Demeaning women?

Leviticus 12:1-5—”The ritual purification period given here for a woman who conceives a baby girl is twice as long as that of a baby boy. This passage demeans women.”

There are two reasons why baby girls had a longer period of seclusion. First, sons were to be circumcised on the eighth day at the temple, so they had to be released earlier. Second, in ancient cultures where girls were devalued, this rule bestowed on them an extra-long period of focused nurture by their mother. In modern times many midwives confirm the importance of this period for the health of mother and baby.

In needs to be said that the context clearly gives no implication of female inferiority. The following verses (6-8) state that the sacrifices for male and female infants are identical, supporting the point that both the male and female infants, as well as all males and females in general, have equal value in the eyes of God.

Critics need to remember that there are very similar purity differentiations between baby girls and boys in the sunnah:

“Ali narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: ‘The urine of a baby boy should have water sprinkled upon it. The urine of a baby girl is to be washed off.’ Says Qatadah, ‘This refers to a male baby that has not yet begun to eat. If he already eats, then the garment is to be washed.’1

If this is not unnecessary discrimination against baby girls, neither is the passage in Leviticus.

  1. This hadith is related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, at-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah. In al-Fath, Ibn Hajar says its chain is sahih.)

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