Thursday, May 17, 2018

Two Pillars of Patriarchy in Muslim Contexts: Gender Oppositionality Thesis and the Concept of Patriarchal Honour

Two Pillars of Patriarchy in Muslim Contexts: Gender Oppositionality Thesis  and the Concept of  Patriarchal Honour  

Dr.Adis Duderija
The prevalence of patriarchal values and systems in the Muslim majority societies and cultures, both in the past and the present,   have been identified and discussed from various perspectives, including the anthropological, sociological, cultural, political, legal, religious/theological, and historical by a number of scholars such as S. Joseph,  D. Kandiyoti, K.Ali, A.Barlas, Z.M. Hosseini, L. Ahmed  and  N. Keddie to name the most prominent few.  As someone who has been following academic debates on gender and religion for close to two decades (and publishing on them for over a decade), especially in relation to the Islamic tradition I have come to the conclusion that  there are two theories/ concepts  in particular in which  patriarchal worldview  is rooted in Muslim contexts  . These are:
 1.  the theory of ‘gender oppositionality’ and
 2. the concept of patriarchal honour.
In my considered view, it is these two concepts and the various assumptions that underpin them, that are responsible for the construction of beliefs, values and practices that have resulted in various forms of exploitative and highly asymmetrical power relationship in general and systematic marginalisation of women’s rights, experiences and voices in the construction of (religious) knowledge and the formation of (religious) ethics in particular. The aim of this short piece of writing is to explain the ‘logic’ behind these concepts.

Patriarchy and the Thesis of Gender Oppositionality:
Let us now move onto discussing the first pillar of patriarchal worldview, namely the concept of gender oppositionality commonly and erroneously referred to as gender complementarity. By this phrase, I wish to convey the idea that in (neo)-traditional (Islamic) religious discourses the construction of normative masculinity is almost exclusively done in terms of anti-femininity and vice versa. This ‘‘gender oppositionality’’ theory has given rise to a number of androcentric, if not outright misogynistic, beliefs and practices encoded in the very nature of gender roles and norms it endorses. Specifically, on the one hand, the theory of gender oppositionality conceptually links masculinity with the idea of religious knowledge and interpretative authority, spirituality, authority in both the public ( i.e. political authority)  and domestic realms ( familial authority)  , unreasonable levels of sexual jealousy and even ontological and biological superiority.  On the other hand, according to this theory of gender oppositionality, femininity is conceptually linked with various kinds of lacks and imperfections/defects may they be in the realm of religious authority and spirituality, rationality or any forms of power and authority. Moreover, femininity is strongly associated with an aggressive, extremely powerful and voracious sexuality that ought to be constantly supervised and tightly controlled through practices such as veiling/seclusion of women and strict gender segregation. Femininity, and female sexuality in particular is also viewed as a site of male honor (see below for more). Hence, it is also associated with particular, and by all means in the view of this author, burdensome and ethically ugly, conceptualizations of female modesty and shame that reduce women and their bodies to mere objects of male sexual pleasure (although the proponents of these practices claim to the contrary). Femininity is also, at times, conceptually associated with ontological and biological inferiority which are, needless to say, extremely women demeaning.  These gender cosmologies are then employed ( alongside particular  methods of scriptural reasoning that  inhere in traditionalist approaches to the interpretations of the Qur’an and Sunna)  as the basis of engendering gender specific (religious) laws, practices, ethics and even systems of morality with considerable asymmetries between genders in terms of their rights and responsibilities greatly restricting women’s autonomy and agency. In fact, subscription to such a gender cosmology renders much of women’s agency/autonomy under the control of their male kin.

Patriarchal Honour:
Another pillar of patriarchy is the concept of patriarchal honour that we alluded to in the previous section. The basic premise of this concept of honour is that the honour of the family patriarch resides in the behaviour of his women-folk, especially the behaviour that can be construed as being sexual in nature. Having conceptually invested in this link between male honour and female behaviour, especially the aggressive and powerful nature of female sexuality, societies in which patriarchal honour codes are prevalent strongly regulate this female sexuality through several socio-spatial mechanisms such as veiling/seclusion of women and strict gender segregation. The regulation of female sexuality can also take place through practices such as female genital cutting whose major rationale is the ‘reduction’ of female sexual pleasure as a means of preserving their ‘modesty’ and bringing their  voracious sexual appetite under control, all in the name of  safeguarding of  patriarchal honour.
 The practice of honor killings is also based on the same logic of patriarchal honor.  A paradigmatic example of an honour killing is the killing of a young woman by her bother or male cousin who is considered to have breached societal moral codes by engaging in behaviours, usually construed as being sexual in nature, that compromise the honour of the family patriarch.  It is the most extreme and most violent form of honour based violence through the ‘regulation’ of female behaviour/sexuality as often[1] the only means of recovering/re-deeming lost patriarchal honour.
Beyond Patriarchy:
How can we go beyond these two pillars informing the patriarchal worldview in Muslim contexts? Obviously, in addition to developing different methodologies of conceptualising and interpreting Islamic normative texts , the answer to this question would be in:
1.      engendering alternative conceptualisations of gender cosmologies based on reciprocal and non-hierarchical relationships such as those advocated by the global NGO Musawah,
2.      rethinking  the very nature and the conceptual relationship between masculinity and femininity where masculinity and femininity are not considered as binary opposites; and
3.       reconceptualization of the concept of honour itself that conceptually delinks the honour of men from the  sexual or sexually perceived  behaviour of their women-folk.

There are a number of scholars working in the field of gender and Islam today, some of which have been named above, who have over the last two-three decades already made important theoretical interventions in this respect.  I hope their voices will be amplified and eventually extinguish the still dominant voices of patriarchy, especially in Muslim majority contexts.

[1] In cases of rape the woman is forced by her male kin to marry her rapist and thereby restore their patriarchal honour.

Friday, April 27, 2018


PROFESSOR KHALED ABOU EL FADL’S PREFACE TO MY BOOK : Constructing a Religiously Ideal “Believer” and “Woman” in Islam  Neo-traditional Salafi and Progressive Muslims’ Methods of Interpretation ,Palgrave 2011.

There is a growing number of academic studies on contemporary Islamic thought published in the West each year. Yet despite the sharp increase in books that attempt to study the works of modern Muslim theologians and jurists, only a few of these studies manage to offer original insights on the normative assumptions and choices made by the internal participants to the current Muslim discourse. Fewer still are successful in analytically engaging the internal debates of contemporary Muslims on their own terms without projecting onto these debates assumptions and values that inevitably distort and even misrepresent them. It is the relative absence of sound and thorough scholarship in this critical and timely field that makes this book by Adis Duderija so compellingly necessary.

  This book, which is the fourth in the Palgrave Series in Islamic Theology, Law, and History, is remarkable in its breadth and depth. The author takes on the formidable task of analyzing the thought of the most influential and important orientations in contemporary Islamic thought: what the author calls the neo-traditional and progressive orientations. The author focuses on a pivotal issue that oddly enough has received but scant attention in non-Muslim and Muslim scholarly analysis. In an admirably tight and rigorous exposition, the author investigates the methodologies deployed by the representative participants of each orientation in understanding, narrating, and representing the role and meaning of the Qur’anic text and traditions of the Prophet, his family, and companions. The author carefully and systematically unpacks the methodologies that define how various theological and legal thinkers relate to the Islamic tradition and its role and relationship to the contemporary realities and challenges of the world today. One of the truly valuable contributions of this book is the author’s analysis of the epistemological, hermeneutical, and moral assumptions at the core and foundations of the methodologies employed by the proponents of each orientation. The author ably demonstrates the extent to which normative moral and epistemological assumptions dramatically influence the methodologies of each orientation and indeed, the very attitude and way that they understand, conceptualize, and construct the Islamic tradition and its normative role in the modern world.

 Perhaps the most original and profound contribution of this book is the author’s eye-opening analysis of the ways that the two main orientations have contrasting conceptions or constructions of the prototypical Muslim believer and of the normative commitments expected or anticipated from such a believer. The author also convincingly demonstrates that the imagined and constructed conceptions of “the Muslim believer” have a direct effect upon the adoption of the normative assumptions at the heart of a particular orientation’s methodology in dealing with and interacting with the text. Indeed, this is the first systematic study to explore the intricate and necessary relationship between the theological conception of the believer, as the prototype for the pious and orthodox Muslim, and the methodologies per which the religious text is understood and represented.  This book is a must-read for students of contemporary Muslim thought, and it is also a necessary study for readers interested in the future of Islamic movements, institutions, and the possibilities of reform. 

But beyond the field of Islamic Studies, all readers interested in questions of authenticity, legitimacy, and the construction of religious meaning in the modern world will find the contributions of this work invaluable for any comparative understanding of the role of religious texts in negotiating between, on the one hand, the normative impact of tradition and history, and on the other, the contingencies and imperatives of the present. As this book powerfully demonstrates, stereotypical generalizations about the avowed determinism of Islamic texts or the determinative role of revelation in Islam are to say the least deeply problematic. Like other religious traditions wrestling with the same issues, Muslims struggle to anchor themselves in a perceived orthodoxy and authenticity as they confront and negotiate the numerous challenges of modernity and post-modernity. 

