Monday, August 31, 2009

Qur'an and Miracles

Font sizeQur’an is the holy book of Islam, as the word of Allah and a miracle. The Qur'an has been created miraculously as a revelation from Allah (God), as a perfect copy of what was written in heaven and existed there from all eternity.

Therefore the verses of the book are referred to as ayat, which also means "a miracle" in the Arabic language. It is believed that the Qur'an as we know it today is the same as was revealed to Muhammad in the year 610. The Qur'an itself gives an open challenge for anyone who denies its claimed divine origin to produce a text like it.

The miracles in the Qur’an can be classified into three distinct categories:

• Inimitability

• scientific miracles

• prophecies


Inimitability is the theological and literary term for the matchless nature of the Qur'anic discourse. The insuperable literary style of the Qur'an is a proof of its divine origin, claiming that the Qur'an is written in a perfect, inimitable style that cannot be matched by human endeavor.

Scientific Miracles:

The belief that Qur'an had prophesied scientific theories and discoveries has become a strong and wide-spread belief in the contemporary Islamic world; these prophecies are often provided as a proof of the divine origin of the Qur'an. The scientific facts in the Qur'an exist in different subjects, including creation, astronomy, the animal and vegetables kingdom, and human reproduction.


Qur'an mentions events which were yet to come. These studies argue that such prophecies show another proof of the divine origin of Qur'an. For example, Islamic scholars believe that the Qur'an had predicted the eventual defeat of the Persians by the Romans in the 620s.

So make Quran Recitation a habit and devote some time to join Islamic school to learn the meaning of Qur’an.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I'm Back

The kids and I have been under the weather for a few days and I'm just now starting to feel better. I'm still a ways from 100% but alhamduLILLAH I think the worst has passed, InshaALLAH.

We skipped a day of planned lessons but we still managed to be productive in other ways. In spite of sickness, I've been printing and laminating here and there and gathering materials for file folder games. I'm hoping that I can get a handful of them ready for next week, InshaALLAH to keep my two year old busy.

I checked out a book called Hands-On Ancient People (Volume I) and we have used it for a couple of projects. I don't really feel right recommending it because there are some obviously haram projects in the book (it has art activities for Mesopotamia and Egypt and some so-called Islamic projects that are cultural, not Islamic). I plan to scan the pages that have some value and take it back to the library.

One of the projects we did was a paper chain with the templates from the back of the book.


I might make one more to hang as a banner for the Ramadan sign I have yet to make, InshaALLAH.

We also made mini prayer rugs today. The kids either drew their own designs on the center or glued a picture. I opted for a picture :)

Prayer Rug

Prayer Rug

Prayer Rug

Prayer Rug

One of the books that I purchased at the thrift store a few weeks back is Stuart Little by E.B. White.

It's a chapter book with 15 chapters, about 130 pages. My daughter read this by herself, mashaALLAH and she narrated the story as she finished each chapter. It took her about a week and a half. I gave her a book report form - I think it's from Donna Young in the beginner's book report section.

First Book Report

I pretty sure that I want to stay with the story a little longer rather than rushing to the next book, although she's eager to read something else. Maybe I will give her something separate to read as we continue to analyze this one, InshaALLAH.

I also grabbed some composition books from the dollar store so that we can begin some creative writing exercises.

Dollar Store Composition Book

I printed some writing prompts from another blog and cut them into strips. Each day, she chooses one and then glues it to the top of the page. Then, she writes a paragraph or so and I read it later. This is just for practice. I don't check the grammar but I might give some feedback to encourage her to stretch her imagination. Hmmm, and maybe I will add some Islamic topics as we go along with our Islamic studies, InshaALLAH.

Writing Exercises

We also added in a bit of Montessori math strategies from Montessori Materials to help my oldest review her addition tables. We're about to start multiplication and division and I want to make sure she doesn't forget what she's learned. I stapled some blank paper between construction paper and made a little booklet of math facts. She did the whole thing fairly quickly and didn't really use the table, so I feel confident that she knows these, alhamduLILLAH.


We're also keeping up with our Arabic numerals (Hindi)by using these cards from Yemen Links. I really like the idea of the Arabic rummy because it makes her think about the order number. Very clever, mashaALLAH.

Arabic Number Rummy

Masjid Coloring Pictures

You can find them on Umm Muhammad's blog.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Re-Reading Islam: Zainah Anwar's Quest for An Islamic Theology of Gender Justice

By Yoginder Sikand

Zainah Anwar is one of Malaysia’s most well-known public intellectuals. She is a founding member of ‘Sisters in Islam’, a leading Muslim feminist organization, of which she was till recently the executive director. She has served as a member of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, and is one of the most vocal activists in the civil rights movement in the country.

Anwar’s writings on Islam, mainly in the form of articles for the Malaysian press, reflect her longstanding involvement in the struggle for civil rights in her country, including, and especially, for women and non-Muslims. A major concern in her writings (as also her political involvement) is to critique conservative, and what she sees as reactionary, interpretations of Islam that impinge on the human rights, particularly of Muslim women and non-Muslims. In their place, she seeks to articulate alternate Islamic understandings that, in her view, reflect and champion what she sees as a fundamental principle of Islam: justice. Her point of departure in her critique of what she sees as unjust interpretations of traditional Islamic jurisprudence and theology and in her struggle to articulate alternate interpretations is the issue of justice.
Justice, Anwar says, is a fundamental and underlying aspect of Islam, and the God of Islam is a just one. ‘For me and my group, Sisters in Islam’, she writes, ‘it is an article of faith that Islam is just and God is just.Hence, interpretations of Islamic theology and jurisprudence that are unjust, including with respect to Muslim women and non-Muslims, she suggests, are actually a violation of (her reading of) Islam. Being human constructions and not divine, they need to be challenged and critiqued and replaced with interpretations that are in line with the notion of justice., as she understands it.
Using justice as the fundamental criterion in critiquing received notions of Islamic theology and jurisprudence that she finds problematic, Anwar’s writings about Islam revolve around numerous themes, three of which this article looks at: the notion of religious authority in Islam; the desirability of the state legislating morality, and the associated issue of the ‘Islamic state’; and, ostensibly ‘Islamic’ laws in place in Malaysia that Anwar argues deny justice and equality to Muslim women.

Who Can Speak for Islam?
Central to Anwar’s academic and activist involvement with issues related to Islam is her insistence that she, as a Malaysian, a Muslim and a woman, also has the right to speak for and about Islam. This puts her immediately at odds with the conservative ulema, including official Islamic ‘authorities’, and Islamist ideologues, who presume to possess the sole right to interpret Islam, based on their claimed ‘expertise’ in Islamic matters.
Like any other text, religious or other, the Quran, Anwar writes, is open to a multiplicity of interpretations. ‘Islam does not speak’ on its own, she comments. Rather, it is human beings who, in seeking to interpret Islam, claim to ‘speak in God’s name’. She further explains, ‘[T]he product of that human engagement with the divine text is not divine law, but human-constructed law.’ This is reflected in the fact of the existence of many schools of Islamic theology and law as well as in the multiple, often divergent and contradictory, prescriptions and rules in the corpus of traditional fiqh, a result of the ijtihad or personal interpretation of the fuqaha associated with the commonly-accepted fiqh schools. In other words, their theological formulations and their ijtihad were a human product, and, since all human beings, including the classical scholars, are both liable to err and are also shaped by their own social and historical circumstances, fiqh cannot be said to be synonymous with the Divine Will.
In this regard, Anwar argues that certain fiqh rules as well as certain interpretations of the Quran that militate against justice and equality, including for women and non-Muslims, which are in place in many Muslim countries today, including Malaysia, cannot or should not be considered to be beyond criticism, in contrast to what the traditionalist ulema, Islamist ideologues or state authorities might insist.
Taken together, all this means that the traditionalist ulema, the state religious authorities and Islamist ideologues do not have a monopoly over interpreting and defining Islam and the shariah. Anwar questions what might be considered to be the undue restrictions and unnecessarily cumbersome conditions that the traditionalist ulema have laid down for one to be considered to possess the right to speak on Islam, possibly to legitimize their own authority. She indicates that since Islamic laws in Malaysia impinge on all the citizens of the country, directly or indirectly, including non-Muslim Malaysians, Islam is too important an issue to be left to the ulema alone to discuss and interpret. As she puts it:
“When Islam is used as a source of law and public policy, then everyone has the right to talk about the subject. Public law, public policy must by necessity be opened to public debate, and pass the test of public reason […] Those who do not want anyone but the ulama to speak on Islam must realise that the only way to preserve the religion from public scrutiny is to take it out of the public sphere and keep it private between the believer and God. But when you proclaim that Islam is a way of life, Islam is the solution, Islam has all the answers, you cannot then tell everyone who disagrees with you to shut up because only you will provide the answers. That is tantamount to totalitarian rule.”

