Some years back I found myself in a lively online debate at a website dedicated to hedonistic feminine sexuality. One of my interlocutors said something about how Christian and Muslim sexual morality are basically the same. "They both boil down to no sex outside of marriage." I was genuinely taken aback. To me, the two moral visions are so radically opposed that I could hardly imagine that they might look the same to outsiders. But I could feel her sincerity. She wasn't being gratuitously provocative; she genuinely didn't perceive the difference.
I've learned since that many Christians don't really see it either. That is to say, they have a view of sexual morality that is, in many respects, closer to the Islamic approach than to the fullness of Christian truth.
This topic deserves a much fuller and more rigorous treatment. Maybe someday I'll get to it. But meanwhile, with the horrible headlines about ISIS's "theology of rape" coming on top of the countless stories of child brides, honor killings, and female genital mutilation in the Muslim world, it seems timely to at least get the conversation started.
Here is my short list of essential differences between the Islamic and Christian views of women and women's sexuality.
1. In the Christian vision, a woman's sexuality belongs to her; she is in charge of it. In Islamic sexuality, it belongs to the men in her life—first her father and brothers, then her husband.
When a Christian woman gets married, she bestows herself on her husband, who in turn bestows himself on her, while in Islam, ownership of the woman is transferred to her husband in a transaction between men.
2. In Christianity, there is perfect equality and complementarity between men and women. In Islam, women are subordinate to men.
3. In Islam, sexual morality is reducible to blind obedience to the law (i.e. what Allah prohibits or allows); it's governed by fear and shame. Christian morality is transparent to reason and governed by love.
The great and emotionally grueling Iranian film, A Separation, has a compelling illustration of this feature of Islam. A man whose wife is leaving him hires a pious married woman to care for his father, who has Alzheimers disease. At one point during the day, the father wets himself. The woman caring for him panics. She can't clean him, because then she would see him naked. She is petrified of committing a sin. She has to call an imam to get permission, and even then, she's terrified. It's the opposite of the freedom and responsibility that characterize mature Christian morality.
4. In the Islamic view, the purpose of modesty in women is to prevent male arousal; hence, the more coverage, the better. If a man is aroused, the woman is at fault. In Christianity, modesty is about drawing attention to a woman's personal dignity. Her sexual values aren't concealed, but duly integrated with her subjectivity. Men are responsible for themselves.
I know I've left out lots, but maybe I've said enough to shed some light on the pathologies of the Muslim world, and the problem of Christian circles tending in the same direction.