“Look at fiqh, i.e., Islamic jurisprudence. Isn’t it so misogynistic? Isn’t it so biased against women? If we didn’t know better, we would think Islam was a sexist religion. But, we know that Islam is perfectly aligned with modern gender egalitarianism. Only Islamophobes and people ignorant of Islamic history say otherwise. What is really happening is that all of the millions of Muslim scholars over the past 1400 years who were involved with the development of that fiqh were the real misogynists who distorted the religion. After all, how could they all agree to give men and women unequal rights to divorce? How could they all agree to give men and women unequal rights to inheritance? How could they describe men and women’s capabilities and interests in unequal terms? That’s injustice, so obviously we must dump fiqh and look elsewhere for our understanding of revelation.”

How do we respond to this?

This is the basic logical error at the core of all reformist and feminist discourse on Islamic law: that by simply knowing the content of a juristic opinion you can definitively know whether or not it represents a power differential in favor of one group and opposed to the interests of another. For any legal system, a specific ruling must be read and situated in context of the entire legal system, and then the entire legal system must be read and situated in context of the larger social, cultural, and intellectual milieu.

But those who cite these rulings as evidence of a kind of ethical deficiency on the part of historical Muslim scholars, may Allah have mercy on them, have no interest in that kind of analysis. Rather they have a halfbaked conclusion that they’ve coopted wholesale from modern feminist discourse, namely that all social phenomena must be understood in terms of gendered power and the subjugation of women, and then they go scour the fiqh texts for these easter eggs of male bias and question-beggingly confirm to themselves the frame with which they had interpreted those texts in the first place. That passes as great, exemplary, even brave scholarship in modern academia, which itself is beholden to a kind of civilizational chauvinism very much in the same heritage as Orientalism, which is at pains to prove that all historical civilization was beset with the same moral and intellectual failings that characterize the Western European historical trajectory. But the rest of us see through these cheap maneuvers.

Take any current law in American jurisprudence and give it the same treatment. In 50, 100, 200, 300, 400 years, once social sensibilities have sufficiently shifted, those laws can just as easily be taken out of context and depicted as discrimination and examples of unjust power dynamics. It’s a trivial exercise.

As a simple example, look at the emergence of transgenderism, where people now believe that there are no genders inherent to a person, rather it is all a social mediated choice that can be usurped by the imposition of illegitimate power pigeonholing individuals into a binary. All Western law historically and even today presupposes this binary for the most part, but now all of a sudden all those laws can be depicted as “transphobic” and “ciscentric” and representative of inherent bias, etc., when interpreted according to current “transfriendly” cultural and intellectual standards. This is what is done for Islamic law as well. Simply define gender roles and gender expectations in a very specific way as informed by your cultural background and then whatever does not seem to accord with that structure deem misogynistic, biased, and discard accordingly.

It’s all really silly, which makes it all the more sad to see so many Muslims leaving and losing touch with their faith because of it. Allah protect us and our children.

"Look at fiqh, i.e., Islamic jurisprudence. Isn't it so misogynistic? Isn't it so biased against women? If we didn't…

Posted by Daniel Haqiqatjou on Thursday, May 26, 2016

Daniel Haqiqatjou

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  • It is not difficult to find “an easter egg of male bias” in the Koran itself, the women’s witness rule – 2 women equal 1 man in witness of certain transactions ( 2:182). Even Taqi Usmani, a conservative scholar of considerable intellect, stated with respect to this verse that it is best just to accept what Allah has said, than to try to explain it. Well, that is not good enough for me.

    A modernist “contextualist” scholar such as Fazlur Rahman could probably explain this verse in context and explain why it is no longer applicable. However I do not know what he may have said in this instance. Of course, such an approach is regarded as apostasy in some circles.

    • It is established by science that women with heavy periods are at risk of iron deficiency anemia because they lose blood during menstruation. Also proven is that anemia induced by a mild iron deficiency can affect memory negatively.

      The Quran itself addresses the reasoning for it in the same ayah (which is 282, not 181):

      “And if there are not two men [available], then a man and two women from those whom you accept as witnesses – so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her.”

    • There is no abrogation in the Quran, hence all verses are applicable even to this day.

      Just because a so called modernist doesn’t like a quranic ruling doesnt mean we will leave a Quranic ruling for a mere “modern opinion.”

      • First of all, thank you for the correction to my Koranic reference (2:282).

        I am familiar with the argument regarding iron deficiency and memory, which does have some support. However, the bottom line on this is whether there are in fact overall gender differences in memory and recall. The answer from the following reference is – no, there isn’t. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_differences_in_eyewitness_memory .

        If one were to apply contextual analysis à la Rahman as I understand it, we begin by specifying the desired objective – a fair judgment in a legal dispute. One could explain 282 as follows: at the time of the prophet, (most?) women were subservient, less educated, and less familiar with business than men. Now, they are well educated, not subservient, and familiar with business and finance. Hence the application of 2:282 now would be a disservice to women and an impediment to a fair judgment.

      • @unknown – First of all, thank you for the correction to my Koranic reference (2:282).

        I am familiar with the argument regarding iron deficiency and memory, which does have some support. However, the bottom line on this is whether there are in fact overall gender differences in memory and recall. The answer from the following reference is – no, there isn’t. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_differences_in_eyewitness_memory .

        If one were to apply contextual analysis à la Rahman as I understand it, we begin by specifying the desired objective – a fair judgment in a legal dispute. One could explain 282 as follows: at the time of the prophet, (most?) women were subservient, less educated, and less familiar with business than men. Now, they are well educated, not subservient, and familiar with business and finance. Hence the application of 2:282 now would be a disservice to women and an impediment to a fair judgment.

        @p4rv … Regarding abrogation in the Koran – there is a voluminous literature by many scholars on abrogation, and I (as a non-Muslim) do not take a view on it one way or another!

        Regarding modernism and contextualism – the objective is not to abrogate, but to learn. What was the underlying ethical reason the prophet made a particular assertion with may seem at variance with our judgment? We then transfer the ethical content to our era and our situation and formulate actions to implement it. Easier said than done. This approach makes more sense to me than arguments about arabic grammatical structures, which seems to occupy many literalist scholars.

  • To continue and bring the discussion back to your piece, it seems that you would interpret Islamic fiqh in context (para. 2) – as would modern contextualists like Rahman. Dumping fiqh – well we could use gentler language, but the implication would be a need to reinterpret fiqh, which after all is a human product. Those “easter eggs of chauvinism” you refer to do exist, and Muslims have to deal with them by accepting them, explaining them, or dismissing them.

  • Quran entails;

    respect and values women (Quran 3:195; 4:124; 16:97).

    With a few exceptions based on biological differences and special conditions (such as men being qawwam), men and women are considered equal in every aspect. The Quran expressly states the equality of man and woman, by the expression “you are from each other” (Quran 4:25).

    Furthermore, it reminds us of the common origin of both sexes and the purpose of why God created us as male and female, is the purpose being love/affection and care/mercy (Quran 30:21).

    The rights of women during the time of prophet Muhammad peace be upon him is reflected in verse 58:1, where a Muslim woman argues with Prophet Muhammad regarding her husband. God does not reprimand that woman; to the contrary, God sides with the grievances of the woman and criticizes the superstition.

    The Quran provides several examples of women being role models , such as Abraham’s wife (11:69-71; 60:4-6), Muslim women in Madyan with one whom Moses married (28:23-28), the Queen of Sheba who later surrenders to the will of God (27:34:40), and virtous Maryam (19:16-30; 3:42-43; 66:11-12).