Appalling treatment of women has been justified through interpretation of Islamic holy texts by men and must be challenged. Women such as American Islamic Scholar, Amina Wadud are doing just that, however in order for these injustices to actually stop, controversies such as the ones detailed below, cannot escape public attention.
Just this week, gang rapists were given the luxury of being punished in a criminal court in Brunei well the 25 year –old widowed victim of this gang rape was brutally caned in the streets for “violating bisexual law,” after being caught with a married man in her house.
Just days after the Sultanate of Brunei became the first country in East Asia to enforce Shari’a law, one has to wonder what is lawful about the cruel punishment of publicly beating a widow while giving her eight gang rapists, one as young as 13, the comfort of a private court hearing.
With Brunei becoming the first country in South East Asia to implement Shari’a law, not all Muslims agree with the fundamentalist applications of Shari‘a being advocated through direct translation. In fact, Indonesian Islamic scholar Akmad Sahal stated that he believes, “Implementing Shari‘a that is understood literally tends to produce decisions that hurt human dignity, like violating human rights,” adding that women, the poor, and non Muslims suffer most. It is safe to say that in this instance, a grave violation of human rights occurred.
However, he is not the only one who believes that Islamic law does not have to be applied so literally, as other Islamic scholars are advocating flexible interpretations along with him. Amina Wadud, in particular, believes that the Qua’ran can actually be interpreted in a way that is central to creating social justice, including gender justice in the world.
In her work, she uses hermeneutics to construct a framework around the Qur’an thatraises interesting questions about the relationship of gender to Islam. Her incorporation into the scholarly conversation on Islam is crucial to the further inclusion of women’s experiences and interpretations, as it helps to build a strong platform that works toward a more egalitarian relationship between men and women.
Wadud expresses these beliefs in her work Gender Jihad, claiming that the double standards present in Muslim society keep inequality central to the system and contribute to the appalling treatment of women. In her piece she attempts to reconstruct an understanding of where this lack of agency for women comes from and what keeps it pervasive in Muslim society. Wadud deconstructs the holy texts with a focus on how when dominant interpretations are integrated into a patriarchal setting, such as that of the modern Muslim family, women become oppressed.
Sacrificial obligations are one of the key aspects of the oppression of Muslim women. Taking on so many sacrifices, women must perform “taqwa” or “moral character based in personal and social practice that reflect moral self-constraint and self-sacrifice.” Wadud makes clear how these sacrifices by women combined with the lack of autonomy inherent in the shari’ah for women, creates a divide in which women must develop personal interests that encourage the performance of taqwa in the raising of girls. This means that rather than fully exploring the range of their ambitions for personal development, girls must only pursue those that breed family development.
These sacrifices often mean supporting men’s autonomy as a form of honor in their family, while not having support for themselves. Wadud defines “taqwa as moral consciousness in the trustee of Allah. It is the motivating instinct to perform all actions as though they are transparent.” She stresses the importance of taqwa being a conscious choice, as the agent to accept or reject one’s “engaged surrender” is a partnership with Allah’s will. Wadud believes it is a person’s choice as to whether or not they engage in taqwa. However, this is especially complex for Muslim women as their lack of angency in the system to begin with, prevents them from having the full range of options necessary to make these choices.
Wadud also believes that the double standards present in Muslim society keep inequality central to the system. She explores this through what she terms the “tawhidic paradigm”” or in other words, “women is not to man as man is to woman.” She believes this type of paradigm leads to gender inequality such as the inequality present in the fact that the men that violently gang raped a woman get the amenity of a court trial, while the woman who is gang-raped, is publically humiliated and brutally caned in the street.
This double talk leaves the power and privilege to men’s roles while simultaneously disempowering the women’s role in Muslim life. Tawhid is an ethical term, thatrelates to “relationships and development within the social and political realm, emphasizing the unity of all human creatures.” Wadud believes that this should mean that under God all women and men are created equal, regardless or race, class, or gender. However, the dominant discourse manipulates Tawhid away from the lenses of social justice and into the realm of oppression.
To discuss this expression of social justice, Wadud also considers the dynamic relationship of tawhid and khilafah (agency). In accordance with the Qur’an, khalifah is the understanding that, “by agency, or khailafa…it is the responsibility of each human being to establish social justice, as a representative of the divine will or cosmic harmony.” This means that as citizens it is one’s moral obligation to treat everyone as creations under God and therefore equal.
In understanding the value of one’s human dignity, one also begins to value another human, regardless of race, class, or gender as equal to them. This means social justice is the responsibility of the people to own their choices and in order to do so, all people should have access to their options in order to make informed decisions.
For Wadud, part of the fight for social justice is deconstructing the current interpretation and assumptions of the Quar’an that limit human agency in order to create the options necessary to even engage in socially just choices.
However, the appalling treatment of the 25-year-old widow from Brunei is not the only abuse of women that reveals how desperate the dominant discourse of Islamic interpretation is for a challenge.
Other instances of the violation of basic human rights under the enforcement of shari’a law must be recognized. In many of these cases the violence of overzealous officials and “moral” vigilantes are at the root of these injustices.
In 2010, three Shari‘a policemen raped a 20-year-old university student after they caught her riding a motorbike with her boyfriend. In 2012, Shari‘a police accused a 16-year-old schoolgirl at a concert of being a prostitute. The accusation was reported in local Aceh media — and the teenager killed herself. Women’s-rights activists in Aceh even admit to the fact that Shari‘a contributes to the high level of abuse and violence toward women, claiming that women tend to get heavier punishments than men.
As Amina Wadud makes clear, social justice is the responsibility of the people. The appalling treatment of women justified under current interpretation of Islamic holy texts must be challenged in the public eye, in order to create change. Until then, those who remain silent, indifferent, or apathetic, are just as guilty as those who commit these atrocities.
Opinion by: Amiya Moretta