07 Jul What do you think about this statement from Dr. Amina Wadud?
What do you think about this statement from Dr. Amina Wadud?
What’s your opinion on this statement from Dr. Amina Wadud: “You cannot legislate with regard to the well-being of women without women as agents of their own definition. And Sharia was not concerned with that construction. Sharia was happy to legislate for women, even to define what is the proper role of women, and to do so without women as participants. So obviously that is a major flaw. And the only way for that aspect of Sharia to be corrected would be a radical reform…”
I’m not sure of the entire context of that statement, and while I know that Dr. Wadud is highly respected by many, I must disagree with most of that statement.
I agree that women need to be agents of their own definition. That I agree with, without question or reservation. However, I do not agree with her statements about Shariah.
I think the Shariah was highly conscious of the role of women in their society and attempted to ensure that their rights were protected. I mean, we do realize that when you speak about Shariah as a whole, and especially the history of it, we have to look at the status of women at the time, right?
We are expecting the law, back in the day, to reflect the social order we have today, which I think is unfair. The Shariah was highly conscious of the fact of the role of women, and as I have said many times “once you need law to solve an issue of morality, you have an issue that law cannot solve.”
The Shariah (not Islam, but Shariah) was never going to be the method of changing societal norms, and thus to put that responsibility on the law is unfair, to be honest. Paraphrasing from a famous Supreme Court Justice, the law is not logic, it is experience. Thus the law reflects its times, and I’m unsure of how Shariah would legislate for women, when, if anything, the Shariah stood as a barrier for women against the cultural norms of a society which would incline itself towards denigrating women’s role in society.
Furthermore, whether you look at Caliph Omar’s appointment of Al-Shifa bint Abdallah Al-Adawiyyah to what amounted to a ministerial position, or Fatima al-Fihri who founded the world’s oldest university (an Islamic University, at that), or that the first “Justice Minister” of an Islamic Empire (933ish AD) was Thumal by the interim female head of the Abbasid Empire, while her son al-Muqtadir had appointed Thumal as a Qadi (judge) in the first place, you might see why I look at this statement with skepticism, and that’s not even accounting the opinions of the historical scholars.
Imam Abu Hanifa, for instance, famously wrote that in order for someone to qualify as a judge, they must also qualify as a witness, and since women qualified as witnesses, they were fit to be judges. Other historical scholars, like Tabari and Ibn Hazm also held the position that women had the unquestionable complete equal right to be judges based on their interpretation of 9:71.
Furthermore, Amira Sonbol, a professor at Georgetown University writes the following about Shariah:
“The system was flexible and provided an avenue for the public to achieve justice and litigate disputes rather than to enforce a particular philosophy of social laws and norms formulated by the State. Women had clear rights to sue in court. The flexibility of the system allowed women to determine their marriage contracts and the conditions under which they lived. Women also had complete access to divorce a husband they did not want to be with, a far cry from modern law which adopted rules of placing women under the full control of their husbands.”
Therefore, the evidence does not line up with her position. Have women been abused in Muslim countries? Of course, that I am not denying, not in the slightest. All I am saying is that the best way to challenge this, is to use the Shariah itself. I am not alone in this, Asifa Quraishi, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin argues that the most effective means to oppose harmful practices done in the name of Shariah is “to challenge the compliance of these laws to Islamic principles, instead of arguing for the removal of Sharia.”
I am, therefore, inclined to agree with both Sonbol and Quraishi, as well as Imam Abu Hanifa, Tabari, and Ibn Hazm. The Shariah is clear, both in practice and in theory, the issue is not Shariah, because as I have said many times, Shariah does not exist in the Muslim World, because Pakistan, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, etc none of these countries have Shariah Legal structures, they have legal systems that are products of colonialism/European influence. Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey have French Civil Law, while Pakistan utilizes a Common Law structure that reflects their British Colonial past.
I do not think there needs to be radical reform of Shariah, there needs to be radical increase in Muslims’ access to their Tradition. We do not need to reform Islam, indeed, no period of Muslim history has ever needed reform as much as it has needed a return to the original spirit of Islam, which is directed towards the effective and to apply Islam to our society, not to our perceptions of what society should be.
All that being said, my entire argument could be predicated on that statement being taken out of context, but, based on that single statement you have quoted, I disagree with the statements about Shariah, but agree completely that women need to be the agents of their own definition.
I hope that this response illustrates, in some small degree, why I do not consider myself as saying anything “new” and that I would define myself as a traditionalist.
Thank you for the interesting question, by the way, I truly appreciated it and look forward to more questions like this, insha Allah.
I pray that this reaches you and your family in the best of health and Iman, insha Allah.