Salafis, Kalam, complexity, and hijab

Mere Islam (The Salafis and Their Kalam, Kalam, Kalam) provides links to intriguing critiques of what seem to be ironic theological inconsistencies among some contemporary Salafi thinkers given their declared hostility to speculative theology.

Mere Islam: The Salafis and Their Kalam, Kalam, Kalam….

Of special interest in this article is the inclusion of some statements by a couple of noted “Salafi” scholars in which they speculate about Kalam Allah and it’s relationship to His essence, attributes, and actions—thus ironically engaging in the kalam (a.k.a. speculative theology) that they so often condemn in rather absolute terms.

Mere Islam concludes:

In my mind, all of this just confirms what Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad asserts in Contentions 8, which is that Salafism is “an unsuccessful flight from complexity”. Ouch!

That’s precisely how I’d sum it up, as well.  A fearful refusal to engage with the inherent (and beautiful) ambiguity and multiplicity that exists by design within Islamic tradition.  I do not believe a Muslim is allowed, much less expected, to treat questions of faith or practice mechanically, without any reflection and struggle to discern right from wrong in light of one’s knowledge and capabilities. (Otherwise, how can one be responsible for one’s decisions?  How can one even do good if one is not engaged to some degree in the process of determining what the good is?)

An additional dimension to this problem, I think, is what Khaled Abou El Fadl calls the flight to the “refuge of the text”.  The instinctive resort to rigid literalism and intense hostility to interpretation–not that it is cognitively speaking even possible to refrain from interpretation, of course–are also symptoms of this modern malaise, this fear of complexity in religious matters.

I only wish this problem were only limited to Salafis, or to vexing theological conundra.

To give an example that cuts across denominational lines, how often does one hear of the “complexity” of evidence for hijab acknowledged?

There’s a reason why Fadwa El Guindi defines the hijab as a “complex notion that has gradually developed a set of related meanings” in her excellent sociological study, Veil: Modesty, Privacy and Resistance.  I have absolutely no interest in debating the merits of or evidence for hijab being required.  Hijab is a tradition for which I have the utmost respect and sentimental attachment so long as it is uncoerced.  But whatever one’s fiqhi position is, the conventional stand is the result of a fairly complex, non-self-evident interpretative process, and one that depends on a number of apriori assumptions, some of which are arguably open to debate.  That fact doesn’t in itself invalidate the traditional conclusion by any means, but it does show that this isn’t simply a case of blind obeidience to scripture, free of any interpretation, assumptions or preferences by scholars.

For example, the word hijab appears, if memory serves, 7 times in the Quran, and none of those ayats refer clearly to a head covering.  Think about that.  Most, to the contrary, of these verses refer undeniably to spatial obstacles such as curtains, or the barrier between life and death, etc.  Yet one would never guess this given how the term is used both popularly and among scholars today.

As a result of this creative interpretive process, a complex, ambiguous metaphor in the Quran has been limited, in the name of Islamic tradition, to one, specific legalistic application.  There is rich irony to how so many Muslim scholars today demand that Muslims accept literally and without question what is at bottom a metaphorical reading by them of scripture–i.e., that a word with so many possible meanings denotes primarily the headscarf–and a theological construct arising out of their free interpretation of a set of passages that interact in a complex manner and which are open to a number of readings.

The other irony is that this process actually reduces the scope of a Divine commandment, by whittling a broad, universal Quranic ideal–a holistic ethos of modesty and self-restraint in all walks of life applicable to both men and women–down to a single practice affecting only women.

Now, perhaps the conclusion of this process of reasoning–i.e., that, whatever the linguistic details may be, hijab should be understood to primarily refer to a woman’s head covering–is justified, but why this aversion to admitting that there is a process at work and making explicit all one’s assumptions about said process?

And why on earth leave the discussion of these important details, nuances and shades of meaning in the hands of sociologists, academics of religion, feminists, secularists, and so on?    I ask this because if you want this type of in-depth insight that is, ironically, were you have to turn in my experience, at least in English.  When doing research on this recently for an article on the headscarf–fear not, my focus was sociological, as opposed to theological–I was struck by how the one place one seemed almost guaranteed not to find a nuanced discussion of complex usage of the term in the Quran was in “traditional” religious literature, even by contemporary Western Muslim scholars.

