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In correspondence with his effort to support the freedom of Muslim women to decide the terms of their own lives, Ramadan asserts that women should have a say in their marriages. With regard to polygamy, for example, the scholar, in Let the Quran Speak, a popular Canadian religious talk-show hosted by Shabir Ally (President of the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre International in Toronto, Canada), highlights the view of Ibn Hanbal that a woman can stipulate conditions in her marriage contract, such as adding a special clause that ensures her right to monogamy, in order to protect herself from being involved in a polygamous relationship (Let the Quran Speak, 2009). The problem with polygamy in the Muslim world, according to Ramadan, is that women most often do not know their rights in the intricate laws of Muslim marriage, and are thus forced to submit to their husbands’ desires to turn their marriages into polygamous relationships (Let the Quran Speak, 2009). While the scholar does not explicitly forbid polygamy in general, he makes it clear that, in the context of the West (or any other context in which monogamy is a policy and a societal standard), Muslim men are not allowed to practice polygamy because they are obliged to abide by their legal contract with the state, where they live as rightful citizens (Let the Quran Speak, 2009).
In an interview with Steve Paulson, a correspondent from Salon (a US-based news website), in 2007, Ramadan clarifies that the ways in which Muslim men treat women in the present time, particularly in Muslim-majority countries, are far from being reflective of those in which the Prophet treated women in his lifetime (Paulson, 2007); the scholar tries to demonstrate the contrast between the two by comparing the
of nurturing and housekeeping, and domestic violence to the Prophet’s elevation of women’s status beyond such roles, his efforts to encourage them to contribute at the social, political, and scholarly levels, and his reputation of never having beaten a women in his lifetime (Paulson, 2007). He echoes this message in the same episode in the afore-mentioned Canadian religious talk-show in 2009, explaining that the source of the problems related to the oppression of women is not Islam, but rather the literal reading of the Islamic Revelation, the conflation of Arab cultures and the universal principles of Islam, and the misguided belief that the harsher and the “less-Western” the Muslim interpretation of women rights in Islam, the more “Islamic” it is (Let the Quran Speak, 2009). With regard to the classical pigeonholing of women as “daughters”, “sisters”, “wives,” or “mothers” in traditional Islam, however, Ramadan appears to take an apologetic approach. Rather than linking it to patriarchal attitudes, the scholar attributes it to the following reasons: First, the Companions and early ‘ulamā interpreted the Text in accordance with their viewpoints, cultural specificities (especially pertaining to the conception of the natural status of women), and contextual conditions (Ramadan, 2009); second, women were not involved in the process of legal elaboration at the time to give their input, and consequently, the male jurists who took part in it could only do as much as determine women’s functions because ‘they could not understand from within how the latter [women] experienced interpersonal relations and integrated social dynamics’ (Ramadan, 2009, p.213); third, it serves the intention of Muslim jurists to protect the importance of the family structure in Islam (Ramadan, 2009). Due to these reasons, Ramadan urges women to be ‘… (more) present in fatawa councils throughout the world, both as text scholars and as experts specializing in social
study of texts, acquire the tools to interpret them, and complete the understanding of principles with thorough reflection about environments and the logics of discrimination or alienation’ (Ramadan, 2009, p.214). He puts the responsibility on Muslim women to reclaim their privileged status as intended by Islam and protect themselves from ‘… all formalist dictatorships, both that which imposes the headscarf without belief in the practice coming from the heart and that which imagines all objectified female bodes fit into a size six dress, that which compels women to stay at home for religious reasons and that which sends them back home after the age of forty-five for aesthetic reasons (Ramadan, 2003, p.221).
