Feminism, Islam and the Contemporary Gender Debate
INTRODUCTION Homo sapiens sapiens: thinking thinking human APPEARED 30000 years ago in Middle East, the only homo to spread to all continents of Eart/ brain 2 times the size of earlier hominids /capacity for Language. Surah Araaf says that early descendants of 1st human pair were monotheists, lived for centuries as nomad hunter /gatherers with a Rough Equality between men and women Uptill the Agricultural Revolution/Domestication of Animals (8000 -5000 BC) when they settled in Village Cultures. The availability of cereals increased birth rates necessitating women to stay home for Reproductive Role of child in the Private sphere and economic and political tasks in the Public sphere were taken over by men assuming the role of Defender and Owners
REPRODUCTIVE ROLE WAS RELEGATED AS INVISIBLE WORK AND PRODUCTIVE ROLE ASSUMED SOCIO ECONOMIC VALUE Growth of Civilization (3500 BC) further manifested Gender Apartheid when; 1. CLASS SYSTEM based on Division of labor evolved. Women had no place in hierarchy and performed all invisible supporting work in each Social Class CLERGY gained power as lawgivers and Warlords became KINGS founding PALACE TEMPLE ALLIANCE and DESPOTIC ABSOLUTISM (2500 BC). CLERGY monopolized religion and the POWERFUL subjugated the vulnerable. In the Games of Power Control and Ownership, women were the worst hit. 2. Over the passage of Centuries women lost share in all resources became an article of ownership/pleasure. The 1st case of Sati is documented in 5th century AD a time by which women had become victims of slavery, infanticide, discrimination, prostitution and had been reduced to the lowest ebbs of Self Esteem.
This Darkness was quelled by the light of Monotheism when Islam was revealed via Prophet Muhammad ( SAW) to once again spread the message of Justice and Equality among Descendants of the 1st human pair by manifesting the Unity of God Yeh Aik Sajda Jissai tu Giraan Samajhta Hai Hazaar Sajdoan Se Daeta Hai Admi ko Nijaat Islam Gave women all socio political rights. Majority of Islamists interviewed in my Doctoral research said that in its complete worldviewQuran specially its familio legal section in Surah Baqara and Nisa, seem to favor women more than men Feminism and Islam Quran Defines Muslims This is How we Ordained You to be A People Most Balanced ( Umat ul Wast) So that You can be a Model to others and Prophet be a Model To You ( Surah Baqara ; 143)
Our primary textbooks say that our Holy prophet sewed his own clothes, did a sick womans housework etc. One renowned Islamist interviewee in my resaerch said that milking goats was an established womans work in Arabia and our Prophet by his action demolished the wall in sexual division of labor Definition of Feminism Feminism is the awareness of Womens oppression, subordination and exploitation in society, at work and within the family and a conscious action by women and men to change this situation. (Khan, 1991: 271) First English translator of Quran Marmaduke Pikthall rightly described Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) as first feminist of the world. Presently the origin of Feminism as a movement is linked to the democratic revolution of 18th century AD in United States when Abigail Adams, wife of John Adam, 4th President of United States, politely requested her spouse to remember the ladies while framing the American Constitution But a fact most conveniently ignored by Muslim His Story is that the 1st gender conscious voice was raised much before Mrs. Adams in 7th century Arabia when Islam elevated womens self esteem to a level that Hazrat Umme Salama on behalf of some Muslim women questioned her husband Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) that Why Allah did not appear to address women in Quran .Her contention resulted in revelation of verse 33 of Surah Al Ahzaab whereby Quran sets out without ambiguity the basic equality of men and women in Islam. Khudi ka Sirre Nihaan LA ILLAHA IL ALLAH 1.
