One of the most discussed issues thinking of Islam is its laws and views that concern women. The conflict is based on different interpretations of the Qur’an. In some of them, women are treated like property or even slaves. The different interpretations of the Qur’an touch all important spheres of women’s life like female education and employment, marriage and sexuality, dress code and gender rules, movement and travel of women. The most popular discussions are about hijab or veil as a form of oppression of women by the Islamic law; misogynistic interpretations of the Qur’an and so on. Katherine Bullock in Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil: Challenging Historical & Modern Stereotypes stands for hijab as a conscious choice of a woman.Fatima Mernissi in Women’s Rebellion and Islamic Memory accents on patriarchal nature of Islam, andAsma Barlas in “The Qur’an, Sexual Equality, and Feminism” contradicts her. Also Asma Barlas in “Islam and Body Politics: Inscribing (Im)morality”, and “Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an” talks that wrong interpretations of  the Qur’an cause the wrong understanding of hijab and equality of sexes.Amina Wadud in Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam through her own experience of being Muslim shares her thoughts about feministic readings of the Qur’an. Nevin Reda in Women in the Mosque: Historical Perspectives on Segregation takes a look at such right of a woman as her access to the mosque which have been denied or allowed in different times of history of Islam. Liza Beyer in Women and Islam looks at the problems concerning women and Islam from the point of view of Westerner. These researches are very important for both Muslims and Westerners because of their tense relationship and opinions that severely differ.

Katherine Bullock in her book Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil: Challenging Historical & Modern Stereotypes raises a lot of interesting questions. For instance, she makes us think about what really the veil is and if this word completely expresses the meaning of the hijab. Through the interviews of Muslim women, she claims that the hijab is not a symbol of oppression of women and that not all Muslim women are forced to wear it as a lot of them make that decision completely by their own will. In Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil: Challenging Historical & Modern Stereotypes, the author wonders how the stereotype of veiling as an oppression of women has appeared in the mind of the Westerners and why the veiling annoys them so much; for who this stereotype is sustainable (citizens or government) as it is supported and instigated by mass media and, as a result, by pop-culture as well. Katherine Bullock (2002) insists that that Muslim women are oppressed not by the veil, but by the anti-women interpretations of the Qur’an, “a local community’s way of ‘being Muslim’, that has little reference to the Qur’an, the Sunnah, or juristic teaching, or result from women’s own understanding of their role, which they then impose on others” (p. 24).

It is hard to disagree with the statements of Katherine Bullock. The author states that, “attacking the veil was an essential part of the colonial project, necessary to break down barriers between colonial power and hidden women” (p. 39), and that the antiveil discourse is linked “to Western political interests” (Bullock, 2002, p. 39). I agree with the author as it is really obvious that the government has created through mass media the veil-is-oppressive stereotype and many others related to Muslims to make pressure on the East in the World’s rush for oil or to prescind everybody’s attention from more urgent problems (economical or political). However, there are some specific traits and inaccuracies concerning Islam and its laws.

A lot of Islam feminists convince that Quran is a misogynist and patriarchal religion. An Islam feminist Fatima Mernissi (1996) in her Women’s Rebellion and Islamic Memory says that Islam “professes models of hierarchical relationships and sexual inequality and puts a sacred stamp [onto] female subservience” (p. 13-14). I disagree with this point of view as it is not quite correct. A woman and a man were created from a single soul (Quran, 4:1), thus they are equal. The fact that a man has to protect a woman does not mean that the woman is worse than the man. Talking about sexual inequality, the woman was not created for pleasuring and entertaining the man. Both of them were created for “love and compassion” between them (Quran, 30:20). The arguments of Fatima Mernissi are related only to some territories where Quran is interpreted in a misogynistic way and really oppresses women, thus it is incorrect to talk about all Islam or Muslims.

Asma Barlas cannot call herself a feminist. In The Qur’an, Sexual Equality, and Feminism, she claims that “the Qur’an does not advocate traditional patriarchy because, to begin with, it does not represent God as Father or male” and “The Qur’an also doesn’t teach that men are ontologically superior to women or are entitled to rule over them or even to be heads of the household in the sense in which they were in traditional patriarchies” (Barlas, 2004, p. 3-4). I agree with Asma Barlas that there are no verses in the Qur’an that suggest inequality of women and men. She proves that the problem of oppression of women was created artificially by accidental or specially wrong interpreting of the Qur’an.

The next article that is worth to be reviewed is Islam and Body Politics: Inscribing (Im)morality by Asma Barlas. She talks about wrong understanding and images of the body of the Muslim woman and the Prophet(Barlas, 2009, p. 10) in her article. Talking about hijab and its real meaning, Asma Barlas says that

…in an Islamic society, both women and men will behave in a way that will not require veiling as a means to protect women from predatory men. (The disturbing truth, of course, is that the public domain is not a safe space for women in many Muslim societies, even if they are veiled, and it is not a very hospitable space for them in many European societies if they are) (Barlas, 2009, p. 5).

Thus, women do not wear hijab only for protection. Its meaning for Muslim women is much deeper. The Prophet told both a man and a woman to cover their bodies and lower their gaze to demonstrate their modesty (Quran, 24:31), but not because their bodies are vicious.

Also, the writer shows the problem of different interpretations of the Qur’an in a different light through presenting the influence of it on society. Asma Barlas (2009) says,

…most Muslims, both conservative and progressive, persist in their belief that the Qur’an itself is antiwomen and patriarchal. Such claims don’t make it so but they do keep Muslims from accepting liberatory readings of the Qur’an as legitimate […] The result is a recycling of a historically dated exegesis and, with it, pejorative notions about women’s bodies and also their rights (p. 10).

