Authority, the Media, and Muslim Women

I have begun to read Khaled Abou El-Fadl’s Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women again. My first attempt was about two years ago while I was still finishing my Bachelor’s. The book is not easy to get through and the first time out proved to be a massive failure. This time is proving to be better, since I have more time to read it (although it is still proving to be difficult yet enjoyable to read). As we can tell from the title, a huge part of the book is dedicated to authority, as in who has authority to speak for what Islamic law says about a variety of issues, women included. A good portion of the book also deals with sources of authority and the types of authority that exist when it comes to Islamic law.

Reading Fatemeh’s post on Asra Nomani’s documentary that aired on PBS Monday evening as well Alicia’s post on the Sisters in Islam opposition and the struggles of Islamic feminists in Malaysia made me think once more authority in Islam. I believe that rethinking and challenging authority is at the heart of the recent wave of Islamic feminism that we have seen around the world. Muslim women the world over are challenging forms of authority that have often had a male face and used a patriarchal reading of Islamic texts (Qur’an and hadith literature) to justify gender oppression.  They also using traditional forms of authority, such as Islamic texts, to overcome gender oppression, bring about gender equality and create a feminism that has Islam as its heartbeat.

One of the most important tools in discussing, rethinking and challenging authority as it relates to Muslim women is the media (in this post, media will refer to the mainstream media as well as various forms of non-traditional media). As much as I have been critical of the mainstream media’s coverage of Muslim women in general, I cannot deny that it has allowed traditional authorities in the Muslim community (‘ulamah, imams, mosque boards composed mostly or entirely by men, etc.) to be challenged on their interpretation of women’s rights. The ummah has been forced to grapple with issues ranging from masjid accommodations for women and mixed gender salat to domestic violence and the texts traditionally used to justify it because the mainstream media has covered these issues.

When the media covers an event like Amina Wadud leading a mixed gender prayer, it does have the effect of making Muslims discuss women’s place in mosques. I remember when that event occurred and hearing so many Muslims say things like “Even if I don’t think women should lead salat, I wonder what the conditions are in masjids that would make her do that?” or “I don’t think women should lead salat but the accommodations for women in masajid leave a lot to be desired.”

Additionally, it did make a lot of scholars look at the place of women in masjids. While most may not have taken the position that women can lead the prayer, it did make a lot of them reaffirm women’s right to even be in a masjid and women’s to have equal access to masjids, something that was and still is sorely lacking in masjids around the world, the U.S. included. Watching Asra Nomani’s documentary on Monday evening, I admit that I was thoroughly disgusted with her tactics and confrontational style, but I also had to admit that in some way, her constant use of the media for her cause (which was vague, I admit) did make Muslims in her community think about their leadership and the role of women in the masjid in Morgantown.

This is just one example of the use of the mainstream media in challenging and reshaping authority. Non-traditional media has allowed Muslims to challenge authoritative views of women in Islam. From websites dedicated to moderate and progressive views to blogs like MMW, non-traditional media has provided a platform for Muslims to discuss traditionally authoritative views about Muslim women and to challenge them. Non-traditional media has made it easier for Muslims to discuss what Islamic texts say about women, whether we even want to accept certain texts that have traditionally been held as authoritative and more importantly, who has the authority to interpret those texts and who should have the authority to interpret those texts. We can now discuss issues like hadith literature typically used to oppress women, question them and even reject them on a much more massive scale. Non-traditional media has, for better or for worse, made it much easier for lay Muslim to challenge and even reject authority

The media will continue to play a vital role in the fight for Muslim women’s rights. One of the most important ways the media will achieve this is by encouraging Muslims to look at Islamic texts as well as those who interpret them. It will make those who interpret the texts and who do hold authority more beholden to lay Muslims; that is a good thing.

