'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Javed Anand: Islam’s reform: Can passages of the Quran be cherry-picked - to embrace what is appealing and to skirt around what is not?
In his article on how
religions evolve, Ramesh Venkataraman
makes the interesting proposition that the ongoing debate on triple talaq in
the country signals the welcome stirring of the reform process in Indian Islam.
In parting, he should perhaps have urged Indian Muslims to speed up a bit. For
in their slow march forward Indian Muslims are way behind their co-religionists
elsewhere who have been asking tough questions of their Book, making bold
demands of their faith and its followers. Not surprisingly, Muslims committed
to universal human rights, gender justice, non-discrimination between citizens
on grounds of religion etc face difficulties with many a Quranic verse.
On gender justice, a
good example is the oft-quoted verse 4:34 (Venkataraman quotes it partially):
“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).”
the philosopher Anthony Appiah as saying that the reform of Christianity 500
years ago was greatly facilitated by the fact that on encountering morally
ambiguous, contradictory or problematic passages, ordinary Christians who
started reading the Bible for themselves decided on “which passages to read
into and which to read past.” Simply stated, the reformists chose to
“cherry-pick” from among the passages of the Bible, embracing what was
appealing, skirting around what seemed appalling. But how do you “read
past” any verse of the Quran if as a believing Muslim for you it is an absolute
article of faith that the Quran is the Word of Allah revealed to Prophet
Mohammed through the Archangel Gabriel? For a believing Muslim who agrees that
any meaningful reform in Islam today must necessarily address the issue of
equality between the sexes, there is no way to skirt around 4:34. You simply
have to engage with it. But then, how do you reconcile your faith in an Allah
who endorses male superiority and recommends wife-beating with your fidelity to
the principle of gender justice?
To get around this
thorny issue some current-day Muslims resort to a linguistic device, claiming
that the Arabic word “darab” in the verse has meanings other than “beating”.
The fact, however, is that the overwhelming majority of exegetes, the liberal
ones included, accept the translation of “darab”( d-r-b) as physical
chastisement. The only dispute is over issues such as at when it’s OK to beat
and the permissible intensity of the beating (according to some a feather or a
flower are the only permissible weapons). The late Moroccan Islamic scholar,
Fatima Mernissi, notes that the immediate context of the revelation of verse
4:34 was a woman’s complaint to the Prophet that her husband had slapped her.
The revelation then had necessarily to address the issue of wife-beating.
While this issue
remains a knotty one, in recent years several women (and men) scholars of Islam
— Mernissi, Amina Wadud, Riffat Hassan, Asma Barlas among others — have
credibly argued that the Quran is a gender-sensitive document. For them, it is
the exegetes with patriarchal mindsets who are responsible for having read
patriarchy into the Quran. For example, in her book, Believing women in Islam:
Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Quran, Asma Barlas argues: “The
Quran recognises men as the locus of power and authority in actually existing
patriarchies. However, recognising the existence of patriarchy, or addressing
one, is not the same as advocating it”.
many Muslim women scholars and activists see Allah as being entirely on their
side in their “gender jihad” against the patriarchs of Islam (ulama), South
Africa’s Farid Esack, a male educated in a Pakistani madrasa, a believing,
practising Muslim, an Imam to boot, has an interesting point to make. Esack
agrees that the Quran does contain “sufficient seeds for those committed to
human rights and gender justice to live in fidelity to its underlying ethos”.
But he argues that the liberal Muslim claim that “the Quran is a Magna Carta of
gender justice does not withstand the scrutiny of critical scholarship”. In a
paper titled, “What Do Men Owe to Women? Islam & Gender Justice: Beyond
Simplistic Apologia”, Esack labels several renowned “liberal” Islamic scholars
as “Islam’s apologists”.. read more: