e-book Women in the Quran, Traditions, and Interpretation

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali is saying that the Quran itself authorizes men to abuse their wives sexually. In my opinion, you cannot be an advocate for Muslim women when you think the Quran is oppressive. Amina Wadud, on the contrary, thinks that the Quran is libratory and she sees her action as an act of liberation. Do you think the feminist Islamic discourse will in the future be able to change the conservative Islamic jurisprudence or fiqh? Barlas: I do not know many female scholars who are actually attacking fiqh from a feminist perspective, so it is hard for me to say whether they will be able to change it.

But when ordinary average people begin to see that the shari'a in the form in which it is implemented now is not giving them what the politicians say it is supposed to be given to them, things will change. Unless Muslims as a whole begin to raise certain kinds of question, reform or change is going to be very hard. In Indonesia there are many people who are calling for an implementation of the Islamic shari'a. Since you have experienced the shari'a yourself in Pakistan, during the Zia ul Haq regime, do you believe shari'a could be introduced and at the same time defend woman rights?

Barlas: From what I have heard and read so far in Indonesia, the shari'a as it is being introduced in Aceh is discriminating against women. Many people are saying it is not providing gender justice. I am of that school of thought which believes that Islamic law is a product of human thinking and that as a product of human thinking it is certainly susceptible to rethinking. Let us look to Pakistan for example.

A blind domestic servant was raped in Pakistan, and the court sanctioned her to be stoned to death. However, stoning to death is not a punishment in the Quran for any crime. Saying that stoning to death is not in the Quran and that it needs to be rethought as a punishment is to say something quite reasonable.

The people in favor of shari'a, ed. Then the conversation goes to another level. Since for me, as a believer, we cannot be one hundred percent sure of every single thing in the hadith, whereas we can be one hundred percent sure of what is in the Quran. So, this is a kind of circular argument where you cannot pin down your critics. Muslims who defend this kind of Islamic shari'a move from the Quran to the hadith tradition and eventually to public reason ijma'.

When you chase them around and tell them the Quran can be read in more than one way they take refuge in hadith. When you point out hadith is multi-vocal and polyphonic, they say that public reason ijma' will not admit it, although public reason is a socio-cultural construct. I call this a circle of oppression and it is very difficult for Muslim women to escape from it, because they keep jumping around from topic to topic.

Barlas: Yes, absolutely. For a believer, the Quran is a divine discourse and the hadith are not. Hadith are the result of human compilation and none of the people who compiled them ever claimed they were infallible and the Quran teaches us a theory of human fallibility. Many people who are using the hadith are unhappy with the egalitarianism of the Quran. Whatever the Quran opens up, the hadith can shut down. In Europe, the Muslim community is very static and does not seem to have a good response to Western ideas and intellectuals who criticize Islam.

Do you see more criticism within the Islamic community in the US? Barlas: I think immigrant communities tend to be conservative. This question needs to be posed not just simply in terms of Islam versus the West, because Islam is in the West and it is part of the West. But it really is a problem of immigrants. The first and second-generation immigrants feel culturally marginalized and peripheral, just like Indonesia, the biggest Muslim country, can feel peripheral in the Muslim world. Take immigrants in France e. In addition, some of those immigrant communities tend to be more inward looking and more conservative than they were at home.

I think it is about feeling out of place and turning inward. Unfortunately, the primary victims of that inward-looking mentality are Muslim women. Because it is on the body of Muslim women that all of these cultural battles for meaning get played out: whether you should were a hijab or not etc. It is a very sad situation because women's bodies are becoming the symbol for the struggle between the ex-colonial powers and these Muslim communities. The backward position of women in Muslim countries, as you will agree, does not only come from religion but also from culture.

Do you think your struggle could resolve in a change in this culture as well? Barlas: Patriarchy has been around for thousands of years and when the Quran was revealed it mentions people who blindly follow the ways of the fathers. That, to me, is the essential ingredient of patriarchy. I do not think it will easily be dismantled, but as we see in Western society, it has been possible to mitigate some of the harshest aspects of patriarchy. Not just by formal legal rights but also by substantive civil rights and liberties and economic opportunities.

