The word of God, the Qur’an, the text of the Qur’an is divine revelation. That is unchangeable. But human beings’ understanding of the word of God–this is not divine. –Zainah Anwar
I’ve found a connection with the Muslim women whose stories are found within the pages of Fawzia Afzal-Khan’s book, Shattering the Stereotypes: Muslim Women Speak Out.
I find myself wanting to meet these women, give them hugs and say, “You GET it.” Because these women understand…
They understand what it’s like to have their beloved religion hijacked by patriarchal men.
They understand what it’s like to study a holy text over and over, only to be dismissed by people who say, “Well the Qur’an clearly says…”
They understand how frustrating it is to have to explain to other religious people why feminism isn’t evil and to have to explain to other feminists why their religion isn’t evil.
They understand how confusing it is to be demanded that they reconcile the teachings of a just God with men’s teachings of backwards gender roles.
Islam, like Christianity, is a widespread and diverse religion. And, sadly, also like Christianity, in some cultures, Islam is used to reinforce patriarchy. But, just as brave Christian women (and men!) are beginning to take a stand against the sexism in the church, many Muslim women are providing non-patriarchal interpretations of the Qur’an and are fighting against sexism disguised as Islam.
There’s Zainah Anwar, who states, “It’s hard for us, as believers, to accept that God is unjust and that God is unjust to half the human race just based on the fact that we were born women.” (from Shattering the Stereotypes, pp. 146-147) Anwar believes that sexism cultural norms have nothing to do with Islam, which values justice and equality.
There’s feminist theologian Riffat Hassan, who studies hermeneutics, finding “the meanings of Arabic words in the Qur’an in their time-bound horizons.” She believes that “the essential message of Islam is justice and compassion” and therefore, “one cannot interpret certain passages as preaching control, subjugation, and other unequal treatment of women since to do so would be in violation of the egalitarian spirit of the Qur’an.” (from Shattering the Stereotypes p. 12)
There’s Eisa Nefertari Ulen, who reminds us that Muslim women “inherited property, participated in public life, divorced their husbands, worked and controlled the money they earned, even fought on the battlefield—1,400 years ago.” Long before these kinds of rights were secured for many Western women. (from Shattering the Stereotypes p. 43)
And there’s Azizah Al-Hibri, who stands behind the philosophy of gradualism in the Qur’an. Similar to Christianity’s “redemptive progressive” theology, this idea states that the Qur’an acknowledges that “fundamental changes do not usually occur overnight,” therefore, “the Qur’an uses a gradual approach to change entrenched customs, beliefs, and practices.” Al-Hibri therefore condemns those who use the Qur’an to justify violence toward women, reminding us that the Prophet was strongly against spousal abuse.
Fellow Christian feminists, we’re not alone. Women all over the world and in all different religions have had enough of the sexism and patriarchy that finds its way into our religions. Women everywhere are working to transform their religions into places that love and affirm women.
Christian feminists, we have sisters in Islam.