Early Islam Was Kind of Feminist
Ramadan 2014 is nearing its end, and in honor I am reblogging a piece by a Muslim feminist who talks of the strong feminist strain contained in the Quran.
Here is a link to a related piece that I wrote years ago (Early Islam’s Feminist Air). And here is another by one of my students (Women’s Sexuality in Islam).
Who created you from a single person
Created, of similar nature,
its mate and from them twain
scattered like seeds
countless men and women;–
through Whom ye demand
your mutual rights
And reverence the wombs that bore you,
for God ever watches over you. (Qur’an 4:1)
The work of Muslim feminists is revivalism rather than reform, because the Qur’an itself is not only egalitarian but decidedly anti-patriarchal, as is Islam as it was practiced by our Prophet, who was in many ways a feminist. Since the Qur’an was revealed to a patriarchy and has been interpreted mostly by adherents of patriarchy since its revelation, it is the readings of the Qur’an and the interpretations by patriarchal Muslims that appear to be oppressive–not the Qur’an itself, whose teachings are neither framed by nor concerned with patriarchy, as proven by its strongly egalitarian essence and…
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Early Islam’s Feminist Air
The founders of three great religions, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed (in order of appearance) were remarkably feminist in their leanings. In the month of Ramadan I would like to explore the feminist air of early Islam.
For centuries Muslim women enjoyed greater rights than most women in the world. The Koran gives women the right to work and to own property. Mohammed abolished female infanticide, slavery, and a widow’s obligation to marry her husband’s brother. Indeed, women were given the right to give their consent to marry.
Some things that look sexist today were a great step forward at the time. Women could become heir to one third of what a male inherited. (Since men’s role was to support women they were given extra help.) Muslim women were able to inherit much sooner than their Western sisters.
Islamic men are also allowed to marry up to four wives, and each wife must be treated equally. Doesn’t sound too heavenly to our ears, but this was progress from a time when men could marry as many women as they wanted.
Even the most problematic scripture in the Koran was an improvement. Chapter 4 verse 34 reads, “As for those women whose rebellion you justly fear, admonish them first; then leave their beds; then beat them.” This scripture actually gave women some protection against abuse in that men were cautioned against battering as the first response.
Some Islamic feminists note that there are other definitions for the word “daraba,” than “to beat,” one of which is “to go away.” Something to think about.
With early feminist beginnings it is not surprising that one of the largest, most egalitarian and peaceful societies is West Sumatra, Indonesia.
Yet over time the religion has become increasingly patriarchal in most corners of the world.
In what is claimed “countering Westernization,” Islamic states have kept busy restricting women’s rights, sometimes going against the Koran, as when the Taliban took away women’s right to work, or when the right to consent to marriage is ignored.
As one Islamic feminist put it, “Islam needs to go back to its progressive 7th century roots if it is to move forward into the 21st century.”
Asra Q. Nomani. “A Gender Jihad for Islam’s Future.” The Washington Post. November 6, 2005
Neil MacFarquhar. “Translation of Koran Verse Spurs Debate.” San Jose Mercury News. March 25, 2007. (Originally published in the New York Times.)