This script to my latest video on What the Patriarchy?! is barely edited, so please read at your own risk. I hope to get the time to edit it more later, inshaAllah.
The video is available here, script below.
Assalamu alaikum, everyone! This is Shehnaz! Welcome to hashtag what the patriarchy my youtube channel where we work on uprooting the patriarchy through islamic feminism thank you for being here i did an episode a few months ago or a couple of months ago with Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini on her latest book Journeys Toward Gender Equality in Islam, and i promised in there that i have a conversation slash interview with her coming up soon and this video is going to provide that interview to you this discussion was originally hosted for the new books network podcast specifically the channel new books in islamic studies for which i am one of the hosts and i will provide a link to that in the description of this video thank you so much for watching and i hope you enjoy this as much as i did!
Hi, Ziba! Thank you so so much for joining me today to talk about your wonderful new book Journeys Toward Gender Equality in Islam in which you have conversations with several very important scholars of our time it’s an excellent book that is that i find very hopeful and also distressing at times given the kinds of challenges that some of the scholars face but thank you for the book and i’m so glad that it exists thank you thank you for inviting me to talk about it absolutely!
Before we get to the content of the book we like for our listeners to hear about who you are and the kind of work that you do so that in case somebody’s not familiar with you can get to know you a little bit better so can you tell us about who you are and as a question that you asked your interlocutors here talk about your intellectual journey with us
Yes, my inter intellectual journey is very much tied to the Iranian revolution in 1979 which was an absolute i think it was one of the most important events at least in many people’s life in my life which really formed both my personal and intellectual life and i did my phd in anthropology social and anthropology and by the time i finished it was 1980 it became history because i worked in four villages in Iran and things had changed so much and then i became interested in Islamic law and it’s also as i say in the book it is a personal matter for me as well because after the Iranian revolution, family laws were changed and women lost all the legal rights that they had for child custody and divorce and all this sort of thing and after the revolution i also came to experience a different face of my faith Islam so it all came as a absolute shock and also painful because I tried to understand and understand what is happening and when my previous marriage broke down I realized that I have no right to divorce and it was then that I started studying fiqh and that started in 1984 and since then you know I’ve been really fascinated by Islamic jurisprudence and my work has been somehow like a legal anthropologist and I’ve been working on Muslim family laws.
In 1980s I did field work in Iran and Morocco and the main questions that I asked at the time for me were what does it mean to be married and divorced under Islamic law where is the praise of sacred in the law and it’s basically about understanding marriage and divorce and what I learned was that by the time that a marriage breaks down, it is like any other human relationship anywhere and so everything that is sacred just evaporates and women are really treated as a second-class citizens and then in 1990s I became interested in construction of gender and Islamic legal tradition and basically when we say legal tradition we are talking about Islamic rulings and I did field work in Qom which is the center of religious learning in Iran and it resulted the first one resulted in my first book which is Marriage on Trial: A Comparative Study of Family Law in Iran and Morocco and the second one is Islam and Gender: Contemporary Debates with the Ulama in Iran. And what i did for the second field work was basically i tried to understand how these ideas of gender come about because certainly they do not come from text itself they are not divine they are humanly human construction and they are constructed by men by olama and so it was basically conversations with them with the olama and i also started studying fiqh in 1990s with a cleric and he introduced me to Qom and that was the result of my second book and then in 90, while i was writing this book i also became involved in making Divorce Iranian Style which is a documentary inspired by my first book and i work with Kim Longinatto who is a fantastic documentary maker and doing working with Kim and also going to the courts and talking to women and also though being there was really really inspiring for me and also painful and the film as you know was successful and it opened different doors for me and i think that also was the passage for me to go from scholarship to activism but because i came to realize the impact of films and
and then in early 2000 i became involved working with Sisters in Islam which is the first women’s group that were that came into existence that worked within islamic and human rights framework and i must say that after i finished my field working home and while i was doing this field work i was really really becoming interested in what came to be called islamic feminism and which is a new consciousness new way of knowing and a new knowledge from within islamic framework and working with zaina anwar in systems in islam led to the creation of Musawah and i’m when i’m a founding member of Musawh and i would say since 2009 when i started this book. My work really intensely been involved or i see it as a contribution to the creation of feminist knowledge from within islamic framework