#SuitablyDressed: A hijab is perfectly suitable attire for a courtroom
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TED Talks and Superheroes: New Representations of Muslim Women
Review – Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s Refusing the Veil
  • laila

    I just bought that book, and I can’t wait to read it. I was thinking about the concept of authority in Islam after reading Maverick007 comment regarding Asra Nomani educational background/ credentials or Sisters in Islam activists facing similar opposition by the Malaysian Islamic political party. I find this a tactic to silence Muslim women, that we should be excluded from exercising our own agency and choices in constructing religious knowledge. We do not need authority or credentials to raise our concerns of injustice. Do Muslim women need authority or credentials to tell how they feel
    “that religious authority has too often been used to suppress them, experience of being excluded from the mosque, having had to listen to demeaning sermons, or having been subjected to patronizing marriage counseling by religious leaders” (Ingrid Matteson). ?

    Zainah Anwar from Sisters in Islam said it best “When we protest, they shut us up, saying we have no authority to speak about Islam. To all this we’d like to say: When Islam is used as a source of law and public policy, then all citizens must have the right to speak on the subject… No one demands that you have a degree in political science or economics or social studies before you can talk about politics, economics or social ills. We are deemed qualified to comment simply because we live these realities. But when it comes to talking about Islamic laws, qualifications suddenly become indispensable. We must hold a degree in Islamic studies, we must be able to speak Arabic. Once you’ve jumped through these hoops, a new condition is set: the hijab. And when we wear the hijab, their masterstroke is delivered – they say our ideas are against Islam.”

    When Muslim women do have the Islamic scholarship and such as Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas, Margaret Badran, Ziba Mir Hosseini, or the hundreds of other Muslim women who raise the same concerns of injustice towards women are ignored/excluded. If it’s not credentials another barrier is placed in front of them.

  • Sobia

    @ Laila:

    CO-SIGN!! Very well said!

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    “No one demands that you have a degree in political science or economics or social studies before you can talk about politics, economics or social ills.”

    Maybe not, but would your opinion carry more authority if you did have academic qualifications? I think it would and I don’t think that is wrong.

    Certainly, in more technical fields like law, medicine, physics, then study is considered essential in order to speak authoritively and Islamic law is a technical field.

    If women want to change the laws, we need to be in a position of having the knowledge of these laws. To state otherwise is defeatist.

    Why is it that vitually across the spectrum of Muslims, being an Islamic scholar is seen as being an impossible dream?

    In the past, most families sent at least one child (male or female) to study the deen to a high level. This happened across the Muslim world. We need to bring this back, so that Islamic knowledge is the gift of many rather then the preserve of a few.

    Secondly, there is a distinction between expecting someone to be a scholar and expecting them to know the basics of Islam.

    For example, when Asra Nomani states that the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was a “Deadbeat dad”. What this exposes is her lack of understanding concerning the infallibilty of the Prophets and that their actions are guided by Allah. There are numerous examples of this in the Quran. This is basic Islamic knowledge that children learn in the madrassa.

    For people to speak publically about Islam and Muslims and not have any knowledge base is troubling. We are all obliged to learn our deen.

    [This comment has been edited to fit within moderation guidelines.]

  • Rayhana

    “[A] new condition is set — the hijab.”

    One of the things that is constantly brought up here is why the Western media is so fixated on the hijab. Perhaps one part of the answer might be found in the statement above.

  • laila

    Alaykum As-Salaam,

    @ Safiya Outlines

    “Maybe not, but would your opinion carry more authority if you did have academic qualifications? I think it would and I don’t think that is wrong.”

    I disagree with you, many Muslim women opinions with academic qualifications DO NOT carry more authority because they go against the grain of those with authority “MEN”.

    To quote Asma Barlas who writes extensively on the relationship between Religious Authority and Gender,

    “It also is important to realise that religious knowledge (including tafsir of the Qur’an), has been produced within patriarchal states and societies and almost exclusively by men, which may explain why it tends to be anti-women and why women have been excluded from interpretive communities, even though Muslim women were active participants in the creation of religious knowledge during the early period of Muslim history.