2. 3. 4. Muslim women During the era of the Holy Prophet fulfilled all classical criteria of participation in the development of Islam. They directly took their Baya with the Prophet 1552 Sahabiat learnt religion from holy Prophet along with male Sahaba Women are acknowledged as narrators of Ahadith Quranic legislations had backgrounds called occasions of revelation. Tibri portrays Muslim women as active precursors of the asbab-e-nazul Islam negated the stereotypical female image of dependence, emotional volatility and weakness as they fought in battles and participated in Hijra. Womens Reproductive Role was equated with the Productive role when Islam attached monetary value to housework/breastfeeding. Muslim women inherited Property but were made free of all financial familial liabilities and obligations. However because Misogyny was entrenched in cultures of new Muslims and as Islam is based by Allah in reason so GRADUALISM had to be the main feature of the Quranic revolution. However in its essence Islam contains within its teachings seeds for fundamental changes in the status of Women for all times to come. Era of the 4 Righteous Caliphs and women of Prophets household
Women during the era of Righteous Caliphs were scholars, poets, teachers of men intellectuals, businesspersons, faqihas Muhaddasat and were socially active Hazrat Fatima stood up for her property rights during the Era of 1 st Caliph Ume Waraqa was an imam during 2nd Caliphs rule. Women were owners of their Mehr according to Islam so by the time of Hazrat Umar their demands became so high that men protested, wanting an upper limit on Mehr amount. Women confronted this effort contending this and Hazrat Umar agreed Hazrat Aisha lead a war against the 4th Caliph and opposed the First Umayyad ruler Amir Muawiyah, when he appointed his son Yazeed as his heir. Hazrat Aishas Hadith transmission counts for 15% of basis of Sharia Law Women of Prophets household were participants in the resistance put up at Karbala against turning the Caliphate into ABSOLUTE RULE and making it a hereditary office. Umayyad (661-750 AD) and Abbasid (750-1258 AD) eras Muslim History is a chronicle of women eminence in the era of Prophet and 4 Righteous Caliphs and their later decline in the Umayyad and Abbasid eras Umayyads had seized Power by violence, founded a dynasty, moved the capital from Medina to Damascus, adopted Roman Byzantine systems The Abbasids replaced the Umayyads, moved the capital to Baghdad adopting Persian Sasanian traditions. These Conquests also brought African/European/Asian slave women to markets of Damascus and Baghdad. Thus by 2nd century AH aristocratic women seem to disappear from political centre stage and historical chronicles and are replaced by the Jariya (the
slave woman) as she obeyed more readily than the hurra ( free woman) The rule with a slave is that anything can be obtained by being pliable, by begging or being seductive but no demands can be made on an equitable footing Thus those who argue that role of Muslim public and women is to obey and not to think freely, draw this opinion not from the eras of Holy Prophet and 4 righteous Caliphs but from later dynastic eras of ABSOLUTE RULE. Umayyad/Abbasid era was a time of rapid conquests conversion to Islam, civil wars, sectarian/ social conflict, so a consensus on religious legal issues became necessary. The State collaborated with Ulema to form a Palace Temple Alliance influencing
the development of Hadith Tafsir and Sharia on Orthodox, Absolute, Patriarchal lines. From the late Umayyad / early Abbasid era, Tafsir assumed a central role in Islamic scholarship and began to be confused with Quran. Ayat means a clue and Ayahs are valid till eternity, however whenever the facts explained in Quran were beyond available human knowledge at that point in history scholars explained them through their pretext introducing Al- Israiliyat in Tafsir. Quran was interpreted by men who excluded women from production of knowledge. Ancient Tafsir in Abbasid era began to be regarded as sacred and thus beyond question and was also given a license to participate in the building of Sharia Law. Thus despite their mutual differences all the four Sunni schools of law as well as the Jaffaria school of the Shias agree that women and men are not to be treated equally. Islam insists on the Masawaat (equality) of all believers before Allah but to the ancient jurists that did not mean the equality of all humans beings before Law. Marylyn French (1985) defines Patriarchy as a system that values Power over Life. The following facts contributed to growth of Sharia on Patriarchal lines After 10th century A.D. the Abbasid State, though itself not following the Law facilitated the growth of law on patriarchal lines.
Islamic Civilization began to fade in 12th century A.D so to avoid politicosocial fragmentation 4 Sunni Schools of Law reached an Ijma that their way of looking at Quran/Sunnah was enough for needs of Muslims for rest of history. Weak Abbasid State supported this Ijma and closure of the gates of Ijtehad to safeguard its fading power thus ending all new legal developments. Sharia whose literal meaning is flowing water was turned into a stagnant pond. Patriarchy assimilated in Muslim epistemology via customs of conquered lands Defeat of Abbasids by Mongols in 1258 AD further aggravated this process Period of most definite work on Tafsir Sharia Hadith coincides with European Middle Ages (500-1500 A.D.) so misogyny of that period was assimilated in Islamic epistemology through the Christian and Jewish converts. Thus a decline in Muslim womens status can be easily traced by comparative study of the Tafsir of Tabri (d. 923 A.D.) Zamakshari (d. 1144 A.D.) Badawi (d. 1286 A.D) and Al Sayuti (d. 1550 A.D.) Tabaris Tafsir is the most enlightened
and Al Sayutis Tafsir the most patriarchal among them Muslim Contribution to Europes Renaissance and Enlightenment 1300 A.D. -1900 A.D Muslims had improved on Greek Syrian, Persian, Chinese, Indian knowledge emerging as Islamic Civilization forming the base for European Renaissance. Charlemagne the Holy Roman Emperor in 800 A.D. following Muslim advances in education in Spain started efforts to improve education in Europe. So by 1200 A.D. learning level of France matched that of the Muslims and by 1500 A.D. universities had been built in all major Towns of Europe. Students came to study from all over Europe to the Universities in Muslim Spain as higher education in Christian areas was a privilege of clergy. Muslim Women in Spain attended tournaments and mutual contacts between women and men were conducted with Chivalry, a tradition that was later adopted by the Europeans as they came out of the Middle Ages, repackaging Islams message of human rights and naming it Liberalism Philosopher Francis Bacon has accepted the great contribution of Muslims to the European Renaissance and Enlightenment. Freedom for all was the aim of Enlightenment and by mid 18 th century it became a core Western value. By product of Western Enlightenment was Unitarian Protestestants Faith that rejected the authority of clergy, concept of Trinity and Believed in ONE GOD The spirit of human rights at the basis of Feminism is also rooted in Enlightenment and the earliest Western feminists Mary Wollstonecraft and Abigail Adams were both Unitarian Protestant Christians meaning that they were believers in the Unity of God .
Yoon Haath Nahin Ata Woh Gauhar-e-Yakdana (One God) Yakrangi o Azadi hai Himat e Mardana Re Emergence of Muslim Feminism Feminism as western liberal idea of gender equality reached Muslim areas by end of 19 th century. Its first proponents were Muslim men who responded to Orientalist/ and Christian Missionary attacks on Muslim womens unequal status Thus the Struggle for Womens rights (FEMINISM) completed its Full Circle by the 19 th 20th century when it re-emerged among Muslims and women in Hazrat Umme Salaamas tradition started quesioning Why are we Equal before Allah and Unequal before Man? In 19th century, Muslim women like Tahira Qurat ul Ain (Iran) Fatima Aliya Hanim (Turkey) Aisha Al Taimuriyah (Egypt) highlighted Muslim womens rights. First woman to explore Quran for this purpose was Aisha Abdul Rahman (1913-1998). She criticize the early Mufassirs for women bias. Ruqayya Sakhawat of India in 1904 said that men use religion to suppress women. Women activism arose in Iran in 1905 as women took part in the Constitutional agitation and Iranian Dcevad Sade was on the committee of Clara Zatkins Communist Womens International. In 1923 Egyptian Huda Sharawi launched the secular Egyptian Feminist Union 1st woman to reread Islam in context of womens rights was Nazira Zain-al-Din.
Men have written about 3000 Tafsirs but ironically only one Tafsir of mediocre caliber has been written by a woman Zainab-al-Ghazali (1917- 2005) From these initial steps during first 3 decades of 20 th century till 1970s-80s feminism in Muslim areas was overshadowed by secular feminism that arose out of the Nationalist discourse of the first half of 20th century when Muslim women were made a part of the National Independence struggles only to be sent back to Private Sphere after freedom was gained. However after 1970s Islam based feminism re-emerged as part of a response to the failure of post independence Nation State to fulfill its development promises United States Decade of Women (1975-1985) focused on womens rights and on re-examination of patriarchal religious interpretations in Islamic Countries. But this trend again faced a set back after the Islamic Revolution in Iran and U.S. backed Resistance in Afghanistan, enabling some Absolute despotic Muslim regimes to frame discriminatory Laws against women in Islams name. This patriarchal trend again watered the seed of Muslim womens theological enquiry. MUSLIM WOMENS THEOLOGY is being attempted by Islamic Feminists and Miriam Cooke defines their strategies as a Multiple Critique because 1. They reject Western Ethnocentrism. 2. They object to male bias and that Quran was historically interpreted by men, 3. They question Islamic epistemology as part of their faith and not its rejection 4. They call for a new vision of women inspired from the early period of Islam.
In 1982 Womens Studies International for 1st time invited Muslim women Aziza Hibri, Nawal Sadawi and Fatima Mernissi to write articles. Hibri contributed her famous article Study of the Islamic Her story During Zia Regimes anti women policies in 1983, some WAF activists endeavored to reveal the real Islam through its progressive interpretations. However sharp divisions emerged on the issue as upper middle class women with liberal views protested against bringing Islam in the debate but the lower middle - working class women seemed very satisfied with this approach WAF invited a Pakistani American scholar Dr. Riffat Hassan in 1983-84 and she is the 1st scholar who in 1985 began emphasizing the equality of sexes that can be understood through the story of human creation in Quran. Fatima Mernissi a secular feminist wrote her book Women and Islam (1991) and based it on the re-readings of Hadith and Islamic history. Amina Wadud wrote Quran and Women(1992), a Tafsir re-reading and Shaheen Sardar Ali wrote Gender and Human Rights in Islam(1999) By 1990 Islamists also entered the debate. Sisters in Islamcame up in 1991 in Malaysia, similar groups were seen in Karachi University (1992) in Jordan (1995) Feminist re-readings completed a full circle when Dr Zafar Ishaq Ansari the editor of the journal of Islamic Research Institute wrote in the editorial in 2003
We believe that a serious effort should be made to understand the views of Muslim feminists instead of trying to ignore or suppress them. Streams of Muslim Feminism Streams of Muslim Feminism: A Swedish theologist, Jan Harpe had initially pointed out 4 feminist trends within the Muslims 1. Atheist Feminism: believes women can never get rights within a religious contexts 2.Secular Feminism among Muslim identifies with Western secularism, reflecting the point of view of upper and upper middle class women who promote western gender stereo types. It surfaced during first half of the 20th century when Muslims were struggling for freedom and the women question merged into issues of national identity. Muslim secular feminists follow a western inspired understanding of women rights. However they are today a major force exposing injustices faced by the Muslim women e.g. Asma Jehangir, Nighat Said Khan (Pakistan) Shireen Abadi (Iran) etc. 3. Muslim Feminism is a category of Muslim activists standing at a mid point position between the Secular Feminists and the ultra conservative Islamists. e.g. Fatima Mernissi (Moroccan), Aziza Al Hibri (American Muslim lawyer) etc. 4.Islamic Feminism: stands at a bridge separating the Muslim Feminists and the
Islamists. Miriam Cooke says that Wherever Muslim women offer a critique of Islamic history or epistemology and emphasize their right to participate in a just community I call them Islamic feminists. Author categorizes Amina Wadud, Riffat Hassan, (Americans) Shaheen Sardar Ali and Dr. Riffat Haq as Islamic Feminists Asad (2005) highlighted 2 other streams emerging among Muslims in 1980s-90s (5)Pragmatic Feminism: Pervin Paidar cited this trend from her observations in Iran and may include Secular and Muslim Feminists. After the preposition of Law of Evidence in 1982, WAF sent a paper based on women friendly interpretations of Islamic texts to the members of Majlis-e-Shura. Mumtaz and Shaheed describe WAFs stand at that point of time as Pragmatic. 6. The Islamists; After 1990s the Islamists have also joined this debate, stressing on the liberating potential that Islam has for women. They take the re emerging hijab as a symbol of rejection of Western values and they adopt it as a political uniform. e.g Sisters in Islam' (Malaysia), Dr Farhat Hashmi (Pakistan) Muslim scholars /activists of above mentioned streams belong to a diverse category of Liberal / Revivalist Muslims. Among them Isalmic feminists are pioneers as Muslim Women Theology MUSLIM WOMEN CENTRED THEOLOGICAL ENQUIRY Muslim Women's Theological Enquiry is the endeavor of Islamic Feminists (men and Women) and few Muslim Feminists. Its most common issues are;
