Saturday, May 9, 2009

qur'an and woman

I just finished reading Amina Wadud's book, "Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective", one of the few interpretations of the Qur'an done by a female that is widely available. She made a lot of amazing points but I'll only mention a few here.

I believe the Qur'an adapts to the context of the modern woman as smoothly as it adapted to the original Muslim community fourteen centuries ago. Any interpretations which narrowly apply the Qur'anic guidelines to literal mimics of the original community do an injustice to the text. No community will ever be exactly like another. Therefore no community can be a duplicate of that original community. The Qur'an never states this as a goal. Rather, the goal has been to emulate certain key principles of human development: justice, equity, harmony, moral responsibility, spiritual awareness, and development. Where these general characteristics exist, whether in the first Muslim community or in present and future communities, the goal of the Qur'an for society has been reached.

I love the message she's giving her: to focus on general characteristics of the Qur'an (some call it the spirit of the Qur'an) instead of only obsessing about specifics. Many Muslims today focus on dressing and living like the Prophet and his family/companions. Should this be something modern Islamic communities aim for? Or should we recognize that every community is different and the Qur'an is made for this diversity?

If readers of the Qur'an have assumed in any manner that men are superior to women intellectually, spiritually, ontologically, etc.; that men are "in charge of women"; that men are natural leaders; that men should "rule" the family and get obedience from women; that women do not have to participate and contribute in order to maintain the family and society or that her participation is marginal; then those readers will interpret the Qur'an in accordance with those assumptions.

In a previous post about interpreting the Qur'an, I mentioned that each person interprets the Qur'an according to their pre-existing beliefs and world view. Thus the assumptions Wadud mentions will influence someone reading the text.

I will post more from this book soon.


Jaz said...

I've really wanted to read one of these! Thanks for posting your thoughts; now I think I will buy this book and see for myself. :)

Lisa said...

I wish we could see that the communities are different. It is admirable to want to emulate, but hard to believe the Prophet pbuh would do things the same now. Just watching Cheers the other night, I was struck by different things are since 1983. We have phones with caller id, cell phones, and the internet. Things do change, and the Prophet would have embraced change. Love you and hope you have a great time!

I am planning to look at getting this book too, great idea!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

I definitely recommend getting the book! It's short and she has a lot of explanations I hadn't thought of/heard before.

marzuki said...

Hey Cairo from May 2009,

I was bored. And while looking thru the list of entries on my Reader, this one caught my eye. I see some parallels bw her and yourself.

Amina Wadud's leading of a Friday payer some time in 2005 received a pretty bad reception from the majority of the Muslim population.

Do you think she's right? I've always held the belief that women are only allowed to lead women-only congregation.

I was wondering your thought on this? Could she have made her own conclusions based on her own readings and research - and simply decided to let her views be heard?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Marzuki :) Just want to ask a question first, before answering yours: Why do you believe that women should only lead an all-women congregation?

marzuki said...


I guess it's something that just seems right. Perhaps it's becoz ive never heard stories whereby a woman was an imam during the time of the prophet. And seeing how women prays behind the men make it seem as though having a female imam breaks some invisible boundaries.

In addition, a quick google tells me:

It is reported by Aisha, Umm Salamah and 'Ata' -may Allah be pleased with them- that "A woman can be an Imam of women." It is also reported by Dar Qutni that the Prophet -peace be upon him- allowed Umm Waraqah to lead the women of her house in Salah. The woman Imam should not stand in front of the line like the male Imam, but she should stand in the middle of the line of the people praying under her Imamah.

This is exactly the reason why I wish to study more about Hadith. There's too many perhaps and uncertainties. But that's me.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

I know there are Hadith saying women can't be imams of men & women, but at the same time part of me wants to know "why"? If a woman is a learned scholar, why can't she lead prayer? It makes no logical sense to me. I guess the only reason I can think of (and maybe this is why there were no female imams at the time of the Prophet) is because men might be uncomfortable with it, i.e. they might not want to follow a woman.
What do you think from a purely logical point of view, without taking those Hadith into account? Why would it be a problem for you, if it is at all?

marzuki said...

What do you think from a purely logical point of view, without taking those Hadith into account? Why would it be a problem for you, if it is at all?

It will be a problem for me. But as i try write, I get this feeling this'll go along the line of "if man can do it why cant women".

When Amina Wadud led the prayers, I kinda saw the "who says women cant lead a congregation". And I know we're living is a world where women can be equally, if not, more successful than men. But why try to apply the same logic with religion?

Perhaps it's in the nature of men to want to be leaders. Perhaps it's in the nature of men to be easily distracted by women. But I believe when we try to set aside the hadith and using logic to ask why, things will not turn out pleasant. You get people who go extremely offensive or those who go extremely defensive.

Cairo, Im of the view that the Quran and the Hadith complements each other. One cannot refer to one and neglect the other.

As much as I'd love to see things being fair an equal, things are perhaps the way they are for a reason.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

While the Qur'an and Hadith should complement each other, they often don't, because sometimes a Hadith is wrong or misunderstood.

The Qur'an tells us to think, i.e. use logic so when logic contradicts a Hadith, what should we then do?

I personally think women should be able to lead a mixed prayer because I don't see what prevents her from doing that except a man's inability to focus or accept it, which isn't a good enough reason for me.

"And I know we're living is a world where women can be equally, if not, more successful than men. But why try to apply the same logic with religion?"

Because the Qur'an seems to apply this logic, and actually so does the Sunnah of the Prophet. Women fought in wars, women owned businesses, women proposed to men, etc, so in many senses women had rights then that they don't have in many Islamic countries and communities. The Qur'an also sees women equally in terms of religion - a believing woman gets the same rewards as a believing man.

marzuki said...

Yup. I believe hadith has varying levels. The strong ones, the weak ones etc. Cant comment on them as of yet - Im having issues with Hadith on my own too with regards to certain issues like Prayers.

So i believe, it's important not to not blindly follow any hadith but to follow those strong ones.

And i believe it's not solely, if at all man's inability to focus or accept - these are the logic of you and i - and I guess we've got limits in terms of how we explain things. It's akin to scientist trying to explain the creation of the universe using The Big Bang Theory. Human seem to want an explaination to everything. Insya allah Cairo, I'll read and write something about it one day soon.

You said, "The Qur'an also sees women equally in terms of religion". I dun think this is often the case.

There are instance whereby the women is placed higher than men. Like it's not ok to make one's mum feel hurt. Stuffs like that. (Forgive my lack of examples)

And there are instance where one may "see" as gender inequality. Eg. The distribution of wealth of the deceased. Say if the father of the family passed away, the women receives 1 part while the males receive 3.

But on the whole, i guess if one lists all the rights of men and women in islam, perhaps it's equal - just not in every aspect. (:

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Like you, I also feel like I need to furtehr study the Hadith.

When I said the Qur'an sees women equally in terms of religion, I was referring to verses that say that men and women who follow God's rules both go to heaven, thus in terms of belief and religion, men and women get the same reward. This has nothing to do with legal things like inheritance etc.

And you're right...the rights of men and women might be equal, even if not the same! Maybe we should try make that list :)))

marzuki said...

I mustve misread ur initial comment regarding equality. I must admit that reading your comments, Ive got this vibe that you might be feeling that women are being treated unfairly. A quick wiki that mentions Amina Wadud's Inside the Gender Jihad made the vibe stronger.

Initially, I mentioned of my inability to relate to your frustrations. But having read your posts before and after this, I think I hv a rough idea of the frustrations behind ur posts.

I guess as we try to question instead of blindly following, we need to remind ourselves to never lose sight of the simplicity and beauty of Islam.

And regarding the list, it'll be a never ending process - perhaps we could narrow it down to a particular area of your interest and we could work on something that might have a conclusion. Insyaallah.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hey there. You're right about that vibe. I think in general I do feel that Muslim women are treated unfairly. Not by the Qur'an, but by Muslim communities, men, and some Hadith & Sunnah. I know this affects the way I write but it's me being honest, and also trying to answer some questions I have.

Your comment about simplicity is so true, thanks for reminding me of that. M'A :)

marzuki said...

I feel the same way too regarding the treatment Muslim women. Im curious as the which Hadith and Sunnah treats women unfairly.

With regards to the unfair treatment by Muslim communities and men in general, I guess you could say that women are being treated by men pretty unfairly in the world at large.

In my opinion, men in general tend to see women playing a more supporting role than a leading role - whether at the workplace, schools homes etc. This mindset has been formed since eons ago so perhaps, there's nothing much that can be done - unless you could somehow band the younger generations together and influence them to want a change.

I think it's best to identify the roots of the problems - whether its a societal issue or particular verses of the quran/hadith/sunnah. It kinda makes the "enemy" much more manageable to handle.

And ur angst and way of writing, it sets minds thinking. People in general can relate to you better - like me. I used to be angsty too but somewhere along the way, I changed a little. So keep up the angst? haha. As u can probably tell, i think im just a little worried that the angst might just cloud ur focus a little bit. I just can help but think too much sometimes.

Reading ur entries reminds me of the things I should be doing too! I guess we'll constantly be reminding each other once in a while. (:

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

I think my goal is to be able to write the way Amina Wadud for example writes. She seems very focused and objective, and has clearly studied and researched her opinions. I'A one day 'll be able to write like that :D
At the same time I don't wanna sound completely disconnected and unemotional. These are issues that affect me directly and so I do get passionate about them.

Wow Marzuki you really make me think :P

marzuki said...

At the same time I don't wanna sound completely disconnected and unemotional. These are issues that affect me directly and so I do get passionate about them.

Wow Marzuki you really make me think :P

Insyaallah one day you will. And I believe it's about time I pick up one of Amina Wadud's books - but i foresee it might take a while since I doubt there's any in our public library and im not a buyer of books. But no matter how,I will.

You've made me realized the importance of listening and understanding rather than dismiss. In 2005, I saw Amina Wadud as someone pushing for equal rights for women who must've ignored what the quran, hadith,sunnah say - based on my own very limited understanding of Islam.

4 years on, I think ive realized the importance of listening and understanding the reasons behind one actions and then - come to a conclusion. (Im reminded of what Tariq Ramadhan said in the vid u posted - about how the other guy cannot judge him when he have not even read his books.)

Perhaps the world could use another Tariq Ramadhan. haha.