What the Koran does not command!

The last writing I am going to post on the issue of Islam and women is a message that I wrote a few weeks ago in a heated discussion that occurred within a group called GoddessChristians. The analysis that I used is a basically based on what I have learned from writers Amina Wadud, Fatima Mernissi, and others.
Ok , Theo perhaps I over responded to your comments. When I  responded to you I was particularly unhappy because while two of my own posts had been disapproved because they were “off subject,”  posts severely negative on Islam yours being one of them had continued. To be honest I also had the image of you in mind as being some young male zealous to show how enlightened he was by asking rhetorical questions which in fact were designed to show further disrespect for Islam. You evidently are not the person that I had in my head.
As far as this issue of Islamic repression of women goes, I do not deny the fact that in almost all Moslem society women face either greater or lessor degrees of discrimination and inequality. Some of the worse oppressions are female genital mutilation practiced mainly in African countries, honor killings of young unmarried women by family members for supposed sexual misconduct, about two of these in occur  in Pakistan daily, and in general laws that treat women as second class citizens.
However what I have objected to is the idea  that all Moslem women are slaves, beaten by  husbands, victims of pedophilia or uneducated. I also object to the idea that the Koran was developed as a text to oppress women. One of the articles which I wished to post was an article by one of the founders of the current Islamic feminist movement who believes that the Koran is a liberatory document for women. The post was not allowed.
So you may ask some good questions such as how can the Koran be liberating when it gives women lesser inheritance rights than men and commands men to beat women?  I will deal with these in order. The fact of the matter is that prior to the advent of Islam  in general though out the Arabian peninsula women had no inheritance rights at all. Of course a few did but it was not common. The Koran in contrast while it did not overthrow the full system legislated that on the death of parents that  daughters were to receive an inheritance of at least a half of what sons received. This inheritance was for the woman to use alone. It was to be controlled by her alone. In contrast it was expected that men would use their own inheritance to support both themselves, wives, and families. When this is seen the inequality of treatment can be seen as being some what less than it appears on the surface.
Another aspect of the inheritance issue was the issue of bride prices. Traditionally in Arabia the man paid an agreed upon amount of money to the father of the bride to marry her. The Koran instead states that the bride price is to go not to the father but to the bride herself. It becomes part of her own wealth in addition to her inheritance at the death of her parents. This “dowry” as it is sometimes called is not to be under the control of her husband. Further more it must be understood in looking at all of this that in general there was little real work for women outside of the home in pre industrial Arabia. It was normally expected that men would support women out of their own wealth and substance. Thus what the women owned directly themselves was for their own use only. The historical reality is that in general the Koranic defined property rights of Islamic women was greater that those of women in Western societies until as late as the 20th century.
However while Koranic legislation definitely raised the economic status of women a substantial degree \of inequality still existed. Why? The reason was that Mohammed himself was not all powerful within the Islamic community, and even he himself may have had some biases. When the Koranic rule came down that women were to receive inheritance along with the sons most Moslem men were enraged. They felt that since they supported their wives and women did not work ( obviously they did in the home)  that women should in fact receive no inheritances at all. Mohammed was the religious political leader of over 10,000 people. If he had attempted to go further than he did, if he had been more  equalitarian, more  forceful in favor of women than he already was he may have had a major male revolt on his hands that may have endangered  the future of Islam altogether. He did what he could realistically do. One might find a parallel in American politics in which Presidents get elected with certain goals and find that the power structures are such that only limited amounts of change is possible.
Ok well what about the issue of wife beating? To deal with this issue again an understanding of the situation of Arabian society prior to Islam is necessary. One must also understand both the example of Mohammed’s own life and the Arabic language.  In Arabian society no laws existed against spousal abuse at all. The family structure was patriarchal and it was very common for men to beat their wives. The second thing that one must understand is that no stories exist that suggest that Mohammed ever beat his own wives. He in fact was regarded by many Moslem men as what is derogatorily termed as “hen pecked.”  On one occasion Mohammed even left home as a result of a fight with his wives and went to live with Abu Bakr his best friend for a while.  One must also listen to what Mohammed said. He said “You should not beat the women servants of God.” He said “Do you beat your wife  like you do a camel, for you will be beating her early in the day and taking her to bed at night.” He said “the best of you are those who are best to your family.” All of these recognized hadiths would seem to suggest that Mohammed did not believe in wife beating.
Another issue is the issue of language. The word for “beat” that is used in the famous 4.34 of the Koran is “daraba” which certainly can interpreted as “to beat or strike.”  It can also have a multitude of other meaning one of them being “to leave” or “to separate from.”  Apparently it can also be used metaphorically “as to go to bed with” in the sexual sense. Here is one of the translations of the famous Koran 4.34, Yusuf Ali’s translation is: 
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah 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 Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye 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 Allah is Most High, great (above you all).”
It believed by some modern interpreters of the Koran that the  interpretation of the Arabic word “daraba” instead of  being “to beat” more properly should be translated as “to leave or separate. This of course gives a completely non violent meaning to the verse.  However lets assume that the proper meaning of this word daraba is to beat or strike. Still the intention of this verse when looked at in the context of the whole is not oppress women but on the contrary to further positive marital relations. What the verse does is to suggest a cooling off period in which discussion and sexual distance are to be used in dealing with a problem and only if they fail can a woman be hit. Yes there are of course problems with this and also with other aspects of the verse from a modern feminist egalitarian perspective. However in the context of 7th century Arabia the verse would have had the effect of moderating male violence toward women not the reverse. A few notes. Theo, most of the translators I have read believe that the “disloyalty and ill conduct” that is feared is in fact marital infidelity and not ordinary disagreements of marriage. The phase that women are “devoutly obedient”  means that they should be devoutly obedient to God not to husbands. In fact the Koran say little which can be interpreted that women must be obedient to husbands. 
Theo these are just two examples from the Koran which are repeatedly utilitized in the West to show that Islam is anti woman by its  nature. I think that  when analyzed in context of history and culture that these types of verses in general show something completely different. Many other verses  can be shown for example to demonstrate that both the honor killings of young pre married women  and  female genital mutilation are simply un-islamic. They are practices that to the shame of Islam have been permitted in some countries which pride themselves on their commitment to Islam. Some within these nations may even think that they are Islamic just like some Southerners prior to the civil rights movement thought that marriage between black and whites was in opposition to God. However they were wrong and those who practice the abominations of honor killings and female genital mutilations are wrong.
I will end this with your question about why we are even talking about Islam in a goddess group. Well in general this group never talks about Islam. However the issue was brought up by another and I feel very strongly that some of us must present the alternative side to the issue.

