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).