Since Malaysia is a democracy, Anwar argues, law-making must be a product of a democratic process. Laws cannot be imposed simply because the ulema believe them to be divinely-mandated. In this regard, she asks:
“Within the context of a democratic nation state such as Malaysia, can this process of law-making be the sole preserve of the ulama? Within the context of the changing realities of our lives today from the time the classical texts were written, shouldn’t the law-making process be conducted in democratic engagement, especially with those who are affected by these laws and policies?

The ‘Islamic State’ and State Regulation of Morality
In recent decades, under pressure from conservative Muslim forces and also as a result of what has been termed the race between the two largest Malay-dominated parties in Malaysia, the UMNO and the PAS, to ‘out-Islamise’ the other, the Malaysian state has expanded the power and scope of shariah courts in the country and has vastly expanded the religious bureaucracy, with the setting up of numerous well-funded Islamic institutions. Government-sponsored selective and often cosmetic ‘Islamisation’ is also evident in the growing tendency of the state to seek to control private behaviour and personal morality through the shariah courts, and by passing laws to control and sternly punish ‘un-Islamic’ behaviour on the part of its Muslim citizens. Anwar speaks of this as reflecting an ‘obstinate obsession to regulate Muslims in every aspect of our lives.’ Some observers regard this as a sign of a gradual transformation of Malaysia into an officially ‘Islamic state’.
Anwar argues that the state must have no role in seeking to enforce Islamic morality in the private lives of its Muslim citizens. This is one of the main reasons for her opposition to the notion of an ‘Islamic state’ itself, for forcing its citizens to abide by shariah rules and punish transgressions thereof are seen as one of the principal duties of an ‘Islamic state’. Anwar provides several reasons for her opposition to this. Some of these are based on secular grounds, others on ‘Islamic’ arguments.
Firstly, Anwar points out, in practice, in Malaysia as well as other Muslim countries, such enforcement by state shariah courts targets women more often and more severely than it does men, especially with regard to issues such as ‘Islamic’ dress, the consumption of intoxicants and mixing with people of the opposite gender. One of the main reasons for this is that ostensibly ‘Islamic’ laws that seek to regulate and punish what is regarded as un-Islamic behaviour are often drawn not directly from the Quran, but, rather, principally from the corpus of medieval fiqh, a human product that is characterized by biases against women (and non-Muslims).
Secondly, Anwar regards several such laws as a ‘violation of human rights’, and terms the punishments they prescribe as ‘cruel’, ‘degrading’, and ‘inhuman’. They also, she adds, clearly violate Malaysia’s international commitments, including its acceptance of numerous international treaties on human rights that outlaw discrimination based on gender and religion. Related to this is Anwar’s point that such laws go completely against the image of being a ‘moderate’ and ‘progressive’ Muslim state—indeed, the ‘model’ Muslim state—that Malaysia has tried so hard to cultivate.
Thirdly, many of the punishments that shariah courts lay down, which she terms as ‘draconian’, have no sanction in the Quran, but, rather, are based mainly on the cumulative Muslim jurisprudential tradition of fiqh, which, she argues, violate the letter and the spirit of the Quran in several crucial respects. Such, for instance, is the case with the law against Muslim apostates, and the law that prescribes caning for Muslims who consume alcohol.
Fourthly, the very tendency of the state, the traditionalist ulema and Islamist groups to seek to control and regiment people’s personal behaviour through fear of punishment reflects what Anwar regards as an understanding of Islam which she considers as quite opposed to her own, which is based on the notion of a loving, kind and compassionate God. As she puts it, such laws and punishments reflect a ‘seeming determination of those who rule in the name of Islam to project a misogynist, punitive and vindictive God’. But this, she insists, is far from the Quranic conception of what she terms ‘a God of kindness, compassion, beauty and goodness’, a God who enjoins ‘forgiveness […] and positive personal transformation.’ Consequently, Anwar says, some of the harsh laws devised by the ulema regarding women and non-Muslims that are presently enforced by the state and the punishments they prescribe cannot be said to be in accordance with the Islamic spirit of justice and equality or to reflect the concept of a loving, merciful God in Islam. On the contrary, they are a gross violation of these principles. They reflect, she says, ‘Islamist supremacist thinking’, ‘an extremist ideology of hate’ and the world-view of those who are ‘bent on turning [Malaysia] […] into a theocratic dictatorship’, which can only fuel the fires of ‘Islamophobia’ and even lead non-Muslims to greater aversion towards Islam and its adherents, notwithstanding claims to the contrary that stress that Islam is a religion of peace and compassion. In short, such laws, and the vision of Islam underlying them, are, Anwar argues, quite in contrast to her understanding of a just Islam. Furthermore, they do great disservice to the faith, ironically while claiming to uphold it.
Referring to enormous stress that Islamists, as well as conservative ulema, place on stern punishment, rather than on positive moral reform, through kindness and compassion, as a means to address and control what is regarded un-Islamic behaviour, she writes that this itself constitutes a betrayal of the Quranic spirit:

“[…] Muslims invoke the name of God, the compassionate and the merciful, numerous times a day as we say our daily prayers, read verses of the Quran, and before we start any action. Alas, all too often, this invocation of God’s name has become meaningless and has no relation to how we live our lives and treat others in the name of religion.”

Sixthly, Anwar argues that if the state were to regulate personal behaviour in the name of Islam in order to ensure conformity of Muslims’ behaviour with what it regards as the rules of the shariah, it would promote hypocrisy and might even threaten to turn Muslims against Islam itself. The state must not ‘extend the long arm of the law to what should be best left to the religious conscience of the individual,’ she stresses. The test of true faith, she explains, is that it, and the behaviour that it demands, must come from within, from the heart of the believer, from voluntary and willing submission to the rules of faith, rather than from compulsion by the state and religious authorities. The word ‘Islam’ itself, she points out, means ‘submission’ [to God]. It is not submission and conformity to God’s laws wrought by an external authority, such as the state or the ulema. Rather, it is something freely chosen and willed by the individual, free from external coercion. Naturally, then, if individuals were forced to display exemplary Islamic behaviour by the state and its agencies against their will, it cannot be said to represent true ‘submission’ or genuine Islam. Indeed, Anwar points out, such moral policing in the name of enforcing shariah laws has often had precisely the opposite result to that which was intended. Thus, she writes of the effect of such policing in Iran, which is probably the same, in several respects, as in Malaysia:
“Despite constant moral policing […] many Iranians say that the state’s morality laws have failed to create a more pious, moral and obedient ummah. One university professor said his students were far more promiscuous than they were during the time of the Shah. When simple pleasures in life (such as going out to a movie, a restaurant, having a walk in the park) are all forbidden if the couple is not married, then the natural alternative would be to get together behind closed doors and create one’s own entertainment.
“Wearing the hijab is compulsory in Iran, and yet […] [y]oung women are defying the rule by pushing their hijab as far back as possible and letting their hair fly out at the back. Twenty-six years of compulsory hijab law, designed to hide the evil temptations of a woman’s hair and shape, has created not moral obedience, but defiance. And because the defiance has been so widespread, Tehran’s moral police have largely given up enforcing the law.”

