By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
24 June, 2014
(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009)
Having intensively researched into the Qur’an and secondary sources of Islam spanning over a decade, and co-authoring a focused Tafsir work (Essential Message of Islam), the author has absolutely no doubt in his mind that the traditional interpretation of many gender related Qur’anic verses are not consistent with the holistic message of the Qur’an. His joint research work has also established that the traditional translations / Tafsir are rooted in the Tafsir works of early centuries of Islam and are accordingly informed by the civilisational paradigms and gender dynamics of the era. Since the civilisational paradigms and gender dynamics of human society have seen a sea change over the last century, the traditional interpretation of many gender related Qur’anic verses stand unjust and oppressive to the Muslim women today in civilisational relativism.
Unless these verses are reinterpreted in line with the Qur’anic holistic message that espouses gender equitability, and mercy and compassion in man-woman relationship, the Indian Ulema collectively may stand as criminals in divine court for doing injustice to their own women – a matter that is drawing the concern of their Hindu brethren who have already reformed their own laws and thus mitigated the injustices to which their women were historically subjected. The author therefore lists the links to a set of his articles with concluding remarks drawn on his joint research work (ref. above) that was published by a leading American Islamic publication house, Amana Publications (2009),following approval of its manuscript by al-Azhar al-Sharif, scrutiny and restructuring by a Syrian origin Canadian scholar, Afra Jalabiand endorsement and authentication by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, the Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law, who is, among other things, an internationally recognized authority on Qur’anic exegesis, Islam’s secondary sources and Sharia Law. The work focuses on clear commandments of the Qur’an and is based primarily on the Qur’an’s internal vocabulary and illustrations and attempts to expound its universal message including the detail of its personal laws. It is designed to be a focused Tafsir e Qur’an by the Qur’an which is regarded as the highest form of Tafsir. Therefore, its insights and interpretations as tabled selectively in the articles indicated below are worthy of serious consideration.
1. Qur’anic Sharia (Laws) On Divorce: Triple Divorce, Temporary Marriage, Halala Stand Forbidden (Haram)
Conclusion: The Qur’an deals with the process of divorce in a balanced and phased manner comprising a three month time frame, so that this most agonizing experience in a person’s life is faced in a balanced, phased and harmonious manner, and there is no bitterness and ill feelings between the erstwhile spouses. The institution of temporary marriage (Muta) and triple divorce are in direct contradiction to the Qur’anic message and therefore stand Haram. Some local customs such as Halala that allows a man to divorce his wife at the spur of the moment, such as in a state of anger or drunkenness and then force her into marriage and sexual intercourse with a friend and get him to divorce her to marry her back the next day or so totally disregarding the three month time for his divorce and that of his friend to take effect also stands utterly haram and sexually shameful sadistic. These practices that remain part of the Classical Islamic Law have defiled and demonized Islam, no matter how few Muslims practice it, and how the Muslims glorify their faith, and reduced Islam to a medieval misogynist cult…”
2. The Qur’an Prescribes Monogamy As The Social Norm For Humanity
Conclusion: It is time for the Muslim jurists and doctors of law to shed their patriarchal notions and reform the Classical Sharia Law of Islam to preventing a man from taking a second wife except under legally justifiable circumstances, even if the existing wife gives her consent – for a Muslim woman cannot break the law of the Qur’an, without due grounds. The jurists insist on the contractual nature of Islamic marriage but they cannot allow either partner of the marriage to transgress the Qur’anic principle of monogamy with love and mercy between the spouses as a social norm by incorporating any clause in the marriage contract:
3. The Qur’anic Message Admits of Flexibility in the Shares of the Siblings / Heirs
Conclusion: The Qur’anic integrated package of ‘will’ (2:180-182) and inheritance division after the execution of the will (4:11/12) offers a flexibility in the division of inheritance that can enable a needy attached sister to get a higher share of inheritance than an unattached brother. Restricting the shares of the heir at the Qur’anic ratios disregarding the Qur’anic binding (Haqqan) decree on will (2:180) or equalizing the shares of the siblings following the example of other communities can leave a great deal of inconsistency in the distribution of inheritance given the divergence in contribution, age, income levels and financial needs of the siblings. However, in case a person dies before making a will, the siblings should mutually agree on relative shares without any gender discrimination depending upon the gender role and needs among the heir.
