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feminist_reading_of_the_holy_quran

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Unformatted text preview: want); in 1&1th Mm fat—Fdw Lt‘ngman) 2045" (22;; 4.90) Feminist Reading of the Holy Qur’an on the disparities between the revelations in the Qur‘an, the collections ofHaa’i'rli, and the decisions of the different legal schools (to be examined later), some of which can be seen as culturally influenced and anti-female. Since the Qur‘an is the most authoritative source manuahdsintgit takes a more pro-female approach, this may be a useful way of restoring women‘s rights and status. Islamic Studies Professor Riffat Hassan, formerly of Pakistan, has been a pioneer in feminist theology in the context ofthe Islamic tradition since 1974. By careful and thorough reading of the Holy Qur‘an (see box, p. 244). she discerns clear support for women’s rights to be reSpected as a human being, to be treated with justice and equity, to be free of traditionalism, authoritarianism, tribalism, classism, casteism, sexism, and slavery, to have privacy and protection from ridicule. to acquire knowledge, to work, to earn, and to own property, to have a secure place of residence, to leave one‘s place of origin under oppressive conditions. to develop one’s aesthetic sensibilities, and to enjoy the “good life.“ which is possible only in a just society.7 These rights comprise a powerful basis for a radically different world order, not to mention improvement of women’s position within it. Negative ideas about women that have no base in the Qur‘au have apparently become part of Muslim thinking by assimilation from surrounding cultures, including ludeo~Christian tradition. Women are assumed to be legendarily inferior to men, secondarily created, and naturally “crooked.” By contrast. the Qur’an speaks ofthe creation of humanity in surprisingly biologically accurate language: The human being We did create From a quintessence; Then We placed him As sperm In a place of rest, Firmly fixed; Then We made the sperm Into a clot of congealed blood; Then of that clot We made A lump; then We Made out of that lump 2 t3 Mat-q Pa‘l- Faker )C‘C . : [£33900 LUN’ .ch 291i ‘ CERP ' Human Liberation is Supported by " the Holy Qur'an Riffat Hassan While Muslim women continuously hear the refrain that lslam has given women more rights than any other religious tradition, they continue to be sub: jected to grossly unequal treatment... . The dominant, patriarchal interpretations destiny, and our relationship with God. its vision of human destiny is apparent in the exalted proclamation: ”Towards God is thy limit" (Surah 53: An-Najm: 42). With this attitude, the Qur’an seeks to liberate all persons so that we may realize our potential fully. lf ail Muslims were to pursue the values of the Qur’an, they would create a Paradise ofjustice and peace on earth. The means and ends of human liberation are foundational themes of the Qur’an: justice and the duty to strive for it, compassion for all things, the need to strive continuously for the cause of God ("Jihagfisabil Allah"). The most impor- tant form of "jihad” for contemporary Muslims is "ijtifiad," or the exercise of rational judgment to understand the essential message of the Qur‘an and to apply it to particular circumstances. Central to this message is an ethic of responv sibility for our lives, for nature, and for the eiimination of all inequities and injustices from human society. According to the Qur’an, justice is a precondition for peace: without justiceebetween men and women, as between classes and between nations—there can be no peace in the world. FEMINIST READING OF THE HOLY QUR'AN 24! Indeed, a large part of the Qur’an’s concern is to free human beings from the chains that bind them—above ail, authoritarianism and the blind following of tradition. "Let there be no compulsion in religion," says the Qur’an (Surah 2: Al- Baqarah: 256). God tells the Prophet Muhammad, "We made thee not one to watch over [others’] doings, nor art thou set over them to dispose of their affairs” (Surah 6: AI-An'am: 107). The greatest guarantee of personal freedom lies in the Qur’anic decrees that no one but God can limit human freedom (Surah 42: Ash Shura: 21) and that "Judgment is Allah's alone" (Surah 12: Yusuf: 40)... . Our right to freedom includes the freedom to tell the truth, as one sees it. Without this, other freedoms are a charade and a just society is impossible. According to the Qur’an, truth is one of God‘s most important attributes, and the Qur’an emphasizes that standing up for the truth is a right and a responsibility that no Musiim may disclaim, no matter how hard the truth may be to tell (Surah 4: An-Nisa': 135). Further, the Quran forbids others to harm those who testify to the truth (Surah 2: Al-Baqarah: 282). The right to freedom of thought and expression was exercised by Muslims in the early centuries of lsiam and was pivotal in the creation of an lslamic civilization