Is a new understanding of Shariah texts possible?

                   (In the context of women)

By: Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef*

The general conviction about women among Muslims and particularly amongst the religious ones is that they are created for housework; for bearing and rearing children. And because to them, a woman is half mind (naqisulaql) so she should not aspire to go out, seek higher education, look for a job and thus be active in human activities and so on. Can these outdated concepts be acceptable in today’s world?

Not only that but these people say that if she steps out of her boundaries she goes astray. Some hard-line religious zealots go even further that the entire being and body of a woman is something to be concealed. Therefore, she should cover herself in every way. Veil is prescribed for her whole body and even for her voice, as she doesn’t have her own personality.

So-called Islamic movements have made concessions that they allow a woman to wear scarves and expose her face (in the case of Muslim Brotherhood not in the case of Jamaat-e-Islami) and also allow her to pursue higher education, especially in the area of ​​educating and training of children in particular. In Islamic jurisprudence, women have been presented almost as in bondage. In today’s world, there is a need to reconsider the interpretations of some Fiqhi wordings like tamelikتمليك)) (meaning that a man is the lord of his wife and not a partner) etc. While if we see the texts of the Quran and Hadis it is very crystal clear that the veil of the face is not a religious duty but a cultural phenomenon. (1)

An ambiguous hadith on the authority of Abu Bakra, that the prophet of Islam (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: those who have made a woman responsible for their affairs will not be successful. which is not clear that whether it is news or intimation because the background is that when he was informed that the Persian people have chosen their empress a woman, a daughter of Khusro Pervez then he said it. It may be a political comment because the Persian Empire was going through its critical juncture. Khusrow’s own son had revolted against his father imprisoned and killed his 14 brothers in cold blood so that they could not be a challenge for the throne, and very soon he had also died then the courtiers crowned a woman. In this background, the prophet said this as a comment not as a verdict.

Ulema considers women to be irrational (ناقص العقل) based on another tradition also.

‘’That women are deficient in intellect and religion”.

The hadith “Deficient in Reason and Religion” was narrated by the two al-Bukhari (1/68), and Muslim (1/86.Here is the full wording : 

The Messenger of God, peace, and blessings be upon him, went out to the prayer-place on the occasion of Eid Prayer, so he passed by the women. He said: “O women, give alms, for I have shown you to be most of the people of Hell.” They said: What is the matter, O Messenger of God? He said: “You curse a lot your partner and disobey your relatives a lot. I have not seen people who are deficient in intellect and religion. make stray the heart of a firm man cleverer than one of you.” They said: What is the deficiency of our religion and our reason, O Messenger of God? He said: “Isn’t the testimony of a woman the same as half the testimony of a man?” They said: “Yes.” He said: “This is from the deficiency of her intellect. Isn’t it if she menstruates, she does not pray and does not fast?” They said: Yes, he said: “This is from the deficiency of her religion.”

Hear a reader should note that it is a literal interpretation of original text while we can readنقصان hear as a concession, for, a woman is given concession in her religious obligations and also in her outdoor duties. His description of women, is not an accusation against them, rather it is in hammering style to substantiate the point (to give alms), in which there is no accusation or degradation, and the meaning of the metaphorical expression is not apparent, rather what is clarified by the rest of the hadith that “decreased intellect” means half of the testimony of a woman contrasting to a man’s, “and the decrease of Deen” means her abandoning prayer and fasting during menstruation.

A menstruating woman’s abandonment of prayer and fasting does not involve a sin upon her, according to the consensus of Muslim jurists. Because the woman throughout her period is in a state of weakness and turmoil; Therefore, God relieved her of the prayer or fasting, etc. Instead of explaining these sayings in terms of a defect in the intellect, noted Islamic scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamdi explains the meaning in terms of giving more concessions to women. Because in most of the criminal cases, going to court and giving testimony is a very risky task that is why she has been given the concession by Shariat.(2) She is in distress during her monthly periods and for this reason, she has been given exemption from worship, etc. In contrast when a man ejaculates or he has had intercourse with a woman then it is obligatory for him to perform prayer and fasting after having a bath so no exemption to him.

As far as the narration “Keep the women behind as Allah Almighty has got them behind”أخروهن من حيث اخرهن الله is concerned, it is not the original Hadith but a saying of Abdullah bin Masood. Noted Muhaddisun have declared this tradition to be a concocted one, or weak, then it is not valid to put it forward as a reason, but it can be said that it is the understanding of Abdullah bin Masood and the understanding of Sahaba (companion)is not an argument in itself.

 I think a philosophical orientation here is maybe in order.

Shah Waliullah says:

‘’And what is considered in the revelation of the shariah laws is not the sciences, states, and beliefs people believe in only, but rather the greatest consideration and first and foremost is given to the nature on which they have been created, and their minds rush to it from where they know and from where they do not know.”(3)

On this principle, one may infer that most of the statements of Quran and hadis about 

women-only reflect the Aristotelian world view based on the differentiation between man and woman that was ruling the world when Islam came. The quranic intention is not, as I see, to take these wordings verbatim, instead, we should take only their spirit which focuses on abiding by the moral code given by the Holy Quran.

So these Quranic verses and Ahadith related to women are bound to be treated in the perspective of changing world views, meaning at one point of time the general understanding of people especially in Arab culture, being a nomadic and tribal one, that one needs physical power, warmanship, combativeness for survival in that society this is why they were letting down the women. So these are not absolute truths. Therefore if a woman has the ability to become an ambassador, writer, professor, merchant, entrepreneur, academician, lawyer, doctor, scientist, army general, etc. there is no hindrance for her to become so and so-All fiqhi fatwas and Ahadis of the prophet should be treated in this light.

Shaikh Al-Tahir bin Aashoor says about the quranic 

verse:فاضربوهن  (4:23 ) that it is not an absolute verdict, rather it reflects the Arab cultural atmosphere at the time of Quranic revelation(4) 

In religious circles, It is said that a woman does not need higher education. She should be trained to do housework. She cannot travel without a mahram (blood relative). She doesn’t need to take part in any political, educational, or economic activities. Without any Qur’anic basis, it is accepted that a woman’s workplace is her home and she will get out of it only when she needs it. Participating in all activities is forbidden for her. Yet in the prophetic 

era, a woman was seen in the battlefield, in the field of education and also in the market. (5) In such a case, there is no reasonable reason to discriminate between men and women. 

In this context I must say that new Urdu Islamic and Arabic literature sets a false narrative about the West, for example, it is said that the coming out of a woman from her house into the public arena has broken the family system in the West. And crimes have increased in there due to that matter. Proof of this is the long lists of crimes of rape, adultery, molestation and prostitution, etc. prepared in different western countries. Yes, the rate of crimes against women may be high, but western society is successfully tackling these issues, at least more successfully than many so-called Muslim countries like Pakistan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen. Similarly, where there is no crime in human society? There are claims that there is no complete equality in the west so why bother for the equality of men and women here in the east? Well, there is no equality in the west, this sweeping statement may be true to an extent, But the fact of the matter is that women are treated there better than in Muslim societies. Take a look at Pakistan and Iran!

The assumption is that a woman gives birth to a child, takes care of the kitchen, and serves the man, so she should stay away from civilizational and cultural activities. May I ask these gentlemen that man is the chief instrumental in bearing a child and he is the main source of income to feed the family? So he also should restrict himself to the family matter only. Why does he do science research, why does he lead the nations, why does he fight wars, etc. What do these things have to do with the direct running of the house?

Moreover, it is said that man is physically strong and possessive. He has strong nerves. He should be able to take the lead in various capacities. The answer is that this assumption was correct for the agrarian society. Nowadays we are living in the post-modern world, so the whole scenario has changed because of the internet and due to new Cosmology, new world view and modern science and technology, which requires more intellectual abilities than physical ones, and woman has proved that she is not behind men in all these abilities. Now women scholars of Islam say that the whole narrative of Islamic intellectualism has been a narrative of a patriarchal society that has to be changed in changing times.(6)

Notes and references:

(1) See: Tahrir al-Rusala fi Asr al-Rusala, Abdul Halim Abu Shaqqa and its summary (Urdu translation of Dr. Abdullah Al-Kabisi) published by Jogai Bai New Delhi and Sheikh Albani’s book: Hijab Al-Mara Muslim

(2) Javed Ahmad Ghamdi:

(3) (Hujjat Allah Al-Balgha pg. 90, Part One, Faisal Publishing, Deoband., 1383 AH

(4) tafsir Altanveer wal tahrir, referring to Alsharia Monthly December 2021 published Alshria Academy Lahore Pakistan

(5) Prof. Yaasin Mazhar Siddiqui, Rasool Akram and Women A Social Study Islamic Book Foundation New Delhi

(6) There is a need to engage and engage in dialogue with the women scholars of Islam ,instead of imposing fatwas on Amina Wadud, Sadia Yaqub,Fatima Mernicy,Asma Barlas et al. 

*Research Associate with the Centre for promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims of India AMU Aligarh.

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