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ORIGINAL XXX © 2009 1478-1913 0027-4909 The Muslim World MUWO UK ARTICLE Oxford, Hartford Seminary Blackwell Publishing Ltd SHORT TITLE RUNNING HEAD:JA Contextual Approach to Women s Rights in the Qur a₍‥3₎n The Muslim World • Volume 99 • anuary 2009
A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’an: Readings of 4:34
Rachel M. Scott
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, Virginia
he interpretation of sacred texts regarding the rights, role, and status of women is a challenge. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the patriarchal nature of its religious texts poses a number of hurdles for feminist scholars. For Muslim feminist interpreters of the Qur’an, the problem is particularly acute. The Qur’an is seen by almost all Muslims as the literal word of God and, thus, unlike many Christian and Jewish feminist scholars, the majority of Muslim feminist scholars cannot reject or question the text itself: they have to “take the Qur’an in its entirety.”1 As a result, the position is taken by Muslim feminists that “no verse of the Qur’an can really have an oppressive androcentric intent; such an intent comes only from the male dominated interpretive tradition.”2 Thus, the androcentric interpretations of the verses and not the verses themselves are challenged. One such response advocates a contextual or historical reading of the Qur’an, which involves reading a verse with regard to the historical, social, and political context in which it was revealed in order to disclose an underlying liberal intent, thereby liberating Muslims from a literal reading. Such a method forms part of a broader approach within modernist Islam that Charles Kurzman identiﬁes as the liberal shari“a approach. This approach argues that shari“a sanctions liberal positions and that democracy, human rights, and equality between men and women are an expression of the values of a ‘true’ Islam.3 Such an approach is particularly compelling because it can eschew the accusation that Western values are being imposed upon Islam. Like modernist Islam in general, feminist scholarship has faced resistance from conservative exegetes. This resistance has included the accusation that
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A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n
feminist scholarship is disloyal to Islam and denies its heritage. Such heritage (turath) is the product of a male interpretive elite, the “ulama” (religious scholars) who in classical Islam “spoke authoritatively for Islam.”4 The modernist version of ijtihad (the process of employing individual reasoning to interpret the law from its sources) has opened up interpretation to individuals from outside the religious establishment, including women. Feminist interpreters of the Qur’an face a particular challenge, since unlike other issues such as democracy, on which the Qur’an is relatively silent, there are a number of verses that are potentially problematic from a feminist perspective. This is why a liberal shari“a approach in general and a contextualized reading in particular of such verses has taken such a prominent role. It is argued that through a contextualization of the verse one can distinguish the message of the Qur’an from its previous interpretations. Such a distinction is central to feminist exegesis, which argues that interpretations of scripture have been “inﬂuenced by the patriarchal paradigm of the medieval period from which they were produced.”5 This article focuses on how the method of contextualization is applied to one of the most contentious verses in the Qur’an. The verse is integral to any discussion of the role and status of women in Islam and arguably represents the point at which feminists face their greatest challenge. The verse relates to two separate but connected issues. One concerns the question of men’s authority over women. The other concerns the legality of corporal discipline against women:
Men are the protectors and maintainers (qawwamun) of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what God would have them guard. As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (ﬁrst), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): for God is Most High, Great (above you all). (4:34).6
Within traditional Qur’anic exegesis, this verse has been interpreted as justifying both the inherent superiority of men over women, and the legality of men beating women. The classical exegete Ibn Kathir (1301–1373) argued that “men excel over women and are better than them for certain tasks.” Thus, a man should be a woman’s “maintainer, caretaker and leader” who can discipline her “if she deviates.”7 Notwithstanding this, “the beating measure has been met with moral unease and resistance by many authorities both past and present.”8 However, such resistance has focused on mollifying the severity of the implications of
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Dispute over the ﬁrst part of the verse has focused around the term qawwamun. it will not be explored in detail in this article. and this functional authority can be further contextualized. is based upon both a literal and de-contextualized reading: men have authority over women.16 This article focuses on the second part of the verse. although Muhammad ‘Abduh argued that the tradition in which the Prophet said “the best of you would not beat their wives” amounts to a virtual prohibition. Like most classical scholars. For example.10 Sayyid Qutb (1906 –1966) argued that a man may beat his wife as a preventative measure “in an unhealthy situation in order to protect the family against collapse. 1926) states that a man is “entitled to the obedience and cooperation of his wife. and Amina Wadud.” but argues that this is because they must support women. who are expected to be obedient. he can “beat her lightly with his hands. like many other modernist scholars.”11 The popular contemporary Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b.9 In the modern period.” and that if he does not receive this.13 This article examines the exegetical method of contextual reading utilized by scholars who seek to undermine the authority of this literal interpretation and focuses on the second part of the verse.14 This interpretation continues to be held. as a last resort. and beating lightly is justiﬁable in the case of their disobedience. The Islamic scholar Abu Al-‘Ala al-Maududi (1903 –1979) agreed that women must obey their husbands.” with interpretations of severity ranging from breaking the bone to breaking the ﬂesh.The Muslim World • Volume 99 • January 2009 the permission rather than questioning it per se. 62 © 2009 Hartford Seminary. a Tunisian historian.15 However. Fazlur Rahman (1919–1988) agrees that “men are in charge of women. based on a Hadith. which appears to sanction domestic violence. We examine how three contemporary Islamic thinkers: Fatima Mernissi. Muhammad al-Talbi.”12 The mainstream interpretation of the verse. an African-American professor of Islamic studies. scholars such as Muhammad ‘Abduh (1849 –1905) and Rashid Rida (1865 –1935) have defended the hitting of women without severe harm. Through a reinterpretation of the text these scholars question the assumption that a man’s right to physically chastise women is divinely ordained. a Moroccan sociologist. the historians al-Tabari (838– 923) and Ibn Kathir emphasized that the beating should not be “severe” or “violent. avoiding her face and other sensitive areas. Thus it is a functional rather than an inherent superiority. The majority of exegetes see the two parts of the verse as linked. employ the hermeneutical method of contextual reading to interpret the verse in a way that does not condone the beating of women. While the ﬁrst part of the verse in question is contentious. . therefore. al-Zamakhshari (1074/5–1144/3) interpreted qawwamun to mean that “men are in charge of the affairs of women” on account of some kind of inherent superiority.
It must be noted that some interpreters have subjected the term daraba.21 Verses were often linked to particular historical events by reference to the Hadith literature and the biography of the Prophet. a fuller discussion of the issues that it raises.”20 The semantic analysis of daraba needs further examination. idribuhunna. It was seen as miraculous in nature. the three thinkers examined here make the assumption that the verb means “to beat” and it is on this assumption that discussion in this article is based.”23 This disconnection between the occasions of revelation and the interpretation of meaning was linked to the status of the Qur’an that emerged as orthodox in classical Islam. uncreated. It argues that for such a methodology to be strengthened. It explores whether this approach can make the text work or whether the only option for feminists is to say “no” to the text. knowledge of the occasions of revelation was not used as a method for interpreting underlying meanings of the verse.”18 Such a claim needs more discussion. it was often seen as “irrelevant and unimportant” in determining “whether a particular ruling in the Qur’an is to be universally applicable or not.A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n It examines the theoretical and practical challenges facing such a reading. needs to take place. which one might expect if it meant to “depart from. The otherness of the Qur’an was emphasized.”25 It was understood that revelation had “no direct © 2009 Hartford Seminary. “its application nevertheless becomes universal. Laleh Bakhtiar has translated daraba as “go away from. most notably the psychological manner of revelation and the question of certainty. This was “seen to assert the totally non-contingent nature of the text. Contextualization The method of reading a verse with regard to its historical context is not entirely new. In any case. which has most often been translated as “to beat. it is argued.” to further semantic analysis.”22 It was therefore understood that while the law was occasioned by a speciﬁc situation. as Amina Wadud has recently done. the importance of reading a verse with regard to its occasions of revelation (asbab al-nuzul ) was widely accepted. Among medieval exegetes.”19 Hadia Mubarak has posited six possible meanings for daraba and prefers the translation “to create an effect upon her. However. as it appears in the verse.”17 Thus. 63 . In fact. arising from the fact that the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad was spread over a period of time and was in many cases seen as a response to Muhammad’s situation. who was a “passive recipient of revelation.”24 which meant that the Qur’an was detached from the Prophet. particularly relating to the absence of a preposition before the pronoun denoting women. does not mean “hit them” but “leave them. having descended from a pre-existing heavenly tablet. since it was viewed as divine and the word of God. In a recent translation of the Qur’an.
The Muslim World • Volume 99 • January 2009 connection to the ‘situation on the ground’ or the concerns and issues of the Prophet or his community. Rahman argues that: “The Qur’an is the divine response. . This approach was heralded by one of the most original Islamic thinkers of the twentieth century. one should extract general principles and long-range objectives from the speciﬁcs of the Qur’an and from that. This focus meant that. Rahman argues that “permission for 64 © 2009 Hartford Seminary. In such a case. and even in those cases. by which a later verse was believed to supersede an earlier one. but it was only applied to cases in which two literal readings of the Qur’an appeared to contradict one another. a number of scholars argue that the verse should be read with regard to the occasions of revelation in such a way that sheds light not only on the ‘true’ meaning of the verse but also in a way that deﬁnes universal principles as opposed to speciﬁc instructions. This reﬂects an atomistic approach to Qur’anic interpretation.”29 In addition. the method of abrogation. and involved an in-depth discussion of relevant Hadith.. in many cases the interpretation of the Qur’an was inﬂuenced by the customs of the conquered lands. general principles can be extracted “to be formulated and realized now.”26 Context was not discounted entirely. according to modern scholars.33 This method is illustrated in Rahman’s understanding of polygamy. was adopted based on the supposition that God chose to revise commands. Interpretation focused on one verse at a time. Muslims believed that limitless polygamy was practiced in preIslamic Arabia and that the Qur’an then restricted the number of wives a man could have to four. which the Qur’an supports (16:101).27 One of the assumptions behind this was that God had established a trajectory of reform for Muslims. on the whole. one must examine the context of a quasi-legal pronouncement in order to understand the “ratio legis.”32 In order to extract general principles. context was only utilized when there appeared to be a contradiction between two verses. through the Prophet’s mind. along with a discussion of the philological and linguistic complexities of each verse.” i. there was a failure “to understand the Qur’an as a deeper unity yielding a deﬁnite Weltanschauung. Fazlur Rahman (1919–1988). To stipulate all commands at once would have been too onerous for the Muslim community: regulations were therefore introduced slowly.34 It is the ratio legis of this restriction that provides a key to unlocking the verse’s meaning. However. to the moral-social situation of the Prophet’s Arabia.”31 Thus. the context was only important in terms of establishing the chronology of verses and not in assessing their meaning. which was an important feature of classical exegesis.”28 Muslims did not engage in a “systematic working out of the values and principles of the Qur’an.e. why a law is being formulated.30 Today.
“give them their meaning. Morocco.36 Hadith were fabricated. and for men and women who engage much in God’s praise — for them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward. for devout men and women. for men and women who give in charity. since it was not possible to remove polygamy at one stroke.”40 This would have included. She argues that Umm Salama. In Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry. while classical Islam identiﬁed the idea of the development of reform within the time frame of the revelation. for men and women who humble themselves. for men and women who fast (and deny themselves) for men and women who guard their chastity.D. equality between the sexes based on following verse: For Muslim men and women — for believing men and women.39 If classical scholars had determined these principles it “would probably have allowed Islam as a civilization of the written word to come logically to a sort of declaration of human rights.41 Mernissi returns to the life of the Prophet to paint a fresh picture of the early Islamic community. Mernissi laments the status of women in contemporary Islamic societies.A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n polygamy was at a legal plane while the sanctions put on it were in the nature of a moral ideal towards which the society was expected to move. obtaining a master’s degree in politics from Muhammad V University in Rabat.”35 The idea of a moral trajectory is arguably an extension of the notion that some laws were introduced gradually.37 Classical interpretation. and used by men as a political weapon “to preserve what was essential to them. the idea that it continued beyond the time-frame of the community of the Prophet Muhammad was not entertained. she argues. Mernissi argues. one of Muhammad’s © 2009 Hartford Seminary. for true men and women.”38 Mernissi calls for this synthesis through which one can decode the verses.” and determine “general principles. Mernissi’s work on women in Islam has made an important contribution to both the critique of the position of women in the Islamic world and to textual interpretation. for men and women who are patient and constant. she argues. (33:35).” which she criticizes classical exegetes and contemporary Muslim leaders for failing to do. She returned to Morocco to teach and works at a research institute in Rabat. 65 . and a Ph. Mernissi had both a traditional Islamic and a Western secular education. However.” which included the subjugation of women. which she traces to early scholars of Islam who distorted and manipulated the sacred texts. Fatima Mernissi Fatima Mernissi (b. 1940) is a contemporary Moroccan sociologist. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1973. did not synthesize “all the causes relating to a given verse in chronological order and with an analysis of its psychological and social impact.
”44 4:11 was also revealed. in a state of fragility and uncertainty.46 For Mernissi. which is used to endorse the practice of the veiling of women.” While the amount of inheritance given to women was not equal to that given to men. it represented a signiﬁcant improvement to their situation in pre-Islamic Arabia.”43 Umm Salama asked the Prophet why so few verses addressed the issue of women. Mernissi argues. this represented the “egalitarian dimension of Islam. Mernissi argues.51 The Prophet’s political enemies were trying to undermine him by harassing his wives. which temporized on [this] principle . In response. to ﬁght for their happiness.49 Mernissi argues that this verse was revealed to Muhammad the evening of his marriage to one of his wives. The time was year 5 of the hijra. and reafﬁrmed male supremacy. that is. was in physical decline and was no 66 © 2009 Hartford Seminary.47 Having revealed verses that established the equality of the sexes. “who found themselves for the ﬁrst time in direct.52 Thus the verse.” which men tried to suppress. . was the leader of a movement that campaigned for the equal participation of women. since he himself was too difﬁdent to do so.The Muslim World • Volume 99 • January 2009 wives. she argues. in which women were given inheritance rights. personal conﬂict with the Muslim God.” This resulted in an ambiguity in the Qur’an which was utilized by the male elite.”54 Muhammad. Zaynab.48 One of these verses was the hijab verse. the Prophet’s most disastrous year militarily. Mernissi explains that the broader context explains why the Prophet’s wives were subsequently veiled and why this practice was adopted by other women. . Mernissi argues. Economic and political crises were “tearing Medina apart and delivering it.”45 Mernissi argues that this was a kind of “bombshell” for the men of Medina. to the ﬁerce struggles” of political divisions. and to be involved in the management of military and political affairs. which meant. nullifying the dispositions in favor of women.”53 Mernissi also implies that Muhammad yielded on the issue of the veil because it “was insisted upon by ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab.42 She argues that women in Medina under Muhammad’s tutelage “could gain access to full citizenship” and were able to “dispute with the men. it is clear that “God spoke of the two sexes in terms of total equality as believers. The hijab was to be the solution to a whole web of conﬂicts and tensions. however. . “other verses came. “came to give order to a very convulsed and complex situation. that “not only would a woman no longer be ‘inherited’ like camels and palm trees. the spokesman of male resistance to women’s demands. but she would herself inherit.50 The verse was revealed to solve this problem: it told Muhammad’s friends to leave after they had had their meal. in which. the above verse (33:35) was revealed. without. as members of the community. according to Mernissi. Some friends of Muhammad tarried in his house and appeared insensitive to his desire to be alone with his new wife. where women had no rights to inherit or own property.
