WEBINAR: A Feminist Quest for Qur’anic Justice, Beauty and Spiritual Care

We are living in unprecedented times, with the coronavirus affecting everyone at a global scale in variously personal ways. Ramadhan 1441H will be practiced and celebrated around the world in ways we may have never expected—mosques closed and taraweeh prayers limited to single households, outdoor food markets forbidden, family iftars held via video conferencing—yet the threat of COVID-19 also has made visible the inequalities and vulnerabilities many people face in their everyday lives,  including struggling with guidances that overlook their lack of access to clean water, steady paychecks, or even being able to follow the common refrain of staying at home or social distancing in crowded living conditions. These tough times may bring up anxieties and doubts, making it difficult to nurture our faith right when we need it.

This Ramadan, Musawah hosted a webinar, ‘A Feminist Quest for Qur’anic Justice, Beauty and Spiritual Care,’ featuring Asma Lamrabet, Omaima Abou-Bakr and Mulki Al-Sharmani, moderated by Sarah Marsso.

 The webinar aims to discuss how the Qur’an can be a source of feminist spiritual care in a quarantined Ramadan by: 
  • sharing the unique experiences of three women interpreting the Qur’an; 
  • briefly explaining how a feminist ethical-oriented reading is possible and sharing examples of how it could be applied to some verses; and 
  • reflecting on what the Qur’an can teach us in these difficult circumstances, what we can meditate on and aspire to in this quarantined Ramadan.

Ramadan du’a for strength and solace

The speakers and moderator developed together a du’a or prayer, inspired by Qur’anic verses to give us all strength and solace during these difficult times. The recitation is by Sarah Marsso and video production by Hyshyama Hamin.

Featuring these speakers:

Omaima Abou-Bakr is a professor of English and comparative literature at Cairo University, Egypt; a founding member of “The Women and Memory Forum”; and a member of the Musawah Knowledge Building team. She specialises in medieval Sufi poetry and comparative topics in medieval English and Arabic literature. Her scholarly interests also include women’s mysticism and female spirituality in Christianity and Islam, feminist theology, Muslim women’s history, and gender issues in Islamic discourse.

Asma Lamrabet is a hematologist at the Avicena Public Hospital in Rabat. She was the Director of the Center for Women’s Studies in Islam in the Rabita Mohammadia des Oulémas du Maroc from 2011 to March 2018. She has studied women’s issues in Islam for many years and has delivered lectures on this topic at various conferences around the world. From 2004 to 2007, she was the coordinator of a research and reflection group on Muslim women and intercultural dialogue in Rabat. She is also the founding member of the Fatéma Mernissi Chair at Mohammed V University in Rabat since 2017 and a member of the Moroccan National Committee on Education and Culture since 2015. She is currently the Gender Studies Chair in the Euro-Arab Foundation for Higher Studies in Granada, Spain, and a member of the scientific committee of the Moroccan Driss Benzekri National Institute for Human Rights. She is the author of several books; Women and Men in the Qur’an, published by Palgrave Macmillan, received the Social Sciences Awards 2013 by the Arab Woman Organization.

Mulki Al-Sharmani is Associate Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at University of Helsinki. She is also a member of the Knowledge Building Working Group at Musawah. She is the author of Gender Justice and Legal Reform in Egypt: Navigating Muslim Family Law (2017); the co-editor of Men in Charge? Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition (2015) with Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Jana Rumminger; and the co-editior of Wellbeing of Transnational Muslim Families: Marriage, Law, and Gender (2019), with Marja Tiilikainen and Sanna Mustasaari.

(Moderator) Sarah Marsso is a graduate of Sciences-Po in European Studies and International Relations and holds an MA in Development and Cooperation in the Middle East & North Africa from l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques of Lyon.  Since 2015, she has been coordinating the activities of Musawah’s Knowledge Building Working Group. As part of these activities, she co-authored Musawah’s reports “Women’s Stories, Women’s Lives: Male Authority in Muslim Contexts” (2016) and “Who Provides? Who Cares? Changing Dynamics in Muslim Families” (2018).

