Oh, how they lied

I’m in the middle of reading what is so far a pretty awesome book: Ayesha Chaudhry’s Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition.

It's awesome because it's honest... at least, what I've read of it so far. Which is sad, really---why is being honest about "the tradition" so rare? What does this say about the self-styled bearers of "the tradition" who I dealt with that they couldn't be bothered to be  honest, or actively didn't seek to be? What is a tradition worth when people can't tell the truth about it?

It’s awesome because it’s honest… at least, what I’ve read of it so far. Which is sad, really—why is being honest about “the tradition” so rare? What does this say about the self-styled bearers of “the tradition” who I dealt with that they couldn’t be bothered to be honest, or actively didn’t seek to be? What is a tradition worth when people can’t tell the truth about it?

This is quite an experience. Parts of it are very triggering, frankly. Reading through all the medieval interpretations of Q 4:34 as well as the views of the jurists who followed the four Sunni madhhabs, was really something. Much of it I had encountered before, mostly through reading… but that was in dribs and drabs. The overall effect of all that delivered at one fell swoop was really, well… horrifying. Just bone-freezingly horrifying.

For several reasons: Because the misogyny of “the tradition” was simply undeniable. Because it kept mentioning things that had happened to friends of mine, or to me, or which had been reported on the news… and we had been assured that it is “unIslamic” and that “no true Muslim would do such a thing” or “this is a misinterpretation.” And it wasn’t true. Which brings me to the third, and in a way, the worst reason: Because they lied. Those imams, shaykhs, community leaders, study circle teachers, people we looked up to and trusted… lied.

I can’t count how many times down through the years that we were told in so many ways that marriage “according to the true teachings of Islam” is ultimately all about love and compassion. That while men and women have different roles in marriage, this is according to the design of the all-wise Creator, and therefore these differences are intended for the benefit of both of them, as well as for the benefit of the children, and society as a whole.

Well, not only does it turn out that this idea derived from 1950’s-’60’s functionalism (a very secular sociological theory devised by non-Muslims, btw—the horror!) rather than the Qur’an, the sunna or “the tradition,” but medieval Qur’an commentators and jurists to a man saw marriage primarily in terms of what men (aka not women, or even children) were entitled to. And among the things that most of these scholars held that a man is entitled to is an obedient wife. We’d heard that often enough… but with the edges of the definitions of “obedience” typically softened.

We heard different definitions of “obedience”—everything ranging from a woman performing her ritual duties properly, to obeying her husband in everything unless he commands her to do something sinful. But we never heard the opinion that a wife who, say, had been in the habit of meeting her husband with a smile but ceased to do so is “disobedient” and therefore should be admonished, separated from in bed, and if he deems it necessary, beaten. (!?)

This is the sort of interpretation that had me wondering wtf?? Since when does hitting someone for not being cheerful or welcoming enough make them more rather than less cheerful or welcoming? The author wryly points out that she can think of any number of reasons why a woman might not be in a smile-y mood (illness, tiredness… I’d add pregnancy or cramps or in-law problems) that have nothing to do with her attitude to her husband. But the scholars with this particular take on disobedience were not at all concerned with trying to understand why a wife might behave in a way that her husband finds less than satisfying, as the author points out—their focus was on what the husband is entitled to. He was entitled to a wife who pleases him. She however was not entitled to a husband who pleases her. If she got that, then that was a bonus, but she had no legal or moral right to it, in their view.


I thought I had heard or read most of the most emphatically misogynistic hadiths about a husband’s entitlements and a wife’s obligations already, but there were a few that I hadn’t encountered before, such as the instruction to men to “hang your whip where your family can see it.” The point that got me about that one was not whether hadith scholars would have graded it as authentic (I suspect not), but that many scholars evidently agreed with the sentiment behind it.

This was another thing—we heard that a man can’t hit his wife unless he has first talked to her about whatever-it-is that is displeasing him, and then refused to sleep with her (and that these steps pretty much ensure that a man won’t usually get to the stage where he’ll be hitting his wife, at least theoretically). And that if a man did hit his wife, it was to be “gently” with his hand, or a miswak, or even a handkerchief… and that this is nothing like a beating, much less any sort of abuse. But in fact, some medieval scholars argued that there is no obligation on the husband to discipline his wife in stages—he can scold her, separate from her, and beat her on the same occasion, or hit her before even telling her what he is objecting to. Some wrote about hitting wives with sticks, switches, whips, sandals and other objects. This puts a different spin on the often-used qualification of the hitting—that it is supposed to be “ghayr mubarrih.” While we were told that “ghayr mubarrih” means something like “not harmful” or “not violent” (which is absurd, given that striking anyone is intrinsically violent, but anyway…), how do you hit someone with a whip without harming them?? Sure, it may not break bones or leave physical wounds (depending on the whip used and the “skill” of the user…) but what scars would that leave on a person’s soul? Hitting someone with sandals—absolutely degrading.