6.4 Discussion The preceding expositions reveal that al-Qaradawi and Ramadan exhibit both traditionalist and reformist tendencies in their approaches to moral and gender issues in Islam. Judging from a cursory glance, one might be inclined to argue that there is no rhyme or reason to the scholars’ vacillation (beyond gender, cultural, or historical biases) between their observing Islamic precepts unconditionally and using independent reasoning. Al-Qaradawi, for example, is willing to apply some leniency in the obligation of veiling and the consumption of foods with alcoholic content, but not in the issues of religious conversion (from Islam to another), liberal sexual orientations, and female leadership in worship matters. In a similar manner, Ramadan shows his support for the cause of individual freedom by stressing the importance of letting Muslims abide by Islamic commandments and prohibitions out of their own free will (e.g., refraining from consuming intoxicants, although obligatory in Islam, is a decision that Muslims
“imposition” in gender issues (e.g., veiling, albeit an “obligation”, cannot be “imposed” on women), but leans to the traditionalist side when it comes to the same moral issues on which al-Qaradawi is inflexible (e.g., illegality of homosexuality). The line between what can and what cannot be reformed in Islam in the scholars’ thinking is, however, not as loosely drawn as it may seem. As seen in the preceding sections, al-Qaradawi and Ramadan make references to ideas such as the absolute authority of God (e.g., ḥudūd), the principle of self-restraint (e,g,, carnal and worldly desires), and the immutability of certain Islamic norms (e.g., female leadership in Muslim rituals) in defending their views, bringing to light three corresponding binary conceptual pairs that appear to have a bearing on their traditionalist and reformist choices: First, the explicit and the ambiguous in the Islamic tradition; second, the mutable and the immutable in Islamic law; third, Divine prerogative and human reason in Islam. The first concern centers on the question of where to draw the line between unconditional observance and the use of independent reasoning in the interpretation of Islamic principles. The second concern revolves around the problem of determining the “boundaries” of reform in a manner consistent with the Quran and Sunna. The third concern pivots on the dichotomy of man’s subjugation to God’s will and man’s independence from God in defining the path to “Truth” and the abstract terms of morality. While all three may seem similar in essence, each of them is grounded on different conceptual bases, as will be shown in this section.
To begin with, both al-Qaradawi and Ramadan exercise restraint from challenging rulings that they believe are based on explicit evidence in the Islamic tradition, albeit the fact that there seems to be variance in what determines a text as
Although the two scholars often insist that Sharia is more than simply a strict set of commandments and prohibitions, practicing Muslims generally tend to believe that the conduct of a believer of Islam is, nevertheless, bound to its standards of “lawful” and “unlawful” (ḥalāl wa al-ḥarām), which derive principally from Sharia legislation, as a reflection of their submission to God’s will. Stipulations dispensed by this dual concept of morality find their origin in the legal injunctions laid out in the two primary sources of Sharia - Qur’an and Sunna. Islamic legal injunctions fall into two categories in terms of legal clarity: Explicit (qaṭ’i) and ambiguous (ẓanni). Explicit injunctions refer to rulings that are axiomatic in expression and meaning, while ambiguous injunctions refer to rulings that can have several meanings, and are thus open to analysis, commentary, and interpretation (Kamali, 2003, p.136). Explicit injunctions constitute a smaller portion of the text, centering on issues of creed, worship, and core Islamic prohibitions, which can be either self-sufficient or dependent on explications by the Sunna. The Muslim practice of prayers, for example, traces its original ruling in general terms to the Qur’an, while details of its preparations, timings, and methods of performance can be found in the Prophetic tradition. Definitive injunctions of the Quran and the Sunna form the common unalterable denominator upon which Muslims unanimously agree, and about which al-Qaradawi and Ramadan are most cautious in their reading of the Revelation (Kamali, 2003, Ramadan, 2004). Meanwhile, the larger portion of Qur’anic legislation, which is argued to be ambiguous, is rendered dependent on ijtihād for explanations (Kamali, 2003). The prohibition of marriage to mothers and daughters in the Qur’an31, for example, may appear irrefutable in its ruling, but the term “daughters”
it includes other non-biological categories, such as ‘illegitimate daughters, stepdaughters, granddaughters, and foster daughters’; while the Hanafi school of thought accepts that ‘the term ‘daughters’ includes all daughters’, the majority of legal scholars exclude “illegitimate daughters” from its scope (Kamali, 2003).
