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Muna Tatari {*}

Man and Woman in the Mirror of the Koran

An Islamic Theological Train of Thought


From the periodical of the Catholic Academy in Bavaria
'zur debatte', 7/2007, p. 29-32
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


Introductory Remarks

Man and woman in the mirror of the Koran - so the title of my article reads. It indicates that I'll mainly concentrate on representing the main theological argumentations and positions. But that does not mean that my expositions will get by without connection to everyday life and to the debate in Germany about Islam and the life of Muslims in its diversity. It is rather my concern to point to the respective contexts of attitudes and actions.

A difficulty is, so it seems to me, that both Muslims and people from other religious or ideological contexts, when they deal with issues related to Islam present their position in a way that seems absolute. Muslims then often present their expositions as 'the Islam', Islam as it actually is, and often overlook the immense inner-Islamic diversity of schools of thought and cultural wealth. In their expositions they then either focus in a rather reproachful manner on the undeniable dark sides of the taught and lived religion or on the other side fade just them out for the sake of defence. In both cases they often do no justice to the complexity of reality and seem to give in to the demands for handy theses of an information society that becomes faster and faster.

Even from an outside perspective similar phenomena can be observed. In my opinion there seems, to make matters worse, to exist an attitude that equates the view from the outside with the look of neutrality and connects with it a special power of analysis and accuracy. It seems that in dealing with those attitudes less attention is paid to the fact that such a thing as a neutral meta-level of analysis is actually impossible, because every man lives in contexts that shape him and his vision and perspective. It certainly belongs to the success of an interreligious or intercultural meeting when the persons in conversation have deliberately reflected on the subjectivity of their own point of view.

Against this background in the inner-Islamic context at the level of scientific work the danger of arbitrariness in view of the possible and legitimate diversity of opinions and viewpoints will then be restricted, when the own context is clearly specified, and the respective hermeneutic methods with the help of which one reaches one's respective results have been made transparent.

To the hermeneutical tools characterizing my work belong on the one hand the four classical sources, to be precise in the following composition: the Koran as the expression of Muhammad's religious and spiritual experience with God. If you take this book as an expression of God seriously - and this also in terms of language -, according to my experience a sea of wealth, inspiration and guidance opens up. For the very reason that, according to Islamic understanding this Scripture is God's word, it is important for me that the respectful and careful interpretation {1} is combined with a moderation that stems from the knowledge of man's limitedness {2}. The illuminating example of the Prophet Muhammad, who embodies in his person for me the greatest possible proximity to God, is the second source; and he points for me to the courage to enter into the field of tension between the ideal beheld and the practical possibilities, and to endure the often existing discrepancy between the two. And so I come to the third classical source: reason; it is on the one hand indispensable for the understanding of the first two sources, and in addition to that opens up transfers which confer the general sense into other times with other challenges. Also the fourth source, the consensus of the scholars is important for me, since it documents the different positions of schools of thought at different times and in different places and so also points to the consensus about dissent {3}.

The keyword Islam is for me - as basis of an overall view - not only the name of my religion but a programmatic concept.



In my opinion the Koran as pre-scientific book has, by the use of certain keywords in certain contexts, given numerous approaches to the development of various sciences {4} and also ways of thought and inspiration. In an analysis of stem and family of the word Islam I come with the help of reference encyclopaedias {5} to the following meanings of the basic verb: Whole, sound, healthy and free of distress. A theology that feels obliged to this meaning should therefore let judge itself by the fact to what extent it helps people, man and woman, to become whole, free, sound and healthy {6}.


Exemplary Analysis of a Verse that in the Public Discourse is Made Out by a Majority as Discriminating Against Women

One of the most famous verses of the Koran referring to the relationship between man and woman can be found in Surah 4:34:

    Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.

Now it is a general piece of knowledge that already the translation of a text is an interpretation and sometimes says more about the translator than about the text in question. But when the choice (of words) made in the translation agrees as overall picture with an already existing opinion or confirms by its statement a presumed basic attitude, then the readers will often no longer look for translation inaccuracies, possible variations or errors. This verse, in particular, has an incredibly varied history of reception; and one can see in the range of its translation- and interpretation possibilities the struggle for defining - out of a Muslim perspective - the position of man and woman in society, and also find interpretations that are discriminating against women. It would be inadmissible to present here in a reduced way the diversity of argument in favour of whatever position; and I endeavour to give here at least an exemplary account {7}.