In other words, Anwar suggests, for the state to seek to enforce compliance with Islamic morality through law and by inflicting punishment for non-compliance ultimately defeats its own very purpose. ‘The more the religious authorities are bent on regulating our lives in the name of Islam, the more defiant Muslims will become’, she warns. Again invoking the Iranian experience, she writes:
“Malaysia must learn from Iran. When a government that rules in the name of Islam fails to deliver on the aspirations of the people, then this failure is seen as the failure of Islam. Widespread public criticism and defiance of rules and regulations to regulate the moral behaviour of its citizens and to suppress the thinking of dissenters have given birth to a reformist movement that brought women, young people, academics and religious clerics into the open to challenge the official Islam of the state. An Islamisation process that implements pre-modern conceptions of Islamic law which are so out of touch with the realities of Iranian lives today has led disenchanted Iranians to believe that Islam has no answers to the myriad problems and challenges they face.
As a believing and practising Muslim, Anwar readily agrees to the proposition that Muslims should abide by the teachings of Islam in their personal lives. But this, she says, must reflect and emerge from deep faith, and not out of compulsion or fear of the law. The role of the state in this regard is, therefore, limited. At most, she suggests, it can devise ‘more effective ways to teach Islam’ and ‘to imbibe Islamic values’ so that ‘obedience to God comes from a genuine act of faith, belief and submission’.
This does not mean that Anwar is necessarily opposed to any role of Islam in making laws and policies. She does admit the possibility, provided, she says, that the use of shariah rules and principles to make laws must pass ‘the test of “civic reason”’ and is ‘subject to safeguards within the framework of constitutionalism, human rights and citizenship’ as well as international law. Advocates of Islamic law and their critics should be able to freely and publicly debate the merits or otherwise of their respective schemes without any fear or hindrance.

Islam and Women’s Rights
One of Anwar’s main concerns, as reflected in the work of ‘Sisters in Islam’ and in her writings, is to critique misogynist traditions, beliefs, customs and laws in the name of Islam and to develop and articulate a gender-just Islamic theology and jurisprudence. As in her critique of the tendency of the state to intrude into people’s lives in the name of enforcing ‘Islamic morality’, her critique of misogyny and patriarchy in the name of Islam is based fundamentally on her insistence that Islam, if correctly understood, stands for equality and justice, including for women. This leads her to claim, ‘[T]here is no contradiction between faith and feminism.‘Women’s demands for equality and justice’, she insists, ‘are rooted in the Islamic tradition’. ‘I am proud that as a Malaysian Muslim feminist, I see no contradiction between my religion and my feminism,’ she claims. ‘[T]he problem is not with Islam’, she adds, ‘but with patriarchal Muslims, who hide behind the sanctity of the divine message to perpetuate men’s perceived superiority over women.’
Anwar develops this argument through reference mainly to the Quran, with very limited recourse to the corpus of Hadith and fiqh, whose authenticity is contested by many Muslims themselves. She highlights the fact that man-made, patriarchal fiqh, which developed in a particular social and historical context, which has been wrongly taken to be synonymous with the Divine shariah, is a major cause for attitudes, beliefs and so-called shariah laws that heavily militate against gender justice and which are not in accordance with the Quran’s stress on equality and justice for all human beings, including women. It is patriarchal fiqh, she writes, rather than Islam per se, based simply on the Quran, that underlies a slew of ostensibly ‘Islamic’ laws in place in Malaysia today that are patently unjust and unfair to women, she stresses.
The law, Anwar writes, must reflect current social realities if it is to remain relevant and socially useful and live up to the basic Islamic imperative of justice. In this regard, she opines that much of the corpus of traditional fiqh, including several legal prescriptions that discriminate against women and which have the force of law in Malaysia today, does not resonate with contemporary Malaysian social reality, which is characterized by high levels of women’s literacy, general awareness and participation in the workforce. There is, she remarks, an ‘utter disconnect between laws and practices that discriminate against women and the realities of women’s and men’s lives today.’ As she puts it, these discriminatory laws, ‘seek to preserve a world that no longer exists’, and they continue to ‘insist on a legal framework where men will always be superior to women’ as ‘leaders, protectors and providers’, even if all this ‘flies in the face of reality’. She argues that these laws reflect ‘narrow-minded and outdated understandings and interpretations of culture and religion that no longer have bearing to the realities of women and men’s lives in the 21st century.’ Since these laws do not reflect or correspond to contemporary Malaysian social reality, Anwar argues, they must be changed and replaced by laws that do. If they were to remain in force, they would hamper the progress of Muslim society. Besides, they would lead to gross injustice, ironically in the name of ‘Islamic justice’, and so would also constitute a gross violation of one of the principal bases of Islam. They would also cease to have practical relevance and meaning for most Muslims themselves.
Islam, Anwar avers, is not the cause for Muslim women’s subjugation, although, she stresses, patriarchy in the guise of Islam, or patriarchal, misogynist interpretations of Islam, are a major factor. She appeals to women (and men committed to gender equality, which she sees as a Quranic mandate) to interpret the Quran on their own, freed from the baggage of centuries of male-centric interpretation and juridical thinking of the almost wholly male ulema. In the process, she articulates the need and the possibility of what she regards as a more authentic understanding of the faith, so that, as she puts it, ‘Islam can be a source of empowerment, not a source of oppression and discrimination’ for women, a ‘source of liberation’ and ‘no longer an obstacle to equality’ for them.
This project requires a critical re-reading of the cumulative and historical Muslim theological and jurisprudential tradition. A fundamental starting-point or underlying guiding principle for this re-reading, Anwar says, is the conviction that Islam upholds and stands for justice and equality, including for women. The classical jurists might have been right in their time and context, but, then, that time and context are long gone, but the legal logic of the protecting providing male and the subservient female remains. What justice means today, in the context of the 21st century, she argues, must form the basis to regulate the relationship between men and women. Using justice and equality as the basis for this new reading of the Quran would reflect not just the true intention of the text but would also be in conformity with the ‘social and political realities’ of today’s context, where it is now widely recognized that ‘there cannot be justice without equality’, including for women. In this way, Islam can be made more relevant and meaningful in people’s lives today, something which Anwar suggests traditionalist understandings, steeped in patriarchy, cannot any longer do.
Just as the classical jurists were guided by the social and political realities of their age in their understanding of the Quran, Anwar says, Muslims today should seek to approach the text keeping in mind the present context, where gender justice has become an undeniable imperative. On this basis, Anwar argues for Muslim women to study Islam on their own, and, on that basis, to critique what she regards as the patriarchal interpretations of Islam and shariah that the traditional ulema, including state religious authorities, uphold and enforce. In doing so, such women can formulate alternate understandings of Islamic theology and jurisprudence that ‘uphold the principles of justice, equality, freedom and dignity in Islam’ that are markedly lacking in traditional interpretations, particularly with regard to women. In this way, Anwar suggests, Muslim women in the 21st century can help in the process of developing more contextually-relevant understandings based on the ‘realities and experience of women’s lives today’, something which is sorely lacking in traditional understandings.
For the continuing relevance of Islam in people’s daily lives, Anwar suggests, understandings of the faith must address contemporary demands, concerns and social realities, including transformations in women’s roles and statuses, and must not remain static, frozen in the mould developed by the medieval classical scholars. Understandings that reflect the social realities of the times of the classical interpreters, characterized by deep-rooted patriarchy, can no longer be acceptable to many Muslim women. If such understandings, which are reflected in laws that deny Muslim women equality and justice, are not challenged and changed, the very relevance of religion in people’s lives, Anwar points out, might well be called into question. Thus she warns:

“Today’s women will not accept that Islam actually promotes injustice and ill- treatment of half the human race. Today’s women are challenging the values of patriarchal society, where power and authority reside exclusively with the husband, father, brother to whom the wife, daughter and sister owe obedience. For too long, men have defined for us what it is to be a woman, how to be a woman and then to use religion to confine us to these socially constructed limitations that reduce us to being the inferior half of the human race. We are believers, and as believers we want to find liberation, truth and justice from within our own faith. We feel strongly we have a right to reclaim our religion, to redefine it, to participate and contribute to an understanding of Islam, how it is codified and implemented–in ways that take into consideration the realities and experience of women’s lives today.
“Today’s Muslim women in a country like Malaysia that is fast modernising and industrialising will no longer accept their inferior status, not even when it is justified in the name of religion. Times […] are changing. We live in an era where women are educated, travel the world, hold positions of power and responsibility in increasing numbers. Today in Malaysia, 70 percent of the students enrolled in public sector institutions of higher learning, are girls. The female labour force participation stands at 47 percent and is rising. It can only be expected that women, with increasing knowledge and education, with economic independence, will gain more confidence and courage to speak out in the face of injustice. If the injustice is committed in the name of religion, then today’s women will go back to the original source of the religion to find out for themselves whether such a great religion could indeed be so unjust to half of its believers.