The Palgrave Series in Islamic Theology, Law, and History endeavors to publish works that make truly original and indispensable contributions to understanding the internal micro-discourses and debates taking place within the Islamic tradition. This new study by the gifted young scholar, Adis Duderija, substantially raises the bar for all future studies dealing with the issues of fundamentalism, traditionalism, reformism, and authenticity and progress in Muslim thought. One of the most insightful and even startling contributions of this book is that it analytically and rigorously interrogates the claims of various and disparate Muslim participants that their thought and methodology authentically represents the religious truth of Islam—the religious truth as embodied in the text of the Qur’an and the oral traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. Upon reading this book, no Muslim or non-Muslim researcher will be able to rest with the superficial assumption that either the traditionalists or reformers are more genuinely anchored in the textualist sources of Islam. In my opinion, what makes this book a necessary read for any Muslim or non-Muslim interested in the future of Islam and Muslims is that it convincingly demonstrates the pivotal importance of scrutinizing the interpretive and constructive methodologies of Muslims competing to represent Islamic authenticity. Employing a scholarly methodology that is uncompromising in its objectivity, detachment, and rigor, Adis Duderija demonstrates that there is a considerable gap between dogmatic perceptions of legitimacy and authenticity, and the extent to which the methodologies employed by neo-traditionalists and progressives actually reflect normativities inherent or necessary to the religious foundational texts of Islam. 

At the very least, anyone reading this book will be forced to seriously re-examine their understanding of the dynamics governing the relationship between critical conceptual categories such as orthodoxy, authenticity, tradition, and progress. The author of this book does not determine who authentically speaks for modern Islam. But he does invite Muslims and non-Muslims alike to a serious critical engagement with the value choices and coherence of various participants claiming to represent Islamic normativities in the world today.
 Khaled Abou El Fadl  Los Angeles, California  April 2011

Monday, April 23, 2018

Hadith and Gender in the Thought of Sa’diyya Shaikh

Shaikh is prominent progressive scholar who has offered us system­atic non-patriarchal interpretations of the hadith literature. Anchored in a fundamental commitment to justice as a spiritual core of Islam and inspired by a feminist hermeneutic derived from this spiritual core, Shaikh (2004) critiques the implicit androcentric and patriarchal gender ideologies embedded in a selection of hadith found in a traditionally highly esteemed hadith collection, Sahih of Bukhari. She (2012, 26–27) elsewhere terms this approach as a feminist ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ which “exposes discriminatory struc­tures and values embedded within texts emerging from an exclusively male experiential reality”.
Unlike Mernissi, Shaikh does not adopt the methodology of the classical hadith scholars when engaging in an alternative reading of the hadith literature. She writes:

My paper is not concerned with isnad criticism and historical authenticity. In short, I am concerned with approaching the Hadith as a religio-cultural text which provides a mirror into the dominant conceptions of gender and the category of woman within a formative period of the Muslim legacy, as well as the ways in which these become ideologically functional subsequently in defining religious ideals of gender (2004,100).

Importantly, on the basis of a ’hermeneutics of reconstruction’ (2012, 27), she  teases out gender-egalitarian interpretations of the same hadith which run contrary to the dominant one to show “how these texts have potential to not only buttress the functioning patriarchy but also provide alternative liberatory positions of gender within the legacy” (Shaikh, 2004, 99).
As aptly noted by Rhouni (2010, 218) Shaikh “keeps different readings of these hadiths in tension with each other. She affirms the plurality of meaning that the hadiths offer rather than verify their authenticity.”

Shaikh (2004, 99) argues that her approach represents “part of an Islamic feminist approach that destabilizes patriarchal gender constructs and provides alternative approaches to the tradition informed by  a religious commitment to gender justice”. As such it offers counter-narratives to dominant constructions of gender-unjust ideologies. Her method is best described as contextualist and is based on a critical, feminist analysis that is sensitive to the manner in which hadith literature is viewed as a vista through which the reader gains an insight into the competing and contesting gender dynamics during the formative period of the Islamic civilization char­acterized by a tension between the budding Islamic gender-egalitarian ethos and the established and aggressive androcentric Arab culture (Shaikh, 2004, 100). She argues that the strong androcentric model of an ideal human being that permeates classical Islamic thought and that, in contemporary Muslim thought is often taken by many for granted, is contrary to the very core of gender-egalitarian Qur’anic ethics. Based on her contextualist, feminist ‘hermeneutics of suspicion and deconstruction’, Shaikh advocates for an alternative ‘religious anthropology’ of a human person in Islam in “which humanity, male and female, is presented in ways that are holistic, non-hierarchical and egalitarian” (Shaikh, 2004, 107).

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Hadith and Gender in the Thought of Faqihuddin Abdolkodir

Hadith and Gender in the Thought of Faqihuddin Abdolkodir
A contemporary Indonesian progressive Muslim scholar, Kodir is another important contributor to a non-patriarchal approach to hadith literature. Kodir’s starting premise is that classical hadith sciences and principles of Islamic jurisprudence contain useful mechanisms for a contextualist reading of hadith on the basis of which gender-just interpretations of the same can be developed. The contextualist interpretation of hadith for Kodir entails a critical reading of the hadith by means of ijtihad of the text (matn) of the hadith conceived of as a linguistic text that functions within a certain cultural environment.
The hadith texts are historical records. As such, they are intimately connected to the social dynamics of Arab society at the time of the Prophet. Consequently, in light of the fundamentally contextual character of the hadith, a number of scholars have adopted an understanding of the hadith which is informed by the essential purpose of the text and the root problem that it addresses. The meaning inscribed in the literal language of the text is not regarded as definitive and need not be applied in an unconditional manner. In essence then, as
social contexts change, the essential purpose of a hadith should be emphasized rather than its
literal meaning (Kodir,2007,19-20).

