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Sabrang
Sabrang

Quran and Liberation

The Quran teaches us a radically egalitarian view of the equal worth and dignity of women that remains unparalleled, even in modern thought

23 Jun 2021

First published on: October 2009
 

Quran and Liberation
 

At this year’s Macalester Roundtable, we are celebrating, and also critically evaluating, divergent perspectives on international feminisms. It is in that context that I have been asked to address some of the central concerns of Muslim women as I perceive them. The open-endedness of both the invitation and the topic seems to make for a relatively easy task; yet this very fact complicates it inasmuch as the discursive richness of the subject and the profusion of approaches to it make it difficult for a single person or perspective to cover it comprehensively, or in a manner that everyone will find equally meaningful. I would like, therefore, to acknowledge from the outset the partial nature of my own account and its particularized appeal. Muslims today number over a billion people and live in every continent in the world in conditions of enormous political, social, cultural, and — though we are insufficiently attentive to it — religious, diversity. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Muslim women will have different types of concerns depending on where they live and in what conditions. At the same time, however, it is painfully clear that in spite of the diversity of Muslim cultures and societies, women in many societies have to endure similar forms of sexual inequality and discrimination.

These range from cultural mores and psychological attitudes that condone bigotry or violence towards women, to laws that refuse to recognize them as legal and moral agents on a par with men, to the restriction or denial of political-economic rights and resources to them relative to men. What is more, discrimination, and even oppression, are often justified by recourse to sacred knowledge or, more accurately, knowledge claiming to derive from religion, including from Islam’s Scripture, the Quran. It is this problem — in feminist terminology of sexual/textual oppression — that I will discuss here.

Specifically, I will analyze, and also contest, the tendency to read sexual inequality, oppression, and patriarchy into the Quran. I will argue not only that readings and representations of Islam and the Quran as patriarchal/oppressive rest on a number of errors, but also that the Quran can be read as an anti-patriarchal text, that is, as undermining the fundamental claims of patriarchies. By illustrating the anti-patriarchal nature of Quranic epistemology I hope to establish the continuing relevance to Muslims of their Scripture for (re)theorizing women’s and men’s rights.

Two caveats are in order here. First, I do not wish to suggest that we should (or can) explain Muslim women’s oppression or status, "solely in terms of the Quran and/or other Islamic sources all too often taken out of context."2. As numerous scholars have pointed out, patriarchal and sexual patterns in Muslim states are a function also of the nature of the state and political economy, cultural practices that may have nothing to do with Islam, the history of a particular society, women’s social class, the choices available to them, etc. Nonetheless, if we take sexual/textual oppression seriously, and I believe we must, the issue of how Muslims read, or — as I will argue – fail to read, the Quran becomes critical, especially for women.

In this context, secondly, while I am happy to acknowledge my debts to Western feminisms, I must confess that I do not view the project of women’s "liberation" itself as being Western or feminist. Rather, I find such a project to be intrinsic to the Quran’s teachings, which is why I remain skeptical of relying on Western feminisms and secularism for theorizing women’s rights in Muslim societies.

In part, then, this essay is also an implicit critique of Western secular feminism. I begin by explaining my choice of topic and methodology and, since the latter is likely to generate resistance on the part of some readers, by speculating on the nature of their reservations as a way to enable a more open-minded engagement with my work.

 

I. Why this Topic and Method?

My choice of topic derives from my view that the central problem women face in Muslim societies today is the prevalence of discriminatory and misogynistic practices and ideologies (howsoever defined) which prevent them from realizing their full human potential and, in some cases, from being able to meet even their most basic needs for survival (as in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan). However, while I am angered by the discrimination and misogyny of Muslim societies, what I want to comment on here is not their persistence per se, since there are few, if any, societies that have managed to rid themselves of sexual inequality or hatred for women. Rather, what I find significant, hence worthy of analysis, is the tendency to read misogyny and discrimination into Islam, particularly into the Quran. This is evident not only from patriarchal readings of the Quran by so-called "Islamists,"3 but also from Muslim feminist condemnations of Islam’s "own misogynist bias" 4 and of monotheism itself as patriarchal5.

I hope to show that such views arise not only from flawed readings of Islam, but also from a flawed epistemology of reading. This argument necessitates first clarifying the relevance of reading/representations to a discussion of Muslim women’s oppression and also liberation.

Representations are relevant to such a discussion because, as feminists argue, a society’s constructions of "ideal" women also shape its treatment of "real" ones. That is why "our understanding of the problems of ‘real’ women cannot lie outside the ‘imagined’ constructs in and through which ‘women’ emerge as subjects."6 It is this relationship between the real and the symbolic that allows feminists to theorize connections between the "literary and the social mistreatment of women,"7 and to condemn their "textual harassment." 8

While not all representations are textual in nature, texts — which are discourses "fixed by writing"9 — play a critical role in the process of representation as they do in the process of meaning creation. For instance, reading sacred texts shapes our views not only of God, but also of the nature and roles of women and men, which then can become grounds for justifying sexual hierarchies and inequalities. However, as critical scholars of religion argue, the meanings we ascribe to a text result from the act of reading, which is not only interpretive, but also gendered (masculinized)10 in nature, as is language itself. (It is this intersection between sex/gender and reading/ representation that Toril Moi 11 means to convey by the term sexual/textual.)
 

The role of representations and of sacred texts in structuring our social and sexual attitudes and practices, and the interpretive/masculinized nature of reading/ representation, makes the issue of who reads the Quran and how central not only to understanding the problem of sexual inequality and discrimination among Muslims, but also to theorizing liberation, especially since different readings of the same text can yield "fundamentally different Islams." 12

Paradoxically, while Muslim ideas and practices do not always reflect the Quran’s teachings, these teachings (or rather, our interpretations of these teachings) continue to provide role models for real/imagined women; thus, historically, the "most positive women of the Quran, by association, determined the most excellent women of Islam."13. This does not mean, however, that there are no interpretive differences among Muslims about the Quran’s teachings about women or that Muslim constructions of "the female" came "ready-made"; rather, these were "established in an active battle in history, when particular interpretations won out over others."14

I have argued at length elsewhere that the reasons why certain interpretations of the Quran (hence also of women’s rights) won out over others have to do not with the Quranic text, but with the contexts and methods of its reading(s).15 The fact that the Quran has been read as a patriarchal text (i.e., as a text that privileges males and teaches the precepts of female inferiority and subordination to men), has to do with (a) its readings in/by patriarchies, (b) by means of a conservative method authorized by a handful of male scholars during the Middle Ages, (c) with the backing of the State, which became involved in defining religious knowledge from very early times. That is why an analysis of the extra-textual contexts in which Muslims have read the Quran and the methods they have employed to read it (hermeneutics and history together) is integral to explaining conservative readings of it today.

If my choice of topic assumes the interconnectedness of the hermeneutic and existential questions — i.e., between how we create religious meaning/knowledge and women’s oppression/liberation — its treatment is a function largely of my own epistemic stance as a "believing woman," to use a Quranic term. Briefly, this means that my belief in God, rather than in an androcentric humanism, shapes my approach to knowledge. In fact, insofar as humanism’s man-centeredness has enabled the "Othering" of woman while claiming to liberate both from God, I question its soundness as a framework for theorizing women’s rights even in secular contexts.

Second, I regard the Quran as Divine Discourse (God’s Speech) and, in keeping with an old tradition in Muslim theology, distinguish between this Discourse and its "earthly realization."16 Thus, what I question is not the Quran but its oppressive interpretations, and the sacrilegious idea that only some of us (males) can know its real meaning, claims implicit in confusing the Quran with its exegesis. Finally, while recognizing both the influence of gender on reading and the masculinist nature of Scriptural exegesis (in every religion, not just Islam), I also hold that reading is a function not only of who reads (sex/gender), but also of how (method). I thus never rule out the possibility that men, no less than women, can read for liberation and that a mutually shared discourse of meaning and care among believing women and men therefore is possible.

Indeed, as the Quran teaches, it is essential if we are to develop moral individualities and communities. To speak from these vantage points — i.e., to speak as a Muslim in a secular society that is not invested positively in religion, to say nothing of Islam — is to speak from a position that is doubly precarious and likely to encounter a priori resistance. Thus, while readers may be aware of the ways in which my being a Muslim is integral to my argument, they may be less aware of the extent to which their own reactions and resistance to it may arise from their recognition of this fact. In speculating on the nature of this resistance, I am assuming that uncovering the preexisting biases we bring into the process of interpretation RENDERS it more productive.

II. Resisting my Argument

The people most likely to be a priori resistant to my argument will be those who think of Islam as a patriarchal religion and who hold that only fundamentalists or apologists can conceivably defend it. Such people, however, ignore not only the interpretive/ masculinized nature of reading, but also the fact that every text has multiple meanings and that there are always disjunctures between theory and practice, i.e., between what a religion teaches and how we practice it.

(Certainly Muslim practices are not always congruent with the Quran’s teachings, as I will argue in Section III).

Some resistance to my argument may also stem from the fact that the dominant discourses on Islam, particularly as exemplified by the media, still remain within narrowly essentialist confines that discourage viewpoints favorable to it. The secular suspicion and, indeed, hostility toward religion may also lead some people to assume that — as I have been told by otherwise discerning colleagues — one cannot be both a believer and an intellectual, but must choose between them. That is, the lack of belief in God or, better yet, belief in the lack of God — i.e., a complete "absence of doubt" 17 about the Divine — qualifies one to be an intellectual!

This faith/reason binary — which was not always natural to Western thought — may make some sense in the light of specific White/Western readings of, and experiences with, Christianity; the Crusades, the "Holy Inquisition," and colonialism come readily to mind. However, the Quran teaches us not to pit faith against reason by affirming that we can only come to know God by exercising our intellect/reason (aql), and by acquiring knowledge (ilm). Aql and ilm are therefore the foundation of both Faith and hermeneutic rationality in Islam, which is why Muslims like me feel no qualms in defining ourselves as believing intellectuals.

Finally, those people may also find some of my claims unsettling who consider Judaism, Christianity, and Islam or, alternatively, the West/non-West, to be so radically different as to belong to "wholly different" categories, in the memorable words of an old Orientalist. Such views manifest themselves in the customary tendency to co-opt Judaism and Christianity into the rubric of "Western" religions while consigning Islam to the category of "Eastern/Other," a process of misnaming that ignores the Middle Eastern origins and scripturally linked nature of all three faiths and the commonality of some of their truth-claims.

To assume a shared humanity or truth-claims, however, is to threaten the "West’s" notions of its own specificity and the hyper-separation many people here wish to retain between themselves and their "Barbaric Others".18 Yet, I remain optimistic that awareness of such obstacles to understanding is the first step in transcending them.

 

III. Representing Islam as Patriarchal

Patriarchal readings of the Quran, as well as representations of Islam as patriarchal, are not unrelated, but I examine them separately in the interest of clarity. It might make more sense to begin by discussing Muslim readings of the Quran since, presumably, it is a patriarchal exegesis that fosters repressive practices and thus also representations of Islam as oppressive. I will, however, begin with the latter because readers are likely to be more familiar with them and also because it will allow me to dispel some misconceptions about Islam early on in my essay.

Representations of Islam and monotheism as "patriarchal," though popular, can be faulted on at least three counts. First, they rest on a simple but grievous methodological confusion between a religion/sacred text and a particular, patriarchal, reading of it; i.e., they confuse Divine Discourse with its exegesis (and Islam with Muslims). The fact that it is feminists who use such representations is ironic given that it is feminists who have been the first to theorize the gendered nature of representation, reading, and language itself, in conditions of actually existing patriarchy. Confusing a sacred text/religion with a specific reading of it also ignores the hermeneutic principle of textual polsemy; that is, the fact that all texts are open to multiple and even oppositional readings since every text has multiple meanings.

However, if we can read every text in multiple modes, how can we reasonably insist that the Quran alone can be read in only one, or have just one set of (patriarchal, sexist) meanings? To insist that it does is to put oneself in the same league as the so-called "fundamentalists" who also claim interpretive privilege by implying Scriptural monosemy (the false idea that the Quran has only "x" meaning which only they know).

Not only feminist, but also hermeneutic, epistemology thus demands that we distinguish between a text and its mis/readings, as Muslim theology has done from earliest times. However, just because we can read a text differently does not mean that every reading is equally legitimate. Indeed, the task of hermeneutics — defined variously as the philosophy, method and critique of interpretation — is to enable judgments about con/textual legitimacy. (For Muslims, the insight that not all readings of it may be right originates in the Quran itself; see Section V.)

Representations of Islam as patriarchal are also ahistorical. As a cursory reading of history reveals, even the forms that discrimination and misogyny have acquired among Muslims are not unique to them. Rather, ideas of female inferiority and male privilege, veiling and segregating women, polygyny, wife-beating, etc., were customary among the ancient Greeks and even in societies with goddess cults. Feminists themselves have traced the processes by which ancient misogynistic beliefs and practices percolated into Jewish, Christian, and eventually into Muslim religious traditions thereby distorting them.

For instance, Leila Ahmed19 shows how "preexisting" misogyny was incorporated "seamlessly" into Islam during the Middle Ages, shaping Muslim discourses on women and gender in years to come. Barbara Stowasser20, on the other hand, details the role of Muslim exegetes (many of them Christian and Jewish converts), in introducing into Islam ideas originating in Biblical traditions by way of their exegesis (interpretation) of the Quran (tafsir), and the narratives recording the life and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Ahadith).

As a result, the Quran’s teachings are overlaid by an exegesis that often misrepresents them in fundamental ways. For instance, the secondary religious texts assert that Eve was created from Adam’s rib (as a way to establish a "hierarchy of being"21 based on its temporalization), and that she brought about the Fall, a sin for which all women are said to have been punished by painful childbirth and menstruation. In contrast, the Quran teaches that creation originated in a single nafs (feminine plural for self); it does not state that man (Adam is a generic name for human) was created before woman, or that she was a product of his body, or that she was responsible for the Fall. Indeed, there is no concept in Islam of the Fall, which is based on Biblical temporalizations of the rift between God and humans and incarnates the moment of their mutual rupture and alienation.22

In Islam, on the other hand, God’s expulsion of humans from paradise also opens up the possibility for them to receive immeasurably of God’s Mercy. Nor does the Quran treat childbirth or menstruation as punishments for women or for designating them inferior to men or as inherently unclean. Similarly, the Muslim tendency to deny "female rationality and female moral responsibility" also derives from "Bible-related traditions,"23 and contradicts the Quran’s definition of women and men as equally responsible moral agents. In the same vein, Muslim representations of certain women figures in the Quran is also "achieved by way of adaptation of Bible-related lore"24 rather than by adherence to the Quran’s own teachings.

That we accept such repressive traditions and practices as Islamic is, I believe, less a commentary on Islam than it is on our own misreadings of it and on our shared history as Muslims and non-Muslim/Westerners. In the latter context, an argument can be made that the persistence of many anti-women traditions in Muslim societies is a legacy not only of a flawed Scriptural exegesis, but also of latter-day encounters between Muslim and non-Muslim/Western civilizations. In other words, if the interface between both during the "Middle Ages" explains the essentially similar nature of misogyny and discrimination in them at that point in time, the modern enterprise of Western colonialism may explain the persistence and specificity of misogyny and discrimination in Muslim societies today. To simplify a complex argument:

Western colonialism, which came, it said, to liberate us from our cultural and religious heritage, actually occasioned the re-entrenchment of many practices and symbols (notably, the veil) which Muslims came to see as markers of their identities, hence differences from the West. In the process, the pre/anti-Islamic and oppressive nature of many of these symbols and practices was elided. Ironically, then, both the assimilation of non-Muslim/Western ideas and customs into Islam and attempts to resist assimilation, may explain many of the transmutations and distortions that exist within Islam today.

I make these points not to exonerate Muslims or to put all the blame on the "Western/ outsider" for the ills of Muslim societies, but in the interest of historical accuracy, and to dispel certain fallacies about Islam. One is that Muslim exegesis of the Quran reflects its teachings accurately, as do Muslim practices, such that if sexual oppression exists in Muslim societies, it must be because Islam sanctions it. (The fact that Muslim patriarchies historically have been oppressive and have misrepresented their own oppressive practices as Islamic naturally lends credence to such views.) Another misconception is that Western civilization has had no hand in shaping the sexual/social practices of the Islamic world, a myth sustained by representations of "Islam" and "the West" as mutually exclusive and hermetically sealed universes totally segregated from one another.

Yet, there are limits to using history (or the West) as alibis for explaining Muslim women’s oppression, which I view also, and largely, as resulting from Muslim misreadings of the Quran.

 

IV. Reading Inequality and Oppression into the Quran

Most anti-women ideas among Muslims, as well as practices like female circumcision and stoning to death for adultery, predate Islam and do not originate in, nor are they endorsed by, the Quran. But this does not mean that Muslims have not derived theories of inequality and male privilege from the Quran. Specifically, its different treatment of women and men with respect to marriage (especially polygyny), divorce, evidence, inheritance, etc., and a couple of lines in the text ("men have a degree above women," and "men are in charge of the affairs of women [in that] God has preferred them"), are all read as establishing the Quran’s advocacy of sexual inequality and patriarchy. However, there are a number of problems with such readings.

First, even feminists (who do not always agree on what sexual equality is) now agree that "(s)imple equality principles have… proven inadequate for feminist practice," especially in the "area of sexuality."25 Moreover, a growing literature suggests that treating women and men differently does not in itself amount to treating them unequally, particularly if differences in treatment are not premised in claims about sexual (biological) differentiation.26 The Quran’s different treatment of women and men is not, in fact, premised in such claims (see Section V); rather, it is a function of the rights and responsibilities of individuals in a given situation.

For instance, a brother inherits twice the share of his sister from their parents’ property (and a mother twice that of a father from the property of their children), but this unequal division has to be seen in the context of the fact that husbands, not wives (even if independently wealthy), have been charged with the responsibility of maintaining their families. Likewise, the Quran’s stipulation that two women, in place of one man, can serve as witnesses to the transaction of a debt, does not mean that it regards the woman’s testimony as being half a man’s, as Muslim patriarchies hold.

In the far more consequential matter of adultery, when a husband accuses his wife but is unable to produce four witnesses to the fact, the Quran gives greater weight to the wife’s testimony on her own behalf than the husband’s against her. If she swears her innocence, he can have no further legal recourse against her. Similarly, although the Quran permits polygyny in certain cases, it is not because it privileges males but, strange as it may sound to us today, because it wishes to ensure justice for the most vulnerable women in society: the orphans.

"Give the orphans their property, and do not exchange the corrupt for the good [i.e., your worthless things for their good ones]; and devour not their property with your property; surely that is a great crime. If you fear that you will not act justly towards the orphans, marry such women as seem good to you, two, three, four; but if you fear you will not be equitable, then only one, (aw) what your right hands own so it is likelier you will not be partial.27

These verses are said to have been revealed after a battle in which many Muslim men lost their lives and many women were left as widows and orphans (at a time when the entire population of Muslims was counted in hundreds). It is the Quran’s desire to protect these women, left without support in a predatory/tribal/patriarchal society that fuels its sanction for polygyny which is, nonetheless, made contingent on three criteria: it is restricted to orphans, its purpose is to ensure justice for them, and it is not right if it results in injustice to the wife. That injustice may be inherent in a polygynous situation is clear not only from the last line of this verse, but also from another verse which warns men that "you will not be able to be equitable between your wives, be you ever so eager."28 Yet another verse reminds men that "God has not made for any man two hearts," implying that a man cannot love two women equally.29

Together, then, these verses can be read as presenting a case against polygyny, which is never presented as catering to men’s sexual needs or as a universal male prerogative. Misrepresentations of the Quran’s position on polygyny reveal another problem with patriarchal readings: their tendency to quote selectively from the Quran, thereby distorting and, in some cases, subverting its intent and teachings. For instance, the claim that the Quran establishes males as superior to women derives from misreading a reference to a husband’s rights in a divorce:

"Women who are divorced shall wait, keeping themselves apart, three (monthly) courses. And it is not lawful for them that they conceal that which Allah has created in their wombs if they believe in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands would do better to take them back in that case if they desire a reconciliation. And [(the rights) due to the women are similar to (the rights) against them, (or responsibilities they owe) with regard to] the ma’ruf (kindness) and men have a darajah (degree) above them (feminine plural). Allah is Mighty, Wise.30

Read in context, the degree refers not to men’s rights in general, or to their biological or ontological status as males, but to the husband’s right either (a) to divorce his wife without outside arbitration (the wife requires such arbitration even though the Quran does not stipulate it, as Wadud notes), or (b) to rescind a divorce.31 Since the Quran mentions kindness and reconciliation in the same verse, the latter seems to be a more plausible reading.

Similarly, the claim that God has preferred men to women and made them rulers over women arises from reading only parts of a verse and from misinterpreting three words in it:

Men are [qawwamuna ‘ala] women [on the basis] of what Allah has [preferred] (faddala) some of them over others, and [on the basis] of what they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are [qanitat], guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded. As for those from whom you fear [nushuz] admonish them, banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then, if they obey you, seek not a way against them".32

The primary meaning of qawwamun is financial maintainer, not ruler, argue Wadud and Azizah al-Hibri. The verse is thus charging husbands with the responsibility of maintaining women in those cases where they have a larger share in inheritance than the women (in which some of them have been preferred), and they are supporting women from it.33 Since men can only be "‘qawwamun’ over women in matters where God gave some of the men more than some of the women, and in what the men spend of their money, then clearly men as a class are not ‘qawwamun’ over women as a class," concludes al-Hibri.34 In addition, Wadud’s analysis of the words "qanitat" and "nushuz" show why they need not be read as referring to the wife’s conduct vis-à-vis her husband or as justifying his abuse of her.35

Other examples illustrate that Muslims read inequality and even oppression into the Quran by generalizing what is specific in it and by decontextualizing it.36 Yet, in the end, a patriarchal exegesis results not only from a flawed hermeneutics, but also from a flawed theology.

 

V. Reading Liberation from the Quran

A liberatory hermeneutics of the Quran and a liberatory theology must begin by recognizing that, since there is perfect congruence between Divine Ontology and Divine Discourse, we need to connect God to God’s Speech by making "God’s Self-Disclosure the hermeneutic site from which to read the Quran."37 That is, since God’s Speech and God’s Being as described in the Quran (God’s Self-Disclosure) are congruent, we need to base our exegesis of one in our understanding of the other. Thus far in my work, I have explored the exegetical implications of only three of God’s attributes out of the ninety-nine named in the Quran — God’s Unity, Justness, and Inimitability — which I will summarize very briefly.

The attribute of God’s Unity or Oneness (Tawhid) stipulates that God’s Sovereignty/Rule are Indivisible (cannot be shared with others) and no one can claim any form of rule/sovereignty that either alleges to be coterminous with God’s Rule, or conflicts with it. Inasmuch as theories of male privilege do both — by drawing parallels between God and fathers/husbands, misrepresenting males as intermediaries between women and God, or as rulers over women and thus entitled to their obedience — they violate the concept of Tawhid and must be rejected as UNQuranic.

The attribute of God’s Justice, on the other hand, maintains that though "severe, strict and unrelenting" in justice, God "never does any zulm to anybody."38 In other words, God does not "act in such a way as to transgress the proper limit and encroach upon the right of some other person,"39 which is the meaning of zulm employed in the Quran. Even if we define zulm differently, we cannot regard inequality, discrimination, and hatred as not being zulm. To the extent that patriarchy is based in all three, it can be said to constitute a manifest case of zulm and we must assume, again as a hermeneutic principle, that the Quran cannot condone it. An exegesis that alleges to the contrary should be rejected as a misreading inasmuch as it attributes zulm to God.

Finally, the doctrine of God’s Incomparability, which states that God is Unrepresentable, encourages us to reject God’s engenderment, even at a linguistic level ("He"). This is crucial since misrepresentations of God as Father/male also underwrite sexual hierarchies and oppression in religious contexts.

In addition to God’s Self-Disclosure, the Quran also provides hermeneutic keys for reading it, in its support for the principles of textual holism, con/textual legitimacy, and analytical reasoning. The Quran’s recognition of its own textual/thematic unity is clear from its warning not to break it "into parts",40 or to "change the words/From their (right) places/ And forget a good part of the Message."41 It is also clear from the Quran’s praise for those who recognize that all of it is from God, i.e., those who view it as a totality. That not every reading of it may be appropriate emerges from the Quran’s approval of those "who listen to the Word and follow the best (meaning) in it,"42 and its criticism of those who focus only on its "allegorical [verses]/Seeking discord, and searching/ For its hidden meanings."43 (While we may hesitate on the issue of the best meaning of every verse, we cannot regard a reading which imputes zulm/injustice to the Quran as the best, for reasons I have suggested.)

The Quran also distinguishes between itself and its (mis)readings by condemning those "who write/ The Book with their own hands,/ And then say: ‘This is from God.’"44 Indeed, the Quran is insistent that "those who are bent on denying the truth attribute their own lying inventions to God."45 While this is a reference to the hypocrites of the Prophet’s time, I believe it serves also as a warning to exegetes. Finally, the Quran urges believers to use their own aql (intelligence, reasoning) to decipher God’s signs for themselves while condemning anchorites and priests for leading people away from God (which may be why the Quran does not sanction a clergy THAT CAN CLAIM interpretive privilege).

The Quran’s auto-hermeneutics is sophisticated and complex and I have outlined it here in barest detail in order to show why it can generate an anti-patriarchal exegesis. However, to establish the Quran as an anti-patriarchal, or even as apatriarchal, text, we need to define patriarchy itself, which no reader of the Quran has done. In my own reading, I work with both a narrow and a broad definition so as to make it as comprehensive as possible. On the one hand, I define patriarchy as "a historically specific mode of rule by fathers/males that, in its religious and traditional forms, assumes a real/symbolic continuum between the "Father/fathers," i.e., between a patriarchal view of God as Father/male, and a theory of father-right, extending to the husband’s claim to rule over his wife."46 On the other hand, I also define patriarchy as a politics of male privilege and sexual differentiation which equates sex with gender and "prioritizes the male while making the woman different (unequal), less than, or the ‘Other.’"47 However, whether we use the specific or the general definition of patriarchy, we cannot find support for it in the Quran; indeed, its teachings challenge the central claims of both.

Thus, not only does the Quran repudiate the patriarchal construct of God as Father, but it also condemns sacralizations of prophets as fathers. It also characterizes the rule of fathers ("following the ways of our fathers") as being antithetical to God’s Rule. In fact, one of Islam’s most radical moves against patriarchy is to displace the rule of father/husband in favor of God’s Rule. This emerges not only from the Quran’s relentless denunciations, in dozens of verses and contexts, of the rule of unbelieving fathers, but also from its treatment of believing fathers as illustrated by the lives of the prophets Abraham and Muhammad.48

Thus, Abraham’s break with his own father and his vision, first to sacrifice his son and then not to, all illustrate this displacement of the father’s will/rule by God’s Will/Rule. On the one hand, God approves of Abraham’s break with his unbelieving father and also saves him from the latter’s punishment, establishing the legitimacy of disobedience to unbelieving fathers and of obedience to a Merciful God. On the other hand, however, God also curtails Abraham’s rights as father twice: once by giving him the vision to sacrifice his son — which can only proceed in the Quran when the son himself freely consents to it, indicating that it is not simply a question of Abraham exercising unquestioned patriarchal authority — and then in commanding Abraham not to proceed with the sacrifice, establishing the primacy of God’s Will/Rule over the rights of even believing fathers. Indeed, it is a believing father’s "willingness to submit his will to God’s Will; i.e., to yield up his rights as father/man" that establishes him as a believer, as Abraham’s narrative illustrates.49

Similarly, in spite of the fact that the Quran describes the Prophet Muhammad as being "closer" to believers than their "own selves,"50 it also declares that "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but the Messenger of God and the seal of Prophets."51 While this verse is read as clarifying the Prophet’s relationship to his adopted son, it is significant for its refusal to sacralize the Prophet as real/symbolic father, showing yet again the Quran’s abiding resistance to the patriarchal paradigm of the Father/fathers. This resistance illustrates a cardinal tenet of Islamic monotheism: the primacy and inviolability of God’s Rights/Rule, which holds that submission to God, not fathers (patriarchy in the traditional sense), defines moral agency. It is for the same reason that the Quran does not valorize husbands as rulers/guardians over women, or as heads of households.52

Although many feminists condemn Islam’s "uncompromising monotheism," it is this very inflexibility about the primacy of God’s Rule that opens up possibilities for radical equality for women inasmuch as God’s Rule is not based in the idea of sexual differentiation, hence in a theory of sexual inequality. That is, while the Quran recognizes sexual (biological) differences, it does not assign sex/biology or sexual/biological difference symbolic or normative value. It does not link sex with gender. Consequently, the Quran does not teach what Thomas Laqueur calls "a biology of sexual incommensurability,"53 i.e., the notion "that there are two stable, incommensurable, opposite sexes and that the political, economic, and cultural lives of men and women, their gender roles, are somehow based on these ‘facts.’"54

This "two-sex model," which is at the core of modern Westernized misogyny, assumes that biological differences between males and females, hence between men and women, render them "different in every conceivable aspect of body and soul, in every physical and moral aspect."55 The tendency to ascribe "psychosocial distinctions" between women and men to biological differences56 is common not just to "patriarchal religions" (monotheism), as feminists charge, but also to Western secularism, which also claims that women’s biology renders them deficient in morality and reasoning.57

At the heart of this claim is not only the confusion of sex (biology) with gender (its social constructions), but also the tendency to theorize sexual difference in terms not of "(‘pure’) difference but in terms of dichotomous opposition or distinction; not, that is, as contraries (‘A’ and ‘B’), but as contradictories (‘A’ and ‘not-A’)."58 The difference, explains Elizabeth Grosz, is that "in relations governed by pure difference, each term is defined by all the others; there can be no privileged term which somehow dispenses with its (constitutive) structuring and value in relations to other terms." In contrast, distinctions and binary oppositions result when one term non-reciprocally defines "the other as its negative. The presence and absence of one term defines both positions in the dichotomy" (her emphases).

It is, says Grosz, this second notion of difference, as binary opposition, that characterizes phallo-centric thought. Arguably, however, it is not only the idea of sexual difference as exemplified by the two-sex model that is phallo-centric, but also the idea of sexual sameness exemplified by the "one-sex" model associated with the ancient Greeks. In this model, women and men were arranged "according to their degree of metaphysical perfection;" thus, to be "a man or a woman . . . was to hold a social rank, a place in society, to assume a cultural role, not to be organically one or the other of two incommensurable sexes."59 Yet, in spite of its view of sex as a sociological rather than an ontological category, this model also establishes man as the Self (‘A’) and woman as the OTHER (lesser ‘A’). Elements of both models persist in modern patriarchal discourses in which the woman is "absence, negativity, the dark continent, or at best a lesser man."60 In other words, woman is both difference and a lack.

The Quran, however, does not espouse a view of sexual difference or sameness that coheres with either the one-sex or the two-sex model. As Wadud says, it "does not consider woman a type of man in the presentation of its major themes. Man and woman are two categories of the human species given the same or equal consideration and endowed with the same or equal potential."61 In effect, the Quran’s teachings on human ontology, agency, and subjectivity show that women and men constitute part of a single totality — that of sexual/sexed pair — in which it is not the biological sex of either partner, or the specific nature of their sexuality, that is important, but the nature/quality of their moral praxis. In other words, the only criteria for distinguishing between humans in the Quran are ethical-moral, not sexual:

"O [human]! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct."62

To clarify: morally purposeful action in accordance with Quranic teachings and not sexual identity, defines human agency and subjectivity in Islam. Not only does the Quran make no claims about sexual sameness or difference that portray women as lesser or defective men or the two sexes as incompatible, unequal, or incommensurable, in the tradition of Western/ized patriarchal thought, but — unlike the latter — it also does not equate sex with given social meanings (gender), or assign specific attributes to either sex.63

That is, the Quran does not define women and men in terms of sex/gender attributes, much less in terms of binary oppositions; e.g., man as logical, woman as illogical; man as intelligent, woman as emotional; man as the Self, woman as the Other. In fact, inasmuch as humans commence from a single Self in the Quran, there is no real or symbolic Other. Moreover, in the Quran’s definition of the human pair, neither half is privileged, as is clear from the Quran’s teachings on a whole array of issues ranging from marital relations to moral personality to sexual modesty.

In keeping with its view of women and men as equal moral agents, the Quran holds them both to the same standards of moral behavior and promises them the same reward for righteousness:

"For Muslim men and women,—

For believing men and women,

For devout men and women,

For men and women who are

Patient and constant, for men

And women who humble themselves,

For men and women who give

In charity, for men and women

Who fast (and deny themselves).