recited the verse. So the Prophet summoned the husband. and God wanted another. who represented tradition. knew that he had to use his inﬂuence in the most reliable manner — that is. Muhammad. and regain his position as leader of the community. and customs.57 In this case. He no longer had the energy and vigor of youth. Mernissi then returns to the context to explain the verse. Muhammad gave “his consent to the reestablishment of male supremacy.56 Mernissi applies this approach to 4:34 and argues that the verse was revealed in response to an incident concerning a woman who was beaten by her husband and went to Muhammad for arbitration. deep-seated reﬂexes. Mernissi argues. before he had a chance. instead of ﬁnding rest. since it is certain that the Prophet abhorred it. 67 .’ ”60 Arguing that it was not something Muhammad really wanted. this would have undermined an intensely unstable political situation. the verse was revealed.62 © 2009 Hartford Seminary. inﬂuenced by ‘Umar. one of the Prophet’s wives.”55 Mernissi argues that the context explains why Muhammad yielded on the question of women’s rights: if Muhammad had applied the principle of equality enshrined in 33:53. who did not beat his own wives. intended to fulﬁl the woman’s request for retaliation. He had to win military victories. When he returned home. By giving consent to the hijab. in “ﬂagrant contradiction” to 33:35. he was harassed by hordes of women and men who came to consult him about their conﬂicts at his door.”59 In line with his egalitarian desires. She argues the verse was revealed during the same unstable period as the hijab verse: At that time he [Muhammad] had to deal with serious military problems and often went off on expeditions. Umm Salama.58 Mernissi argues that ‘Umar was known for being “rough and harsh with women” and did not “hesitate” to slap his wife.61 Mernissi then argues that the Prophet was also pressured by ‘Umar in this case to allow violence towards women.A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n longer able to stand up to ‘Umar and therefore agreed to women being conﬁned. The Prophet. Mernissi writes: “God had decided otherwise. the one least likely to be challenged. Mernissi argues. channel the energy of the believers into religious war. beset by Companions of both sexes and their contradictory demands. and. Muhammad realized that as an individual he could be in conﬂict with God. and told him: ‘I wanted one thing. However. He represented Meccans who opposed the “freedom of thought and action of women of Medina. and ‘Umar played the role of intermediaries with Muhammad: Umm Salama for the wife and ‘Umar for the husband. troubled by divine revelations that went counter to his aims. as Mernissi says.
Yet it also leaves a number of issues unresolved. she is conﬁdent of the sources that enable her to ascertain the precise date and circumstances in which the verse was revealed. In any case. However. The ramiﬁcations of this statement are not discussed. The failure of God to send down a particular instruction does not mean that it cannot be implied. But of course scripture is never simple and clear and interpreters have to wrestle with what is given. radical. The theological implications that arise from the idea that God and Muhammad wanted something different need to be explored. either from the Qur’an itself or from the 68 © 2009 Hartford Seminary. Mernissi’s exegesis raises further questions. but it is implied.” One interesting point raised by Mernissi’s analysis is the apparent disconnect between what God and the Prophet wanted. .. and focuses upon Muhammad as a ﬁgure more than the Qur’anic verses. Mernissi is also selectively critical of the sources. although silence could just as easily be interpreted as consent. She does not explore the sources that imply that the Prophet himself took a pragmatic approach to these issues. The most obvious — or perhaps simplistic and crude — one is why didn’t God send down another verse once the period of instability was over towards the end of the Prophet’s life. the equality of men and women.The Muslim World • Volume 99 • January 2009 Mernissi’s exegesis is daring. and refreshing. One of these concerns Mernissi’s use of the sources. Mernissi needs to be able to establish more compelling grounds. While she selectively uses the sources to paint a dichotomy between Muhammad and ‘Umar. One possible — and somewhat explosive — answer is that Mernissi could be expressing an antipathy towards God. and that his ultimate aim was the same as that of Muhammad. She also extrapolates from the fact that the Prophet did not beat his wives to imply something more. by implying that the context explains the verse. having said this. Mernissi needs a stronger argument for assuming that the verse in question was simply a temporary measure to avoid internal strife. Mernissi particularly avoids brokering the subject of God’s intentions. Mernissi does not explicitly say this. Mernissi argues that Muhammad was “troubled by divine revelations that went counter to his aims” and that God wanted one thing and the Prophet another. she does not discuss the historical challenges involved in arriving at this picture. While she is deeply skeptical of the Hadith that expound a misogynist view. she implies that God was more pragmatic than his more idealistic Prophet. again the question of God’s intentions is left unclear. i. it is reported that he told men who did that they were “not the best among you. particularly regarding ‘Umar’s supposed inﬂuence over Muhammad. However.e. upon which she depends for her argument. The other explanation is that God revealed this verse to quell the problems of the early Islamic community. While he did not beat his own wives.
This idea implies dynamism forward into the future. He attended French primary and secondary schools in Tunisia. did not.64 He then studied in France and obtained a doctorate in history from the Sorbonne in 1968. where he became professor emeritus. This relates more broadly to the statement that God sent down verses which temporized on the principle of equality of the sexes: “In fact. women’s triumph was of a very short duration. explains that for al-Talbi. by knowing the intentions of the legislator. come to their rescue. but every time they formulated a new demand. revelations. whose article provides a detailed reading and analysis of al-Talbi’s exegesis.”70 The direction of this movement “toward Islam’s successful encounter with modernity” can be derived from ascertaining God’s intentions. therefore. Jurists interpreted 4:34 in the light of the “Hadith which established the inferiority of women and made her a sexual commodity whose role was to submit to the desires of her husband. social.”63 Mernissi does not resolve the dichotomy between verses which afﬁrmed women’s equality and those that departed from this.” One must therefore understand that the Qur’an was sent down in a particular age and to a particular environment and use this knowledge as a “key” to apply to a new age. as before. for assuming the notion of temporality from the verse. 1921) is a contemporary Tunisian medieval historian. It is by undertaking ijtihad with a historical reading that the “intentions of the legislator” (al-maqasid al-shari“a) and. He taught medieval history at the University of Tunis.71 © 2009 Hartford Seminary.A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n Hadith. “its true meaning” can be derived. and anthropological dimensions in which a verse is revealed. he has written on modern Islamic thought and inter-religious dialogue.” revealing “other meanings which possess signiﬁcance for all times and places.67 One must look at the “historical. Muhammad al-Talbi Muhammad al-Talbi (b.”66 One of the foundations for al-Talbi’s construction of modern Islamic thought is a “historical reading” (qira”a tarikhiyya) of the text. one is able to “distinguish the ﬁxed ritual obligations and deeper ethics of Islam from certain more timebound elements. al-Talbi argues that Muslim tradition has played a detrimental role in spreading the assumption that the verses in question represent God’s universal condoning of the beating of women. Not only did Heaven no longer respond to their pleas.”69 Al-Talbi believes that the Qur’an is appropriate for every time: “God converses with human kind in all ages and places in a living dialogue that is constantly new. Since his retirement.65 In his work Ummat al-Wasa† (The Community of Moderation). 69 .”68 Ronald Nettler. since “history is a moral movement constantly pushing forward.
