as established by the characterization of the births of human daughters as “good news.” Instead what is condemned is the hypocrisy and false exhibitions of worship while men simultaneously associate what they render valueless with God, Whom they claim to love. And yet they slaughter female children or oppress them, though as parents they have no right to either.

But the murdered and oppressed women have rights to the destiny of those who wronged them: they will condemn the sinners to Hell, as we are promised on Judgment Day that God will raise the girls from their graves and ask “the female infant, buried alive, for what crime was she killed.” (Qur’an 81:8—9) While the father’s treasured sons will be of no avail, the girl’s testimony will deliver the father’s eternal sentence as a murder.

What’s utterly unsurprising is that the worshipping of female deities is a practice in some of the most oppressive, destructive patriarchal civilizations—with perhaps the exception of the Iroquois and a few others that were matrilineal and matricentric—as it conveniently allows for the implementation of exceptionalism, in which a woman cannot obtain leadership positions because the female figures raised above her are considered unusual or extraordinary and virtually unreachable. This is what happened with Fatima. This is what happens with pedestalization. And this is what happens when sexist, hypocritical men “worship” female deities—they bury their human daughters alive. The principle of exceptionalism in a patriarchy disparages any woman who pursues positions of power, and it argues against leadership roles for women by maintaining that those women who accomplished greatness in the past were—like Fatima, like Mary Magdalene, like Athena—extraordinary to unobtainability, so that men may continue to exert their oppressive patriarchal agendas onto these figures, who are conveniently out of the way up on pedestals, in pretense of honoring the feminine.

It is worth noting, that though we cannot make associations with God and thus ascribing daughters to God is condemned particularly since sexist hypocritical men have associated with God what they render valueless, the surviving descendants of the Prophet were all daughters.

9 responses

  1. Agreed. I love it when you do these types of posts. It really connects everything together and makes me appreciate the intricacies.

    You mentioned Mary Magdalene in the post… what’s her story from an Islamic perspective? Does she have one?

    • There isn’t any mention of her in the Qur’an or hadith, so Islamically there’s no opinion of her existence or nonexistence. I actually don’t think she’s revered in Christian spaces though, so she may not fit there (where I placed her in the post)… though I know some Christian women who think she’s totally badass. xD

  2. It’s interesting to see whether reverenced women are used as a device to marginalize (mortal) women or to elevate them. I guess it depends on whether patriarchy is involved.

  3. You will find this interesting. Please make sure you read the last paragraph on page 8. It really says it all.

    Her contributions and the church’s crimes against her name is of course only coming to light as well. The Gospels of Mary along with the Gospels of Thomas are very interesting. Then again so is the Gospels of Judas.

    Then by no means forget about the other information I forwarded you and this will show you a pattern of what these religions have given and that is half-truths, lies and omissions.

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/magdalene.html?c=y&page=8

    Have you ever heard of Lillith, the supposed first wife of Adam?

    • Of course. I’m partly convinced that when Muslims talk about Eve they mean Lilith (that Hawwa translates to Lilith and not Eve in respect to paralleling the story, because in the Qur’an Hawwa is not made of Adam’s rib) and was going to write a post on it some time speculating.

  4. I look forward to your particular interpretation regarding lillith. I would say from my point of view much of what you write actually falls outside the current accepted views of the quran, hadith or sunna. However, I like your determination to own it and to re-interpret.

    I find your views interesting.

  5. I find the argument that arabs were burying their daughters up and into the point where the quran was revealed and contained directives not to…as completely irrelevant. Mainly due to the fact that even though arabs/muslims may no longer have been burying them literally…they still continued to bury them through oppression…using the newly established islam as the dirt…and hadith as the shovel. Females in islam are no longer buried as infants…but are buried as young girls with rules and admonishments aimed at their very femaleness. Buried with clothing that wraps them like burial shrouds…shrouds that their male counterparts do not share. Buried with religiouspeak and antiwoman everything to the point where…for some of these abused/oppressed girls/women…it would have been more a blessing for them to be buried in that dirt when they were babes then to suffer what arab/muslims/islam has forced them to live through. JMO

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