But here I am getting off track again. Reading this stuff with a twenty-first century North American post-Enlightenment middle class urban eye. This was not the world of the medieval scholars who wrote that stuff. In their world, violence was ubiquitously visible in a way that it often isn’t in ours. We tend to push the many acts of violence that make our own world possible away, into other places (such as halfway around the world…) where we don’t have to see it or admit that it is there. They were much more upfront about the violence that kept their world together.

Even more to the point, many of the worlds that those we looked up to to interpret “the Islamic tradition” for us had come from were held together with levels of violence we hadn’t experienced. And to the extent that we encountered or experienced it, it deeply horrified us.

And so on down… this book dragged me back. Memory after memory came to me unbidden, and with them, waves of nausea. A man beating several kids with a stick. They’d been playing in a park. For some wrongdoing-or-other I suppose, but I didn’t see them doing anything wrong. The other kids watched as they he hit them. The violence when we lived with my in-laws. The screaming and shouting and after that the silence about what had just happened and the expectation that everyone act like this is all normal. The signs: “Warning: heavily mined.” The empty shell casings and hand grenades on the road, the twelve year old boys with AK-47s, and the bullet holes in the walls of abandoned houses. The stories of torture and disappearances….

When your world is like that, I suppose that a calm reasoned discussion of how to “ethically” hit one’s wife in an old book doesn’t seem all that out there. Because what is violence if not inevitable?

But some of those who we had looked up to had been converts. Who had grown up here. And not in the gang violence-scarred inner city, either. Why had they willingly bought into the myth that “the Islamic tradition” as passed down to us by “the great scholars of the past” has a vastly superior morality (especially where anything related to gender roles, marriage and family are concerned), and actively promoted it to others? Some of them might not have read all of these texts that Chaudhry discusses, but then why would they pass themselves off as having such great knowledge of the tradition?

I remember one of them assuring me that sex and violence are always connected and can’t be separated. Waves of nausea, again….

Who were these men, and why had they sought power over us? And who were these women, who thought they could make a home for themselves in such a straightforwardly patriarchal tradition as scholars or activists?

Blind, trusting faith. The power of wishful thinking. And for some, the seductive lure of exercising power over others. Claiming to have the keys to the tradition makes you the owner of the keys of earth and heaven.

Reading through what those scholars of the past said, I kept noticing scholars’ approval or acceptance of things that had happened (mostly to others, but sometimes to me) that we had been given to understand are “unIslamic” or a “misinterpretation” or “culture, not Islam.” That depends on how “Islam” is being defined, of course—and it was always a slippery category, I realized. The goal posts were always in motion, but if anyone would try to point that out, it would immediately be denied that anything had moved at all. Gaslighting. It enabled endless plausible deniability, and kept us unsure of where the lines were—and therefore, ever more dependent on those we looked to for guidance to tell us what is what. We thought they held our chances of salvation in their hands.

I particularly like Chaudhry’s discussion of contemporary conservative Muslim interpretations of Q 4:34. It was deeply disturbing and hilarious by turns. On the hilarious side, who would have imagined that a conservative scholar would plagiarize a column from “Dear Abby” and pass it off as what the Qur’an and sunna say about how to have a good marriage?? (just ROFL..) It was deeply satisfying to see her puncture the claims of a certain well known convert to have such a superior and deep understanding of Arabic that he even knows better than most Arabs how to interpret Q 4:34.

But at the same time, we’re back to the issue of truth, and those who play fast and loose with it. Arguments like that essentially rest on appealing to people’s ignorance and fear. Those making the “I have a sublime command of Arabic and even most Arabs don’t have this” argument in order to shore up their own interpretations of Q 4:34 bank on one of two things: Either the audience will be too intimidated by such a display of “knowledge” to object, or they realize that is going on but let the inaccurate claims about “the tradition” slide because they want to see Islam presented in a positive way (especially in front of non-Muslims).

But this is straight-up manipulation. In the era of the internet, how can it possibly work as a long-term strategy? Today, anyone who wants to (and who can read classical Arabic) can look up 4:34 in thirty or more medieval Qur’an commentaries with a few clicks of the mouse. Perhaps these leaders are banking on people’s laziness or gullibility? Or on people’s wish to believe that “the Islamic tradition” holds all the answers and their aversion to criticizing it?

But strategies and mundane considerations aside—HOW COULD THEY LIE ABOUT SOMETHING SO IMPORTANT??

How could they claim to be thoroughly familiar with “the Islamic tradition” right down to the legal texts and the Qur’an commentaries, and then quote snippets of these very selectively as of this is the whole story? How could they play word games, claiming that hitting is somehow not violent or abusive? How could some authors make polemical claims about abuse statistics that essentially boil down to tu quoque? Or to claim that some women “need” to be hit and find pleasure in it?

It’s not just that they made inaccurate, fallacious and otherwise bad arguments, that effectively maintained that abuse is not a “Muslim problem” and silenced women who were dealing with abuse. We were told that we had to believe what they said. That this is what “Islam says” or “the tradition says,” and only those who rebel against God or are unreasonably prejudiced or have surrendered to the evil desires of their nafs would not recognize it as just and fair.

Thing is, they lied, and as a result, we also lied to ourselves.

Some of them lied for the same reasons that we ended up lying. They had faith. They wanted to believe the best of God, the Prophet, and the scholars. They couldn’t square the circle of a misogynistic tradition with their own internal sense of justice, so something had to give. The tradition had to mean something else. The great scholars of the past must have somehow been talking about mutuality and harmony in a marriage between spiritually equal partners after all.

I wonder if this book will put a stop to this type of dishonesty. “The tradition” is now laid out before us in all its horror, so quoting the few bits and pieces of it that “sound good” (especially when decontextualized) won’t wash any more.

But who knows.

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  1. #1 by Reader on May 22, 2014 - 5:27 am

    Very well written …I am just curious to know whether you see these problems as being inherent in the Quran as well ? Thanks for writing :)

    • #2 by xcwn on May 23, 2014 - 2:26 am

      Yes and no. I’d say that the Qur’an is a patriarchal text, but that medieval scholars (and most modern ones) take that patriarchy to a whole new level. And also, that selective literalism in the reading of the Qur’an is an important part of the problem.

  2. #3 by Anonymous// on May 22, 2014 - 11:48 am

    I doubt this excellent book will change much of anything. What did you think of the conclusion, that we should continue to privilege and to search for ethical interpretations, etc? At what point does this override our commitments, as historians if not as ethicists, to the meanings text might have held for its original audiences? Is such an act of hermenuetical retrieval feasible, or even desirable? Or should we concede, as Aysha Hidayatullah does, that this particular feminist endeavour has reached an impasse? Her argument goes on to radically reconsider the nature of revelation. But what happens once we are no longer able to take the Quran for granted as an ethical document?

    • #4 by Anonymous// on May 22, 2014 - 11:56 am

      Also bear in mind the books limitations. As an exploration of such ideal (and self-refer ential and repetitive) discourses as fiqh and tafsir it enjoys only a partial entitlement to represent “The Islamic Tradition”.

      • #5 by xcwn on May 23, 2014 - 2:46 am

        Yeah, the book has its limitations. But every book does. She’s raising the bar of honesty. That in and of itself is awesome. The bar is so pathetically low, and the typical level of discussion is insulting to everyone’s intelligence.

        And yes, fiqh and tafsir aren’t all there is to “the Islamic tradition,” but they sure do matter, at least in any community I’ve been involved with. What I am used to is Muslims who mouth platitudes about ethics, but when it comes right down to it as far as they are concerned unless something is a legal obligation or it’s written in the Qur’an and all scholars agreed that it means X… then they don’t have to bother. Ethics are basically optional. More decorative than real. And for them, what defines “Islam” and “Muslim identity” is following certain rules—not eating pork (probably the most important rule, oddly enough), wearing hijab (if female), not dating (at least, not openly)… and so on. Politeness, being generous and welcoming and so forth are nice and all, but they didn’t define Islamic identity, and the most generous person who ate pork couldn’t have been a Muslim, as far as they were concerned.

