By Roy Oksnevad
In light of the influence of the conservative Islamist trend in Islam, what will the reaction be? A while ago Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo of Barnabas Fund wrote an article titled “Islam: At War Within Itself.” He states: “Respected, mainstream Muslim leaders in a variety of countries have voiced opinions which are at odds with traditional, conservative Islam. They have challenged aspects of shari‘a and are calling for a liberal, modernist, enlightened Islam compatible with Western norms” (http://barnabasfund.org/Islam-at-war-within-itself.html?p=all). Egyptian human-rights advocates requested banning aggressive religious clerics from broadcasting. The report states: “Egyptian human rights activists submitted a report to the Egyptian government this week demanding it ban aggressive religious Islamic channels from broadcasting. The activists, who include lawyer and human-rights activist Nagib Gabriel, described these channels as extremist and said they were disseminating “subversive ideas that call for discrimination against women and Copts and lean towards radical behavior that is far from the spirit of Islam” (http://www.themedialine.org/news/print_news_detail.asp?NewsID=27282).
There is a growing sense that Islam is out of pace with the rest of the world. Some view this as proof of Islam’s superiority and divine orientation. A growing number realize that this backward-looking perspective is only harming Islam’s viability in the world. Gender is one of the divisive issues. I have included verses complied in Clinton Bennett’s book, Muslims and Modernity, to help us better understand the debate. For Mawdudi and conservative Islam, the pragmatic verses take priority. For progressives, the ethical verses are eternal principles and the pragmatic verses have time-limited applications.
The Ethical vs. the Pragmatic Voice of the Qur’an on Gender Equality
Ethical – The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil, they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise (Q 9:71).
Pragmatic – As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, (1) Admonish them, (2) refuse to share their beds, (3) beat them; but if they return to obedience seek not against them means of annoyance: For Allah is Most High, Great. (4) If you fear a break between them, appoint two arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers; If they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation (Q 4:34-5).
Ethical – And their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you a male or female, you are members one of another (Q 3:195).
Pragmatic – O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their bodies (when abroad) so that they should be known and not molested (Q 33:59).
Ethical – Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him/her we will give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions (Q 16:97).
Pragmatic – O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time…and get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her (Q 2:283).
Ethical – To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills (Q 42:49).
Pragmatic – And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over the, and men are a degree above them (Q 2:228).
Ethical – And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them and He has put love and mercy between your hearts: verily in that are signs for those who reflect (Q 30:21).
Pragmatic – Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend of their wealth (anfaqu min amwalihim) [for the support of women] (Q 4:34).
Pragmatic – Your wives are a tilth [or tillage] for you, so approach your tilth when and how you will (Q 2:223)
Ethical – O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, Who created you from a single person, and created of like nature his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seed) countless men and women (Q 4:1).
Pragmatic – God (thus) direct you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females. If only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance. If only one, her share is a half for parents, a sixth share of the inheritance to each, if the deceased left children. If no children, and the parents are the (only) heirs, the mother has a third. If the deceased has brothers (or sisters) the other has a sixth (Q 4:11).
Ethical – To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn (Q 4:32).
Ethical and Pragmatic – If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one (Q 4:3).
This verse can be interpreted as ethical and pragmatic. While it permits polygamy, which is pragmatic, it also places ethical constraints on this male privilege (Bennett 2005: 145-6).
In most mosques and among conservative Muslims separation between the genders is strictly obeyed. Muslim-majority countries are a mixed bag. One South Asian mosque in Chicago is so conservative that they even forbid women to attend. When visiting a Muslim family a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I shook the hands of everyone in the house except the female representative from the mosque (an American convert) who kept her hands closely folded to her body. She also was the only female who wore the hijab (head scarf) tightly tucked around her face. What will happen to purdah (gender separation laws) and hudud (prescribed punishment for violations) laws as they are applied to a growing global village? Will the role of women be changed regarding inheritance, value of witness in court, teen child brides, separation of gender in public, education, equality, women in paradise or hell, etc.? In the age of the internet, are dating services such as ISNA Matrimonial On-line the new place for public gender interaction?
Resa Afshari (2003) doubts that such terms as gender equality, egalitarianism or freedom of the individual, which she says are all derived from modern secular ideology, can be discovered in Islam’s founding discourses. For her and others, Islamic feminism is an oxymoron. (Bennett 2005:149) Yet others, who see traditional Islam treating women unfairly in their rights of divorce, legal testimony, political participation, and access to employment do not see Islam as misogynist (women haters).
The area of gender is full of variant voices in the Muslim community. For some, the way Islam handles gender is an area of embarrassment, needing to be wrestled from the male-dominated control and interpretation. Islam in the West is being shaped by the right side of the chart. Some converts to Islam need to seriously wrestle with Islam’s history and teaching on gender. In contrast, Christian women can pray no matter their physical condition (menstrual or changing diapers). In Christ there is neither male nor female. We are one in Christ. Let us take the liberating message of Christ to our Muslim friends and neighbors.
Internet resources on women:
- http://en.islamtoday.net/taxonomy/term/178 (Women in Islam)
- http://ias.org/swo/ (this is a Sufi Women’s Organization’s page)
- www.wluml.org (the Women Living Under Muslim Law Network’s homepage)
- www.mwlusa.org/ (The Muslim Women’s League, USA, works to implement the values of Islam thereby reclaiming the status of women as free and vital contributors to society)
- http://www.islam21c.com/category/islamic-thought/propagation/women/ (The Women Issues section of the International Forum for Islamic Dialogue)
- http://muslimgirl.net/ (Provides a forum for modern Muslim women to dialogue about Islam in today’s society)