Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Orthodox Muslims and Feminism

After watching an old video clip of a BBC program panel discussion on faith and feminism (featuring a Muslim woman in niqab as well as women from other faith groups), my primary reaction was one of disappointment.

Not only did the Muslimah representative remain largely silent throughout the discussion, but when she did speak, it was to offer weak platitudes and analogies about 'equality' - frankly, it made me cringe.

The video, however, highlighted to me many trends that I see when it comes to discussions about feminism amongst or involving conservative/orthodox Muslims.

For one thing, those who don't identify as feminists usually have skewed perception of feminism; those who do identify as feminists always fall back on the topics of hijab/niqab, polygamy, and 'equal but different'. There is very little mention of the active and important role of women from the very beginning of Islamic history.

Furthermore, orthodox Muslims discussing feminism often seem oblivious to the very existence of intersectional feminism, let alone the larger discussions and trends taking place within it. In general, conservative Muslims focus heavily on secular feminism rather than intersectional feminism, which is much more relevant to both women of faith as well as colour. The former is largely recognized to be exclusionist and limiting, with its focus being primarily on White, middle-class women of privilege.

Sadly, many conservative Muslims use the excuse of 'evil feminism' to deliberately ignore serious issues within our communities, especially with regards to the abuse and (mis)treatment of women. Discussing male privilege within masaajid, the abuse of authority, and how women are blocked from accessing their Shar'i rights are all written off as 'deviant feminism,' regardless of whether or not the individual identifies as a feminist to begin with!

It becomes ironic when even the most ideal, model Muslimah is condemned as a feminist the moment she starts speaking up for women's rights - or speaking up about anything at all, for that matter.

In short, rather than freaking out about feminism (and arguing about how it's 'kufr'), orthodox Muslims need to fix the major problems in our communities that lead to people seeking out feminism as a solution to begin with.
If we are so concerned with people 'abandoning the Shari'ah' allegedly because of feminism, we should be more concerned with *why* people are doing so - and the answer is very obvious. It is because we, the Muslim Ummah as a whole, are hell bent on avoiding dealing with our dirty laundry; in fact, in many cases we seem to want to *preserve* the injustice and oppression we inflict upon each other.

Bottom line: Stop whining about feminism, and start focusing on the very real problems (including and especially misogyny) that have left our Ummah weak and diseased.

May Allah make us amongst those who strive to fight oppression and stand up for the justice found within His Shari'ah (regardless of whether one calls themselves feminist or not ), ameen.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Honour of Women

There are two women whom the Qur'an states received direct Wahy (Revelation) from Allah:
The mother of Musa, and Maryam ('alayhas-salaam).

There are two women who saw the Archangel Jibreel ('alayhis-salaam):
Haajar ('alayhas-salaam) and Maryam ('alayhas-salaam).

Saarah, the wife of Ibraheem, also saw angels with her own eyes - those who came to warn Ibraheem about the fate of the people of Lut, and to give her glad tidings of her future son, Is'haaq.

Aasiyah, the wife of Pharoah, had her prayer forever immortalized in the Qur'an:
{My Lord, build for me near You a house in Paradise and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds and save me from the wrongdoing people!} (Qur'an 66:11)

Maryam ('alayhas-salaam) was declared a Siddeeqah in the Qur'an - a position immediately beneath that of Prophethood.

Women have never been ignored by Allah, or kept excluded from the greatest of honours that could ever be given to humankind. They experienced Revelation; they witnessed the angels; they were at the center of miracles - in Maryam's case, she *was* a miracle!

These women have been remembered, venerated, and held as an example for the men and women of this Ummah alike; they have attained a position with Allah that is guaranteed, which none of us can claim for ourselves.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"Did A Woman Edit the Qur'an?" - Book Review

Ruqayyah Y Khan's article-turned-book "Did A Woman Edit the Qur'an? Hafsah and Her Codex" has garnered some amount of attention as being daring and revolutionary in the field of Muslim feminist Qur'anic studies. Although being aware of the obvious agenda that was likely behind it, I was most certainly intrigued by the focus on Hafsah bint 'Umar (radhiAllahu 'anha) and her role in the preservation of the Qur'an.