Muslim scholars of the early time as Tabari († 923), or a little later Baydawi († 1280) understand the verse to the effect that in a marriage the wife was to submit and to be obedient to the husband because of his obligation to pay maintenance (more or less as compensation), respectively that this attitude resulted from a natural and acquired superiority of the man. The consequence of the woman's subordination resulting from this (view) is justified by the statement that only so the domestic peace could be ensured. One will certainly not find in that approach one equivalent or equal position of man and woman.

By Muhammad Abduh, a scholar of the Islamic reform movement at the beginning of the 20th century, the family structure drafted above in the interpretation of the Koran verse is seen in a similar way. He justifies it with the differently distributed tasks between man and woman in the family, which he sees justified on the one hand by the biological differences and on the other hand by their different social competences {8}. Here too one can hardly imagine a partnership between man and woman {9}, especially against the background that in many of the cases described the Arab daraba is translated with "to beat", and according to the understanding of many interpreters of the Koran the man is entitled to educational, albeit slight beating {10} of his wife.

Fazlur Rahman, a scholar of the mid-20th century, can - due to the general Koranic text situation - not find that any kind of the man's superiority to the woman is legitimated, and understands the beginning of the verse so that a financial potential includes an obligation and can also be fulfilled by a woman.

In his tradition of thought also al-Faruqi (20th century) is at home, who on the basis of an inner-Koranic hierarchy of values traces the claim to superiority of man that is possibly deduced from this verse back to patriarchal structures, and declares it in view of the social changes to be out of date - especially with regard to the numerous Koranic verses documenting a religious, ethical, social and ontological equality between man and woman.

El-Fadl is one of the contemporary Muslim legal scholars who - with the help of traditional methods - critically concern themselves with the reception history of Koranic verses and with the handed down biographical material about the Prophet Muhammad. He pursues a rather less common approach and establishes on the one hand that in the whole verse neither the Arab terms for husband or wife (both: zaug) are mentioned; hence the association of a marital conflict situation or of a marital dispute was more than questionable. Moreover, the terms used do not define man (ragul) and woman (imra'a) in the biological sense of the sexes {11} but their social position. So women could rightly be described as ragul, when they were independent persons. While under the term used here for women also dependent men can be subsumed {12}. Hence in this context it seems to be rather about a mandatory support for the weak by the strong. Since the Arabic term for the "person responsible" qawwamun literally means someone who "helps somebody that he can stand, who supports somebody".

For el-Fadl it is in this verse about the woman's equality with regard to criminal law. While in the pre-Islamic time it was left to the arbitrariness of a tribe to punish or not to punish antisocial and/or criminal behaviour of women {13}, with the beginning of Islam women are under the same law as men, which, depending on the seriousness of the crime, provided admonition, temporary isolation or penalties.

In these reflections the following critical word analyses are included: - to translate daraba alone with "to beat" neglects other word meanings as "to vigorously impress on somebody the importance of being...", and daraba mathalan means e.g. "to coin a parable" and is a Koranic phrase. Hence the verb daraba used here can also be understood as 'educational measure' that is used to end an unethical, criminal behaviour. In this context it is also informative that the concept of obedience qunut used here means exclusively "obedient to God". In the further passage of the Sura, in the section "if they obey you" a different concept of obedience ta'a {14} is used; it does - according to the Arabic original - not mean subordination but ta'a means here the ability because of one's insight and out of one's free will to join the consensus about the religious-ethical way of life and to support it. Hence in this verse the early Islamic community is addressed (men and women) but not husbands who in self-administered justice accuse, judge and punish their wives for a specific behaviour {15}.

For reasons of time the approaches of feminist readings of this text cannot be explained but only mentioned in the form of a suggestion in the list of literature. These approaches have in common that they too are based on historical material and follow an interpretation methodology of its own. Knowing the diversity of interpretation, the reader may perhaps be encouraged to do research on his own, in order to come to a well founded own position.