I think cultural change is never going to happen in the absence of political and economical reform. What Muslim societies need, on a macro level, is a new consciousness that emerges out of material circumstances and conditions. These economically backward societies are politically closed societies and many of them are anti-democratic and authoritarian societies. How can we expect patriarchy to be dismantled in these societies? I think all of these challenges are interlinked and I always argue hermeneutical and existential questions are always connected, because you cannot read text for liberation in utterly depressive societies.

Do you see Islamic reform as the basis or do you think it should start with political and economical reform? Barlas: I see these processes of being interlinked and see this Islamic reform, ed. A lot of left-leaning intellectuals have learned over the years that if you do not speak in a language that average ordinary Muslims can identify with, assimilate and understand that you risk not making real changes. I think that was one of the shortcomings of the socialists and communists in Pakistan.

Marx said, religion is the opium of the masses but he also said it is the sigh of the oppressed. These things have to happen simultaneously, which is why the challenge is so great. Somebody asked me whether my ideas would bring liberation to women and bring democracy. I said no, you cannot just start reading the Quran and then suddenly have democracy. There are repressive institutions that should be dismantled. However, I do believe a fundamental change must happen in the way Muslim relate to the scripture and interpret their religion for there to be a meaningful democracy.

I think it is complicated and things have to happen together. She has published as a journalist, poet, and short story writer. Her scholarly work includes papers on the Qur'an and Muslim women's rights published in the Journal of Qur'anic Studies, for example. Born in Pakistan, she was one of the first women to be inducted into the Foreign Service, but was then removed by the military ruler General Zia ul-Haq for her criticism of him.

She joined the Muslim, a leading opposition newspaper, as assistant editor. In the mids she left Pakistan for the USA, where she eventually received political asylum. In the face of the controversy over Amina Wadud's Friday prayer, Muslim scholar Halima Krausen argues that we should have the courage to ask our own questions, to study the matter conscientiously and to reach conclusions which make sense in our times.

In this interview, she talks about the influence of patriarchy on Islam and on how Islamic feminist ideas draw on the Quran and how they find their way into religious teachings. Islam in Indonesia Fatwas against Religious Liberalism Eleven new religious decrees have sparked off animated debates among the Indonesian public over the past few weeks. Moderate Muslims and representatives of liberal Islamic organisations in particular have lodged appeals and are calling for a review.

Bettina David reports. Very interesting interview with truly engaging ideas! I'm a muslimah and you push me to answer the underlying questions in my mind about my religion. For me on the personal level it's about understanding the truth, differentiating between Allah's voice and the interpretations of others Jazak Allah Khairan :.

Due to its copious oil reserves, Libya was one of North Africa's richest states. Following the toppling of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the country was plunged into chaos. As a result of the ongoing civil war, large swathes of Libya could now even run out of drinking water. By Lisa Hanel. Skip to main content.

She closely examines the male-oriented interpretations of the Quran and offers an antipatriarchal alternative. Asma Barlas: Political and economical reform taking place in Muslim countries must be informed by an Islamic ethos. All Topics. In submitting this comment, the reader accepts the following terms and conditions: Qantara. This applies in particular to defamatory, racist, personal, or irrelevant comments or comments written in dialects or languages other than English.

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Leave this field blank. Great article Very interesting interview with truly engaging ideas! Jazak Allah Khairan : Sakinah Newest Most Read Most Comments. Retrospective of Egyptian film director Atteyat al-Abnoudy Advocate of the people. Interfaith dialogue World Assembly of Religions comes to Lindau. Interview with Syrian author Mustafa Khalifa "The Syrian revolution is bigger than a thousand novels". Interview with a mixed-faith couple Experiences in a Christian-Muslim marriage.

Sexuality in Iran Facing a "sex putsch". So follow that way and follow not the desires of those who know not. Islam is neither a law nor a dogma of submission, as Muslims generally translate it. Rather, Islam is a religial, moral, rational world view. I repeat, Islam is neither a law nor a dogma of submission, because submission means disillusion of responsibility from awareness and understanding the deep meanings of the Quran in order to practice it responsibly.