That’s wonderful i was just telling you i am in complete of your work of your journey i thoroughly enjoyed reading the chapter in which you talk about your own journey and i’ve i’ve assigned your books in my classes i have always always loved and appreciated your commitment and i find it so inspiring that you insist on working from within the islamic tradition you your insistence on the difference between fiqh and sharia which i think you may have been the first person to point that out in a way that i understood and i found that so incredibly liberating and i’m always surprised that people don’t know that and i don’t know why it’s not a bigger deal that there’s such a big difference and although clearly not all of the folks that you talk with agree with you on that but i think there is an important difference and although even those like even though he disagrees with you i think that the way that he then ends up defining and explaining to you i’m like wait you’re on the same page you’re saying the exact same thing saying it was really fascinating but all of that to say i’m a huge fan of yours i’m so grateful for your work and i’m so grateful
Thank you thank you thank you thank you and this is really heartening to hear you know the distinction between fiqh and sharia when i did field work in Iran and Morocco in 1990s and in my first book marriage and trial i do not make that distinction because what i did in that book was not focusing neither on fiqh neither on legislation but on women’s strategy and the court cases and both the judges and everybody who came to the court were talking about the sharia law and nobody talked about fiqh so i note this in the footnote but in 1990s when i started my conversation and debates with ulama in Iran i realized without this distinction there is no way to have a conversation because it is important to separate the legal from the sacred separate the legal from the interpretations of the sacred and i think this is the field work really in womb taught me the importance of this and the very fact that the distinction between the two are completely distorted when people talk about it and also when some scholars write about it as well and i agree with you i think it is an important distinction and because why because it gives us a language and also it gives us a way of challenging from within and without this distinction it is almost impossible that is why i think people are uncomfortable with it and you know one one thing that i wanted to do in this book that i hope it will come across and you should tell me is that to show that how we come to know what we know yes especially how we come to know what we know about islam because it is like a journey and our experience is as important part of that journey so experience is a source of knowledge. I see it as a source of theological knowledge because it who we are and how we evolve also impacts our relationship with divine and also it impacts our relationship with the notions that are so central to islam justice fairness human dignity and all this. Mohsen Kadivar, you know, started as a total believer in islamic republic and then gradually he evolved i wouldn’t say he evolved he came to a different understanding and what he did before was so important because he has such an important grounding in islamic traditional faith and that is what enables him to build on it and also he and almost all the people that i talked to apart from i would say Asma Lamrabet they have religious learning but Asma Lamrabet her her approach to religion came with a spirituality it didn’t come from law so it came from a secular part to islamic feminism so they have different journeys
and we also disagree on certain things which i love that because it’s so important i think disagreement is the source of the source of moving moving ahead and progressing because if you agree with each other you know all the time nothing will come new it’s very creative process and but there are certain premises that we all agree and i think these premises are very important and i see them as the benchmarks for construction of an egalitarian gender relationship with an islamic framework one of the one of the things that i found so inspiring in their in these conversations was the con each of their commitments to islam right this idea to god god is at the center of their of their beliefs of their as as they change their views and as their opinions develop with time god and islam remain the central sort of the the central points in their in their beliefs and we can see also as i forget who i think it was in the chapter with him when he’s talking about his journey and how useful for example you know these folks become more corrupted they end up taking different positions because they get paid a lot by the Saudi government yeah for example right but yeah the ethical commitment and this is something that i find in in my research on when i’m talking to muslim women who are married to non-muslims the one this is the one thing that they are insisting on god islam this is what this is what matters what is islam telling us what is god telling us what is ethical what is right and instead and this is why i think fiqh is so problematic right it may have worked for some time i don’t know but it definitely needs to be evolved because we as humans our ideas are changing and we have the different moral compass today and ethics needs to be it needs to stay the center of any changes that we want in from an islamic perspective so their commitment to islam was just so incredibly beautiful and hopeful yes yes yes and it’s something and fiqh was you know is absolutely sophisticated islamic and law and it’s one of the more sophisticated but what happened i think a lot to do with the but with the legacy of colonialism with the experience muslims experience of colonialism and also the decline and more than anything the authoritarianism that closed the door to asking questions the door to challenging and so with authoritarianism within any system decline is bound to happen and so what we have as a fiqh is really to me belongs to at least 200 years ago and it has not evolved and it needs to evolve no but the centers of religious learning are so resistant and this comes across in chapter with Asma Lamrabet yes yes and one of the conversations that i have with or disagreements that i had with Abdullahi and was the importance for me to work with the centers of religious learning with the traditional those who work within a traditional framework and with the clerics as well and he was saying no there is no way that you can work because you know they have rested interest and also they have no room for ideas new ideas they don’t allow challenge and at that time you know he was the first person with whom i had the conversation in 2000 september 2009 then in chapter with a new chapter with Asma Lamrabet we see that Asma Lamrabet tried so hard she is the first woman who is the director of the first woman’s studies in Rabita Mohammedia which is the biggest network of ulama in Morocco but at the end of it after many years she is forced to resign and she resigned basically over the dispute over one thing that she said that Qur’an gives equal rights to men and women in terms of inheritance and gender equality and inheritance is quranic and they just wanted her to take it back and that would ulama wanted her to take it back and she didn’t so she had to resign