characterized by outstanding achievements in diverse fields of knowlr edge. The early Muslims celebrated cultural diversity and engaged in rigorous intellectual discussion... . Centered in God and self-critical, the original Muslims believed that although God had given them the Qur’an and the Prophet had exemplified its teachings, it was their responsibility to implement its message in the ”Islamic” societies that they were creating. These Muslims read the Qur’an as an “open," rather than a ”closed," text and strove continually to understand its deeper meaning. This intel- lectual striving (y'tihad) made the Muslims of the fist three centuries dynamic and creative peoples who paved the way for the European Renaissance. it is a profound tragedy and irony that today's Muslims, in large numbers, regard lslam in monolithic terms and regard the Shari'a [the code regulating all aspects of a Muslim's life] as fired. In much of the contemporary Muslim world, We see the substitution of traditionalism for the exercise of y'tihad—even a denial of the right of ij'ti'hao'. To me, being a Muslim means renewing the cry of the modernists, "Back to l the Quran and forward with Wired." The Quran strongly guarantees all fun- damental human rights, without reserving them to men alone. These rights are so deeply rooted in our humanness that their denial or violation is tantamount to a negation or degradation of that which makes us human. These rights came into existence with us, so that we might actualize our human potential. These rights not only provide us With the opportunity to develop all of our inner resources, but they also hold before us a vision of what God would like us to be, what God deems to be worth striving for. Excerpted from Riffat Hassan, ”Members, One of Another: Gender Equality and Justice in lslam," The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Heaith & Ethics, httpJ/wwwreligiousconsultationorgi'hassanhtm, accessed March i, 2006. 246 WOMEN lN lSLAM Bones and clothed the bones 2M9 With flesh; then We developed Out of it another creature. So blessed be Allah, The Best to create!8 2.3 rut-H Elsewhere, the Qur’an describes Adam, appointed as khalifah or vicegercnt (one who exercises delegated power) of the earth, and his mate as involved in a celled tive act of disobedience but also of free choice. After being deceitfully tempted by Satan to transgress the limits set by God, they apologetically admit, “Our Lord, we have wronged our own souls” (7: 23). There is no special blame placed on the woman, nor does she have any separate conversation with the serpent representing Satan. But Muslim folk tradition names flawa (Eve), presents her as an eternal- ly flawed secondary creation from the crooked rib of Adam, created for rather than with him, blames her for the fall of humanity, and tends to regard all “daughters of Eve" with suspicion and even hatred. These misogynistic non-Qur’anic ideas have fiully penetrated the Hadirh literature. Both al-Bukhari and Muslim al-Hillaj report various versions of a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, on the authori- ty of a companion called Abu Huraira. One version runs like this: “Woman has been created from a rib and will in no way be straightened for you; so benefit by her while crookedness remains in her.”9 In contrast to the misogyny that has crept into popular Muslim beliefs, the Qur’an clearly safeguards women’s rights to respect and security. If a woman is suspected of sexual relations outside marriage, the Qur’an provides that she cannot be considered guilty unless there are four witnesses to her immoral behavior (4: 15). According to the Qur’an, all of humanity is created in the “best of molds” (95: 4), for the purpose of serving God. All humans are given the same call to right- eousness and the same promise of heavenly reward: The Believers, glen WUEHW And women, are protectors, One of another: they enjoin What is just, and forbid What is evil: they observe Regular prayers, pay Zakat [charity] and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah ls exalted in power, Wise. Allah hath promised to Believers, Men and women, Gardens Under which rivers flow, To dwell therein, And beautiful mansions In Gardens of everlasting stay. But the greatest bliss Is the Good Pleasure ofAllah: that is the supreme tritiinph.'°__ LAWS CONCERNING WOMEN 21 9.47 The Qur’an does make some provision for chastisement of disobedient wives t their husbands. The basic passage from the Holy Qur’an in this regard-is: Men are the protectors And maintainers of women, Because Allah has given The one more [strength] Than the other, and because They support them From their means. Therefore the righteous women Are devoutly obedient, and guard In [the husband‘s] absence What Allah would have them guard. As to those women On whose part ye fear Disloyalty and ill-conduct, Admonish them [first], [Next] refuse to share their beds, [And last] beat them [lightly]; But if they return to obedience, Seek not against them Means [of annoyance]: For Allah is Most High, Great.’1 4. 