Muhammad — as a ‘feminist’ — was bringing about a kind of ‘feminist revolution. al-Talbi argues. During this period.’ which women enthusiastically embraced. . Society was riddled with division and dissatisfaction: the situation as one of near “explosion. as a result.” and. “there is no doubt that this particular verse came to settle an argument which had got out of control and had almost caused a civil war.” The Muslim community (umma) became divided into two movements: the feminist and anti-feminist. no speciﬁc revelations were revealed concerning the treatment of women.” since it was impossible to quickly establish the most preferable social order. The text should be subject to individual interpretation and ijtihad. At the same time. people had become used to the status quo in which women were treated as second class citizens and men beat their wives.”73 The Medinans.”77 Three years after these verses were revealed. This resulted in an anti-feminist movement lead by ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab. When Muhammad arrived in Medina. This feminist movement became “strong and violent.”75 Al-Talbi argues that the period in which the verse was revealed was a critical one in the life of the young umma: it was “surrounded by enemies” both internally and externally.76 Al-Talbi writes. al-Talbi argues. did not beat their women.72 Regarding 4:34. “women became too bold and too elevated. The Prophet supported these feminist demands and married Umm Salama. that the reasons for the revelation of the verse lie in the social and political situation of the time. who “did not complain of it” and “did not consider it an attack on their dignity.” and this alarmed men. As a result. which was “enraged by women’s new found boldness and independence. so Muhammad treated women according to his own feminist preferences. The Prophet wanted to protect women from the tyranny of men and wanted to put an end to the beating of women. with “Hadith reinforcing the inferiority of women. like Mernissi. Al-Talbi claims that Muhammad employed ijtihad in his treatment of women during the ﬁrst three years at Medina.The Muslim World • Volume 99 • January 2009 Al-Talbi’s conception of the Qur’an is that it is relative and context bound.” God revealed 4:34 to strengthen the community: God averted internal division and thereby gave precedence to “the most important over the important. This resulted in a clash of cultures. This situation continued: the second and third centuries strengthened the anti-feminist movement. Every Muslim should employ critical reason and thereby make an independent judgement. however. the Meccans were accustomed to beating their women. It became necessary to close down internal differences and “unify the ranks of the ﬁghters.”78 70 © 2009 Hartford Seminary. this encouraged the development of a feminist party led by Umm Salama.74 According to al-Talbi. many Meccan women felt that they should not be beaten.
which he expresses elsewhere.80 Like Mernissi and reﬂecting Rahman’s focus on context as providing a ratio legis. political. which is an inversion of what the verse appears to say. there is a tension between this and his more relativist outlook implicit in his notion of ikhtilaf (difference of opinion amongst the authorities of religious law). and if the Prophet’s judgment had been against God’s will.”83 © 2009 Hartford Seminary.79 Al-Talbi’s methodology is connected with Mernissi’s. ‘But what exactly is ijtihad here? Does it have objective criteria and standards? . which was stability. this did not represent a departure from Muhammad ’s general ethical standard. While God wanted the best for the time. 71 . Nettler highlights al-Talbi’s projection onto the text: “The unstated assumption which plays a key role in the logic of Talbi’s method is that God wants only the ‘good’ and ‘progressive’ and continues. al-Talbi also relies on traditional sources uncritically: he takes the historical context for granted and does not subject it to scrutiny. Could ijtihad by its nature yield more than one valid conclusion?’ ”81 While al-Talbi claims that God did not intend the unrestrained beating of women. since God left the Prophet to treat women according to his personal preference before the verse was revealed. Unlike Mernissi. However. al-Talbi is conﬁdent that God’s intention was not to universally condone the beating of women. al-Talbi calls for a contextual reading with the aim of ascertaining the “intentions of the law-giver. . The problem is that it is equally possible that someone employing ijtihad could come to opposite conclusions. with the fact that al-Talbi is not self-conscious concerning the subjective nature of ascertaining these intentions. .”82 Thus. and anthropological “dimensions” are essential for understanding the verse. al-Talbi claims that there was no incompatibility between what God wished and what Muhammad wished. however. Indeed. Al-Talbi states that the will of God and the Prophet was uniﬁed. God’s intervention with 4:34 was to save a critical situation and not because he disagreed with Muhammad ’s approach.” and that ikhtilaf in terms of a “multitude of approaches to the Qur’an” is “natural and good. The conﬁdence with which he makes the claim that God wanted to forbid the beating of women jars with his other more tempered work. however. he would have intervened. al-Talbi uses his methodology to exact a principle that he believes is true and absolute. al-Talbi argues that the social. although he admits that the sources do not fully cover the background. Al-Talbi holds that ikhtilaf has been “part of Islam since its inception. The problem arises. In the case of 4:34.” This is something Mernissi is more reluctant to do. This enables al-Talbi to be explicit about expressing the notion of an orientation ﬁnder.A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n As if to pick up on one of the issues left open by Mernissi. he goes further and argues that “the historical methodology arrives at the outright prohibition of beating women. like Mernissi.
”86 Wadud’s holistic approach is three-fold. Wadud proposes a hermeneutics of “tawhid [unity] to emphasize how the unity of the Qur’an permeates all its parts. and indeed his marital affairs. Wadud’s reading of the Qur’an in her ground breaking work Qur”an and Woman that is “meaningful to women living in the modern era. In the manner of a rhetorical question. 1952) is an African-American Muslim and associate professor of Islamic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. if so. from the University of Michigan.85 Wadud calls for a Qur’anic hermeneutics that includes the experience of women. She argues that the Qur’an is ﬂexible enough to accommodate innumerable cultural situations. place and for all kinds of societies from the East to the West without exception and for all women whatever the stage of their intellectual.” has had a powerful scholarly and popular impact. Thus. Wadud’s approach is of a holistic nature. which she states is lacking in traditional and many contemporary methods of interpretation.The Muslim World • Volume 99 • January 2009 Al-Talbi therefore tries to exact absolute principles from contextual readings. and little effort has been “made to recognize themes and to discuss the relationship of the Qur’an to itself. it involves a consideration of how a particular verse relates to the whole of the text or the Weltanschauung of the Qur’an. whose leading of mixed-gender prayer at a New York mosque in 2005 aroused an angry response from many Muslims. is applying the concept of “feminism” to Muhammad anachronistic? The sources are clear that Muhammad’s society.” There are many indications that the Prophet was interested in improving the rights of women in Islam. First.D. it involves a linguistic and grammatical analysis of the terms used with each 72 © 2009 Hartford Seminary. However. Wadud is a contentious ﬁgure. This also raises important questions concerning the extent to which we are to see Muhammad contextually bound as an individual too and. Another problematic area of al-Talbi’s interpretation is the projection back of modern concepts onto a seventh century text. She gained her Ph. al-Talbi asks whether “allowing men to hit recalcitrant women is appropriate for every time. thematically. is the label of “feminist” an extrapolated interpretation of a kind of contextual reading of Muhammad himself? Amina Wadud-Muhsin Amina Wadud-Muhsin (b. conceptual and cultural maturity?”84 There is arguably some tension between this and the notion of an absolute prohibition against the beating of wives. These have focused on one verse at a time. were based on fundamentally patriarchal assumptions.”87 Second. And yet the foundation of al-Talbi’s analysis deﬁes the notion of absolute principles. since it implies ﬂexibility in the text and some kind of pragmatism on the part of God. Al-Talbi talks of Muhammad as a “feminist. .
slavery is implicitly condoned in the sense that it is presented as an existing practice and is not condemned. Wadud argues that. justice. and human dignity.92 Wadud argues that if this notion of a trajectory had been applied in the case of women.”95 Wadud’s notion of a trajectory builds on traditional or mainstream assumptions of incremental reform.”89 Therefore. .” this should not be seen as representing a normative standard. not many of His commandments would have been obeyed. By looking at the Qur’an in this way.”91 Wadud identiﬁes the question of slavery as an example. Wadud resorts to a common argument used to explain contradictions in the Qur’an by concluding that: “if all these customs had been entirely abolished by God. Using the ideas of Fazlur Rahman.” While in many cases the Qur’an does not deﬁnitively articulate this trajectory.”98 Wadud argues that “the Qur’an does not support a speciﬁc and stereotyped role for its characters. And yet there are frequent exhortations for Muslims to free their slaves and Muslims who do so will receive religious beneﬁt (2:177. Wadud turns to the question of women in the Qur’an. Wadud’s view of this Weltanschauung is that there is “no essential difference in the value attributed to women and men.”90 From a contextual reading one can identify what Wadud calls a “trajectory of social. political and moral responsibilities.”88 Third.”97 There are verses that refer to the spiritual equality of men and women. male or female. .” might lead to its abolition. who have “inherently equal value” and are “given the same or equal consideration and endowed with the same or equal potential.A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n word being “understood within its contextual constraints.94 In the Medinan period.” since at the moment of creation “no speciﬁc cultural functions or © 2009 Hartford Seminary. Wadud argues that one can identify an “ultimate intent” or hidden “spirit.”96 Having articulated her methodology.” and in light of “similar language and syntactical structures used elsewhere in the Qur’an. Wadud argues that there is a “textual precedent for this sense of momentum.”93 Although the speciﬁc regulations concerning women “provide clear indications” that “seventh-century Arabia was far from ideal. “Islam would have been a global motivating force for woman’s empowerment. 9:60. the broader context of the verse must also be considered. 73 .” but the Qur’anic “ethos of equity. . Wadud argues that following a literal interpretation of the Qur’an “would never have lead to [its] eradication. 90:11–13). several problems would have ensued . In the Qur’an. one must understand the Qur’an as a “text that responded to particular circumstances in Arabia at the time of the revelation. 4:92. “a reciprocal relationship must be made between particular historical or cultural practices during the time of the Qur’anic revelation as reﬂections of the underlying principles and the diverse reﬂections of those principles in other historical and cultural contexts. reforms were introduced for the beneﬁt of women: this implies a projection toward greater reform.
