Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Women Leading Men in Prayer

A Facebook photo of mine shows a woman leading a mixed congregation of prayer. I was sure it'd lead to some interesting comments from some Muslims, and it sorta did. I'd like to share here the typical arguments given against women's leading men in prayer and my response to each one.

One of my friends commented that "This is so wrong." I asked why, and she said, "I don't know. I can't explain. But it feels wrong." Of course that's not a good enough justification, but I left it.

Another friend commented that Al-Maghrib disapproves (as if Al-Maghrib decides what Islam says and as if I am supposed to accept their decisions :p but it was cute, so no worries).

Finally, the response I'd been waiting for -- and I copy/paste the discussion verbatim here.

This friend, let's call him Wror Jaan (WJ), said that you can't pray behind a woman; it's disliked.

Me: Disliked by whom? 

WJ: In the world from Indonesia to Afghanistan,from Saudi arabia to Pakistan, from iran to Iraq and europe.. have you ever seen a woman standing and giving Namaz to men? yes in in some cases a woman can give jamaha to women only not men.
why was the masjid or prayer hall of men and women seperated? its because men shouldnt see women praying :)
for more info read this http://qa.sunnipath.com/issue_view.asp?HD=3&ID=4591&CATE=352

Allah swt knows the best

[Note, readers, the link to an "authority" -- I'm supposed to agree with them. I wonder what happens if I don't . . . I mean, suppose I agree with another scholar or another person/group in a position of authority over such issues. Then what happens? Oh, I forgot - I'm a deviant and am following the wrong crowd! Geez, I don't believing in following people. I believe in evaluating whatever I read. I believe we have been blessed with reason so that we can use it in moments like these.

Me: Just because a woman has never been permitted to lead men in prayer doesn't mean she lacks divine permission to do so. Tradition isn't always coming from God; it's almost always man-imposed, in fact.

Why shouldn't men see women praying, or vice versa?

Try not to give me links to long articles that are denying every other perspective and interpretation out there and enforcing only one. I acknowledge SunniPath.com's perspective, but the name itself suggests it's biased.

WJ: ok as you say.. there will be many others who wont agree with u. I am not trying to say that women have lower status in Islam than men, All i wanted to say is that how can a woman bow in front of a man? will the man be able not to look at her? I have travelled to many countries and I have never seen a woman giving jummah, how come they give jummah in America.
Have you heard any Prophet's wife or any bibi has given jamaha? If they have then its ok for all the women to stand and give jamah but if not then please dont bring this new religion. we as hanafis dont have woman imam.. oh and i havent seen any woman imam in saudi arabia or other gulf countries.. so lets say maybe we have a new religion in this world who allow women to give jammah.

oh and you dont read my article.. then bring me proof and hadith to convince me that its ok for women to lead a prayer. You can just decide on your own, you have to rely on scholars that spend their entire life studying our religion me and you are ordinary human beings and shouldnt allow ourselves to change the course of our religion without any proof. I gave you a link to read but it looks like you want to stick with your own stand on this matter and do not wish to research about whether your even right or wrong. if you have already decided that you are right then i cannot convince you otherwise. May Allah swt guide all of us.
‎1. We need a Quranic verse / hadith that tells us that women *cannot* lead men in prayer, not one that says they can. Otherwise, we're going to need trillions of hadith narrations and Quranic verses that tell us that we can do this and that and that and that. Unless something's specified as haraam, we don't need evidence that it's halaal.

2. Everyone can disagree with me, that's fine with me. It's possible that the majority is wrong and the minority right.

3. You ask why can a woman be in front of a man. Well, why not? What's wrong with it? Just because you've never seen it doesn't mean it's haraam.

4. Saudi Arabia or any other Gulf country? :) You mean ... you need one of them to do something in order for it to be considered acceptable Islamically? C'mon, WJ-- they're the worst example o what it means to be a Muslim!

All I'm saying is: What's wrong with it? I need you to think about it yourself and then answer instead of giving me what a certain group of a certain sect of Islam says about it.
WJ: imagine u r an imam.. a girl.. 4 am u go to masjid to give namaz.. therez only one man standing in masjid who will follow you to pray.. can you give him namaz? is there any shaytan between you two?
why is women not allowded to talk or meet strangers?
does islam teach us about not to talk to stranger men or not?
how can you bow in front of a stranger man?
what if the imam woman is not a fat ugly woman but a beautiful 20 yrs old girl.. will she be able to give namaz to a guy aged 20 or 22 who is totally a stranger for him?
Me: I don't get your first question. What would be wrong if I led him in prayer?

