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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 29 Jul 2022, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Female Qur'an Interpretations and Kerala Muslim Responses - Part 2

By Grace Mubashir, New Age Islam

29 July 2022

Feminist Qur'anic Interpretations and Kerala Muslim Perspectives Are Also Reflected In the Kerala Public Sphere, a Global Market for Debates about Muslim Women's Rights

Main Points:

1.    Muslim scholars in Kerala generally viewed female recitations of the Qur'an with suspicion.

2.    Feminists lack the qualities that Islamic epistemology dictates for authentic Ijtihad.

3.    Feminist interpreters, on the other hand, declare such efforts as their responsibility to defend against injustice in interpretations of divine words.


Opening Up Through Feminist Qur'anic Interpretations

Muslim scholars in Kerala generally viewed female recitations of the Qur'an with suspicion. The main reasons for this opposition were that it was inspired by Western feminism and approached the Qur'an through un-Islamic method science. It has also been alleged that feminists lack the qualities that Islamic epistemology dictates for authentic Ijtihad. Feminist interpreters, on the other hand, declare such efforts as their responsibility to defend against injustice in interpretations of divine words. Admitting that feminist interpretations cannot be considered Ijtihad according to Islamic epistemology, there is no justification for labelling such efforts as un-Islamic.

PK Abdul Rahman's observation that women's endeavours were approached with prejudice when the arguments put forward by Muslim male thought were linked to the Islamic line of wisdom is noteworthy here. Admittedly, such studies have limitations as initial efforts in this field. However, it is not possible to completely reject such efforts as a study that reflects the position of women in Islam and promotes liberation from the male-dominated social order.

Feminist Qur'anic interpretations and Kerala Muslim perspectives are also reflected in the Kerala public sphere, a global market for debates about Muslim women's rights. From the rights of the Muslim woman to her personal choices are often favorite topics of discussion for the Malayali mainstream. After the publication of the Malayalam translation of Wadud's commentary on the Qur'an, several discussions based on Islamic feminism, women's readings of the Qur'an, etc., took place in Kerala. The said Malayalam translation was published in 2008 by Other Books under the name 'Qur'an Oru Penvayana'. There were many positive and negative responses in Muslim publications and other scholarly spaces including mainstream/secular publications.

These debates have also led to deeper studies on the status of women in Islam. Although not as well-known as Wadood, Malayalis have discussed the ideas of feminist Qur'an commentators such as Rifat Hasan, Azizah Al Hibri and Asma Barlas to Asma Lamrabit, a new face in this trend. This article categorizes the responses published in Malayalam to feminist interpretations of the Qur'an into three main categories. One is the masculinist response in Muslim intellectual spaces. Two, Muslim women's responses. Responses have been made in mainstream secular studies.

Barring a few reactions, most of the observations in Muslim publications questioned the credibility of feminist commentators. A major issue raised by observers was the Western feminist background of the commentators. Critics argue that feminist interpretations are financially supported research to protect Western interests, and that it is only because of Western support that such writings have quickly become mainstream debates.

It can be seen that discourses about Muslim women became more active with the September 11 incident. Saba Mahmood theorizes American projects to reform Islam from within as part of the formation of a 'moderate Islam'.

The particular support of US academia for feminist interpretations should be seen in this sense. But feminist commentators who uphold Muslim identity and belief and point to their models from Islamic history are not justifiable to dismiss such ideas entirely by accusing them of being Western conspiracies. The fact is that feminist interpretations have been able to lead a scholarly revolution to guide Muslim thinkers and various organizations into discussions about gender justice in Islam. Recognizing geopolitical agendas became the imperative for the study of Muslim women.

Feminist Interpretations and New Interpreters

It has also been observed that intolerance towards new readings is a reflection of the masculinity prevailing in Islamic societies. Female responses were reflected in most positive approaches. While acknowledging the limitations of feminist commentators, most feminist observers approach feminist Qur'anic readings as a new trend in Islamic epistemology. Rather than assessing the standards of Islamic knowledge of female commentators, women readers sought to address the questions raised by them. On the other hand, perhaps more radical arguments about the status of women in Islam than those put forward by feminist commentators, have been put forward by male scholars in the Muslim world both before and after the discussion of feminist readings in Kerala. Tariq Ramadan, Muslim publications have introduced the ideas of Hasan Turabi, Abu Shaqa, Rashid ul Ghanushi and Farid Ishaq. But reactions questioning the authenticity of these scholars have not occurred in Muslim scholarly circles. Nor have they created the same storms of reaction that female interpretations have created. Studies of feminist interpretations of the Qur'an have been published in mainstream/secular publications and online spaces.

Secular publications see such writings as a means of criticizing the Muslim community. However, there are those who see it as an effort to find the female identity in the Qur'an and from the angle of dialogue between Islam and feminism. At the same time, it has been criticized that feminists have approached the Qur'an with an 'apologetic attitude' without criticizing Islamic principles in dealing with issues such as polygamy, women's witness, inheritance rights etc. On the other side of this, it can be seen that the secular magazines rejected the ideas of women's liberation raised by Muslim male scholars. This has to be understood as a deliberate disregard as part of the usual constructions of relegating the Muslim male.

Part One of the Article:  Female Qur'an Interpretations and Kerala Muslim Responses - Part 1


A regular columnist for, Grace Mubashir is a journalism student at IIMC, Delhi


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