WE CONTINUE OUR meditations on justice, equality and Feminism.

9 – Of all the modern voices calling for equality, few are as muscular or more strident than feminism. Despite a mixed bag of views and approaches within today’s feminist movement, it does coalesce around certain core tenets and assumptions. All forms of feminism agree women must be liberated from the tyranny of organized patriarchy that still shapes the world today, causing men and women to often live very different realities. They see patriarchy as being wholly unjust and indefensible, being nothing more than a social construct rather than an inescapable fact of nature. Feminists of all persuasions are, therefore, committed to dismantling patriarchy so as to construct an equal gender society. Beyond these shared beliefs, there are disparate feminist voices about how patriarchy has arisen and how it must be tackled and torn down. Secular feminists reject God, Revelation, and Religion in the narrative of feminism. They view religion and religious scripture as root sources of chauvinist ideas; baleful relics of an oppressive past that have no relevance to the debate about gender equality in modern society. Those who, in more recent times, come under the rubric of Islamic feminists are people who believe in the truth claims of Islam; believing that the Quran, when it is rightly understood, supports feminist claims about gender equality and abolishing patriarchy. They are convinced that the ‘ulema’, starting from the time of the Prophet’s Companions (Sahaba), throughout all the ages of Islam, have strayed from a correct understanding of God’s will for women, as espoused in the Quran. The strategy these feminists use to prop up their claims is the reinterpretation of the Quran, in order to bring it in line with their privileged, and arguably hubristic, insights regarding gender functions and equality.

10 – That violence, abuse and bigotry against women happen in every society globally, including Muslim ones, is tragic as it is shameful and abysmal. Feminists of all stripes have been at the helm of bringing gender inequities (both real and perceived) to the fore, and key in oiling the wheels of social change too. Islamic feminists, for their part, have set out to retrieve what they feel to be the original egalitarian message of Islam, one unencumbered by patriarchy and hierarchy. Their courageous efforts must surely be welcomed when they focus their energies on asserting the inarguable rights given to women within the established rulings of Islam, but that may have become obscure due to people’s ignorance, men’s egos, or cultural norms. Again, they must be thanked when they stress that marriage (nikah) in Islam is a contract between two consenting parties, neither can be forced, with both sides entitled to stipulate certain conditions (whether about polygamy; custody of children in the event of divorce; moving away from the parents’ city or country; or whatever other lawful condition that can secure their welfare) which, after mutual agreement, become binding on the two sides. [13] The Prophet said:

The conditions most deserving to be fulfilled are those by which the private parts become lawful to you. [14]

Indeed, only the weak or the wretched will fail to appreciate respectful reminders about men having a Qur’anic commitment to treat their wives warmly and amiably:

And give women their dowries graciously [Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:4];

And live with them in kindness [Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:19];

Lodge them in your own homes, according to your means. Do not harass them so as to make life intolerable for them [Surat Al-Talaq, 65:6]; and also:

Either retain them in kindness or release them in kindness. [Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:231]

In fact, after their response to Allah and His Prophet, our Prophet considered how men treat their wives as the true measure of manliness, status and excellence. He said:

The best of you are those who treat their wives the best.[15]

And of course, we must accept the Shari‘ah reality, whether pointed out by Islamic feminists or others, that a woman is not duty bound at all to remain in a violent or abusive marriage – despite entrenched cultural pressures that may insist otherwise. If their motives are truly for seeking Allah’s pleasure and acceptance, the work of Islamic feminists to help women acquire their existing rights in Islam must be seen as nothing short of deeds of velour, service and jihad in the path of Allah.

11 – Giving a robust nod to the above, some questions still need asking. How Islamic, for instance, is Islamic feminism? And how valid are feminist reinterpretations of the Quran? And does the Quran really endorse feminism’s dual core beliefs: doing away with patriarchy and dethroning hierarchy to create an egalitarian social order, so that women may be put on equal footing with men – socially, politically and economically?

Here I wish only to draw attention to a few incongruities between loyalty to feminist principles and certain passages of the holy Quran. [16]

For example, how can one claim every form of patriarchy to be wrong, given that the Quran is pretty specific when it says in the context of marriage and family life that:

Men are protectors of women [Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:34]; and that:

Men have a degree over them [Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:228]?

