Women who come, or remain, in Islam are as diverse as one can imagine. Such a difference sometimes lead us to categorize ourselves between those who are right and will go to Jannah (heaven) and those who are wrong and will go to hell. Nevertheless, Qur’an is open enough to accommodate all those pious women and men, who regardless of their standpoint, believe in Allah and the revelation.
Unfortunately, many of us know Qur’an for what we have heard other people saying about it. We relate to Qur’an in the way our parents taught us to; or we like to follow sheikh such and such and imam such and such and relate our whole Qur’anic experience to the sayings of these people. While it is not wrong to know the culture, and the different opinions around Islam, we have forgotten about our own thoughts and opinions on different matters. A very clear example can be seen through the whole women’s rights issues. We rarely see women talking about women’s issues… instead we like to rely on what men have to say about us. I have always wondered how these men can come and tell me how should I feel about being a Muslim woman, when they are not women and their definition of ‘Muslim’ probably excludes me. Even though Prophet Muhammad was a man and he dealt with women’s issues, he was a very specific figure, he dealt with things completely out of his realm because he had receive revelation and needed to teach the community a new way of life. Nonetheless, as far as I am concerned, nowadays we all read the same Qur’an and rely on similar sources; therefore, women have complete capability to interpret the texts, engage with Qur’an and make decisions in matters that interest them.
Yes, sometimes it is easier to go and follow whatever the sheikh or the imam says, even when it comes to how we should experience pregnancy, emotions, abuse, menstruation, etc. However, Qur’an was not meant to be known through secondary sources. The big emphasis that Muslims pay on children learning and reciting Qur’an should serve the purpose of analyzing the text and understanding it; however, it seems to be easier and more convenient to teach children to recite and go home. Analysis of the text allows us to feel closer to the revelation, and although difference of opinions will arise, it should not be perceived as a threat. No opinion makes us more Muslims than the others, as long as we have an informed, respectful and tolerant view.
In terms of women, I have been wondering, what makes a man a legitimate women’s experience teller? Of course sheikhs have extensive training, but the major Islamic universities also train women who have the same Islamic knowledge plus the experience; thus, why do we keep referring only to men? In addition, these same women who have been trained in Islamic studies have complete ability to intercede in community-related issues. However, they are constantly shut down through one of the following excuses:
a) It is not proper for women to deal with non-women related issues (but for a man it is ok to deal with anything).
b) Women are half a witness (and half of everything, even in terms of blood-money).
c) Women cannot lead prayers (it is a bad influence for our daughters to see such a thing!).
d) Men have more authority than women because they have gender-related privileges (they pay for housing and food, they have the right to do whatever they want with their God-given authority).
e) Men are the head of the house and therefore head of society (as if all of them were good, heads of the house).
f) Shaytan is always around women and they represent men’s downfall (of course, an adoption from Christianity. When it comes to the Original Sin, conservative Muslim scholars agree with Saint Paul and Saint Augustine).
Well, while some women agree, others completely disagree. These arguments have usually a deeper impact in our communities. It is through these statements that we are segregated from the community and we are not allowed to engage in anything except “women’s issues.” As half of the population of the world, we are secluded and excluded from Islamic practices. Thus, Islamic schools have few female professors, and no female presidents; women can rarely be seen in Islamic organizations having a different position than secretary, treasurer or sisters’ chair; and women can be denied access to the public sphere in many ways. It is through this that it is very hard for women to access the rights that Qur’an granted them more than a thousand years ago. Nowadays, in the so-called Islamic countries and in many Islamic communities in the West, women should be accompanied by a male relatives at all times, they cannot work in many public-sector positions, cannot drive, cannot vote, cannot divorce, cannot keep custody of children, cannot claim abuse, cannot claim rape, cannot say no to arrange marriages, cannot reject child-marriage, are prevented from working, are subjected to honor-killings, are forced into polygamous marriages, etc.
Is this what Qur’an gave us? Many people would say No! But for one reason or another, these things continue to happen. Part of it is that male scholars find a way to justify all these things through Hadith, Sunnah and Shariah, without remembering that these sources are Qur’an based, but human made and bonded to their specific time and context. In addition, many of them think that the true Islam is in a single interpretation of the texts and in an interpretation that aims to ‘copy’ the times of the prophet… although quite unsuccessfully.
Qur’an was not meant to be the text that would hold Islamic societies back. The proof is that during the first centuries of Islam, when Qur’an was interpreted in more progressive ways, Muslims had arguably a better spiritual and community life. Nonetheless, the current conservative interpretations had leaded us to believe that Qur’an is static and non-accommodating.
What is the solution for such a huge problem? First of all, we should engage with Qur’an. This means recognizing the cultural elements that surround modern Qur’anic interpretations and extracting them. In addition, getting to know the Qur’an is synonym of getting to know real Islam. Islam is diverse, accommodating and it adapts to universal contexts. Then, questioning and analyzing is basic. While many scholars say that we shouldn’t ask why, being able to ask, understand and convince ourselves will only enhance our faith. Following interpretations blindly not only alienate us from the ideals of Islam, but it also makes our faith weaker, which leads to intolerance and oppression.
Knowing where your standpoint is, whether you are progressive, conservative, liberal, or whatever, is a step further in the path to the ideals of Islam. Understanding different points of view and accepting them as part of the richness of the religion is like walking a thousand kilometers more.