Scholar explores Muslim clerics’ ‘appreciation’ of women

Islam Agama Ramah Perempuan: Pembelaan Kiai Pesantren
(Islam, a woman-friendly religion: Defense by a Muslim boarding school cleric)
KH Husein Muhammad
Nuruzzaman, et al, eds.
LkiS, Yogyakarta and Fahmina Institute
lxvi + 344 pp

Recent discussions on feminism are intense and have always found its significance, both nationally and internationally, owing to the following basic factors.First, on the praxis plane, women are still unfairly treated. Second, in their active demand for gender equality, women have indicted the patriarchal social and cultural aspects of human life; third, both men and women are now gender aware. And fourth, men have demonstrated that their strong domination over women is too rigid to break.  Fifth, religion legitimizes this condition in the gender-biased interpretation of faith such as is found in the study of laws pertaining to Islamic ritual obligation, religious interpretation of Islamic books and even in theology.

Although feminism has found its way into public opinion, unfair treatment of women continues to be practiced. Gender inequalities, such as extortion and oppression of women and male domination over women, must be stopped immediately, as these practices no longer conform to the modern values of humanity.

Gender inequality are often legitimized by religion, and as such, every act of violence toward women and the exploitation of women are not considered sinful acts.

One good example is the innate sin in the legend of the fall and the murder of Habil and Qabil. In the tradition of the three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — the legend of the fall refers to the dramatic fall of Adam and Eve, who were believed to be in Paradise.

According to this doctrine, woman is believed to be the mother of all sins, as she seduces Adam so that both fall into the abyss of darkness. The doctrine likens a woman to an evil that tempts Adam to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden, which God has forbidden them even to touch.

Many feminists consider this doctrine to be the main cause of the historical male domination over women. This legend of the fall has often been cited as the main reference for violence against women, either physically or mentally.

Religious legitimacy for every form of gender inequality has given birth to gender-biased religious teachings and laws. Several classical books written in the past by Muslim intellectuals, or ulema, either in the form of fiqh, tafsir or theology, stand testimony of strong male domination over women, a violent practice that Pierre Bourdieu (1998) refers to as “symbolic violence”.

In Islam Agama Ramah Perempuan: Pembelaan Kiai Pesantren, KH Husein Muhammad attempts to expose the Islamic view of women, particularly in terms of fiqh. The author believes that this view changes continually depending on the mufassir (the interpreter of the text) and the place and time when the interpretation of the Koran is made.

It must be emphasized, however, that the Koran contains within it a message of equality and justice, and does not distinguish women and men biologically. Both men and women are equal before God; they may differ only in terms of takwa, or devotion to God.

Meanwhile, an interpretation of the Koran, such as that which we find in the tafsir and fiqh texts, is very much influenced by time and place. Therefore, when we read these works, we must also take into account the authors’ social reference and the social construct at the time it was made.

In the past, the fiqh books written by ulema were generally by men living in Middle-Eastern male-dominated societies. Understandably, it is highly likely that these books are gender-biased.

Take, for example a fiqh on marriage (munakahat). According to this Islamic law, a husband enjoys a greater right than his wife. In a fiqh on inheritance, a bigger share of the inheritance goes to men. The fiqh on politics (al-siyasah), on the other hand, restricts women’s chances to embark upon a public career such as a president.

Husein thus believes that it is inevitable that one should continuously interpret and transform the existing interpretation of religious teachings to find their relevance to the dynamically changing social conditions, especially if certain fiqh are deemed to have led to paradoxes vis-a-vis the moral message of religious teachings such as justice, equality, liberty and so forth.

Experts have conducted research on the fiqh chapters on women and found that their substance run counter to the moral message of the religion.

This condition cannot be allowed to go on. Gender-biased fiqh must be revised immediately.

To this end, it is necessary to distinguish the moral message of Islamic teachings that have a universal and absolute application — known as qath’i in the ushul fiqh vocabulary — and the specific legal rules, which are temporal in nature, known as dhanny in the ushul al-fiqh vocabulary.

It is this holy message that must serve as a guide for all fiqh experts in formulating and determining the legitimacy of political, social, economic, cultural and other fiqh.

As regards fiqh on women and in the context of Islamic moral values, a stereotypical image of women must be avoided, as such an image will only give rise to discrimination and injustices toward women. It must be borne in mind that the Koran does not emphasize gender-based superiority nor inferiority.

In fact, Husein’s attempt is nothing new. A number of other women thinkers and activists have also discussed this topic. Nasaruddin Umar, Sinta Nuriah Wahid, Masdar, Nong Darul Mahdada and several others have also shown their deep concern over women’s issues.

However, what is unique about this book is that it reviews and makes references to those classical texts that many people, particularly those from Islamic boarding schools, often place on a par with the Koran.

Who knows that deconstruction of classical Islamic texts may enliven a discussion on feminism in Indonesia. [Hatim Gazali]

Sumber:  Jakarta Post, March 13, 2005 


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