Reflections from the moderator

Two weeks ago, I had the honour to host a webinar for Musawah titled ‘A Feminist Quest for Qur’anic Justice, Beauty and Spiritual Care,’ featuring Asma Lamrabet, Omaima Abou-Bakr and Mulki Al-Sharmani.
As we embark on the last ten holy days of Ramadan, let’s reflect on some of the insights shared during this illuminating conversation and open our hearts to the unexpected beauties of the Qur’an that heighten our awareness of God, the most merciful of the merciful ones.
Allah says in Surah 47, verse 24: أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا * “Then do they not reflect upon the Qur'an, or are there locks upon [their] hearts?” This verse, and many others, give us the keys to unlock our hearts, and to reflect upon God’s words. To unearth the ethical meanings of these ayat, these divine signs, we need to seek knowledge, be it in the sacred texts, in the universe, and in ourselves. Allah says in Surat 41, verse 53 سَنُرِيهِمْ آيَاتِنَا فِي الْآفَاقِ وَفِي أَنفُسِهِمْ * “We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves.”
These last ten days of Ramadan, we remember the revelation of the first Qur’anic verses. This was an event that profoundly shattered and shook the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and led him to seek refuge in the arms of his wife Khadija, asking her to cover him (zammilini). His reaction reminds us of human vulnerability against the weight, depth, and vastness of the divine word.
Nonetheless, over the centuries, our human arrogance has led us to believe that the Qur’an was crystal clear and its interpretation a sign-posted route. For many of us, reading the Qur’an has become a routine. We repeat the verses, like some divine lyric, carried away without self-reflection, asleep at the wheel. For others, and, in particular, those who are marginalised in our Muslim communities, the experience of engaging with the dominant interpretations of the Qur’anic verses is discomforting and creates many doubts and frustration. Indeed, how can we spiritually connect with the holy text when it’s altered by the filter of privileged human lenses, and predominantly male lenses at that? Yet, why do you need to use lenses other than yours to ponder over God’s signs? Allah says in Surah 55, verses 1-4, الرَّحْمَنُ* عَلَّمَ الْقُرْآنَ* خَلَقَ الْإِنْسَانَ* عَلَّمَهُ الْبَيَانَ“ The Merciful, taught the Qur’an, created humans, and taught them discernment.”
Read the full reflection

To access some of the resources mentioned during the webinar, please find below some useful links:

PODCAST: Reading the Qur’an for Ourselves: A Feminist Journey (2019) https://www.musawah.org/blog/reading-the-quran-for-ourselves-a-feminist-journey/

‘Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition’? https://www.musawah.org/knowledge-building/qiwamah-wilayah/ 

amina wadud: ‘ Islam Beyond Patriarchy Through Gender Inclusive Qur’anic Analysis’ in Wanted: Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family” ( 2009, edited by Zainah Anwar and published by Sisters in Islam): http://arabic.musawah.org/sites/default/files/Wanted-AW-EN.pdf

Omaima and Mulki’s work on the divorce in the Qur’an, and the contribution of many other women scholars to both Sunni and Shi’i Islamic Interpretive, link to edited volume coming out in August 2020 titled Islamic Interpretive Tradition and Gender Justice: Processes of Canonization, Subversion and Change edited by Nevin Reda and Yasmin Amin: https://www.amazon.com/Islamic-Interpretive-Tradition-Gender-Justice/dp/0228001625 

Omaima’s edited volume on Feminism and Islamic Perspectives New Horizons of Knowledge and Reform (2013, English and Arabic Publications).  Includes studies by  the Egyptian Amany Saleh, and other women scholars  (Arabic and English publications). http://www.wmf.org.eg/en/publication/feminist-and-islamic-perspectives-new-horizons-of-knowledge-and-reform/ 

Asma Lamrabet: Women and Men in the Qur’an: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783319787404 

Nevin Reda:  Interview on  the Qur’an, its structure, al-Baqhara, and 4:34:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2t3dGOcnYA&feature=youtu.be 

Asma Barlas: “Does the Qur’an Support Gender Equality, or, Do I have the Autonomy to Answer this Question?” in Marjo Buitelaar and Monique Bernards (eds.), Islam and Autonomy, (Leuven, the Netherlands: Peeters, 2013).

On Fatema Mernissi, read Musawah’s tribute Honouring A Fierce Feminist Foremother: http://arabic.musawah.org/sites/default/files/MusawahVision20EN.pdf

Abou El Fadl, Khaled. 2005. The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books. Rowman & Littlefield: pp. 14.

Shadaab Rahemtulla: Qur’an of the Oppressed: Liberation Theology and Gender Justice in Islam (2017, Oxford Theology and Religion Monographs). Interview: https://newbooksnetwork.com/shadaab-rahemtullah-quran-of-the-oppressed-liberation-theology-and-gender-justice-in-islam-oxford-up-2017/?fbclid=IwAR39EBhVFxU8s6M4bJY7UC0iSikoIn1U-8mK9CQuGLlYc5VB730Mi1LrGeo

 

On Surah An-Nisa 4:34:

Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition’ https://www.musawah.org/knowledge-building/qiwamah-wilayah/ 

Zainah Anwar and Ziba Mir-Hosseini in Decoding the “DNA of Patriarchy” in Muslim family laws (2012): https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/decoding-dna-of-patriarchy-in-muslim-family-laws/

Kecia Ali on 4:34: https://www.brandeis.edu/projects/fse/muslim/diff-verse.html 

There is a synthesis of Musawah’s unpacking of the patriarchal interpretation of 4:34 in our publication Musawah Vision for the Family: https://www.musawah.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/MusawahVisionFortheFamily_En.pdf

Sisters in Islam in Malaysia has a booklet: Are Muslim Men Allowed to Beat Their Wives? https://www.sistersinislam.org.my/files/downloads/are_muslim_men_allow_to_beat_their_wives_v12-1.pdf 

You Can’t Beat A Woman | Ivy Nallammah Josiah | TEDxUMSKK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Tc6pSuUTN0 

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