Unfortunately, the confusion between Sharia and what is wrongly called Islamic Law is magnified on signs reading, "No Sharia," that are being held by the demagogues who were protesting against the Cordoba Initiative and the building of mosques in other places. These signs might have also instigated vandalism to the mosques in Tennessee and California because people fear the ambiguous, especially when it's built on prejudice. The view of Islam as a law seems to be influenced by the Jewish view of the Talmud as much as it is influenced by the church missionary emphasis on elite male leadership supported by the colonials.

We see more harming results of such imperial acts when the United States government interfered in drafting the Iraqi constitution in , allowing for extremist Muslim clerics to slip in specific "Muslim rulings" as the basis for developing any new law in Iraq. Such rulings are those that have hurt women in the past and what motivated Iraq woman in to struggle for removing these rules from Iraqi personal law.

The law was upheld even by the dictator Saddam Hussein. Yet, the US government gave itself the privilege for such a change in order to protect its own interests. What right have it in doing so?

''It Is the Right for Every Muslim to Interpret the Quran for Themselves''

Similarly-- and this example was used before on this whole, and I would like to repeat it in more details used by my colleagues here. Similarly, the Archbishop of Canterbury statements in February is an example of well-intended gesture, but that represents misunderstanding the difference between the Islamic guiding principles of the Quran and what is known as Islamic Law when he suggested that the British lawmakers should come to "accommodation with some aspect of Muslim Law, as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law.

That's what's happening now in Iraq and Afghanistan, that history is repeating it, sadly, in the most negative way. The Archbishop's statement is not different. And it also represents dire implications not only for England but for Muslims and non-Muslims around the globe.

Has he forgotten the hardship that women have been suffering since similar rulings would impose on Muslims and other religious groups by the British and other Colonials during the 19th and 20th centuries? Being an educator specialized with the foundations of Arabic and Islamic studies and concerned with gender justice, I think that it is fair to claim that as long as Islam is being studied with the tools of Orientalism that is treating Islam as subject of study stamped with an otherness-- stamped with an otherness, the West will never be able to understand Islam, nor help Muslim women.

The West does not see these women as citizens in their own right, nor realize that such women, and Muslims in general, are already an integral element in the new West. The assumptions that Islam is a foreign religion and that needs to be interpreted by others telling Muslims how to understand their own belief system to the point that a Jewish professor on this campus conducted a Quranic study circle for Muslim students, unbelievable, and telling Muslims where they should or should not practice it to the point that they are threatened by burning the Quran.

These assumptions and acts further marginalize Muslim women and bring more misunderstandings. Hence, there will never be a reformation movement in Muslim societies like what happened in Europe, because the structure of Muslim societies and their aspirations are different. The social structure is built on the extended family social collaboration model, not on the nucleus economic based model.

While the aspirations are mostly related to past history and traditional authority morality not to nationalistic or ethnic morality. The time has come for us and for a revolutionary move to build a new structure for Muslim societies and communities through an egalitarian interpretation of the Quran that restores the religial, moral, rational authority of interpretation to each individual Muslim.

We would be able to have a peaceful and just Muslim society only by using two basic Quranic principles, observing the natural order of the word and developing action plans by means of educated reason and mutual consultation. Let me bring some statistics and the attitudes surrounding them. On the occasion of the International Women's Day in March , the revolutionary Afghan Women Association stated that Afghan women are mourning for the gang rape of many women, for being flogged, for being auctioned in open markets, and for their young daughters who put an end to their miserable lives in their own hands.

In , the Iraqi Women Ministry reported that since out of four-- out of each four marriages in Iraq ended in-- three of them ended in divorce. I wonder if this is the kind of civil disintegration that Madeleine Albright called civil collateral damage, or is it a worth while price for George W. These facts and statistics concern me more when I hear and read false reports of liberating Afghani and Iraqi women after the invasions. My concern here is not only with the complete facts, per se, as much as with the perceptual and attitudinal stand under pinning such reports about Muslim women. The problem is two-fold.

