Archive for January, 2013

Rereading “Status of Woman in Islam” (V)

(and we continue discussing “the spiritual aspect”…)

“Although women can and did go into the mosque during the days of the prophet and thereafter attendance at the Friday congregational prayers is optional for them while it is mandatory for men (on Friday).

This is clearly a tender touch of the Islamic teachings for they are considerate of the fact that a woman may be nursing her baby or caring for him, and thus may be unable to go out to the mosque at the time of the prayers. They also take into account the physiological and psychological changes associated with her natural female functions.”


Early 80’s ghost: I don’t know why, but this sounds a little… off, I guess. The way the first sentence is worded, it sort of sounds as though whether women can go to the mosque is a question. But why would it be? Why wouldn’t any member of the community be able to enter a place of prayer?? Am I missing something here?

Commentator: Your instincts are correct—there is a long-standing debate among Muslims about whether women can go to the mosque at all, and if they can, what the conditions and limitations on their attendance are.

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Rereading “Status of Woman in Islam” (IV)

(continuing where we left off…)

“In terms of religious obligations, such as the Daily Prayers, Fasting, Poor-due, and Pilgrimage, woman is no different from man. In some cases indeed, woman has certain advantages over man. For example, the woman is exempted from the daily prayers and from fasting during her menstrual periods and forty days after childbirth….”


Early ’80’s ghost: So, women are equal to men in God’s sight. Women and men have the same basic religious obligations.

Commentator: This passage is really misleading. Women are not “exempted” from salat and fasting when during their menses or bleeding after childbirth, they are forbidden to perform these rituals at these times. Neither may they take part in an important part of the pilgrimage—going around the Ka’ba. There are also significant limitations of their ability to  touch and read the Qur’an, as well as to enter a mosque. The specifics of these limitations vary in severity depending on the views of different scholars.

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Rereading “Status of Woman in Islam” (III)


“In the midst of the darkness that engulfed the world, the divine revelation echoed in the wide desert of Arabia with a fresh, noble, and universal message to humanity:

‘O Mankind, keep your duty of your Lord who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate (of same kind) and from them twain has spread a multitude of men and women’ (Qur’an 4:1).”

A footnote states that “from it” means “from the same kind,” and that “there is no trace in the Qur’an to a parallel of the Biblical concept that Eve was created from one of Adam’s ribs.”

The author approvingly quotes a Muslim writer who praises Q 4:1 as a beautiful affirmation of the humanity of women. Then, he quotes several other quranic verses (7:189, 42:11 and 16:72) that speak of the creation of human beings.


Early ’80’s ghost: That story of Eve being created from Adam’s rib never really sat well with me. And it isn’t in the Qur’an?! You mean, I don’t have to believe in that story any more? Maybe I don’t.

Commentator: “In the midst of the darkness….” What an attempt to frame the reader’s judgment.

While the footnote for Q 4:1 is technically correct—the Qur’an does not directly state that Adam’s wife was created from his rib—it is also misleading. Most Qur’an commentators who wrote before the late 19th century actually do interpret this verse as a reference to the rib story (see for example the Tafsir al-Jalalayn). There are also some well-known hadiths that refer to women as having been created from a rib.

Now, we begin to see why the author states in the introduction that he defines Islamic teaching as what is in the Qur’an and the Hadith. That way, he can ignore centuries of Qur’an commentary when it suits his purpose. But this does not adequately prepare readers for the kinds of ideas that they will likely encounter if they begin to read more widely—or to mix with conservative Muslims.

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Rereading “Status of Woman in Islam” (II)

(continuing from where we left off…)

“The paper starts with a brief survey of the status of women in the pre-Islamic era. It then focuses on these major questions:

What is the position of Islam regarding the status of woman in society? How similar or different is that position from “the spirit of the time,” which was dominant when Islam was revealed? How would this compare with the “rights” which were finally gained by woman in recent decades?”


Early ’80’s ghost: So, the author is going to explain what Islam really teaches about what status women should have. Good. What little I have heard and read about this has me confused. I want a clear, simple explanation.

Commentator: It is said that all shall find what they truly seek, though they may not always like it.