like most exegetes. “the nature of the ‘scourge’ cannot be such as to create conjugal violence or a struggle between the couple because that is ‘un-Islamic. However. and applies constraints on the actions of the husbands with regard to wives. . but to marital discord. she endeavors to lessen the severity of this by juxtaposing it with the Weltanschauung of the Qur’an and arguing that even if this ﬁnal stage is reached after other actions have been taken.99 However.103 She argues that “the Qur’an never orders a woman to obey her husband” and that it is never the case that obedience to husbands is required of “better women” (66:5). This choice of verb forms must be seen in light of the excessive violence women were exposed to in pre-Islamic Arabia. who. Wadud reluctantly acknowledges that the word does in fact refer to a man’s ability to hit his wife.”106 Thus Wadud identiﬁes this trajectory towards reform. including the wife.’ ”105 Wadud argues that the fact that the ﬁrst form of the verb daraba (to hit) as opposed to the second form of the verb darraba (to hit repeatedly or intensely) was chosen is deliberate. placing restrictions on others such as divorce and polygamy. Wadud argues that it does not refer to the obedience of a wife to her husband.”107 The emphasis of the verse is on the “male’s treatment of the female. Unlike Mernissi.The Muslim World • Volume 99 • January 2009 roles” were deﬁned. sees nushuz as referring to women’s rebellion against male authority. It means that “this verse should be taken as prohibiting unchecked violence against females. Thus.” Such a verse. is that these contextually speciﬁc functions have “been used to support the idea of the inherent superiority of men over women. deserves to be obeyed.” She argues that this is emphasized by the fact that husbands 74 © 2009 Hartford Seminary.”102 Wadud then applies this Weltanschauung to a contextual reading of 4:34. wives did obey their husbands.101 The mistake that has been made. it is clear there were functional distinctions in the context of seventh century Arabia which the Qur’an recognizes along with the fact that “members of each gender function in a manner which reﬂects the well deﬁned distinctions held by the culture to which those members belong. usually because they believed that a husband who materially maintains his family. and remaining “neutral” on others such as social and marital patriarchy. Linking back to the Qur’anic Weltanschauung. this is not permission.”104 Wadud links the contextualized reading and her notion of a forward trajectory with a linguistic analysis of the word daraba. she argues — rather ambiguously — was understood to refer to a woman’s need to be obedient towards her husband because “in marriages of subjugation. She argues that the Qur’anic text focuses “on the marital norm at the time of revelation.”100 It is for this reason that God took a pragmatic approach by prohibiting reprehensible practices such as infanticide. she argues that “such an interpretation has no universal potential and contradicts the essence of the Qur’an and the established practices of the Prophet. but a severe restriction of existing practices. Wadud claims.
Wadud argues that a trajectory toward reform can be ascertained from the very deliberate choice of the ﬁrst form over the second. as does Wadud in Qur”an and Woman. the weakness here lies in that it is unclear that there is sufﬁcient evidence to support the notion that the © 2009 Hartford Seminary. equal rights before the law and before God.”110 Asma Barlas assumes that God does not sanction Zulm (injustice) “if God never does Zulm to anyone. which applies to Mernissi’s and al-Talbi’s. Wadud offers a hermeneutics of tawhid (unity) in which the verses are seen in the light of her interpretation of the Qur’anic attitude towards women as a whole. Mernissi and al-Talbi reﬂect this assumption.”109 Certainly one should not privilege or assign any moral superiority to literal interpretations.”114 This growing tendency towards doubt is illustrated by the change in her treatment of 4:34.”111 However. Contextual reading forms one of three mutually reinforcing methodological cornerstones rendering it one of the most systematic of feminist readings of the Qur’an.108 Wadud’s methodology is more systematic and sophisticated than that of Mernissi or al-Talbi. tensions and challenges still remain. it is a mistake.”112 In her recent book Inside the Gender Jihad. as the feminist scholar Asma Barlas points out. to assume that the “Qur’an’s readings have been ﬁxed once and for all as immutably patriarchal. In her early work Qur”an and Woman. However. is the supposed “correctness” of the contextualized reading. It relates to the question of what makes this reading any more or less compelling than a de-contextualized or literal one. human dignity. although she also states that no “method of Qur’anic exegesis is fully objective. feminist readings are not necessarily any more subjective than traditional ones. 75 . Wadud’s reading of 4:34 is approached from the perspective of her own convictions about what the Qur’an’s worldview is. It is arguable that while there are no objective criteria for the employment of ijtihad. arguably a problem still lies in the claim that one is substituting one wrong reading for a correct one. Wadud is more cautious and acknowledges that her early work was constrained by her own idea of a perfect Islam. this being one “of justice towards humankind.”113 Wadud is aware of her own subjective relationship with the text arguing that “concepts of justice have always been relative to actual historical and cultural situations. One of these.A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n are commanded “not to seek a way against wives who are obedient” in the latter part of the same verse. One of the disadvantages of al-Talbi’s analysis is that it does not examine 4:34 in the light of other verses in the Qur’an. stating that “I inadvertently implied I actually had the power to express and possess the ‘true’ Islam. mutual responsibility and equitable relations between humans. Of course. then God’s Speech (the Qur’an) also cannot teach Zulm against anyone. where the challenge in applying the theory to this speciﬁc verse becomes clear. However.
even though I have tried through different methods for two decades. Wadud argues that it does not since while saying “no” to the text acknowledges that “we intervene with the text. Wadud argues that there are strong grounds for arguing for this contingency by. there remains the awkward issue that the verse still gives permission for a husband to beat his wife.”115 Wadud argues: There is no getting around this one [4:34]. In her latest book Inside the Gender Jihad. a refutation of the text. or a way of saying ‘no. it opens up a whole host of issues regarding what can and cannot be contextualized. Those engaged in a contextual interpretation take this notion of contingency — through the idea of a trajectory toward reform outside of the time frame of the Prophet’s life time — even further. the Prophet is an ideal example 76 © 2009 Hartford Seminary. political.120 The idea that the Qur’an responded to concerns on the ground is established in classical Islam.The Muslim World • Volume 99 • January 2009 choice of the ﬁrst form was deliberate. I simply do not and cannot condone permission for a man to ‘scourge’ or apply any kind of strike to a woman.” this intervention is not new. Such an argument would be stronger if the ﬁrst form was unusual. illustrated by the fact that the Qur’an refers to the sun as rising. post-text. most notably relating to the question of whether the Qur’an was created or uncreated. for example.’ ”119 One of the fundamental assumptions behind the contextualization methodology is that the text is contingent upon the social. In addition. does Wadud concede that there are limitations to the extent to which this method of contextualization as part of her three-cornered methodology can be applied? Does saying “no” to the text signify a radical departure from the struggle to make the text “work”? While one could argue that it does. but this is not the case.116 She expresses doubts about the strength of her previous claim concerning the claimed restriction when she argues that “perhaps” this verse was meant to counter “the practices of female abuse and violence towards women.”117 By saying “no” to the text. and economic context in which it was revealed. however much interpretation is enacted upon it” and that perhaps one should actually say ‘no’ to the text. For Muslims. establishing the linguistic discrepancies between Qur’anic language and scientiﬁc fact. However they do this without discussing the theological tension between the two notions. since “the collective community has always manipulated the text. it is perhaps in acknowledgement of this weakness — although she does not explicitly say so — that Wadud states that this verse marks the point at which she has “come to places where how the text says what it says is just plain inadequate or unacceptable. . In addition.”118 Wadud argues that “anything beyond literal Qur’an can be deemed supra-text.
