Friday, March 5, 2010

Interview with Dr. Riffat Hassan

Dr. Riffat Hassan is a scholar of human rights in Islam and is Professor of Religious Studies and Humanities at the University of Louisville, Kentucky (USA). She's also "a champion of progressive Islamic thought; she has been engaged in research on the roles and rights of women in Islam for over 25 years. Dr. Hassan was a speaker at the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994 and at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in China" (according to, the full link of which is given below).
And, of course, who could forget that she's the author of Equal before Allah?: Woman-man Equality in the Islamic Tradition.

I smiled when I read on Wikipedia that Riffat Hassan was one of the first to accept "the Islamic feminist label."

(Notice: Expect many, many more blog posts similar to this one in the future; I'll be dedicating random posts every now and then to the progressive thinkers whom I've been looking into for a research that started last year and will be ending in late April. I will also be listing my reviews/thoughts/summaries of most of the books and articles I've read on contemporary progressive Islam and influential progressive Muslims who are important icons in Islamic Studies. No worries -- I'll define the term "progressive" when I post those blogs, ka khairee.)

k, so, I think this interview with her is very well worth reading. With each answer of hers that I read, I felt like a HUGE rock had been lifted off my back. For instance, her views on the highly patriarchal (if not also misogynistic) Maududi, on ijtihad, on scholarship in Islam, on women who veil and/or wear the hijab, ... oh, that's pretty much all of it in this interview.

The interviewer says to her:
"Today the hijab is a hotly contested topic around the world. You have stated on numerous occasions that "Wearing hijab today is a sign of submission to Saudi Arabia." Don't you believe in a woman's right to veil, based on her understanding of the Quran?"

And Dr. Hassan answers:
"Did I say that? First of all, this issue needs to be studied in an objective scientific way. The practice of veiling comes before Islam. Orthodox Jewish women, to this day, wear the veil. Specifically in the context of the Quran, this issue needs to be understood historically. My unhappiness lies in the fact that the young women wearing the veil have not done research on the subject. If they did and still wore it, I would respect their right to wear it. But given the nature of the Arabic language and the general openness and universality of the Quran, I believe that the Quran offers us many options with regard to the dress code. The principles of the Quran are justice and compassion. It does not focus on outward dress. Those verses were revealed in a particular context and time. The underlying principle is modesty. The word used in the Quran is jilbab. But it is not the case that everybody in the world should wear the jilbab. If the Quran was revealed, say, to the Americans, it would have referred to American dress. What is mandatory is modesty. At the time, the jilbab enabled women to go out. It was not restrictive."

(I love how she starts off with "Did I say that?" Goes to show how anything we say can not only be misunderstood but exaggerated to such an extent that it becomes a lie. I note this happening on my own blog quite often as well, and for some reason I refuse to ponder, I am NEVER surprised.)

Anyhow, I love her response. I, too, have always believed that MOST women who wear the hijab/niqab have never actually researched the topic at all.

I'm not going in order of the questions at all, but take a look at this one. The interviewer asks:
"You state that the Quran has been interpreted over the past centuries in a very misogynistic and patriarchal context. Is your position that all the great Arabic scholars have deliberately misinterpreted the Quran?"

Hassan's answer: "You have to differentiate between the scholars."

Interviewer: "Maulana Maudoodi, for example."

Hassan: "Yes. He was very patriarchal in his thinking. We now know that the vast majority of the hadith were not authentic in the sense that they referred to Arab culture rather than what the Prophet (p.bu.h) said. Hadith became the lens through which the Quran was seen. The discipline of Tafsir, or the interpretation of the Quran, was developed afterwards. The difference between original texts and tradition has been merged. Iqbal tried to separate this."

As far as ijtihad is concerned, the interviewer asks:
"Who is capable of undertaking ijtihad today?"
Riffat Hassan: "If scholars could come together, we can do a lot better. I think there is a lot of capability. This is why we need an institution. And this is my mission."