For men and women who

Guard their chastity, and

For men and women who

Engage much in God’s praise

For them has God prepared

Forgiveness and great reward".64

That the Quran regards women and men as being equally responsible moral agents is clear not only from this verse but also from the fact that the Quran designates believing women and men as each other’s awliya, i.e., mutual protectors, or mutually "in charge" of one another:

"The Believers, men

And women, are [awliya],

One of another: they enjoin

What is just, and forbid

What is evil: they observe

Regular prayers, practise

Regular charity, and obey

God and [God’s] Apostle.

On them will God pour

[God’s] Mercy: for God

Is Exalted in power, Wise.65

The Quran does not distinguish between the moral-ethical behavior and potential of women and men, and it also does not distinguish between their work. It does not define women and men in terms of a specific social or sexual division of labor, or label work women’s work or men’s work. This is why it is difficult — if we keep the totality of its teachings in mind — to view its different treatment of women and men with respect to some issues as evidence of its support for sexual inequality. On the contrary, the Quran teaches us a radically egalitarian view of the equal worth and dignity of women that remains unparalleled, even in modern thought.66

Finally, as some of the verses quoted above make clear, the Quran is rare among Scriptures in addressing women directly. How this came about is significant for women. Tradition records that when the Quran was being revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century, his wife Umm Salama questioned why it was not addressing women directly. (Her question seems to have been prompted in part by the Quran’s mode of address and in part by its language.) And that, we learn, is how the Quran came to address women as women. This episode (which shows that some women were critical thinkers a millennium and a half ago) reveals the importance of language in shaping human subjectivities while also underscoring its limitations as a medium for Divine Speech.

If language did not matter, or if language were perfect, presumably God would not have responded to Umm Salama’s question by modifying the Quran’s mode of address and making women the subjects of Divine Discourse, rather than its objects, as they are in patriarchal discourses. Indeed, God’s responsiveness to women’s concerns is reflected not only in the language of Divine Discourse, but also in its content, which God shaped in light of women’s concerns as they themselves articulated these during the process of its revelation.67 Second and more crucially, Umm Salama’s question and God’s rejoinder to it confirm that in Islam women’s relationship with God is direct and unmediated and extends to being able to ask questions about, and of, divine speech itself. That is why I believe that if we continue to ask the right sorts of questions of it the Quran can continue to speak to us today.

VI. An Epilogue

From the absence of valorizations of fathers/husbands (and, indeed, from the Quran’s condemnations of such valorizations) as well as from the absence of sex/gender as a meaningful category in the Quran — and from the Quran’s insistence on treating women and men as two equal halves of a single pair in which neither is privileged — I am led to conclude that Quranic epistemology is inherently anti-patriarchal. In fact, the Quran provides some of the clearest arguments against patriarchy and discrimination in addition to espousing a radically egalitarian view of equality. That is why I believe that movements struggling for women’s rights in Muslim societies have the best defense of their cause in the Quran itself. As it happens, Muslim patriarchs try to discredit such movements by branding them "Western/feminist," implying that there is no room to contest patriarchy and sexual inequality from within the fold of Islam.

However, one can, in fact, challenge both from within Islam. Yet, as it also happens, many educated Muslim women are unwilling to do so. For one reason, it seems inconceivable to a woman who has been oppressed all her life in the name of the Father and the Scripture that she can read the same Scripture for liberation. For another, many educated Muslim women also tend to confuse Islam with the so-called "Islamists," with whom rational discourse seems impossible.

And, of course, there remains the critical issue of the contexts in which Muslims today are obliged to read the Quran. Patriarchal and, for the most part, repressive societies, with well entrenched interpretive communities and states jealous of their monopoly on religious knowledge, are unlikely to countenance readings that undermine their own privileges, as anti-patriarchal readings are sure to do eventually. Struggles for equality, however, have always exacted a price and the price Muslim women are being asked to pay in order to reclaim their sacred text and their right to read it anew seems modest given how much hinges on retrieving what Leila Ahmed has called the "egalitarian" voice of Islam.68 This is the voice I have tried to show of the Quran, which is why a liberatory Quranic hermeneutics appears to me to be essential to the project of Muslim women’s liberation today.

 

VII. Responding to my Respondents69

I feel singularly fortunate to have had Laura Luitje and Linda Schulte-Sasse as my respondents and find their disparate, if always critical, readings of my essay provocative and energizing. (I have left the main portion of my essay more or less unchanged from the version that Luitje and Schulte-Sasse read, so that readers know what they are responding to.) Since the only thing common to both responses is an equally careful engagement with my essay, I will answer them separately. This will also allow me to draw out the nature and significance of these divergent assessments of my work.

Luitje’s critique is remarkable as much for its thoughtfulness as for the fact that it is grounded in a concerted attempt to engage my work in terms of its own truth-claims and framework, hence on its own terms. This strikes me as extraordinary, as does the fact that Luitje quite self-consciously set out to change the nature of her own foreknowledge of Islam and Muslims as part of the process of engagement by studying some of the same scholars I draw on. As a result, she is able to provide not only an internal critique of my paper, but also an invaluable contextualization of it by emphasizing the rich diversity of scholarship on the Quran, the evolving nature of Quranic exegesis, and the role of cultural differences in shaping Muslim interpretations (and practices) of Islam.

Even as Luitje provides readers a context to understand the specificity of my arguments, she also — gently — takes me to task for having excluded from my analysis the voice of gender hierarchy in Islam to which Leila Ahmed refers. She also questions my equation of patriarchy with zulm, rightly pointing out that since most people view patriarchy as universal and "natural," they are unlikely to share my definition of it as a form of zulm against women. Isn’t it hubris, she asks further, to suggest that there has been something quite misguided about Muslim readings of Islam for a millennium and a half?

Yet, eventually, Luitje is concerned not only with such philosophical niceties but also with real-life issues: how can Muslims revise gender roles? Won’t people resist egalitarian readings of the Quran? Can there be a meaningful dialogue between Muslim feminists and the standard-bearers of patriarchy? These questions reveal real anxiety that the issue of Muslim women’s rights not just remain at the level of theoretical discussions. I just could not appreciate anything more!

It will, perhaps, not come as too much of a surprise to Luitje to know that I do grapple with these questions in that absent presence, my book, to which I refer a number of times in this essay. For instance, I admit that my primary aim is to recuperate the other, egalitarian voice of Islam since this is the voice we have become least accustomed to hearing and the voice we most need to recover if we are to develop a praxis of liberation for Muslim women. The fact that this voice has so completely disappeared from Muslim religious discourses and consciousnesses so as to require explanation and defense today — i.e., its very silencing — suggests to me that something has gone terribly wrong with how we have interpreted the Quran over the last several centuries.

This does seem like an enormous, and enormously conceited, claim to make but, in spite of the uniqueness of the vantage point from which I make it, the claim itself is not unique to me. It is made regularly by both conservative Muslims — whose remedial strategy is to "go back" to Islam as practiced by, and in the times of, the Prophet — and by reformists who have sought throughout history to re-vision religious knowledge as it existed at particular moments in time. Thus, few believing Muslims, of whatever persuasion, consider the Islam we practice today as entirely in tune with its real teachings or spirit. Of course, we could all be deluded, or we could be acknowledging the simple truth that, as W.C. Smith puts it, "to reduce what Islam is, conceptually, to what Islam has been, historically, or is in the process of becoming… would be to fail to recognise its religious quality: the relationship to the divine; the transcendent element.

Indeed, Islamic truth must necessarily transcend Islamic actuality."70 To view Islam as the embodiment of Divine Truth thus does not rule out the possibility for Muslims to recognize that our apprehension and actualization of this Truth may be neither exhaustive nor entirely unproblematic, and may need continued revision.

It is in this context that I have argued that our understanding of Islam depends on how we interpret the Quran. But, how the Quran (or any other text, for that matter) speaks to us depends also on how we ourselves speak to it. We cannot read it as a liberatory text if we do not ask specifically directed questions of it about sexual equality and patriarchy, questions which the medieval Muslim scholars whose works we regard as canonical today, did not — could not — ask given what they did not know about sexual oppression and equality, biology and its social constructions, the (gendered/ interpretive) nature of reading/language, etc. (This does not mean, of course, that no one has ever asked the right sorts of questions of the Quran before; indeed, I gave the example of Umm Salama, but, unfortunately for Muslims, she remains a rare example.)

Asking new questions and questioning accepted interpretations is part not only of our evolving knowledge of Islam, but also of the development of Western science, no less than of Western religions, both of which have been contingent on questioning existing practices and paradigms — no matter how extended or hallowed — as witnessed by the scientific revolutions, the Protestant Reformation, and the advent of multiple interpretations of Jewish identity.

The real issue at hand, then, is not whether we should question interpretations of Islam — since we already do — but the terms on which we should do so. For conservative Muslims, as Luitje points out, such questioning does not include and may, in fact, preclude new readings of the Quran, or a revisioning of the Sharia (Muslim law), or opening up the Ahadith (records of the Prophet’s life) to critical scrutiny. For Muslims interested in evolving a liberatory praxis, it seems unavoidable to do all three. This does not mean we want to get rid of all aspects of the Sharia, or the Ahadith; rather, we want to bring them more into conformity with anti-oppressive readings of the Quran.

Can these two groups of Muslims come to a shared interpretation of religious knowledge and even have a dialogue? I am not sure. Even so, I remain sanguine — and hope I have also convinced some readers — that a Quranic hermeneutics of liberation is crucial for challenging the ideological/theological roots of sexual oppression in Muslim societies.

That I have, in fact, managed to convince not only Luitje, but also Schulte-Sasse (who approaches my work from the opposite end of the spectrum) of the significance of such a project seems clear from her response, which says to me that we may disagree on practically everything, but not on the need for me to do what I am doing. Unlike Luitje, Schulte-Sasse doesn’t have to respect what I believe in order to respect my right to believe in it. Her response perhaps best exemplifies the easy tolerance of post-modern secularism.

How, one may ask, could one possibly cavil at a liberality that allows Schulte-Sasse to support my right to defend something she doesn’t believe in and even considers — rather good-naturedly — illusory (a benign God, "the" Truth)? Yet, it is her very willingness to defend something she doesn’t believe in — or to put it more accurately, to defend the intent of my reading while taking issue with its content — that makes me wonder if it is not the mere act of reading that matters to Schulte-Sasse, and whether there is much point in responding to her critique of its content.

Does the very liberality of her support foreclose the need for clarification and further conversation? Having reached such an impasse herself, and having chosen to press on, Schulte-Sasse reveals herself to be less of a post-modern liberal than she seems. After all, by her own reckoning, a true liberal would have ended the conversation by respecting my right to do what I am doing. Yet, she does choose to engage the content of my reading, even if on her own terms and terrain (which is why I regard her critique as an external one). So, even though I suspect that our conversation is not meant to foster agreement, I also opt to continue it, in the spirit of the Quran’s advice to reason with one’s critics in the best possible way.

To me, the most significant point Schulte-Sasse makes is a methodological one: a reading strategy like mine, she says, uses critical theory to establish the "unfixability of meaning" only to end up positing an "ultimate meaning" by, in my case, designating the Quran as "the Truth." This "discursive switch," she argues, shuts down my argument rather than opening it up, in the manner of critical theories. I should point out, however, that it is not by means of a discursive switch, or by relying on critical theories, that I establish the Quran’s status as the Truth (for me); rather, I embrace that as an a priori epistemological and theological assumption. Can I still have a conversation with those who do not agree with my views? Schulte-Sasse’s response itself suggests that I can.

I will not pursue the question of whether Schulte-Sasse and I could really understand each other if meaning were, in fact, completely unfixable. Rather, I will ask why we should confuse the "undecidability" or unfixability of meaning with an absence of truth. To Muslims, it does not follow that if we cannot "fix" the Quran’s meanings (partly because its polysemy allows us to render each verse in many ways; according to the sufi Al-Ghazali, perhaps as many as 60,000) that the Quran therefore is not the Truth. For Muslims, the undecidability or multiplicity of meaning is not a function of content, or of truth-claims, but of hermeneutics. And it is because hermeneutics alone is insufficient to yield an ethical perspective on the truth that I base my reading of the Quran in certain epistemic claims about God’s Being.

It may be a similar confusion of Truth with the methods of its appropriations that also leads Schulte-Sasse to ask if we can, in fact, "separate the message from its medium" (as I do when I critique not the Quran but its misreadings), and consider one perfect and the other flawed. In effect, can we assume Divine Discourse to be pure when its interpretations cannot be, given the very nature of language? (Of course, Schulte-Sasse expects me to be able to understand her, irrespective of the problematic nature of language!)

I believe we can assume Divine Discourse to be pure and its interpretations not pure by assuming Divine Infallibility and human fallibility (but we would also need to view God, not "man," as the ultimate locus of knowledge and Truth). To believers, there is nothing illogical about claiming that we can know God only in our own imperfections, but that our imperfections do not in any way reflect on God. Thus, our flawed and incomplete understanding of Divine Discourse does not render the Discourse itself flawed or incomplete.

If this answer does not engage Schulte-Sasse, let me raise questions that may. If we do not distinguish between the message and its medium, we then also give up the idea of misreading inasmuch as the text then becomes its (mis)readings. But, could we then generate better readings? Could Jewish and Christian feminists, for instance, ever hope to recover the liberatory aspects of the Bible? Could we even judge between good or bad translations or interpretations of, say, Marx? Alternatively, would a bad reading be taken as signifying a bad original? Would bad deconstruction illegitimize deconstruction as a reading strategy? If we treat sacred texts as being divorced from social practices, as Schulte-Sasse’s reading of Lessing suggests — it’s not the ring, but the search for it that’s the point, they say, though I doubt the latter would make much sense in the absence of the former — then such questions are moot. But, for those who view the relationship between text and context to be interconnected and thus utterly consequential, they can hardly be.

Then there is Schulte-Sasse’s observation that to establish the Quran as anti-oppressive to women is not to establish it as anti-patriarchal, with which I agree. Moreover, not only does she show that many of my assumptions are infused with patriarchy, but she also concedes her own complicity with patriarchy in her role of teacher. But I thought I was trying to establish the Quran as anti-oppressive because it is anti-patriarchal! I thought I made it clear that for me patriarchy is not a voluntarily inhabitable subject-position, or power imbalance, or even a vaguely defined gender privilege. If it is, let’s give up any hope of ever being able to contest it! Rather, it is a specific mode of sexual politics and sexual differentiation that is based in andronormativity (to coin, if it does not already exist, an unhappy term for the unhappy practice of regarding man as normative). In terms of these definitions, the mere exercise of power by women does not reconstruct them as patriarchs.

Finally, Schulte-Sasse’s critique of Islam’s definition of moral agency as voluntary submission to God as both paradoxical (to Westerners schooled in individualist ideology) and socially irresponsible, is perhaps the most disturbing to me. The paradox is easily resolved: do not Western ideas of the social contract, that fabulous imaginary, assume that people voluntarily accept certain limits and restraints as the precondition of freedom? Granted this does not involve submitting to God, but it does invoke that same bizarre idea of self-restraint, self-limits, and self-discipline that Muslims also invoke when they theorize agency and freedom as voluntary submission. Anything forced does not qualify as agency or freedom, much less Faith, given the Quran’s warnings to avoid compulsion and excesses in religion.

And what about Derrida’s and Kirkegaard’s critique of the Abrahamic narrative of sacrifice as illustrating that moral subjectivity and social responsibility are incompatible, even as one subverts the other? I wonder if the debased view at the heart of this critique of both Abraham and Abraham’s God results from an anthropomorphic idea of God (as sadistic, or capricious), or whether the binary between morality and responsibility originates in the interiorization (by Christianity) of the idea of a mutual rift between God and "man" as embodied in the trope of the Fall, which institutionalizes human alienation from God.71

If so, I can only clarify that Muslims do not believe in the Fall nor in the idea of human alienation from God; nor do we adhere to frivolous ideas of God. And here, alas, my Faith in the Real and Absolute must come into conflict with the reality and absoluteness of Schulte-Sasse’s lack of it. I am thus left to ponder this Quranic verse:

"Say: o ye

That reject Faith!

I worship not that

Which ye worship.

And I will not worship

That which ye have been

Wont to worship.

Nor will ye worship

That which I worship.

To you be your Way,

And to me mine.72

To some, this verse may suggest that it is my religious intolerance rather than Schulte- Sasse’s liberal tolerance of the idea of the ultimate non-existence of truth — which renders God superfluous as its source — that puts closure to our conversation. But, this time I would like to say that would be too easy. To me, this verse does not so much end conversation as it clarifies the terms on which a real dialogue can occur. I read it as suggesting that while we have the right to believe in different truths, the content of our truths does matter to how, and how deeply, we can actually converse. Where the content of our belief systems is absolutely different — even if only in the absolutes in which we believe (my conviction in the existence of Truth, Schulte-Sasse’s conviction in its non-existence) — there must eventually come a parting of ways. One of liberalism’s dilemmas is that, while enabling this parting, it does not want to accept its existential implications. It thus continues to foster the illusion that tolerance of difference constitutes respect for it.

Lest I leave readers with the impression that, prior to coming to this point of parting, I have not benefited from my conversation with Schulte-Sasse, I hope that my response will affirm otherwise. She, no less than Luitje, has pushed me, albeit in different ways and to different ends, to develop and refine my ideas and arguments. So perhaps there is more opportunity here for a conversation between liberals and non-liberals, the religious and the irreligious, than such binaries lead us to believe. Now, whether this exchange remains "mere conversation," to quote the immortal Paulo Freire, or becomes a dialogue, is a rather different question.

'Macalester International, 2001 (Vol. 10). Posted on A Barlas' website with permission from Macalester College, MN'?

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2009 Year 16    No.144, Quran and Liberation, Cover Story 2


Notes:

This essay attempts to summarize the argument of my book manuscript, Gender and Patriarchy in the Quran (University of Texas Press, 2002). Readers who find some aspects of my argument here incomplete may benefit from reading the manuscript. The three English translations of the Quran I have used are accepted by Muslims as being the best: Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Quran: Text, Translation and Commentary (New York: Tahrike Tarsile Quran, Inc., 1988); A.J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted (New York: Allen and Unwin, 1955); and Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Quran (Gibraltor: Dar al-Andalus, 1980). Citations from the Quran are in brackets; the first number refers to the chapter and the second to the verse.

2. el-Sohl and Mabro 1994, p. 1.

3. The words "Islamist" and "fundamentalist" are highly problematic; the first is like calling a Jew a Judaist, while the second comes out of a specifically Christian experience.

4. Hussain 1994.

5. Millett 1980.

6. Rajan 1993, p. 10.

7. Showalter 1992, p. 74.

8. Jacobus in Showalter 1992.

9. Ricoeur 1981, p. 145.

10. Simply imputing gender to reading does not say anything about the reading and, indeed, when feminists refer to the gendered nature of reading, they are referring to its masculinized character.

11. Toril Moi 1985.

12. Leila Ahmed 1992, p. 71.

13. Spellberg 1994, p. 193.

14. Combs-Schilling 1989, p. 88.

15. Barlas 2002.

16. van Ess 1996, p. 189.

17. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968); Freire ascribes this quote to the journalist Marcio Moreira Alves.

18. Sardar et. al. 1993.

19. Leila Ahmed 1992.

20. Barbara Stowasser 1994.

21. Margaret Hodgson, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964). Hodgson shows how temporalization creates (racial) hierarchies.

22. Nieuwenhuijze 1997.

23. Stowasser 1994, pp. 28, 41.

24. Ibid., p. 21.

25. Miles 1996, p. 49.

26. Hekman 1990 and Keddie 1996.

27. The reference to what men’s "right hands own" is taken to mean war captives, concubines and slaves, all of whom were customary in seventh century tribal Arab society (to which the Quran was revealed). However, Muhammad Asad (1980: 519; footnote 3) translates "aw" not as "or," but as "that is." In his reading, the reference here is to women whom men’s right hands possess, that is, their spouses.

28. 4:1; in Arberry 1955, p. 100; my emphasis.

29. 4:125; in Arberry, p. 119.

30. 33:4; in Ali 1988, p. 1102.

31. 2:228; in Wadud 1999, p. 68.

32. Asad 1980.

33. 4:34; in Wadud 1999, p. 70.

34. Barlas 2002; p. 18.

35. Wadud, p. 71; her emphasis.

36. See Wadud and Barlas for why the Quran’s reference to "scourge" was a restriction on a prevalent practice, not an invitation to spousal abuse.

37. Barlas 2002.

38. Ibid., p. 32; emphasis in original.

39. Izutsu 1964, pp. 77, 129.

40. Izutsu 1959, p. 152.

41. 15:91; in Ali 1988, p. 194.

42. 5:14; in Ali 1988, p. 245.

43. 39:18; in Ali, p. 1241.

44. 3:7; in Ali, p. 123.

45. 2:79; in Ali 1988, p. 38.

46. 5:05; in Asad 1980, p. 166.

47. Barlas 2002, p. 27.

48. Zillah Eisenstein, Feminism and Sexual Equality: Crisis in Liberal America (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984), p. 90. In her later work, Eisenstein concedes that difference does not mean inequality. See The Female Body and the Law (California: University of California Press, 1988).

49. See Barlas 2002 for a detailed discussion.

50. Ibid., p. 169; emphasis in original.

51. 33:6; in Ali 1988, p. 1104.

52. 33:40; in Ali 1988, p. 1119.

53. Barlas 2002.

54. Thomas Laqueur 1990, p. 196.

55. Ibid., p. 6.

56. Ibid., p. 5.

57. Millett 1970, p. 26.

58. Hewitt 1995.

59. Grosz 1990, p. 124.

60. Laqueur 1990, pp. 5, 8.

61. Moi 1985, pp. 133–34.

62. Wadud 1999, p. 15.

63. 49:13.

64. Barlas 2002, p. 189.

65. 33:35; in Ali 1988, pp. 116–117.

66. 9:71; in Ali 1988, p. 461.

67. See Barlas 2002 for a fuller discussion.

68. Ibid.

69. Leila Ahmed 1992.

70. This is my response to Laura Luitje’s and Linda Schulte-Sasse’s responses to my essay; it is best read after reading both of their responses in the pages that follow.

71. W.C. Smith 1981, p. 30.

72. See C.A.O. Nieuwenhuijze, Paradise Lost: Reflections on the Struggle for Authenticity in the Middle East (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997).

Bibliography:

Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992.

Barlas, Asma. "Believing Women": Sex/Gender, Patriarchy and the Quran. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Combs-Schilling, M.E. Sacred Performances: Islam, Sexuality, and Sacrifice. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

Cragg, Kenneth. The Event of the Quran: Islam in its Scripture. Oxford: Oneworld, 1994.

El-Sohl, Camilla Fawzi and Judy Mabro. Muslim Women’s Choices: Religious Belief and Social Reality. Oxford: Berg, 1994.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Hekman, Susan. Gender and Knowledge: Elements of a Postmodern Feminism. Boston:Northeastern University Press,

Hewitt, Marsha A. Critical Theory of Religion: A Feminist Analysis. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

Hussain, Neelam. "Women as Objects and Women as Subjects within Fundamentalist Discourse." In Locating the Self: Perspective on Women and Multiple Identities, edited by Nighat Khan, Rubina Saigol, and Afiya Zia. Lahore, Pakistan: ASR, 1994.

Izutsu, Toshihiko. The Structure of the Ethical Terms in the Koran: A Study in Semantics, Vol. II. Tokyo: Keio Institute of Philological Studies, 1959.

———. God and Man in the Koran: Semantics of the Koranic Weltanschauung. Tokyo: Keoi, Institute of Cultural and Linguistic Studies, 1964.

Keddie, Nikki, ed. Debating Gender, Debating Sexuality. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

Laqueur, Thomas. Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Miles, Angela. Integrative Feminisms: Building Global Visions, 1960s-1990s. New York:Routledge, 1996.

Millett, Kate. Sexual Politics. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1970.

Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. New York: Metheun, 1985.

Nieuwenhuijze, C.A.O. Paradise Lost: Reflections on the Struggle for Authenticity in the Middle East. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997.

Rajan, Rajeswari Sunder. Real and Imagined Women: Gender, Culture and Postcolonialism. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Ricoeur, Paul. Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation. Edited and translated by John B. Thompson. Cambridge: University Press, 1981.

Sardar, Zia, Ashis Nandy, and Meryl Wyn Davies. Barbaric Others: A Manifesto on Western Racism. London: Pluto Press, 1993.

Showalter, Elaine. "The Feminist Critical Revolution." In Imagining Women: Cultural Representations and Gender. Edited by Frances Bonner, Lizbeth Goodman, Richard Allen, Linda James, and Catherine King. Oxford: Polity Press, 1992.

Smith, W.C. Towards a World Theology: Faith and the Comparative History of Religion. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981.

Spellberg, D.Z. Politics, Gender and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of Aisha bint Abu Bakr. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Stowasser, Barbara F. Women in the Quran: Traditions and Interpretations. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Van Ess, Josef. "Verbal Inspiration? Language and Revelation in Classical Islamic Theology." In The Quran as Text, edited by Stefan Wild. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.

Wadud, Amina. Quran and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

 

Quran and Liberation

The Quran teaches us a radically egalitarian view of the equal worth and dignity of women that remains unparalleled, even in modern thought

First published on: October 2009
 

Quran and Liberation
 

At this year’s Macalester Roundtable, we are celebrating, and also critically evaluating, divergent perspectives on international feminisms. It is in that context that I have been asked to address some of the central concerns of Muslim women as I perceive them. The open-endedness of both the invitation and the topic seems to make for a relatively easy task; yet this very fact complicates it inasmuch as the discursive richness of the subject and the profusion of approaches to it make it difficult for a single person or perspective to cover it comprehensively, or in a manner that everyone will find equally meaningful. I would like, therefore, to acknowledge from the outset the partial nature of my own account and its particularized appeal. Muslims today number over a billion people and live in every continent in the world in conditions of enormous political, social, cultural, and — though we are insufficiently attentive to it — religious, diversity. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Muslim women will have different types of concerns depending on where they live and in what conditions. At the same time, however, it is painfully clear that in spite of the diversity of Muslim cultures and societies, women in many societies have to endure similar forms of sexual inequality and discrimination.

These range from cultural mores and psychological attitudes that condone bigotry or violence towards women, to laws that refuse to recognize them as legal and moral agents on a par with men, to the restriction or denial of political-economic rights and resources to them relative to men. What is more, discrimination, and even oppression, are often justified by recourse to sacred knowledge or, more accurately, knowledge claiming to derive from religion, including from Islam’s Scripture, the Quran. It is this problem — in feminist terminology of sexual/textual oppression — that I will discuss here.

Specifically, I will analyze, and also contest, the tendency to read sexual inequality, oppression, and patriarchy into the Quran. I will argue not only that readings and representations of Islam and the Quran as patriarchal/oppressive rest on a number of errors, but also that the Quran can be read as an anti-patriarchal text, that is, as undermining the fundamental claims of patriarchies. By illustrating the anti-patriarchal nature of Quranic epistemology I hope to establish the continuing relevance to Muslims of their Scripture for (re)theorizing women’s and men’s rights.

Two caveats are in order here. First, I do not wish to suggest that we should (or can) explain Muslim women’s oppression or status, "solely in terms of the Quran and/or other Islamic sources all too often taken out of context."2. As numerous scholars have pointed out, patriarchal and sexual patterns in Muslim states are a function also of the nature of the state and political economy, cultural practices that may have nothing to do with Islam, the history of a particular society, women’s social class, the choices available to them, etc. Nonetheless, if we take sexual/textual oppression seriously, and I believe we must, the issue of how Muslims read, or — as I will argue – fail to read, the Quran becomes critical, especially for women.

In this context, secondly, while I am happy to acknowledge my debts to Western feminisms, I must confess that I do not view the project of women’s "liberation" itself as being Western or feminist. Rather, I find such a project to be intrinsic to the Quran’s teachings, which is why I remain skeptical of relying on Western feminisms and secularism for theorizing women’s rights in Muslim societies.

In part, then, this essay is also an implicit critique of Western secular feminism. I begin by explaining my choice of topic and methodology and, since the latter is likely to generate resistance on the part of some readers, by speculating on the nature of their reservations as a way to enable a more open-minded engagement with my work.

 

I. Why this Topic and Method?

My choice of topic derives from my view that the central problem women face in Muslim societies today is the prevalence of discriminatory and misogynistic practices and ideologies (howsoever defined) which prevent them from realizing their full human potential and, in some cases, from being able to meet even their most basic needs for survival (as in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan). However, while I am angered by the discrimination and misogyny of Muslim societies, what I want to comment on here is not their persistence per se, since there are few, if any, societies that have managed to rid themselves of sexual inequality or hatred for women. Rather, what I find significant, hence worthy of analysis, is the tendency to read misogyny and discrimination into Islam, particularly into the Quran. This is evident not only from patriarchal readings of the Quran by so-called "Islamists,"3 but also from Muslim feminist condemnations of Islam’s "own misogynist bias" 4 and of monotheism itself as patriarchal5.

I hope to show that such views arise not only from flawed readings of Islam, but also from a flawed epistemology of reading. This argument necessitates first clarifying the relevance of reading/representations to a discussion of Muslim women’s oppression and also liberation.

Representations are relevant to such a discussion because, as feminists argue, a society’s constructions of "ideal" women also shape its treatment of "real" ones. That is why "our understanding of the problems of ‘real’ women cannot lie outside the ‘imagined’ constructs in and through which ‘women’ emerge as subjects."6 It is this relationship between the real and the symbolic that allows feminists to theorize connections between the "literary and the social mistreatment of women,"7 and to condemn their "textual harassment." 8

While not all representations are textual in nature, texts — which are discourses "fixed by writing"9 — play a critical role in the process of representation as they do in the process of meaning creation. For instance, reading sacred texts shapes our views not only of God, but also of the nature and roles of women and men, which then can become grounds for justifying sexual hierarchies and inequalities. However, as critical scholars of religion argue, the meanings we ascribe to a text result from the act of reading, which is not only interpretive, but also gendered (masculinized)10 in nature, as is language itself. (It is this intersection between sex/gender and reading/ representation that Toril Moi 11 means to convey by the term sexual/textual.)
 

The role of representations and of sacred texts in structuring our social and sexual attitudes and practices, and the interpretive/masculinized nature of reading/ representation, makes the issue of who reads the Quran and how central not only to understanding the problem of sexual inequality and discrimination among Muslims, but also to theorizing liberation, especially since different readings of the same text can yield "fundamentally different Islams." 12

Paradoxically, while Muslim ideas and practices do not always reflect the Quran’s teachings, these teachings (or rather, our interpretations of these teachings) continue to provide role models for real/imagined women; thus, historically, the "most positive women of the Quran, by association, determined the most excellent women of Islam."13. This does not mean, however, that there are no interpretive differences among Muslims about the Quran’s teachings about women or that Muslim constructions of "the female" came "ready-made"; rather, these were "established in an active battle in history, when particular interpretations won out over others."14

I have argued at length elsewhere that the reasons why certain interpretations of the Quran (hence also of women’s rights) won out over others have to do not with the Quranic text, but with the contexts and methods of its reading(s).15 The fact that the Quran has been read as a patriarchal text (i.e., as a text that privileges males and teaches the precepts of female inferiority and subordination to men), has to do with (a) its readings in/by patriarchies, (b) by means of a conservative method authorized by a handful of male scholars during the Middle Ages, (c) with the backing of the State, which became involved in defining religious knowledge from very early times. That is why an analysis of the extra-textual contexts in which Muslims have read the Quran and the methods they have employed to read it (hermeneutics and history together) is integral to explaining conservative readings of it today.

If my choice of topic assumes the interconnectedness of the hermeneutic and existential questions — i.e., between how we create religious meaning/knowledge and women’s oppression/liberation — its treatment is a function largely of my own epistemic stance as a "believing woman," to use a Quranic term. Briefly, this means that my belief in God, rather than in an androcentric humanism, shapes my approach to knowledge. In fact, insofar as humanism’s man-centeredness has enabled the "Othering" of woman while claiming to liberate both from God, I question its soundness as a framework for theorizing women’s rights even in secular contexts.

Second, I regard the Quran as Divine Discourse (God’s Speech) and, in keeping with an old tradition in Muslim theology, distinguish between this Discourse and its "earthly realization."16 Thus, what I question is not the Quran but its oppressive interpretations, and the sacrilegious idea that only some of us (males) can know its real meaning, claims implicit in confusing the Quran with its exegesis. Finally, while recognizing both the influence of gender on reading and the masculinist nature of Scriptural exegesis (in every religion, not just Islam), I also hold that reading is a function not only of who reads (sex/gender), but also of how (method). I thus never rule out the possibility that men, no less than women, can read for liberation and that a mutually shared discourse of meaning and care among believing women and men therefore is possible.