4. A Fresh Insight into the Qur’anic Verses Quoted to Justify Unwedded Sexual Relation with Maids, Call Girls etc
Conclusion: The Qur’an came to bring about an all-round reform of human society that included, among other things, phased abolition of slavery and empowerment of women through the institution of marriage and other family laws. Therefore any suggestion to accommodate slavery or sex with captives, maids, call girls etc. in the fold of Islam will stand in stark contradiction to its universal message.
5. Notions of Male Superiority, Domination and Beating of Wife Stand Un-Islamic Today
Conclusion: In view of a quantum change in gender dynamics in the recent times, there is an overriding need to bring the translation / interpretation of the verses 4:34 and 2:228 in line with the universal message of the Qur’an as captured in the tabled fresh readings. If the Muslim Ulema fail to do this, and to apply the same principle to other gender related verses, what was beautiful in Islam until recent times – say a hundred years ago, will become ugly in the modern era and the Muslim women will be liable to suffer far greater hardships in conjugal life than their non-Muslim counterparts, and Islam will be condemned as a misogynist faith as being already labelled. No wonder Allama Iqbal exclaimed- Le Gaye Taslis Kay Farzand Miraase Khalil – Khashte Buniyade Kalisa Bun Gaee Khake Hijaz. (Tasweer e Dard, Bang e Dara)
6. Flogging of Women for Sex outside Marriage Stands Brutal and Un-Islamic Today
Conclusion: There can be no doubt whatsoever that the punishment of stoning to death for adultery is NOT prescribed by, or derived from the Qur’an. The Qur’an prescribed flogging for Zina – institutionalized public adultery as an emergency measure, as the custom stood in the way of the Qur’anic family laws….In sum, the literalist application of a context specific emergency law (public flogging, mainly the women bearing its brunt) tailored to the pre-Islamic realities of seventh century Arabia for all time and all places transforms the specific into the generic, disregards the Qur’anic mandate on legislative dynamism, overshadows its spirit of mercy and compassion, dilutes its profound concern for women, drains Islam of its beauty and nobility and thus stands brutal and un-Islamic today.
7. Limiting Maintenance of Divorced Women for the Iddat Period is Brazenly Un-Islamic
Concluding Remark: The Classical Islamic Law to which the Indian Muslim Ulema are unflaggingly clinging only represents the opinions of the scholars of the medieval era that were inevitably informed by the historical realities of the times that saw, among other things, an undiluted form of patriarch verging on misogyny. No doubt, in that era, the deal offered to women by the Classical Islamic Law was far better than what their counter-parts got in the non-Muslim civilizations, and the Muslims can be rightly proud about it. However, with a major paradigm shift in gender dynamics in recent times, the ‘Islamic-Law’ package falls considerably short of what non-Muslim women get in their respective civilizations. Since the Qur’an stands on their (the women’s) side as the listed and other verses on women’s empowerment clearly demonstrate, the Muslim jurists must act without delay to revise their laws in line with the message of the Qur’an and not the opinions of its medieval interpreters, unless of course they want to protect and preserve their patriarchic interest and licenses and project themselves, in the eyes of the Western world, as the agents of the demon as some of their spokesmen are clamouring these days.
8. Love, Sex and Marriage in the Qur’an
Concluding Remark: The brevity, the legal tone and the omission of any reference to the parents or any guardian of either spouse in all the Qur’anic verses relating to the captioned theme and the express acknowledgement of the matured roles of either spouses as the guardians of one another (9:71) totally removes the notion of the marriage of a minor girl or the one just reaching the threshold of puberty. However, through the medieval ages, families were large, incomes were low, living conditions were harsh, personal security was lacking and women had no significant economic role.
