Women in the Qur’an: An Emancipatory Reading-

Women in the Qur’an: An Emancipatory Reading-

Book Review by Shah Tajamu
In today’s world,  Islam is viewed as a misogynistic religion and it is incorrectly alleged that Islam does not give equal rights to women. It is also said that Islam is oppressive towards women. The Muslim woman is being viewed as outdated or old fashioned by the world- particularly by West. But the question raised here is that, is Islam really tyrannical towards women? Or is it different interpretations or analyses of Islam by male scholars which are sometimes discriminatory and biased against Muslim women? Or else,  is it mere allegation  by World against Islam?
In Asma Lamrabet’s, “ Women in the Qur’an: An Emancipatory Reading” (translated from the French by Myriam Francois-Cerrah), the author clears this question with zeal and zest by asserting that Islam has given equal rights to women. These are some biased interpretations of Qur’an by classic male scholars, strengthened by patriarchal practices which have justified these inequalities. She refutes these allegations that Islam is tyrannical towards women by saying that these are mere allegations of Islamophobes or some people in theWest  who want to tarnish the image of Islam for their vested interests.
In this book, the author, a Moroccan pathologist and activist, criticizes both rigid conservative Islamic approaches and a Western, Islamophobic approach. While criticizing  both the approaches she said that it is classical male scholars of Islam who were feeling threat of losing power as a result of that kept women outside their domain or ring fenced their issues and the West, who on the name of ‘freedom’ or ‘civilizing mission’ wants to ‘free’ Muslim women from Islam and takes pleasure on denigrating Islam. In both the cases the status of Muslim women became the victim of injustice, oppression and humiliation. She further states  in her book:
‘Islam gave women all their rights, it honours women, it has protected them…’  (pg. 01)
This book is divided into two parts: the part one is called “when the Quran speaks of women”, which deals with the female personalities of Quran.  Balkis (the Queen of Sheba), Sarah, Hagar, Zulaykha, Umm Musa, Asiha, and Maryam (the daughter of Prophet Imran and the mother of Isa/Jesus) catch the eye among women whom author depicts model characters like as:
“At times idealized characters, but never dehumanized, whom God cites all through His message not with the objective of distracting us but in order for us to extract a teaching, a route, a path to follow…” (pg. 21).
Lamrabet refuses the traditional Muslim view which only recognizes and praises women first and foremost as mothers, sisters and spouses but ignors their rest of other good qualities or traits. Zulaykha’s crazy love for Prophet Yusuf and her repentance, governing skills of Balkis (Queen of Sheba) and a Hagar’s struggle along with trust on Allah in barren land of Mecca sincerely caught my attention in this section. This section also presents us with examples of how the traditional and the present male scholars of Islam have interpreted the Qur’an according to their own tastes and taken the verses of Qur’an out of context to satisfy their personal interests, which in turn is contrary to the spirit of Islam. The allegations against Hawa or Eve as she is prime responsible for Adam’s eviction from Paradise, using pejorative terms against Balkis, describing her as ‘half-animal’ or ‘half-jinn’ and deception of women in chapter Yusuf of  Qur’an and so on are some paradigms of biased interpretations of male exegetes, the author describes in her book.
The second part of the book is called “when the Qur’an speaks to women”.  Here the Divine word of Allah (SWT) i.e. al-Qur’an directly, individually and seriously speaks to women and comes to oppose the what social prejudice continues to support in the name of a universally accepted sacrality, that of the discrimination against women, structurally weaker beings, destined to subordination. Lamrabet in her book explains how the Qur’an uses comprehensive language while responding to demands of women and energizes the  participation of women in community on equal conditions with men, stating that,
“Islamic history is replete with stories which illustrate how the Muslim community at the time of the Prophet was a community of women and men and that they worked together side by side for the good of all, without losing themselves in considerations, because their faith was there to protect them and there was no need for barricades in order to avoid potential moral slip-ups.”  (pg. 105).
She further in her book mentions  the lives of early Muslim women ( muhajiratun) like Sumayya, Zaynab, Umm Sharik, Asma’ bint Abi Bakr, Umm Salma and Umm Umarah, who along with men participated in every field of life, happily sacrificed their lives, and stood up firm for their faith and rights.
Just before the conclusion,  the author briefly touches upon the controversial issues such as wife-beating, testimony, inheritance and polygamy  by quoting the divine verses and embarrassed the patriarchs and Islamophobes who left no stone unturned to defame Islam.
On the one hand Lamrabet’s work is an outstanding, easy to read and understand. It is a detailed discussion of Quran, Sunnah and the stories of Muslim women to whom Allah (SWT) blessed in the Qur’an. But on the other hand,  her extensive verdict concerning “traditionalist” understanding of Islam, by which she seems to be referring to the pedagogic traditions of the past fourteen hundred years, are unfortunately not always justified in her work. Rather they are left as broad claims. This does not do a great deal to make her case compelling. In attempting to remedy this, to some extent, the Publisher has included some endnotes.  Finally,  Lamrabet’s work does an immense job for women’s who are unaware of their rights and became the victims of patriarchy and Islamophobes.

—The author is a  Post graduate in Islamic Studies with JRF. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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