Indeed, as the Quran teaches, it is essential if we are to develop moral individualities and communities. To speak from these vantage points — i.e., to speak as a Muslim in a secular society that is not invested positively in religion, to say nothing of Islam — is to speak from a position that is doubly precarious and likely to encounter a priori resistance. Thus, while readers may be aware of the ways in which my being a Muslim is integral to my argument, they may be less aware of the extent to which their own reactions and resistance to it may arise from their recognition of this fact. In speculating on the nature of this resistance, I am assuming that uncovering the preexisting biases we bring into the process of interpretation RENDERS it more productive.

II. Resisting my Argument

The people most likely to be a priori resistant to my argument will be those who think of Islam as a patriarchal religion and who hold that only fundamentalists or apologists can conceivably defend it. Such people, however, ignore not only the interpretive/ masculinized nature of reading, but also the fact that every text has multiple meanings and that there are always disjunctures between theory and practice, i.e., between what a religion teaches and how we practice it.

(Certainly Muslim practices are not always congruent with the Quran’s teachings, as I will argue in Section III).

Some resistance to my argument may also stem from the fact that the dominant discourses on Islam, particularly as exemplified by the media, still remain within narrowly essentialist confines that discourage viewpoints favorable to it. The secular suspicion and, indeed, hostility toward religion may also lead some people to assume that — as I have been told by otherwise discerning colleagues — one cannot be both a believer and an intellectual, but must choose between them. That is, the lack of belief in God or, better yet, belief in the lack of God — i.e., a complete "absence of doubt" 17 about the Divine — qualifies one to be an intellectual!

This faith/reason binary — which was not always natural to Western thought — may make some sense in the light of specific White/Western readings of, and experiences with, Christianity; the Crusades, the "Holy Inquisition," and colonialism come readily to mind. However, the Quran teaches us not to pit faith against reason by affirming that we can only come to know God by exercising our intellect/reason (aql), and by acquiring knowledge (ilm). Aql and ilm are therefore the foundation of both Faith and hermeneutic rationality in Islam, which is why Muslims like me feel no qualms in defining ourselves as believing intellectuals.

Finally, those people may also find some of my claims unsettling who consider Judaism, Christianity, and Islam or, alternatively, the West/non-West, to be so radically different as to belong to "wholly different" categories, in the memorable words of an old Orientalist. Such views manifest themselves in the customary tendency to co-opt Judaism and Christianity into the rubric of "Western" religions while consigning Islam to the category of "Eastern/Other," a process of misnaming that ignores the Middle Eastern origins and scripturally linked nature of all three faiths and the commonality of some of their truth-claims.

To assume a shared humanity or truth-claims, however, is to threaten the "West’s" notions of its own specificity and the hyper-separation many people here wish to retain between themselves and their "Barbaric Others".18 Yet, I remain optimistic that awareness of such obstacles to understanding is the first step in transcending them.

 

III. Representing Islam as Patriarchal

Patriarchal readings of the Quran, as well as representations of Islam as patriarchal, are not unrelated, but I examine them separately in the interest of clarity. It might make more sense to begin by discussing Muslim readings of the Quran since, presumably, it is a patriarchal exegesis that fosters repressive practices and thus also representations of Islam as oppressive. I will, however, begin with the latter because readers are likely to be more familiar with them and also because it will allow me to dispel some misconceptions about Islam early on in my essay.

Representations of Islam and monotheism as "patriarchal," though popular, can be faulted on at least three counts. First, they rest on a simple but grievous methodological confusion between a religion/sacred text and a particular, patriarchal, reading of it; i.e., they confuse Divine Discourse with its exegesis (and Islam with Muslims). The fact that it is feminists who use such representations is ironic given that it is feminists who have been the first to theorize the gendered nature of representation, reading, and language itself, in conditions of actually existing patriarchy. Confusing a sacred text/religion with a specific reading of it also ignores the hermeneutic principle of textual polsemy; that is, the fact that all texts are open to multiple and even oppositional readings since every text has multiple meanings.

However, if we can read every text in multiple modes, how can we reasonably insist that the Quran alone can be read in only one, or have just one set of (patriarchal, sexist) meanings? To insist that it does is to put oneself in the same league as the so-called "fundamentalists" who also claim interpretive privilege by implying Scriptural monosemy (the false idea that the Quran has only "x" meaning which only they know).

Not only feminist, but also hermeneutic, epistemology thus demands that we distinguish between a text and its mis/readings, as Muslim theology has done from earliest times. However, just because we can read a text differently does not mean that every reading is equally legitimate. Indeed, the task of hermeneutics — defined variously as the philosophy, method and critique of interpretation — is to enable judgments about con/textual legitimacy. (For Muslims, the insight that not all readings of it may be right originates in the Quran itself; see Section V.)

Representations of Islam as patriarchal are also ahistorical. As a cursory reading of history reveals, even the forms that discrimination and misogyny have acquired among Muslims are not unique to them. Rather, ideas of female inferiority and male privilege, veiling and segregating women, polygyny, wife-beating, etc., were customary among the ancient Greeks and even in societies with goddess cults. Feminists themselves have traced the processes by which ancient misogynistic beliefs and practices percolated into Jewish, Christian, and eventually into Muslim religious traditions thereby distorting them.

For instance, Leila Ahmed19 shows how "preexisting" misogyny was incorporated "seamlessly" into Islam during the Middle Ages, shaping Muslim discourses on women and gender in years to come. Barbara Stowasser20, on the other hand, details the role of Muslim exegetes (many of them Christian and Jewish converts), in introducing into Islam ideas originating in Biblical traditions by way of their exegesis (interpretation) of the Quran (tafsir), and the narratives recording the life and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Ahadith).

As a result, the Quran’s teachings are overlaid by an exegesis that often misrepresents them in fundamental ways. For instance, the secondary religious texts assert that Eve was created from Adam’s rib (as a way to establish a "hierarchy of being"21 based on its temporalization), and that she brought about the Fall, a sin for which all women are said to have been punished by painful childbirth and menstruation. In contrast, the Quran teaches that creation originated in a single nafs (feminine plural for self); it does not state that man (Adam is a generic name for human) was created before woman, or that she was a product of his body, or that she was responsible for the Fall. Indeed, there is no concept in Islam of the Fall, which is based on Biblical temporalizations of the rift between God and humans and incarnates the moment of their mutual rupture and alienation.22

In Islam, on the other hand, God’s expulsion of humans from paradise also opens up the possibility for them to receive immeasurably of God’s Mercy. Nor does the Quran treat childbirth or menstruation as punishments for women or for designating them inferior to men or as inherently unclean. Similarly, the Muslim tendency to deny "female rationality and female moral responsibility" also derives from "Bible-related traditions,"23 and contradicts the Quran’s definition of women and men as equally responsible moral agents. In the same vein, Muslim representations of certain women figures in the Quran is also "achieved by way of adaptation of Bible-related lore"24 rather than by adherence to the Quran’s own teachings.

That we accept such repressive traditions and practices as Islamic is, I believe, less a commentary on Islam than it is on our own misreadings of it and on our shared history as Muslims and non-Muslim/Westerners. In the latter context, an argument can be made that the persistence of many anti-women traditions in Muslim societies is a legacy not only of a flawed Scriptural exegesis, but also of latter-day encounters between Muslim and non-Muslim/Western civilizations. In other words, if the interface between both during the "Middle Ages" explains the essentially similar nature of misogyny and discrimination in them at that point in time, the modern enterprise of Western colonialism may explain the persistence and specificity of misogyny and discrimination in Muslim societies today. To simplify a complex argument:

Western colonialism, which came, it said, to liberate us from our cultural and religious heritage, actually occasioned the re-entrenchment of many practices and symbols (notably, the veil) which Muslims came to see as markers of their identities, hence differences from the West. In the process, the pre/anti-Islamic and oppressive nature of many of these symbols and practices was elided. Ironically, then, both the assimilation of non-Muslim/Western ideas and customs into Islam and attempts to resist assimilation, may explain many of the transmutations and distortions that exist within Islam today.

I make these points not to exonerate Muslims or to put all the blame on the "Western/ outsider" for the ills of Muslim societies, but in the interest of historical accuracy, and to dispel certain fallacies about Islam. One is that Muslim exegesis of the Quran reflects its teachings accurately, as do Muslim practices, such that if sexual oppression exists in Muslim societies, it must be because Islam sanctions it. (The fact that Muslim patriarchies historically have been oppressive and have misrepresented their own oppressive practices as Islamic naturally lends credence to such views.) Another misconception is that Western civilization has had no hand in shaping the sexual/social practices of the Islamic world, a myth sustained by representations of "Islam" and "the West" as mutually exclusive and hermetically sealed universes totally segregated from one another.

Yet, there are limits to using history (or the West) as alibis for explaining Muslim women’s oppression, which I view also, and largely, as resulting from Muslim misreadings of the Quran.

 

IV. Reading Inequality and Oppression into the Quran

Most anti-women ideas among Muslims, as well as practices like female circumcision and stoning to death for adultery, predate Islam and do not originate in, nor are they endorsed by, the Quran. But this does not mean that Muslims have not derived theories of inequality and male privilege from the Quran. Specifically, its different treatment of women and men with respect to marriage (especially polygyny), divorce, evidence, inheritance, etc., and a couple of lines in the text ("men have a degree above women," and "men are in charge of the affairs of women [in that] God has preferred them"), are all read as establishing the Quran’s advocacy of sexual inequality and patriarchy. However, there are a number of problems with such readings.

First, even feminists (who do not always agree on what sexual equality is) now agree that "(s)imple equality principles have… proven inadequate for feminist practice," especially in the "area of sexuality."25 Moreover, a growing literature suggests that treating women and men differently does not in itself amount to treating them unequally, particularly if differences in treatment are not premised in claims about sexual (biological) differentiation.26 The Quran’s different treatment of women and men is not, in fact, premised in such claims (see Section V); rather, it is a function of the rights and responsibilities of individuals in a given situation.

For instance, a brother inherits twice the share of his sister from their parents’ property (and a mother twice that of a father from the property of their children), but this unequal division has to be seen in the context of the fact that husbands, not wives (even if independently wealthy), have been charged with the responsibility of maintaining their families. Likewise, the Quran’s stipulation that two women, in place of one man, can serve as witnesses to the transaction of a debt, does not mean that it regards the woman’s testimony as being half a man’s, as Muslim patriarchies hold.

In the far more consequential matter of adultery, when a husband accuses his wife but is unable to produce four witnesses to the fact, the Quran gives greater weight to the wife’s testimony on her own behalf than the husband’s against her. If she swears her innocence, he can have no further legal recourse against her. Similarly, although the Quran permits polygyny in certain cases, it is not because it privileges males but, strange as it may sound to us today, because it wishes to ensure justice for the most vulnerable women in society: the orphans.

"Give the orphans their property, and do not exchange the corrupt for the good [i.e., your worthless things for their good ones]; and devour not their property with your property; surely that is a great crime. If you fear that you will not act justly towards the orphans, marry such women as seem good to you, two, three, four; but if you fear you will not be equitable, then only one, (aw) what your right hands own so it is likelier you will not be partial.27

These verses are said to have been revealed after a battle in which many Muslim men lost their lives and many women were left as widows and orphans (at a time when the entire population of Muslims was counted in hundreds). It is the Quran’s desire to protect these women, left without support in a predatory/tribal/patriarchal society that fuels its sanction for polygyny which is, nonetheless, made contingent on three criteria: it is restricted to orphans, its purpose is to ensure justice for them, and it is not right if it results in injustice to the wife. That injustice may be inherent in a polygynous situation is clear not only from the last line of this verse, but also from another verse which warns men that "you will not be able to be equitable between your wives, be you ever so eager."28 Yet another verse reminds men that "God has not made for any man two hearts," implying that a man cannot love two women equally.29

Together, then, these verses can be read as presenting a case against polygyny, which is never presented as catering to men’s sexual needs or as a universal male prerogative. Misrepresentations of the Quran’s position on polygyny reveal another problem with patriarchal readings: their tendency to quote selectively from the Quran, thereby distorting and, in some cases, subverting its intent and teachings. For instance, the claim that the Quran establishes males as superior to women derives from misreading a reference to a husband’s rights in a divorce:

"Women who are divorced shall wait, keeping themselves apart, three (monthly) courses. And it is not lawful for them that they conceal that which Allah has created in their wombs if they believe in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands would do better to take them back in that case if they desire a reconciliation. And [(the rights) due to the women are similar to (the rights) against them, (or responsibilities they owe) with regard to] the ma’ruf (kindness) and men have a darajah (degree) above them (feminine plural). Allah is Mighty, Wise.30

Read in context, the degree refers not to men’s rights in general, or to their biological or ontological status as males, but to the husband’s right either (a) to divorce his wife without outside arbitration (the wife requires such arbitration even though the Quran does not stipulate it, as Wadud notes), or (b) to rescind a divorce.31 Since the Quran mentions kindness and reconciliation in the same verse, the latter seems to be a more plausible reading.

Similarly, the claim that God has preferred men to women and made them rulers over women arises from reading only parts of a verse and from misinterpreting three words in it:

Men are [qawwamuna ‘ala] women [on the basis] of what Allah has [preferred] (faddala) some of them over others, and [on the basis] of what they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are [qanitat], guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded. As for those from whom you fear [nushuz] admonish them, banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then, if they obey you, seek not a way against them".32

The primary meaning of qawwamun is financial maintainer, not ruler, argue Wadud and Azizah al-Hibri. The verse is thus charging husbands with the responsibility of maintaining women in those cases where they have a larger share in inheritance than the women (in which some of them have been preferred), and they are supporting women from it.33 Since men can only be "‘qawwamun’ over women in matters where God gave some of the men more than some of the women, and in what the men spend of their money, then clearly men as a class are not ‘qawwamun’ over women as a class," concludes al-Hibri.34 In addition, Wadud’s analysis of the words "qanitat" and "nushuz" show why they need not be read as referring to the wife’s conduct vis-à-vis her husband or as justifying his abuse of her.35

Other examples illustrate that Muslims read inequality and even oppression into the Quran by generalizing what is specific in it and by decontextualizing it.36 Yet, in the end, a patriarchal exegesis results not only from a flawed hermeneutics, but also from a flawed theology.

 

V. Reading Liberation from the Quran

A liberatory hermeneutics of the Quran and a liberatory theology must begin by recognizing that, since there is perfect congruence between Divine Ontology and Divine Discourse, we need to connect God to God’s Speech by making "God’s Self-Disclosure the hermeneutic site from which to read the Quran."37 That is, since God’s Speech and God’s Being as described in the Quran (God’s Self-Disclosure) are congruent, we need to base our exegesis of one in our understanding of the other. Thus far in my work, I have explored the exegetical implications of only three of God’s attributes out of the ninety-nine named in the Quran — God’s Unity, Justness, and Inimitability — which I will summarize very briefly.

The attribute of God’s Unity or Oneness (Tawhid) stipulates that God’s Sovereignty/Rule are Indivisible (cannot be shared with others) and no one can claim any form of rule/sovereignty that either alleges to be coterminous with God’s Rule, or conflicts with it. Inasmuch as theories of male privilege do both — by drawing parallels between God and fathers/husbands, misrepresenting males as intermediaries between women and God, or as rulers over women and thus entitled to their obedience — they violate the concept of Tawhid and must be rejected as UNQuranic.

The attribute of God’s Justice, on the other hand, maintains that though "severe, strict and unrelenting" in justice, God "never does any zulm to anybody."38 In other words, God does not "act in such a way as to transgress the proper limit and encroach upon the right of some other person,"39 which is the meaning of zulm employed in the Quran. Even if we define zulm differently, we cannot regard inequality, discrimination, and hatred as not being zulm. To the extent that patriarchy is based in all three, it can be said to constitute a manifest case of zulm and we must assume, again as a hermeneutic principle, that the Quran cannot condone it. An exegesis that alleges to the contrary should be rejected as a misreading inasmuch as it attributes zulm to God.

Finally, the doctrine of God’s Incomparability, which states that God is Unrepresentable, encourages us to reject God’s engenderment, even at a linguistic level ("He"). This is crucial since misrepresentations of God as Father/male also underwrite sexual hierarchies and oppression in religious contexts.

In addition to God’s Self-Disclosure, the Quran also provides hermeneutic keys for reading it, in its support for the principles of textual holism, con/textual legitimacy, and analytical reasoning. The Quran’s recognition of its own textual/thematic unity is clear from its warning not to break it "into parts",40 or to "change the words/From their (right) places/ And forget a good part of the Message."41 It is also clear from the Quran’s praise for those who recognize that all of it is from God, i.e., those who view it as a totality. That not every reading of it may be appropriate emerges from the Quran’s approval of those "who listen to the Word and follow the best (meaning) in it,"42 and its criticism of those who focus only on its "allegorical [verses]/Seeking discord, and searching/ For its hidden meanings."43 (While we may hesitate on the issue of the best meaning of every verse, we cannot regard a reading which imputes zulm/injustice to the Quran as the best, for reasons I have suggested.)

The Quran also distinguishes between itself and its (mis)readings by condemning those "who write/ The Book with their own hands,/ And then say: ‘This is from God.’"44 Indeed, the Quran is insistent that "those who are bent on denying the truth attribute their own lying inventions to God."45 While this is a reference to the hypocrites of the Prophet’s time, I believe it serves also as a warning to exegetes. Finally, the Quran urges believers to use their own aql (intelligence, reasoning) to decipher God’s signs for themselves while condemning anchorites and priests for leading people away from God (which may be why the Quran does not sanction a clergy THAT CAN CLAIM interpretive privilege).

The Quran’s auto-hermeneutics is sophisticated and complex and I have outlined it here in barest detail in order to show why it can generate an anti-patriarchal exegesis. However, to establish the Quran as an anti-patriarchal, or even as apatriarchal, text, we need to define patriarchy itself, which no reader of the Quran has done. In my own reading, I work with both a narrow and a broad definition so as to make it as comprehensive as possible. On the one hand, I define patriarchy as "a historically specific mode of rule by fathers/males that, in its religious and traditional forms, assumes a real/symbolic continuum between the "Father/fathers," i.e., between a patriarchal view of God as Father/male, and a theory of father-right, extending to the husband’s claim to rule over his wife."46 On the other hand, I also define patriarchy as a politics of male privilege and sexual differentiation which equates sex with gender and "prioritizes the male while making the woman different (unequal), less than, or the ‘Other.’"47 However, whether we use the specific or the general definition of patriarchy, we cannot find support for it in the Quran; indeed, its teachings challenge the central claims of both.

Thus, not only does the Quran repudiate the patriarchal construct of God as Father, but it also condemns sacralizations of prophets as fathers. It also characterizes the rule of fathers ("following the ways of our fathers") as being antithetical to God’s Rule. In fact, one of Islam’s most radical moves against patriarchy is to displace the rule of father/husband in favor of God’s Rule. This emerges not only from the Quran’s relentless denunciations, in dozens of verses and contexts, of the rule of unbelieving fathers, but also from its treatment of believing fathers as illustrated by the lives of the prophets Abraham and Muhammad.48

Thus, Abraham’s break with his own father and his vision, first to sacrifice his son and then not to, all illustrate this displacement of the father’s will/rule by God’s Will/Rule. On the one hand, God approves of Abraham’s break with his unbelieving father and also saves him from the latter’s punishment, establishing the legitimacy of disobedience to unbelieving fathers and of obedience to a Merciful God. On the other hand, however, God also curtails Abraham’s rights as father twice: once by giving him the vision to sacrifice his son — which can only proceed in the Quran when the son himself freely consents to it, indicating that it is not simply a question of Abraham exercising unquestioned patriarchal authority — and then in commanding Abraham not to proceed with the sacrifice, establishing the primacy of God’s Will/Rule over the rights of even believing fathers. Indeed, it is a believing father’s "willingness to submit his will to God’s Will; i.e., to yield up his rights as father/man" that establishes him as a believer, as Abraham’s narrative illustrates.49

Similarly, in spite of the fact that the Quran describes the Prophet Muhammad as being "closer" to believers than their "own selves,"50 it also declares that "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but the Messenger of God and the seal of Prophets."51 While this verse is read as clarifying the Prophet’s relationship to his adopted son, it is significant for its refusal to sacralize the Prophet as real/symbolic father, showing yet again the Quran’s abiding resistance to the patriarchal paradigm of the Father/fathers. This resistance illustrates a cardinal tenet of Islamic monotheism: the primacy and inviolability of God’s Rights/Rule, which holds that submission to God, not fathers (patriarchy in the traditional sense), defines moral agency. It is for the same reason that the Quran does not valorize husbands as rulers/guardians over women, or as heads of households.52

Although many feminists condemn Islam’s "uncompromising monotheism," it is this very inflexibility about the primacy of God’s Rule that opens up possibilities for radical equality for women inasmuch as God’s Rule is not based in the idea of sexual differentiation, hence in a theory of sexual inequality. That is, while the Quran recognizes sexual (biological) differences, it does not assign sex/biology or sexual/biological difference symbolic or normative value. It does not link sex with gender. Consequently, the Quran does not teach what Thomas Laqueur calls "a biology of sexual incommensurability,"53 i.e., the notion "that there are two stable, incommensurable, opposite sexes and that the political, economic, and cultural lives of men and women, their gender roles, are somehow based on these ‘facts.’"54

This "two-sex model," which is at the core of modern Westernized misogyny, assumes that biological differences between males and females, hence between men and women, render them "different in every conceivable aspect of body and soul, in every physical and moral aspect."55 The tendency to ascribe "psychosocial distinctions" between women and men to biological differences56 is common not just to "patriarchal religions" (monotheism), as feminists charge, but also to Western secularism, which also claims that women’s biology renders them deficient in morality and reasoning.57

At the heart of this claim is not only the confusion of sex (biology) with gender (its social constructions), but also the tendency to theorize sexual difference in terms not of "(‘pure’) difference but in terms of dichotomous opposition or distinction; not, that is, as contraries (‘A’ and ‘B’), but as contradictories (‘A’ and ‘not-A’)."58 The difference, explains Elizabeth Grosz, is that "in relations governed by pure difference, each term is defined by all the others; there can be no privileged term which somehow dispenses with its (constitutive) structuring and value in relations to other terms." In contrast, distinctions and binary oppositions result when one term non-reciprocally defines "the other as its negative. The presence and absence of one term defines both positions in the dichotomy" (her emphases).

It is, says Grosz, this second notion of difference, as binary opposition, that characterizes phallo-centric thought. Arguably, however, it is not only the idea of sexual difference as exemplified by the two-sex model that is phallo-centric, but also the idea of sexual sameness exemplified by the "one-sex" model associated with the ancient Greeks. In this model, women and men were arranged "according to their degree of metaphysical perfection;" thus, to be "a man or a woman . . . was to hold a social rank, a place in society, to assume a cultural role, not to be organically one or the other of two incommensurable sexes."59 Yet, in spite of its view of sex as a sociological rather than an ontological category, this model also establishes man as the Self (‘A’) and woman as the OTHER (lesser ‘A’). Elements of both models persist in modern patriarchal discourses in which the woman is "absence, negativity, the dark continent, or at best a lesser man."60 In other words, woman is both difference and a lack.

The Quran, however, does not espouse a view of sexual difference or sameness that coheres with either the one-sex or the two-sex model. As Wadud says, it "does not consider woman a type of man in the presentation of its major themes. Man and woman are two categories of the human species given the same or equal consideration and endowed with the same or equal potential."61 In effect, the Quran’s teachings on human ontology, agency, and subjectivity show that women and men constitute part of a single totality — that of sexual/sexed pair — in which it is not the biological sex of either partner, or the specific nature of their sexuality, that is important, but the nature/quality of their moral praxis. In other words, the only criteria for distinguishing between humans in the Quran are ethical-moral, not sexual:

"O [human]! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct."62

To clarify: morally purposeful action in accordance with Quranic teachings and not sexual identity, defines human agency and subjectivity in Islam. Not only does the Quran make no claims about sexual sameness or difference that portray women as lesser or defective men or the two sexes as incompatible, unequal, or incommensurable, in the tradition of Western/ized patriarchal thought, but — unlike the latter — it also does not equate sex with given social meanings (gender), or assign specific attributes to either sex.63

That is, the Quran does not define women and men in terms of sex/gender attributes, much less in terms of binary oppositions; e.g., man as logical, woman as illogical; man as intelligent, woman as emotional; man as the Self, woman as the Other. In fact, inasmuch as humans commence from a single Self in the Quran, there is no real or symbolic Other. Moreover, in the Quran’s definition of the human pair, neither half is privileged, as is clear from the Quran’s teachings on a whole array of issues ranging from marital relations to moral personality to sexual modesty.

In keeping with its view of women and men as equal moral agents, the Quran holds them both to the same standards of moral behavior and promises them the same reward for righteousness:

"For Muslim men and women,—

For believing men and women,

For devout men and women,

For men and women who are

Patient and constant, for men

And women who humble themselves,

For men and women who give

In charity, for men and women

Who fast (and deny themselves).

For men and women who

Guard their chastity, and

For men and women who

Engage much in God’s praise

For them has God prepared

Forgiveness and great reward".64

That the Quran regards women and men as being equally responsible moral agents is clear not only from this verse but also from the fact that the Quran designates believing women and men as each other’s awliya, i.e., mutual protectors, or mutually "in charge" of one another:

"The Believers, men

And women, are [awliya],

One of another: they enjoin

What is just, and forbid

What is evil: they observe

Regular prayers, practise

Regular charity, and obey

God and [God’s] Apostle.

On them will God pour

[God’s] Mercy: for God

Is Exalted in power, Wise.65

The Quran does not distinguish between the moral-ethical behavior and potential of women and men, and it also does not distinguish between their work. It does not define women and men in terms of a specific social or sexual division of labor, or label work women’s work or men’s work. This is why it is difficult — if we keep the totality of its teachings in mind — to view its different treatment of women and men with respect to some issues as evidence of its support for sexual inequality. On the contrary, the Quran teaches us a radically egalitarian view of the equal worth and dignity of women that remains unparalleled, even in modern thought.66

Finally, as some of the verses quoted above make clear, the Quran is rare among Scriptures in addressing women directly. How this came about is significant for women. Tradition records that when the Quran was being revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century, his wife Umm Salama questioned why it was not addressing women directly. (Her question seems to have been prompted in part by the Quran’s mode of address and in part by its language.) And that, we learn, is how the Quran came to address women as women. This episode (which shows that some women were critical thinkers a millennium and a half ago) reveals the importance of language in shaping human subjectivities while also underscoring its limitations as a medium for Divine Speech.

If language did not matter, or if language were perfect, presumably God would not have responded to Umm Salama’s question by modifying the Quran’s mode of address and making women the subjects of Divine Discourse, rather than its objects, as they are in patriarchal discourses. Indeed, God’s responsiveness to women’s concerns is reflected not only in the language of Divine Discourse, but also in its content, which God shaped in light of women’s concerns as they themselves articulated these during the process of its revelation.67 Second and more crucially, Umm Salama’s question and God’s rejoinder to it confirm that in Islam women’s relationship with God is direct and unmediated and extends to being able to ask questions about, and of, divine speech itself. That is why I believe that if we continue to ask the right sorts of questions of it the Quran can continue to speak to us today.

VI. An Epilogue

From the absence of valorizations of fathers/husbands (and, indeed, from the Quran’s condemnations of such valorizations) as well as from the absence of sex/gender as a meaningful category in the Quran — and from the Quran’s insistence on treating women and men as two equal halves of a single pair in which neither is privileged — I am led to conclude that Quranic epistemology is inherently anti-patriarchal. In fact, the Quran provides some of the clearest arguments against patriarchy and discrimination in addition to espousing a radically egalitarian view of equality. That is why I believe that movements struggling for women’s rights in Muslim societies have the best defense of their cause in the Quran itself. As it happens, Muslim patriarchs try to discredit such movements by branding them "Western/feminist," implying that there is no room to contest patriarchy and sexual inequality from within the fold of Islam.

However, one can, in fact, challenge both from within Islam. Yet, as it also happens, many educated Muslim women are unwilling to do so. For one reason, it seems inconceivable to a woman who has been oppressed all her life in the name of the Father and the Scripture that she can read the same Scripture for liberation. For another, many educated Muslim women also tend to confuse Islam with the so-called "Islamists," with whom rational discourse seems impossible.

And, of course, there remains the critical issue of the contexts in which Muslims today are obliged to read the Quran. Patriarchal and, for the most part, repressive societies, with well entrenched interpretive communities and states jealous of their monopoly on religious knowledge, are unlikely to countenance readings that undermine their own privileges, as anti-patriarchal readings are sure to do eventually. Struggles for equality, however, have always exacted a price and the price Muslim women are being asked to pay in order to reclaim their sacred text and their right to read it anew seems modest given how much hinges on retrieving what Leila Ahmed has called the "egalitarian" voice of Islam.68 This is the voice I have tried to show of the Quran, which is why a liberatory Quranic hermeneutics appears to me to be essential to the project of Muslim women’s liberation today.

 

VII. Responding to my Respondents69

I feel singularly fortunate to have had Laura Luitje and Linda Schulte-Sasse as my respondents and find their disparate, if always critical, readings of my essay provocative and energizing. (I have left the main portion of my essay more or less unchanged from the version that Luitje and Schulte-Sasse read, so that readers know what they are responding to.) Since the only thing common to both responses is an equally careful engagement with my essay, I will answer them separately. This will also allow me to draw out the nature and significance of these divergent assessments of my work.

Luitje’s critique is remarkable as much for its thoughtfulness as for the fact that it is grounded in a concerted attempt to engage my work in terms of its own truth-claims and framework, hence on its own terms. This strikes me as extraordinary, as does the fact that Luitje quite self-consciously set out to change the nature of her own foreknowledge of Islam and Muslims as part of the process of engagement by studying some of the same scholars I draw on. As a result, she is able to provide not only an internal critique of my paper, but also an invaluable contextualization of it by emphasizing the rich diversity of scholarship on the Quran, the evolving nature of Quranic exegesis, and the role of cultural differences in shaping Muslim interpretations (and practices) of Islam.

Even as Luitje provides readers a context to understand the specificity of my arguments, she also — gently — takes me to task for having excluded from my analysis the voice of gender hierarchy in Islam to which Leila Ahmed refers. She also questions my equation of patriarchy with zulm, rightly pointing out that since most people view patriarchy as universal and "natural," they are unlikely to share my definition of it as a form of zulm against women. Isn’t it hubris, she asks further, to suggest that there has been something quite misguided about Muslim readings of Islam for a millennium and a half?

Yet, eventually, Luitje is concerned not only with such philosophical niceties but also with real-life issues: how can Muslims revise gender roles? Won’t people resist egalitarian readings of the Quran? Can there be a meaningful dialogue between Muslim feminists and the standard-bearers of patriarchy? These questions reveal real anxiety that the issue of Muslim women’s rights not just remain at the level of theoretical discussions. I just could not appreciate anything more!

It will, perhaps, not come as too much of a surprise to Luitje to know that I do grapple with these questions in that absent presence, my book, to which I refer a number of times in this essay. For instance, I admit that my primary aim is to recuperate the other, egalitarian voice of Islam since this is the voice we have become least accustomed to hearing and the voice we most need to recover if we are to develop a praxis of liberation for Muslim women. The fact that this voice has so completely disappeared from Muslim religious discourses and consciousnesses so as to require explanation and defense today — i.e., its very silencing — suggests to me that something has gone terribly wrong with how we have interpreted the Quran over the last several centuries.

This does seem like an enormous, and enormously conceited, claim to make but, in spite of the uniqueness of the vantage point from which I make it, the claim itself is not unique to me. It is made regularly by both conservative Muslims — whose remedial strategy is to "go back" to Islam as practiced by, and in the times of, the Prophet — and by reformists who have sought throughout history to re-vision religious knowledge as it existed at particular moments in time. Thus, few believing Muslims, of whatever persuasion, consider the Islam we practice today as entirely in tune with its real teachings or spirit. Of course, we could all be deluded, or we could be acknowledging the simple truth that, as W.C. Smith puts it, "to reduce what Islam is, conceptually, to what Islam has been, historically, or is in the process of becoming… would be to fail to recognise its religious quality: the relationship to the divine; the transcendent element.

Indeed, Islamic truth must necessarily transcend Islamic actuality."70 To view Islam as the embodiment of Divine Truth thus does not rule out the possibility for Muslims to recognize that our apprehension and actualization of this Truth may be neither exhaustive nor entirely unproblematic, and may need continued revision.

It is in this context that I have argued that our understanding of Islam depends on how we interpret the Quran. But, how the Quran (or any other text, for that matter) speaks to us depends also on how we ourselves speak to it. We cannot read it as a liberatory text if we do not ask specifically directed questions of it about sexual equality and patriarchy, questions which the medieval Muslim scholars whose works we regard as canonical today, did not — could not — ask given what they did not know about sexual oppression and equality, biology and its social constructions, the (gendered/ interpretive) nature of reading/language, etc. (This does not mean, of course, that no one has ever asked the right sorts of questions of the Quran before; indeed, I gave the example of Umm Salama, but, unfortunately for Muslims, she remains a rare example.)