And last time I checked, the rule of segregation applied to *both* men and women. So your argument doesn't hold correct there -- 'cause it's not just women who are not allowed to talk to or meet strangers; it's men, too. (This, of course, is assuming that gender segregation is really prohibited.)

How can I bow in front of a stranger man? Well, how can a stranger man bow in front of ME?

What if the imaam in front of me is a 20-year-old handsome man, not a "fat ugly" man? Should he still lead women in prayer, especially if these women are strangers to him?

I hope you see what I'm doing here. Every question you ask can be turned around so that it applies to BOTH men and women, not just to women :)
WJ: No..there is difference in man and woman's body. a man can walk outside or even in haram sharif without a shirt and his half body naked but a woman cant.. there are certain rules for men and women to follow. you still think that its connected to our cultural issue? No its not.. if it was so then there would be thousands of women imams in the west.. can you give me atleast 10 names of muslim women imams?
in Afg or asian and gulf countries we follow our culture but how come in the west we dont see women imam except one or two whom i got to see in the past 3 yrs...
My first question was that can you feel urself safe in masjid giving namaz to a stranger man at 5 am alone? he is alone and you are alone too.. can you?

Ofcoarse you cant.. thats why women are told to pray at home and they will get the same sawab as much they get in masjid :D
and i forgot to ask.. did bibi khadija or bibi fatima every lead the namaz? they did attend speeches and talked to people in masajids but they never went for iqama or salah in front of men. we learn from our prophet, His ahadith and from our scholars.. no one is allowded to make up something out of his brain and make a fitwa saying this is halal and this is haram.
Whem Prophet Mohammad pbuh passed away, His wife was the one who took responsibility to talk to the people and spread Islam till another successor was announced, during that time she never leaded any Namaz :) now guess it urself and think that y she didnt give namaz to those people who respected her as much as they respected the Prophet Mohammad pbuh.
We are not living in Afghanistan to think that .. Oh ppl will say bad if my wife goes to masjid and lead a prayer.. we r living in the west where everyone is a free bird and can do whatever they want .. But our religion tells us not to follow what was not followed by others.

I will insist and say that a woman is allowded to give salah to the women only but not men. Yes there is a chance where a woman can stand in other room and men in other room, that time she may give salah but not standing in front of men. This is why all the masajids have seperate place for men and women.. if women was allowded to pray with men then there would be no seperate places for both men and women.

A woman cant stand next to a man and pray.. she has to stand atleast one meter behind the man and there should be no men standing behind her :). here in west there are different types of muslims who believe in different schools of teachings.. we have hanafi,sha'fi,hanbali,parvizi,qidyani,sufi,shia and all others mixed together so the best thing is to stick to your own school of FIQ and follow what your imam says. Even in kab'aa there are 4 imams who belong to 4 different schools..

Shaikh Hamza yusuf visits our class once a month and i hope i will be able to meet him, if i did then Inshallah for sure i will ask him about this and lets see what does he say about it. Oh and i am going to ask this question from my arab scholar and an Afghan hanafi scholar too. I will gather the views of 3 different scholars and bring it in front of you.. Inshallah that time you will get the answer to your question.

Allah swt knows the best.
Me: So, the only reason a woman should not lead men in prayer is that her body is different from the man's body? But but but but ... WJ, so what that our bodies are different? Or are you implying that because I'm a woman, I lack the feelings/emotions to be attracted to a man who's leading me in prayer, regardless of his age? Because if that's the assumption, it's completely wrong.

Here's what I understand from the arguments that people give when saying women shouldn't be allowed to lead men in prayer:

- A man leading women in prayer is okay because women aren't supposed to be thinking about physical stuff (desire, lust, etc.) when praying, so it's understood that women will behave while praying behind a man, no matter how attracted they are to the man leading the prayer.

- A WOMAN leading men in prayer, however, is wrong because men are easily attracted to women. And men just naturally can't behave once they fall in love with or lust after a woman. So it's not okay for women to do it, but it's okay for men.

Yet, when I say, "What IF a woman gets attracted to a man leading the prayer?" The response is, "OMG! Shame on you! That's so immodest -- why would you be thinking that when praying? :S That's so wrong and impious." Yeah, well, I was just told that women shouldn't lead men in prayer because she is nothing more than a naturally seductive and dangerously sexy being by nature, and so that means men are easily attracted to her . . . No one thinks THAT is immodest, but it's immodest when *I* say that a woman actually MAY be attracted to a man leading prayer?

