By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam
25 July 2017
A non Muslim woman goes to her Muslim
neighbour and asks if she could borrow a copy of the Qur’an.
“Of course, “says the Muslim. “We’ve got
plenty! Let me get you one from my library.”
A week later, the non Muslim returns.
“Thanks so much,” she says. “Fascinating.
But I wonder, could you give me a copy of the other Qur’an?”
“Um, you’re holding it,” says the Muslim.
“Yeah, I read this,” replies the non
Muslim. “But I need a copy of the Qur’an that’s followed by Muslims.”
The joke is right. All this talk about discriminating oppression
women is not what the Qur’an says!”
In recent years, on account of the global socio-political climate, the
phrase ‘Muslim woman’ might conjure an image of stubborn stereotypes:
supposedly powerless and oppressed, behind walls and veils, demure, voiceless
and silent figures, discriminated and bereft of even basic rights. This picture
keeps reinforcing itself, largely because this is how the Western media
caricatures women in Islam.
Contrary to the Eurocentric viewpoint,
Muslim women are not a blank slate. When they are given the opportunity, Muslim
women are integrating, participating in civic, economic and social life while
raising children who are productive members of society. Muslim women across
South Asia are slowly getting empowered to stand up to patriarchal practices
that undermine their dignity. They believe that rights have been accorded to
them in foundational Islamic texts but that cultural interpretations of these
same texts disallow what is rightfully theirs. They do not call this a feminist
struggle but describe it as reclamation of their faith.
prevailed in the early centuries of Islam was a radically different version of
Islamic tradition. Its luminaries included women like Ummal-Darda, a
seventh-century jurist and scholar who taught jurisprudence in the mosques of Damascus
Her students were men, women, and even the
caliph. The fourteenth- century Syrian scholar Fatimah al- Bataihiyyah, who
taught both men and women in the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, drawing students
from as far away as Fez.
The Women Scholars in Islam, a seminal work
by Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi, stands as a riposte to the notion, peddled from
Jakarta l to Morocco, that Islamic knowledge is men’s work and always has been.
“I do not know of another religious tradition in which women were so central,
so present, and so active in its formative history,” Akram wrote.
Women scholars taught judges and imams,
issued Fatwas, and travelled to distant cities. Some made lecture tours across
the Middle East.
Qur’an’s message of equality resonated in
the teaching that women and men have been created from a single self and is
each other’s guides who have the mutual obligation to enjoin what is right and
to forbid what is wrong.
A lot of inspirational women, who were
strong, vocal, and fighting for their rights, none of them felt that their
faith was at odds with their conviction that they, as women, should be equal
Muslim women’s activism around education
and equal opportunities are often underpinned by their emancipatory readings of
foundational Islamic texts. They are now also challenging patriarchy around unequal power hierarchies in society
and the objectification of women’s bodies in some sections of the media .In
this regard they stand with their sisters of all hues and stripes.
Part of the dilemma of women’s positions in
Muslim society stems not so much from the principles of Islam itself but from
extremely conservative interpretations of Islam or from the practice of
traditional customs considered to be “Islamic”. A new breed of Islamist
femininists is emerging that is making a strong pitch for “real” Islam, not
tradition. Women are studying the Quran and Islamic law in order to challenge
conservative male-dominated interpretations rejects tradition and demand
application of true Islamic norms. Muslim women are boldly challenging
traditions in many parts of the Muslim world provoking a split between Islamic
modernists and traditionalists on their place in society.
The debate over women’s rights within Islam
is not a new one. For centuries, Islamic scholars, thinkers, and activists have
been pondering this question of women’s rights, and reaching very different
answers. In today’s increasingly global world, however, the stakes are higher
than ever—for everyone. In Islam, a woman is seen as an individual in her own
right, an independent entity, and not as a shadow or adjunct to her husband or
any other male. Muslim women are entitled to education, work, business
ownership, and inheritance the same way as men are.
Although traditionally excluded from the
public male domain, Muslim women have been privately involved in study and oral
transmission of Islamic source texts (Qur’an and Hadith). In modern times, they
have entered into both secular and religious forms of education with
enthusiasm. Central to Islamic belief is the importance and high value placed
on education. From the true Islamic point of view, education should be freely
and equally available to women as much as men.
closer look at and evaluation of the roles Muslim women have played in many
fields including literature, law, art, Islamic studies, the humanities, social
sciences and administration — reveals that women, past and present, have
achieved and made a rich contribution to the intellectual and cultural life in
the Islamic world, despite the ways in which they have been caught in the
problematic intersections of thought and patriarchal politics. From the first
centuries of Islam, women were respected – and held authority – as religious
scholars, teachers and leaders, for example as narrators and teachers of
The modern Muslim woman draws her
inspiration from the example of Sukayna, the brilliant, beautiful
great-granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad who was married several times and,
at least in one of her marriages, stipulated in writing that her husband was
forbidden to disagree with her about anything.
