Alex Broekhuijse: Crafting a New Analysis to Combat Oppression

When one attempts to relate an ancient text with the modern world, there are commonly several layers of disconnect between the individual’s beliefs, and the beliefs expressed within the text. This is never so visible as it is in when one examines the Abrahamic texts. Specifically, the concept of feminism and women’s rights often produces a rift between a text and its believers. Especially in terms of the Quran, feminist ideology is often ignored by most interpreters of the text. However, especially with the dawn of the modern era, feminist readings of the Quran have become more common. Three feminist analysis of the Quran has become especially popular, including an anti-conventional reading, an anti-traditionalist reading, and a holistic reading of the text. Each of these interpretational styles reflects an overall need for the Quran to be analyzed beyond surface level, as, despite their differences, each of these readings of the Quran strives for a greater overall perspective and understanding of the holy text.

The anti-conventional feminist reading of the Quran, made popular by Fatima Mernissi, rebels against early scholars of Islam, arguing that they are to blame for the current treatment of women in Muslim. Primarily this interpretation argues that the hadith, a collection of the traditions and sayings of prophet Muhammad, was fabricated in order to inhibit women and limit their role in society. Mernisssi  describes the hadith as having been “Used by men as a political weapon to preserve what was essential to them.”1 Here Mernissi is revealing the power that the early scholars had over the future understanding of the Quran and its related documents. Regardless of the validity of their interpretations, the Quranic analysis produces by these ancient academics would be considered untouchable because of its age. Thus these interpreters could use the Quran to enforce their own beliefs, including the delegation of women as sexual property. Furthermore, this anti-conventional perspective of the Quran argues that classical readings of the holy text fail to examine the full scope of a specific verse. Mernissi argues that early scholars failed to grasp the psychological and social impact of each verse, instead choosing to prioritize their own beliefs and analyze verses on face value in order to confirm those beliefs. This is described as “all the causes relating to a given verse in chronological order and with an analysis of its psychological and social impact”2. In the anti-conventional lens, ancient scholars of the Quran failed the faith because of their inability to read deeply into the text, instead using the Quran to produce a system of oppression, keeping women as sexual property, instead of providing opportunities for liberation.

The Anti-Traditionalist Perspective argues that the primary reason for the current treatment of women in the Muslim world is that tradition has lead to a stagnation of interpretation of the Quran and inhibited a historical and context bound reading of the text. The perspective argues that instead of perceiving the text as timeless, and ultimately applicable to any era, we must instead continue to examine the historical context of the text and draw meaning from the additional understanding that the historical interpretation provides. Specifically, when examining Quranic verse 4:34, a verse which details the ability for a Muslim man to strike his wife if need be, Muhammad al Talbi argues that the historical context surrounding the revelation of said verse inhibits its ability to oppress women. At the time of this verse’s revelation, the conflict between feminist and anti-feministic ideology was tearing Muhammad’s young Muslim nation apart. Specifically, he describes this as “God averted internal division and thereby gave precedence to “the most important over the important” since it was impossible to establish the most preferable social order, there is no doubt that this particular verse came to settle an argument which had got out of control and had almost caused a civil war.”3 Talbi argues that the Quran is relative and context bound and that we must study the Quran through the lens of the era these verses were revealed in. A traditionalist perspective on the Quran ignores the historical context of these verses, and because of this, apply ancient customs to a modern era. It is this misapplication that Talbi argues is the origin of the oppression of women in the Muslim world.

The Holistic Interoperation of the Quran argues that we must examine the Quran as a complete message, and examine the inter-verse relationships throughout the text, an interpretation that pursues a universal comprehension of the text. The interpretation argues that both traditional and reactive readings of the text ultimately fail both the Quran and the Muslim faith in general. Traditional interpretations of the text analyze verse by verse, and ultimately fail to relate the text back to itself. The reactive perspective, on the other hand, relates the condition of women in the world directly back to the Quran. To Aminah Wadud, the reactive perspective misses the opportunity to find evidence for feminine liberation within the Quran. Instead of searching deeper to find feminist proof within the Quran, the reactive perspective blames the Quran for the current issues women experience in the Muslim world. Wadud, in her text Quran and Woman, describes the method of the holistic perspective as “Reconsider the whole method of quranic exegesis with regard to various modern social, moral, economic, and political concerns —including the issue of woman—represent the final category”4. Wadud argues that we must analyze the Quran as a unit, and reveal the interconnected nature of the text. Like Talbi and Mernissi, Wadud claims that in order to have a complete understanding of the Quran, we must look beyond just verses, and seek the overall message. To Wadud, it is only by producing a complete analysis of the Quran can we produce a more fair life for women in the Muslim world.

Each of the above interpretations reveals faults in modern day Quranic interpretation, and despite their difference, come together to provide a new method of understanding Abrahamic texts. In order to improve the lives of Muslim women, we must seek a complete comprehension of the sacred text, applying historical, modern, and holistic lens to produce a clearer vision of the Quran. 

Scott, Rachel M. “A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’ān: Readings of 4:34.” The Muslim World 99.1 (2009): 60-85. Web, 65

 2 Scott, Rachel M. “A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’ān: Readings of 4:34.” The Muslim World 99.1 (2009): 60-85. Web, 66

 3 Scott, Rachel M. “A Contextual Approach to Women’s Rights in the Qur’ān: Readings of 4:34.” The Muslim World 99.1 (2009): 60-85. Web, 69

Wadud-Muhsin, Amina. Quran and Woman. Kuala Lumpur: Fajar Bakti, 1992 (1993 Printing), n.d. Print, 129
5Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, and John L. Esposito. Islam, Gender, & Social Change. Milton Keynes UK: Lightning Source UK, 2010. Print.
6 Quran 4:34
7 In class notes