Tag Archives: Women’s rights

Islam, The Female Scholar and Tradition

 

ramadan_2012_17-350x245There are prevailing misconceptions within Christian communities that Muslims hate Christians and that women are oppressed by Islamic teachings. It is widely reinforced by many Christian leaders. The most profound revelation was the reality of their limited interest in understanding beyond their perceptions and preconceived notions.

They see Muslims as monolithic. We are only Shia or Sunni and if we even divert from their perceived “oppressive,” “hate filled” and “violent,” understanding of Islam, we must be Sufi; completely misunderstanding our schools of thought, diversity within our communities and relevance in modern society. They miss the multitude of complexity and individuality within Islam.

In Islam we have no hierarchy of clergy. There are scholars of different scopes, from social policy, language, history, law and interpretation. There is no governing body of Muslims. There is a tradition of personal responsibility and individual commitment to scholarship. There are schools of thought and their proponents. In that sense, many Muslims will follow a school of thought which closely resembles their scholarship and others also follow proponents of those schools of thought.

The Islamic orthodoxy of law is quite vast and versatile, although there are hindrances to that versatility. There are issues that have led to some scholars blindly following certain fixed schools of thought, and in turn to the subjugation of religious values to popular culture; thus our current dilemma/dichotomy.

“Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.” (Quran 8:22)

In many patriarchal societies the role of the woman Imam or scholar is limited to preaching and teaching other women, regardless of the core of Islamic teaching that men and women are equal and both are teachers of Islam to each other.

Since immigrants are still the major stakeholders in the Mosques, most mosques have not had a female board member, executive director and have never had a woman scholar or preacher speak to the community.

This perspective of patriarchy does not reflect on the teachings of Islam. It reflects on the cultural factors of a society and within what have become socially acceptable norms.

“The believing men and women are patrons of each other. They command to good, rebuke evil, establish prayers, give alms, obeying God and His messenger. They will have God’s mercy. Indeed God is Mighty and Wise.” (Qur’an, 9:71)

This verse, like many others, puts men and women on equal footing regarding the practice of religion. It is especially significant because its linguistics equates men and women working together in preaching.

Early Islamic leaders recognized the importance of women in society as leaders and reformers in a time when women in the world were seen as of little significance, Islam gave women a voice and rights.

“Back in the days of ignorance before Islam, we didn’t consider women of much significance at all. This all changed with the emergence of Islam in which God mentioned them with respect and gave them new rights then we realized their rights over us.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 5843)

“Sometimes we the companions of Muhammad would get confused about Islamic teachings. We would then go and ask Aisha about itand we found she always had the knowledge we were seeking in it.” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi, 3883)

“I never saw anyone more knowledgeable of the Qur’an, Islamic Law, poetry, Arab history and lineages than Aisha  (may God be pleased with her).” (Al-Hakim, 4/11)jewelofmedina460

Aisha being a great female scholar of Islam, wife of the prophet and religious leader in her own right even after his death, spoke to, counseled and was the influence to many of the Caliphs which were to follow.

Female scholars were the teachers of the male scholars and leaders of Islam in Islamic history.

The exceptional women of Islam are too numerous to name. Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr is only one of many. Zainab bint Kamal taught hadiths in the 12th century. Umm al-Darda became a teacher of hadith and fiqh and lectured in the men’s section. One of her students was the caliph of Damascus. The Prophet taught that there is no difference in worth between believers on account of their gender.

The gross violations of women’s rights in the Muslim world today, relegating the Muslim woman only to the role of a mother and housewife is a relatively modern phenomenon. In early Islam women were the driving force in the formation of Islamic history. Fatimah supported the prophet and was his counsel. Aisha Led an Army.

In the religion of Islam, there is no original sin. Men and women bear equal responsibility. Many traditions have grown weak and women have been relegated in patriarchal societies to second class citizens, contrary to the core teachings of Islam, with cultural norms overtaking the religious teachings of Islamic tradition and the female role in Islam in many cultures.

Women scholars spent their lives in pursuit of historical facts. Historical criticism is a fundamental principle in Islam.

The Qur’an requires

“O believers! If any iniquitous person comes to you with a slanderous tale, verify it, lest you hurt people unwittingly…” (49:6)

Many Muslims have strayed from scholarly tradition and have become used to certain ways of dealing; that does not mean that our traditional sources of law are not relevant in modern society. These traditions to include the female scholar are better suited for modern society and helping to identify in regard to social issues.

It is important not to judge Islam by the state of nationalist and conservative mindsets refusing to proceed with the progressive and forward thinking nature of Islam. The religious doctrine does not support the cultural norms of these nationalists. The religion of Islam is much bigger than that. There are generations who laid the foundation of modern civilization.

