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Irrespective of the fact that ḥudūd is mainly inapplicable to non-Muslims, Ramadan suggests that the afore-mentioned proposed dialogue must not exclude contributions from non-Muslim intellectuals or citizens, and that ‘… all parties must learn to decentre themselves and move towards listening to the other, to the other’s points of reference, logic and their aspiration’ (Ramadan, 2005, para. 31). He further adds that Muslims all over the world should ‘refuse the formalist legitimization of the teachings of their religion and reconcile themselves with the deep message that invites towards spirituality, demands education, justice and the respect of pluralism’ (Ramadan, 2005, para. 38). Hypothetically, should the plan to form a unified approach to ḥudūd fail to materialize, Muslim scholars will have no choice but to rely on pluralist interpretations and formalizations of the penal code. Despite Ramadan’s proposition seeming to read in somewhat allusive terms, it is possible to glean that it is more of an
rather than an attempt to reconsider its implementation. Admittedly, to question whether Muslims can dispense with (rather than just suspend) the penalties of ḥudūd, particularly those that find their origin in the Qur’an and Sunna, in favor of punishments that are more consistent with the universal human rights may risk being perceived as suggesting tampering with “the word of God”. This seems to be the main reason for Ramadan’s cautiousness in expressing his opinions regarding certain moral issues in Islam, considering his position as a “mediator” between Europe and the Muslim world.
Although Ramadan does not discuss moral issues in Islam in the same detailed way as al-Qaradawi does (e.g., with extensive references to the Qur’an and Sunna), he conveys the same message that is embedded in al-Qaradawi’s verdicts: God, who knows better than His creations what is good and what is bad for them, ‘… points out limits and rules [pertaining to ḥalāl and ḥarām], both global and precise, to encourage them [human beings] to live in accordance with His Will’ (Ramadan, 1999, p.70). The Swiss thinker clarifies that ‘… the responsibility of the true Believer is to follow it [the path of Islam prescribed by God] by making the appropriate choices to prevent himself from becoming a wrongdoer or allowing doubts to creep in’ (Ramadan, 1999. p.70).
Although his use of the expression “the true Believer” and his linking it to the duty of “following the Path of Islam by refraining from wrongdoings” may reveal a tacit effort at promoting a hierarchy of Muslim “authenticity” that places adherence to God’s Will at the top and straying from it at the bottom (which implicitly suggests that a Muslim who obeys God’s limits and rules is a “true” Muslim, and one who does not is “less of a Muslim”), Ramadan emphasizes that ‘the human being is free and has the choice [to decide whether or not they want to follow said path]’ with the Revelation as a means for
God is bad for [them]…’ (Ramadan, 1999. p.70).
Ramadan’s position discussed above is consistent with his “middle-road” opinion on homosexuality (one of the very few moral issues that he has discussed so far in his writings), which can be argued to be explicative of his overall thinking on the conflict between adherence to Islam’s limits and respect for European values (e.g., individual rights and freedom of choice, irrespective of Islam’s limits). In an article published on his website, the Swiss thinker - while maintaining that ‘homosexuality is forbidden in Islam’ (Ramadan, 2009, para. 3) - stresses that Muslims ‘must avoid condemning or rejecting’ homosexuals on the basis of their sexual orientations (Ramadan, 2009, para. 3), and that if a Muslim ‘engages in homosexual practices, no one has the right to drive him or her out of Islam’ (Ramadan, 2009, para. 3). Thus, as opposed to revisiting the illegality of homosexuality in Islam, Ramadan deals directly with the reshaping of Muslim thinking on said issue, which is consistent with his longstanding emphasis on the importance of distinguishing between Islam and Muslim thinking in the context of reform. While acknowledging the immutability of the Islamic prohibition of homosexuality, the scholar criticizes the tendency in the West to overdramatize the adverse impact of the traditional Muslim perception of homosexuality on the success of Muslim integration, ‘… as if European culture and values could be reduced to the simple fact of accepting homosexuality’ (Ramadan, 2009, p). From Ramadan’s position on homosexuality and “Muslim freedom” discussed thus far, one can glean several important points: First, Islamic prohibitions in the scholar’s reformist thinking remain universal, binding, and immutable; second, the Muslim has the freedom to choose whether or not to abide by Islamic commandments
responsibility of enjoining good and forbidding evil that is embedded within the notions of da’wa (proselytization) and shahāda (witness) discussed in Chapter 4, one can conclude preliminarily that said duty, in Ramadan’s thinking, is limited to only making others know of Islamic views on “evil” without the need to “forbid” them by imposing harsh laws and regulations that deny the Muslim’s freedom of choice.
