I recently had the pleasure of hearing Asma Barlas speak, which was amazing. She’s one of the first people I read when I started reading about Islamic feminism, and her book Believing Women in Islam had a huge effect on me. What I found especially interesting about her talk was what she said about the hadith. Usually when critical Islamic thinkers speak or write, they tend to either ignore the hadith or approach it in a very all-or-nothing way (which usually means rejecting all the hadith).
Asma on the other hand argued that the hadith shouldn’t be completely rejected, but rather that they should be interpreted through the Qur’an. In other words, the Qur’an should act as a filter through which we approach the hadith. If the Qur’an says one thing and there is a hadith that contradicts this, why would we take the hadith as more authoritative? Many Islamic scholars today seem to be doing the opposite of what Barlas advocates – reading the Qur’an through the hadith. This places the hadith either alongside the Qur’an, or above it, which is a problematic view.
Barlas’ approach is very useful, because it combines both the Qur’an and hadith, but with the Qur’an as the ultimate word of God. The only thing is that it will always depend on how you interpret the Qur’an. If you see it as a gender equal text, then you will filter the hadith that way. But this is inescapable – we all read and interpret the Qur’an from our own subjectivities.