Although the divine is not created. a mundane human being selected for the receipt of revelation. For many Muslims. 77 . have the language to express this transcendent simultaneity. onto or into the Prophet.A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n whose behavior is to be emulated.’ the combination of Allah’s transcendence as source of the message. However. . the only means for humans to receive a revelation in ‘clear Arabic’ was for the Qur’an to utilize the linguistic constraints of Arabic as it strove to express the full nature of the divine.121 Wadud recognizes the tension between the notion of transcendence and createdness: Thus.”124 However. it is so important because the infallibility of the text cannot be questioned. One of these is the point at which this kind © 2009 Hartford Seminary. is there a point at which Wadud could push this further? Referring to Rahman’s ideas. how does this key statement relate to the claim that the revelation came “through the mind of the Prophet” and “onto or into the Prophet”? The Contextual Approach: Methodological Issues What do these examples tell us about contextualization as a methodology for yielding a more liberal reading of the Qur’an? There is no doubt that contextual reading is an important tool in reconciling some of the more awkward verses from a feminist perspective and in breaking down their androcentric interpretations. and yet to what extent is he to be considered contingent? Wadud brieﬂy discusses the theological ramiﬁcations of the notion of contingency in a chapter of Inside the Gender Jihad. since we cannot know how it can actually be both at the same time. However. this methodology raises a number of issues which provide material for anti-feminist critiques.”123 However she does not explain what this really means and how this could be used to explain verses such as 4:34. We do not. . she states that the revelation came “through the mind of the Prophet. she states: . directs us to a necessary encounter with the createdness of revelation. we rely upon mundane or human language alone.122 Wadud therefore acknowledges that there are theological challenges involved in addressing the notion of contingency. This is illustrated in the same chapter when Wadud mentions that the Prophet never beat his wives and brings up the Hadith: “I wanted one thing and God wanted something else. The notion of contingency. We can only conclude that we do not and cannot know if the Qur’an was created or eternal with God. however. when we say that the Qur’an was revealed ‘through the mind of the Prophet. the linguistic means of divine disclosure.
as Saeed writes. in an ordinary sense. nevertheless this process occurs. One of the most important issues is the fact that many of those engaged in it have not sufﬁciently addressed the question of the psychological manner of revelation. but is Revealed Word insofar as its source lies beyond his reach. Rahman’s work “was not complete. If the entire process occurs in his mind.”125 There are two main areas that feminist scholars need to engage with in order to deepen and strengthen this methodology.”128 Rahman did not focus on this particular verse. the idea and the word are an organic entity and are born in the mind of the Prophet at once” although the origin of this feeling came from a source which was beyond the Prophet himself such that: Whereas the source and the origin of this creative process lies beyond the ordinary reach of the human agency. All three thinkers are in some way working within the train of thought that Fazlur Rahman established.126 Rahman argued that “the feeling. the psychological aspect of the revelation is a part of Rahman’s work that has been under-explored within modernist readings of the Qur’an. However. in some deﬁnite sense as an integral part of the agent’s mind. However. 78 © 2009 Hartford Seminary. insofar as the psychological process is concerned. Addressing the psychology of revelation relates to question of the relationship between pragmatism and ideals. How can a contextualized reading claim to come up with the ‘correct’ interpretation? To what extent does the notion of a trajectory toward reform come from within the text and to what extent is it imposed from outside in response to modern pressures? How can speciﬁc instructions be distinguished from universal values? Of course. some of these questions come from the questionable assumption that current literal readings are more objective and compelling. Barlas is correct in saying that the idea that the revelation came through the mind of the Prophet “has been radically underplayed by Islamic orthodoxy. it is his word. Mernissi and al-Talbi argue that God revealed 4:34 as a pragmatic way of reconciling differences in the community.127 This organic relationship between the source and the Prophet’s mind and the way in which it relates to the question of “God wanted one thing and I wanted another” needs to be addressed.” However. Wadud argues that God was trying to improve the treatment of women but in a way that did not pose too much of a threat to the status quo. for the principles he gave at times lacked speciﬁc examples of application. as Wadud accuses her critics of doing. . “they are inadequate. raising questions which are not based on the assumption of the moral superiority of current literal readings is not necessarily to say. that because women’s readings of the Qur’an are not perfect and comprehensive.The Muslim World • Volume 99 • January 2009 of interpretation leads to a state in which the openness of the text is limitless. then.
These thinkers do not address the issue of how we know what happened. Of course. but never delivers. Some Western methods of dating have focused more on stylistic criteria for categorizing Suras into Meccan and Medinan ones and yet there are numerous problems involved in doing so. not least the assumption that the Suras are composite. this is not necessarily the case. The interpreters examined here have not taken a systematic approach to Hadith analysis and have disregarded Hadith that expound a misogynistic view at the same time as relying on Hadith to gain the context from which they derive their interpretation. 79 .”130 Moosa argues that such an approach reinforces what he calls text-fundamentalism that emphasizes the need to ﬁnd the hidden meaning of the text. While it could be argued that this de-legitimizes the feminist reading. the notion that a text could yield a number of interpretations. It is arguable that what detracts from the contextualized methodology are the certainty claims that often accompany it. The other area that needs to be developed relates to the question of certainty. Indeed expressing such a doubt is the most effective way of countering anti-feminist critique precisely because it does not engage with it in terms of certainty. addressing the relationship between Muhammad and the revelation leads to another methodological problem. whose interpretation of the verse directly depends on a certain understanding of its occasions of revelation. It is in tune with the Qur’anic heritage of ikhtilaf.129 In particular.A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n Perhaps reconciling the tension between a deeply pragmatic God who adjusts to circumstances and the notion of universal. since there is a politics of interpretation to factor in as well. the historical validity of this literature is questioned. However. which is the issue of obtaining knowledge of what the context of the verses actually was. Ultimately. The Qur’an itself gives very few indications as to the precise dates of the Suras. who is a medieval historian. but that cannot be the end of the interpretive project. Ebrahim Moosa expresses concern with the position taken by many Muslim modernists that their deﬁnition of normativity is the ‘true’ one. This is a particular omission in the case of al-Talbi. there is no certainty about its correctness. absolute values is best addressed within this framework. while a contextualized reading might be valid. new norms. Moosa states. He states that such a claim is a “weighty judgment on history that carries with it the implication that generations of humanity were simply wrong in their understanding of Islam. whereas in fact the “text promises. this is the case with al-Talbi and Mernissi. a “new reading of a text may have persuasive value. Traditional Muslim methods of dating the Suras focus on the Hadith and the biography of the Prophet.”131 In fact.”132 © 2009 Hartford Seminary.
