WITH REGARDS TO the scholars mentioned in Part 2 whose opinions on women come off as less than savory, we do recognize that these men were no doubt righteous Muslims and individuals who spent a great deal of their time studying the Dîn, who certainly considered themselves as seeking to live according to the Sunnah and to guide others accordingly; we pray that Allah will reward them for their good and forgive them for their mistakes.

However, this does not mean that we should acquiesce in their problematic statements and the (negative) impact that those attitudes have had on the rest of the Ummah at large.

It should further be noted that those who try to deny any kind of male bias in Islamic scholarship also say that the issues which Muslims have regarding gender relations are a product of corrupt outside influences, and that in the past, those issues did not exist because the Muslims had a near-utopian society. Yet when one considers some of the greatest gender- and sex-related crimes that are extant today – fornication, adultery, lack of physical modesty, homosexuality, and so on – those same issues existed even in the greatest Islamic era of all time: The Prophetic time period when he was the leader of the Islamic Empire and lived with his Companions in Madinat Al-Munawwarah.

Even then there were Sahabah, both male and female, who were convicted of adultery; slave women were bought, sold, and walked the streets dressed in not much more than what we in the West see on an average summer’s day. There were Sahabah who were known to be violent towards women and were warned against such behavior by the Prophet himself. There were Sahabah who were punished for being alcoholics, for theft, and more.

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These were all human issues and impulses; even the Prophet’s society of Madinah was not free of these matters. Thus, it is absolute nonsense to say that misogyny –-or any other kind of prejudicial mentality, such as racism or classism   [*]   — did not exist amongst Muslims up until recently.

Their mere acceptance of Islam, understanding its theology, and performing certain religious acts of worship does not, in and of itself, change or purify people and society radically.  The embrace of Islam must be accompanied by a spiritual overhaul of mentality and behavior, which can only happen when one is willing to be honest with their own internal biases. Anything less than that results in both denial and arrogance — which is a potent and dangerous combination… and one of Shayân’s greatest tools.

Does this mean, however, that we are implying that Islamic scholarship was anti-women? Or that these men had a specific misogynistic agenda?

Not at all. Many of those same scholars made statements that affirmed women’s Islamic rights in various other aspects of life: We are not denying this at all. But does this mean that just because Scholar A said this good thing about women, that we will accept his other negative statements about women without question or critique? This is where we must be discerning and honest about our scholars and our scholarship:  Of course, they were not all bad, they did not all hate women or consciously try to destroy women’s lives –but they were not completely perfect or infallible either.

Their bias existed –perhaps for cultural reasons– to an extent that their personal opinion regarding women’s “inherent” inferiority and lack of “commitment to the Commands of Allah” became a part of their commentary on the Divine Verses themselves. Frankly, it is dangerous and disingenuous to deny a complete lack of bias, as all of us operate under some sort of bias.

Their bias was not one where they sought to harm women, but one where what they perceived to be ‘good’ and ‘correct’ was not a perception that took into consideration what women themselves perceived to be good or correct, especially about themselves.  Nor, in cases such as female circumcision, did their judgment always match up with what the Prophet ﷺ considered as good for women – such as their sexual satisfaction. [†]

And their perception of what was ‘good’ was similarly not necessarily in line with what we know to be from the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah. While we tend to have much higher standards today in terms of what evidence we quote, there were individuals such as Al-Ghazâli who were very liberal in the use of weak and fabricated aâdîth, and saw no problem in using non-religiously-based proverbs and sayings to bolster the arguments of previous scholars.

One example of how female reality can oppose male (scholarly) perception is in an anecdote regarding the great scholar, Al-Shaykhah Al-Muftiyyah Fâṭimah bint ʿAbbâs Al-Baghdâdiyyah. She used to debate with the ʿulamâ’ of her time, the majority of whom were men. One such debate was with Shaykh Sadr Al-Dîn ibn Al-Wakîl, on the topic of ay (menstruation). She won the debate, and she said to him, “You know about this only from the knowledge (of the books), but I know it from that knowledge and also in practice!”

In this anecdote there is a rare – but extremely relevant – example of how Islamic scholarship is incomplete –and potentially inaccurate– without the active involvement of female scholars themselves. Without women to speak of their own lived realities, how can one come to truly judicious rulings regarding those matters which affect their lives on an almost daily basis – whether this is with regards to menstruation or with their sex lives?

To be continued, inshaAllah….


[*]   In fact, there are quotes from classical Islamic scholars demonstrating what, today, would be considered abominable racism. To illustrate:

…For what his community owns exceeded the bounds of tribes both East and West, and his call (daʿwah) spread in the middle of the earth, such as the third and fourth and fifth regions; because they are more complete in intellect, and morals, and have more even temperaments, in opposition to the northern and southern climes, for those people’s brains and morals are lower/deficient, and their temperaments are deviated.

As for the southern edge/clime, for it is by the strength of the heat that their “akhlâ” (mixes) were burnt, and so their color blackened, and their hair curled.

And as for the people of the northern edge/clime, the excessively cold weather did not ripen their “akhlâ” (humors), hence, those humors became crude (fajja), which caused their hair to be exceedingly straight and their skin-color unseemly white.  http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?idfrom=18&idto=18&bk_no=111&ID=22

[†] http://insideislam.wisc.edu/2011/02/the-truth-about-islam-and-female-circumcision/

Zainab bint Younus

Zainab bint Younus is a Canadian Muslimah who has been active in grassroots da'wah and writing about Islam and the Ummah for the last nine years. She was first published in al-Ameen Newspaper (Vancouver, Canada) at the age of 14, became a co-founder, editor, and writer for MuslimMatters.org at 16; and began writing regularly for SISTERS Magazine at the age of 19 until today. She also blogs regularly at The Salafi Feminist

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