Verses Documenting a Fundamental Ontological Equality of the Sexes

As introduction to this section I would like to make some more explanatory remarks about the hermeneutic tools in dealing with the Koran and to point to categories that are of importance in the classical exegesis and describe the dealing with individual verses and groups of verse. The categories include the following:

Verses can be understood as nasih or mansuh (rescinding / deleted), as muhkam or mutasabih (clear / ambiguous), as amm or hass (general / special), or as mutlaq or muqayyad absolute (free of conditions and circumstances) / relative (connected with certain conditions and circumstances), as mantuq or mafhum (to be understood according to the immediate meaning / according to a commonly understood meaning and communicated by additional factors) {16}, etc.

Through science, which deals with the respective occasions of the revelation of individual verses and groups of verses (asbab-nuzul) the verses have been and are further contextualized. This means that also for the time after the Prophet Muhammad the respective historical, social, cultural, economic, political and geographical context has to be taken into consideration for the interpretation of the Koranic text {17}.

An important hermeneutic means is also the application of the principle tafsir al-qurán bi-l-qur'an: the interpretation of the Koran by the Koran. This approach - taken seriously - can prevent an arbitrary, eclectic approach to the Koranic text, a way of reading in which verses are taken out of their context and serve to support an already existing opinion.

In addition it is seen as meaningful in many approaches to classify the verses in the categories 'acts of divine service' (), which are supertemporal, and 'interpersonal acts' (mu'amalat), which are changeable and to be understood in their respective historical context, since so in the second field a room for interpretation results.

While now a number of Islamic scholars agree in classifying the following two verses as general and supertemporal, you cannot always recognize that they are also used as hermeneutic glasses to interpret verses of a special nature - as many contemporary scholars consider this to be meaningful and as it was also already applied to some extent in the early period, in the way that a common atomistic verse-by-verse analysis on the base of general supertemporal values and principles was favoured {18}.

One of the verses of general nature that describes man and woman in their ethical and spiritual capabilities and the responsibilities connected with them is this:

    Surely the men who submit (to God) and the women who submit (to God), and the believing men and the believing women, and the obeying men and the obeying women, and the truthful men and the truthful women, and the patient men and the patient women and the humble men and the humble women, and the almsgiving men and the almsgiving women, and the fasting men and the fasting women, and the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard, and the men who remember Allah much and the women who remember -- Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a mighty reward.(33:35f)

From this verse it becomes fundamentally clear that men and women have the same ontological status. Both are subject to the same ethical values and the same religious commitments. Accordingly, after a repeatedly handed down statement of the Prophet the striving of knowledge is an obligation for both. Finally, the actions of both have the same value before God; each of them, whether man or woman, is individually responsible for behaviour, character education and attitude and will accordingly be rewarded or punished.

Another verse (Surah 9:71) belongs in the opinion of most Koran scholars to the late texts, that means its revelation is generally dated four to two years before the death of the Prophet {19}, and has been arranged into the hitherto existing Koranic text corpus:

    And (as for) the believing men and the believing women, they are guardians of each other; they enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Apostle; (as for) these, Allah will show mercy to them; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.



In Ibn Katir's Koran commentary {20} it is explained in a rather unspectacular way that this verse talks about the mutual support and deliberation of men and women; and he illustrates this with the picture of a building in which every stone gives support to the other, and with the picture of the space between the fingers of one hand {21}. In the further course of the verse Ibn Katir sees the draft of an ideal community in which the faithful together follow God's revelation and in a pleasant way do the creation and the creatures good. Interestingly Ibn Katir uses in his explanations the form of the masculine plural that can be used in an inclusive way, and does not take as his theme the explosiveness that can be found in the formulation, "Men and women are friends of each other". This may be an indication of the fact that each interpreter reads the text against the background of the issues of his time and his personal questions and can so sound out the respective depths, whereas he may possibly miss others.

I would like to illustrate this verse again, taking into consideration the used keywords and the handed down practice.

The Arabic term for believers is mu'min stems from the word amuna. It encloses the meanings: feel safe, confident, endorse. The faith term iman derived from it means therefore faith based on experience and certainty. Hence it is, among other things, a challenge to form theology in a way that enables it to bring God into people's experience. The Prophet Muhammad explained in this context: "Faith is knowledge in one's heart, confession with the tongue, and realization with all abilities." One of the 99 most beautiful names of God is Al-Mu'min, the One Who in Whom we can trust and Who trusts in man and his positive potential.

The Arab term for friend (Wali) stems from waliya, which means the following: immediate, neighbours, friends, to bring something to life for somebody. A wali is therefore a friend, supporter and helper, someone who knows his vis-à-vis and ensures that he is not troubled with other problems. Al-Wali is also one of the 99 most beautiful names of God. The verse says now that men and women who trust in God are united with each other in this kind of friendship {22}. Together "they demand to do the right thing", i.e. they commit themselves to the good of their neighbours and "prohibit doing wrong", i.e. they take away the influence of the wicked.

Summarizing formulations refer to the joint participation of both in arranging their community; both make politics. The pre-Islamic organisation of the community (tribal democracy) has been taken up in the Islamic context and was modified to the effect that - against the background of the principle of mutual advice (sura, see Surah 42:39) - women took part in political decision-making {23}. If politics in general describes the concern to arrange communities in a meaningful way, so it is in the Islamic context about finding practicable ways that make possible a just arranging of the five relationships. These include the relationship to oneself, one's neighbours, to plants and animals, to creation as a whole, and to God; in the Koran it is expressed by the term din, a religious-ethical-legal way of life that is often briefly translated with religion.

In the verse men and women are further described: they "perform the prayer", what means according to the Arab text: they set up the prayer, give space and reality to it through their practice, and create an atmosphere in which also others can get access to the religious, spiritual world. They pay Zakât, the "social tax" (see Peter Heine, Not Alms Only) means that they leave a part of their wealth to the needy in their community and do what they can to see that social justice is realized.

Hence men and women are called upon by this verse to arrange the social, economic, political and religious, spiritual reality. They accept responsibility and are called to account. This works only if both have a "voice" in society {24}.

The verse ends with God's promise to take pity on people, and he will do this not only - as the German translation suggests - in a (distant) future. The chosen verb form (prefix-conjugation) points out that people always learn in their lives by experience that there is a loving and caring God.

Now it cannot be overlooked that verses are differently interpreted; sometimes there are even contradictory interpretations, and also the respective supporting material can be found in the traditions from the Prophet's life. The science dealing with the question of the authenticity of the traditions (ilm al-hadit) has already early collected a number of reasons for the forgery of Hadith material, which can be a help with sifting the existing material. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each individual to think over one's honesty in dealing with Koranic texts; this ability is taken as theme in the classical training of theologians. It is seen here as important that each scholar is able critically to examine his findings and to recognize the influence of the structure of his personality. This path of self-knowledge and self-education is called in the Islamic context 'major gihad' (effort).

Rumi, a scholar and mystic of the 13th century, formulated in poetic form a kind of hermeneutics for the search for the meaning of Koranic verses:

    "The Koran's words are simple,
    but to their depths
    another secret meaning
    leads to the gate of knowledge.
    Now, even this is not the last
    that fulfils knowledge's urge;
    still a third meaning, a fourth
    is in it - only revealed to God.
    Sevenfold sense is hidden
    in God's majestic word,
    one builds on the other
    up to the final meaning.
    Don't stick to the outward being:
    Adam is no lump of clay.
    No, inside you are to read -
    then you will discover the soul.
    Thus, the outer appearance
    of the Koran is obvious
    but the human mind
    holds its true meaning."


To Read Through the Koran Once

Koranic texts closely examined can help to analyse inveterate convictions of the relationship between women and men and to set established imbalances to the disadvantage of women, which de facto can be observed in Muslim communities, right again where they exist.

It is important here to change one's perspective not only in formal linguistic terms, but also to get involved in a different language structure and language philosophy. In this regard, the characteristic Koranic use of the grammatically feminine and masculine forms is conspicuous: both are her not used in congruence with the biologically masculine and feminine. This is among other things important when it is about the addressing of women and men in the grammatical form of the masculine. In this perspective then also the creation of mankind can be read with a different accent.

