(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).