The growing girls were then a burden on the family to be disposed off through marriage even before they reached a matured age commensurate to the Qur’anic ordinances. But with changed gender dynamics, civilisational paradigms, the emergent financial role and responsibilities of women and increasing oppressive attitude of men and exploitation risks in recent times, a girl must reach a matured age before she is made to enter the wedlock. This is, however, another matter that a section of Ulema insist on the lawfulness of marriage of a minor girl or a girl who has just reached her puberty, either out of ignorance or their own sexual inclinations – God knows best. There is also another side of the coin. Many impoverished Muslim families living in small rural towns or slums find it virtually impossible to feed and protect their growing girls who are often stalked by local goons. They would better protect the safety and wellbeing of their young daughters by contracting their marriages before they reached maturity. The Qur’an, however, does not specify any minimum marriageable for either sex.
9. Gender Equality in Islam
Conclusion: The foregoing illustrations drawn on the Qur’an, considered collectively, demonstrate, without any doubts, that it does not accord men any superiority or preferential legal status over women. In merely few areas, notably witnessing a business contract and division of inheritance between siblings, it was conceivably immature for the Qur’an to empower women at a par with men. However, its verses on rights and obligations of men and women in wedlock (1 above) and gender related illustrations as summarized in this discourse offer the prospect for further empowerment of women with the progress of civilization. Thus, in light of the revolutionary turnabout in the gender dynamics of the rival civilizations over the past two centuries – from an oppressive inhuman patriarchy verging on misogamy to gender equality, the Islamic Shari’a ruling of male guardianship or preferential legal status can be suspended and Muslim women can be empowered at a par with men, commensurate to her divinely envisioned ordained role in the society (3 above). However, as much as a woman cannot sexually coerce her husband and a husband cannot conceive, bear and deliver a child, there is no quid pro quo or absolute gender equality in Islam, but there is no gender inequality and, if anything, the scale of privilege is tilted in favour of women.
10. The Qur’an Offers Protection and Coequal Personal Rights to Women and Those Who Deny Them Such Rights Today Are the Deniers of the Message of the Qur’an – Though God Knows Best
Conclusion: Any assessment of the foregoing tenets and proclamations of the Qur’an will amply bear out that the Qur’an offers protection and coequal personal rights to women and those who deny them such rights today are the deniers of the message of the Qur’an – though God knows best. The Islamic Sharia law of this era must draw on the Qur’an, which is undoubtedly the highest source of law in Islam and not rely on its rulings that were inevitably informed by the realities of its formative era - the early through medieval ages when patriarchy reigned supreme and women’s rights and privileges were stunted accordingly.
Call to the fraternity of Indian Ulema
The author, as a Muslim and a witness of the Qur’anic message calls upon the fraternity of Indian Ulema and Islamic scholars to read the above articles closely and pull their act together to bring about/ contribute to necessary reforms in Muslim Personal Law as is currently under debate.
From the conclusions of many of the listed articles it follows that those Ulema who insist on clinging to the various personal laws that stand in contradiction to the Qur’anic message today are virtually denying the dictates of the Qur’an and may go down as Munkir e Qur’an on this count in their divine records – Allahu Wa‘Lamu.
From the social perspective, the Qur’an came with the express mission to bring humanity out of darkness (Zulumat) or state of Jahiliyah (ignorance, oppression, selfishness, blind conformity and arbitrariness…) into Light (Nur or enlightenment: justice, freedom, fair-play, use of reason, rule of law…) and ‘to lift the burden that lay upon humanity from before’ (7:157). Since, historically, women were exploited, oppressed, sexually abused, treated like a sex slave or a cattle-head that could be sold and purchased and suffer joint ownership, the deliverance of women from oppression and injustices was one of the key priorities of the Qur’an. This explains the role of the Qur’an as a social discourse, and of the religion of Islam as a socialist cum humanistic religion. Thus, those Ulema, who oppose any reform in Muslim Personal Law aimed at mitigating the injustices (in civilisational relativism) that the Muslim women are made to suffer under the behest of the medieval rulings of Sharia Law and in contradiction to the letter and spirit of the Qur’an can indeed be indicted for denying the Qur’anic message on women’s rights – the jurists know best.
