Women in Islam
Women in Islam are strictly treated under the framework of the Islamic society. Islam as a religion looks at the Quran, the Hadith and the Sharia for creating a framework under which the Islamic society and community must operate. Quran is the holy text of Islam, Hadith is the sayings of Muhammad and Sharia is the law. One of the most oft-quoted Hadith says that “all people are equal, as equal as the tooth of a comb. There is no claim of merit of an Arab over a non-Arab, or a white or a black person, or a male over a female. Only God-fearing people merit a preference with God”. The above mentioned Hadith is considered as one of the most definitive statement of the ideology of equality espoused in the Quran and thus Islam. It is an important instruction to humankind to treat fellow human beings with dignity and respect, without discrimination or prejudice based on any ground. The only distinction that can be made between human beings is a distinction based on their fear of God, and only God can discriminate. This hadith is one starting point for the consideration of women’s equality of rights in Islam. But in actuality things are different. It is significant to note that in the discussion of women’s equality of rights in Islam, this hadith is rarely referred to or relied upon in the interpretation of and formulation of laws that affect women’s free activity as compared to men’s free activity.
As seen in other major religions even Islam is today controlled by a patriarchal society dominated by Men. The patriarchal interpretations of the Islamic teaching through the Quran, Hadith and Sharia distinguish Men and Women separately. Further the biased interpretation and selective acknowledgment of textual sources from which the “rights” have been derived has led to gender based bias and discrimination against women in Islam. The traditional Islamic jurists have interpreted and formulated “rights” based on cultural definitions of "man" and "woman" and "male" and "female."
Women in Islam: Challenging the patriarchal interpretations
Many Women and Women organizations from the Islamic world are now challenging the patriarchal interpretations of "rights" and "Islamic teachings" by raising them well within the Islamic framework. Women in Islam aim for the full equality of all Muslims, regardless of gender, in public and private life. Islamic feminists advocate women's rights, gender equality, and social justice grounded in an Islamic framework. Although rooted in Islam, the movement's pioneers have also utilized secular and Western feminist discourses and recognized the role of Islamic feminism as part of an integrated global feminist movement. Advocates of the movement seek to highlight the deeply rooted teachings of equality in the Quran and encourage a questioning of the patriarchal interpretation of Islamic teaching through the Quran, Hadith, and Sharia towards the creation of a more equal and just society.
Islamic Women and Women organizations want to highlight the influence of sex stereotyping in Islamic jurisprudence, and thereby provide an alternative interpretation of women’s rights in Islam, proceeding from an assumption of equality as opposed to an assumption of inequality.
In terms of equality of rights for women, they are primarily concerned with the concept of self-determination, the right of women to exercise their free will, to make their own choices, unfettered by any notion of women’s inequality or incapacity. In this regard they are questioning and reinterpreting the laws governing the exercise of free will in Islam. One of the examples is the Verse 4:34 of the Quran which is traditionally understood as denying women's self-determination and which has been relied upon to support the subjugation and abuse of women all over the world.
Women in Islam: Progressive women groups
What the progressive women groups in Islam are trying to do is to put forward a view that the Quran and reliable hadith is actually a guide from which the best understanding of God’s intention is put forwarded. The laws and moral concepts are derived from this best understanding of God's intention. They further contend that if the Muslim polity determines for itself that it desires the enactment of Islamic law, the distinction between the “truth” and “the best understanding of it” must be clear. More importantly “the best understanding” must be framed in terms of the will of the people, and not Divine Law. Thus, if there is uncertainty in what is traditionally understood as an Islamic law and that Islamic law discriminates against women, then reform within Islamic jurisprudence must take place in order to derive more accurate rules from the texts. The absence of certainty mandates inquiry into other interpretations in order to reach an understanding or understandings that are the best and most acceptable. In simple words what it means is that Islamic laws and moral concepts are actually interpretations of the Quran and Hadith and they can be formulated or reformulated from time to time based on the sensitivities of the people concerned. In the current context it means that the laws and moral concepts should be open to questioning and reinterpretation based on the sensitivities of Muslim women.
Progressive women organizations in Islam believe that equality of rights for women is not only possible within an Islamic legal framework, but is mandated by the letter and spirit of the Quran. Further they say that there is no need for overt “secularization of the western type" for achieving equality of rights for women in Islam because to deny equality of rights for women is Un-Islamic in the first place.
To understand the role and status of women in Islam we need to also study the following topics in detail
1. Islam, women, and equality
We need to understand the fact that any progressive and lasting change that has to happen in a religion should come from within. This is true for Islam also. Any overt attempt at "secularization or liberalization" sponsored from outside will be met with accusations of Westernization, or even apostasy by the religious conservatives, and will not achieve the objective of revision in Islamic jurisprudence to address the concerns of women. Forced secularization from outside will simply avoid having to solve the problem, while assuming that the problem is inherent and unsolvable. This will be catastrophic for the progressive women's movement within Islam which wants to work for change in the Islamic laws and moral concepts based on the fact that Islam is a religion which strongly supports gender based equality.
Therefore any long lasting solution for gender based equality should come within Islam. The awakening should come within Islam regarding the fact that uncertainty limits human ability to conclusively define laws as Islamic and revision in Islamic jurisprudence should be considered necessary to accommodate the will and the rights of the people especially the marginalized and discriminated sections like women.
Article by Sanjay Nair
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