Islamic feminists insist that Islam, at its
core, is progressive for women and supports equal opportunities for men and
women alike. Deeply religious, profoundly determined and modern in every way,
they are challenging not only the unjust restrictions placed on them by their
own societies, but also the tired stereotypes and empty generalizations placed
on them by the West. Some of the leading proponents are actually
men—distinguished scholars who contend that Islam was radically egalitarian for
its time and remains so in many of its texts.
Women are chipping away at those customs
that they consider oppressive. To the reactionaries who accuse them of deviating from Islam, Islamic feminists argue
there is a difference between Islamic jurisprudence—a man-made legal
scaffolding developed for the specific conditions of medieval Muslim life—and
the divine law itself, which is eternal,
immutable and calls for justice. It’s not the Quran they question, but
how particular and skewed interpretations of it have solidified into truth.
Islam may not always be the sole factor in
the repression of women. Local, social, political, economic and educational forces as well as the
prevalence of pre-Islamic customs must also be taken into consideration. In some societies they are a pervasive
influence. But in many cases proper
application of the Sharia, Islamic law, remains a major obstacle to the
evolution of the position of women.
Women are now elbowing their way into
political and civil society, and universities. Despite present cultural and
political obstacles, they are finding opportunities to rise up -- and to bring
their societies up with them. They recognize
the key is to do so from within the Islamic realm.
Across the Muslim world, Islamic feminists are
combing through centuries of Islamic jurisprudence to cull out and highlight
the more progressive aspects of their religion. They are seeking accommodation
between a modern role for women and the Islamic values that more than a billion
people in the world follow.
Western women should be respectful of other
paths to social change. it is ridiculous to parameterize social norms for universal contexts .The
western feminists cannot appropriate to themselves the wisdom or competence to
hand out certificates on the correctness or otherwise of female social norms.
The dominant western feminism has now become somewhat synonymous with a strong
sense of individualism. It has also contributed to creating a sense of rivalry
between men and women, which has a bearing upon child development and is not
conducive to a healthy family or society.
Few Muslim women outside the urban areas
may want to behave like western women. The high rate of divorce and sexual
disease are common consequences of the reckless drive to equate the sexes and
‘free’ sexual relationships. Comparison may mean little outside the cultural
context but it is important to point out that, until 100 years ago, western
women had virtually no rights in law or practice.
is for women of the respective
societies ,and not even their men, to
best evolve norms suited and appropriate to their cultural and social
values . First, there are multiple causes of discrimination against women, and
religion is but one. Second, it is futile to focus on misery elsewhere as an
escape from the realities of our own lives. Third gender relations influence
and determine women’s options in all societies. And fourth, the issue of power
remains crucial for understanding gender inequality in any society.
Few Muslim women may want to behave like western women. The
high rate of divorce and sexual disease are common consequences of the reckless
drive to equate the sexes and ‘free’ sexual relationships. Muslim women believe
that rights have been accorded to them in foundational Islamic texts but that
cultural interpretations of these texts disallow what is rightfully theirs.
They do not call this a feminist struggle but describe it as reclamation of
Comparison may mean little outside the
cultural context but it is important to point out that, until 100 years ago,
western women had virtually no rights in law or practice. Over 1,000 years
before the first European suffragette, Islam gave far-reaching rights and a
defined status to women. It smacks of shallowness of western female scholarship
that they are not aware of the richness of Islamic discourse on women .Islam
anticipates the demands of western feminists by more than 1,000 years. A
stay-at-home wife can specify that she expects to receive a regular stipend,
which is not that far from the goals of the Wages for Housework campaign of the
Western thinkers and practitioners must
reconsider their assumptions about the role of Islam in women’s rights and
approach this topic with a more nuanced lens. They must understand the
necessity of recognizing and consciously accepting the broad cultural
differences between western and non-western conceptions of autonomy as well as
respecting social standards that reflect non-western values.
For empowering women, men have to be
properly sensitized so that women are allowed both time and freedom and
opportunity to chart out a path of social and economic independence. Treating
women with the inherent dignity that they were created with, ensuring that they are given equitable opportunities to
succeed is necessary to uphold the Qur’an’s vision,
"O you who have attained to faith! Be
ever steadfast in upholding justice," (Q4:135).
It is clear that Muslim women’s
empowerment, like many things, cannot be imposed on a country or a culture from
the outside. Men and women within these conservative communities must first
find their own reasons and their own justifications to allow women a fuller role
in society. Increasingly, they are finding those reasons within Islam. . Like men, women deserve to be free.
Empowering women should be as much a man's responsibility, as it is a woman's
aspiration. As Rumi says in the Masnawi, “This woman, who is your beloved, is
in fact a ray of His light. She is not a mere creature. She is like a creator”.
today's increasingly global world, the stakes are higher than ever—for
everyone. Societies that limit women's educational and employment opportunities
and their political voice get stuck in a downward spiral. They are poorer, more
fragile, have higher levels of corruption, and are more prone to
To those opposed to reformist ideals, let
us remind them of Iqbal’s assertion: “[t]he teaching of the Qur’an that life is
a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but
unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its
Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a
Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four
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