On the one hand is this stigmatization of Muslim women as the helpless group that needs outside help. As if their misery is not related to the ways of militarized politics that's being granted with the support of our think tanks. On the other hand, the majority of Muslim women who experience these situations often are told that they are being liberated by removing the veil and by going to beauty parlors to do their hair and paint their fingernails.

These women have no clear solutions to their pathetic condition either, nor the capacity to change their lot mainly because they are oppressed by their lack of skills and by distorted knowledge of those who claim to liberate them. Their pathetic conditions are further complicated by the fact that they do not realize that their knowledge of Islam relies on secondary conflicting sources instead of relying on the Quran.

They may recite the Quran many times during daily prayers asking for God's help, but they have been mostly absent from extracting meanings directly from the Quran by themselves and for themselves in order to challenge false representations of Islam. Such representations are those that resulted in segregating men and women, secluding women in the name of modesty, and sometimes preventing them from accessing education in institutions, discouraging or preventing them from congregation and prayer and community decision making, but above all, denying them the direct identification with the Quran as an autonomous person.

In other words, they have been absent from the decision making process in which representations of Islam and themselves have been developed largely by Muslim males and particularly, partially, by non-Muslims. It is fair, therefore, to suggest that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, would be amazed at the current perceptions of Islam and at the Muslims practice of it.

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Because people foil Islam in the images of their own beliefs. The sad part is that most Muslims, regardless of their university education, have also brought in the idea that Islam is a private religion. They have bought in the idea thinking that by merely imitating the image and reported actions of the Prophet that they have mastered their religious duties and fulfilled the Islamic identity. Although the Quran instructs, "Take what the messenger has brought you and leave what he prevented you from doing. By elevating these traditions from their second place as a source of Islam known as Hadith or Sunnah to the same level of the Quran, being the primary source, they have violated the message of the Quran of, "no deity but God.

In addition, why the Prophet as an agent of change was willing to take a risk by challenging the common sense knowledge of the time, the majority of today's Muslims are not willing to abandon the certain old interpretations of Islam that are misleading and unjust and replace them with egalitarian intention as outlined in the only divine source, the Quran. Hence, it is also fair to state that the true message of Islam concerning women has rarely been practiced for the past 14 centuries.

It is fair, let me repeat, that the true message of Islam concerning women has rarely been practiced for the past 14 centuries because most representations of Islam are based on the reported traditions and without being corroborated with the Quran. Consequently, the search for understanding Muslim women cannot be separated from understanding historical events that surrounds them.

Neither can it be completely secularized or viewed separately from the belief system it represents. It is next to impossible for a non-Muslim mind to comprehend any Muslim phenomenon without trying to find a representation in his or her own belief system even when she uses a nonreligious model. Likewise, it will be next to impossible for a Muslim male to explain issues without retrieving past interpretations developed by male jurists who rely mainly on reported prophetic traditions.

Hence, we Muslim women, scholar, activists are re-interpreting the Quran with a Quranic frame of reference that does not propagate old interpretations. We are leading this process of identifying with the message of the Quran interpreting on our own in order to understand Islam beyond the rituals and to rethink the message of tawhid, or, there is no deity but God. We need to understand this message in order to implement it fully in time and place. To conclude, have Muslim women's interpretation of the Quran helped? Intimate reading of the message of the Quran that the prophets carried for 22 years continue to be missed even by some Muslim female leaders, including Ingrid Mattson, the first Muslim female president of ISNA, or the largest Muslim organization in North America.

When she became president in , she did not lead the co-educational prayer, congregation prayer, with the excuse that there was no precedent in the prophetic tradition. This is not only perplexing but it is frightening. First, there was a precedent. And there is no specific narrative that prevents women from leading co-ed congregational prayer. Second, even if there was such a narrative, Dr. Mattson seems to have forgotten that the Quranic meaning of [?