that was heartbreaking for me was it who was the the person that she’d been working with and who seemed to have been supporting her all this time was it Abbadi yes yes doctor dr abbadi was helping i mean he was so supportive all of that time and then in that one moment when he’s like you need to take it back because this is what the newspapers are saying and she’s like i’m not not going to take it back the headlines were sensationalized and that wasn’t fair but she was like i’m not taking the content back and then she had to resign and then they actually and then the the language they used for when she was replaced right somebody who loves our tradition and sharia and i just i wanted to cry for her i want to cry for the for those of us who are trying so hard to work within these institutions and within a religious framework and there’s this there’s this insistence coming from the ulama from these religious institutions that nope justice is not inherent to islam right gender justice is not an islamic ideal and that is disturbing to me yes but you can understand why dr abadi had to give in because you know all this ulama from all over Morocco came together and said that we can’t have her there and his compromise was for her to take it back but for her to take back that there is no gender equality in the quran when it comes to inheritance was really going against her belief i mean like i understand the political pressure on him to to you know for her to resign but then the language of something like you know the when she was when she was replaced with someone else that i just found so problematic because the assumption the idea being oh she doesn’t love our tradition or she doesn’t love islam or she doesn’t love sharia that just was i thought that was a betrayal and that sense betrayal keeps coming through in in the cases of so many of these individuals so many of these brilliant scholars who are trying so desperately so hard right they’re i mean they go to prisons these they become political prisoners in some cases and i mean this is embarrassing in the 20 in the year 2020 or now it’s 20 20 and the interviews are much older but to be asking for these very basic things like gender equality like in equality and inheritance like not having to not being forced to cover our heads these are such basic things and it is just embarrassing to be talking to to still be fighting for you know rights when it comes to those issues in the in in the 21st century yes but i at the same time i also see that you know that language in Asma Lamrabet for her successor was the language that we have won the traditionalists have won so perhaps or not perhaps definitely they won a battle but definitely not the war i see this really as stages because with everything you know what an Asma Lamrabet did the way that she stood up and not denied her fate because i don’t see any clear distinction between secular and religious spaces they are very much interconnected interconnected and what she did actually this secularist feminist who were so much opposing her realized that she’s like them she believes in equality and somehow you know change the balance i always try to good to look at the bright side because for me hope is important hope is like fate that’s what i’m saying that’s what i love about it this is what i love about your work and about you and i really cannot afford to lose hope and i feel that both hope and faith are the things that we choose it’s a commitment that we make yes it is despairing and i despair many times but then i continue but i feel that i’m i’m i’m coming to the end of my journey as well on this because there are a young generation coming and there are people like you and believe me in 1990s early 1990s when i started writing about islamic feminism it was seen as a contradiction in terms and nobody really accepted it and i remember that in 1990s i used after you know getting to know about sister in islam and also women in Iran especially zanan magazine i was really enthusiastic i wanted their voices their way of thinking to be heard and i used to write articles and submitted to journals i tell you all of them were rejected and why because i because you know those who read your article are your peers and they can pick a hole in your argument or in the fact or whatever and rejected and at the same time at that time the feminist journals they had they had no specialists you know the islamic feminism as a discourse did not exist and this visit is it is actually more difficult to reject articles like that because there is a literature there
Oh! let’s talk about amina wadud and her journey i mean you know i one theme that keeps coming that kept coming up in here was the way and you mentioned this in your own interaction also the personal experiences the political experiences the cultural experiences that that inform our journey that inform our conclusions and our relationships with islam and with you know with an islamic feminist framework for gender justice and amina wadud’s case is just especially beautiful and different because she’s coming as a convert to this to the tradition and then her experiences in different parts of the world but yeah what how did how did that conversation go and i would just love to hear more about amina wadud and her journey and anything you can share with us for our listeners yes i met amina i of course i had read her work and admired her and i met her first time in 2000 in Malaysia when sisters and islam had a meeting and as you know she is one of the founding member of sisters and Islam and she went to malaysia in 1988 and for four years so at the time when we we used to have a lot of conversation about feminism because if you remember at the beginning of at the preface of her book it’s a woman woman