    O people! be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread from these two, many men and women; (4:2)

Here you can, with the help of the linguistic analysis, notice that in the Koranic expression of the Arab original the first being out of which then her partner being was created is grammatically feminine, and therefore her partner being (if one assumes that they were a complementary pair) would be masculine. Thus an effective counter-association is given against the order usually chosen by the translators (perhaps inspired by the second creation report in Genesis 1), though the meaning of the Koranic formulation would certainly be missed, if one would understand it (also) in a biological sense.

It is helpful to note that in the Koranic narrative tradition exemplary behaviour, which serves to illustrate supertemporal principles and values, is not limited to a male paradigm that is seen as authoritative. On the contrary, in the Koran female figures make an appearance, which on the one hand have a warning function and on the other hand are models for women and men, as the verses 11-13 in the Surah 66 show.

There the women of Noah and Lot as cautionary example for men and women personify a type of man that does not want to be responsible for itself, but wants to live on "the fame of others", and is inwardly ossified.

Asiah, however, in the Islamic tradition the wife of Pharaoh is here anything but an obedient wife, and sides against her tyrannical husband and requests support of God for her vision of justice and freedom. In the tradition she has joined Moses and the children of Israel, and emigrated with them. She personifies above all the political courage to stand up for justice under unfair circumstances.

Mariam, the mother of Jesus personifies the independent woman (to the extent as it was possible in the then conditions). With her connection to God she stands for character integrity and dignity, by neither showing herself up nor unmasking others. Thus she is mentioned in the Koranic narrative as model for men and women.

Miriam and her mother turn up in the Koranic stories as people to whom God speaks directly (wahy) and He gives them perspectives and words of consolation in their concern for their brother, respectively son Moses. Later in the development of the religious doctrine in the Islamic theology this kind of communication by revelation was seen by a majority of scholars as a privilege of (male) prophets and rather excluded for other (women and men).

An important source for food of thought is the cross reading of supposedly known stories. There it turns out, for example, that in the Koran among the figures that have political and economic power just one positive figure is positively out of place by opening to the impulse for reflection and reorientation towards ethical responsible politics. It is Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba. In the Koran she is portrayed as a powerful, wise and understanding woman.

One of the core concerns of theological efforts with the goal to do equally justice to women and men, is a deliberate reflection on both, one's own understanding of God and on the understanding of God that lies - consciously or unconsciously - behind the formulation of theological and legal systems.

In the Islamic tradition there is a wealth of ideas and possible experiences given with the "99 Most Beautiful Names of God" that point in their emphasis to rahma, the central quality of God {26}. In this term there are overtones of the following meanings: forgiving, forbearing, to be inclined to be of use for somebody, saving, protecting and loving. Surely, God transcends every human idea of Him, but on the other hand people are dependent on thinking Him in human categories and limitations. They experience Him according to their human capacities. The idea of God carried by the term rahma would certainly be defined too narrowly by the idea of a male God, and also just the opposite would do no justice God's grandeur.

Teaching stories, such as the following, make you aware of the tension that can emerge between God and the human conception of Him.

    It is said that Jesus laughed a lot and John the Baptist was crying a lot; and yet they were cousins and led the same abstemious life. John said to Jesus: "You are apparently quite confident of God's mercy since you are laughing so much, and you do not think of the fact that he can afflict you also by difficulties and demand account from you!" Jesus replied: "You seem to overlook God's fine tokens of favour and the glory revealed by Him that you cry so much!



    "One of the friends of God of that time heard the conversation and asked: "Who of the two is probably closer to God?" God said, "Who thinks best of Me is nearest to Me. My servants picture Me, and I meet them according to their picture." {27}


Muslim Women on Their Way to Discover the Women-liberating Potential of the Koran for Themselves and to Translate It into Social Reality

In the discussion about Islam one is - regarding the issue of gender relations - often one-sidedly aware of the practice that restricts women in their possibilities of development. The fact that this reality exists shall not be denied apologetically. I rather want a balance in the awareness and in the media's mirroring of the many and diverse ways of life of Muslim women and the theological debates by which they are backed. At the end the following persons, initiatives and associations of Muslim women may be mentioned as conclusion:

There exists the "Inter-Religious Conference of European Women-Theologians" (Iketh) in which also Muslim women are involved. Their common interest is a point of view upon the Holy Texts that does justice to the sexes. They are carried by the conviction that not the religions per se are anti-women, but there are rather anti-woman ways of understanding.
As theologian and legal scholar Halima Krausen works as director of the German-speaking Muslim community in Hamburg. She is the contact for women and men and gives with her work for many a sign of the responsibility that qualified women as well as qualified men can bear within a Muslim context {28}.