    However, even though the most notable marker of religious authority among Muslims is gender, the Qur’an does not state that men have been endowed with any sort of epistemic privilege or given the right to monopolise religious meaning. Nor does Islam ordain a class of professional interpreters of religion (in the form of a clergy), or suggest that only experts should interpret religion. To the contrary, the Qur’an repeatedly calls on all believers – women and men, educated or not, laypeople and experts – to reflect for themselves on its meanings in order to understand its ayah (literally, the “signs” of God).”

    Like Barlas notes “I am among those, however, who argue that the reason the Qur’an has been read as a patriarchal text has to do with who has read it, how, and in what contexts. To make it clear, historically only male scholars have read the Qur’an, mostly in a piecemeal and decontextualized way, and always within patriarchies.” I second Faith 100% on “Muslim women the world over are challenging forms of authority that have often had a male face and used a patriarchal reading of Islamic texts (Qur’an and hadith literature) to justify gender oppression.”

    The religious authority “ulamah” is composed mostly or rather entirely by men (muftis, ayatollahs, mullahs, faqihs, imams, sheiks) who decide interpretations, pass rulings or make decisions and I think this is WRONG. For me their opinions do not necessarily carry more authority because there isn’t one form of authority regarding Islam. (It makes you think there is a clergy). And likewise, their authority has systematically excluded and marginalized woman.

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    I’m not sure what needed to be edited out of my comment.

    After mentioning the Asra Nomani example, I stated an example of ignorance you may find in another section of Muslim society (the more “traditional type” and yes, I have experienced such ignorance).

    I did so in order to be balanced, as ignorance is pretty widespread, no one group has the monopoly on it.

  • Sobia

    Sorry..I should have said this before – great post Faith!!

    The idea that one needs credentials to fight oppression, wherever that oppression may be, invalidates many grassroots movements which have relied on “the masses” – most of who do not have credentials.

    Would any of us ask indigenous peoples for their credentials whilst fighting their oppression in places like Canada or the US?

    Would any of us ask black US people if they had PhD’s in anti-racist theories so that we could take their struggle seriously?

    What about the grassroots movements in various South American countries?

    No doubt these movements had allies, or perhaps a few members, who did have such credentials, but the majority fighting the fight have not. It would be crippling to these movements to require such credentials.

    Why do we ask Muslim women if they have credentials to fight their oppression?

    And, as Laila pointed out so well, EVEN when Muslim women HAVE credentials (ie Wadud, Barlas, Badran, etc) they are dismissed because they “have an agenda.” As if men don’t have an agenda.

    This is not about having credentials. It’s about misogyny. It’s a method of silencing the Muslim female voice from within.

  • zahra


    When Asra refers to Ibrahim as a “Deadbeat Dad”, could it be her saying in her own way that Hajar – who is responsible for so much revelation in her own way (although the honor usually falls to her son) is largely skimmed over historically, even though our rights during Hajj are in part about HER history. Just a thought.

    Also, I know I am always told I shouldn’t speak to Islamic laws if I haven’t studied for decades of my life, but I do anyhow. I know enough to pose a question. I know enough to understand how it was in the first years of Islam. I know enough to appreciate interpretations of faith across time can be colored and shaped by people’s personal motivations. I know men, those who keep and interpret our faith, are not divine.

    I do think we have to learn more to make our voice stronger. I know a gal who was prevalent in the progressive movement and she was headed over to Egypt to study under a Sheik to give herself some “street cred”. I haven’t heard of the sister in the last four years so maybe she is still at it. She understood her platform would have more weight if she could back it up with a degree, if you will.

    Lastly, I do feel personally that Amina pushed communities to start to deal with women’s spaces in Mosques and roles in communities because what she did was such an affront. I feel her impact was stronger than Asra’s.I also feel she handled what she chose to do, whether or not I agree with it, with grace. She did it and largely it was done. She didn’t start renegade prayer leading, while flouting every aspect of tradition, like Asra started to do. She made a point and left it for others to debate.

