When Yousef and Michael finished eating their lunch, Yousef looked up and said to his friend:
Yousef: My dear Michael, you have showered me with arrows of criticism, and put my very civilization in the dock.
Michael: They aren't arrows or charges, my friend, but a dialogue and criticism aimed at reaching the truth, and I think we have come a long way in achieving the truth through these dialogues and the explanations associated with them. The other thing, in my defense, is that I am used to your tolerance and forbearance, did I annoy you with what I said earlier?!
Yousef: No, no, I wasn't annoyed, but I meant that in order to paint the full picture, we must tackle it from all its aspects, and compare the situations of women in our civilization and in yours. I think that our conversations earlier about women provide a considerable idea on the perception of the issue of women in the Islamic civilization. What remains for us now is to look at this issue from the perspective of your civilization too.
Michael (laughing): Here I am then, opening my chest for arrows and being put in the dock.
Yousef (smiling): Why do we have to put ourselves in positions of combat? Our relationship should allow us to have a discussion that is cooperative, aiming at reaching the truth - as you've just mentioned.
Michael: I totally agree with you. Where would you like to begin?
Yousef: I think that the first issue that should be addressed is the status of women found in the references present in the culture.
Michael: The perception of women and how to treat them varies depending on how individuals view them and on their assessment of women depending on where these individuals were brought up, their culture and their education. The issue here isn't the place of women in this book or even that reference.
Yousef: True, but we, at the same time, can't ignore references which form the culture of this individual and his values, and affect his views and perceptions. And when I say references, I don't mean just books or scientific references, but also everything that may affect the formation of the consciousness of an individual and his culture. Some old folk tales and legends might form a part of these references that take the form of folklore, as well as proverbs and wise sayings that are taken from the stock of the collective unconscious to mold the individual conscious. In this way, references, in turn, affect their upbringing and education.
Michael: I think that the statuses of women and the perception of them do not differ that much in the Holy scriptures. In our holy book, the status is very similar to that of your Qur'an. This perception is summarized in: How women were created, that they were created from man, and that they were the cause of the first sin and being driven out of Paradise, as well as their social position and responsibility.
Yousef: I disagree with some aspects of what you have just said; the details of the issue of the first sin and Adam and Eve being driven out of Paradise is different in the Qur'an to that of your Bible. In the Qur’an, Eve isn't responsible for Adam being tempted by Satan, and therefore the blame of being banished from Paradise is not cast onto women.
Regarding the perception of the female and her place in society, it is stated in the Bible that the birth of girls doubles the impurity of the mothers! The Bible says: "… If a woman has conceived a seed and bore a man child (male), then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean… And she will continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days. She shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purif be fulfilled… But if she bear a maid child (female), then she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her separation; and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days."
As for the actions of women in the society from the standpoint of Christianity: women are forbidden to speak in the church. In Corinthians it is said: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted to them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also said the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." All of this has no similarity what-so-ever in the Qur'an.
Michael: Generally, the development that took place in our societies cannot be understood if it is not linked to the roots of the Greek and Roman cultures, that intermingled with them, let alone the influence of the reforms of the Protestant religious movement, in addition to the influence of the ideas of the Renaissance and the impact of the French Revolution, and the transformation of society during the Industrial Revolution.
Yousef: As you've mentioned the Greek and Roman cultures, there is a lot of confusion in the perception of women in the era which we are considering, or even the actual civilization which we cite. When we page through the history of Greek women, we find that they had neither freedom, will, nor any social status. Women were debased and regarded as animals that were bought and sold. These cultures denied women the right to act for themselves and deprived them legally of their right to inherit. When the Greek civilization evolved and progressed, the status of Greek women changed radically and rapidly. Women began faring clubs and mingling with men, which led to the spread of immorality and adultery. Whorehouses were considered as centers of politics and literature, and statues of naked women were erected in the name of literature and art.