It needn’t be thus.  But it is.

Anyway, as much as I disagree with Salafis, lament their influence, and agree that they have a deep-seated aversion to nuance in matters of aqida, I have to confess that I don’t think them the only Muslims who are afraid of complexity.  It’s a handicap that we all struggle with, albeit in different ways and to different degrees.   I suspect that it’s part of being “modern”, at least at the moment.

But back to our sheep, as the French say.

It’s a different topic, but Shaykh Murad’s quip reminds me of the failed schemes of Muslim-baiters today who resort to simplistic theories of Muslim Exceptionalism (i.e,. the idea that Muslims, being a species wholly unto themselves, cannot be understood or dealt with like other human beings) as an explanation for everything that’s wrong in the world.  This explanatory framework, beloved of Islamophobes and innocent of half a century of sociological advances, only obfuscates the origins of today’s conflicts and makes it harder for everyone to make sense of the world.

Postscript:

As I said, I don’t have a problem with hijab. My problem is with how the profound notion–which I consider to be a deeply spiritual worldview, as opposed to simply a legalistic point, that is no less encumbent on men than women–far too often gets mangled and/or selectively invoked in contemporary Islamic thought, including by otherwise reliable scholars.

When I originally wrote this post, I didn’t have some of my books handy.  Just dug out two I was thinking of, so to bring this to conclusion I am going to quote two recent studies on the topic.

The Muslim Veil in North America: Issues and Debates, edited by Sajida Alvi, Homa Hoodfar, & Sheila McDonough

From Soraya Hajjaji-Jarrah’s brilliant and engrossing  “Women’s Modesty in Qur’anic Commentaries:  The Founding Discourse” in the invaluable The Muslim Veil in North America: Issues and Debates (eds. Alvi, Hoodfar, and McDonough)”

Verse 53 of Chapter 33 reads as follows: “And when you ask them [the Prophet's wives] for something, ask them from behind a veil (hijab); that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs.”

This represents the Qur’an’s sole use of the term hijab in relation to women.  Its isolated context is further confined within certain boundaries.  Hijab here refers exclusively to the Qur’anic prescriptive mode of communication between believing mena nd the wives of the Prophet. [...]

Everywhere else in the Qur’an, the term hijab–which, in its various derivatives, occurs seven times in all–retains the connotations of either a physical or a metaphorical barrier without reference to women or their clothing.  [...]

Thus, the Qur’anic usage of the term hijab seems somewhat removed from the notion of dress or clothing of any kind.  For this reason, we maintain that the early Muslims, Muhammad’s contemporaries, did not understand the Qur’anic term hijab to mean what many people today think it means, namely, the near-total concealment of a Muslim woman’s physical features.

Veil: Modesty, Privacy and Resistance (Dress, Body, Culture) by Fadwa El Guindi

Similarly, Fadwa El Guidi carefully examines the meaning of hijab in light of Quran, Hadith, Arabic grammar, and history and culture in Veil: Modesty, Privacy and Resistance (Dress, Body, Culture) and concludes that

The European term “veil” (with its correlate “seclusion”), therefore, fails to capture these nuances, and oversimplifies a complex phenmonenon. [...] Furthermore, “veil” as commonly used gives the illusion of having a single referent, whereas it ambiguously refers at various times to a face cover for a women, a transparent head cover, or an elaborate headdress [...]

Evidence from its usage in the Qur’an and from early Islamic feminist discourse, as well as anthropological analysis, supports the notion that hijab in Islam as referring to a sacred divide or separation between two worlds or spaces: deity and mortals, good and evil, light and dark, believers and nonbelievers, or aristocracy and commoners.  The phrase min wara’ al-hijab (from behind the hijab) emphasizes the element of separation/partition, not, as is commonly proposed and frequently assumed, women’s seclusion.  [...]  When the reference is to women’s dress, the pertinent meaning combines sanctity, reserve, and privacy. [Not just, or even primarily, clothing.  These values apply equally to men.  There's infinitely more to hijab than clothing. --Svend]

Compare this to the painfully superficial discussions one gets from most modern “traditional” sources.  (I put that in quotes not to call into question the concept but highlight how on this matter I think many contemporary treatments unworthy of a tradition that produced dazzlingly nuanced and scrupulous scholars like  Al-Ghazzali, Ibn Taymiyya, Abu  Hanifa, Qurtubi, Ibn Arabi, …).

