Tuesday, April 21, 2009

my soul is a woman

I was just going through some old notes and I found the notes I'd written down while reading "My Soul is a Woman" by Annemarie Schimmel, considered one of the most important Sufi texts on women and Islam. Schimmel begins by noting that we should not compare gender and women's rights in Islam to those in Christianity or Judaism but rather by itself. I will just note a few of her interesting points:

The noun man can be used to designate any individual who earnestly strives towards God, without reference to a biological gender.

The mother motif is important in Islam: "Paradise lies beneath the feet of the mothers."

There is no conception of original sin as being passed on by biological gender. Leila Ahmed mentions this too in Women, Gender and Islam, and I read it myself in the Qur'an: God does not solely blame Eve but rather Adam and Eve.

Khadija: she proposed to him, she was older than him, she was economically independent, she consoled him after first revelation and convinced him it was divine.

The Prophet (pbuh) set examples through his numerous marriages: he married a widow, a divorcee, a slave, etc. Yet today in most Arab/Muslim countries, divorcees for example are looked down upon and shunned (divorced women that is).

"The best among you is he who treats his wife most kindly." (Prophet, pbuh).

"A male lion is a lion. Is that to say that a female lion is not a lion as well?" Turkish proverb quoted in book.

It is undeniable that in Islam much suffering has fallen to the lot of women because simle Qur'anic precepts have been interpreted more and more narrowly over the course of time. Customs lacking Qur'anic foundation have become increasingly rigid. Ridigity has taken on almost canonical charachter.

Most of the book deals with women in Sufi history and tradition, but it does give a lot of background info on women in Islam in general. Definitely worth skimming through.


Umm Omar said...

Thank you for posting this. When examining the history of Islam, in it's earliest days and comparing that to modern times, there is a huge gap between the roles women have played in these two times. People often say that Islam is backwards and stuck in time, but ironically, women during the advent of Islam were handed rights-bacially, overnight-that other women in the world at that time didn't even dream of, and women for centuries and centuries afterwards-in various places. Today, many women are oppressed. No one can deny that, but it's misguided societies, unjust governments, and ignorant people that oppress, not Islam. Unfortunately, Islam is usually to blame because all of this so- called informed justice/legislation/protection has been done in the name of Islam. In that way, Islam was been abused and oppressed as well. Because it's been the norm for so long, women themselves often feel guilty if they do something that isn't "wrong" as far as Islam is concerned. And it's so pathetic because women are the ones who can really transform this world for the better. Have you heard of the Gramem (sp?) Bank in Bangladesh? Mohammed Younus-the man who founded that bank-and won the Nobel Prize for it-gave microloans to mostly rural women in Bangladesh so that they could make small purchases of items that would help them make livings (something like a sewing machine). He knows that families are the foundation of society, and women are the foundation of family. He was so smart simply because he understood that. Oh, I could go on and on, so I'll just stop here! Great post!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Thanks for the comment! I definitely agree: how have we moved from being a religion that gave women an enormous amount of rights 2000 years ago, to a religion that today is seen as the most oppressive religion towards women. It's really sad, and it's definitely true that women themselves need to take Islam back and stand up for their rights more often.

Anonymous said...

Yup, from what I've read women had a very good standing/status during our prophet's (pbuh) time and for a while after that ... then it started going downhill.