December 31, 2004

Ahadith: Ally or Enemy of Women?

The following is a post I wrote on Beliefnet back in October. It's one of my more controversial posts. :) The thread centered on ahadith and how it pertains to women. More specifically, "1. Do you think Hadith is equal to the Quran, or just some Hadith? Or do you even bother with Hadith? Or is Hadith not equal to the Quran, but important? 2. Do you think Hadith is helpful for women's rights in Islam and under Sharia?" My response:

Generally speaking, I don't think that that the ahadith are either an "ally or enemy of women." I think this type of discussion is part of a larger problem, namely that many Western Muslims (particularly converts, but including born Muslims as well) are not comfortable with the idea of trying to live an Islamic lifestyle, that they find it difficult - if not impossible - to wean themselves off of their Western lifestyle (and I would include myself in this category as well). I think there are several reasons for this.

One is that Western society has not developed the requisite Islamic culture and institutions that are necessary for Muslims (converts in particular) to develop their broader understanding of Islam. Muslims (especially converts) are left to fend for themselves in terms of gaining knowledge. Resources, including books for sale, madrassahs and religious teachers, are limited in their availability in the West. Moreover, their own culture continues to beckon, which Western Muslims tend to be loathe to leave.

Second, understanding of ahadith, sunnah, fiqh is more difficult to obtain because what little resources are available have virtually nothing in the way of context to explain concepts and history (as opposed to the various tafsir that are readily available to explain the Qur'an). Not understanding what the ahadith, sunnah, fiqh have to say or how they relate to modern life, some Muslims reject out of hand the second half of Allah's (swt) commandment, to obey Allah and His Messenger, focusing solely on the Qur'an.

Finally, there are some Muslims who have their own pet prejudices and rationalize their biases in ways that go against the teachings of Islam. They cut themselves off deliberately from the broader understandings of Islam, ignoring or misinterpreting ahadith, sunnah, fiqh, and then congratulate themselves afterwards for being part of "the club." From my perspective, they are contributing to the problem rather than helping to solve it.

In essence, I think the lead question has been miswritten. Instead of "Hadith: Ally or Enemy of Women?" I would ask, "Women (and Men): Ally or Enemy of Ahadith?"

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