      • #6 by ortega on May 25, 2014 - 11:45 am

        I was actually thinking the same thing. Kecia Ali and Khaled Abou El Fadl have both mentioned that what was written in legal “hornbooks”, and the rulings that jurists gave in individual situations don’t always match up 100%. Usama Hasan mentions a couple of pre-modern jurists in this article who did make statements against wife beating.


      • #7 by xcwn on May 27, 2014 - 12:30 am

        Legal theories are one thing, and actual practices are another. The book discusses the first and not the second.
        The possibility or likelihood that sometimes actual practices were less harsh than theory still doesn’t change the theory, however—which was still there, shaping the education that judges received, and available for them to draw upon as they saw fit. And now that these old books are being republished, and made ever more accessible to educated Muslims who aren’t scholars, then those theories can even be more relevant today in some conservative Muslim circles than they were in the past.

      • #8 by ortega on May 27, 2014 - 9:28 am

        Legal theories are one thing, and actual practices are another. The book discusses the first and not the second.

        I understand that, but I think that’s problematic. Restricting understanding of how law (or ethics) was understood in Islamic history just to what’s written in the “hornbooks” is making a similar mistake to what a lot of the puritans/traditionalists do.

        And now that these old books are being republished, and made ever more accessible to educated Muslims who aren’t scholars, then those theories can even be more relevant today in some conservative Muslim circles than they were in the past.

        I completely agree with that and I think this ahistorical and narrow view of “Islamic Tradition” is behind a lot of the problems today. There’s a huge ignorance about the position these books actually had in history and how they were viewed. This applies to a lot of areas, not just gender relations.

        There’s also a lack of perspective about what actually constitutes “Islamic tradition” historically, so it ends up just getting reduced to Islamic legal thought.

    • #9 by xcwn on May 23, 2014 - 2:38 am

      Haven’t reached the end of the book, so I can’t comment on her conclusions yet.
      I think it’s important to distinguish between what the Qur’an meant for its original audience (to the extent that we can know that… another complex issue), and what to do with it now.
      Haven’t managed to read Aysha Hidayatullah’s book yet either, but that’s hopefully my next project. It looks promising.

      If “this particular feminist endeavour has reached an impasse,” so what? Why isn’t it an earth-shattering problem that we can’t read the verses on slavery literally any more? (Or at least, that when some way-out extremists claim that that’s what they’re doing, that the likes of ISNA denounce their actions as “unIslamic”.) Part of the reason why it isn’t an earth-shattering problem for most Muslims is because they haven’t been taught that it should be. There’s been a concerted effort in the last several decades by religious leaders and religious movements to convince average Muslims that marriage has to be done in X way and women have to play certain roles and dress in certain ways and that this is the barometer of the community’s faith and authenticity. There hasn’t been that with slavery, fortunately.

  3. #10 by rosalindawijks on May 22, 2014 - 3:56 pm

    This sounds like a very interesting book on a disturbing subject. However, the way the jurists saw marriage clearly didn’t have much, or anything to do with the “rahmatan wa mawaddatan” verse, which is Quranic, for crying out loud.

    Two other books that struck me as so honest, as well as theologically sound were Sexual Ethics and Islam and Homosexuality in Islam. I’d love to buy them once, inshallah.

    • #11 by xcwn on May 23, 2014 - 2:48 am

      Well yes, it’s quranic, but it wasn’t interpreted in the past the way it (sometimes) is now. Reading it as a description of some sort of mutually fulfilling relationship is a new development.

  4. #12 by nmr on May 22, 2014 - 5:45 pm

    I do think the tradition-glorification- orthodoxy system did rely, in the old days [egads- twenty years ago only?], on the tight control of information and texts. With the internet and expansion of translations, the orthodoxy system cannot use this tool. They will have to rely on people having little to no critical thinking skills. And critical thinking, to paraphrase Barbie, “Is hard.”

    • #13 by xcwn on May 23, 2014 - 3:03 am

      lol @ the Barbie quote. :-)
      And now that you mention it, I remember all the reasons why this book probably wouldn’t have had much effect on me (at least, not in the short term) if I’d read it back when I was drinking the kool-aid. Because we were taught to mistrust anything written about Islam by anyone who wasn’t a traditionally trained scholar. We believed that academics had nothing at all to teach us that would be worth learning, and that they would probably misguide us—or even, that they were being paid by the “enemies of Islam” in order to write things that would make Muslims lose their faith.