Asking new questions and questioning accepted interpretations is part not only of our evolving knowledge of Islam, but also of the development of Western science, no less than of Western religions, both of which have been contingent on questioning existing practices and paradigms — no matter how extended or hallowed — as witnessed by the scientific revolutions, the Protestant Reformation, and the advent of multiple interpretations of Jewish identity.

The real issue at hand, then, is not whether we should question interpretations of Islam — since we already do — but the terms on which we should do so. For conservative Muslims, as Luitje points out, such questioning does not include and may, in fact, preclude new readings of the Quran, or a revisioning of the Sharia (Muslim law), or opening up the Ahadith (records of the Prophet’s life) to critical scrutiny. For Muslims interested in evolving a liberatory praxis, it seems unavoidable to do all three. This does not mean we want to get rid of all aspects of the Sharia, or the Ahadith; rather, we want to bring them more into conformity with anti-oppressive readings of the Quran.

Can these two groups of Muslims come to a shared interpretation of religious knowledge and even have a dialogue? I am not sure. Even so, I remain sanguine — and hope I have also convinced some readers — that a Quranic hermeneutics of liberation is crucial for challenging the ideological/theological roots of sexual oppression in Muslim societies.

That I have, in fact, managed to convince not only Luitje, but also Schulte-Sasse (who approaches my work from the opposite end of the spectrum) of the significance of such a project seems clear from her response, which says to me that we may disagree on practically everything, but not on the need for me to do what I am doing. Unlike Luitje, Schulte-Sasse doesn’t have to respect what I believe in order to respect my right to believe in it. Her response perhaps best exemplifies the easy tolerance of post-modern secularism.

How, one may ask, could one possibly cavil at a liberality that allows Schulte-Sasse to support my right to defend something she doesn’t believe in and even considers — rather good-naturedly — illusory (a benign God, "the" Truth)? Yet, it is her very willingness to defend something she doesn’t believe in — or to put it more accurately, to defend the intent of my reading while taking issue with its content — that makes me wonder if it is not the mere act of reading that matters to Schulte-Sasse, and whether there is much point in responding to her critique of its content.

Does the very liberality of her support foreclose the need for clarification and further conversation? Having reached such an impasse herself, and having chosen to press on, Schulte-Sasse reveals herself to be less of a post-modern liberal than she seems. After all, by her own reckoning, a true liberal would have ended the conversation by respecting my right to do what I am doing. Yet, she does choose to engage the content of my reading, even if on her own terms and terrain (which is why I regard her critique as an external one). So, even though I suspect that our conversation is not meant to foster agreement, I also opt to continue it, in the spirit of the Quran’s advice to reason with one’s critics in the best possible way.

To me, the most significant point Schulte-Sasse makes is a methodological one: a reading strategy like mine, she says, uses critical theory to establish the "unfixability of meaning" only to end up positing an "ultimate meaning" by, in my case, designating the Quran as "the Truth." This "discursive switch," she argues, shuts down my argument rather than opening it up, in the manner of critical theories. I should point out, however, that it is not by means of a discursive switch, or by relying on critical theories, that I establish the Quran’s status as the Truth (for me); rather, I embrace that as an a priori epistemological and theological assumption. Can I still have a conversation with those who do not agree with my views? Schulte-Sasse’s response itself suggests that I can.

I will not pursue the question of whether Schulte-Sasse and I could really understand each other if meaning were, in fact, completely unfixable. Rather, I will ask why we should confuse the "undecidability" or unfixability of meaning with an absence of truth. To Muslims, it does not follow that if we cannot "fix" the Quran’s meanings (partly because its polysemy allows us to render each verse in many ways; according to the sufi Al-Ghazali, perhaps as many as 60,000) that the Quran therefore is not the Truth. For Muslims, the undecidability or multiplicity of meaning is not a function of content, or of truth-claims, but of hermeneutics. And it is because hermeneutics alone is insufficient to yield an ethical perspective on the truth that I base my reading of the Quran in certain epistemic claims about God’s Being.

It may be a similar confusion of Truth with the methods of its appropriations that also leads Schulte-Sasse to ask if we can, in fact, "separate the message from its medium" (as I do when I critique not the Quran but its misreadings), and consider one perfect and the other flawed. In effect, can we assume Divine Discourse to be pure when its interpretations cannot be, given the very nature of language? (Of course, Schulte-Sasse expects me to be able to understand her, irrespective of the problematic nature of language!)

I believe we can assume Divine Discourse to be pure and its interpretations not pure by assuming Divine Infallibility and human fallibility (but we would also need to view God, not "man," as the ultimate locus of knowledge and Truth). To believers, there is nothing illogical about claiming that we can know God only in our own imperfections, but that our imperfections do not in any way reflect on God. Thus, our flawed and incomplete understanding of Divine Discourse does not render the Discourse itself flawed or incomplete.

If this answer does not engage Schulte-Sasse, let me raise questions that may. If we do not distinguish between the message and its medium, we then also give up the idea of misreading inasmuch as the text then becomes its (mis)readings. But, could we then generate better readings? Could Jewish and Christian feminists, for instance, ever hope to recover the liberatory aspects of the Bible? Could we even judge between good or bad translations or interpretations of, say, Marx? Alternatively, would a bad reading be taken as signifying a bad original? Would bad deconstruction illegitimize deconstruction as a reading strategy? If we treat sacred texts as being divorced from social practices, as Schulte-Sasse’s reading of Lessing suggests — it’s not the ring, but the search for it that’s the point, they say, though I doubt the latter would make much sense in the absence of the former — then such questions are moot. But, for those who view the relationship between text and context to be interconnected and thus utterly consequential, they can hardly be.

Then there is Schulte-Sasse’s observation that to establish the Quran as anti-oppressive to women is not to establish it as anti-patriarchal, with which I agree. Moreover, not only does she show that many of my assumptions are infused with patriarchy, but she also concedes her own complicity with patriarchy in her role of teacher. But I thought I was trying to establish the Quran as anti-oppressive because it is anti-patriarchal! I thought I made it clear that for me patriarchy is not a voluntarily inhabitable subject-position, or power imbalance, or even a vaguely defined gender privilege. If it is, let’s give up any hope of ever being able to contest it! Rather, it is a specific mode of sexual politics and sexual differentiation that is based in andronormativity (to coin, if it does not already exist, an unhappy term for the unhappy practice of regarding man as normative). In terms of these definitions, the mere exercise of power by women does not reconstruct them as patriarchs.

Finally, Schulte-Sasse’s critique of Islam’s definition of moral agency as voluntary submission to God as both paradoxical (to Westerners schooled in individualist ideology) and socially irresponsible, is perhaps the most disturbing to me. The paradox is easily resolved: do not Western ideas of the social contract, that fabulous imaginary, assume that people voluntarily accept certain limits and restraints as the precondition of freedom? Granted this does not involve submitting to God, but it does invoke that same bizarre idea of self-restraint, self-limits, and self-discipline that Muslims also invoke when they theorize agency and freedom as voluntary submission. Anything forced does not qualify as agency or freedom, much less Faith, given the Quran’s warnings to avoid compulsion and excesses in religion.

And what about Derrida’s and Kirkegaard’s critique of the Abrahamic narrative of sacrifice as illustrating that moral subjectivity and social responsibility are incompatible, even as one subverts the other? I wonder if the debased view at the heart of this critique of both Abraham and Abraham’s God results from an anthropomorphic idea of God (as sadistic, or capricious), or whether the binary between morality and responsibility originates in the interiorization (by Christianity) of the idea of a mutual rift between God and "man" as embodied in the trope of the Fall, which institutionalizes human alienation from God.71

If so, I can only clarify that Muslims do not believe in the Fall nor in the idea of human alienation from God; nor do we adhere to frivolous ideas of God. And here, alas, my Faith in the Real and Absolute must come into conflict with the reality and absoluteness of Schulte-Sasse’s lack of it. I am thus left to ponder this Quranic verse:

"Say: o ye

That reject Faith!

I worship not that

Which ye worship.

And I will not worship

That which ye have been

Wont to worship.

Nor will ye worship

That which I worship.

To you be your Way,

And to me mine.72

To some, this verse may suggest that it is my religious intolerance rather than Schulte- Sasse’s liberal tolerance of the idea of the ultimate non-existence of truth — which renders God superfluous as its source — that puts closure to our conversation. But, this time I would like to say that would be too easy. To me, this verse does not so much end conversation as it clarifies the terms on which a real dialogue can occur. I read it as suggesting that while we have the right to believe in different truths, the content of our truths does matter to how, and how deeply, we can actually converse. Where the content of our belief systems is absolutely different — even if only in the absolutes in which we believe (my conviction in the existence of Truth, Schulte-Sasse’s conviction in its non-existence) — there must eventually come a parting of ways. One of liberalism’s dilemmas is that, while enabling this parting, it does not want to accept its existential implications. It thus continues to foster the illusion that tolerance of difference constitutes respect for it.

Lest I leave readers with the impression that, prior to coming to this point of parting, I have not benefited from my conversation with Schulte-Sasse, I hope that my response will affirm otherwise. She, no less than Luitje, has pushed me, albeit in different ways and to different ends, to develop and refine my ideas and arguments. So perhaps there is more opportunity here for a conversation between liberals and non-liberals, the religious and the irreligious, than such binaries lead us to believe. Now, whether this exchange remains "mere conversation," to quote the immortal Paulo Freire, or becomes a dialogue, is a rather different question.

'Macalester International, 2001 (Vol. 10). Posted on A Barlas' website with permission from Macalester College, MN'?

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2009 Year 16    No.144, Quran and Liberation, Cover Story 2


Notes:

This essay attempts to summarize the argument of my book manuscript, Gender and Patriarchy in the Quran (University of Texas Press, 2002). Readers who find some aspects of my argument here incomplete may benefit from reading the manuscript. The three English translations of the Quran I have used are accepted by Muslims as being the best: Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Quran: Text, Translation and Commentary (New York: Tahrike Tarsile Quran, Inc., 1988); A.J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted (New York: Allen and Unwin, 1955); and Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Quran (Gibraltor: Dar al-Andalus, 1980). Citations from the Quran are in brackets; the first number refers to the chapter and the second to the verse.

2. el-Sohl and Mabro 1994, p. 1.

3. The words "Islamist" and "fundamentalist" are highly problematic; the first is like calling a Jew a Judaist, while the second comes out of a specifically Christian experience.

4. Hussain 1994.

5. Millett 1980.

6. Rajan 1993, p. 10.

7. Showalter 1992, p. 74.

8. Jacobus in Showalter 1992.

9. Ricoeur 1981, p. 145.

10. Simply imputing gender to reading does not say anything about the reading and, indeed, when feminists refer to the gendered nature of reading, they are referring to its masculinized character.

11. Toril Moi 1985.

12. Leila Ahmed 1992, p. 71.

13. Spellberg 1994, p. 193.

14. Combs-Schilling 1989, p. 88.

15. Barlas 2002.

16. van Ess 1996, p. 189.

17. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968); Freire ascribes this quote to the journalist Marcio Moreira Alves.

18. Sardar et. al. 1993.

19. Leila Ahmed 1992.

20. Barbara Stowasser 1994.

21. Margaret Hodgson, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964). Hodgson shows how temporalization creates (racial) hierarchies.

22. Nieuwenhuijze 1997.

23. Stowasser 1994, pp. 28, 41.

24. Ibid., p. 21.

25. Miles 1996, p. 49.

26. Hekman 1990 and Keddie 1996.

27. The reference to what men’s "right hands own" is taken to mean war captives, concubines and slaves, all of whom were customary in seventh century tribal Arab society (to which the Quran was revealed). However, Muhammad Asad (1980: 519; footnote 3) translates "aw" not as "or," but as "that is." In his reading, the reference here is to women whom men’s right hands possess, that is, their spouses.

28. 4:1; in Arberry 1955, p. 100; my emphasis.

29. 4:125; in Arberry, p. 119.

30. 33:4; in Ali 1988, p. 1102.

31. 2:228; in Wadud 1999, p. 68.

32. Asad 1980.

33. 4:34; in Wadud 1999, p. 70.

34. Barlas 2002; p. 18.

35. Wadud, p. 71; her emphasis.

36. See Wadud and Barlas for why the Quran’s reference to "scourge" was a restriction on a prevalent practice, not an invitation to spousal abuse.

37. Barlas 2002.

38. Ibid., p. 32; emphasis in original.

39. Izutsu 1964, pp. 77, 129.

40. Izutsu 1959, p. 152.

41. 15:91; in Ali 1988, p. 194.

42. 5:14; in Ali 1988, p. 245.

43. 39:18; in Ali, p. 1241.

44. 3:7; in Ali, p. 123.

45. 2:79; in Ali 1988, p. 38.

46. 5:05; in Asad 1980, p. 166.

47. Barlas 2002, p. 27.

48. Zillah Eisenstein, Feminism and Sexual Equality: Crisis in Liberal America (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984), p. 90. In her later work, Eisenstein concedes that difference does not mean inequality. See The Female Body and the Law (California: University of California Press, 1988).

49. See Barlas 2002 for a detailed discussion.

50. Ibid., p. 169; emphasis in original.

51. 33:6; in Ali 1988, p. 1104.

52. 33:40; in Ali 1988, p. 1119.

53. Barlas 2002.

54. Thomas Laqueur 1990, p. 196.

55. Ibid., p. 6.

56. Ibid., p. 5.

57. Millett 1970, p. 26.

58. Hewitt 1995.

59. Grosz 1990, p. 124.

60. Laqueur 1990, pp. 5, 8.

61. Moi 1985, pp. 133–34.

62. Wadud 1999, p. 15.

63. 49:13.

64. Barlas 2002, p. 189.

65. 33:35; in Ali 1988, pp. 116–117.

66. 9:71; in Ali 1988, p. 461.

67. See Barlas 2002 for a fuller discussion.

68. Ibid.

69. Leila Ahmed 1992.

70. This is my response to Laura Luitje’s and Linda Schulte-Sasse’s responses to my essay; it is best read after reading both of their responses in the pages that follow.

71. W.C. Smith 1981, p. 30.

72. See C.A.O. Nieuwenhuijze, Paradise Lost: Reflections on the Struggle for Authenticity in the Middle East (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997).

Bibliography:

Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992.

Barlas, Asma. "Believing Women": Sex/Gender, Patriarchy and the Quran. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Combs-Schilling, M.E. Sacred Performances: Islam, Sexuality, and Sacrifice. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

Cragg, Kenneth. The Event of the Quran: Islam in its Scripture. Oxford: Oneworld, 1994.

El-Sohl, Camilla Fawzi and Judy Mabro. Muslim Women’s Choices: Religious Belief and Social Reality. Oxford: Berg, 1994.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Hekman, Susan. Gender and Knowledge: Elements of a Postmodern Feminism. Boston:Northeastern University Press,

Hewitt, Marsha A. Critical Theory of Religion: A Feminist Analysis. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

Hussain, Neelam. "Women as Objects and Women as Subjects within Fundamentalist Discourse." In Locating the Self: Perspective on Women and Multiple Identities, edited by Nighat Khan, Rubina Saigol, and Afiya Zia. Lahore, Pakistan: ASR, 1994.

Izutsu, Toshihiko. The Structure of the Ethical Terms in the Koran: A Study in Semantics, Vol. II. Tokyo: Keio Institute of Philological Studies, 1959.

———. God and Man in the Koran: Semantics of the Koranic Weltanschauung. Tokyo: Keoi, Institute of Cultural and Linguistic Studies, 1964.

Keddie, Nikki, ed. Debating Gender, Debating Sexuality. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

Laqueur, Thomas. Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Miles, Angela. Integrative Feminisms: Building Global Visions, 1960s-1990s. New York:Routledge, 1996.

Millett, Kate. Sexual Politics. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1970.

Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. New York: Metheun, 1985.

Nieuwenhuijze, C.A.O. Paradise Lost: Reflections on the Struggle for Authenticity in the Middle East. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997.

Rajan, Rajeswari Sunder. Real and Imagined Women: Gender, Culture and Postcolonialism. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Ricoeur, Paul. Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation. Edited and translated by John B. Thompson. Cambridge: University Press, 1981.

Sardar, Zia, Ashis Nandy, and Meryl Wyn Davies. Barbaric Others: A Manifesto on Western Racism. London: Pluto Press, 1993.

Showalter, Elaine. "The Feminist Critical Revolution." In Imagining Women: Cultural Representations and Gender. Edited by Frances Bonner, Lizbeth Goodman, Richard Allen, Linda James, and Catherine King. Oxford: Polity Press, 1992.

Smith, W.C. Towards a World Theology: Faith and the Comparative History of Religion. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981.

Spellberg, D.Z. Politics, Gender and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of Aisha bint Abu Bakr. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Stowasser, Barbara F. Women in the Quran: Traditions and Interpretations. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Van Ess, Josef. "Verbal Inspiration? Language and Revelation in Classical Islamic Theology." In The Quran as Text, edited by Stefan Wild. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.

Wadud, Amina. Quran and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

 

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Sabrang

The Supremacy Myth

The bogus arguments and "proofs" on the basis of which the better half of God’s finest creation is kept under subjugation and servility is both shameful and sinful

23 Jun 2021

First published on: October 2009

muslim women
Artwork by Lalla Essaydi. Source: Flickr
 

In these pages, I propose to put forward my ideas on the rights of women which I have held for long. Although many of my other ideas have changed over time, I have had no reason to change or alter any of my ideas in this regard. If anything, I find myself holding on to them even more firmly with the passage of time. I hope that the articulation of these ideas and acting on them will bring about much- needed reform that will pull my community out of its current state of decline and despair.

I am well aware that I will be charged with aping the British and worse. And that many of my fierce opponents will go into overdrive to contradict, ridicule me. Abuses too will be hurled. But those to who sincerely believe in the majesty and grandeur of Shariah laws, those whose notions of dignity, self-worth and self-respect will not deter them from taking inspiration from the life and times of Prophet Mohammed and his family and the values they promoted, will have no hesitation in responding positively. Nor will they be discouraged by the criticisms of individuals and organizations, or the scorn and ridicule that they too would be subjected to by the ignorant and the rogues.

If this humble effort of mine results in the protection of the rights of even a single old woman in the entire country I would consider my effort to have been worthwhile.

Male Supremacy Myth

Men and women are both part of the human species. Neither is superior to the other but in each there are some distinctive qualities which makes them different from the other. These distinctive characteristics call for a corresponding set of different responsibilities and duties for men and women but beyond that there must be no differentiation between the two sexes. Apart from the distinctions based on their innate, God-created differences, any attempt to widen the divide or to prove the superiority of one over the other is nothing but personal prejudice and gender bias. It is but obvious that these differences are merely circumstantial, ephemeral and non-durable, the product of different environments, age and cultural background. We will show that the differences that are sought to explain and justify the differing status and rights of men and women go way beyond what is explicable or justified on the basis of the inherent differences between them. These are based on nothing but the presumptions, prejudices and ignorance of men. The consequences of such aberrant modes of thinking and being are the decline of culture, the ruination of the world and the continuance of the barbarism of ancient times in the name of Islam.

Most of our cultural constructs are rooted in the false notion that men are sovereign and women are their subjects, in the belief that women have been created with the sole purpose of placing herself in the service of men. Because of such a belief, men assert their rights over women just as they claim ownership rights over other forms of property and claim that women cannot have rights equal to that of men. If such false and baseless notions were merely the product of male prejudice and self-centeredness and there was no attempt to justify their claims with logic, reason and religious belief it would have been one thing. But the tragedy is that the claims of male supremacy are sought to be premised on sound reason, lofty principles and divine edict. The purpose of writing this piece is to expose the hollowness of their claim and the shamefulness of their conduct.

To the best of our knowledge the arguments which are forwarded to prove male supremacy are the following:

1. God has given men more physical strength than women. Therefore men claim full rights over all that is gained with the use of superior strength and hard labour. That is why the right to rule or govern, which includes the use of force, is both natural and divine right of men.

2. In addition to physical prowess men also have a superior mental capacity. That is why in every age and in every country women have been considered to be of low intellect, inherently gullible, ill-informed, lacking in conceptual ability, unreliable, treacherous.

3. Just as sovereignty over others is the most prestigious thing in worldly affairs, being bestowed with the mantle of a prophet or messenger is the greatest gift from God. Throughout human history Allah, has bestowed prophethood only on men. No woman has ever been sent to preach the divine message.

4. Theologically speaking, the Quranic verse, "al rejala qawwamoona alan nisa" is frequently quoted in support of men’s superiority. The verse is taken to mean that men are rulers over women.

5. Another bogus argument presented is that Allah first created Adam and Eve was created subsequently only for his benefit. Therefore, it is the divine intent that women remain servile to men and be a source of his happiness and well-being.

6. In the Quran, the evidence of two women is treated as equal to that of one man. This and the fact that in inheritance the share of a woman has been stipulated as half that of a man is also proof of men’s superiority.

7. The fact that men are permitted to marry four wives while the reverse is prohibited further proves that God has given man a more elevated status.

8. Virtuous men have been promised beautiful wives in paradise while even virtuous women have been given no such promise.

Call them fanciful, philosophical, logical or theological: such is the evidence and the proofs we are offered on the basis of which half the world is kept under subjugation, forced to live like slaves of men and even worse. Thus is the better half of God’s finest creation forced to satisfy the lust of the basest among men, cater to every demand of the even the most worthless and vile among self-serving men.

We will now examine these claims one by one and see whether they stand the test of logical scrutiny or whether they are false and baseless views manufactured by self-centered men. Anyone who is capable of shedding his cultural prejudices, prepared to examine arguments on merit, not consumed by anxiety about the implications of embracing a new idea for their own future conduct, will see that all the male supremacy arguments are baseless and worthless. What’s more, these are gross violation of God’s edicts and Shariah laws.

 

Physically Superior?

The first claim about men’s greater physical prowess is a mere assertion pretending to being a logical argument. Admitted, men are physically stronger than women. So what? How does this prove that physical strength is a legitimate basis for the claim that men are superior to women? It is but obvious that those who are physically stronger are expected to undertake more difficult, arduous and hazardous tasks than those who are less strong. Whoever said that men should not be asked to handle tasks that require greater strength, are more arduous or hazardous? Men are most welcome to them: breaking boulders, chopping trees, slitting throats and all such jobs that are hard to do or which only the heartless can do. But the question remains: how does their physical ability to do such tasks makes them superior or more cultured? How is superior to be defined and where is the argument or evidence for that?

The absurdity of this argument will be immediately apparent if instead of comparing men with women, we compare men with four-legged animals. Suppose we argued that because God has given greater physical strength to them than men, animals are superior and sovereign over men? If you stick to your warped logic, how can you run away from our claim? Are we not being true to the logical method? If men are superior (your definition) over women, by that very logic if follows that donkeys are superior to men. If the fact that a donkey can carry a far greater load than a man does not establish the former’s supremacy over the latter, how does a man become superior to a woman merely owing because he is capable of withstanding greater physical hardship?

To simplify the point further and to nail the bogus claim, let us analyze the basis on which men are women are/ought to be compared? There is no doubt that men and women are a part of the animal world. Surely this animalism is not what constitutes their identity but it is their human qualities and capacities which qualify both as being humans. A human being is a special animal endowed with common sense, logic and wisdom. It is these qualities and the evolutionary possibilities inherent in them that elevate a mere animal to the lofty level of humanity. Therefore, any comparison between them will make sense only if we examine the extent to which they have evolved from their animal existence.

But all that the superiority argument tells us is that men are of a heavier build, their bones are stronger, their legs more powerful. These characteristics are not part of that special quality that elevates the status of humans over animals. As it happens, all the traits referred to are related to animalism and a comparison between man and woman on that basis is nonsensical. Everyone knows that men and women are from the animal species. God in his infinite wisdom and power reduced the bestial qualities in human beings by diminishing their ferocity, predatory instincts and brutality and added some angelic qualities to create a new species: humans. Therefore, the comparison between man and woman ought to be based on these angelic qualities, as opposed to animal traits. Establishing man’s superiority or development on the basis of bestial qualities is, in effect, to prove their baseness.

Apart from what has been said above, even if we were to agree that men are superior to women owing to physical strength, it should be evident that this is the result of social evolution and not the result of divine intent. As far as perceptible causes are concerned, it seems that the excess or lack of physical strength in men and women are not inherent. Instead, various cultures and societies have over countless centuries brought about gender differences similar to the difference between men and men generated over time across nations. Why is it that the Afridis of Kabul are burly and strong, while the Babus of Kolkata are lean and puny in appearance? Why are the Sikhs of Punjab referred to as the lions of Punjab, while the Baniyas of Hindustan are said to be meek? It should not be difficult to understand that what explains the Sikhs of Punjab being physically stronger than the Bengalis and Baniyas also explains men being stronger than women. The only difference is that the historical process that culminated in the different physical capacities of the two sexes started eons before than it did in case of Bengalis and Baniyas.

That more or less physical strength in men and women is not inherent but the result of socially governed causes can be demonstrated in another way too. Even though women in different parts of the world live under more or less similar conditions and do comparable work, due to cultural and other differences their physique and strength are different. If you compare the build of women living in Ghazni and Herat with the genteel ladies of Delhi and Lucknow you will come to know that the difference is not innate or God-given. This only means that the reason why women are physically less strong than men is because they were forced to live in a manner that their corporal capacity gradually diminished through underuse.

The second part, or a corollary, of the first claim about brawn-power based superiority of men is even more pathetic and utterly baseless. In the early period of human civilization, when barbarism and ignorance was rife and rights and the principles of society had not been defined, every controversial and contentious issue was resolved on the basis of the "Might is Right" principle. However, even then no single person was powerful enough to grab whatever he wanted without the active support of allies. By the time people evolved even the most rudimentary form of rule or governance, they had left far behind the ancient mode of life and progressed to a level where systems were in place and laws were laid down for their self-preservation. In other words, people had come to appreciate the importance of laying down customs, norms and laws and begun compelling others to abide by them. The head of state did not depend solely on his corporal might to govern, but rather on the support of his loyal friends and devoted allies. To this day, all kinds of governments are run on these principles.

Now no form of government can exclude women entirely and forever. Men have always been conscious of their superiority and have denied women opportunity and rights. Despite this, they have not managed to evolve any form of government that excluded women entirely. Hence, in all states and nations, at some time or another, the reign of government fell in the hands of women. And some of them ruled so skillfully that it is difficult to find a sovereign of their caliber in the ranks of men. In Hindustan, though the reign of Razia Begum was very brief, with regard to peace and posterity, it was better than the rule of many an emperor. The era of Jahangir saw Noor Jehan Begum as the power behind the throne. For its unparalleled peace, posterity and organization of state affairs, this period will always shine through the history of Hindustan as its golden age. Consider the present age and see how efficiently Her Majesty, the sovereign of the British Empire is governing, ensuring law and order, dispensing justice.

Can it still be said that sovereignty by right is for men only? The continuing belief that government is the result of sheer power is entirely erroneous. The progress of knowledge, promotion of culture and British rule over our country has made it clear that knowledge and learning are the greatest force in the world. Today, only the more educated and the knowledgeable can lay legitimate claim to superiority over others. So we hope that in future, men taking pride in their heavy build and big bones will not claim superiority over women but look elsewhere to buttress their bogus claim.

 

Intellectually Superior?

The second assertion is again a mere claim without proof. Scientists of the present time have established a marginal difference in the structure of male and female bodies and have described some bones in the female body as being delicate compared to male bones. Yet, to this day no clear distinction has ever been detected in the brain and in the development of those sections of the brain that determine various nuances of intellectual potency. Despite the fact that cultural norms have made women’s corporal strength lesser than that of men – so much so that a difference in the makeup of their bones can now be established – their mental capacity is by no means lesser than that of men. If anything, this shows that if traditional norms had allowed women equal opportunity for physical development, maybe, in fact undoubtedly, their mental faculties would have been more sophisticated than those of men.

As in the first case, a big flaw in this second assertion is that the difference resulting from prevalent social norms is considered to be inherent. In fact, even if the brainpower of women were in future to be found to be somewhat lower than that of men, why should it not be seen as the obvious result of women’s present cultural state, where their physical health is greatly neglected which so affects their nervous system that there is always a risk of diminished mental abilities, of making them what is described as impatient, impulsive, unpredictable, petulant, and dim-witted beings?

Since men and women have not been treated as equals, since they have been denied a level playing field in the pursuit of knowledge and development of their mental faculty, how can men claim their own relative advancement as a result of some innate quality? Using such logic, since at present the Zulus are deep in the throes of barbarism and ignorance while in the field of knowledge the British have left the intellectuals of Greece behind, would it be justified to deduce that there is some innate difference between the mental abilities of the British and the Zulus?

Thus, even if some difference were to be found in the mental prowess of men and women, it cannot be a verdict against the latter. In fact, there is no doubt that despite centuries of neglect in the intellectual development of women, despite the minds of countless generations of women being kept inactive, we still do not find them lacking in anything when compared to men. If anything, this clearly shows that the mental abilities of women are inherently superior to that of men.

 

All prophets were male?

The third proof of the superiority of men is based on the claim that no woman has ever been blessed with the mantle of a prophet. This is questionable on three grounds. Firstly, Muslims believe that through the ages God has sent 1,24,000 messengers or prophets to the world for the guidance of human beings. In all our holy books we find accounts of only 10 to 15 of these prophets, while all the other prophets from the ancient times probably do not exceed 30. This means that we know nothing of the lives of 123,970 prophets. Therefore, it cannot be said with any certainty whether they were all men, all women or that some were men and some women. To arrive at a verdict or to make jibes at half of humanity on the basis of limited information is nonsensical. Until we know about all the prophets, it is not appropriate to discourse on the basis of mere assumption.

Secondly, the nature of a woman’s creation demands that she should not be assigned any task that requires long years of continuous struggle and hard work, which also necessitates complete separation from home and family. Keeping women free of such demanding activity, if anything, indicates God’s concern for her well-being. This should remind men that just as they derive serenity and comfort from women, so do women from men. They should also know that the well-being of women is of greater concern to God.

Thirdly, we most definitely do not believe in the equality of all men and all women even as we affirm that there is no intrinsic difference between man and woman. It is on account of circumstances that at times some women gain superiority over other women, some men gain superiority over other men and some men leave other women behind, while at other times, women prevail over men in the pursuit of excellence. Hence, the success of a handful of people over others is no proof of the superiority of one gender over another.

Of course, the superiority of some men who were ordained prophets over all men and women is evident. But this in itself does not prove any difference between the vast majority of men and women who are not prophets; this is no evidence of the superiority of the entire breed of men over women. Can any other woman lay claim to the eminence and respect enjoyed by Hazrat Amina who gave birth to Prophet Muhammad or mothers of other prophets? Absolutely not! It was an honor that God had reserved since the beginning of time for these fortunate ladies, and hence, they became its beneficiaries. So what if all the women in the world belong to the same gender as them? Likewise, would it be proper to assume that all the men of the world possess some part of the God-given esteem that prophets have only because they are part of the same gender?

 

Scriptural Claims Men rulers over women?

After the above-mentioned logical assertions and claims, we come to the scripture-based claims. But these are equally erroneous as they are based on a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of the Quran. The foremost proof that they derive from the Holy Quran comes from the Quranic verse which is generally translated as: Men are qawwamun (the protectors and maintainers) of/over (ala) women because God has faddala (preferred) some of them over some others and because they support them from their means. The theologians explaining this verse expound that men have been endowed with two types of higher qualities. One is the capacity to think and act and the other is the fact that men provide for the various needs of women, like food, clothing, shelter, etc.

I do not agree with this explanation because, first of all, translating qawwamun literally as "master" is in my opinion not correct. In fact, except for Maulana Shah Abdul Qadir no one else has translated it as such. Shah Rafi-ud-Din has translated qawwamun as "someone who is ready to move or is on the go," while his father, Shah Wali Ullah, translated it as "counsel, manager." In another Persian translation, known as the Sheikh Sa’adi Translation, qawwamun has been translated as a "manager", "in-charge." Maulana Qadir does not clarify what according to him is the meaning of "some have been ranked superior over some others" in the verse. If the first "some" stands for some men and the second for some women, how does it establish the superiority of all men over all women? If on the other hand in both instances "some" refers to men, then how does saying that some men are superior to other men prove all men’s superiority over all women? And if the verse is addressing all human beings, even if the first "some" implies all men and the second "some" implies all women it still does not establish the inherent natural or God-given superiority of all men over all women.

Besides, it is not at all clear from the verse in what sense superiority is implied. If one were to assume that in the first part of the verse what is being referred to is men’s superior capacity for thought and action while the latter refers to the superiority arising owing to the fact that men pay for the maintenance of women it can be argued that the latter distinction does not arise from any God-given difference between men and women. That is why we cannot accept this as an argument for superiority. Men’s superiority over women that may be achieved through pursuit of knowledge, excellence of character or other qualities that are an outcome of education and good upbringing is quite a different thing from the claim that men are superior to women by the mere fact of being men. The first is self-acquired or self-created while the second is intrinsic. There are many women who possess these self-acquired qualities of intellect and conduct more than men and in such cases they would obviously be superior to men.