    Confrontation is fine but it should be used to break ground for us pions to pave the road in their wake. Moderate (as much as one can say that) sisters everywhere want better but do not want to suffer the label “feminist” or “radical” or “progressive”. so being linked to someone like Asra is almost never a benefit.

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Sobia – But most of the civil rights groups do have widespread support within their communities, they have to, or they wouldn’t work or even be valid.

    Asma doesn’t have widespread support, nor does Irshad Manji, as they both seem to revel in their “outcast” status too much to want to work with others.

    Also, there is a middle way between Sheikh and one completely ignorant of the deen. It’s not either/or.

  • Rochelle

    Totally agree with Leila and Sobia on this point. There are no doubt barriers to ‘formal’ religious education for women, and thus it is absurd to deligitimize a women’s criticisms of her reality based on the fact that she does not have a ‘legitimate’ degree. This is like brushing off Black Americans for their lack of education while at the same time barring from universities. Or, to bring the point home, saying a woman can be predident in Iran, but at the same time requiring religious credentials for candidates AND placing barriers for women to receive such credentials.

    People know their own reality, whether or not they have been formally trained. To require such training is both elitist and patriarchal. That’s why barring women from receiving an education is so oppressive: education not only allows for informed choices and consent but legitimizes one’s opinion and point of view.

  • keni

    We should always talked about women’s rights ect, everywhere, and that should not be silenced. The trouble with Sisters in Islam in Malaysia is not the fight for women’s right, but the wrong interpretation of the syariaah law and Islamic understanding. The closed dialogue that was conducted does not help either, and the concluding bad labels made by certain religious figures towards SIS is also not welcome. I do hope SIS be more involve in dialogues with Islamic scholars and different Muslim groups (there are so many Muslim groups in Malaysia of different views on the subject of ISLAM) to correct misunderstanding, finding commonalities, and present the rights of women that should be fought for a long time, esp in Malaysia. I understand where Zainah is coming from, alike, I am in much way like her, forced to follow ignorant male leaders at school, mocked by male students because I was smarter than them (or tend to work harder), the way I speak was judged as I was so outpsoken- I often state my opinions out loud and was hated by the male figures for just being myself, also I was not viewed heavily by my male colleagues, they knew I had the abilities but yet I am a woman- my job is to stay home and raise a child- BUT this is just SOME ignorant fools that I met. I wonder where they came from,- as at the same time, my father, who is an Islamic scholar, is a great example of a man who loves us dearly and took care of us with dear heart, who loves my mom and is loved back by her and us dearly, provide us with good food and clothes, gives us good education, taught me Islam, an important figure of society, yet he disagrees with some ways that men treats women in particular- esp in the Malaysian culture. But I wonder that some women just accepts the way they are treated (they seems happy to me) and some like myself continuously do not fit in the society- so do the things we like are the same like others? Maybe for some things, maybe not for some things. At the same time of my struggle with the oppressing males, I also met some male figures who are so kind and caring of women, and they fought for women rights in the society- where do they come from?. I love my religion Islam, I love my hijab, the teaching of Islam never told me that the hatred and discriminating way is the right way I should be treated by the male figures- it has become my source of strength, knowing God is by my side.
    I think women issues are also a complex issue of culture, and most of the times, in order to be in power, some tend to abuse the word of the God for their benefits. Then this is viewed as negative by the world, and what usually was blamed is the teachings of the faiths, which is not true at all. Therefore, I do think that in understanding and criticizing a faith or a particular way of life of one, it is better to learn the faith itself from those of different views- then make your decision. Many of the views by Noni Darwish, Irshad ect, are very personal views, do they present the views of billions of other Muslim women? No they don’t. So I suggest as someone who looks from the outside, please do your homework, read different opinions, and put hatred in our hearts aside. Those women such as Noni and others might have such negative experiences in her life. Where do those negative experiences originate from? Is it the religion? or those who use the religion to impose hardships on others?
    For those women who talk about women’s rights, i applaud them for fighting for my rights, but it is not their job to change a religion that is loved by billionth others, and myself. that is all.