      (Yeah, we were kinda paranoid… :-( Talk about isolation and control of information.)

      Dyed-in-the-wool neo-traditionalists would probably look at that book and ask what ijazas she has for the books she is using and what ulama she studied with… and then decide that whatever the Arabic texts might seem to say, she has to have misunderstood them somehow because she didn’t “study them with a teacher.” Aka she isn’t coming to the conclusions that the scholars they like would agree with, so she can’t be right.

      Neo-traditionalist thought-stopping techniques at their finest.

  5. #14 by rosalindawijks on May 23, 2014 - 5:54 am

    Well, I can’t read he “love and mercy”-verse otherwise then a mutually fulfilling relationship.

    It’s there, loud and clear. How can there be any “love and mercy” in a marriage which is based on, well, legalizes prostitution, which is hierarchic, in which one party mainly has rights and the other mainly duties and in which one party, under certain circumstances, can beat and rape?

    No, that’s not what God or the Prophet (peace be upon him) intended, and not what is written in the Qur’an. That’s power, hierarchy, patriarchy.

    The Quran stresses that God is, above all, Merciful. Of course, what being merciful means depends on interpretation and who one asks it too. But I believe in a just and loving God, whose mercy upon us is like the rain in spring, or a mother nursing her child, or a father proudly carrying around his newborn.

    And I refuse to believe in a god who thinks that more then half of humanity are inferior and at best second-class creatures.

    Read this link, which explains it more vividly then I can. :-)


    • #15 by xcwn on May 27, 2014 - 12:39 am

      All I can say is, read Chaudhry’s book. :-)

  6. #16 by rosalindawijks on May 24, 2014 - 2:09 pm

    “Ethics are basically optional. More decorative than real. And for them, what defines “Islam” and “Muslim identity” is following certain rules—not eating pork (probably the most important rule, oddly enough), wearing hijab (if female), not dating (at least, not openly)… and so on. Politeness, being generous and welcoming and so forth are nice and all, but they didn’t define Islamic identity, and the most generous person who ate pork couldn’t have been a Muslim, as far as they were concerned.”

    I agree partly, but there are many, many ethical rules which make certain behaviour a no-no, also in practice. Lying, for instance. And being unpolite. Furthermore is hospitality very important in all Muslim cultures I know of. And I have never heard anyone, not even the biggest Salafi-fundamentalist, claiming that someone who eats pork isn’t a Muslim. They would consider it a grave sin, like any practicing Muslim would, but a reason for takfir? No. Interestingly enough, it IS true that not eating pork is one of the rules most faithfully followed – even by many atheists with Muslim backgrounds. :-)

  7. #17 by rosalindawijks on May 24, 2014 - 4:42 pm

    Oh, yes and I would like to point out that not all the leaders you refer to must have meant to lie. I have studied Islam intensively for almost 12 years now and know quite a few misogynist ahadith and fiqh and have read quite a lot about the notorious 4:34 verse (the Salafi, traditional and Islamic Feminist interpretation) but haven’t heard, for instance, of this:

    “But in fact, some medieval scholars argued that there is no obligation on the husband to discipline his wife in stages—he can scold her, separate from her, and beat her on the same occasion, or hit her before even telling her what he is objecting to. Some wrote about hitting wives with sticks, switches, whips, sandals and other objects.”

    Even in the most misogynistic work I have ever read – “Fatawa regarding women” by some Saudi Salafi sheikh who was a proponent of the niqab with only one eye visible, and certainly thinks that women could be hit and are obliged to “supply” sex, I haven’t read the stories of these medieval scholars, which makes me think that they’re fairly unknown – also with neo-traditionalists. So it could be, that they simply didn’t know these stories.

    • #18 by xcwn on May 27, 2014 - 12:37 am

      You never know what neo-traditionalists will choose to dredge up from the past and run with. Or what anyone else will do with old books like those, for that matter. As long as it’s in print, and it’s part of “the tradition” it can be recycled by someone at any point.

    • #19 by kategrealy on June 10, 2014 - 4:24 am

      One man’s miswak is another man’s stick

  8. #20 by Ayesha on May 27, 2014 - 12:34 am

    I just saw this review and I want to say that I really appreciate your thoughts on the book. You really got the main points of the book, and you clearly read the footnotes! I love your blog, I’ve shared some of it with my classes (especially the one about the Abu Eesa controversy). I want you to know that writing the book was an extremely painful process for me too, I certainly felt the deep sense of betrayal that is captured so perfectly by your post. It is time to take responsibility in our communities, for the traditions we choose to adhere to and to those to whom we confer authority.

