Surah 5: Al Ma'idah and Necessary Intellectual Armor for Women

Dear Friends,

Greetings of Peace! I pray you are well and savoring the last moments of 2022. 

This week I received an email from a dear friend and supporter, which I share in part here:

"...I wanted to reach out because we had an event with one of our local imams yesterday. It was a sisters only event that was advertised as being about how to balance all the realities of life (career, family, etc) with our spirituality. Instead, it was only about the role of women in the household, about how the Quran does say men 'have an edge' over women due to strength and financial responsibility, that if women contribute less than 1/3 to support the household then they must yield to the man and he gets the final say in decisions, and so on. My friends and I were beyond disappointed and upset especially because there were sisters who had just converted or were thinking of converting. One even asked, is that really what the Quran says? And all I could think the whole time was, Dr. Abou El Fadl would never say that or he would have answered this so differently and so beautifully. At one point the Imam was asked about the Hadith about more women in hell and he said it is sahih and it's because proportionally speaking there are more women on Earth. But I'm curious if the Shaykh has ever addressed that Hadith? I don't know if I have a specific question as much as a need to vent to someone who I know gets it and would be equally disappointed. And maybe a plea for the Shaykh to address the role of women in Islam and some of the common hadiths or ayat that are used to justify the subjugation of women? After every halaqa by Shaykh, I feel inspired and so blessed and lucky to be Muslim. I feel more connected to God and feel like I can see the beauty in His message. After the event last night I felt none of those things. The Shaykh is a gift to the world and I pray he can reach as many people as possible with his words to help more people feel inspired and blessed by this beautiful faith..."

This message made me sad, angry and upset. I know that sadly, there are probably events like this going on everywhere. How can it be that in 2022 going on 2023 that women are still receiving these misogynistic, ugly and unjust representations of Islam at the mosque? I believe it is a true shame, a disgrace, and quite frankly, a sin. If this is true Islam, why would anyone want to be a Muslim? If I were a new convert or considering converting, how would I react? The women's intuitive reaction to the presentation of disappointment and upset says it all. If we truly believe that our faith is grounded in beauty, humanism, ethics and justice, how can we possibly accept this? As we have been learning in the Project Illumine halaqas, our faith is all about bringing people from darkness to light. The Qur'an continuously equates Divinity with Justice and justice with divinity. As Muslims, we are supposed to attract people to God with the beauty of the message - and the beauty of our being - not repel them. I am sure the imam was well-intentioned, but sadly, undereducated. I feel so bad for the women who attended that event.

I immediately told my friend about how Dr. Abou El Fadl had written a book dedicated to addressing these types of ugly, misogynistic, and irrational hadiths (traditions of the Prophet) called Speaking in God's Name: Islamic Law, Authority, and Women (Oneworld Press, 2001). In it, he presents his own methodology for assessing what is authoritative as opposed to authoritarian in the Islamic tradition and then goes on to examine and critically evaluate many of these problematic fatwas on women that were issued by Saudi Arabia's fatwa-issuing body. He addresses exactly these types of ghastly rulings against women, and it is both clarifying and refreshing for people who are willing to dig into the learning.

However, many people are not willing or able to jump into a challenging book, no matter how brilliant and compelling, to better understand the finer points of Islamic jurisprudence and methodology. But perhaps they would be willing to read a short article or chapter or watch a video or two, so in case it is at all helpful to anyone, I thought I would share some resources that are necessary intellectual armor, especially for women, who are encountering a lot of the irrational and ugly hadiths that get thrown around as justification for the oppression of women.

First let me point out that Dr. Abou El Fadl always emphasizes that laypeople should not engage the hadith tradition, which requires specialized training. It is a complex field that deserves extensive study and mastery to properly understand. But thankfully, for those who have been with us on the Project Illumine journey through the Qur'an, we have had the opportunity to learn from Dr. Abou El Fadl about the most well-worn traditions and reports of the Prophet Muhammad that Dr. Abou El Fadl has spent countless hours researching - the ones we most commonly hear that get thrown around. Dr. Abou El Fadl actually chased these reports down the rabbit holes of authenticity to satisfy his own understanding of where they fall on the spectrum of reliability. It is head-spinning to know how much he chased down, and fully gratitude-inducing to know that we are simply receiving the fruit of all of that labor in these Qur'anic commentaries. What you begin to realize is how wrong it is for people to pluck hadiths from here and there and then, based on a simple reference, justify something that does not ring true with either one's heart, intellect, or even common sense. Further, we seem to live in a time where there are many more heated debates about hadith traditions rather than about the Qur'an itself, which is itself already a problematic indicator. 

For those who are less familiar with Dr. Abou El Fadl's scholarship or his Qur'anic commentaries, let me just say that his whole body of work is infused with the call for elevating women's rights, which flows directly from the messages of justice, equality, and empowering the disempowered - all from the heart of the Qur'an. Justice and ethics are indivisible and genderless, and God is most certainly NOT a misogynist. And further, there is a constant theme to this methodology, which is best encapsulated in Dr. Abou El Fadl's book, The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books. In a nutshell, we know that God is beautiful and God loves beauty, so something that is morally ugly, by definition, CANNOT be of the Divine. So without even reading or watching anything and just relying on one's own God-given intuitive sense of moral beauty and ugliness, we each have all we need to determine what is authentic to Islam. Is it morally beautiful or not? Does it engender goodness or not? Does it give rise to light or darkness? Therein is the indicator of what is authentic, especially when it comes to "traditions" related to the state of women in Islam.

So back to the resources that are necessary intellectual armor for women especially. If you like books, the following are MUST READ books by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl:

The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books
The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists (especially the chapter on "The Nature and Role of Women")
Speaking in God's Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women

For his latest academic article on women and hadith entitled: "Tensions in Tradition: Hadith, Gender, and Reasonable Interpretation," with a downloadable .pdf of the same piece here.

If you prefer perusing websites, check out our online archive (work in progress) with many of Dr. Abou El Fadl's works at www.searchforbeauty.org, especially the Explore section on Women in Islam. Included in this section are links to the full-length chapters from The Search For Beauty book on the so-called "Beating Verse" (Q 4:34) and much more!

If you want to get right into the Project Illumine Quranic commentaries that specifically address women in a very powerful way, I would highly recommend the following surahs (chapters) especially (although every single surah is life-transforming!):

Surah 58: "The Dispute":

Surah 4: "Women"

Surah 19: "Maryam"

If you like to listen, you can find some amazing content on our Usuli SoundCloud channel (note that many of these lectures were originally taped on audiocassette and digitize, but the content is gold!), which includes powerful lectures on:

Muslim Women Jurists in Islamic History (the first lecture I ever heard by Dr. Abou El Fadl which changed my life)
Hijab: The Issues and the Evidence

There is so much more content by Dr. Abou El Fadl that covers the issues of women, but this initial list should keep you busy for a while! And believe me, it is worth it - it will change your outlook and your world. It did mine. May God guide you to the best path always! 

I am so excited for the next Project Illumine halaqa tonight, where we will be covering...(drumroll)....

Surah 5: Al Ma'idah!!!! This is HUGE!! I will explain why in my introduction so hope you can join us! :)

Hope to connect with you online soon insha'Allah (God willing)!

In Peace and Hope,

The Movement to Reinvigorate Beautiful and Ethical Islam has begun.  Join us.

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