Note the lack of specificity. What exactly is “the pre-Islamic era”? Why the attempt to broadly generalize about “the status of women” before Islam? Which women is he talking about: queens, peasants, slaves, priestesses, or…? Would their legal, social or economic statuses have really been the same?

Using expressions such as “the position of Islam” ignores Muslim debates throughout history, as well as in today’s world. By ignoring such differences of opinion, the author is trying to establish his authority for his two main intended audiences: curious but uninformed North American non-Muslims, and conservative immigrant Muslims.

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Rereading “Status of Woman in Islam” (I)

Way back in the early ’80’s, one of the very first things that I read about women and Islam was a pink booklet with a black and grey photo of a mosque on the cover, entitled “Status of Woman in Islam.”

I hadn’t seen that booklet around for years. But now, it was in my hand, and I was gazing at it. My hand was shaking a bit, and my stomach was turning over.

Until now, I had had a vague recollection of this booklet having a pale pink cover. Perhaps my recollection had faded with time. But now, I held the real thing in my hand, and its pinkness was brighter, somehow newer-looking than I had remembered. Odd.

Was I going to open it, or not?

This is ridiculous, I told myself. It’s just an old booklet. It shouldn’t be so unnerving to look at the cover of an old, cheaply-made booklet, that had been published way back in 1972 by the MSA. One of those low-budget dawah booklets that used to be sold for a nominal price at MSA events and mosque bookstores and halaal butcher shops.

But ridiculous or not, it was definitely unsettling. Partly because it was evoking so many old memories. Faces of people I hadn’t thought about for years, scenes from Muslim gatherings I had been to where this booklet had been sold flashed before my eyes. Stray words and phrases from speeches and the afterwards chit-chat at those gatherings emerged into clarity out of the buzzing in my ears.

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Neo-traditionalism—the aftermath (I)

A commenter left the following comment on the previous post:

“When I was a traditionalisma, I loved an idea that I now despise beyond words. I asked once, “But what about the good deeds of atheists? I have friends who are atheist and they are ethical people, the best people? Are their good deeds worthless?” The answer: When atheists do good deeds, they have real effects in the world that everyone can see and benefit from. But the actions have no connection to the divine. It is as if every good deed created an angel. For believers that angel soars up to the Throne and announces your good works to God who counts that work toward your reward in the Next World. For atheists, their good deeds create angels but the angels simply fly around in circles never making their way to God. So God never knows any good of them to reward in the Next World…and so they are consigned to Hell.

Can I just say this? WHERE WAS MY #(^$&!* MIND? Damn the things I thought! I have actually apologized to a lot of people for the crap I thought and actually said to them. Some have forgiven me, some do not respond to my apology. It is what it is.”

Wow. Just wow.

How fortunate it is that I did not know this commenter when I was still a devout neo-traditionalist. Because if I had, I would certainly have loved, loved, loved this “explanation” about the good deeds of atheists. I would have repeated it to others, and felt quite good about doing so, as well.

I mean, it had everything.

It sounded good. Nay, it sounded positively profound.

To be exact, it would have sounded good (and profound) to me in those days, because it sounded much better than the sort of thing that the Salafis, or the average “why I became a Muslim” speaker at some event-or-other sponsored by the MSA, or my ex would say.

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Thinking your way out of neo-traditionalism (VI)

This title is a bit of a misnomer, at least in my experience. Because yes, I needed to think through what we were taught as neo-traditionalists and begin to see the gaps and the fallacies in order to be able to leave it. But there was more to it than that. Desperation, which pushed me to look beyond neo-traditionalism for answers. And glimmers of hope that found their way through those gaps, and made me sometimes think that things outside might possibly be better.

I’ve written about several aspects of the desperation before. Being stuck in a rotten marriage that had turned polygamous, and scared to death about how my kids and I would survive. But I haven’t written about the hope, really.

As someone who is idealistic and thinks a fair amount about ethics, I was inspired by two main aspects of the lives of several Muslims that I encountered who had either left neo-traditionalism or had never been in it: their intellectual integrity, and the way that they dealt with others. They were accepting and non-judgmental, and a couple were in loving, egalitarian relationships.  For me, the superiority of intellectual integrity over thinking that slides into apologetics when Tradition was in danger of being questioned was evident—as was love and acceptance over the judgmental social interactions and duty-based, hierarchical marriages that surrounded me.

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