We really have forgotten that we have the option of ijtihad available to us, and we CAN figure out HOW to apply the concept of it and WHEN (i.e., in which contexts) if our current "scholars" could actually start communicating with each other and holding dialogues instead of labeling each other as heretic or blasphemous or whatever.

The beginning of the interview may also be of interest to some of us; I found only the last part relevant to recent discussions held on my blog and chose to post it here.

P.S. On the idea of interpretations and my thoughts on which interpretations should be accepted and which ones rejected, you may check out my post called "A Note on Interpretations and Scholarship (among Muslims)."


  1. This poor lady seems to be lost. "Yes. He was very patriarchal in his thinking" etc., is the basis for her to call for a global united ijtihad which she assumes (dont know on what basis) would be more efficient than the previous ones, which were a 1000 years closer to the sources and narrators. I am sure she will get a good grant, regardless of the hilarious rationale behind her project, for the institution she plans to build very soon. How come? Cummmon....!!

  2. With all due respect, E., you seem far more lost than Hassan could ever :) I mean, this is Riffat and you we're talking about -- come on, now, lol.

  3. ROFL on 'patriarchal thinking'!

    I think we need to redo all the science done by Watson, Crick, Newton, Einstein, Boyle, Darwin, etc. as well, shall we?! We might come up with terms like gender bias in statistics!! followed by correction formulae for that :PP

    On a serious khorjani.. dwi na yarigi na?
    سمعون للكذب سمعون لقوم ءاخرين لم يأتوك يحرفون الكلم من بعد مواضعه يقولون إن أوتيتم هذا فخذوه وإن لم تؤتوه فاحذرو

  4. I'm not surprised at all that you deny the *fact* that Maududi's commentaries on the Quran and hadith have been miserably patriarchal, often even misogynistic. If I remember clearly, you yourself mentioned this to me some months ago when we were having a discussion on him and I told you that I don't understand why he's so revered. And you said, "Actually, he's not. Many scholars are now starting to analyze his works and don't agree with his mentality." (NOT your exact words but the gist of it.)

    Also, I strongly urge you to look into the bias in science education when you get time. You see, until the 1970s in the U.S., the process of reproduction and zygote formation was discussed in such a way that anything feminine (e.g., egg) was described as passive and weak and anything masculine (e.g., sperm) as something that came and basically "rescued" the egg -- and the egg had been WAITING for this sperm.
    Contemporary science (specifically cell biology) textbooks, however, don't have as much gender bias, if any at all, actually: They portray the egg and sperm as *partner* of each other, both absolutely needing the support of the other in order to make conception happen. The egg is now, LO, an "active agent" in the process of reproduction; in fact, it is often seen as something that itself captures the sperm.

    Anyway, my point? That there is (gender) bias in everything, and that bias is a result of our social/religious beliefs. Feminists realize the power that (male) scientists have had on science and on the world, and so they wonder, "WHAT woman can rival Newton or Pythagoras or Archimedes?" (This is a quote from a book I read... not exact quote, though, or even the exact people.)

    Even until the mid-1900s, male scientists made desperate attempts to *prove* that women are inferior to men. A professor of mine and I were mocking this idea, and he laughed and said, "Don't you know -- debates took place in the SCHOLARLY WORLD to determine if women are HUMAN!" :|

    Now, you might argue that this is NON-MUSLIMS' thinking, but I would disagree: Muslims have inevitably been influenced by the non-Muslims' thinking (if not vice versa, even, actually); perhaps not to the extent of figuring out whether women are *human* but at least to the extent that women are "inferior" to men and Quranic verses and hadith texts have been used to justify this claim.

    By the way, Dr. Riffat Hassan isn't the first or only human to have said that Maududi's thinking was beyond patriarchal and often misogynistic as well: Many, including male scholars, have argued the same. Want a list of those people? I'll be happy to offer it.

