Today is marked as International Women’s Day.
I am reading ‘Women in the Qur’an: An Emancipatory Reading’ by Asma Lamrabet*. It is a call for a re-reading of the Qur’an by women to enable the liberation of Muslim women. She argues that at present Muslim Women are caught between two unacceptable alternatives, either subject to subservience within Muslim communities because of conservative interpretations of the Qur’an or a false Western approach to the ‘liberation’ of Muslim women.
She tackles the texts that have been traditionally used to justify an inferior place for women, including the stories of Adam and Eve, Balkis (Queen of Sheba), Sarah and Hagar, and Maryam (Mary the mother of Jesus). She believes that these texts need to be reclaimed in the name of equality between women and men. In this she parallels the path taken by some Christian feminist theologians who have tackled some of the same texts with the same objective.
I find it sad, though probably necessary, that she has to do this. Her faith tradition, and others, has been based on patriarchal interpretations of the scriptures. Cultural determinants of these interpretations need to be uncovered and so be shown to be tied to particular times and places.
I find it sad because in the spiritual traditions form which I draw, there is an openness to new truth. In one there is a clear understanding that there is a need to be always reforming, and a preparedness to restate faith when necessary. Scriptures are to be interpreted under the guidance of the Spirit which may lead to new understandings and new apprehensions of truth. In another there is an openness to leadings to truth wherever it comes from, not restricted to one source of sacred writings.
I think it it necessary for women to seek new interpretations of tradition because our history as a species has all too often shown that women are oppressed, and denied their liberty and potential.
I recognise within my own formation as a man the influence of sexist attitudes that predominated in my earlier years. I have internalised the same prejudices that have existed in men for generation upon generation. I struggle to change and be liberated from them so that women and men might be equal partners.
It is wonderful that humanity, Homo sapiens, is composed of a variety of genders. We need each other in our differences. And until we are all liberated and able to realise our full potential we will not be completely whole, there will not be peace or justice or fulfilment for all of us. I am glad that there is a day to celebrate women’s contribution to our joint experience of life. Even when we reach that day when all are given the opportunity to be themselves I hope that there will still be such a day, and perhaps other days to celebrate the contributions of other genders.
*published by Square View ISBN 978-1-84774-082-3