The practical organization Rashima, founded by women for women, is guided by the ideals of democracy and is firmly opposed to an "attitude due to the life in a harem" ('Haremsbefindlichkeit') sometimes found with Muslim women, and for a newly inspired self-awareness and - related to it - the capacity to act. In their method of working the Koranic text is their most effective argument. Starting-point of their commitment is practical work. They support women in their efforts to better their social circumstances.

There exists since 1988 the organization 'Sisters in Islam'. Their commitment is led by the keywords: justice, equality, freedom and dignity. They work in the field of administration of justice and in the training of lawyers with regard to fairer developments and interpretations of law based on Islam. For them the hermeneutical approach of a contextual reading of the Koran is a central task.

Turkey and Morocco:
There one takes an old tradition up and trains women-preachers for women. Fatima Mernissi of Morocco is one of the better known women from the Muslim theological women's movement. She saw above all to it that the normative tradition about the Prophet's doings (Sunna) was critically examined, because especially here can be found texts for justifying the discrimination of women, which - in Mernissis' opinion are contradictory to the Koran's intention.

There for some years apart from men also a woman has been examining and judging in the board of examiners of Al-Azhar University students on their path of Imam training, though she herself can in Egypt not follow this practical aspect of her qualification.

South Africa:
There in some Muslim communities in the meantime we find women as preachers for the Friday prayer; thus they are in this sphere - apart from teaching programmes - also active in practical work.

Here met in 2005 an international Muslim women's conference with the programmatic title: Gender Gihad. The aspirations of the participants aimed above all at making people aware of the mostly patriarchal reading of the Koran, and at initiating counter-draft.

There is a vast range of many women's movements that in many cases see themselves united in the effort to develop ways back to an egalitarian and emancipated Islam.

The theologian Amina Wadud, who comes from South-East Asia teaches there. According to her assessment there are three ways to interpret the Koran: the traditional, the reactionary or the holistic way. The latter is her approach, i.e. to regard and interpret the Koran as dynamic unity. The MWL (Muslim Women's League) is an association of Muslim women who define women as "free, equal and vital contributors to society" and are committed to the general realization of this ideal. KARAMAH, an association of Muslim Woman-Lawyers (since 1993) follows the approach thoroughly to transform - on the way of dialogue and with the means of peaceful strategies for coping with conflicts - the conception of "the Muslim Women" in the respective communities where it is, due to ignorance and prejudice, defined in a woman-discriminating way.
Further teachers in America are:
Leila Ahmad, born in Cairo, as professor of women's studies,
Riffat Hassan, born in Pakistan, who argues in favour of reading the Koran not through Hadith-tinted spectacles
and Sa'diya Schaikh, born in South Africa, whose scientific approach to gender-studies is coined by the keywords "equality, diversity, and justice".

This small part of theological awakening and recollection movements initiated by women should not let us forget that there are also a number of male Muslim scholars {29} who want that the sources are so read that they contribute to realize the Islamic ideal: justice and liberation for Muslim women and men. Hence a reading of the Koranic text doing justice to both sexes is initiated by women and men.



{1} That this book needs human interpretation in order to unfold its dynamism becomes apparent for me by a handed down event of Ali's life. In a tense conflict situation he was accused of not referring to God's Book as solution, and he replied that the Qur'an was a book between two book covers and would not talk out of itself, but it was man's task to make this book speak through interpretation. See: Esack, Farid: Wem sollen wir den Zugang zu unseren Wasserstellen gestatten? Gesellschaftliche, religiöse und politische Dimensionen des Vorurteils. Überlegungen eines Muslims, in: R. Kirste, P. Schwarzenau, U. Tworuschka (editors): Interreligiöser Dialog zwischen Tradition und Moderne. Religionen im Gespräch. Volume 3 (RIG 3), S. 243-255.

