Sunday, February 25, 2007

One Of The Reasons I love Reading...

(Pic from the NYTimes peice Lynsey Addario, Corbis)
There is simply no way, I can know everything, even if I wanted to. But one of the reasons I love reading is because it makes me think, and I always learn something. While reading the NYTimes Sunday magazine came across this little piece by Carla Power about the role of women in teaching the Koran and transmitting hadith (deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) and even making Islamic law as jurists.

You know I had no clue about this. I am not religious at all, but I would like to understand what religions are about. Especially for those of us out in the the US with it's crappy TV/cable news, one often has to make a bit of an effort to seek information out. I guess it adds to the process and the fun of discovery. The article is here, and parts of it are reproduced below. I think given the general poor representation that Islam gets, and the problems they themselves have in not acknowledging and nurturing the more eclectic parts of that religion,I think articles like this help.
Sure Islam has problems, but the change has to come from within via civil debate, outsiders cannot force it upon them. So I learnt something new today..which is why I use whatever free time I can manage to read, it also makes my long commute much more bearable.

So what Mohammad Akram Nadwi the scholar this article talks about gives me hope that the dark forces that threaten to take over the religion will be beaten back. Excerpts from the piece below.

For Muslims and non-Muslims alike, the stock image of an Islamic scholar is a gray-bearded man. Women tend to be seen as the subjects of Islamic law rather than its shapers.
Recent findings by a scholar at the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies in Britain, however, may help lower those barriers and challenge prevalent notions of women’s roles within Islamic society. Mohammad Akram Nadwi, a 43-year-old Sunni alim, or religious scholar, has rediscovered a long-lost tradition of Muslim women teaching the Koran, transmitting hadith (deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) and even making Islamic law as jurists.
The dictionary’s diverse entries include a 10th-century Baghdad-born jurist who traveled through Syria and Egypt, teaching other women; a female scholar — or muhaddithat — in 12th-century Egypt whose male students marveled at her mastery of a “camel load” of texts; and a 15th-century woman who taught hadith at the Prophet’s grave in Medina, one of the most important spots in Islam. One seventh-century Medina woman who reached the academic rank of jurist issued key fatwas on hajj rituals and commerce; another female jurist living in medieval Aleppo not only issued fatwas but also advised her far more famous husband on how to issue his.
It’s after the 16th century that citations of women scholars dwindle. Some historians venture that this is because Islamic education grew more formal, excluding women as it became increasingly oriented toward establishing careers in the courts and mosques. (Strangely enough, Akram found that this kind of exclusion also helped women become better scholars. Because they didn’t hold official posts, they had little reason to invent or embellish prophetic traditions.)
Neverthless, Akram says he hopes that uncovering past hadith scholars could help reform present-day Islamic culture. Many Muslims see historical precedents — particularly when they date back to the golden age of Muhammad — as blueprints for sound modern societies and look to scholars to evaluate and interpret those precedents. Muslim feminists like the Moroccan writer Fatima Mernissi and Kecia Ali, a professor at Boston University, have cast fresh light on women’s roles in Islamic law and history, but their worldview — and their audiences — are largely Western or Westernized. Akram is a working alim, lecturing in mosques and universities and dispensing fatwas on issues like inheritance and divorce. “Here you’ve got a guy who’s coming from the tradition, who knows the stuff and who’s able to give us that level of detail which is missing in the self-proclaimed progressive Muslim writers,” says James Piscatori, a professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University
When Akram lectures, he dryly notes, women are more excited by this history than men. To persuade reluctant Muslims to educate their girls, Akram employs a potent debating strategy: he compares the status quo to the age of al jahiliya, the Arabic term for the barbaric state of pre-Islamic Arabia. (Osama Bin Laden and Sayyid Qutb, the godfather of modern Islamic extremism, have employed the comparison to very different effect.) Barring Muslim women from education and religious authority, Akram argues, is akin to the pre-Islamic custom of burying girls alive. “I tell people, ‘God has given girls qualities and potential,’ ” he says. “If they aren’t allowed to develop them, if they aren’t provided with opportunities to study and learn, it’s basically a live burial.”

