Notable Muslim Reform Women – (plus notes about Islam from a woman historian)

Notes gathered for a handout available to Interfaith Inquiry participants, August 25, 2022

“We need a new theology, a period similar to the Protestant Reformation. . . .“ Mohammad Iqbal (a philosopher-poet who called for an Islamic reformation).

“Reformers are clergy, intellectuals, activists and more. Reformist ideas appear in many books, articles, videos etc. . . . Reform has been an integral part of Islam’s history. . . . In contrast to the Islamic modernist movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the purpose of reinterpretation (ijtihad) was not to accommodate new ideas but to get back to or reappropriate the unique and essentially complete vision of Islam as preserved in its revealed sources. . . . Farhat Hashmi in Pakistan and Canada, Amina Wadud in the U.S., and Heba Raouf in Egypt are female reformers who often have diametrically opposed positions on women in Islam.” J. Esposito, The Future of Islam, 88-90.

1.The first Muslim woman reformer whom I read was Riffat Hassan – born in Pakistan, (PhD) Professor at University of Louisville; known for writing as early as 1974. Examples of her work to reform follow.

Hassan’s articles focus on: direct content from the Qur’an, women in Islam, peace concerns, and interreligious dialogue. She answers “What Does It Mean to Be a Muslim Today?” (see Cross Currents 40/3, 1990 Fall) and discusses themes like: Belief in Allah; serving Allah and humanity; being Allah and Creature-conscious–interconnecting all of life; following the Shariah (Divine law/will of Islam); knowing that the Qur’an is the charter of human freedom; developing a way to interpret fundamental teachings distinct from additions; heeding Allah’s decree that diversity is for knowing each other while being Allah-conscious; being on a journey toward achieving peace.

She sees Islamic tradition as based on multiple sources: the Qur’an – book of revelation; Allah’s/God’s Word from angel Gabriel through Prophet Muhammad; hadith literature – oral traditions or sayings ascribed to the Prophet; Sunnah – practices of the Prophet; fiqh (law) and Shari’ah (code of life that regulates life).

Hassan explains how the two major groups of Muslims—Suni and Shi’a—broke bonds (Battle of the Camel) over who was to succeed Muhammad. Learn about the 680 C.E. tragedy of Karbala, about the twelfth Shi’a imam, who in the 870s disappeared as a child and is known as the “Mahdi,” who will return just before the end of time.

See her discussion of the story of Sarah and Hagar in her chapter “Islam Hagar and Her Family” in Hagar, Sarah, and Their Children Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives, Phyllis Trible and Letty M. Russell, editors, 2006. (Several details follow.)

Two stories appear in key Muslim hadith (oral traditions about the Prophet) of Sarah’s meeting with a tyrant king from whom she is given a maid named Hagar. . . . 1. Hagar, having become mother of Ishmael. When searching for water to survive (after the two are sent by husband/father Abraham to the dessert),she meets an angel who discovers the needful spring. (That symbolic search between Safa and Marwa mounts is patterned by loyal Muslims during their hajj/pilgrimage to Mecca.) 2. Ishmael grows up nearby and later, according to Muslims, builds with Abraham the Ka’bah (the Sacred House of God). . . Abraham continues on occasion to relate with Ismael and Hagar (Mother of all Arabs). . . . As Muhammad later shifts from Mecca to Medina, so has Hagar gone into exile for the sake of God, where faith in God and oneself is put to a real test, where Hagar gains genuine merit in Allah’s sight. In that role, she becomes mentor for all Muslim girls and women.

2.Heba Rauf Ezzat – Egyptian political scientist and Islamic thinker/activist; born 1965; Teacher at Cairo University; married with three children

She wrote a weekly column for “Women’s Voice” – for Egypt Labor Party/Islamist newspaper about gender issues; she also wrote Religion, Women and Ethics in 2001. Women’s voices gained ground in religion shaping different trends of interpretation within Islam. Some women favor while others do not promote feminism she explains.

3.Farhat Hashmi – A Pakistani Islamic scholar who assists many Muslims in their relationship to the Qur’an. With a Master’s degree in Arabic and linked with the Punjab University/Lahore. A teacher who desires to spread Allah’s Word, she encourages Muslims to do what will be beneficial for them in the hereafter. A writer and mother of four daughters and one son.

4.Amina Wadud – US born; became Muslim when age 20; trained in and professor of Islamic Studies;

activist for women’s dignity who has struggled for gender inclusion/reform within Islam; mother of five; noted for leading worship with both women and men present.

Author of key books like Qur’an and Women: Rereading the Sacred Text from Women’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad Women’s Reform in Islam. Several quotes from the latter: “When two persons come together, Allah is the third among them (from Qur’an 58:7) (30) . . . Power imbalance within Islam is built on the male norm where women is more marginalized, (53, 172) . . . To empower women is to acknowledge their ‘power to’ and ‘power with” (54)

Wadud has long been at the forefront of what she calls the ‘gender jihad,’ the struggle for justice for women within the global Islamic community. . . . She explores the array of issues facing Muslim women today, including social status, education, sexuality, and leadership.” (book’s back cover) . . . For her, Islam is not a historical phenomenon that happened once and for all but a dynamic process constantly being created in accord with the cosmic order God established. . . . . Therefore, a new exegetical understanding is needed. It requires an alternative ijtihad (interpretation) that must include radically rethinking the text of the Qur’an.” 141

5.Hibba Abugideiri – Teaches Middle East History, Islam and the West & Women in the Middle East at Villanova Univ/PA; writer of more than a dozen books; Expertise in: Women in Islam; Middle East Gender and Women’s Studies, and Gender Historian.

6.Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad – Prof. of History of Islam & Christian-Muslim Relations, Georgetown Univ.; co-author of thirteen books; received multiple awards; traveled extensively in Muslim world; specializes in: Islam in the Twentieth Century, Muslims in North America, Qur’an and Qur’anic Exegesis, Christian-Muslim Relations; Names Muslim women in “The Emergence of Muslim American Feminisms” in Lipsett/Trible book: Faith +Feminism Ecumenical Essays.

7.Ten Muslim Women everyone should know according to Maarujich Shaheen on the internet:

Dalia Magaheed, Nadiya Hussain, Ibtihaj Muhammed, Tawakkul Karman, Malala Yousetzai, Carolyn Walter, Imar Aldebe, Salmabint Jizabal-Oteibi, Aseel Shaheen, Noor Tagouri. Check several out. These are known for: being a close advisor to Barak Obama, cooking/baking, a noted fencer, winners of Nobel Peace Prizes, judge, fashion designer, or government positions, a Wimboldon tennis official, and anchor for US commercial TV.

A few notes from Karen Armstrong’s (British writer and historian of religion) book titled. Muhammad

7th century Arabia experienced the beginnings of Islam . . . Quraysh –the tribe into which Muhammad was born about 570, then the most powerful tribe in Arabia – 65 . . . The new religion of Islam was first received by Arabs of the city of Mecca with the message that Arabs were to worship One God (al-Llah) alone (to abandon worship of other gods) an entirely new religious attitude that tribesmen were not ready to accept.

A muslim is ‘one who surrenders” his/her whole being to the Creator – 97

Ka’aba – ancient cube-shaped boxlike shrine with sacred Black Stone embedded, in center of Mecca, Temple of al-Llah, the High God of the Arabs, was the important shrine to which pilgrims make hajj/pilgrimage (including sever circumambulations). This temple was earlier dedicated to god Hubal brought to Arabia from kingdom of Nabateans.

We all need ritual in our lives to help us create an inner attitude. 63

Qu’ran – Muslim scripture written in highly complex, dense and allusive language (Arabic) . . . Not revealing anything novel; it claimed to be a “Reminder of things that everybody knew already.” . . . The Qu’ran never claimed to cancel out previous revelations. 87

Night Journey – supreme mystical/spiritual experience of Muhammad’s life (620) 138ff

Khadija – first wife of eventual multiple wives of Muhammad who birthed six children; Muhammad’s spiritual advisor

Muhammad was visited by an angel/Gabriel/Spirit of Truth when distributing to the poor and ordered to “Recite!. Recite in the name of thy Lord who created man from a clot of blood. Recite! The Lord is the Most Bountiful. He who hath taught by the pen, taught man what he knew not.” 83 . . . Not aware that he was founding a new world religion, the revelation entrusted to Muhammad was a message of al-Llah for the Arabs’ deep needs.

“It has never been a problem for Muslims to coexist with people of other religions. The Islamic empire was able to play host to Christians and Jews for centuries, but western Europe found it most impossible to tolerate Muslims and Jews in Christian territory.” 87

First Islamic community (umma) formed when Muhammed entered into covenant with Arab and Jewish tribes of Medina. To have umma based on religion rather than on kinship was quite different.

With a mosque built in Jerusalem in 623, the best way to summon people to prayer was for a man with a resonant voice to call people by crying “al-Llahu Akbar!” (God is Greater) three times to remind Muslims that God is higher than any other god. The summons continues: “I bear witness that there is no God but al-Llah, I bear witness that Muhammad is the apostle of God. Come to prayer. Come to prayer. Come to divine service. Come to divine service. al-Llahu Akbar, al-Llahu Akbar. There is no god but al-Llah.” 156