What is a conscientious believer who both cares  about gender justice and is committed living up to God’s message to do?  Who do you turn to for guidance in such a situation–an inherently secular and sometimes poorly informed academic system that is at least willing to grapple with complexity, or a male-dominated religious establishment that while pious and deeply informed generally seems allergic to (or unwilling to publicly demonstrate) nuance and evenhandedness on questions of gender?  I don’t say that to be polemical.  It’s a rhetorical (and I think very legitimate) question for which I don’t have an answer.

Whatever the answer is, I think there is a serious problem about which, for all our talk about reform and renewal, many of us prefer to bury our head in the sand.  (Sometimes because we’re more interested in being seen by others as “traditional” than actually living up to– or doing justice to–our tradition.)

Update (March 31, 2007): Added the postscript.

Update (June 23, 2007): I’m promoting my responses to 2 comments to the body of the post since I think they clarify a few important points.

Response #1:

Salaams, UZ, and thanks for the comment.

I don’t disagree all that much with you.

My interest here isn’t in advocating a particular stand on hijab, but for sake of conversation I’ll note that our main point of disagreement probably concerns what exactly is being enjoined. I see the headscarf as one of many practices that can promote the ideal of modesty and proper comportment. It is acceptance of that broader *principle* that I consider fard, not this one particular practice.

There are all sorts of social practices against which the Quran and/or Hadith thunder in the strongest possible terms. Backbiting, lieing, elitism, indifference to the suffering of others, ad infinitum. These are *ideals* rather than concrete practices, and ideals are by definition difficult if not impossible to encourage via law, much less enforce. However, in the case of hijab (which is not a specific practice but rather an ideal) we try to do just that, and in a manner that given its coercive nature is ultimately counterproductive and infantilizing to women.

Again, as I said I have nothing but respect for the practice and choice of hijab. But just as one should not attempt to legislate ethical ideals such as total honesty one should not legislate the implementation of the ideal of modesty in people’s lives. There are always limitations on one’s freedom–that’s what law is about–but to cross the line into forcing people to be pious is a huge mistake, and I think one that partly results from the unsuccessful internalization by Muslims of Western secular political ideas and legal precepts.

But all this is a distraction from the point. I’m talking about the simplistic way so many leading scholars discuss hijab, not hijab itself. I respect the conclusion that it is fard–there certainly are many arguments there–but not unwillingness of scholars to openly discuss the arguments for a practice which is not fundamental to one’s aqida.

You note that you’ve heard such arguments before. My point is not their existence but the rarety with which they are acknolwedged–much less dealt with seriously–by traditional scholars. This issue is not black & white, but that is precisely how it is invariably discussed in major Islamic fora.

Actually, I think the emphasis on modesty is clearly and repeatedly implied by the emphasis on separation. Unless gender segregation is arbitrary or punitive, the inescapable conclusion seems that its aim is to encourage modesty, both in dress or in *behavior*.

I realize that these terminological nuances don’t invalidate the traditional stand. But they do, I think, symbolize how simplistic and hostile to complexity analyses by many contemporary scholars are.

As I said, it doesn’t have to be this way. Traditional scholars could and should be leading the debate, but few even acknowledge that a debate exists, and legitimately so. Which is why for many Muslim women they are totally irrelevant when it comes to hijab.

Ironically, by ceding the discussion to academics, feminists, etc., these scholars are encouraging the unfettered ijtihad that they fear.

Finally, one can criticize trends among contemporary traditional scholars without calling into question the tradition itself.

Response #2:

Salaams, Sophister

Well, my intention wasn’t to write a treatise on hijab (a topic about which I do not obsess) but simply to highlight a example of widespread oversimplification of a complicated topic.

While I respect the conventional interpretation and am completely comfortable with the headscarf as a voluntary social practice, I think the substantive conclusion (i.e., that the headscarf is required on all women in all circumstances) suffers from comparable internal inconsistencies. Setting aside terminological issues–which I agree do not have a direct bearing on whether it is obligatory–I do not think the evidence of the Quran and Sunnah clearly mandate the headscarf at all, at least not in the way we now understand it.

There are a lot of legitimate questions that need to be addressed before you can make that blanket claim, IMO, and I don’t see many “traditional” scholars bothering to answer them before doing so.

Also, I forgot to reply to an interesting thing UmmZaynab. She rightfully distinguished between the real but subordinate spiritual role of played by hijab and the all important first principles embodied in the Five Pillars. My concern, though, is that far too often this line is implicitly blurred by contemporary scholars as they wildy overreact and overemphasize the issue, in the process reducing women’s faith to a binary fashion choice.

Then there’s the almost universal refusal to acknolwedge the possibility that non-hijabi Muslimahs sincerely believe–and based on the *evidence* as opposed to the whisperings of Shaitan–that Islam does not require the headscarf. The implication is invariably that they are rebelious and/or wayward women who lack respect for Islamic tradition. That’s by no means always the case.

As I always say, my problem is not with hijab. It is with what people (usually men) today do with hijab. There are all sorts of modern cultural and pscychological neuroses (e.g., male anxiety over competition with women in the workplace) that are playing out beneath the surface of this debate. We liberals aren’t the only ones who struggle with our nafs (ego) in matters of religion.

P.S. I’m glad some people find this post useful, but I should note that I’m ambivalent about the Carnival of Brass picking this up. I certainly think it’s a legitimate topic for discussion, but I wasn’t looking to make a big statement, and I don’t consider this searious treatment of question. Nor do I wish to be (or be seen as) a crusader against hijab.

I was just musing on the topic for those who share my interests.

This post isn’t really about hijab. It’s about an example of the humanity and resulting fallibility of scholars.

To some, that is the most subversive topic of all, but that’s another discussion.

  • http://www.rickshawdiaries.blogspot.com Baraka

    Salaam,
    I hope you’ll consider submitting this insightful piece, or something else, to the upcoming carnival!
    http://blogcarnival.com/bc/submit_424.html
    Warmly,
    Baraka

  • AbdulAleem

    Salam
    … and there is khumur (pl. of khimâr) in Surah al-Nur v. 31, which, for example, M.A.S. Abdel Haleem translates as “headscarves” and Muhammad Asad as “head-coverings”. Elsaid M. Badawi and Muhammad Abdel Haleem are the authors of the forthcoming Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage (Brill, April 2007, €145) and I am keen to see their definition of khimar (and so many other words). Will it be fixed or nuanced, specific or general? I hope that this dictionary, being one of usage, leans towards complexity.

  • http://abusinan.blogspot.com abusinan

    I find it a bit odd that one HAS to be commanded to do every little thing in life. Sure, there is no commandment to cover the hair, but there most certainly is a commandment to be modest.
    In Jewish and Christian tradition, as well as Islamic tradition, modesty has always included the covering of the hair. Some Orthodox Jews wear hijab, others I feel subvert the real message and shave their heads and wear wigs to cover their hair.
    If you look at the most traditional of Christian communities, in places like Eastern Europe and East Africa, you’ll note that the most observant of women cover their hair.
    In Ethiopia, in the Christian churches there, the women are REQUIRED to cover in the Church and they sit seperated from the men. The seperation between men and women is also observed at most Orthodox Jewish synagogues.
    The New Testament a woman with uncovered hair is declared to be a shame on her family and the town.
    The Qur’an, nor any religious text, is not large enough to lay out every single thing that is banned or allowed, let alone “makrooh”. Generalities are what are outlined and people’s common sense is what guides after that.
    Hijab, I feel, as do Orthodox Judaism and Christian texts, is required. However, I do not feel that anyone has the right to impose it. It is something that is between God and the woman.
    My wife does not wear Hijab, although I have made my feelings known that I would like her to. She has indicated that it is her wish in the future to do so. That is enough for me.
    It is between her and God.
    Modesty is required of both men and women. It is outlined, in generalities, in The Qur’an, The Old Testament and The New Testament.
    Even take a look at what passes for “modesty” in non monotheistic religions like Hinduism, where the women often cover their hair as well. Ancient pagan women and priestess often covered their hair as a sign of modesty.
    It seems to be almost a universal concept, if not for differences of reasoning.
    Is hijab/hair covering the end all and be all of modesty? Of course not. Hijab itself is not a direct linsk to haricovering. Literally, in Arabic, it means a “screen”. Hence it is much more than haircovering.
    Modesty includes a lot of things. Modesty includes the way you carry yourself, not just the clothes you wear. It is about the words you use and how you use them.
    It is entirely possible to cover your hair and not to be modest. I have seen many women who cover who are much less modest than women who do not. The well known example would be the woman who goes to the mall in skin tight pants, high heels, with cleavage showing. She is wearing perfume that could be smelled from 20 yards away, she is smacking away on her gum, laughing and talking as loud as she can. But, she has her hair covered.
    Is she more modest than the woman with loose fitting clothes, long sleeve shirt, hair tied back who carries herself with self control and decency? Of course she is not.
    I think the whole talk about “the hijab” (again the term hijab is a misnomer) is distracting. It causes us to loose sight of what is import.
    The Qur’an commands men and women to modesty, but the hijab(hair-covering) is only a small aspect of it. It also allows people to wrongly get the impression that no similar demands are made of Muslim men, when they most certainly are.
    Covering the hair, as a part of modesty, I think is a given, and it has been a given for many religions, pagan and monotheistic, for thousands of years.
    Is it, and it’s value, overplayed and over talked about? It sure is. There is much more I’d rather hear and talk about, violence in family, violence in our communities, racism and the Muslim communities, the way we treat new comers to Islam.
    All of these are much more important issues than a piece of cloth that covers a woman’s hair.