Can anybody claim that Abu Jehal’s (uncle of Prophet Mohammed who remained opposed to Islam throughout his life) ability to think and act was superior to that of Hazrat Khadija (first wife of the prophet? Or that Abu Laheb (another uncle, who was similarly opposed to Islam) was superior to Hazrat Fatima (daughter of the prophet)? Or that all men or a majority of them have more knowledge and love of God than Hazrat Rabia Basry (a renowned female sufi saint from Basra, Iraq)? A father also spends money on his children and pays wages to his servants. Can one conclude from this that the master is intrinsically superior to the servant? Absolutely not! If due to some quirk of fate the master-servant relation gets reversed won’t the superior-inferior relation also get reversed, even though this contradicts the notion of inherent superiority?

Thus this much-quoted verse cannot in any way be considered proof of the superiority of men over women. In fact, the meaning of the verse is straightforward and obvious. The word qawwamun here is used as a form of hyperbole and must not be taken literally. A person who does not find much time to sit and rest due to his hectic schedule and business, a person who is on the go most of the time, is referred to as qawwam. Since men have to travel to far off lands to earn a living and provide for his family, men have been declared qawwam or managers and caretakers of women. Since the world is full of all types of people, rich or poor, weak or strong, generous or miserly, God states that He has granted distinction to one over the other. Men are being asked to take care, look after their wives in keeping with their status, position and economic condition. This verse does not talk of sovereignty and servility. If at all it does, even a cursory reflection shows that men need to be careful as they have a religious duty towards women.

 

Unequal: Testimony and Shares?

The second spurious logic is based on the fact that the Quran has declared the testimony of two women equal to the testimony of one man and a woman’s share in inheritance has been pronounced as half that of a man. But even this does not prove any real or inherent superiority. We need to consider several aspects here. Firstly, the cultural condition under which women have been kept leaves them ignorant, illiterate and inexperienced. Given the consequent difference of understanding and experience, if the testimony of men and women were treated on par in all manner of issues and trials, it could result in miscarriage of justice.

The Quranic verse in which the testimony of two women is declared equal to that of one man concerns loan agreements. In traditional societies, women are given little opportunity to engage in data gathering, documentation, account-keeping and court matters. Lack of education, awareness and experience in such matters are outside the realm of women’s everyday experience. Men on the other hand routinely deal with such matters and therefore have no such handicap. That is why, instead of one woman, the testimony of two women is considered necessary, so that, in case, one woman forgets the details of the case, the other woman can help her recall. This in fact is the rationale given by the Quran itself: "Two women should be present, so that if one woman forgets, the other may help her recall." If the Quran cites this difference arising out of social circumstance as the rationale for two women being present during a testimony and does not say that women’s testimony is worth half that of a man, who are petty theologians with fanciful notions and faulty logic to pass such judgment against half of humankind?

Secondly, the decree of the Quran regarding such testimony is an enabling provision, the observance of which has not been declared obligatory on Muslims. Latching on to an enabling provision elevating it to the status of an obligatory edict and feeding that into the male supremacy argument shows the insularity and sterility of the male mind. Thirdly, as we have stated earlier, the reason for the testimony of two women equaling that of one man is due to social circumstances and not because of the superiority or inferiority of men and women. It is not difficult to appreciate this for apart from the context of loans-related disputes, in matters familiar to women such as nikah (marriage), talaq (divorce), hudood-o-qisas (crime and punishment), where too testimony is involved, God makes no distinction between men and women.

Fourthly, there is an account from the life of the Prophet which actually establishes preference to a single woman’s testimony over others. Sahi Bukhari (the collection of sayings of the Prophet considered to be among the most authentic) narrates the account of Aqba bin Haris, who had married some girl. A woman later objected to this wedding saying that the marriage was not legitimate as she had breastfed both the bride and the groom. Aqba told the woman he did not believe her since she had never before mentioned breast feeding him. He later asked his in-laws and they too said that to the best of their knowledge, the woman had never breastfed their daughter either. Eventually, Aqba went to the Prophet and narrated the story. The testimony of just one woman was enough for the Prophet to nullify the nikah thus terminating the marriage.

Now, can the learned fuqha (jurists) quote even a single example where such a verdict was given on the basis of a single man’s testimony? Yet, it is well known that every now and then, however reluctantly, the fuqha are compelled to rely on the testimony of a single woman to give their ruling. Fifthly, it is possible that the primary reason behind recognizing two women’s testimony as equal to that of one man is that women sometimes are unable to appear before the court due to physical constraints. In such a situation, the advantage of having two women present is that if one is invalid, the other woman would be able to testify. If anything, granting women the option of being able to have her testimony placed on record by another woman affirms the primacy rather the diminishing of women’s rights.

As for share in inheritance, declaring unequal share for men and women does not prove the superiority of men at all. The burden of looking after all of a woman’s financial needs lie entirely on the man, while women bear the easier task of housework. Since a man was charged with the responsibility of providing not only for himself but also his wife and children, how would it be appropriate to grant a woman – who receives wedding-time gifts from her parents, mehr from the husband, is entitled to be adequately taken care of by her husband alimony on divorce, and unlike man has no obligation to spend what is hers on anyone else – a share equal to that of the man in the distribution of inheritance?

This in itself should be a clear and indisputable proof that God is more compassionate and generous towards women. How else can one explain the fact that in spite of being fully entitled to her due share in her husband’s income, she is also entitled to receive a separate share from her father’s inheritance, and has the right to alimony? Hence, in the distribution of inheritance, her share in accordance with Islamic laws does not establish the superiority of men. In fact, it validates the primacy of women.

 

Adam came first?

The male supremacy claim based on the fact that Adam was created first is nothing but childish. To begin with, we are tempted to assert that this is so because it was not acceptable to God that a woman is left without a companion for even a second. Therefore, it is for her sake that He created Adam first. But as a matter of fact, the belief that Adam was created first and then came Eve is part of the Christian and Jewish faith. This is not at all part of the Islamic creed. There is no mention in the Quran about who was created first, Adam or Eve.

 

Men allowed multiple wives?

The permission to men to marry four women at a time while women are prohibited from marrying more than one man is a false claim. The problem is that people are literalists who look for the meaning of words in isolation instead of striving to grasp their real meaning and thus unraveling the divine intent. Men gloat over the fact that a Quranic verse clearly entitles men to marry more than one wife: "You may marry two or three or four women whom you choose". But a little reflection will show that there is no such clear-cut license in the Quran. In fact, having more than one wife at a time is virtually forbidden and those who violate it could be guilty of adultery.

Firstly, some effort is needed to understand this verse in its true perspective. It is not at all clear whether the divine injunction permits a man to have four wives at the same time or whether all that is being said is that a man is permitted to marry sequentially up to four wives. Is it God’s command that on the death of the first wife a man is permitted to remarry and so on, but only one wife at a time is permitted and no marriage fifth time is permitted. Or is it being said that if for some health reasons the first wife is unable to meet her marital obligations, a man is permitted a second wife, even a third or fourth wife for similar reasons? Or are men being told that a man may remarry after divorcing his first wife, and similarly remarry following a second, third and fourth divorce but never after that? Or is it the divine command that no marriage after the first is permitted except with the permission of his current wife or her relations?

Since the verse under consideration is not such whose meaning is clear and unambiguous, we consider it to be among the non-explicit verses of the Quran which theologically speaking cannot be used to assert the veracity of a particular interpretation. For this reason this verse cannot be a basis for Shariah law.

Whether the ulema agree or not, the most likely interpretation in my view is that the permission for subsequent marriage is strictly subject to the willing consent of the first wife or her family members. Our conviction is based on the life of none other than Prophet Mohammed. According to a Hadith in Sahih Bukhari, Hazrat Ali intended to marry Abu Jehal’s daughter who had converted to Islam even though he was already married to Hazrat Fatima. Hence the relatives of the prospective bride requested permission from the Holy Prophet. On hearing this, the Holy Prophet became very angry. Ascending the pulpit to deliver a sermon he announced: these people are asking for my permission as father to allow them to marry off their daughter to Ali even when my daughter is already married to him. But I will not allow it, I will not allow it, I will not allow it. If Ali really wants to do this, then he must divorce my daughter and only then take another wife. Fatima is very close to my heart, whosoever does her wrong, does me wrong and whosoever hurts her, hurts me.

This Hadith supports the interpretation of the Quranic verse under discussion that permission is a must for the second marriage. The unequivocal opposition from the Prophet proves that it is up to the current wife and her relatives to give or refuse permission. If contracting the second marriage had been permitted by God without consent of the first wife or her relatives, then the Prophet’s conduct would be considered against the will of God, something that is inconceivable for a Muslim.

As we will discuss in the section on marriage (this is a separate chapter in Huqooq Niswan which is not reproduced here) that our ulema and religious leaders have given women the right to stipulate at the time of nikah itself that the husband will not contract a second marriage. Making this condition part of the marriage contract also shows that the second marriage depends on the permission of the first wife. If this consent was not mandatory, placing a condition in this regard at the time of nikah would not have been considered legal and neither would it be religiously binding afterwards. In other words, contrary to widespread perception, there is no blanket permission in the Quran for men to marry up to four vies.

Thirdly, and most importantly, in the verse under discussion, there is a clear-cut directive and an almost impossible-to-meet pre-condition for bigamy. A husband is permitted more than one wife on the strict condition that he ensures justice to all. It is further stipulated that if you are afraid that you will not be able to ensure this, stick to one wife. Now the question is: what are the requirements for justice? Is it possible for the average man to be able to observe it in practice? Most ulema contend that in a marriage, meeting the wife’s daily expenditures, paying her maintenance allowance, providing housing, spending time with the wife and discharging of conjugal duties as a husband are the various requirements of justice. However, we believe that true love and companionship are the paramount consideration in marriage and therefore the essential criteria for fair play and just treatment. And we firmly believe that in a bigamous or polygamous situation, this condition is virtually impossible for a man to meet.

Our adversaries’ object saying there is no point in contemplating something that is practically impossible. If there is nothing to be gained by such discourse, God’s directive is rendered devoid of any practical implication, they say. Our answer to this proposition is that we believe that the real purpose of marriage is to find a lifelong companion, friend and comrade who shares with the spouse the ups and downs of life, is the source of solace and comfort at the end of the daily grind. When referring to the creation of Eve and commendation of marriage God says, "We have placed the love of women in your hearts so that you receive comfort and solace from them." Therefore, if this aspect is excluded from the marital bond, the relationship gets limited to the satisfaction of male lust.

At another place in the Quran, God asserts, "You will not be able to do justice to your women (wives) even if you strive for it." It is a basic axiom in Quranic elucidation that for internal consistency and coherence, to the extent possible you search for, unravel the meaning of any verse through other verses. The meaning of justice, for example, must remain uniform throughout the Quran. Now if the justice-to-all command in the verse quoted above is limited to what the ulema who oppose us claim it to be, then the same meaning of justice must apply to the second verse above. Why then does God proclaim that it is impossible for you to treat your wives justly? Why is God categorically and unambiguously asserting that you will not be able to render equal justice to your wives? God Almighty firmly states that you will never be able to do justice but the ulema who support polygamy assert: No, we can do justice! If this is not daring God what is?

However, one might legitimately ask: if God knows that man cannot do justice and says so in plain words in the Quran, why grant permission for up to four wives? Does this impossible to meet criteria not render the permission meaningless? To this we reiterate that, firstly, whatever the Quran says is simple and clear as we have already explained. You ask God what the use of this meaningless permission is. For our part, to the extent that we are able to comprehend the Holy Book, we do not find any difficulty understanding it. Clearly, the way God has granted permission for more than one wife is virtually impossible to achieve. In our view, the granting of permission in this circuitous manner is in fact a severe admonition to desist from misogyny. If a person consumed by greed is told that if he finds the phoenix he will also be able to achieve alchemy, it does not imply a belief on anyone’s part in the actual existence of the phoenix. Or a belief on the addressee’s part that he is quite hopeful of its possession and that the day he finds the phoenix alchemy is sure to follow.

Another good example in this regard could be presented from a Quranic verse in Surah Aaraaf. It reads: "No infidel will enter Paradise until such time as a camel passes through the eye of a needle." To conclude from this that there will indeed come a time when a camel will pass through the eye of a needle is to present a distorted picture of divine intent. Interestingly, under cover of poetic license a poet taking this statement on face value presents a very comical thought: "Had the miseries which befell me fallen on the camel, infidels would enter paradise." What the poet means to say is that the camel would become so lean due to grief that it would be able to pass through the eye of the needle. And since their entry in paradise was subject to this condition, infidels would then gain easy access to paradise! God’s edict concerning the taking of more than one wife is similar, when He warns that with multiple wives there is great danger of injustice.

Of course, if there exists a man who is confident that he would never do any injustice, then he may marry as many women as he likes: two, three, or four. In fact, it is only a figure of speech to say marry as many women as you want: there is no special sanctity to the number four. Trying to establish divine permission for multiple wives from this verse is no different from the above mentioned poetic imagination concerning the admission of infidels in paradise.

Keeping Fiqh and Tafseer principles in mind, this verse should be deliberated upon from another angle which has not been done sufficiently hitherto. In my opinion, deriving an edict concerning nikah from this verse is in itself a big mistake. The fact is that this verse is concerned with only a certain form of marriage. During the pre-Islamic period of ignorance (jahiliyah), Arab men used to indulge in an extremely vile and heartless practice. They would adopt orphan girls, bring them up, and when they matured, they would marry them with devious intent. Since the orphans had no family, the men would seize all the property of the orphans after marriage. The sole reason for adopting and later marrying these girls was to grab their possessions, just like even nowadays some men marry dance girls only with the intention of getting access to their riches. There are others who despite being married to a good woman are forever on the lookout for some wealthy woman to marry.

The obvious message of this verse is God’s warning to men against the then prevalent deceitful practice. The Quran forbids cruelty towards these orphan girls, commanding men to be judicious as to the rights of orphans. It is also made very clear that if you have any doubt about your ability to do justice, fear that if you marry such helpless orphans you will commit some wrong, by no means must you marry such girls. Instead marry other women with parents or guardians who can hold you accountable for your treatment of them. But even then justice remains a non-negotiable requirement, for that is the true principle behind marriage. If you can do justice, then you can contract up to four marriages; if not, limit yourself to only one wife.

It should be abundantly clear from what has been said above that the verse in question was not a general decree on marriage. Rather it was aimed at warning against the fraudulent dispossession of helpless orphan girls. So even today if there are such people who are guardians of orphan girls they must not marry them if they have any misgivings of unjust conduct on their own part later. Apart from the context of orphans, the Quran is silent on nikah. Perhaps, the issue has been left to both parties intending to marry according to their social status, cultural circumstances and preferences. Consequently, this verse in the Quran is no evidence of a blanket license to men to marry up to four women. And that is why this edict can be no argument in support of men’s superiority.

 

Male right to divorce

As for divorce, the right of divorce that men have been granted is such that they should be extremely cautious about exercising it. In fact the only way men can lay claim to be decent and civilized is by not exercising this right outside exceptional circumstances. Divorce is such a sour medicine that the only ailment it should be administered for is that which has no other cure. Husband-wife relations are so delicate and private that going to courts and divulging them before others can only add to their grief and sorrow. It is true that nikah is an agreement like any other civil contract. After the covenant is signed, each party reserves the right to force his/her partner who is bent on violating the contract to abide by it and not strain the relationship. But it is also the case that only broken hearts think of terminating the contract. And when that stage is reached even if one is forced to continue with the contract, it can only be under duress. The relationship then will be a sham rather than the product of mutual love and respect.

The marital contract is after all premised on a meeting of hearts and when that no longer holds true what is left is a spiritless, physical proximity. In such circumstances both parties need to consider the worth of continuing such a relationship merely on the strength of a court decree although emotionally they are already distant from each other. Under such circumstances it is best that they part ways by mutual consent.

As to the question: who has been/should be given this right? In my opinion, if hostility between husband and wife is the reason for divorce, no matter who is bestowed with the right the result will be the same. It is not generally the case that a man says to his wife that he does not want her any longer, but the wife is still full of love for the husband and reluctant to end the relationship. We are of the opinion that in such a situation they should part ways irrespective of whether the man demands it or the woman.

No one can deny the fact that women are imbued with greater modesty, decency and desire to protect their dignity and honor as compared to men. It seems as if modesty and decorum are part of their genetic makeup and all those elements that bring out the gentleness which nature has conferred upon women, are apparent in abundant measure. Kindness, compassion, God-fear, empathy and love are innate qualities in women. A separation through divorce no matter how genuine the reasons would understandably be far more painful for one whose basic nature is constituted of love and kindness. Divorce for women – the personification of love – who’s every fiber is imbued with sincerity, would obviously be a most undesirable thing.

That is why God has protected women against precipitating an act. The Prophet declared divorce as being the worst act amongst all acts acceptable to God. Protect women, he preached to his followers. What an irony that something which has been termed the worst practice by God is touted as an argument for male superiority. In any case, we need to examine whether in fact men alone have the right to divorce. It is quite possible that men having lost interest in their wives refuse to divorce with the sole purpose of torturing them. In such situations, women have been given the right to unilaterally seek divorce through a court of law. This right of the women is called ‘khula’. In this way, she has the right to initiative separation proceedings. But even in such situations God protects her from any blame because on the face of it she is merely asking the court for justice.

Women can choose to terminate a marriage for other reasons too. It is reported in Akhbar-e-Sahiha that a very beautiful woman, Hafza binte Sahal, lived in Medina during the time of the Prophet. Her husband who was ugly loved his wife very much but the woman hated him. They would quarrel every day. At last, Hafza told the Prophet that she hated her husband very much and feared that she might be held accountable by God for not fulfilling her responsibilities as a wife. Therefore, she requested the Prophet to separate her from her husband. The Prophet tried to convince the woman but when he saw that harmony between the two was difficult, he asked the man to divorce her.

The husband told the Prophet that he had gifted precious land to his wife. Since she now wanted a divorce for no fault of his, his land should be returned to him. Hafza said he was welcome to the estate and anything else he may want as long as he let her go. In the end, the Prophet asked the land to be returned and ended their marriage.

What better right could be granted to women to protect them from the excesses of their husbands than the rights which have already been given to them under the Islamic law?

 

For men, houris in paradise

When all worldly logic fails to prove man’s superiority over women, he turns to the Hereafter to establish his case. It is claimed that men have been promised very beautiful women — houris — in paradise. But this claim is as shameful and worthless as are the rest of them. The words of the Quran on which this imaginary superiority is based are: "Walahum feeha azwaaj motaharra" ("For them there will be virtuous partners in paradise"). They conclude from this verse that "hum" which is a masculine pronoun means men and azwaaj refers to the virgin maidens of paradise. However, this interpretation of the verse shows total ignorance of the special Quranic style of discourse.

The Quran has a distinctive style. Wherever the reference is to humanity at large, the masculine gender is used to convey its message. Look at the very first surah (chapter of the Quran) of the Quran, where God says: "Hudayyil muttaqeenallazina youmenoona bil ghaibe wa yaqeemun al salawath") ("Believers who have faith in the Day of Judgment and the unseen and who establish prayers"). Here only the masculine pronoun has been used but that surely does not mean that the Quran is only for the guidance of those pious men who have faith in the unseen and who pray regularly. Obviously women too are being addressed. In hundreds of places, the Quran refers to "aqueemul salwatah wa utu al zakaah" (those who pray regularly and pay the religious tax) using the masculine pronoun. Would it be right then to believe that the edict regarding prayers and payment of the obligatory tax is only for men while women have been exempted from these obligations? Certainly not!

Similarly, the Quranic edict concerning prayers and fasting, "mun shahada minkum al shahada faleesummha", read literally means: "Those (men) among you who have cited the moon must start fasting". Were we to believe that here women are excluded from fasting during Ramzaan, women will be altogether free of this obligation since we do not find any separate mention of this obligation for women elsewhere in the Quran. To repeat, in numerous places in the Quran though the masculine pronoun is used, the reference is obviously to both men and women. Incidentally, such usage is not uncommon in Urdu. For example, Bura karnay wale ka anjaam bura hota hai ("those who commit evil deeds will be meet their just ends"). As we all know, "wale" is masculine and walee feminine. Obviously it does not mean that "bura karne walee" women have nothing to worry about.

Similarly, it is not correct to take the word zouj to mean ‘a woman’. In Arabic, zouj means "partner". A woman is zouj of a man while a man is zouj of a woman. The expression "huqooq zoujain" ("the rights of partners") well illustrates the point of gender equality. Thus, the verse simply means that those who carry out righteous deeds will enter paradise and will have virtuous partners for companionship. That is, for men there will be women and for women there will be men.

This interpretation might seem surprising and elicit the question: we know, men will have houris, but who will be women’s partners? This confusion arises only because to pamper their own egos, men have decided to read certain passages of the Quran in a way that suits them and have convinced themselves that they have the right interpretation. Though they seem to accept the right interpretation when it is pointed out to them and claim to have jettisoned their earlier understanding, the fact is that they unconsciously stick to old ideas which linger in the mind. Old habits die hard and they find it difficult to internalize the new understanding even after apparently having come around to accepting them.

Muslim men have for long held the firm conviction that come the Day of Reckoning and there will be houris lying in wait for them in paradise. We explain to them that this is a mistaken view, so dislodge it from your mind and understand the real meaning of the Quran. Alright, they say, we accept what you say. But tell us: men will have houris as partners, but who will be women’s partners? Clearly with the thought of houris still has a strong hold on their imagination. They have not really accepted what they claim to have and this is a big folly.

The fact is that there is not a single verse in the Quran to indicate that the houris of paradise are a separate creation intended as reward for pious men. In the Arabic language all fair-complexioned woman with black eyes are called "hoor" (houri). The Quran clearly states that on the day of reckoning all human beings will be resurrected, all young in age. There is no further detail concerning men. But about women God specifically states that when resurrected all women be virgin and of marriageable age just like the resurrected men.

It is these very women who are variously described in the Quran as "houris" (black-eyed), "qaaserat ul fitrat" (of modest disposition), "khairaat" (good wives), "azwaaj" (wives). Referring to certain verses in the Quran and sayings of the Prophet, some of his Companions (Ibn Abbas for example,) have clearly taken the view that all the words in the Quran which are taken to imply that houris are a species apart from human beings in fact refer to none other than the women inhabitants of planet earth. When it is said that they are virgins it only means that this is so since their resurrection.

It is clear then that the beautiful women who are being referred to in the Quran are the very wives who once inhabited the earth but who will be resurrected as very beautiful and loving companions. In paradise where no one will ever age the pious women will provide companionship forever to their pious husbands. In Surah Hadd, Allah says that those who are rewarded with life eternal in paradise will get to meet their near and dear ones: parents, wives, children. In Surah Toor also it is mentioned that Allah will bring together in paradise those who are virtuous and whose children too are virtuous. In Surah Zakhraf it is stated: enter paradise with your wives and roam about freely. There are several other verses where it is reiterated that the virtuous who enter paradise will meet their virtuous relations there.

From all that has been said above it should be evident that it is neither the case that men have special mental faculties nor has the Quran given any elevated status to men because of which they should be considered superior. A close study of Shariah clearly establishes that men and women have equal rights. Surah Nisa, the one that contains many verses concerning women begins as follows: "O people, fear your Creator who has created you all of the same kind and created your partners from the same". The surah spells out the rights of heirs, orphans and women and anyone who might do injustice towards them is dealt a severe warning. It is asserted that men and women are created from a single nafs (self), with similar thoughts and feelings. Be it men or women, anyone who is oppressed or victimized feels pain just like you would in their place because you have all been made alike. So fear Allah and beware of committing any injustice against anyone.

In this surah, even though the husband has been given the responsibility of looking after all his wife’s needs, she has been granted a share in her father’s property equal to half of the man’s share. What’s more, in certain situations a woman’s share has been made the same as that of man’s. For example, if the deceased leaves behind parents and children, each parent is entitled to a sixth of the total property, that is, the mother and the father get the same amount. In a situation where the deceased leaves behind neither parents nor children but only brothers and sisters, the share of the sisters are to be equal to that of the brothers.

In addition to the above, the wife is entitled to mehr (dower) from the husband at the time of marriage. In the event of divorce, however large the amount, the husband is not entitled to demand the return of even a penny. Before Islam there was a cruel practice in Arabia whereby when a husband lost interest in the wife he would mistreat her to the point that she would ask for divorce and return the dower amount. Declaring this to be an evil practice, Allah has warned Muslim men from misbehaving with their wives with the intent of recovering the dower amount from her.

At the same time, men have been commanded to behave decently with their wives. The Quran goes on to say that even if you dislike your wife for some reason you must still treat her well for it is possible that Allah may intend some good for you from the very thing you dislike. The principle of gender parity is reiterated, saying that men have a right to a portion of what they earn and women have a right to a portion of what they earn. In other words, both are equal, neither is superior to the other. To each there is a reward for his or her good deeds.

The woman’s right to divorce through the khula system has been stated as follows: "If a woman fears misbehavior on the part of her husband, there is no harm if the two of them resolved matters amicably. But if they decide to separate, Allah will be equally generous with both". In the event of domestic conflict, the way prescribed for attempting resolution is equally gender just: If there is a misunderstanding between husband and wife, appoint two arbitrators, one from the man’s family, the other from the woman’s. No doubt, the more you reflect on the verses of the Quran, the more you will realize that the gender justice principle comes through clear and consistent.

The only difference between men and women has to do with their reproductive organs and there is no physical or mental prowess involved here. That woman are the "weaker sex" has only one implication: women give birth to children and bring them up, so men should perform arduous tasks and earn for the upkeep of the entire family.

Some medical experts claim to have recently detected a small disparity in the brain capacity of men and women. It is claimed that men have the capacity for totalizing, comprehensive thought, for analyzing things in intricate detail while women find it difficult to move conceptually from the particular to the general. Firstly, this proposition appears to be hypothetical and whimsical, and the same has yet to be established scientifically. If per chance, it were to be conclusively proved in the future, it would at best mean that men have a capacity that women lack relatively speaking and vice versa. For the moment the fact remains that until the present there has never arisen an issue, problem or challenge in the intellectual domain which men are able to address or comprehend but not women.

In fact, as far as some of my friends’ and my own experience are concerned, we find that compared to boys girls are sharper, more intelligent, more conscientious. I have been very pleasantly surprised to learn of many girls who never got to attend a madrasa and yet have learnt to read and write on their own. In most cases, they neither had access to formal education, nor to anyone at home who assumed the responsibility of tutoring them. They simply picked up some words from a sister, some from a brother, a few things now and then from the mother. They learnt to write by simply watching their siblings do the same. Gradually, through such self-learning they became educated enough to start teaching their younger brothers. But we have yet to come across a single example of a boy who is self-taught in similar fashion. Parents or elder brothers, who have taught a boy and a girl of the same age, would know that boys are relatively speaking dense and dim-witted, a dead loss as compared to girls.

As far as moral values are concerned, women are by far in the lead. Modesty, humility and decency are virtues you find in abundance in women; you won’t find even a tenth of the same in men. Some men are so prejudiced against women that if a widow opts for a second marriage after the death of her husband, it becomes a proof of their supposed treachery. But the same men have no qualms practicing polygamy and ignoring their obligations towards any of the wives – both contrary to the teachings of Islam. They remarry no sooner than the death of the wife, with not a moment’s thought on how the step-mother will behave with the children from the earlier marriage. None of this ever invokes the betrayal charge against men while poor helpless, God-fearing widows who, to escape their desperate circumstances, look for succor through remarriage in keeping with the teachings of Allah and his prophet are immediately rendered unfaithful.

If remarriage per se is proof of treachery why are men, who practice polygamy merely to satisfy their lust, who violate Shariah laws, who sow thorns in the path of their children not declared the worst betrayers the most untrustworthy of all? Should not such hypocrites who pour scorn over widows who remarry have some shame?

It is not a practice among Muslims but consider the extraordinary devotion and commitment of Hindu women to their husbands. Granted, the sati system a repugnant practice. But think of what it involves and ask yourself honestly: is there an example anywhere in the world, from men of any race or religion, that could come even remotely close to such an example, of men are prepared to unhesitatingly sacrifice their life for the love of their wives?

Apart from all that has been said above which goes to show that women are superior beings, it is also worth noting that though God has no visage or features, yet for believers from all spiritual traditions Beauty is among His attributes. Muslims believe that God is the bestower of beauty and all beauty is dear to Him. Who can doubt that He has blessed women with a greater share of this divine attribute, that in every nation and country women are more beautiful than men? Does this not indicate that God is more well-disposed towards women?

Quite understandably, women blessed with this radiant gift, this amazing magnetic quality are more than able to hold their own against the most powerful, the mightiest and the most sagely amongst men. Who does not know that the most lion-hearted among men who never yielded before the world’s greatest misfortunes or calamities, who never cowered before the deadliest of weapons get mesmerized by one darting glance from a beautiful woman? Which is that lightning power whose single spark can ignite the senses of the bravest and the self-control of the most sagely amongst the hermits? Who does not know that one alluring feminine look is sufficient to melt the resolve of many a sage, or bring the iron-willed to their knees?

Who can deny that the beauty that so entrances is but a speck of divine splendor, a spark of the sun that illuminates the world? Why then should women not proclaim with pride:

"Garche khurdeem nisbate sat buzurg

zarra aftaab ta baaneem"

(A speck of dust Sire, to you may be

The sun is where I am coming from).

(See edit on page 3 for more on the writer. )

(Translated for Urdu by Javed Anand).

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2009 Year 16    No.144, The Superiority Myth, Cover Story 1

The Supremacy Myth

The bogus arguments and "proofs" on the basis of which the better half of God’s finest creation is kept under subjugation and servility is both shameful and sinful

First published on: October 2009

muslim women
Artwork by Lalla Essaydi. Source: Flickr
 

In these pages, I propose to put forward my ideas on the rights of women which I have held for long. Although many of my other ideas have changed over time, I have had no reason to change or alter any of my ideas in this regard. If anything, I find myself holding on to them even more firmly with the passage of time. I hope that the articulation of these ideas and acting on them will bring about much- needed reform that will pull my community out of its current state of decline and despair.

I am well aware that I will be charged with aping the British and worse. And that many of my fierce opponents will go into overdrive to contradict, ridicule me. Abuses too will be hurled. But those to who sincerely believe in the majesty and grandeur of Shariah laws, those whose notions of dignity, self-worth and self-respect will not deter them from taking inspiration from the life and times of Prophet Mohammed and his family and the values they promoted, will have no hesitation in responding positively. Nor will they be discouraged by the criticisms of individuals and organizations, or the scorn and ridicule that they too would be subjected to by the ignorant and the rogues.

If this humble effort of mine results in the protection of the rights of even a single old woman in the entire country I would consider my effort to have been worthwhile.

Male Supremacy Myth

Men and women are both part of the human species. Neither is superior to the other but in each there are some distinctive qualities which makes them different from the other. These distinctive characteristics call for a corresponding set of different responsibilities and duties for men and women but beyond that there must be no differentiation between the two sexes. Apart from the distinctions based on their innate, God-created differences, any attempt to widen the divide or to prove the superiority of one over the other is nothing but personal prejudice and gender bias. It is but obvious that these differences are merely circumstantial, ephemeral and non-durable, the product of different environments, age and cultural background. We will show that the differences that are sought to explain and justify the differing status and rights of men and women go way beyond what is explicable or justified on the basis of the inherent differences between them. These are based on nothing but the presumptions, prejudices and ignorance of men. The consequences of such aberrant modes of thinking and being are the decline of culture, the ruination of the world and the continuance of the barbarism of ancient times in the name of Islam.

Most of our cultural constructs are rooted in the false notion that men are sovereign and women are their subjects, in the belief that women have been created with the sole purpose of placing herself in the service of men. Because of such a belief, men assert their rights over women just as they claim ownership rights over other forms of property and claim that women cannot have rights equal to that of men. If such false and baseless notions were merely the product of male prejudice and self-centeredness and there was no attempt to justify their claims with logic, reason and religious belief it would have been one thing. But the tragedy is that the claims of male supremacy are sought to be premised on sound reason, lofty principles and divine edict. The purpose of writing this piece is to expose the hollowness of their claim and the shamefulness of their conduct.

To the best of our knowledge the arguments which are forwarded to prove male supremacy are the following:

1. God has given men more physical strength than women. Therefore men claim full rights over all that is gained with the use of superior strength and hard labour. That is why the right to rule or govern, which includes the use of force, is both natural and divine right of men.

2. In addition to physical prowess men also have a superior mental capacity. That is why in every age and in every country women have been considered to be of low intellect, inherently gullible, ill-informed, lacking in conceptual ability, unreliable, treacherous.

