Printer Friendly

A faith of their own: Muslim women seek the renewal of Islam.

On straw mats in a two-room building in the bustling I city of Pudukkottai in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu, a band of about 30 Muslim women in animated debate are making history. Dieing through tales of marital woes and family travails, streams of tears mixing with belly laughter, they could be extras in a Dixie Chicks music video.

Instead, they are part of a radical new generation of "law breakers" in the Muslim world: women who are challenging laws written in the name of Islam by men. And they offer many people hope for realizing social justice, human fights, and even political reform in the Muslim world.

From Tamil Nadu to Toledo, Ohio, women scholars, activists, and community leaders--and the men who support them--are challenging traditional interpretations of Islamic law by going back to the four cornerstones of the law: the Quran (the holy book of Islam), the Sunnah (the traditions and sayings of the prophet), ijma' (consensus of scholars), and qiyas (analogical deductions from the three).

In Barcelona, Spain, this past November, 10 Muslim women took to the dais for the second Congress on Islamic Feminism, this one focusing on the implementation of sharia (Islamic law) on matters related to family law. From Indonesia, activist Lily Munir, a Dr. Ruth of the Muslim world with straight talk about sex, challenged Islamic polygamy laws that allow men to have more than one wife. Off stage, Sudanese scholar Balghis Badri huddled with Tunisian scholar Amel Grami over how to effectively challenge the notion that Islamic law requires head coverings, or hijab.

Later that month, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Muslim women activists and politicians won passage of the "Women's Protection Bill," making rape a civil crime and rejecting laws written in the name of Islam that punished even rape victims for immorality. Not long after, in December, about 100 women from around the world descended upon the Westin at Times Square in New York City to create an international all-women shura, or council which organizers called the first of its kind in the world--to issue Islamic rulings on personal disputes.

The women from Tamil Nadu had sent their leader to the New York summit: Sharifa Khanam, director of a nonprofit women's rights organization called STEPS. Not long ago, tired of sexist judicial rulings from male-only jamaats (gatherings) that met in mosques in which women weren't allowed to enter, Khanam created a women's jamaat. Now, women emerge from their houses in the pre-dawn to ride for hours from their villages to adjudicate disputes based on progressive interpretations of Islamic law. They eagerly listened to Khanam's report from New York City, enjoying the Hershey Kisses she packed for them.

IN THIS EFFORT, women are wrestling with laws created in the name of Islam by men, specifically eight men. The Muslim world of the 21st century is largely defined by eight madhhabs, or Islamic schools of jurisprudence, with narrow rulings on everything from criminal law to family law. But the first centuries of Islam's 1,400-year history were quite different, characterized by numerous schools of jurisprudence, many of them progressive and women-friendly. These schools govern the way Muslim communities define themselves, from criminal law to family law. Yet, the schools surviving into the 21st century have largely failed in giving the Muslim world a moral and ethical compass with which to realize the highest principles of Islamic teachings of compassion, justice, women's rights, and tolerance.

The efforts of women reformers underscore a deeper point: In much the same way that the Catholic Church saw the Second Vatican Council in 1962-65, it is time for a new school of jurisprudence for the Muslim world of the 21st century. Unlike the personality-driven male schools that have defined Islam for centuries, this school of compassion, social justice, women's rights, and tolerance is being sown by women from the ground up starting in places such as Tamil Nadu, India.

Asra Q. Nomani is the author of Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).
COPYRIGHT 2007 Sojourners
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:REFORM
Author:Nomani, Asra Q.
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Previous Article:Dying for a diamond? 'Blood diamonds' still fuel conflict.
Next Article:Big is beautiful? The World Bank's top-down approach.

Related Articles
WHO Is That Veiled Woman?
Forgotten Fruit of the City: Chicago and the Moorish Science Temple of America.
Invisible women: Therese Saliba says Arab and Muslim women are still left out of feminist and racial consciousness. (A New Era).
Ambassadors of Islam: after Sept. 11, a young generation of Arab Muslim women finds liberation in religious observance.
EGYPT - The MB/Hizb ut-Tahrir Doctrine.
Islam and Feminism: Are the Barriers Coming Down?
The path of Allah: perhaps, few concepts are more misunderstood in the world than those of Islam, which shares a common heritage with Judaism and...
Internal conflict: the delegates at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Malaysia in 2003 agreed on at least one thing: that the...
Seeking some middle ground: can Muslims and non-Muslims live peacefully and quietly side by side in a secular society such as ours?

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters