Read Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam Online

Authors: Amina Wadud

Tags: #Religion, #Islam, #General, #Social Science, #Feminism & Feminist Theory, #Women's Studies, #Sexuality & Gender Studies, #Islamic Studies

Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam (9 page)

BOOK: Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam
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systems as the highest universal ideal of human relationality. There are many indicators in Islam
stressing this basic principle of reciprocity – for example, at a pragmatic level, the Prophetic
, “One of you does not believe until he/she loves for the other what is loved for self.”

In looking at Islamic cosmology and eschatology according to the Qur’an, the notion of reciprocity and
is obvious. Starting with the passage, “
Laysa ka mithlihi shay’un
” (there is nothing like It) (42:11), the Qur’an removes any similitude between the limited creation and the divine Ultimate. This statement stresses Allah’s incomparability or
attributes. Although the
attributes point to Allah as remote, distant, and incom- comprehensible, Allah also has Her domain of love, mercy, and concern

for all creation, which is best described by the
(feminine) attributes.

Ali, the fourth caliph, said, “God is outside of things, but not in the sense of

What’s in a Name?

being alien to them; and He is inside things, but not in the sense of being

identical with them.”
The full understanding of the

divine– human

relationships is a paradox beyond the restrictions that mental reasoning places upon conceptions of Allah. Yet we would be less than human beings endowed with wisdom were we not to exert the limits of our reasoning in deciphering the mysteries of this paradox.

In the Qur’an, all
(things) are part of a system of dualism, divisible and necessarily contingent. Like male and female pairs in humankind, some of these pairs coexist as complementary and contingent equals. Other pairs, like night and day, in and out, up and down, are drawn into mutually necessary opposition. All of creation, according to the Qur’an, is intercon- nected in this way, except Allah, described as not like
. In this way, Allah can be seen as the tension holding the pairs in balance and harmony. This Qur’anic system of correlated and contingent pairs at the meta- physical level is further emphasized on the material level, especially in social–moral terms, by another passage. Whenever two persons come together, Allah is the third among them (58:7). To illustrate, each and every human-to-human relation can be represented as a triad formed with Allah as a supranatural component. Allah, the Ultimate, is in a transcendent place supporting and sustaining the horizontal juxtaposition between any two human beings or any human group. The presence of Allah maintains the

“I–Thou” proposal of Martin Buber.

Buber indicates that ‘the primary word I–Thou can only be spoken with the whole being.’ In other words this combination forms a unit that implies the relationship of reciprocity. Otherwise, ‘(t)he primary word I–It can never be spoken with the whole being.’ One aspect in this relationship is asymmetrical and reduced to a state of less than wholeness.

This relational paradigm looks like this triad: Allah

I Thou

Each two persons are sustained on the horizontal axis because the highest moral point is always occupied metaphysically by Allah. The real center of this metaphysical occupation coincidentally is the heart. So only when two people reflect through the clear mirror of each other’s heart can they avoid violation of
. Then the vertical diagram:

30 inside the gender jihad


(no existential symbol of balance, harmony, and reciprocity)


can appear only if Allah is absent from the formula. If Allah is present in any way, a new horizontal plane is created since Allah operates at the highest point. What appears as hierarchical between the two humans on the physical plane:




would not be hierarchical in reality because Allah, the highest point in the composition, constructs a new horizontal axis that sustains parity between the I and the Thou. In fact one must think in terms of a sphere, or in three- dimensional terms, to put this diagram in its fullest conceptual framework. The continual awareness and active reflection of Allah’s presence – the metaphysical component of all human-to-human relations – creates a means for understanding that there can only be parity on a horizontal basis between any two persons or any two collectives. To keep Allah present in all our encounters on the corporeal level a certain moral consciousness is required. That moral consciousness is
according to the Qur’anic worldview. Yet
is a volitional function of our
or agency. If consciousness of Allah is absent, it is possible to think of others on the vertical plane of inequity and transgression, leading to oppression, abuse,

and transgression.

This linguistic reference to a triad does not mean that Allah is a physical thing, an object, let alone a person. She or He is not separate from the creation, especially from the human creature. St. Augustine’s articulation to consider God as a circle, the center of which is everywhere and the circum- ference of which is nowhere, reflects the metaphysical reality of the universe, which I agree with, provided it is considered at the level of the three-dimensional sphere. The
paradigm is more than our physical make-up. We live in a complex universe. Within each person is an essence (
) reflecting our union with the cosmic design and the harmony in all creation. We can acknowledge this transcendent reality, in ourselves and all others – and act upon it – or we can ignore it, to emphasize our superiority over others, rather than our relational reciprocity. That is a significant idea

What’s in a Name?

underlying the diagram above. When a person seeks to place him- or herself “above” another, it either means the divine presence is removed or ignored, or that the person who imagines his or her self above others suffers from the egoism of

At the metaphysical level of reality, Allah is present in all circumstances; then at the level of human free will, Allah’s presence must be acknowledged. This way of conceptualizing the Buberan formula provides a means for understanding the sacred union between self and other, so the I–Thou relationship of horizontal reciprocity is sustained. Continual application of this transcendent component gives superiority only in Allah. To experience the metaphysical reality of this three-dimensional relationship of wholeness, the two-dimensional human relationship must reflect awareness, remem- brance, and participation in the presence of Allah within and between them. The basic construction of humankind is composed of its male and female pair. The
paradigm becomes the inspiration for removing gender strati- fication from all levels of social interaction: public and private, ritual and political. Not only does it mean that I and Thou are equal, but it also means that I and Thou
are one within the oneness of Allah
. Social, liturgical, and political functions become determined by the capacity of both women and men in a larger realm of education, dedication, and contribution with no arbitrary exclusion of women from performing any of these functions.