  • Isa

    I am not touching the hijab topic with a pole of any length. However, your post reminded me of something Abdullah Trevathan said in the BBC series, “The Retreat”. He mentioned that in modern times there has been a secularization and a rationalization of Islam. Ironically this has been carried out by those who are probably most opposed to secularism, but it is a process that has been going on unnoticed by them. It has resulted in everything having to come down to one answer that we can cut-up, dissect and then put up and say, “this is Islam” and everything else isn’t. As a result of this the mystery of religion, and how can the Divine be other than a mystery to our limited minds, is destroyed. I think that this is the result of the scientific world view that muslims of all persuasions have fallen into, because it is the reality we live in. You, however, are much more of an expert on that topic than me.
    I think the question each individual has to ask themselves is if we are willing to be open to what goes beyond our intellect. We have to know if we are willing to experience what we cannot explain or are not certain about. And in the final analysis we all have to accept that no one knows for certain except for Allah.

  • http://acommentator.blogsome.com Mother Converts To Islam Whilst Living In DK. Decadent Danes Affronted.

    Complex is okay then? Great! LOL.
    The yearning is, after all.
    Now I am not too good with words, but my argument for the head covering is personal. When I read for the first time I was a little perplexed as I could not see that strict thing about the head covering. But I tried it anyway, and it works for me. For me the head covering as well as the modest voluminous clothing is a tool, a reminder, it helps me to be contemplative, peaceful. I breathe easier. This leads to blossoming.
    Preparing to leave the protective home environment and dressing in that I would not see disrespected is a calming process. Sometimes I try to imagine what it would feel like if I was dressing in that which I felt forced to wear. I cannot get my head around that one.
    We see plenty of the younger muslim women here dressed in spray on jeans and showy manners but with the very beautifully tied headscarf stopping just short of mammary area perched on top of what is, by anybody’s standards, an outfit screaming to be seen as sexy. Flyfishing works in the same way. Even if we are told what to do we all do it our own way.
    It is all very beautiful and mind blowing. Alhamdulillah.

  • http://omar.dgatto.com OmarG

    Salaam Svend,
    >>the inherent (and beautiful) ambiguity and multiplicity that exists by design within Islamic tradition.
    Yes! I am undecided as to whether this ambiguity and multiplicity comes straight from the Quran (and/or Sunnah) or is it a result of human intellectual engagement which is inherently limited with the unlimitedness (is that a word?) of revelation. Thoughts?