Despite some differences in details, the position that the Roman civilization took towards women was not, in reality, significantly different as they were disdained and deemed as being inferior to men, who were allowed to behave as they wished. Roman law deprived women from most of their civil rights in the various stages of their lives. Then the Roman theory about women started to change, and it continued to do so until alterations occurred in their systems and their laws concerning family, marriage and divorce contracts. The entire issue was turned upside-down, and the marriage contract ceased to have any meaning. Women were granted all rights of inheritance and ownership. As a result, their view changed so that relationships and affairs between men and women without any legal contracts became acceptable.
Michael: Let me add that, in general, an interaction, influence and impact took place between the Greek and Roman standpoints on the one hand, and the views of the clergy on the other hand, when Christianity entered Europe, and the clergy's view about women were affected by the reality that they lived in.
Yousef: That's right, as early Christian clergy were horrified by what they saw in the Roman society from the spread of immorality and evil, and the outrageous moral decay of the society. They considered women responsible for all of that; and declared that women were the doors to evil and that they should be ashamed of their beauty, since it was a weapon of Satan's temptation and seduction… The western contempt of women continued and they once again deprived them of their rights throughout the Middle Ages. This even continued in the era of Chivalry, in which it was thought that women gained some social status, as they were still considered as minors with no right to dispose of their properties without the permission of their husbands.
Michael: But, my dear friend, do you not think that our conversation has turned into a history class?! We can skip this stage to reach the beginning of the transformations that led to the era in which we live, and I mean by that, the Renaissance and the French Revolution and its aftermath.
Yousef: It’s not a history lesson; it’s a search to find the roots. I see a close relationship between these attitudes and opinions that you consider as history and the reality of women in the West today, although there are still some differences.
Don’t you notice similarities between these historical facts and the terms used and paths of women's rights in the West?!
Michael: Such as…?
Yousef: Such as: exploiting women for entertainment and enjoyment; while Western women thought they had won their rights when laws were passed that gave them the same rights of men in all areas, they discovered that they had become, in many cases, nothing more than a mere toy in the hands of men. They became subordinates of men, named after their husbands rather than their fathers and having no financial entity of their own. Women remained to be a mere shadow of their husbands, who blocked their characters, and that curse was not lifted until the beginning of the twentieth century.
Michael: But in the end, women were granted their rights and received the same rights as men in all areas. They were even employed in many different types of jobs.
Yousef: But oppression of women in the West and the loss of their rights, despite it being lifted a little, or lifted only theoretically by issuing some laws and conventions, is still actually practiced on a large scale, though the label of injustice or its motives may have changed. For in the name of this movement, men use women as traps to collect money and as a ride for having fun and pleasure. Women have been turned into mere commodities and bodies to satisfy customers in places of entertainment and have become means to rake in money for advertisers. This is the worst form of disrespect for the dignity of women. But women in several countries have started to retaliate and have called for the prevention of their exploitation in commercial advertising.
A Swedish judge, Dr Homer, commented on women's liberation and equality: "Swedish women suddenly discovered that they had bought a huge illusion - referring to the freedom that had been given to them – for an alarming price, which was their real happiness."
A report by the European Commission described the state of women in Western countries and said that the call for emancipation of women and the claims of them attaining their rights were just empty slogans that didn't make sense and were not true. The report stated that companies in Europe aren't doing enough to break down the imaginary barrier which prevents women from landing senior management jobs.
Anna Diamantopoulou, the European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, said: "The business world clearly shows the disparity between the sexes, for while women hold between 20% and 30% of senior official and management jobs in the public sector in Europe, their share of the top jobs in private companies is no more than 2 % in France, 3% in Germany and 6.3% in Britain, and their share in the top jobs in banks has remained at 5%."
The European Commission focused on the continued existence of inequality between women's salaries and men's salaries, especially in management positions, where women earn 16% less than men ...
Michael (interrupting): I see that the train is entering the terminus... We should prepare our luggage and collect our personal belongings now.