You see the contradiction there, WJ?

And this makes sense to people.

Regarding the Prophet's wives and how they never led prayer (actually, you did ask that earlier, and I did respond :) 's okay, though ) -- again, just because they never did it doesn't mean it's haraam. There are many, many things they didn't do simply because such was not the norm or standard of the day; or maybe because they didn't have a reason to or access to such power. Yes, yes - Islam is for all people of all times, but, again, as I said earlier, unless it is specifically specified to be *haraam*, everything's halaal. Unless you can give me a quote from the Quran, or maybe even a hadith, that tells me that a woman is strictly forbidden from leading men in prayer, I am going to have to continue disagreeing with you.
WJ: as u wish sister..
Lakum deinokum walyadein :D

I wish we'd gotten into a discussion on hadiths . . . That would've pushed me to write a blog post on hadiths, too :p (NOTE: I don't reject all hadiths, so don't try to read between the lines, folks. But there are some "authentic" hadiths that I find quite disturbing.) 


End of comments.


There are too many claims without support -- and I mean this in any discussion/debate on women and gender. A woman can't do this; she has to do this and that; she can't do XYZ -- she has to stand this way -- she has to think this way -- etc. No support for these claims. No explanation. No evaluation of them. I don't understand how we can just sit there and accept everything as it is without thinking about it or questioning its authenticity.  
People often assume that I don't know my stuff and that because I disagree with the idea that women are forbidden from leading men in prayer, I need to be reminded of what "scholars" say. Firstly, I'm going to question the "scholarship" of these scholars -- and these "scholars" include Zakir Naik (ohhh my favorite one! I have a poem coming on him.) Secondly, the *majority* tells us that women can't lead men in prayer -- but who said the majority has to be right? What if I decide to go with the minority on certain issues instead? Isn't that the beauty of diversity? (Now, now, I mean what if the minority can very, VERY well defend their stance, not like, "Okay, let's just go with this because it "feels" right. Or "Let's go with this because it's 'modern' and we should be tryina be modern." Yeah, no. I don't mean that type. They gotta have a really good, convincing argument for me to give them some thought.)
More on this another time. I have an essay to write now on Zakir Naik's stance on female authority in Islam.  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Deep Infinite Well

I'm writing this in response to a good friend's article/piece on the hijab and some Muslim's hypocrisy related to the hijab and all. (You know, when replying to non-Muslims' questions on the hijab, we go, "Oh, no, no - the hijab is just a choice." YET, we go around condemning the female who DOESN'T wear the hijab. Like, what's up with that, yo? Or we think we're more pious and more Islamic and closer to God and more modest than those be-sharam (immodest) women who don't cover their hair.) And not all Muslim females who cover their hair do so out of personal choice. It's often vying with their Muslim peers. It's done to please others rather than to please your Creator. As I read today, "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please others." Or you cover your hair, but that's not enough: You've to cover everything else. So you cover your hair, but your chest shows; you cover your hair and chest, but your arms show; you cover all that but your face shows. Like, OH MY GOD! The obligations, the expectations never end, and you just wanna scream and say, "LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE, WORLD!!!! Leave me to my God!!!"

k, so here. I'm sharing here some thoughts that I shared with her on this. [Pre-script: I use both "She" and "He" for God. Live with it. If God has no gender, then why does it matter if I call Her a She or a He? It's both for me, and I'll use these pronouns as if they mean the same thing -- they mean God.]

We subtly force people to have the kind of faith we do, or to believe the way WE think everyone should believe without realizing that everyone has her/his own understanding of God, that God has a way with every single one of His worshipers, that each person has her/his own pace at which to reach or find God. I remember when a close friend of mine showed interest in Islam and I told some ladies at the Islamic Center nearby, and they were all like, "Hurry, hurry, convert her RIGHT now before she changes her mind!" :S At that time, around 2007, I was very immature and stupid and spiritually empty, so I was like, "OMG, sisters, you all are right! She might change her mind, and then she won't become a Muslim!" So I rushed to pretty much STUFF her with things about Islam ... it's now my WORST regret ever.