  • maverick007

    @ Laila’s 1st post:

    As far as I can tell, you seem to be taking umbrage at my comments on another post and yet you never addressed me and my concerns directly. Why is that?

    Do I intimidate you? Or do you consider me insignificant and unworthy of being addressed directly? Which one is it?

    To be clear, and as I said in the other post -

    What credentials does Asra Nomani have in the Muslim community? I didn’t ask about “degree[s]“. I never even uttered the word, nor did I imply the same. Does she have any previous experience working with any Muslim community on any topic of communal / social interest? Has she worked with any existing Muslim womens’ groups? Can she point to any practical experience? In other words, even grassroots experience would have been welcome.

    In this highly politicized day and age when plenty of individuals have other undeclared agendas, looking at a persons’ track record helps us assess and understand where they are coming from

    When I was referring to her performance at the Doha Debates, then I clearly implied that both of her opponents had more knowledge (and experience) on XYZ subject matter than her.

    Next time, I suggest asking me to clarify my remarks to make sure you were on the same page as I, instead of choosing to jump the gun and make knee-jerk assumptions which are way off mark.

    And by the way, do some basic research. Had you clicked on my nickname and reviewed the most recent post on my website, you would have clearly seen that I am not the misogynistic, woman-silencing straw-man you believe me to be.

  • maverick007

    About women’s education in Islamic sciences -

    Ladies, please.

    I can name over two dozen well-known, heavyweight female scholars from throughout Islamic history, starting from Aishah [raa] and onwards. I can name Muslim female scholars of the current day and age. It is erroneous to believe that there is some overwhelming patriarchal control on Islamic knowledge. It’s there for the taking, by men AND women.

    I’ve been to Jamiatul Eeman, (in Sanaa’) the largest University in the Muslim world that is independent of the government. There were plenty of women students there – both married and single women as well. They had way better facilities than the guys, and they had massive amounts of well-kept space in the main prayer hall.

    Other institutes of knowledge across the world similarly have plenty of female students. Here in North America – al-Maghrib, al-Kauthar, Arees, al-Fajr, Dr. Hashmi, Zaytuna, and many more. I don’t even agree with all of these institutions that I just mentioned, yet I none of them restrict female students, or place any kind of gender-specific barriers in their way.

    Barlas can write all she wants, fine. But the facts on the ground state otherwise.

  • Fatemeh

    @maverick007: Uh, your webpage doesn’t appear unless you enter it in the form.

  • Maverick

    I did enter it.

    Its hyperlinked to my name on my replies on the other post regarding Nomani.

  • Rochelle

    You’re right Maverick. Women have too much access to education. Let’s pray that one beautiful day, men will have the same opportunities as women for education and legitimacy within the religious establishment.

    While we’re at it, let’s make it a requirement for people to have extensive political experience and/or studies in polical science in order to vote. But that requirement only applies to people who think differently from us.

  • Sobia

    @Safiyah Outlines:

    “But most of the civil rights groups do have widespread support within their communities, they have to, or they wouldn’t work or even be valid.”

    And is that how they started? It’s not as if millions of people all got up one say and said “let’s all of us start fighting oppression today – at the exact same time!”

    All movements start with a few people – and not always those who have credentials. How many Indian freedom fighters had degrees in anti-oppression work? Gandhi was a lawyer trained in British laws – not exactly an anti-oppression profession (anyhow, he wasn’t the one who started the fight against British occupation and colonization).

    And perhaps Nomani or Manji are not the ones many Muslims want to follow but that does not mean they should not try just because they don’t have “credentials.”

    Additionally, how many mariginalized people have access to enough education anyways? What you are implying is that only those who have the privilege of getting an education of sorts have the right to fight oppression. Those who have not been privileged should just sit at home and wait until someone more educated and privileged comes along.