6.3 Women in Islam Another important theme that occupies the forefront of the Islam-West debate is the oppression of women in Islam, as evidenced by their vulnerability to violence and discrimination in some parts of the Muslim world supposedly on the basis of their “weaker” gender in accordance with the Islamic tradition. A common denominator of the many issues that fall within this theme appears to be the elusive conceptual status of man and woman in Islam, embedded within which are two notions that have become the archetypal bases for divergence among Muslim scholars: Male “superiority”, and the role of women within and beyond the familial context. Muslim understandings of these two notions are constructed around a network of Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings that address individual and inter-dependent roles of man and woman both in a general sense and in the context of family and marriage. Two verses in the Qur’an stand out for their popularity in the Muslim discourse on the afore-mentioned notions, one dealing with the status of man over woman as expressed by the term “daraja” (literally understood as “degree”) in verse 228 of Chapter 2, and the other with God’s supposed preference for man as expressed by the term “faḍḍala” (literally understood as ‘preferred’) in verse 34 of Chapter 4.
‘… of course, men are a degree above them in status…’ (Mawdudi) The following interpretations of the term “faḍḍala” in verse 34 of Chapter 4
also show similar divergences (bold added for emphasis):
One can observe how each of these expressions carries a subtle meaning that either justifies or qualifies mainstream traditional Muslim understanding of the dynamics of relationship and power between man and woman. Practices such as polygamy, veiling obligation, lesser share of inheritance for women, and divorce by male repudiation can be shown to feed on scriptural evidence that vary in terms of
6.3.1 Al-Qaradawi on Women in Islam Al-Qaradawi’s understanding of the relationship between man and woman begins from the particularization of man as the “dominant” companion of woman and of woman as the “dependent” companion of man. His view here seems to be predicated on Qur’anic references that, according to the prevailing interpretation in the Muslim world, assign the female gender into traditional familial roles, such as “mothers, “daughters”, “wives”, “sisters”, all of which connote a degree of dependency on their men. The
scholar clarifies his opinion as follows (bold added for emphasis):
“Because of his natural ability and responsibility for providing for his
entitled to the obedience and co-operation of his wife, and accordingly it is not permissible her to rebel against authority, causing disruption.
Although his foundational belief above is clearly tied to the context of marriage, it can be shown to bear significantly on his broader thinking on Muslim women’s role in society. While he has been noted as a keen advocate for women’s rights in the political sphere, his view of women’s role in Islam remains resolutely traditional in many other areas, such as polygamy, divorce, veiling, and worship matters.
The intra-Muslim diversity surrounding the issue of polygamy reveals that differences of opinion occur at various exegetical levels: First, the context of the text
whether explicit or ambiguous); third, deductions from the context and the text (rationale and conclusion). The specific ruling on polygamy can be found in verse 3 of
Chapter 4 in the Qur’an:
At the contextual level, it is believed that this verse was revealed to Prophet Muhammad as a solution to a problematic gender ratio disproportion within the Muslim community following the dramatic loss of men in the Battle of Uhud in 625 C.E. (this was later exacerbated by further loss in the Battle of Trench in 627 C.E.). Given the societal context of the period, where men were primarily “providers”, the revelation on polygamy would presumably have served the practical purpose of protecting the orphaned and widowed women and rebuilding the Muslim community through proliferation of births. However, Muslim scholars over the following centuries extrapolated this context to a wider range of comparable cases.
Al-Qaradawi permits polygamy in the following three cases (this view is not uncommon among traditional Muslim scholars): First, the case of a woman unable to provide her husband with an offspring due to infertility, chronic illness, and other kinds of ailments; second, the case of a woman unable to meet her husband’s insatiable sexual needs due to minimal libido, chronic illness, prolonged menstruation and so on; third, the case of gender ratio disproportion where women outnumber men. The scholar
themselves that they become co-wives to a man instead of spending their entire lives without marriage, deprived of the peace, affection and protection of marital life and the joy of motherhood for which they naturally yearn with all their hearts’ (al-Qaradawi, 2003b, p.176). Observably, the first two cases mentioned above put the man’s interests at the center of importance, while the third seems to cater to the woman’s wellbeing.
The apparent partiality to men in this context is not without criticisms; Wadud (1999), for example, questions male Muslim scholars’ tendency to view polygamy as a solution to a man’s unbridled lust.
At the textual level, the notion of “justice” in verse 3 of chapter 4 highlighted earlier as one of the absolute conditions of polygamy (the other being the limit of marrying up to four wives at one time) is subject to varying definitions in Muslim thinking. Al-Qaradawi (2003b) believes that “equality” encompasses material support (e.g., food, drink, housing, clothing and expenses) as well as affection (e.g., the division of his time between them). He opines that the notion of “love” does not fall within the scope of “equality”, ‘… for equality in the division of love is beyond human capacity and any imbalance in this regard is forgiven by Allah Taala' (al-Qaradawi, 2003b, p.175). The scholar justifies this with the Qur’anic acknowledgment of man’s absolute
inability to be just:
polygamy should hardly be realizable due to the fact that equality of love is unattainable in such form of union (Wadud, 1999). It is also worth mentioning that the ruling on polygamy is accompanied by a seemingly-dissuasive focus on man’s fear of injustice (as expressed in ‘… but if you fear that you will not be just…’). Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad was reported as saying: ‘When a man has two wives and he is inclined to one of them, he will come on the Day of resurrection with a side hanging down’ (Sunan Abi Dawud, 11:2128). Hence, many scholars assert that monogamy is still the preferred marital arrangement in Islam. Al-Qaradawi concludes that ‘… anyone who lacks the assurance that he will be able to fulfill all these obligations with justice and equality is prohibited by Allah Ta’ala from marrying more than one woman’ (al-Qaradawi, 2003b, p.211).
Another area in which al-Qaradawi’s foundational belief on man’s “natural superiority” presents itself clearly is the issue of divorce. Similar to many other Muslim scholars of traditional thinking, al-Qaradawi perceives divorce in a negative light, abiding by the Prophet’s saying that ‘among lawful things, divorce is most hated by Allah’ (in al-Qaradawi, 2003b, p. 189). In reference to the possibility of abuse of
divorce, the scholar warns:
debate mainly lies in the observation that men have significantly easier access to divorce than women, both in theological and legal terms. In general, a Muslim man may unilaterally divorce his wife through verbal or written repudiation (ṭalāq) without the consent of the wife and the court. Contrastingly, a Muslim woman who wishes to seek a divorce would need to resort to limited options, often involving third-party mediators, and intricate, time-consuming legal proceedings. The following statement by the Human Rights Committee (HRC) in 2000 highlights the incompatibility of Islamic male
repudiation with the principle of equality of rights between men and women:
on which al-Qaradawi expresses the opinion that ‘it is not permissible for a woman to seek divorce from her husband unless she has borne ill-treatment from him or unless she has an acceptable reason which requires their separation’ (al-Qaradawi, 2003b, p.201).