Of course, such verses aren’t saying that every man is intellectually, morally and spiritually superior to every woman. But they are sanctioning patriarchy, at least in the marital and family context. Our Prophet said:

Indeed, each of you is a shepherd, and each of you is responsible for their flock. The ruler is a shepherd over his subjects, and is responsible for them. A man is a shepherd over his family, and is responsible for them. A woman is a shepherd over the husband’s home and children, and is responsible for them. [17]

Surely this hadith is not just speaking about patriarchy, but to a sense of hierarchy too? Hierarchy makes more than a guest appearance in the Qur’anic command:

O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. [Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:59]

We see hierarchy again in the verse which tells us who does and does not have the right to speak about matters of wider public welfare:

If any matter comes to them concerning security or fear, they spread it around. But if they had only referred it to the Messenger or to those charged with authority, those amongst them who can investigate and reason out the matter would then know [what to do with] it. [Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:83]

At some point – be it the hierarchy present in a head of state’s authority over the subjects or citizens; a wife’s obedience to her husband and her yielding to some level of patriarchy; or the non-egalitarian, unequal right of parents to receive kind and dutiful treatment from their children – feminists will encounter an epistemic impasse. Do they honor the clear-cut injunctions of the Quran, or do they remain glued to the key feminist principles and say ‘No’ to the Sacred Text? Do they acquiesce to some degree of Qur’anic patriarchy and hierarchy, or put the feminist quest to abolish these two ‘evils’ ahead of Revelation? Professor Jonathan A.C. Brown deftly notes:

The move to assuming that scripture contains the truth but need only be understood properly to saying ‘no’ to scripture because it says something unacceptable or impossible is a blow that shatters the vessel of scriptural reverence. It means that some extra-scriptural source of truth has been openly acknowledged as more powerful and compelling than the words of God in scripture. [18]

So how ‘Islamic’ is Islamic feminism? Any creed, philosophy, ideology, value-system or ism – including Islamic feminism – that is given final authority to decide what is or isn’t good or bad, relegating Islam’s Revelation to a secondary place, forfeits any claim to be considered ‘Islamic’. For loyalty to feminism’s core doctrines and loyalty to Islam’s revealed truths are at odds with each other. Loyalty to one will undeniably necessitate disloyalty and disbelief in the other. This much is clear.

12 – ‘Certainly a scriptural tradition still has its uses even for those who have moved on to believe that truth comes from secular sources. It can be drawn on and quoted to move an audience or bolster ideas rooted elsewhere. But sooner or later, it will clash with secular truths and become a burden. In such cases, scriptural tradition can be reread and picked from selectively to reconcile it with the recognized sources of truth. But it must be substantially reconfigured, as the Quran Only movement has done with Islam’s scriptures, or else at some point one must say ‘no’ to the text.’[19]

Islamic feminism (and we must now utilize the adjective ‘Islamic’ with great reservation), like other variants in feminism, is colored more by secular philosophies and more awash with modern epistemologies than it is one rooted in Islam’s Revelation. The idea that one can simply reread the Quran, twisting the texts to sync them with certain secular dogmas of our age, is closer to the Nietzschean claim that there are no truths [facts]; just interpretations, than it is to the Qur’anic starting point:

It is He Who has sent down to you the Quran. Some of its verses are clear-cut; they are the Mother of the Book; whilst others are open to interpretation. [Surat Al ‘Imran, 3:7]

Again, feminist talk about the dynamics of domination related to gender is more in line with Foucault’s notion of a power nexus that constructs and sustains social control over women’s bodies and minds, than it is the Qur’anic view that expects both sexes to rise above their petty egos; submit to the divine demands sincerely and wholeheartedly; honoring and celebrating the virtues, rights, relative merits and intrinsic inclinations of one another. Having explained the pro-feminist claims and arguments, Scruton wrapped-up his entry on ‘feminism’ with this note:

Anti-feminist arguments usually rely on the thought that it is no accident that the relations between men and women are as they are, and that there’s a ‘natural’ order in which both sexes are fulfilled by mutual dependence. They may add that the appearance of male dominance is only an appearance, and perhaps it is part of the bourgeois nature of feminism so easily to mistake appearance for essence.[20]

Now this is a secular blasphemy worth giving some thought to!