If I were to go back in time, I'd tell those ladies with a smile on my face, "If she's gonna change her mind, then she's not ready to be a Muslim, she's not ready to see God your/my way, she's not ready to practice our faith. Or perhaps God hasn't intended for her to become a Muslim NOW if she's gonna change her mind. Let's answer her questions if/when we can and be the best examples of good Muslims that we can be, and if she converts, great; if she doesn't, so be it -- God might have other plans in mind for her." Oh but I can imagine the frowns they'll gift me then!

Ahhh ... yes . . .

Anyway, we can't change the past but only look forward to a future in which we can better ourselves and allow others the space they need or desire to be their own selves. I just can't imagine WHAT kind of a God would wish to put us into hell in order to grant us heaven ultimately! I REFUSE to believe that showing a strand of hair is going to invalidate my prayer, or showing my head is going to deny me the fruits of heaven. No. And what if I don't feel comfortable in a headcovering? Would I not be resenting God the whole time, then? I mean, walking in a street with a hijab on FEELING ANGRY at God because He's making me do something I don't feel comfortable in, something that's inviting attention toward me from everyone else because I look different, I stand out -- how can I appreciate God then? How can I love God then? How can I even DESIRE to get to know this God or get closer to this God? I can't. I'd be resenting Him the whole time.

I'm a staunch supporter of the hijab -- even of the veil (face-covering). I believe EVERY woman should be allowed to cover her face if that's her way of getting closer to God, if that's what she believes it means to be modest, if that's how she attains piety. But she's in NO position to tell someone else, "You're not as close to God as I am because I cover my face, something the wives of the Prophet were commanded to do, and you're not! hah." Uhh ... screw you, you fake Muslimah! How does she know I don't feel even closER to God? In all honesty, I have this REALLY beautiful relationship with God. I believe I'm extremely close to God, and I love it. You know how I can tell? Because I talk to God and I yell at Him. I fight with Him. It's exactly what I express in a poem of mine I've aptly titled "Forbidden."

I literally talk to God, and I literally fight with Him. I get angry with Her when I have too many questions and can't figure out the answers, and then I embarrassingly come back to Her when I DO find the answers and discuss them with Him. But I don't mind, and I don't feel like it's going to send me directly to hell just because I didn't do something She has decided is best for me to do. No. I love this God. I fear Her but not in the way that we're normally raised or taught to fear God. It's like this: You know how you're always afraid of disappointing your favorite teachers or, say, your parents? It's becuase you love them SO much, you wish SO much to impress and please them, to make them proud, but you don't wanna mess up because you don't want to make them less proud of you, you don't wanna disappoint them. It's like that with me and my God.

And so, I don't discuss my relationship with God with anyone because people don't understand. They're like, "You're supposed to do XYZ; no way around it! Stop making excuses for yourself!" Yeah, okay. So what? Who're you to tell me what my God wants me to do? And if I don't do it, what are you gonna do about it? I understand that we should promote what's good and avoid what's bad, but who're you to force me to do it? And why're you picking and choosing which parts of your faith to practice and enforce and which ones to ignore? Hypocrite. Go away.

k ... :D that's all :D

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On the Hypocrisy of Some Feminists

k, so, have you ever felt like people OFTEN don't live up to their own beliefs and ideals and standards, or what they themselves promote? I do. In fact, I think it's true for most people in one way or another.

You see, I don't shy away from classifying myself as a feminist -- provided a feminist is someone who supports and advocates the rights of women as humans (or, as the witty saying goes, feminism is the radical notion that women are humans). Now, what this means is that I am entirely supportive of females, would do anything to help them, and would give up whatever I have for their happiness -- provided it's something I don't really "need," you know. Yeah, well, turns out that many feminists aren't like this! It makes me laugh.

Every time I read a book or article that I REALLY like, I email the author, male or female. If the piece is especially something that deals with Islam and feminism and progressive interpretations of Islam and so on, I definitely make sure to write to the author right away. Now, ALL the responses I've received from these authors have been very pleasant and encouraging, except for this one! I won't name the author (maybe when I write a critique of the rather sweeping generalizations she makes and the rather superficial argument she offers in some of her works, for which she is renown anyway), but here's what happened:

I emailed her, just like I do all the others, and told her that I found this particular book of hers very interesting and bold and that I appreciate and and you get the point. I'd been told to watch out for her response because she is a very arrogant woman. She's extremely popular in the fields of women's studies, religious studies, Islamic studies, and sociology, so she thinks she's too good for us ordinary peeps, you know. Yeah, well, wait till I get up there one day, sitting right there shoulder-to-shoulder with her, and we'll teach her who's who! (I kid, I swear.) But anyway, so, her first reply was VERY nice ... but the next!! OMG!!! I had to read it like 5 times to make sure she'd emailed the right person; I also had to read MY OWN email that I'd sent her 5 times to make sure I hadn't instigated it. It was really discouraging. I won't disturb you with what her message said.