34 In the past, the Holy Qur’an was interpreted primarily by men, but some femal scholars have now begun to dig into its meanings from a woman’s point of viev Carefully considering the interpretations of specific words, cultural contexts, an Overall intentions of the revelations, Islamic Studies Professor Amina Wadud cor eludes that the scripture does not make any distinction between women and men i terms of spiritual potential, that woman is not considered just a child-bearer, thi no explicit division of labor is specified, that marriage is not meant as a means c oppression of women, and that the social reforms started in the Holy Qur‘an ar meant to be extended in ever-evolving, changing circumstances. A sample of he exegesis is given here (see box, p. 248), with particular reference to Surah 4: 3d cited above, which has been used to excuse wife-beating. Laws Concerning Women The laws that shape Muslim women’s personal lives are usually based partly on th revelations ofthe Holy Qur’an, the Sarina]! (example of the Prophet), Hadith (say ings of the Prophet), traditional jurisprudence, schools of law, and same 'a, an partly on the secular laws of the many countries and cultures in which Muslim live. Even the religious sources have not yielded a unified body of laws. There ar it 1%? Amina Wadud [For cases in which the husband chastises the wife] it cannot be overlooked that verse 4: 34 does state the third suggestion using the word daraba, "to strike." According to than ai—34rab and Lane’s Lexicon, daraba does not necessarily indicate force or violence. It is used in the Qur’an, for example, in the phrase ”daraba Allah mathalan..." ("Allah gives or sets an example..."). It is also used when someone leaves, or "strikes out" on a journey. it is, however, strongly contrasted to the second form, the intensive, of this verbudarraba: to strike repeatedly or intensely. in the light of the excessive violence towards women indicated in the biographies of the Companions and by practices condemned in the Qur’an (like female infanticide), this verse should be taken as prohibiting unchecked violence against females. Thus, this is not perm_ission, but a severe restriction of existing practices... .' ’- The Qur’an never orders a woman to obey her husband. It never states that obedience to their husbands is a characteristic of the "better women" (66: 5), nor is it a prerequisite for women to enter the community of Islam (60: 12). However, in marriages of subjugation, wives did obey their husbands, usually because they believed that a husband who materially maintains his family, including the wife, deserves to be obeyed. Even in such cases, the norm at the time of the revela- tion, no correlation is made that a husband should beat his wife into obedience. Such an interpretation has no universal potential, and contradicts the essence of the Qur’an and the established practices of the Prophet. It involves a severe mis- reading of the Quran to support the lack of self-constraint in some men... . This belief in the need to obey the husband is a remnant of marriages of sub jugation and is not exclusive to Muslim history. It has not progressed, although today couples seek partners for mutual emotional, intellectual, economic, and spiritual enhancement. Their compatibility is based on mutual respect and honor, not on the subservience of the female to the male. The family is seen as a unit of mutual support and social propriety, not an institution to enslave a woman to the man who buys her at the highest price and then sustains her material and physical needs only, with no concern for the higher aspects of human development. If the Qur’an was only relevant to this single marriage type, it would fail to present a compatible model to the changing needs and requirements of devel- oping civilizations worldwide. Instead, the Qur‘anic text focuses on the marital norm at the time of revelation, and applies constraints on the actions of the husbands with regard to wives. In the broader context, it develops a mechanism for resolving diff'culties through mutual or extended consultation and arbitration. ' in conclusion, the Qur’an prefers that men and women marry (4: 25). Within marriage, there should be harmony (4: 128) mutually built with love and mercy (30: 21). The marriage tie is considered a protection for both the male and the female: ‘1 hey (feminine plural) are raiment for you (masculine plural) and you are LAWS CONCERNING WOMEN 24 5H“! raiment for them" (2: 187). However, the Qui’an does not rule out the possibility of diffculty, which it suggests can be resolved. If all else fails, it also permits equi— table divorce... . The continued change which the Qur‘an put into motion was not meant to stop when the revelation was completed. Some important social changes not completely instituted by the end revelation (like the total abolition of slavery), were given enough clear