face a number of obstacles. in a postscript to the most recent edition of her work.”135 Ultimately. its greatest strength is that it can speak within mainstream Islam because it does not question the inerrancy of the text. whether a contextualized reading can be made to work — and how — will be an ongoing Islamic debate. Barlas. Ultimately.” She argues that the Qur’an anticipates such a possibility and “that the onus for reading the Qur’an correctly lies with the reader” and that one needs to develop a theory of textual responsibility. selective. she argues the struggle is to endeavor “to discover what God may have intended. It will be interesting to see whether 80 © 2009 Hartford Seminary.”136 Barlas suggests that Wadud’s reading of 4:34 as restricting existing practices may be correct but suggests another possibility. and piecemeal way” and “conﬁrms that some meanings.” she argues that “we should be willing to rethink our commitment to its centrality in our own understanding of the Qur’an’s teachings. thus some readings. However. which for Barlas “appears to be the best construction that one can put” upon this verse. Rather it places the emphasis upon the moral responsibility involved in the choice of interpretation. Hadia Mubarak offers alternative readings of the verse by using a variety of methods within the Islamic traditional itself. although it does touch on interesting issues concerning the nature of revelation.137 Since this verse has many different readings and is “the only teaching of the Qur’an that shows a measure of inequality. partly resolves these issues along with the question of whether the “Qur’an is responsible for its misreadings. . However. Arguably. The contextualized approach does.”138 There is however a tension between Barlas’ commitment to textual polysemy and her claim to discover what God may have intended.The Muslim World • Volume 99 • January 2009 The drive to reveal liberal norms as sanctioned by the shari“a has meant that such issues have been under-explored. are better than others. while admitting her own selectivity. however. for her. the problem of certainty claims is touched upon in the work of Hadia Mubarak and Asma Barlas. including that daraba refers to “holding in conﬁnement” when all women rebel against their role as childbearers. “reading into the Qur’an various forms of Zulm as deﬁned by its victims cannot be considered legitimate. she does not claim to have found a deﬁnitive reading. While alternative readings coincide with her convictions about the Qur’an’s egalitarian ideals. She avoids the potential for moral relativism by arguing that not all readings have equal value.139 The idea of textual responsibility is a powerful one since it shifts the debate away from the question of which reading is correct and from the problem of assuming direct insight into God’s intentions. She argues that the Qur’an itself warns against “reading it in a decontextualized.133 Barlas’ work discusses the issue of textual polysemy and argues that it is in itself a Qur’anic value.”134 Thus.
Mohamed Mahmoud. Mahmoud. “For Ourselves-Women Reading the Qur’an” (1990). trans. 65. 137. The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam. 2001).islamawareness. “To Beat or Not to Beat: On the Exegetical Dilemmas over Qur’an. An Arabic-English Lexicon. V. 16.. 1996). 9. Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged). 1982). 6. ed. Edward Lane. 4 (Beirut: Dar al-Shuruq. 12. 6 vols. 18. 277. in some respects. vol. 128–9. 17. Abu Al-‘Ala Maududi. Ummat Al-Wasat: Al-Islam Wa Tahaddiyat Al-Mu’asira.net/Wife/beating1. 446. 1989). 13. 94. Ismail Ibn Umar Ibn Kathir. 10. Fazlur Rahman.” Studies in Religion/ Sciences Religieuses 33/1 (2004).: Amana Corporation. vol. trans. M. 2.. “Breaking the Interpretive Monopoly: A Re-Examination of Verse 4:34”. 15. Trans by Laleh Bakhtiar. 4:34”. Greifenhagen. Hadia Mubarak. Fi Zilal Al-Qur’an (In the Shade of the Qur’an). 5.C. (Lahore (Pakistan): Islamic Publications. 200. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged). vol. 8 (Cairo: Dar al-Ma‘arif).. Ibn Kathir. Qur’an and Woman (New York. This is reﬂected in Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation. Sayyid Qutb. © 2009 Hartford Seminary. 11. problematic and is used for comparative purposes only. Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Charles Kurzman. Endnotes 1. June 25.” Hawwa 2/ 3 (2004).. 2004). F. http://www. al-Talbi. Shukri (Cairo: al-Falah. 7. 3. 261–2. 58. Shaykh Saﬁur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri. 2006). “Breaking the Interpretive Monopoly: A Re-Examination of Verse 4:34. 49. 8 vols. 1779. Tafsir Al-Tabari. 10 vols. al-Tabari.” (Chicago: Kazi Publications. 1874). 8. “North American Islamic Feminist Interpretation: The Case of Surah 4:34. 1989).A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n Wadud’s refutation of the “wife-beating” part of 4:34 and the shift to textual responsibility do in fact mean that feminist scholars will conclude that a contextualized approach can only go so far. 14. Muhammad al-Talbi.. 4:34. The term “literal” is. “To Beat or Not to Beat: On the Exegetical Dilemmas over Qur’an. 537.. 146. 14. 5 (Beirut: Librairie Du Liban.html. “The Sublime Qur’an. 12. The English words in parentheses have been added by Yusuf Ali. Modern Muslim Intellectuals and the Qur’an (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Amina Wadud. Mubarak.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 126/ 4 (2006). n. n. Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Suha Taji-Farouki. D. 4. 81 . 129. with a Comparison to Christian Feminist Interpretation. 1998). al-Hilbawi. 19. 71. “For Ourselves-Women Reading the Qur’an”. 545. 1999)..a. 442. and S. Purdah and the Status of Woman in Islam. 16th ed. 2007). 1998). 195. which is a considered ‘liberal’ one. (accessed. The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an (Washington. Ummat Al-Wasat: Al-Islam Wa Tahaddiyat Al-Mu’asira (Tunis: Ceres Editions. 48. vol. Siddiqi K. 2 (Riyadh: Darussalam. Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Inc.a. Major Themes of the Qur’an (Minneapolis: Bibliotheca Islamica. 313–16. 2000). Mubarak argues that this is a weak hadith.
29. viii. Mubarak. Ibid. 36. . Muslims believe that Muhammad received revelations from God via the Angel Gabriel over a period of about 22 years. Ibid. 20. Ibid. then on or what your right hands possess. and the last was the year of his death in about 632 C. 3. Ibid. Such (behavior) annoys the Prophet: he is ashamed to dismiss you. “O ye who believe! Enter not the Prophet’s houses. Thus it is more likely that ye will not do injustice” (4:3). — for a meal. Rahman. 49. Saeed. 50. Ibid. And when ye ask (his ladies) for anything ye want. 48. Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. 34. 120.E. 126. Rahman.. 282–5. 93.. her share is a half” (4:11). 44. 24. trans. enter. 46. 39. 26. Fazlur Rahman. 60. 48. 1982). 21. 33. 41. disperse.. 85–6.. Abdullah Saeed. if only one. 2. Major Themes of the Qur’an. 2006)... Ibid. 7. 2nd ed. Ibid. Mernissi.. 26. 37.. 32. Interpreting the Qur’an: Towards a Contemporary Approach (London and New York: Routledge. 236. Andrew Rippin. a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters. 73. 118. The ﬁrst was in roughly 610 C. and when ye have taken your meal. 8–9. but God is not ashamed (to tell you) the truth. 39. Major Themes of the Qur’an. Islam and Modernity (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. 35. 118. “Breaking the Interpretive Monopoly: A Re-Examination of Verse 4:34”. “And if you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphans. 40. (London: Routledge. 5. ask them from before a screen: that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs” (33:53). Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry. 23.. 129.. (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation: but when ye are invited. Mary Jo Lakeland (Oxford: Blackwell.. Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry. 45. 1995). 30. Ibid. “God (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male. two or three or four. 147. Mernissi. 49. 38. Ibid. Rahman.” But most of them understand not. 48. 129. 31. without seeking familiar talk. 119. Fatima Mernissi.E. 27.The Muslim World • Volume 99 • January 2009 20. marry of the women. 48. and if you fear that you will not deal justly. 47. Interpreting the Qur’an: Towards a Contemporary Approach. — until leave is given you. Ibid. 1.. “Thou art but a forger.. 82 © 2009 Hartford Seminary. Ibid. 42. Major Themes of the Qur’an. Rahman has provided the italics in this quotation. their share is two-thirds of the inheritance. 43... two or more. 34.” 28. 2001). 22. Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry. 39. who seem good to you. 39. Ibid. 25. “When We substitute one revelation for another — and God knows best what He reveals (in stages) — they say.