It is not that Anwar regards ‘Islamic feminism’ as the only key to Muslim women’s liberation. She recognizes that in Muslim-dominated countries such as Malaysia it is essential to operate within a broad ‘Islamic’ paradigm, articulating Islamic arguments for gender equality, because people’s consciousness as well as public discourse is heavily influenced and indelibly shaped by Islam. She also sees this as something mandated by her own faith in Islam, as a believing Muslim. At the same time, she believes that it is important to ground the Islamic arguments for reform within the broader framework of human rights principles, constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination, and women and men's lived realities today. For Islam to remain relevant as a source of law and public policy in a modern democratic state, the religion cannot be isolated from the context of 21st century and its dominant ethical values, that of democracy, human rights and women’s rights, Anwar repeatedly asserts. The readiness with which she and her colleagues in Sisters in Islam work together with other civil society actors, including secular feminists, human rights activists and inter-faith groups, for common goals, such as justice and equality for women and religious minorities, is seen by many as a model of Malaysian leadership and a celebration of its rich pluralism.

Zainah Anwar can be contacted on Her writings can be accessed on and

Friday, August 28, 2009

Online Education

Online education is the modern way of learning and rapidly growing technique. Latest technologies are exploited in online education to make it even better. In this sort of learning there is no face to face interaction of teachers with students, rather lectures are delivered through web, video conferencing, voice calls etc.

There are few Islamic Schools providing online education of Quran Recitation and teach Quran with translation. These schools are very useful for those who are living in non-Muslim countries and face problems in finding a Qur'an teacher.

Another benefit of online education is that children are not required to go to school and hence precious time is saved which can be spent in other learning activities. Online education provides many comforts to the students as they can find vast variety of educational material on internet and they can get it instantly.

Online educational material is preferred because it is reusable and easily redistributable to others. In 21st century the technology is made very common and now every student can easily access online school from any part of the world sitting at home.

Students having disabilities have no better choice than online education as they don’t find any hurdle in getting online education.

Islamic school of Quran recitation provides online Quran tutoring services to the people living in Canada, USA, Uk etc which is very helpful for Muslims to get their religious education t home. Read More...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Education System of USA:

The ultimate reason of success of USA is the well-managed and organized education system. is mainly provided by the public sector, with control and funding coming from three levels: federal, state, and local.

The government ensures quality of education in the country, making it available for every child. Major educational issues in the United States center on curriculum, funding, and control. Of critical importance, because of its enormous implications on education and funding, is the “No Child Left Behind” Act.

People from all over the world come to USA to acquire education. This education is helpful for them in their professional life as the standards are never compromised at any cost.

Being a secular country there is no well-known system of religious education in USA. Majority of the Americans are Christians, so there are few institutions dedicated to the religious education. But these are only for Christians. Muslims and the people of other religions were facing problems finding quality religious education for their children.

To cope with these problems, Islamic School of Online Quran Recitation learning was introduced. Muslims from all over the world are taking advantage by learning Quran recitation from online tutors.

Quran Reading School is one of them, providing excellent chance to the Muslims of all over the world to Learn Quran Recitation Online. This Islamic school offers Qur’an reading and recitation teaching for children and the people of every age supervised by the best Quran tutors, managing one to one live Qur’an recitation classes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Importance of Education in Islam

Education is the right of every Muslim, and it is made necessary for every person in Islam. Special emphasis is made on getting education for every Muslim. This education includes both Islamic and technical education conforming to the needs of modern life.

islamic school

The concept of education in Islam is not only getting decent earnings but practicing it in real life for the betterment of the others. It was as a result of application of knowledge that Muslims were the superpower of the world for twelve centuries.

The base of Islamic education is Qur’an. Quran provides complete way of life to the Muslims and following the teachings of Quran is the real way of eternal success. In the twentieth century, due to colonialism and Western influence, Muslim parents concentrated on imparting only Secular education to their children. The children who were not fond of learning were sent to the Islamic School or Islamic Madrasas. Due to which Muslims kept on getting weaker day by day.

We need to get both Islamic as well as modern scientific education to get our regime back. We need to hold the Islamic values tightly in order to get stronger again. For this purpose an Islamic school of Quran Recitation is established to teach the children Holy Quran. This Islamic School provides online Quran learning by trained Quran tutors. Read More...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reward of Qur'an Recitation

Allah has blessed Muslims with a precious gift of Quran. Quran is the only Holy Scripture which is still unaltered today. Other books were amended by the people. There is a tradition in Sahih al-Bukhari, 'Uthman quoted Allah's Messenger as saying,

"The best amongst you is he who learns the Quran and teaches it."

When someone reads one letter of Quran, he or she is blessed with a good deed and every good deed gets tenfold rewards. In the month of Ramadan the reward is incremented to 70 times. As it is written in Tirmizi,

"If anyone recites a letter of the Holy Quran, he will be credited with a good deed, and a good deed gets a tenfold reward. I do not say that A-L-M (alif, laam, mim that precede some surahs) are one letter, but alif is a letter, lam is a letter and meem is a letter."

Quran Recitation is also the complete spiritual treatment of every disease. Recitations of different Ayats cure different diseases. Allah even doubles rewards for those who falter in reading the Quran but strive to master it. In a hadith related by 'Aisyah, Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said, "One who is skilled in the Quran is associated with the noble, upright recording angels; and he who falters when reciting the Quran and finds it difficult for him will have a double reward."

So learning the correct meaning of Quran is important to get maximum reward. An Islamic School is providing online Quran recitation tutoring. English translation of Quran is also taught to make people understand, who don’t know Arabic. Read More...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pre-K Literacy Printables

Various worksheets here.

Islamic Societies in USA

USA is the most highly-developed and established country in the world, also known to be today’s super power. It comprises almost 50 states and a federal district, having total population of 307 million people. USA is considered to be ethnically diverse and multicultural land.

Officially USA is a secular nation, but the people of different religions reside here having 78.4% of the Christians, hence making Christianity the largest religion in the USA. There is also a big community of Muslims in USA almost 1 million in numbers.

Few years earlier there was no concept of Islamic schools or Islamic education in USA as Muslims were less in numbers, or not established. Now the population of Muslims in USA has increased to a greater extent and they have established themselves playing an important part in the growth of American economy.

Islamic Societies are also growing strong. Providing Islamic and Qur’an education. Many Islamic and Quran Recitation schools are educating Muslim children and also to those who want to know and understand what Qur’an says.

Islamic School of Qur’an Recitation is an Islamic school proving online Islamic education. It is a superb Online Quran tutor program functioning since 2005. This school has enabled more than 3600 kids and above 1400 adults to recite Holy Quran beautifully at home. Read More...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Taqlid Versus Tajdid: A Malaysian Mufti on the Metholology of Islamic Reform

By Yoginder Sikand

Mohammad Asri Zainul Abidin (b.1971) is the present government-appointed mufti of the Malaysian state of Perlis. A prolific writer and a sharp political commentator, many of his writings are hosted on his website[1]
Although Zainul Abidin writes on a wide range of issues, this article looks only at his discussion of the concept of taqlid or strict adherence to traditional fiqh, and the notion of tajdid or restoration and revival of what are regarded as authentic Islamic teachings. Engaging with these two doctrines, he articulates a methodology for developing more contextually-relevant perspectives on Islamic jurisprudence and theology.
The actual scope of the shariah in terms of enforceable law in Malaysia is strictly limited, mainly to family matters and to some crimes involving Muslims. In such matters, official muftis are supposed to issue opinions or fatwas in accordance with the established prescriptions of the Shafi’ school, which is the school of jurisprudence followed by most Malaysian Muslims. In other words, they are generally expected to abide by taqlid of the Shafi’ school. Yet, despite being the official Mufti of a Malaysian state, Zainul Abidin makes clear his uneasiness with the doctrine of rigid taqlid, presenting the concept of tajdid or renewal of the faith in its stead. In this way, he argues for reintroducing what he regards as the lost dynamism of Islamic jurisprudence in order to be able to suitably address new and rapidly social contexts and conditions. He may well be unique among the muftis of Malaysia in this regard, all of who are state-appointed. This is one reason why he is often quoted with approval by numerous ‘progressive’ Malaysian Muslim writers and activists.
Critique of Taqlid

In a short essay, provocatively titled Abide by Evidences and Facts, Abandon Blind Taqlid[2], Zainul Abidin summarises his approach on the doctrine of taqlid, so stoutly defended by the traditional ulema. His central argument is that the ‘supreme sources’ of Islam being the Quran and the authentic Sunnah, any claim that goes against these two sources, including anything in the received fiqh tradition, must not be accepted. At the same time, he suggests, the primary sources of Islam do not speak for themselves. Rather, they need to be interpreted. For this task, a major tool is the use of reason. This is because, as he puts it, ‘Islam is a religion that is build (sic.) on reasoning and evidences. There is no Islam without reasoning and evidences […] [I]t is impossible to find in the teachings of Islam anything that is in contrast to literal evidences and academic facts.’

In this regard, he indicates that certain aspects of the corpus of fiqh and certain claims of those who regard themselves as Islamic authorities that do not stand to reason cannot be considered authentically Islamic. Thus, he writes:

Whatever opinion that is produced in the name of Islam but does not revolve around the axis of reasoning and evidences from al-Quran and al-Sunnah is not from the teachings of Islam. [This is] [r]egardless [of] whether the one who generates that opinion attaches to himself various […] religious title[s] or wears various types of attire that are correlated to being religious.

Since reason and science are co-related, and since they are in consonance with Islam, Zaindul Abidin goes on, if any ‘view’ that is ‘associated with Islam’—by which he means human understandings of Islam—contradicts the ‘world’s order or conclusively proven scientific facts’ it should be considered ‘absolutely not from the teachings of Islam’. Likewise, he adds, if any view that is popularly accepted as ‘Islamic’ ‘degrades the well-being of humankind in a conspicuous way’, then, too it is ‘absolutely not from the teachings of Islam’.

Zainul Abidin here makes a crucial distinction between Islam, as Divine and Absolute Truth, on the one hand, and human interpretations of it—which he terms as ‘views’ that are ‘associated with Islam’—on the other. The former are eternal verities, and are in perfect harmony with reason, the confirmed facts of science and human well-being.[3] The latter, which also includes the corpus of fiqh, being , at least in part, human constructs, are liable to err, and, if they are found to do so by contradicting the Quran, the Sunnah, reason, the confirmed facts of science or human well-being, as defined by the Quran and Sunnah, Zainul Abidin argues that they must be rejected as ‘un-Islamic’, even if those who defend them might consider themselves to be Islamic religious authorities, such as muftis and other ulema.

This applies even to the opinions of the putative founders of the various established schools of fiqh.[4] He cautions his readers that this is not a novel opinion of his own invention. Rather, well-known classical Muslim scholars, including noted fuqaha, ironically even the putative founding Imams of the established schools of fiqh—blind conformity to whose views the traditional ulema continue to insist on—were of exactly the same opinion.[5]

By critiquing the notion of blind taqlid on solid Quranic grounds, and proving it to be even against the doctrines of the Imams whose rigid taqlid the traditionalists ironically continue to insist on, Zainul Abidin questions the widespread belief in the traditional ulema who enjoin strict taqlid of the established schools of fiqh as ultimate religious authorities.[6] As he puts it, backing his argument with a verse from the Quran:

The opinion of any individual–even a grand Islamic scholar–is entitled to be questioned so long as it does not concur to (sic.) the evidences provided by al-Quran and al-Sunnah. There is no one who is maksum [infallible], other than the messengers sent by Allah. For every religious opinion brought up by a certain personality or an ustaz [Islamic scholar] does not necessarily have to be swallowed wholly.

While Muslims should be respectful of the ulema, Zainul Abidin writes, it does not mean that they cannot present ‘intelligent criticisms’ or question their opinions on the basis of the Quran and Sunnah. The reason that he stresses this point, he explains, is to critique those many Muslims who dare not question, for fear of being branded as weak in faith, the opinion of men commonly regarded as Islamic scholars even though what the latter claim may be ‘utterly groundless’. Bitterly critiquing such clerics, he argues:

It seems like they have been granted with a colossal tongue to speak of anything in the name of our religion even without presenting any reasoning and strong evidence. Even worse, some of the religious teachers in the old days warned their students against asking questions saying that “Whoever asks a lot of questions, it shows that his faith is weak.”

Such obduracy, authoritarianism, and hostility to being questioned on the part of many of those who assume themselves to be Islamic authorities, Zainul Abidin points out, can have devastating practical implications, such as in the form of wrong, and what he terms ‘weird’, fatwas, some of which might find their way into the statute books and becoming legally binding. He refers to just two such fatwas issued in Malaysia in this regard, but says that there are ‘many other[s]’ of the same sort: a fatwa prohibiting Muslims from selling cows to non-Muslim Chinese; and another fatwa to the effect that if a particular sort of pickled fish (called Budu in Malay) were to touch one’s clothing it would be considered an impurity although eating it is permissible. Besides fatwas of this sort that he critiques, he cites other claims made by self-styled religious scholars who, he suggests, do not provide any sufficient proof from the Quran and Sunnah for their arguments, and which, therefore, are to be rejected.

Further stressing the need for even ‘ordinary’ or ‘lay’ to question those who claim to speak of and for Islam, Zainul Abidin insists that it is the right of the Muslim community as a whole, and of individual believers as well, to ask Islamic scholars and preachers for both the textual reference or nas in the Quran and Sunnah as well as their reasoning for any statements regarding Islam. This is because, he says:

An ustaz or a respected guru is not God’s appointed agent, unlike the Messengers of Allah, whose words, even if [in the event of ] lack of nas, must be agreed to […] [R]eligion is built on reasoning and evidences. If each one of us asks the ustaz for the cause and reasoning for every religious opinion given, then indirectly we would be fulfilling the principles of Islam and improve the intellectual level of our own group. Don’t let ourselves be content with just by memorizing religious opinions without re-thinking them in an analytical and rationale (sic.) way.