  5. "A professor of mine and I were mocking this idea, and he laughed and said, "Don't you know -- debates took place in the SCHOLARLY WORLD to determine if women are HUMAN!" :| "

    And I mock at your idea of pakhtoon nationalism.

  6. Qrratgair: you cannot escape from the fact that a sperm head penetrates the egg and the sperm head contains the enzymes to digest the zona pellucida and corona radiate of the egg. Now matter what spin you give to it, sperm penetrates into the egg, the egg does not penetrate into the sperm. This is a micro-representation of the real thing - a male penetrates the female, not vice versa.

  7. Actually, coco, everything is how it is *expressed*. While facts are facts, and we know how the sperm and egg come together, the focus is more on how this knowledge is expressed in science texts. What most textbooks used to do was dramatize the formation such that it portrayed the egg as one way and the sperm as another, instead of seeing them as partners in the process.

    Thanks to feminist critique of the dramatized and utterly sexist description, however, we don't see that sexism anymore in science textbooks.

  8. LOL @ "And I mock at your idea of pakhtoon nationalism."

    And I'm supposed to care what someone of YOUR (in)ability thinks of me? Well, I don't. I care what people I RESPECT think of me, not people who prove to be lacking the ability to think and question.

    But note how you change topic so easily. My mockery was at the question of whether women are HUMAN or not; your mockery is at Pukhtun nationalism, lol. Like, seriously?

  9. P.S. From now on, dear Coco, I'm just gonna ignore your comments completely. They don't make sense, and you seem to have nothing important or relevant to say anyway. Feel more than free to continue posting your thoughts, of course, and continue visiting, but don't expect me to honor you by wasting my time by responding to your silly comments. In the Pashtun culture, when we give someone our time, it indicates that we hold that person in high esteem. And I'm insulting myself by giving you any time at all. So, thank you for considering my blog worthy of visiting it and feeling free enough to express your thoughts, becuase I would NEVER forbid anyone to express themselves (especially on my blog), but just try to understand that the respect is not mutual.

    Hopefully, I need not explain why.

    Thank you.

  10. @Coco
    In Punjab, it is really debatable to consider whether Punjabi women are human or not as they are mistreated by these black Punjabi pigs. The nation whose men lay down to the invaders and call it their wisdom can only talk that cheap about women folk ,who also consist of sacred personalities like one' mothers.

    Pakhtun, Baluchi and Sindhi nationalism are the only genuine nationalistic flavors in Pakistan. All of these nations consider it a shame to be called Pakistani nationalists (if it ever exists) which has become a shame due to its synonamity with Punjabi ethnicity.

  11. Black punjabi pigs? Lol. Look who is a narrow-minded buffoon here.

    @ Qrr: It was ME who was honoring your blog by trying to instill some thoughts in your primitive mind but I guess you cant straighten an already bent bone?


  12. P.S. From now on, dear Coco, I'm just gonna ignore your comments completely. They don't make sense, and you seem to have nothing important or relevant to say anyway. Feel more than free to continue posting your thoughts, of course, and continue visiting, but don't expect me to honor you by wasting my time by responding to your silly comments.

    Frailty, thy name is woman! (Shakesphear)

  13. Trying to instill some thoughts in ME? Well, nice try. I'm too stubborn (remember: I'm Pukhtun :D) to settle for thoughts that make absolutely no sense; if I were that type, I'd already be a female version of you because I'm surrounded by nothing but folks like you. Sorry, but that's not "thoughts"; that's nonsense.

    Ciao! But I still insist you come by and visit; hopefully, you'll learn something :) And comment as well. I don't mind. I just like to ignore. In Pashto, there's a saying that, when translated, means, "A dog keeps barking and barking and then shuts up."


  14. Oh, and please learn how to read. Re-read Pir Rokhan's comment to understand what he meant when he used "Punjabi Pig," k?

    @ Pir Rokhan: God bless your mind!!

