women and religion: islam November 16, 2006Posted by Brad Richert in religion, sexism.
Lynda Clarke (Women in Islam, “Women and Religious Traditions“) points out that there is no cognizant group within Islam that is able to re-establish or re-investigate aspects of the religion in the perspective of women. She does not claim that Islamic women do not question or blindly follow, but instead they are restricted within the call of “correct practice”. This practice is strictly laid out in the Sunnah, which is authoritative in Islamic tradition. Thus, women are at a seeming impasse because of the stress on orthopraxy. Anything that is added or perceived as contrary to the authoritative text can automatically be viewed as illegimate and opposed to Islam. This is often seen with Islamic women’s issues because of the contrast struck between Islam and the West’s occupation with Christian values. Islamic traditionalists view feminism as a Christian or Western ideology and is consequently perceived as opposition to the Sunnah. However, Clarke is optimistic that Islamic women have the capacity to work within the Islamic faith in order to retain their own tradition without being isolated. Clarke is arguing here that by using the Koran they can legitimize their perspective an overcome the overwhelming patriarchal worldview that Islam has currently found itself.
Whether Clarke’s positive outlook is realistic could be argued. Islam’s contemporary problem is that anything associated with “progress” is often construed as an influence of the Christian West and must be admonished – quite a reversal from a medeival Islam that had saved the ancient intellectual works that Christians had destroyed. This leads to a larger philosophical problem. Any sort of paradigm shift within Islam will require deconstruction of the faith. This would not only be viewed upon as Western, but perhaps even as heresy. The challenge, then, is to somehow express women’s issues within the Islamic faith without use of any major paradigm shifts. I am skeptical whether this could actually be accomplished.
However, Islam does not necessarily need a paradigm shift to re-interpret some of Islamic doctrine as women-positive. Many contemporary women point out that early followers of Mohammad were female and were important to the new community. The first person to believe the message of Mohammad was a woman as was the first martyr in his name. Seemingly detrimental passages that purport polygamous marriages can easily be explained as a protection of women who were unfortunate – a common practice of that time. Many contemporary liberal Islamic women (and men) emphasize this notion of protection and respect of women in all aspects of Islam and note that this has not been given fair due in the course of Islamic history. In order to fully critique or analyze the truth of this claim requires a fair bit of understanding of Islamic history and doctrine.
As I personally lack knowledge in Islamic studies the only response to the argument of a women-positive Islam can be in light of an existential analysis. How Islamic men treat Islamic women in the here and the now is the truth of whether Islam is women-positive or not. According to such a claim, Islam is not women-positive because that is not how it is currently practiced or even attempted to be practiced. If some women say Islam is women-positive they must actually view it as women-positive instead of whether it could be women-positive.