Some Critical Fact-Finding Reflections on Riffat Hassan's
"Women in Muslim Culture: Some Critical Theological Reflections"

A Qur'an-only Feminist
by Sh. G. F. Haddad

One of the objectives of anti-Muslim crusaders is to promote the dismantlement of the Sunna as the second source of Islam so as to clear the field and improve chances in the onslaught on the Qur'an. In this effort they readily collaborate with the stray sects such as the "Qur'an-only" that originate in India and Pakistan. If one of the latter happens to be a feminist then so much the better. This is the case with Ms. Riffat Hassan, author of "Women in Muslim Culture: Some Critical Theological Reflections," one of the essays in _Muslim-Christian Dialogue: Promise and Problems_, edited by M. Darrol Bryant and S.A. Ali at Paragon House. (The "promise" in the title apparently encourages the Christians while the "problems" apparently plague the Muslims.)

Riffat Hassan's writing is a string of superficial indictments and factual inaccuracies. It is disturbing that she casts herself as a defender of Muslim women's rights. From the start, her bombastic outrage reads like the caricature of a feminist. "The Islamic tradition has, by and large, remained strongly patriarchal until today.... Until now the majority of Muslim women, who have been kept for centuries in physical, mental and emotional bondage, have accepted this situation passively." Such poor writing evidently appeals to certain presses but it is definitely not the stuff of truth and right on behalf of the weak and the oppressed.

She finds the rate of literacy of Muslim women, "especially those who live in rural areas where most of the population live ... amongst the lowest in the world." It is probably truer that the poor rural Muslim woman on average lives in better material conditions than her non-Muslim counterpart.

She claims that "Muslims, in general, consider it a self-evident truth that women are not equal to men." The answer is, Islam is one thing, Muslims another - as every convert will tell you. Islam questions such chauvinism more critically and consistently than Christianity and Judaism. However, Ms. Hassan's problem is not so much with Muslims but with Islam itself.

"Among the 'arguments'," she says, "used to overwhelm any proponent of gender equality, the following are perhaps the most popular: that according to the Qur'an, men are qawwamun (generally translated as "rulers" or "managers") in relation to women." I checked. Of Pickthall, Yusuf Ali, Palmer, and Dawood, none translates qawwamun as "rulers" or "managers".

"According to the Qur'an, a man's share in inheritance is twice that of a woman." This is because a Muslim man goes through life obligated to spend on his dependents and others while a Muslim woman goes through life without any such obligation.

"According to the Qur'an, the witness of one man is equal to that of two women." In certain spheres only. In other spheres, their witness is equal. This is an example where the Sunna is indispensable - for Ms. Hassan's own benefit - to expound the Qur'an.

"According to the Prophet, women are deficient both in prayer... and in intellect." But the "deficiency in prayer" is purely quantitative - no daily prayers during menses - like saying their bodies weigh less. For the "deficiency in intellect" read unconcern for ratiocination, while men are deficient in intuition. So was each created.

Ms. Hassan, a Pakistani, praises herself as "the only Muslim woman in the country who had been engaged in a study of women's issues from a nonpatriarchal, theological perspective." In other words, by a free-wheeling self-teaching method naturally cut off from stodgy, patriarchal Islamic tradition. The fruits of such study on display in her article are less than impressive.

Take, for example, her "three theological assumptions on which the superstructure of men's alleged superiority to women has been erected... 1) that God's primary creation is man, not woman, since woman is believed to have been created from man's rib, hence is derivative and secondary ontologically."

Is this assumption not reversed for all time with the first child born of a woman and so until the end of time? Hence Allah commands respect of the wombs second only to Himself. Furthermore, Allah explicitly minimizes the creation of Mankind in the Qur'an in comparison to the cosmos, not to mention the Throne. The above reasoning is therefore false and its premise weak.

