Amina Wadud on the absence of women

“Women did not participate in the formation of Islam’s paradigmatic foundations.  Not only did men’s experiences of the world – including their experiences with women – and men’s ideas and imagination determine how Islam is defined, they also defined Islam for women.  Men have proposed what it means to be Muslim on the presumption that the male experience is normative, essential and universal to all human kind.”

Thoughts?

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42 thoughts on “Amina Wadud on the absence of women

  1. I think that seeing as God created us (women), how can it be that everything he says about us is so terrifically wrong and why does he not address our needs, when he knows them?

    Where are the chapters and verses about childbirth and the way we feel? Where is the guidelines on how to cope with post-natal depression, menopause and so on and so forth?

    God, who allegedly created us, gives us little to no advice and seems to seriously misunderstand us.

    That doesn’t make sense.

    Does it?

    • This is definitely something I still have trouble with. I think I agree with Amina Wadud though that the problem is not with God or the Qur’an, but with the way we interpret it. It has been interpreted by men since it came down to us. Moreover it came down to an extremely patriarchal society so surely that affected its content.
      Good questions.

  2. PS; Actually, scientifically we are getting to a stage where we don’t need men.

    Religion is there to preserve a dwindling species in a world where the woman is actually taking over.

    Nature prefers the female – giving her more resilience, long life, sixth sense, intuitionist, maternal instinct and abilities, allows her to grow a baby inside of her, milk and so on. God prefers men – and puts them and their libidos, greed and need for world dominance in charge of the lot.

    No wonder the world is in such disarray.

    • Sazz: wow I never thought about that. MORE to think about lol. It is true though: why did God not give us specific instructions about those very important things like Child Birth. You can’t have a human race without babies after all. You think he would have……

      • I don’t know – I mean we have very very specific instructions on some things which seem a little odd at times, and then on some very very important things…nothing!

        I really hope the love and desire to understand and accept is reflected, and the respect I have for everyone here is reflected\: but the truth is the truth and the strange is the strange.

        Candice below you say that God created everything and everything that is good is God and the Quran is moral guidelines – but the Quran does say “beat women”. I mean…there is no arguing around that. Regardless of the stuff a man is supposed to do before that, it still says that.: how can you say that is moral guidelines?

        You are a woman. I am a woman – you have probably met the worst and best of women. Have you at any stage in your life thought: “I know what will help this woman change….beats!”

        Anyway…I am not here to fight or argue or insist that I am right and go off topic- my big message is really that it doesnt make sense that we would be created the way we are, and then ordered by our creator to act in complete opposite to our nature, intellect and will. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

        I suppose there is the argument that maybe women are great as they are, and its the men that need the rules – and therefore the Quran addresses them and tells them what to do instead of us: but again, its done us no favours at all.

        • Actually there are other thoughts on the verse that mentions beating women and even if they are not the tradional interpretation on the Verse and the word idriboon, I would not dismiss them for this reason. So yes, there is “arguing about that”. It’s really worth reading into!

    • Hmmm, I don’t think God prefers men, at least not in my view of Islam. I think men see it that way and then make it seem “divine”. It also depends on how you see equality/women’s rights. No, women do not have the same rights/responsibilities as men, but why does that mean they are less than men? Women simply have different rights and responsibilities.
      And anyway, these things are constantly in flux: we’re not living in the desert 1,400 yrs ago anymore.

      I’m not sure about women taking over either. I think in many places sexism has taken new more undercover forms, and in other places is simply getting worse. I hope you’re right though!

      Great comments 🙂

  3. Men believe they are the standard by which everything else is judged…and found wanting. Men also seem to believe, and God apparently endorses this belief…that God is very interested in the lives of men…but not so much in women…except how it pertains to men.

    Amina Wadud is correct…women had almost no say in the basic construct of Islam….Islams seemingly only interest in women is how their presence or existence affects men.

    • “women had almost no say in the basic construct of Islam….Islams seemingly only interest in women is how their presence or existence affects men.”

      Exactly. I guess the question is whether God meant it this way or men have presented it as God wanting it this way.

  4. I think Amina Wadud is onto something with this thought. I am all for reinterpretation in Islam and in fact believe it’s quite important, especially for women’s sake…

    Sazz: I don’t see God as being nothing more than a “person” who has written a book supposedly detailing everything we need in life and I don’t think most people who believe in God see it that way either. I probably have a bit more open of a view because I believe that anything “good” is God/ is from God. Nature is God/ is from God. Seeing as it is all from the same God, from my perspective, it doesn’t make sense to say that Nature has given us something God has not since it is all the same. God has given us the Qur’an to guide us in some ways, and has given us other things to guide us in other ways. The Qur’an came to guide people to the right way (from which they were deviating) and childbirth not being mentionned just means to me that the women were doing fine giving birth and doing it the way God intended. There was nothing more to add for he had given us that information with Nature.

    • Amazing comment!

      “Seeing as it is all from the same God, from my perspective, it doesn’t make sense to say that Nature has given us something God has not since it is all the same.”

      I didn’t think of it that way but of course it’s true for me as well. If we believe women are becoming more powerful today and we believe in God, then shouldn’t we think this occurrence is part of God’s creation?

  5. I agree with Wadud’s statement in the sense of how Islam is practiced, is arguably donimated by men. There is evidence of this at all levels from home life to society’s enforcement of ‘Islamic’ principles. Isn’t this what being part of the hegemony means, though? Whether it is race, gender, religion or socio-economic status the norm is always defined by those in a dominant position. I don’t believe Wadud is saying Islam, the religion, in and of itself is male but she brings up a good point in that religion, like politics is often a ‘tryanny of the majority’. Where do we go from here, though, is what I want to know.

    • I guess her suggestion would be to open up the process of interpretation to all Muslims, not just males of a certain age/nationality. She says we cannot trust a process that has excluded women as one that fairly represents them, which is, of course, true.

    • I disagree that the Qur’an is where it starts – I think it is extremely difficult to divorce the scripture from the interpretation(s). As An-Naim has often said, the Qur’an stopped being divine the second Muhammad recited it. The minute that happened and it was affected by humans, it become an interpretation.

      I find it interesting that when I read the Qur’an and expect to find gender injustice, I see it everywhere. But when I’m in a different frame of mind and expect to find gender justice, I also see it everywhere. The same with scholars: when I hear conservative opinions, I find myself thinking they do kind of make sense; but when I hear liberal ones, I find myself swayed the other way. Guess I’m still kind of wrestling with religion myself 😉

      • The thing is though – we can sit here and cite interpretation as the reason for misguidance and alleged degradation of women: but the crimes and injustices against women come from the Arabic-speaking nations, with the exception of the Urdu speaking nations who are by far the worst.

        It’s the non-Arabic speaking Muslim nations that are actually more proactive on the good-treatment of women front.

        If our issues were translation issues, surely that would mean that Arabic speakers would get a different message? From what I can see (admittedly what I can see falls into what is available to me via libraries and internet) the Arabic speaking Middle East treat women very badly.

        Now, you cant blame that on interpretation can you?

        • Don’t the Arabic-speakers also rely on interpretation though? I get the impression interpreting Quran yourself is not really the done thing. 🙂 Also mistreatment of women is probably due mainly to culture rather than direct religious guidance, although I think culture has a definite (if complex) relationship with religion.

          As I see it, CLA, there’s only so much leeway for interpretation within the words and phrases themselves. (What would even be the point of a book that was so vague as to be wide open to any old interpretation?) I think, like any text, it does have an objective meaning, or an objective set of possible meanings for some of the more obscure verses. The subjective interpretation is in understanding the reasons for the things it says, in deciding on the universality or non-universality of its injunctions, and in selecting verses to cite in support of a particular position. There is much more leeway for arriving at different views through these processes. Is that how you see it?

          • “What would even be the point of a book that was so vague as to be wide open to any old interpretation?”

            I can see how this could be problematic, but it could also be a good thing. Besides, this is only the case with certain parts of the Qur’an/certain verses (which often have to do with gender). In other areas it is quite clear what the message is.

            “The subjective interpretation is in understanding the reasons for the things it says, in deciding on the universality or non-universality of its injunctions, and in selecting verses to cite in support of a particular position. There is much more leeway for arriving at different views through these processes. Is that how you see it?”

            Exactly!! Very well-put. That is exactly how I see it.

            Like Fazlur Rahman said, we should look at why a verse came down and what principles it espouses, and then apply those principles today, even if not the verse itself. So if you believe God allowed polygamy for the welfare of orphans and women, then take that principle WITHOUT the polygamy, since that is not longer acceptable or necessary today.

            • Interesting! That is exactly the way I used to look at the Bible when I was a Christian – extracting the underlying principles and re-implementing in today’s world. So it was natural for me to view the Quran this way. The thing that made it more difficult with the Quran was that it is taken as the literal speech of God in a way that the Bible isn’t. So why didn’t God just say, look after orphans and widows however you see fit? Why did God give an implementation for the 7th century Arabian world and leave the rest of us to work out our own implementation?

              This is where I started to think that the Quran resulted from a confluence of God and Muhammad’s mind, which was a very controversial proposition by an Iranian scholar I can’t remember the name of (I mentioned it here). I mean, God could have chosen to speak the cultural language of 7th century Arabia, but it seemed easier to believe that aspect of the message reflected Muhammad’s understanding of it through the lens of his own culture. I was curious what your thoughts are on that.

              • That’s a very interesting theory Sarah. I guess the only issue would then be to find a way to differentiate between the two. Would you recommend then using the principles approach?
                The reason I don’t believe that is because I believe Muhammad was simply a medium through which God’s word was transmitted. I don’t think he altered or changed anything. I also think that even if one believes this, you can still use the principle approach in Islam.

                “So why didn’t God just say, look after orphans and widows however you see fit? Why did God give an implementation for the 7th century Arabian world and leave the rest of us to work out our own implementation?”

                Maybe because at the time God wanted Islam to spread, so it is only natural that He explained it in culturally understandable ways. The further we get away from that period, the more interpretation we have to do, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I see it more as something positive because it leaves religion quite open. Some people prefer religions with very strict guidelines and rules; I prefer the opposite because I believe it shouldn’t be something difficult, as is affirmed in Islam (although many people choose to ignore that).

                Good questions! Still not sure about a lot of it…

                • “Would you recommend then using the principles approach?”

                  Well as a non-religious person I’d prefer that to black-and-white literalism. 😉

                  I’m fascinated that you view the Quran as the literal speech of God and not influenced by Muhammad in any way. It feels to me as if God very much limited himself by choosing to speak to Muhammad’s existing cultural knowledge, and by waiting to be prompted to address the women and so on. It’s amazing the different ways people can see things though. Thanks for sharing your perspective with me!

        • Linguistic interpretation is only one aspect of the interpretative process. When an Arabic speaker reads the Qur’an, although it is in their native language, they are still interpreting it for themselves. Being a human being means interpreting.

          So yes, I can still blame that on interpretation, because interpretation is much more complex than simply translation.

  6. I think you degrade the status of the Prophet when you claim that the second he Quran stopped beeing divinde hte second Muhammed recited it, i think that you dont understand the status of a Prophet. According to my belief the Prophet was without wrong without mistakes, the Quran several times with the hadiths, state that Muhammed didnt speak out of his own whims. He spoke what Allah wanted him to say and do.
    As for women in islam, it all depends. For me women like Khadija, Fatimah, Zainab, were amazing and great women who formed my beliefsystem. The problem is not the Quran, neither is it the hadiths but how history developed, it was due to the Ommayyids presence, a dynastiy that was nationalistic, racist and hostile towards women and islam, that changes were made in interpretation and in the hadiths.
    When a man like Abu Hurrayara recites 3 hadiths a day, and when he according to Caliph Umar lied and made mistakes, then is it a wonder that such mens words shaped the muslim world?
    Its easy to blame the Quran, Muhammed or “men”, but there are deeper and other things that lie behind all that has happend.

    If you as a muslim quesstion some of the sahabas or their words (and some are really silly hadiths and really stupid words) then you are seen as a person that has to be punished, and i dont speak of punishment like jail, several of the major Sunni historical hadith collectors say that if you question the Sahaba, then you are to be hurt, you have to be killed and you have no right to be even touched by a muslim when you are to be burried. When you as a muslim hear that, do you then dare to question some of those interpretations? Which we did get from the Sahabas..doubtful.
    My point is its not a gender thing, not a islam muslim or Quran thing, its not about how Human Muhammed was, or that the message of Allah was changed due to his recitationa, but its a historical thing, its about us understanding that just because a women has other rights and other obligations then a man, it does not necessarily make her inferiour or worse or that its a human made rule. Islam is more komplex then that..

    • “I think you degrade the status of the Prophet when you claim that the second he Quran stopped beeing divinde hte second Muhammed recited it, i think that you dont understand the status of a Prophet.”

      I didn’t suggest that the Prophet added/changed things. I’m just saying that the Qur’an was divine when it was with/from God, but when it came in contact with humans, it was subject to interpretation. God helped the Prophet understand the Qur’an, but unfortunately many men after the Prophet did not have this guidance and thus have imposed their own understandings onto the Qur’an.

      I completely agree that we should not be blaming the Qur’an or Prophet, but rather the people who came after, including the dynasties such as the Ummayids and modern Islamic leaders, who have all claimed Islam is what they wanted it to be.

    • “When a man like Abu Hurrayara recites 3 hadiths a day, and when he according to Caliph Umar lied and made mistakes, then is it a wonder that such mens words shaped the muslim world?”

      I think you’re spot on. 😉 (and that’s not a happy wink, but more of a sad wink).

  7. Bahlool…your belief that the prophet was without mistakes is based on what exactly? God himself reprimands the prophet in the Quran for mistakes that he made…also…God warns him that if he commits shirk then he will be destroyed just like any other Muslim…which means the potential for sin is there…otherwise..why the need for a warning?

    You can say you believe he was a good person…but not a perfect sinless person…that is just impossible..even for a prophet. Human beings are not made perfect…not even prophets.

  8. Cool i think we kinda differ on that subject. I would love to read those passages you took up.
    Islam is divided into two groups, the sunnis belief that Muhammed was infailible when it came to the recitation and delivering of the message of Allah, while we shias believe that he was without sin. It would be rather stupid to have a prophet that was failible, that would make us doubt the message he sent, when was it the message of Allah and when did he give us something that came from his own mind?
    The quran has a passage that says, the Prophet does not speak out of his own whim..i dont have the verse number here though.
    Of course Allah warns him and others, so they all know who is the allmighty and who is a servant to Allah.

  9. Cairo if the Prophet was prone to make mistakes, then when can we be 100 sure that the message he gave us was from him, his mistakes or from Allah?

    • Mistakes in his everyday life is different from mistakes made while transmitting the Qur’an. In the Qur’an God even admonishes him for something he did wrong in his everyday life, so we do know that he was fallible. I do not believe, however, that he made mistakes while transmitting the Qur’an, for several reasons.

  10. If someone is human, they are fallible.. Raising them above that, as perfect, is like Christians did when they raised Jesus above human status. Then people start to place them on the same level as God. If prophet’s are perfect, it is like saying they are god-like, instead of human, with flaws, mistakes, and contradictions. But maybe that is just another difference in how people see things.. Possibly this is just another thing Sunni’s and Shia’s disagree on?

  11. I noticed a couple of people thought the Quran made no mention of childbirth, but actually it does. Amina Wadud discussed it in her book, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective. In it she states:

    “When the time for her [Mary’s] delivery comes, the Qur’an describes her pains of labour and her statement: ‘Would that I had died before this time and been long forgotten (rather than to feel such pains).’ (19:23). She is like every other woman who bears a child. Then the Qur’an demonstrates Allah’s sympathy for her predicament: ‘Grieve not!’ (19:24) and she is asked to eat, drink, and be comforted (1926).”

    I highly recommend the book. As for the infallibility of the Prophet… I’m still learning about Islam, but I have a hard time believing anyone, even a Prophet, was free of all mistakes. Does that mean we shouldn’t admire them? I don’t think so. I find it more inspiring to believe that they could overcome their human limitations to serve God. As for figuring out which parts of the Quran are “true”… truth itself is a relative thing when it comes to the complex issues of the Quran. Even questions of what to take literally and what may be metaphor is tricky to figure out, and dramatically changes the meaning of the words. I think what makes the Quran special is its many truths.

    As for beating women, I’ve read several arguments that say that the word used to describe beating can actually be translated to mean “move away from” and that the verse has been mistranslated to provide a divine excuse for spousal abuse – when really its supposed to say if you and your wife have issues you should first talk about it, then stop sleeping in the same bed, and if all else fails, you should leave and hope that gets her to talk. Seeing as I don’t speak Arabic this could just be apologetic bs, but it’s an intriguing thought nonetheless.

    • Welcome to the blog Blue! Great comment.

      I totally agree that what makes the Qur’an special is its many truths – I really really think that’s amazing!

      I also agree that what made the Prophet special was his humanness: he was human and therefore fallible, but also such an amazing example to others.

      The thing with the beating verse (and the polygamy one etc) is that people are not always open to other interpretations. So the one cited above is called apologetic bs by Islamophobes and strict Muslims, whereas many liberal Muslims embrace it because it fits in with their view of Islam and the Qur’an.

  12. Bahlool…the prophet had two roles to serve..his role as a prophet and messenger and his role outside this. When reciting versess from the quran and their meaning he was a prophet…and you can expect what he said was from God (if you believe that of course)…other times when not in a “prophetic state of mind” so to speak..he was a regular human being susceptible to mistakes…as we are shown in the Quran….oh prophet why do you forbid yourself what you have no right to forbid?” (paraphrasing)/ Since God is reprimanding him and demanding to know why he took it upon himself to forbid something apparently halal for him…then obviously he was acting outside his role as a prophet. Thus we are shown that not only can he make mistakes…God will call him on it and reprimand him…the same as anyone else.

    Not everything that issued from his mouth was devine…that is easy enough to see through the Quran AND the hadith….so yes…he could and did make mistakes.

  13. “Women did not participate in the formation of Islam’s paradigmatic foundations.”

    I sent off my PhD proposal an hour ago rejecting this same notion!

      • It’s on Muslim feminism. I’ll start a new blog around September, iA. You’ll be one of the first people I invite 🙂

        Basically, I wrote that early Muslim women DID “participate in the formation of Islam’s paradigmatic foundations.” They specially did this when the prophet was alive and continued to try even after his death. Even when he was alive they were not always successful and after his death it became even more difficult since he was extremely pro-women while later men weren’t so.

        The tafsir of early scholars are full of examples of how the wives of the Prophet even helped shape the Quran for example by asking to be addressed like the men.

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