1. Re evaluation of Islamic Sources; Read understand and study Quran, Hadith to redefine Muslim womens status (Amina Wadud, Riffat Hassan etc.) and re evaluate Fiqh to reestablish the claim of Muslim women on Islamic Law ( Aziza Hibri and many others) 2. Criticism of the Use of Islamic Holy Sources; They contend that Islamic Holy sources are epitomes of Masaawat ( equality) Adal ( Justice) Ahsaan ( Benovalence for vulnerable ) for all human beings but they are used as a source to oppress rather than liberate. 3. Ctiticism of the interpretation of Islamic Holy Sources; For example Abdul Karim Saroush says that 1400 years discriminatory interpretations on women have been produced these are not religion but interpretations of religion. (Saroush in Mir Hosseni 2000; 253) 4. Equality of Men and Women in the Quran; According to Margot Badran ( 2003) Muslim Womens Theological Enquiry consists of the application of hermeneutics to Quran;s Tafsir ( exegetical Studies) and contesting claims of female inferiority . It basically takes three approacoes a. Revisting ayaats of Quran to correct the introduction of al israiliyaat on ccounts of Human Creation and accounts of Human Fall from Heaven that support male superiority b. Citing Ayaat that enunciate equality of men and women inn Quran c. Deconstructing and rereading ayyats that have been since centuries interpreted in ways that justify male domonation. Islams Concept of Femininity and Masculinity
Focus of Islamic thought is on male and female qualities not on men and women and raises deep questions. Who is the real man? Who is the real Woman? Human beings manifest the Names of Allah who has a Jalal side (masculine, powerful majesty) and Jamal side (feminine, wonderful kindness) that fall together in Allah as Kamal. Theologians see a reference to the Divine Names of God (2 complementary categories) in the Quranic expression two hands of Allah. Quran states that only human beings among all other creatures were created with two hands of God (Quran 38: 76) there is also a Hadith that both the hands of God are Right (positive) hands Quran quotes God as saying that Of everything We created a pair. One such pair is the Pen (Qalam) and the Tablet ( Loh) the symbol of Divine Intellect is the Pen (masculine) and the Divine Message (Quran) is preserved in the Tablet (Al-Loh-e- Mahfooz, the Universal Soul or Feminity) Iqbal in the praise of Allah says Loh bhi tou Qalam bhi tou Tera Wajood Alkitab Another pair is the Arabic alphabets Alif and Bai: The Arabic Alif stands for The Divine Creator, Allah symbolizing Divine Intellect (The First Intelligence) also represented as Qalam.( The First Intellect) Alif also represents the masculine in the pair Alif Bai whereas Bai represents the feminine in this pair . The Arabic Alphabet Bai also symbolizes the Loh (Universal Soul).
The power of the alphabet Bai : The first word of Quran is Bismillah. The first Ayat of Quran is Bismillahir- Rahmanir- Rahim. Thus the alphabet with which Quran starts is Bai. There is a famous saying of Hazrat Ali that If I start disclosing to you the secrets and powers of the Alphabet Bai of Bismillahir- Rahmanir-Rahim, all the water in all the oceans, if turned into ink, will finish but the explanation of the attributes of alphabet Bai will still not be complete. According to Islamic thought Quran is summarized by Allah in Surah Al Fatiha (Alhamd Sharif) and Surah Al Fatiha is summarized in the first Ayat of Quran which is Bismillahir- Rahmanir- Rahim and Bismillah is summarized in Alphabet Bai Islamic thought views women and men as 2 kinds of human being performing complementary functions. Humans manifest the 99 Names/Attributes of Allah who has a Jalal (masculine, powerful majesty) side and a Jamal (feminine,
wonderful kindness) side, that fall together in Allah as his Kamal. It is said that Allahs Jamali Attributes/ Names are more abundant than his Jalali Attributes. Thus his Jamal (Rahm), out weighs his Jalal (Qahr and Jabar). As Gods mercy (femininity) precedes His wrath (masculinity), so remaining within this framework, the goal for a Muslim feminist/ is to again re-establish in this world the vision of The Divine Feminine The Al Rahman-i- Raheem. Though women despite the Devine message of Justice and Equality in Quran are still imprisoned in the dungeon of tribal-feudal cultures. I end this Presentation sounding the bugle of protest following in footsteps of Hazrat Umme Salaama and raising the slogan of the Musalman gender activists that If You will Subjugate Me in the Name of God then by God I Will Stand Up and Rise in the Name of God
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