    • #21 by xcwn on May 28, 2014 - 12:23 am

      Thank you for commenting!
      (It never occurred to me that the author of the book would see my review—wow.)

      “It is time to take responsibility in our communities, for the traditions we choose to adhere to and to those to whom we confer authority.” I couldn’t agree more.

      • #22 by A on May 29, 2014 - 9:02 pm

        Aah. You don’t realise the value of your writing in the timeline of personal Islamic faith reawakening, that’s why it didn’t occur to you. You make us challenge our own defence of the indefensible; our apologetics. You help us reestablish a level of truthfulness to ourselves by laying out our shared discomfort and the thoroughly thought out reasons therefor. And not just that, your writing is eloquent and intelligent. Your musings facilitate much positive personal growth. You are a relevant and an important source in our present. (I don’t mean to overwhelm you.)

  9. #23 by Reema on May 28, 2014 - 3:18 am

    What is your proof or evidence that these medieval scholars are accurate? What ever happened to referring to the seerah? In all of the Prophet Muhammeds (s) life we see from his personality and actions and way of living with his family the complete opposite of this interpretation. Anyone can be thinking, well then who could be right? Who do i beleive? Both parties can be either right or wrong. Right? This open road of questioning is an opportunity for someone who has doubt to reassure his doubt and make it valid. A true believer knows the nature of rasullullah. His compassionate personality is a reflection of the Quran. To say that Allah the Perfect One, will not be able to give us a perfect religion to follow is a disgrace to one’s faith and arrogant as a human being. It all comes down to your faith in Allah, Alkamel. Again, this is the nature of the soul. Whom ever seeks the truth with sincerity and good intentions shall find it. So how you look at a verse in the Quran is a reflection of your faith. This is how the Quran functions. It is clear for the believers and those who want to seek the truth. This is the Ultimate Test. Alfurqan. Otherwise, every single person from day 1 till the day of judgement would all be believers and there wouldn’t be any life and human challenges and the ahkam we see in the Quran, ect… اللهم أرني الحق حقا وارزقني تباعته. وأرنى الباطل باطل وارزقني اجتنابه

    • #24 by xcwn on July 2, 2014 - 12:49 am

      The people you should be taking all this up with are the neo-traditionalist scholars and imams here in North America who sold us on how “the Tradition” (TM) is eminently just and fair and has all the answers that Muslims here today need.

      And if you do, they will probably smile rather condescendingly at you, and give you some vague answer about God’s mercy and justice and the amazing awesomeness of “the Tradition” and the knowledge of the scholars past and present that means nothing really except “trust us–we know the answer.”

  10. #25 by The Salafi Feminist on June 10, 2014 - 1:43 pm

    Curious question – I’m probably what you’d consider a confused neo-Salafi, but from my own perspective/ those I’ve studied (briefly) with – is that many bizarre opinions existed from classical scholars of various mathaahib esp when it came to women’s issues – but that doesn’t mean that those opinions are right, or to be accepted at all.

    From a Salafi perspective, if something doesn’t match up directly with Qur’an and Sunnah, it doesn’t matter how learned a scholar is or how respected they are, that opinion of theirs is considered null and void… so, for example, anyone who put it out there that there’s no actual process of conflict resolution and that a man can separate, beat, and deprive his wife from sex all at once, would have their opinion rejected because it’s not what RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) described nor what his companions accepted or practiced.

    And, taking into consideration other authentic ahadith such as the one about a true believer being the one from whose tongue and hand other Muslims are safe from – those ahadith in and of themselves are an evidence against abuse and violence of any kind (because women are, duh, Muslims who deserve to be safe from harm as well).

    Just wondering what your thoughts are on that…

    • #26 by xcwn on July 2, 2014 - 1:01 am

      Several problems with that, in my experience: (1) in reality, neither the Qur’an nor the sunna are interpreted even by Salafis without reference to the views of medieval scholars (it wouldn’t be possible, actually), (2) the question of which hadiths are authentic is an endless ongoing debate, (3) there are some remarkably misogynistic hadiths which are generally held to be sahih, (5) both the Qur’an and the sunna are highly patriarchal, (4) the interpretations of the Qur’an and sunna are vast, so inevitably one picks and chooses—and the question of whose interpretive choices are seen as valid and whose aren’t depends mainly on patriarchal community dynamics.

