WOMEN’S JIHĀD

We receive and publish a comment that Swordless Jihād received from an Italian sister, Iman F., a Muslim by birth, featuring considerations of profound insight and sensitivity that many reflections have generated within the editorial staff of the blog. Enjoy the reading!

I’ve been questioning myself for a while about whether or not to write you, but in the end I was convinced. Reading your Blog I realized that even though we talk about different topics, we basically have the same interest. We are all trying to find the true essence of Islām, the one that preaches justice and equality. And it is of true Islām that I want to talk to you about, particularly as it relates to women.

A recent event has struck me deeply: the discovery, last November 6th, of the devastated and lifeless bodies of four Afghan women activists, including that of Forouzan Safi, who has long been at the forefront of activism for women’s rights to education and work in the Country. Actually, that’s not even the only episode of violent repression of women’s voices in the Country. Already at the end of October, Mahjabin Hakimi, one of the volleyball players of the Afghan Junior National Team who had played bare-faced in international competitions, was beheaded by the Taliban Movement’s militias. In facts, according to them, “it is not necessary for women to practice sports, let alone in public”.

It is since the beginning of last October that groups of women have been protesting in Kabul against this strict and sudden limitation of their rights and freedoms put in place by the regime of the so-called “Islamic” Emirate, suffering violent and inhuman repression. Yet they seemed sincere this time, the exponents of the new government, when they promised on television that their Emirate would be TRULY ISLAMIC, and not these retrograde shambles. Instead, here we are directly back in the era of Jahiliyya, making it seem to the rest of the world that the Islamic Ummah is just a society of troglodytes… this is not what the sacred text of Qur’an Revelation teaches us. This is not what the Prophet preached.

Indeed, these facts are for Afghanistan an history repeating itself. We cannot forget all that the first Taliban government did to women, trying to make them invisible and mute through a series of absurd prohibitions, relegating them to the domestic environment with the excuse of protecting them and punishing them severely when such “protection” was rejected by them.

In short, with the excuse of returning to the Islām of origins, men have done everything to annihilate the woman. They have treated her as complementary to men because, according to them, Islām says that woman, having been created from a man’s rib, and so deriving from him, is secondary by her nature.  Finally, she was not only created by man, but for man and his physical enjoyment. But are we really sure that this view corresponds to that of the Divine Revelation?

In reality, equality between men and women is a concept stressed very often in the Qur’an: “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” (4:1).

Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and the truthful women, the patient man and the patient women, the humble men and the humble women, the charitable men and the charitable women, the fasting men and the fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward” (33:35).

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoy what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and his messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is exalted in Might and Wise” (9:71).

So, if it doesn’t come from the Holy Qur’an, which preaches justice and equality between men and women, where does this chauvinist and patriarchal vision of Islām, that extremists emphasize so much, come from? And why is this vision always present in all countries with a secular Islamic history? The answer is easy. This view derives from the fact that for 14 centuries the Qur’an and other sources have been read, interpreted, commented and translated only by men who, starting from the Medina period, when the Prophet needed to establish laws of coexistence for the new community that had been formed, have tried to build and defend a social and political system favorable to them, through an exclusively male access to the sources.

The claimed supremacy of men in Islām, the injustices and persecutions practiced against women are on a series verses revealed by the Prophet during the Medina period (4:3 on polygamy, 4:11 on inheritance; 2:282 on agreements and witnesses; 2:228 on divorce, 24:2-5 and 4:34 on punishment for adultery) that should be read in the light of their historical context and now re-adapted to our contemporary reality, and not taken literally! For this reason, it is necessary to re-read the Qur’an and bring life to its true original meaning.

This process is finally underway, which is why in 2005 most Islamic orthodox Institutions accused of heresy the African-American Amina Wadud, the first Imamah of modern history, for leading the Friday prayer in front of a mixed Ummah of men and women in South Africa, creating quite a stir. The community got divided between those who believed that custom should be defended and those who, on the other hand, believed in the need for a re-reading of Islamic sources. Among the latter, the Spanish Islamic Commission, the then Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Gooma, and Gamal Al Banna, the younger brother of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, who recalled that “women’s prayer is founded on Islamic texts”.

Under the spotlight, Amina Wadud accepted the invitation to lead the Friday prayer in New York City as well. Three mosques and one art gallery declined to host the Imamah’s prayer because of the bomb threats received. Only at the last minute a suitable place was found and Amina Wadud pronounced her Khutba alternating phrases in Arabic and in English. Following the event and the uproar it aroused, Amina also received death threats, and a jihadist website appealed to Osama Bin Laden to issue a fatwa against her and al the women who had attended the event.

But why so much noise about a woman leading prayer? After all, nothing in the Qur’an forbids it. On the contrary, in Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat, (8:335) it is said that it was Muhammad himself who asked a woman, Umm Waraqa, to lead the prayer in his house where there were also men, because she knew the Qur’an by heart and was the most prepared in that context, at that moment. And after the Prophet’s death other women, his widows, acted as imamas for other members of the community (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat, 8:335-56).

This is because anyone, if they pray, can lead the prayer, whether they are man or woman: the role of imam is only functional. The point then is not this. It is not whether a woman leads the prayer rather than a man. The point is the political leadership of the Imam. In fact, in Islām, where religion and politics are fused into a single reality, an imamate that includes also the female figures in this rule would threaten to the social and political system built by men so laboriously.  

A return to the teachings of Qur’an is indeed necessary, in this I agree with the Taliban. But we must re-read it with pure eyes and without the prejudices of the past. It is the Qur’an itself that shows us how to do it: it was God himself who ordered the Prophet “Iqrā!” (Read!) before beginning the Revelation.

Oh, Wives of the Prophet, you are not like other women. If you fear God, do not be too humble in speaking, lest it happen that he who has a disease in his heart desires you, but speak with dignity” (33:32).

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