{2} At the same time a handed down saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad encourages people to use their common sense. Giving the gist, there is said: Man gets God's blessing for his effort, one if the result is wrong, and two when it is right.

{3} The basis for this is among other things a handed down saying attributed to Muhammad; it says that the disagreement of the scholars of his community is an expression of God's blessing.

{4} Ethics resp. law, theology, philosophy and mysticism are regarded as the four classical Islamic sciences.

{5} As basic work in the field of language analysis the reconstruction of the then pre- and early Islamic linguistic usage is of great importance. With the emergence of the first grammars on Arab from Persian and later Greek perspective, a part of the genuinely Arab-Semitic language philosophy was pushed into the background or no longer sufficiently taken into consideration. Since with each language also thought structures are connected and reflect it (hence there exists a reciprocal influence of language and (world)view), this step meant a first influence on rather hierarchical models of society, less organically grown structures, hierarchies, which had among other things also a women-discriminating effect. You get behind this time inter alia with the help of special dictionaries documenting the former pre- and early Islamic linguistic usage. Classical encyclopaedias used here are: Ibn Manzur: Lisan al-'Arab. Bairut 1955 und az-Zabidi: Tag al-'Arus. Ägypten 1306 (h). The orientalist Lane translated it into English: Lane, Edward William: Arabic-English-Lexicon. Bairut 1997. (This point will again become relevant in the section: Reading through the Qur´an.)

{6} The concepts Islam, Salam und Muslim belong to one word family and come from the stem salima.

{7} On this occasion I lean myself among other things on the explanations of Stowasser. See Stowasser, Barbara: Gender Issues and Contemporary Quran Interpretation, in: Yvonne Haddad & John Esposito (editor): Islam, Gender and Social Change. New York 1998, pp 30-44.

{8} These explanations may not absolutely correspond to Abduh's intentions, because we can generally observe that Abduh's liberal approach has been biased by later generation by a more restrictive interpretation line. The original text was not available for my examination. See about it: Fadel, Mohammed: Two Women, one Man: Knowledge, Power and Gender in Medieval Sunni Legal Thought, in: International Journal of Middle East Studies, 29 (1997), pp 185-205.

{9} But it is interesting that there has been handed down about Muhammad's life just the relation to the wives with whom he was connected by marriage that was based on partnership, equality and equal rights: beginning with the documentation of theological arguments with his wife Aischa and the political competence of his wife Umm Salama, who prepared with her assessement of a difficult situation and the corresponding advice a constructive solution that then was also followed by Muhammad and the Muslim community.

{10} First irritations should here among other things arise from the fact repeatedly convincingly handed down that the Prophet and many of his male companions had never raised their hands against their wives, and this thus contradicts handed down texts in which that should be justified. See Abou el-Fadl, Khaled: Conference oft the Books. The Search for Beauty in Islam. Oxford 2001, pp 177-188

{11} When in the Qur´anic expression the biological difference between man and woman is meant the concepts dakar (male) und unta (female) are used.

{12} See about it the use of the concept in the field of science ilm al-rigal. But it is also to be noted that in the early Islamic time the sociological terms of man and woman - as consequence of the social order from pre-Islamic time - were almost congruent with the biological terms of man and woman.

{13} In the German translation the Arab term nušuz is translated with 'unruliness', but some verses later in the same Sura related to the behaviour of a man with 'unethical behaviour'. I think the translation of nušuz with 'antisocial, criminal behaviour' in both cases for the most appropriate solution.

{14} The verbal form of the Arab stem of the word has the meaning: to obey, to do something voluntarily, to be able to do something. A derived adverb means: voluntary, of one's own free will, on one's own initiative. Hence t`a´a means: obedience because of insight and out of one's own free will. This translation is also supported by the Qur´anic counter-term that is found when you compare all the parallel passages. Ikrah means compulsion and is derived from a stem that also means hatred. Behind it is the idea that the matter to which you are compelled can some time trigger feelings of hatred. That is the reason for the central Qur´anic sentence: "There is no compulsion in religion (din)".

