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:

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