If approached as such, Kodir (2013, 176) forms the view that the meanings of hadith can yield a number of different interpretations, some of which are commensurable with gender-just interpretations/meanings.
Adopting this contextualist approach, Kodir (2007, 1–25; cf. 2013) argues that the proper interpretation of hadith is obtained by evaluating them with respect to the original socio-political contexts in which they were embedded and by inquiring into the circumstance behind the emergence of hadith, a classical hadith science known as ‘ilm asbab al-wurud. This is especially so in relation to hadith pertaining to gender issues. In this context, Kodir (2007) states:
The hadith regarding relations between men and women are windows into a particular socio-cultural reality. These texts must therefore be understood to be based on the logic of the historical role they played in furthering justice and the general welfare of specific communities.
Kodir also makes use of the hermeneutical principle of corroborative induc­tion (istiqra’) to hadith interpretation as a pre-requisite for their proper inter­pretation. In this context, Kodir (2007, xx–xxi) laments the lack of such an approach in traditional scholarship by stating that “in essence, certain hadith and indeed, specific decisions by the Prophet have been typically selectively invoked as authoritative references instead of being examined comprehen­sively and in totality.” An example of corroborative induc­tion (istiqra’) to hadith interpretation can be found in Kodir’s discussion the issue of the veil and women’s private body parts (’awrah).After making reference to and analysing a couple of hadith that suggest that it is religiously ideal that women should always stay at home and that their entire bodies are ‘awrah (Kodir, 20007, 93- 104) Kodir asks as follows:

Did the Prophet ever say that women were creatures that must be kept locked up inside the house? Many records show that in the days of the Prophet, women left their homes to migrate to Medina, go to war, pray and study in the mosque, work, or simply meet their needs Thus, in the time of the Prophet, women were not considered ‘awrah that must stay cooped up in their homes (Ibid,104).

Kodir, therefore, concludes that the majority of the hadith present women at the time of the prophet as leading active and publically visible lives and that the corroborative power of these hadith calls into question the authenticity of those hadith which restrict women to the private sphere or consider women as ‘awrah. Thus, Kodir is of the opinion that hadith texts are to be inter­preted and applied according to the broader transformative spirit that char­acterizes the Qur’an and the hadith as a whole by resorting to a thematic and holistic approach to the interpretation of hadith.
Kodir also applies a maqasid-based approach to hadith texts, arguing that hadith pertaining to gender issues should be read in accordance with their underlying objectives which take form in certain ethico-religious values such as justice, equality, and mercy, understood and conceptualized in ethically objectivist terms. In this context, Kodir asserts that in respect to gender issues, references to the hadith must be approached from the perspective of being aware of the crucial values the Prophet Muhammad’s message entailed, including the oneness of Allah, the equality of all human beings (rich or poor, men or women), justice, and mercy (Kodir, 2007, xxi). The principles of justice and equality in particular play a prominent role in this type of reason­ing and interpreting of hadith (Kodir, 2013, 171). Kodir (2007) laments that this approach to interpretation of hadith is lacking today, as evident from the following quote:
Contemporary interpretations of many [of these] hadith continue to engender inequality and unfairness in the relationship between men and women. This inequality, moreover, violates the most fundamental prin­ciples of the Qur’an and the hadith.
Kodir acknowledges the long history of androcentric interpretation of hadith that in many contexts continues in the present day but urges for a much more “gender sensitive” that takes into account women’s needs and experiences. 
I believe that we need to re-examine the hadith in this gender sensitive fashion so as to restore the teachings of Islam to their original truth in which women are accorded respect and compassion. Though we often hear ulama and other scholars asserting that Islam has never discriminated against women, that Islam treats women and men equally, we also constantly hear and witness the opposite. In fact, Islamic preachers commonly use the very hadith I have quoted in the preceding chapters as a justification for restricting women’s rights and treating them as subordinate second class citizens. They argue that this inequality and necessary subservience has been ordained by God (Kodir, 2007, 162).

Kodir, therefore, calls for a new ‘interpretive paradigm’ of the hadith that seeks to establish gender relations that are in accordance with the contemporary conceptualiza­tions of gender justice which are also the most truthful reflections of  the fundamental values and teachings of Islam itself (Kodir, 2007, xix). 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Khaled Abou El Fadl's Approach to the Hadith

Khaled Abou El Fadl's   Approach to the Hadith
Khaled Abou El Fadl (b.1963) is one of the most distinguished scholars of Islamic law today. He is also one of the few progressive Muslim scholars who has fully engaged with the postmodern episteme, post-enlightenment hermeneutics, and literary theory, as well as applied them in relation to gen­der issues in Islam, including the interpretation of hadith pertaining to gender. Much of his Qur’anic hermeneutics and approach to Islamic jurisprudence is in agreement with scholars such as mohsen Kadivar and nasr Abu Zayd , and need not be repeated. However, El Fadl’s work also includes discussions pertaining to (in)determinacy of meaning, ambiguity of textual hermeneu­tics, and the process of meaning derivation as employed, for example, in literary theory and semiotics (which he has applied to both Qur’an and hadith texts) (El Fadl, 2001, 88). El Fadl has systematically engaged in these discussions and has applied them to the issue of women’s rights in Islam. With reference to determinacy of meaning process, El Fadl makes a distinc­tion between ‘authoritarian’ and ‘authoritative’ textual hermeneutics. To substantiate this distinction, El Fadl cites Qur’anic verses upholding the prin­ciple of God’s Sovereignty and Omnipotence, as well as the ontological rela­tionship between The Creator and the created, namely that of the Lord and His vicegerent. In this context, he claims that due to this very hierarchy in the natural order, the human representatives of God on earth can never self-identify themselves with God’s intent or profess to have grasped His Knowl­edge beyond any shadow of doubt or ambiguity – a practice that has, in his opinion, become quite widespread among present-day authorities on reli­gious issues (El Fadl, 2001, 170–177). In this context, he asserts that the prevalent ‘Wahhabo-Salafi’ ‘authoritarian hermeneutics’ is oblivious to the intricate and subtle relationships existing between the author, text, and reader regulating the process of determinacy of meaning of God’s indicators (adilla), and thus is guilty of equating the author’s intent with that of the reader, thereby violating the principles inherent to the Qur’anic weltanschau­ung and its ethico-religious foundation.
In contrast, El-Fadl, proposes a more balanced approach when engaging in the task of interpreting texts in which neither the author’s intent, the language, nor the reader have the upper hand in determining the meaning that he terms ‘authoritative’. It is the balance between these three which upholds the ‘inherent ambiguity’ embedded in the textual sources, thus acting as an anti-authoritarian interpretative measure. He advocates what Umberto Eco (1979) has termed as ‘an open’ (versus closed) interpretation which is capable of sustaining ‘multiple interpretative strategies’. El Fadl terms this ‘authoritative hermeneutics’.
Importantly, El Fadl (2001) applies some of these insights to deconstruct misogynist interpretations of Islamic law as espoused by contemporary Saudi Arabian scholars (whom he refers to at times as ‘puritans’ or ‘Wahhabo- Salafis’), especially those based on a particular approach to and interpreta­tion of hadith literature.
In this context, El Fadl (2005) elsewhere asserts:
The consistent practice of puritans is to collect, publish, and disperse traditions, attributed to the Prophet or the Companions, that are demeaning to women. Such collections act as a foundation for issuing deprecating determinations in regard to women. Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab himself, the founder of the Wahhabi movement, set the prec­edent by collecting a group of these women-deprecating traditions and listing them under the subheading “Living with Women.” But these women-deprecating traditions, without exception, are of weak authen­ticity, if not pure fabrications . . . The traditions utilized by the puritans invariably are of a single transmission, which means that the possibility exists that the Prophet actually authored them, but the possibility is remote and far-fetched.
One aspect of El Fadl’s approach to the question of hadith and its authenticity generally is best reflected in the following passage:
The mechanical and nearly mathematical methodology that Ahl al-hadith apply to the hadith and Sunna in light of our modern epistemological knowledge about reality, meaning, fiction, archetypes, symbolism, phenomenology, and especially history is untenable. . . . In fact the oral reports that are commonly titled the books of hadith often construct and narrate a performance – a performance that preserves a memory of the prophet in some form but that also documents the epistemological attitude of early Muslim generations (2014,317).

El Fadl still sees value in preserving and studying this body of knowledge as it can be mined for its historical, theological, ethical, and moral insights but  this process of study ought to be achieved by means of an “epistemological arsenal that is available to us today – not through the epistemological tools that existed more than ten centuries ago” (El Fadl, 2014, 318). El Fadl also forms the view that the traditional Islamic sciences approached this body of knowledge too literally, a feature which contemporary Muslims are, for reasons stated earlier, to avoid at every cost. In this context El Fadl (2014) writes:
the books of hadith are replete with dramatized performances that are
deeply embedded in the epistemological and phenomenological dialectics
of the first centuries of Islam and therefore are not to be understood
as strictly factual. (2014,318)