It is hoped, the Ulema in India who are involved in the framing of Muslim Personal Law will take this article seriously and it is also hoped that the contents of the article drawn largely on a duly authenticated book will give courage and conviction to any Jurist, Muslim or otherwise to convince the Muslim Ulema / intelligentsia to extend their full support to reform the Muslim Personal Law or even to charge them for conspiring to keep their women folk under subjugation under the behest of a medieval law that has the rubric of Islam but remains un-Islamic on many counts.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.
Since this is mostly a
repetition or summarization of your earlier articles, it does not require any
As far as reform is
concerned, my thinking is that a top down approach will not work. What will
work wonders however is giving people choice. For example, who am I (although
my choice is the sharia of the Quran) or anybody to tell others whether or not
they should choose the UCC? Are people aware however that the choice is
available? Most people think that a registered marriage is for inter religious
marriages alone and not for same religion marriage. The moment one opts for
'court marriage' the personal laws of divorce and inheritance are the laws of
The Bhartiya Muslim
Mahila Andolan is another good example of how reform can come about by making
available an alternative and ending the monopoly of those whose vested interest
lies in maintaining the status quo.
As regard the verse on
witnessing commercial contracts is concerned, let me repeat what I have said
before, that the Quran is not saying even in this verse that the testimony of
two women is equal to that of one man. The Quran is merely allowing two women
to give a single testimony jointly in consultation with each other. It is not
treating them as two independent witnesses. If that were so, then if as the
Quran clearly anticipates that a woman is more likely to forget material
details surrounding the signing event, there will be more confusion if two
women give independent testimony, jeopardizing the interests of the creditor.
The entire purpose of this verse is to safeguard the interests of both the
creditor and the debtor. Please note that the debtor writes the contract and
not the creditor. The witnesses are from the side of the creditor to prevent
the debtor from repudiating what he has signed on the grounds that he never
executed the document. We know from experience that documents that are
witnessed are rarely if ever repudiated since there is little chance of
successfully doing so. However, if the witness is a single woman, a debtor may
fancy his chances and repudiate it. If the material circumstances surrounding
the signing event as can be established independently or with the help of
witnesses whose accounts concur are materially different from an account of
another witness, then ground is created for suspecting whether the contract was actually executed. If
there are two women supporting each other in a joint testimony, the debtor is
less likely to fancy his chances creating unnecessary litigation in the first
place. The Quranic advice is excellent and not demeaning to the women.
(2:282) O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in
transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce
them to writing. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear His
Lord Allah, and not diminish aught of what he owes. And get two witnesses, out
of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such
as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind
her. The witnesses should not refuse when they are called on (For evidence).
Disdain not to reduce to writing (your contract) for a future period, whether
it be small or big: it is juster in the sight of Allah, More suitable as
evidence, and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves but if it be a
transaction which ye carry out on the spot among yourselves, there is no blame
on you if ye reduce it not to writing. But take witness whenever ye make a commercial
contract; and let neither scribe nor witness suffer harm. So fear Allah; For it
is God that teaches you. And Allah is well acquainted with all things. If ye
are on a journey, and cannot find a scribe, a pledge with possession (may serve
the purpose). And if one of you deposits a thing on trust with another, let the
trustee (faithfully) discharge his trust, and let him Fear his Lord conceal not
evidence; for whoever conceals it, - his heart is tainted with sin. And Allah
knoweth all that ye do.
This is a very lucid and powerful call to powers that be to amend our personal laws drastically and expeditiously. The arguments are irrefutable. The depth of scholarship is impressive. Those who continue to drag their heels are doing an injustice to women and harm to Islam.