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Amina Wadud and feminist interpretation of surah 4:34

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2007 20 Seiten

Orientalistik / Sinologie - Islamwissenschaft




1. Introduction

2. Amina Wadud’s work in context of Muslim feminism and Qur’an exegesis
2.1 Who is Amina Wadud?
2.2 Feminism and the Qur’an
2.3 Feminism and exegesis

3. Hermeneutics and methodology in Amina Wadud’s Work
3.1 The reader as subject
3.2 Arabic language as barrier to interpretation
3.3 Historical contextualisation
3.4 Gender as interpretative category

4. Amina Waduds exegesis
4.1 General conclusions about women and the Qur’an
4.2 The traditional interpretation of surah 4:34
4.3 Amina Wadud’s interpretation of surah 4:34

5. Resume



In this paper I will introduce the North-American Muslim scholar and feminist Amina Wadud. The main focus of her work is in finding ways to produce a gender-conscious tafsir of the Qur’an based on a hermeneutic methodology. She wants to show how the egalitarian quranic principles concerning women have been distorted through the history of exegesis. Those principles have to be re-examined to come to an understanding of the revelation that is appropriate for modern times.

I intend to integrate her position in a general Islamic feminist discourse and its opinion concerning quranic exegesis. Following that I want to outline her methodological approach, focusing on four points: the reader as subject, the Arabic language as barrier to interpretation, historical contextualization and gender as interpretive category.

Further, I will give an overview about her exegetical results concerning the question of gender equality in the Qur’an before I will demonstrate her approach on the interpretation of surah 4:34.

1. Introduction

On March 18 in 2005 Amina Wadud, Afro-American scholar and converted Muslim led the Friday sermon of a group of 100 women and men in an Anglican church in Manhattan.

This event caused an instant uproar within the global Islamic community and showed how conservative and unwilling to deal with change the majority of the Muslim public is.

During the run-up to the sermon controversies already occurred when no mosque was willing to host the event. An art gallery in New York offered their rooms but withdrew the offer later when faced with bomb-threats.[1]

The Islamic mass media reinforced the conservative sentiment of the majority of Islamic leaders who rejected the possibility of a female imam leading a prayer in front of a mixed group of Muslims. However there is no consensus about explicit quranic passages or strong hadiths which prohibit women from doing so.[2]

More progressive Muslims pointed out, that Amina Wadud, a convert growing up as an Afro-American woman in a Western society, has a different background and a different framework than someone living in a Muslim society.

Therefore, her actions are result of the experience with Western values and norms about identity, economic achievement, political freedom and equal rights. Because of this, she seems to confuse her ambition to free herself from male domination with freeing herself from the Islamic laws which she believes are wrongly interpreted by men.[3] This argument seems to lead to the core of discussion that lies beyond simple outrage about an event that should not have taken place because it violates Islamic law.

The fear of change seems to be strongly tied to a fear of a schism between conservative Muslims and immigrants on the one side and a more liberal, maybe even western-modified generation that develops an understanding of religion which is no longer conform to that of their parent’s generation.[4]

And while conservative religious scholars and “sensational” Muslim mass media see an US-American conspiracy to desecrate Islam, only few feel the need to make the controversial aspects of Amina Wadud’s work and that of like-minded scholars an issue of importance within the whole Muslim community.[5]

2. Amina Wadud’s work in context of Muslim feminism and Qur’an exegesis

2.1 Who is Amina Wadud?

Amina Wadud is a known and important contemporary Muslim intellectual with a progressive, feminist focus on Qur’an exegesis. She has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and Arabic and started working at the International Islamic University in Malaysia in 1989. Since 1992 she teaches at the Virginia Commonwealth University and with the main topic of her work being Women and Qur’an and the patriarchal misinterpretation of the scripture.

She took the shahada in 1972 after growing up as a Methodist. In her search for transcended tranquillity in spite of the discrimination she faced as a poor, black female she was introduced to Islam during her college years. She believes that her special perspective as a convert enabled her to ask critical questions and simultaneously offered a fresh perspective.[6]

Her attempt to come to a more egalitarian understanding of the Qur’an fits right into the feminist Muslim movement of the late 20th century, where feminists focus on the quranic text as primary source for their arguments.