In this way, Zainul Abidin indicates, Muslims would be able to recover the inherent simplicity of Islam, which lies buried under man-made accretions over the centuries, a result, in part, of the influence of un-Islamic philosophies and what he calls ‘useless and cumbersome […] disputes without any direction and benefit’. It would help liberate the Islamic tradition from the morass of stagnation that is reflected in the insistence on mere memorization of texts while ignoring independent thinking and reflection. The latter, he explains, are sorely required to maintain the dynamism of Islamic thought and to practically prove Islam’s continued relevance in changing contexts. Further, he adds, it would accelerate the process of liberating the Muslim mind from ‘an obsessive devotion’ to a certain mazhab or school of fiqh. It would also democratize Islamic scholarship, and, hence, religious authority, liberating it from the monopolistic claims of those who claim to be experts in the field.[7]
Appeal for Tajdid

Related to Zainul Abidin’s forceful critique of taqlid is his passionate advocacy of tajdid or ‘renewal of the faith’. This is dealt with at length in an article titled
Tajdid: A Necessity To (sic.) the Ummah.[8] As he sees it, blind taqlid and tajdid are opposed to each other in several respects. While Islam frowns on blind taqlid, he stresses that tajdid is a constant necessity, mandated by Islam itself.
The concept of tajdid has been interpreted diversely by Islamic scholars. For some, it simply means cleansing Muslim society of what are seen as superstitious practices and beliefs that have no sanction in the Quran and the authenticated Sunnah. Some extreme literalists interpret tajdid as indicating an effort to mould Muslim society on exactly the same pattern as that of the times of the Prophet. In contrast, other scholars see tajdid as aiming to revive or restoring true Islamic beliefs and practices as well as reformulating Islamic thinking, or what Zaindul Abidin describes as ‘renewal of religious comprehension’, in order to maintain its continued relevance in the face of changing social contexts. In this latter case, it is closely related to the concept of ijtihad, which is precisely the opposite of blind taqlid. It is in this more expansive sense that Zainul Abidin uses the term tajdid and advocates its practice, which he sees as a religiously-mandated duty, and not simply an intellectually luxury that can be ignored. It is, as it has been throughout Muslim history, he says, instrumental in protecting the Muslim ummah from ‘becoming weak and impotent’.
According to general Muslim belief, derived from a Hadith report, the Prophet Muhammad is said to have predicted that at the end of every century God would raise a figure from within the Muslim ummah in order to restore Islam to its true form. This figure, the mujaddid, would engage in the necessary task of the tajdid of Islam. This does not, however mean, as some might construe it, that the tajdid of Islam is a task only for a single mujaddid to undertake in every century. To believe this to be the case would only encourage fatalism and laxity. Rather, the tajdid of Islam is something that Islamic scholars, and not just divinely-appointed mujaddids alone, must continuously and constantly seek to engage in.
As indicated above, tajdid, as Zainul Abidin sees it, is not limited only to cleansing Muslim society of wrong accretions in terms of belief and practice that have no sanction in the Quran and the authentic Hadith. Rather, in his more expansive understanding of the term, it also includes what he terms as ‘innovation[s] of certain element[s]’ that might be deemed necessary in order to ‘fulfill contemporary need[s] and requirement[s]’. He likens this to the innovation of the modern vehicle, which did not exist in the past but which is legitimate in that it serves a very basic human purpose of moving from one place to another. Such necessary ‘innovation’ demanded by changed social contexts, he suggests, is also part of the broader agenda of tajdid.
The necessary ‘innovation’ that Zainul Abidin advocates is completely different from bid‘ah, strictly translated also as ‘innovation’, which is considered by many literalists to be impermissible in Islam. The innovation in the course of tajdid that Zainul Abidin stresses should, he specifies, ‘be performed such that it does not change the religion’. He points out that tajdid and the innovations that it might entail are not a license for free-ranging changes. Instead, as what he calls ‘a suitable response to satisfy the new understanding or view brought about by the change in circumstances’, they must not deviate from ‘the essence and the requirement[s]’ of the Quran and the authenticated Sunnah. At the same time, he admits that such ‘innovation’ might, at times, clash with traditionally-held views that reflect the deep-rooted tradition of blind taqlid.
If tajdid is to be based on the Quran and the authenticated Sunnah, the question arises as to how these sources are to be interpreted. Just as he is critical of taqlid of the traditional ulema in matters of fiqh, Zainul Abidin also disagrees with those who argue that received interpretations of these two sources are to be blindly accepted. As for the Quran, he points out that while God has kept the text of the scripture completely free from error over the centuries, its interpretation, largely a human product, has been ‘contaminated’, owing, among other factors, to the influence of what are called Israiliyyat, stories and narrations of Jews and early Jewish converts to Islam, and other such ‘mythical stories’, which appear ‘funny and impractical’. Such distorted interpretations of the Quran, promoted by popular preachers, remain widespread, and combating them, he says, must be a major focus of those engaged in the work of tajdid.
Similar problems of authenticity relate to the existing corpus of Hadith—not just to their interpretation, but, also, unlike in the case of the Quran, to the content of a portion of that corpus. Zainul Abidin points out that throughout Muslim history, ‘thousands of fabricated hadith were created for the sake of various parties or due to lack of knowledge’. These fake Hadith reports, which also include what he calls ‘comical or garbled stories’, continue to be widely ‘quoted and narrated’, he rues. He insists that tajdid must be extended to the corpus of Hadith in the form of weeding out fabricated reports.
With regard to tajdid in relation to both the Quran and the authenticated Sunnah, Zainul Abidin seems to caution against excessive or unwarranted literalism. In what can be construed as an appeal for a contextual understanding of some aspects of these two sources—perhaps those with legal implications, although he does not specify this—he states, ‘Some of the nas from al-Quran and al-Sunnah has to be viewed in a much broader context in terms of its meaning and substance.’
Tajdid, in the sense of what Zaindul Abidin terms ‘renewal of religious comprehension’, extends not simply to critiquing and abandoning wrong interpretations of the Quran that are heavily influenced by Israiliyyat traditions and abandoning fabricated Hadith. It also extends to issues of fiqh, or what is commonly regarded as the shariah in practice. Tajdid with regard to this sphere, Zainul Abidin says, would necessarily entail abandoning what he calls ‘mazhab fanaticism’, that is to say the tendency to insist on taqlid of a particular school of jurisprudence even when its prescriptions might contradict the Quran and the authenticated Sunnah. Such an approach, besides being un-Islamic, he writes, necessarily leads to ‘narrow-mindedness’ and imposes considerable inconvenience and burden to Muslims themselves, something that the Prophet himself is said to have warned against in the following hadith report contained in the Sahih al-Bukhari which Zainul Abidin approvingly quotes:
Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded.
It is not just traditional fiqh prescriptions that have no warrant in the Quran and the authenticated Sunnah that need to be revised in the process of the tajdid of Islam, Zainul Abidin appears to argue. In addition to this are some fiqh rulings and opinions of the classical ulema which may have been appropriate in their social and historical context but which, he writes, now ‘have expired due to the change in time and circumstances’. Tajdid should extend to these as well, and they should be replaced by more contextually-relevant opinions or formulations, which should also be in accordance with the Quran and the Sunnah.
In advocating tajdid and decrying taqlid, Zainul Abidin is not unmindful of the opposition that his views are bound to invoke from some quarters. As he puts it, the advocates of tajdid are often ‘criticized and subjected to […] slander’ by those who are ‘bothered by tajdid’. Yet, he insists, this is a task that must be carried out. He backs his appeal by invoking the Prophet as having said, ‘Indeed Islam began as something strange. And it will return as something strange the way it began. So give glad tidings to the strangers’. When asked who the ‘strangers were’, the Prophet was reported to have answered, ‘Those who are righteous when the people have become corrupt’.

[1] Zainul Abidin writes in Bahasa Malaysia, and only a relatively small proportion of his writings have been translated into English and are available on his website. Material for this chapter has been taken from the English section of his website.

[3] In this regard, he approvingly quotes the renowned faqih Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah as writing, ‘“Indeed the shariah of Islam, its construction and foundation are built on wisdom and goodness for humans in this world and hereafter. The shariah of Islam is all about justice, goodness and wisdom. Therefore, every aspect that departs from justice into vindictiveness, from blessing into its opposite, from goodness into badness, from wisdom into foolishness is not from the shariah of Islam even though it is interpreted as such.”