  15. Oh well, we have a Pakhtoon boar writing a blog here then.

  16. Hah, maybe I will learn something from you? heavens NO! Unless you meant that I can learn from you about how to become a senseless imbecile? Thanks but no thanks.

  17. You know what I'm noticing, Coco?

    I may be a "boar" but guess what - you love to ignore the comments of Pir Rokhan and have completely ignore the purpose of the argument/debate but instead have turned to debasing yourself by calling names and all.

    And you surely LOOOOOVE to come to this "boar's" blog, don't you, lol. Try avoiding it, lol.

    And, no, people like you have closed minds, and every alley within it has been stuck with junk; there's no room for learning.

    Anyway, I'm done replying to you. Buh bye, little boy.

  18. hawww, da su kawai khori?!

  19. @ Anonymous/Jalabeebihinna/E.:
    "Frailty, thy name is woman"? lol ... it's Shakespeare we're talking about. C'mon now. Everyone KNOWS how much respect he held for women, lol.
    But, really, talk about frailty and women -- I think you and I both know VERY well who the frail one between us is :) Not just frail but beyond coward, too. You know exactly what I'm talking about. If that's not cowardice, I really don't know what it is.

  20. @Qrratugai:

    Dont have a clue what cowardice you talking about. I just found a weird stack of comments since my last visit and was amazed. Zaka mi wi hawww.

    Btw, zama pa agha ayat poha shawi wi?! ku you just ignored it? Its Al-maida 41.

    Taking it as an example, can you please read that ayah and tell many how many interpretations you can come up with? gather? find? whatever.

  21. Actually, you know VERY well what I'm talking about. Khair, dessi chal dey, kana, che I don't want anonymous or unregistered folks to post any comments on my blog; only registered ones can do it now.

    Daa zini khalak waley dumra yareegi da khpale identity khowalo na, gwarey ... I've always wondered.


  22. Oh - never mind! I'll just moderate them instead. I can't possibly deny *Anonymous* folks to comment, now, can I!

  23. When I first came across your blog, I took pleasure in reading and knowing the views of a Pathan Lady but sorry to say that your replies to the comments of almost every body disappointed me. It is difficult for me to understand why a simple quotation from Shakespeare’s should make you upset to such a degree to call me a cowardice. What act of cowardice did I do? Except for Pir Rokhan, which sounds to me a real name, don’t all other visitors use computer names, for example, coco-jumbo, jalbeebhine, etc. so why make it a big issue if I had chosen the word anonymous.
    Here on this blog, people spoke about my sect calling Shias to be put behind bars. Without knowing Punjabis, they called them pigs. Come visit my chak, Amro in Khanewal District, do those simple Punjabis live any better lives than Pathans in Vana, Waziristan? Why this hate? I don’t hate Pathans or Sindhis or Baluchis or Muhajar. We are all Pakistanis. Why hate me? Yes, I used to call Sarhadi Gandhi, Bacha Khan a traitor but it was a long, long time ago when I was a student and brain-washed by newspapers. But once I was posted in Haripur jail and remained there for a number of years, and known Pathans, I learned that they were as simple people as my own people, it changed my mind and there was nothing but respect in my heart for all Pathans. A simple quotation makes me a coward? What if I had disagreed with you on a big matters? Anyways, I felt very hurt. Not because you called me coward but because from a lady who is so very well educated but at the same time who failed to learn to show respect to others.

    Ali Rahmat Waraich
    Assist. Superintendent Jail (Retd.)
    Udyala, Rawalpindi

  24. Hi, Ali.
    Thanks for your comment.

    There are several reason why I called you a coward for citing Shakespeare notorious line: "Frailty, thy name is woman!"

    If you personally agree with this WHILE writing anonymously, one can't help but remind you that anyone who's afraid of writing anonymously is a coward. What would've happened if you'd used your first name?

    I wouldn't think of anyone a coward if they wrote anonymously without considering anyone else -- a female! -- "frail." But when they themselves use "Anonymous" when posting comments a random blog, then I can't help but wonder, "Wha? Who's 'frail' here, yo?"