This all is a result of conservative readings of the Qur’an. Asma Barlas prefers liberalistic readings to feministic ones. In my opinion, liberalistic readings are needed more because conservative ones influenced both men and women. Changing only one part of the problem like feminists do is not effective.

In Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an, Asma Barlas raises that question of sex and sexuality in the Qur’an in the chapter “The Qur’an, Sex/Gender, and Sexuality: Sameness, difference, equality”. Asma Barlas (2002) argues that the Qur’an “appoints women and men each other’s guides and protectors” (p. 140). Talking of modesty, the author says that “many Muslim men have made a mockery of its [the Qur’an’s] teachings by acquiring harems and contracting serial one-night marriages.  .. [M]any Muslim men have corrupted in the extreme the Qur’anic ideals of temperance and virtue” (Barlas, 2002, p. 157). This quotation shows some results of men’s interpretations of the Qur’an. I agree that these readings were comfortable for men, and that is why they got accustomed to the Muslim society.

The arguments that Asma Barlas uses in her works are grounded in a very close reading of the Qur’an and scholarship, thus there is no reason to contradict them. The writer brings a power of Muslim and Western scholarship both to her subject. Asma Barlas claims the need to change old views to the new ones not only for the Muslim people, but for the Westerners as well.

Amina Wadud in her book Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam takes a critical look at Muslims, Islam, and Islam’s treatment of women from pro-faith point. She shares with readers her own experiences as a Muslim, mother, and wife. Being an Islam feminist, Amina Wadud raises the questions of interpretations of the Qur’an in a feministic light, the rights of Muslim women, and gender equality. Also, she thinks on what is “true” Islam. The author states that domination of men is “not only based on their interpretation of […] sources, but also because the conception of the public domain of an Islamic paradigm still focuses upon a fixed center in public space as predominately defined and inhabited by men” (Wadud, 2006, p.8). I agree that men dominance in their number provoked the appearance of oppression of women.

Moreover, Amina Wadud (2006) gives the reason of wrong understandings and different interpretations of Qur’an,

Human language limits Allah’s Self-disclosure. If revelation through text must be in human language, in order for humans to even begin to understand it, then revelation cannot be divine or Ultimate. This is distinguished from the idea that revelation is from a divine source; rather, it indicates how the source availed itself of the limitations of human language to point toward the ultimate direction for human moral development, otherwise known as guidance

(p. 214). 

Thus, the poor human language causes inability of the people to understand the will of Allah completely right. I agree with this statement as there are a lot of translations of the Qur’an and they all differ in some key words so they could by interpreted in different ways.

Nevin Reda in Women in the Mosque: Historical Perspectives on Segregation talks about the rights of women to have full access to mosque. Her analysis is based on the historical overview. In different times, women were allowed or denied to enter a mosque. The access of women to the mosque is a very important right of Muslim women.

Nevin Reda (2004) says,

The mosque is the center of the Muslim community’s religious, cultural, and intellectual activity, and, as such, it should be possible to conform to God’s commands within it. However, by placing women behind men and erecting physical barriers, it becomes very difficult for both women and men to follow these injunctions (p. 94).

Thus, the inequality of Muslim women and men in the mosque is not the will of God. The Mosque is for all people – women and men (Quran, 22:25).

Nevin Reda gives us the reason why this right is manipulated by men. She says, “Perhaps the Qur’an’s importance lies not only in the historical information it contains, but also in the authority that Muslims give it: As it is the word of God, it has precedence over any other source” (Reda, 2004, p.95). The author gives number of arguments that really prove this point of view.

Lisa Beyer, a representative of the Westerner’s point of view, contrariwise does not see the things so good in her article Women of Islam. She talks about inequality of women and men in the regions where women are really terribly oppressed. Such countries as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan and the relatively moderate states of Egypt and Jordan (Beyer, 2001, p.1) have the difficulties of divorce for women, “honor killings”, and other terrifying laws. Muslim women there have a fear of poverty as often they are not allowed to have their own property.  

At the same time, Lisa Beyer (2001) mentions, “Iranian women drive cars, buy and sell property, run their own businesses, vote and hold public office. They make up 25% of the work force, a third of all government employees and 54% of college students”. Also, she says about all Muslim countries that “Gender reforms are slow and hard-fought” (p. 2). There is also the reason for such a different treatment of women in Muslim countries.

There are a lot of difficulties concerning Islam and Muslim women. Katherine Bullock in  Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil: Challenging Historical & Modern Stereotypes, Fatima Mernissi in Women’s Rebellion and Islamic Memory, Asma Barlas in “The Qur’an, Sexual Equality, and Feminism”, “Islam and Body Politics: Inscribing (Im)morality,” and “Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an”,Amina Wadud in Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam, Nevin Reda in Women in the Mosque: Historical Perspectives on Segregation, and Liza Beyer in Women and Islam see this problem from different points of view. Through their own experience, historical overviews, or from the outsider’s point, all the authors challenge stereotypes related to Muslim women and Islam. All authors talk about different forbidden rights of women and search for the reasons of that prohibitions. Women are mostly oppressed in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as at the same time Iran, Bangladesh, Egypt, and others are more liberate. Some authors have different points of views concerning the Qur’an. However, all the authors are united in their calling on Muslim women not to stop their fighting for the rights of women; on the Westerners – not to judge and perceive people of other religion; on the government of Muslim countries – to interpret the Qur’an in rather feministic way; and on men – to respect their wives’ rights.

Feb 9, 2018 in Review Category