Amina Wadud’s Methodology on Gender Study

Amina Wadud’s Biography

Amina Wadud was born as Mary Teasley, a Methodist child to an Afro-American Family in Bethesda, US Borderline Southern State of Maryland in 1952. She was descended from Berber, Arab and African slaves and born to an open-minded Methodist pastor. She saw the American refused to abolish racial inequality for African during a brutal period of United State history. She also grew up watching horror assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a Nobel Peace Prize Winner and human right activist, in Memphis in 1968 when she was only 16 year old.[1]

The monumental tragedies she saw relatively in her youth and formative years as she tasted too often racism’s bitter fruit shape her stance and persistence to work towards justice and equality in her later life.

She changed her religion from Christian to Islam and pronounced shahādah in 1972. By 1974 she officially changed her name to Amina Wadud to reflect her change of religion to Islam. She studied to get her bachelor of science from University of Pennsylvania from 1970 to 1975. During graduate school, she studied in Egypt, in the American University of Cairo to master advanced Arabic. She also studied Qur’anic Studies, and tafsīr (exegesis or Qur’anic interpretation) at Cairo University and Philosophy at Al-Azhar University. She received her MA in Near Eastern Studied and got her Ph.D in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Michigan in 1988.[2]

She devoted her life to scientific research, especially on gender and Qur’anic Studies. Therefore, from 1989 to 1992 she worked as an assistant professor in Qur’anic Studies at the International Islamic University Malaysia. While there, she published her dissertation entitled “Qur’an and Women: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman Perspective” and she was co-founded the organization Sister in Islam, a non-governmental organization focusing on gender activities. Her book became a basic text for this organization, gender activists, as well as academics, even though it was banned in the United Arab Emirates. Her academic career developed significantly as she accepted a position as Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1992. She also took up a position as visiting professor at the Centrer of Religious and Cross Cultural Studies at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 2008.

She was popular scholar not only in high academic level but also grass roots one, not only in government forums but also non-government ones. She was spoken women at manifold levels throughout the United States, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe. She was often invited as a keynote speaker in many academic forums. Some of them are as follows:

  1. the keynote address “Islam, Justice and Gender” that had been delivered in International Conference on Understanding Conflicts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives held at Aarhus University Denmark in 2008.
  2. A paper entitled “Islam Beyond Patriarchy Through Gender Inclusive Qur’anic Analysis” delivered in Musawah Conference “Equality and Justice in the Family.
  3. A keynote speech in the Regional Conference on Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Muslim Society held by United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
  4. A keynote speech in the International Centre for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP) in Jakarta in 2009.
  5. A speech delivered in a Workshop on “Sharia and Human Rights” at the University of Bergen, Norway in late November 2009.
  6. A public lecture entitled “Muslim Women and Gender Justice: Methods and Means” presented in the Faculty of Arts, Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia in February 2010.
  7. A lecture on “Tawḥīd and Spiritual Development for Social Action” at Muslims for Progressive Values at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California in July 2011, etc.

There were two controversial issues done by Amina Wadud that triggered heat debate among Muslim scholars. The first was Friday sermon (khutbah) delivered at the Claremont Maid Road Mosque in Cape Town, South Africa entitled “Islam as Engaged Surrender” in August 1994. This Friday sermon, that was monopoly of male Muslims, was unheard of in the Muslim world, so the issue did not trigger heat debate among Muslims but it caused to the dismissal of her position at Virginia Commonwealth University as proposed by some Muslims.

The second was the Friday sermon and prayer leadership done for congregation in the United States. On Friday 18 March 2005, she acted as imam for congregation of mixed gender of about 60 women and 40 men without separation between men and women while the call to prayer (adhān) was held by another woman, Suheyla al-Attar. The congregation was sponsored by the Muslim Women’s Freedom Tour headed by Asra Nomani, the website “Muslim Wake UP” and the Progressive Muslim Union.

The congregation was held in the Synode House of Epicopal Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The place chosen after three mosques refused to host the congregation. She initially wanted to host the Friday Prayer in a neutral place but because of the bomb threats, she decided to host the prayer in church, a sacred place. She said that this congregation was to encourage the hearts of Muslims that they are one and equal in their public, private as well as in ritual affairs.

She was a prolific writer as her articles were published in many international journals. She also had two books focusing on mainstreaming gender equality. Her first book was “Qur’an and Women: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective” published in March 1999. The book was intended to contribute a gender-inclusive reading to one of the most fundamental disciplines in Islamic thought, Qur’anic exegesis. The second was “Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam” published in 2006. The book intended not only to continue her Qur’anic analysis but also provide extensive details about her experiences as Muslim women, wife, mother, sister, scholar and activist of gender.

Wadud’s Methodology on Gender Study

Wadud’s method was primarily focused on the Qur’anic texts in the study of gender. She emphasized on the importance of context in study of Qur’anic texts to comprehend and get holistic understanding of the texts. She said that no method of Qur’anic exegesis was fully objective as each exegete makes some subjective stances. Therefore, each exegesis and understanding of single text will converge on many points. Unfortunately, often, some Muslims did not distinguish between Qur’anic texts and their interpretations.

Wadud classified the Qur’anic interpretations into three categories, namely: traditional, reactive, and holistic.[3] The traditional tafsīr gives interpretation to the entire Qur’an with certain objectives. The objectives could be legal, esoteric, grammatical, rhetorical, or historical contributing to the differences of their tafāsīr. The main characteristic of their works is their atomistic methodology in the interpretations of the Qur’an. They interpret whole Qur’an from the first verse of the first chapter to the end of the verse of the end of the chapter of the Qur’an. Little or no effort to understand and discuss the relationship between the verse and the others and between the chapter and the others. Brief mention of the relations among verses may be provided but without underlying hermeneutical principle.

