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Women and Islam. Azizah al-Hibri (jurist): “Not the Koran but patriarchal thought wants them to be subordinate. Immunize children from distorted interpretations”

"Patriarchal thought rooted in power, not in justice, is Islam’s worst enemy”, with heavy repercussions on the condition of women, said Muslim jurist and philosopher Azizah al-Hibri at the interdisciplinary seminar ongoing at the Foreign Ministry in Rome. We need to promote the learning Arabic in order to read the Koran in its original language, she said, starting with children

The Koran does not say that women should be subordinate to men. These are distorted interpretations given by Muslim jurists across the centuries inspired by “patriarchal” thinking rooted in power and not in justice. The concept was firmly reiterated by Azizah al-Hibri, Professor Emeritus of T. C. William School of Law – University of Richmond, founder, President of the Karamah Foundation for Muslim women and their rights. Speaking at the seminar “Women, Faith and Culture” ongoing at the seat of the Italian Foreign Ministry in Rome, promoted by the International Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Education (Ifiie), al-Hibri explained: “Almost 1500 years ago the Holy Koran affirmed in verse 49:13 that God created us from male and  female, and made us into nations and tribes so that we may know one another.” “In the context of the Koran – she explained – ‘knowing one another’ means communicating, cooperating and celebrating mutual differences. It does not mean subjugating other cultures nor advocating supremacy over them.”  Yet, since “the jurists who made its exegesis are subconsciously influenced by their own local culture and traditions”, in some occasions “their interpretation of the verses of the Koran contradicted Islamic principles.” Today, al-Hibri pointed out,

“we see a fragmentation of the Muslim world, which grew distant from its original language, Arabic, and large numbers of Muslims have a superficial knowledge of Islam.”

The jurist mentioned the existence of an “Islamic rule which states that the law changes according to time, place and people’s needs. In short, it must be adapted to new cultures. However- she explained – this rule is not based on Koranic principles.” The problem is that

“today large numbers of Muslims find it hard to distinguish between Koranic principles and social practices. They believe that the latter are guided by religion, and thus they are sacrosanct.”

For instance,  “female circumcision, known as female genital mutilation, is mistakenly considered a practice prescribed by Islam which lacks legal basis in the Koran.” This practice, al-Hibri explained, is exercised “to decrease the possibility of women to enjoy their sexuality even after marriage, while the only limit that Islam poses to sexuality is that it take place within wedlock.” Moreover, she went on, many words in the Koran “don’t have the meaning ascribed by jurists. Patriarchal culture often affects religious exegesis with regard to women’s condition”, but

“patriarchal thought rooted in power, and not in justice, is Islam’s worst enemy.”

The Islamic “myths” that must be dispelled – the jurist used the term “debunking” – includes the myth of 72 virgins promised to martyrs in Paradise. The Koran, she explained, describes them as ” ethereal and heavenly entities”, using gender-neutral language, “neither female nor male.” Thus the “role played by patriarchal culture in the interpretation of Islamic religious texts is undeniable.” There is need for a cultural and educational revolution to reverse “this deeply-rooted, pervasive influence”, which “requires everyone’s commitment, starting from Muslims living in Western countries.” First of all

the Koran “must grow close to its original language, Arabic, which must be taught to children to immunize them against distorted or manipulative interpretations of their religion.”

“Islamic education” on gender equality “can encourage Western Muslim women to take on leading roles in the societies in which they live, as is already happening in the US, but it should be carried out by credible, recognized Muslim women academics.”

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