Lately, I have been reading Wafa Sultan’s book, A God Who Hates, and it is certainly a bracing read from the point of view of someone, like me, who has been trying (and not always succeeding, no doubt) to give Islam the benefit of the doubt. It began a few days ago when Ophelia Benson (over at Butterflies and Wheels) put up Wafa Sultan’s talk at the Women in Secularism Conference 2012. It’s a powerful speech, and expresses well the desperate plight of women in Islam. In a comment I made under Ophelia’s post, I mentioned that the speech had convinced me to buy her book, and I ordered it from the Book Depository shortly thereafter. Wafa Sultan is a psychiatrist who escaped from the imprisonment of Islam by moving to the United States, and now writes and speaks widely against what she calls the “prison of Islam.”
Part of the book is about Wafa Sultan’s own experiences of growing up in Syria. One of the most poignant is the account she gives of moving to the United States. Her husband preceded her, and when it came time for her to leave, she had to get passports for her children. But she had no authority, as their mother, to apply for such documents. The children did not belong to her. They belonged to their father. In order to get passports, she had have a male relative, who could vouch that she had the permission of her husband to do this. As she says:
When I submitted a request for a passport for my children, the officer at the emigration and permits department refused to give me one on the grounds that, under Islamic law, I was not my children’s legal guardian and that it was up to their father to submit the request. 
When she presented the power of attorney she was told:
That’s a power of attorney, not proof of guardianship. It gives you the right to dispose of his property, but you do not have guardianship of his children.”
“But they are my children, too, sir,” [Wafa replied]
“A woman is not the guardian of her children. Do you understand?” 
The upshot was that she had to find a male member of her husband’s family (an alcoholic, “notorious for his ill nature and poor character, because of which my husband had never wanted to introduce him to me,” she comments laconically), and it was he, not the children’s mother, who was entitled to speak on behalf of her husband. That says a lot about the position of women in Islam.
Wafa had to leave her children in Syria, until she and her husband could afford to support them in America. Her description of leaving Syria is very telling and poignant:
I fled my prison with suitcases containing nothing more than painful memories. 
But she not only fled the prison-house of Islam, she fled towards freedom, determined to raise up those whom “Allah had cut down to size until they were smaller than flies.”  She had no clear vision, she says, but
America re-formed me, armed me with knowledge, clarified my vision, and helped me to outline my plan to save those victims. I decided to bring “Allah” to justice on criminal charges. 
The rest of the book shows us just how she did this.
She began by writing essays that were printed in Arabic language papers in the United States, some of which raised the ire of her readers. Eventually, she was invited to speak on Al Jazeera to a Muslim “scholar.” She suggests that the main reason she was asked to do this is that it was held that when she was demolished on TV, her voice would be silenced once and for all. But she did not back down, and gave as good as she got. At one point she actually told the “scholar” to shut up and let her speak, which, for a woman in Islam, is simply unheard of. Al Jazeera later apologised for her appearance and the offence she had caused to Muslims. But what she has to say goes right to the heart of Muslim beliefs, because she attacks Islam at its central point, by criticising its prophet Muhammad. She calls him a false prophet, and gives chapter and verse for making this judgement.
For example, she addresses the question of Muhammad’s sexual propensities and practices which have been sanctified in Islam because of his position in Islam as the messenger of God. According to Wafa Sultan, in her speech to the CFI Women in Secularism Conference, the problems with Islam are rooted in its founding documents, and are thus inescapable. Here is a clip from the speech (the whole of which is worthwhile watching):
In her book Wafa Sultan tells a story which painfully illustrates the position of women in Islam:
When I was a fourth-year medical student, at the bus stop one day near the hospital where I was doing my training, I saw two small boys aged about six and eight. Each boy had a small bird in his hand and was plucking out its feathers. The birds were cheeping with pain and struggling to escape. The sight upset me and I went over to the boys and said gently, “Boys, you mustn’t do that. Please stop it.” The elder boy fixed me with a piercing stare that seemed to penetrate every cell of my body and said vehemently, “There’s nothing wrong with plucking a bird. What is wrong is that a woman like you should be walking around off the leash in mixed company without a head covering. Go and bury yourself at home!” [149-150]
Notice particularly the bolded words said by a boy to an adult woman, as though he had a right to dismiss her as though she were a dog. And that is the point that Wafa Sultan is making about Islam, that this attitude towards women is written right into the foundation documents of the faith. Women are little more than domestic animals, and may be beaten like domestic animals too. They have no rights that are not granted to them by the men who have legitimate control over them. This abuse of women is legal in Islam.