and Quran she basically says that she is not a feminist she’s been called feminists and given that identity she is both prophetic and pro-feminism and i really could see what she was doing was so feminist so why she didn’t want that identity so we used to have this conversation quite a lot in early 2000s and all this and i find her work extraordinarily important and i think she is one of the she’s one of the best theologian that we have in islam and her relationship to god and her the way that she really breaking the ground and breaking taboos are very important and i see her act as doing the prayer public prayer in new york really really is breaking a taboo and that is important because it is actually talking about the presence of women in the ritual space as a leader as a leader of the prayer or as an imam and as you you see you know the way that the prayer it’s it took her many years because the first hotbed that she did was in south africa 12 years earlier it took her 12 years to accept to do this prayer because she wanted to be clear with herself that is she doing it for her ego or is this doing it for her faith or whatever but when she decided she was clear but those who were organizing it they had their own agenda and you can see this and i mean i do them of course as you will you know that she was really really hurt by that reaction and it is very hurtful and still continuing but she had also good support and i think she did a very important work and as you see in the book what really is interesting that when Musawa was born at the launch of Musawah it was there and then that she felt that she belonged to islamic feminism because she felt there is a community and you can understand as an African [American] muslim not living under islamic law and also her her islam her understanding on islam is quite different from some of the american muslims yeah very progressive very definitely i don’t like to use the word progressive very different very spiritual and also very egalitarian
There’s when she’s talking about her experience in Egypt at the university of Cairo where she’s she’s meeting with scholars to read the quran and the moment when she realizes whoa how does how does meaning making work how do you know this stuff i which i just thought was so powerful i’m going to read that where she says yes when we read the verse in the quran that said do not force your girls meaning slave girls against their will he told me that it meant don’t put them into prostitution but you can have as much sex with them as you want because they belong to you i said what not just not just what but how do you come to know that conclusion when the words just say don’t force them if they don’t want i don’t understand how it means you can do what what you want isn’t that forced to and i just i find that moment so powerful because this is exactly these are the kinds of questions we should always be asking how do we find how do how do we know why are we adding more words there and yeah and that is a realization that she had at that very moment and many of us have these realizations you know at certain moment that we realize why who says this
Exactly let’s talk about the person that i said i had never heard of, Sedigheh Vasmaghi. so she’s i mean she was brand new to me i her experiences in you know in working in these religious institutions and learning in these institutions and when she talks about how the challenges and the the kinds of impositions that the and the sexism and all of that very enlightening and nothing surprising there because but sort of in a way it’s it’s as if now we know this is the case but it’s as if these systems are set up in a way the institutions are set up in a way that discriminate against women and then we don’t end up learning in this institution and then that’s held against us it’s like the system sets us up again she’s another of the scholars that you talk with who is punished penalized for her views and her her experiences and so on and again as we see the common theme throughout all of their journeys the commitment to islam i love this i love god i’m not going to give this up tell us a little bit about her because i imagine that a lot of her audiences might know her might not know her how did you come to know her what is what what is she working on that our readers, our listeners could benefit from her work has not been much known in english because it was not translated and there is also this is another barrier you know there is so much good work in arabic in persian in in urdu in so many other languages which are not really translated so the work of translation is very to me is very much important only one of her book was translated so i came to know about her in 2009 and she published her second book which is basically about the capacity of fiqh and whether the fact should rule and govern every aspect of our life was self-published and when i read that book i was really really in awe because this is the first time that i have come across a woman in Iran who speaks in that language because the reformists in Iran are almost all men and she’s the only one that has emerged and she’s now recognized and then i met her and she’s such a brave person and she comes from a traditional religious family but she comes from a family that is not married to political islam does not want to politicize religion so it is a very strong yearning in her to understand god and say when she is 14 she goes and buy books and buys a copy of the quran and also Nahjul Balagha, which is Imam Ali’s book and tries to understand and she’s a bright student and everybody expects her to do architecture and other things she decides to go to religious studies and universities are close in 1979, 1980 and then she goes to a seminary and the way that she talks about the restriction in those seminaries you know it is just you see that it’s about killing the spirit and i myself i would say i became an islamic feminist when i was doing field working home because i could see you know all the time i was wearing a chador all the time i and i spent a lot of time in women women’s spaces female spaces in the mosque and also in the shrine and i could see you know how women are mistreated and how they are really excluded from the religious spaces and at the time that i did field work in Qom, none of the women who were studying in seminaries were prepared to talk to me or were teaching there because they saw me as a foreign influence because i was part of my education was in England so i had no idea that somebody like her exists and i was fascinated and then her latest book came which is called Bazkhane-e-Shariat, Rethinking or Rereading Sharia, and what she does in that book i found it fascinating she uses that methodology of usool al-fiqh, the very methodology through which the ulama created all these rulings in order to challenge these rulings and basically to show that none of the rulings that come under the mu’amalat can be justified on the basis of the quran or on the basis of the prophet’s tradition