  • http://azizaizmargari.wordpress.com Aziza

    Salaam alaikum,
    Here’s to ambiguity and discourse. So many Muslims say that there is no coercion in religion, but when it comes to something that has been deemed fard by the majority of scholars, they want to impose it. I prefer knowing the difference between who’s pious and who’s not. What’s the good in something if everyone is forced to do it.
    I think that we Muslims were a lot more open to discussion and debate than before. I have some theories on why certain scholars drew the line in the sand and said that you could not venture near speculative reasoning, philosophy, and questioning. Funny thing is that the theologians who argued against philosophers used the philsopher’s methods. Just my thought, I’m off now to do some work.
    I just love this blog…helps keep me sane.
    peace and light,
    Aziza

  • http://masooma.blogspot.com otowi

    As you mentioned,I wonder if the use of the word hijab isn’t a misnomer that can lead to confusion. The ayahs in Qur’an that refer to what we call hijab don’t say hijab, they say khimar, for example. It seems to me the real issue is just what is Islamic Modest Dress and Behavior for men and women.
    Also, in reference to Aziza’s comment, I learned from a few people who strike me as rather enlightened that you cannot successfully separate Islam from philosophy – to truly be interested in understanding what God has revealed, it requires interest and investigation into philosophy.

  • UmmZaynab

    Okay, I can’t resist commenting any longer… I tried, really I did.
    I have heard this argument so many times about where the word “hijab” is used in the Qur’an. I don’t understand why anyone views this as relevant. The verses in the Qur’an that discuss women’s dress do not use the word “hijab” (or any of its variants), they use other words that are very specific in meaning and relate directly to head-covering. The adoption of the word “hijab” to refer to women’s dress is a later linguistic phenomenon. (Because, of course, language in use is constantly evolving.) So what on earth does it prove to discuss how the word “hijab” is used in the Qur’an? And where does the Qur’an “command to modesty”? This is another one I keep hearing. The word “modesty” is not in the Qur’an. It simply does not say that anywhere, yet people keep claiming that that’s “all” the Qur’an asks and therefore we can wear pretty much whatever we want because “modesty” is culturally defined.
    I am not Salafi. I do believe that hijab is an obligation. But I do not believe it is not a determiner of faith on a par with the Five Pillars (as some people do), rather I believe it is between a person and God. That is not inconsistent with the fact that the Qur’an says it should be worn. But I don’t understand why this need to try to “prove” that it is not in the Qur’an or not in Islam at all.

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com Svend

    Salaams, UZ, and thanks for the comment.
    I don’t disagree all that much with you.
    My interest here isn’t in advocating a particular stand on hijab, but for sake of conversation I’ll note that our main point of disagreement probably concerns what exactly is being enjoined. I see the headscarf as one of many practices that can promote the ideal of modesty and proper comportment. It is acceptance of that broader *principle* that I consider fard, not this one particular practice.
    There are all sorts of social practices against which the Quran and/or Hadith thunder in the strongest possible terms. Backbiting, lieing, elitism, indifference to the suffering of others, ad infinitum. These are *ideals* rather than concrete practices, and ideals are by definition difficult if not impossible to encourage via law, much less enforce. However, in the case of hijab (which is not a specific practice but rather an ideal) we try to do just that, and in a manner that given its coercive nature is ultimately counterproductive and infantilizing to women.
    Again, as I said I have nothing but respect for the practice and choice of hijab. But just as one should not attempt to legislate ethical ideals such as total honesty one should not legislate the implementation of the ideal of modesty in people’s lives. There are always limitations on one’s freedom–that’s what law is about–but to cross the line into forcing people to be pious is a huge mistake, and I think one that partly results from the unsuccessful internalization by Muslims of Western secular political ideas and legal precepts.
    But all this is a distraction from the point. I’m talking about the simplistic way so many leading scholars discuss hijab, not hijab itself. I respect the conclusion that it is fard–there certainly are many arguments there–but not unwillingness of scholars to openly discuss the arguments for a practice which is not fundamental to one’s aqida.
    You note that you’ve heard such arguments before. My point is not their existence but the rarety with which they are acknolwedged–much less dealt with seriously–by traditional scholars. This issue is not black & white, but that is precisely how it is invariably discussed in major Islamic fora.
    Actually, I think the emphasis on modesty is clearly and repeatedly implied by the emphasis on separation. Unless gender segregation is arbitrary or punitive, the inescapable conclusion seems that its aim is to encourage modesty, both in dress or in *behavior*.
    I realize that these terminological nuances don’t invalidate the traditional stand. But they do, I think, symbolize how simplistic and hostile to complexity analyses by many contemporary scholars are.
    As I said, it doesn’t have to be this way. Traditional scholars could and should be leading the debate, but few even acknowledge that a debate exists, and legitimately so. Which is why for many Muslim women they are totally irrelevant when it comes to hijab.
    Ironically, by ceding the discussion to academics, feminists, etc., these scholars are encouraging the unfettered ijtihad that they fear.
    Finally, one can criticize trends among contemporary traditional scholars without calling into question the tradition itself.