    Isn’t that a silencing of the marginalized voice?

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Sobia – “And perhaps Nomani or Manji are not the ones many Muslims want to follow”

    Now why could that be? Why don’t we ask that question?

    You are incorrect to conflate the aforementioned with genuine grassroots activism. Neither Nomani or Manji have been denied an education or the opportunity to learn more about Islam, yet they continue to remain misinformed about key issues.

    Not only that, but they actually propagate inaccurate information, the most sinister of which being Manji’s assertion that Muslims were complicit in the Holocaust. Obviously she was too oppressed to read about the many Muslims across Europe who died trying to save the Jews. Not to mention the many Muslims who fought alongside the Allied forces.

    When someone is given the opportunity to speak for Islam and Muslims, particularly in the Western Media, we are right to examine this person and wonder why they are being given such a platform when others aren’t. Such an examination isn’t silencing.

    My main problem with Normani and Manji, is that I feel they are popular not because of their status amongst Muslims, but because they tell non Muslims want they want to hear. By doing so, they are denying real community activists the chance to be heard and that is tragic for everyone.

  • laila

    @ Maverick007
    You do not intimate me nor do I consider you insignificant, I didn’t believe I hide from you, I addressed your comment and stated your name and I addressed it on this post of “Authority, the Media and Muslim women” because it I believed it connected to the issue of authority and Muslim women (references to credentials as a form of authority to speak, or lack of credentials to discredit). Maverick007, you claim your reference of credentials did not imply “degrees” but in your argument #39 you explicitly stated, “When you go to a doctor, you listen to him / her because you understand the doctor has the theoretical knowledge from an accredited institution of higher education, that he or she is licensed by the authorities to practice”. You placed credentials in the context and language of doctors, professors, accredited institutions/higher education, and authority for approval/license, this is how you presented it. It is not my job to make your intentions and your arguments clear- it is your responsibility to be sensitive to the language and context of your arguments- unless you meant it to be understood this way.

    As for your second reference to credentials, I do not know much-if anything about Asra Nomani. I do know that “Sister in Islam” have worked with existing women’s group, they do have grassroots experience and they have worked with Muslim community on any topic of communal / social interest, so even the second take on credentials doesn’t work. Please understand this argument of credentials was also made on Afghan Muslimah activists protesting the “rape law”; these women were told they do not have the theoretical academic qualifications to dissent or protest (that usual doctor example was used on them too, as well as “Sisters In Islam”). Likewise, we shouldn’t think that a claim is correct simply because someone with credentials claims it to be. Asking for “credentials” is not a good reason to ignore the claim of discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization that women experience daily, or the evidence provided. Credentials are irrelevant to the truth of these claims — you should be examining the worth of the argument and simply not reject it because the source does not come from a religious institution, a particular school of thought or a particular spectrum of Islam. By doing so you are dismissing it as not worthy of serious examination and that is a poor way to respond to criticism made. All I ask is that Muslim women claims and arguments be examined seriously and fairly. Seriously and fairly!

    I know our perceptions are different and so are our every day experiences and but take note many of us do feel like we are silenced when we are told to be quiet, stop ranting so bitterly… and move on.

    @ Sobia #7—Exactly and credentials were also used to abuse and oppress movements and the people


    I believe we’re living at a time when many of our governments in Muslim countries don’t care about educating anyone, man, woman or child. Having no access to education (both secular and religious) is one major way to oppress people. I live in the Kingdom and I have not found any centers or schools where I can learn Arabic and Islamic studies easily ( I have had to resort to having my Yemeni friend tutor me in Arabic and trying to find time to take a few classes here and there to learn about Tajweed, Tafsir, etc, which is not the intensive Islamic studies program I was hoping to partake in). At the same time we have scholars who are not doing their job as well in teaching people privately and in not just teaching but applying what the learn to the real world. There are hadiths illustrating the sort of time we are living in (these are just some of the signs of the End Times). People’s frustration with not knowing or understanding what is or isn’t Islamic stems from this overall frustration at having corrupt rulers lining their own pockets while neglecting to rule properly. I think grassroots education is necessary and for those willing to educate others you must have a basic understanding of Islam even if you’re not at the scholarly level. You should gain a pretty good understanding of Arabic and be familiar with the sources of legislation (Quran, Sunnah, Ijma as Sahabah and the process of analogy or Qiyas). At the very least you must have enough knowledge to question scholars with how they understood the problem/issue at hand, where they found the evidences to support their ruling, and how applicable they to reality they could prove their ruling to be. You should also have enough understanding to distinguish a reliable scholar from an unreliable one. Finally you should convey whatever you learned to the general public (friends, family, acquaintances, etc) in a manner that is easy and understandable to them. This is for those of us who seriously want to engage in Da’wah work at a public level.

  • Sobia

    @ Safiya Outlines:

    I’m speaking in general terms – not just in reference to Nomani and Manji. Your argument would deny *anyone* without “appropriate” education the right to fight oppression. If you make the argument that one needs scholarship to fight oppression within the mosque then that may silence Manji and Nomani, but it also silences many other voices, which to me is of more concern than Nomani or Manji (with whom I don’t agree either)

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Sobia, please read what I have written. I am not against genuine grassroots activism, I’ve stated that above.

    What I am in favour of, is for us Muslims holding to account those whom claim to speak for us, male or female, using whatever criteria we wish (i.e, not necessarily scholarly knowledge).

    I understand your concerns that fixating on scholarship is silencing and can lead to goal post shifting. However, I do feel that making religious knowledge more accessible to all is an important task.

  • laila

    Last week Muslim women in the media were silenced with “credentials” as authority. This week in Yusra’s recent post on the Doha Debates regarding Muslim women marriages, the tactic used to silence those who disagreed was the citing of “consensus” by Yassir Qadhi and also echoed by Yusra, “There is already a consensus amongst Islamic scholars that makes this debate illegitimate”.

    In the argument “consensus” is used as an authority for accepting the claim, and also as evidence for the claim. Yet no reason and no adequate evidence were given to take this “consensus” as a reliable indicator of what is true. Many people have outlined problems with the uses and abuses of “consensus”, such as Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq who demonstrates how “consensus” of the people was “reduced to the consensus of a select few”, or how other times it is used as divine sanctity, or the lack of caution taken in its validity, or how “consensus” is claimed even when there is none, or how it is a “frequently cited tool to quieten opponents” and many more examples are given in the essay “The Doctrine of Ijma:Is there a consensus?”

    So I must critically ask… who toke part in this “consensus” addressing Muslim women? Who made this agreement, the Ummah, or the Ulumah, all jurists, or a minority of jurists? When did his agreement/”consensus” take place? What are the underlining jurisprudence regarding this “consensus”? This is an important question because many female scholars recognize the overwhelmingly misogynist nature of traditional fiqh (jurisprudence) and the context of patriarchy within the society and gender-relations. Has there been a follow up action on this “consensus”, if so what method was used to critically test, analyzed and evaluated it. Most importantly, did Muslim women participate in this agreement/ “consensus” taking into consideration it is their agency and choice that is in question?

    Again I repeat what Zainah Anwar from Sisters in Islam said “When Islam is used as a source of law and public policy, then all citizens must have the right to speak on the subject” and that also means taking it seriously and fairly, simply stating a “consensus” is not good enough!

    I also find the opinion poll is inadequate evidence, it is a sample from the viewers who knew of the show’s poll, those from the Middle East that is not a large percentage of Muslim women, and among those who have internet connection.

  • laila

    This link was part of my above comment on the authority of “consensus” and its uses and abuses.

    Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq, “The Doctrine of Ijma:Is there a consensus?”