so it is an engagement and it’s a conversation so my first question to her was that how come that you use a methodology that fiqh is built and then you want to challenge it because if you follow that methodology you are bound to come to the same conclusions because it’s a circular system and she said no the fact is that there were many who did not come to this con conclusions that majority fuqaha came but there were voices of minority and their voices become did not become majority so it is important that within that system there is room for change and i think what stops it is the question of or the fear of losing their faith and losing their power and influence so it’s it’s really very much tied to power and authority
that’s what i think too i think it is about losing power and authority and again that that that theme is so prominent throughout in in these colors journeys and why they end up leaving the positions that they’re in or why they move to a different country and so on so um also i loved her idea of the prophet shariah right the commitment for most of them to the difference between what is shariah what is fit and why when and how and why we need to change our opinions.
Mohsen Kadivars for example i loved his idea of islam-e-rahmani so compassionate islam merciful islam oh so beautiful when he has this four criteria of justice justice our reasonability morality and effectiveness i think other scholars talk about the Maqasid al-Sharia, like we agree that these are the principles of islam but somehow when it comes to gender just gender injustice that’s also a principle of islam and that doesn’t get to change with time and conveniently one of the things that so many of these contemporary scholars are refusing to change their views on is gender gender and sexual justice right everything else our ideas and worship have changed politics of course economics but when it comes to gender justice and this is the question that i was asking in my dissertation research right like why are we not changing our positions on so many gender issues and i mean it’s really ultimately about privilege and what’s at stake in these the folks who are making these decisions are uh you know are gonna lose so much privilege that’s really what it is
yes yeah it’s privilege and also what is worse is justifying it that justification is that needs to be challenged and i think it has to do with their socializations but one thing that i really really noticed in Iran because in Iran you know the clerics are in power in power they have been in power for over 40 years but they what is happening you see that the society changing and evolving and moving and challenging them constantly and some of them change and some of them who do not change become more and more conservative why because that is the way of keeping the power and in every system you know when authoritarianism comes gender control over women and sexuality is the first step another thing that we didn’t talk about was about Khaled Abou El Fadl about his his journey and also the role of you know he gets his ethics from his mother and his education religious education from his mother the role of his mother in his life as a as a voice of conscious even after he she is dead that that voice is there calling him shaikh khaled yes and i was so touched by that and also the role of his wife grace and the way that grace is also enabling as well because she is a convert to islam and she converted to islam before meeting Khaled Abou El Fadl or even knowing about him and she is also as a convert is so frustrated with all this some ways that the converts are educated or introduced into islam and when she hears one of his lectures in 1999 or earlier you know that’s the beginning of change and it’s a partnership so i didn’t know these things about holiday professor so when i went into his house for the interview and met his wife and all the dogs that they have it really opened another side of it which is really really very human and now they have this usuli foundation which is an independent and somehow he is recreating that ambiance of learning that he had in Cairo. you know when i when i when i first started my journey towards islamic feminism and i was reading all of the all of the scholarship i came across in his book speaking in god’s name and i loved it and i wrote to him and he’s one of the first scholars who responded in such a humble and beautiful way and since then i have expressed disagreements with him publicly and with grace publicly on some facebook groups and his willingness to still support me i asked him for recommendation letters a couple of years ago for something and he graciously accepted and that comes through his conversations with you here right because again for him it’s a commitment of a commitment to learning commitment to growth commitment to islam to ethics and graces i think when they’re talking about when grace also like chimes in and tells you more about their like his relation with his mom and how his mom is remains like this huge influence in his life and she’s like you know when grace is saying something like she’s she gets into these debates online even about basic stuff like hijab and dogs and kind of poor converts they get told it’s haram to have dogs and they have this sad tragic stories of getting rid of their dogs that they love just because they became muslim because because what’s happening here is compassion right if you don’t if your islam is not founded on compassion then of course you have no respect for animals and of course you don’t respect dogs and you think that they’re a curse and and so on so yeah i thoroughly enjoyed those that conversation with him also.