Despite the semblance of these defined categories, the science of Qur’anic exegesis is complex; in addition to tafsīr (textual interpretation), the use of ta’wīl (allegorical reading), which looks into underlying elements of the text, such as rationale and purpose, has led to the speculation that even explicit injunctions may be subject to critical analysis. Kamali’s statement below bears significant impact on the notion of
latitude in Sharia:
‘Ratiocination [allegorical reading] in the Quran means that the laws of
The late Benazir Bhutto, for example, questioned the contemporary applicability of amputation as a punishment for theft, arguing that the contemporary legal use of detention (imprisonment) effectively serves the same deterrent and rehabilitative purposes intended by the Islamic penalty (Bhutto, 2008). This opinion might seem
ruling in the Text, but suspension and reversal of rulings based on public interest can be shown to have historical antecedents in Islam. For example, Caliph Umar Ibn alKhattab reportedly suspended the explicit Qur’anic punishment for theft during a period of famine in consideration of the probability that such crime was committed out of the perpetrator’s desperation to survive 32. This account, which both al-Qaradawi and Ramadan have used to support their calls for the suspension of ḥudūd, is regarded as one of the many examples in the history of Islam that prove that legal texts in scriptural sources need to be understood in light of their intended objectives.
use of independent reasoning (ijtihād), allegorical reading (ta’wῑl), and objectives of Islam (maqāṣid al-Islām) may greatly expand the possibility of revising historical injunctions, al-Qaradawi and Ramadan appear unanimous in the assertion that reason should never be applicable to the domain of worship (‘ibādah) (e.g., Muslim prayers).
Adding complexity to this restriction, however, is the fact that some of the areas in which there is conflict of values between Islam and democracy can be said to fall within the overlapping margins of the two rigidly-defined worship and social domains of Islam, such as the issue of female leadership in Muslim rituals. This brings the focus to the issue of mutability and immutability in the Islamic law. In this context, the tenets of
Islam can be bifurcated into two classes (as determined by classical Muslim scholars):
The mutable (al-mutaghayyirāt), those which are unstable and subject to change, and the immutable (al-thawābit), those which are absolute and binding regardless of time and place. Although perspectives as to what is changeable or unchangeable in Islam
the following general definition; immutable Islamic laws include the six tenets of faith (‘aqῑdah), the five pillars of worship (‘ibādah), obligatory moral values (akhlāq)33, explicit prohibitions (muḥarramāt) 34, and the Islamic penal code (ḥudūd), while mutable Islamic laws encompass social and cultural affairs that are ineluctably tied to temporal evolution and environmental changes (Ramadan, 2004; Kamali, 2008).
Scholars in the field of Islamic jurisprudence have developed a strict legal methodology for approaching these two categories of Islamic laws. In the domain of “the immutable”, the guiding criterion is traditionally the principle that “everything is forbidden except that which is permitted by the Revelation”. Two conditions immediately follow: First, human reason and intellect must not make any addition or omission in this domain, and second, innovations (bid’ah) are considered unlawful. Contrastingly, in the sphere of “the mutable”, the guiding criterion is the principle: Everything is allowed except that which is forbidden by the revelation. Ramadan optimistically views the latter of the two principles as one that broadens the boundaries of rationality and creativity, but he also tends to immediately qualify that any outcome of human interpretation must remain faithful to the “principles” of Islam (Ramadan, 2004).
show that even abstract injunctions, prohibitions, and recommendations that are absolute and immutable in themselves may take different practical forms according to the environment, as shown by the concessions given by al-Qaradawi in his fiqh alaqalliyyat. It is generally known by Muslims that it is possible for the religio-legal status of a certain action to shift dynamically between the five categories of Islamic