When I spoke with him, Akram invoked a favorite poem, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” Thomas Gray’s 18th-century lament for dead English farmers. “Gray said that villagers could have been like Milton,” if only they’d had the chance, Akram observes. “Muslim women are in the same situation. There could have been so many Miltons.”

Sorry, if this is a rushed post, but am trying to get things done before the snow comes down, incl getting out for a quick run. Hope some of you had the patience to read thru it or read the original piece (which is not too long).

Later folks!


Lucia said...

You are so right, we are so ignorant in this country about Muslims. I thought about this a couple of days ago in the Genocide Memorial in Rwanda. There was a story about a Muslim man who saved 15 people's lives by hiding them in 1994.

What most people don't understand is that it is Islam that moves many Muslims to help others--to do things like this. Most of my Muslim friends do what they do because of their religion, and what they do makes the world a better place.

MONA said...

Sanjay. women are very powerful arbitrers and harbinger of Faith of Islamic theology.I have read a few historic 'tales' about the role of women in Islam.The Prophet of Islam , it is said, always took advice from his first wife Khadijah in all his matters.
I know that the whole Islamic concept is twisted in various senses for expediency.For example, they say that a muslim is allowed to have four wives.This wahi, as it is called, is often taken out of context and used for ppl's ulterior motives.It is said thus[ this is not a quotation though] that 'you may take wives, one , two, three or four, provided that you would treat them with equal amount of fairness in material need and love. If you bend towards one or other as even a fraction of 'special', then you are not entiled to do so. Then you have to marry only one.'Islam is thus the only religion that says in so many words " marry only one".Such a practice was approved by the prophet & his followers, when the wars had ravaged the whole townships & only women and children were spared and left. Such women were to be taken into care of the few men who were left in their custody, in marriage, so that they would be taken proper care of, & not left alone to be either ravished, or turn to prostitution for survival.But now a days, such a law would be redundant.Islamic Shariat, or 'The Path' is permitted to be subject to change according to the changing times.But hardcore practicioners of 'Faith' have transformed a very flexible religion into a rigid one.That is the tragedy of Islam.The Quran says repeatedly, that Islam has to be interpreted by Individuals in accordance to their times and situations & 'heat and cant' of ignorance is strictly prohibited.At one place, the Quran even mentions that ' do not raise your voice loudly when you speak as such a practice might undo the very reason for which it is raised'.At many a place the Quran says that among the most hated qualities of mankind, the worst in the eyes of God is Arrogance, & the most loved is Righteousness.
Jehad in the real sense is something that begins with oneself.What it really means is fight against the Evils of the world, ' both within and without' In true sense Jehad is to be fought against all the evil Qualities of our being, like hatred, anger, greed,lies etc.
About role of women, I shall say something later.
Above all, Islam promotes the concept of Universal Brotherhood and discard deriliction and discrimination on any basis.

Asha said...

Glad to see you back!:)

I have also read that Prophet Mohammad's wife was a business woman and was older than him when they got married!As Mona said he supposed to have taken advice from her.
(I have a Quran at home and have read little about Prophet too by other sources,find it interesting.I have read a little bit of Bible as well as numerous Hindu scriptures!I am NOT at all confused Sanjay,I promise!;D)

Unfortunately,I don't know what happened to all that old wisdom of Islam now though.Men just want to keep women down by scaring them,I guess!!

Lotus Reads said...

Very interesting post, Sanjay! The first time I heard that women had played such a powerful roles in promoting Islam was when I read Geraldine Brooks' book "Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women". It's a must-read for anyone interested in the role Muslim women have played through the ages.

Like Asha mentioned, Khadija, Mohammad's first wife was 10 years older than him. Mohammed worked for her as a manager in her international trading company and it was she who proposed that he marry her! It was only after she died that Mohammad began receiving revelations from God on the status of women.