A’isha’s Legacy

Amina WadudThe second article I want to post is an article “A’isha’s Legacy” by Amina Wadud who is one of the founders of the modern Islamic feminist movement. By way of introduction to the article I want to cite the last part of the Wikipedia article about her.
Friday prayerWadud was the subject of much debate and Muslim juristic discourse after leading a Friday prayer (salat) of over 100 male and female Muslims in the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York on March 18, 2005, breaking with the tradition of having only male imams (prayer leaders). Three mosques had refused to host the service and the museum that had agreed to host it pulled out after a bomb threat. (The event was not the first time in the history of Islam that a woman had led the Friday prayer. See Women as imams for a discussion of the issue.)

In August 1994, Wadud delivered a Friday khutbah(sermon) on “Islam as Engaged Surrender” at the Claremont Main Road Mosque in Cape Town, South Africa. At the time, this was largely unheard of in the Muslim world. As a result, there were attempts in Virginia by some Muslims to have her removed from her position at Virginia Commonwealth University.

There has been objection and some support from Muslims around the world to Wadud’s imamate. In spite of the criticism, Wadud has continued her speaking engagements, and has continued to lead mixed-gender Friday prayer services. On October 28, 2005, following her talk at the International Congress on Islamic Feminism in Barcelona, Spain, she was invited to lead a congregation of about thirty people.

The majority of the Islamic community, whether laymen or Islamic scholars, are opposed to the idea of women leading mixed-gender congregations, but allow women to lead women only.[1]However, some jurists, such as the Iranian Shi’i jurist Mohsen Kadivarhave espoused her view on the permissibility of female imams. It must be clarified, however, that most Shi’is do not agree with Kadivar’s views.[citation needed]

[edit] Media appearance

She was interviewed on WNYC radio on July 14, 2006, to discuss her book Inside the Gender Jihad. She responded to questions and comments about other activities including women in gender-mixed Friday prayer service.

[edit] Controversy

Wadud’s stance on issues such as women’s rights have generated outrage among Muslims such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has issued a fatwa, published in the Qatar press, in which he called upon Wadud’s death. Wadud, a leader of the progressive organization Muslim WakeUp!, has defied the fatwa on many occasions, such as holding a mixed-gender prayer in a conference hall at the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Divine following a bomb threat. Three mosques and an art gallery had previously refused to hold the prayer because of the perceived danger.

Wadud published a book in 1999, Qur’an and Woman, which has caused controversy among Muslims due her extrapolation of women’s rights from the Qur’an, such as an example that the prophet Mohammad allowed a woman to lead prayer.

Enclosed is the beginning of the article A’isha’s Legacy.

A’ishah’s legacy

Amina Wadud looks at the struggle for women’s rights within Islam.