In search of an Islamic construction of human dignity, I continue to examine certain major Qur’anic constructs. For example, I consider the Qur’anic description of an exchange between the angels – creatures of pure light without free will – and Allah, Lord of the Worlds, Master of the Universe, and Creator of all existence. In that exchange Allah announces, “Verily I will create a
, vicegerent on the earth” (2:30).
The angels voiced their concern that this creature might cause havoc on the earth by way of chaos and destruction. Allah responds first from Its sover- eignty with the statement, “I know what you do not know” (2:30), then completed His intention by creating the first human being. The angels readily agree that they only know what Allah gives them to know (2:32). As they submit to the superiority of Allah’s knowledge they also glorify Her. As human readers, we can speculate on what Allah knows. Here, I do not. For the current analysis I make, what is more important is that human creation

32 inside the gender jihad

follows this cosmic dialogue. In my earlier analysis of the Qur’anic

statement, “
Wa min kulli shay’in

khalaqna zawjayn
” (and

from all

[created] things we made pairs) (51:49), there is an essential consequence relative to male–female mutual dependency in human creation. The Qur’anic statement indicates that “things” are created in pairs. I especially note that human creation is included in this system of created duality. I have discussed at length the perfection of human creation
and its gender inclu- siveness in the Qur’anic design.
Here, that gender inclusiveness is taken for granted for my discussion and focus is shifted to the mutual function or role the Qur’an designates for all humankind with several important cosmological and ontological implications.

The part of the statement “on the earth” not only emphasizes that being on earth is fundamental to the Islamic conception of human destiny, it also defies any implication that the human sojourn on the earth is a type of punishment, or “fall” of an originally sinful creature. The second and more important aspect of this statement is the intent implied, “I will create a ‘
’.” This shows that the characteristic of
(trusteeship or agency) is fundamental and essential to being human.

That is why the term
is foundational to an ethics of human dignity. On a more pragmatic level, I have explored the significance of this aspect of human dignity in the context of civil society, where I use the term

to refer to “citizen.”
Here, my first task is to review some funda-

mental and perhaps universal implications of what it means to fulfill this task of
as implied by the Qur’anic term
Then I will emphasize
in its particular relation to gender and the dignity of women.

First I will propose less archaic English translations for the terms
. These modern translations are easily borne out after examining the overall Qur’anic use of the terms and from an analysis of the meaning of the archaic term English translators tend to use: “vicegerent.” A modern equivalent for
is “trustee” or “moral agent.” For the term
a modern translation is “trusteeship” or “moral agency.” I will use agent and trustee interchangeably.

Since the discussion quoted above between Allah and the angels precedes the creation of humankind, this is a statement of intent. Allah intends to create a trustee. In fulfilling that intention, humankind is created. The implications of a particular role to be fulfilled by that human creation give the statement its ontology, intent, or purpose. Human beings are created to be trustees on the earth. They are trustees of Allah. That is, human beings are charged with fulfilling a trust with Allah. Throughout the Qur’an,

What’s in a Name?

fulfilling the terms of this trust necessarily involves: (1) (voluntarily) obeying the will of Allah – alternatively interpreted as surrendering to the will of Allah, another term for “Islam”; and (2) participating in that obedience while here on earth. This implies responsibility: we are charged to manage our affairs on the earth in a fashion that demonstrates our surrender. Like the
(statement) of the Prophet, “would you serve Allah? Serve your fellow creatures [first].”

For some, obeying “the will of Allah” has had a specific legal under- standing: follow the mandates of
. However, historical
was an intellectual movement that began after the death of the Prophet, the end of revelation, and is never referred to in the Qur’an to mean a man-made legal system (45:18). Examination of the Qur’anic discussions about nature, an ahistorical, metaphysical level of human nature, and the whole of the universe provides a more comprehensive understanding of the “will of Allah” as reference to the greater cosmic order. That is, Allah’s will,
(the term for both power and measuring out), extends over the entire

What creates the checks and balances, causes and effects, cycles

and patterns from the most minute to the complex, extensive form of every-

thing in the creation is the “will” of the Creator. Being


equivalent to fulfilling one’s human destiny as a moral agent, whose respon-

sibility is

to participate in upholding the harmony of the universe. With

respect to society, harmony means working for justice.

Furthermore, the use of “engaged surrender” corroborates the general understanding of the term
, which means a complete way of life, and is the closest Arabic term to the English word “religion.” As a complete way of life, the Islamic intellectual tradition did not distinguish a separation

between church and state, as



society in modernity.

Although not a detailed part of this book, today’s idea of the state, as in nation-state, did not exist during the formative discussions and is not developed here. Islamic civilization was an empire in relation to other world empires. However, if all affairs – public and private – are accountable before Allah, “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good shall see it; and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil shall see it” (99:7–8), then all affairs are under the sovereignty of Allah’s will. Muslims must not only believe that Allah’s sovereignty is over all things, they must accept their responsi- bility as agents of Allah. Accepting Allah’s sovereignty means that humans, as equal citizens, are responsible for constructing social justice and for governing all matters of state. By implication, the historical formulations of
are not the eternal representation of the fullest human effort to

BOOK: Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam
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