In her speech she says that no society that disenfranchises half its population can prosper. But it is, in fact, worse than this. Women in Islam are not only disenfranchised. They are property. Indeed, that is one of the strongest points that Sultan makes in her book, that the entirety of Muslim law (Sharia) is based on proprietary relationships:
All social institutions in Muslim society are founded on oppressive proprietary relationships. Muslim society has been a slave society since it came into being and has remained so ever since. 
As she says elsewhere, “Muslim women live as men’s slaves,” (139) something she underlines by recording the hadith (a saying of the prophet) that “[a] man has a right to expect his wife, if his nose runs with blood, or mucus or pus, to lick it up with her tongue.”
Muhammad treated women as property. Sultan provides three examples. There is, first, the fact that he took as his wife, and consummated their relationship, the wife of a Jew who was killed, along with her father and brother, on the very same day that Muhammad killed them. The position of women in Islam could not be more clearly illustrated. They are possessions, nothing more. Second, there is his the case of Aisha, with whom the prophet contracted marriage when she was six and he fifty, consummating the marriage when the girl was nine. The story from a biography of the prophet, in Aisha’s words, goes as follows:
The Prophet married me when I was six years old and the marriage was consummated when I was nine. The Prophet of God came to our home in company with men and women who were among his followers. My mother came [to me] while I was in a swing between the branches of a tree and made me come down. She smoothed my hair, wiped my face with a little water then came forward and led me to the door. She stopped me while I calmed myself a little. Then she took me in. The Prophet of God was sitting on a bed
in our home, and she sat me in his lap. Everyone jumped up and went out, and the Prophet consummated his marriage with me at our home. [119-120]
Sultan says that she does not tell the story for its historical value, but mainly because of what this story has legitimated in Islam since that time. It has given approbation to crimes against girls that are still committed to this day. Think of the implications of taking a child from her childhood play and putting her in bed with a fifty three year old man! And think of that being a part of sacred tradition which must be honoured! It is a deeply offensive story, and yet it has the status of holy writ!
The third example concerns Muhammad’s marriage to his daughter-in-law, whose unveiled beauty he saw when the wind lifted the curtain where she was dressing, and desired her for himself. His adopted son, Zeid, who, when he heard the story from Zeinab, his wife, of how the prophet had seen and desired her, was immediately willing to give her up to Muhammad. Muhammad demurred; however, after some toing-and-froing between earth and heaven it was established that Zeinab should be his. Indeed, Muhammad is chided by Allah for hiding his feelings. The account can be read in Sura 33: The Clans, 3.37, thus:
37. And when thou saidst unto him on whom Allah hath conferred favour and thou hast conferred favour: Keep thy wife to thyself, and fear Allah. And thou didst hide in thy mind that which Allah was to bring to light, and thou didst fear mankind whereas Allah hath a better right that thou shouldst fear Him. So when Zeyd had performed the necessary formality (of divorce) from her, We gave her unto thee in marriage, so that (henceforth) there may be no sin for believers in respect of wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have performed the necessary formality (of release) from them. The commandment of Allah must be fulfilled. [my emphasis]
Indeed, as you can see, Muhammad’s desires were a commandment from Allah! Consider the words in italics! Allah intended to bring to light his wish that Muhammad should have Zainab, and Muhammad’s lust was the sign of Allah’s command, which must be fulfilled! The mind reels!
It really doesn’t get much more ridiculous than this. Indeed, practically every religious fanatic, like Jim Jones or Joseph Smith, has claimed proprietary rights in women, and claimed them as what was due to a man of God. Muhammad is, in this respect, the same. He is, like all the others, a fake prophet, and his claim to special rights in women demonstrates this. It also means, as it did in Mormonism and in Jim Jones’s Jonestown, and in David Koresh’s Waco Branch Davidian compound, that women are disvalued and oppressed. The only way out of the trap is to abandon it. There is no way to reform a religion that is based simply on men’s crude desires, and in which those desires are indelibly written in sacred texts and history.