indications of the direction that the Qur’an intended. It therefore seems unbelievable that it was only so many centuries after the revelation that they Were implemented. ' in addition, by extending certain Qur’anic social principles, Muslim communi ties should have evolved into leading examples of humane and just social sys- tems. Certainly, the Qur’an never intended for institutions like slavery to continue . even though it never explicitly prohibited it. There are unlimited possibilities for l reform within the parameters of equity, mutual honour, respect, and consultation enunciated by the Qur’an. Thus I have extended the Qur’anic principles of social justice, eLq_uity, mutual honour and moral responsibility, into the context of the present era and at least given—some thought to the evolution of those principles in the future. My specif— ic goal was to demonstrate the adaptability of the Qur’anic world-view to the issues and concerns of women in the modern context. If the attitudes of women and men towards each other had not progressed in the last 1,400 years, we would be in a pitiful state... . The Quran encourages men and women to marry as a safeguard of moral behaviour between the sexes. However, some interpretations of the rights and responsibilities between the married couple have so severely restricted woman that marriage becomes an institution of oppression for her. If marriage is the means by which a woman is stripped of her individuality and her self-respect as a human equal in humanity and in spiritual capacity to any man, then this is clear- ly against the Qur’anic intent for a just and moral social order that encourages the doing of good and forbids the doing of evil. It is necessary to resolve this flaw of interpretation. Excerpted from Amina Wadud, Our’an and Woman: Rereadrhg the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 76—8, 10173. different collections of the Sunnah and Hadr'ih; the most respected of these are by Muhammad ibn [sma’il al-Bukhari (810—870) and Muslim bin al-Hallaj (8177875), but even some of their records are probably inauthenlic, rooted in prevailing cultural ideas about women. There are also various Schools of law and varied interpretations of the Qur’an, all made primarily by men. These laws per- taining to women cannot therefore be seen as absolute, but they have nonetheless been a major focus of attempts to define and impose a Muslim way oflife. Within the law codes, those relating to women are the most salient: those concerning mar- riage, divorce, ownership and inheritance of property, and seclusion and veiling. 1‘50 In Muslim tradition, the family is an essential social unit. Marriage is treated as mandatory, with few exceptions. According to Hadit/t, the Prophet forbade his followers to be celibate, and also apparently forbade the previous traditions of tem- porary marriages and extramarital sexual relations. Only one revelation concern- ing polygamy occurred in the Qur’an. Within the context of frequent battles and a resulting surfeit of widows and fatherless children, men are addressed thus: If ye fear that ye shall not Be able to dealjustly With the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two, or three, or four; But if ye fear that ye shall not Be able to deal justly [with them], Then only one, or That which your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, To prevent you From doing injustice.” G H' 3 The point was the protection of orphans; widows were included so that the rights of the orphans could be protected. Marriage of several wives was not for the sake ofmale lust. Women Were allowed only one husband. Muslim men could marry Muslim women or other “People of the Book”kgenerally interpreted as believing Christians or Jews. There was no express permission for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man. According to the traditions, the man should look at a woman before proposing to her, to be sure that the match will be satisfying. Nothing is said about a woman’s looking at a man, but sometimes the marriage proposal is made by the woman, as in the case of Khadija and the Prophet Muhammad. Marriage requires public expression of mutual consent to the marriage as a contract; for a woman, consent is usually given on her behalf by her father or another male guardian. The man is required to offer a dowry to his wife, and thenceforth that property belongs to her. According to the traditions, sometimes when a man was very poor, he gave his bride only an iron ring or two handfuls ofmeal or dates as dowry, but in general the dowries have been more substantial. Progressive Muslim scholar Kecia Ali suggests that early Sunni Muslim jurists regarded the dowry and financial support by the husband as an exchange for the wife’s sexuality, which thus became his possession_an interpretation at odds with the Qur‘anic ideais of mutuality, kindness. harmony, and respect within the marriage, instea...
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