Apart from this epistemological critique of the hadith body of literature, El Fadl, importantly, has introduced some novel hermeneutical principles in the evaluation of authenticity of the hadith which go outside of those established by the classical hadith sciences and has applied them to argue for gender-just interpretations of Islam.
The concepts of ‘multiple authorship’ and ‘authorial enterprise’ are such an example. According to El Fadl, the term ‘authorial enterprise’ refers to the process of determining to what extent the Prophet’s role in the historical transmission of the report can safely be established. In this context, he argues that when evaluating reports attributed to the Prophet, we need to keep in mind that these reports are a result of what a number of Companions have “seen/heard, recollected, selected, transmitted and authenticated in a non-objective medium”, hence they have multiple authorship. This view is further supported by classical Islamic scholarship’s view of hadith as not being the actual words of the Prophet but recollections and interpretations of the Prophet’s words which (often/sometimes/at times) retained the core meaning by the individuals reporting them. Hence, hadith can be a result of several authors and various collateral influences, each impacting upon both the structure and the meaning of the report. Therefore, in each report, a person­ality of the transmitter is indelibly imprinted, a process he terms ‘authorial enterprise’ (El Fadl, 2001, 88). El Fadl (2014, 316–317) argues that due to this nature of the hadith, “it is virtually impossible to attribute any specific report to a particular person in history, whether the Prophet or any of the early generations of Muslims”. Rather, these reports, which might retain kernels of truth from the Prophet, are more indicative of the memory of the early generations of Muslims and the contesting ideological currents that were prevalent at the time.14
Additionally, El Fadl applies another regulatory mechanism relating to the normative effect of hadith reports. According to this rule, reports having “widespread moral, legal, or social implications” must be of the highest rank of authority and “require [the] heaviest burden of proof” (El Fadl, 2001, 89). When approached with certain morally repugnant but ‘sound’ hadith (from the perspective of classical hadith sciences, ‘ulum ul hadith) that has wide-ranging implications for society, the proof must be the highest otherwise the hadith will not be considered as normative. Lastly, when deal­ing with morally repugnant hadith (e.g. misogynist), as the very last meth­odological resort, El Fadl introduces the concept of a ‘conscientious pause’, which is a faith-based objection to textual evidence based upon the overall understanding of the Qur’an-Sunna weltanschauung and its √©lan/ethos (El Fadl, 2001, 93). He utilizes these hermeneutical principles to reject the nor­mative nature of misogynistic hadith that are relied on Saudi Arabian schol­ars to deny gender-just interpretations of Islam (El Fadl, 2001).

So , in summary, El Fadl does not discount the potential role of hadith as sources of an  Islamic worldview altogether but he puts in place a number of methodological and epistemological caveats that ought to be applied before assessing their role and worth in informing Islamic beliefs, practices, laws  and ethics.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018



Fatima Mernissi, a Moroccan sociologist, was a pioneer of Islamic feminism. Her most relevant work for the purposes of this chapter is her book The Veil and the Muslim Elite in which Mernissi engages in a critical re-reading and critical reassessment of  the authenticity of two misogynist hadith found in Al-Bukhari’s Sahih hadith collection.[1] Mernissi’s  broader thesis is that the egalitarian if not the  feminist message and the persona of the Prophet of Islam has been manipulated  and distorted by the Muslim male (scholarly ) elite. Recognising the importance of hadith on the collective consciousness of Muslims and their societies and especially the detrimental effect that they have had on women’s rights, Mernissi adopts the methodology and the criteria of the classical hadith scholars themselves to cast doubt on the reliability of the transmitters of the following two hadith:

“Those who entrust their affairs to a woman will never know prosperity.” (transmitted on the authority of Abu Bakra )
“the Prophet said that the dog, the ass, and woman interrupt prayer if they pass in front of the believer, interposing themselves between him and the qibla [the direction of Muslim prayer]”( transmitted on the authority of Abu Hurayra).

In relation to the hadith transmitted by Abu Bakra, Mernissi, by consulting the classical biographies of hadith transmitters, not only questions the circumstances under which Abu Bakra remembered this statement but also argues that his character does not satisfy the isnad-based criteria developed by classical hadith scholars in order for the hadith to be considered authentic. As such Mernissi opines that according to the criteria developed by classical hadith scholars themselves Abu Bakra should be considered as an unreliable transmitted of hadith.[2] In this respect she states: “if one follows the principles of Malik for fiqh, Abu Bakra must be rejected as a source of Hadith by every good, well-informed Malikite Muslim.”[3] Thus, for Mernissi, the abovementioned hadith, despite being found in Al-Bukhari’s Sahih collection, is not to be considered authentic and ought not be used as an argument to prevent Muslim women from assuming the highest level of political leadership.

