By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
13 August 2015-08-13
Book: Women in Islam: Exploring New Paradigms
By Moin Qazi
Published by Notion Press, Chennai
It is not difficult to see why one would not remain unimpressed by this newly published book on women in Islam. Authored by a renowned academician and author of numerous books on Islam, Dr. Moin Qazi and beautifully titled, “Women in Islam: Exploring New Paradigms”, the book came crashing down the prevalent misconceptions about the status of women in Islam. It’s worth mentioning that, a few months ago, I came across a book on the same subject, titled “Denied by Allah” which created doubts in many minds accusing women rights of being lesser in Islam. However, I am certain; one will find no room for any such doubts after glancing through the the contents of the book by Moin Qazi.
Among the many chapters that will captivate an avid reader of Islam are: “The Muslim Feminist Legacy”, “Women in Qur’an and Sunnah”, “The Queens of Islam”, “Selected Traditions on Women” and “20 Eminent Muslim Women in History”. For me, the two most appealing chapters in the book were “A Need for Fresh Vision” and “Time to Look Inward”. Qazi calls for rediscovering and rejuvenating the lofty status of women enshrined in the Qur’an and Sunnah (Prophetic traditions) and thus reclaiming the authentic Islam. For this, he asks Muslims to take a note of introspection. He avers, “We have to introspect why Muslim women are not able to model themselves in the secular domain in the moulds in which matriarchal icons like Khadija and Aisha were cast. These women played a key role in the mission of the Prophet in spreading Islam. They were the defining emblems of Islamic civilization.”
Qazi makes it clear that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was centuries ahead of the men of his time in his attitudes towards women, and not surprisingly, right after he died, men started rolling back the reforms he began. “The Prophet may have been too advanced for the mindset of 7th century men, but his compassion for women is exactly the model that Muslims in the 21st century need to emulate”, he says.
This anthology also offers an introduction to women’s excellence in knowledge and education in the early centuries of Islam. Extraordinarily talented and immensely qualified female companions of the Prophet taught many great male Islmaic scholars. However, the author regrets, the former’s contributions were not recognized or meticulously preserved by the male Muslim historians. It’s indeed a pleasant surprise to know, thanks to the author’s scholarly production, that the Islamic scholars of great stature such as Imam Shafi’ee, Ibn Khilkan, Abu Hayyan and Ibn Asakar, the prominent scholars of hadith and tafseer, studied under female scholars.
The stories of women Islamic scholars who dialogued with men about religious and legal issues or the preferred interpretation of an Islamic text abounds in the Islamic literature. However, Qazi reproduces very inspiring, moving and unique stories. For instance, a famous incident that took place in the mosque between the Caliph Umar (r.a) and an unknown woman who cited a passage from the Qur’an in support of her argument against placing a ceiling on the amount of the Meher (dower for women). Hazrat Umar realized his error and said: “The woman is right and the Caliph is wrong”.
Thus, Qazi takes his readers to the conclusion that Islam strongly encourages the education of women both in social and religious domains. Their education and cultural training was regarded integral dimension of social development and there was no priority for men, in relation to the right to education. Both are equally encouraged to acquire education. Indeed, all the Qur’anic verses, which relate to education and knowledge are directed to both men and women alike.
However, the question arises: when the Qur’an accorded women such a lofty status and rights that they could not even imagine in the seventh century Arabia, then why this discrepancy between the actual Qur’anic provisions for women and their sorry state of affairs in the Muslim world today? Reappraising the common Muslim mindset, Qazi attempts to answer the above question with quite a different approach. He says that the answer lies in the deterioration of basic Islamic feminist values that occurred in the Muslim world after the disasters of the Mongol invasions and the Crusades in the eleventh trough thirteenth centuries. He opines that the patrilineal traditions in the Middle East that preceded Islam both improved and curtailed the freedoms of women in its earliest days. Furthermore, Qazi places much of the blame for the most constrictive interpretations of Islam on the Abbasid dynasty, which ruled from the mid-eighth century onward and interpreted Islam in a legalistic and rigid manner designed to serve the political expansionist interests, thereby sacrificing much of the ethical, normative thrust of the religion as practiced in the days of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Qazi also describes the Prophet Muhammad’s revolutionary reforms that he south to bring about to elevate the status of women horrifically degraded in the seventh century. The reforms regarding women rights introduced by the Prophet, he shows, were completely egalitarian and liberating. However, regrettably, not long after the Prophet’s demise, he opines, several misogynists, retrogressive and patriarchal interpretations of the Islamic law (Shariah) emerged. He dwells upon it: “The reforms that took place in the early years of Islam are clearly progressive changing with the needs of the society. However, the more detailed rules that were laid out by the classical jurists allowed many pre-Islamic customs to continue, and also reflected the needs, customs and expectations of the society in which they lived, instead of continuing the progressive reform that was started during the time of the Prophet.”
The ultimate belief that Qazi wants to imbibe in his readers is that Islam has been incredibly advanced in providing revolutionary rights for women and uplifting women’s status even in the seventh century. Many of the revelations in the Qur’an, he tells us, were by nature reform-oriented, transforming key aspects of pre-Islamic customary laws and practices in progressive ways in order to eliminate injustice and suffering.
At the end of the book, there is a unique accumulation of narratives from heroic Muslim women from different ages of history. They are great embodiments of knowledge, classical scholarship, social activism, mystical influence, political empowerment, financial power and bravery. From the first centuries of Islam in Arabia till the late 17th century in India, it gives a closer look at and evaluation of the roles Muslim women have played in multiple lawful pursuits including the humanities, art, literature, law, theology, social sciences and administration. Inspired by the vision of a better world, this chapter stresses the need to empower the feminine and assure gender balance in all these areas of excellence.
Qazi takes us through an inspiring journey of women empowerment that starts off with the Prophet’s first and most beloved wife Hazrat Khadija bint Khuwaylid, who was a successful business woman and one of the elite figures of Makkah. As the saying goes, “behind every man, there is a woman”, it was to her credit that the Prophet had the vital support in propagating the new faith of Islam. No wonder, Khadija had the distinction of being the first Muslim.
This collection of Muslim women’s stories also point out the paramount role of women in creating a better world for all beings. It beautifully illustrates how women, down the ages, put herculean efforts towards the enhancement of political and social rights, sustainable environments, protection of people from the travesties of war and promotion of religious diversity, pluralism and democracy.
A spotlight on the author of this book is must at the end. He holds doctorates in Economics and English literature and has spent more than three decades in the development sector. Previously, a Visiting Fellow at the University of Manchester, he has also served on deputation to the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Rome and Ministry of Rural Development Government of Malaysia. Until the date, Qazi has authored four collections of poems and received an Honorary DLitt at World Congress of Poets held at Istanbul. His recent translation work “Mohammad: The prophet for eternity” in which he rendered Syed Sulaiman Nadvi’s lectures, throws light on the life of Prophet as an abiding model for all mankind.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, acquired Diploma in Qur'anic sciences from Al-Jamiat ul Islamia, Faizabad, U.P. and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. He has also graduated in Arabic (Hons) and has done his M. A. in Comparative Religions & Civilisations and a double M.A. in Islamic Studies from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi