"If you think the difference between heaven and hell is 45 inches of material, boy will you be surprised."
I've just finished reading Amina Wadud's book "Inside the Gender Jihad". I've always been very impressed with her writing - she is eloquent and writes beautifully, but also commands a lot of respect. She is very (I mean very) well-learned and is really one of the top Western Islamic intellectuals around today.
She wears hijab, so I was interested to see how she came to that decision. She is known for her hermeneutic, linguistic, and contextual analyses of the Qur'an and Sunnah, so I wanted to know what her interpretation of the Qur'an and Sunnah on hijab are.
She writes in the book that she does not see the hijab as an Islamic obligation. "I do not consider it a religious obligation, nor do I ascribe to it any religious significance or moral value per se. It is certainly not the penultimate denotation of modesty, as mandated by the Qur'an, "the best dress is the dress of taqwa."
"Over the past several decades, the hijab has been given disproportionate symbolic significance both within and without Muslim communities. Like a sixth pillar, we cannot discuss Islam and gender without discussing the hijab. While overloaded with multiple meanings, it is often the single marker used to determine community approval or disapproval. Although sometimes random and coincidental, it is also burdened with different levels of volition by Muslim women."
She makes a very valid point: hijab does not necessarily provide a woman with respect or protection. "Those who reduce women to their sexuality will continue to do so. In reality the hijab of coercion and the hijab of choice look the same."
"If a man respected a woman as an equal human being and not as an object of his sexual fantasies, then even a naked woman should be safe from male abuse." I think this is a great point - there is NO excuse for a man to disrespect a woman, no matter what she is wearing. And a good man will respect a woman whether she is veiled or not - the veil is not necessarily going to make a difference, and if it does, then he isn't the best of men.
"When a Serbian soldier in the rape camps can rip a two-year-old girl's body apart by raping her, it is obviously naive to assume that any amount of head-covering would have made any difference or created any real change in deep-seated male aberrations."
Wadud also discusses the fact that because she wears hijab, some women avoid her because they assume the hijab means silence and conformity. Similarly, some women assume she is more religious than non-veiled women, something she also criticizes.
Finally, she writes, "Dubbing it the sixth pillar only shows its ability to divert attention from the issue of substance regarding modesty and relations between the sexes, like unrestricted male libido. The hijab is also a significant marker for the community approval or disapproval. The paradox of my choice and devotion to wearing hijab without considering it obligatory means a significant duality of some strategic consideration for my various roles in the gender jihad."
Her arguments are interesting because she is not one of those scholars who sees the hijab as oppressive/looks at it condescendingly - she herself wears it. She is simply pointing out that she does not see it as an obligation and that many Muslim women feel an immense amount of pressure to conform to this dress code, whether they believe in it or not.
I personally find it interesting how any scholar (Wadud, abou el Fadl) who says the hijab is not an obligation gets viciously attacked to the point of ridiculousness. Why is it such a sensitive issue?
What does everyone think of her arguments?