So I told my teachers about it (of course). I have very, very supportive teachers, and each one was like, "Were you surprised?" I was like, "HELL YEAH!!! She's a feminist, damn it! It was obvious in my email that I'm a woman. If anything, she should've shown some support!!! hah, so much for being a feminist, that mean old lady!" Another teacher told me this really interesting anecdote in which it was proven to him personally what kind of a person she is. (They all know her personally 'cause they've met in conferences or at some other academic gatherings.) Another of my professors assured me that she is known for having an "obnoxious personality," so it's nothing new and that I shouldn't let her words get to me.

Khair, it's over now. It was just REALLY upsetting, you see!

Oh, and when I told about the same thing to this other teacher (who also knows her personally, I think), she and I briefly talked about how discouraging it is to see female feminists hating on other women, or being jealous of other women, or not supporting other women. (She, too, classifies herself as a feminist, but, contrary to some women who CLAIM to be feminists, she is extremely supportive and is the type of woman who, when she sees a female student who deals with gender/sexuality/religion/music/ethnography/etc., goes, "Why don't I know yet? We should talk." She's really pleasant, and I've a lot of respect for her for many reasons, including her personality.) So she shared some examples of women feminists in our own institution rejecting other feminists for certain reasons, which I'd rather not share here.

Of course, I have personal examples of how some self-proclaimed feminists don't know even the basics of feminism and possess very superficial knowledge of feminist and humanitarianism and don't know how to treat other women. Those stories will have to wait for another time, though, yeah.

Oh wait! I MUST reiterate: I am a staunch feminist who believes in the rights of women, who believes that women should have the right to choose what's best for them (be that a face-covering), who believes that women are just as human as men are, and that being equal in merit does NOT mean being or looking the same. (You know how people sometimes go, "Excuse me, but how can you fight for the equal rights of women and men when the two are so obviously different?" Oh please. That's such a lame argument. An African man doesn't look the same as a Chinese man who doens't look the same as a Caucasian man who doesn't look the same as a Latino man -- why should all men have the rights that they have that are denied to women? Anyway, more on this later.) My point is that although *some* feminists are hypocrites to the core, that's not at all to claim that *feminists* are hypocrites. SOME are - not all, not many, not most.

k, that's all for now, folks!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Musings of a Beloved

Musings of a Beloved
Shall I narrate to you the stories my beloved tells me
Or will my own musings suffice today?
Ahh, how he eulogizes these dark, exotic eyes!
How he gets inebriated with the redness of these lips!
He tells me I’m his goddess – and oh I am! And he’s mine.
I’m his heaven, and he's mine. And there’s no hell.
And when he comes to me,
He looks like Majnoon at last awoken from a deep slumber,
Divested of Laila’s lips
And there’s passion, untrammeled passion
And, with closed eyes, reveling in this felicity,
He tells me God exists. Yes, God exists.
For such finery is surely divine.
His hand in mine, my eyes cleaving to his,
I implode with yearning and love
And we sing songs of love
And I become the moon, and he becomes my glow
I recline with him in a spring of blue roses
And it’s us alone – two impenitent souls in love
But, alas, their mordant stares!
They make the world an incubus, a world where love is forbidden
But such is the state of a folk inured to envy!
What— must we immolate our existence now and let eternity begin?
For such is the penalty of love, written in history
No. Let us hone the blade of our love
And depart in fathomless eternity
And soar where the zephyrs blow.

~ Me, Nov. 25th 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Research Ideas - Part 3

Next up in the series of research ideas is ....
Begum Nawazish Ali!

OMG! She is SO freaking cool! Actually, she's a man in reality but acts, dresses, and talks like a woman on this one talk show she hosts. (I'm gonna address her as "she" throughout this post.) His real name is Ali Saleem. Check this out: Begum Nawazish Ali with Arbaz and Malaika. She is SUCH a great actress!

