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12/11/2005 Archived Entry: "comment on tappinginto Islam"

From the ifeminists.net front page newsfeed (12/11/05):
Tapping Islam's feminist roots
Source: Seattle Times
"Several months ago, when a group of Spanish Muslims approached city officials here about sponsoring a conference on Islamic feminism, one responded, 'Isn't that an oxymoron?'" [Ed.: I wish I had enough knowledge of Islam to answer this question to my own satisfaction.] (12/10/05)

A reader comments,

I saw your editorial note on "Tapping Islam's feminist roots", I'm certainly in no position to answer that definitvely either, but from my reading, there's plenty of ground for further investigation. Muhammad worked for a woman who owned and operated some of the caravans that operated between Mecca and Syria, and between Mecca and Aden. This was part of the trade between the Mediterranean and China, so we are talking big dinars here. He was entrusted with managing several of her caravans into Syria. So I don't think you can argue that Muhammad thought that women shouldn't be running businesses. (I wonder if that point was raised in the recent elections for the Jedda Chamber of Commerce, which elected two women?)

Not only did he later marry her, but she proposed to him, and he accepted. This is, of course, Khadija bint Khuwailid, his first wife, who later funded some of his religious activites. Muhammad also set forth in the Koran a lot of law, including business and family law. While maybe not a modern feminist ideal, he gave women legal backing far more advanced that the laws of Arabia of the day. See Sir John Glubb, The Life and Times of Muhammad, for more details.

In the article, the key is here: "But we are not anti-sharia (Islamic law) or anti-Islam. We use the fundamentals of Islamic thinking - the Koran, the Sunnah, or traditions and sayings of the prophet Muhammad, and ijtihad, or independent reasoning - to challenge the ways in which Islam has been distorted by sharia rulings issued mostly by ultraconservative men."

Ijtihad has come and gone over the years. It had a great deal of effect during the rise of western industrialism, with many muslim thinkers saying, "We had better study western ways if we are not to be completely subjected to western empires." A weak and completely corrupt sultanate didn't help, either. For a good overview of Islamic liberal thinkers of the period, Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939, Cambridge Uiversity Press, 1962, 1983.

I think the current rise of fundamentalism involves a major rejection of ijtihad, at least judging from descriptions of the madrassas of Pakistan and Afghanistan and the Wahabbist schools I have seen. It's all rote bloody memorization, with no critical thought. In the lack of critical thought, they're just like American government schools.

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