The Arabic phrase “al-rijāl qawwāmūna ʿalā al-nisāʾ’” which defines gender relations in the Qurʾān (Qurʾān 4:34) has been interpreted by Muslim men functioning in patriarchal societies, and reinterpreted by Islamic feminists. The parallel phrase from the Hebrew bible “vehu yimshol bach” (Genesis 3:15) also defines gender relations, although its original context differs. This article aims to explore similarities, differences and parallels between the Islamic and Jewish understanding of gender as reflected in the sacred books.
A comparative exposition of the differing contextual meaning of the Biblical and Qurʾānic phrases will be followed by an explication of their patriarchal exegesis in medieval and in modern times. Finally, the efforts by religious feminists to redefine the terms yimshol and qawwāmūn—their methods and strategies—will be compared and contrasted.