Therefore, as next step I will show how Amina Wadud’s perspective correlates with Muslim Feminism and the question of tafsir.

2.2 Feminism and the Qur’an

When Amina Wadud studied the Qur’an she found a worldview which showed an overwhelming confirmation of women’s equality. In contrast to the Christian revelation the creation of Adam and Eve was described like that of a pair of equals.

And of everything We have created pairs that you may be mindful.

(Q 51:49)[7]

Eve is not considered to have tempted Adam. Both of them had sinned and both of them were forgiven, so no gender carries an inherited sin.

Then he caused them to fall by deceit; so when they tasted of the tree, their evil inclinations became manifest to them, and they both began to cover themselves with the leaves of the garden; and their Lord called out to them: Did I not forbid you both from that tree and say to you that the Shaitan is your open enemy?

(Q 7:22)[8]

He said: Get forth, some of you, the enemies of others, and there is for you in the earth an abode and a provision for a time.

(Q 7:24)[9]

He (also) said: Therein shall you live, and therein shall you die, and from it shall you be raised.

(Q 7:25)[10]

In accordance to that, men and women are equal to God and have similar religious duties to perform and the same possibility to be rewarded by entering paradise and being closer to Allah.

Surely the men who submit and the women who submit, and the believing men and the believing women, and the obeying men and the obeying women, and the truthful men and the truthful women, and the patient men and the patient women and the humble men and the humble women, and the almsgiving men and the almsgiving women, and the fasting men and the fasting women, and the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard, and the men who remember Allah much and the women who remember -- Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a mighty reward.

(Q 33:35)[11]

Also the relationship between husband and wife is mutual and equal.[12]

..they are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them..

(Q 2:187)[13]

...He put between you love and compassion; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect...

(Q 30:21)[14]

Wadud found the quranic principles she discovered to be at odds with the Muslim practices she observed and experienced, and tried to find an explanation and a solution for this discrepancy.[15]

With that ambition she affiliates herself with Islamic feminists of the second half of the 20th century, when Muslim women started to feel responsible for their own identity development and the welfare of the Muslim community in general.[16]

In the late 20th century a paradigm shift happened in the theoretical field that can be called Islamic Feminism. From the late 19th century on, the focus had been on changing the everyday lives of Muslim women by giving them access to education and by strengthening their rights in the public as well as in the private sphere.

Now the focus shifted from the rights-based discourse to the field of gender equality and social justice as basic principles reflected in the Qur’an. This feminist discourse became exclusively based on religious references with the Qur’an as central source.

Muslim female scholars rejected the commentaries on the Qur’an published by generations of male exegetes and utilized their own training in religious sciences and their rights as Muslims to reflectively examine the sacred scripture.[17]

Their works point out gender differences in the process of tafsir.

Following the feminist analysis the Qur’an recognizes gender equality and women’s rights in a system of social justice. While fundamentally equal, humans were created biological different for the perpetuation of the species. Women alone can give birth and nurse the child. By the Islamic law the husband is enjoined to provide material support. These social functions do not imply that women cannot provide for themselves or that men are unconditionally in charge.[18]


[1] Vgl. Dietrich, 2005.

[2] Vgl. Muhammad, 2005:1.

[3] Vgl. ebd.: 3f.

[4] Vgl. Dietrich, 2005.

[5] Vgl. Muhammad, 2005:8.

[6] Vgl. Barlas, 2004:97f.






[12] Vgl. Roded, 2002:523f.



[15] Vgl. Barlas, 2004:99.

[16] Vgl. Wadud (b), 2002:3.

[17] Vgl. Badran, 2002:200f.

[18] Vgl. ebd.:202.


ISBN (eBook)
473 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Erfurt
Amina Wadud



Titel: Amina Wadud and feminist interpretation of surah 4:34