Thursday, March 24, 2011

Control of the "Feminine"

I'm not shy to say that I ascribe to a mainstream Islamic framework. I try my best to follow the Qur'an and Sunnah and not mix my beliefs with doubtful elements or unreliable sources. I guess you could call me an "orthodox Muslim." Within this framework, I understand that Islam is widely applicable to different societal contexts - and its rules (although they remain unchanged), apply differently in each cultural context. So within my "orthodox" views, there is still room for flexibility and acceptance of other opinions.

Don't worry, this blog post isn't about my aqeedah, rather I needed to write that preamble so that the rest of this entry can be put into context and read through that lens.

I have a problem with the way that some of our (respected) scholars interpret the "feminine" as a concept, and how they extrapolate those understandings into their discourses. I say they are respected, because that is what they are. In most matters, I can look up to their opinions and interpretations and feel confident that I can take most of what they say at face value.

But for some reason, when it comes to women, there is a deep chasm of misunderstanding and misrepresentation that happens in some Islamic literature. I was recently reading a book on the Fiqh of Marriage and I was shocked to read some of the hurtful and unsupported generalizations that the author put forth. He cited a quote by a respected scholar which literally equated a wife with a slave/servant/captive in order to prove that it is obligatory on a wife to serve her husband just as it is obligatory for a slave/servant to serve his master.

Granted, the author was quoting a scholar from many generations ago - and we know that they lived in a different era where such analyses were acceptable and normal. It is disheartening though, to see someone include something like this in a book written just a few years ago. This isn't the only example of broad generalizations made by scholars and authors alike. Women are constantly referred to as one homogeneous group which has characteristics like jealousy, overzealous emotion, and a lack of logical thinking power ascribed to it.

I have a problem with this. And this is where you need to refer back to my first paragraph. I am not a "progressive" Muslim who seeks to abandon what the Qur'an and Sunnah and our respected scholars have established. Nor am I an apologist who tries to make difficult issues look rosy and lovely. But still, I have a problem with the way that many of our communities receive and think about women. The way in which communities interact with their female population is not to be blamed on the community itself. Rather, there is an overarching system that perpetuates certain beliefs and ideologies.

Although our communities have changed drastically over the past centuries, we are still quoting dated sources when it comes to social contexts. As I mentioned before, the rulings and principles are the same, but how the topic is approached needs to change.

If I'm seeking knowledge about the fiqh surrounding marital issues, and I feel saddened after reading about how my entire sex is emotional, jealous, and lacks ability to make logical decisions, then there's something wrong. I consider myself to be a practicing Muslim woman who assesses and makes her life decisions in reference to Islam. So where does it leave me when I can't turn to these sources to obtain the knowledge that I need and crave?

It's unfortunate and dangerous - I might know another source where I can go to get information. I might have the resources available to me. But for women who don't have those options or are unaware of alternatives, something like this can be a major repellent from adhering to Islamic principles. Islamic principles are beautiful and have an immense amount of wisdom behind them, but if you present them harshly, that beauty is greatly diminished.

I hope that each woman reading these things can come to realize that a man's unsubstantiated words are not superior to her own thoughts and interpretations of her life and her role in society.


Elizabeth said...

This is fascinating, and I would love for you to expand on this and also give more specifics as to what exactly you are responding to.

I've been reading your blog for many years and have commented in the past, and I have really enjoyed watching your evolution as a human being.

M&M said...


Alaa said...

I think you should write a book about this. One that isn't everything you described.

But then, I think that would make me an emotional jelous wreck.. seeing as how I'm female and all.

Anonymous said...

Asmaa said...

Elizabeth, I'm flattered. Thanks for reading. It has really been an interesting couple of years.

Alaa, please read the post where I explain why I can't write a book.

Anon, are you the same anon that keeps posting random youtube links without explanations? lol

Nauman said...

You're emotionally unstable. :P

Good post... it's good to see you're questioning a bit more of what some of these "scholars" have said because ultimately, we have to answer to God ourselves. I think too much stock is put into what scholars have said... and feminism, in addition to various other topics, gets usurped by cultural values instead.

Anonymous said...

Asmaa said...

Anon, stop being a weird troll who just posts video links. Speak your mind!

mezba said...

I think Islam adapts and has adapted throughout history. Reza Aslan's "No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam" is a great book on how Islam came to be what it is today (for example, the madhabs), and how the status of women, elevated by the Prophet, had dwindled under the clerics.

Today's Islam has to change as Muslims once again are becoming educated and youthful.