Islam is more than capable of addressing and resolving many contemporary issues. There is an obligation within Islam to provide the tools and a setting to address issues like racism, misogyny and oppression that have been lost on those who refuse to remain relevant.

To address the question for Christians about where Islam and Muslims stand on Christianity; there is only to look at the Quran, the words and mandates of the prophet Muhammad for answers.

Muhammad saw Christians as part of our community, our people, to be allowed freedom of religion and protection from oppression and religious suppression as evidenced in his writings and promises to Christian communities.

The Quran expresses religious unity between Jews, Muslims and Christians as one community with many paths to the same destinations and refers to Jews, Muslims and Christians as “the believers.”

“Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)

Preachers who teach falsehoods of a dubious nature to subvert pluralism and unity will lead their followers astray and thrive on sectarianism. A thinking population is always dangerous to the status quo. A religion that was only devised to control and cheat people would never expose religious preachers like this, for it would be against their very interests,

“And they (the common people) will say: O our Sustainer! Behold, we paid heed unto our leaders and our great men, and it is they who have led us astray from the right path!” (Quran, 33:67)

Islam teaches Muslims to be free and critical thinkers, to question everything and then question it again.

The Quran tells Muslims to think for themselves, to uphold justice, to speak up and speak out against injustice and oppression.

The Quran expresses the need for social justice and the mandate in fighting oppression. Islam is not a religion that only gives you dogma to follow blindly, in return for some grand reward of paradise. Instead it expects one to use intellect and resourcefulness to help those less fortunate and vulnerable in society and to do all this in the pursuit of justice.

The Quran establishes that faith is only the beginning on the path. It isn’t the end of the journey. And on that journey are men and women on equal stance.

Contrary to popular belief, women are not subjugated by Islam, they are empowered by it. They have played an important part from the beginning, as teachers, preachers, warriors and leaders.

Research can present women with confidence in their role in Islam, while some are confined to their homes because of cultural norms others are vying for and fighting for leadership  throughout the Muslim world.

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The Quran in Context

3696176326_e1fe5d8d04_thumb[1]The Quran is a guide to social progress established in a time when there was little freedom of choice, equality or social justice in the ancient Arabian world. The terms by which many of the ideas of justice are based are very much established beliefs within Islam and throughout the progressive world. Early Muslims were problem solvers. To Muslims, the Quran is considered a revelation from God and historically a great piece of literature.

Over time dogma, culture and traditions have over taken the progressive nature of the Quranic experience in the time of  Prophet Muhammad and his contemporaries. Whereas it once resolved social, political and economic  issues; dogma , contrary to the Islamic teaching has changed the direction of  contemporary  Islam .  It has become the tool of regressive and conservative mindsets in portraying the teachings as expressions of force and contempt.

Early Muslims following the teachings of Islam were explorer and problem solvers.  They expanded their world through knowledge as well as conquest, spreading the message, not through forced conversations but through the experience of Islam and social justice.  They endeavored to explore and obtain knowledge through early proto scientific concepts and the progressive nature of the insatiable need to understand their world. It was through that experience that early leaders supported the collection, preservation and expansion of knowledge.

In modern times those ideas have been set aside  in the service of political and dogmatic applications . In essence it has stifled the Muslim world and set its progressive nature back 1500 years.

The Quran is clear in its direction to the degree of establishing the need for independent ideas, questions and applications of that knowledge and understanding.  Any challenge beyond dogma is met with traditional and cultural popular expectations and understanding that those  customs of well known interpretations should never be questioned or reassessed; this in total is a  contradiction to the guidance of the Quran itself.

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The Quran encourages people to think for themselves.

“Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.” (Quran 8:22)

“And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned.” (Quran 17:36)

cc54fcea97e9_thumbA thinking population is always dangerous to the status quo, and hence these surahs were set aside and forgotten, replaced instead by unusual sentiment of blindly following those in power [religious or political].  Add to that the notion of a non Arabic speakers unable to read the Quran in Arabic, instead recited by the clergy, and you’ve got a largely ignorant population at the whims of what religious figures teach them about Islam.

The Quran discourages blindly following of the ancestral ways and religious preachers.

“O you who have believed, indeed many of the scholars and the monks devour the wealth of people unjustly and avert [them] from the way of Allah . And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah – give them tidings of a painful punishment.” (Quran 9:34)

“And they (the common people) will say: O our Sustainer! Behold, we paid heed unto our leaders and our great men, and it is they who have led us astray from the right path!” (Quran, 33:67)

“And if you obey most of those upon the earth, they will mislead you from the way of Allah . They follow not except assumption, and they are not but falsifying.” (Quran 6:116)

It might surprise anyone who has never read the Quran, even some Muslims that the Quran discourages blind following and the dubious nature of religious preachers.  A religion that was only devised to control and cheat people would never expose religious preachers like this, for it would be against their very interests, As Mark Twain also once said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

The Quran promotes pluralism and explains that there are multiples paths to God. We walk our paths as we endeavor to reach the same destination.

“Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)

“And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them 38cb0829fab92565bbf4d9dd17ec62eb_thumbto Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.” (Quran 29:69)

Sectarianism thrives in the belief that there is only one way and that way is the only way to reach God. But, By acknowledging that there are multiple paths, the Quran disavows the very belief of only “one right way” to God.

The Quran supports freedom of conscious, choice and speech.

“And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?” (Quran 10:99)

In other words, if God had willed us all to believe, we would. Instead he gave us free will, to think for ourselves and make our own choices.

“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (Quran 2:256)

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Despite laws of apostasy and blasphemy, the Quran supports total freedom of speech and expression. Otherwise, there would be no need for insistence of thinkers and and the process of free will.

The Quran asks Muslims to be socially aware and to be activist for the rights which should be assessed as for all humans.

“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” (Quran 4:135)

The Quran expresses the need for social justice and the mandate in fighting oppression. Islam is not a religion that only gives you dogma to follow blindly, in return for some grand reward of paradise. Instead it expects one to use intellect and resourcefulness to help those less fortunate and vulnerable in society and to do all this in the pursuit of  justice.

The Quran establishes that faith is only the beginning on the path. It isn’t the end of the journey.

“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?” (Quran 29:2)

One’s actions are relevant. Thus, the things we do today and in this life, matter. Surah 29:2 is very specific. So many religious individual (Muslims as well) put all their energy in a list of “things to images_thumbdo” or “to believe.” While putting no action behind those thoughts. For many religion has become just a list to enter “paradise” without any genuine effect.

Believing in values of truth, justice and honesty are not enough. One must live those values and put them into action.

The surahs are the concepts in which many Muslims throughout history established their societies and resolved their social,political and economic issues. These are the reasons which guide everyday life, beyond the expectations of social pressures. These values and ideas go beyond dogma alone. They are defining factors in history and the social progress by which Muslims have based their expectations and their human experience.

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Filed under civil liberties, Culture, Hijab, Islam, justice, Muslim, Politics, Prayer, Ramadan, women's rights

Modesty and Hijab in Islam

by A.N. Bayat

 

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“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their khimar over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” – (Quran 24:31)

“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be knownmali-dance-inside and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” (Quran 33:59)

Islamic law requires women to be modest, not just in deeds but in their words. Modesty is more than just covering the hair. Does it even mean a woman should cover her hair? Let’s look for a moment at what the Quran says about that specifically.

The Quran says a woman should “look down and guard her private parts.” Here is thekaro-tribe-woman-650631-xl one that always gets people in trouble. “adornments” Meaning what? The same thing it means today…the body parts. Women wore cloaks (khimars) as a common practice. It was practical to protect from the elements. The Quran says for a woman to take that cloak and to cover the chest (bosom) and only show her [body] to her husband …bosom? doesn’t say anything about hair.

If most people understood the context they’d understand that slavery was not only practiced in the ancient world but common. “…that which their right hand possess (slaves)…

33:59 is literally referring to covering to protect from a dangerous environment. Life was hard in Arabia for women, even when given equality. It was lawless and dangerous. Thus women covering was also given for their protection to conceal their bodies from strangers as to not draw attention to themselves.

67a250fb-f759-4c84-92cf-ca8b50ad3621_16x9_788x442But, nowhere in these passages does it say a woman should wear loose clothing or cover her hair. Women already by practice covered part of their hair. Nowhere does it say a woman should not show any parts of her hair. So where do we get these ideas that women should wear loose clothing, cover all parts of their body, from head to toe  and show nothing at all?

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The practical application in modern Muslim countries varies with a combination of individual and social taste. The Taliban require full burqas (covering everything, including a mesh for the eyes), while the more secular governments of Turkey and Tunisia once banned headscarves in public buildings (the bans have since been lifted following the Islamist ascension).

The head covering is interpreted as a symbol of male domination by most critics and by many Muslim women, who fight for the right to dress as they please.

“And women of post-menstrual age who have no desire for marriage – there is no blame upon them for putting aside their outer garments [but] not displaying adornment. But to modestly muslim_408490810refrain [from that] is better for them. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (Quran 24:60)

This is usually interpreted as meaning that only old women are allowed to forgo the head covering. But, once again “adornment” in reference does not refer to the hair, but the one thing that is said should be covered…the bosom. The Quran does not say the “veil” is a face covering or a head covering. The very specific aspect of covering which is pointed out is the [bosom].

It is a choice given to women. Many wear it as a symbol of their faith. It is not obligatory. Although many scholars may say that it is and interpret it so, the fact in Islam is that Muslims do not have a hierarchy therefore in secular countries where jurisprudence is not interpreted to cover, a woman has more choices about covering and not covering if it is not secular law.

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Touareg of the Sahel and Sahara from Mali, and  Niger to Libya and Nigeria

Is there pressure in the Islamic community for women to cover? The pressure can either be subtle or pronounced.

Just like in Western countries, incidence of rape justified by the choices women make concerning their clothing is too common in Eastern Muslim majority countries as well. Thus it stands to reason much of this is influenced by patriarchal societies and their interpretations to obtain and maintain control over women. That is not and was not clearly the intention of Islam or modesty.

Much of modern interpretations of modesty go against many of the mandates of Islam :

“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the tumblr_m9mxzhLjps1rx8i7eo1_400most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.”- (Quran 2:256)

What does this say about the accepted culture of Muslims that both pressure their version of modesty upon women and the accepted interpretations of hijab?

Bukhari (6:321) – Muhammad is asked whether it is right for a young woman to leave her house without a veil. He replies, “She should cover herself with the veil of her companion.”

Bukhari (60:282) – After Muhammad issued the command (Quran 24:31) for women to cover themselves, the women responded by tearing up sheets to cover their faces.

Abu Dawud (32:4092) – The Apostle of Allah… said: “O Asma’, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands” This was narrated by Aisha.

Abu Dawud (2:641) – The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Allah does not accept the prayer of a woman who has reached puberty unless she wears a veil.

Bukhari (52:250) – [The Prophet said] “It is not permissible for a man to be alone with a woman, and no lady should travel except with a Muhram (i.e. her husband or a person whom she cannot marry in any case for ever; e.g. her father, brother, etc.).” – Neither is a woman allowed to travel by herself.

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From the Iranian Chador or Manteaux and Rysary to the Saudi Abaya and hijab

Many proponents of the hijab will point to these as well in interpreting the overall obligation of hijab (veil). In ancient times a veil or covering was a cloak or khimar ( a loosely based piece of cloth that could be pulled over the shoulders and hair…a shawl),

In the Quran the “veil” is also referred as a [partition] in a room to separate one from another,

“And when you recite the Qur’an, We put between you and those who do not believe in the Hereafter a veil.” (Quran 17:45) (partition)

“Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. And for them is a great punishment.” (Quran 2:7) (separation)

“And between them will be a veil (partition), and on [its] elevations are men who recognize all by their mark. And they call out to the companions of Paradise, “Peace be upon you.” They have not [yet] entered it, but they long intensely.” (Quran 7:46)

040701_afghanBurqas_hmed_2p.grid-6x2In Afghanistan,  surah 33:53 is used to justify imposing the burqa.

“O you who have believed, do not enter the houses of the Prophet except when you are permitted for a meal, without awaiting its readiness. But when you are invited, then enter; and when you have eaten, disperse without seeking to remain for conversation. Indeed, that [behavior] was troubling the Prophet, and he is shy of [dismissing] you. But Allah is not shy of the truth. And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a veil (partition). That is purer for your hearts and their hearts. And it is not [conceivable or lawful] for you to harm the Messenger of Allah or to marry his wives after him, ever. Indeed, that would be in the sight of Allah an enormity.” (Quran 33:53)

Within context this is a sign of respect, to the wife of another not as a sign of oppression or a sign to cover women.

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A political statement in hijab for women in Iran-Chador and Rysary

This is not to say that a woman doesn’t have a right to choose her symbolism of Islam. It is to say that to cover the hair is a choice and to cover overall is a choice given to women when they reach puberty. If it is not the law of the land in which one exists, the choice to do so is symbolic, personal and  individual to each woman in her time. In many cultures young, prepubescent girls are forced  to cover their hair even though it is clear in the Quran and hadiths that it is  not a mandate  or obligatory in Islam.


Every woman’s journey to the hijab is personal and unique, but many of those paths will have some similarities. For some women, the hijab may not be a conscious decision, which is why so many struggle with it. For others, wearing the hijab is a choice made through a woman’s own thought process and a reflection of her relationship with God. And of course there are others who may choose not to wear the hijab at all and risk facing judgment from men and women despite the very personal nature of their actions.

This perspective limits a woman’s ability to make choices about the hijab that are reflective of what she truly wants. Instead a women are made to fulfill certain social expectations that satisfy what others want for them. That is what the hijab has become in Islam, not always, necessarily a 506812703symbol of faith, but a social expectation or indicator of a woman’s level of belief.

What we are questioning here is not a woman’s right to choose, but the forced imposition of covering of the hair, when Quran is clear.

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