    Also, remember that we're talking behind screens; so I don't know your age, you don't know mine. The only way to assume someone's age is by noting how they talk. I would never, EVER have guessed that someone who comes on my blog and writes, "Frailty, thy name is woman!" would actually be what your signature says.
    (Whether I believe that or not is a different matter.)

    So, I'm sorry to hear that what I said upset you. I DO NOT hate non-Pashtuns, non-Sunnis, non-Muslims, etc. Interestingly, if you noticed, the person who was bashing Shiites -- your people, as you said -- was not Pukhtun. You also must have noted that *I* (not born into a Shiite family) was offended that someone insulted Shiites like that. The respect I have for Shiites is even more than what I could ever, EVER have for Sunnis. So don't think that *I* hate Shiites or that *I* would ever disrespect them.

    ** Continued **

  25. I'm sorry that Sunnis are taught such lies and crap about Shiites, and then those Sunnis go about inciting more hatred against Shiites with the biased knowledge they have of them.

    As for the ones who called Punjabis pigs ... actually, that wasn't really the case. No one called Punjabis pigs. Pir Rokhan said that anyone who disrespects women is a pig, and the boy he was referring to was the one who had said some things that Pir Rokhan perceived as disrespectful (and the guy happened to be a Punjabi). (As for me, I don't believe anyone has the power to disrespect me. No one does. Even if they think they do, and even if they think they've disrespected me.)

    Also, by the way, another reason I don't appreciate anonymity is that for all anyone knows, it's one or two people,or just the same people, coming with different names (or anonymous) saying what they do. If they're gonna visit the blog regularly, they might as well choose a name ... and "Anonymous" is not a name; neither is "Jalabeebihinna."

    I didn't mind Coco Jumbo because he had a blog (blogs, actually), and I could tell it was an authentic person and no one attempting to spam my blog with pathetic comments. I don't appreciate Jalabeebihinna, however, because I know who he is, and I don't know what makes him think he can just come with various names, sometimes even anonymous. (It's because of that that I've now started moderating the comments published on my blog.)

    So, understand that I have my reasons for discouraging anonymity :)

    Thank you again for your comment, and I'm again very sorry that what others on my blog and I have said has offended you. As I said, I've now started moderating the comments, so anyone who uses a demeaning term to refer to ANY individual, gender, sect, race/ethnicity, I will not tolerate it and will not allow for the comment to be published.

    With peace,
    A Pashtun female

  26. Ali Rahmat WariachMarch 16, 2010 at 1:43 PM

    "I'm sorry that Sunnis are taught such lies and crap about Shiites, and then those Sunnis go about inciting more hatred against Shiites with the biased knowledge they have of them."

    If this is your sincere view then rest assured that you have been gifted with the tender heart of a Sufi and God has good uses for you.

    Ali Rahmat Waraich

  27. Thanks for visiting back, Bro!

    Of course it's my sincere view. I'm currently taking a class on Shi'ism, and I'm reading texts *from* Shiite perspectives -- and I FINALLY understand Shiism (to a certain extent; just reading about them from them here and there can't be considered good knowledge). And that's why I emphasize over and over the importance of learning a creed *from* the view point of those who *practice* it. As I always say, let the subaltern speak. When we see these online "scholars" writing about how ANTI-Islam Shiism is, I pity them all and I pity the world. What IS wrong with us?

    One of my first assignments for the class included a paper in which I had to analyze the way that *general books on Islam* (choosing random books with like those that say "Intro to Islam" or "Intro to Muslim beliefs" or "Who are Muslims?" or "What do Muslims believe?") portrayed Shiites -- if they were at ALL represented as "Muslims" ... and the results were quite disturbing.

    So, yeah, I definitely think we need to really study each other's beliefs to *understand* and *appreciate* each other instead of shunning each others as heretics or non-believers or whatever else we think the other side is.


Dare to opine :)

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