She says in one interview that she's had many, many different types of people on her show -- from preachers/imaams to famous celebrities to government officials to you-name-it. She also says that she knows if she were a female, she wouldn't have this freedom, this authority that she does as a man impersonator of women -- at least in the time and society that she's living in, anyway. She also knows that even though she's perhaps the most popular figure in Pakistan right now, she's not appreciated by many because they believe that she is either gay or confused about her identity or just wrong Islamically.

I've millions of questions to ask her and about her for a research project personally. I will let readers/viewers/listeners, however, form their own questions about her. I wonder, though, how she is able to do this ... I mean, what exactly are the stereotypes out there associated with Pakistan? All we seem to hear and are exposed to is this stringent, orthodox Islam and culture, when we have Begum Nawazish Ali in that exact same society, STILL LIVING! :O In one of her interviews, she said that she's never been attacked . . . and that's like the first question that came to our mind when our gender and Islam teacher told us about her. One student was like, "Has anyone tried killing her?"

Anyway, so enjoy her! I'm still mesmerized by her talent and gut.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the Progressive Views of Classical Muslim Scholars

On Tuesdays, I get together with a group of friends for dinner, and we have these really, really stimulating discussions. We try not to select our topics in advance because half the excitement comes from the randomness of the topics. Our group consists of 2 Muslims, a half-Muslim half-Atheist, a Buddhist, a Christian, and a half-Christian half-Atheist. Some weeks ago, I read on this one forum a  comment of this one member telling someone, "So [since you drink and have girlfriends], is it okay in your culture/religion to do that?" And it made me laugh because my friends and I often pick on our Buddhist friend by saying things like, "OMG! Is that ALLOWED in your culture/religion? WOW! So, in Buddhism, you can do XYZ? NO way!" We do the same to the Christian friends and they all do it to me and the other Muslim. It's our way of expressing our resentment towards those ridiculous people who think (no, I guess sneering at the idea) that one person or one group of people can represent an ENTIRE religion or culture or race.

So, as some of y'all know, I'm taking this class called Gender and Sexuality in Islam and that the book we're currently reading is called Homosexuality in Islam. A friend of mine asked what it was all about and which periods the book is covering, and sexuality in which time periods, etc.  And I realized that we (Muslims) have to rely on what our jurists of the 8th - 10th centuries said in order to figure out what's permissible and what's prohibited TODAY. A friend of mine pointed out that "that's ironic. In most other religions, such things were not discussed in the earlier stages of the religion's beginning but discussions/debates on topics in those religions start much, much later!"

An excellent point he made there. It's very true. Muslim scholars and jurists were WAY ahead of their time. I do not believe it was *because* of Islam necessarily. But if you study the works of those guys, they were skilled in MILLIONS of things at once! Read Al-Ghazali, for instance, or Ibn Fadlan, or Ibn Tufayl, or Ibn Sina. Ibn Tufayl, like many others, was one of those people who was a scholar, a philosopher, a theologian, a doctor -- EVERYTHING at once! He also wrote this novel in which his character, Hayy, is a genius like himself. . What he does with the character, the different stages the character goes through ... brilliant stuff, folks. (In a future blog post, ka khairee, I will tell the story of Hayy.)

But what do our "scholars" do today? How do we define a "scholar" today? By our definition, who is included and who's excluded?

My point is, like my (Buddhist) friend said, what Muslim scholars did in the past, scholars of most other religions are doing TODAY. It's TODAY that people are going back to interpretations of sacred texts, turning to debates/discussions to fully understand a scared text. But Muslim scholars, they did this in the past. Unfortunately, we put an end to this whole debating on religions in the 10th century! (As is said, "The doors to Ijtihad have been closed since the 10th century. Everything you study now HAS -- absolutely HAS -- to be based on the conclusions of the Muslim jurists before the 10th century. You may NO longer offer a new interpretation to any text." Forgotten is the fact that those same scholars respected and acknowledged their own limitations. They didn't have a problem openly admitting their weaknesses or faults. Most even wrote in their own texts that "I believe I'm right, but I understand that I MAY be wrong. I also believe that Persons A, B, C, ... Z are wrong, but I admit that they may be right or more right than I am." Who says this today?