[4] Here he argues that even the writings of the Imams must be judged by using the Quran and Sunnah as standards, and only those views of theirs that are in conformity with these sources must be accepted.

[5] Here he quotes the noted Shafi’ scholar, Imam al-Muzani, as having written that Imam Shafi himself forbade anyone from engaging in blond taqlid of him.
[6] He refers here to Imam Shatibi as stressing, ‘Thus, it is compulsory for us to follow the one that was guarded from making mistakes [the Prophet] and to stop following whoever that is not being (sic.) shielded from mistakes whenever there seem to be doubts about it.

[7] ‘If this form of learning could be moulded’, Zainul Abidin opines, ‘then Islam would no longer be deemed as being exclusive such that only a few people are allowed to contemplate it and the rest must follow blindly’.


Poor Man's Continent Map

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Ramadan Mubarak, Ramadan Kareem


On Islam and Gender Equality

By Yoginder Sikand

Salbiah Ahmad is a trained civil and shariah Malay woman lawyer. She practiced for several years in Singapore and taught briefly at the International Islamic University, Kuala Lumpur. Involved with human rights issues for over two decades, she writes for a range of Malaysian and international newspapers and websites.
Critical Thoughts on Islam, Rights and Freedom in Malaysia is a collection of Ahmad’s essays published over the years on the Malaysian activist website A major focus of the book is a critique of patriarchal interpretations of Islam and an articulation of what could be called a gender-sensitive Islamic theology (kalam) and jurisprudence (fiqh). In this way, Ahmad seeks to provide an Islamically-grounded argument for gender equality. This she does for broadly two reasons: as a strategy to develop consensus on women’s rights, speaking in an ‘Islamic’ language in order present gender justice as Islamically acceptable, even mandated, to believing Muslims; and as a reflection of her own personal religious consciousness and conviction as a Muslim woman.[1]
Ahmad believes that in a Muslim-majority country like Malaysia, working for gender justice from within an Islamic paradigm is indispensable, since public discourse is heavily conditioned by Islam, a phenomenon that gender activists can ignore at their own peril. To do so would render them irrelevant to most Muslims, and lay them open to the charge of being ‘irreligious’ and of allegedly ‘undermining Islam’. There is thus an urgent need to enter the realm of Islamic discourse and seek to promote gender-justice using appropriate Islamic arguments. At the same time, Ahmad suggests, this strategy is not a substitute for secular human rights activism for gender justice. Rather than seeing the two approaches as necessarily mutually exclusive, she argues for a synergy through which they can work together in tandem for common goals, considering them to be options depending on the situation at hand.
Interestingly, Ahmad does not claim to be an ‘Islamic feminist’ (‘Feminism is not my new religion’, she says), but acknowledges that it has shaped her understanding of Muslim women’s oppression, providing a lens through which to critique unequal, and what she regards as un-Quranic, power relations between Muslim men and women. She disagrees with Muslims who see feminism as an attempt to discredit Islam or who interpret it as standing for enmity between men and women and as a ‘Western conspiracy’ to undermine Muslim society and culture.[2]
Ahmad arrogates to herself the right to ijtihad, unencumbered by the opinions of the classical ulema. She approaches the Quran directly, bypassing the tradition of fiqh as well as the Hadith, because these two latter sources of kalam and fiqh contain numerous prescriptions and views that militate against her understanding of gender relations, some of which have been manufactured precisely in order to justify women’s subordination. She does not regard the Quran as a closed text, whose interpretation has been frozen, settled once and for all, at some distant moment in the past. Rather, she sees it and the Sunnah as what she calls ‘works in movement’, that, like all other texts, can be, and indeed, have been, interpreted in diverse ways. Rather than being a limitation, she suggests, this is actually a blessing in that in this way these fundamental sources of Islam are able to maintain their continuing relevance across space and time, providing guidance, in terms mainly of broad principles, that can suit changing socio-historical contexts. In this way, she is able to argue for her own interpretation of the sources that contradicts, in numerous ways, the dominant male Muslim discourse.
Ahmad argues that the basis of gender equality is contained in the Quran itself. The Quran, she says, treats men and women ‘in exactly the same way’.[3] The Prophet Muhammad expressed this principle by declaring, ‘Humans are equal as the teeth of a comb’.[4] This, and the upholding of ‘the inherent dignity and integrity of every human person’, must be, Ahmad says, the ‘starting point’ of Quranic exegesis or tafsir.[5] This exegesis must also be continuously informed by a contextually-sensitive of ‘public interest’ or maslaha, which also includes gender-justice, which is one of the fundamental aims (maqasid) of the shariah.
In approaching the Quran, Ahmad suggests, one must also keep in mind that while the Quran represents the Absolute Truth to Muslims, it is impossible for human beings to gain a perfect, authoritative or absolute understanding of it. This is because the Divine revelation has to be interpreted by human beings, who, by their nature, are limited creatures and are influenced by their own social circumstances. Hence, it is inevitable that exegesis of the revelation can never be perfect. Since, traditionally, most Muslim exegetes have been men, heirs to a long-standing tradition of patriarchy, their understandings of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet have not escaped the fact of their gender and their patriarchal biases.[6] This, Ahmad therefore argues, calls for a more gender-sensitive understanding of the Quran, in order not just to highlight women’s concerns and perspectives but also to attempt to be more true to the intention of the Quran itself.[7] Hence, Ahmad suggests, the need for Muslim women to study the text themselves directly, without relying on the tradition of patriarchal exegesis, and through the lens of ‘adl or justice and balance, a fundamental principle of the Quran, which also includes justice between the genders.
The ontological equality of men and women in the eyes of God is something that is explicitly mentioned in the Quran. At the same time, however, there are verses in the text that could be interpreted to argue for different rights, roles and responsibilities of men and women, some of which have been interpreted by most Muslim male exegetes as legitmising what Ahmad sees as women’s subordination. Ahmad claims that interpretations of the Quran (and Sunnah) that unfairly privilege males over their wives are tantamount to a violation of tawhid, the oneness of God, the very basic principle of Islam, that requires submission to God alone.[8]
Ahmad’s way to reconcile these verses with what she regards as the mandate of gender justice is by calling for a critical distinction between verses that relate to the huquq Allah or ‘rights of God’ (that pertain to matters between the individual and God, principally worship or ‘ibadat), and those verses that relate to the ‘rights of persons’ or huquq ul ‘ibad, which include social affairs and relations (mu‘amilat). She claims that while the former are unchangeable, the latter can change, particularly in order to uphold the Quranic mandate of justice. She evokes what she calls ‘a powerful idea in the juristic notion that all matters in relation to rights of man or humankind […] is (sic.) the subject matter of mu‘amalat (‘transactions’) and thus negotiable’.[9] Curiously, she leaves unmentioned the source for this undoubtedly contestable claim, which not many traditional Muslim scholars would accept, for they would argue that any verse that is specifically mentioned in the Quran cannot be considered to be ‘negotiable’.
On the basis of her claim that Quranic verses that deal with mu‘amilat can be changed or negotiated, if the changed context so demands in order to remain true to the Quranic principle of justice—a claim for which she does not adduce any substantial evidence from within the Quran itself—Ahmad argues for a change in certain rules regarding legal relating to women, claiming that traditional understandings of these verses have lost their relevance in today’s context or that they do not properly reflect the intention of the Quran as she reads it.
One such contentious issue relates to women working out of their homes for a wage. The traditional fuqaha or Muslim jurisprudents allowed for this in only very extreme circumstances, but today in Malaysia Muslim women are to be found working in all sectors of the economy. Indeed, in many Malay families it is the wife that is the main bread-earner, and their families cannot manage with their income. Furthermore, Malay women are probably better educated, on the whole, than their men folk, as evidenced, for instance, by the fact that they outnumber Malay men in universities across the country. Given this, Ahmad argues, dominant notions of headship (qawwam) of the family need to be critiqued. Most male Muslim scholars rely on the following Quranic commandment to justify the claim that the family must remain under the authority of the husband:
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means (Quran 4:34).
Ahmad engages in her own exegesis of this verse, departing considerably from the dominant male-centric interpretation. She argues that the verse does not stipulate that all males are guardians or are preferred to or superior to or are responsible for all women. It is true, she writes, that in some circumstances, some men are financially responsible for some women, as the verse indicates, but in other contexts, such as with the case of many Malaysian families today, some women may be financially responsible for some men and also for their children. This indicates, she says, that the rule that men are solely responsible for the maintenance of women is not valid universally. Engaging in a contextual reading of the verse, she argues that the notion of males as guardians over females, owing, in part to the latter being financially dependent on the former, was a product of the particular spatio-temporal context in which the Quran was revealed and which it directly addressed. Since the context has vastly changed today, she says, the notion need not be consider binding any longer. It is a cultural assumption, geared to a particular historical context, not a religious assumption that is valid for all contexts.[10] Further, she argues, the assumption of male supremacy underlying dominant interpretations of qawwam as reflected in, for instance, traditional fiqh as well as in shariah law as it is officially administered in Malaysia, fails to reflect what she regards as the Quran’s intention that marriage should be characterized by companionship and compassion between the spouses, without any element of hierarchy.[11]
Ahmad engages in a similar contextual exegesis on the question of Muslim women’s dress. Since the 1970s, as a result of the influence of various dakwah or Islamic movements, growing numbers of Malay women have taken to what is widely seen as ‘Islamic’ dress, including the tudong or head-covering. Some even wear gloves and stockings and a few cover their entire face, too. Women not wearing what is regarded as ‘Islamic’ dress are often looked down upon ‘Westernised’ and as not truly ‘Islamic’. Interestingly, no such prejudices apply to Muslim men’s dress. As in many other Muslim contexts, ‘Islamic dress’ for women has become a symbol for Muslim community identity in Malaysia.
Ahmad critiques the notion of a single, prescribed ‘Islamic’ dress, one that must be imposed on women even against their will. What Islam says about women’s dress, she says, ‘is always mediated by humans and is mostly gendered.’ Further, she writes, Muslim women should be allowed to choose what to wear on their own free will, for, she quotes the Quran as saying, ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ (Quran 2:256). She claims that the purpose of the Quran in advising women to wear a cloak (jilbab) was not to conceal them, but, rather, ‘to render them visible, hence recognizable, as a way to protect women’, and in order to distinguish them from slave-women, who were routinely subjected to sexual abuse in pre-Islamic times.[12] Ahmad argues that the notion that Muslim women alone must bear the responsibility of maintaining and publicly expressing Islamic identity by wearing ‘Islamic’ dress is deeply problematic. This is something that must be shared by both males and females alike. She critiques those who insist that ‘Islamic’ dress for women is essential in order to preserve their ‘modesty’ for not applying the same standards with regard to the need for Muslim males, too, to preserve their ‘modesty’ through appropriate sartorial codes. Further, while she does not appear to argue against the notion of ‘modest’ dress, whether for women or men, Ahmad points out that the widely-held assumption that seventh century Arabian dress is alone what is ‘Islamic’ is deeply problematic.[13]
Ahmad argues that numerous laws in effect in Malaysia (and other countries) today that negatively impact on Muslim women are a product of traditional fiqh, which was largely a male product. Critiquing the tendency to equate fiqh, or what can be called the historical shariah, with the Divine shariah, she suggests that fiqh, being a human construct, a product of human reflection or ijtihad on the Quran and the Sunnah, can err. If it violates the basic aim of the Quran, which is justice, it can, indeed must, be suitably modified. The fuqaha of the fiqh schools were products of their own age, and it was inevitable that their opinions were influenced by the cultural, social, economic and political conditions of their times, including the fact of deep-rooted patriarchy. Some of them even changed their opinions on particular matters in the face of changed circumstances, thus suggesting that fiqh is not something stagnant, but, rather, can change as a result of changed conditions and demands.[14] In order that fiqh respond creatively to the modern context, therefore, it is necessary to re-think fiqh in today’s context, keeping in mind the vast transformations in gender relations, women’s educational and economic status and the compelling need for gender justice and equity.[15]
Not unexpectedly, Ahmad is bitterly critical of political and religious authorities who defend the application of several traditional fiqh prescriptions in the matter of family laws in the name of the shariah that, in her view, circumscribe, and even negate, what she regards as the Quranic stress on gender justice and equality. In this regard, Ahmad berates these authorities for turning down proposals to include marital rape as a punishable crime, accept women as shariah court judges, remove gender-biased clauses in the hudud laws, remove the male monopoly on declaring divorce, amend laws that require wives to submit to their husband’s sexual demands against their will and maintenance on being arbitrarily accused of being disobedient to their husbands, arguing that their stance represents a blind adherence to traditional fiqh, a human and historical product, in the name of upholding the Divine shariah. She notes with dismay that because of this unwarranted conflation between fiqh and shariah or Islam itself, any voicing of criticism of fiqh can easily be branded as ‘heresy’, and even as ‘apostasy’, a punishable crime in many Muslim-majority countries.[16] This thus is one of the biggest challenges facing the women’s movement in Muslim countries, she suggests.
While she reluctantly notes certain positive legislation in this regard that has sought to improve Muslim women’s legal status in several countries, she argues that the reform has not gone far enough. Once reason for this is because of methodological narrowness, with such reform being limited largely to borrowing from other Sunni jurisprudential schools in certain matters, which is hardly the ‘paradigm shift in the notion of rights’ that she advocates.[17] What she asks for is something much wider, not just in terms of substantive law, but, more than that, in legal methodology that would produce what she regards as a contextually-relevant ‘gender-based fiqh’ , a product of a gender-sensitive Quranic exegesis, guided by the underlying notions of equality and justice in the Quran as well as by feminist theory.[18]
Ahmad recognises that the gender-sensitive tafsir and fiqh that she calls for will not be easily accepted by traditionalist ulema as well as doctrinaire Islamists, who, finding these contrary to their understandings of the Islamic sources, may well consider them heretical. This is an issue related to the fundamental question of Islamic religious authority. Traditionalist ulema claim to have the sole authority to interpret Islam, but, Ahmad argues, Islam does not have any room for a priestly class that can monopolise religious interpretation and authority. Being human beings, the ulema, too, are liable to err and are not, in any way, infallible. Ahmad appears to controversially suggest that, contrary to what most traditional ulema would argue, every Muslim, male or female, has the right to interpret Islam based on a reasonably good understanding of its sources. ‘One succeeds on sound grounds, not on one’s calling’, she says in this regard.[19]