Your post makes me want to pull the book off my shelf and read it again.

Aditi said...

hmm quite an interesting article.. glad u shared it

Keshi said...

Mebbe we were not so ignorant abt Muslims or Islam. It's abt 9/11...alot of ppl changed their views abt an o.w. peaceful religion after 9/11. Cos ppl tend to form opinions based on what happens ard them. Not mainly by reading books.

But Im glad u read this and shared this with us here. It enlightens us all. ty Sanjay!


Enyur said...

Great post Sanjay! Like Mona mentioned, Islam has definitely been portrayed in a "twisted" way...further fuelling the hatred some people developed after 9/11. There was all this talk about Talibans and their treatment of women. What people don't understand is that, this is not the way of Islam. There are certain extremists who have "used" Islam (in a twisted manner) to achieve their evil motives.

MONA said...

this is to Keshi>>> that is a very narrow viewpoint.Fundamentalists are there in every place.In fact Fundamentalists and terrorists are the most ignorant ppl in the world & they do not belong to ANY religion.None would accept them...They are pesudo- religious.Religion is spirituality, it means improvement of yourselves and way of your life. It basically boils down to Peace everywhere.& religion is not of a group, but for every individual.
Nothing can ever justify henious acts of terrorism.& no religion would ever accept them as any kind of historical necessity even.
It is true that EVENTS sometime tend to color our views.Then so would Events like Awschwitz and Buchenwald and The Gujarat. That would mean that NO religion or a religious Houdouni could come away with its/his ideology intact, if such 'Events' were to Interpret Religions at large.

MONA said...

Sanjay, This is what I quote from the Quran:
" Victory and Help go with calmness of mind, Faith, fidelity zeal and earnestness, not with greed lukewarmness or timidity. Dicipline and Obedience are essential for service. The rewards for service are not to be measured by their immediate results, but accrue in countless hidden ways. For Patience and Restraint: Be strong against Evil [ Adjective, not Noun] but kind and gentle amongst yourselves and the seed will grow strong to your wonder and delight."
At another place: " Ye all are but a single Brotherhood so make peace and reconciliation amongst yourselves and fear God , that ye may recieve Mercy"
And: " O Mankind! Reverence your Guardian Lord who created you from a single person, created of like nature,his mate, and from twain scattered like seeds countless men and women;Reverence God, through whom ye demand your mutual rights, and Reverence the Wombs that bore you: for God ever watches over you." [ Chapter IV, Verse 1]
And here is QUOTING what I already said earlier: " Marry women of your choice, two, or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one; to prevent you from doing injustice". [ Chapter IV verse3]. And in the same chapter verse 5: " Make not over your property, which God hath made a means of support for you, but feed and clothe them[women] therewith, and speak to them words of kindness and Justice.",& " O ye who believe, ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will, nor should ye treat them with harshness."
I think a comment box will not do justice to such a discussion...

Sanjay said...

@Lucia. I am always amazed and impressed at your comments which so often draw from your experiences while traveling the world. You are so right. :)

@Mona. Thank you for your wonderful comment. There is much from you that I learnt.

@Asha.. Thanks I had aread a bit about the prophets wife someplace.

@Lotus. I am really impressed with how well read you are. And yes that is a book I might want to read someday.

@Aditi.. Thanks

@Keshi.. Thanks, I agree with you but a lot of what people learn from ther real world experiences might come from media (TV). Books always have a role too me thinks.

@Enyur ..Thanks

Sanjay said...

@Mona.. I think you responded to Keshi, way better than I would have. You are right in that while events do play a role, often its peoples interpretation of those events that is a driver for some of these things that you mention.

Sanjay said...

@Mona.. Thank you again, I learnt much from you, and yes a comment box is not big enough for this discussion.

Sarah said...

Sanjay, the article is brilliant, can you please give me more information about the scholar, thank you.

Anonymous said...

The aritcle is amazing. The article also apperaed in an Aribic Newspaper today. Yeah like Sarah I would like more info too.

khadija said...