      We learned this the hard way, unfortunately. Taking refuge in the Qur’an and sunna tends to work best when the sun is shining and the birds are singing and everything is going swimmingly (and we wanted to ignore the harshly misogynistic views of certain scholars). But it did not work well at all when we were faced with abusive husbands or leaders, who justified their behavior quoting well known quranic verses and hadiths about obeying those in authority and good women being obedient.

  11. #28 by Afrah on June 18, 2014 - 3:09 am

    Wow, wow, just wow. A friend linked me to this article on your blog a few days ago, and since then I have been poring through all your writing because I relate with it so intensely that I felt as if you were transcribing my inner voice. Ever since I realized I had a problem (both in my personal life and theoretically) with the issue of women/Islam I’ve dealt with it by trying to believe the usual apologetics (linguistic acrobatics to reinterpret 4:34, retelling the stories of “empowered Muslim women” [read: the same handful of women, Nusaiba/Ayesha/Asiya/Khadija], Biology Is Destiny arguments, euphemizing wifely obedience, just endless, endless BS). A few things still sit like a swollen lump in my chest and throat–the story of Prophet Ayyub, for example, is like a question that few will answer.

    Not to mention I am surrounded by brown men who defensively refuse to recognize ANY KIND OF PROBLEM WHATSOEVER in their communities. On this note I am building a blog (elnisaa.wordpress.com), and I was hoping you could please check out a rough draft of an article I’ve written as my first piece. It’s on how Muslims leverage their alliance against the most egregious violences (burying your daughter alive, for example) to cover up for their lack of response to more nuanced ethical issues (when your husband tells you you can’t leave the house and you can’t just “convince him,” for example). Because just how many times have we heard patriarchal Muslim sweep aside legitimate concerns about misogyny with statements like “Islam HONORS women by giving them the right to own property!” If you think you could take a look let me know how best to send it, otherwise I completely respect your time.

    – Afrah

    • #30 by xcwn on July 2, 2014 - 1:03 am


  12. #31 by Joseph on July 2, 2014 - 9:21 am

    Ramadan Mubarak XCWN. I hope you and your children are keeping well this season.

    • #32 by xcwn on July 3, 2014 - 12:35 am

      Thanks! Same to you and your family.

  13. #33 by Katiba on December 3, 2014 - 5:06 pm

    the scholars i study with openly talks of this and states that absolutely scholars – men and women alike – are products of their time and culture. one of the major reasons that some modern muslims went nutsos in trying to praise the “tradition” was that they were responding to the attack on tradition and traditional practices such as the mawlid and so on, launched by Salafis. in so doing, they forgot to be nuanced and admit that while there is a need to respect muslims of the past and take that which is helpful from their studies of the faith, this should by no means be a blind acceptance. definitely when it comes to women, i was taught, there is a lot of mysogyny in the way past scholars (and some modern ones too) read and interpret and derive rulings. We definitely need a revolution in this area. And it is not because Allah is unfair to women nor that the Prophet peace be upon him was. We see egalitarian and loving male-female interactions between Rasul Allah peace be upon him and the women in his life – from his wives to his Aunts to his daughters. Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah talks about this and talks about how each time period produced scholars who were a relfection of their circumstances – and also who taught in reaction to certain circumstances. we have to consider their context and not blindly quote their ideas as the only interpretation.

  14. #34 by Katiba on December 3, 2014 - 5:16 pm

  15. #35 by Katiba on December 3, 2014 - 5:18 pm

    re: the series above, the intro talks more about the ways that muslim scholars were mysoginistic and did away with other possible interpretations, due to their own limited worldview nad inability to absorb the fullness of the Quranic and Prophetic Message.

  16. #36 by Sarah on February 26, 2015 - 6:25 pm

    re: Katiba – the problem for me with saying that ‘the scholars had inability to absorb the fullness of the Quranic and Prophetic Message’, is that it implies that God let scholars misguide us for centuries, and that we’re somehow the only ones who have understood the ‘true’ meaning of the texts. Pretty arrogant of us, especially considering that the Prophet also says ‘my community will never come together on an error’. I’d rather see it as an unfortunate question of ethics surrounding interpretation of our (pretty minimal) texts – violent communities developed violent readings, peaceful ones emphasized peaceful readings.

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