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Islamic Interpretive Tradition and Gender Justice: Processes of Canonization, Subversion, and Change

Panel Chairs: Mulki Al-Sharmani, Omaima Abou-Bakr | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m.

Focusing on the question of gender, this panel tackles the interrelated issues of canonization and change in Islamic interpretive tradition (i.e. exegesis, jurisprudence, science of hadith, etc.). The panel addresses the following questions: how were particular discourses on gender roles and rights formed and made hegemonic in this tradition? What alternative discourses can be identified both historically and in contemporary interpretive knowledge that is being produced by Muslim women scholars who are concerned with the question of gender justice and reform of religious knowledge? What are the hermeneutical principles and methodologies guiding these scholars? What are their contributions? What are their limitations and gaps and how can they be resolved? The overall aim of the panel is to explore how the question of methodological reform in Islamic interpretive tradition can be better tackled through critical analysis of the contributions of contemporary Muslim women scholars producing new interpretive knowledge.

Nevin Reda

Tafsir, Tradition and Methodological Contestations: The Case of Polygamy

The classical Islamic exegetical tradition classifies interpretation into two distinct categories: knowledge-based and opinion-based. While knowledge-based interpretations are themselves ranked into varying degrees of desirability, opinion-based interpretations are categorically rejected; Islamic feminists, not wishing to have their interpretations fall into the inferior, opinion-based category, must therefore tackle the methodological basis of the patriarchal interpretations they challenge. This paper explores Ibn Taymiyya’s classical hermeneutics in conjunction with verse 4:3, which addresses polygamy. It proposes a new interpretation for this verse, showing how some of the methodological principles that Ibn Taymiyya so lauds are absent in traditionalist interpretations and how applying these principles will lead to very different exegetical results.

Yasmin Amin

Historical Roots of Gender Justice: A Reading in the Hadith and Asbab al Nuzul

The question of gender justice is not a new construct by Muslim feminists, but has a long tradition and was very much part of the discourse during the Prophet’s time. This paper addresses this discourse that raised questions about certain gender aspects in Islamic jurisprudence, rituals and even the language of the Qur’an as witnessed by various dialogues between Umm Salama and the Prophet. Her own questions, but also those of the Muslim women, through her, were addressed by the Prophet and sometimes even the Qur’anic revelation. This discourse is partially preserved in the Islamic canon such as in the asbab nuzul al-Qur’an (reasons for revelation) genre, hadith, and jurisprudence. This paper explores some of these questions, showing how some of the concerns of gender justice were dealt with during the Prophet’s time and also in the Islamic exegetical tradition, grounding gender justice concerns in the historical tradition.

Hoda El Saadi

The Canonization of Islamic Jurisprudence and its Implications for the Gender Question

Is law making based on sacred canons, foundational texts, or legal precedents? What relationship does law bear to social context and values? Comparing Muslim scholars’ debates with historical descriptions of women's activities and visibility in the market and public space shows how over the centuries juristic arguments have often reacted to, rather than dictated, Muslim women's behavior. Jurists rarely encouraged women’s activities in the public space and often deprecated them; however, sources of many periods and genres in pre-modern Arab Islamic world demonstrate that women often had a significant presence in the public space in most regions. In this paper, through juxtaposition of legal and non-legal sources, I intend to explore the relationship between normative discourses and social practice with special attention being paid to the ways in which women’s practices and scholars’ legal constructs mutually influenced and informed each other.

Omaima Abou-Bakr & Mulki Al-Sharmani

The Ethics of Hermeneutics in ‘Islamic Feminism’

Contemporary Muslim feminist engagements with the Qur’an and Islamic interpretive tradition (often referred to as Islamic Feminism) have been critiqued for their hermeneutical approaches towards the Qur’an; their methods of deconstructing patriarchal interpretations and constructing alternative ones; their supposedly tenuous methodological linkages with the classical interpretive tradition; and their use of modern tools of textual analysis. This paper has two aims. First, we address some of the main methodological critiques against Islamic feminism. Second, we use our reflections on these critiques as a starting point for a larger inquiry that explores the relationship between ethics and Islamic feminist hermeneutics. Two broad questions we wish to investigate are: How can Quran-based ethical principles be identified and used to guide the interpretive processes of arriving at new readings and injunctions for egalitarian gender rights? What is the role of context (historically, politically, discursively) in the development of ethical hermeneutics of Islamic feminism?



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