And then yeah we can i guess if we can end with a sort of this idea of the future right what is what is what what what you think the future might be like how hopeful you are still what message you would like to send out to the younger generation of muslim feminists and activists who are working on these issues and yeah the message is that it is important you know to to understand our tradition and also it is important to bring our tradition islam in conversation with other traditions and with other branches of knowledge and i believe in conversation and gradual change and one thing that we didn’t talk about is musawah and also the journey to musawah because i feel that musawah is very important in a way that it is one of the few organizations that bring scholarship and activism together and producing knowledge from within and it’s birth you know it’s creation at the global level was to me is an important event so i’m hopeful and i’m what gives me hope is the young generation because they don’t have the baggage’s that my generation had the dichotomy between religion and human rights and feminism and secularism and also their commitment to justice and is is really overwhelming and nice one thing that i saw recently on the facebook page for musawa was i think it was a more accessible version of men in charge right it is one of the most important books i’ve ever read in my life one of the most powerful one of the most hopeful books i’ve ever read in my life and it’s an excellent tool for challenging right like the patriarchy using islam itself oh one last question that we like to ask our authors is what you’re working on currently that we can look forward to in the near future in musawah we have just finished one phase of a project that we started in 2018 and it is called adl and ihsan in muslim marriages towards egalitarian ethics and laws and it’s it actually builds on the work that we had done for challenging qiwamah and wilayah male authority over women and the focus is on marriage and the focus is on ethics as well ethics because without egalitarian and just ethics it is impossible to have just laws and the dominant ethics that we have in muslim legal tradition are still patriarchal there are ethics that speak do not speak to our values of the time and conception of justice and the realities on the ground the first phase of this project was working with the scholars and having conversation with them and having conversation among they having conversation among them and with activists so the book that is called justice and beauty in muslim marriages towards egalitarian ethics and law is now completed and it is in print and it will come out in november and what we have done is that simultaneously we are making it available in arabic so it is translated into arabic and we have a wonderful wonderful translator because translating from english into arabic and this concept is not easy and her name is randa dr randa abubakar who teaches at cairo university and she’s the one who also translated men in charge into arabic both of them hopefully coming out in november that is something very exciting
And the second phase of the project which is empirical what we always call it empirical or ethnographic side of it because how this it’s important for ins for us it was important to understand where what is the place of this two concept of qiwama and wilaya in everyday life of women so we focus on case histories and this time we want to be more ambitious and do solid comparative research in at least four countries and also open the conversation for change and i myself want to work on marriage contracts because i have always worked on marriage contracts but now i want to work on it and from a different because when i started working on it all this knowledge was not that i’m talking about 1980s but now i really want to go back to it. you know they’re looking muslim women are looking for egalitarian marriage contracts and there are some templates online and i know other folks are working on a similar sort of similar question of what is how to make the marriage contract more egalitarian and so on so i cannot wait for that. Please keep me informed and let me know how let me know how that comes out and i will thank you all right thank you so much diva this was wonderful i hope that you enjoyed you enjoyed it as well i know that my audience will definitely enjoy this conversation thank you and thank you for your generosity and your nice questions!