{15} It is historically proved in this context that already early tensions and discrepancies in the social reality resulted from an interpretation of Qur´an discriminating women on the one hand and from the realization of the Prophet's practice. Women have for instance in the normative discourse (development of law and theology, in teaching programmes and as recognized experts in court) always made a public appearance as persons of equal rights, whereas they in the political-social discourse had as a rule experienced discriminations (for instance as witnesses in court, Sure 2:283). For reasons of time this discussion can unfortunately not take place here. See about it: Fadel, Mohammed: Two Women, one Man: Knowledge, Power and Gender in Medieval Sunni Legal Thought, in: International Journal of Middle East Studies, 29 (1997), pp 185-205.

{16} See Köppel, Pia: unpublished article, without place of publication and without year.

{17} The application of that insight can be observed already in the early Islamic time in the various modifications of law. The development of law differed for instance in the centres around Madina, Kufa und Mis`r in methodological issues and concrete realizations.

{18} In later years Abu H`anifa, a jurist of the 8th century, modified his method of developing law from a case-to-case system in favour of a method that developed law according to general principles. Already in his time there was a tendency to interpret texts in a way that discriminated women, so that he demanded to appoint in every city a female extra-judge who was to watch over the safeguarding of women's rights and if necessary to carry them through even against the social trend.

{19} In the opinion of most of the experts the verse was revealed in the period of 628 to 630. Historical background is the peace treaty of Hudaibiyya (628), which had been made by the Muslims of Madina and the Arabs of Mecca and the conditions of which fell heaviest on the Muslims. Umm Salama, a wife of the Prophet, so the tradition, decisively contributed that this agreement was reached; despite its imbalance it opened constructive perspectives.

{20} A scholar of the 14th century who is rather seen as conservative.

{21} About the participation of Muslim women in all social areas see Krausen, Halima: Frauen in der islamischen Geschichte. Fünf Kapitel. The texts are available on her website:

{22} This is a powerful argument against a religiously founded separation of the sexes: You have become well acquainted with a man on whom you can depend in the above described way, and have had experiences with him that justify this confidence.

{23} About the discussion on women's participation in the area of politics and the arranging of the corresponding traditions see Abou El-Fadl, Khaled: Speaking in God´s Name. Islamic Law, Authority and Women. Oxford 2001, p. 229ff.

{24} Women of the pre-Islamic time rather had them not, they were for instance no legal subjects, i.e. they themselves were unable to conclude treaties and were - except for a few exceptions - excluded from the public social and economic-political life. But they have soon caught up their backlog. The example of the Prophet's wives, who are not in vain called 'Mothers of the Faithful' (Sura 33:7), was helpful with it, the introduction of compulsory school attendance for boys and girls by the third Caliph `Umar (period of office: 634-644) and the more and more growing social acceptance and matter of course to see and respect women in public offices and positions. That Umar still during his period of office appointed a woman inspector of the market is a further hint to the historical roots of certain verses (e.g. that about the witness's statement 2:283). Hence also the corresponding legal validity (h`ukm) must be a different one when the legal foundation (`illa) changes (from a rather discriminated initial situation to the development that women were able to gain the same qualification as men).

{25} See Jockel, Rudolf: Islamische Geisteswelt. Von Mohammed bis zur Gegenwart. Darmstadt 1954, p. 229.

{26} A likewise widely spread conception of God in the Islamic theology has shortened His 99 Attributes to 7 Main Attributes: Will, Power, Life, Knowledge, Speech, Listening and Looking and thus caused at that time as well as today rather different associations about God.

{27} According to Rumi: Fihi ma Fihi, in: Krausen, Halima: Grundstudium Islam. Ethisch-rechtlicher Teil. Fasten und Selbsterziehung. Texte zur Veranschaulichung. Unveröffentlichtes Manuskript. See also: Annemarie Schimmel (translation): Rumi: Von Allem und vom Einen. Fihi ma Fihi. München 1995, S. 113.

{28} See about it also the article of KJhaled Abou el-Fadl: In Anerkennung der Frauen. Download under:

{29} Among them may be mentioned in an exemplary fashion: Khaled Abou el-Fadl, Farid Esack and Mehdi Razvi.


    {*} Muna Tatari is Islamic scholar and Muslim theologian in Hamburg


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