The traditional tafāsir exclusively were written by male exsegetes. It means that the experiences of women were either excluded or interpreted through men’s perspectives. Their tafāsir only accommodated men’s experiences and interpreted whole life from their perspectives, visions, desires, and needs. Therefore, the basic paradigm of Qur’anic interpretation was produced without representation of women[4] that leads to misperception of women’s status either in domestic and public life.

The second category of Qur’anic interpretation was reactive interpretation. This interpretation concerned with the issue of women consists mainly of reactions of modern scholars to Qur’anic messages that attributed severe handicaps to women as an individual or member of society. As the reaction to the Qur’anic messages, they opposed to the Qur’an and Islam altogether. The poor status of women in Muslim countries was used as justification of their opposition. This interpretation often used the feminist ideals but the absence of comprehensive analysis of the Qur’an causes them to justify that the position of women inharmonious with Qur’anic teachings. The reactive interpretations have also failed to differentiate between the interpretation and the Qur’anic texts.[5]

The last category of the Qur’anic interpretation is holistic tafsīr. The interpretation, said Wadud, reconsidered the whole method of Qur’anic exegesis with regard to various modern approaches; social, moral, economic, political, and gender. The category of interpretation also considered the female experiences as the framework for Qur’anic interpretation. Wadud tried to analysis the Qur’an from the texts not the interpretation that this approach differs from the interpretation employed by many existing exegesis.[6]

The last category of the interpretation, hermeneutical model was used by Amina Wadud to interpret the Qur’anic texts. The hermeneutic model of interpretation is concerned with three elements of texts, namely: a) the context in which the text was written or the context in which the Qur’an was revealed; b) the grammatical composition of the Qur’anic text or how and what it says; and c) the whole Qur’anic text concerning with its word-view. The method concern with for what the Qur’an says, how it says, what is said about the Qur’an, and who is doing the saying.[7] The hermeneutical method often can trace the different of opinions among Muslim scholars.[8] It also benefit to solve contemporary problems facing Muslim community.

The hermeneutical model used by Wadud was hermeneutics of tawḥīd that was employed to emphasize how the unity of the Qur’an permeates all its parts. The objective of the hermeneutics of tawḥīd was to address the dynamics between Qur’anic universals and particulars to establish moral guidance as a universal basis to solve contemporary problems. It was to be done as the Qur’anic texts were restricted by conditions of seven century Arabia.[9] However, the Qur’an not only intended for seven century Arab Community but also for all human kind in throughout the world in all times.[10]

It must be born in mind as the Qur’an using Arabic that we have to understand Arabic language thoroughly whether its structure, grammatical, as well as its meaning used in traditional Arabic. Since every word in Arabic is expressed in gendered dichotomies, we have to thorough understand the gender makers in concluding the objectives the Qur’an wants. Besides, we have to utilize the context in understanding the Qur’anic text.

Seventh-century Arabian context adopted in the Qur’an should be understood as particulars of the Qur’an.[11] It should be restricted to that context but the moral and universal values of Qur’an should be pursued from the particular Qur’an and used to understand and solve contemporary problems in community throughout the world.

The attention to the relationship between particulars and universals of the Qur’an would bear our understanding of the Qur’anic terms, since every term used in the Qur’an establishes its own meaning as the seventh-century Arabian people understand it. Therefore, each Qur’anic term should be analyzed on the basis of its language science, syntactical structures, and textual context in order to obtain its parameter of meaning. Based on this, Wadud asserted to the importance of a dual process to understand the Qur’anic text; keeping words in context and referring to the larger textual development of the term analyzed.[12]

In the gender discourses, traditional ulama read Qur’anic reforms of historical and cultural seventh-century Arab practices literally and its statement employed to reform the practices for all times and places. While for Wadud, its Qur’anic reform as establishing precedent for continual development toward as just social order.[13] The social order should be obtained not only emphasizing the fair treatment of women but also making them as social agents responsible for contributing to the advancement of society.

In the matter of inheritance, Wadud proposed that the distribution of inheritance should regard many considerations: a) the distribution of inheritance should be given to both surviving male and female heirs, b) some wealth of inheritance can be bequeathed, and c) the distribution should consider to the circumstance of the bereft of heirs, their benefit to the deceased and the benefits of the wealth inherited.[14] Besides, Wadud said that the distribution of the inheritance must be equitable.[15]

[1] http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/11/19/dr-amina-wadud-for-a-progressive-islam.html. Accessed on October 11, 2014

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amina_Wadud. Accessed on october 9, 2014

[3]  Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 1.

[4] Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 1 Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 2.

[5] Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 2.

[6] Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3.

[7] Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3 Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999),  p. xiii.

[8] Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3.

[9] Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3 Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999),  p. xii.

[10]  Muḥammad Shaḥrūr, Naḥw Uṣūl Jadīdah li al-Fiqh al-Islāmī: Fiqh al-Mar’ah  [al-Waṣiyyah; al-Irth; al-Qiwāmah; al-Ta‘aduddiyyah; al-Libās], (Damascus, al-Ahālī li al-Ṭiba‘ah wa al-Nashr wa al-Tawzī‘, 2000), p. 21.

[11] Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3 Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999),  p. xii.

[12]  Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3 Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999),  p. xiii.

[13]  Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3 Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999),  p. xiii.

[14] Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3 Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999),  p. 88.

[15] Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3 Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999),  p. 87.

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