13 – The Quran says:

So set your face to the upright religion, the primordial nature which God has instilled in man. [Surat Al-Rum, 30:30]

Islam’s insistence on the fitra, this innate, primordial nature that defines and sculpts our authentic belongingness to the natural order, lies at the root of much of Islam’s gender ethics. Talk of gender equality is too simplistic a take on things. Islam’s language isn’t about equality; it’s about complementarity. Men and women are neither equal nor unequal: rather they complement each other. So on the one hand we have the Quran celebrating gender differences:

And the male is not like the female [Surat Al ‘Imran, 3:36],

while on the other, the Prophet spoke of ethical similarities:

Indeed, women are the twin halves of men[21]

Alien calls for equality, therefore, are less helpful than indigenous calls for justice, respect and opportunity. Equality, where it does count in terms of justice, is equality in becoming recipients of Allah’s salvation, forgiveness, mercy and grace. This, above all else, is what ultimately counts and what Islam ultimately offers both men and women – equality of opportunity and agency in terms of salvation:

And their Lord answered [their prayers, saying that]: ‘Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, whether male or female, the one of you is as the other.’ [Surat Al ‘Imran, 3:195]

14 – Cruel and unjust treatment of women continues to be a problem the world over, including Muslim societies and communities. Despite the Quran insisting otherwise, men’s egos can all too often turn a deaf ear to the divine commands in this regard. If we Muslim men wish to fare well in the Divine Court, we’d do well to scrub ourselves clean from the stench of male chauvinism and learn the virtue of chivalry (futuwwa). If we Muslims wish to draw down Allah’s favors on our societies or states and climb out of this pitiful state that is currently ‘the Muslim world’, we must put working for social justice at the heart of our concerns:

Be just, that is closer to piety. And be mindful of Allah; surely Allah is aware of what you do. [Surat Al-Ma’idah, 5:8]

But it’s not just about fairer treatment of women. It’s about justice and fairness for the other voiceless and vulnerable members of society too. In fact, scholars like Imam Ibn Taymiyyah hold that it is the absence of justice that is the main reason for Allah’s help and support to be withdrawn from any Muslim polity, thereby causing it to descend into tyranny, weakness, or rack and ruin. Ibn Taymiyyah puts it thus:

The affairs of people in this world are kept in order with justice and a certain measure of sin, more than with infringing peoples’ rights even when no other sin is involved. This is why it has been said that Allah upholds the just state even if it is disbelieving, but does not uphold the unjust one even if it is Muslim. It is also said that the world can endure with justice and disbelief, but cannot endure with injustice and Islam.[22]

15 – Our final meditation follows on from the above. Ibn Taymiyyah presses on with the theme of justice and social stability when he writes:

The reason for all this is that justice is the universal order of things. So when worldly administration is established upon justice, it works; even if the person in charge has no share in the Hereafter. But if it is not based on justice, it doesn’t work; even if the one in charge is a believer who will be rewarded in the Hereafter.[23]

Of course, corruption and injustices perpetrated by a government or ruling elite will certainly have its negative impact upon the social order. But it’s when injustice becomes endemic; when not only the regime, but public servants or the general public play fast and loose with the Shari‘ah and with matters of justice, that things really fall apart. When corruption becomes normalized in society; when bribery becomes firmly rooted among public servants; when parents internalize oppressive control mechanisms in the way they raise their children; when patriarchy of husbands crosses a line from being benign and compassionate to being unjust and tyrannical; and when boys are taught to objectify women or to be chauvinistic rather than to respect them and learn to be the gentleman that the Sunnah demands, then it matters little how corrupt or not the actual government is. For by then, the victims of corruption learn to live with it, the perpetrators continue out of habit or because they can, and everyone rationalizes their guilt away by blaming the system, saying: “Well everyone does it!” If we add to this list of injustices the crimes of neglecting salat or zakat; lying, cheating and slandering; and sexual misconduct and immoral behavior, then to blame only the regime for the country’s failings and miseries is nothing short of delusional and a grand lie! Consider wisely and dispassionately the following words of Ibn Abi’l-‘Izz when speaking about tyrannical rulers that are Muslim:

As for maintaining obedience to them [those in authority], even if they are tyrannical, then that is because the harms that would result from rebelling against them would be many times worse than that which results from their tyranny. Instead, by patiently bearing their injustices lies an expiation for our sins and an increase in rewards [from Allah]. For Allah only inflicted them upon us on account of our corrupt actions – and rewards are proportional to their deeds. Thus it is upon us to diligently strive to seek forgiveness, repent, and rectify our deeds. Allah, exalted is He, said: Whatever calamity befalls you, is for what your own hands have earned, and He pardons much [Surat Al-Shura, 42:30]. And said: When a disaster befell you after you had yourself inflicted [losses] twice as heavy, you exclaimed: ‘How did this happen?’ Say: ‘It is from yourselves.’ [Surat Al ‘Imran, 3:165] And: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah, and whatever calamity befalls you is from yourself [Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:79]. Also: Thus We let some of the unjust have power over others because of their misdeeds [Surat Al-An‘am, 6:129]. So if those governed desire to rid themselves of the injustices of an unjust ruler, they too must abstain from injustice and doing wrong. [24]

—————————–

[13]. Cf. Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni (Saudi Arabia: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1997), 9:483-89.

[14]. Al-Bukhari, no.2721; Muslim, no.1418.

[15] At-Tirmidhi, no.3895, where he stated: ‘This hadith is hasan.

[16]. Shaykh Abdullah bin Hamid Ali has briefly toured Islamic feminism’s methods of reinterpretation in his article: Feminism & Recalibrating Faith According to an Islamic Epistemic. I’ve drawn a few pointers from his article in the discussion which follows. A more loquacious and metaphysical exploration of the subject is given in Abdal Hakim Murad, Islam, Irigaray, and the Retrieval of Gender.

[17]. Al-Bukhari. no.6719; Muslim, no.1829.

[18]. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad (London: Oneworld Publications, 2014), 288.

[19]. ibid., 289.

[20]. R. Scruton, Dictionary of Political Thought (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 248.

[21]. Al-Tirmidhi, no.113. Al-Albani graded is sahih in Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.1983.

[22] Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 28:146.

[23]. ibid., 28:146.

[24]. Sharh al-‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1984), 381.

3 Comments

  • muchachomalo

    muchachomalo

    December 29, 2016 - - 8:08 am

    would you have the link to part one? Thanks :)

  • Muhammad Sabih

    Muhammad Sabih

    December 29, 2016 - - 8:21 am

    Thats a very mature article. I always thought that from a normal feminist perspective, some things in Islam are bound to create a clash. Such as all prophets are men, the right of divorce for men, the right to lead obligatory Salah in Jamah for both men and women, the Ijma about ruler being Muslim, the verse 4:34, testimony, inheritance etc.

    There can be “workaround” or reinterpretations on some issues but not really what we can call an ideal situation for feminists. And thus we go back to what is the concept of “justice” in Islam. I thought about it before unrelated to the issue of women. Allah(swt) has definitely given more opportunities/abilities to some people then the other. Like Sahaba(ra) as compared to us But it always comes with stricter accountability.

    Consider this that Allah(swt) will judge everyone according to his own question paper. But that question paper is not the same for everyone.

    And in related verse of Surah Nisa(32), Allah(swt) forbids desiring or jealousy over the issue of someone getting more “opportunity/ability”. Because in its most extreme form, such jealousy has been the leading cause of rejection of Islam. Such as the refusal of Iblis to prostrate to Adam, the refusal of jews in Madinah to accept Prophet(sa), the refusal of Walid ibn Mugheerah who said “Why did’nt prophethood come to me” or Musaylimah who said “I deserved to get revelation”. etc

    This Crude understanding of justice does indeed lead some feminists out of the fold of Islam where some of them simply label Islam as a misogynistic religion…

  • Jafar Ahmed Mustapha

    Jafar Ahmed Mustapha

    December 29, 2016 - - 1:51 pm

    Feminism is just a concept created by iblees to strip women of their haya. Feminism has distroyed the fabric of society and its followers are murtadeen

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