But it starts with the congregational leadership being the most important process of educating for change in premises and perceptions. We should remember that the Quran was the only written source during the life of the Prophet Muhammad, and for more than years after his death, and before his biographies and traditions were collected. As the second source of Islam, again, called Hadith or Sunnah, these traditions, essential as they may be, the majority of which were abused by male interpreters like what is happening with regards to attire and seclusion.

We should also remember that when we talk about religious revivalism, Muslims are not alone in experiencing identity crisis. According to Oliver Roy, this identity crisis is in response to "the post cultural society," and is the foundation of contemporary religious revivalism not only among Muslims but also among other religious groups.

Different views

Moreover, my research findings suggest that this religious revivalism among fundamentalists, Christians, Jews, and others is one of the factors that incited Western Muslims to adapt fundamentalist views which traveled East. Thus the rush of the neo scholars of Islam to attribute fundamentalist and extremist views to particular Muslim order or author, to one Muslim country, or to one people, or to Sharia, needs to be put to rest.

This is the second essential step in rethinking the crisis in understanding Islam and Muslim women. The conditions during the last decade of the 20th century were favorable and helped me and the majority of Muslim scholar activists to challenge the hijacked Islamic authority by Muslim males. Thus we have declared ourselves an independent authority in Quranic sciences, hoping that these transformative solutions will bring a meaningful reform for Muslim societies, a reform that entail building a new structure based on Islam as a world view that seeks egalitarian justice through mutual consultation of the entire community.

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My feeling is that our re-interpretation of the Quran has helped raising consciousness of some. But we still have a long way to go despite the certain path that we choose to take. I will only list three reasons and then close. First, our authority to interpret the Quran was hijacked by some Western fundamentalist groups when they intercepted our implementing the new meanings into actual change on the ground. The Western groups instigated their governments to pre end the work of female led NGOs in Muslim societies claiming to liberate Muslim women through wars.

For example, there are now s of so-called civil society organizations with political parties and foreign security companies in Iraq. But the conditions are worsening, especially for women. Also, since , numerous national and international conferences concerning Muslim women were held, but I do not see a Muslim women movement. The few scholar activists, like myself, who are struggling or scattered geographically and linguistically and disjointed by nationalistic sectarian and ethnic or intellectual affiliations, even when we recognize that this agreement in interpretation is one of Islams core principle that helped develop a vast civilization for about 1, years.

It is not reassuring to read the same traditional material on the website of nearly 50 different organizations speaking in the name of Muslim women. Because it makes me realize why none of these organizations are strong enough to be able to stand up and state, for example, that the action of the scholar, [? The reality is that the woman who lost her identity or moral autonomy with Islam for centuries will not emerge as an emancipated woman unless she admits that she was not actually practicing Islam but an interpretation of it that was done by others.

The second reason is that Muslims have lost their ability to directly relay the message of the Quran to its principal of keeping Quranic interpretation open in time and place wherein each individual bears a responsibility and a right as stated in the first order of the Quran. The Quran state, "Read in the name of God, who created human of [?

By using one tradition that's attributed to the Prophet to emphasize the extreme seclusion of women behind the head cover, which is mistakenly called hijab, or behind a curtain in a mosque, for instance, Muslims, particularly women, are ignoring the basic teaching of the Quran concerning modesty that does not necessarily require covering the hair, nor separating men and women.

Third, and last, some Western feminists co-opted our work and insisted on categorizing it as "Islamic feminism. Feminism is a creative theory intended to regain women's right and place in society, but mainly analyzing the social construct of gender as the unit of analysis from a secular perspective.

Islam, on the other hand, is an universal world view that propagates a single pair, the human pair, of a male and a female with equal rights and responsibilities spiritually, intellectually, and socially in trusteeship and leadership. The unit of analysis for Quranic interpretation is what the Quran means by the word [?

Each individual, it means, is responsible for building his or her own capacity to balance all these roles in a specific time and at a specific place within the guidelines of the Quran. To summarize, Muslims and non-Muslims have become more conservative in response to the challenges from within and from without. From within the current religious rights advocates and governing authorities in Muslim and non-Muslim countries are collaborating because they feel threatened by the new interpretations, despite the fact the so-called moderate or progressive groups are still weak in vision, organization, and strategies.