Clearly, then, we Muslims today have gone backward: We let our scholars prior to the 10th century (C.E.) decide everything for us, and we think it's blasphemous to go back to the ORIGINAL scripture(s) to study and understand how our scholars said/concluded what they did. What we SHOULD be doing is to appreciate and respect the former interpretations and conclusions and realize that limiting ourselves to only what's already accepted as "tradition" is denying Islam its universality and limiting God's extreme vastness and absoluteness to the understanding of a group of people of one particular time and society only. A major problem in this is that we simply PRIDE ourselves with our "rich" history -- but that's it! We don't go beyond that pride by actually studying that history becuase what those people did back then is considered utterly forbidden by some Muslims today! Often, it's even those same Muslims who say things like, "Study Islamic history! You'll see we had great scholars, scientists, philosophers in that time because of Islam, okay?" I can't help asking myself if they have ever bothered studying it themselves... 'cause those people were very bold, VERY open. Heck, they often discussed things that even I think are "immodest" for public discussions :p (Kidding but not really). That was all because they valued tolerance and intellect. Who does that today? You'd think we should be moving forward; instead, we're moving backward!

What happened then (mostly in the Abbasid Era) was solely because the time and resources were just well-fitting. Nothing lasts forever. We couldn't be successful forever, now, could we? Everything comes to a demise; everything has its own time. That's why I don't lament this. We have a rich and "glorious" history, but it ended just like everything is SUPPOSED to end. No, wait - perhaps "end" isn't the correct word here. I prefer to believe it's come to a halt instead and will continue when the time is apt again. That means we have to work hard, we have to study history and understand why things were the way they were at THAT time and then ask ourselves why things are the way they are today. Once we figure this out while remembering that there are thousands of factors involved in the success and demise of a people/civilization and no one factor is more important than another, we will be able to start working towards a better, more peaceful, more successful future as well. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Imagine You're a Jurist

** Pasting this from my "Islam and Gender" Blog.**  There's so much more I'm dying to share -- no time to write it in words just yet, though, 'cause the semester is coming to an end, and that means a ton of exam reviews and term papers to complete before we welcome December Jaan!
In upcoming blog entries, either on this blog or on the Gender-Islam one (prolly the Gender-Islam one, though), I'll be discussing the role of interpretation in Quranic verses pertinent to women, inshaAllah! I took notes in class today, thinking I'll just paste those into the blog, but then I realized that my audience includes people who don't believe in "interpreting" a text and think that everything's all clear in the Quran... when it's in fact not. So I'll have to come up with a way to explain what it all means and everything. 

Enjoy this for the time being!

P.S. I'm learning slowly and slowly how boldly and openly classical Muslim jurists discussed "sensitive" topics such as the one below and how sad yet interesting it is that most of us today deem those same topics forbidden and too "immodest" to be discussed in public! Heck, read al-Tabari, al-Ghazali, or even Ibn Katheer (yes, all men of course;  we know that no women jurists existed in the classical period ... or even today! And of course this was all the space of men and men only), and you'll wanna cover your eyes because of the rich descriptions they provide of these "forbidden" topics! It's amazing how behind we've fallen, how we seem to be going backwards instead of forward. As they used to say, "There is no shame in learning and teaching; nothing is too immodest when it comes to discussing it from an Islamic point of view, or understanding Islam's stance on it." More on this another time, but you get the idea. 

So, during the last  couple of weeks, we've been reading texts on Islamic jurisprudence and sexual ethics. We were heading towards Muslim jurists' views on conception and abortion, the laws on what a woman should do in various scenarios. Before that, our professor had us imagine that we, the students, are jurists in the medieval times and a good, practicing Muslim woman comes to us and asks if premature withdrawal is permissible or not because she and her husband are poor and have several children, and she does not think they should have anymore because they cannot afford them. Her husband claims premature withdrawal is the best method of preventing pregnancy and that using condoms (made of cured sheep's intestine) are forbidden according to Islam. So, she wants to know if it's Islamically acceptable to use condoms and whether or not premature withdrawal is allowed.
We give a response based on Islam (the Quran, hadiths, and jurists' opinions). Some time passes, and she comes back, unhappy, saying that she followed our advice but just found out that she is 2.5 months pregnant. She asks us 1) if she can have an abortion, and 2) if yes, then does she need her husband's permission?

SO! Exciting stuff! And everything we said was to be supported by the Quran, hadiths, and other jurists' opinions, which means we couldn't say, "No, of course you can do XYZ! Who said you can't?" etc... which is where one of the main challenges lies in being a jurist, I see now.

We were not allowed to read up on abortion and conception in Islam, save for the material he sent us that we could use to make our decision. In this blog post, I share what all those are -- ranging from Quranic verses to hadith reports to jurists' statements. 

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