3. Just as sovereignty over others is the most prestigious thing in worldly affairs, being bestowed with the mantle of a prophet or messenger is the greatest gift from God. Throughout human history Allah, has bestowed prophethood only on men. No woman has ever been sent to preach the divine message.

4. Theologically speaking, the Quranic verse, "al rejala qawwamoona alan nisa" is frequently quoted in support of men’s superiority. The verse is taken to mean that men are rulers over women.

5. Another bogus argument presented is that Allah first created Adam and Eve was created subsequently only for his benefit. Therefore, it is the divine intent that women remain servile to men and be a source of his happiness and well-being.

6. In the Quran, the evidence of two women is treated as equal to that of one man. This and the fact that in inheritance the share of a woman has been stipulated as half that of a man is also proof of men’s superiority.

7. The fact that men are permitted to marry four wives while the reverse is prohibited further proves that God has given man a more elevated status.

8. Virtuous men have been promised beautiful wives in paradise while even virtuous women have been given no such promise.

Call them fanciful, philosophical, logical or theological: such is the evidence and the proofs we are offered on the basis of which half the world is kept under subjugation, forced to live like slaves of men and even worse. Thus is the better half of God’s finest creation forced to satisfy the lust of the basest among men, cater to every demand of the even the most worthless and vile among self-serving men.

We will now examine these claims one by one and see whether they stand the test of logical scrutiny or whether they are false and baseless views manufactured by self-centered men. Anyone who is capable of shedding his cultural prejudices, prepared to examine arguments on merit, not consumed by anxiety about the implications of embracing a new idea for their own future conduct, will see that all the male supremacy arguments are baseless and worthless. What’s more, these are gross violation of God’s edicts and Shariah laws.

 

Physically Superior?

The first claim about men’s greater physical prowess is a mere assertion pretending to being a logical argument. Admitted, men are physically stronger than women. So what? How does this prove that physical strength is a legitimate basis for the claim that men are superior to women? It is but obvious that those who are physically stronger are expected to undertake more difficult, arduous and hazardous tasks than those who are less strong. Whoever said that men should not be asked to handle tasks that require greater strength, are more arduous or hazardous? Men are most welcome to them: breaking boulders, chopping trees, slitting throats and all such jobs that are hard to do or which only the heartless can do. But the question remains: how does their physical ability to do such tasks makes them superior or more cultured? How is superior to be defined and where is the argument or evidence for that?

The absurdity of this argument will be immediately apparent if instead of comparing men with women, we compare men with four-legged animals. Suppose we argued that because God has given greater physical strength to them than men, animals are superior and sovereign over men? If you stick to your warped logic, how can you run away from our claim? Are we not being true to the logical method? If men are superior (your definition) over women, by that very logic if follows that donkeys are superior to men. If the fact that a donkey can carry a far greater load than a man does not establish the former’s supremacy over the latter, how does a man become superior to a woman merely owing because he is capable of withstanding greater physical hardship?

To simplify the point further and to nail the bogus claim, let us analyze the basis on which men are women are/ought to be compared? There is no doubt that men and women are a part of the animal world. Surely this animalism is not what constitutes their identity but it is their human qualities and capacities which qualify both as being humans. A human being is a special animal endowed with common sense, logic and wisdom. It is these qualities and the evolutionary possibilities inherent in them that elevate a mere animal to the lofty level of humanity. Therefore, any comparison between them will make sense only if we examine the extent to which they have evolved from their animal existence.

But all that the superiority argument tells us is that men are of a heavier build, their bones are stronger, their legs more powerful. These characteristics are not part of that special quality that elevates the status of humans over animals. As it happens, all the traits referred to are related to animalism and a comparison between man and woman on that basis is nonsensical. Everyone knows that men and women are from the animal species. God in his infinite wisdom and power reduced the bestial qualities in human beings by diminishing their ferocity, predatory instincts and brutality and added some angelic qualities to create a new species: humans. Therefore, the comparison between man and woman ought to be based on these angelic qualities, as opposed to animal traits. Establishing man’s superiority or development on the basis of bestial qualities is, in effect, to prove their baseness.

Apart from what has been said above, even if we were to agree that men are superior to women owing to physical strength, it should be evident that this is the result of social evolution and not the result of divine intent. As far as perceptible causes are concerned, it seems that the excess or lack of physical strength in men and women are not inherent. Instead, various cultures and societies have over countless centuries brought about gender differences similar to the difference between men and men generated over time across nations. Why is it that the Afridis of Kabul are burly and strong, while the Babus of Kolkata are lean and puny in appearance? Why are the Sikhs of Punjab referred to as the lions of Punjab, while the Baniyas of Hindustan are said to be meek? It should not be difficult to understand that what explains the Sikhs of Punjab being physically stronger than the Bengalis and Baniyas also explains men being stronger than women. The only difference is that the historical process that culminated in the different physical capacities of the two sexes started eons before than it did in case of Bengalis and Baniyas.

That more or less physical strength in men and women is not inherent but the result of socially governed causes can be demonstrated in another way too. Even though women in different parts of the world live under more or less similar conditions and do comparable work, due to cultural and other differences their physique and strength are different. If you compare the build of women living in Ghazni and Herat with the genteel ladies of Delhi and Lucknow you will come to know that the difference is not innate or God-given. This only means that the reason why women are physically less strong than men is because they were forced to live in a manner that their corporal capacity gradually diminished through underuse.

The second part, or a corollary, of the first claim about brawn-power based superiority of men is even more pathetic and utterly baseless. In the early period of human civilization, when barbarism and ignorance was rife and rights and the principles of society had not been defined, every controversial and contentious issue was resolved on the basis of the "Might is Right" principle. However, even then no single person was powerful enough to grab whatever he wanted without the active support of allies. By the time people evolved even the most rudimentary form of rule or governance, they had left far behind the ancient mode of life and progressed to a level where systems were in place and laws were laid down for their self-preservation. In other words, people had come to appreciate the importance of laying down customs, norms and laws and begun compelling others to abide by them. The head of state did not depend solely on his corporal might to govern, but rather on the support of his loyal friends and devoted allies. To this day, all kinds of governments are run on these principles.

Now no form of government can exclude women entirely and forever. Men have always been conscious of their superiority and have denied women opportunity and rights. Despite this, they have not managed to evolve any form of government that excluded women entirely. Hence, in all states and nations, at some time or another, the reign of government fell in the hands of women. And some of them ruled so skillfully that it is difficult to find a sovereign of their caliber in the ranks of men. In Hindustan, though the reign of Razia Begum was very brief, with regard to peace and posterity, it was better than the rule of many an emperor. The era of Jahangir saw Noor Jehan Begum as the power behind the throne. For its unparalleled peace, posterity and organization of state affairs, this period will always shine through the history of Hindustan as its golden age. Consider the present age and see how efficiently Her Majesty, the sovereign of the British Empire is governing, ensuring law and order, dispensing justice.

Can it still be said that sovereignty by right is for men only? The continuing belief that government is the result of sheer power is entirely erroneous. The progress of knowledge, promotion of culture and British rule over our country has made it clear that knowledge and learning are the greatest force in the world. Today, only the more educated and the knowledgeable can lay legitimate claim to superiority over others. So we hope that in future, men taking pride in their heavy build and big bones will not claim superiority over women but look elsewhere to buttress their bogus claim.

 

Intellectually Superior?

The second assertion is again a mere claim without proof. Scientists of the present time have established a marginal difference in the structure of male and female bodies and have described some bones in the female body as being delicate compared to male bones. Yet, to this day no clear distinction has ever been detected in the brain and in the development of those sections of the brain that determine various nuances of intellectual potency. Despite the fact that cultural norms have made women’s corporal strength lesser than that of men – so much so that a difference in the makeup of their bones can now be established – their mental capacity is by no means lesser than that of men. If anything, this shows that if traditional norms had allowed women equal opportunity for physical development, maybe, in fact undoubtedly, their mental faculties would have been more sophisticated than those of men.

As in the first case, a big flaw in this second assertion is that the difference resulting from prevalent social norms is considered to be inherent. In fact, even if the brainpower of women were in future to be found to be somewhat lower than that of men, why should it not be seen as the obvious result of women’s present cultural state, where their physical health is greatly neglected which so affects their nervous system that there is always a risk of diminished mental abilities, of making them what is described as impatient, impulsive, unpredictable, petulant, and dim-witted beings?

Since men and women have not been treated as equals, since they have been denied a level playing field in the pursuit of knowledge and development of their mental faculty, how can men claim their own relative advancement as a result of some innate quality? Using such logic, since at present the Zulus are deep in the throes of barbarism and ignorance while in the field of knowledge the British have left the intellectuals of Greece behind, would it be justified to deduce that there is some innate difference between the mental abilities of the British and the Zulus?

Thus, even if some difference were to be found in the mental prowess of men and women, it cannot be a verdict against the latter. In fact, there is no doubt that despite centuries of neglect in the intellectual development of women, despite the minds of countless generations of women being kept inactive, we still do not find them lacking in anything when compared to men. If anything, this clearly shows that the mental abilities of women are inherently superior to that of men.

 

All prophets were male?

The third proof of the superiority of men is based on the claim that no woman has ever been blessed with the mantle of a prophet. This is questionable on three grounds. Firstly, Muslims believe that through the ages God has sent 1,24,000 messengers or prophets to the world for the guidance of human beings. In all our holy books we find accounts of only 10 to 15 of these prophets, while all the other prophets from the ancient times probably do not exceed 30. This means that we know nothing of the lives of 123,970 prophets. Therefore, it cannot be said with any certainty whether they were all men, all women or that some were men and some women. To arrive at a verdict or to make jibes at half of humanity on the basis of limited information is nonsensical. Until we know about all the prophets, it is not appropriate to discourse on the basis of mere assumption.

Secondly, the nature of a woman’s creation demands that she should not be assigned any task that requires long years of continuous struggle and hard work, which also necessitates complete separation from home and family. Keeping women free of such demanding activity, if anything, indicates God’s concern for her well-being. This should remind men that just as they derive serenity and comfort from women, so do women from men. They should also know that the well-being of women is of greater concern to God.

Thirdly, we most definitely do not believe in the equality of all men and all women even as we affirm that there is no intrinsic difference between man and woman. It is on account of circumstances that at times some women gain superiority over other women, some men gain superiority over other men and some men leave other women behind, while at other times, women prevail over men in the pursuit of excellence. Hence, the success of a handful of people over others is no proof of the superiority of one gender over another.

Of course, the superiority of some men who were ordained prophets over all men and women is evident. But this in itself does not prove any difference between the vast majority of men and women who are not prophets; this is no evidence of the superiority of the entire breed of men over women. Can any other woman lay claim to the eminence and respect enjoyed by Hazrat Amina who gave birth to Prophet Muhammad or mothers of other prophets? Absolutely not! It was an honor that God had reserved since the beginning of time for these fortunate ladies, and hence, they became its beneficiaries. So what if all the women in the world belong to the same gender as them? Likewise, would it be proper to assume that all the men of the world possess some part of the God-given esteem that prophets have only because they are part of the same gender?

 

Scriptural Claims Men rulers over women?

After the above-mentioned logical assertions and claims, we come to the scripture-based claims. But these are equally erroneous as they are based on a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of the Quran. The foremost proof that they derive from the Holy Quran comes from the Quranic verse which is generally translated as: Men are qawwamun (the protectors and maintainers) of/over (ala) women because God has faddala (preferred) some of them over some others and because they support them from their means. The theologians explaining this verse expound that men have been endowed with two types of higher qualities. One is the capacity to think and act and the other is the fact that men provide for the various needs of women, like food, clothing, shelter, etc.

I do not agree with this explanation because, first of all, translating qawwamun literally as "master" is in my opinion not correct. In fact, except for Maulana Shah Abdul Qadir no one else has translated it as such. Shah Rafi-ud-Din has translated qawwamun as "someone who is ready to move or is on the go," while his father, Shah Wali Ullah, translated it as "counsel, manager." In another Persian translation, known as the Sheikh Sa’adi Translation, qawwamun has been translated as a "manager", "in-charge." Maulana Qadir does not clarify what according to him is the meaning of "some have been ranked superior over some others" in the verse. If the first "some" stands for some men and the second for some women, how does it establish the superiority of all men over all women? If on the other hand in both instances "some" refers to men, then how does saying that some men are superior to other men prove all men’s superiority over all women? And if the verse is addressing all human beings, even if the first "some" implies all men and the second "some" implies all women it still does not establish the inherent natural or God-given superiority of all men over all women.

Besides, it is not at all clear from the verse in what sense superiority is implied. If one were to assume that in the first part of the verse what is being referred to is men’s superior capacity for thought and action while the latter refers to the superiority arising owing to the fact that men pay for the maintenance of women it can be argued that the latter distinction does not arise from any God-given difference between men and women. That is why we cannot accept this as an argument for superiority. Men’s superiority over women that may be achieved through pursuit of knowledge, excellence of character or other qualities that are an outcome of education and good upbringing is quite a different thing from the claim that men are superior to women by the mere fact of being men. The first is self-acquired or self-created while the second is intrinsic. There are many women who possess these self-acquired qualities of intellect and conduct more than men and in such cases they would obviously be superior to men.

Can anybody claim that Abu Jehal’s (uncle of Prophet Mohammed who remained opposed to Islam throughout his life) ability to think and act was superior to that of Hazrat Khadija (first wife of the prophet? Or that Abu Laheb (another uncle, who was similarly opposed to Islam) was superior to Hazrat Fatima (daughter of the prophet)? Or that all men or a majority of them have more knowledge and love of God than Hazrat Rabia Basry (a renowned female sufi saint from Basra, Iraq)? A father also spends money on his children and pays wages to his servants. Can one conclude from this that the master is intrinsically superior to the servant? Absolutely not! If due to some quirk of fate the master-servant relation gets reversed won’t the superior-inferior relation also get reversed, even though this contradicts the notion of inherent superiority?

Thus this much-quoted verse cannot in any way be considered proof of the superiority of men over women. In fact, the meaning of the verse is straightforward and obvious. The word qawwamun here is used as a form of hyperbole and must not be taken literally. A person who does not find much time to sit and rest due to his hectic schedule and business, a person who is on the go most of the time, is referred to as qawwam. Since men have to travel to far off lands to earn a living and provide for his family, men have been declared qawwam or managers and caretakers of women. Since the world is full of all types of people, rich or poor, weak or strong, generous or miserly, God states that He has granted distinction to one over the other. Men are being asked to take care, look after their wives in keeping with their status, position and economic condition. This verse does not talk of sovereignty and servility. If at all it does, even a cursory reflection shows that men need to be careful as they have a religious duty towards women.

 

Unequal: Testimony and Shares?

The second spurious logic is based on the fact that the Quran has declared the testimony of two women equal to the testimony of one man and a woman’s share in inheritance has been pronounced as half that of a man. But even this does not prove any real or inherent superiority. We need to consider several aspects here. Firstly, the cultural condition under which women have been kept leaves them ignorant, illiterate and inexperienced. Given the consequent difference of understanding and experience, if the testimony of men and women were treated on par in all manner of issues and trials, it could result in miscarriage of justice.

The Quranic verse in which the testimony of two women is declared equal to that of one man concerns loan agreements. In traditional societies, women are given little opportunity to engage in data gathering, documentation, account-keeping and court matters. Lack of education, awareness and experience in such matters are outside the realm of women’s everyday experience. Men on the other hand routinely deal with such matters and therefore have no such handicap. That is why, instead of one woman, the testimony of two women is considered necessary, so that, in case, one woman forgets the details of the case, the other woman can help her recall. This in fact is the rationale given by the Quran itself: "Two women should be present, so that if one woman forgets, the other may help her recall." If the Quran cites this difference arising out of social circumstance as the rationale for two women being present during a testimony and does not say that women’s testimony is worth half that of a man, who are petty theologians with fanciful notions and faulty logic to pass such judgment against half of humankind?

Secondly, the decree of the Quran regarding such testimony is an enabling provision, the observance of which has not been declared obligatory on Muslims. Latching on to an enabling provision elevating it to the status of an obligatory edict and feeding that into the male supremacy argument shows the insularity and sterility of the male mind. Thirdly, as we have stated earlier, the reason for the testimony of two women equaling that of one man is due to social circumstances and not because of the superiority or inferiority of men and women. It is not difficult to appreciate this for apart from the context of loans-related disputes, in matters familiar to women such as nikah (marriage), talaq (divorce), hudood-o-qisas (crime and punishment), where too testimony is involved, God makes no distinction between men and women.

Fourthly, there is an account from the life of the Prophet which actually establishes preference to a single woman’s testimony over others. Sahi Bukhari (the collection of sayings of the Prophet considered to be among the most authentic) narrates the account of Aqba bin Haris, who had married some girl. A woman later objected to this wedding saying that the marriage was not legitimate as she had breastfed both the bride and the groom. Aqba told the woman he did not believe her since she had never before mentioned breast feeding him. He later asked his in-laws and they too said that to the best of their knowledge, the woman had never breastfed their daughter either. Eventually, Aqba went to the Prophet and narrated the story. The testimony of just one woman was enough for the Prophet to nullify the nikah thus terminating the marriage.

Now, can the learned fuqha (jurists) quote even a single example where such a verdict was given on the basis of a single man’s testimony? Yet, it is well known that every now and then, however reluctantly, the fuqha are compelled to rely on the testimony of a single woman to give their ruling. Fifthly, it is possible that the primary reason behind recognizing two women’s testimony as equal to that of one man is that women sometimes are unable to appear before the court due to physical constraints. In such a situation, the advantage of having two women present is that if one is invalid, the other woman would be able to testify. If anything, granting women the option of being able to have her testimony placed on record by another woman affirms the primacy rather the diminishing of women’s rights.

As for share in inheritance, declaring unequal share for men and women does not prove the superiority of men at all. The burden of looking after all of a woman’s financial needs lie entirely on the man, while women bear the easier task of housework. Since a man was charged with the responsibility of providing not only for himself but also his wife and children, how would it be appropriate to grant a woman – who receives wedding-time gifts from her parents, mehr from the husband, is entitled to be adequately taken care of by her husband alimony on divorce, and unlike man has no obligation to spend what is hers on anyone else – a share equal to that of the man in the distribution of inheritance?

This in itself should be a clear and indisputable proof that God is more compassionate and generous towards women. How else can one explain the fact that in spite of being fully entitled to her due share in her husband’s income, she is also entitled to receive a separate share from her father’s inheritance, and has the right to alimony? Hence, in the distribution of inheritance, her share in accordance with Islamic laws does not establish the superiority of men. In fact, it validates the primacy of women.

 

Adam came first?

The male supremacy claim based on the fact that Adam was created first is nothing but childish. To begin with, we are tempted to assert that this is so because it was not acceptable to God that a woman is left without a companion for even a second. Therefore, it is for her sake that He created Adam first. But as a matter of fact, the belief that Adam was created first and then came Eve is part of the Christian and Jewish faith. This is not at all part of the Islamic creed. There is no mention in the Quran about who was created first, Adam or Eve.

 

Men allowed multiple wives?

The permission to men to marry four women at a time while women are prohibited from marrying more than one man is a false claim. The problem is that people are literalists who look for the meaning of words in isolation instead of striving to grasp their real meaning and thus unraveling the divine intent. Men gloat over the fact that a Quranic verse clearly entitles men to marry more than one wife: "You may marry two or three or four women whom you choose". But a little reflection will show that there is no such clear-cut license in the Quran. In fact, having more than one wife at a time is virtually forbidden and those who violate it could be guilty of adultery.

Firstly, some effort is needed to understand this verse in its true perspective. It is not at all clear whether the divine injunction permits a man to have four wives at the same time or whether all that is being said is that a man is permitted to marry sequentially up to four wives. Is it God’s command that on the death of the first wife a man is permitted to remarry and so on, but only one wife at a time is permitted and no marriage fifth time is permitted. Or is it being said that if for some health reasons the first wife is unable to meet her marital obligations, a man is permitted a second wife, even a third or fourth wife for similar reasons? Or are men being told that a man may remarry after divorcing his first wife, and similarly remarry following a second, third and fourth divorce but never after that? Or is it the divine command that no marriage after the first is permitted except with the permission of his current wife or her relations?

Since the verse under consideration is not such whose meaning is clear and unambiguous, we consider it to be among the non-explicit verses of the Quran which theologically speaking cannot be used to assert the veracity of a particular interpretation. For this reason this verse cannot be a basis for Shariah law.

Whether the ulema agree or not, the most likely interpretation in my view is that the permission for subsequent marriage is strictly subject to the willing consent of the first wife or her family members. Our conviction is based on the life of none other than Prophet Mohammed. According to a Hadith in Sahih Bukhari, Hazrat Ali intended to marry Abu Jehal’s daughter who had converted to Islam even though he was already married to Hazrat Fatima. Hence the relatives of the prospective bride requested permission from the Holy Prophet. On hearing this, the Holy Prophet became very angry. Ascending the pulpit to deliver a sermon he announced: these people are asking for my permission as father to allow them to marry off their daughter to Ali even when my daughter is already married to him. But I will not allow it, I will not allow it, I will not allow it. If Ali really wants to do this, then he must divorce my daughter and only then take another wife. Fatima is very close to my heart, whosoever does her wrong, does me wrong and whosoever hurts her, hurts me.

This Hadith supports the interpretation of the Quranic verse under discussion that permission is a must for the second marriage. The unequivocal opposition from the Prophet proves that it is up to the current wife and her relatives to give or refuse permission. If contracting the second marriage had been permitted by God without consent of the first wife or her relatives, then the Prophet’s conduct would be considered against the will of God, something that is inconceivable for a Muslim.

As we will discuss in the section on marriage (this is a separate chapter in Huqooq Niswan which is not reproduced here) that our ulema and religious leaders have given women the right to stipulate at the time of nikah itself that the husband will not contract a second marriage. Making this condition part of the marriage contract also shows that the second marriage depends on the permission of the first wife. If this consent was not mandatory, placing a condition in this regard at the time of nikah would not have been considered legal and neither would it be religiously binding afterwards. In other words, contrary to widespread perception, there is no blanket permission in the Quran for men to marry up to four vies.

Thirdly, and most importantly, in the verse under discussion, there is a clear-cut directive and an almost impossible-to-meet pre-condition for bigamy. A husband is permitted more than one wife on the strict condition that he ensures justice to all. It is further stipulated that if you are afraid that you will not be able to ensure this, stick to one wife. Now the question is: what are the requirements for justice? Is it possible for the average man to be able to observe it in practice? Most ulema contend that in a marriage, meeting the wife’s daily expenditures, paying her maintenance allowance, providing housing, spending time with the wife and discharging of conjugal duties as a husband are the various requirements of justice. However, we believe that true love and companionship are the paramount consideration in marriage and therefore the essential criteria for fair play and just treatment. And we firmly believe that in a bigamous or polygamous situation, this condition is virtually impossible for a man to meet.

Our adversaries’ object saying there is no point in contemplating something that is practically impossible. If there is nothing to be gained by such discourse, God’s directive is rendered devoid of any practical implication, they say. Our answer to this proposition is that we believe that the real purpose of marriage is to find a lifelong companion, friend and comrade who shares with the spouse the ups and downs of life, is the source of solace and comfort at the end of the daily grind. When referring to the creation of Eve and commendation of marriage God says, "We have placed the love of women in your hearts so that you receive comfort and solace from them." Therefore, if this aspect is excluded from the marital bond, the relationship gets limited to the satisfaction of male lust.

At another place in the Quran, God asserts, "You will not be able to do justice to your women (wives) even if you strive for it." It is a basic axiom in Quranic elucidation that for internal consistency and coherence, to the extent possible you search for, unravel the meaning of any verse through other verses. The meaning of justice, for example, must remain uniform throughout the Quran. Now if the justice-to-all command in the verse quoted above is limited to what the ulema who oppose us claim it to be, then the same meaning of justice must apply to the second verse above. Why then does God proclaim that it is impossible for you to treat your wives justly? Why is God categorically and unambiguously asserting that you will not be able to render equal justice to your wives? God Almighty firmly states that you will never be able to do justice but the ulema who support polygamy assert: No, we can do justice! If this is not daring God what is?

However, one might legitimately ask: if God knows that man cannot do justice and says so in plain words in the Quran, why grant permission for up to four wives? Does this impossible to meet criteria not render the permission meaningless? To this we reiterate that, firstly, whatever the Quran says is simple and clear as we have already explained. You ask God what the use of this meaningless permission is. For our part, to the extent that we are able to comprehend the Holy Book, we do not find any difficulty understanding it. Clearly, the way God has granted permission for more than one wife is virtually impossible to achieve. In our view, the granting of permission in this circuitous manner is in fact a severe admonition to desist from misogyny. If a person consumed by greed is told that if he finds the phoenix he will also be able to achieve alchemy, it does not imply a belief on anyone’s part in the actual existence of the phoenix. Or a belief on the addressee’s part that he is quite hopeful of its possession and that the day he finds the phoenix alchemy is sure to follow.

Another good example in this regard could be presented from a Quranic verse in Surah Aaraaf. It reads: "No infidel will enter Paradise until such time as a camel passes through the eye of a needle." To conclude from this that there will indeed come a time when a camel will pass through the eye of a needle is to present a distorted picture of divine intent. Interestingly, under cover of poetic license a poet taking this statement on face value presents a very comical thought: "Had the miseries which befell me fallen on the camel, infidels would enter paradise." What the poet means to say is that the camel would become so lean due to grief that it would be able to pass through the eye of the needle. And since their entry in paradise was subject to this condition, infidels would then gain easy access to paradise! God’s edict concerning the taking of more than one wife is similar, when He warns that with multiple wives there is great danger of injustice.

Of course, if there exists a man who is confident that he would never do any injustice, then he may marry as many women as he likes: two, three, or four. In fact, it is only a figure of speech to say marry as many women as you want: there is no special sanctity to the number four. Trying to establish divine permission for multiple wives from this verse is no different from the above mentioned poetic imagination concerning the admission of infidels in paradise.

Keeping Fiqh and Tafseer principles in mind, this verse should be deliberated upon from another angle which has not been done sufficiently hitherto. In my opinion, deriving an edict concerning nikah from this verse is in itself a big mistake. The fact is that this verse is concerned with only a certain form of marriage. During the pre-Islamic period of ignorance (jahiliyah), Arab men used to indulge in an extremely vile and heartless practice. They would adopt orphan girls, bring them up, and when they matured, they would marry them with devious intent. Since the orphans had no family, the men would seize all the property of the orphans after marriage. The sole reason for adopting and later marrying these girls was to grab their possessions, just like even nowadays some men marry dance girls only with the intention of getting access to their riches. There are others who despite being married to a good woman are forever on the lookout for some wealthy woman to marry.

The obvious message of this verse is God’s warning to men against the then prevalent deceitful practice. The Quran forbids cruelty towards these orphan girls, commanding men to be judicious as to the rights of orphans. It is also made very clear that if you have any doubt about your ability to do justice, fear that if you marry such helpless orphans you will commit some wrong, by no means must you marry such girls. Instead marry other women with parents or guardians who can hold you accountable for your treatment of them. But even then justice remains a non-negotiable requirement, for that is the true principle behind marriage. If you can do justice, then you can contract up to four marriages; if not, limit yourself to only one wife.

It should be abundantly clear from what has been said above that the verse in question was not a general decree on marriage. Rather it was aimed at warning against the fraudulent dispossession of helpless orphan girls. So even today if there are such people who are guardians of orphan girls they must not marry them if they have any misgivings of unjust conduct on their own part later. Apart from the context of orphans, the Quran is silent on nikah. Perhaps, the issue has been left to both parties intending to marry according to their social status, cultural circumstances and preferences. Consequently, this verse in the Quran is no evidence of a blanket license to men to marry up to four women. And that is why this edict can be no argument in support of men’s superiority.

 

Male right to divorce

As for divorce, the right of divorce that men have been granted is such that they should be extremely cautious about exercising it. In fact the only way men can lay claim to be decent and civilized is by not exercising this right outside exceptional circumstances. Divorce is such a sour medicine that the only ailment it should be administered for is that which has no other cure. Husband-wife relations are so delicate and private that going to courts and divulging them before others can only add to their grief and sorrow. It is true that nikah is an agreement like any other civil contract. After the covenant is signed, each party reserves the right to force his/her partner who is bent on violating the contract to abide by it and not strain the relationship. But it is also the case that only broken hearts think of terminating the contract. And when that stage is reached even if one is forced to continue with the contract, it can only be under duress. The relationship then will be a sham rather than the product of mutual love and respect.

The marital contract is after all premised on a meeting of hearts and when that no longer holds true what is left is a spiritless, physical proximity. In such circumstances both parties need to consider the worth of continuing such a relationship merely on the strength of a court decree although emotionally they are already distant from each other. Under such circumstances it is best that they part ways by mutual consent.

As to the question: who has been/should be given this right? In my opinion, if hostility between husband and wife is the reason for divorce, no matter who is bestowed with the right the result will be the same. It is not generally the case that a man says to his wife that he does not want her any longer, but the wife is still full of love for the husband and reluctant to end the relationship. We are of the opinion that in such a situation they should part ways irrespective of whether the man demands it or the woman.

No one can deny the fact that women are imbued with greater modesty, decency and desire to protect their dignity and honor as compared to men. It seems as if modesty and decorum are part of their genetic makeup and all those elements that bring out the gentleness which nature has conferred upon women, are apparent in abundant measure. Kindness, compassion, God-fear, empathy and love are innate qualities in women. A separation through divorce no matter how genuine the reasons would understandably be far more painful for one whose basic nature is constituted of love and kindness. Divorce for women – the personification of love – who’s every fiber is imbued with sincerity, would obviously be a most undesirable thing.

That is why God has protected women against precipitating an act. The Prophet declared divorce as being the worst act amongst all acts acceptable to God. Protect women, he preached to his followers. What an irony that something which has been termed the worst practice by God is touted as an argument for male superiority. In any case, we need to examine whether in fact men alone have the right to divorce. It is quite possible that men having lost interest in their wives refuse to divorce with the sole purpose of torturing them. In such situations, women have been given the right to unilaterally seek divorce through a court of law. This right of the women is called ‘khula’. In this way, she has the right to initiative separation proceedings. But even in such situations God protects her from any blame because on the face of it she is merely asking the court for justice.

Women can choose to terminate a marriage for other reasons too. It is reported in Akhbar-e-Sahiha that a very beautiful woman, Hafza binte Sahal, lived in Medina during the time of the Prophet. Her husband who was ugly loved his wife very much but the woman hated him. They would quarrel every day. At last, Hafza told the Prophet that she hated her husband very much and feared that she might be held accountable by God for not fulfilling her responsibilities as a wife. Therefore, she requested the Prophet to separate her from her husband. The Prophet tried to convince the woman but when he saw that harmony between the two was difficult, he asked the man to divorce her.

The husband told the Prophet that he had gifted precious land to his wife. Since she now wanted a divorce for no fault of his, his land should be returned to him. Hafza said he was welcome to the estate and anything else he may want as long as he let her go. In the end, the Prophet asked the land to be returned and ended their marriage.

What better right could be granted to women to protect them from the excesses of their husbands than the rights which have already been given to them under the Islamic law?

 

For men, houris in paradise

When all worldly logic fails to prove man’s superiority over women, he turns to the Hereafter to establish his case. It is claimed that men have been promised very beautiful women — houris — in paradise. But this claim is as shameful and worthless as are the rest of them. The words of the Quran on which this imaginary superiority is based are: "Walahum feeha azwaaj motaharra" ("For them there will be virtuous partners in paradise"). They conclude from this verse that "hum" which is a masculine pronoun means men and azwaaj refers to the virgin maidens of paradise. However, this interpretation of the verse shows total ignorance of the special Quranic style of discourse.

The Quran has a distinctive style. Wherever the reference is to humanity at large, the masculine gender is used to convey its message. Look at the very first surah (chapter of the Quran) of the Quran, where God says: "Hudayyil muttaqeenallazina youmenoona bil ghaibe wa yaqeemun al salawath") ("Believers who have faith in the Day of Judgment and the unseen and who establish prayers"). Here only the masculine pronoun has been used but that surely does not mean that the Quran is only for the guidance of those pious men who have faith in the unseen and who pray regularly. Obviously women too are being addressed. In hundreds of places, the Quran refers to "aqueemul salwatah wa utu al zakaah" (those who pray regularly and pay the religious tax) using the masculine pronoun. Would it be right then to believe that the edict regarding prayers and payment of the obligatory tax is only for men while women have been exempted from these obligations? Certainly not!