In relation to the second hadith Mernissi takes aim at one of the most prolific hadith transmitters in Sunni Islam, Abu Hurayra. While Mernissi’s strategy in problematising the trustworthiness of Abu Hurayra as a transmitter of hadith is multilayered including strong elements of interpolation (Ghani,2011), we only focus on those aspects that are aligned with classical hadith authenticity criticism. In this respect Mernissi makes note that Al-Bukhari ignored the fact that ‘Aisha, the prophet’s youngest wife, refuted this hadith on the basis that it was only a partial recollection of what the prophet had actually stated.[4] For Mernissi, this is indicative of Al-Bukhari’s own androcentric bias and methodology. As in the case of Abu Bakra, Mernissi ‘s examination of classical biographical works on Abu Hurayra  leads her to conclude that he had a  number of reasons to exhibit a misogynistic attitude including his frequent quarrels with  ‘Aisha.[5]
In both cases, Mernissi uses the methodologies and tools of classical hadith criticism to defend her broader thesis of Islam as a gender egalitarian religion and a Prophet as an early   proponent of Islamic feminism. More specifically, she in a way de-canonises what is widely considered the most authentic collection of hadith among traditionalist Sunnis , that of Al-Bukhari’s Sahih,  in order to open doors for contemporary Muslims as a whole ( and not just the fuqaha)  to develop a more self-reflective and critical attitude toward the “authentic hadith”. In her words:
What conclusion must one draw from this? That even the authentic Hadith must be vigilantly examined with a magnifying glass? That is our right, Malik Ibn Anas tells us. Al-Bukhari, like all the fuqaha, began his work of collecting by asking for Allah’s help and acknowledging that only He is infallible.[6]
Importantly, Mernissi’s approach, like that of other scholars discussed in this chapter,  also implies that, at least at times, [7]the classical hadith sciences  can be employed to ‘subvert from the inside’ the  patriarchal residue that exists  in the Islamic (interpretative) tradition in general and the hadith collections in particular.

[1] Mernissi also engages in a very contextualist reading of the Qur’anic verses on the hijab and the hadith which document the occasions of the verses in question  but since the focus of this chapter is entirely on the hadith this aspect of Mernissi’ book will not be discussed.
[2] Veil,49-61.
[3] Veil,p.53.
[4] A specific Jewish tribe who had this vision of women.
[5] Veil,70-81.
[6] Veil,76.
[7] A number of scholars have criticised  Mernissi’s methodology  on the grounds that there are other instances of misogynist hadith  that cannot be ‘rescued’ on the basis of following the classical hadith criticism sciences. ( Rhouni, 2010.)

Monday, March 26, 2018


Barazangi’s engagement with the hadith literature is approached from the broader  perspective of changing the discursive focus in understanding the very nature of Islam as a faith tradition  from what Barazangi considers to be the prevalent “dogmatic religious law’ approaches to that of conceptualising Islam as a “religio-moral rational worldview”( 2014, 1). According to Barazangi, rethinking the corpus of Hadith, as the “second textual source of Islam” that has significant social implications for lives of Muslim, especially Muslim women, is central to such a discursive shift (Ibid.). Barazangi’s approach,generally speaking,  is to reassess the authority of hadith in this respect by approaching and rereading hadith and its text (matn)  through  an ethical and pedagogical lens and by  corroborating  the texts of the hadith  with those of the Qur’an  in order to develop  what she terms a new and authentic theology of sunna (Ibid,1-2). 
 In her own words:
By rereading some of the hadith literature, I want to bolster the present Muslim women’s moral courage to stand up for her rights and to effect change in understanding the role of sunna in her life. My hope is that there will also be a shift in understanding Islam, and a shift in the fields of Islamic studies and of Muslim women’s studies by changing the current premises of studying and using hadith. By synthesising the moral effect of the theories of hadith history and theologies of the Sunnah on Muslim women in general, I explore the centuries-old process that led to current misuse of hadith and subsequent unjust treatment of the present day 800 million-plus Muslim women and for the past 14 centuries. My goal is to develop  a new approach to understanding and using hadith literature as I and other Muslim women  reclaim our identity  and identification with the message of Islam-the Qur’an, with the authentic sunna of the messenger-Muhammad, and with the early women believers and narrators  ‘Aishah bint Abi Bakr,  Hafsa bint ‘Umar , Um Salama , Um Waraqa amongst others.

As such Barazangi‘s approach to and the use of hadith is not characterised by a total rejection of the hadith corpus but a recalibration and reassessment of it. In particular, Barazangi wishes to dislodge the entrenched idea among traditionalist approaches that the hadith are quasi-divine or that they are, as sources of authority, on equal footing with that of the Qur’an. In this respect, Barazangi makes her position exceedingly clear:

I must reiterate here that I am neither discrediting the reported hadith nor refuting its central value and importance for Muslim thought and life. Rather, I want to demystify the divine halo that has been cast over Hadith literature…..( Ibid,8).

Barazangi puts in place a number of methodological principles that she considers need to be applied when rethinking the authority of hadith. One such mechanism is her methodological distinction between authenticating and validating hadith. In this respect, Barazangi emphasises the need to view the processes of hadith authentication as conceptually different from hadith authorisation. She states:

I argue that we cannot reread hadith and rethink the Sunnah with the same set of premises that were used for authentication process. These are two different processes and require two different set of premises, regardless of whether or not the authentication process was accepted (Ibid, 27).

She adds that traditional approaches to hadith authenticity have in actual fact conflated the processes of authentication with that of authorisation with very detrimental consequences for women’s rights.

Another interpretational tool Barazangi uses for the purposes of rethinking the authority of hadith is to divorce the concept of prophetic sunna from that of hadith.  She defines the former as “an example of how to proceed in interpreting the message of the Qur’an in time and place” (Ibid, 16). Therefore, Barazangi does not, unlike the traditionalist approaches, consider the prophetic Sunna as the ultimate point of reference for Qur’anic interpretation.
Another  major mechanism identified by Barazangi that is central to her project of rethinking hadith is the importance of corroborating the text of the hadith with that of the Qur’an, especially Qur’an’s central themes of tawhid ( God’s Transcendence) , imama ( non-gender based autonomy and leadership) , ‘adl (justice), fairness ( qist) and taqwa ( God-consciousness)  (Ibid.188, 191). She finds support in this approach in the writings of scholars such as Hashim Kamali, Amina Wadud, and Jama al –Banna (ibid.).  Barazangi laments the fact that the process of canonisation of hadith was not informed by the above outlined interpretational tools and that this state of affairs had the consequence of excluding women’s perspectives in the context of developing Islamic jurisprudence and the theology of sunna. In her words:

As canonizing hadith authority without corroborating it by the Qur’an dominated the process of developing Islamic jurisprudence, the absence of Muslim women left the field open for male elites to further marginalise women’s perspectives (Ibid, 161).

Therefore, Barazangi argues that Muslim women have a special role in the process of rethinking the hadith and developing a new theology of sunna because they have been excluded from the production (in contrast to some inclusion in terms of transmission of hadith in early to formative period of Islam) of Islamic knowledge in general and the construction of theology of sunna and Islamic legal theories (usul ul fiqh) in particular (Ibid, 18; 27; 161). In this respect Barazangi is adamant that from a ‘proper ‘ Islamic perspective, every Muslim regardless of gender has the autonomy, the right and can exercise leadership in interpreting the Qur’an and in investigating the authority of reported hadith (Ibid, 191).

Barazangi applies the above outlined interpretational principles to many issues pertaining to Muslim criminal and Muslim family law. We will discuss just one example, namely the question of testimony and witnesses, to demonstrate how her interpretational mechanisms are applied to the project of rethinking the hadith.

As it is known classical Islamic law takes gender into account as a criterion for establishing evidentiary levels and affords women lesser degree of authority/value (in case of witnessing) or bars them all together (as for example in cases of adultery). Barazangi rejects this reasoning on the basis of a combination of the interpretational tools discussed above. Taking the issue of witnessing,  her first argument is that on the basis of verses such as 2:30 and 50:21 it can be established Qur’anically that each individual, man or woman,  acts as a witness for her/his own actions. Furthermore, she demonstrates how the vast majority of Qur’anic verses discuss the concept of witnessing and being a witness in non-gender specific ways and that the Qur’anic injunction found in 2:282 that implies otherwise is highly contextually specific. She adds that scholars such as Shafi’i and Ibn Kathir have been influenced by weak hadith found in al-Bukhari about the  ‘feeble mind’ of women when interpreting  2: 282 and have generalised this interpretation to apply it to all women for all times and regardless of ( change in)  contexts (Ibid,79-81). Bazanzagi moves on  to discuss a couple of relevant hadith found in al-Bukhari (due to is supposed highest level of authenticity), according to which the witnessing of specific women (i.e. Zaynab, one of the Prophet’s wives and  that of a female slave) in the context of alleged infidelity and  marriage was in actual fact accepted by the Prophet. In this respect Barazangi (Ibid,83) writes in frustration as follows:
I am still puzzled that even if we assume that all of the above types of narratives of witnessing …as documented in Sahih Al Bukhari are corroborated by the Qur’an (whether or not they are considered valid by the majority of the interpreters and jurists), why did the jurist Al Shafi’i ( 820) only accept weak hadith that discuss the particular situation of a monetary loan [Qur’an 2:282], and suggested that a woman’s testimony equals one-half of man’s ? Also  on what basis could al Shafi’i justify his generalization of this particular  context  in [2:282] across the board , stating that a woman’s testimony  is not accepted  in zena (adultery) cases , a statement that contradicts the Qur’an wherein a woman could testify on her own behalf  in a case of  being accused of adultery..[as per 24:8-9)..Furthermore, how could al Shafi’i add his own words, ”the just witness can only be men”, something that is not in the Qur’an ?
Hence, in this example,  Barazangi uses the idea of the (lack) of corroboration of hadith by the Qur’an in order to question the validity of interpretations of the Qur’an and the hadith on which classical Islamic jurisprudence based its laws pertaining to witnessing. In doing so she also provides counter-interpretation that, in her view, is more true to the actual Qur’anic ideals and the authentic theology of sunna.

I have also discussed rethinking hadith in a similar manner in this publication of mine in particular: