It’s all in the interpretation

More woman-friendly interpretations of Islam may be penetrating into the grassroots more and more. For example, in an interview, Zakia Nizami Soman of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, “a movement of Muslim women across India struggling for their citizenship rights,” says:

Islam speaks of a God who is just. The Quran has given women equal rights and equal dignity. We are as much God’s followers as men are. The problem arises not from the Quran but from distorted, patriarchal interpretations of the Quran and other texts by some sections of the ulema. This is something that we have to fight against. Islam is a religion of justice. So, how, if it is interpreted properly, can it discriminate against women? For us, religion is something between the individual and God, a belief grounded in the faith that God cannot be unjust towards women. So, even if a thousand maulvis stand up and demand that women are inferior and that we should remain shut in their homes we will refuse to listen to them.

Good. Mind, you, this translates into saying that the moral message of Islam is exactly what Soman wants it to be. Which is fine: with so much room for “interpretation,” religious speech is essentially meaningless. It can be whatever a group of the faithful interprets it to mean.

Islam would then become an incoherent set of moral intuitions wrapped up in supernatural endorsements. That is also fine. It would be even better if the faithful then also kept their supernatural stuff out of serious intellectual enterprises such as science. That’s too much to ask for, but still, I can only welcome whatever goes against the notion of a clearly identifiable “Islam.”

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University