I read the aricle which is very true. It helps us to learn what Islam is really about beneath the media. We should thank the scholar.
If we only look at what the islamic sources say about women in Islam then we realsie how great islam is. For instance Surah Nisa mentions the inheritence law and we can see how it seems to favour women.

Keshi said...

Mona Im sorry if my comment offended u but thats the truth isnt it? I mean Im not saying any religion here is encouraging terrorsim but we cant deny the fact that majority of the ppl in this world JUDGE from events that happen ard them. And 9/11 was an atrocious act that unfortunately painted a very bad color on Muslims. While I dun believe all Muslims r bad, this is what happened after 9/11. It'a a fact u and I cant deny.

And I know no religion teaches evil...every religion teaches Love. Even tho 9/11 was carried out by few bad muslims, it left a huge sacr on Islam alone. And thats what I was saying from my first comment. I wasnt saying that Islam is a bad religion. U got me wrong there.


Keshi said...

And ofcourse Jay more than written txt, actions speak alot.


Carrie said...

In my humanities II course we visted tons of churches to learn about their beliefs. It was one of the most interesting things I learned in college.

Salma said...

sarah-your lucky I read your request to Sanjay to give you more info. You see I live in London and often go to the scholars clases. I don't know what type of info u wantbut i can tell you that he lives and teaches in oxford but this is only on weekends and evenings as during daytime he works for Oxford University doing research and stufff. At the momenet he's teaching Hidayah I heard which is like islamic jursprudence with evedince. He also did a course recently which I attended in London about aqedah. This was really good. He's one of the best scholars that we have in the west I think. Especially when it comes to issues relating to hadith and what wome have done in islam for muslims etc. He bees very busy of course and I think after this artical in the NYT we should be grateful to the scholar as he has put in a lot of effort for instance he must have sacrifised a lot to get 40 volumes of work done as well as his other books that he's writing. Any way I'd alos like to take this oppurtunity to say that we should regardless of our beleives and where we live should look at Islam form its oringinal sources i.e. the Quran ans Sunnah and leace these modern methods such as internet, tv etc. Only then will we know we can know what islam really says especally being aware of things like context like Mona's already mentioned. If you wanna know more I can tell you later on just let me know sarah.

MONA said...

keshi...sometimes our eyes are so blinded by our beliefs that we want truth to conform to them.But then it is the other way round.It is the beliefs that have got to conform to the truth, whether one likes it or not. Sadly, humankind is such..we invest so much in what we believe that it is not easy to change them even when truth stares us in the face...To change our beliefs is not easy, it is like going through fire, it may kill you as you are. So ppl prefer to cling to belifs rather than frace the truth.Following the herd is easier than being alone with the truth isnt it?
I do not mean offence here.
Sanjay..I'm sorry for using your space...

rasheed bibi said...

I was very happy to read the article about the scholar. We never knew that women were so able and learned in islam before this. Because of this artivle God knows how many people other than me benefitted because before this I diwas very wrong about women in Islam. I read this article many times because I was both happy and astonished because it was not a women, but a man who wrote this. THis is good luck for us womens that there are people who know about and honour women so much in this day and age. This book that is being wriiten I wanted to see it for a long time but now after reading the artcle I can't wait. The fact that it is 40 volumes shows that you must have been working on this for a long time. Every moment of a person is very precious. People like me can work daily and then rest after work because we are so tired and be content that we have earned for this world but we must realise that we don't do anything for the hereafer even when we have time. And now this scholar has shown thast with his full time job he has done so much in his free time. Who knows how many nights he must have sacrifised for this. This is a very good and rightious work. I can defitnely say that if the scholar has not done this work no one else probably would have. I hope the scholar gets blessings in his work in this life and the next. I read the shyakhs book: ar-mughane hajj, and I liked it very much and now I'm longing to see his this book. I can't read Arabic but my husband said that he will translate it for me or it might get translated in english or urdu so people like me can too benefit.

I pray for the shaykh and his family all the time.