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).

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