Despite the incredible potential that this book could have had, I was sorely disappointed by the almost bizarre way that certain basic facts regarding the Qur'an and the biography of Hafsah (radhiAllahu 'anha) were glossed over.

To begin with, the title of the book is both obvious and unsubtle with regards to the agenda it is pushing forward; the continued use of the phrase 'edit the Qur'an' makes it clear that the author is approaching the subject from the perspective of one who does not consider the Qur'an to be perfect (which is a common enough belief amongst many progressive groups). Despite expecting this perspective in the first place, I found the thread of intellectual dishonesty that ran through the entire work to be extremely distasteful. While numerous hints are provided about how the suhuf (scrolls/ manuscripts) of Hafsah (radhiAllahu 'anaha) differed from the standard mus'haf Uthmaani, there is a deliberate and obvious attempt at implying that her copies different in actual *content* of the Qur'anic ayaat rather than the very obvious and well-known understanding that there were various recitations (qira'aat) of the Qur'an that were known to the early Muslims.

Furthermore, it astounds me that the classically and almost universally known position regarding RasulAllah’s literacy – that he wasn’t – is completely disregarded in the book, as is demonstrated in the following quotation:
“Muḥammad is shown instructing Hafsạ in the Qur’ān as well as writing Qur’ānic verses for her.

Abu l-Aswad related [that] ‘Urwa b. al-Zūbayr said, “People differed over the recitation of ‘Those who disbelieve from among the People of Book . . . ’[Q 98: 1], so ‘Umar b. al-Khatṭ ạ̄ b came to Hafsạ , [bringing] with [him a scrap of ] leather (adīm). He said: When the Messenger of God comes to you, ask him to teach you ‘Those who disbelieve from among the People of the Book’ . . . and tell him to write it for you on this [scrap of ] leather. She did [this], and he [i.e., Muḥammad] wrote it for her. This reading became public and widespread [’āmma]. (Ibn Wahb 2003: 62)"

As a non-expert on seerah, I found it mind-boggling that one of the most basic facts regarding the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and indeed, one of the most amazing aspects of the miracle of the Qur’an itself, was completely ignored and in fact denied here. After all, RasulAllah was known very specifically as "nabiyy umiyy" - the illiterate Prophet!

Three questions immediately came to mind as I read this quote: How accurate is this quote (e.g. is it given in context with regards to its placement in the original author’s work), how correct is its translation, and how authentic is the quote itself?

Khan goes on to say:
“‘Umar is shown as asking Hafṣa to edit the Qur’ān on the basis of Muḥammad “teaching” her the correct recitation and writing of the said verse."

This, by itself, highlighted to me both the obvious agenda (once again, the usage of the phrase ‘edit the Qur’an’) and ignorance of the entire process of the recording, preservation, and transmission of the Qur’an. In addition, combined with the previous quote allegedly from Ibn Wahb, it seems rather clear to me that the issue was not the actual wording of the verses, but the qiraa’ah (recitation) of them instead. As well, this insistence that Hafsah (radhiAllahu 'anha) alone had some kind of monopoly on the written text of the Qur'an is either ignorant of or deliberately glossing over the entire communal effort and process of the preservation of the Qur'an - that which is known as a whole as the system of the sanad (chain of narration).

One particular section in Khan’s work is where she discusses the relationship between RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and Hafsah (radhiAllahu ‘anha), going so far as to claim that she was his ‘least favourite wife’ and “there is nothing in the sources to suggest that there was a spark of attraction and/or affection between them in the stage before their marriage.”

Not only does this somehow imply that RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was involved with any of his wives before marriage, but it also completely disregards the famous story of how RasulAllah married Hafsah (radhiAllahu 'anha). When her first husband was martyred, Umar went to both Abu Bakr and Uthmaan asking if they wanted to marry Hafsah. Both of them demurred, and Umar was dejected and went to RasulAllah to complain about them. In turn, RasulAllah told him "Hafsah shall marry someone better than Uthmaan, and Uthmaan will marry someone better than Hafsah." In this way, RasulAllah proposed marriage to Hafsah through 'Umar - and it was his intention to marry Hafsah which both Abu Bakr and Uthmaan had been aware of. 