82. 73. 126. al-Talbi.. 128. Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry. Ibid. “Mohamed Talbi on Understanding the Qur’an. 2004). 76.. 84. 77. 59. 106. 81. 83 . © 2009 Hartford Seminary. Ibid.” In Muslem Jewish Encounters: Intellectual Traditions and Modern Politics edited by Suhn Taji-Farouki and Ronald Nettler. Mubarak. al-Talbi. 74. Ibid. 164. 114. 57. 150. Ronald Nettler. 133.. Ibid. 159–60. 118.. Ibid. Suha Taji Farouki (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 19.. Ibid. 29–9. Ibid. 154. 114. 34. 124–5. 66.” in Muslim-Jewish Encounters: Intellectual Traditions and Modern Politics ed. Nettler. edited by Suha Taji Farouki. 155. Ibid. 179–80. Ummat Al-Wasat: Al-Islam Wa Tahaddiyat Al-Mu’asira. 67.A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n 51. 78. 121.. 237. 145. Ronald and Suha Netter. 133. 171–99: Harwood.. Ibid. 60. 52.. 70. Ibid. 125. A’Historic Reading’ of a Verse concerning the dyscipeine of Women.” Encounters 1/ 1 (1995). 122–4. Ibid.” The Maghreb Review 24/1–2 (1999): 19–34. 138. 72. Mohamed Talbi. 142. Nettler. 225–39. 132. 80.” In Hodeen Musley. al-Talbi. Ronald.” in Modern Muslim Intellectuals and the Qur’an.. “Mohamed Talbi on Understand the Qur’an. 1998. 92. “Unavoidable Dialogue in a Pluralist World: A Personal Acccount. Ibid. 69. 53.. “Mohmed Talbis commentally on Qur’an IV. Ummat Al-Wasat: Al-Islam Wa Tahaddiyat Al-Mu’asira. Ibid. 83. Ibid.. Ibid. 62.. “Mohammed Talbi’s Commentary on Qur’an Iv:34: A ‘Historical Reading’ of a Verse Concerning the Disciplining of Women. Ibid. Ronald Nettler. Studies in Muslim-Jewish Relations (Harwood. Ronald Nettler. Mernissi. 155. 145. 129. 120. 79. Ibid. 68. Ibid. Oxford University Press. Intelleduals and the Qur’an. Ummat Al-Wasat: Al-Islam Wa Tahaddiyat Al-Mu’asira. 61. Ibid. 1998). 64. “Breaking the Interpretive Monopoly: A Re-Examination of Verse 4:34”. 124. 57. Ibid.. ed. Mubarak argues that this is not a valid Prophetic hadith. 125.. 118. Taji-Farouki.. 75. 63. “Mohamed Talbi: For Dialogue between All Religions. 71. Ibid. 65.. 58. “Mohammed Talbi’s Commentary on Qur’an IV:34: A ‘Historical Reading’ of a Verse Concerning the Disciplining of Women”. 54. “Mohamed Talbi: “For Dialogue between All Religions. 2004.” The Maghreb Review 24/ 1–2 (1999). Ronald Nettler has published a number of book chapters and articles on Talbi’s work. 119.. 280.... 120. Ummat Al-Wasat: Al-Islam Wa Tahaddiyat Al-Mu’asira.. al-Talbi. 56. Ummat Al-Wasat: Al-Islam Wa Tahaddiyat Al-Mu’asira. 55. 121–3. al-Talbi.
Wadud. Ibid. Ibid. Asma Barlas. Qur’an and Woman. and author of Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an. Ibid. Fazlur Rahman.. Ibid. 1. 25. 98. Qur’an and Woman. 114. 1998).. 105. 125. 203. Ibid.. “Qur’an and Woman. “Divine Revelation and the Prophet. Ibid. 2. 77. Ibid. 4:124. 111. Qur’an and Woman. Barlas. 212. 100.. Professor of Politics at Ithaca college. 63. Ibid. Ibid.. 2006). Saeed. Ibid.. 127–38 (131). 75. 88. 2006). 210.. Ibid. xiii. 11. 104. Ibid. Charles Kurzman (New York: Oxford University Press. Wadud. 101. Amina Wadud. 212.” Hamdard Islamicus 1/ 2 (1978). 116. 189. Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam (Oxford: Oneworld. 109. 76. Ibid. Mernissi. 13:11.. 4:1. 118.. 193.. xiii 93. Qur’an and Woman.. 95. 96. 113. 78. Ibid. 120. 202. Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry. Eg. 124. Ibid.The Muslim World • Volume 99 • January 2009 85. 204. Ibid. Ibid. 132. 99. Ibid. 200. 82.. 3–4. 84 © 2009 Hartford Seminary. Qur’an and Woman. Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an (Austin: University of Texas Press. 102. 90. Ibid. . 91. Wadud. 126.. 2. 155. 97. Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam.. 117.. 107. 15... 64. Ibid. 81. 29. xxi... 115. xiii. Wadud. 89. 6. 122. Wadud.. Wadud. Interpreting the Qur’an: Towards a Contemporary Approach. Ibid. xii.. 94. 5. Amina Wadud.. 112. 75. 78. 76–77. x. 36. 86. Ibid. ed.. Qur’an and Woman.. 119. 121. 79. 26. 106. 1.. 192. Barlas is a feminist scholar. Ibid... 110. Ibid. 14.. 87. Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an. Translated by Yusuf Ali as “disloyalty and ill-conduct”. 92.” in Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook. 103. Ibid.. Ibid. Ibid. 192. Wadud. Ibid. Ibid. 123.. 15. Ibid. 108.
Ibid. 137. it is from this literature that one derives the clearest prohibitions and denunciations against wife beating from the Prophet (pbuh) himself.” in Modern Muslim Intellectuals and the Qur’an.. E. 265. 138. November 2006)... Ebrahim Moosa. © 2009 Hartford Seminary..” who argues that “while feminist critics attempt to taint Hadith literature as misogynistic. Laury Silvers. Rahman.” Mahmoud. 198. “Fazlur Rahman: A Framework for Interpreting the Ethico-Legal Content of the Qur’an. 44. 43. ed. “Breaking the Interpretive Monopoly: A Re-Examination of Verse 4:34. 265 and which Mohamed Mahmoud calls “an extremely far-fetched proposition that cannot be justiﬁed on the grounds of the verses evidence or the historical context of the Muslim community.” in Feminism in World Religion. Suha Taji-Farouki (London: Oxford University Press. 135. For a much better treatment of the Hadith. 188–9. “Divine Revelation and the Prophet”. 133. Ibid. Abdullah Saeed.A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’1n 127. 128. 205–7. 189. 4:34. 268. and 5:44.” 276. Barlas. Ibid. “In the Book We Have Left Out Nothing (Q6:38). 21. 132. ed. “The Poetics and Politics of Law after Empire: Reading Women’s Rights in the Contestations of Law.” 547. “Breaking the Interpretive Monopoly: A Re-Examination of Verse 4:34”. 130. The Ethical problem of the Existence of Verse 4:34 in the Qur’an.. 68–70. “To Beat or Not to Beat: On the Exegetical Dilemmas over Qur’an. Mubarak.. 85 . It is an argument that Riffat Hassan has made Riffat Hassan. 131. 1999). 5:14. 129. 17. 134. 42. Laury Silvers has taken a similar approach to this very verse by using the ideas of Ibn al-‘Arabi. 59. Barlas. Ibid.” UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law 1/ 1 (2001–02). 16. 287. Arvind Sharma and Katherine Young (Albany: State University of New York Press.g. “Feminism in Islam. Mubarak. 139. Ibid. Ibid. see. 136. Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an. 2004).” (paper delivered at the American Academy of Religion Conference. Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an.
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