“I converted to Islam during the second wave feminist movement in the 1970s. I saw everything through a prism of religious euphoria and idealism. Within the Islamic system of thought I have struggled to transform idealism into pragmatic reforms as a scholar and activist. And my main source of inspiration has been Islam’s own primary source — the Qur’an. It is clear to me that the Qur’an aimed to erase all notions of women as subhuman…………”

On An Islamic Feminism

I am posting here a few of the web sites of Moslem women authors who are challenging the patriarchal control of Islam. I also want to post three recent articles regarding the current movement of Moslem feminism. The two web sites are those of Irshad Manji who is the author of a very controversial book The Trouble with Islam Today for which  she has received much criticism within the Islamic world. The link to her site is  http://www.irshadmanji.com/
While Miss Manji is perceived because of  her book and writings by many Moslems as being hostile to Islam what can be seen in her site is that in spite of her criticisms she is still very much a believer in Islam. The other site is that of the author Sumbul Ali- Karamali and of her recently published book called “The Muslim Next Door.” The link to her site is http://www.muslimnextdoor.com/
I own a copy of her excellent book which I believe is one of the best analysis of  Islam in its entirety, One of the best chapters in the book is the one that deals with the issue of Islam and women rights. In this book I think that she takes on quite effectively some of the issues that have been raised in discussions here such as the issue of the supposed command that men hit their wives and the issue of inheritance.
 I will include a link to the New York Times article “Women Use Koran to Demand  Equal Rights”

which a represent some of the world Islamic feminist response to a ruling in February 2009 by the government of Malaysia to ban the practice of yoga as unIslamic. Enclosed are a few highlights of the article.

“The religious order banning women from dressing like tomboys was bad enough. But the fatwa by this country’s leading clerics against yoga was the last straw.

“They have never even done yoga,” said Zainah Anwar, a founder of a Malaysian women’s rights group called Sisters in Islam.

Anwar argues that the edict, issued late last year by the National Fatwa Council of Malaysia, is pure patriarchy. Islam, she says, is only a cover.

It was frustrations like those that drew several hundred Muslim women to a conference in this Muslim-majority country over the weekend. Their mission was to come up with ways to demand equal rights for women. And their tools, however unlikely, were the tenets of Islam itself.

“Secular feminism has fulfilled its historical role, but it has nothing more to give us,” said Ziba Mir-Hosseini, an Iranian anthropologist who has been helping to formulate some of the arguments. “The challenge we face now is theological.”………….



On Islam and Women

Over the past month I have been participating in a group in which the issue of the nature of Islam particularly in regard to its relationship to women has come up. Many members of this Christo-Pagan group believe as do many  other people within the United States that Islam within its inter core is a violent and misogynist faith. For example many members believe that Islam commands husbands  to beat their wives and that the general effect of Islam even at its origins has been to support the domination of men over women. Even though these persons dislike Christian fundamentalism intensely they will often cite the writings  of Christian fundamentalists who supposedly have some expertize on Islam in support of their ideas. This attitude of negativism toward Islam is in marked contrast to the attitude of many Christo-Pagans regarding Christian origins.  Christo-Pagans often believe that the “real teachings” of Jesus was a message of love and that Jesus was a radical supporter of the rights of women. Only latter was this message corrupted by the forces of patriarchy. In contrast many Christo-Pagans believe that the Koran and Mohammed himself had misogynist views toward women from the beginning. Thus in contrast to Christianity, Islam has no redeeming positive core. That I believe is a profound error.
While my own theological beliefs are incompatible in many ways with those of Islam, I tend to want to argue in favor of  those  religions which I believe are being defamed. In past discussions on the internet I have argued against Christian fundamentalists in favor of Islam. I have also argued in defence of Christianity against  bigoted members of the Islamic community  who have argued for example that  St. Paul was a gay  pediphile or that Christianity has been guilty of hundreds of millions of deaths through out its history. All demonization of  the religions of others should be opposed. In the case of Islam which polls  http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2006/03/american-attitudes-toward-islam-and-muslims
show  is very unpopular in American society, I think that it is particularly important to point out the myths  that are often spread. In the next few posts I want to point out first that a world wide Islamic feminist movement exists which interprets the Koran and the life of Mohammed as in fact helping to liberate women from traditional male patriarchal structures. I also want to post some articles by one of the founders of the modern Islamic feminist movement Amina Wadud in which she shares her own thoughts and attitudes regarding the Koran and life of the Mohammed. Finally I want share a writing regarding the issue of whether the Koran encourages the beating of wives by husbands.

A Forgotten Genocide

My last post at here was in regard to the forgotten genocide in Darfur. Just how forgotten is it? While two Sundays ago David Gregory interviewed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Meet the Press. The interview lasted for one hour  and most of it was obviously centered on issues of United States foreign policy. Not one question regarding Darfur was asked by Mr. Gregory during that interview. Mrs. Clinton did not bring the issue of Darfur In a Darfur refugee campup either. Thus we have traveled a long way on Darfur. About three years ago Darfur was still on the political map if just barely. Periodically the news media did pick it up. Now the silence is almost universal. I guess that this is just a symptom of our times.