Moyra Dale offers a brief lecture on the various approaches of Muslim women in the Qur’an.


 Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Moyra Dale Lecture: The Qur’an and Muslim Women


This week, we’re going to look at some of the texts that shape the lives of Muslim women. What the texts are, what’s actually written about them, and how much authority they have in the lives of women. Well, we’re going to look first of all at the Quran and the hadith, but you just need to be aware that there are sometimes also local volumes that are significant. In a lot of Muslim book shops, you’ll find a book called The Ideal Muslimah or Female Muslim that talks about all the duties, the rights, the roles, the responsibilities of Muslim women, what she needs to live a proper pious life. And for Muslim women in the Indian subcontinent, maybe the book that most shapes their lives is the Bahashti Ziwar, which is translated as heavenly ornaments.


It’s often given to a new bride as soon as she gets married. And again, that unpacks all the rulings and sayings about Muslim women. And, so if you’re talking to women from that kind of area, you need to know what’s in that book and what it means for them. But all those books still fundamentally go back to 2 sources, the Quran and the traditions. And today, we’re going to focus a little bit on the Quran, and what’s written for women in the Quran.


But first, perhaps it’s good to ask, how much authority does the Quran have and how much does the Hadith have? Well, there’s different schools of opinion. El Ghazali, who’s perhaps the greatest Muslim scholar, medieval teacher says, God has but one word which differs only in how he expresses it. On occasions, he indicates his word by the Quran, on others by words in another style not publicly recited and called the prophetic tradition, but both are mediated by the prophet. They’re equally authoritative.


Amina Wadud, who’s an African American Muslim scholar, she holds the primacy of the Quran higher. She says, while I accept the role of a prophet, both with regard to revelation as understood in Islam and the development of Islamic law on the basis of his practices, I place greater significance on the Quran. This fits with the understanding of Quranic preservation versus historical contradictions that exist within the hadith literature or the traditions. As well as authority, we have to ask how the texts are translated. So one writer says, a Muslim woman ought to wear the hijab, cover her whole body except her face or hands.


So if you say that, or if you say it’s immodest for a woman to reveal her hair, all these assertions about modesty rely on reference to a set of Quranic verses, a set of prophetic traditions or hadith, reports about the companions, and most importantly, the cumulative juristic or scholarly efforts in selecting, preserving, and giving meaning to these textual sources, how they’ve been interpreted over the years. And even then, there can be regional and individual differences in interpretation with the different schools of law. So in Medina, a woman wasn’t allowed to contract a marriage, but had to be given by her guardian. Whereas if a woman lived in Kufa, she could she had the right to contract her own marriage. One judge ruled that Koranic injunction to make a fair provision for divorced wives was legally binding.


Another judge was ruled that it was only directed at the husband’s conscience and carried no legal weight. So different modes of interpretation had quite significant differences in fallout in the lives of women. Now let’s start looking at what the verses actually say in the Quran about women. And you’ve been given a couple of tables to look at. The first looks at women in the Quran in terms of topical subjects, the value of daughters versus to treat men and women as the same versus to treat them differently.


Verses about hijab, divorce, adultery, polygamy, paradise, marriage, honoring parents. And then in there’s, of course, the chapter of the Quran, chapter 4, Anissa, which is the surah of women. That’s how its name translates. And the first 36 or 43 verses, and then from, say, a 124 to a 130, are some of the most significant verses written about Muslim women. And I’ve asked you to look at some of those and interact with them in the forum.


Another way of understanding what the Quran teaches about women is to look at the different women who are talked about in the Quran. And again, you’ve got a table unpacking some of those. In 1 chapter 66, there’s Noah and Lot are examples of warning, and Pharaoh’s wife and Jesus’ mother mother Mary are examples of women who should be emulated. In fact, one writer says the whole theme of chapter 66 is female rebellion in a prophet’s household and its punishment. Obviously, Mohammed was having problems at the time.


So there are also references to Adam and his wife. And it’s interesting asking in the quranic version, who was the one who was tempted to sin? That might be worth looking up. The wives of Noah and Lot get a few mentions. The women of Abraham, Sarah gets a lot written about her.


In the Koranic understanding, Sarah was the first to believe in her husband’s mission in Abraham as prophet together with Lot, his cousin or nephew. And so Muslims, or at least Muhammad, saw them as a kind of model for Muhammad, his first wife Khadija and his nephew Ali, who then became his son-in-law, were his first converts. Then there’s a little bit about Hagar. Not much at all in the Quran, a whole lot more in the traditions. Potiphar’s wife, who’s not named in the Quran, but he’s very well known in the traditions as, Moses and the women around him, the queen of Sheba, Bilquis, the mother of the wife of Zechariah, mother of John or Yahya, and then a whole lot about Mary, the mother of Jesus.


One question that’s debated by Muslims is whether Mary was actually a prophet or not. Some people say, yes, she’s like a prophet. She’s the only woman who’s given a name in the Quran. There’s a whole lot of women described, but none of them are named in the Quran with the exception of Mary. And there’s a whole chapter of the Quran, chapter 19, named after her.


She’s included in the list of prophets in surah 21 and, described as among the special people because angels spoke to them. Others, however, reject that and say she can’t be a prophet because in chapter 12 verse a 109, chapter 16 verse 43, prophets can only be men and because of the need for a prophet to have physical purity. Some see her as a man because they say among women are some who are perfect and knowledgeable and who attain the standard of men. They’re in a real sense men. And there was one intriguing mystic, Ibn al Arbi, a 12th century Sunni Muslim who taught that now try and get your head around this.


I’ll say it slowly. Adam was really the first female for Eve was born from his inside. Adam was the first female because Eve was born from his inside, an act which was repeated by the second Adam who is Mary in generating Jesus. Some interesting teaching around the person of Mary, and she’s revered by Muslims. And then lastly, there’s a number of references to Muhammad’s wives known as mothers of the believers in chapters 33, a whole lot in that chapter.


And I’ve given you the references, chapter 24, chapter 66. That’s a quick overview of some of the women who are described in the Quran, some of the issues that have to do with women and women’s lives and we’ll be exploring that more in the forum. Our next session will take us to look at how women are talked about in the hadith or the traditions.