"2) that woman, not man, was the primary agent of what is generally referred to as 'Man's Fall' or man's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, hence 'all daughters of Eve' are to be regarded with hatred, suspicion and contempt"

This is the reading in Judeo-Christianity exclusively. In the Qur'an, the responsible party is identified time and again as Adam, upon him peace. Nor do expressions such as "daughters of Eve" have any place in Islam.

"and 3) that woman was created not only from man but also for man, which makes her existence merely instrumental and not fundamental."

If this were true it would follow that she is unaccountable, which is not the case. On the contrary, the utilitarian aspect is reciprocal as explicited by the Qur'an and not a unilateral proposition as misrepresented above. Man and woman's existence are both instrumental to each other and fundamental in themselves.

Ms. Hassan calls the creation of Eve from Adam's rib a "myth... obviously rooted in the Yahwist's account of creation in Genesis." "It has no basis whatever in the Qur'an, which describes the creation of humanity in completely egalitarian terms."

It is true that the Qur'an describes the creation of humanity in egalitarian terms but untrue that the creation of Eve from Adam has no basis in the Qur'an. The basis is the verse { O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women.} 4:1. So the Qur'an speaks very clearly of the creation of a single soul, then from it its mate, then from the couple a multitude.

As for the "Adam's rib" hadiths in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim "which Sunni Muslims [rightly] regard as the two most authoritative Hadith collections, whose authority is exceeded only by the Qur'an," these hadiths have ironclad chains of transmission. It is not only unlikely but simply impossible for a hadith master today to declare any of them weak, let alone someone, such as Ms. Hassan, who is devoid of even a student's qualification in hadith. Yet she rules - without the least basis - their chains of transmission to be weak and avers that their content contradicts the Qur'an when it is in fact supported by verse 4:1!

Hence none of those hadiths, contrary to Ms. Hassan's wild assumptions, are questioned by the scholars as contradicting the Qur'an at all. To insist that they do is to bury one's head in the sand and complain that the night lingers for too long. And this is precisely what she does: Why do these hadiths "still continue" - in her words - "to be a part of the Islamic tradition"? She concludes: "This is due certainly, in significant measure, to the fact that they are included in the Hadith collections by Muhammad ibn Isma'il al Bukhari (810-70) and Muslim bin al-Hallaj." [sic]

Ms. Hassan continues on her myth-debunking quest, "There is, strictly speaking, no 'Fall' in the Qur'an." But the Fall of Adam, Eve, and Satan from Paradise is mentioned in five verses in the Qur'an: 2:36, 2:38, 7:13, 7:24, 20:123.

Muslims rely on hadiths to "vent their misogynistic feelings," hadiths such as: The Prophet said, "After me I have not left any affliction more harmful to men than women." But did not Allah Most High also say: { O ye who believe! Lo! among your wives and your children there are enemies for you, therefore beware of them.... Your wealth and your children are only an affliction} (Qur'an 64:14-15)?

Of course the famous hadith of the female dwellers of Hell is brought up in which the Prophet ﷺ said: "I had a chance to look into Paradise and found that the majority of the people were poor; I looked into the Fire and there I found the majority constituted by women." She leaves out the continuation which states: "women who were ungrateful. They are ungrateful to their husbands and are ungrateful for the favors and the good done to them. If you have always been good to one of them and then she sees something in you not to her liking, she will say, 'I have never received any good from you."

The context of this authentic hadith is never misogyny but the blame of avarice and ingratitude as the Prophet ﷺ was addressing a group of Muslim women clad in gold jewelry while he was encouraging them to participate in jihad with their financial support. The hadith actually begins, "Give alms!"

Another hadith is cited in which the Prophet ﷺ said: "The world is sweet and green (alluring) and verily Allah is going to install you as viceregent in it in order to see how you act. So avoid the allurement of women: verily, the first trial for the people of Isra'il was caused by women."

The continuation of this hadith in Musnad Ahmad was not cited. It states:

"The Prophet ﷺ then told the story of three Israelite women. Two were tall and noticed, the third was short and went unnoticed. She took to wearing wooden high heels and a ring she stuffed with the best and most fragrant musk. Whenever she passed by a group or a gathering she would open it and let its fragrance exude."

Ms. Hassan then adduces the Qur'anic verses that mention men as the "Qawwamun" of women (4:34) and men's "degree of advantage" over them (2:228).
She cites their popular interpretations as examples, similar to the use of hadith in her view, for sexist promotions of "the alleged superiority of men to women which permeates the Islamic tradition."

She does not seem to know that that very tradition identifies the context in each of these two verses as denoting superiority of men in *maintenance* and *financial responsibility*. Imam al-Sha╩┐rani said, "If the man does not work and support his wife then he loses that degree."

She complains that "It is difficult to overstate the negative impact which the popular Muslim understanding of the above verse has had on the lives of Muslim women." If even an educated Muslim misunderstanding of the Qur'an such as her own article has a negative impact, then why expect any better of popular misunderstandings?
The Qur'an was sent for understanding, not ignorance nor manipulation.

Ms. Hassan then switches back to a hadith which, she claims, "is often cited to elevate man to the status of majazi khuda (god in earthly form)." Majazi means figurative or metaphorical. But it can easily be seen that there is nothing in the hadith to suggest such a pagan incarnation even metaphorically.

The hadith in question is: "If it were permitted for one human being to prostrate to another I would have ordered the woman to prostrate to her husband." This is an authentic hadith narrated from over ten Companions from the Holy Prophet ﷺ . No misinterpretation, however misconceived, can change that fact.

Yet Riffat Hassan protests noisily: "A faith as rigidly monotheistic as Islam which makes shirk or association of anyone with God the one unforgivable sin, cannot conceivably permit any human being to worship anyone but God"! But the hadith of prostration is not about worship. Nor are the verses of Yusuf's brothers' prostration to him, nor those of the prostration of the angels to Adam.

Hassan continues: "This hadith makes it appear that if not God's, it was the Prophet's wish to make the wife prostrate herself before her husband. ... How such a hadith could be attributed to the Prophet who regarded the principle of Tauhid (Oneness of God) as the basis of Islam, is, of course, utterly shocking."

Unless Riffat Hassan is more knowing of the wish of God than His Prophet, it remains clear that the Prophet ﷺ was speaking of respect precisely in light of God's Law despite her own implicit protestation of knowing better. Yet, to this observer at least, it is clear that Ms. Hassan has a problem with the Qur'an regardless of the Hadith. The Hadith is only used as a scapegoat, { while that which their breasts hide is greater} .

What is "shocking" is Hassan's unfamiliarity with the explanations of the verses and hadiths she brings up. One looks in vain for even rebel originality behind her solipsisms - "in my view" and "in my judgment." What views and what judgments? To make up for an underaverage grounding in the sources and methodologies of Islam?

Such writers are at home mostly away from the serious study and service of Islam and Muslims. They are unexceptional accidental Muslims in the pursuit of originality in places where one-eyed opinions about Islam can still be king. They slap together some career with marketable rewordings for successful trends, such as "the importance of developing what the West calls 'feminist theology' in the context of the Islamic tradition is paramount today in order to liberate not only Muslim women, but also Muslim men, from unjust structures and systems of thought which make a peer relationship between men and women impossible.... Such participation is imperative if Qur'anic Islam is to emerge in Muslim societies and communities."

What about the brave Muslim women of learning and piety who have been fighting for Qur'an and Sunna Islam to emerge in Muslim AND non-Muslim societies? Did they all miss the point? Or are they all traitors? The writer of "Women in Muslim Culture" should have shown far more familiarity with the history in her own title and less indulgence in facile phrases. She should be ashamed of her protestations of justice in light of her unrelenting misrepresentations of the Qur'an and Sunna.

Wala hawla wala quwwata illa bilLah.

Hajj Gibril
GF Haddad ©

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latest update: Wed, 7 Jan 2009


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