How Should We Understand the Place of the Qur’an Today?

Sarah Swick, Minaret of Freedom Institute, www.minaret.org

In addition to the hijab issue discussed in my previous blog, another constant theme during the recent “Women in Islam” conference I attended in Germany was the role or place of the Qur’an in our lives. There were two perspectives presented at the conference: one position that emphasizes what they see as the original intention of the Qur’an, and the second approach being re-reading the Qur’an.

Nahed Selim, author of Take the Koran Away from the Men, largely represented the first position at the conference. Ms. Selim who is an Egyptian-Dutch journalist believes that by empowering women, we can empower Islam. Ms. Selim argued that in order to empower women we need another concept of religion- one that is uniquely an ethical concept that lets go of literal texts.

Ms. Selim criticized the work of Dr. Aminah Wadud and Dr. Asma Barlas, among other, which seeks to re-interpret or re-read the Qur’an. Ms. Selim criticized these female theologians for trying to protect the Qur’an from criticisms of modernity; rather Ms. Selim says it is up to God to protect the Qur’an. Therefore, she believes we should look at the original intent of the Qur’ain, which she argued was the improvement of the lives of women. According to her, we should then maintain this intent, even if it means omitting or ignoring certain verses in the Qur’an. Here, she cited the abolishment of slavery as evidence that this approach has been used before and should also be applied to issues pertaining to women..

Moreover, when pressured by a questioner in the audience, Ms. Selim admitted that it was important to re-interpret the texts, but, according to her, even from a female perspective the Qur’an discriminates against women.

While I agree with Ms. Selim that we need to remember the intention and overarching principles of the Qur’an, such as justice, I find her approach problematic. The Qur’an is universal in time and place. If we come across a verse, which doesn’t fit our lifestyle, we should not simply ignore that verse and throw it out. Rather we need to critically examine both our understanding of the verse and our lifestyle.

This leads us to the second approach presented at the conference: re-interpreting the Qur’an, which I will discuss in the next and final part of this blog series.

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