Patriarchal Hypocrisy and Shifts of Privilege: The Qur’an and the Woman’s Perspective

Islam, like most religions at conception, was produced to liberate the oppressed before it was seized by oppressors and weaponized against those who had discovered a restoration of freedom and rights through it. The most striking, recurring incident of this confiscation of perspective and unashamed hypocrisy is the application of verse 2:282 (which calls for two female witnesses in the absence of a male witness in testifying for financial bonds) to all court situations, financial or otherwise, and even to the configuration of courts in social and legal contracts, such as marriage. This, despite the fact that the Qur’an outlines different requirements for court in different situations, so to apply one to all is absurd. Though verse 2:282 “adopts” the female perspective and recognizes that during Revelation women were barred from financial familiarity and accordingly demands the presence of a second female witness so that the first is not threatened or intimidated by the men present in the court who believe they are more qualified than her or are angry a woman is allowed among them, Muslims have developed the sense that this must mean that a woman’s witness is half of a man’s witness, and at the most extremes, that a man is worth twice as much as a woman. Yet the verse makes no such equivalency, nor does it apply this configuration to any court setting other than financial contracts; yet in practice it has been applied to every other court setting.

Scholars are not responsible for the reception of their interpretation in the masses. It is the responsibility of each Muslim to educate her or himself. However, since scholars have monopolized interpretation and placed themselves as intermediaries between Muslim women and God, I will not withhold the responsibility that is engendered in such confiscation of power: thus this widely accepted misconception is an example of how male scholarship is dishonest and male leaders are failures. If, from your interpretation, Muslims are under the impression that a man’s testimony is equal to the testimony of two women, or are neglecting to grasp the qualification that this court arrangement is only for financial matters, you have failed as a religious leader. If you don’t want that accountability, don’t create a monopoly on interpretation.

But, since we are so inclined to apply one configuration of court to all configurations of court, let’s look at another arrangement: the court for the allegation of adultery, in which the woman’s word is the last.

And those who cast it up on their wives
having no witnesses except themselves,
the testimony of one of them shall be
to testify by God four times
that he is of the truthful,
and a fifth time, that the curse of God
shall be upon him, if he should be of the liars.

It shall avert from her the chastisement
if she testify by God four times that he is of the liars,
and a fifth time, that the wrath of God shall be upon her,
if he should be of the truthful. (Qur’an 24:6—9)

These verses were revealed to prevent men from slandering innocent women, which we can infer was (and still is) a regular occurrence. (It’s quite telling that men are so paranoid about false rape allegations; pathetic, it’s because they’ve been falsely accusing women of adultery in fits of jealousy since the dawn of time.) With the objective of making this as difficult as possible, the Qur’an demands a man produce four witnesses to accuse his wife of adultery; or, in the absence of four witnesses, he may swear to God she is an adulteress four times. And then, to seal the testimony, one more time. But the woman is excused if she then swears four times, and then finally once more, that he is a liar. If she did indeed commit adultery, the wrath of God is upon her, but she is discharged of any worldly chastisement, and the court is dismissed.

Not only this, but as the preceding verse states, the testimony of a man who gives it falsely is to never be accepted again.

Why not apply the dynamics of verse 24:9 to all settings of court, since apparently applying 2:282 to all testimonies—even marriages—is a valid practice of Islamic law? This inconsistency is unforgivingly hypocritical, and once again is a failure of male scholarship.

When the female perspective of a disadvantaged position in society is acknowledged and assumed in the Qur’an, it is read as validating male privilege rather than noting and checking it. Yet here is an instance when the Qur’an privileges the female testimony, the testimony of a woman over a man, and yet verse 24:9 is not read as validating female privilege as the will of Divine Ordinance.

Most of the Quran’s provisions (from inheritance, to divorce [in which men are obligated to provide for their wives for three months afterward in case they are pregnant], to female infanticide, to testimony) are absorbed in preserving women’s interests, so that when the Qur’an notes male privilege it is only recognizing that men have power unjustly, not condoning patriarchy or authorizing this power. Yet it is consistently read as such, from testimony to the infamous “degree” men have over women noted in verse 4:34. If the Qur’an were a patriarchal text, or a text that advocated patriarchy, it would not constantly take the woman’s perspective to regulate male behavior. It would not assume the female perspective in demanding that husbands provide fully for their wives because of the lack of economic freedom for women in patriarchy, it would not assume the female perspective in demanding that orphaned girls are provided for by their guardians and guaranteed an inheritance just as “useful” orphaned boys, it would not assume the female perspective in demanding that women have the option of being supplied provisions by their ex-husbands three months after divorce (I will also write more on this but read Khadeeja’s post) in the event they are pregnant, it would not assume the female perspective in giving women the last word in allegations of adultery and discrediting the testimony of a false man for the rest of his life, it would not assume the female perspective in forbidding burying girls alive, and it would not assume the female perspective in a number of incidents that it does and use it to regulate male behavior.

9 thoughts on “Patriarchal Hypocrisy and Shifts of Privilege: The Qur’an and the Woman’s Perspective

  1. An extremely important post, Nahida! Thank you for writing about it. I’ve been wanting to recently as well.

    What’s worse is this: the scholars (and I don’t mean the preaches, televangelists, “bearded men speaking on behalf of Islam – I’m talking about “real” scholars like the founders of the Islamic schools of thought and those who contributed to the formation of Islamic law and were basically the ultimate interpreters of the Qur’an/hadiths/Islam) even argued that verse 2:282 is actually *exception* to the rule that women cannot under any circumstances bear witness in court! That’s how they understood that verse.

    Sometimes, I just don’t understand these men. Did they not pause to wonder (and maybe they did, but their conclusion doesn’t suggest so): “Hmm… this verse is in the context of financial settings. And God is saying here that 2 women may bear witness in court along with one man if two men [honest enough] cannot be found. If God is saying that women’s testimony is valid in financial cases, despite our and God’s knowledge that women are [in these times/societies of ours] not very much involved in the public/financial sphere and may therefore not be well-versed in financial matters, it must mean that women can serve as witnesses in all other cases as well. In fact, one woman’s testimony would be just as valid and acceptable as one man’s in these other (non-finance-related) cases.”

    That aside, I’m interested to hear more about what exactly you mean by “the woman’s perspective” or how the Qur’an adopts a “woman’s perspective.” I ask because my question following your response (depending on your response) will be about the Quran’s lack of direct address to women when issuing guidelines, especially for women, because as far as I understand it, the Qur’an never directly speaks to women and is always using men as a medium through which it says something to women. I’ll be happy to clarify if this is unclear, though I’ve also addressed this matter in my blog at http://orbala.blogspot.com/2011/01/women-as-hunnaand-men-as-kum-qurans.html

    Again, a very critical blog post!

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    1. Thank you, Orbala!

      I wrote this post hurriedly, read it after reading your comment and realized I wasn’t as clear about the Qur’an “adopting” a woman’s perspective as I believed I had been. What I mean is that the provisions outlined the Qur’an are done so with a very keen awareness of the female perspective in a society that greatly underprivileges them. (I hesitate to use the word “adopt” or “assume” because it sounds like a deviation… as though the female perspective is unnatural / not default and the Qur’an is not being objective in considering it, hence the quotation marks. I don’t think that when men are considered we would say that the Qur’an “assumes” a male perspective… though verses have certainly been employed by scholars to condone male privilege so it would be a very fair assertion to claim such a reading isn’t objective!) I also read your linked post (and had read that Facebook thread when you posed the question on Facebook as well) and to be honest I don’t have an answer that others haven’t brought up already… personally, the more I study the Qur’an the less I feel put off by the fact that linguistically (which is technical and a limit of language anyway) and practically (which I understand is more your concern) it addresses men–mainly exactly because of what I argue in this post: it addresses men, but critically it addresses men through the assumption of a female perspective. The Qur’an very deliberately invests in protecting women’s rights, freedoms, and interests and addresses (and chastises!) men regarding these. And, particularly in the configuration of a court for adultery allegations, it even greatly curbs men’s privilege… to the point where it can be argued that it privileges women over rights that men have. I mean, telling men not to bury their daughters alive or not to continuously divorce the same woman and remarry her for money (a common practice pre-Islam) so that she is forced to completely surrender her person and her wealth to a man is simply taking away from unearned male privilege to alleviate underserved female oppression, but to raise a woman’s witness above a man’s witness is to actually reverse privilege. So when I read the Qur’an, it doesn’t bother me as much that women aren’t directly and independently addressed, because the perspective with which men are being addressed is female.

      I hope that makes sense. Let me know if I can clarify further! =)

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      1. That made perfect sense, Nahidoo. One thing I’m learning as that despite my having noticed that the Qur’an never directly speaks *to* me, I cannot stop reading the Qur’an and getting that same feeling of peace that I have always gotten when reciting the Qur’an. I try not to think about the whole “men as a medium between me and God in the Qur’an” too much, though, so as to not let it ruin my own spirituality and my relationship with God.

        As hard as it must be (and is) to understand the Qur’an without all those parentheses and all those man-made rules and all those narrow ideas and narrow interpretations that are interpolated in the translations of the Qur’an we/I read, it is true that the Qur’an itself is not as patriarchal and as misogynistic as it has traditionally been read. Of course, no Muslim will claim it’s misogynistic, but their interpretation of “women’s rights” is what’s misogynistic, harmful to women even if unintentionally so. I do, however, agree with some scholars (e.g., Ziba Mir-Hosseini) that it seems to infantilize the woman to a great degree, which, needless to say, has social and historical grounds, since the Qur’an was not revealed in a vacuum, but this infantilization has been treated harmfully so by most Muslim readers/interpreters of the Qur’an.

        … k, I’ll stop before I stop making any sense; I’m headed there – I feel it!

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      1. lol. Na. The “as” shoulda been “is” in my first sentence. And I couldn’t think of a cooler way to fool around with your name, so Nahidoo it is till I come up with something better ;)

        k, sorry for derailing the discussion! Carry on.

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  2. Pingback: Quranic Verses and Misconceptions: Divorce and Male Privilege | the fatal feminist

  3. Pingback: Commentary: The Quran and the Woman’s Perspective – oceanswereink

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