[1] Salbiah Ahmad, Critical Thoughts on Islam, Rights and Freedom in Malaysia, Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Petaling Jaya, 2007,, p.240.
[2] Ibid., p.3.
[3] Ibid., p.3.
[4] Ibid., p.69.
[5] Ibid., p.58.
[6] Ibid., p.69.
[7] Ibid., p.4.
[8] Ibid., p.20.
[9] Ibid., p.4.
[10] Ibid., p.5.
[11] Ibid., p.21.
[12] Ibid., p.9.
[13] Ibid., p.54.
[14] Ahmad cites the case of Imam Shafi’i who varied his juristic opinions on some matters when he moved from Iraq to Egypt because of the differences ion the conditions and contexts of the two societies. If Imam Shafi’i could there by alter his fiqhi opinions, Ahmad says, ‘it is inconceivable that this reasoning becomes unavailable today on the basis of “settled juristic opinion”’ (Ibid., p.250).
[15] Ibid., p.229.
[16] Ibid., p.249.
[17] Ibid., p.71.
[18] Ibid., p.71.
[19] Ibid., p.233. In this regard, Ahmad cites the case of a Muslim woman who rebuked the Caliph Umar for exhorting Muslim men to pay small dowries as mahr to their wives. The woman argued that the Caliph’s opinion in this regard went against that of the Prophet. The Caliph admitted the woman was right.