Critics very often accuse Islam of misogynist tendencies that are often promoted in Muslim societies, although they deeply contradict the essence of Islam. Therefore, misogyny in Muslim folklore and tradition, and Islamophobia clash in the contemporary Western world. Even if it sounds contradictory, the misogynist tendencies in Muslim societies alienate Islam from itself by favouring Islamophobic intellectual positions and courses of actions.
The theologian of the Muslim Brotherhood, Abdulhalim Abu Shaqqa (1924-1996) clearly shows us real Islamic women’s rights in his six-volume work Liberation of Women in the Age of the Revelation. In my opinion, an important area of female rights in Islam is socio-political rights and the female involvement in socio-political issues in Muslim society.
Given the modernisation of the Egyptian Brotherhood in recent years, I am convinced of the importance of involving women in Islamic society and politics on the basis of the texts of Abu Shaqqa in an innovative yet traditional way, as, according to the Egyptian author’s approach, ensuring women’s socio-political education reinforced women’s socio-political rights in the Islamic community in the Prophet’s era (sas).
Without any doubt, these considerations can contribute to reconsidering feminist movement in Islam from an innovative angle and while recognizing that originally Islam involved emancipating women in all social areas.
As the well-known Egyptian Islamic theologian Muhammad al-Ghazali al-Saqqa (1917-1996) writes in the introduction to Abu Shaqqa’s book: This book brings Muslims back to the authentic Sunna of their Prophet, without adding or omitting anything.
As a Muslim woman, I think that with the aid of texts like those of Abu Shaqqa, modern Islam will be able to build up a comprehensive and egalitarian interpretation veering away from hierarchic, monistic, and sexist positions.
Of course, the path to there is steep and full of hindrances, but with an interpretation of this kind, you can definitively fight against slavery, oppression, genital mutilation, and physical and psychological violence against women. Only with the aid of female involvement in Islam as a whole will Islam be able to peacefully reconcile with itself, since without female contribution Islam does not express its authentic essence.
As the Quranic verse 4:1 mentions:
O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.
In order to both traditionally and innovatively shape Islamic feminism today, we should openly debate different approaches from feminist movements and consider them without eliminating our Islamic thinking or any approach from the Muslim community.
Three approaches to feminist Islam
I think it likely that, on the basis of Abu Shaqqa’s considerations about the life of the Prophet (sas) and the women’s liberation of that first Muslim community, Islamic feminism can meet this methodical challenge. Unless you work in a holistic way, you lose the plot and start with monistic and selective hadith repetitions as has been the case for centuries in Muslim societies.
I am convinced that in the area of female activity in Islam today you can effectively combine three approaches:
1) The biographic approach as found for instance in the work of the Turkish historian and Islamic theologian Bahriye Üçok (1919-1990) and in the tragedy of the Egyptian author Mahmud Badawy (1908-1986) about the Egyptian sovereign Shajarat al-Durr in the Islamic Middle Ages.
From here you delve into historical reconstruction of the career and destiny of ruling women in Islamic history by identifying their leadership characteristics and inspirational potential for the political work of women in Islam today; this approach can also be found in particular in Princess Kadriye Hüseyn’s (1888-1955) work “Büyük Islam Kadinlari“ (Famous Islamic Women) and the Moroccan sociologist and feminist Fatima Mernissi (*1940) in her well-known book “Les Sultanes oubliées.“
2) Interpretive discourse, as expressed in the essay by Prof. Abdulhamid al-Ansari from Qatar, ”Huquq al-siyasiya lil mara‘ fil Islam” (Political Rights of Women in Islam) where the author analyses how different positions about women’s political rights in Islam have been shaped and why.
This is an approach towards the reconciliation and acceptance of different points of view concerning female political involvement in Muslim community; an approach which can intensively develop inner-Islamic dialogue — because men also are involved in Islamic feminism — to reach a political Islamic utopia which is cross-gender-shaped by essentially involving women in social and political life and activity. In my opinion, Prof. al-Ansari is primarily noted for explaining and commenting instead of judging.
Another very interesting interpretive work about the female reading of the Quran was written by the Afro-American convert and feminist Amina Wadud (*1952), who in her great book “Qur’an and Woman, Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective“ opened the doors for reconciliation and gender equity.
The same can be said about the Egyptian-Canadian Islam expert Jamal Badawi who works interpretively to prove gender equity in Islam.
3) The Sira-oriented approach by Abu Shaqqa who innovatively revaluates the life of the Prophet (sas) inside Islamic sciences to show how innovative and liberating to women Islam was in its original core and during its first era.
Abu Shaqqa on the rights of women
There follows a summary of a book by Dr. phil. Milena Aziza Rampoldi, entitled “Die Frau in der islamischen Gesellschaft und Politik nach Abdul Halim Abu Shaqqa,” published in Berlin (2014), in which the author introduces Abu Shaqqa’s biography based on Arabic sources and then translates and analyses important parts of his encyclopaedia about the socio-political rights of women in Islam.
In the first chapter, Dr. Rampoldi describes the biography of Abu Shaqqa and his world vision. In the second part, she presents sections taken from the Encyclopaedia of the author in which he talks about the social and political rights of women in Islamic society. Those who eliminate woman from Muslim society and politics do not act in the sense of the Prophet (sas) during its era. As Abu Shaqqa shows with countless examples, women played a central role in social life, politics and also in military affairs during peace and war.
The book features three stories within a story: one about a khariji woman and her participation in politics and the conduct of war; one about the Syrian Muslim Brother Mustafa as-Siba’i and his contradictory search for women’s “rights” he does not find in the era of the Prophet (sas). A third story presents an article by the American convert Musa Furber about the relation between rape and forced marriage: a tradition that is absolutely un-Islamic and is practised in some Muslim societies, which press the victim to make her marry her rapist.
The oppression of women I would like to name as the phenomenon of the so-called horizontal segregation of the female in numerous Muslim and un-Islamic societies, and I blame it on manipulated interpretations and monistic explanations of numerous androcentric Muslim groups. They are so deep-seated in the heads of so many Muslims that we still urgently need texts like those of Abu Shaqqa today. However, Abu Shaqqa does nothing else than remind Muslims of the Qur’an, Sunna, and Sira.
It is needless to ask whether Muslim women have rights in politics and society: in Islamic understanding, women are an essential pillar of Islamic society, they have political and social rights. The first Muslims lived these rights in their daily life inside the Muslim community. And these rights must be recognised by Muslims all over the world today. On the way to this goal, Abu Shaqqa passes from pedagogy into socio-political awareness raising, which he reminds us must be the pillars of Islamic politics and ethics for socially oriented and politically engaged Muslims.
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