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"Believing Women" in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an Paperback – June 15, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
Barlas, associate professor and chair of politics at Ithaca College, offers a comprehensive revisionist treatment of how the Qur'an actually views women as equal and even superior to men. Persuaded that Islam is a religion of egalitarianism, Barlas is equally clear that misogyny and patriarchy have seeped into Islamic practice through "traditions": the sunna, or the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam; the hadiths, or sayings attributed to Muhammad; and the shariah, or law derived from the Qur'an. Barlas argues that a military-scholarly complex manipulated the Qur'an to establish these traditions in a successful effort to preserve the position of the military rulers and clerics of early Islamic history with women's status being the victim. Some flawed traditions, along with mistranslations, ingrained patriarchy into Qur'anic interpretation, in spite of obvious Qur'anic injunctions to the contrary. Barlas's thesis is irresistible: the Qur'an itself has a very positive view of women whereas patriarchal culture caused the various interpreters of the Qur'an to read their own biases into the text to justify the oppression of women. Barlas quotes from a smorgasbord of Islamic scholars, resulting at times in a choppy read that drowns out her own more appealing voice. The opening chapter is bogged down in such quoting, and also in excessive worrying over her critics on either side of the debate. Despite these flaws, this book is loaded with interesting facts about Islam that may even surprise Muslims.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Interim director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity at Ithaca College, Barlas analyzes both the Qur'anic text itself and its relationship to other Muslim texts and to cultural context. She argues that the language of the Qur'an, with its emphasis on divine unity, justness, and incomparability, rejects "the patriarchal imagery of God-the-Father and the prophets-as-fathers" and in fact counters "the history of rule by fathers." She further argues that the Qur'an refuses to espouse a view of sex/gender differentiation, recognizing equal spousal rights for both sexes and mutuality in marital relations. The Qur'an even links "the reverence humans owe to God and the reverence they owe to their others" and "is the only Scripture to address the rights of girls" to paternal love and "the problem of fathers' abuse of daughters." Prevalent Qur'anic misreadings, she concludes, can be traced to the sunna (or traditions), the hadiths (or sayings) of the Prophet, and the shariah (or law), which were developed by an early military-scholarly complex. This challenging book complements Amina Wadud's Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective; both are important for academic and larger public libraries. Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Usually this is taken to mean that we love those who love us but here I'm reminded of the rendering because Dr. Barlas not only brought her considerable intellect to bear on her reading of Qur'an but from the text of her book it's also clear that she brought her heart along as well.
Though there are admittedly those who believe that their reading should stop at the end of tafsir (an extended qur'anic commentary completed around a thousand years ago) and the ahadith (or extra qur'anic sayings of the prophet which was also completed about a thousand years ago), that should not prevent those, like Barlas, who wish to continue to write and reflect with their hearts on Qur'an.
In thoughtful and convincing tones, Asma Barlas has rigorously examined and meticulously documented the radically egalitarian text of the Qur'an. Reminding us that the Qur'an itself instructs us to read it for its best meaning and in light of its thematic whole, Dr. Barlas turns misogynistic interpretations rather definitively on their head.
With this book, Dr. Barlas has performed an invaluable service to Muslim women and their struggle both within and outside of the Muslim community. Passage by passage, sometimes even word by word, she confronts patriarchal exegesis of the Qur'an and reclaims an egalitarian reading. Skeptics who argue that Islam in practice too often fails women, as well as those who sincerely believe in misogynistic interpretations of Islam will be hard-pressed to engage Dr. Barlas' argument on its own terms--in light of a Qur'anic framework and with the premise that, while people are fallible and often self-interested, God is infallible and always just.
As a Muslim woman, the journey through "Believing Women" was self-affirming and empowering. I also believe it would be of great value to my cherished and well-meaning non-Muslim friends and family who, in honest moments, no doubt still wonder how a feminist and an attorney like myself could convert to Islam.
For the same and sound reason many Muslims prefer that the Qur'an be interpreted and taught by Muslims, Muslim women have the right to hear their own voices in the ongoing discussion of what the Qur'an says about and to women. Dr. Barlas' book is an excellent place to start, and I urge everyone interested in Islam and women to buy this book.