Similarly, the Quranic edict concerning prayers and fasting, "mun shahada minkum al shahada faleesummha", read literally means: "Those (men) among you who have cited the moon must start fasting". Were we to believe that here women are excluded from fasting during Ramzaan, women will be altogether free of this obligation since we do not find any separate mention of this obligation for women elsewhere in the Quran. To repeat, in numerous places in the Quran though the masculine pronoun is used, the reference is obviously to both men and women. Incidentally, such usage is not uncommon in Urdu. For example, Bura karnay wale ka anjaam bura hota hai ("those who commit evil deeds will be meet their just ends"). As we all know, "wale" is masculine and walee feminine. Obviously it does not mean that "bura karne walee" women have nothing to worry about.

Similarly, it is not correct to take the word zouj to mean ‘a woman’. In Arabic, zouj means "partner". A woman is zouj of a man while a man is zouj of a woman. The expression "huqooq zoujain" ("the rights of partners") well illustrates the point of gender equality. Thus, the verse simply means that those who carry out righteous deeds will enter paradise and will have virtuous partners for companionship. That is, for men there will be women and for women there will be men.

This interpretation might seem surprising and elicit the question: we know, men will have houris, but who will be women’s partners? This confusion arises only because to pamper their own egos, men have decided to read certain passages of the Quran in a way that suits them and have convinced themselves that they have the right interpretation. Though they seem to accept the right interpretation when it is pointed out to them and claim to have jettisoned their earlier understanding, the fact is that they unconsciously stick to old ideas which linger in the mind. Old habits die hard and they find it difficult to internalize the new understanding even after apparently having come around to accepting them.

Muslim men have for long held the firm conviction that come the Day of Reckoning and there will be houris lying in wait for them in paradise. We explain to them that this is a mistaken view, so dislodge it from your mind and understand the real meaning of the Quran. Alright, they say, we accept what you say. But tell us: men will have houris as partners, but who will be women’s partners? Clearly with the thought of houris still has a strong hold on their imagination. They have not really accepted what they claim to have and this is a big folly.

The fact is that there is not a single verse in the Quran to indicate that the houris of paradise are a separate creation intended as reward for pious men. In the Arabic language all fair-complexioned woman with black eyes are called "hoor" (houri). The Quran clearly states that on the day of reckoning all human beings will be resurrected, all young in age. There is no further detail concerning men. But about women God specifically states that when resurrected all women be virgin and of marriageable age just like the resurrected men.

It is these very women who are variously described in the Quran as "houris" (black-eyed), "qaaserat ul fitrat" (of modest disposition), "khairaat" (good wives), "azwaaj" (wives). Referring to certain verses in the Quran and sayings of the Prophet, some of his Companions (Ibn Abbas for example,) have clearly taken the view that all the words in the Quran which are taken to imply that houris are a species apart from human beings in fact refer to none other than the women inhabitants of planet earth. When it is said that they are virgins it only means that this is so since their resurrection.

It is clear then that the beautiful women who are being referred to in the Quran are the very wives who once inhabited the earth but who will be resurrected as very beautiful and loving companions. In paradise where no one will ever age the pious women will provide companionship forever to their pious husbands. In Surah Hadd, Allah says that those who are rewarded with life eternal in paradise will get to meet their near and dear ones: parents, wives, children. In Surah Toor also it is mentioned that Allah will bring together in paradise those who are virtuous and whose children too are virtuous. In Surah Zakhraf it is stated: enter paradise with your wives and roam about freely. There are several other verses where it is reiterated that the virtuous who enter paradise will meet their virtuous relations there.

From all that has been said above it should be evident that it is neither the case that men have special mental faculties nor has the Quran given any elevated status to men because of which they should be considered superior. A close study of Shariah clearly establishes that men and women have equal rights. Surah Nisa, the one that contains many verses concerning women begins as follows: "O people, fear your Creator who has created you all of the same kind and created your partners from the same". The surah spells out the rights of heirs, orphans and women and anyone who might do injustice towards them is dealt a severe warning. It is asserted that men and women are created from a single nafs (self), with similar thoughts and feelings. Be it men or women, anyone who is oppressed or victimized feels pain just like you would in their place because you have all been made alike. So fear Allah and beware of committing any injustice against anyone.

In this surah, even though the husband has been given the responsibility of looking after all his wife’s needs, she has been granted a share in her father’s property equal to half of the man’s share. What’s more, in certain situations a woman’s share has been made the same as that of man’s. For example, if the deceased leaves behind parents and children, each parent is entitled to a sixth of the total property, that is, the mother and the father get the same amount. In a situation where the deceased leaves behind neither parents nor children but only brothers and sisters, the share of the sisters are to be equal to that of the brothers.

In addition to the above, the wife is entitled to mehr (dower) from the husband at the time of marriage. In the event of divorce, however large the amount, the husband is not entitled to demand the return of even a penny. Before Islam there was a cruel practice in Arabia whereby when a husband lost interest in the wife he would mistreat her to the point that she would ask for divorce and return the dower amount. Declaring this to be an evil practice, Allah has warned Muslim men from misbehaving with their wives with the intent of recovering the dower amount from her.

At the same time, men have been commanded to behave decently with their wives. The Quran goes on to say that even if you dislike your wife for some reason you must still treat her well for it is possible that Allah may intend some good for you from the very thing you dislike. The principle of gender parity is reiterated, saying that men have a right to a portion of what they earn and women have a right to a portion of what they earn. In other words, both are equal, neither is superior to the other. To each there is a reward for his or her good deeds.

The woman’s right to divorce through the khula system has been stated as follows: "If a woman fears misbehavior on the part of her husband, there is no harm if the two of them resolved matters amicably. But if they decide to separate, Allah will be equally generous with both". In the event of domestic conflict, the way prescribed for attempting resolution is equally gender just: If there is a misunderstanding between husband and wife, appoint two arbitrators, one from the man’s family, the other from the woman’s. No doubt, the more you reflect on the verses of the Quran, the more you will realize that the gender justice principle comes through clear and consistent.

The only difference between men and women has to do with their reproductive organs and there is no physical or mental prowess involved here. That woman are the "weaker sex" has only one implication: women give birth to children and bring them up, so men should perform arduous tasks and earn for the upkeep of the entire family.

Some medical experts claim to have recently detected a small disparity in the brain capacity of men and women. It is claimed that men have the capacity for totalizing, comprehensive thought, for analyzing things in intricate detail while women find it difficult to move conceptually from the particular to the general. Firstly, this proposition appears to be hypothetical and whimsical, and the same has yet to be established scientifically. If per chance, it were to be conclusively proved in the future, it would at best mean that men have a capacity that women lack relatively speaking and vice versa. For the moment the fact remains that until the present there has never arisen an issue, problem or challenge in the intellectual domain which men are able to address or comprehend but not women.

In fact, as far as some of my friends’ and my own experience are concerned, we find that compared to boys girls are sharper, more intelligent, more conscientious. I have been very pleasantly surprised to learn of many girls who never got to attend a madrasa and yet have learnt to read and write on their own. In most cases, they neither had access to formal education, nor to anyone at home who assumed the responsibility of tutoring them. They simply picked up some words from a sister, some from a brother, a few things now and then from the mother. They learnt to write by simply watching their siblings do the same. Gradually, through such self-learning they became educated enough to start teaching their younger brothers. But we have yet to come across a single example of a boy who is self-taught in similar fashion. Parents or elder brothers, who have taught a boy and a girl of the same age, would know that boys are relatively speaking dense and dim-witted, a dead loss as compared to girls.

As far as moral values are concerned, women are by far in the lead. Modesty, humility and decency are virtues you find in abundance in women; you won’t find even a tenth of the same in men. Some men are so prejudiced against women that if a widow opts for a second marriage after the death of her husband, it becomes a proof of their supposed treachery. But the same men have no qualms practicing polygamy and ignoring their obligations towards any of the wives – both contrary to the teachings of Islam. They remarry no sooner than the death of the wife, with not a moment’s thought on how the step-mother will behave with the children from the earlier marriage. None of this ever invokes the betrayal charge against men while poor helpless, God-fearing widows who, to escape their desperate circumstances, look for succor through remarriage in keeping with the teachings of Allah and his prophet are immediately rendered unfaithful.

If remarriage per se is proof of treachery why are men, who practice polygamy merely to satisfy their lust, who violate Shariah laws, who sow thorns in the path of their children not declared the worst betrayers the most untrustworthy of all? Should not such hypocrites who pour scorn over widows who remarry have some shame?

It is not a practice among Muslims but consider the extraordinary devotion and commitment of Hindu women to their husbands. Granted, the sati system a repugnant practice. But think of what it involves and ask yourself honestly: is there an example anywhere in the world, from men of any race or religion, that could come even remotely close to such an example, of men are prepared to unhesitatingly sacrifice their life for the love of their wives?

Apart from all that has been said above which goes to show that women are superior beings, it is also worth noting that though God has no visage or features, yet for believers from all spiritual traditions Beauty is among His attributes. Muslims believe that God is the bestower of beauty and all beauty is dear to Him. Who can doubt that He has blessed women with a greater share of this divine attribute, that in every nation and country women are more beautiful than men? Does this not indicate that God is more well-disposed towards women?

Quite understandably, women blessed with this radiant gift, this amazing magnetic quality are more than able to hold their own against the most powerful, the mightiest and the most sagely amongst men. Who does not know that the most lion-hearted among men who never yielded before the world’s greatest misfortunes or calamities, who never cowered before the deadliest of weapons get mesmerized by one darting glance from a beautiful woman? Which is that lightning power whose single spark can ignite the senses of the bravest and the self-control of the most sagely amongst the hermits? Who does not know that one alluring feminine look is sufficient to melt the resolve of many a sage, or bring the iron-willed to their knees?

Who can deny that the beauty that so entrances is but a speck of divine splendor, a spark of the sun that illuminates the world? Why then should women not proclaim with pride:

"Garche khurdeem nisbate sat buzurg

zarra aftaab ta baaneem"

(A speck of dust Sire, to you may be

The sun is where I am coming from).

(See edit on page 3 for more on the writer. )

(Translated for Urdu by Javed Anand).

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2009 Year 16    No.144, The Superiority Myth, Cover Story 1

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375 million Indian children to suffer after-effects of Covid-19 pandemic: State of India’s Environment 2021 report

The annual publication by CSE, comprising a 442-page report of news, views and analysis received a huge positive response from journalists and activists for its thorough information.

26 Feb 2021

Image Courtesy:nationalheraldindia.com

India is all set to usher in a ‘pandemic generation’ with 375 million children suffering Covid-19's after-effects such as being under-weight, stunting, loss of education and work productivity, said the State of India’s Environment 2021 report published by the Down To Earth magazine in association with Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). This population includes children upto 14 years and over 50 percent of the 500 million children across the globe who had to leave school.

Following the report’s release on February 25, 2021, CSE Director General Sunita Narain said, “Covid-19 has made the world’s poor poorer. The pandemic is a shock response to our dystopian relationship with nature. It has amplified the inequity and deep divisions in our world.”

Narain said that places such as overcrowded settlements with no urban services like sanitation or water supply have become the most vulnerable to the disease. The report says that 115 million additional people globally may be pushed into extreme poverty by the pandemic, most likely from South Asia.

Specifically focusing on India, the report ranked the country at position 117 out of 192 nations in terms of sustainable development, placing it behind all South Asian nations except Pakistan. Within the country, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana were the best performing states working on ‘Sustainable Development Goals.’ On the other hand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Uttar Pradesh were listed as the worst performing states in this category.

During an online event for the report’s release Pondy Citizen’s Action Network’s (PondyCAN) President Probir Banerjee asked officials to include union territories in the report especially following recent actions in the region to assign one pond to each neighboring school and encourage students to conserve local biodiversity.

Attendees applauded this regional effort especially considering that the CSE report stated that the problem of drinking water has long eluded households of rural India.

“11 past deadlines have been missed. The Jal Jeevan Mission’s target to provide drinking water to all rural households by 2024 will need focus on making the water source sustainable; recharge of groundwater and rainwater harvesting will be critical,” said the report.

On a positive note, the report also stated that an average 34 percent of MGNREGA funds have been spent on water-related works, leading to creation of almost 11 million assets in half a million villages, since 2014-15. At the same time, river water quality did not improve significantly during the lockdown. Five out of 19 major rivers, including Ganga river, ran dirtier during the Covid-19 period.

Applauding the detailed report, Prayas Senior Advisor Narendra Gupta from Rajasthan said the next challenge is to discuss these issues to communities whose lives are widely different from the kind of environment experts aspire for.

“We need to think how to showcase [these problems] to people and [explain] how it affects them on a daily basis. Our government gives very little opportunity for the grassroot level to do anything. This became even more pronounced during the pandemic when the Centre took all unrestricted powers in their hand. We need to change the system of governance,” he said.

To Gupta’s point, the environment report stated that out of 88 major industrial clusters in India, 35 clusters show overall environmental degradation, 33 clusters indicate worsening air quality, 45 clusters have water that is more polluted and 17 clusters have worsened land pollution.

The most polluted cluster was Tarapur in Maharashtra, as per the Central Pollution Control Board data. Development and environment journalist Atul Deolgaonkar from Maharashtra said that the zero water months during both rabi and kharif seasons have worsened conditions of state farmers. Around three farmer suicides are reported every day per day in the Marathwada area suggesting “agriculture injurious to health.”

Building on this, Vettiver Collective member Nityanand Jayaraman said that this ecological catastrophe will continue unless politics and business is wedded to environmental sustainability. “Disha Ravi and others who speak for an environmentally sustainable future are brutalised. To save the environment we have to fight to keep hope for democracy,” he said.

Further, social-environmental researcher Leo Saldanha voiced his concern about commodification of natural resources particularly in the farming sector. “This is the message from farmers that they can’t take things lying down anymore. The report should also look at activists who are also suppressed while talking about these problems,” said Saldanha.

Similarly, Society for Social Uplift Through Rural Action (SUTRA) Founder Subhash Mendhapurkar warned that incidents like Chamoli can happen again. “Hydropower projects are consented without considering ecological cost. We should also consider the gender impact of this as women are reported to have migrated to other areas,” he said.

In fact, regarding biodiversity the report said over 11,000 forestland hectares were diverted in 22 states in 2019. Eight coal projects granted clearance in ‘No-Go’ areas will divert 19,614 ha of forestland, fell over 1 million trees, and evict over 10,000 families. Experts also refuted the claim that India’s forest cover grew by 5,188 sq km since 2017 because the Forest Survey of India mistook “trees for forests” including orchards, plantations and even trees along highways as parts of forest and tree cover.

Moreover, India added 714 more tigers in the last four years but stated that the area occupied by tigers shrunk by over 17,000 sq km. Similarly, India’s flora and fauna – 438 plant species (including food crops) and 889 vertebrates and invertebrates – is under threat.

In all 34,671 environmental crimes were registered in 2019, and 49,877 cases are pending trial. To clear the backlog in a year, courts need to dispose of 137 cases a day. As for air pollution, the CSE said it caused the death of 67 million Indians in 2019, with an economic cost of over US $36,000 million, equivalent to 1.36 percent of India’s GDP.

“India desperately needs a vehicle scrappage policy. By 2025, we will have over 20 million vehicles nearing the end of their lives. These will add to the pollution and environmental damage,” said the report.

Commenting on the report, Narain said that the answer to these problems in climate-risked times lies in differently done sewage treatment and mobility systems that will move people, not cars.

Related:

Uttarakhand lost over 50,000 hectares of forest land since 1991: MoEF data
Around 170 still missing in the tragedy in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli
India drops two ranks in the Human Development Index
Gujarat’s environmental group demands cancellation of GPCL’s environmental clearance

375 million Indian children to suffer after-effects of Covid-19 pandemic: State of India’s Environment 2021 report

The annual publication by CSE, comprising a 442-page report of news, views and analysis received a huge positive response from journalists and activists for its thorough information.

Image Courtesy:nationalheraldindia.com

India is all set to usher in a ‘pandemic generation’ with 375 million children suffering Covid-19's after-effects such as being under-weight, stunting, loss of education and work productivity, said the State of India’s Environment 2021 report published by the Down To Earth magazine in association with Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). This population includes children upto 14 years and over 50 percent of the 500 million children across the globe who had to leave school.

Following the report’s release on February 25, 2021, CSE Director General Sunita Narain said, “Covid-19 has made the world’s poor poorer. The pandemic is a shock response to our dystopian relationship with nature. It has amplified the inequity and deep divisions in our world.”

Narain said that places such as overcrowded settlements with no urban services like sanitation or water supply have become the most vulnerable to the disease. The report says that 115 million additional people globally may be pushed into extreme poverty by the pandemic, most likely from South Asia.

Specifically focusing on India, the report ranked the country at position 117 out of 192 nations in terms of sustainable development, placing it behind all South Asian nations except Pakistan. Within the country, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana were the best performing states working on ‘Sustainable Development Goals.’ On the other hand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Uttar Pradesh were listed as the worst performing states in this category.

During an online event for the report’s release Pondy Citizen’s Action Network’s (PondyCAN) President Probir Banerjee asked officials to include union territories in the report especially following recent actions in the region to assign one pond to each neighboring school and encourage students to conserve local biodiversity.

Attendees applauded this regional effort especially considering that the CSE report stated that the problem of drinking water has long eluded households of rural India.

“11 past deadlines have been missed. The Jal Jeevan Mission’s target to provide drinking water to all rural households by 2024 will need focus on making the water source sustainable; recharge of groundwater and rainwater harvesting will be critical,” said the report.

On a positive note, the report also stated that an average 34 percent of MGNREGA funds have been spent on water-related works, leading to creation of almost 11 million assets in half a million villages, since 2014-15. At the same time, river water quality did not improve significantly during the lockdown. Five out of 19 major rivers, including Ganga river, ran dirtier during the Covid-19 period.

Applauding the detailed report, Prayas Senior Advisor Narendra Gupta from Rajasthan said the next challenge is to discuss these issues to communities whose lives are widely different from the kind of environment experts aspire for.

“We need to think how to showcase [these problems] to people and [explain] how it affects them on a daily basis. Our government gives very little opportunity for the grassroot level to do anything. This became even more pronounced during the pandemic when the Centre took all unrestricted powers in their hand. We need to change the system of governance,” he said.

To Gupta’s point, the environment report stated that out of 88 major industrial clusters in India, 35 clusters show overall environmental degradation, 33 clusters indicate worsening air quality, 45 clusters have water that is more polluted and 17 clusters have worsened land pollution.

The most polluted cluster was Tarapur in Maharashtra, as per the Central Pollution Control Board data. Development and environment journalist Atul Deolgaonkar from Maharashtra said that the zero water months during both rabi and kharif seasons have worsened conditions of state farmers. Around three farmer suicides are reported every day per day in the Marathwada area suggesting “agriculture injurious to health.”

Building on this, Vettiver Collective member Nityanand Jayaraman said that this ecological catastrophe will continue unless politics and business is wedded to environmental sustainability. “Disha Ravi and others who speak for an environmentally sustainable future are brutalised. To save the environment we have to fight to keep hope for democracy,” he said.

Further, social-environmental researcher Leo Saldanha voiced his concern about commodification of natural resources particularly in the farming sector. “This is the message from farmers that they can’t take things lying down anymore. The report should also look at activists who are also suppressed while talking about these problems,” said Saldanha.

Similarly, Society for Social Uplift Through Rural Action (SUTRA) Founder Subhash Mendhapurkar warned that incidents like Chamoli can happen again. “Hydropower projects are consented without considering ecological cost. We should also consider the gender impact of this as women are reported to have migrated to other areas,” he said.

In fact, regarding biodiversity the report said over 11,000 forestland hectares were diverted in 22 states in 2019. Eight coal projects granted clearance in ‘No-Go’ areas will divert 19,614 ha of forestland, fell over 1 million trees, and evict over 10,000 families. Experts also refuted the claim that India’s forest cover grew by 5,188 sq km since 2017 because the Forest Survey of India mistook “trees for forests” including orchards, plantations and even trees along highways as parts of forest and tree cover.

Moreover, India added 714 more tigers in the last four years but stated that the area occupied by tigers shrunk by over 17,000 sq km. Similarly, India’s flora and fauna – 438 plant species (including food crops) and 889 vertebrates and invertebrates – is under threat.

In all 34,671 environmental crimes were registered in 2019, and 49,877 cases are pending trial. To clear the backlog in a year, courts need to dispose of 137 cases a day. As for air pollution, the CSE said it caused the death of 67 million Indians in 2019, with an economic cost of over US $36,000 million, equivalent to 1.36 percent of India’s GDP.

“India desperately needs a vehicle scrappage policy. By 2025, we will have over 20 million vehicles nearing the end of their lives. These will add to the pollution and environmental damage,” said the report.

Commenting on the report, Narain said that the answer to these problems in climate-risked times lies in differently done sewage treatment and mobility systems that will move people, not cars.

Related:

Uttarakhand lost over 50,000 hectares of forest land since 1991: MoEF data
Around 170 still missing in the tragedy in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli
India drops two ranks in the Human Development Index
Gujarat’s environmental group demands cancellation of GPCL’s environmental clearance

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HC grants bail to accused in minor’s rape, imposes strict conditions

The High Court of Himachal Pradesh, while granting bail asked the minor girl to approach the court or police if she was stalked by the accused

13 Nov 2020

Image Courtesy:indialegallive.com

The High Court of Himachal Pradesh granted bail to a 20-year-old in a case where he has been accused of raping a minor girl aged 16 years. At the outset, naturally, it does not sound like an ideal decision. While a reading of the order, and the facts and circumstances could validate the decision made by the court, it is the detailed bail conditions that are worth a mention.

The accused has been charged under Sections 363 (kidnapping), 366A (procuration of minor girl), 376 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), Section 4 (Punishment for penetrative sexual assault) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offices, Act, 2012 (POCSO Act) and Section 3 (Punishments for offences of atrocities) of the SC & ST Act, by Theog Police Station in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.

The parents of the minor girl alleged in their complaint that the accused allured the girl into staying with him and committed rape on her. During the investigation, the minor girl is known to have informed the police that she knew the accused for 3-4 months and was in touch with him through Facebook as well as phone. She also told the police that they indulged in sexual intercourse before and also after having “participated in a marriage”.

The court was informed that the accused did not have any criminal history and the counsel for the accused contended that incarceration before the proof of guilt would cause grave injustice to the petitioner and his family.

While making its decision, the court held, “Pre-trial incarceration needs justification depending upon the offense's heinous nature, terms of the sentence prescribed in the statute for such a crime, probability of the accused fleeing from justice, hampering the investigation, criminal history of the accused, and doing away with the victim(s) and witnesses. The Court is under an obligation to maintain a balance between all stakeholders and safeguard the interests of the victim, accused, society, and State.”

The court, basis the facts and circumstances, as revealed during the course of investigation held that “Although, she (minor girl) could not have consented for sexual intercourse as well as leaving custody of her custodian but for deciding the bail, her conduct is sufficient to grant bail to the petitioner.”

While deciding to grant bail, the court held, “An analysis of entire evidence does not justify further incarceration of the accused, nor is going to achieve any significant purpose. Without commenting on the merits of the case, the stage of the investigation and the period of incarceration already undergone would make out a case for bail”.

Bail conditions

The court granted bail subject to furnishing of personal bond of Rs. 10,000 and gave many other alternatives if the same was not possible for the accused, giving option of surety bonds and fixed deposit.

The court even imposed conditions on manner of investigation and directed that the accused shall not be subjected to inhuman treatment:

“The petitioner shall join investigation as and when called by the Investigating Officer or any Superior Officer. Whenever the investigation takes place within the boundaries of the Police Station or the Police Post, then the petitioner shall not be called before 8 AM and shall be let off before 5 PM. The petitioner shall not be subjected to third-degree methods, indecent language, inhuman treatment, etc.

The court even allowed service e of summons as well as warrants over email as well as Whatsapp in addition to standard modes of serving.

The court even directed the accused to refrain from visiting the place of occurrence (of the alleged crime) while on bail. Further, in a bid towards victim protection, the court specifically gave directions to the accused that he “shall neither stare, stalk, make any gestures, remarks, call, contact, message the victim, either physically, or through phone call or any other social media, nor roam around the victim's home. The petitioner shall not contact the victim.”

The court even asked the accused to surrender any firearms if he is in possession of any. Further, the court informed the accused of his rights by stating that if “the petitioner finds the bail condition(s) as violating fundamental, human, or other rights, or causing difficulty due to any situation, then for modification of such term(s), the petitioner may file a reasoned application before this Court, and after taking cognizance, even before the Court taking cognizance or the trial Court, as the case may be, and such Court shall also be competent to modify or delete any condition”.

The court directed the SHO of the police station to send a copy of this order to the complainant and victim and informed the victim that in case she notices stalking or any violation of this order, she may either inform the SHO of the concerned Police Station or write to the Trial Court or even the high court.

The accused was granted bail but at the same time, through a much comprehensive set of bail conditions, the court has tried to safeguard the rights of not just the victim but of the accused as well; a step towards improved criminal jurisprudence indeed.

The court order may be read here.

Related:

Kathua rape case: HC rejects parole plea of key conspirator
Disclosing suspect information to media violates Article 21: MP HC 
Madras HC grants POCSO accused bail if he marries survivor!   

HC grants bail to accused in minor’s rape, imposes strict conditions

The High Court of Himachal Pradesh, while granting bail asked the minor girl to approach the court or police if she was stalked by the accused

Image Courtesy:indialegallive.com

The High Court of Himachal Pradesh granted bail to a 20-year-old in a case where he has been accused of raping a minor girl aged 16 years. At the outset, naturally, it does not sound like an ideal decision. While a reading of the order, and the facts and circumstances could validate the decision made by the court, it is the detailed bail conditions that are worth a mention.

The accused has been charged under Sections 363 (kidnapping), 366A (procuration of minor girl), 376 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), Section 4 (Punishment for penetrative sexual assault) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offices, Act, 2012 (POCSO Act) and Section 3 (Punishments for offences of atrocities) of the SC & ST Act, by Theog Police Station in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.

The parents of the minor girl alleged in their complaint that the accused allured the girl into staying with him and committed rape on her. During the investigation, the minor girl is known to have informed the police that she knew the accused for 3-4 months and was in touch with him through Facebook as well as phone. She also told the police that they indulged in sexual intercourse before and also after having “participated in a marriage”.

The court was informed that the accused did not have any criminal history and the counsel for the accused contended that incarceration before the proof of guilt would cause grave injustice to the petitioner and his family.

While making its decision, the court held, “Pre-trial incarceration needs justification depending upon the offense's heinous nature, terms of the sentence prescribed in the statute for such a crime, probability of the accused fleeing from justice, hampering the investigation, criminal history of the accused, and doing away with the victim(s) and witnesses. The Court is under an obligation to maintain a balance between all stakeholders and safeguard the interests of the victim, accused, society, and State.”

The court, basis the facts and circumstances, as revealed during the course of investigation held that “Although, she (minor girl) could not have consented for sexual intercourse as well as leaving custody of her custodian but for deciding the bail, her conduct is sufficient to grant bail to the petitioner.”

While deciding to grant bail, the court held, “An analysis of entire evidence does not justify further incarceration of the accused, nor is going to achieve any significant purpose. Without commenting on the merits of the case, the stage of the investigation and the period of incarceration already undergone would make out a case for bail”.

Bail conditions

The court granted bail subject to furnishing of personal bond of Rs. 10,000 and gave many other alternatives if the same was not possible for the accused, giving option of surety bonds and fixed deposit.

The court even imposed conditions on manner of investigation and directed that the accused shall not be subjected to inhuman treatment:

“The petitioner shall join investigation as and when called by the Investigating Officer or any Superior Officer. Whenever the investigation takes place within the boundaries of the Police Station or the Police Post, then the petitioner shall not be called before 8 AM and shall be let off before 5 PM. The petitioner shall not be subjected to third-degree methods, indecent language, inhuman treatment, etc.

The court even allowed service e of summons as well as warrants over email as well as Whatsapp in addition to standard modes of serving.

The court even directed the accused to refrain from visiting the place of occurrence (of the alleged crime) while on bail. Further, in a bid towards victim protection, the court specifically gave directions to the accused that he “shall neither stare, stalk, make any gestures, remarks, call, contact, message the victim, either physically, or through phone call or any other social media, nor roam around the victim's home. The petitioner shall not contact the victim.”

The court even asked the accused to surrender any firearms if he is in possession of any. Further, the court informed the accused of his rights by stating that if “the petitioner finds the bail condition(s) as violating fundamental, human, or other rights, or causing difficulty due to any situation, then for modification of such term(s), the petitioner may file a reasoned application before this Court, and after taking cognizance, even before the Court taking cognizance or the trial Court, as the case may be, and such Court shall also be competent to modify or delete any condition”.

The court directed the SHO of the police station to send a copy of this order to the complainant and victim and informed the victim that in case she notices stalking or any violation of this order, she may either inform the SHO of the concerned Police Station or write to the Trial Court or even the high court.

The accused was granted bail but at the same time, through a much comprehensive set of bail conditions, the court has tried to safeguard the rights of not just the victim but of the accused as well; a step towards improved criminal jurisprudence indeed.

The court order may be read here.

Related:

Kathua rape case: HC rejects parole plea of key conspirator
Disclosing suspect information to media violates Article 21: MP HC 
Madras HC grants POCSO accused bail if he marries survivor!   

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Kathua rape case: HC rejects parole plea of key conspirator

The HC noted the possibility of a communal clash in J&K if the convict was let out on parole

09 Nov 2020

Image Courtesy:universalnewstimeline.com

In Sanji Ram v. State of Jammu and Kashmir and others (CRWP No. 8945 of 2020), the Punjab and Haryana High Court rejected the benefit of parole to Sanji Ram, who had previously been convicted in the Kathua rape and murder case. The court was hearing the plea of Sanji Ram, who prayed for parole for a period of 8 weeks in order to attend his son’s marriage.

Mr. Sonpreet Singh Brar, appeared as the Advocate for the petitioner. Senior Advocate R.S. Cheema with Arshdeep Singh Cheema and Mr. H.S. Grewal, Additional Advocate General, Punjab appeared for the respondents.

The Bench of Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice Avneesh Jhingan opined, “Given the genuine apprehension expressed as regards the possible law and order consequences if the petitioner’s prayer for parole is granted, the Court is not inclined to accept such prayer at this stage.”

The Bench took into account the report of the Senior Superintendent of Police, Crime Branch, Jammu dated October 31, 2020 which stated that the relatives of the victim had returned from the higher reaches to village Rasana, where the said marriage is scheduled to take place.

It was further argued that if the petitioner is granted parole to attend the marriage “there is every apprehension of there being community clashes and protests in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Taking cognisance of the submissions, the court dismissed his petition.

Sanji Ram was the village head and priest of the temple where the crime allegedly took place. According to the charge sheet, on January 10, 2018 the 8-year-old girl was kidnapped and allegedly raped in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district after having been kept sedated for four days before she died.

On June 10, 2019, the Pathankot special court, had awarded life sentence to Sanji Ram, Parvesh Kumar and Deepak Khajuria for the offence of murder under the Ranbir Penal Code. They have also been separately sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for the offence of gang rape under Section 376D of the Code and fined Rupees 1,00,000/- (rupees one lakh only).

The court noted that the main motive behind this tragic incident was the strained relations between the local Hindu community and nomadic Bakarwal Muslims.

The order may be read here:

Related:

Verdict in Kathua rape case gives hope, but India has certainly let her down
Kathua rape case; Judgement pronounced, Justice done
 

Kathua rape case: HC rejects parole plea of key conspirator

The HC noted the possibility of a communal clash in J&K if the convict was let out on parole

Image Courtesy:universalnewstimeline.com

In Sanji Ram v. State of Jammu and Kashmir and others (CRWP No. 8945 of 2020), the Punjab and Haryana High Court rejected the benefit of parole to Sanji Ram, who had previously been convicted in the Kathua rape and murder case. The court was hearing the plea of Sanji Ram, who prayed for parole for a period of 8 weeks in order to attend his son’s marriage.

Mr. Sonpreet Singh Brar, appeared as the Advocate for the petitioner. Senior Advocate R.S. Cheema with Arshdeep Singh Cheema and Mr. H.S. Grewal, Additional Advocate General, Punjab appeared for the respondents.

The Bench of Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice Avneesh Jhingan opined, “Given the genuine apprehension expressed as regards the possible law and order consequences if the petitioner’s prayer for parole is granted, the Court is not inclined to accept such prayer at this stage.”

The Bench took into account the report of the Senior Superintendent of Police, Crime Branch, Jammu dated October 31, 2020 which stated that the relatives of the victim had returned from the higher reaches to village Rasana, where the said marriage is scheduled to take place.

It was further argued that if the petitioner is granted parole to attend the marriage “there is every apprehension of there being community clashes and protests in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Taking cognisance of the submissions, the court dismissed his petition.

Sanji Ram was the village head and priest of the temple where the crime allegedly took place. According to the charge sheet, on January 10, 2018 the 8-year-old girl was kidnapped and allegedly raped in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district after having been kept sedated for four days before she died.

On June 10, 2019, the Pathankot special court, had awarded life sentence to Sanji Ram, Parvesh Kumar and Deepak Khajuria for the offence of murder under the Ranbir Penal Code. They have also been separately sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for the offence of gang rape under Section 376D of the Code and fined Rupees 1,00,000/- (rupees one lakh only).

The court noted that the main motive behind this tragic incident was the strained relations between the local Hindu community and nomadic Bakarwal Muslims.

The order may be read here:

Related:

Verdict in Kathua rape case gives hope, but India has certainly let her down
Kathua rape case; Judgement pronounced, Justice done
 

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Remembering Bhagat Singh, Reclaiming the Right to be A Free Thinker

It is quite a striking experience when, in Europe – including in France which is the historical birthplace of secularism –, one gets automatically told, for example, "Oh, you are a Hindu!" if one says one is Indian, or "Oh, you are a Muslim! if one says one is Algerian.

28 Sep 2020

First publihsed on: 27 Apr 2017


Atheist

One witnesses a forceful return of religions’ political hold, which corners our diasporas into a mix of ethnic-cultural-religious syncretic identity, and traps us, as if we were under ‘house arrest’, into our presumed religion or culture. In fact, this is an ahistorical fantasy, which denies us any access to freedom of thought and universal rights.

In these dire circumstances, we welcome the translation into French, the publication and the wide distribution of Bhagat Singh’s 1930 pamphlet "Why I am an atheist" as particularly timely.

As feminists, we already faced the identity sledgehammer argument in our countries of origin: "Feminism is Western; you are traitors to your own country, to your culture, to your origins; you have sold out to the West, to capitalism, to Western imperialism" etc…

However, a research undertaken by feminist activists in the ’90s in so-called Muslim countries shows that women, since the inception of Islam, already demanded the right to education, to freedom of movement, to political representation, to financial autonomy, to celibacy or to the right to chose one’s partner after thorough agreements had been designed in order to draft a contract which was satisfactory to both parties, etc…

From that time onwards, women took action to guarantee all these rights (1) We had to fight hard to get back the ownership of our long lived feminist history, by challenging the Sirens’ song of reactionary identity politics – and as well, one must emphasise here, the Sirens’ song of patriarchy happily covering up in the midst of our Left forces, in our countries.

As revolutionaries as well, we had to confront the identity argument: "Marxism is a Western way of thinking, alien to our culture; you are traitors to the nation; sold out to the West, etc…"

And now once more, we must reclaim and own back our revolutionary history, by bringing together the stories and analysis of the many agnostics, atheists and secularists in our countries. For, as Bhagat Singh says, "All religions, faiths, theological philosophies, and religious creeds and all other such institutions in the long run become supporters of the tyrannical and exploiting institutions, men and classes. Rebellion against any king has always been a sin in every religion. "

In order to reclaim our historical right to atheism, to ground ourselves into our long secular tradition, we must today confront on the ground the Hindutva as well as Daesh (ISIS) and many other – intolerant Buddhists, orthodox Jews, Opus Dei, etc... religious extreme-rights, which, when they are in power, claim their gods granted them the right and duty to physically eliminate all the Untermensch. "Divine Repression", as Bhagat Singh would say… Be it in India, in Bangladesh, in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Nigeria, or … in Paris and Brussels, many lost their lives, including recently, for having claimed this universal right: to live as a freethinker and to mock the official representatives of established creeds.

Let us pay tribute here to the Bangladeshi and Saudi bloggers, to the Indian writers, to the Pakistani activists struggling against the Blasphemy Law, to the French cartoonists, etc … who fought for our freedom.

Clearly, it is an illusion to hope that the West will be spared by the rise of religious extreme-rights and that their sphere of influence will be limited to the African and Asian countries we came from. In Europe and North America, societies are increasingly dividing themselves along the lines of ethnic or religious antagonistic ‘communities’ which want to be ruled by their own religious laws ("Do not say that it is His law!", exclaims Bhagat Singh) and their own customs. In the process, they get rid of democracy and universal rights, in the name of an ‘identity’ which only keeps from the past the most conservatives elements – especially regarding women’s rights.

Even in France, the very principle of secularism is now under threat – whether because it is gradually abandoned by political forces, formerly on the Left, who made secularism happen, or whether it is sidetracked by political forces, on the extreme-right.

In these troubled times, translating and publishing in the French language this book by Bhagat Singh reminds all those who, right here, deny us our libertarian history – in the name of an identity they believe is necessarily grounded in religion – and who grant a growing political power to religions’ official representatives, that "The morbid alliance between religious preachers and possessors of power" constitutes a mortal danger.

The writer is Algerian sociologist, founder and former international coordinator of the Women Living Under Muslim Laws international solidarity network (wluml.org), founder and present international coordinator of the international network, Secularism Is A Women’s Issue (siawi.org).

This article was published in French by Editions de l’Asymétrie, as a forward to Bhagat Singh’s "Why I am an atheist". The author has translated it into English.

Remembering Bhagat Singh, Reclaiming the Right to be A Free Thinker

It is quite a striking experience when, in Europe – including in France which is the historical birthplace of secularism –, one gets automatically told, for example, "Oh, you are a Hindu!" if one says one is Indian, or "Oh, you are a Muslim! if one says one is Algerian.

First publihsed on: 27 Apr 2017


Atheist

One witnesses a forceful return of religions’ political hold, which corners our diasporas into a mix of ethnic-cultural-religious syncretic identity, and traps us, as if we were under ‘house arrest’, into our presumed religion or culture. In fact, this is an ahistorical fantasy, which denies us any access to freedom of thought and universal rights.

In these dire circumstances, we welcome the translation into French, the publication and the wide distribution of Bhagat Singh’s 1930 pamphlet "Why I am an atheist" as particularly timely.

As feminists, we already faced the identity sledgehammer argument in our countries of origin: "Feminism is Western; you are traitors to your own country, to your culture, to your origins; you have sold out to the West, to capitalism, to Western imperialism" etc…

However, a research undertaken by feminist activists in the ’90s in so-called Muslim countries shows that women, since the inception of Islam, already demanded the right to education, to freedom of movement, to political representation, to financial autonomy, to celibacy or to the right to chose one’s partner after thorough agreements had been designed in order to draft a contract which was satisfactory to both parties, etc…

From that time onwards, women took action to guarantee all these rights (1) We had to fight hard to get back the ownership of our long lived feminist history, by challenging the Sirens’ song of reactionary identity politics – and as well, one must emphasise here, the Sirens’ song of patriarchy happily covering up in the midst of our Left forces, in our countries.

As revolutionaries as well, we had to confront the identity argument: "Marxism is a Western way of thinking, alien to our culture; you are traitors to the nation; sold out to the West, etc…"

And now once more, we must reclaim and own back our revolutionary history, by bringing together the stories and analysis of the many agnostics, atheists and secularists in our countries. For, as Bhagat Singh says, "All religions, faiths, theological philosophies, and religious creeds and all other such institutions in the long run become supporters of the tyrannical and exploiting institutions, men and classes. Rebellion against any king has always been a sin in every religion. "

In order to reclaim our historical right to atheism, to ground ourselves into our long secular tradition, we must today confront on the ground the Hindutva as well as Daesh (ISIS) and many other – intolerant Buddhists, orthodox Jews, Opus Dei, etc... religious extreme-rights, which, when they are in power, claim their gods granted them the right and duty to physically eliminate all the Untermensch. "Divine Repression", as Bhagat Singh would say… Be it in India, in Bangladesh, in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Nigeria, or … in Paris and Brussels, many lost their lives, including recently, for having claimed this universal right: to live as a freethinker and to mock the official representatives of established creeds.

Let us pay tribute here to the Bangladeshi and Saudi bloggers, to the Indian writers, to the Pakistani activists struggling against the Blasphemy Law, to the French cartoonists, etc … who fought for our freedom.

Clearly, it is an illusion to hope that the West will be spared by the rise of religious extreme-rights and that their sphere of influence will be limited to the African and Asian countries we came from. In Europe and North America, societies are increasingly dividing themselves along the lines of ethnic or religious antagonistic ‘communities’ which want to be ruled by their own religious laws ("Do not say that it is His law!", exclaims Bhagat Singh) and their own customs. In the process, they get rid of democracy and universal rights, in the name of an ‘identity’ which only keeps from the past the most conservatives elements – especially regarding women’s rights.

Even in France, the very principle of secularism is now under threat – whether because it is gradually abandoned by political forces, formerly on the Left, who made secularism happen, or whether it is sidetracked by political forces, on the extreme-right.

In these troubled times, translating and publishing in the French language this book by Bhagat Singh reminds all those who, right here, deny us our libertarian history – in the name of an identity they believe is necessarily grounded in religion – and who grant a growing political power to religions’ official representatives, that "The morbid alliance between religious preachers and possessors of power" constitutes a mortal danger.

The writer is Algerian sociologist, founder and former international coordinator of the Women Living Under Muslim Laws international solidarity network (wluml.org), founder and present international coordinator of the international network, Secularism Is A Women’s Issue (siawi.org).

This article was published in French by Editions de l’Asymétrie, as a forward to Bhagat Singh’s "Why I am an atheist". The author has translated it into English.

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Femicide: UP Man Rips Open Pregnant Wife's Stomach To Find Out Baby's Gender

At the horrific incident, the woman's family alleged that the man wanted a son and committed the crime to know if it was male or female foetus.

20 Sep 2020
Femicide: UP Man Rips Open Pregnant Wife's Stomach

In a horrific incident, a father of five daughters here allegedly ripped open the stomach of his pregnant wife on Saturday evening allegedly to find out if she was going to deliver a son this time. Pannalal slit the stomach of his 35 year old wife,  with a sharp-edged weapon in the Nekpur locality under the Civil Lines police station area, injuring her seriously, senior police official (City) Pravin Singh Chauhan said.

An FIR has been lodged and the husband has been arrested, Mr Chauhan said, adding that the reasons behind the crime is being looked into.

The family of the woman, who was rushed to a Bareilly hospital in a serious condition, alleged that Pannalal wanted a son and committed the crime to know if it was male or female foetus.

The locals immediately rushed the woman to the district hospital from where she was sent to the Bareilly hospital in a serious condition. The woman is said to be six to seven months pregnant, the police said.
 
The Incident is a terrible recall of a crime committed on Feb 28, 2002 on young Kauser Bano at Naroda Patiya, Gujarat, It was one of a series of incidents of gendered violence and killings that took 124 lives in this area alone on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Such mass crimes against the marginalised acquire legitimacy when society, with its obsession for a son, can do the same to "their own" women!

Femicide: UP Man Rips Open Pregnant Wife's Stomach To Find Out Baby's Gender

At the horrific incident, the woman's family alleged that the man wanted a son and committed the crime to know if it was male or female foetus.

Femicide: UP Man Rips Open Pregnant Wife's Stomach

In a horrific incident, a father of five daughters here allegedly ripped open the stomach of his pregnant wife on Saturday evening allegedly to find out if she was going to deliver a son this time. Pannalal slit the stomach of his 35 year old wife,  with a sharp-edged weapon in the Nekpur locality under the Civil Lines police station area, injuring her seriously, senior police official (City) Pravin Singh Chauhan said.

An FIR has been lodged and the husband has been arrested, Mr Chauhan said, adding that the reasons behind the crime is being looked into.

The family of the woman, who was rushed to a Bareilly hospital in a serious condition, alleged that Pannalal wanted a son and committed the crime to know if it was male or female foetus.

The locals immediately rushed the woman to the district hospital from where she was sent to the Bareilly hospital in a serious condition. The woman is said to be six to seven months pregnant, the police said.
 
The Incident is a terrible recall of a crime committed on Feb 28, 2002 on young Kauser Bano at Naroda Patiya, Gujarat, It was one of a series of incidents of gendered violence and killings that took 124 lives in this area alone on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Such mass crimes against the marginalised acquire legitimacy when society, with its obsession for a son, can do the same to "their own" women!

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Public order a state subject: Smriti Irani on gov't measures against gendered crimes

While presenting dismal numbers of rising crimes against women, the Minister of Women and Child Development displays shocking callousness.

19 Sep 2020

Image Courtesy:noticebard.com

The Ministry of Women and Child Development said that police and public order are a state subject and thus the state’s responsibility when asked about measures to address the evil of violence against women.

When asked about government measures to contain the menace of violence against women, Union Minister Smriti Irani said, “’Police’ and ‘Public Order’ are State subjects under the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India. The responsibilities to maintain law and order, protection of life and property of the citizens rest primarily with the respective State Governments.”

This statement came along with data that showed a growing rate of crimes against women. Similarly, the Department records also showed that most States had failed to utilise even half of the Nirbhaya Funds released. In December 2019, Parliament data showed that many States had failed to effectively use Nirbhaya Funds.

For example, Maharashtra was recorded as the only large State that had used zero funds provided by the scheme. The data resulted in severe criticism of both Central and state governments for their general apathy towards a prevalent social issue.

During this year’s monsoon session, the Centre’s records showed yet again that states had utilised less than half the funds provided under this scheme. The only exceptions were Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. Moreover, in stark contrast to the 2019 data, the Centre now said that Maharashtra had utilised Rs. 179.36 crores out of Rs. 295.93 crores funds released.

Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh had only used Rs. 42.72 crores out of Rs. 123.37 crores funds released despite being the state with the highest women suicides due to dowry-related issues – 496 deaths in 2019. Among Union Territories, Delhi ranked the highest with 59 such deaths in 2019. Overall, 1,815 dowry-related suicides were registered in India in 2019.

Similarly, the newly-created Union Territory of Ladakh had used no money from the Rs 0.27 crores funds released.

When Member of Parliament (MP) Adoor Prakash asked about proposals received by the Centre under this scheme and government measures to enable faster implementation, Irani said:

“A total of 35 schemes/ projects have been appraised and recommended by the EC so far. The EC reviews the status of implementation of the approved projects from time to time in conjunction with the concerned Ministries/ Departments/ Implementing Agencies (IAs). The Ministries/ Departments/ IAs also review and monitor the progress of their respective schemes/ projects for faster implementation at their level.”

MP Amar Singh asked the Centre about the increasing violence against women and the continuing prevalence of the social evil of dowry in India.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data from 2016-2018 showed that crimes committed against women had increased from 3,38,954 cases in 2016 to 3,78,277 cases in 2018. The maximum number of cases were filed under ‘Cruelty by husband or his relatives’ in 2018. As many as eight cases were registered in 2018 under the crime of ‘buying minor girls.’

The Union Minister said that the Government considers safety and security of women as its highest priority and listed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 among the many government legislations.

Related:

NHRC, Delhi High Court spring into action, pull up governments on women’s safety measures, utilisation of Nirbhaya Fund
Now, Smriti Irani says no data on anganwadi workforce!
No data, so no compensation: Centre’s shocking revelation on migrant labourer deaths!
WCD Ministry gives unsatisfactory answers on efforts to protect women and children

Public order a state subject: Smriti Irani on gov't measures against gendered crimes

While presenting dismal numbers of rising crimes against women, the Minister of Women and Child Development displays shocking callousness.

Image Courtesy:noticebard.com

The Ministry of Women and Child Development said that police and public order are a state subject and thus the state’s responsibility when asked about measures to address the evil of violence against women.

When asked about government measures to contain the menace of violence against women, Union Minister Smriti Irani said, “’Police’ and ‘Public Order’ are State subjects under the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India. The responsibilities to maintain law and order, protection of life and property of the citizens rest primarily with the respective State Governments.”

This statement came along with data that showed a growing rate of crimes against women. Similarly, the Department records also showed that most States had failed to utilise even half of the Nirbhaya Funds released. In December 2019, Parliament data showed that many States had failed to effectively use Nirbhaya Funds.

For example, Maharashtra was recorded as the only large State that had used zero funds provided by the scheme. The data resulted in severe criticism of both Central and state governments for their general apathy towards a prevalent social issue.

During this year’s monsoon session, the Centre’s records showed yet again that states had utilised less than half the funds provided under this scheme. The only exceptions were Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. Moreover, in stark contrast to the 2019 data, the Centre now said that Maharashtra had utilised Rs. 179.36 crores out of Rs. 295.93 crores funds released.

Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh had only used Rs. 42.72 crores out of Rs. 123.37 crores funds released despite being the state with the highest women suicides due to dowry-related issues – 496 deaths in 2019. Among Union Territories, Delhi ranked the highest with 59 such deaths in 2019. Overall, 1,815 dowry-related suicides were registered in India in 2019.

Similarly, the newly-created Union Territory of Ladakh had used no money from the Rs 0.27 crores funds released.

When Member of Parliament (MP) Adoor Prakash asked about proposals received by the Centre under this scheme and government measures to enable faster implementation, Irani said:

“A total of 35 schemes/ projects have been appraised and recommended by the EC so far. The EC reviews the status of implementation of the approved projects from time to time in conjunction with the concerned Ministries/ Departments/ Implementing Agencies (IAs). The Ministries/ Departments/ IAs also review and monitor the progress of their respective schemes/ projects for faster implementation at their level.”

MP Amar Singh asked the Centre about the increasing violence against women and the continuing prevalence of the social evil of dowry in India.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data from 2016-2018 showed that crimes committed against women had increased from 3,38,954 cases in 2016 to 3,78,277 cases in 2018. The maximum number of cases were filed under ‘Cruelty by husband or his relatives’ in 2018. As many as eight cases were registered in 2018 under the crime of ‘buying minor girls.’

The Union Minister said that the Government considers safety and security of women as its highest priority and listed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 among the many government legislations.

Related:

NHRC, Delhi High Court spring into action, pull up governments on women’s safety measures, utilisation of Nirbhaya Fund
Now, Smriti Irani says no data on anganwadi workforce!
No data, so no compensation: Centre’s shocking revelation on migrant labourer deaths!
WCD Ministry gives unsatisfactory answers on efforts to protect women and children

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NHRC questions UP Govt over 57 girls at a shelter home testing positive for Covid-19

The girls are between 10 – 18 years of age and seven of the infected were found to be pregnant

23 Jun 2020

UPRepresentation Image
 

After as many as fifty-seven girls at a state-run shelter home in Kanpur were found to be positive for coronavirus, The Indian Express reported. Five out of the affected 57 girls were pregnant, one was found to be HIV positive and another was found to be infected with Hepatitis C.

Various media reports on the matter had cited that the girls had been showing the symptoms for the infection for a few days, but the local administration informed the state health department about it on June 19, 2020. The Indian Express, quoted the shelter home superintendent as saying that the transmission of the virus only came forth after a random sampling test was conducted on June 12, one inmate was found to be positive. Thereafter, all 171 inmates were tested and 57 of them, aged 15 – 17 years were found to be infected.

 After the news sent the UP administration in a frenzy, Kanpur DM Brahma Dev Ram Tiwari said that the five girls who were pregnant had been referred by the Child Welfare Committees of Agra, Etah, Kannauj, Firozabad and Kanpur under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, adding that the seven girls were pregnant when they came to the shelter home, The Indian Express reported.

Kanpur officials suspect that a staffer, a class IV employee who also tested positive for the virus could have been the source of infection as she visited the girls for their treatment. All 57 girls and the employee have now been admitted to hospitals and the rest have been quarantined in a separate building, IE reported.

NHRC ISSUES NOTICE

In light of the incident, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued notices to Rajendra Tiwari, Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh and the Director General of Police, asking for the health status of all the girls and action taken on the matter.

Citing the various media reports, the NHRC said, “The Commission has observed that the contents of the media report, if true, are enough to prima facie believe that the public servants have failed to provide safeguard to the victim girls and, apparently, were negligent in protecting their right to life, liberty and dignity in the custody of the State.”

From the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh, the NHRC has asked for the health status of all the girls, their medical treatment and counseling provided by the authorities. It has asked the state government to order an inquiry into the matter from an independent agency and directed it to review the health status of female inmates lodged in shelter homes across the state and issue suitable directives so that such incidents aren’t repeated in the future.

From the Director General of Police, UP, the NHRC has called for a report regarding registration of FIR in this matter and status of investigation within 4 weeks.

The National Commission of Women, UP has also issued a notice to the UP administration asking for details about the health status and other details regarding the number of women in the shelter homes and the details of when they were brought there, to be submitted within 24 hours.

 

 

UP CHIEF SECY ISSUES NEW PROTOCOLS FOR SHELTER HOMES

Soon after the incident, UP Chief Secretary issued strict orders for implementation of all precautions to be taken to check the spread of Covid-19 in women’s shelter homes, nari niketans and orphanages. The orders stated that before entering the institute, every person, including the staff, should be thermally scanned and that the number of visitors to these institutions should be limited as much as possible.

 

 

India Today reported that the order issued by the Chief Secretary stated that infrared thermometers should be made available for checking all people, including staff members, in women shelter homes, nari niketans, orphanages and juvenile homes, and no one with cold, cough or fever should be allowed entry. He also added that sanitizers and face masks should be provided and social distancing norms should be followed at all times, apart from directing that caretakers of these homes should reside in the facilities and ensure that all precautions are being taken.

OPPOSITION SLAMS ADMINISTRATION

Citing negligence, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also attacked the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh over the matter.

In a Facebook post she said, “The entire story of the Muzaffarpur (Bihar) shelter home case is in front of the country. Such a case had also come to light in Deoria, UP. In such a situation, the recurrence of such incidents show that in the name of investigations, everything is suppressed, but the incident that has taken place in the government’s child protection homes is very inhumane.”

Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav too has demanded a probe into the incident.

 

 

Related:

Sultanpur Rape Case: NHRC pulls up Uttar Pradesh police for negligence

NHRC, Delhi High Court spring into action, pull up governments on women’s safety measures, utilisation of Nirbhaya Fund

NHRC questions UP Govt over 57 girls at a shelter home testing positive for Covid-19

The girls are between 10 – 18 years of age and seven of the infected were found to be pregnant

UPRepresentation Image
 

After as many as fifty-seven girls at a state-run shelter home in Kanpur were found to be positive for coronavirus, The Indian Express reported. Five out of the affected 57 girls were pregnant, one was found to be HIV positive and another was found to be infected with Hepatitis C.

Various media reports on the matter had cited that the girls had been showing the symptoms for the infection for a few days, but the local administration informed the state health department about it on June 19, 2020. The Indian Express, quoted the shelter home superintendent as saying that the transmission of the virus only came forth after a random sampling test was conducted on June 12, one inmate was found to be positive. Thereafter, all 171 inmates were tested and 57 of them, aged 15 – 17 years were found to be infected.

 After the news sent the UP administration in a frenzy, Kanpur DM Brahma Dev Ram Tiwari said that the five girls who were pregnant had been referred by the Child Welfare Committees of Agra, Etah, Kannauj, Firozabad and Kanpur under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, adding that the seven girls were pregnant when they came to the shelter home, The Indian Express reported.

Kanpur officials suspect that a staffer, a class IV employee who also tested positive for the virus could have been the source of infection as she visited the girls for their treatment. All 57 girls and the employee have now been admitted to hospitals and the rest have been quarantined in a separate building, IE reported.

NHRC ISSUES NOTICE

In light of the incident, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued notices to Rajendra Tiwari, Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh and the Director General of Police, asking for the health status of all the girls and action taken on the matter.

Citing the various media reports, the NHRC said, “The Commission has observed that the contents of the media report, if true, are enough to prima facie believe that the public servants have failed to provide safeguard to the victim girls and, apparently, were negligent in protecting their right to life, liberty and dignity in the custody of the State.”

From the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh, the NHRC has asked for the health status of all the girls, their medical treatment and counseling provided by the authorities. It has asked the state government to order an inquiry into the matter from an independent agency and directed it to review the health status of female inmates lodged in shelter homes across the state and issue suitable directives so that such incidents aren’t repeated in the future.

From the Director General of Police, UP, the NHRC has called for a report regarding registration of FIR in this matter and status of investigation within 4 weeks.

The National Commission of Women, UP has also issued a notice to the UP administration asking for details about the health status and other details regarding the number of women in the shelter homes and the details of when they were brought there, to be submitted within 24 hours.

 

 

UP CHIEF SECY ISSUES NEW PROTOCOLS FOR SHELTER HOMES

Soon after the incident, UP Chief Secretary issued strict orders for implementation of all precautions to be taken to check the spread of Covid-19 in women’s shelter homes, nari niketans and orphanages. The orders stated that before entering the institute, every person, including the staff, should be thermally scanned and that the number of visitors to these institutions should be limited as much as possible.

 

 

India Today reported that the order issued by the Chief Secretary stated that infrared thermometers should be made available for checking all people, including staff members, in women shelter homes, nari niketans, orphanages and juvenile homes, and no one with cold, cough or fever should be allowed entry. He also added that sanitizers and face masks should be provided and social distancing norms should be followed at all times, apart from directing that caretakers of these homes should reside in the facilities and ensure that all precautions are being taken.

OPPOSITION SLAMS ADMINISTRATION

Citing negligence, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also attacked the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh over the matter.

In a Facebook post she said, “The entire story of the Muzaffarpur (Bihar) shelter home case is in front of the country. Such a case had also come to light in Deoria, UP. In such a situation, the recurrence of such incidents show that in the name of investigations, everything is suppressed, but the incident that has taken place in the government’s child protection homes is very inhumane.”

Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav too has demanded a probe into the incident.

 

 

Related:

Sultanpur Rape Case: NHRC pulls up Uttar Pradesh police for negligence

NHRC, Delhi High Court spring into action, pull up governments on women’s safety measures, utilisation of Nirbhaya Fund

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Two pregnant women die after being denied proper medical care

While Seema died in Jalandhar after allegedly being refused admission by seven hospitals, Asma died in Thane after reportedly being refused admission by five hospitals

04 Jun 2020

Two pregnant women die

Medical mismanagement and apathy has robbed many people of their loved ones during the lockdown. Scores of men, women and children have lost their lives because hospitals either remain closed or refuse to admit patients who are not suffering from Covid-19 either due to lack of infrastructure, lack of doctors, lack of funds or by just not understanding the urgency of the situation while asking severely ill patients to get a medical certificate proving that they don’t suffer from the coronavirus infection.

Yet another example of this was witnessed in Jaladhar when a pregnant woman and her child died after being made to do the rounds of seven hospitals in four days and not getting the required medical attention, The Tribune reported.

Vicky and his wife Seema (19), both migrants who used to live in Jalandhar were struggling just when Covid-19 exacerbated their challenges. Seema, who was due to deliver her child on June 5, complained of unease and pain around mid-May. Vicky said she was in normal condition on May 5 when her last ultrasound was done. However, the couple didn’t pay much attention to it as it wasn’t consistent and related it to uneasiness brought upon by the last month of pregnancy.

However, Seema’s pain turned unbearable on May 28 and she was rushed to a hospital in Adampur, but was denied admission. Then, she went to the Civil Hospital in Jalandhar where the doctors diagnosed her with a serious medical condition. They then referred her to the Amritsar Medical College after diagnosing her with a serious complication. However, before they could do that, they had asked that Seema’s Covid-19 test be done and precious time was lost before they got the results, which further worsened the condition of the unborn child.

At the Amritsar Medical College, Seema was treated for two days, but the doctors didn’t promise much. Vicky tried to take her to private hospitals but couldn’t get entry there due to lack of funds. Allegedly due to unsatisfactory care, Vicky got Seema back to the Jalandhar Civil Hospital where she breathed her last on May 31.

Civil Surgeon Dr Gurinder Kaur Chawla told The Tribune, “Seema required tertiary care in Amritsar, but the couple didn’t like it there and returned to us in a further complicated condition. Hers was a case of intra-uterine death. The baby died in the womb.”

However, this isn’t the only incident of such apathy.

In Thane’s Mumbra, a 28-year-old woman, Asma Mehendi who was six months pregnant died after several hospitals refused to admit her, the Mumbai Mirror reported. According to the police, Mehendi died in an auto-rickshaw on May 26 after two hospitals – Bilal Hospital and Prime Criticare Hospitals refused to admit her. Her husband, Akbar, however said that he took her to five hospitals, all of which refused admission. He told the Mumbai Mirror, “We went to five hospitals, but every hospital had a reason or the other to refuse admission. For hours, we ran from one hospital to another, and Asma breathed her last in an auto outside Kalsekar Hospital in Mumbra.”

A report by Hindustan Times stated that Mehendi’s X-ray showed a chest infection after which she was taken to Kalwa Hospital. By law, Kalwa Hospital cannot refuse emergency patients even then, she was denied admission there. Her husband then put her in an auto and took her to Kalsekar Hospital but they refused admission too, citing it was a Covid-19 designated hospital. However after much pleading they admitted her, but by then her health had deteriorated. RT Kendre, Thane Municipal Corporation Health Officer told HT that Kalsekar Hospital couldn’t admit suspect or negative Covid-19 patients. However, when Mehendi was finally given permission to be admitted, Dr. Afreen Saudagar said that she had no respiratory rate and though they put her on the ventilator, she had passed away.

According to reports, the Mumbra Police in Thane have registered an FIR against three private hospitals and sent show-cause notices to 78 private hospitals in Mumbra, Kausa, Kalwa and Diva.

As hospitals run out of beds and insist on following protocol, will the suspect / non-Covid 19 patients continue to lose lives in the bargain?

Related:

Apathy kills Agra woman's unborn baby

Two pregnant women die after being denied proper medical care

While Seema died in Jalandhar after allegedly being refused admission by seven hospitals, Asma died in Thane after reportedly being refused admission by five hospitals

Two pregnant women die

Medical mismanagement and apathy has robbed many people of their loved ones during the lockdown. Scores of men, women and children have lost their lives because hospitals either remain closed or refuse to admit patients who are not suffering from Covid-19 either due to lack of infrastructure, lack of doctors, lack of funds or by just not understanding the urgency of the situation while asking severely ill patients to get a medical certificate proving that they don’t suffer from the coronavirus infection.

Yet another example of this was witnessed in Jaladhar when a pregnant woman and her child died after being made to do the rounds of seven hospitals in four days and not getting the required medical attention, The Tribune reported.

Vicky and his wife Seema (19), both migrants who used to live in Jalandhar were struggling just when Covid-19 exacerbated their challenges. Seema, who was due to deliver her child on June 5, complained of unease and pain around mid-May. Vicky said she was in normal condition on May 5 when her last ultrasound was done. However, the couple didn’t pay much attention to it as it wasn’t consistent and related it to uneasiness brought upon by the last month of pregnancy.

However, Seema’s pain turned unbearable on May 28 and she was rushed to a hospital in Adampur, but was denied admission. Then, she went to the Civil Hospital in Jalandhar where the doctors diagnosed her with a serious medical condition. They then referred her to the Amritsar Medical College after diagnosing her with a serious complication. However, before they could do that, they had asked that Seema’s Covid-19 test be done and precious time was lost before they got the results, which further worsened the condition of the unborn child.

At the Amritsar Medical College, Seema was treated for two days, but the doctors didn’t promise much. Vicky tried to take her to private hospitals but couldn’t get entry there due to lack of funds. Allegedly due to unsatisfactory care, Vicky got Seema back to the Jalandhar Civil Hospital where she breathed her last on May 31.

Civil Surgeon Dr Gurinder Kaur Chawla told The Tribune, “Seema required tertiary care in Amritsar, but the couple didn’t like it there and returned to us in a further complicated condition. Hers was a case of intra-uterine death. The baby died in the womb.”

However, this isn’t the only incident of such apathy.

In Thane’s Mumbra, a 28-year-old woman, Asma Mehendi who was six months pregnant died after several hospitals refused to admit her, the Mumbai Mirror reported. According to the police, Mehendi died in an auto-rickshaw on May 26 after two hospitals – Bilal Hospital and Prime Criticare Hospitals refused to admit her. Her husband, Akbar, however said that he took her to five hospitals, all of which refused admission. He told the Mumbai Mirror, “We went to five hospitals, but every hospital had a reason or the other to refuse admission. For hours, we ran from one hospital to another, and Asma breathed her last in an auto outside Kalsekar Hospital in Mumbra.”

A report by Hindustan Times stated that Mehendi’s X-ray showed a chest infection after which she was taken to Kalwa Hospital. By law, Kalwa Hospital cannot refuse emergency patients even then, she was denied admission there. Her husband then put her in an auto and took her to Kalsekar Hospital but they refused admission too, citing it was a Covid-19 designated hospital. However after much pleading they admitted her, but by then her health had deteriorated. RT Kendre, Thane Municipal Corporation Health Officer told HT that Kalsekar Hospital couldn’t admit suspect or negative Covid-19 patients. However, when Mehendi was finally given permission to be admitted, Dr. Afreen Saudagar said that she had no respiratory rate and though they put her on the ventilator, she had passed away.

According to reports, the Mumbra Police in Thane have registered an FIR against three private hospitals and sent show-cause notices to 78 private hospitals in Mumbra, Kausa, Kalwa and Diva.

As hospitals run out of beds and insist on following protocol, will the suspect / non-Covid 19 patients continue to lose lives in the bargain?

Related:

Apathy kills Agra woman's unborn baby

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