Scholars isolation is also blinded by the thought that it is enough to solve some social issues even when they are not necessarily specific to Muslim women, such as literacy, education, and domestic violence. They do not see that the situation requires a change in perception and attitude on the ground in order to combat the ignorance among the public who succumb to political corruption or brainwashing.

From with that, ideas of reforming Muslim societies molded after European Enlightenment or the American concept of democracy are creating further dichotomy between religious and civic affairs, causing populous unrest directly toward those who are different instead of self-reflecting and focusing on changing corrupt systems, dogmatism, and ignorance.

Western governments and private corporations complicate matters more by supporting dictatorships in Muslim countries and male leaderships in order to protect their own interests, producing further reactionary response by religious extremists on both sides who misuse weak traditions to propagate their own ends. Hence, the struggle will be difficult, long, and uncertain, but we, Muslim women scholar activists, few as we are, continue to lead the path by rethinking the Quranic message in the same prophetic spirit of tolerating people's needs in time and place.

Thank you for listening. As-salamu alaykum. And I think this is about as full as I've ever been in this room. Great turn out. I'm sure you'd be happy to answer some questions. I'm very happy to take any questions. Art, please go ahead. That's what-- this is-- keep looking for my next book.

And the campus store made a special effort to bring some extra copies for those who are interested. I'm not advertising, but just for your information.


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  6. Thank you for the question. Yes, sir. Go ahead. Another way, unfortunately, she puts her personnel experience before her specific-- before the specific guidance of how to interpret the Quran. So that's the one thing, if I see her, I would like to speak with her about. Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry, go ahead. The book was published in And I have received at least 20 reviews, all positive.

    And they're mainly by scholars, Muslims or non-Muslims who are well-known in the field. But the main point which is-- I will hope to try to avoid in the next book-- is that a little bit too academic for the generally reader. And therefore, what I've done is that I've translated it into Arabic, and with the help of a translator, of course. Though, my native language is Arabic, but because the thinking of the subject was done in English, it requires someone who is well versed in the translation back and forth.

    And when the publisher in Damascus, which is my native town, wanted to publish it after reading the introduction in translation, they were afraid to publish it. They said it was too radical. So I decided to take the permission from the University Press of Florida, the original publisher, and put the translation on my website.

    So for those who do not read English, and you know someone would read Arabic, and want to learn about the book, it is availability in its totality on my website, which is easy to locate through Google. So-- and I tried to simplify the language a little bit for the general reader, not to make it too academic. So that's a help. It is, however available electronically to all Cornell community, the library, and the provost-- thanks to the provost, who made a special effort to request that special permission for Cornell community to have the book available electronically as well as there are few copies-- paper copies.

    Hard copies, that was the original translation, and the paperback copies that was published in also available in the library. Now the text, I usually don't give it right away because there are many corrections along the way. Even when I'm reading it, I'm making corrections. And I like it to be as best as possible before it's given. But I will be happy in the long run maybe we could share that.

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    Now I come to your question. Yes, everyone of you could help. When they hear someone talking about Islam, to tell them, what is your source? Just ask them, what is your source? Where are you getting your information? Just to have them question the knowledge that is-- or the information that is being passed, how accurate it is?

    Thank you. Yes, Nancy. But, in adding to that, as a non-Muslim, what is our source for true Quranic interpretation? Nobody could claim there is true interpretation, otherwise, I would not be standing here. There is-- the message of the Quran, intact, in the book itself, which is being intact for the past 14 centuries, never been entered. If you want to read the Quran and it's translation, simple translation, the simplest one for the Western mind is the copy by Dalwud.

    That's a translation into English. The rendering of the Arabic that is originally-- I mean, the rendering of the Quran that's originally in Arabic, in English, the simplest one is in Dalwud. There is also the translation by Muhammad [? So the simplest, just main translation of the original text of the Arabic text of the Quran is in the last name Dalwud, now I forgot his first name. But you'll find it in the campus store.

    And then they say, well, this statement is in the Quran or this statement is in the Bible. And sure enough, it is.