What grated on my nerves most, however, was a rather bizarre fixation on the alleged stigma behind the one-divorce of Hafsah (radhiAllahu 'anha) and how it affected her status amongst not only the wives of RasulAllah, but as one of the most important people involved in the role of preserving the Qur'an. 
In "Did A Woman Edit the Qur'an?" itself, Khan refrains from mentioning the cause of Hafsah's divorce, despite the fact that the incident surrounding which most scholars mention in the tafseer of Surah at-Tahreem as one of the related asbaab an-nuzool - reasons for revelation). Strangely, Khan implies that because of this incident, Hafsah (radhiAllahu 'anha) was somehow considered 'lesser' or simply not taken as seriously by the wider Muslim community and later scholars. The emphasis on her divorce also ignores the time that RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) offered all his wives the option of divorce. 

Finally, despite Khan stating in her introduction that the focus of her book is 'modern western scholarship on how the Qur’ān came to be compiled and codified,' there are various statements and phrasing in the book that imply that classical Islamic scholars are at fault for minimizing or erasing the true extent of Hafsah's influence with regards to her role in the preservation of the Qur'an. 

For example: 
"It is at least worth asking: could the classical Islamic tradition have devised this first story (regarding Abū Bakr–‘Umar) to suppress and marginalize agency attributed to Hafṣa as regards editing and/or writing the sheets of the Qur’ān (i.e., ṣuḥuf)?"

Essentially, she seems to be making the case for a vast conspiracy theory that sought to render Hafsah (radhiAllahu 'anha) as irrelevant to one of the most important events of Islamic history... a theory which relies heavily on making it seem that Hafsah alone played a crucial role in preserving the Qur'an, and ignoring the vast and complex science that was developed specifically for that purpose.  

Nonetheless, with all the above having been mentioned, I will say that the one aspect in which Khan did well was discussing Hafsah (radhiAllahu 'anha) with regards to her literacy and intelligence, and her close relationship with her father, 'Umar ibn al-Khattab (radhiAllahu 'anhu). 

As has been noted in a previous #ForgottenHeroines article, 'Umar (radhiAllahu 'anhu) was known as Abu Hafs - a remarkable occurrence when considering the extremely misogynistic, patriarchal society he lived in, and despite the fact that he had many sons whom he could - by Arab tradition - been named after instead. 
Furthermore, Hafsah is often described as being similar to her father in temperament: "Hafsah had in her nature an aspect of the meaning of her name: She was somewhat stern and tough. Perhaps, she inherited that from her father 'Umar, al-Farooq." (Source: Women Around the Messenger, Muhammad Ali Qutb).  
There are various stories about Hafsah and her father: That he would go to her with rebukes regarding her brother, Abdullah ibn 'Umar; that he would as her for political advice during his khilaafah, as well as consult with her on religious matters (including his famous fatwah prohibiting Muslim soldiers to be away from their wives for longer than four months); that the Ummah would approach her to appeal to him on their behalf; and that she was named the executor of his will upon his death.
While some individuals - including Khan - imply that the relationship between Hafsah and 'Umar was one of a man exerting power over his daughter for political influence, it seems to me that what is deliberately disregarded is that rather, they had a bond between them that was one of mutual affection and respect alike. Certainly, Hafsah was known not to be weak willed and easily influenced by others, and 'Umar, despite his reputation for being harsh and stern with men and women alike, remained close to his daughter for the duration of his life. Together, they clearly formed a formidable team which was respected by everyone around them, men and women.

As an academic work, I found "Did A Woman Edit the Qur'an?" to be blatantly biased (which, to be honest, I expected) and also greatly lacking in referencing the positive manner in which the story of Hafsah bint 'Umar (radhiAllahu 'anha) is usually recorded in traditional books of Islamic biographies. Nonetheless, it was a reminder to me of how desperately we need a revival of awareness and knowledge regarding the #ForgottenHeroines of Islam and their influence on Islamic history, and how conservative Muslims need to reclaim the telling of our own stories rather than leaving it up to others to remodel for themselves and their own agendas.