That Prophet Muhammad’s coming was to free women from the old jahiliyah patriarchal culture in Arab at that time was already well-known. (Literally the word jahiliyah means stupid.) For example, before Muhammad was born, many baby girls were killed because the parents were ashamed to have daughters. Daughters were considered only to be burden for the family because they could not go to war, could not protect themselves, could not become breadwinner, could not become proprietor, etc. Before Muhammad was made to be a Prophet by God, men could have as many wives as they liked, and then divorced them when they wanted it.
After Muhammad was born and made to be a Prophet, no more baby girls were killed. And to handle many Muslim men that died in Uhud war, God passed down Surah Annisa verse 3 stating that Muslim men could marry two, three, and four wives. This was to help women to protect their properties. Because women could not become property owners, after their husbands died, the property would belong to the women’s brothers, or uncles. And since many brothers and uncles did not treat those women who were supposed to have the properties well, Surah Annisa verse 3 was expected to save women’s lives. A husband was expected to treat his wife much better than selfish brothers or uncles treat their sisters or nieces. A good husband was expected to keep their wives’ properties well for the welfare of those women themselves and their children.
Besides, Surah Annisa verse 3 was also meant to stop the practice of outrageous polygamy, by having many wives. A man was not supposed to have more than four wives. And marrying those widowed women whose husbands died in the war was for women themselves to keep their properties, to help raise children, and not just to fulfill men’s hunger for sex.
When reading an article written by Dr. Sharif Abdel Azeem entitled “Women in Islam versus Women in Judaeo-Christian Tradition, The Myth and The Reality” (you can check here http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/humanrelations/womeninislam/womeninjud_chr.html#_Toc335566653 I accessed on May 18, 2003) and a book by Dr. Jerald F. Dirks entitled “Abrahamic Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Similarities and Contrasts ”, I found out that indeed in Alquran there is no gender-biased verse while in Judaeo-Christian Tradition, there are a lot gender-biased verses. For example, in facing the case of Adam’s Fall to the earth, Judaeo-Christian Tradition blamed Eve for that:
Consequently, God said to Eve:
"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you."
To Adam He said:
"Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree .... Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life..."
While in Alquran, God blamed both Adam and Eve:
"O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm and transgression. Then Satan whispered to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them and he said: 'Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever.' And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: 'Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?' They said: 'Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost' " (7:19:23).
There are many other examples that you can find by yourselves about how Alquran increases women’s position.
The following question is: why are now even Islamic teachings considered as more misogynist? One debatable example is about polygamy. In Indonesia (I am not talking about the condition in many other areas in the world, including Mormon community in America where many Mormon men practice polygamy too) Islam is accused as not women-friendly because of this. Other religions are known as not let the men adhering those religions marry more than one wife.
When talking about Syariat Islam (Islamic Law) in Indonesia, why are the regulations misogynistic? Pornography Bills imprison women, such as behind their clothes, some regional regulations, such as the one in Tangerang, accuses women as selling themselves only because they are still roaming outside the house after 9pm, without trying to find out first what those women need to do.
One comment I got in my blog (he/she sent me an article written by Dr. Syamsuddin Arif) wrote that Fatima Mernissi (from Morocco), Riffat Hassan (from Pakistan), Amina Wadud (from Malaysia but then migrated to America, who several years ago controversially stated that women could become Imam in Friday prayer), Siti Musdah Mulia (from Indonesia) were very shallow in (re)interpreting Alquran. They were also called as “radical feminists”, a somewhat different term from radical feminists addressed to Mary Daly or Germaine Greer.
I don’t agree if Dr. Syamsuddin Arif said that Fatima Mernissi et al (re)interpreted Alquran shallowly. Moreover if Fatima Mernissi et al were considered as ignoring Alquran, I completely disagree with that. With new theories invented by contemporary scholars, there is nothing wrong to reinterpret Alquran that is free from gender bias (compared to the classical fiqh resulted by gender-biased mufassir).
I agree that the verses in Alquran are free from gender bias. And what Fatima Mernissi et all have done is not to negate what is stated in Alquran, but they gave a new interpretation. Is reinterpreting the same as negating or annihilating? Of course not.
One thing that is very wrong from people’s opinion about feminist movement is that people consider feminists want to conquer the world and turn it upside down, let’s say to change it to be female-dominated world (instead of male-dominated world). NO. Indeed there are some radical feminists that want to spread the idea of living without men. However, their number is very limited. More feminists want to realize a world that is friendly for both men and women (I do agree that even in male-dominated world, some men also become victims in it).
By the way, talking about the application of Islamic teachings in Indonesia, I don’t think it wise because Indonesia is not an Islam country. Although belonging to minority groups, some other religions are admitted officially by the government. It means that the law in Indonesia must be based on the benefits for all parties. Being a religious snob only because we belong to the majorities is not wise at all, do you agree?
By Nana P, a feminist and secular Muslim.
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