  • http://wishsubmission.wordpress.com/ Manas Shaikh

    I’d rather say about the inherent ‘ambiguity’ as you call it, was essential for a flexible religion, fit for people of the whole world. It is this flexibility (or ‘ambiguity’) in certain matters that allows for distant cultures to be accommodated, of course, sans their malpractices.

  • http://www.manrilla.net/ Marc

    In the Blackamerican community, Salafi’ism is on a steady decline. But do the fad-following nature of the Black community, what is going to replace it? That’s a question we should be asking and addressing…

  • http://www.manrilla.net/ Marc

    Or rather I should say: “But do TO the fad-following nature…”

  • http://www.manrilla.net/ Marc

    Or rather I should say: “But due TO the fad-following nature…”

  • http://sophister.wordpress.com Sophister

    I was basically going to say what Umm Zaynab said. I am not sure how bringing up Quranic verses that mention the word hijab, and pointing out that the way we use the word hijab now are different, is any argument at all for ambiguity concerning covering yourself as a woman (and a man). As UZ said, this is a modern phenomenon that we refer to what some people might call a chador, or a khimar, etc as hijab. Go to peshawar – no one will know what you are talking about when you say hijab.
    This “complex” analysis has been gone and done in the long history of Islam. This sort of goes to the idea that some how previos and past scholars have not been absolutely rigorous in their treatment of islamic laws and practices. Our acceptance of such islamic laws and practices, or better yet, our scholars acceptance of them, does not imply that they somehow are ignoring that a complex ijtihad took place in discerning these practices.
    In fact many do present this process for people who want to know. For those who do not want to know what traditional scholars say, they will only find answers where they want to find them.

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com svend

    Salaams, Sophister
    Well, my intention wasn’t to write a treatise on hijab (a topic about which I do not obsess) but simply to highlight a example of widespread oversimplification of a complicated topic.
    While I respect the conventional interpretation and am completely comfortable with the headscarf as a voluntary social practice, I think the substantive conclusion (i.e., that the headscarf is required on all women in all circumstances) suffers from comparable internal inconsistencies. Setting aside terminological issues–which I agree do not have a direct bearing on whether it is obligatory–I do not think the evidence of the Quran and Sunnah clearly mandate the headscarf at all, at least not in the way we now understand it.
    There are a lot of legitimate questions that need to be addressed before you can make that blanket claim, IMO, and I don’t see many “traditional” scholars bothering to answer them before doing so.
    Also, I forgot to reply to an interesting thing UmmZaynab said. She rightfully distinguished between the real but subordinate spiritual role of played by hijab and the all important first principles embodied in the Five Pillars. My concern, though, is that far too often this line is implicitly blurred by contemporary scholars as they wildy overreact and overemphasize the issue, in the process reducing women’s faith to a binary fashion choice.
    Then there’s the almost universal refusal to acknolwedge the possibility that non-hijabi Muslimahs sincerely believe–and based on the *evidence* as opposed to the whisperings of Shaitan–that Islam does not require the headscarf. The implication is invariably that they are rebelious and/or wayward women who lack respect for Islamic tradition. That’s by no means always the case.
    As I always say, my problem is not with hijab. It is with what people (usually men) today do with hijab. There are all sorts of modern cultural and pscychological neuroses (e.g., male anxiety over competition with women in the workplace) that are playing out beneath the surface of this debate. We liberals aren’t the only ones who struggle with our nafs (ego) in matters of religion.
    P.S. I’m glad some people find this post useful, but I should note that I’m ambivalent about the Carnival of Brass picking this up. I certainly think it’s a legitimate topic for discussion, but I wasn’t looking to make a big statement, and I don’t consider this searious treatment of question. Nor do I wish to be (or be seen as) a crusader against hijab.
    I was just musing on the topic for those who share my interests.
    This post isn’t really about hijab. It’s about an example of the humanity and resulting fallibility of scholars.
    To some, that is the most subversive topic of all, but that’s another discussion.


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